Friday, December 12, 2014

Early Autumn Woods What is beauty, Terrance Hayes, Franz Kafka

Early Autumn Woods
  oil on panel   8" x 10"

"Yes, I have a pretty good idea what beauty is. 
It survives alright. It aches like an open book.
It makes it difficult to live."
Terrance Hayes

 Autumn Streambank
  oil on panel   8" x 10"

What the best art tries to do is take the familiar and restore it a kind of strangeness, a kind of newness - to allow us to see them as never before. Perhaps a good definition of beauty is something that takes us unaware and unexpected - yet calls us to stop and exit our everydayness and simply contemplate.  
These two subjects are not two miles from our place - a location I have been to several times but on a given day, at a particular time, parts of this familiar landscape come to life as a new and fascinating subject. It is always a mystery to me and perhaps it needs to remain as such. 

"Be still and quite solitary.
The world will offer itself to you
to be unmasked. It has no choice.
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet."
Franz Kafka

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Battle of Opposites, "Earth Your Dancing Place", May Swenson, A Celebration and A Holding Onto

November Stump
  oil on panel  8" x 10"

"Take the earth for your own large room
and the floor of the earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place."

May Swenson
from her poem,  "Earth Your Dancing Place"

Down Hill Stump
  oil on panel  8" x 10"

I cannot say exactly why, but when in doubt of my work or perhaps just when looking for a new path, I return to the woods, to the images of these rotting stumps. Beside the idea that they are central to a cycle of life that continues with no concern or awareness of us, these old stumps offer me much more. They are color and posture and gesture and allow me a precarious place between abstract expression and solid reality. This balancing place is the territory in which I feel I must plant my work's flag - and which can so easily elude me. All I know is this;  I will celebrate the physical stuff paintings are made of  - while I cannot completely let go of where they come from - 
this battle of opposites that fills up my waking days. 

Stump and Rock
  oil on panel  10" x 8"

"Train your hands
as birds to be
brooding or nimble
Move your body
as the horses
sweeping on slender hooves
over crag and prairie
with fleeing manes
and aloofness in their limbs"

also by May Swenson
from "Earth Your Dancing Place"

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Leap of Faith, Attempt What Is Not Certain, Richard Diebenkorn, Fastwater #2

Fast Water #2
  oil on panel  6" x 8"

from 'notes to myself on beginning a painting'
"Attempt what is not certain.
Certainty may or may not come later.
It may then be a valuable delusion."
Richard Diebenkorn

These notes point to a man whose working method is a large part a kind of solving a puzzling labyrinth. The best impetus I have found for getting a painting going, regardless of style or subject, is to embrace the idea of plunging into uncertainty. This does not require throwing over composition or color or any other important skill or approach - instead a willingness to avoid making the same paintings over and over. The most difficult task in painting is ti ignore the safety of similarities and push toward change. I used to tell students that it was the same as jumping off the high dive and trusting there will be water in the pool - a leap of faith.- that is what Diebenkorn was after to get a work started. Perhaps his 'valuable delusion' was simply a way to get out of the labyrinth. Enjoy!

Fast Water #1
  oil on panel   6"x 8"

Monday, November 3, 2014

Seeing With The Heart, Autumn, Loudoun County. de Saint-Exupery, 'In order to make art,...

Autumn, Loudoun County #3
  oil on panel   8" x 10"  

"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: it is only with the heart 
that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

It seems to me that this line from "The Little Prince", r elates to the state of mind one must enter into when painting - a kind of faith that what one feels before a subject is most important. Of course, seeing with the heart requires one to be immersed in the sensory experience of the place in order to feed the heart or spirit. A necessary freedom from the 'things' before the painter coupled with an abandoning of concern for finished product are both necessary.   This all reminds  me of a saying - 'In order to make art one must have the mind of a scientist, the openness of a child, and the the heart of an explorer.' 
Enjoy!   Feel free to leave a comment or an observation.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Two Lake Studies; A magician and a physicist; Pablo Neruda, Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne

Maine Lake 5
 oil on panel  8" x 10"

"All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are."
Pablo Neruda

Maine Lake 2
 oil on panel  8" x 10"

"Genius is the ability to renew one's emotions in daily experience."
Paul Cezanne
"For me, a landscape does not exist in it's own right, 
since it's appearance changes at any moment."
Claude Monet

These are two studies done on the shore of Orange Lake near Whiting Maine, 
during the last week of September - just got around to photographing them. 

