24″ x 30″
The song “Lazy Moon” was written in 1901 by Bob Cole and Rosamond Johnson, performed in unfortunate black-face by Oliver Hardy of all people in the 1930 film Pardon Us, then redeemed by Harry Nilsson in 1973, the version I know. The last line is: “What’s the matter, are you sleeping?”
If you put that line after the following passage from the epic of Gilgamesh, you could have the opening scene of a short play starring Gilgamesh and Oliver Hardy.
Gilgamesh (startled awake in the Forest of Cedars): 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?
Hardy (singing): What’s the matter, are you sleeping?
30″ x 40″
Continuing with paintings within paintings theme. It’s remarkable how many old photographs of musicians include paintings; the musicians posed in front of paintings, or painted backdrops, have paintings on drums, and so on. There is a lot of improvisation in these paintings, of course, this drum has a kind of figure encountering a ghost at sunset.
24″ x 30″
One pushes paint against a canvas and, predictably, a mark is made. But every mark is unrecoverable as weather. Direct transmissions from the body, no pure concept, contaminated by countless non-verbal impressions which collect to make, when it goes well, a coherent image. And somehow a highly-personalized idiom evolves, for better or worse, which is only somewhat in the control of the painter.
Maybe it’s too corny to say ‘painting is like life’, but there it is. Maybe those who love painting feel that connection very intensely. So is basketball – like life, I mean – and also handwriting, and a cheese plate, and math.
I try not to paint “about” the Old South, but this one has its fingers near that fan. It is, to me, eerily quiet for a painting of musicians.
12″ x 14″
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.
6 1/5″ x 10 1/5″
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
This is related to Sweet Emmalina. The fellow on the far left is a cut-up in both.
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.
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.
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!
12″ x 16″
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.