Gifts, oil on linen, 53 x 53
Starting this spring, and all through the summer, I’ve worked on only one painting. I’ve never invested this many calories into a single painting, this much obedience to the act of looking at a particular set of objects. I suppose this can’t be an entirely good thing for a person, but I’m pleased with the results. For me, painting is rhythmic, like factory work—you do a certain amount each day, on a regular basis, and at the end of X number of days you have a painting. This one has been different. Most days, since early May, I’ve put in several hours of writing every morning, first thing, usually from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., which enables me to pay the bills, then another four to six hours of painting, seven days per week. I took much of July off, in the middle of all this, when I went sort of rogue, insofar as that’s possible at my age, and I rode 1,700 miles around New England and into Canada on my eleven-year-old BMW R11050R motorcycle, mostly staying with friends. Then I came home and got back to painting, wielding my brush with the wrist I’d made sore during a couple weeks of using it to twist a throttle. Around four each day I would settle into a chair for a while or go for a run. Writing this blog took a backseat, as did most other things. My absorption with this painting drew me away from a number of other activities, and last week I more or less finished it. I say that provisionally, since no painting is ever finished until you store it somewhere you won’t see it again, preferably in the home of a new owner–or send it off for exhibition. I’ve already entered in in a show at Manifest, so that means it’s done.
This newest painting is an overhead views of a tabletop’s corner, with wedges of Persian carpet beneath, and various household objects strewn at random over the white tablecloth, some like tropical birds perched on snow. I’ve been doing these tabletops for twenty years, probably finishing a dozen of them in all, and I think I secretly hope this one will be the last. I undertook it partly as an effort to complete a definitive version of this personal genre.
I started doing these tables in the 80s after a long obsession with Braque. Inventing this format was my truce with the force of his heavy influence over me back then. I’ve returned to this format again and again, trying to do it better each time, each painting like a new cover of the same song, or an attempt to recall a dream that won’t quite come together and make sense. I think mostly of modernist abstraction when I’m painting one of these, because of the way so many of those painters (Pollack, De Kooning, Motherwell, but especially Rothko and Stella), would paint almost the same image over and over—a fixed template within which the artist would vary certain other elements, especially combinations of color. Stella tried one different set of color harmonies after another in a repetitive grid of his chevrons or quatrefoil puzzles of arching crescents and almond-shaped patches of paint. For these tabletops, my composition is nearly indistinguishable from one version to the next. I gather together a diverse, circus troupe of household objects on the white bedspread (not a tablecloth) flowers and art books, a dish or candlestick, a CD case or a phone, and the objects usually gravitate to the same place from one canvas to the next. Books toward the upper right. Flowers descending from the center top. Something shiny and round down near the apex of the cloth, maybe containing a little shining pool of candy. All of this appears on top of an architecture of downward-pointing, overlapping chevrons, in the lines of the table and then in the V-shaped sections of the carpet.
In the beginning, though slightly less so now, my motives were simple and entirely formal. There was little more to it than the desire to juxtapose concentrated doses of intense color, linked by nothing but the imaginary geometry of their relationship to one another across a field of white. Painting these tabletops, I feel like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, building a mountain out of anything within reach without knowing what he’s trying to visualize, making it over and over and never quite being able to figure out why, with mud and little shrubs from outside the kitchen, mashed potatoes on a plate, molding it all into something he keeps trying to recognize. He looks at it, never quite satisfied but he’s absolutely certain: this means something.
From when I first saw Neil Welliver’s paintings in the 80s, I was captivated by his personal credo of “no going back over.” He would start at one corner of the painting and finish on the opposite corner, with no reconsideration of the first paint he put down. I saw his professed ability to get everything right on the initial strike as something to emulate. Anyone who has practiced photorealism understands what he was trying to do because you are transcribing a photograph. Welliver claimed to do that from his drawing and from memory. And he said his work had roots in abstraction rather than representation.
For me, the reality is, if you work slowly enough there’s no need to glaze or correct or add any depth or complexity to the color you put down. There’s no need to push new paint into old. Most of my painting has strived for that ideal. Van Gogh, in his ability to finish a painting in a day, set the standard for it. Welliver simply flattened the depth of the paint, and also gave himself a lot more time and fewer colors, but his work still had that early-morning quality of a first look at something the light has only now unveiled. I’ve always wanted that and still achieve it now and then, in quickly executed work, alongside the more painstaking images I make.
