Monday, April 19, 2021

Kevin`s Orchard

                                           Kevin`s Orchard mixed media on Yupo 20x16 inches

When I saw them in January I was impressed with these small grizzled trees. Most were not that old but by being on a hill, bearing the brunt of winter storms blasting through the Columbia River Gorge they appeared to be elders. Each had character. The group was like a regiment of retired military men still proud and standing tall. I thought, I could make a painting of this. So a week ago I arranged to visit Kevin and paint his orchard. Conditions weren`t ideal but I knew the trees would soon be in bloom and then leaf and my opportunity gone for another year. It had been many months since I had painted outdoors but my gear was mostly intact and ready. Just as I was about to leave, Kevin calls and says don`t come, it`s freezing up here, you`ll be miserable. I sighed and let the idea go. Fifteen minutes later, just as I felt myself slip into a nap, my phone rings again. He says come now, the sun is shining, it`s beautiful! I politely tell him he had already ruined my day and that I was now on to other projects. But do me a favor, please go take some photos of it. He did.

In the last year, in response to the catastrophe of the pandemic, I began to work abstractly. Something I`ve frequently done but not for an extended commitment. With the world as I knew it threatened, it seemed like the right time to try something  challenging. As I`ve mentioned, it has not been easy. Recently though, they are coming a bit faster and that feels like progress. I`ve also done some occasional representational work to reassure my sense of competence. With a subject, there is always that reference to help orient the painting. In that spirit, I wanted to paint this orchard. In New Mexico for a time, I lived in a place surrounded by pear and apple trees. I painted them often. So painting this Oregon orchard should be fun. It wasn`t. For some reason, maybe with all the uncertainty in the last year, my judgement is off. I photograph every days work and repeatedly, in reviewing them later, I see I could have stopped much sooner. This painting too, it used to be bigger;

The two trees on the right I could not seem to get right so I cut them off and simplified the rest. A week later they look fine. It was a much livelier painting. This mistrust of myself is not good. I suspect the isolation has disrupted my perspective. I want it back.

 I`m really not an agent for the New York Times and I apologize for recommending something behind a paywall. Remember, they will let you read a few articles for free every month. Come back to this story, it`s a good one. Jo van Gogh was the wife of Theo, Vincent`s brother and protector. Theo died less than a year after Vincent`s suicide at 33. Jo and Theo had been married 21 months. She found the brothers  now famous correspondence and read them in remembrance and affection for her husband. It was an education. She began to fully understand what the two were trying to do. Vincent as an innovator searching for a new visual 'truth', and Theo always there to support his brother financially, promote his work and encourage his broken psyche.  Her brief happy marriage was gone but she knew something extraordinary was in her possession. She owned all of Vincent`s 400 paintings.  It`s really touching how she responded to the grief and the work in the same spirit of the brothers.

                                            April is Back mixed media on Yupo 26x20 inches

 April in western Oregon is absolutely magnificent, I had to respond. From the start it seemed I was painting something theatrical. A temporary performance. I have painted spring landscapes for years and years. All were earnest and all were disappointments. It`s just too delicate and with such day to day momentum, it feels kind of foolish. Better to just be out in it.

 Have you ever seen such joyful buildings??
I don`t know how I stumbled upon them but they are the creation of a self taught architect, built by indigenous owners in celebration of their new economic prosperity! Good job!
Businesses on the first floor, dance hall on the second, apartments on the third and the owners home on top. Freddy Mamani Silvestre is the original genius and now there is a movement of such architecture spreading throughout Bolivia. Bolivia!! Wow, everything to love here! What I haven`t read yet is how the locals made their fortunes? That has got to be totally interesting too.

                                                                      by Fran O`Neill

So simple, why didn`t I think of it? I love Fran O`Neill`s paintings!

                                                                    by Amy Talluto

 Amy Talluto knows trees. And she`s good with a brush. She draws beautifully.

