Handsome

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At ten months, Romeo is a beauty. My opinion!

 

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Beauty

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One of my constant obsessions has been thinking about what makes something beautiful. People tell me my dog is beautiful. He’s just a puppy still, but he magnetizes other beings, all ages, sizes, species. He has a dignity in how he holds himself. That is, when he isn’t acting like a goofy nine-month old puppy. He has a basically lovely personality and that makes him beautiful. Or maybe it’s that he is well proportioned, has beautiful hair, sweet eyes, etc. I don’t really know, but it all adds up to a beautiful dog.

And then there is handsome. Maybe he is handsome. Handsome is not beautiful. It is more sturdy. A woman can be handsome but can a man be beautiful? Baryshnikov dancing is beautiful. Grace and strength.

I think my house is beautiful. But a few people, ones who prefer a more traditional style, find it odd. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. My mother always said “Beauty is as beauty does” but when I told her she was beautiful, she said I was only saying that because I wanted something from her. Not very beautiful.

I’ve had students from all over the world, from many different cultures. Most often, the artwork reflects their culture. African students, unaware of what they were doing, drawing figures that look like the sculptures I’ve seen; Native Americans painting in the traditional Native style, Middle Eastern students drawing with the measured visual depth of their culture. In each case, working unintentionally within their own cultural vision. I have a Western aesthetic, perceive as I have been trained from birth. Who is to say what is beautiful.

Pretty is not beautiful. Pretty is nice, good. I think beauty is beyond words, thoughts. Beauty. I used to want beauty to have some abstract, universal continuity, be appreciated by everyone, everywhere. A gold standard for beauty. Plato’s Absolute Beauty. Of course, that thought just leads to disappointment. Still I have yet to find someone who doesn’t admire a beautiful sunrise. Maybe a sunrise is less personal than appreciating a painting. So many people feel they have to know something to allow a painting to talk to them. A beautiful painting just is.

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Under the bed

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Impossible Possibilities, no.9; 42″ x 42″

Recently I was visiting a friend who has a couple of my paintings in his living room. As we sat talking, I realized one of the pieces, although created a couple of years ago, was exactly what I am trying to achieve in my work now.

When he chose this painting, I wasn’t sure it was finished but I also wasn’t sure there was anything else I could do to it. As I sat looking at it that day, I realized it was already ahead of where I was comfortable at the time. I could have done that painting today and been very happy with it.

It never ceases to amaze me how the realization and understanding often comes long after the event. I’ve often told students to put it under their bed for a few months, not look at it. Too bad I can’t follow my own advice, do that with paintings.

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Who knew

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“Who Knew, no. 3″; 36″ x 36”; oil & collage on canvas

 

You know that feeling when you say, “Yes, That’s It!“ This morning, as I was about to close up shop, even had some paints put away, the world of the paintings opened up to me and I stayed in my studio long after I planned to leave. That’s what makes it worthwhile, that time of ”Got It!“ But then, there is tomorrow and I might have a very different feeling about what I did today. But I doubt it. it was strong this morning.

When painting, I am looking for something that is beyond what I’ve done before, for something I didn’t know. This morning I was working mostly with blue again. Always a struggle for me. And I do love that struggle. Where nothing comes easily and I feel challenged. Even when it comes easily but surprises me with a freshness I didn’t know about, it wakes me up. Then it is hard to stop working.

A friend was here when the paint I had ordered recently arrived and we started talking about blue. For several months in the summer and fall, I had run out of my favorite blue, ultramarine, and had to improvise. It was interesting, finding new combinations to create that richness of the ultramarine. Most blues are very beautiful but more superficial, pretty. When putting several blues together, I could come close to the depth and beauty of ultramarine. In truth, I am finding most colors look better on canvas when they are combined with closely related neighbors. And now I am enjoying mixing many blues  (and reds and greens) and discovering what can happen. It’s all a mystery, even when it works well.

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Starting

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After a long hiatus from painting due to health issues, I am finally back at work in my studio. For the first time since I started many years ago, I was feeling like I might never paint again. Laying low, I watched a lot of good movies and read some good books. Not even thinking much about painting. Usually it is a twenty-five hour a day obsession. This period felt odd, like being retired must feel. Without the organizing principle of work.

Then I received an email from the Orange Gallery in Ottawa asking for a show March 22 to April 9. So I got back at it right away. I feel human again! As if there hadn’t been any time gap.

Apparently I did know I would resume work soon. Last week I cleaned up my studio and ordered paint.  When the paint came, I was very excited.  It meant I could  paint again. I might have been thinking I didn’t miss it, but I am ready to work now. Painting is what I do, not who I am. There is so much more to being a person than what you do, but those things feed the work. I’m ready for a big meal now.

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Revising revisions

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(A Poem That You Wrote, no. 3; 60″ x 72″; oil & collage on canvas)

I have one of the paintings from the Saint Mary’s exhibit hanging in my living room. I didn’t put it in my recent exhibit at the  Secord Gallery. I need to keep it for a while to understand how it happened, what makes it unique, what it has to say to me. There’s a story there I want to hear, a conversation. I look at it and become immersed in parts of it, then move on, go back to the whole image. A friend asked me today what appeals so strongly to me about this painting, why this one. I think it is the nature of fearless strength it has yet there is still a mysterious subtlety to it. It is both bold and quiet at the same time.

This painting was my favorite a the Saint Mary’s exhibit. But it was not quite right, just a little too uncoordinated. So I reworked it, calmed it down. But I overdid it. Not good. It lost its vitality. So I reworked it again. Now we are both happy, the painting and I.

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A Poem You Wrote

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(Coincidentally, no. 1; 38″ x 46″; oil &  collage on canvas)

I had an exhibit up for three weeks in Halifax at the Secord Gallery. They have a wonderful way of hanging the work. It consisted of mostly large paintings (several at 46“ x 46” and 60“ x 72”) and some small pieces (5“ x 3” and 8“ x 8”). The range of color was different from last April’s exhibit at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery where the tone was more limited. Here I played off on the colors of the Saint Mary’s show while expanding the range. It worked.

We called the exhibit A Poem That You Wrote. The title came from a conversation with Phil Secord, gallery owner. He was describing how he felt about the painting that was used on the invitation: it feels like a poem I wrote and rewrote again and again. I think so.

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