Tuesday, October 17, 2006

It’s A Sparkly or How I Learned to Love Being Manic

I had a teacher in college, over 30 years ago, who figured that I was going to be successful. He told me that it would take longer because I was pushing so many fronts at the same time. When your horizon is that broad, he explained, it takes a lot longer to move everything ahead versus being focused on one particular area, or niche. Well, I’m still waiting for that success. It hasn’t happened and I’m still all over the place. I think part of success is based on consistency and I am consistently inconsistent.

When my children were just wee tots, there was an animated film called the Secret of Nimh. I haven’t been too much of a fan of cartoon style movies for a long time now but this one caught my attention. It had a character, a crow named Jeremy that intrigued me (whose voice was done by the comedic actor Dom De Luise). Jeremy was constantly distracted during the adventure by various things and objects that caught his attention. He would be going along, get distracted and stop, and say “oooh, it’s a sparkly.” Well, that’s me! I seem to be constantly distracted by the sparklies, the new and different things that I encounter in my life.

The reason that I had (and still do have) such a broad artistic horizon is that I just can’t seem to focus on one specific (narrow) area in life and pursue it, or for that matter follow through on it. After all these years I’m not sure if that is a sad and pathetic thing or actually a good thing. There are just so many things in art to be interested in and so little time to explore all of the possibilities. When I think about all of the interesting things that life has to offer, it borders on being overwhelming. Something being overwhelming doesn’t necessarily stop me but constant trial and failure does wear me down and make me want to retreat from the world and my life. I know that I will cycle through it and greet my life with new enthusiasm and want to try new things. I just never seem to learn. Like Jeremy the Crow, the sparklies always catch my attention and distract me. The chemical imbalance in my brain that caused my disability also causes this attitude.

Over the course of my employment career I have sold commercial house paint and did custom paint tinting, I managed a hardware store and later an artist supply store. I have worked in a bakery and a small manufacturing firm building floor cleaning equipment. There was time in there to go live in a monastery to study theology and possibly to be come a priest. I have worked as a carpenter, a plumber, and worked doing plant facilities maintenance in industrial complexes. For a while I put siding on houses and then went on to sell building materials for a lumberyard. Later I switched to the printing industry. First on the pre-press-lithography end working as a paste-up artist and later doing film composition and color separations. After a hiatus of many years as a picture framer I returned to the printing industry doing customer service and sales work. I worked for 3 different printing shops before I ended up working in the financial aid office of a community college. It was there that my disability finally caught up and overcame me.

My artistic career has not been much different. There was my surrealist period, then going on to be an abstract expressionist. Later came color field painting and while I lived in NYC I had a gallery director call me a phenonmenologist (I still smile when I remember that). This was all followed by the conceptual art phase. After marriage and family I began to work realistically. That morphed into impressionism and that into expressionism and that into kind of, sort of, where I am now.

Gee, with a track record like that I just can’t figure out why success has eluded me. I say that, of course, tongue in cheek. My art and my life have been one very interesting ride. Sometimes it has scared the crap out of me but it has seldom been boring. The years and my disabilities have now worn me down but apparently I haven’t learned much from the experiences. My art is still all over the place, my life cycles between somewhat controllable periods of depression and mania, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up (or if I want to grow up), and I’m still looking for the next “sparkly.”

The above pieces, like me, are all over the place. The long landscape is titled “Barn On A Grassy Hill.” It measures 12” X 30” and is done with oil pastel on a hardwood panel. The still life of 2 pears is done with soft pastel, conte crayon, and oil pastel on a hardwood panel and measures 9” X 12”. The nude is done with soft pastel, oil pastel, and oil paint on paper and measures 17.75” X 10”.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Dynamic Tension

Back in the early 1970’s I shared a loft in NYC with a buddy from college. It didn’t last too long because our personalities clashed. I can remember him pacing back and forth, smoking endless cigarettes, and using his hands to express unknown sentiments all the while telling me that I was a nervous person. I was the one sitting motionless on the couch, wound up tighter than a cheap watch, waiting for my head to explode so I could release the tension.

