Thursday, December 16, 2021

Pierce the Gloom!

                                          Winter Wetland watermedia on paper 14x19 inches

 Yes it`s cold and soggy not to mention DARK, but what can you do? I`ll tell you, put on some proper clothing and go outside!! It`s the only way through, just ask a Scandinavian! They have a whole outdoor winter culture and they are experts with the darkness. The bottle is not the solution, trust me, it`s light that matters. Lights answer the darkness, get lots of them. Twinkling little bulbs lift the spirits far higher than their cheap price would ever suggest. Give your body ten minutes of walking and you can start peeling off layers to wear around your waist. It is so exhilarating to be warm outside in the cold looking at beautiful things. Like the forest which you can now see into because the leaves have fallen. Some intentional kindness to somebody, anybody ratchets up the goodwill like nothing else. To those vulnerable to grief during the holidays, the New York Times suggests making some plans, even lame ones. Be proactive, do not let sadness catch you by surprise. You honor the departed by living the best life you can. Use what they taught you. Keep them alive. Everyone over 30 knows how fast time scoots by. In a mere few weeks now, we will notice the longer days, hear more birds, and see the tree buds everywhere get fat. Our lives are just as valuable in winter, find a way to get right with it. 

We`ve all been through a mass trauma, let`s be gentle with ourselves and others.

                                                  Tidal Surge watermedia on paper 19x14

Finally, an abstract painting that flowed! No anxiety just a great sense of exploration. Some early random pours of ink ignited the construction and then it was a matter of finding a composition using the means I like to see; variety in texture, transparent and opaque areas, clear assertive color playing off subtle neutrals and a balance of light to dark values. It was fun. 

                                                Enter oil on oil paper 12x16 inches

                                                   Fade then Fall oil on oil paper 16x12

                                                 Tree Circle oil on oil paper 16x12 inches

 Three new studies from my walks around Cook`s Butte. Beautiful place that I relied on after my knee infections. I can do a lap near the top with a significant uphill section. I used it to build up my lungs again after being inactive for so long. You get to know a place with repeat exposure.

He sure could see the future. Wonder what he would say about restoring a faith in science? Sometimes I think only a mass tragedy will ever unite our country again. It is so stupid, we share much more than we realize. Because Fox news and MSNBC seem like propaganda machines, I never listen to either. Most Democrats don`t trust Fox so might not realize how demonized we are by them. Every now and then I get a glimpse of the hatred they encourage and it is shocking. What conservatives don`t understand is there is a limit to our patience with Republican attempts to rule the world. If the Supreme Court invalidates Roe vs. Wade, they will awaken a sleeping giant.

  Amy Donaldson`s work has intrigued me for several years. The elements in her paintings are continually repeated yet offer a large variety of content. Emotional content. Just from the titles you can tell there is another intention in the work as well. She might say it is one in the same. Amy is a devout Christian and it is important to her to express that faith not only in the paintings but in texts regarding her or the work. This interests me as I generally have a high opinion of artists and their ability to critically think. The Japanese American Makoto Fujimura is another believer whose work I respect. Both are painting from a sincere impulse and both achieve a depth that I can feel. Maybe because I was also raised to worship Jesus Christ, there is an affinity. My intellect had me rejecting beliefs on closer examination while still a teenager. Not the appalling attitude toward homosexuality you might expect from me but the conflict between a loving God and the necessity of 'salvation'. Couldn`t hold both ideas together but clearly many others have. So in a way, the persuasion in the expression of their work is more credible to me than any argument. Here are some of Amy`s paintings;

 I could live happily with one of these.

                                                                         Tipton oil 30x24

 I`ve been known to annoy other painters by telling them they should stop once their glorious simple underpainting is complete. I really do mean it but a modern painter has set aside studio time as a precious appointment with themselves. If you have 4 hours to give to your practice, you don`t want to hear you`re finished in half an hour. But maybe you should be. Maybe the spirit in your idea is most pure, lovely and immediate in the beginning. Maybe the solution is to have lots of available substrates on hand at all times so as to move on to something else. I do believe more great art has died because of the work ethic than anything else. Maybe if I listened to my own advice the painting above would still exist.

                                                                Natalie K. Nelson

Happy Holidays! The war on Christmas is here!

