This was called Painting Life in the Valley, referring
to Cuyahoga Valley, but it has gotten bigger than that and I have branched out.
So I am calling just..." Painting Life", as that pretty much says what I am
doing in the writing and pictures below.
The following are oil paintings in a series, not all of them directly related, done in the order you see, beginning in September, 2011. You can find a commentary on each work farther below, with reflections on each painting and art and life in general, The best way to do this might be to choose a picture you like and then read about it..... So, if you wish to read the chronicle from the beginning begin at the bottom of the page. At the very bottom there is a short essay called "Observations on Art". Skip up from that to begin with the first painting. If you wish to read the latest works begin at the top......
Click on paintings to see larger images.
Cuyahoga National Park Series
Selected Recent Paintings and Drawings, (since June 2014)
1998- feb. 2015
1998 -Feb 2015
|Nov. 2015||Jan. 2016|
Sidney Mount , the Power of Music
see Doing Drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art
see Violin Studies
see Babies and Kids Drawings and Paintings
After Fantin Latour
see Doing Drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art
After Rodin. Age of Bronze
see Doing Drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art
see Drawings Horses:
for more baseball drawings see
Blog: Mark Koslow: Painting Thought Nature
baseball, July 2016
for more baseball drawings see
Blog: Mark Koslow: Painting Thought Nature
This is a Barn Cat that lives in the horse stables.
Periodic Cicadas, June, 2016.
These are two different stages of periodic cicadas, -- there
were billions of them here for the last 5 weeks or so. We
studied them a lot and learned much about them. The emerge
form the ground and crawl up on grass blades , trees, shrubs
and even junipers or pines. They emerge as whitish and then
gain their colors over some hours. Beautiful red eyes
and orange on wing vanes and legs. We had thousands flying
around our yard and millions were in the woods, in preferred
trees. I am not sure why the prefer certain trees over
others, but it may have to do with where they were born.
They spend 17 years eating sap from tree roots and appear to
stay locally around the trees where they were born. Dogs
like to eat them, as do raccoons, skunks and other mammals.
We saw various birds eating them too.
Amazing really, how evolution does these odd things. Their
numbers we so vast that birds and animals can only eat a
They lay their eggs at the ends of tree branches, many of
which are now dead only at the ends of the branches, In a
few weeks the larvae will emerge and fall to the ground to
emerge 17 years from now. They are beautiful too, though I
saw many adults cringe at them in horror. Kids get it and
play with them endlessly as they are quite harmless .
They do not occur in places of heavy population and
appear to be missing where people spray their toxic
chemicals on lawns. This is another reason not to spray
these awful chemicals.
They do not occur in places of heavy population and appear to be missing where people spray their toxic chemicals on lawns. This is another reason not to spray these awful chemicals.
I have enjoyed doing a
number group drawings of kids. I sat at baseball games drawing them,
at violin practice and concerts, playing tug or war, and at the
sledding hill during a birthday party celebration. I was not
sitting for as long at the latter, so I took some photos and
finished it from those. Drawing from life is always better, but if
it is not possible one has to move on and do what what can with a
basis from life. So the basics were all done on the spot.
Chinese Sumi Ink Work, Fall 2015
This last fall, 2015, I did
a series of experiments using Chinese ink. I have always admired its
velvet blacks and ability to suggest things, without entirely
explaining them. In contrast I also see why this is, as it
does not have the precision of pencil or oil. Yet at the same time,
some accurate precision is certainly possible. Cleveland has one of the
best collections of Sumi Ink paintings in the world, though
the current administration at this institution tends to underplay
their collection. I enjoyed doing this but found that this ink is a
very subtle medium in some ways, but also very hard to control.
for more on this subject see
Pencil Drawings, 2015
In the last year I have done allot of drawing. Why did I shift more to drawing? Partly I wished go back to my roots. My roots are in drawing. I started painting early but was not really happy with anything till I was eighteen years old. Drawing started when I was 14, and I was pleased with many things. Drawing is faster and yet still retains the facticity of Plein air study. Doing Plein air of my kids baseball games would be very difficult, but doing drawings of them playing is both interesting and fun.
Drawing is an underestimated art. It is much easier and less interesting to take a photo, certainly. Drawings really do matter, more and more as time goes by. Hardly anyone can teach drawing, and there are fewer and fewer who know how to do this well all the time. I love drawings and doubt it will ever be really superseded as a useful and wide ranging skill. Drawing is habit that is hard to learn and those who do it well are rare anomalies that prove the rule that it is better done by hand. I suspect they will have computers drawing well one day, and they will still not have what a good hand done drawing can do. There is life in the fingers and in the mind that simply cannot be replaced by any machine. If one looks at Wyeth's drawings or Leonardo they simply does not compare to photographs, as there is a mind a hand and real art in them. The both cold draw well form memory too, I can do that somewhat, but not as well as they as yet. Lecoq de Boisbaudran taught this to Fantin Latour and others in the 1800’s.