I am convinced that painting from the landscape, while being a humbling struggle before elements that never remain constant and are a continual struggle, elevates the painter to the level of a magician and a nuclear physicist. After all, one is compressing time while juggling light and space and form. This is the stuff of Einstein as well as Monet and Cezanne - and could only be attempted with the searching process of the poet such as Neruda. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Blue Dome of Heaven, non narrative painting, Constable, Monet, Cezanne

Sky Study, 2014
 oil on panel  5" x 8"

"It is the soul that sees; the outward eyes present the object, but the mind descries. 
We see nothing till we truly understand."
John Constable

Sky With Hill, Provence
  oil on panel  6" x 8" 

"Paint what you really see, not what you think you ought to see; not the object in a test tube, but the object enveloped in sunlight and atmosphere, with the blue dome of Heaven reflected in the shadows."
Claude Monet

Painting from nature is never copying the object; it is realizing one's sensations."
Paul Cezanne

Presented here are two small studies concerned with the atmosphere and space and the "blue dome of heaven" that Monet refers to. I have felt during all my years of painting that narrative or specific nostalgia for days past or a rural agricultural past are unimportant and I think this is what these great painters are speaking to. The best painting immerses the viewer in a sense of visual situation, nothing more nothing less. Constable, whose sky studies are a constant source of wonder, spoke of truly understanding that which one's soul sees. That is the task I try to set before myself each painting - I suppose happiness is constantly reaching for something enthralling that remains just out of reach. Enjoy!

Friday, October 3, 2014

"Magnificent chaos - What should I do with this absurdity...", W. B. Yeats, Orange Lake Painting

Lake # 2, Late September
  oil on panel  6" x 8" 

"What shall I do with this absurdity - 
O heart, O troubled heart - this caricature,
Decrepit age that has tied to me
As to a dog's tail?
Never had I more
Excited, passionate, fantastical
imagination, nor an ear and eye
That more expected the impossible, "
W. B. Yeats

When on the lake I felt the dichotomy that is held in Yeats'  lines; the decrepit age and the excited passion for the sensory world. I guess this is what I am doing each day - painting  and finding that balance. Always, whatever aches and pains I might have, they seem to drift away as I become absorbed in the struggle to come to grips with the magnificent chaos.  
In response to folks who asked about availability of my work, this painting will be posted on auction at eBay's, beginning midnight tonight - for a starting price of $99. Haven't done this before but I will endeavor to post one regularly and see how it goes. Enjoy!

Friday, September 26, 2014

The noblest pleasure. John Constable, Claude Monet

Late Summer
 oil on panel  12" x 16"

"The world is wade; no two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world."
John Constable

"The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding."
Claude Monet

Isn't what Constable is speaking of actually the driving force to getting out and working; trying to come to grips with the unknown and the chaos of variety that surrounds us?  If every day and every-thing are different and new, it follows that they are unknown to us. The painter wants to explore these crowded, unknown, days and places in order to find understanding and record comprehension - Monet's "noblest pleasure".
This is the challenge and the joy of a painter's days.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

No reason not to follow your heart. Vincent Van Gogh, Steve Jobs

Brittany Coast #16
 16" x 20"  oil on canvas

"I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart. 
I am still far from being what I want to be..."
Vincent van Gogh

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. 
There is no reason not to follow your heart."
Steve Jobs

This is the last of the paintings based on my time in Brittany. I need to get back there to continue and there is so much of that coast I haven't yet seen. In the meantime, it is vital to keep these two quotes in mind in the face of whatever difficulties present themselves, there can be no better thing for one to pursue what they love. I feel that the works from Brittany reflect my own seeking; my own striving. Enjoy!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Art and Life Become One, George Braque, William Shawn

Brittany Coast 14
 oil on panel  11" x 14" 

