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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Gwathmey’

To tell the truth, I had nothing in mind this morning for the blog. I was thinking that I would be too busy plowing but we didn’t get nearly as much of a snowfall as had been anticipated. We got a few inches but most of the precipitation came in an icy rain that coated everything. Not terrible, at least at my place, like some of the scenes I have seen from where the storm dropped larger amounts of icy rain that brought down wires and trees.

So, not having to get out there early to plow I found myself wondering what to talk about this morning. I went back through the archives and came across an entry from over ten years back. It’s about a piece that is in the possession of my sister. It might be my favorite among several she has , one that I always look forward to seeing when I visit her. With the pandemic, there haven’t been any visits so I haven’t had a chance to visit this piece recently. So, I thought I ‘d share it along with a little music at the end that seems to fit, at least in my head, some of the great Son House playing his wonderful Delta blues. Take a look at Big Foot Stomp, painted around 1995. And have a good day.



 

Singing and Mending– Robert Gwathmey



I was looking through a book containing many of the works of the painter Robert Gwathmey when I came across an image that reminded me of a small piece that I had painted several years back. Gwathmey’s painting was titled Singing and Mending and featured, like many of his paintings, a depiction of African-American life from the rural South.

This piece had a man in overalls playing a guitar while a woman mended a piece of clothing. It was the man playing the guitar that caught my eye. Perhaps it was the overalls or the position of the guitar or the bare feet but all I could think of was a similarity in its nature to a small painting that I had painted a few years ago and which now hung on my sister’s wall. It is a little oddity, a favorite that I always look at with interest whenever I go to her place. I call it Big Foot Stomp.



 



It was an experimental piece, a revisiting of another earlier foray in paint when I was just starting  years before. I can’t quite recall what my initial intentions were with this piece. I remember that I laid down the splattered background with spray bottles of paint, masking the lighter center with a piece of matboard as I did the darker outer edge. But I don’t think I ever had this figure in  mind when I began to paint in that center. But I’m glad that he came out in this way.

I recall painting the head first, just laying down a silhouette of paint then trying to make something from it. I remember liking the way the dark paint seemed to pop from the lighter background, making me think this was a black man and that I wouldn’t lighten it any more. It was right as it was.

The rest is hazy in my memory except for a slip in my brushstrokes that affected the size of his feet and for the decision to leave out the parts of his clothing that would normally be visible. For me, these two elements really make this little guy special. There’s something about the white space where his clothing would be that brings a spiritual element to this piece for me, as though his playing and the rhythm of his large feet on the floor are taking him to a place beyond the here and now. I think the way he rests in the splattered background enhances this.

I’ve never painted another piece like this. Maybe he was just meant to be one of a kind. He certainly feels that way. But at least in the Gwathmey piece I have found a spiritual relative to this lone guitar player.



Here’s Son House (1902-1988) and his Levee Camp Blues. House influence on the blues and, by extension, rock music, is huge. He is often cited as an influence on two other giant influencers, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. It don’t get much more real than that.



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I was doing a little research on the painter Robert Gwathmey, the social realist painter whose work most often depicted the day to day life of  poor African-American culture of the American South.  I knew that his son, Charles, was a very famous architect but I didn’t know much about his wife, Rosalie.  She was a photographer who chronicled that same rural culture that was the subject of her husband’s paintings.  In fact, her photos were often the source material for his work.

Digging deeper, I came across her photos and found them compelling.  There were poignant shots of families at work and at home, often in abject poverty.  Wonderful compositions of a barn on fire amid the wide flat fields, smoke billowing with an awful ominosity.  All very powerful stuff.

Reading some articles about her I came across a terrific article from 1994 and Erika Duncan in  the New York Times.  It was of an interview with Rosalie Gwathmey, who died in 2001 at the age of 92, focusing on her work as a photographer which, at the time of the article, was being rediscovered as the result of a solo show of her photos.  It turns out that she had been an earnest photographer. associated with some of the other great photogs of the time such as Dorothea Lange,  from around the mid 1930’s up until 1955 when she abruptly put down her camera, destroyed many of ner negatives and gave away her photos.

“I just quit,” was her description.

Reading the rest of the article, she also simply stopped painting at one point, despite having great promise, and she also abruptly ended a long career as a textile designer.  She simply stopped and claimed to have no regrets.

That really made me think.  Was this merely a facet of her personality or could this happen to anyone?   Could I one day suddenly decide that I no longer wanted to paint?  What was it that made her suddenly lose that need to express herself in a certain way?  It became a sort of scary thing to think about for me, as though it were some horrible affliction that lay in wait for me somewhere in the future.  Maybe never but maybe tomorrow.

I don’t know that there are actual answers here, only more questions.  But her quitting is as intriguing an aspect of her life as her wonderful work and makes me wonder how many others have simply walked away from what seems to be a great career.

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Big Foot Stomp

Singing and Mending-- Robert Gwathmey

I was looking through a book containing many of the works of the painter Robert Gwathmey when I came across an image that reminded me of a small piece that I had painted several years back.  Gwathmey’s painting was titled Singing and Mending and featured, like many of  his paintings, a depiction of  African-American life from the rural South.  This piece had a man in overalls playing a guitar while a woman mended a piece of clothing. It was the man playing the guitar that caught my eye.

Perhaps it was the overalls or the position of the guitar or the bare feet but all I could think of was a similarity in its nature to a small painting that I had painted a few years ago and which now hung on my sister’s wall.  It is a little oddity that I always look at with interest whenever I go to her place. 

 I call it Big Foot Stomp.

It was an experimental piece, a revisiting of another earlier foray in paint when I was just starting  years before.  I can’t quite recall what my initial intentions were with this piece. I remember that I laid down the splattered background with spray bottles of paint, masking the lighter center with a piece of matboard as I did the darker outer edge.  But I don’t think I ever had this figure in  mind when I began to paint in that center.

But I’m glad that he came out in this way.  I recall painting the head first, just laying down a silhouette of paint then trying to make something from it.  I remember liking the way the dark paint seemed to pop from the lighter background, making me think this was a black man.  The rest is hazy in my memory except for a slip in my brushstrokes that affected the size of his feet and for the decsion to leave out  the parts of his clothing that would normally be visible.  For me, these two elements really make this little guy special. 

There’s something about the white space where his clothing  would be that brings a spiritual element to this piece for me, as though his playing and the rhythm of his large feet on the floor are taking him to a place beyond the here and now.  I think the way he rests in the splattered background enhances this.

I’ve never painted another piece like this.  Maybe he was just meant to be one of a kind.  He certainly feels that way.  But at least in the Gwathmey piece I have found a spiritual relative to this lone guitar player.

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