I have studied
drawing allot in recent years and there is indeed
life in the fingers and in the mind that can not be imitated by
I have been fascinated by groups of people, especially as you can see below. The baseball team, the young musicians playing together, the Tug of War by played by kids, kids ice skating. As great as Sandy Koufax or Willie Mays might have been at baseball, my favorite teams are little kids playing the game. I especially like games played for fun, rather than merely to win.
Drawing is inquiry into life and an effort to study reality close-up and first hand, so this year, I have studied the extinct Carolina Parakeet as it looked in Ohio before it was killed off in the early 1900's. I did a drawing of us rowing down the Grand River one day during the summer. I also like to draw in museums, as it is a quiet form of study and one where I can share in the insights of other artists. Cleveland has an amazing collection and nearly ever piece is great of its kind, even if not well known. So I did the Tilman Reimenschneider three times. It shows a man helping an animal and I just love the gentleness and sad compassion in his face. the old woman by Frederick Sandy's is oeo of his best works. He captures the woman almost as if she were still alive and with us now. His other works are good but a bit dreamy or symblist, but this one is a real person and not a symbol.
Fire, light and our House.
We have a lot of trees, some of them very old, and they lose branches. So, we burn twigs and small branches, once or twice a year . We make a time of it roasting marshmallows and eating them. We add the often charred or browned marshmallow twith a square of dark or milk chocolate put between crackers. It was a complex work to do and took quite a while. I had to sue photos for the figures. But the rest is form life.
I was thinking this one for several years., but nearly so.
Not sure what to call it, so for now it is just Firelight.
That is our house in the background. I started with that by
drawing it from life. There are some mistakes in the
structure, but it is more or less right. The structure on
the right is the family room/studio and bed room we built
based on our own design. We built a lot of it ourselves,
though for the main structure I hired two very good
carpenters. I could not have gotten the main beam or framing
up by myself. I also needed help on the drywall, electric
and insulation.. But I did a lot the cutting and the design
of it and it was quite interesting and a real challenge. But
the painting itself is mostly an effort to celebrate
our family again. Sorry if this is my favorite thing to do,
but actually it is hard to figure out if there is much more
in life than this that matters, unless it be animal and bird
families as well as ecologies.
Violin Studies 2013-2016
I've done various studies of violinists and children playing violin in the last two or three years. Only one painting so far, but there may be more. It is a genre I like very and there are examples of it that go back to the 16th century, at least. My main concern was my children, who play this instrument. Here they are in chronological order with the most recent first. The short essay that accompanies these works is here:
young violinists 2015-2016
April -June 2015
Suzuki Method, Aug 2015j
The two drawings above
were done over several months. in pieces. Some of them were
done from life and other parts had to be done from photos.
Drawings of this kind take a lot of time. I can draw things
over a period of time, waiting for the subject to get in the
right pose and then working partly form refreshed memory.
But I cannot work only from memory. There was a teacher in
the 1900's who taught working from memory alone. But that is
an exacting skill that requires lots of practice and but I
am not that good at it yet. So some of these figures had to be
done from photos.
I love the way the Suzuki method works and how the teacher teachers the young ones, and so these are about the relation of teacher and student and how musical knowledge is passed on. It is direct learning, without initially reading music, and involves 'one on one' teaching as well as teaching in groups. It is an enormously effective way of learning and one that the test obsessed U.S. system of education could learn a lot from. Kids do not learn form tests as much as they learn form direct learning. Learn by doing John Dewey said, and he was right.
The first drawing of my son and his teacher was done mostly from life, though the teacher moves much more than her student, so I relied on photos to help. I erased what I did many times and started over. The portrait of my son has a lot of character in it, and so I used it more than once. I wanted to show the group class too and had to use more photos for that. I wanted to do the kids from behind as that is what I usually see at these lessons, the parents being an important part of the Suzuki method. The kids are thus sandwiched between parents and teacher. This works extremely well and we are very pleased with the results. The practice that they kids do at home solidifies everything the teacher is teaching. Because we are present at the lessons, we can supervise their practice in way that would be impossible were we kept out of the lesson. It was brilliant that Suzuki realized this.
