Red Ehrbar

6″ x 8″
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The walls and floor of our apartment aren’t really red, and this painting isn’t at all based on Matisse’s “Red Studio” at MOMA, which I haven’t seen in years though I do remember enjoying it.

The stone wall is there, however, outside the window, like the one in Peter Doig’s otherworldly painting “Gasthof zur Muldentalsperre“, which I also wasn’t thinking about when I painted it.

Sometimes I think painting is the act of wringing out whatever imagery has been soaked up by the mind over the years. The best results are an uncanny assemblage of existing references – unique and not at all original. Which is of course frustrating but simplifying. An enjoyable process nonetheless.

Sumerian Head #1

11″ x 15″

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“Something offered is not offered; something finished is not finished; nothing changes.” (from Gilgamesh proverbs 3.107)

That odd saying is in some conversation with Herakleitos many centuries later: “Everything flows; nothing remains. [Everything moves; nothing is still. Everything passes away; nothing lasts.]”

Gilgamesh proverbs are bizarre and great. Here’s another favorite: “The runaway slave girl only pretends to sleep.”

As a Ghost That Will Not Go Down

12″ x 14″

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After his best friend, Enkidu, dies, Gilgamesh suffers such grief, he is “as a man who wanders too far from home; like a ghost that will not go down.” Here he is rowing to see Utnapishtim to talk about eternal life. Spoiler: turns out there isn’t any. Having said that, I’m still talking about Gilgamesh, so maybe in that respect.

Henri Michaux

10″ x 15″

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The poet and painter worked in a highly personalized idiom and with a face of wonderful birdlike French-ness (or Belgian-ness).

(excerpt from “Carry Me Away” by Henri Michaux, translation by Eli Siegel)

Carry me away into a Portuguese boat of once,
Into an old and gentle Portuguese boat of once,
Into the stem of the boat, or if you wish, into the foam,
And lose me, in the distance, in the distance.

Gilgamesh

11″ x 14″

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Early each morning I sit on the couch with my daughter Vivian wrapped in my robe and drink coffee and we listen to an audio recording of the Epic of Gilgamesh. On the back of this wooden panel is written what Gilgamesh kept saying when he was startled awake in the Forest of Cedars. I love the cadence of these questions and the confusion upon waking of a demigod so many generations ago.

Did you call me?
Why am I awake?
Did you touch me?
Why am I so upset?
Did a god pass?
Then why do I feel so weak?

Lou Reed

11″ x 14″

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One hesitates before contributing to the overabundance of bad portraits of rock and rollers. But such as it is, here is my offering. I once played “Heroin” in its entirety for a class of drawing students to illustrate some point about drawing which i can no longer recall.

Sunday Blocks

6 1/5″ x 10 1/5″

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The ancestral blocks are coming in handy for some more studies in color. The great classic book, The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers has recently been translated by Yale Books into an interactive app for the iPad. I highly recommend it for people interested how color is deceptively received by the eye. It’s very not as heavy as the book.

Wastrels in Pieces

11″ x 15″
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Stacks of colored bars appear to have a fracturing affect on these two. For stability, I referred back to the original frontispiece from A Child’s Garden of Verses.

As the painter Paula Rego said: “Every change is a form of liberation. My mother used to say a change is always good even if it’s for the worse.”

Cake & Colors

11″ x 15″
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Systematic representation and systematic abstraction. This one has been through several stages, including a Josef Albers-ish color exercise, there was a cartoon viking on there for a bit, then this monochrome cake. Decided to stop on the cake.

Vikings and Colors

10 1/5″ x 12 1/5″

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Enough government stuff, here are some Vikings. Vikings sojourning in a land of many colors. Each color is incrementally informed by the tone that comes before and after it. I’m practicing palette discipline. It could be that Vivian’s name and her nickname Vivi has called up these Vikings. All the V sounds and the slow, determined exploration of new worlds. No plundering, no marauding, just rowing and watching. Take that, Congress.

Gold Blocks

12″ x 18″
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A couple of late night block paintings, shellac ink on gessoed hardboard. Turns out there’s not a lot of time to paint when there’s a newborn, but good to keep the brush moving.

Blocks with Vivian

9″ x 12″
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I was up in he middle of the night making this painting, while Vivian lay next to me in her bouncy seat. I thought “My mind is surprisingly sharp for not getting much sleep.” When it was time to get back in bed, I picked up Vivian and on my way out of the room, tried to turn off my painting with the TV remote control.

