7″ x 9″
The following are a bunch of bird-influenced paintings and drawings I did for a show that’s up now at MuseuMM in Los Angeles. A great group of people and sales go in part to the Audubon Center at Deb’s Park.
I was asked to show some work at the tricentennial celebration of Natchez, Mississippi — the old river town where I grew up. I am honored and overwhelmed by the idea. I feel like the only way to “celebrate” it is to first recognize it as the site of incredible atrocities, as well as a place of natural beauty. Natchez was the setting for the decimation of the sun-worshipping native Natchez Indians, followed by a massive and brutal slave trade, and then Jim Crow-era violent oppression. Of course, as anywhere there are humans, lots of wonder and kindness and intelligence also exist. I don’t want the work to only be provocative or to lack beauty. At any rate, I’m working on a 25 foot work on paper of the river bluff of Natchez, populated by fragmented narratives, some historical, some personal, some pure reverie. These Calliope pieces are basically me getting a running start, hoping for something better than utter failure. My friend David reminded me of those old Presto Magix games where you were given a setting and rub off figures to populate it. Imagining something like that.
18″ x 24″
This is in part a variation on Picasso’s “Night-Fishing in Antibes,” with burial mounds and interloping lion.
The imagery in these paintings is heavily influenced by my ancestral roots in Natchez, Mississippi. I specifically draw from memoirs recounting the family fleeing during the Civil War to the little town of Shubuta. Themes vary but repeating motifs include a family on the move, houses and landscapes, classical statuary, a fountain, wagon mules, a lion-like creature, suns, and celestial eyes.
There are stories behind these paintings, but to borrow from Katherine Bradford: all decisions are visual decisions. The paintings are not necessarily about a specific story or identity or politics or a stance. They’re about what will work, visually, with what’s there. Will this image/mark help the painting or shut it down? Often you don’t know until you’ve made the mark.
Each painting has its own unique system of governance. I try to stick to a theme or an approach, but, of course, as soon as an image begins I am subject to its peculiarities. In the end, I measure success by whether the painting feels unified despite itself. While I am thinking about Southern ancestral narratives – including the hard, sometimes shameful and always baffling reality of slave owning forebears – the images are not fixed and I am happy with as many readings as the paintings can hold.
So many thanks to Shelton Walsmith for the invitation to make and show this work. I’ll post images from the show here for the next couple of weeks.
The title taken from Paul Simon’s song, which was taken from a photograph by Belgian photographer Lothar Wolleh, which was allegedly taken during WWII, but likely taken some time in the 1960’s. I think of this painting as related to other paintings I’ve done called Going To Shubuta, about my ancestors fleeing Natchez, Mississippi during the Civil War.
12″ x 12″
I’m endeavoring to make a portrait a day of ‘people of note’ – loosely defined – artists, writers, thinkers, actors, scientists, muppets, astronauts; you know, it’s pretty free form. A study in likenesses. If you have any requests, feel free to email them to me (email@example.com) and I’ll add them to the list.
9″ x 12″
This is a version of an image that has something to do with wastrels up trees, either hiding from something, or avoiding flood waters, or playing in trees, or they live up there for all the dangers on the ground. I remember a kid in my class in school telling a story about his uncle (whose name is ‘Brother’, which was a point of confusion in the retelling) who got run up a tree by a wild boar. He stayed up there overnight. I think of that when I see this wastrel up a tree, but it doesn’t really have to do with boars. I could call this “Adam and Eve in the Garden” but it’s not about that either.
9″ x 12″
There are those trees in urban and suburban forested areas where teenagers have carved initials, declarations of love (such as they are capable of grasping) and various ways of drawing “I was here” type pronouncements for the ages. These scars bear wonderful qualities of line. I wish all drawings could be like that. This drawing isn’t about these things, but the tree and the scarification of many drawings under this drawing as it muscled through versions of itself, makes me think about things.
I take comfort in knowing that when the stars have all burned out, and their protons and neutrons have decayed into mere light particles and radiation, the universe will be in a state of almost complete disorder. And none of it will be my fault.