Saturday, June 11, 2022

Tributes and Loss

                                         Lemons and Daylight watermedia on yupo 14x11 inches

I have so many unfinished paintings that I should be working on but I just wanted to lose the subject again and concern myself with only color. As recreation. After I began this, I had a phone call from a friend telling me a mutual friend had lost her husband suddenly. Unexpected death shatters what we believe to be reality. Most of us will experience this in time and learn the world doesn`t reassemble in the same way again.

My friend, Ruth Armitage, also had an exhibit open just two days before her family tragedy. The concept of the show is novel. Her nine new paintings are based on the relationships she`s had with each of nine mentors. These are artists she feels helped her advance in her artistic evolution. I am one of them. These nine also have a piece in the show. Each of her square canvases incorporates what she drew from the mentors` practice and it`s interesting to see what was important to her and how the 'example' fed her own exploration. She doesn`t want this heartfelt show to be lost to sorrow.

Here are the details; 

Waterstone Gallery, 124 NW 9th AV, Portland OR, 97209.   ph.# (503) 226-6196

Hours; 11-4 pm Wed.-Sat. through July 3                         

 Some of Ruth`s work;

                                                        Constellation by Ruth Armitage

                                                          Nature Boy by Ruth Armitage

                                                    River of Dreams by Ruth Armitage

                                                   Confluence oil on canvas 30x30 inches

Fanno Creek at the Tualatin River. One of my favorite places in winter.

Also new; 

This was a demo. An earnest friend came by to learn some of the principles of watercolor. So I began talking about working light to dark and emphasizing the importance of drawing. I quickly felt cornered and realized I can`t teach things I don`t do myself. I don`t 'believe' in the traditional way of working with watercolor where the white of the paper is the lightest value that you build upon gradually getting darker. That can make for gorgeous paintings, John Singer Sargent did it repeatedly on his camping trips and other travels. I just don`t think it matters ultimately. What any artist 'says' is far more important than their technique. If you give a child a paint box they don`t ask about mixing colors, they just go do it as they`re working. Their vision is the critical thing, what they want to get down, leave a record of. My mom saved a piece I did of a fly on a television screen. I don`t remember doing it but I`m sure I was quite serious. 

Now that being said, a beginner needs to start somewhere. But where? This is why I rarely teach. I don`t know the sequence for learning this stuff. My own education was mostly by trial and error. I felt bad I had so little guidance for my pal. So I`m asking you dear reader, if any of you know of a good book on the basics of handling watercolor, please tell me.  Thanks.

Speaking of learning, I was taught two super important concepts in junior high. One was about negative space. That the empty areas around or between a subject also have a shape. The other was that the perception of color was always dependent on the context. The color around or beside an object determines how we perceive its color.

                                                    oil on Multimedia Board 12x12 inches

Any of you know what that thing is? I showed it to John and he said 'eww, it looks like a skull'. Now he is an Oregon native well acquainted with our forests. Though I painted it on a lumpy board with many failures underneath, I thought it was successful. It`s a tricky subject. In our soggy woodlands, a big fir will lose its grip and topple. The trunk will be colonized with new vegetation immediately but the root ball will loom up out of the ground in a huge circular tangle. Over time they weather away becoming intricate, sculptural forms with a distinct elegiac quality. I was disappointed he didn`t recognize what it was. Well I love them and will paint them again. I searched high and low for another term or word for 'rootball'. It`s so inadequate for the grandeur they possess. Do the Scandinavians encounter these in their forests? Patagonians? The best alternate I found was root crowns. I bet another language would refer to these things with more respect. 

                                                    Nature Variation 2 by Deborah Stewart

She makes it look easy.


It`s Gay Pride Month! Give the homosexuals in your lives some love!

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Thursday, May 19, 2022


   Iron Mt. Spring watermedia on paper 19x14 inches 

 Greetings, I was happy to return to a soggy vibrant green landscape after watching two huge fires roam over two mountain ranges.

