Wednesday, September 9, 2020

High Anxiety

                                                  oil on canvas 36x60 inches, 91.5x152 cm

 This is how and where I spent the summer, working on this painting. The layers are thick and my patience is done. I can live with this. As with all of the recent abstract work, I`ve been troubled with an uncertain judgement. I can`t tell if anything has merit when it happens and when it`s 'finished', I`ve just actually walked away. Unless I can`t take my eyes off it, but that experience is rare these days. I`ve begun to wonder if the global sense of tension and uncertainty has infected my process.
 A month or so ago I had a productive day in the studio and I was getting ready for bed and noticed a strange feeling. I paused and searched my memory and realized it was happiness. True story, I didn`t recognize it.

 Might be because being American right now is like riding in a speeding car with a drunk driver. No one knows what the president will do next. He`s taken a sledge hammer to the post office, decided to let the virus just run wild, and done nothing in months to aid the desperate unemployed and hungry. His stupid executive orders have gummed things up and benefited few. It`s a nightmare.
 Help is coming. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be a vast improvement. After Julian Castro dropped out, Elizabeth Warren was my choice but Biden is fine for this moment in history. He seems to have the humility to listen to others. I suspect he will have experts soon at work trying to repair the economy and the public health. Right now Trump is the number one danger, none of us are safe. But when he`s gone, I think the rebuilding will be more creative and just than we`ve seen in two generations. I sure hope.

 I began this post three days ago but was interrupted by two separate power outages. They happened because of strong winds from the east blowing trees down onto the power lines. The wind was a result of a cold front that came down from Canada into the Rockies. With everything so dry in the American West, fires have multiplied since August. The photo below was taken down in the Willamette Valley yesterday morning.

                                                        my yard 5 miinutes ago 9/92020

 The fires are burning so fiercely, it`s not known what human life has been lost yet. Everyone in the state has been asked to prepare for evacuation. I live away from the flames but we`re asked to 'be ready'. Scary and sad. John told me yesterday he doesn`t remember forest fires as a kid. This part of Oregon was just too wet but not anymore.
 As our country gets on its feet again, the rapidly warming climate has got to be addressed. The natural disasters come quicker and stronger than ever before propelled by the warming temperatures.

 Many people I know out of state have asked me what is going on in Portland? The truth is I haven`t been so sure myself even though I live just 10 miles south of downtown. As heartening as they were to me, I have not been a participant in any of the demonstrations. I do not like any sort of crowd whatsoever. Following some research I`ve done, it seems there are two types of protests going on. The Black Lives Matter group wants to keep pressure up to insure reforms really do happen. Oregon and Portland in particular, has a shameful racist history that is living memory. The black community is small here without much political strength. Demonstrations are a way to keep the issues alive. The other faction is harder to grasp. Portland is a liberal city, its voting records prove so. Yet as it gained notoriety as a hip creative place to live, a radical strain of political thought arose, more confrontational. As far as I can tell, this group of young people are protesting daily and are willing to light fires and throw things to bring attention to their message. Which is that the system is structurally unstable and unjust. I couldn`t agree more. But I fully believe president Trump sent in federal security forces to get press coverage of the conflicts to amplify his law and order campaign message. He hopes to win by stoking white fear and resentment. Evil in other words. The problems of lower income white families are not the fault of people of color or immigrants. They all suffer from a suffocating lack of opportunity. Your zip code is now your destiny and the country is as segregated as ever.
Portlanders do not want violence or looting, and they do not like being used for pawns.

Here is a haunting short video with the national anthem sung in a minor key

                                             watermedia on paper 19x14 inches, 48x36 cm

 This only took two days, much faster than anything else completed in the last 6 months. A different look than other current work but I was craving some color and again hoping through chance to develop an attitude of competence.
 I`ve done a couple of landscapes again too;

                                Mountain Sketch watermedia on paper 8x8 inches, 20x20 cm

                                   Sundown watermedia on paper 19x14 inches, 48x36 cm

                                Above Hanalei watermedia on paper 19x14 inches, 48x36 cm

 Like everyone, I`ve been home so much I have severe wanderlust. I can`t stop thinking about Kauai. When this pandemic is conquered, and the islands are open to visitors again, I sure hope some limits and reforms to tourism are initiated. Way too many visitors at one time! There must be a way to manage that and include the locals in the revived economy. Maybe a tax like Alaska did on their oil revenues with a distribution to all its citizens once a year.