The Eighty-Ninth of May, 1930

48″ x 48″
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This is a hard-boiled son of a gun, related in theme to a number of paintings I’ve done of orphans, frontal group portraits of children. Some of the children in the Orphans paintings may in fact be orphans for all I know, but more the point for me is that the source photographs are old enough to nearly ensure that all portrayed have all lived and died. Then it’s not the child, but the image of the child, that is the orphan.

The surface of this four foot square canvas has been worked and scraped many times over the last year, was nearly cut off the stretchers recently. Then I saw a grainy photograph of my great uncle’s second grade class that was recently published in the Baton Rouge newspaper. The caption recalls the two-room school house, the mule-drawn bus, the hand-me-downs. I put the canvas back on the easel again and they hopped right on.

Going to Shubuta

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The origin of this image is an ancestral memoir recounting a journey from Natchez, Miss. to Shubuta, Miss. in 1863.

“The party consisted of my Mother and myself, my uncle George N. Monette and my cousin Billy Phillips and my Negro nurse Emeline Netter. Although I was less than two years old at the time, I can recall as if yesterday little incidents of that journey, – the drive over rough country roads through the great forests of virgin long-leaf Pine which then covered that part of the State, the stopping at times to rest and eat lunch under the shade of the trees, and sometimes at farm houses in the “clearings,” – my uncle and cousin jumping from the wagon and walking up the long hills to ease the tired wagon mules, and at last the meeting with my dear Father at the little town of Shubuta.”

The Rose Room

20″ x 30″
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I already posted this but then I changed it, so this is me posting it again. And oof, this photo is kind of glare-y; highly glazed surface. It is also the final piece in this group of musician paintings. They’ve been very fun to paint, and all the while I’ve been painting to the alternating musical backdrop of early hill country blues and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s full concert at the Palladium in 1981 (a youtube video find). A curious mix, but effective.

How Deep Is the Ocean

24″ x 36″
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This is a heavily encrusted painting, with lots of evident wrangling. Sometimes a painting comes together without a mess and a fuss, and that’s okay too, but if there are lots of changes of mind, they might as well be available for view. A live oak, an orange bird, a curtain of impasto and figures who come and go.  The piano player is a kind of anti-color, like what collects at the bottom of the turpentine can.

Ida Belle Don’t Cry This Time

30″ x 48″
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The title of this comes from Robert Johnson’s 1936 recording of “Last Fair Deal“: Ida Belle don’t cry this time / Ida Belle don’t cry this time / If you cry about a nickel / You’ll die about a dime.

When I was seventeen, I moved to Jackson, Mississippi and was on my own for the first time.  I spent a lot of time in my station wagon exploring every dark corner of Jackson, playing my Robert Johnson tape on a cassette player I held on my lap while driving. I remember rewinding this song over and over.  I also played a lot of guitar that year but could never play a Robert Johnson song to save my life.  This painting feels more like his music to me than anything I ever could do on the guitar, though of course there’s no real comparison.  As a side note, the Wastrels are making a cameo appearance in the pictures on the wall above Ida Belle’s (presumably) double arm.  Immutable little interlopers.

 

Don’t Go, Flo

30″ x 40″

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There is a vaporous mood in this one; ether and suspended blood cells. Hard to know where to point one’s eyes sometimes.

I don’t have a problem with others signing their work, but for me adding my signature to a painting, after working to create a balance of marks, can feel like an invasive afterthought.  So I’ve started signing a canvas as soon as I start the painting, then signing it again periodically throughout the process of making a painting.  That way the signature feels more a part of the painting process and not something jammed on like a mic-drop at the end.  In “Don’t Go, Flo” you can see a little swarm of initials in the bottom right.

Sweet Emmalina

36″ x 48″
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Here is another large-ish oil painting.  There is a lot to look at in this image, and a lot of eyes looking back. The paintings hanging on the wall on the right side make me want to walk behind the bass player and see what’s going on back there.  And pink face, can’t even look directly at him almost.  Then there’s the rakish fellow on the left, all rubbery and swarming with eyes.

Ja-Da (Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Jing, Jing, Jing)

48″ x 60″

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I am fortunate to have a solo show scheduled at the lovely Carol Robinson Gallery.  The exhibit will consist entirely of paintings of musicians and I thought I’d start posting them on the Work-a-Day one at a time.