 John was not. Like many native Oregonians, his patience with rain is just over by May. May is a summer month, damn it. The winds of New Mexico gave us the famous panoramas but framed at the edges by smoke. Having been a New Mexican, I feel protective of that special place. In a good year, with no drought, the state is always in need of a good rain. At least a half inch please. Now, with water so scarce, the humidity barely registering, the sun searing the landscape all day every day, it feels fragile and combustible. But it wasn`t hot, not yet. With luck the monsoons will return again this summer. Like they did last year. Like they always used to. When I moved there in 1976, a typical summer day was jewel like in its beauty.  Every morning awaken to a cloudless blue sky and a delicate cool dawn. By 9 or 10 am the first tiny scouts appear. Seemingly lost aimless clouds floating by. Then they begin to organize into a front. Here they come steadily crawling over the mountains in the east. By 1, some break off and temporarily block the sun. Others gather into immense thunderheads at the edges of the valley. The height of them scarcely believable. The thunder can be heard in the distance by 3 pm, and very close by 4. If you happen to be in the street or in a garden or on a walk, you will be drenched at any moment. The wind rises up and a huge volume of water is dumped in the course of a few minutes. Then it`s over. There was always a lull as I rode my bike to work at 5. Often there would be a second round at sundown but not always. The next day would begin again in just the same way. I`m telling you, this was absolutely thrilling at 22!  I was from a hot smoggy southern California suburb with precious little visible 'nature'. Shortly after I arrived this daily spectacle commenced. Everyone took it in stride, everyone expected it. It was July after all. Daily this violent drama played out until Fall arrived. 

Unfortunately the summer monsoons have become very erratic and sometimes never come.                The tiny Hispanic villages burning to the ground now will rebuild. A culture that survived four different governments and a flood of pioneers isn`t going to disappear. It`s just so sad. People with very little now have no homes.

One thing I was able to do that I`ve wanted forever was to walk in the bosque of the Rio Grande in Albuquerque. Huge ancient cottonwoods line the river as it passes through town. I figured there would be trails but it was even better than I had hoped for. No litter or encampments but occasional benches to rest on and enjoy the view;

 To my surprise, I loved Albuquerque. The crucial factor was the season. it wasn`t hot yet. I used to be there in late June helping a friend at the New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair. We sat away from the booth slumped in lawn chairs in the shade and were incredulous when there was a customer. It was so hot, the heat was a thing. One of us would have to drag ourself up, contend with the beast and assist the art lover. It`s why we were there but the only thing we thought about was the inferno around us. 

So could I live there? I don`t know. Maybe with some giant trees in the yard.


 That`s my pal Dan Jaramillo standing next to me. We had lost touch over the 28 years I`ve been in Oregon. I heard he had written a book about the village of Chimayo where he grew up and I lived briefly. He`s a historian of sorts and I was so glad the story of that unique community had been chronicled. With the Manhattan Project, the lives in those small New Mexican towns were changed forever. The laboratories that developed the first nuclear weapons were in nearby Los Alamos. Good or at least better jobs than growing chile were a short commute away. Subsistence agriculture was abandoned, the English language infiltrated homes and the higher standard of living was just too attractive. The character of those societies was radically altered. Gringos like me came in and thought that sad. Others, like Dan, decided to commemorate it. He wrote the book and opened a museum dedicated to preserving some knowledge of that way of life. He did not curse the darkness, he lit the candle.

                                        the acequia, the ditch that irrigated the fields and gardens

Dan`s cool house. That his parents built, he grew up in and where he raised two of his children!

After leaving Chimayo we drove the high road into Truchas. Just a village clinging to a mountain with a breathtaking view of the Truchas Peaks. We were on our way elsewhere but I wanted to see the whole place again. I saw a sign that said Karen Wippich Studio. Wait a minute, I know that name, she`s from Oregon! Open by appointment but she noticed us in her driveway and invited us in. Karen is an exceptional artist using collage. Her work was beautifully hung in the most unusual house I`ve ever been in. She said it had 11 different levels and was anchored to the side of a bluff.