With these paintings, I did just the opposite, requiring myself to do things I haven’t done in any of the dozen or so previous ones like it. I think I’ve surrendered to the exhausting requirements of this format more completely than in the past. It’s a marathon of effort. When something isn’t quite right it may take me three or four weeks, even more, to admit this, but more than in any previous example of these overhead views of tables, I’ve capitulated to the way it irks me. In this one I’ve been willing to go back over trouble spots until they’re right, sometimes more than twice. Several times, I knew what I’d painted wasn’t good enough, and I kept backtracking, covering up my work with a layer of white and starting over, or simply painting the thing anew on top of the imperfect, dried paint that’s already there, using the failed attempt as a map for the new version, something that peeks through just a little and subliminally strengthens what the eye sees or eases its hue up through the latest color, pentimento-style. The tablecloth represents four or five layers of slightly different white. The carpet shows, in some places, three or four layers of a particular color, or one color on top of another, while in other places you see only the first layer. The catalog of Frank Stella paintings in the upper right quadrant of the painting was more demanding than the candlestick, probably the one object that most resisted my efforts to get it right: days were devoted to getting nothing but the san serif letters of his name to the point where I could leave them alone, with perfection receding gently and incessantly, like the destination of Zeno’s arrow. Like that arrow, I felt completely stalled, but in the end I was happy with the outcome. It felt almost acrobatic, the contortions and care I took with my fingers and arm to steady a few hairs of a brush.
The candlestick in this one was the most rewarding example of my willingness to do something completely over again. I’d spent a week or so on it. I was at the point where no one who took a peek at the painting had a problem with it, but I knew it wasn’t right. The highlights on the silver facets looked disorganized and confusing—it was hard to feel a coherent light source by looking at the complex shining contours. So I got the candlestick out again, set it down in the foyer where I’d originally had it, and positioned it so the highlights converged, like a string of pearls, right down the center front. It was exactly what I wanted. I studied it, took a photograph and studied that, but the other problem with the original version was that it looked golden, almost like brass, because it was reflecting the taupe color of the foyer’s walls, and this new shot had that same yellowish quality. So as I went back over the original layer of paint, in the act of putting down a second layer with a new arrangement of lights, darks and grays, and I modified the color, as I worked, even more toward blue-gray. Some of the old brownish tint remains, showing through here and there, but it’s a minor complexity and gives the dominant silver a slightly warmer quality—making the final version look far more convincing and alive. I changed the candle itself completely, finally seeing what was there: that the white candle was actually darker than the white tablecloth behind it. I can look at something for hours and not see it accurately, and part of the value of doing a painting at all is in learning how to simply be aware of what’s there in front of you, which more or less is the first and last step of intelligence.
The peonies themselves, a particular kind we ordered from Whiteflower Farm some years ago, start as intensely pink buds and fade to a rich peach color as they open, turning an off-white by the time the petals are ready to fall off. They bloom and fade and fall as fast as the magnolias Robert Lowell wrote about in his poem, with their five days of life. These were all early in that arc of color, hardly open, and the flowers themselves flowed from the brush, premier coup. The leaves and stems . . . not so much.
They’re shiny and the veins dent the surface a bit like creeks in a hillside flowing down into the central vein. I couldn’t get it, because the photographs were not crisp and the color wasn’t right. At one point, I thought the leaves were going to ruin the weeks of work that preceded them in other parts of the painting, or else would require me to remove the flowers entirely—they were just wrong, no matter what I did, working from photographs I’d taken in the spring. So I went outside, the plants still dark green all summer, full of foliage, without flowers, and picked a few small stems and brought them in. I stuck one of them to the central strut of my easel above the painting, with a push pin, and began redoing all the leaves based on what I saw. That first day of repairs didn’t help, because the lighting was insufficient in my studio—a room without skylights, plus a northern exposure.
So I went out the next day, picked more leaves and took some photographs of them in the foyer–in other words, with lighting identical to what I’d used for everything else in the painting, a large window slightly behind and above the viewer’s head. Again I pinned leaves right above the canvas for further reference. It took me five minutes to finish one leaf working from these two sources. I had to be able to see the leaf in three dimensions, how the veins actually sink down under the surface of the leaf and then how the light shines on it as a result: the surface shines, looks polished and the color is almost a blue-green. I woke up uneasy that morning, feeling slightly desperate about whether or not I could really master all this foliage, whether it would ruin the painting as a whole, and after a few minutes I knew I’d found a path, if not to mastery, at least to something that worked. I quit grinding my teeth every time I looked at my work.
In all, this backtracking represents a significant change in the way I’ve approached these paintings, which have never inspired me to be this painstaking. All of this backtracking solved the problems I faced. The candlestick’s transformation surprised me the most. It makes me happier to look at that candlestick now than probably any other spot in the painting. It feels like a little personal coup, a discovery and a reward for dogged determination all at once.
