Monday, December 29, 2008

The Portrait

Christmas 2008

Snow. Yep, we had a white Christmas. Definitely a white Christmas – as did most of North America. Some would say it was a little too white, but I would never say that. I love the snow. No matter how many times I get stuck, and no matter how cold I get, I still love it. I do prefer that the temps stay in the low to mid twenties, though.

Bren had to work on Christmas morning (she left at around 3a.m. as usual). We opened stockings before she left and had such a good time. I just enjoyed the time that she was gone by working on some projects, decorating packages and such.
I didn’t intend on staying up the entire time that she was gone, as I had to leave for work at 9 p.m., but, well, as usual, I got caught up in what I was doing and was doing some artwork when Bren came back through the door at around 1 p.m.
We headed over to Bren’s folks’ place for Christmas dinner. Marge made a beautiful meal, as always … all the trimmings, wonderful and filling. Unfortunately, I found myself dazed and muddle-headed about halfway through dinner. It’s funny, some people get grumpy and irritable when they get overly tired, I just start to shut down. I shouldn’t even be allowed in public if I’ve gone too long without sleep. I probably make no sense to anyone around me, and I can’t concentrate enough to know if I am making any sense at all. Mostly, though, I’m quiet. The tryptophan in the turkey (yes, I took a break from my vegetarian ways to quaff some foul), and the wine probably didn’t help matters much, but, all in all, I was feeling comfortable in my fuzzy-headed way.
We opened gifts after dinner. Some really wonderful things … but most wonderful of all was the gift that I received from Del. If you don’t know, Del is Brenda’s father. He’s by far the best painter that I’ve ever had the privilege to know – bar none. How I got lucky enough to be with a girl who has a father that’s a master painter, I’ll never know. One of the coolest things about Del, though, is that he’s such a great guy, very unassuming, gracious, and down to earth. He and I clicked right away and I’m proud to call him my friend.
When I opened the gift from Del I was not prepared. Emotions rushed over me. I didn’t know what to say. Predictably, I tried to make a joke to soften my emotions. There I was looking at a portrait of me … done so well that it was astonishing. “Who’s this ugly guy?” I said … in truth thinking that he really caught the best part of me.
Like many other artists, I have probably done a couple hundred self-portraits … ink, pencil, charcoal, oil ….whatever … it's not a solipsistic thing, really, it's more than that ... and it's less than that. Artists use the self portrait as a way to search inside themselves, to learn what's inside as well as what's outside. It's also as simple as that they tend to sit still for themselves where some modles have a tough time. In all of my questing to reach in, I don't think that I’ve ever captured the essence of “me” the way that Del has in this stunning little painting.
So, there I sat, like a doink, not really knowing what to do or say. Del had taken the time to do a painting for me … and make a gorgeous frame to go with it. I was honored and humbled. I was trying not to make too big of a deal out of it so that I didn’t make Del uncomfortable, and I was afraid that I would get all choked up. I, honestly, couldn’t function well at all. I asked if my beard were really that grey – knowing full well that it was … that he had captured it perfectly.
Del’s style is one that I have been able to see in my mind for some years in a way … something that I’ve been striving for but had no way of knowing how to go about getting. In my early days as a painter, I was smitten with Rembrandt and then with Sargent. I always thought that there must be a way to capture the drama and light of a Rembrandt with the colour and flair of a Sargent. I think that Del has done that.
In the last three years (almost) that I’ve known Del, I’ve been able to see him work and learn from him slowly … and I feel that I’ve made some progress, but, looking at the portrait of me on Christmas day, I was blown away. I don’t even know how to describe it. Saying that it’s a wonderful blend of the afore mentioned masters, doesn’t really do it. It’s so much more than that, because it’s got the unmistakable touch of Del Gish … his flair with colour and his subtle strokes juxtaposed and blended to create something that even photos cannot.
Another touching thing about the work is the way that he signed it: “Jack, 2008, Del”; a personal and familiar touch.

I hope to learn a lot from studying this painting ... and under the toutalage of Del in the next hundred or so years (that's how long I'll need to catch up with him!).
If ever I’m noted in the annals of Art history, it will be as a side note to Del, I’m sure. I can live with that.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Last Friday, 5 December '08 was “First Friday Art Walk” again, when all of the galleries in town open their doors later in the evening so that the public can wander from one to the next and enjoy snacks, art, and interact with the artists.
As has become my habit, I drove downtown early in the morning when I got off of work. It was drizzling rain and the temps hovered around the freezing mark, making driving just a little tricky, but I had little problem getting there without incident.
My mood, this time, was one of levity mixed with weariness. Doing things during the day, sometimes, really wears me out. I had slept well the day before but not most of the rest of the early week. Knowing that today didn’t bode well for sleep, made more of a psychological effect on me than anything.
I brought along with me four new pieces to put up – well, two had been up a long time ago and two were fresh works. I kicked off my shoes and reveled in the quietness of the morning. I love the gallery when it’s just me and the work – it’s like being in a library when no one is around. There’s a certain peace that takes me back to museums, libraries, and the deep forest.
Deciding what to leave in and what to take down is always a bitter-sweet thing. I have a difficult time thinking of this as a business somehow. I haven’t sold anything in a couple of months but I’ve been happy showing my etchings and other stuff that nobody ever really gets to observe. Like I’ve said before; the gallery thing is not really an avenue for me to make a lot of money, it’s a place for me to make contacts and to show my work, rather than have it hanging on my own walls or leaning against the book shelf in my studio.
I was having fun rearranging things when I noticed that it had already been forty-five minutes. I had only plugged the meter for an hour, thinking that, since I only had four paintings to hang, it wouldn’t take long. So I headed for the door, passing my jacket on the way. I parked close, so I decided not to grab it.
Well, you’ve guessed it by now. Yep, I locked myself out of the gallery. Dough!
Fortunately for me, the Brooklyn Deli people were next door doing their prep work and called the landlord for me. So, after re-plugging the meter, I sat on the stairs that lead down to the gallery and laughed at myself. It was only about fifteen minutes before the landlord showed up and let me in.
It was a few minutes after I had returned that one of the other gallery members showed up to change a few of his pieces too. Dang. I asked him where the heck he was half an hour ago.
He left just as I was finishing up my rearranging and I got to enjoy the feeling of having my artwork hanging in yet another showing. I sat down in one of the arm chairs and sipped my drink – wishing that it could be coffee, but knowing that it couldn’t because I would be going to bed as soon as I made it home.
I think that this is one of the most enjoyable times as an artist, really; just sitting back and taking it all in without the pressures of producing or having others there looking at the work – just being in harmony with the expressions that one has done.
With other errands that I had to run in the morning, I was only able to get about three and a half hours sleep before having to get up and go back to the gallery at five. During the evening, though, I made a few connections and was able to talk with several people who were genuinely interested in the work. And, just before I had to go home to take a pre-work nap, someone bought one of my small oils. It’s a still life - Eggplant and Pomegranates. It’s one that I did in Del’s studio last fall.
I drove home on icy roads feeling very good about things. It wasn’t really the sale of the painting. That did feel nice, but it was the fact that I am out there trying – making connections, letting the world see what I do. It’s a big step for me and I’m not always comfortable with it, but I’m less comfortable with finishing a painting for it to wind up in the closet.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ben's Birthday