As you can see she arranged her work thoughtfully in all those immaculate rooms. It`s really good stuff but the building, she herself and her incredible daughter were just too commanding!, I couldn`t really look too well and we were expected at someones home further up the mountain. I asked Karen how in the world did she get there? She said she was lost and asked a guy for directions. Then later bought his house. Believe it or not, a version of that tale is very common in NM. Cars always break down there and the drivers never leave.

I was really excited to see Henry Jacksons show at the LewAllen Gallery. His work is dynamic and his color sense uniquely his own. This was a show of all abstractions though he also paints loose interpretations of the figure which can be haunting.

This was posted on a subreddit about Portland. It is heartbreaking. Car theft and vandalism are rampant in Portland right now. 900 missing cars in just Sept. of last year. Why is this happening? Fentanyl is why. Its usually called heroin but in reality it isn`t anymore. It`s this new cheap synthetic opiate causing all the overdoses and the crime to purchase it. The ingredients come in through the mail and because it`s so strong, it`s much easier to conceal. For once I don`t have any idea how we should cope with this menace. 

 Well the photo is from the powerful movie 'Moonlight' and the text is reportedly from the 'Castaway' film, but this got my attention. My last post, which was about a suicide, was an education for me. It is not simple, and for some, just the idea of it can have a therapeutic quality. That was new to me.


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Tuesday, April 5, 2022


                                        Edge of the Park oil on canvas 30x30 inches, 76x76 cm

 I`ve just returned from the funeral of a suicide. An acquaintance of mine, a friend and former coworker of Johns`. If the subject wasn`t so dispiriting, I would educate myself better. Without real knowledge, I can only guess there are a multitude of reasons why someone would do this. I`ve heard the actual deed is often an impulsive one. We are warned not to leave guns accessible, keep an eye on our medicines and that having fenced off bridges is wise. Many years ago I was cautioned about sudden positive changes of mood in my troubled loved ones, as that might be a sign the decision has been made. Once a plan is in place, the hard part has been determined. 

There have been times in my life I wish I wasn`t here, but I`ve never looked for a way out. I can`t speak of the turmoil that would precede such a choice. Obviously it must be horrific. Worthy of an effort to understand as remote as that may be. I read an interview once with a survivor of a leap off the Golden Gate Bridge. There have been several. He said as soon as his fingers left the railing he knew it was a mistake. He mentioned the others had that exact response as well. What does this mean? That all problems and predicaments actually do have a possible resolution? That life itself is worth any struggle? Why does this keep happening? Statistics show a pronounced rise in the rates. The issue is a bottomless rabbit hole of questions.

I expected a room full of pain today and it was there. What I wasn`t expecting was the spiritual suggestion that we cannot let this lead us to fear. The death of anyone dying 'before their time' is extremely disorienting. If the beloved is the source of their own death, how in the world can life ever be trusted? Well, I learned how it might. I saw one quivering person after another rise to their feet and speak of their experience with the departed. Their courage was summoned to honor their dear friend and sister. Not to allow the tragic end be the story that is remembered first. Each recounted extraordinary kindness and generosity. Some of them had their lives reordered and restored from her attention. I have learned to never underestimate a nurse, they wield their authority with great wisdom. And so she did. 

What`s most painful is to know at least 20 people in that room would not have left her side had they known what she was capable of. Would have walked with her toward health until she had it again. We are a tribal people, why would we hide such terror inside? Not ask for help? Anything is more bearable if we aren`t alone. We are all broken one way or another. What is so shameful in letting that show? It`s a slogan, a cliche, but worth remembering; We are always better together.

                                  New Mexico Remembered oil on canvas 30x24 inches, 76x61 cm

                                    Clifftop-Neahkanie oil on canvas 15x30 inches, 38x76 cm

                                             Canyon oil on canvas 48x36 inches, 122x91 cm

I was unexpectedly offered an August slot for a show at the Hanson Howard Gallery in Ashland OR. I said yes then realized I needed to get busy. Because my pandemic foray into abstraction was serious, not many landscapes were produced. I now believe again that landscape painting is where my interest and talents are best explored. So I need to do some! I always have lots of work on paper I can frame up for a show if need be but that is an expensive project.