Teaching Violin (April 2015) graphite
Here I I show music as shared between a teacher and the
young and by a brother and a sister. I was not copying
Johnson, Forbes or Bouveret. ( see below) But like them I find deep
sympathy in this instrument. I try to show how deep and resonant a simple
theme like shared music can be.
It has been a great joy to see my children learn to play and be part of the long heritage of
music, now part of our family. "Teaching Violin" is the best
of what I have been able to do so far. This is largely
because my kid's teacher is so good and does so much to
communicate all the history and feeling that is in the
violin repertoire. She runs the Suzuki program here, which
is a marvelous program developed in Japan to help children
learn to play. I use the Monet painting on the wall in
"Teaching Violin" to suggest how the passage of knowledge
goes from the teacher to the students, as if over a bridge
above water lilies, the music like shinning flowers in a
Violin Class (Sept. 2014)
I did various sketches, stitched together after Pieter De Hooch, 2013
Learning Violin. oil, 2013
This is another work I have had in mind for along time. This one took much longer than I usually take on one work. It is also a slightly larger surface than I have been working on in the last few years. I've been doing smaller works because it is easier to work smaller outside, en plein air. Also oil paints pose certain difficulties, compared to acrylics, and I have been interested in using oil for detailed work, which takes much longer if one works larger. Lately I have done some research on the history of oil paint, and admire the manner of Van Eyck, using a walnut oil and a pine resin as a medium. James Groves helped me with this concoction and it gets some interesting results: very smooth, buttery velvet and glossy and good for detail work. This painting was a kind of summation of various domestic or family studies I have done of my family over the last several years. They have a certain aesthetic logic to them, as should be visible to a discerning viewer. I will explain why shortly.
But as to the painting above, it shows my daughter, son and I in the
studio, with me painting them in a mirror. On the wall are various
portraits of the ancestors of my kids on my mother's side. There is also
a picture of including my wife and daughter. Some of these are
trying out compositional ideas, meaning they do not exist as paintings
yet. Rather they are miniatures and I have been thinking to do paintings
of them. These miniature portraits took quite awhile.
Behind my head are my mother, my mother's mother, ( below) based on the
watercolor miniature in the MET and my wife and our daughter together.
Above them are my daughter as a baby at the ocean in California, the
redbirds which you can see below and a nest, perhaps a Redstart Warbler
nest and a Robin's egg. On the opposite side of the window are my son
and a version of Da Vinci's great anatomy drawings. This is
perhaps one of the best anatomy drawings ever done, of which mine is a
very pale copy, from his great 1508 anatomy notebook in the Windsor
collection. This last was especially difficult. I did that over at least
4 or 5 times, and I am still not happy with it. It is a fairly large
drawing for Leonardo and my copy is only two inches tall. I don’t mean
to complain, but I was up against my own limitations to try to reduce
such a complex and exact drawing to a small size. doing this was
interesting and difficult.
I am calling the painting "History". It might be called ‘actual history’. I am not sure yet. This title is partly a reference to to all these recent works which explore my own versions of history painting in a very personal way. When I read history I am often struck by the irrelevance of official histories of great men compared to the interesting facts of actual history of real people who might not have done the heroic deeds, had great power or known the ultra rich. I like Social History and am not a big fan of military and great man histories. What was called "History painting" 2 or 3 hundred years ago was really not paintings of actual history, but largely mythology paintings that had the glorification of rulers or biblical fictions as their object. I rejected such nonsense years ago. The point was to magnify their subjects and make them idealized models for correct behavior. Icon making or myth painting of these kinds does not interest me at all. So when I say this painting is actual history, it is just that, quite literally, not myth, and not the "History painting" that was considered the highest calling between Rembrandt and the French Realists of 1850. It is pictures of real people in real settings. I am interested in actual people and things and not fictions and many of my works have that element in them.
What does interest me is the history painting started by the Dutch, which initiated a real rebellion against the history painting of the Italians and French in that it ceased recording biblical or monarchist propaganda and started painting realistic portraits of real ordinary people. This was an art of the poor, and one can see it in Vincent's early work, as well as in his friend Anthon Van Rappard. The Black Plague probably had an influence on the rise of a secular mentality in that it brought the feudal system into question and taught a certain disrespect for authority essential to later science. Workers had more power after the Plague of 1350, and lords and monarchs ceased to have total control. The Church was brought into question. The change is noticeable in European art after 1400 and increases until 1500, Van Eyck being an early and exceptional realist, whose influence extends all the way to Italy. He appears to have influenced Leonardo to some degree, indirectly. Leonardo's experiments with oil paint were partly an effort to paint like Van Eyck. The French Realists continued this.
