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Posts Tagged ‘Social Distancing’

Aah, the work was delivered to the Principle Gallery yesterday for the show, Social Distancing, that opens this coming Friday, June 5, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria.

I say aah because there is always a sense of relief once the work has left my hands and is in the gallery. I’ve done what I can and it’s out of my hands.

But the aah this year might be even larger than in any other year. Completing this year’s show was hard fought struggle within myself. The number of distractions was huge as you all know. It has been a trying time for all of us between an impeachment, a pandemic that has delivered over 100 thousand deaths thus far not to mention vast job losses and an economic uncertainty that most certainly see us in a recession, if a depression, for the coming years along with the violent eruption of a long simmering volcano of unequal justice and economic opportunity for people of color. Factor into that a money grab by the wealthiest among us from the pandemic relief funds and you have a hot and messy stew cooking.

This might well be a year without parallel in the memories of most of us and maybe in the history of this country. We are a nation at great stress right now.

So to get my little bit of business out of the way, to be able to push all this aside and do work that was strong and meaningful in my own eyes was a different sort of task than in any of the previous 21 years of doing this show. Maybe the show of 2002, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, would be the closest parallel but that at that time we didn’t have a deadly virus or the same sort of raw internal rips in our society that we are experiencing now as a nation. In retrospect, that time seemed like a light appetizer for the heavy meal, that hot and messy stew, on our table at this moment.

But, as far the show, it is there now and I think it’s a damn fine show. I can’t think of a piece in it that that I would want to omit or change. I think every painting in it has its own strength that shows. I hope you will get a chance to get into the gallery to see it or at least take a look at the exhibit document from the Principle Gallery when it’s released in a few days.

I have to say that another bit of relief was the great ease I experienced in the delivery yesterday. In the many, many trips down to Alexandria I have made over the past 23 years, yesterday was by far the easiest ride I have ever made. The traffic was exceedingly light and the weather absolutely perfect. The delivery itself went smoothly and quickly. Every aspect of the day was easy.

I came home, as usual through central Pennsylvania. If you don’t know the area, the route runs above Harrisburg along the Susquehanna River, and is a lovely area with a rural feel marked by the farms and horse-drawn buggies of the many Amish and Mennonite farmers along the way. But it is also a deeply conservative area, a hotbed of far right ideology. Lots of guns, pickups and camo clothing. Lots of evangelical billboards and, strangely,quite a few weird little, windowless porn shops that always seem to have more than a few cars in front of them.

It’s a big Trump area. Yeah, I wrote that name– can taste the ashes in my mouth. Some businesses have it scrawled across the face of their buildings and you see quite a few of his campaign signs . There was even one guy, with a big gut and a tight white tee shirt, selling Trump merchandise by the side of the busy road. No buyers when I passed him, thankfully. But one thing I noticed in a few places were signs in the neighboring yards of those the yards that had Trump signs. The signs simply said “Be Kind” as though these neighbors wanted to somehow counter the meaning that was implicit in the signs of their neighbors.

That small gesture gave me the slightest glimpse of hope.

Coming home, I came through Lewisburg, a town that is best known as the home of Bucknell University. Coming into town after passing Bucknell, I came to traffic light at the intersection of the two main roads running through the area.  At each of the four corners there were quite a few people gathered holding signs and gesturing to the traffic. Coming to a stop at the red light, I realized that it was a Black Lives Matter protest, much like the other protests taking place around the nation.

It was a diverse group with many white faces– this is central PA, after all– but a large number of people of color as well. They were peaceful and wore their masks and kept distance as well as they could. I gave them the thumbs up and many returned the gesture. As I drove away I gave a young black woman the thumbs up and she gave me a clenched fist held high above her head in response.

I can’t tell you how much those small gestures made my day. That group of peaceful protesters in such a conservative part of that state gave me the hope that there might be real change ahead for us as a nation, that we will push past this moment and vanquish the forces of division and inequality that are at work right now.

Maybe that’s what the painting at the top reflects. Part of the show, it’s a 10″ by 20″ canvas that is called And the Clouds Will Pass…

That’s how I want to see it.

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“Find meaning. Distinguish melancholy from sadness. Go out for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a romantic walk in the park, spring at its most spectacular moment, flowers and smells and outstanding poetical imagery smoothly transferring you into another world. It doesn’t have to be a walk during which you’ll have multiple life epiphanies and discover meanings no other brain ever managed to encounter. Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but ‘steal’ some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.”