                                                                   by Mike Lipsey

Please get vaccinated!

click HERE for work for sale in my studio

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Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Coast, vaccine and Easter

                                       Dune and Sky watercolor on Yupo 26x20 inches, 66x51 cm

 It was just a proposal, nothing definite and certainly not a commission. Would I like to paint a coastal image for a commemorative poster? That`s my third attempt above and it`s from a 20 year old sketch. Below are the other two;

                                                       watercolor on Yupo 28x20 inches

                                                North Coast watercolor on Yupo 26x20 inches

 I`m not sure they are poster-grade images but I do know that I am finished with trying. If the impulse to paint an image doesn`t originate with me first, it`s hard to get at, to find an emotional core to guide me. This painting below I actually think would make a good poster and it was done last year;

                                           Coastal Nocturne watercolor on Yupo 26x20 inches

 My second shot of the vaccine was last week and I was elated the whole day. Freedom from fear! Yet it didn`t last, a celebration involves others. Until the country moves past this pandemic, the joy will still be  measured, hopeful and anticipatory. 
People I love, on the right and left politically, are refusing to be vaccinated. This is utterly shocking. Are they reading what Covid-19 can do to a person?? After what the world has endured the past year, it`s clear that this decision is political.  Also tragically misguided. Without mass vaccinations, the virus continues to mutate and elude its elimination. Who wants this to continue? Not a future for me. These holdouts will have to arrive at a different attitude in their own time. Persuasion isn`t possible yet. I hardly know how to handle my disappointment and anger. 

                                                           Peaches by Donna Thibodeau

The Brush and Palette group of Michigan painters asked me to speak to them in a Zoom presentation. I agreed though I wanted them to ask me questions. I have no agenda and am such a reluctant teacher because the role itself feels inappropriate. So I sent them links to interviews and my website and when the meeting commenced, they were prepared. Almost every educational situation I`ve led has focused on technical issues. Those are not unimportant but they are far less relevant to what an artist is 'saying'. I don`t know how to guide anybody through that question and yet it is the most important part of being a painter. Why do you want to do it? What compels you? Annie Lamott`s advice to writers is to write the books they want to read. What paintings do I want to see? It`s a simple but profound question. I do believe we all have a birthright to creativity. Yet even the most casual hobbyist is going to paint something. What will it be?
 The group asked me to judge a show of their work and the first prize winner was Donna Thibodeau`s Peaches [above]. I chose it for its clarity. From idea through execution, she succeeded in a forthright simple composition using clear, gorgeous color.

                                                          watermedia on Yupo 26x20 inches

                                                Reliquary 2 watermedia on Yupo 26x20 inches

                                            Untitled yellow watercolor on Yupo 26x20 inches

 My abstract efforts are still all over the map but I am making progress. They aren`t taking so long, just a couple of days. I haven`t found a language of my own yet but I`m closer. Concentrating my efforts to watermedia on the plastic paper Yupo has also helped along the evolution.

My buddy Jo Reimer sent out a notice about a new line of super opaque acrylics made by Golden. I`ve wanted a white as dense as oil paint. A holy grail of sorts. As I move away from oil painting the one thing I haven`t been able to replicate in acrylic is a spontaneous gestural mark that dries as it is painted, as it is wanted. A gesture is impossible to repeat if it dries looking transparent or equivocal. This drove me to oils in the first place back in 1984. I need my brushstrokes to be stable. In oil painting this is not a problem.
So anyway, I went to the Golden website and saw that they will do custom orders. I asked them for the densest white possible and it just arrived in the mail!

                                                  cartoon by Harry Bliss and Steve Martin

Easter Sunday again. Though it doesn`t seem to be the big deal of my childhood, I think it is a shared, welcomed holiday. Our country is more tolerant now in large part due to the decline of the church in our lives. This is a more secular country than ever. For better and worse. I left traditional Christianity as a teenager because the concept of a loving God punishing people in hell throughout eternity was a contradiction too huge to ignore. Upon inspection, other parts of the story didn`t hold up either. It looked pretty obvious that man created god in his own image. Yet the great philosophical-spiritual questions remain. It takes a lifetime to create a new understanding of the divine.

Then there is Pastor Adam Ericksen;

As a bird flies, the Clackamas United Church of Christ is may be five miles away from me. I saved this photo from a Reddit post. In the comments I read Adam walks his talk. That the church is actively helping the poor and desperate here in Oregon. The spirit of Christianity is as radical as you can get; love your enemy. Who can do that? Who will even consider it?
He`s on to something. A better world. 

                                           The Empire State building from New Jersey 1930`s

 Isn`t this photo phenomenal? Just imagine!
Somewhat similarly, I was running in a park in Queens once and saw only trees with the two towers of the World Trade Center above them. Then, I found a $50 bill on the grass!

                                                      by the wonderful John Felsing

click HERE for work for sale in my studio