As I worked through most of the summer on this one—minus the three weeks in July dedicated to anything but art—it struck me that these tabletops look like cornucopias, but also like formal altars, for offerings, a sacrifice, some kind of ceremony. I haven’t set foot in a church in decades, but the formality of the white cloth gives these paintings a slightly ritualistic feel. I was ready to name this one Altar of the Everyday, and it made sense: life and death, the sum of all experience, is a gift. We didn’t create it. We didn’t deserve any of it, good or bad, when we were born. It was, and is, a gratuity, all of it. Every day is a gift and, if you recognize that, you have a chance to give something back. You give it your best, as they say, if you’re doing something right. Painting itself is a sacrifice and an offering of time, effort, feeling, hope, with no clear notion of what there is to be gained by giving up everything else you might be doing with your time. You generally gain nothing more than the finished work itself, the outcome of the gift of being able to do it. So I kept going through titles until I settled on Gifts, realizing that most of the objects on the tabletop actually happened to be just that, in an everyday way: things someone else had given to me or our family, or else things I’ve given freely to others, such as the flowers. Even the cow skull. There’s a personal story behind most of these objects, though I had no intention of assembling them for that reason.
As always, I picked them simply because they offered a shape or color I needed to see at that particular place on the canvas. Again, the imperative was formal, perceptual, not something dictated by an idea or concept. In the end, this whole Corner of Plenty, as it were, inspires me with ideas about what the image could mean, yet none of these ideas inspired me to paint it. As I’ve said before, the meaning follows the purely visual invention of an image, not the other way around, as in so much art now, where the work merely signifies an original idea. You find your way to meaning by touch, in the dark, not entirely knowing where you’re going, and when you get there, the meaning may not be anything that surrenders to words, any more than an instrumental song can be translated into a proposition.
As I’ve been doing this painting, I’ve thought about all the influences that converged for me in this series, back when I attempted the first one. As I mentioned, at the time, I’d just emerged from a year of being enthralled by Braque’s mid-career work, the monumental pedestal tables I saw during a couple visits to New York and Washington, D.C.—especially a powerful retrospective at the Guggenheim in 1988. I loved those paintings not only because they were so mysteriously riveting, but also because the French painter had found a way to assimilate his influences into an individual aesthetic that was entirely, recognizably his. He was transforming what he saw into a physical object that had its own mystery and presence, in no small part because of the way he mixed sand into his paint, calling attention to the tactile surface. Objects were still recognizable but they melted and intersected with their surroundings into a new, original whole that, in most of his work, conveys something you can see but are unable to express in words. This something, in Braque, is there from painting to painting and, for me, is unlike anything else in Western art. He found a small niche of utter uniqueness, somewhat Burchfield did in an entirely different way. Yet every great artist has that quality in some degree: that unique quality you can see but can’t translate into other terms.
I had gotten to the point where I knew I couldn’t simply imitate Braque—it didn’t stop me from doing that in a dozen or so paintings. As much as I loved his work, I’d exhausted what I had to learn from his hybrid personalization of cubism. At around the same time, I saw a solo exhibit of large still life paintings by a contemporary painter, Raymond Han, at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica (where I also discovered Charles Burchfield’s work, in a retrospective of his large watercolors.) At the time, Han had done a substantial series of large paintings, most of them of tables covered with a white cloth on top of which were clusters of dishware, flowers, and other household objects. So, at that time, I was pulled toward both straightforward representation and also abstraction, and in this series of my own, I was attempting to reconcile the two in the way I composed these tabletops, as well as the scale I was using.
I pulled everything up toward the viewer, as Braque does, tilting my image so that the tabletop was almost parallel with the surface of the canvas, so that the objects, on a 1-to-1 scale—almost appeared to be attached to the surface of the painting, though I had no interest in trompe l’oeil. I wanted the objects to be almost touchable, seen from above, and yet I also wanted their outlines to create an abstract pattern—the painting would have a certain character as simply an arrangement of flat patterns even as it worked as a realistic, large still life.
Meanwhile, I was instinctively picking objects for their physical qualities and grouping them: squares floating in one half of the image, circles on the other side, with a few things at the border representing both squares and circles. I’d picked the Kandinsky book because of its white cover and simplicity of the images on that cover, as well as for the shape of the typeface in his name. Yet looking at the image as I painted it, I realized I was arranging simple geometric forms the way he did, against a negative space. The polarity between angles and curves, circles and squares plays against another polarity between natural forms, flowers and fruit or vegetables, as well as the cow skull, versus the manmade objects: books, the tray, the candlestick and the candy. The candlestick and candy are both angular and round, a synthesis of the different shapes. None of this has any overt meaning; there’s nothing consciously Pythagorean here, but it was a way of establishing regularity and order in what appears to be a random scatter of discarded things on a table, a life in flux caught as the owner has stepped away from the scene to do other things.