Albert Camus, Notebooks 1951-1959

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It’s probably been forty years since I last read Albert Camus‘ books, The Stranger and The Plague. I remember the affect each had on me at that time and can easily see how these books might have relevance in these times as well. As can the the words of advice above taken from Camus’ notebooks.

“Find meaning. Distinguish melancholy from sadness. Go out for a walk.”

It seems as though an existentialist or absurdist, however one categorizes Camus, would be an appropriate voice for these times.

The painting at the top, Private Space, is going with me down to the Principle Gallery tomorrow when I deliver the work for my annual solo show there. This year’s edition is titled Social Distancing and opens next Friday, June 5.

I chose the words from Camus at the top to accompany this 15″ by 30″ painting because that list bit of it– “Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be” — seemed to express exactly what I was seeing in this painting.

Plus I most often opt for privacy and solitude in my own life and I am pretty sure I am not antisocial.

Well, not completely.

I might be considered cordially antisocial. Perhaps an affable misanthrope? Is that a thing?

I kind of see both of those things in this painting. There’s an approachable element in the Red Tree but also a sense that it wants to be at a distance from others. It doesn’t reject the world but wants to face it on its own terms, in its own way.

I can live with that definition– for this painting and myself.

Have a good day.

 

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“I tried to establish order over the chaos of my imagination, but this essence, the same that presented itself to me still hazily when I was a child, has always struck me as the very heart of truth. It is our duty to set ourselves an end beyond our individual concerns, beyond our convenient, agreeable habits, higher than our own selves, and disdaining laughter, hunger, even death, to toil night and day to attain that end. No, not to attain it. The self-respecting soul, as soon as he reaches his goal, places it still further away. Not to attain it, but never to halt in the ascent. Only thus does life acquire nobility and oneness.”

Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco

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I originally saw this painting with the three Red Trees hovering over the houses like three spiritual guides. Three angels, perhaps. But the more I looked at it ( and I looked at it a lot) the more I saw the trees, especially with the exaggerated elongation of their trunks, as continually rising higher.

They weren’t hovering angels. No, they were spiritual searchers straining to reach even further out into the unknown, represented here by the chaotic slashes of color that make up the sky.

Trying to make the unknown known.

Trying to find order in chaos.

This perception was made even more tangible when I came across the excerpt at the top from the fictionalized autobiography of the late great Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis. The idea it presents of a life dedicated to seeking a nobler way of being, to attaining unity, oneness, seemed appropriate as a interpretation of this painting.

It also seemed appropriate as a basis for a way of living amidst the ever swirling chaos of this world. To seek to be somehow better, to attempt to rise above the petty and reactive behaviors to which we so easily assume, is indeed a worthy goal for any individual.

This added a layer of depth to my own appreciation for this piece. I see this painting, which I am calling Climb Ever Higher, as a lovely reminder to set my aims higher, to eschew my baser instincts. It’s a reminder that I certainly need in these chaotic times.

This 24″ by 24″ canvas is part of my Social Distancing show that opens a week from today, June 5, at the Principle Gallery.

 

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I started writing an angry screed here about the whiny, weak Karen occupying the white house and all the Karens who take their cues from his persistent behaviors of entitlement and victimization, about how it enables more and more racism and hate.

But I had to stop. It was making me too crazy. And most likely you didn’t come here to read my morning rant.

Let’s move on to something more in line with the premise of this blog: Art.

So, let me talk a little about my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens next Friday, June 5, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. Normally, I would be adding the times for the opening reception on that day but due to the covid-19 restrictions, there won’t be a regular reception. I know I wouldn’t be comfortable in such a setting at this point and can imagine that most of you would equally uneasy in a crowd as well.

It’s a weird feeling, having such a show and not being there to interact with the people who come to see the work. This is my 21st solo show at the Principle Gallery and something like my 56th or 57th solo exhibit overall and I have attended the opening of all of them. It’s a chance to talk about the work with new and existing collectors, to catch up with folks who have been attending the shows for years and to spend a little time with my friends in the gallery. I get a lot of great feedback and enthusiasm from these receptions and often bring that back with me into the studio.

so not having that same experience this year certainly feels like a palpable loss.

In the beginning, thinking that this was a possibility ( and the pandemic itself) made it difficult to find focus for the show. But as I adapted to the new circumstances, I found a nice groove, seeing parallels between the current situation and the themes that are the mainstays of my work. Solitude and quietude set against an underlying uneasiness are regular themes in my work and they came to the forefront for the general population, even fr those not seeking solitude or isolation.

