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

Click HERE for work for sale in my studio

HERE for prints


Maggie Emm said...

Hi Randall, just wrote to you then my internet connection cut out and I lost it all!
Enough to say, thank you for your post, and beautiful paintings - that first abstract seems to perfectly illustrate the sorrows of this time.

Libby Fife said...


I love your abstract efforts alot. They may not be helpful to hear, I know. They appeal to me because your sense of color, your "Randall-ness" is quite visible in all of the marks and choices. It's like your landscapes dissolve, rearrange their shapes and lines and colors, and become something new. Of the 4 shown, the blue and red are my favorites because of what I see (the figures, narrative, etc.). Mill Pond is also a good choice for me because of that little section in the lower right. (All of it is nice!)

We bought some industrial grade TP too. I don't honestly want to ever go back to Costco. The TP takes some getting used to.

As for meaning? I don't know. What is my purpose here on earth? That is the eternal question. Lately I have felt that I really like just being alive. Each morning when I wake up I think that I get another day. I get to pick and choose. It's enough I hope. I am always afraid of squandering my time.

That Lyndon! What a handsome boy he is.

Thank you for the post. I know it's tough to muster up the energy.

E.M. Corsa said...

You probably won't want to hear this but those abstractions make me swoon. I personally love them more than anything else I've seen you do. Now why is that? Perhaps there is so much trapped in your heart and this is the only way out.

I'm going to email you in a little while, a passage I read last night that describes me perfectly. Maybe there's a bit of you in it too.

BlueHwyGal said...

Well, you've done it again: written and painted some glorious things, out of the dregs of our days....
Thanks, as always, for the introspective reflection, and the tips and links to other delights (The Oatmeal, in particular - who knew we live near the Salish Sea?)
Sending gratitude, love and hugs to you both - stay well!

RH Carpenter said...

I love the abstracts, too, especially the first and second (I swear I see people there although that’s not what you meant to paint and even see some of them wearing masks!). Beautiful shapes, colors, values are all that’s needed - our eyes wander and enjoy it all and take a break from the craziness and sadness. Thank you for sharing all the paintings and your words. I did laugh at the industrial size TP because, well, who wouldn’t laugh? :). Take care of yourself and your sweetie. This time will past. Those who can will hold on and learn from it. Those who can’t will forget and move on to the next big thing or tweet :(.
We must hold on to the fact that so many died and honor them. I, too, was disappointed that there was no national day of mourning or even the names called out on Memorial Day - it would have made such an impact.