                                                            by the great Roz Chast

                                                               by Agnes Pelton

 Several years ago leaving the De Young art museum in San Francisco, I saw this hanging near the entrance. I was familiar with the artist but had never seen one in person. It was absolutely luminous and it sparked my curiosity. She was a long time resident of the CoachellaValley in Southern California near where I grew up.

                                                                   Agnes Pelton

 Her work is a very personal exploration of mysticism and spirituality. The craftsmanship she worked with is exceptional. The deserts around Palm Springs are best known for their golf courses and for once being the playground of Hollywood types. Before them however, there was a small underground. Rock hounds, painters, hermits, refugees of the spirit, squatters and writers. It is a stark and brutal environment much of the year but some learned to thrive there.  With evaporative cooling, as the natives had used, and an adaptable nocturnal  lifestyle, a good life could be found.

                                                                  by Agnes Pelton

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Friday, August 14, 2020

Treading Water

                                        Untitled in Gray oil on Yupo 23x19 inches, 58.5x48 cm

                                Untitled in Yellow oil on canvas 15x30 inches, 38x76 cm

                                       Untitled-dusk oil on canvas 12x9 inches, 30.5x23 cm

  Hello again! Above are the best of what I`ve done in the 7 weeks or so since I posted. I thought by moving into oils my progress would be quicker. Oil paints are so much easier to handle than watermedia. But that ease might have played into a lot of indecision. Who knows?
 The pandemic seemed like a perfect time to paint abstractly. Develop a body of work, become comfortable in my process. I use the common advice I first heard of through Anne Lamott 'write the books you want to read'. Painting what I want to see is another matter it seems. I have such a strong interest and affinity for abstraction, I`ve thought with time a path would open up. A motif or kind of composition would present itself as a vehicle for what I want to do with color and texture. Prior to this current effort, I did them recreationally. A break from realism. This most unusual time has confounded many artists I know. My judgement seems off and my confidence elsewhere. But I`ll keep at it of course, this is the one part of my life I can control.

 165,000 now.
Obama sure got it right today; Trump is more interested in suppressing the vote than the virus. His attack on the postal service and bogus claims of voter fraud are the latest outrage. We`ve been voting by mail for 20 years in Oregon, we were the first state to do so. There have been no problems as any Republican Oregonian will tell you. As if dodging a serious illness weren`t hard enough, now we must protect the integrity of our elections. Ourselves. The president and his party are going down in a historic defeat and they know it. They are scared. Beware of insecure people, they are the most dangerous.

                                                             by David Shrigley

                                                       John by Lorrie McClanahan

 My virtual pal in Dallas, Lorrie, has spent her pandemic time quite productively honing her drawing skills on Procreate. She is part of a group of artists that have been doing a portrait a day using photos posted on Reddit for this purpose. She offered to draw my husband so I sent her a photo from when he was 40. I`ve always loved his contented expression in it and she nailed it.

                                                                   by Dorothy Hood

                                                                    by Dorothy Hood

                                                               by Dorothy Hood

 Another Texan, Dorothy Hood, just came to my attention 20 years after her death. She is in some important collections but never became known much outside of Houston. Her work is so dazzling, so deep with emotion, I swear I would have trekked through the desert to meet her.

                               Above the Cold Ocean watercolor on Yupo 20x26, 51x66 cm

 I painted this a couple of days ago while waiting for oil paint to dry. I enjoyed feeling competent. The composition originates from a photo I took on Cascade Head. As I worked, I was flooded with memories of camping trips on the northern Calif. and Oregon coasts as a kid. I will always be grateful for my parents doing this. Neither were outdoorsmen and getting four boys fed and safe in such rough situations couldn`t have been much fun. Gwen and Joe, may their names always be a blessing.

 Seen around town;

 From under the Highway 43 bridge, the only place grafiti would be tolerated longer than an hour in my community.       Tick Tock, your running outta time!   Noted!        I think they are by the same artist, do you?

 Hand painted calls for justice. Breonna`s killers are still free. Just ask yourself what would have happened had she been white? A trial would be scheduled by now. Black lives matter.

 What could go wrong?
The Cliff House actually survived the San Francisco Earthquake only to burn a few years later.