This one here is a biggie.  And colorful.
Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Jing, Jing, Jing!

 

For Sandy Hook

12″ x 16″

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Mapleton is the name of our parents’ old house in Sandy Hook, CT.  The house is a colonial home and the property stretches up a hill covered in large maple trees and at the top of the hill is a garden, a fire circle (built by me and my father), a large stone labyrinth and an old one room school house.  Beyond the garden, the hill slopes down to Sandy Hook Elementary School.

In December 2007, I was staying in my parents’ school house for a month and that is where I painted this picture of my own first grade class.  I remember listening to the children playing in the school yard while I painted and thought they must be the age of the children I was painting.

For what little good they do to comfort, maybe paintings can serve as a form for grief to take, as well as celebration of life, somehow simultaneously. Anyway, here’s one.  It was just pointed out to me that there are twenty children in the painting.

 

Wastrels Meet Red Guy

8″ x 9 1/2″

My nephews recently made a stop-motion animation of a lego space man which they called “Adventures of Red Guy.”  I aspire to such simplicity; “Red Guy” says it all.  This is a different Red Guy, less spaceman, more prancing interloper.  I have a feeling he’s a figment of Bookoo and Cilice’s shared imagination.

Mockingbird from My Dream

11″ x 15″

Sunday night I dreamt I was in Natchez, Mississippi and there was a mockingbird that was flying from the River to the other side of town.  I was meant to follow it with my mind, receiving telepathic messages from the bird about its whereabouts.  I got really lost, which is unexpected because I know the town so well.

River Baby

30″ x 42″

This is the 500th piece posted on the Work-a-Day page!

It’s atypical for the WaD in that it is a large-ish oil on linen, but I think a good piece that I have not shown. It is what remains of a large (14′ long) multi-canvas painting that I began in my last studio. I stopped working on it to make the sprawling Soldiering frieze with Anne Waldman, and by the time I was finished with that I had moved into a studio with much shorter walls. The practical aspects intervened and I painted over the other panels.

The original River painting was a nocturnal scene of many things – a dressed dining table, this baby, a variety of domestic objects – floating serenely down a river. It had something to do with ancestry, Mississippi, who knows what all. I’m sure I will return to the image. In the meantime, I think the River Baby is content to float solo.

There’s an election going on, and tomorrow’s Work-a-Day will be a drawing of whatever is the photograph on the front page of the New York Times…

What are You Supposed to Be?

11″ x 14″

A halloween painting, set in the Sonoran desert. I painted the figures into a thrift store painting of an exuberant nighttime desert scene, extra spooky. Two other paintings involving found paintings are Darling Ann and Big Boy Has a Magpie.

I woke up this morning thinking I should do a spooky picture for the Workaday page, and as I was finishing this I realized I already have about half a dozen ghost-related drawings and paintings. So there may be a theme for a few days.

Old South Snow Globe

11″ x 14″

When you shake it, instead of pretend snow swirling around, it’s cotton.  Shortly after I painted this, I realized I had unconsciously absorbed the image from this painting by the magnificent Argentinian painter Daniel Santoro.

Josh F.

16″ x 20″

This is an acrylic painting I made as a painting demonstration for Josh F’s 8th grade class in Southern California.

Hurtin’ for Hambone

8″ x 9 1/2″

This one here is akin to an oxbow lake.  That’s when a river goes from a meandering path to a straighter path and the curly crazy bit turns into a lake and the river takes a shorter route… I’m not explaining this right… here’s a diagram… oxbows are weird-shaped formations evidence of a previous flow-pattern.  Such a useful concept.

Anyway, I’m making images for Kate Bernheimer’s new novel (will be a lot lot of images that I will post eventually) and in the process of trying to find the right approach, I made a whole mountain of images that will not work for the book, most are perfectly dreadful.  One or two I think are interesting in their own way,  oxbow style, and this is one I like.  The title comes from a note I took while researching for this book, I think it was a titles of an obscure  depression-era cartoon.

Tiger: Reflected Tiger

7″ x 10″

An unrelated but resonant text I happened to read this morning, the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s play “The Cocktail Party”:

Alex:  You’ve completely missed the point, Julia:  There were no tigers.  That was the point.

Julia:  Then what were you doing, up in a tree:  You and the Maharaja?