"Falling short of perfection is a process that never stops."
William Shawn

"With age, art and life become one."
George Braque

When teaching, I found that the students that had the toughest time progressing and the most difficulty getting started, were those who held too dearly to the idea of perfection. Perfection or the idea of absolute adherence to a preconceived notion of 'perfect', is an awful beast to confront. It smacks of machine made and engineering to a standard. I have learned that the human touch, in all its glorious imperfection, is absolutely necessary to making art and even recognizing what art can be.  What I think William Shawn was speaking to was the seductive nature of the process of pursuing a personal vision every day, understanding that it always remains just out of reach. But the pursuit brings us forward and brings us back the next day, and all the days beyond.   As the habit of daily work along this path builds over time, we one day realize that art and life have become one - 
a most joyous discovery.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Reason To Paint, Hopper and Rilke

Brittany Coast 5
  oil on panel  11" x 14"

"If we could say it in words there would be no reason to paint."
Edward Hopper

Brittany Coast 8
 oil on panel   9.75" x 16"

"... the work of art brings to the life of one who must make it - that it is his epitome;  the knot in the rosary at which his life recites a prayer."
R. M. Rilke

A pair based on the idea of the heaving, roiling sea - completely absorbed in the task as they evolved and without care for time or endings - perhaps this 
is what Hopper and Rilke refer to.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Finistere, The Edge of Beauty

Brittany Coast 8
 oil on panel  11" x 14"

"Denn das schone ist nichts als des schrecklichen anfang, den wir noche grade ertragen."
For beauty is only the bearable edge of a knowing we could not endure.
R. M. Rilke

The coast where this painting was inspired is called the Finistere, or translated, the end of the earth. In medieval times it was believed to be the outcropping at the end of the knowable world by the people living there. It's easy to see how they believed this when one confronts the power of the sea and sky and rocky coast - all seeming to crash together. It is a magical place, one that conjures up questions of immense beauty and edges or limitations to what might be mortally possible. So to grab hold of some part of the effect of such a place one must go back to the basics of value and shape and space and form. Within this basic approach lies the poetry of the place, the visual impact of  elemental powers colliding.  Maybe it the only way we can find a window into understanding a small bit of the awe-filled experience of being in this world, at this time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Into The Mystic

Brittany Coast 3
  oil on linen panel
  12" x 16"

"Hark now hear the sailors cry,
smell the sea and feel the sky,
let your soul and spirit fly
into the mystic."
Van Morrison

        There is something about the coast of Brittany, something elemental and lyrical in the huge scale of space and rock and sea and sky. I was there only a short time this spring but I am determined to get back and explore and paint. The Van Morrison song kept reverberating in my memory as I walked around these rock formations and tried to absorb what I was seeing. Building a painting one must early on decide on placing the darkest values and the lightest - while interpreting or discovering the mood and designating what will be dominant or subordinate; the light or the dark. When painting this coast, one must first reckon with the sea and what role it will play. In the painting offered here the sea surrounds and carves into the massive rocks, its colors echoed in shadows - the sunlight stands against the sea as it falls on the rocks. This is the essence of that place on that day, I hope you will agree.   

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wonder and Serenity

Farm Track Near Wheat Fields
  oil on panel   14" x 18"

"The purpose of art is the gradual, lifelong construction 
of a state of wonder and serenity."
Glenn Gould

"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."
Thomas Merton

One writer called it "absorbedness" and maybe that is the perfect description of those moments when one's process eliminates awareness of time or self. Those feelings are addictive because the artist escapes from the abstract, man-made constructs that cause concern (measured and limited time and self-ish concerns) and enables an existence of almost childlike exploration and acute sensory awareness.  When coupled with dedicated and focused practice and an understanding of appropriate method and material, this state of "absorbedness" is a powerful pathway. I've always thought the true measure af art may well be its ability to bring about the same experience for the viewer - something to be measured slowly. Enjoy!

"Far from being merely decorative, the artist's awareness is one of the few guardians the inherent sanity and equilibrium of the human spirit we have left."
Robert Motherwell

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Exquisite Struggle

Cut Wheat Field
oil on panel  8" x 10"

"We shall not cease from exploration / And  in the end all our exploring / will be to arrive where we started /And know the place for the first time."
T.S. Eliot
"And I will have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
and evening full of the linnet's wings."
William Butler Yeats

The act of making a painting depends on a happy and difficult alignment of heart and occasion - earth and sky and place thrown against physical frailty and limitation; mixed with hope and memory and a vision born of recognition. This is what Eliot writes about and Yeats experiences (and where the difference in their poetry lies) - the exploration that strives to see and recognize things familiar made new. This exquisite struggle has another seductive aspect, as one becomes lost in the exploration, an awareness of having "some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow" - descends around the painter - like the light across a cut field as the day approaches a glorious end.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Witness to Splendor