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prints from Fine Art America

Friday, June 26, 2020

abstractions for a new world

                            Untitled [ultramarine] watermedia on paper 22x30 inches, 56x76 cm

                                 Untitled [red] watermedia on Yupo 14x11 inches, 30.5x28 cm

                               Underfoot Study watermedia on Yupo 12x9 inches, 30.5x23 cm

                            Sacrifice in the Morning watermedia on Yupo 26x20 inches, 66x51 cm

                   Untitled [green and orange] watermedia on Yupo 12x12 inches, 30.5x30.5 cm

 It`s slow going but these awkward new paintings have my full attention. I needed a fresh approach to my work in response to the pandemic bomb. The suffering and anxiety in the world has caused a blessed clarity to questions I have wrestled with for years. Matters of career and aging, commitment and legacy. I`m much more clear as to what is most important right now. How or when this work is seen is of little concern. I want to see them. However long it takes to make one. Finally I can live with the uncertainty inherent in painting abstract work. Everything is unsettled. Still plenty of fear but some patience now too. I`ve learned to set them aside when I get stuck. In view but not obsessed over. Eventually a way back in is revealed. Not the solution but crumbs on the trail. Meanwhile I have others in process that I can turn my attention to. For the longest time there has been a sense of urgency in my painting process. Like a race. I hope that is over.

 It takes nearly nine minutes to change  the country.
When an officer of the law stares into a camera as he slowly suffocates an unarmed man to death, the despair of countless generations is grasped in an instant. We heaved with revulsion and recognition. Black lives do not matter and they never have.
 Why now? Why the sudden, visceral understanding of privilege?
Well, the corona virus has stripped away all of our expectations of normalcy and this vulnerability has broke us open.
When the job disappears with its health coverage, schools are closed, businesses shuttered, all sporting and cultural events cancelled, and affection potentially deadly, the calamity alters us. How could it not? Now watch a black man be murdered under someones knee. The center cannot hold. We now possess enough horror to listen. The moral convulsion our country finally experienced is among the most heartening things I`ve ever witnessed. This moment must be acted upon and I believe we will. The misery and insecurity are only deepening. We are in big trouble. 'Normal' won`t work anymore, this global catastrophe will demand a creative and cooperative effort.
 The Republican Party having so recently failed to remove a hateful and destructive president, will be swept into the sea like Pharaoh`s army. Then we can coax and nurture our country back into health. This time with justice.
Ta Nehisi Coates says nothing will change for African Americans unless white people want it. This white guy does, and I`m not alone.

                                            newspaper black out poem by Austin Kleon. 2016

 I`m sure late to the Austin Kleon party! What was I thinking when I set back down his 'How to Steal like an Artist' at the airport? This guy is a juggernaut of inspiration! Just look at his blog, he is so imaginative yet practical.
This parenting manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson was featured in the Spring. I will never be a parent but I sure appreciate the attitude here;

                               Above the Canal watercolor on Yupo 14x11 inches, 35.5x28 cm

 I`ve painted outdoors a couple of times this season. As always it`s the social aspect that I enjoy the most. Even with 6 feet between us. With my focus on abstraction now, I doubt I`ll be as dedicated as previous summers. Being still, outside in the warm air, is so special. Most of the time I`m down in my basement studio and though I love it, it is a hole in the ground. The breeze is up above.

                                   my local family at a socially distanced visit in Camas WA

                                                                  by Jennifer Packer

                                                                  by Jennifer Packer

 I`ve just recently bumped into Jennifer Packer`s work. She`s a painter`s painter in that she revels in the physicality of the paint and makes it speak. I strongly believe if an artist paints representationally, they will excel in proportion to their drawing ability. Jennifer is a master of line. Like I said she`s new to me and I had noted her sensitivity in painting African American men. I only now looked up her bio to provide a link here and I see she is black. I suspect she drew her family growing up.

                                                                    Nina Simone

 Here`s a treat, Nina Simone singing Bob Dylan`s  'Just Like Tom Thumb`s Blues'. The lyrics are classic Dylan, enigmatic and conversational with her voice clear, tender and vulnerable.