Twenty Five years ago I was where Tim is now ... South Korea ... but I had received news from home that it was time for Tim's little brother to be born. As quickly as I could, I arranged for leave and caught the next bird out of there.
Of course, being a very long flight, Ben had already been born while I was somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. When I got to the states I couldn't get hold of anyone. It took me many more hours to get from California to Florida. By the time that I got there I knew that my new son, Ben, had some serious problems. I was a wreck as I drove from Satellite Beach to Coacoa Beach to the hospital. It was very late at night and I hadn't had much sleep all the way from Korea, plus I hadn't been behind the wheel of a car in about seven months. It was one crazy drive through the rain slickened streets of the Eastern Florida coast.

Ben had some problems, to put it mildly, and was in an incubator in the ICU. My first sight of him was one that I'll never forget. He looked so fragile and delicate. My heart melted. The doctors couldn't give us much encouragement, but Ben fought his way through and has surprised us all ever since.

He is talented, caring, creative, and inteligent. One of the best put together people that I've ever known. I'm very proud of him.

Happy Birthday, Ben.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

November show

I did something that I hardly ever do this week. I called in and played hooky from work … two days in a row!! I needed the time off just to recuperate … but I also had to come up with a new show for the gallery. Fortunately, I have no lack of new work to show – having been producing stuff for years and sending it straight to the closet. The problem, as always, is matting and framing stuff. I was able to swap a few frames around and to find some others that fit the twelve pieces that I wanted to put up … all except one. That was kind of nice, really, to only have one frame to make. The last few First Fridays have found me scurrying around and framing a ton of stuff … spending money on frames and mat board, and stressing out. There was practically no stress at all this time. Things went smoother than I could have anticipated.
On Friday morning I drove through the thick November fog down into Spokane to the gallery. I’ve come to look forward to hanging my new shows now. I usually do it before the gallery is open and it’s very peaceful in there. I kick off my shoes, turn on my ipod, lay out all of my new work on the floor. Then I begin to methodically place the pieces on the wall, as if it were a twelve by ten foot puzzle.
This month my theme was simply to have a sample of all of the different work that I do; variety in both subject and medium. I incorporated a lot of the prints that I had put up last month. In fact, most of the prints that I removed from the wall, went into my standing portfolio, so that the work was still available to peruse and purchase.
The question of the meaning of it all didn’t nag at me the way that it can sometimes. I think that I’ve learned the meaning of life along the bumpy road that I’ve traveled. There’s nothing like laying in a hospital bed, staring at the ceiling with a bunch of wires and tubes running through you to bring that question to the forefront of thought. It has pervaded and persisted, nipping at my heels from time to time, staring me straight in the face at others.
Life changes came from my open-heart surgery eight years ago … I went back to school and finished my degree … I moved around the country, and finally made my way back to Spokane … and I’ve settled down more – the wanderlust rarely whispering in my ear. I’ve grown expedientially as an artist, I’ve produced some things that I never would have believed that I was capable of, and I’ve included an art form hitherto untouched by me (printmaking). But those were just changes. As meaningful as I may have thought that they would be, they really don’t add up to much.
The meaning in life, really, (to me, anyway), is being happy with one’s self and to know real love. Sounds simple and all, but, man, it’s tough to get there. My happiness, in a large part, comes from the very act of creating something. When I’m busy working, all of the minutiae of life just seems to flow away.
The question of “why do I work so hard at artwork, why do I do it at all?” is kind of a silly question, really. There is no huge, changing the world, philosophical reason. I’m an artist. That’s what those kind of people do. “Writers write” as the line from Throw Mama from the Train goes. And so, painters paint, and musicians make music, it’s as simple as that. The difference that art, in all of its manifestations, makes in the world is subtle – in and of itself. But the achievements of one artist are built upon by artists in following generations. Together art makes life just a little richer, just a little more interesting. Sometimes it does have a profound effect, and sometimes it’s just a momentary pause along the path.
I have stood in museums looking at paintings that just blew me away, and I’ve lived my life doing work that I have hoped would touch others too. I don’t delude myself that I’m going to touch the world or that I’ll get rich in the process. But there are those moments when it does come together.
At the First Friday art walk last night, I did touch a group of college kids who were doing the art walk as part of their course requirements at Spokane Falls Community College. I watched them from across the room and saw them become excited when they saw my work, and watched as they took pictures of it with their cell phones cameras. When they recognized my name on my badge about half an hour later, they became animated and spent quite a while talking with me and asking me questions. It was quite flattering.
Also, throughout the evening, one of the other artists, Mike F., would introduce people to me and guide them to my work with such devotion and pride that I had no idea what to do with myself. I was flattered and embarrassed, and, actually, perplexed. I suppose that we never see in ourselves what others perceive.
I went home very tired, but very pleased. I had sold some work … just a little print … but I’d also felt like my stuff had some merit, too. It had ment something to someone else. It’s real hard to see that when it’s holding a place leaning against a wall in the corner or tucked away with dozens of other art projects in the closet.