Afternoon Trees
  oil on panel

"Poets write for a single reason; to give witness to splendor."
William Carlos Williams

"Each venture 
is a new beginning ...
... what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been dis-
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one
cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition - 
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again..."
T.S. Eliot

Anyone who has ever attempted to make a painting from direct observation in the outdoors understands that "each venture is a new beginning' - sometimes painfully so. But it is the splendor of finding oneself immersed in the visual/physical chaos that is our surroundings that drives a painter to constantly look for form and understanding and fight to recover and capture some small evidence of the attempt.  It is the best we can hope for and worthy of our full embrace. Offered here is a golden afternoon amongst friends all involved in the same fight Eliot refers to and every one of us awe-struck at the splendor Williams spoke of. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 12, 2014


The Bridge
  oil on panel  7" x 9"

by W.S. Merwin

Once only when the summer
was nearly over and my own
hair had been white as the day's clouds
for more years than I was counting
I looked across the garden at evening 
Paula was still weeding around
flowers that open after dark
and I looked up to the clear sky
and saw the new moon and at that
moment from behind me a band
of dark birds and then another
after it flying in silence
long curving wings hardly moving
the plovers just in from the sea
and the flight clear from Alaska
half their weight gone to get them home
but home now arriving without
a sound as it rose to them

I was looking at this painting and wondering about the appeal of the place where I painted it. Something my sister observed about it, that it looked welcoming - kind of the idea of a house on the hill beyond the gateway, I think. Then, this morning, I was reading an email I get every day that always starts with a poem and there was "Homecoming", by the American poet W.S. Merwin. Though written in a different place and of his personal experience, the poem and maybe my little painting, speak to what connects us all as humans - the love of arriving where we're welcome; the artists' acute observations of small things that build up a larger pattern; the way art can show us these things while allowing us to recognize them for ourselves. Guess that's what it is supposed to be all about - making art and living attuned to such moments. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The One True Thing

Along A Road Above Quinson
  oil on panel  "7 x 9"

"There is only one true thing; instantly paint what you see. When you've got it, you've got it. When you haven't, you begin again. All the rest is humbug."
Edouard Manet

I especially like the "all the rest is humbug" part and Manet has hit the essence of painting right on the nose - without mincing words. This one was done in the high country in eastern Province where I traveled in mid-May. The country was so beautiful that I wavered toward trying to capture too much in any one panel - but I've taught myself a valuable habit over the years: at the outset, before one makes a single mark on the panel - step back and ask yourself what visual incident or poetic moment triggered you to choose to paint this scene? 

The answer cannot be about things or names of things (roads, fields, trees, and so on) - it must be about shadow and light, space, shape, pattern, and color. Therein lies your "one true thing" for that moment and that work - to hold fast to that visual poetry at the expense of all else, all unneeded detail, all color or value foreign to your intent. If you can do this - if you can allow the poetry of the visual incident to guide your process - you will know "you've got it."  The incredible thing about immersing and abandoning one's self to this process is it becomes something quite addictive and joy-filled. 

Glorious Day, Provence
  oil on panel  6" x 8" 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hearts that watch and receive

Edge Of A Vineyard
  oil on panel  8" x 10"

This one was done a little less than a mile from la Madelene - Simmone and Gary and I had hiked down right after a quick breakfast and set up along a view toward the mountains. As we went at our paintings,  the vineyard across the road had three workers stringing new guide wire along each row of grape vines, a woman and two men. As we painted, we soon realized the workers had come across the road to admire our efforts and chat - luckily, Simmone could speak french well and a lively and friendly exchange followed amidst smiles and gestures. They and we went back to work and a little later, I turned around for my second small painting of the morning and did this one of a corner of their vineyard, defined by a copse of trees and distant hills. 
That morning brought to mind the poem by William Wordsworth, "The Tables Turned", which ends with the line,

"Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives."

