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When you think of painting as painting it is rather absurd. The real world is before us – glorious sunlight and activity and fresh air, and high speed motor cars and television, all the animation – a world apart from a little square of canvas that you smear paint on.

–Wayne Thiebaud

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These words from the great contemporary painter Wayne Thiebaud ring completely true for me. I have talked and written many times before about those moments in the studio when I suddenly find the whole idea of painting, of smearing paint on some surface, completely absurd. The whole idea of making these two-dimensional things that represent inner feelings about the outer world seems suddenly abstract and, to be honest, a little ridiculous.

It’s a little like waking up one day to find yourself standing in your yard with a forked stick in your hand. You began by thinking it was a divining rod that would mysteriously lead you to something valuable but in that moment you realize you’re just a fool standing in your yard with a stick.

Believe me, there are days when I feel like a fool standing in a room with a stick in my hands. Of course, my stick has bristles with paint on them but it might as well just be a stick in those moments.

But somehow that feeling passes and I find myself immersed back in my own little world and that stick returns to being a divining rod.

Wayne Thiebaud has long been a favorite of mine.  Most people associate his name with his paintings of  cakes, ice cream and confections with their bold colors and beautiful thick brushstrokes. They are wonderful but for me, his most striking work are his landscapes, often set from a high perspective.  They have such great color and their compositions feel as much like abstraction as they do realism.

Just plain good stuff.

I always feel inspired by this work, moving me to try to find that same balance in my own work.

Here’s a video of his confectionery works, which is, as I said, his more popular work. I haven’t found video with his landscapes but this is still a good intro to his best known work.

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One of my favorite paintings is the one above, a depiction of the biblical Tower of Babel painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, the Flemish painter around 1563. It is probably the image that jumps to mind for many folks when they think about that tower. It is an iconic image.

But it also spurred many generations of other artists to render their own vision of how they thought the tower may have appeared. I am fascinated by the hundreds of different, yet in many ways similar, ways in which the Tower of Babel has been depicted and have scanned over numerous iterations.

All are captivating to me, filled with all sorts of compositional possibilities that always seem to have me on the verge of painting my own tower. I may have already attempted and haven’t even realized it, like the characters in Close Encounters of the Third Kind who are compelled to by their visions of Devil’s Tower to recreate that landmark in whatever is at hand, such as the mashed potatoes in the case of the Richard Dreyfuss character.

Here are just a handful of other paintings of the Tower of Babel along with a short video I came across that contains a few more.

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Another St. Patrick’s Day, that celebration of all things Irish– parades, pints and more Kelly green than the mind can fully process. They say that well over 30 million Americans claim to have Irish roots.

Growing up, I always believed we did as well because my grandmother was an O’dell, which certainly seems Irish. But doing genealogy over the last decade I have discovered that the O’dell was changed through the years from Odell and before that from Odle and, most likely, before that from Woddell, It turns out that it was not Irish at all.

No, it was British. And for the Irish that is a big distinction.

But I also discovered that my father’s great-grandparents were Irish immigrants during the Great Migration of the middle of the 19th century. It was something I wasn’t sure of before I started my genealogy work. I still haven’t found where they originally came from in Ireland.

Icon: Mary T.

Their’s was a pretty stock story. The father, Michael Patrick Tobin, worked on building the railroads in central New York, ultimately settling in the Binghamton area, where most of his family worked for the next several decades in the tobacco industry there. Most were tobacco strippers or cigar makers.

I am not positive that his wife was actually born in Ireland. There are conflicting accounts but her parents definitely were. She was the subject of one of my Icon paintings from a couple of year’s back shown here on the right. Her story is an interesting one, one that I wrote about on this blog. You can read it by clicking here.

So, it turns out I am one of those 30-some million with a bit of Irish blood, about 16% according to the DNA tests. I don’t give it much thought except on this particular day and even then I realize that these folks were little different than most of my other ancestors from other countries who left the hardships of their homelands for what they hoped would be a better life in America. I can’t say they all found wonderful lives but perhaps they were a bit better off than they might have been had they stayed put.

Okay, here a bit of Irish music for the day, a nice reel, The Glen Road to Carrick, from a contemporary Irish group, FullSet. I like the feel of this- it has a fresh edge that makes me want to drive too fast. By the way, the painting at the top is from a late Irish painter, Paul Henry, who painted primarily in the first half of the 20th century. I am a fan of his work and featured it here a couple of years back.