There’s an intimation of a narrative, the story of a life—which would be mine, obviously—and it could be glimpsed there, especially in the face of our grand-daughter in the phone and in the candle from my daughter’s wedding at the Memorial Art Gallery, with the gracious permission of Grant Holcomb, who generously allowed us to hold it there. No one had suggested a wedding there before. But the painting isn’t intentionally a narrative: that aspect is just a byproduct of my groping toward a sense of order and beauty through my formal preoccupations. The hint of narrative adds another sense of depth to the image, and I’m happy it’s there.
Most of all, I want Gifts, and the other vertiginous tabletops I’ve done, to convey a state of mind somewhere between lucid everyday observation and a dreamlike disorientation. Looking almost straight down at the corner of the table gives it the look of a boat’s prow, slowly descending into view from above, the opposite of what you would see if you were standing on the boat and looking down at the water, Titanic-style. It’s more as if you were on a bridge above it and gazing at a canal as a barge floated into your field of vision. The white rippling cloth seems to cleave upward as objects float into view, each one self-contained, like a separate memory, against the empty cloth. In a traditional still life the background recedes from view at the top of the painting. Here it offers a backstop only a few feet away, beneath the things in the foreground, higher up. The background is more intricate and colorful than anything else in the painting, and the white middle ground offers the only real respite from the detail and color of the things sitting on top of it and the carpet behind. In a typical still life, the distance between viewer and object shrinks as the eye moves from top to bottom, while here it’s just the reverse. The way this inverts everything and creates a dizzying new orientation for things is probably what brings me back to this format again and again. It dislocates what you see from where you expect to see it. Of all the painters whose work I’ve loved, my fascination with a few paintings by Chagall, in my teens, probably has the most influence here. They were four he did to show the state of being in love: The Promenade, with Bella floating in the air like a helium balloon attached to his hand, The Anniversary, where he’s the one who floats over her head and curls his gaze around to look her in the eye (with its Persian carpet on the wall), Over the Town, where they float together in the air, and Double Portrait with Wine Glass, where he rides on her shoulders. All of them are under the sway of Cubism and yet create their own alternate world, without gravity, with compositions that allow him to do what he wanted with color, but without losing the crisp lines and flattened forms that make them surge with energy and delight. It’s the defiance of gravity, the sense that what you’re seeing is untethered and hovering that reminds me of the almost upside-down feeling of the tabletops and the sense of freedom it gives me.
I’m emerging from a tunnel of work on a single painting I began in May and finished last week, so I’m only now catching up with what friends have been up to over the summer. Rick Harrington moved back to the Northwest, where he grew up, and is now living and working in Portland. I was sorry to hear he was going to be on the other side of the country, probably from now on, but I hope to keep in touch, and I also hope he keeps exhibiting at Oxford here.
Bill Stephens has been on the road this summer, heading east to a retreat and then west to travel around the mountains and do sketches of what he was seeing. He’s creating notebooks that are a nice combination of text and image that he ought to try selling, a little touch of Basho on his journey. The line drawings in ink are assured and fresh and calming. With an economical use of line he puts me wherever he was from one day to the next. I’ve posted one of them above.
Bill Santelli is very busy, showing his work both here in the next Oxford Gallery show and right now at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ArtPrize is an open international art competition decided by public vote and expert jury. It awards grants to 25 recipients, and has as well as offering a Fellowship for Emerging Curators program. The $500,000 competition runs from September 23–October 11.
My friend Rush Whitacre is teaching now at Washington State Community College, and he’s recruiting people for a fantastic tour of Italy next March: 10 days and six cities, Rome, Florence, Venice, Assissi, Sorento and Pompeii. You can learn more and sign up here. If I had the money to spare, I’d already be signed up.
Jim Mott is still on the road, as far as I can tell. He’s usually off the grid as he makes his way across the country and stays with his hosts on one of his itinerant painting trips. He ought to be somewhere in California by now. Send some images of what you’re doing, Jim, if you see this.