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Saturday, March 5, 2022


                                       Iceland, Summer oil on canvas 40x36 inches, 101x91 cm

She loved my work, she bought some outright and she wanted an Icelandic landscape. I thought, this is easy! A small watercolor I painted after my visit to Iceland in 2016 prompted her request. Now I very rarely do commissions because my paintings get built through a personal, intuitive struggle. Probably true for most painters. It is difficult, to say the least, to really understand my own motives. Why do I want to paint something? The answer is usually vague and never verbal. Yet language is the medium to connect two visual imaginations. It is obviously impossible. So why say yes? A love for the subject, deep familiarity, liking the patron, money, and a willingness to be challenged. Yes! This painting took six weeks, a really long time for a painting of this size. Because I liked her and wanted her to be pleased, I gave her two in-process photos which launched long emotional conversations. The variety of landscapes underneath this surviving layer are many. I had listened carefully to her vision of the landscape and when I got to this point I knew it had to be the end. The commission would never have happened without my complete confidence I could do it. It was more like a promise. But by last week I just wanted the whole thing over. She did not have to accept it, I would return her deposit and we both could get on with life. But she liked it. What I learned was a better idea of myself and new communication skills that I hope I never need to use that way again.

                                              Canyon oil on yupo 24x18 inches,  61x46 cm

Oil on Yupo is a slimy beast. Much like painting on glass. Every brushstroke shows, blending is tricky, values change in the drying time, it is sloppy, but the reasons for choosing it are also good. Yupo is cheap, very portable, and easy to ship and store. The best reason though is because of the brilliant white surface that still manages to reflect light back through the paint layers. They glow. If it just had a little tooth [texture] I`d use it more with oils.

                                       Late Winter watercolor on yupo 20x13 inches, 51x33 cm

This is new, I just completed it while waiting for the commission to dry. More realistic than my usual preference but I could see that the forest was about to explode into leaf making the bare branches concealed for 9 months. Winter is a feast of line. The densest tangles fascinate me and I`ve been itching to paint something really textural. This being a watercolor, the light values come from dilutions of the paint. Those thin veils often can`t stay in place on slick yupo because the binder is too thinned out. So I`ve been adding gum arabic to make them stickier. It works well though lifting it for revisions isn`t quite so easy.

 What can I say? It reminds me of February of 2020.  We saw the virus escape China and devastate northern Italy and Iran. I bought some hand sanitizer while others bought extra toilet paper. I truly didn`t know pandemics were even possible anymore. So we all just watched it arrive day by day, closer and closer and soon change everything. What would I have done differently? 

All winter Russian troop movements were reported in the press as the Russian military amassed its  might on the borders of Ukraine. Everybody could see it but it was so hard to believe because there was no provocation. One shrewd guy with abundant mental illness could attack a country of 44 million in plain sight. What kind of world do we live in? This bleak situation threatens us all potentially. We voted our crazy leader out but the one thing I agreed with President Trump, was in his reluctance to involve American forces everywhere. Now I wonder if when we step back, evil dudes like Vlad fill the void? The Russian people don`t support this, it makes no sense. How do you counter madness? Yet here we are. Nuclear weapons make the room for error tiny but we must do more for Ukraine, that much is clear.

                                                                      Per Adolfsen

When I first saw this Danish artist`s work I was a little dismissive because they were done with colored pencils. I kept bumping into them and I realized holy moly this guy is a genius! Me and thousands of others simultaneously. He is a true Instagram phenomena.

                                                                       Per Adolfsen

                                                                          Per Adolfsen

 There is so much invention to the stuff I am just in awe of. His color is so unique and evocative. He lives in Denmark! That is on no ones list of beautiful countries yet Per Adolfsen takes his sketchbooks out on his walks and mines that landscape of every distinguishing quality. That humble countryside comes alive through his hands! He`s not too young and I`m hopeful the acclaim doesn`t sweep him away. Here is a lovely interview.

