Sunday, July 24, 2011

Frontal Rocks
  oil on panel  6" x 8"
Tens of thousands of years of geological time staring me face to face. Sort of puts one's cares in perspective. The earth endures and is indifferent to us and our tiny slice of time. Maybe that is one of the reasons I'm captured so, to try and come to grips with its majesty and complexity and massiveness and leave a humble visual record as an offering. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Morning Rocks

Morning Rocks
 oil on canvas  28" x 38"
It seems to me that, in order to make paintings that might be considered visually powerful or at least effective, a painter must be a functioning split personality. The French poet, Paul Valery, knew Degas late in the master’s life and paraphrased a key piece of knowledge passed along from the old man.“True seeing is the forgetting the names of the objects seen.”   
Every painter must discover this to be true at some point or the work can never progress beyond imitation or illustration - and into the realm of art - making. 
 Lately I have been reading two books that relate first hand stories about Cezanne and his working methods. In a synopsis of many conversations related by Joachim Gasquet, a friend of Cezanne’s since childhood and a writer and poet, Cezanne speaks of his approach to the complexity of the visual world. While Degas and Cezanne are so different in personality, life style, and artistic approach - they both have come to similar conclusions.
    “Nature is always the same, yet nothing we see endures. Our art must convey a glimmer of her endurance with the elements, the appearance of all her changes. I pick her tonalities, her colors, her nuances,... they become objects, rocks, trees, without my thinking about them,... if I get carried away with theory, if I intervene, then bang! All is lost; everything goes to hell”

     This is a wonderful explanation of the act of painting, but Cezanne was such a complex man, sometimes seeming to be contradictory about every aspect of his art, it can be confusing to read him. He admonished young artists to think and consider cylinders and spheres and cubes within the subject - this was often misinterpreted - but if you read carefully a division of when to ‘intervene’ with thinking and when not to becomes clear. Preliminary to the act of painting one must stop and think; “Why have I chosen this subject? What have I fallen in love with? Where is the poetry found in this ‘motif’?”  Then the artist forgets what the thing-ness of his subject and proceeds. A split personality in action, eh?  
Yet thinking is essential to color and influence the subsequent immersion in the act of painting. The thing that writers who knew him seem to agree on was this; Cezanne was driven every day to paint and struggle with the difficulties of being this simultaneous dichotomy - one who thinks and feels and fights to record the impossible beauty of his world, The idea that there were no contours explaining 'things' - only elements that danced, ever always changing before him - this was his obsession.  Presented here, 'Morning Rocks',  is my latest attempt to follow, in my own way, the same path. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 17, 2011


  oil on gessoed watercolor paper  12" x 16"

krackle 1
  oil on canvas  12" x 14"

I have a wonderful book on Degas that has really good reproductions of his work, including many drawings and studies one seldom sees in museum displays. The best part of this book, however captivating the work is, are the many letters of his and published remembrances of him by others that knew him at all periods of his life but especially in his advanced years. One of those remembrances concerns a time when Degas and a friend "slipped in to a private exhibit that his idol, Ingres, was holding in his studio for potential buyers and others of note in Parisian society. I think probably Degas use of 'slipped in' meant he and his companion crashed the party - but he worshipped Ingres and his work so I'm sure Degas felt it was justified.
Degas describes the people at the party as remarking on each work Ingres had hung for exhibit - enthusing over how 'the master' had evoked past styles and examples. Degas describes Ingres as quietly and with some discomfort accepting the accolades as if he was tolerating a misreading for the sake of not upsetting his public. Finally someone exclaimed once again that a particular work had explored another style - Ingres simply stated, 'I have many brushes'.  Degas was said to have laughed and repeated this statement many times, thoroughly enjoying the clever remark.
What was Degas enjoying - what was Ingres getting at in his cryptic remark? I think it was a simple statement about not considering styles or end results (the things these collectors and society types were all about) - instead Ingres simply wished to follow his brushes into the exploration of the 'motif'. Tempered by the discipline of craft and technique acquired in a lifetime of immersion in line, form, shadow, and light - as well as a dedication to learning all he could from the masters who had gone before -what Ingres (and Degas after him) was after in any given work was the record of the complex process of reacting to the chosen subject. After all, it was Degas who replied to an elderly matron who asked him if he had lost his mind - "what good is my mind? I have my model, my pencils, my paper, my paints - what do I need with my mind?". 
So here I'm offering two different works - a cliff of rocks from a few years back and a more recent abstraction. They are as different as two works by the same hand might be and yet, are inextricably related by mark, color, space, surface - in fact by spirit. The rock formations and deep forests that have been my most recent obsession can be seen in these two works that have gone before - some observers have the idea that if a painter works in different styles or types, they must be a dilettante - master of none.  All I can reply to such nonsense is, 'I have many brushes' - so I am not caught-up in those concerns.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Rocks (for C.T.)

Rocks (for C.T.)
 oil on panel  12" x 18"
               The news of Cy Twombly's passing brought my thinking about my work into sharper focus I had been dissatisfied lately - too controlled, too tight, too much dictated by subject - what one artist called the tyranny of the 'things'.  Twombly's life's work of proving gain and again that marks are just marks - paintings are first and foremost just flat surfaces with scrawls and grease and pigment on them - and yet what a visceral effect the scrawls always had on me (the viewer).  I think this effect had to do with the envy/discovery of such freedom of exploration.
               This morning's paper had a column about surfer/adventurer Laird Hamilton. Hamilton is a man who has spent a lifetime finding the bigger, further, faster - riding the heaviest waves and courting fear as one would a pretty girl. The writer, Sally Jenkins, writes of Hamilton's 'ability to resolve it (terror) into grace', his 'agility and strength, courage yet surrender' and most importantly perhaps, 'recognition and release'. Hamilton describes how he functions as 'Its not so much the vastness of the wave, it is more about the insignificance of us. When you become insignificant is when you truly begin to participate. That's when it becomes a harmonious act'. 
             The description of what Laird Hamilton does in a physical, athletic world crystallized for me what I recognize in Cy Twombly's work - a surrender of any notion of control or dominance in order to become 'a harmonious act'; allowing the real experience of living, seeing, marking our place in this world to take over from any notion that we might control or know.   The best art, it seems to me, filters life experience through one's soul and is left behind like crumbs left by children in the dark forest.
So, I will cut loose and embrace the chaos of visual life, like riding an immeasurable, vast rogue wave. This painting, then, is offered to you as one of my markers, a pathway to my record of time and marks and shapes and space.