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HERE for prints of my work or the images on merchandise 

Someone in Portland just ordered a bunch of stuff. If it was you, thank you!

Friday, November 26, 2021

The new Thanksgiving

                                                      Summit oil on oil paper 16x12 inches

Well it was better than last year, no question! My extended northwest family was in several locations so John and I communed with my brother Mike and his wife Norma. It was great. I bought prepared food from New Seasons, our local grocer of higher principles and prices. Those of you who have cooked Thanksgiving dinner understand the immense amount of planning, shopping, standing to cook and exhaustive clean up it requires. And then, we expect our mothers, wives, grandmothers, sisters and aunts to stage it all again in a month for Christmas! I did it once and realized immediately this is bullshit. Reproducing the same traditional foods everyone loves that is. How did this even get started? Well, I want most of them too so I purchased them and they were good. Mike brought an enormous pecan pie from Costco and I could have wept it tasted so fine. The conversation was engaging and I was loving the four of us there together. 

The autumn before, it was just me and John and a room full of fear. No one would be vaccinated for at least another month. Every time he left for work at the hospital I worried about his exposure to the virus. Every day before the inauguration I worried what the outgoing insane president would do next. Talk about high anxiety!

The 'Summit' is Cook`s Butte,  718 feet in altitude. In winter you can see through gaps in the trees and survey the lower Willamette Valley. The view is expansive. The painting was an exercise of sorts. Even though I`ve returned to oil painting, I still want to work on paper. Arches makes one infused with a resin that prevents the acidic paint from damaging it. This was my first effort.

                                              Willamette Valley Study watercolor on paper

A long time collector of my work sent me this photo of a painting from 2003. I knew it was mine but didn`t remember it. I let him buy it without photographing it first. Unfortunately analog photography just messed up my mind and too many paintings got away before there was a record of them. I used professional grade slide film, my camera was adequate but I could not keep all the elements straight. Somehow when the world went digital, things started to make sense. With the finishing software like Photoshop, I could correct any flaws. A more proper archive commenced.

                                                     Entourage oil on canvas 20x16 inches

This and the drawing below are the last abstract pieces of late. I feel like it`s time to begin merging the two strains of work. I have lost my patience with being perpetually confused when painting without a subject but I definitely want my landscapes to look different with more emphasis on the painting process rather than my personal attitudes toward nature.

     Untitled watermedia on Yupo 14x11 inches

When the sun slips into its annual retreat in the Pacific Northwest, this salad fortifies the spirit until Spring. The idea is from Sicily, I learned of it working in a restaurant and I eat in all winter long. So simple too. When the good citrus from California arrives I peel and slice oranges. Some tangerines, tangelos or  sometime grapefruit are nice to include and then it`s tossed with a little olive oil and salt. Add some thinly sliced sweet onion such as a Walla Walla or Videlia, a similar small amount of shaved fresh fennel and some sliced or chopped Kalamata olives. It is oddly refreshing on a cold December day. The Sicilians would arrange everything beautifully in layers on a platter but I just gently mix it all up and eat it from the Tupperware.

 In other consumer news, look at this! A counter top ice maker! Of course many people have this done in their freezers automatically but we can`t have nice things like that. Our 100 year old kitchen doesn`t have space for the refrigerator I ''deserve'. 

 One more purchase I`m proud of. When we lost power for days last Feb., we ended up staying in a hotel. Because of covid, I wouldn`t ask any family or friends to shelter us. It was humiliating. We vowed that when the ordeal ended we would find a source of heat that didn`t require electricity. I wanted a heater that ran on natural gas, that didnt have a fan, and had to be lit manually. Took some research but I found one that is wall mounted and vents outside. Naturally we`ve lost power already and we were able to test it. It works well. We also bought a fancy big battery so we could have some light and charge our phones and it came with photovoltaic solar panels to recharge it! Now, I seriously need to prepare for the Big One. It`s coming, the Cascadia Subduction Zone  is 90 miles offshore and overdue for a slip type earthquake.

                                                                     Donald Maier

                                                                     Donald Maier

                                                                   Donald Maier

Donald Maier`s work confounds me. Because I like it so much, especially his southwestern paintings. He uses traditional transparent watercolor technique in a straightforward simple style. Look close and you`ll see his ordinary brushstrokes on top of loosely painted background washes. No tricks, revisions, angst or arrogance anywhere. Yet to me they are magic. Through the most basic means he is showing me the desert I`ve experienced. Landscapes I know and love. Is it his direct attitude or is he different? Does he have a natural link 'from the faraway nearby'? 