High Falls, Bryce Ely, oil on board
There’s a great show in its final days at Oxford Gallery, abstractions from two artists whose work took me by surprise. The invitation card didn’t convey how effective their best paintings are, and, as usual, the work was powerful insofar as I was mystified by what exactly enabled their imagery to succeed. I’d seen Phyllis Bryce Ely’s work before, when it won an award in the Memorial Art Gallery’s biennial Finger Lakes Exhibition in 2013. I admired her style without finding myself arrested by it as I walked around the exhibit back then. This time, I found myself coming back many times to particular paintings, seeing more as I stayed with it. Her work hovers right on the cusp between representation and abstraction. It’s always a distillation of a landscape, often involving swirling or falling water. This time, moving from one painting to another, I was reminded of both Charles Burchfield and Arthur Dove, yet her work departs from both influences. Where these two earlier artists were more concerned with careful depiction of a heightened vision of nature, Ely wants to create and convey a quiet energy by giving priority to the paint itself, making visible the way it flows from her brush, creating line and form with the edges of her strokes and slightly unpredictable modulations of tone that flow from the brush as it moves. (Many artists try to paint this loosely; it takes a gift to make it work as consistently as Ely does.) It gives her a special affinity with the subject of moving water–her paint seems a slow, loping doppleganger of the rushing flow it enables you to see. She’s very much in your face about how she pushes paint around. It’s the first thing that meets the eye, before your eye resolves the paint into a scene. Her most effective work looks as if, with Welliver, there’s not much “going back over” for her. So she’s also in a zone between what’s spontaneous and what’s calculated, and yet despite this irrevocable quality in how she applies the paint, the effects are often amazingly evocative–she’s still rendering a scene, with subtle effects of depth and distance, inspiring you to feel there’s more detail in the image than is actually there. With so much emphasis on the surface, and the quality of the paint, you still have a distinct and subtle assurance of a hazy, glowing light source. Or to put it in layman’s terms: you clearly see the, uh, sunlight. It’s remarkable. She makes you imagine more than she requires herself to show, which is the magic of painting at its best. Her technical mastery, from one painting to another, conveys a vision of nature in turbulent motion, but going nowhere in particular, an illuminated world giving a cold shoulder to the eye that eagerly takes it in.
Todd Chalk, of Buffalo, has included some of her latest work–I counted three different personal modes. Some are more conventional abstracts. One especially powerful and effective small painting represents a glance upward through bare branches into an illuminated sky–it’s one of the best pieces in the whole show–and, finally, a series of square watercolors on yupo paper. I confess I’d never heard of that paper before, but it sounds like the perfect support for the green-minded crowd: synthetic, yet recyclable and “100% tree-free” as a promotional website puts it. I love it when artists explore unusual materials, and in this case, the qualities of what seems to be primarily an industrial paper made her intricate, small abstracts fresh, crisp and vibrantly colored. Watercolor on waterproof paper suggests an unconsummated tension as paint and paper fail to merge. She puts that romantic suspense to use: by keeping all the pigment right on the white surface it adds a special intensity to her beautiful explorations of color. Chalk has created a suite of improvisations with color and form, composing intricate Klee-like inner worlds as layered with overlapping tones as a looping song. For an artist thriving and innovating into her eighth decade–if her listed birthdate is true–these paintings offer hope for all of us embarking into the final third of our lives.
There was a fantastic two-part bio of Walt Disney on PBS recently. It’s worth the time if you have a chance to see it. Here is a near-quote from the broadcast about a time in his life I considered one of the most interesting moments in the story:
Underway was Cinderella. . . he seemed wary of fully investing himself in his film. Yet he left most of the hard work to his staff. Disney was . . . beginning to wear down and he kept a trained nurse in the studi0. Hazel George showed up every day to massage his back and his hips . . . she becomes one of those very few figures in his life . . . with whom he could talk. It wasn’t a sexual relationship but she was one of those figures with whom he could say anything and everything. It was difficult to say he had any close friends with whom he could share . . . he thought I’m never going to make anything as good as Snow White.
She suggested he attend a model train convention in his home state of Illinois . . . so he goes. The ride transforms him. When he arrives back home, Walt Disney was building these trains with his own hands. All in the zest for invention, for creating fantasies . . . Walt was happy to have the good reviews of Cinderella, but it was no Snow White as far as he was concerned. He builds a scale model of the old Marceline (his impoverished childhood home) barn for hours designing a (railroad) track and the engine. It was the toy he never had as a little kid, something that was pure fun and a pleasure to do. There was more in that train than just fun for Walt. When Salvadore Dali visited . . . Dali was taken aback. Such perfection did not belong to models. “It was comfort and salvation. I can’t control my workers. I can’t control the larger stage, I can’t control my company. . . but this is a world I can create down to the smallest details, down to the tunnels under my wife’s flower bed, that is mine and safe. I want you to work on Disneyland he told one slightly confused artist, and you are going to like it.”