                                                               by Dave Eggers

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Sunday, May 17, 2020

Abstraction, national tragedy, plein air again

                              Untitled-violet watercolor on Yupo 18.75x14.25 inches, 48x36 cm

How are we now?
If I don`t attend to this blog I eventually get an email asking me about it. Where are you?
That anyone cares is touching, so I keep it up. It has brought me many friends.
Usually I just feel like I don`t have much to contribute and with this pandemic, only rage and sorrow. Who needs more of those? I will say this,  our lack of national mourning is dehumanizing, and a lost chance for unity. Such a pity.
The virus has claimed the lives of thousands more than the Vietnam War.
I remember that war vividly, I might have been drafted. The body bags returning home were endless.
Yet in just two months, over 89,000 people have lost their lives. I read the other day that just to speak their names would take over three days.
Our HIPAA laws forbid identifying photography of the sick so we are mostly unable to imagine the horror in the hospitals. In written accounts it is palpable but without images our collective experience of this historic tragedy is stymied. Unless we have lost someone, our pain is about the quarantine, economics and psychological survival. All important but as Governor Cuomo has said, death trumps everything. We have lost so many citizens, far more than any other country.
So, as we lurch to reopen our businesses and public spaces, I`m afraid we will not account for the dead. They will be quickly forgotten even as the numbers mount. I try to internalize what is happening for my own consideration. I read every obituary I see. I want to feel this moment.
The New York Times has segregated the covid deaths in a section called Those We`ve Lost. It feels important to read about the lives of these New Yorkers. It`s the closest I`ve been able to get, to understand what we are losing. New York is the mythic city of our ambitions and ideals, it deserves our attention.

 In the beginning of this pandemic, when it seemed quite possible I could get infected from living with a nurse, that I could conceivably die, I had to quickly reconcile the life I had already lived in order to face whatever came next. As whole as I could be. When it was clear the tsunami had missed Oregon, I was incredibly relieved and grateful. Yet this is not over by any measure. The economic hardship alone is going to be immense and crippling. The virus seems utterly unpredictable with reports now of it reinfecting those who had recovered, causing strokes in young patients and responsible for a serious inflammatory situation in children. It is no time to let down our guard. As I thread my way though this scary reality I`ve realized I need to clarify for myself not just how to survive but why. What gives me purpose? Painting of course is my reflective answer but it has not risen to this occasion. The overwhelming uncertainty is undermining the best intentions I realize, but underneath that is a personal question. Am I giving it my best self?, the deepest one? Reflecting on my experience while working I noticed I was not engaged with the landscape like I usually am. Could be that my walks now are anything but solitary. The forests near me are bustling with families out for diversion from their locked down lives. I`m completely sympathetic but I am not having the insightful and stimulating observations that have been the source for my work. So I`ve recently detoured into abstraction with more serious intent than I have had in years. The lack of a subject  causes persistent anxiety eventually and I return to representation. But now, with everything and everybody unsure, it feels right. The paintings are born with simply color in mind.

                                  Untitled-blue watermedia on Yupo 26x20 inches, 66x51 cm

                          Untitled-for Susan watermedia on Yupo 12x12 inches,  30.5x30.5 cm

                                           Untitled-red watermedia on Yupo 9x8 inches

Here are a couple of the better landscapes that preceded them;

                                 Mill Pond watermedia on paper 14x14 inches, 35.5x35.5 cm

                                     Twilight watermedia on paper 19x14 inches, 48x36 cm

                            Willamette Valley April watermedia on Yupo 20x13 inches, 53x30.5 cm

 Like many others, John got extremely frustrated that we couldn`t find toilet paper. When he finally located some online, he bought a huge bundle;

 Lyndon included for scale. Here is a single roll;

Notice the size of the hole.

Two great minds working together found a way to actually use it. This is industrial strength TP, interstate gas station grade. We have many years of supply now. Should anyone get desperate, you know who to contact.

An empty Golden Gate Bridge under quarantine. Unimaginable.

 If you`re a confused creative, let Matthew Inman tell you how it works. His take on running was one of the funniest things I ever read. He is well acquainted with his shadow.


This was an unequivocal success! Tahitian French Toast!
John had made an amazing spongy kind of bread that was going stale and I had just bought a bunch of Ataulfo mangoes. This kind;

Not the beautiful but disappointing red and green ones.
So I thought a tropical version of French toast would be good. I put a little dark rum in the eggs and then topped the toast with lots of mangoes, toasted coconut and almonds, a drizzle of maple syrup and crowned with creme fraiche. It was a delicious homage to the carbohydrate.

I`d love to hear what others are making, this is a perfect time to experiment.

                                 Bryant Meadow watercolor on Yupo 14x11 inches, 35.5x29 cm

What a gorgeous morning! I was sitting in that meadow painting the day.
Even with my current ambivalence about landscape painting, getting out and just being there was a joy.

                                                         dazzling   Shara Hughes

Now she is a colorist!

by Bill Watterson

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