Tension is a very interesting feeling. Like so many things it can be use for good or bad. Used one way it can motivate, used another it can cripple or paralyze a person. The power of tension creates earthquakes and it also creates mountain ranges. Sexual tension can build and when released with a lover can unleash unbridled pleasure. Elements of tension in a story can hold our attention waiting for the outcome. Tension on a cable holds a bridge up. Political tension can cause us to hold our breath waiting to see if the world will sink into chaos.

Tension fascinates me. I guess that it should, there seems to be so much of it in my life. I always tell myself that I want to be free from it yet, when there is no tension I seem to go out of my way to find it or create it. I don’t really understand why I do it. I sometimes wonder if I am a glutton for punishment or if there is a part of me that abhors or fears a quiet and tranquil life. There is obviously something wrong with the way that my brain is wired and how it functions. Or maybe the gods just programmed me that way.

Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t really matter. For me, tension seemed to be here to stay and since I had it, I figured that I might as well use it. Over the years I’ve tried using it in my personal relationships, in my marriage and how I raised my children, in how I have dealt with jobs and co-workers. None of that seemed to work out really well. Actually, a lot of it was disastrous. There were times that it wasn’t disastrous and that was when I used it in my painting.

This tension could help to bring a painting to life. The tension could add a shimmer or resonate with some unknown chord. It could create the feeling of a perilous balancing act where I might wait and watch just to see which way it might fall or a mad dance whirling and taking on its own life. It could be like lightening cutting through the darkness illuminating the world around it, motionless and silent, for just a split second waiting for the rumble to catch up to it. The tension was never boring but always interesting and filled with life, even if I didn’t really understand or agree with it. This tension is always real. And it is exhausting, but sometimes feeling exhausted can be a good and satisfying thing. It lets you know that you are alive. It lets you know the difference between you and a chair just sitting there.

The above piece is untitled. It measures 15" X 21.75" and is oil on prepared paper.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Our Memories Always Follow Us

Whatever we do,
Wherever we go,

Our memories
Always follow us.

There’s just no place to leave them.

This is a poem that I wrote about 30 years ago. I knew that my memories accumulated and became part of who I am. Even if I don’t remember them, they stay silently in the background adding to who I am as a person. This, of course, influences who I am as an artist and how I express myself.

In my artist statement I wrote, “For quite a long time I used to believe that the essence of my work could be distilled down to one word, strength. Strong color, shape, composition, light and so on. That slowly I was eliminating all of the unnecessary elements. I was trimming it down to bare and simple forms. The paintings were sleek and trim and could hold their own.” Strength was important to me. It was how I protected myself. It was how I kept others at a safe distance so that I could not be hurt. It was how I survived.

I have a disability, OCD, but I also have a second disability, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). I am not a war veteran. I have PTSD because I was abused as a child and that forever colors the way that I see my world. Being an artist became my refuge and then later my identity. It also became the way that I protected myself and held my demons at bay. Regretfully, it also kept other people at bay. All of my experiences shape my life and they also shape my art so it was only natural that my paintings started to reflect the need for strength. I wanted something simple yet I wanted it to be richly complex without it appearing to be that way. I wanted to create subtle contradictions in the paintings to see if others could break through the code that I was covertly sending in a very overt format.

I am not so sure if this was an attempt to reach out to others and to reveal myself or if it more like the story of the Wizard of Oz? Am I merely the wizard hiding behind the curtain? It is attributed to Pablo Picasso that every work an artist makes is a self-portrait. I really do believe that in every work that I make I am revealing bits and pieces of myself. Subtle clues left along the path of my life. More importantly, my work reflects back to me who I am or what I have become. Both as an artist and a person I need to look closely at these images and decide if I really like what I see. Is this who or what I really want to be or is there something different, something better? It is too easy to get used to the safety and comfort of being stuck in the ruts of my own making.

The last few months I have spent more time meditating and reflecting on my life. I have been looking at my paintings with a much more critical eye to see what I like and dislike. As I look at my art and my life I have discovered what I don’t like about myself and begin work to make changes. There is much uncertainty, which makes me nervous, but at the same time there is a wonderful excitement. I have become too complacent with how I make my art and now change is in the air. My paintings show me that it is time to push on to a new level, to a new way of seeing and expression. It’s going to be fun!

The quartet of paintings above are all part of an ongoing variation on a theme series. They all measure 10” X 12” and are oil pastel on paper.