And the love thing … for years I had wandered and wasted a lot of time on “the search”. Finally, I’ve found it. It’s not the big, breath taking deal that Hollywierd makes of it – at least not all of the time. It’s a daily communication and time spent with someone who gets me, and in whom I’m interested and understand ... someone with whom my time matters and feels worthwhile – even if we’re doing nothing. She’s not a Barbie-doll, and I’m not G.I. Joe – we’re not the movie of the week. It’s a simple and wonderful, fulfilling love.
There's also the love of God. This is a very deep and personal thing for me. Everyone understands God in a different way ... I cannot explain mine, nor would I want to thrust it on someone else. I do know that having Him in my life has made a tremendous difference, and it's my hope that everyone comes to know Him and imbraces Him.
Another part of love, I’ve known for quite a while – the love of my children. My kids, even though they’re grown and gone off into the world, are still a constant in my mind and I feel their connection and love even if I’ve not spoken with them for weeks at a time.
There’s also the extended family – my sibs, who I don’t get to see as much as I’d like, parents, nieces, nephews, and so on – and Brenda’s family too … her parents and sibs have welcomed me into their lives in a way that really touches my heart.

Friends, I have few of – but the ones that I do have, I think of often, and they add to the richness of my life.
And then there’s Pfeffer, my little grey cat. One of my great joys is to come home and see her run across the yard to greet me; to pick her up and hug her, to feel and hear her purr.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Okay, this is totally at random, I realize, but the other day I was moving some stuff and found this picture of my brothers, mom, and me in England. I was about five or six and was attending the local peroqual school - hence the rediculous outfit with the little rams head on my blazer. It was around the beginning of the year, I can tell; the shorts give it away. I wore them until the teacher began whackng me on the back of my bare legs with a stick. Okay, so, I wasn't the best student in the world back then ... plus I was the only Yankee in the place. But, dang! that hurts on the bare leg. So, I started wearing long pants. That was when I began being whacked on the back of my hands with a stick. Hmmm. Not sure which was worse. But, look, matched sox!

One thing that I will say for the teacher ... wish I knew what her name was ... she was one of the first people to single me out for my artwork. Even though she didn't like me, she went on and on about some train that I painted. She made a huge deal out of it and hung it in the front of the room. I was embarassed -- almost as much as when I had to stand in front of the class to be smacked.

Ah, yes ... those fond old days. Aparently it was in fashion, back in the 60's, to wear clothing that didn't fit very well. Check out my brothers! Haahahahaha. What a bunch of dorks we were! Well, okay, so ... some things never change. We're all still pretty much a bunch of dorks. Here's a picture of Mark, Chip, and me some forty five years later.

It looks like our clothes still don't fit ... and Mark grew right out of his hair! Well, mines getting mighty thin too (thankfully I've had a thing for hats all of my life). Chip's just growing a tall forehead.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weekend Adventure

