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Posts Tagged ‘Vincent Van Gogh’

I am prepping for my annual two day workshop next week in Penn Yan at the Arts Center of Yates County. Below is a post I wrote just before the first workshop. I have to say, after the first four years, they have been both a lot of fun and pretty stressful for me. Every year, I am not sure I can do another one. But I keep coming back, mainly because of the kindness of the folks that come, the many laughs we share, the fact that I think they are taking away some small bits of knowledge, and the hope that they getting more than they expected when they signed up for the workshop. So far, I think that has been the case.

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Why does one not hold on to what one has, like the doctors or engineers; once a thing is discovered or invented they retain the knowledge; in these wretched fine arts all is forgotten, and nothing is kept.

Vincent Van Gogh, Letter to his brother Theo 1888

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When I read this quote from Van Gogh, I flashed back to a conversation I had several years back with an artist friend who was urging me to begin filming my painting process. He said that a deer could jump in front of my car going home from the gallery that night and nobody would ever know how my  paintings came about. He thought would be a loss.

That made me think but I still didn’t follow his advice and protected my process, except for small glimpses here and there, for years like an alchemist greedily withholding their found knowledge. It was one of several reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for teaching.

But time normally changes all things. I began to realize that it was a fool’s mission in keeping my process to myself. The  process was simply a tool for expression– it was not the expression.

An artist often has individual expression that transcends subject, material and technique. For example, an artist painting exactly like me– same trees and process– would produce work that would be different than my own. It would have a different soul, if it had one at all. If this artist’s purpose was mere copying, it would not. I can say this because I’ve seen this before.

So, after a bit, I came to understand that showing or teaching my process would not diminish my work in any way. In fact, I began painting the way that I do because I initially wanted to see paintings that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else. Wouldn’t it be great to spur that same thing in others?

To that end, as I announced earlier, I am teaching my first two day workshop,  September 17 & 18 [2015],  at the Arts Center of Yates County in Penn Yan, NY.  It’s a lovely town sitting at the end of scenic Keuka Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, famed for their beautiful vistas and multitude of wineries.

I am pretty excited about this and am starting to put together just how I want to teach this. I don’t want to spend any more energy hiding my process and I plan to fill each of the two days with as much info as I can get across while still making it entertaining and educational. So if you want to spend a couple of late summer days in a beautiful setting learning a form of expression that might spur other good things for you, contact the Arts Center of Yates County.

Hope to see you there.

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Paul Gauguin- The Painter of Sunflowers 1888

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What still concerns me the most is: am I on the right track, am I making progress, am I making mistakes in art?

-Paul Gauguin

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I am in the last day of prep before I deliver my show to the West End Gallery. I am in my 25th year at this gallery where I first started publicly showing my work and this is what I believe to be my 18th solo exhibit. But even with all that experience there is always an element of doubt present when I am getting ready to deliver paintings to a gallery.

It’s just a natural state of being. At least, for me.

I used to worry that my own judgement of the work was flawed and that this would be obvious once it was hung on a wall outside my studio. My inadequacy would be on public display for all to see.

That feeling never fully goes away and on these last days of prep, this insidious doubt always creeps back in.

But time has made me adhere to the words above from Paul Gauguin, under his 1888 painting of Vincent Van Gogh.

You do what you can do. You try to do a bit better each time. You discard those things that don’t work and grow the things that do.

And you live with that.

Okay, got lots to do this morning so I am out of here. And I think I am leaving my doubts right where they are. Don’t need them today.

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“The world concerns me only in so far as I owe it a certain debt and duty, so to speak, because I have walked this earth for 30 years, and out of gratitude would like to leave some memento in the form of drawings and paintings—not made to please this school or that, but to express a genuine human feeling.”

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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Thought a good way to kick off this week might be to share a few paintings from Vincent van Gogh along with a quote from one of his letters that speaks very much to my own feelings about my own reasons for doing what I do. These are not his better known paintings, though some of you may well know these pieces. They’re pieces that speak to my own personal inclinations. You might notice that most of these paintings have his ball sun/moon.

The idea of feeling a need to leave a memento behind that expresses one’s gratitude and one’s expression of self is one that is not foreign to me. I often think about how my work will speak for me after I am gone. Actually, if it will speak into the future at all and if so, will it be an honest reflection, a true representation of my voice.

I know that an artist, for all of the ways they try to guide the narrative about their work and life, have little control on the future.

What will be, will be.

