Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Marker, Wisawa Szymborska,"unfathomable life"

  oil on canvas   40" x 50"  

"For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life."

From "Poems New and Collected," by Wisawa Szymborska

I've always thought that the island refered to in this poem stands for the world and our individual lives here. The evidence left behind for us seems to mark our way 'into the the depths' - perhaps death and what awaits us there. But then the whole idea of this plunge is rescued by the "unfathomable life" ending. So perhaps the poet is refering to birth or maybe the rebirth that occurs when one finally realizes we are only here to embrace it all and do what we can while we can.

This large painting of a rotting stump, deep in a wood, represents both sides of life - the obvious remnant of a large tree once standing here - but in its beautiful decomposing also the material of rebirth and life. 

Once I was out painting in the field and someone came up behind and watched for a few moments and then commented something to the effect that 'while that's a nice painting, no one will ever want it'. I asked why she felt that way and she replied 'because there is a dead tree in it - noone wants to buy a dead tree in a painting'.  I told her I hadn't even thought of it as a dead tree - it was a passage of a silvery blue-gray that fit with the composition and color  scheme. She rolled her eyes and left - I left the tree where it was.

Early on the morning after I finished this large painting of this rotting stump - I was seized by the idea that I'd gone way over the top and that the painting was an empty exercise. I walked over to the studio in my slippers and realized what it was - the evidence of a week's worth of concentrated joy - joy made up of the color, the thick brushwork, the color, the space and form coming to life - all in concert to establish a moment that sums up the wondrous chaos and purpose of the cycles of life. Enjoy it if you will, and consider those scattered footprints that all lead to such a joyous plunge! 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Winchester Study, W.B. Yeats, Andrew Wyeth

Winchester Study
  oil on panel  7" x 9"

"What we make out the quarrel with others, rhetoric; 
but out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry."    
W.B. Yeats  

"I dream a lot. I do more painting when I'm not painting. It's in the subconscious."
Andrew Wyeth

This image has been with me for 15 years or better. In the middle of a small city there once stood an abandoned mill or factory, probably built around the turn of the 20th century. When I discovered it the buildings were empty and the fencing around them had gaps and holes. I took my camera in on a beautiful fall day, intent on getting everything I could then and to return the next week with my french easel to make oil sketches. I shot three or four rolls of black and white film - all I had with me that day because I had simply been running an errand and hadn't counted on such a visual gold mine to appear. My return with painting gear was delayed a week or maybe two but finally early one morning, with similar light conditions once again present, I loaded up the painting gear and headed out for Winchester.  When I reached the spot, full of anticipation for an entire series of paintings - I found the buildings had all been bulldozed to a pile of bricks and rubble. Completely destroyed.

Since that day those images on black and white film that I processed and printed, have been embedded in my memory, my imagination. I have debated trying to make paintings from them - worrying ways to separate my painting process from the dictatorship of photo detail. I have wondered and dreamed and imagined how best to deal with these images of places no longer existing. Ghost buildings.  Lately I've begun making rough charcoal sketches and small oil studies, debating, worrying, dreaming of strategies to keep the images ghostly and mysterious without losing their particularity. As much from the subconscious as from the images - and I believe I will discover,  art lives on the razor edge between the two.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Two larger works from up on Bear's Den

Top of the Ridge, Bear's Den
  oil on canvas  34" x 48"

June Day, Near The Appalachian Trail
  oil on canvas  34" x 28"

"The image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy."       Ezra Pound

"Painting is the passage from the chaos of the emotions to the order of the possible."

I would often tell students that they were engaged in advanced physics when making paintings. Those who were with me for the first year would give a look like, "what in the world is this guy saying?"  Considering Ezra Pound's quote above and it begins to make sense. Painting, at its best, is a representation of a fleeting moment, distilled from a compression of hours of work - powered by a "cluster of fused ideas", dealing primarily with light energy as it bounces around and off of solid mass. The incredible thing is that all this complex process is set in motion by our humanity - our imagination, our recognition, our experience. This is, to my thinking, where art exceeds physics, in that it takes abstract ideas like time, space, form, energy - and brings them back within our capability to understand, to experience empathy and to connect with each other in our common life experience. Quite a wondrous occupation, wouldn't you agree?

Passage at Bear's Den

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."  
Ernest Hemingway

"I want to be connecting with the subconscious, if I can call it that, because there are not too many words to describe the real deep inner part of a human being ... I want to be at that place where everything is blotted out and where creativity happens ... and to get there I practice, you know I'm a prolific practicer, I still practice every day. You have to have the skills, then you want to not think when you're playing, that's when you let whatever deep level of creativity, spirituality, I mean, you know these words are so inadequate these days but you want to get to this place where they exist."
Sonny Rollins

The quote from Sonny Rollins (posted on FB by Victoria Webb, a marvelous painter down in Georgia) could have as easily come from Willem de Kooning or a generation later, Richard Diebenkorn. Hemingway in his quote, is writing about the same place but in his style has distilled his process down to a simple, graphic image.  The real question facing us all is how can we get to that magic, deep level of spirituality reliably and consistently? Sonny Rollins, a master musician, says practice - 
like the old joke, "new comer to NY City asks cabbie, 'How do I get to Carnegie Hall?' The cabbie answers, 'Practice, practice."   And it is true that the best way to creative sources lies in a regular, daily practice of one's expressive craft.   That daily practice however, is simply kicking the door open to possibilities. One must then enter in and find the state of mind required - and this is perhaps best discovered by attaching the painting process to one's original discovery of the poetry in the subject.
 The visual power that speaks to the subject can always be found in the form, the value structure, the space, the color -  it is up to the painter to decide how to use them in pursuit of the expressive effect.
 This is Hemingway's 'bleeding', for this is always a difficult thing, to penetrate the outward life and obliterate the world's distraction - but possibly the most noble and enhancing of all human endeavor - connecting all of us to a basic human desire; coming to grips with the essence of being alive!