Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’

Hiroshima Survivor Bonsai US National Arboretum

Today is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb being exploded over Hiroshima.  I am not looking to get into an exploration of whether it was right or wrong, don’t want to justify or condemn the decision.

It happened.  And with horrifying effectiveness.

No, instead of focusing on our ability to destroy I would rather today feature a story of natural endurance and beauty.  I am talking about the now 390 year-old bonsai tree, shown above, that now resides at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC.  It has made it intact through the centuries of history including surviving the Hiroshima blast which took place less than two miles from its then home.

It started its life on the Japanese island of Miyajima back in 1625.  Think about that.  Here, we were five years into the Plymouth colony, still struggling to gain our footing in this land while on an island half a world away this tree was beginning its life.  And since that time, this tree has received constant daily care, allowing it to thrive and live well beyond the life expectancy of a normal bonsai.

At some point in its life, this rare tree came into the possession of the Yamaki family which ran a commercial bonsai nursery for several generations near Hiroshima.  It was at this location when the bomb exploded.  The tree was sheltered by a wall and the blast fortunately only caused minor injuries to the family, mainly lacerations from flying glass.

In 1976, bonsai master Masaru Yamaki donated the prized tree as part of the Japanese people’s gift to the U.S. in recognition of our Bicentennial.  It has lived the last 39 years, one tenth of its existence, at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum. It has witnessed the world changing in so many ways yet it stands still.

Serene and beautiful. With our care.

Let us hope that we begin to realize that we gain so much more by nurturing this world than through destruction.

Just look to the tree…

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Michael Mattice hand and strings from videoI’ve written several times here over the summer about my friend Michael Mattice‘s  debut album,  Comin’ Home.  It has been really well received here and abroad,  drawing great reviews from a number of different venues. Below is the first video from the album of the song, Led to Gold, a favorite of mine from the album as it really highlights his abilities on the guitar.  The video has a few DC landmarks recognizable to most as well as the lesser known but  no less spectacular Great Falls, just above DC on the Potomac.  It’s a really well done video to a strong song.

It’s been interesting watching Mike’s creative arc over the past several months.  In September, we spoke at length about the ebb and flow that comes with creativity, especially in how the public reacts to it–overnight success is seldom as quickly gained as it appears on the surface,  I advised that he not be too swept up in this waxing and waning in the short-term and we both agreed that  patience and trust in your own abilities and vision are key to maintaining your course.  If you stay true to your vision, people will come around eventually.   And in Mike’s case, I believe this absolutely true.

Hope you’ll enjoy this!

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Whenever we get to DC for any appreciable time, we try to get to the National Gallery.  We can spend hour after meandering through the maze of viewing rooms, taking a vurtual tour through the timeline of art history.  There’s so much to see that we never see it in its entirety, often leaving out entire eras and movements.  But one section that we never miss is that area that features the Byzantine and early Italian Renaissance art.  Maybe it’s the beauty of the gold-leafed backgrounds that give the religious scenes an iconlike feeling or maybe it’s the thought of all the history that many of these pieces had witnessed and how amazing it is that they have weathered the vagaries of many wars to survive in such beautiful condition.

Take for example, the painting above, St.. Jerome Reading from one of my favorite artists of this era, Giovanni Bellini.  The surface and colors of this piece are stunningly pristine looking even though it was painted in the 1480’s.  It looks as fresh as a newly painted work.  I don’t know how much conservation this painting has underwent but one of Bellini’s masterpieces and another of my favorites, St. Francis in the Desert, which is in the Frick Collection in NYC, underwent conservation last year and they said it basically just needed a good dusting off.  Even if it has underwent a little plastic surgery, which I doubt, it is incredible to see it’s surface.

Another favorite is a piece from Andrea del Castagno made from leather stretched over a wooden  frame called The Youthful David that features the image of the biblical David with his sling in hand and the head of Goliath at his feet.  The piece was painted as a shield for probably some wealthy Florentine family to brandish during  the festivals and parades of the time.  I love the color and action of this piece as well as the thought of how many events it has been witness to over the ages, how many parades in which it was carried since it was painted in the 1450’s.

I could go on and on about some of the work there, so many pieces that stop me in my tracks in awe.  I thought I would just mention these two because they hit me most the other day and continually inspire in ways that are not always evident.

Just plain good stuff…

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It always takes a day or two after returning from a show to get back into any kind of rhythm in the studio, especially when I’ve been away for several days.  I am definitely a creature of habit, one that needs its set daily routine to keep everything at an even keel.  Without it, I feel out of sorts and a bit on edge.  So getting back in the studio is a relief even though the rhythm is still disrupted.   Eventually, I know that the rhythm of my routine will kick back in.

These  first days after a show  find me slowly sliding into the painting process while I use this break as a time to reset and evaluate the direction of my upcoming work as I run over the details of the show which has just passed.  I am  trying to remember comments made about the work in an effort to ascertain what aspects triggered great response and what pieces drew less enthusiastic reactions.   Some pieces surprise me with the reaction they provoke from the show-goers, some drawing much stronger respnses than I’d anticipated.   These mornings after are just a rehash of all of this info, trying to make it into some form that I can pull from in the future.

A friend, Ted Terrenoire,  took a few photos during the opening including the one at the top of this post, a photo that I really like a lot.  I think it captures what I hope for in my exhibitions, that the show is about people engaging with the work.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a successful show is one where the crowd is facing outward towards the  work on the walls.   I’ve been to crowded shows where everyone is gathered with their backs to the walls, the social aspect of the event far outweighing the work to which barely a glance is given.  I’m pleased that most of my shows are not social events, that most of the shows are spent with people intently looking at the paintings, often lost in their own thoughts.  That makes me feel as though I’m on the right path with my work.

Okay, I have to go.  There is much work to be done here and I feel the rhythm coming back to me…



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There’s an exhibition currently hanging at  one of my favorite museums, the  extremely comfortable Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, called Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard.  It bascially shows how the advent of personal photography in the late 1800’s, with the invention of the Kodak handheld camera, changed how many artists worked.  The camera allowed artists to capture moments without their easel as well as permitted them to ponder an image long after the moment had passed.  This exhibit focuses mainly on the effect fo the camera on the Post-Impressionists, such as George Hendrik Breitner, whose photo of a girl in a kimono and the resulting painting is shown here.

I have seldom used photos as a pure reference source but, as this blog will attest, have been influenced by many of the photographed images I have come across through the years.  I think this exhibit would be a wonderful insight into how the photographed image is used to translate the artistic vision.   It runs at the Phillips until May 6 of this year

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Renwick Museum Catlin GalleryThis is a shot from the George Catlin Gallery which was contained in the Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.  It was one of my favorite exhibits in a tremendous space and always fills me with a new inspiration to create when I think of it.  It was primarily filled with portraits of Plains Indians by George Catlin  and the sheer number of the pieces and the scale of the room was overwhelming when you first entered.renwick-gallery

These photos don’t really capture the scale or feel of the room.  Although it seems at first immense, there’s a very comfortable atmosphere there, one that beckons you to sit on the benches there and just ponder.

For me, I think about the lives of those in the paintings, their day to day existence as well as the plight of their people.  I think about Catlin painting this huge group of work over the years and the passion and drive it must have taken to complete such a task. I think about basking in such a great space and feel quieted, although deep inside it makes me itch to have a brush in my hand.

If you’re in DC sometime, look up the Renwick Gallery. There’s a new exhibit featuring selections from their American collection.  You’ll be glad you did.

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