Two days ago, I hitched a ride south to Bristol to help my friend, Ed, buy some lumber for a pencil post bed he’s making. He bought more than $500 worth of wood simply to finish the frame for the bed—he’s already made the faceted posts. While he was selecting his long boards, I picked up about $25 worth of scraps, little flat blocks of ash and oak left over from the longer planks someone else had bought. (I’ll use them in small informal still lifes, with a couple objects resting on them, because I want to see what I can make of the raw wood’s texture and grain.) Ed needed a hand because he has a ruptured disk. Surgeons will fuse two of his vertebrae in October and, until then, he has to watch how much he lifts. We talked most of the way down to the little lumber place—it’s a specialty shop located in the Finger Lakes near the Bristol Mountain ski resort. I brought him up to date on the book I’m helping Peter Georgescu put together on income inequality and the need for the private sector to stimulate the economy by raising wages. Peter is a former CEO himself, not an academic. So far, it seems publishers feel more secure if an academic is solving economic issues, rather than someone who actually knew how to make a payroll once upon a time. So we’re involved in—how shall I put it—a gradual process of finding a home for his book.
“That’s what’s wrong with academics,” Ed said, though I hadn’t really offered any criticism of them, per se. I was intrigued by this logical leap, though. He brought it into focus as he talked: when it comes to actual market dynamics, how things get made and bought and sold, in his last job before retirement Ed watched an academic come in and mess with his company, a distributor of electronic components. “Before I retired, a guy took over the company who had never run anything, but he’d been a professor. I had a fantastic group of sales people. They started without much experience but were super smart and full of energy and ideas. This new guy decided that we should get rid of any client who was doing less than a certain level of sales with us. We had hundreds of clients. According to this new rule, we were to say goodbye to all of them but seven. I ended up having more sales people than we had customers. I had to let go of everybody. They were exceptional people. It was unbelievable. I became the only guy on the team because they didn’t need anyone else to handle the customers we had left. You couldn’t tell this CEO anything. He’d made the decision, and that was that. We lost hundreds of customers.”
“Organizational life is always a mess, but that sounds like a sure way to ruin a company,” I said, and then, thinking I was changing the subject, asked, “Why are we going such a long way to get this wood?”
I knew a master carpenter like Ed would be looking for a high-quality and/or rare kind of lumber. Homebuilders might find what they need at Home Depot, but Ed wanted something better, stronger, and more beautiful than the bones inside your walls and mine. There was a place closer to home where he’d taken me for high-quality strips of maple when I made frames for my paintings once, and this Bristol place was in the same league.
“I quit buying from that other place,” he said. “The owner was an asshole. Last time I was there I asked him for help several times, and he blew me off. When I was loading the wood he finally said he’d help and then walked away and never came back. Never going back there again. I bought $600 worth of wood that time, and I asked him if he would cut it, and he said he’d have to charge me $2 per cut.”
It reminded me of Peter’s view: the customer is all that matters now. Lose a customer, and you’re on the way to losing your business. Pay your employees more, you’ll be more likely to keep the customers you have, with more down the road. Plus, you’ll be resuscitating the economy. So, after all this grousing about how not to run a business, I was happy when we arrived at the lumber place, with its Adirondack chairs for sale out front, and inside the scent of singed wood, fresh from a smoking saw blade. (Almost as good as the aroma of baking bread.) The first fellow who helped us was taciturn but obliging, quietly helpful even if he was a little short on warmth. Then the fellow Ed knew arrived and the conversation picked up. The shop manager had lost a couple fingertips to a saw not too long ago and Ed asked how his hand was doing.
“Got any feeling in those fingertips yet?”
“That’s the way it was with my knee. Took forever.”
“I’m not complaining. Won’t do any good. Nobody cares,” he said, but he pronounced it with finality, cheerfully, as if he were reminding us of a cardinal rule for peace of mind and happiness from, say, Epictetus. As the Stoic philosopher might have put it: “Whatever it is, bitching about it won’t make you any happier.”
It put into perspective, just a bit, all of our grumbling about the business world on the way down to Bristol. On the way home, Ed took me to the house in Fairport where his son and daughter-in-law, Chris and Christina, live, with their two kids, Jack and Julia. It’s a modest house on a street that curves past plenty of larger ones, but it has a huge back yard. That was the selling point. Essentially, they bought their kids a big back yard with an attached house. Every winter now, Chris builds an ice rink for little Jack to skate on with his puck and hockey stick. The rink fills their entire back lot with about five feet to spare around the edge. In our Rochester climate that’s enough time to get some skills with a hockey stick even before you’re in grade school. Ed’s wife, Nancy, showed up—they’re both retired now, and she works almost every day helping her kids improve the house or the yard—and they showed me how Chris and Christina want to expand the kitchen and replace a porch with an office. As I walked into the little family room, I was startled to see two drawings I did, portraits of the kids. I’d completely forgotten those portraits, and it was gratifying to see that they still had them up.