I am reading a good art history now, William Gerdts’ Art Across America, which shows lesser known artists—many of them women or ‘minor’ artists kept out of official histories. Much of their work is far better than what is paraded as characteristic of 19th and 20th century art. Gerdts’ books are far better than Janson’ s Art History or other standard art histories, which show the 'great' luminaries, which is fine up till about 1800. But by 1900 art history becomes something false and largely a creation of a fictional art world run by critics and gallery owners, promoting artists of little skill or insight. Many of the standard artist history heroes in modern art turn out to be something of a joke. Or rather they are a joke to me, to others they are standard upper class and corporate history with a few token "outsider" artists thrown in the assuage the guilt of turning art into an empty branch of upper class fashion. What Gerdt's history shows is that art is not at all what New York or Tokyo galleries says it is. It is much more local and practiced by many women, men and people of color. R.B.Kitaj was right to rebel against the critics and write his own explanations for his paintings. I was not inspired by him to do this, but note his perspicacity in rejecting the palaver of art critics. Joni Mitchel's refusal to have anything to do with the art word is even more accurate.g
So my title "history" is not standard history at all, but, what I would call real history, unadorned by myth and fictions. I show my grandma Edna, Mom, my wife and the kids. I used Julia Kahle’s 1920 miniature of my Grandma which is in the MET in NYC as a model for her. I took out the white fox fur, which I have never liked. It is true my grandma had stuff like that. But I would prefer not to look at it. Someday I hope to do a larger one, as painting this small is problematical.
My Grandmother, miniature
Metropolitan museum of Art
In my painting, My mom is shown reading a book. .I show myself as a painter and a full time Dad. Gauguin abandoned his kids, one fact among others, I have always disliked about him. I embrace my kids and ahve been a full time dad for nearly a decade now.
Out the window,. one can see a few of the characters who live on our deck. there is a Red Squirrel and a Hummingbird there, and some Salvia flowers overgrown this year. And the toy animals were fun to do. I started thinking that Bison might be real and actually run around my studio as if it were a great Prairie. I guess I have been influenced by my kids love of small people, “borrowers” and leprechauns. They imagine such things often. It was interesting to paint my son's body, hands feet and face. He still has the last of his baby like characteristic which will be gone in a year or two, so I wanted to capture something of that. My daughter is the center of the picture, with her hand made Tie-dye shirt that was so well done. My son is the most forward part of it. I did myself entirely from life, overweight, balding, but still thinking and smiling. Since we home school the kids this is not an inaccurate picture of our normal days. The kids and I spend a lot of time together doing projects and studying. I did the portrait of myself blow on the ship at 18 below and wanted to do one how I look now. Hardly the same person on the outside.
The original drawing for this painting was done entirely from life. Most of this painting was done from life, though with my son only the original drawing was done form life, he is too young to pose. J. E. Millais was able to make kids pose for him, but I can't do it for long. Young kids do not have the concentration to sit for along time and it is cruel to pose them by force. I painted my legs, arms, and head paint from life, Incorrect drawings always cause troubles later on so I did this one with a certain linear exactitude. I blocked in the main poses before I started to paint.
Shadows do not matter in an under drawing, but lines do, and in this Ingres was right. I've been studying Ingres' drawings of late and am amazed by them. I doubt they were done with Camera Lucida as Hockney has clamed. Ingres' drawings themselves are amazing examples of perfect use of pencils, weight of line, pressure, and subtle shading. Only Leonardo can draw better. An American Scientist review of Hockney's book states that
Gary Tinterow, a senior curator at the Metropolitan Museum and an Ingres scholar, confessed to an ambivalence about Hockney's claims. Tinterow noted that Ingres's father was also a painter and a miniaturist. Tinterow ended on a plaintive note: "It would be nice if we could find an account from one of Ingres's sitters—and there are many who left such accounts, who mention his easels and brushes and canvases—a sitter who described Ingres's use of such optical devices." (March 2002)
But since there is no such evidence, it appears that Ingres was drawing freehand and the distortion in his work appear to be the result of choices he made, and not optical devices, which Hockney wrongly contends. If one compares Ingres' original drawings with paintings he did from them it shows that his will to distort is very strong. If one compares his painting of Madame d'Haussonville with the drawing below, for instance, this is obvious. He was twisted and exaggerated her hips, thrust her head forward an made a sort of arabesque out of her upper body which is unlikely and perhaps not even physically possible. The drawing is more true to life, and reasonable. Hockney tries to say that some of these weird distortions are due to the Camera Lucida that Ingres is supposed to have used, but the evidence suggests otherwise.
