Saturday, June 30, 2007

Kindred Spirits

Last week, a friend of mine told me about a book he'd just spotted. It was a slim volume of paintings and drawings of the war-torn Bosnian landscape. He said the artist was pretty good, a former student of Ben Long's, and her paintings looked a lot like the ones I was doing.

So I found the book on, ordered it, and just finished reading it today. The book is called "Ruined Landscapes: Paintings of the Balkan War Zone". The artist is Laura Buxton and the text was written by Ross Yockey.

I had three reactions in succession while going through the book. The first was "Wow, these are good". The second was "Damn, she's painting my pictures!" And the third was "Damn, she's already painted my pictures, got 'em exhibited, got 'em sold, and published a book about it besides!" Ever had that experience, where you're busting your tail to do something nobody else is doing, only to discover that somebody else has already done it?

There certainly are a lot of similarities. We were both there at pretty much the same time. We both have done paintings of shot-up buildings. We both paint in a loose but realistic manner. The similarities are such that I was left wondering what the hell I could add to what she's already done.

The difference is that she did her paintings on-site, sitting right there looking at the building or bridge or whatever the subject was. I'm doing mine from ten years and half a world away. I'm using old notes, sketchbooks, and really badly exposed photographs as sources. While we're both looking at what war leaves behind, I'm looking at "war" in the abstract sense and she was looking at it in the real world.

When I was studying art with Virginia Derryberry, one of my art teachers at UNCA, her mantra was to "make it personal". It always resulted in a better picture. One of my paintings from that time was a remake of Manet's Olympia. I was working on a series about aging, and wanted to change Manet's nude young woman on a bed, attended by a servant, into an old woman on a hospital bed, attended by a nurse. With Virginia telling me "make it personal", I changed the generic old woman into my mother, who had died of cancer eleven years earlier. Then I changed the generic nurse into me. The painting was a cathartic experience, since I still had some leftover issues from her passing, and the process helped me through them. It also resulted in a better painting. Here 'tis:

In painting these Bosnian pictures, I've been trying to make it personal - they have all been about scenes or experiences that left a strong mark on me. After seeing Laura's book, though, I'm not sure how much else I can say with these landscapes. I still have a few images from that time that I want to get on canvas, but I'm thinking that now I need to work less from past experiences and more with current ones. In other words, sit my butt down in front of real places and real things and real people, and paint them, not some abstract memory.

Actually, I've been kinda thinking along those lines for a while now, but it seems to have taken this book to kick-start it.

Anyway, the artist is Laura Buxton. You can see some of her work at this web site:

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Satirical Videos

I found these two videos on just now ... both originally from youtube ... a wonderfully satirical song about George and Dick, and a hilarious spoof about Waterloo. Enjoy!

At The Highest Levels Of Government ...

... people like Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman continue to distinguish themselves.

The Dick has been in the news lately for some of his statements and actions. Not that that's anything new - I mean, we're talking about the man who said "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators" (March 16, 2003) and "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." (June 20, 2005). Yes, he has indeed proven to be prescient, hasn't he? Now, regarding global warming, he's denying that humans are responsible for the temperature rise over the past hundred years. (Rolling Stone has an excellent article on it here). And this past week it was revealed that Cheney's office has refused to comply with an executive order governing the handling of classified information for the past four years. When challenged, he attempted to eliminate the Information Security Oversight Office entirely. The Dick contends that the Vice President is above the law. I think it's time to recall another Cheney quote: "There comes a time when deceit and defiance must be seen for what they are. At that point, a gathering danger must be directly confronted. At that point, we must show that beyond our resolutions is actual resolve." And our resolve is that Dick must go home!

The other star of the week is Senator "Smokin' Joe" Lieberman. I think the term must refer to the drugs he's ingesting. Lieberman is advocating air strikes on Iran in retaliation for their providing weapons and support to Iraqi insurgents. Has he been completely shielded from our recent ill-advised military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan? What in the world makes him think that air strikes on Iran will make them stop meddling in Iraq? Somehow I can't see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying "Oh, excuse me, I didn't realize this was so irritating to you. Please forgive me. I'll put a stop to it immediately". Hasn't Smokin' Joe learned that military action (especially in the middle east) begets an even bigger military action in response? The way to get Iran to cooperate is to TALK to them, not shoot them.

It's worthwhile to point out that neither the Dick nor Lieberman ever served in the military. As the Dick famously noted, "I had other priorities in the sixties than military service." (April 5, 1989). Is it a coincidence that the people most in favor of military action never served themselves? I think not.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Another Hot, Hot, Hot Day

This part of the country has been suffering from a drought for maybe four months. Our rainfall for the calendar year is just over half what it should be, and rainfall for the past few months has been maybe 25% or less. My yard has changed from green to a pale crunchy yellow. One benefit: I've only had to mow it twice in the past two months.

But it's hot during the day. My studio has windows that face southwest. BIG windows, seven feet tall and four feet wide, three of 'em. And on days like this, they turn the studio into an oven by about 3 in the afternoon.