This opinion piece from last summer got some attention. He said what many of us felt but wouldn`t articulate. That seemed like an escalation of our already terminal divisions. But as the three day old news of the Omicron covid variant is already shaking the stock market, brace yourselves for this new version which seems quite unlike the others. If it is indeed serious, especially if the vaccine is an uncertain defense, the political/philosophical resistance to the common public wellbeing must be defeated. This virus will be among us forever if we can`t deny its spread. It may take a wartime mentality that I hope we will be ready for. Being anti-vax or anti-mask will be just too dangerous.

                                                                        George Booth

click HERE for work for sale in my studio


Sunday, October 31, 2021

True Autumn

                                              Jackson Bottom watercolor on paper 14x11 inches

 It`s here with the full entourage of radiant temporary color. Beauty so insistent, it stops the machine of my thinking. Interrupts my worry with a blinding golden light. Maybe things will be ok? For today, yes is the answer. Lucky Oregon! Autumn and Spring defy memory. Each time they arrive it seems it has never been so sublime. What did I do to deserve this again? My favorite part is still to come. When the transplanted trees from elsewhere flame out, the natives have their moment. Not as overwhelming as the others but so poignant, the yellows and pinks against the muddy rivers flowing fast again with the rain. It`s great and I suspect it`s good everywhere, right? We all love Fall.

Thank you to those who visited my studio this month during the Portland Open Studios! It was a very successful event by all accounts. Such a social and radical shift from the solitude of painting! I don`t think I will ever stop being amazed that a total stranger will talk knowingly about what I do. In my process, doubt is nearly always present, but not during open studios! Thank you to anyone who looks at my work thoughtfully. That`s exactly what I want yet so rarely see for myself.

                                               April Study watercolor on Yupo 12x9 inches

 This began on location a couple of years ago but I never liked the bottom half. With yupo you can just wipe it off with a damp paper towel. I added a fruit tree in bloom and now I like it.

                                           Cliffside Study watercolor on paper 11x11 inches

  I`m trying, with these landscapes, to integrate some of the insights I`ve gained by working abstractly. But I don`t see much difference yet. The painting below was intended to be a subtle yet lively composition of patterns and textures but it became more realistic, not less;

                                               Rainforest Winter watermedia on Yupo 26x20

 Last weekend I went to see Betsy Chang. She`s an acquaintance I met a few years ago through this blog. She was working in watercolor and we were both interested in Georgia O`keefe`s watercolor paper from the early 20th century. To me, those fresh abstract landscapes were the best work of O`keefe`s life.  I`ve been following Betsy`s work on Instagram ever since. Abruptly her course changed to pure abstraction in oils and acrylics and this made me curious. There is something special and unique to her touch, the way she moves a brush. I can see something original by her marks. I think it might have been apparent even in her childhood. Talent is often demoted to just one of many characteristics in an artists life, and I mostly agree. However we`ve all known people with very particular gifts. The abilities show up early and often overtake the lives of young people.

 So I asked if I could see what she had been working on. Since we had been in touch, she also had a baby, born during this frightening, confusing time. Her studio was absolutely crammed with work everywhere. Big stacks of watercolors on all level surfaces. I thought my god, she`s done all of this while caring for an infant, working a full time job and coping with a global pandemic! I could tell it was stressful to be sure, but I was impressed by the obsession. She had to make those paintings, that`s who she is. Without attention, sales or a gallery, she just made her paintings. I admire this so much. Even if choice isn`t a factor, whatever is moving through her, I think it`s holy.

                                                                         Betsy Chang

                                                                         Betsy Chang

                                                                        Betsy Chang

                                                                          Betsy Chang

So how does Betsy or anyone else get a gallery? Artnet tells you how, right here.

Nest weekend!
And the Sitka Invitational, for your art+nature needs

 I will have three of my new abstract watercolors in the show

If you haven`t thought about pandemics enough, here is an article about earlier ones and how they were eventually overcome.