Alex:  My dear Julia!  It’s perfectly hopeless.  You haven’t been listening.

Peter:  You’ll have to tell us all over again, Alex.

Alex:  I never tell the same story twice.

Obstaculum Cursum

7″ x 30″

I can imagine eating everything in this painting. I wouldn’t want to, but I know what it would feel like. Bouncy between the teeth. Especially the pillowy shrimp arm floating over the bed. I think of this as a Latin vocabulary learning aid that’s falling short of its goal. Not sure why Latin, could be any dead language, I suppose.

Denizen (with JMW)

11″ x 14″

Oh yeah, I was blinded by a toothache and forgot to post this one during the Olympics fortnight. Another collaborative piece with Josh W.

You shook dimes out.

Nadia Comăneci

8″ x 11 1/2″

Odd materials for this one of the Romanian gymnast (from 1980 Olympics).  Ball point pens on gold mat board scrap with acrylic, vellum cut-out and colored acetate attachment.  I don’t usually talk about materials, but thought this one could use some explanation.

 

NowSuf (with JMW)

11″ x 14″

I love this one.  It takes so long to read Josh’s text, it’s like climbing down a ladder.

The figure is from a photograph of a swimmer from the 1900 Olympics. Could nearly be a Greek kouros statue from the 6th c. BC, especially with the stack of monumental letters.  And with that in mind, the text sounds like Homer to me (the ancient bard, not our socially conservative neighbor) — the magic of text/image proximity.

Decembering Dust (with JMW)

11″ x 14″

Another piece with Josh, this one uses an image from the 1896 Olympics of a guy and a pommel horse. Apparently the modern Pommel Horse is based on wooden horses used by ancient Persians to teach soldiers to efficiently mount and dismount live horses during battle. Pommels are the nobby things on a saddle. I did not know that.

The ‘dust’ seems to have something to do with the specks flinging off of our hero in this picture (actually where my pinky fingernail was digging into the paint as I was working on his head. anyway). Or maybe the handdust gymnasts are all the time clapping clouds of. Or something else.

Crooked Capsule (with JMW)

11″ x 14″

The Olympics theme continues with the help of Joshua Marie Wilkinson on stencils. We’ve been getting together the last few days in my studio, working in tandem. I make a painting, pass it to him for text; he makes some text and passes it to me for a painting; working on the same surfaces.

I’m sticking with the Olympic pictures for now (such as these members of the 1912 British Women’s swimming team), working quickly so I don’t get bogged down in the subject, and Josh is employing the grease pencil and the supposedly hyper-efficient (bureaucratic, militaristic?) stencil lettering, improvising the texts one letter at a time. The combination makes, to me, a neat oblong relationship between the texts and images. More to come.

Number Seventeen

24″ x 30″

I forgot to post this one a couple weeks ago when it went to New Orleans. Another of the band paintings, oil and all its magic subtleties.

Found a box of old oil paints at a thrift store, from back when they were still making pure cadmium- and lead-based paints — before the industry went soft with all the ‘health concerns’ associated with toxic pigments and binders. Another example of toxic beauty; the yellows are gorgeous, bright and astringent.

Camouflage

14″ x 22″

After some time in the forest, the Wastrels develop a form of disguise to make themselves invisible to predators.

I found these two paint-by-number forest scenes at a yard sale and have had them in a drawer for a while.  The Wastrels co-opted them as their woodland habitat.

Veil Over Everything, Oh I Say, That Old Gag

approx. 20″ x 24″

 

 

It could be that Bookoo and Cilice are made of marzipan here.  Or else Bookoo is dying of consumption, the kind the Victorians used to love; I’m hoping for the former.

In Henri Murger’s Scènes de la Vie de Bohème (1850), the main character Francine — a ‘typecast fictional consumptive’ according to the author of The Cambridge Illustrated History of Medicine — has “a rosy tint to her skin, transparent with the whiteness of a camellia” and later “a saintly glow, as if she had died of beauty.”  A beauty so rare and delicate that it destroys itself with its own amazing-ness:  how exhausting.  But the Wastrels can be maudlin like that.

The odd shape is the result of finding tons of scrap mat board, a love of composites, and looking at Jeffery Camp paintings.