As we got back into Ed’s truck and headed to his place to unload, looking around that neighborhood, I felt autumn coming on. For the first time, I wondered how many more years my wife and I will continue to be suburbanites, at least in this kind of neighborhood. Their street was very much like Split Rock Road, where we live in Pittsford. Here, the children are either grown or a bit older than in the Fairport tract, and we’re one of the older couples on Split Rock Road. It struck me that Chris and Christina are probably in the demographic sweet spot for their street, a place for raising kids from grade school through high school, homes for families with parents in their thirties and forties. As we passed the other houses, each with its own complex mix of grown-ups and kids, happiness and troubles, invisible family dramas all in media res, I thought, “Do any of them know that these years, right now, good or bad, when your kids are growing up, when you’re in your thirties and forties, are when you’re really most alive?” You aren’t just you at that age, but you’re three or four or five people all at once, if you’re the sort of parents we’ve been, the sort of parents Ed and Nancy and Chris and Christina are, so devoted to your children that they’re more of an energy source than a responsibility. I have more time now to devote to my deepest personal hopes, the things that mean most to me, like painting, but nothing is more meaningful than raising kids you love. Come to think of it, our own children are entering those years right now, out in Los Angeles. If only they could afford a house like the ones younger couples can afford to buy here . . . and now, alas, we’re back to the economy. But I’m not bitching. Because, you know, it wouldn’t do any good.
Paintiing Cart, detail, Brett Eberhardt, oil on panel, 69.5 x 41
– Ribbon cutting on Saturday, September 19 at 4 p.m. –
APPLEGATE, OR – A creative new playscape is being added to the playground at Cantrall Buckley Park in the Applegate Valley. The new Enchanted Turtle Habitat playscape will be officially opened to the public at a ribbon-cutting ceremony this Saturday, September 19 at 4 p.m. in the park. The playscape is centered around a concrete and tile turtle created by local artist Jeremy Criswell, who was hired to design and build the structure. The “habitat” also includes boulders and logs, and the whole playscape is designed for children to climb and play on.
The new area will also include a new bench, and a sign with educational information about the western pond turtle, which is native to the Applegate Watershed.
The playscape came about as a community service project by volunteers from the Applegate/Jacksonville cohort of the Ford Institute Leadership Program. The volunteers received leadership training over the past year, which was funded by the Ford Family Foundation, and delivered by staff from Rural Development Initiatives. Throughout the year-long program, the volunteers had training in leadership development, which culminated in the selection of a community improvement project. The volunteers designed the playscape and raised funds for the project, and the final product is being installed this week. The cohort members worked closely with the nonprofit Greater Applegate Community Development Corporation (GACDC) and the Cantrall Buckley Park Committee, to implement the project.
The Ford Foundation provided a $5000 grant for the playscape project. Additional funding for the Enchanted Turtle Habitat playscape was provided by local businesses and individuals.
The public is welcome at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday, September 19 at 4 p.m.
About Jeremy Criswell
Jeremy Criswell is a sculptor and ceramic artist who has created mosaics for parks, playgrounds and other public spaces. Criswell says, “It is always a great honor to install a work of art, knowing that, in time, it will become part of the lives of the people who interact with the work. In the case of this turtle, I am hoping it brings joy to the children who play on and around it and to the parents who are watching their child’s exploration.”
Criswell’s work can be seen outside the Anne Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass, in the Scheffel-Thurston City Park in Jacksonville, at the Jackson County Expo in Central Point, at Oregon Hills Park in Medford, and in private collections. The turtle created for this project is made from steel reinforced concrete, hand made ceramic tiles, mosaics, rocks, and found objects.
The Southern Oregon Society of Artists (SOSA) will meet Monday, September 28, 7pm at Medford Library, located at 205 S. Central Ave, Medford, Oregon. The public is invited, and there is no fee to attend. The program is “Work in Progress, Critique and Advise” by Judy Richardson.
Judy Richardson, well known local artist, will critique and give advice on works in progress by SOSA members at the September meeting. Judy began her art career when she retired from teaching. She attended The Ashland Academy of Art for two years and continues to study with local artists. Her art has taken her on many journeys, both here and in Europe. Her great joy is depicting light as it falls across form, whether it is the landscape of the human form, still life or nature. Judy’s work is represented by Art&Soul Gallery in Ashland, where she is an owner/director. She currently works in both oil and pastel.