Finished this morning;

                                                       watercolor on Yupo 14x11 inches

click HERE for work for sale in my studio

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Round 2, PDXOpenStudio


 The end is near. The final weekend of the Portland Open Studios will be over on Sunday at 5pm. My promotional role will conclude, I promise. No one disdains this kind of attention seeking more than me. Unfortunately so, as social media become ever more dominant and influential. My work is the best part of me, I want it out front, not me. There is irony in writing that sentence on one of the first forms of social media, the blog. Nonetheless, most artists are intent on their work. That process is so personal, to draw attention to ones personality seems distracting at best.

 Weekend #1 began so slow, I could feel the existential dread of my comrades. Would we sit for four lonely days in our studios hoping a sliver of the public would come through? By Sunday things were looking up. My visitors seemed more engaged with the work and the event than I remembered from other years. More of my neighbors came!

 What struck me though was the pessimistic view of life I was hearing. The pandemic has been brutal to so many but because I am so isolated by my nature and because of CDC guidelines, I hadn`t heard many first hand accounts. I knew I had it easy but not to the extent of it. A grandmother told me about her daughter, a school teacher, who suddenly was forced to teach online without any training, while her own three children were now home with her and having to learn their lessons on computers , tablets and phones. Just one family. That this sort of situation was global defies the imagination. Should it be any surprise the crime rate is up? 

 For someone to visit a stranger to see their artwork is unusual. Those that do this believe in the value of art. They are not negative. They get into their cars on a wet and cold fall day and travel to see some paintings, to talk with an artist. Receiving these 'pilgrims' was such an honor. I was heaped with praise and they traded their money for my painted sheets of paper. How wonderful is that? If they had a live for today attitude, I understand why. We are becoming aware of a crisis that is engulfing us. It`s the hot climate, world politics, immigration, severe income inequality, the rapid extinction of animal species and the possible end of democracy in my country. Hope is going to take on a whole new meaning.

 That`s David Trowbridge and me this morning in my studio. He is also an artist involved with the Open Studios this year. We had studio visits to see how we each configured our studios from working space into 'galleries'. It was fun. I`ve watched his work closely over the years and he`s achieved a solid maturity recently. He began introducing graffiti elements into his bold abstractions and that has enriched their visual character and also enlivened their emotional nature. As if fresh air or a new light has entered into his jazz inflected work. I`ll begin with an older piece I like;

                                                         Reflection by David Trowbridge

                                                       Child of the Wind by David Trowbridge

notice the distinctive Portland landmark, Big Pink, at the top of this downtown scene

                                                        [untitled] by David Trowbridge

Here, his graffiti marks tilt toward calligraphy. Go take a look in person this weekend. His studio is #93, and it is clinging to the hillside right above the Markham Bridge. The view is spectacular!

   My brother Michael is a barber. I love that he has such opportunity. How we feel about ourselves affects everything.


 In cleaning up for the open studio, I found this drawing. I drew this impossibly beautiful young man 23 years ago. I remember hearing he was having a hard time and I think a wariness is visible here. He would be close to 50 now. I hope things got better.

 This is a literacy test for voting from Louisiana given to people who could not prove a fifth grade education. This is why we need 'critical race theory'.

 The only artwork I have been able to do in 10 days. 6x6 inches, scribbled in watercolor crayon before my first guests arrived last weekend.

                                                                         Sammy Peters

                                                                         Sammy Peters

                                                                         Sammy Peters

 If you are lucky enough to be in Santa Fe New Mexico this month, be sure to drop by the LewAllen Gallery to see the astonishing works of Sammy Peters and Ben Aronson. Both of these guys have been doing museum quality work for years. To be able to see multiple paintings from each of them in one place is extraordinary good fortune. And to see them in a city as beautiful and beguiling as Santa Fe, that`s pure luxury. I wanted so bad to visit New Mexico last summer. The monsoons had returned and the photos I saw of a lush landscape where there had been extreme drought, were amazing. But having had two plane trips since my vaccine and the Delta variant gaining strength, I thought I shouldn`t push my luck. 
If your vaccine is recent, or you`ve had a booster, maybe you deserve a little vacation. Maybe I do.

                                                                      Ben Aronson

                                                                          Ben Aronson

                                                                           Ben Aronson

White Bird watermedia exhibition-through Oct.

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Portland Open Studios