Ingres is distorting in line
with some of the oriental love of arabesque forms. Even if you
imagines her to be pregnant, which is likely as she did have a baby
around this time. Ingres has still distorted rather strangely, as he
In any case, my drawing of me and the kids had the purpose of showing my children and myself rather as we are instead or conforming to some inner, orientalizing compulsion. Kids are closer to nature in a certain way, -- like nature, they are amoral as young children. There are less deformed by civilization. This does not mean that they do not need education. They do. Culture is learned. The question is what kind of culture they learn. Most of their education comes form my wife and I, as we homeschool, and our concerns with science and nature and important to their education. Painting them as children is a major part of what I have been doing these last years. Putting them in the context of my owns studies and concerns is thus quite natural, and I work with them daily, trying to teach them, much of what I know.
I had done a self portrait a few years previously. Seeming more pretentious, it is really a humble work that shows me still learning, even though I am older now. The perspective in it is odd, as the bookcase near the candle is much closer to the viewer. This is because we are looking down a stair to another room, which is farther away than the more proximate shelves. I put books in it that are subjects that of interest to me, Oceans, plants, nature and science, as well as art of course. I've been writing a book for 20 years, which turned into three books and that is soon to be done. This painting is about the endless research I did for that, as well as other things. The blue book was a book on Monet, but I did not put his name on it, as I like Monet, but he is not as important to me as other artists. I have always loved books, a good habit I got form my mother and my own obsessions and concerns. My hair has gotten whiter in the last few years, I see. Time stops for no man.
"History" is a sort of family portrait., since there is a portrait of my wife and our daughter also from a few years ago. In the History painting, I also did a portrait of my wife is on a beach with my daughter in California when she was almost two and chilly, so she is buried under her red hood. I've done various portraits of my daughter in recent years.
I had done a portrait of my spouse and our son a few years ago too. He was just two then.
For the painting called "History", I had to use photos for my son. even though I drew him form life in the inttial drawing. But he is five now and too busy to pose. Here are two portraits of him, also done in the last several years. In the one on the left there is a portrait of our cat, Paws, who was sick then. He died over a year ago and we buried him i the backyard. The one on the right shows my son almost out of diapers, with a painting on the wall of one of his last bottles of breast milk I did a year earlier. These milestones do not mean much to others, but they were important to me as I cared form these kids everyday and this is what life is really about. While the activities of adults are interesting, life is not really lived until one has children. They are the real meaning of life. Animals think so too, if one spends any time studying nature, this is the first thing one learns. Many who never had children, even among animals, and we are animals too, get to be aunts or uncles or teachers. And so history goes on, and we are all part of it.
A drawing by my daughter is on the refrigerator of her exulting under the rainbow. In the painting on the left, on the kitchen cabinet, is a picture my daughter and I made of her traced hand reaching like a rainbow up to the stars. The second is a picture my son and I made reaching for my hand . On the all in the back is a painting I did when he was two or so. I fed him human milk from a bottle everyday and was going to miss it when he stopped. Soon about that time he stopped and as expected I dearly missed doing it. Just as the day came when he stopped using that high chair I had refinished for him. Life goes by and the things that really matter pass away. But I hve preserved a few of these special things in paint.
More can be found on self portraits here:
This Redbird, or Cardinal as some call it, was an odyssey. I did three versions of it, one over the other, as fllows
Early May-. I did this for fun today (painting on the left) because my daughter has been studying birds and I have been helping her. We have been going around looking at them. In the last few days she saw a Yellow Rumped Warbler, , Flicker, Swans, Great White Egret, Bald Eagle, Ruddy Ducks, Scaup and many others. We borrowed a taxidermized Cardinal form the natural History museum, and she and I both did a portrait of it. The exhibit is rather desiccated so I had to rely somewhat on memory to make it look alive. Then I did something I do not usually do. I invented a background. A friend in Toronto, Barry Kent MacKay does this all the time for his marvelous paintings of birds, so I decided to imagine a background like like he does. I did a vague creek below and a bankside and found myself remembering back to about 1999, when I was out for a walk with my mother and we saw a red bird above a creek like this. It was spring, as it is now and the light had that marvelous. crystalline quality it sometimes gets when the air is clear and a little cold. I am not sure that I captured that exactly. The bird needs some more work, but it is hard to make it natural looking as these old stuffed birds are rather desiccated. I need another approach.
July. I was not happy with he original version of this one the left, which I did in May. I took a picture of Columbia Run creek in the right light, and decided to use that as a background. I studied the redbird near our house, who I have been feeding for years now. His name is Baldy, as his head is some years free of feathers do to a mite he gets. I tried to paint what I saw from memory. I took a photo of a place I know that I thought would work as a background and adapted that to the image, which is mostly about light on the bird.