Weekend Adventure.
Saturday night (25 October ’08) my girl, Brenda, and I headed out on a little adventure. We left just as the sun was finished setting – which was a good thing, as we were heading west. I hate driving into the sun. We drove for several hours before stopping for dinner at a place called “Bobs” in Moses Lake, Washington. The food was palatable and the service adequate. The conversation and the companionship, though, were outstanding. We talked about everything and nothing – as usual. Just being able to spend time with Bren is a treat for me. She really is one of the great treasures of my life.
Around an hour after we left the restaurant, we stopped at a little motel for the night. It was really daytime for me … but I had only gotten about five hours of sleep today, and driving at night is kind of tiring anyway. At 2 a.m. I was wide awake, though. I managed to get back to sleep for a little bit, but was awake again by 4. I lay there for a little while before I got up and went into the bathroom. I had so many ideas floating around in my head that I wanted to get some of them down.
I lay in the empty bathtub with my sketch book and did some drawings for a commission that is due next week, and then I did a little writing. It was quite peaceful and very comfortable and, strangely, I enjoyed the experience quite a bit.
Eventually I went outside and wandered around in the dark. There was a small lake behind the motel and I attempted to walk round it but couldn’t see very well. The moon was only a fingernail in the early morning sky. There was hot coffee and packets of hot cocoa in the lobby of the hotel, so I made some mocha-java and walked around a little more. There were brochures in the lobby so I read some of the literature about the local towns which seemed very interesting. The town in which we were staying, Ellensburg, had burned to the ground in 1889. The town then began a great renewal and rebuilt itself, coordinating the styles that were to be used. There were some beautiful old photos of some of the buildings – most in the “arts district”. Perhaps we would have a chance to check it out this weekend.
We had other, more pressing matters, though, to which we wanted to attend.
As the sun peeked out over the trees, it made a wondrous view. Its fall in the Great Northwest – well, okay, so it’s autumn everywhere – but autumn means different things around the world. Here, in Washington, it’s a temperate zone (not a coconut in sight – though they are brought here – shipped, not carried by African nor European swallows), and in temperate zones the deciduous trees turn all sorts of lovely shades before the leaves plunge from their lofty perches. They glide through the air, softly landing on grasses, to curl into rust-coloured heaps beneath the trees.
The lake was a beautiful reflection of the early morning sky and the cold air made a silky mist that floated on its surface. I enjoyed the moment with a silent thrill. I will, most likely, try to capture this peace with one of my woodcut/intaglio/monotypes.
The sun was brilliant, though the day very chilly as we headed out on the last twenty or thirty miles to our destination. It was some of the prettiest landscapes that I’ve seen in some time. We were very close to the rocky, craggy, still snow speckled mountains that divide Washington’s “inland empire” from the western side of the state. This part of Washington looks much like parts of Alaska that I roamed through as a boy. Indeed, that’s probably what prompted them to pick it as a good location to film the television series Northern Exposure.
Last Christmas Brenda got me the entire series of Northern Exposure and we watched it in its entirety over the next six months. It was quirky and strange, yet deep, philosophical, and fun. We became very engrossed in the characters and felt a certain bond with both them and the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska. The real town that was used in the series is Roslyn, WA. It was, as you’ve guessed by now, our destination.
There’s something very surreal and wonderful about visiting someplace that you’ve only seen on movies or on television. I got to experience a lot of that a few years ago when I wandered around New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., and several other places. Sometimes it’s hard to get your barring because it’s just not the way that you thought it was laid out in your mind’s eye.
Now, I’ve been to Roslyn before – back in the 90s – when they were still filming the Northern Exposure series. My mom used to live in Bremerton when I lived in Hillyard (part of Spokane, WA), and every few months or so, I would take a drive over to visit her. Never often enough, as it goes – “but there never seems to be enough time to do the things that you want to do once you find them...”, as Jim Croce put it (Time in a Bottle). Many times I stopped in – and, almost without fail – each time they had either just finished filming hours before or they were going to film the next day … or filming had been canceled or delayed due to weather, etc. Grrr. I secretly had a dream to be a walk-on extra in the show. But, alas, my Hollywood career was just not to be. My regrets to Janine Turner; I’m sure she’s still heartbroken over it.
The series is mainly about Dr. Joel Fleischman (played by Rob Morrow) who graduates from Columbia University medical school and is assigned to work in the tiny Alaskan town of Cicely to pay for his education. The location is remote, the people are weird, and Joel just wants to return to New York. The series was created by Brand and Falsey, who also created “St. Elsewhere”. The show won an Emmy in 1992.
Bren and I pulled into an almost deserted street at around 8:30. We wandered around and took pictures before heading into one of the many restaurants in town for breakfast. We sat beneath a large photo of the cast of NE. When the waitress asked for our order I asked her what John Corbin’s favorite breakfast was. She informed us that she had only been in Jr. High when the series was airing.
After our delightful meal we wandered about town. We went into Joel’s offices, which are now the home to a dilapidated and musty curio shoppe, then we roamed down to the Brick (whose sign looks decidedly like a phallic symbol – maybe they should rename it the Prick). Of course this early in the morning the bar was closed. Directly across the street we peered into Ruthanne’s store. It was also closed and would be all day due to Sunday sales being poor, according to the sign. It’s a shame. I think that they really lost an opportunity today, as there was a dog costume contest and parade through town and the KBHR end of town was swarming with people and dogs in various states of apparel. True to the series, it still seems like a weird town.
By the time we peered through the windows of the Chris in the Morning, KBHR radio station, and wandered around town, purchasing stuff in the health food store and admiring the scenery with its many reminders and references to the fact that this was once a great coal mining community, it was after 11.
Our trip to Cicely couldn’t be complete, of course, without sitting down at the bar in the Brick for a cold beer. We ordered some of the local brew. It was exceedingly nasty, but we quaffed it along with some soup and onion rings. Holling sure can whip up a mess of vittles.
Sadly, we turned our wandering back eastward. We stopped back through Ellensburg, saw a halfway decent museum, and wandered through some shoppes, but most of the town was closed and looked nothing like the pictures in the brochures. So, we headed back home where our little Pfeffer was waiting.
It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed an outing like that. Brenda and I really needed it. We watched a couple of episodes of NE once we had unpacked from our trip. We used the fast forward button quite a bit, mostly focusing on the scenes of town – where we had just been hours ago.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Seminar/workshop

This last week there have been several other artists on the property. A Russian painter, Alex, brought several of his students to join Del for a seminar. I was invited, but – once again, because of my shift, I had to miss most of it. I did get to sit in on a few of Alex’s lectures and got something out of them.One of his lectures was on painting with only three colours (plus black and white). Not an unusual thing in itself. What was unusual was his pallet. The blue was Cerulean, the red was Alizarin Crimson, for yellow – cadmium yellow medium (which is not so strange). I’ll admit that the mixtures produced by these colours were rich and vibrant and it was a nice day for the whole thing …….. too bad it was right in the middle of the time that I usually sleep.
I’d like to say that I’ll be using that pallet from now on. It sure would save a lot of money in different paints, and it would give me so much more room in my paint box – however, I don’t like the thought of learning a whole new combination of colours, or the thought of having to mix so much. Many of the combinations I do use already, but I do like the idea of not having to buy so many different paints, and I will look at eliminating some of the colours that I do purchase.
Last year Del was telling me about Zorn (Anders Zorn 1860 - 1920), who only used three colours plus white: he used black for his blue, cadmium red, and yellow ochre. I tried it and was pleased with the results … however, it wasn’t really the direction that I wanted to go.
The whole limited pallet thing is intriguing – I did a painting last year in which I used only red, green, black and white. I was amazed at the range that I could get with those.
Colour is amazing. If one could live to be 200, they’d still be discovering new and interesting things to do with paint combinations (course, they’d need to have someone else mix the paint for them because they'd be too old to pick up a brush).

