Category Archives: paintings
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
9″ x 12″
Or “The Yellow of My Youth”, or “Le Jaune de Ma Jeunesse”, or simply “Jaune Jeunesse.” The title suddenly went French. Maybe a tangent brought on by the color and remembering Miro’s painting with a blue mark and written next to it “Ceci est la couleur de mes rêves” (this is the color of my dreams).
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.”
11″ x 14″
Cilice found them a waterfall. This image is related to the more ominous and less frolicking “Wastrels Watched From a Distance” from a couple weeks ago, which implied an unseen watcher. This one has no such watcher, unless we are the unseen watcher, in which case have we been following them? And why?
To my surprise, the Wastrels have names. Bookoo is the girl. Cilice is the boy.
Probably because she splits herself into multiples and stashes back-ups of herself for safe-keeping. And because he wears her hair stitched into the lining of his shirt. Glad to see they’ve made amends for now. Solidarity.
10 1/2″ x 11″
The title comes from a postcard I received yesterday from the many-armed Eric Jordan.