Have yourself a good day.

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Lost time is never found again.

–Benjamin Franklin
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The clocks moved ahead by an hour this morning despite my protests. Even though I have wasted more than my fair share of time in my life, I am at an age where I hate to see an hour just taken from me. That feeling on waking to find that it’s an hour later than I was expecting makes me rush out of bed and my morning begins on a frazzled note.

So this morning–what’s left of it–has found me searching for something to play for this week’s musical selection that would stave off my lost hour panic. Something that would slow me down so that it feels like that hour is still there, somehow.

My search takes me down dead end streets on YouTube with songs that just felt wrong which only served to aggravate me more. But somehow– and don’t ask me how– I spotted this song by a group of musicians unknown to me, a French group called the Tarkovsky Quartet.  It was a composition titled Nuit Blanche (White Night) and, as I listened to it play, felt that it was the right song for this wrong morning.

So, give a listen. Most likely the idea that time springs ahead doesn’t bother you. But if it does, this song is a lovely way to spend a few minutes of time without feeling you’re wasting it.

Have a good day.

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Rockwell Kent- The Trapper

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Force against reason: reason, because it has the power

of enlisting force to fight for it, will win.

From the recognition of that truth has come democracy.

 

-Rockwell Kent

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There are a lot of things that could be said this morning, especially with a governmental shutdown taking effect overnight. This shutdown is the symbolic culmination of the political attitudes of the past twenty years that have led us away from compromise and reason as a means of governance.

I am not going to go into my own grievances here. I’ve done that enough. But I will say that for all the anxiety this government produces as it tries to force itself closer and closer to some form of autocratic authoritarianism, I am somewhat optimistic. And that may be because I agree with the premise of the quote above from one of my favorite artists, Rockwell Kent.

I do feel that we are in struggle right now between force and reason, that the direction in which we are being directed via deception and fear-mongering– the force here–goes against the ideals and virtues that we have long professed as the basis for our democracy– reason.  The idea that reason is enduring because it has the ability to enlist those who will fight for the truth of it is reassuring to me and seems to be backed by history.

What we are experiencing is reminiscent of the way other empires have ended, when the beliefs that grew these empires are set aside by rulers who see themselves as being above those ideals and virtues. But I believe we are still a nation with enough reasonable people to resist the forces of greed and nativism that have descended upon us.

And that gives me hope, even on these days that seem so dark. So, thanks for reminding me of that, Mr. Kent.

Here’s a video of some of Kent’s landscape work, primarily of the Adirondacks, Vermont and Greenland. The format of the video is a little cutesy for my taste but it shows a lot of great work from Kent and features the music of Edgar Meyer and Joshua Bell. Have a good day and stay reasonable.

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“Split the Darkness” -Part of the Kada Gallery Show

Well, the show is in place at the Kada Gallery and I can take a deep breath. Sensing the Unseen opens December 1, this coming Friday evening with a reception that runs from 6-9 PM.

I haven’t done a count but I’ve done a number of solo shows with Kathy and Joe DeAngelo at the Kada Gallery in the almost 22 years I have been showing my work with them. They were only the second gallery to take on my work those many years back and have always been strong advocates for my work so I try to go a bit extra for them. And I believe this show lives up to my wishes.

Here’s a simple slideshow of the show. Take a look and if you can, come out to the gallery this Friday. I look forward to talking with you.

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There’s a lot going on in the next few days, with Thanksgiving stacked on top of a couple of other things including getting work ready for my show at the Kada Gallery that opens next Friday, December 1. Everything seems to racing at a frantic pace around here.

But even so, I took a little time in the darkness of this early morning to stop and savor some work from the great Japanese artist Hiroshige, who lived from 1797 until 1858. Every time I look at his work it feels new and wondrous, with a quality of absolute calm that always soothes. The color is always gorgeous and harmonious while the compositions have an orderliness, even in his treatment of something like the chaos of sea waves, that has a way of setting the viewer’s own internal mechanisms in their proper place and order.

At least that is what it does for me.

Take a few minutes to watch this video of his beautiful work and allow yourself to slow down just a bit this morning.

Everything will find its proper place.

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