I think much of the new work for this show speaks to this situation well.

I also felt that this was a perfect time to include a group of what I call vintage work, a group of early paintings that date from before I was publicly showing my work in the mid-1990’s up to to about 2007. The thought was that they would serve as a before to the after of the current work since we are going through a time that will certainly leave us with memories of what thing were before this and how things will be after. The time just seemed right to offer this work.

Two of those pieces are shown here, both watercolors from the early part of 1995. The one at the top of this page is called View From the Lonely Steps. It is a good example of my early work and the cobalt blue watercolor in the sky does a neat and lovely job of settling in the depressions of the paper, an effect I very much like.The steps that make up the left side of the foreground forms a close mound that creates an illusion of depth and are some of the earliest use of that element in my work. It’s something I use on a regular basis in my compositions now. I also noted on the sheet of watercolor paper on which it is painted that I painted it on April 1 of that year. I don’t date things like that anymore but it was common for me to do so back then. I like having that date. It gives it greater context for me, as far as where it comes in the continuum of my work, which makes me think I should reinstate this practice.

The piece at the bottom is from January of 1995 and is called I Can’t Remember the Moment. This is another fine example of the style of work that marked my early days with two blocks of color set one above the other separated by a thin white unpainted strip. It is simply put and lets the two forms and the effects of and in their colors play off each other. At the point that this piece was painted I was still signing the pieces in pencil, albeit in the same style that I have used for my whole career.

Though I have gained experience and ability well beyond that which I possessed then, there was something pure and real in the simple expression of these pieces that I can’t replicate now. My joy and wonder is expressed in different terms now and find myself envying this work, recalling the excitement that came with the new discoveries revealed to me as they were painted. I still get those feelings now but they are more hard fought for now and more sporadic. Back then they felt as though they came on an almost daily basis, each giving me an almost giddy feeling as though I had uncovered some great secret treasure.

That feeling is so wonderful and so hard to get across, let alone find. But these pieces are filled with that feeling for me.

Hope you will get a chance to see these pieces at the Principle Gallery.

Finally, an apology to all the Karens I know. It is unfortunate that your name has became a social media buzzword for spoiled, ugly, hateful, entitled, and stupid behavior. I know several Karens and Karyns and they do not display these behaviors at all. I wouldn’t want to know them if they did.

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I was going to write something altogether different this morning, something angry and sharply pointed. But I found that the prospect of doing so just made me angrier with the realization of the probable futility of it. Seems like just more words to be thrown on the heap of the web’s virtual Tower of Babel, too many to be heard with any clarity or understanding. Maybe that’s the problem– though we basically engage in the same written language, many of us speak in contexts and understandings so different from one another that it makes us seem as though we are talking to each other in wildly different tongues.

And that brings me to my standard stock answer: I don’t know.

So, I am going to play a song that came on yesterday and piqued my interest while I was matting the painting shown here, one I call The Coming Together. It is headed to the Principle Gallery for my 21st annual solo show there, which opens next Friday, June 5. This year’s show is called Social Distancing.

The song that played yesterday was Cross of Flowers from singer/songwriter Jeffrey Foucault. I was very much in the same state of mind as I am this morning, a little world weary and a little down in spirit. This song, in the moment, seemed to both capture that feeling and relieve it just a bit. A small iota of catharsis, enough to lighten the load for a few moments.

It also seemed to capture the feeling I get from this painting. It’s a nod to a handful of similar pieces I did early in my career, with woven plant stems and flowers cutting through the picture plane like pole with colors radiating out from the sides of the painting’s central core.

These works are more about the forms and the color than the reality of the plants. There’s no basis in reality for the botanical aspects of the plants or flowers so don’t ask me. I just paint them in a way that please me, one that satisfies what I want to see in that moment. Though imaginary, it has its own organic growth.

I think that’s why I enjoy painting these pieces. They just become what they are. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Makes me wonder why I didn’t paint more of these. Maybe the scarcity keeps the wonder of painting them fresh?

Again, I don’t know.

For god’s sake, don’t ask me any questions this morning. I am going to give a listen again to the song and look a little bit longer at this painting. Sip my coffee and chill for a few minutes. I suggest you do the same.

It’ll do you good.

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If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain.