Friday, October 10, 2008


Yesterday I went out and pulled the corn from the stalks that I’ve been nurturing all spring and summer. The whole growing a field of corn thing was kind of an experiment, really. I didn’t expect much – just wanted to try my hand at a plot of corn. I grew a few stalks last year but didn’t have much luck. A few of the ears were okay, but some sort of weird blue growth thing happened. The thing was, though, that I liked the way that the stalks of corn looked – the dimension that they added to the garden and the way that the sunflowers grew with them and then towered over them. So, this year, when I planted the seeds, I edged the plot of corn with Sunflowers … and put a few in the rows too.
I had six rows that were about thirty feet long – about twelve or fifteen plants per row. No one could be more surprised than I had been when 95% of all the kernels that I planted actually grew. I’m always amazed with the whole growth process. It’s like magic that something stately and beautiful as a sunflower or a tree can come from a tiny seed.
I’m amazed by a lot of things, though. Anyone who has ever ridden in a car with me knows, to their chagrin, that I spend almost as much time looking at clouds, trees, and mountains as I do looking at the road. The whole world is a wonder to me.
When I was done harvesting the corn, I put the stalks together, just like I’ve seen some of the farmers do. I never really knew why, but Del said that it was probably for their cows. Hmmm. Well, I have no cows, but the corn stalk sentinels look cool, anyway.
“Y’know, not everything is an art project,” someone who had been close to me once said. I gave her a blank look. “What?!” At the time I think that I was carving a pumpkin. How could that not be an art project? She didn’t understand me at all. And – she’s no longer part of my life … not from that one incident, but you can see that it’s a basic part of me; art, experimentation, and the wonder of the world around me. None of it seemed to be a wonder to her.
I’m a vegetarian. Well, that is to say, I don’t eat meat (not much anyway – every once in a while I treat myself -- I’ve found, though, that I don’t really enjoy meat all that much). Really, I’m more of a pastatarian. I love pasta. I’m probably the worst vegetarian on the planet because I don’t even like vegetables much. I do like to grow them, though.
A garden is like a big sculpture. The medium is dirt, water, sun, and time. Well, let’s not forget the planting, weeding, pruning, weeding, tying, weeding, exfoliating, weeding, and harvesting (ah, finally, no more weeding). The beauty of a garden is amazing. In the spring I’m always excited to see little green shoots sprouting forth … then the buds … flowers … and fruit as they grow and produce.
I had some great crops this year. I made over a dozen jars of pickles with my cucumbers and lemon cucumbers, we also had tomatoes coming out of our ears practically … we’ve got lots of carrots, potatoes, and corn. There was also delicata (which I have no idea what to do with – it look suspiciously like squash), blue Hubbard squash (yeccch), eggplant, cabbage, Swiss chard, peppers of all sorts, watermelon (which didn’t get very big – but I did take a few bites of one and it wasn’t bad – for a melon), and we still have a nice row of Jerusalem artichokes (Bren’s idea – I have no clue what they’re all aboot or even what the fruit looks like yet). Oh, and we can’t forget the quintessential, ubiquitous Sunflowers.
The bad thing about my big garden (besides the f-ing deer) was the amount of maintenance that it took. Although, I’ve got to tell you that there is something about working in the soil that is really relaxing and therapeutic. But, I hardly got to paint any of it this year (course, I work nights and it’s hard for me to stay up past ten in the morning). Next year I may not make my garden so big. I’d like to spend a little less time weeding, and a lot more time painting the stuff that I do grow.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New Show

With all of my work out of the gallery, I could plan a new show. I wanted something totally different. Not with the thought of sales in mind, really, but, rather, the thought of providing something new for the public to see, and a venue to finally show some of my prints.
I spent the entire weekend (my weekends were Wednesday night and Thursday night off) planning and working on putting together a new show. I cut mats, I bought frames, I sifted through about four years of printmaking stuff (that’s all the longer that I’ve been doing printmaking) and framed/matted enough work to have a decent showing. As it turned out, it was more than enough.
The gallery people had begun to wonder about me. I had pulled all of my stuff down on Sunday morning and hadn’t put anything up by closing time on Thursday. Friday was the first Friday of the month (October ‘08) – first Fridays in Spokane are when they have the “art walk”. Every gallery in town stays open late and serves hors d’oeuvres. Probably 90% of the gallery sales are on first Fridays.
By 7:30am on Friday I had all of my work there in the gallery and ready to hang. Standing there in the quiet gallery in my sox, I once again gazed at a blank wall. How different the feeling was! It was a feeling of peace and, yet, expectation. I was excited that my prints would be seen. Most of them for the first time. I have had some shown with my paintings previously – and even sold a couple – but this was to be my first showing as a printmaker – it made me feel good.
I took my time but my mood was kind of dark. I’d felt very stressed out and overwhelmed with the task of putting all of my work together over the last few nights. When I started there were prints and mats and frames everywhere … and many of the older prints had no notes on them of when they were done or which number out of how many. I had to dig through and count and number and do all sorts of book keeping things – including signing many of them, before I could even begin to hang ‘em.
As I was putting up one of the pieces I became agitated. I was standing on a ladder, trying to find the nail with the wire hanger and I couldn’t get it to hook. The place was very quiet (I think … I had my ipod on and I’m not sure how well that I could hear anything, really). At one point, in my frustrated state, I yelled out “fuge!” Only, I didn’t say “fudge”. I said the F, dash, dash, dash word. The queen mother of all swear words.
In my head I could imagine what the other people in the building thought. Earlier I’d heard people upstairs in whatever business is up there, moving about, getting ready for the day, and I know that the deli people next door were busy with their prep work by then. I know that they’d heard me hammering nails … then the quiet … then my profanity in an agitated voice. It reminded me of my dad in a way and I just started cracking up.
I’d needed that mood buster. The rest of the hanging went well and I felt much better afterwards. Too bad that I couldn’t have just sat down and relaxed and absorbed the peace for a while – I still had to go home and put together a poster explaining all of the printmaking techniques, an inventory, and I had to do place cards for all of the work. The hardest thing, though, was that I had to figure out prices for everything. Then I had to get some sleep, come back, put up the cards, hang out for the First Friday event … then I had to be at work at 10 pm.
Several people from the gallery commented on my work and were pleased that I had shown yet another side of my work. I felt that I had, indeed, prevailed.
All said and done, though, I managed to shake the malaise and to rejuvenate myself. I don’t really feel like I have something to prove to the world, but I do feel like I need to step up and put more into things.
I do realize, though, that change can be slow … and I need not take myself too seriously while I am taking my artwork seriously.
“The oxen are slow, but the Earth is patient.”