August September. I was still not happy with this painting after the second version, though I liked the background. My friend in Toronto, Barry Kent MacKay, offered to help and gave me a sort of tutorial on the anatomy of birds wings. I like anatomy and know a bit about human anatomy, but had not studied bird anatomy, though I had wanted to. Barry made it much easier to learn. I did not understand the feathers and bones how the primaries, secondaries, alula and coverts all worked together to help the bird fly. i studied this for weeks and did some drawings at the natural history museum, trying to learn the structure of birds wings that Barry had taught me. It is not enough to simply learn the anatomy by diagrams and words. One has to see it on real birds. I studied birds at the zoo in Akron too. I finally applied what I learned to this small painting. It is still not quite right in all respects. I am sure the tail is wrong in various ways and the feet are certainly not quite right. I did those from desiccated feet and real birds foot is more supple and precise. But I love to pursue such inquires and I am sure there will be more studies in this area yet.
At 17 on the Great Lakes
This second picture of the sea is one I have wanted
to do for many years, decades actually.
But this picture requires some explaining. My Dad died when I was 17, and six months later, I finished high school. It was a time of solitude and grief and caring for my very bereaved mother, I needed a job that would help me go to college. With my Dad dead, money was short. I got on the Ore Ships that carry Iron Ore on the Great Lakes. My Dad had been in the steel business and my Mom helped me get the job though connections that he had. The trip up and down to Lake Superior usually took 7 days up and 7 days back, weather permitting. So every 14 days I got a few days off and returned home to try to care for my grieving mother.
The ship I was on was the William P Snyder, Jr. of the Cleveland Cliffs line. My bother took me to drop me off at the Ship in Lorain Ohio. I got seasick the first trip. After that I was fine. We went west on Lake Erie up past Detroit and up across Lake Sinclair, the 6th great Lake which is never mentioned as one but should be. It is incredibly gorgeous some days, ringed round with rushes and cattails and glowing like a great mirror or the sky. We headed out across Lake Huron up St Mary's River to the Sault Ste, Marie Locks, which we passed through slowly. Then out to Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior, and then up past Isle Royale to Duluth or Silver Bay to pick up Iron Ore for the steel mills. We also went to Marquette, Michigan and Buffalo New York at the other end of Lake Erie. My job was to be a "wiper" in the engine room and I painted the walls of it, day after day. Some days I got to clean out filters, carry cement bags, and other useful tasks, on and off deck. I particularly liked mopping up the decks of the engine room, which I did nearly everyday, as I washed my mop in the Lakes and held it out the cargo door to the engine room and dangled it in the waves. I was close to the sea and watched the waves with fascination. Sometimes the waves on Lake Superior got up to 30 feet and during break I would head up to the smoke stack deck and watch the boat as it met these huge waves. I could see down the length of the ship toward the pilot house and could see the ship bending under the pressure of each huge wave, like a toy or a roller coaster. I could hear the creaking of the ship and see it bend and contract as each wave went under the ship. We were like a cork in the immensity and it was amazing to see myself so small and the universe so large. Coming into port was always an adventure. Everyone called me "Junior" as I was by far the youngest on the ship, and treated me kindly.
As it was summer and fall when I was on the ships, there were storms in the fall, and more than once we had to anchor in a Bay or cove and ride it out. Once we were on Whitefish Bay for a few days during a bad storm. When it was done a fog came and in the morning we could not see more than a few feet off the ship. I could hear the fog horns of many ships that were in the same area, and when the sun came up the whole world turned pink and lilac. The sun slowly dispelled the fog and there were ten ships around us, at least. The nest year the Edmund Fitzgerald sank not far from where we anchored. Ever since then I tear up when I hear Gordon Lightfoot's great song about that ship. It could have been me that sank on that ship and was drowned.
"The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald"
The legend lives on from the Chippewa
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early
The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
Then later that night when the ship's bell rang
Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?....
Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below, Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered....
It is a great poem
and song. I was out there in November and know exactly what he is
saying here. I remember. It could be terrifying.
The Snyder has since been destroyed, used as scrap to make steel for other things. But the Mather is now a museum in Cleveland and the Boyer is a museum in Toledo. I often used to see both ships going up or coming back from the north.