Paul Cezanne

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I was looking for some words to start this post about the new painting at the top, The Isolation, when I came across this quote I had used in a post here a few years back. It seemed to fit my feeling for this piece as did the post attached to the quote. So I am rerunning that today as well. This painting, an 8″ by 24″ canvas, is part of my solo show, Social Distancing, that opens next Friday, June 5, at the Principle Gallery.

A lot of people currently are experiencing more isolation that they might otherwise normally have to endure. I think it must really shake up their sense of certainty in the world. If they weren’t uncertain going into this episode, they most likely became so during their time of isolation.

I have been fortunate in that I enjoy this feeling of isolation. Thrive on it, actually. I don’t know that this is sign of strength or of some sort of neurosis. But I know that it is place where I experience certainty of any sort on a regular basis. Oh, there are still moments of uncertainty even there but far less than I am in the outer world.

Here’s the post from a few years back:

I spend a lot of time alone in the isolation of my studio. Fortunately for me, it is the place in the world where I am most comfortable and feel completely myself.

It is the place where I can feel unrestrained to free the mind and go wherever it takes me. The place where I can shed the uncertainty I find in the outer world and feel free to daydream. The place where I can summon up pictures that exist only inside myself. A place to study. To listen. To see.

It is my my university, my library, my theater, my monastery and my place of refuge.

My haven.

When I am out of the studio, I am all the while trying to get back to it.

When others come into my studio, the dynamic of that place changes and I feel myself suddenly self-conscious and a bit uncomfortable, like I am standing in someone else’s home.

The visitors’ eyes become my eyes and I notice things I never see on a day to day basis. The cat hair on the floor that needs to be swept up. The paint splatters on the wall or a fingerprint in paint on the wall switchplate. The windows that need cleaning. The piles of papers that I have been meaning to go through for too many months. The paintbrushes soaking in murky water scattered throughout the place or the start of a not-too-good painting that will most likely never see the outer world.

In that moment, my perfect castle of isolation becomes a hovel of uncertainty.

But the castle remarkably reappears once I am alone again. The uncertainty recedes and I begin to feel myself once more.

My isolation is my default state of being.

I understand exactly what Cezanne is saying at the top. I have been more comfortable alone than in the company of others since I was a child. I don’t know if that is a strength or just a neurotic peccadillo. But I know that if I ever find uncertainty in my isolation, I will have lost my footing in this world.

But, thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet…

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“I told myself: ‘I am surrounded by unknown things.’ I imagined man without ears, suspecting the existence of sound as we suspect so many hidden mysteries, man noting acoustic phenomena whose nature and provenance he cannot determine. And I grew afraid of everything around me – afraid of the air, afraid of the night. From the moment we can know almost nothing, and from the moment that everything is limitless, what remains? Does emptiness actually not exist? What does exist in this apparent emptiness?”

Guy de Maupassant, The Horla

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This is another new piece, a smaller painting on paper that is part of my Social Distancing show that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. I am calling this piece The Emptiness.

The title is taken from The Horla, one of the last short stories written by Guy de Maupassant, the 19th century French master of the short story. It’s a tale of horror about an alien being — an invisible organism, actually– called the Horla that comes to earth with the intention of subjugating the human race. This unseen invader has the power to enter and sway the minds of its victims. The narrator of the story describes his emotions, the vast emptiness that overtakes him, as he realizes what is happening and his powerlessness in the face of the threat.

A few years later, tragically, de Maupassant tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat but survived, dying in a sanitarium a year later, in 1893 at the age of 42. Apparently, the emptiness of the story’s narrator was very much the same emptiness as that of  the writer.

I thought this painting would fit well into this particular show, which is concerned with social isolation, from that which has been caused by the pandemic to all other forms of isolation. For some, isolation can bring solitude. For others, it brings the emptiness that de Maupassant described.

This painting leans toward that form of isolation. Maybe it’s the bilious green of the interior walls or the spare details of the room. Or the looming moon seen through the window, a large alien eye always there, always watching.

It feels like an unusual piece for me, even though it fits neatly into my body of work. It feels complete and there’s a pleasant, even comfortable, feel to it. But it’s an uneasy comfort, maybe like that experienced by those whose minds have unknowingly been infected by the Horla.

Or maybe it’s the uneasiness that comes with the normalization and acceptance, by a lot of people, of behavior that was once considered repulsive by the majority of us. It feels like the same kind of infection of the mind is taking place. Watching this take place now must surely be like the experience of the narrator watching the Horla affect those around him.

It certainly creates its own emptiness.

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