Their voice might echo but it is always just that, an echo, a one-sided conversation from the past. Hopefully, what is said in that echo reverberates and speaks to someone of that future time so that they can fully understand and connect to the feeling behind it. And if so, with the hope that they might respond to that voice in some small way that continues to give life to it.

As I said, an artist has little control over this outside of doing their work with honest efforts and emotions. It’s obvious this was the case in the work of van Gogh and we continue to have a conversation with his echoes from the past, his mementos of gratitude.

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This short snip from a letter Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, in October of 1883, might be the best piece of advice that any working or aspiring artist could receive. And it most likely applies to any other field of endeavor.

I can’t speak for the experience of most artists but, concerning my own work and abilities, I travel through an internal landscape with soaring peaks of great confidence that often plummet into deep valleys of doubt. One moment and I am high on a peak with a seemingly endless view that shows me all sorts of ways forwards. But in the bat of an eye I find myself in a deep and dark ravine with no indications of any path on which I can climb out.

I begin to doubt my abilities, begin to wonder if I have been the fool in thinking myself an artist. Ideas that just a day or so ago felt special and ready to burst out from me suddenly seem dull and lifeless. Inspiration dissipates like a mist in the sunlight.

But, as the decades doing this have taught, the answer always comes in working.

Empty the mind, push doubts to the side and pick up a brush.

Make a mark. Then another and another. Let it lead you somewhere, let it be the path out of that valley.

Work. Just work.

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I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as in a dream.

Vincent Van Gogh

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This painting, Resplendent,  which is now at the West End Gallery, reminds me very much of one of my favorite quotes from Vincent Van Gogh, shown above. Sometimes the beauty of nature sets everything right and wipes away the obscuring webs brought on by things we cannot control, creating a path for an expression of the effect from witnessing that beauty.

In my experience, these moments of clarity are accompanied by that uncertainty to which Van Gogh refers. It is not doubt, however. It is more like the recognition of losing conscious control to an outer (or inner) entity, one where all decisions have been made beyond your waking mind.

As in a dream.

The work at that point just comes seemingly on its own, as though it was meant to be or had a need to exist.

I know this a strained explanation. It’s such a nebulous thing, this act of creating something from what often appears to be nothing, that explanations and definitions often confuse more than clarify.

And maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe the very purpose of art is to make us aware of the mystery and uncertainty of this life. Maybe it shouldn’t be easily explained.

That being said, I will stop now. Have a good day– enjoy the mystery and beauty around you.

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If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.

― Vincent van GoghThe Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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Like many of my paintings, this new piece, Reaching Out, a canvas measuring 36″ by 18″, is concerned with the Search.

The search for something that we think is missing or that we need.

Love. Friendship. Knowledge. Wisdom. Fame. Fortune. Peace. Acceptance. Truth. God.

Answers to those needs and questions that never rest within us. Those things that define us as who we truly are and what place we occupy in this universe.

I think that this searching will always be with us, that we shall never find all of the answers we seek. I know that I will never find all of the answers that I desire. But finding just a few answers, even if only a glimpse of an answer, satisfies me for a time, giving me a prod to continue scanning the horizon even when I am most content in my life as it is.

So, I maintain my own personal search.

As, I am sure, you do as well.

For this Sunday morning music, I have chose a song that meshes nicely with the idea of the Search, written by one of my favorites, Richard Thompson. Titled  She Never Could Resist a Winding Road, this version is a duet between Joan Baez and Thompson. It’s a lovely song and nice way to begin your own seeking this morning.

Have a great day.

Oh! The painting above, Reaching Out, is part of my solo show, Self Determination, that opens at the West End Gallery this coming Friday, July 14.
 

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Today and the next several days ahead are busy for me as I do prep work for the June 2 opening  of my solo show at the Principle Gallery. Even though it’s really hectic it’s not a disorienting kind of chaos. I’ve done this so many times that I understand the rhythm and timing that is required for these preparations.

That knowledge takes care of some of the anxiety but certainly not all of it. Every show has a level of trepidation as you worry about how it will be received. That particular anxiety will never go away and is actually, at least for me, kind of reassuring.  I tend to think that when I stop feeling that tension before a show I will have become complacent.

So, I am currently busy, anxious and worried. In other words, things are going about as good as can be expected.

I thought I’d share a nice video I found of the work of Van Gogh set to Don McLean‘s lovely ode to the artist, Vincent. It’s a very pleasant combination for a bustling Monday morning and definitely eases the nerves.

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