In the painting I show myself when I was 17 up on Lake Superior. Doing a portrait of myself nearly 40 years earlier was a challenge. I did a double self portrait drawing, then and now, to try to understand all these years. When i was younger self portraits were something of an experiment in expressing emotions. Now it is more that interests me, the reality of a persona in space, the fact of existing and aging. My mother used to say that she felt the same on the inside even though everything outside had changed. I understand that now. In memory I can still feel myself on the ship and see the waves churning and rocking the boat. But there is no stopping the passage of time or its ravages on the human body. Mortality is not a "dream" to be wished away with religion, but a fact to be faced and if possible, celebrated, even though this is not always possible or easy. Sometimes one must mourn the passing of those one loved.
It is an immense Lake and clearer and bluer than
the others. It is as vast as an ocean. It was an extraordinary
journey, which would affect my whole life. It was not as amazing as
Darwin's Voyage on the Beagle, no doubt. But in its own way, for me,
it was. To be outside in this grand landscape and to be alone, with
my father just having died, was a terrible and wonderful fact. I
loved nature before this, but these amazing skies and the great
expanses of water and air, filled me with wonder. The elements
changed me and made me see the earth in a way I could never forget.
This painting is about that. Sometimes I would see Isle Royale for a
distance, though once or twice we went right along side it. I
thought of the wild Wolves and Moose there, and wished I could see
them. I saw the cliffs and the trees and knew it was one of the few
wild places left on earth.
I saved an old photo of the ship on the lakes at sunset and had a picture of me form that time, which my brother took, and in it I am even wearing the thick shirt I often worse on the ship. Since the photo of me I used to do this portrait is rather flat and with evenly disturbed light, it posed me real problems trying to get the light right on the face and figure so it would naturally into the picture of the the ship and the sea, with he sun setting just behind it. The picture is strongly lit from once source and the sunset light that is casts strong shadows, But that is me on the ship, and the vast sky beyond and the Lake all blue and yellow and purple, with he water holding every color of the rainbow sky. It was a marvel to be out there and to be alive.
My father had died when I was 17, and the sadness of that pervaded everything, even the time on the ship. Once I had some money I enrolled for a semester at Marietta college, studying painting with someone there, as well as writing. I wrote some of my first poems that are any good there, sad poems of lost love. I began the intellectual researches that would lead to where I am today. It was a nearly a monastic year of study and mourning, conflicting with a great desire to know and absorb life. I ended up disliking the monastic idea but then I was fascinated with the history or those who rejected the norms of our society. I was caught up into the landscapes of and between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, subjects that still interest me.
Oystercatchers in Northern California
I am spending the summer doing things i have wanted to do for along time, but put to the side to do Plein Air work. Since it is nearly 3 years since I started doing Plein Air work, it is time to stop for awhile and do some of these neglected paintings. That means working in the studio more. I already miss being outside allot, but these things have to be done. So the first one is Oystercatchers. this is not an Ohio painting, but that does not matter, I am expanding the scope of these studies. this is about birds, which is one of my favorite things to paint.
Oystercatchers are an amazing and rather rare wader or shorebird with a vibrant red beak. They live between Baha and the Aleutian Islands. I saw these up near the Oregon border in Northern California, near a sad, and rather poor town called Crescent City. We had gone there to check out a nursing home for my Mom, since many those near Eureka, where we were then living, were owned as a monopoly by one rather neglectful company, who ran their Nursing homes for profit rather than good care of the elderly. It was a terrible place and we rejected it. We stopped to see and study the tide pools on the coast.
I have been thinking about this painting for 7 years now,, since we lived in Northern California. I spent a lot of time there making reference photos and video. I did not have time to paint as I was caring for both Mom and daughter then 1 to 3 years old. I was busy with both everyday, even on weekends. So all I had was my cameras. We thought we would stay there, but it was impossible because of house prices. I was not able to paint for 4 or 5 years. From 2005 till 2009 there is no art by me, just photo, video and written works. I like working form video as it is far more varied than still photography. It approximates the actual. So there are many paintings I could do about Northern California coast. In our spare times we studied everything, the redwood forests, the intertidal zones, anemones, fish, whales, creeks, Octopus, Dippers( never got a good photo of those though I saw them and tried) salmon running- all kids of things. It was great and we miss it. I am very tired of the US and its politics.
There is nothing like the Pacific coast. Besides growing up there, I lived there at various painits in my life. Most recently I lived there for 3 years in 86-90, and then again from 2005-07. First in Point Reyes and then in Eureka. So we explored the Coast a bit on the way back form the Nursing Home and discovered these birds. There were at least 5-7 of them there, a family I expect, as they are monogamous. I got some good footage of them flying but when I tried to put it into this work it made it too busy and cluttered, so I took it out. They are great birds, very vivacious and talkative, with a marvelous whistle like call I thought very charming. The Black Oystercatcher is only black below and in some lights looks dark blue with a brownish back. There are thought to be only about 10.000 left, so it is a species of concern all though its range, since people arrogantly feel they should dominate the coasts where these birds have adapted to live over many eons.