Dealing with it

A few days after the library show I had to go down to the gallery (Avenue West Gallery, Spokane, WA -- to take down my paintings. The gallery is a co-op of about 18 of us. We share the rent, chores, maintenance, and running of the business. Every few months we switch spots so that when people come into the gallery everything is different. I also like to change the images that I show each month. This is for several reasons. One is that I like having my work seen for a change – for many years it has gone from the easel to the closet. I like to bring stuff from my studio that has never been seen before. Another is just the fact that people like to see new stuff. Some of the artists in our co-op have shown the same work for years, I’ve heard. I find that rather sad.
In August I was the featured artist and had a large area at the entry to the gallery. When that was over I had to pull down more than half of my work and was relegated to a rather small portion of wall space in a part of the gallery that is, quite frankly, an afterthought as far as viewing goes.
I was glad to be moving. I was to be going into the second room on a nice, big, white wall.
But – the malaise – my old nemesis, had a grip on me. Pulling down all of my paintings was almost more than I could abide at that moment. I hadn’t sold anything in some time and I felt worthless as an artist. Back to the “what is it all for?” question.
I had visions of driving to the Monroe Street Bridge and flinging paintings off of the side. I wondered if I could get one to sail through the air far enough to reach the falls. What was the point of all of this anyway? It’s art – which, to the majority of humanity, is superfluous. At least, that’s the way that they think. The masses don’t realize that art is all around them … that a day without art would be like time in a mental ward.
So, there I was, after work on a Sunny Sunday morning, taking down my stuff. I stood in front of the blank wall for quite a while, too weary and depressed to even move. In a daze, I loaded the stuff into my truck and went home. I had just enough energy to pull the stuff from my hevicle and dump it into my studio, then I went to bed and fell to pieces. It was the lowest point in my emotional psyche that I can remember for quite some time.
I lay there for a while and went through with the fantasy of flinging the paintings off of the bridge. How much of a release would that have been! Then, in the little scenario, a couple of cop cars raced up to the bridge.
Both cops screeched to a stop a few feet from the sidewalk, their patrol cars angled so that they could use them as protection against me if it should come to that. Who knows, I might have hit them with a portrait - or something worse. The cop to my left crawled through and climbed out of the passenger door, ducking behind the cruiser, holding a microphone.
“Drop the painting and step away from the railing,” came his tinny voice from the speaker mounted to the bubble gum factory on top of his car.
“Or what, you’ll shoot me?”
“Now let’s take it easy,” replied the cop from the other car who was now hiding behind her door. “Nobody’s going to get hurt here,” she said to me soothingly. “Frank, you dumb ass, put the gun away.”
The other officer holstered his weapon and muttered something about the other officer.
“I’m officer Amy,” said the patrolwoman as she stepped from behind the door of the car, “what’s your name?”
“Don’t play that shit with me, lady,” I retorted, “I know all of that psychobabble. We’re not friends and you’re not gonna get into my head.” I raised the painting of the very bridge on which we stood. “Another step forward and the bridge goes over!”
She stopped about ten feet from me.
“It’s okay. I won’t try to get into your head. We just want to know what’s going on here.”
“I’m personifying the cliché of the angst-riddled artist, you silly bindt!”
“Why don’t you just hand me the painting and we can sit down right here and talk.” The officer soothed.
I acted as if I were going to give in to her without any further trouble. I held out the painting, as if I were going to give it to her. As she reached for it, I pulled it back just a little and let it drop. As I suspected, she lunged for it, throwing off her equilibrium. As she was distracted, I quickly stepped around her and into the cruiser which was still running. I jammed it into reverse and backed out about ten feet, then spun the wheel as I slammed it into drive and peeled out past the other cop car, heading south on Monroe, towards freeway. Haha …. GTA in Spokane! Hooo – hooooooo.
I came out of my little fantasy laughing at myself. At least I had broken the black mood.
I lay there and rethought about the other night in the mall. A few days before the watercolour show I had been listening to a tape that I had made for my sons back in ’94. I had been giving them advice.
“What makes a man successful,” I had been telling them, “is not the lack of adversity that they face in their lives; it’s the way in which he deals with it.” Those words had haunted me then, mulling it over even as I mulled the pizza in my mouth, and they shone again there in my darkened bedroom.
The words didn’t make me feel much better at either time, but I did realize that both of those moments were crucial. I could either hide under a rock somewhere, keep proceeding in the same manner that I’ve been going, or I can attack with a new enthusiasm and alacrity.
I had known that the malaise would persist for a time and I gave myself permission to feel badly about things for a little while. There is always some frustration when growth occurs. I always have to remind myself of that – and rejoice when it comes. I am equal to the task at hand! I will prevail.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Late September