Facebook: Judy Richardson Artist
A week ago, as I was looking for a photograph of the Stella catalog I mentioned in the previous post, I came across this pdf of a typed press release from MoMA about a Stella retrospective in 1970. Everything about this bit of public relations made me intensely nostalgic for that period in American art and happy to have stumbled onto something so congenial to my sense of what a painter ought to be. The quotes from Stella at the end are what really made me smile, since there’s such humility and honesty in his words. I especially loved reading the phrase, “the Benjamin Moore” series, named after a brand of house paint. You won’t find a trace of the BS that infects so much talk about visual art in anything Stella says, plus he shares my admiration for Matisse, which makes me love Stella’s work even more:
In the past year, the interlaced, fan and rainbow patterned Protractor series have partly given way to paintings in which the protractor is used to create lyrical, almost floral patterns close in value and tender in their color — the most decorative stage of Stella’s painting. He sums up this recent development: “My main interest [in these pictures] has been to make what is popularly called decorative painting truly viable in unequivocal abstract terms. Decorative, that is, in a good sense, in the sense that it is applied to Matisse….Maybe this is beyond abstract painting. I don’t know, but that’s where I’d like my painting to go.”
Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon Announces Fall Community Meeting
The Steering Committee of the Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon (AASO) invites all arts advocates, arts organizations, artists, gallery owners, arts nonprofit management and arts and culture enthusiasts to attend the organization’s 2015 Fall Community Meeting. Please join us in the Community Room at The Oregon Community Foundation on 818 W 8th Street in Medford on Friday, September 18th from 4:30–5:30pm.
Come network with AASO members, artists and arts advocates from throughout Jackson and Josephine Counties and get inspired by The Creative Network! The Steering Committee will share updates regarding the growth of the organization, distribute new rack cards, and share goals for the remainder of 2015 and beyond! We also invite interested individual artists and arts organizations to join the Alliance at the meeting. Membership costs only $20, and application forms will be available at the meeting.
Please bring business cards and promotional materials to share and distribute to the many arts organizers in attendance. There will be an opportunity to network and get inspired by the diverse and creative arts happenings right in our Southern Oregon region.
In the spring of 2013, leaders from various arts organizations gathered with a vision to strengthen partnership and improve communication for the benefit of the greater arts community. Since then, we have regularly held panel discussions, public meetings and steering committee meetings to gather input as to what the Arts Alliance should be and how it can best support the diverse arts community of southern Oregon. Meeting locations vary throughout Southern Oregon in Medford, Ashland, Grants Pass, Jacksonville, and Kerby in order to be accessible, encourage participation by the regional arts community, and demonstrate our commitment to being an inclusive, positive, communicative, creative, informative, collaborative, and valuable resource to the arts community and the public.
The Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon is an organization composed of artists, arts organizations, arts advocates, and the arts-loving public, dedicated to building a strong, creative, and sustainable Southern Oregon arts community. We accomplish this mission by:
Developing a strong, supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having art as a common interest.
Strengthening the economies of Southern Oregon communities by increasing the demand for art and increasing arts advocacy.
Supporting activities that raise awareness of the importance of the arts and create opportunities for all to participate in and experience the arts.
It is our goal to connect Jackson and Josephine County together through culture. We realize this can have a significant economic impact on everyone who lives in the area, as well as tourists here for a short stay.
Our current steering committee includes Brooke Nuckles Gentekos, artist, arts advocate, and Executive Director of Sanctuary One in the Applegate Valley, Susan Burnes, President of the Board of Directors Grants Pass Museum of Art in Grants Pass, Joyce Abrams, President of the Southern Oregon Guild of Artists in Kerby, Anne Brooke, watercolorist and Founder/Director of Art Presence Art Center in Jacksonville, Hannah West, artist, arts advocate, web designer, Art Presence Board member and Founder of the Southern Oregon Artists Resource in Jacksonville, Denise Baxter, Executive Director of the Ashland Art Center in Ashland, Cammy Davis of It’s All About Art and southern Oregon art advocate in Jacksonville, Hyla Lipson, co-founder and chair of Artworks in Grants Pass, and Kim Hearon, Executive Director of the Rogue Gallery and Art Center in Medford.
2015 is the pilot year for the Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon. In spring 2015, we officially launched the organization and have been preparing for this by designing a website and creating marketing materials, continuing to streamline communication, and building membership with funding from memberships, business sponsors and a Small Arts & Culture Grant from the Oregon Community Foundation. We would like to express our gratitude to the Oregon Community Foundation for this grant that is helping us accomplish the Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon Launch.
Please visit our website: http://www.artsalliancesouthernoregon.org/ and like our Facebook page.