Not a lot of happiness around I notice. It`s an inside job. If we want to change the world, let`s start with ourselves. The only exception I have with this list is the trip. Take it. Travel makes us better people.


That`s the gorge of the Rio Grande River outside of Taos New Mexico. We are going to visit this spring to do research on moving there. I left 28 years ago and never looked back. This is John`s idea, and it merits consideration. He has lived in the wet part of Oregon all his life. He deserves some sun.

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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Strange new world

                                            Backwater oil on canvas 40x30 inches, 101x76 cm

Know anyone happy right now? The strangest time in my life keeps degrading. I have plenty to eat, I`m sheltered and warm with good health insurance. By most measures I`m certainly lucky if not wealthy. Yet it`s hard to be positive as these waves of virus wash over the world taking millions before their time. We are asked to wear masks in public and get free vaccinations and a huge number of citizens wails at this injustice. In their refusal, the virus has time to mutate again. Will this go on and on and on? Sure looks that way to me now. A true fatalism is slowly taking root. This isn`t all bad. American workers have not been so powerful in years. The pandemic has shown us that, yes, life is indeed short. Why spend your life doing something you hate if there are alternatives? This is healthy. People have lost their patience however and that`s problematic.I have never heard of so many acts of aggression! Shoppers attacking cashiers, deadly acts of road rage, the murder rate skyrocketing, trains being looted and angry raucous behavior during school board  and other civic meetings. 

In blue northwest Oregon where I live, our county commission meeting had to be abruptly cancelled because of a violent mood in the audience last week. I heard of a doctor working with Covid patients being constantly abused by the unvaccinated patients accusing her of killing them because she won`t give them the unproven drug Ivermectin! And meanwhile health professionals by the score are leaving their fields. It is a terribly stressful era for healthcare workers. I`m married to one and hear about this constantly. At times it feels like our country is coming apart at the seams. How could this be happening? After all we`ve accomplished? Maybe I`m just depressed but I know many others are far more discouraged.

Backwater, the painting up above, seems  to reflect my discomfort. The inspiration comes from the Minto Brown Island wetlands near Salem OR. Sloughs and ponds parallel this particular stretch of the Willamette River. I really love this place. Depending on the light though, it can look dormant and bleak in winter.

                                           Gorgeous Portland Nocturne by Maxwell Fishback

 Portland as a city in despair is not entirely accurate. Though plenty of residents are upset with the homeless situation, that issue does not define a city. All west coast cities are grappling with this and it will improve by trial and error. Voters approved a levy to create much more housing for these people who are down on their luck, mentally ill or addicted. It must be solved here and throughout the country or no one will enjoy their lives. 
What makes Portland unique is its generosity. Here is another letter from a teacher thanking the people of Portland for helping him help his students;

This city has never failed me and my students.

When I was at George Middle School someone cut the locks and stole several student's bikes from in front of the school while the kids sat in class. One of those stolen bikes was owned by the little brother of a past student of mine. The family had almost nothing but that morning he had been given a birthday gift... the bike that was stolen a few hours later.

I went on to a popular fundraising platform, the news showed up and a few days later the people of Portland bought every one of those kids a new bicycle.

When I travelled to Bangladesh to mentor the very first special education teachers in that country, the Portland Tribune ran a front page story. They put the link to that same popular fundraising site (different fundraising page though) and before you know it, Portland had stuffed so much money in my pockets, I was able to kit out two schools in great fashion! Each teacher got the equivalent of $200 to buy supplies (the dollar goes a LOOOOOOONG way in Bangladesh). At one school in one of the poorest areas of the entire planet, Portland paid to upgrade the lunch program for half a year of healthier bigger meals.

When my class hosted the special needs prom in the city, NPR showed up and showed the whole country our best practice (and it was the BEST! kids came from as far away as Salem and Ranier to celebrate their aging out of school at 21). I used to hand make every single girl a corsage. Portland stepped up, dropping ribbons and flowers off at our school. When my girls needed prom dresses Abbey's Closet stepped up and my girls got first choice of 7000 beautiful dresses.