 

Periodic Companions (poison of kings, painting)

9″ x 12″

 

It’s always interesting how an image transforms from drawing to painting, or painting to drawing.  Most of these Periodic Companions images exist in both forms, but the drawings are more stable and so hold up better (I think) alongside Laynie’s writing.

 

Leaping Hares, Redacted

11″ x 14″

 

Working out the leaping hares idea further in casein, a milk-based paint that I’ve just discovered.  Dries fast, but not plastic-y like acrylics.  Good for painting daydreams (which are also milk-based and fast-drying).

I like allowing for invention and frivolity, and changes of mind, I would like to be more frivolous and change my mind more often.  Some people don’t like to see evidence of the painter’s changes of mind, looks too much like floundering — see #6 and #29 of Sol LeWitt’s “Sentences on Conceptual Art” —  which I guess it is.  Floundering I also like, it can be very productive.  Picasso referred to Bonnard’s paintings scornfully as “a potpourri of indecision.”

I Do Things for You and You are Done For

10″ x 13″

(entering phrases into Google Translate, starting with the English the retranslating back into English)

English: I do things for you. And you are done for.
French: I do things for you. And you are done.
Hindi: I work for you. And you are.
Arabic: I work well for you. You.

Great Western Road, Glasgow

12″ x 14″

A stretch of road from Anniesland to the City Centre.

Anniesland, Crow Road, Cleveden Road, Byres Road, Queen Margaret Drive, Kelvinbridge Underground, Maryhill Road, St. Georges Cross Underground, M8 Motorway, Cowcaddens Road, City Centre.

Mrs. Danning’s Class

12″ x 16″

Rediscovered this painting I did in 2007 of my first grade class in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1981. My friend Nehal there in the front left with the gold satin shirt. I still like this painting, especially the yellow and black shapes on the bulletin board.

Emma, Her Book & Heart

30″ x 40″

This painting, still in process, and its title are taken from a book that my mother read as a girl, given to her by her great grandfather, and now I have it. I’ve been enjoying the little illustrations and just yesterday decided to read some of text. Great little coming of age story, florid and earnest, it provides courage for the developing Victorian schoolgirl.

Darling Ann

12″ x 16″

Last weekend I found this oil on masonite painting of Whistler’s Mother at the thrift store. The face was no good, but the atmosphere was suitably somber. So I bought it for $2.50 and changed the face, added a gold leaf (really gold foil candy wrappers) in the shape of a face, a celestial phantom. And added “Darling” up at the top. The small “Ann” at the bottom is the signature of the woman who painting the original copy. I put black tape over her last name “Finkle”. So this is dedicated to all the Ann’s, Anne’s, and Anna’s in my life.

At some point I’ll get a better shot of this piece. Some of the detail is lost here.

Mama

16″ x 20″ (NFS)

First is my mother as a girl, and then in a sundress pregnant with me. These paintings are from a couple of years ago, part of a large body of work, paintings accompanied by poems by Joan Fiset. See the rest of the series here.

Rilke 02

9″ x 12″

I’ll just keep on posting pieces as this Rilke project goes along, even though these are all preliminary, laboratory kind of work. Why not. It’ll keep the process light. And humor is hard to come by in this text, unless you think baby slaughter and celestial revelations are funny.


Butcher Hand

11″ x 14″

I’ve got an acute interest in hand-painted food signs. When I travel, I photograph them, and have well over a hundred in my collection now from all over the country. Most of them are fun to look at, often really gross, and sometimes touching. They seem to say something about how “we” think of food. There are cultural/regional styles that I like seeing and which remain a mystery to me. I am considering starting another page here on the Work-a-day just for hand-painted food signs of North America.

Anyway, this is a watercolor I did today inspired by a painting I saw on an abandoned butcher shop in Pecos, Texas a few weeks ago. The original is by far the most narrative hand-painted food signs I’ve seen. It’s like an altarpiece.

How Things Are Made

9″ x 12″

This is actually a brand new one (you can tell by the wetness of the yellow). I was thinking I’d revisit the Wastrels, but what emerged was more a precocious woodland child emerging from my ribcage. One just can’t tell until the marks start going down. The Genesis 2: 21-24 reference was more or less accidental. Or incidental.

Forget Me Not (lost)

size unknown

Hm. I was digging through some image folders and found this painting that I destroyed a while back. Now I wish I hadn’t. That so often happens. I had completely forgotten it existed, which makes me feel like it’s addressing me directly, which makes me feel strange inside.