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"