“…I think I've got something to say to youIt's late September and I really should be back at school…”
R. Stewart
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the upcoming adventure of painting for a year and of going back to school to get my Masters degree. Both ideas fill me with a sense of excitement and of concern, as, I suppose, they would anyone … but maybe for different reasons.
Recently I submitted a couple of paintings to the annual Watercolour Society of America show here in Spokane. Both pieces were accepted to the show, which was a great relief to me – it’s always devastating not to even be selected to be in a show. However … I went to the judge’s lecture on the day that the paintings were accepted/rejected.
The show is in the long, wide hallway of the meeting room wing on the ground floor of the public library in scenic downtown Spokane. The paintings weren’t hung yet as I entered, but they were all there, resting on the floor, leaning against the walls – just waiting to be viewed by the public. I walked around and looked at them. There were quite a few that I would not have chosen to even be in the show and several that were border-line. However, there were several which I felt were better than mine. I could see that I wouldn’t be in the top three for sure. That wasn’t much of a concern, really. I love to see good art and I would hate it if there were no great artists around.
Let me just say that I don’t consider myself to be a watercolourist. Well, that is to say, watercolour is not my medium. I’m an oil painter first, draughtsman second, and, I’d like to say, printmaker third – when it comes to two dimensional work anyway (as an artist, writing is still my first love – though I’ve never made a penny from it – and have chosen not to pursue it as a vocation). Watercolour has always seemed like a sketching medium to me; something to use when taking “notes” on something – to use as a reference later when putting together an oil painting.
I do realize that there are those who work exclusively in watercolour … and I do appreciate the wonders of the medium. It is like no other. I have never mastered it and haven’t really tried to. It’s not that I haven’t ever done it – I have hundreds, if not thousands of hours of experience in working with water paints – I just have always preferred oil paint and have only done a few “finished” watercolour paintings. Last year at this time I did three “finished” works … quite possibly the first real “finished” and framed watercolour works that I’ve ever done. I entered two of them to last year’s show and one of them won an award (one of the lesser awards). I also figured that one of Del Gish’s pieces would take first place. They were both amazing, especially the landscape of Russia.
All of that having been said, I did two more this spring and summer in preparation for this show. The first is one of my wonderful woman, Brenda working in a little window flower garden with the evening sun radiating off of her. I thought that it turned out quite well – if, maybe a little stiff for a watercolour. The second was of an old house that I’ve been watching in its slow decay over the last thirty plus years. I used to think that it was haunted when I drove past it on my bicycle during my teens. I worked on the painting for a couple of weeks (a little at a time – as I had other projects) … and it was just not working. There were moments when I thought that it was coming together … but it just never did. I overworked it I think.
So I chose another painting – one that I had done last year – a portrait of one of the guys with whom I worked at the County Parks.
As I perused the work there on the floor of the library, I felt that both of my paintings looked strong and was confident that I would at least win one of the lesser awards, which were usually gift certificates from art vendors or stores. While I was standing there I noticed Stan, an artist whom I had met the previous evening at a little soirée that a local collector had put on. He had seemed very full of himself as he had preached design to Del Gish and me. Who was this guy that thought he could give design lessons to Del? And to me, whose work he had never even seen!
The minute that he saw me there in the library and started talking with me, I regretted running into Sophomoric Stan. Wow, what an ego. He went on and on about his own piece. It was nice, I’ll give him that, but what I found amusing was that it refuted some of the principles of design that he had been on about. I tried to brush him off but he followed me into the lecture hall where the judge was about to give his talk.
Del and Marge arrived just before the speaker.
The speaker was Charles Reid, an internationally known watercolour artist who has put out many books. I’ve seen his work and enjoyed it immensely – even if I do think that it’s kind of sloppy. Loose is one thing – runny and drippy is something else. Although, I am forced to admit, there is a certain charm in a lot of that. But it seems to me that most of the “happy accidents” with watercolour are a little too much luck and not enough skill. One of the reasons that I’m not a watercolourist, I suppose. I do realize that I do need to loosen up a lot though.
Before Charles went into his talk, he listed off the winners of the awards. He didn’t say which paintings and he didn’t say what awards they got, just the names. Two of the names were sitting on either side of me … Del and Stan. I was kind of bummed when I was not listed there. I put it out of my mind and tried to focus on the talk. But it was there, waiting for me. At different moments it threatened to come back and slap me in the face … but I kept it at bay, refusing to let it spoil the moment. I had been accepted to the show and I would be hanging in yet another place in Spokane. Advertising, exposure, these are what I need to concentrate on right now … networking and all of that.
I did enjoy the talk. Charles Reid is a class act. He’s modest and self effacing, and he was kind to all of the little old ladies who had, apparently, been at his recent workshop. I made a note to look at his books again. Del said that he has some of them that I could borrow.
When I walked out into the gathering gloom of the city I was almost crushed by the sudden depression that enveloped me. It wasn’t the coy, cat-like mist of T.S. Eliot’s poem that coiled about me; it had a more snake-like grip.
I had heard that a non-objective piece had won first place. That disturbed me more than anything. I don’t like abstracts. It’s a personal choice. I don’t think that they take much talent, and I don’t consider them to be fine art. Art is subjective, true … but there are different forms of art. If, say, a dress maker were to do their designs in watercolour, I don’t think that they would really belong in the watercolour show either … nor would the architectural renderings of an architect belong, or magazine illustrations … even if they were done in watercolour. It’s not that these things aren’t good enough … it’s just an apples/oranges thing. To me abstracts are design … pure and simple … something on which to plan a painting or arrangement. It’s a craft, not a fine art. I think that some judges include them just so that they don’t have to take any heat from art critics (most of whom have a cranial-rectal issue) or something. If I’m ever in charge of a show … or a judge of one, I’ll make it clear … “no crayons, no comic book illustrations, no dress patterns, no architectural renderings, no designs, and no abstracts”.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hold it against people to like abstract art. Thank God that we don’t all have the same tastes! We don’t all believe in the same things and that’s fine. I never try to convert anyone to anything. I accept people for what they believe in. I just don’t think that abstracts belong in the same show as fine art. Abstracts should be hung with, and judged against, other abstracts. That’s what I’m saying.
I couldn’t go straight home. I had to be at work in a few hours and I hadn’t eaten, so I called Brenda and told her about the show and that I was going to go into the downtown mall and get something to eat. I tried not to sound down … but I don’t know how successful that was. I could barely even concentrate on the conversation.
I rode the escalator up to the food court, got a slice of pizza and a Sprite then sat down at a booth. I was amazed at my sudden depression. WTF?! Had I really set my sights on winning? Had I been so naïve?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