And two nights ago, as I was freaking out about not having enough supplies to keep my students from sharing puzzles during covid, you all stepped up and kitted me out with enough puzzles that every kid will have their own bin with multiple activities I can swap out to teach new skills and higher learning. You all just came through for the kids who sit in my special needs classroom, at my special needs school, here in this incredibly special city of Portland.

I am not one of those teachers who feels unrecognized. This city has rewarded me in ways that very few people could have imagined. I was the first special education teacher to be Oregon's Teacher of the Year. My husband and I were the first gay couple to be honored by the Rose Festival and we rode through this city (on the back of a very slippery convertible) as you all cheered us on. At the time I was under orders if I said I was gay I would be fired but when the crowds heard them announce that riding with me was my husband, they went wild. When we got married The Oregonian had 45 pictures on their website. "Oregon's Teacher of the Year marries his long time partner" I believe, was the headline. They had a video tech follow us the whole day from buying our marriage certificate all the way to tying the knot. Though I was told I would be fired if I said I was in public, we took our vows on live television.

Soon after I was fired but I fought back and got my job back. The city of Portland did not take what happened to me sitting down. They overwhelmed my old school district with demands for my reinstatement, they threw out a bunch of the school board in the election that happened just weeks later, they continued to demand an apology even years later. After the Supreme Court, Portland got what they wanted. The district apologized. I accepted it whole heartedly. All of the people that did me wrong were fired, voted out, demoted or fled in shame and changed their names. The new admin is working hard to make the district the best it can be. The teachers, school nurses, the paraeducatiors and support staff at the district continue to be some of the finest people I have ever met in education.

And now, in these really dark covid times, I found myself struggling and once again, Portland (you all, this time), came roaring in to support me and my students. There is a reason I am a good teacher. It is because I live in a good city filled with good people. They always come through for me when my kids needs something.

I just wanted to say thank you. You all bought us books, art supplies, autism specialty items and so many wonderful puzzles. Several people from town are sending over lovingly-used puzzles. To know my students will not have to share anything with each other any more takes a huge stress out of my life. So, once again, you helped me and my staff by helping our kids. Thank you Portland. May you have a beautiful weekend and know that this city comes through when it needs to. We all can make that happen.

Brett Brigham is the teacher. Among his abilities  and talents, he`s learned to ask for help. Why is that so difficult for most of us? People yearn to be constructive but don`t know how, where or when. Answering a specific request sure makes it easier.

                                                                End of November 

                                                                   Marsh Hawthorne

                                                                      The Red Oak

These are some more oil on oil paper studies, 16x12 inches, 40.5x30.5 cm. As always, when I want to think while painting, it`s best done on paper.

                                                            Study in Blue and Gray

If anyone knows the name of this tattoo artist, please let me know. I don`t want one but I still would like to know who they are.  This is artistry of the highest order. The great tattoos of the world aren`t so available to my viewing, but knowing they exist pleases me. I don`t have an exhibitionist impulse ever but I like it that others do.

 With so much of the news crushingly negative, I have avoided a lot of it and turned to science fiction for an imaginative diversion. It has sure worked. It`s been  a pleasure to contemplate the problems and threats to distant worlds and times. It seems to give me a better perspective on the difficulties of our own history. John recommended the books of Dan Simmons and I have been deeply enmeshed in his Hyperion/Endymion quartet.  Escapism might just be self care as we try to dodge the virus.

                                                              watermedia on Yupo 26x20

A recent abstraction. It was much more enjoyable to paint this without thinking 'what am I doin?' Since circling back to landscape, the painting feels sincere and even exciting. Now painting without a subject can be fun again, less fraught.

Here are a few artists that are new to me;

                                                                     Pat Brentano

                                                                 Dorothy Ganek

                                                                     Billy Childish

                                                                   Martha Jungwirth

Click HERE for work for sale in my studio

HERE for prints