Sunday, March 29, 2015


I haven't made very many posts about my art lately, dammit.  The fact is, I haven't been making much art for the past few months.  My consulting business got really busy and there was too little time for the studio.  I'm trying to turn that around now, though, and have been in the studio more in the past week than in the whole previous month.  So here are a few recent paintings and drawings:

Oil on panel, 16"x20"

This is my newest painting.  I wanted to do an urban landscape with an empty feeling.  This one seems to be successful.  I usually have to live with a painting for a while before understanding it, but it seems to hit the right notes for me.

 Amy F. #4
Graphite on paper, 12"x9"

I go to life drawing or life painting sessions when I can.  There's a session on Monday nights in Asheville with very short, 1-5 minute poses.  This sketch is from one of those sessions.  Short poses are a lot of fun because you have to work fast and you either get it or you don't.  This young lady was hanging onto a bar mounted on the wall, giving her a very dynamic flow to her body.

Evie May and Liam
Oil on canvas, 7"x9 1/2"

Some neighbors have these two great kids and we had a lot of fun with them over the past couple of years.  Unfortunately, they recently moved out of state.  Janis was missing the kids, so I did this oil sketch for her.

Kelly #1
Charcoal on toned paper, 16"x12"

This was from another of our life drawing sessions, one with the more usual 20-minute poses.  I'd been away from the sessions for a bit and didn't know how the drawings might turn out.  This one turned out okay but others from that night went right into the trash can.  That's just the way it goes sometimes.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

A Taste of Spring

After a wicked six weeks or so of winter, we finally had a beautiful spring-like day today.  It was bright and clear, with temperatures in the 60's.  Hallelujah!  So we decided to go ride our bikes at the Biltmore estate.  I pulled the bikes out of their winter storage in the garage, pumped up the tires, gave them a first-rate pre-flight check ("yep, they still have handlebars ..."), loaded them onto the bike rack, and off we went.

And joined about half the population of Asheville at the Biltmore.  Turns out that our bright idea was the same bright idea everybody else had.  The paths were full of bikers, hikers, strollers, dogs, kids, and every imaginable combination thereof.  So it was slow going.  But still, it was good to get out again.  We puttered along, really just getting the feel of the bikes, getting our legs adjusted to pedaling, trying to pick up where we left off last fall, and enjoying the day.  Everybody was in a good mood, too.  Don't you love it when everybody is smiling and happy just to be there?

The Biltmore is a pretty good place to ride bikes.  The trails are smooth and easy, both when they're paved, when they're gravel, and even when they're just dirt.  Since the biking/hiking trails are separate from the roads, you don't have to worry about cars running you down.  We stayed on the flat land.  There are some trails that go up into the hills, but this is our first ride of the year, so we avoided the steeper trails.  We'll try them later.

I saw lots of places that I'd like to come back to and paint.  It's much easier to spot them on a bike than from a car, since you're right there and going slow.  And when you find a place, you can just stop.  In a car, you have to find a place to park, and it may be a long way away.  One of the things I'm going to have to take a look at is how to carry my French easel and painting stuff on the bike.

So that was it.  A really nice day outside.  My legs are feeling the unfamiliar exercise already, which is a good thing (for now, anyway - I may be singing a different tune tomorrow morning).  Looks like we're going to have a wet week, but we'll have highs in the upper 50's, which is ABOUT FRICKIN' TIME!  

Sunday, March 01, 2015

American Sniper

We finally got to see American Sniper today.  I was really looking forward to it after hearing and reading so much about the movie.  Some things lived up to the hype but other things did not.  

First, the good.  Bradley Cooper is phenomenal.  Cooper is a bit of a pretty-boy with delicate features, but for this movie, he bulked up 40 pounds of pure muscle and became a beast of a man.  He learned to speak with a true Texas accent.  Most importantly, he brought depth to the role.  Even his silences, or the way he would throw a glance, told volumes.  He became Chris Kyle.  Cooper showed how Kyle got to be the way he was, he showed you the stress that being a sniper can put on a man, and he made you understand the difficulty that warriors can have in adjusting to normal, everyday civilian life again.  This was world-class work.

Sienna Miller did an excellent job Taya, his wife.  Her role in the movie was to bring out the stress in adjusting to civilian life.  I thought that Sienna did very well with what she had to work with.

Unfortunately, I thought the script didn’t do the story much justice.  Granted, this was a biopic that covered many years (with a focus on 11 years, from Sep 11 to the day he died), so it required a lot of things to be addressed.  But the result was a movie that was a mile wide and an inch deep.  Cooper brought a lot of depth to Chris, Sienna brought some depth to Taya, but everybody else was just a 2-dimensional figure, a stereotype of “SEAL officer”, “Iraqi woman”, “kid”,  “random friend”, and so on.  Chris would have an emotional reaction to people getting shot in combat, or saying something important at home, but as a viewer, I had no emotional connection to those other people at all.

There was a lot of hype about how everybody involved in the movie wanted to get the details right.  Bad news: they didn’t.  There were quite a few eye-rolling moments for me.  Even things as simple as driving a HumVee around a base were obviously Hollywood ideas of how HumVees move.  Helicopters don’t fly around bases in real life like they do in the movie.  Soldiers don’t do mission briefs that way.  Failures like that are distracting.

Finally, the script created an insurgent sniper as a foil to Chris.  In reality, there was no comparable sniper.  Yes, there were insurgent snipers and they killed a lot of good people, but the idea of a master sniper in conflict with Chris was a storytelling creation.  And, for me, it didn’t work.  The real conflicts provided enough combat drama for dozens of Iraq War movies.

I thought the movie really missed a golden opportunity in addressing the difficulties that warriors have in re-adjusting to civilian life.  They touched on it enough to show that Chris had a hard time.  Normal events like a van coming up behind him in California, or the rip of a pneumatic drill, or even a blank TV screen, could take Chris back to the battlefield.  And the viewer will understand why that is.  But they did it just enough to say “Chris had a hard time adjusting at home” and then quickly moved on.  I think that a whole movie could be built around this concept.  In fact, it should.  

We’ve seen three other war-related movies this year: Fury,The Imitation Game, and Korengal.  All were better films than American Sniper.  The first two stripped their story down to the important bits and let their characters develop to where I cared about them.  The real-world story of Chris Kyle, the real-world story of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the real-world stories of veterans trying to adjust to peacetime American society, are more important stories than that of a fictitious tank crew or a genius fighting bureaucracy, but this movie didn't tell them very well.  Korengal is a documentary that explores the men who fought at a remote outpost in Afghanistan.  Not only is Korengal’s story equal in importance to American Sniper, but it makes you really understand the effect that war has on men.  Particularly the young men who bear the brunt of the fighting.  

So I was a bit disappointed in American Sniper.  It was a good movie, but not nearly as good as it could have been.  For me, the best war movie of the year was Korengal, then Fury, then The Imitation Game, and finally American Sniper.

But I really, really want to see a well-done film that explores the difficulty of readjusting to civilian life.