Seems to me that line perfectly captures the spirit of the folks I was painting with and the time we had together in Provence. We were there with a painter who, along with his wife, lives and works most closely to those lines. Julian Merrow-Smith's paintings and Ruth and his combined kindness and generosity are the evidence given to all who were present at la Madelene those weeks of Julian's workshops. I was blessed to be included by Ruth and Julian as an assistant to all and found my reward far exceeded what I gave. I think maybe that's what Wordsworth was saying - wondrous things come to open hearts 
that watch and recieve. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 8, 2014


A Thicket in Provence
  oil on panel  6" x 8"  

"It is simply when the eye, the hand, and the heart are in alignment."
Henri Cartier-Bresson

by Bill Knott

The way the world is not
Astonished at you
It doesn't blink a leaf
When we step from the house
Leads me to think
That beauty is natural, unremarkable
and not to be spoken of
Except in the course of things
The course of singing and worksharing
The course of squeezes and neighbors
The course of you tying back your raving hair to go out
And the course of course of me
Astonished at you
The way the world is not

Well, to anyone still paying attention, it has been roughly a month or better since my last post - corresponding to my month and a few days traveling and painting mostly in France with a balky and uncertain iPad that would not allow access to my blog. Those days are gone now and I'm almost over the jet lag.  I will use images from France to cover the blog whilst I regain my working feet here in the mid-Atlantic region of America.

My thoughts these days of course run back to the wondrous time in Provence spent painting and communing with wonderful folks in a slice of paradise. I've been thinking mostly about what is it that makes painting (or the process of any art making) such a magnet for the soul and why it's process is so valuable. I believe it traces a connection for all modern humankind to the shadowed figures making drawings in dim lit caves some ten thousand years ago. The earliest form of asserting our presence in this indifferent world, hoping for a response, maybe even expecting a response. Allowing us some small space for us to be astonished with each other and the small evidence of beauty brought at the end of the day as gifts.

I was so lucky to watch and participate over an extended time as two different groups of strangers came together from many different parts of the world and in the space of a brief few days became friends and allies. Encouraging and helping and laughing and unafraid to show it all - a magic experience. I have a theory how such magic can be possible - we are brought together by two remarkable and generous people, Julian and Ruth. So, the world may well not be astonished at our efforts, at our good fortune or our new friends - I certainly carry a renewed astonishment with me these days.

A Brisk Day at la Madelene
  oil on panel  6" x 8"  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Empty House, Near Ike's

Empty House, Near Ike's
  oil on panel  8" x 10"

"Painting is damned difficult - you always think you have it, but you haven't. 
We live in a rainbow of chaos."
Paul Cezanne

As is often the case, Cezanne is able to see the core of the problem and the essence of the attraction of painting. Because what is it that makes one go back, day after day and wrestle with the impossibility of grasping understanding out of our 'rainbow of chaos?" It is the joy of the moments when something comes together, when form and space emerge - when shadow and light define a chosen place, a devoted moment. 

One can never know what end results await - the painter has to allow the process to be an exploration of the subject within the initial expressive intent. The poetry of the initial moment has to inform the process. The 'Empty House' above is a small example of my own, evidence of a few hours spent in pursuit of that elusive goal.

I'm heading to Provence in a couple of weeks to spend some time with a painter, Julian Merrow-Smith, who has learned the lesson Cezanne taught; the joy found in the daily challenge - the rhythm of tuning one's sensibilities to the visual moment each day, a kind of offering in a humble ritual.  As he goes to work, Julian almost seems to melt into his surroundings and leave the distractions of life aside, excepting a wry comment or a humming kind of back up and go forward as he assesses both the work and its origins. 
While the process is similar each outing, the results are never the same, 
proof of the nuanced poetic awareness discovered in the work;
the commitment to the difficult task of true seeing.
It will be a wondrous experience.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Not Yet Spring

Not Yet Spring
 oil on panel
 14" x 16"

"ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack in everything
that's how the light gets in."
Leonard Cohen

I feel as if the work is struggling to come back to me as if it were this still-born spring that has only in the past few days melted off the snow and now is mostly mud. But the task is to "ring the bells that still can ring and forget your perfect offering", so here you go - enjoy.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Silver Spoons

Silver Spoons
  oil on linen panel
 6" x 8"

"I wish I could find an event that meant as much
as simple seeing."
Theodore Roethke

Seemingly simple, devilishly elusive, the reflections on the concave surface of a spoon. That is painting in a nutshell. The joy of simply seeing the essence of what is there coupled to getting at least somewhat close to capturing it that is what keeps bringing one back.