En Plein Air

Yesterday I went out painting with my good friend and mentor, Del Gish. We went out into the countryside near Medical Lake -- not too far from home.
We had passed an old farm near a railroad tresstle off of a dirt road on an excursion some months before and had decided to go back to see if it was a good place to paint. We found several spots that would make for some good painting and we soon got down to work. It was a perfect day for it ... sunny but not hot at all; one of those late summer days that only reaches into the mid seventies.
I had failed to check my paint box for liquin (the medium that I use to mix with my paint) before we left, and when I opened up the little container, I found that it had solidified. This turned out to my advantage. One of the problems that I have in painting, is that I don't paint thick enough. I've developed the habbit of glazing and smoothing everything. This is okay for some passages and is typical of many studio painters. The thing is, though, that I don't find this as pleasing as I once did and find a looser, thicker, "juicier", more "painterly" approach to the medium much more astheticly apealing. So, there was nothing more to it for me than to use the paint much more liberally. Well, I suppose that I could have hiked over to where Del was working and borrowed a cup of liquin from him, but I felt that it was a good thing that the temptation to over use the medium was taken from me and I attacked my canvas with alacrity.
I was using one of the panels that I had prepared last fall, when Del and I "dipped" out panels into oil paint that was floating on the surface of a vat of water. This method of preparation not only gives the canvas a nice tone, but it also provides some unique designs that can be utilized in the painting. I decided that I wanted to leave a lot of that design on the board.
My composition included the railroad trestle as a sort of framing element in which to include the old farm and one of the distinctive hills of the Medical Lake area. Other than a few cars kicking up a lot of dust, and a speeding locomotive, the painting process was pretty much uneventful. I took the occassional pause to slake my thirst with the flask that my brother, Mark had given me for Christmas a few years ago, and to quaff some exotic bread which I'd ripped from a loaf on my way out the door ealier.
I know, it sounds boring, doesn't it? It was actually a blast, though. I really got into the shapes and the values and the contrasting temperatures of the colours as I went. In a way it was a breakthrough for me ... although the painting is certainly not breathtaking by any stretch of the imagination. I felt that I really learned a thing or two. And that always makes a good day.
When I was finished I went and watched Del for a few minutes and took a short video of him as he was finishing up.
The current owner of the farm came up on a bicycle to peruse our work and to give us a hundred years of history of the Johnson farm. There was nothing taciturn about this guy.
And then ... we packed it in and headed home where I had to get some sleep so that I could head back to work for another 3rd shift of fun and excitement.

Monday, September 8, 2008

In the meantime

While I'm waiting for the year of jubilee to start, I'm working away, doing as many commissions as I can. Sometimes they are tattoo designs, sometimes they're simple charcoal portraits, sometimes they are oil paintings. Each one ... every dollar ... adds to my bank account for that day of emancipation from the man. But it's slow going. I'm not used to cocentrating on making money off of my work. I'm not that materialistic. But, I'll agree that it is a necessity. I don't think that I could ever be like Vincent and just exist off of the charity of others to make my way in the world. [I'm reading Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo right now and I'll publish a critique when I'm done.]
This week I finished five small commissions. Three were designs for tattoos. I'm not sure why the sudden trend in tattoos, but they can be fun to design. I've also had a couple of charcoal pieces ... one was a simple portrait of a kid that I work with and his wife, the other was a group portrait of several of the people that I work with. Five friends. It was a birthday present for one of them. It was a blast to do ... although it took me a while longer than anticipated. It might make a fun aquatint or woodcut too.
I titled the charcoal drawing "Seven O'clock People" with a subtitle of ("Working Stiffs"). The Seven O'clock People title comes from a Stephen King short story title. The people in my drawing, like the characters in King's story, are all smokers who hang out together.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Year of Jubilee

I was reading a book that described one of the obscure Jewish rituals, which it gets from the Old Testament. Apparently, seven, being a sacred number has a specific meaning, and seven times seven even more so. What the meaning is, I'm not really sure, but I did learn that every 49th year is to be a year of Jubilee. I haven't really researched what a year of Jubilee is, exactly ether, but it does include not working. This immediately appealed to me! Well, that is to say, "not working" in the sense of not going out to a menial job, doing a task that a trained monkey could perform.
This year I just happen to be 7 x 7! That's right, the kid that thinks that he's perpetually 17, turned 49! It should be my year of jubilee. Circumstances prevented me from breaking into the "Jubilee" on my birthday. If I'd known about it a little further in advance, I might have been able to pull it off, but, instead, I hope to be able to break away from my overnight job by the first of the year and begin a year of Jubilee ... in my definition it means that the only work that I do will be artwork, or related to it. I plan to travel and paint, work on a lot of printmaking, and writing about my adventures/misadventures.
This is not an entirely new idea for me, I've been pondering something like this for several years, but I am newly inspired by the writings of Vincent van Gogh -- his letters to his brother, Theo. The man absolutely suffered for his ideas and ideals about art. He lived the life of an artist and scraped by on next to nothing. I've done that, I've been there ... I know how tough it can be. Vincent had the support of his brother, both financially and emotionally. I have the support of my Brenda and my family -- emotionally, anyway. Financially -- I hope to have enough saved up by January to step out into this adventure without worrying too much about how my bills will be paid or how I'm going to eat. If things get a little dicey, I can do the temp job thing, but I'm hoping to sell the occasional piece of artwork through the gallery (Avenue West Gallery, 122 S. Monroe, Spokane, Washington), and take on commissions from time to time for portraits, murals, or graphics work.
In the few months before my actual "Jubilee" starts, I'll publish here my preparations and artistic activities.