Today, though, is Saturday, and Janis had a big list of things for me to do around the yard. I cut down two trees last weekend, and today I had to chop 'em up into little pieces and get 'em out of there. Then mow, weed the hill, and put in fertilizer spikes for the juniper bushes. By the time I got to the last two items, it was over 90 degrees and I was melting into my boots. Okay, so I'm a wuss. Time to call it a day, pour a big lemonade, and watch NASCAR on TV.

Last night we went to see the latest Terpsicorps performance. Terpsicorps is a dance company based in Asheville. They do two performances a year, one in June and one in August, and bring in professional dancers from around the country. I was never a big fan of dance performances, but one visit to a Terpsicorps show and I was sold. The show last night was no exception: imaginitive, exceptionally well done, and lots of fun.

Now we're off to a birthday party for a friend of ours. Hey, we're the social butterflies these days, aren't we?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Catching Up

It's been a while since I actually wrote anything for this blog. The reason: I've been up to my eyeballs in things to do, of course. But I've finally got a few minutes to bang away at this keyboard.

For several weeks, I was working on a painting for the Long Leaf Opera in Chapel Hill, NC. This was for their world premiere of Strange Fruit, which was based on Lillian Smith's novel of the same name, which in turn took its title from the Billy Holiday song. Strange Fruit tells the story of a doomed interracial love affair in south Georgia in 1920. It's a dark and bloody tale. There is only one sign of hope in the whole story: the baby, born of the black woman and white man, who embodies the potential of all races to come together. The painting was unveiled at a reception at Bill Hester Fine Art in Chapel Hill yesterday (Sunday). The photo below is me with Erina Newkirk (left) and Charles Stanton (right), who played the lead roles in the opera. Erina and Charles sang a duet from the opera, and then Erina sang a solo lullaby directly to the baby in the painting. Erina and Charles have marvelous voices, and hearing them sing gave me chills.

Today I got a call from Bill Hester about the painting. He has an extremely interesting idea about a way it can be used to benefit a specific group. We're going to work on the idea more this week, and once we get something nailed down, I'll give you the details. Suffice it to say for now that I'm really excited!

Last weekend (June 9 & 10) was the Studio Stroll. We made some changes this year that seem to have brought out a lot of new people. I had a lot more visitors to my studio this year than ever before, a great many of them from out of town (or even out of the country!). My paintings generally get a strong (and positive) reaction, but since they're edgy, they get very few sales. I mean, can you imagine somebody actually wanting to part with serious money in order to hang a satirical picture of George Bush over their sofa? Neither can I. But I view these Strolls as an outreach program, to show people that "art" in Asheville doesn't always mean beautiful landscapes or crafts. And in this, I seem to be successful: I'm getting more and more people showing up who are actually looking for me. Quite enjoyable. And, in fact, I really did make a few sales that weekend. So I came away very happy.

Yesterday, Janis and I drove down to Chapel Hill for the reception. We checked into the La Quinta in southeast Durham, just a few miles from the gallery. We like La Quinta's because they take pets and we always travel with our two dogs. This one was no exception: a really nice place, very clean, and staffed by friendly, courteous, and very responsive people. We'll definitely stay there again.

Not so nice was the Red Lobster next door. We went over there to have a quick dinner just after 5 pm. We got up and left, without ever getting our order, almost an hour later. Completely unsatisfactory. It's been many years since we've been in a Red Lobster, and it looks like it'll be many many years before we go back!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Learning Early

Here's my grandson, getting an important lesson from his old man. Damn, I'm proud of him!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Grandson

Jackson went to his first baseball game yesterday. His team, the San Diego Padres, won. I guess Jacks is their good-luck charm! And take a look at the bottom half of the big screen behind him ... yes, that's Jacks, getting his image beamed to the whole stadium.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Studio Developments

I had a monkey wrench thrown into the development of a new painting this week. Won't go into the details, but it really upset me. In talking it over with several different people, and in mulling it over while walking the dogs (always a very productive time - if not for me, then at least for the dogs), I realized something. I've been making very angry paintings for the past several years. And it comes from a very deep place.

Some of you (from among the three people in the world who read this) are probably saying, "well, DUHH!". My "Bush League" series of paintings are satire. And what is satire if not anger with wit? I knew that going in, but kinda lost sight of it. Actually, I started the series specifically because I was pissed off at Bush and his Republican allies. My previous series of paintings (not on my web site anymore) was an unfocused bit of navel-gazing, and I needed to find a way to tap into something deeper. My anger at Bush was the key. So out came a series of satirical political paintings. After a year or so, I started the "Meditation on War" series. I wanted to work on something less politically partisan but that still tapped into some deep feelings. And most of those deep feelings were anger: at leaders who send young people off to die for no good reason, at events that kill people and destroy cities, at all the waste.

Seems strange coming from a retired naval officer, doesn't it? Well, there it is. I believe in the military. It was a great life for me. But as a great general once said, the purpose of a military is to kill people and break things. Unfortunately, sometimes military force is necessary, like in World War II, Korea, Desert Storm, and Afghanistan. But sometimes that force is used stupidly, like Bush's adventurism in Iraq. And that makes me angry.

I don't know yet how this new (to me) revelation will affect my work. Maybe there won't be anything that would be visible to a neutral viewer. But I'm already looking at my work in a different way. Anger is a great emotion to capture in art. I think in my case it was getting to be too much.