This painting is a departure in a number of ways I used my new medium on this which is Walnut oil, turp and pine resin. I liked working with it a lot and will try it again. Very transparent and velvety.
The other thing that attracted me at this place was the transition in light and gradation of light form the clear rock in front one which the birds sit, gradually back to the larger rock sea-stack in the distance.
I am not sure about environments, it is more a question of distance or no distance. In this one the viewer is less close and that is because I love the sea and rocks and wanted to paint that as much as the bird. I would like to do another that is closer and has other wildlife in it like Mussells, Chitons, SeaStars nd Anemones. But on this one I just wanted to show where the bird lives, as they are exclusively adapted to this intertidal terrain.
is my son at age two in our backyard, which I let
go wild, most years. The figure is
photograph I took three years ago and have wanted to paint ever
since. It often takes me a while to get around to things. So I did a
drawing of the photo and then painted all the grasses and
flowers from life
around the drawing. Doing the wildflowers in April, (below) renewed
my courage to try this again. The first time I did a field like this
was way back in 1983 or 84, 30 years ago. I can think back through
the history of fields I have loved in my own life. There was the
public park that had a wild field next to Lake Erie, destroyed by
public official who sold it to a developer to build a McMansion on.
There was the goldfinch field I loved now made into a development in
Westlake where they made a fake village or corporate stores, really
an outside Mall. Developers never have to pay the real cost to
animals and plants of what
they destroy. The field in Arcata where the White Kite liked to fly,
looking for voles. Fields in Point Reyes or Stockton, New Jersey or
the bobolink field I saw in Upper Michigan.
My son is standing in our backyard. I slowly worked form life, painting the grasses and flowers over several weeks. I like the Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), which is purple or blue and which is mostly toward the front or lower part of the painting. There are also Buttercups, and Violets. The red spikey flowers are a variety of Red Sorrel. There is also some wild strawberry, and grasses. I love the dandelions which so enchant my young children, both for making bouquets to give to me or their Mom--- or to blows off seeds and watch them float away. It is a portrait of my young son a few years ago, but is also a picture of me when I was a boy and now too, as I love to see wild lawns and flowers. Seeing my son enjoying nature so much is a great joy to me and I well understand his youthful wonder. So to some degree this is a self-portrait as well as a picture of him. It is about the wonder of small things.
The first is an apple tree and Robin where we get our apples. It is an apple farm next to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and we have been going there for seven years. It is private land so I had to ask if I could paint there. Their little girl, who is 8 kept coming out to watch me. I started when the tree was still bare, to work on the structure of the branches, which were quite intricate. The tree had been eaten by deer, because the farmer does not fence this area, as it is pretty close to a road. So it did not get that many blossoms, so I used other, nearby trees, as a reference. There are hundreds of trees in this orchard, but I only did two, and the second is more suggested than done with every branch and leaf. As the leaves developed I kept them to a minimum, as I wanted it to appear as it did when the leaves and flowers first come out, and the background could still be seen. I went 5 or 6 visits, and by the end the flowers had all died, so I worked on the ground, which was lovely and rich with loam and mosses. There were pines in the background, and a Green Heron there one day, which surprised me. Robins were there nearly every day, and one day a pair of males were fighting over territory or a female. Orchards are a good place to see birds if they do not use herbicides or pesticides. Cemeteries are even better.
Cleveland Museum of Art, probably falsely attributed to Praxiteles
I did a series of works this winter, (2014), whose purpose was multiple. They really have nothing to so with the series on nature and the park, directly, but they are about painting and things I usually do not include in this series. I decided to include them just because they have some bearing on technique and imitating reality. I have been wanting to broaden the scope of the page anyway. Here is my imagining of waht the Celvleand Appolo might have looked like before it was damaged.
What the Apollo , probably falsely attributed to Praxiteles,
might have looked like.
I have been interested in Leonardo for many years and admire the anatomical studies he did in 1508-1510, which I think some of the best anatomical drawings ever done. I like his effort to see all angles of a thing as way way of coming to know it well. I tried doing this myself with various life drawings and paintings in recent years such as Cleveland Apollo and the Louvre Aphrodite as well as more homely figure studies.
I was studying Greek sculpture partly as an exercise in drawing the figure.. But this led to some painting experiments with a new medium I have never used, pine sap, to see how is worked. I did some research on the art of Praxiteles, and concluded that Praxiteles may not have actually existed. He maybe the creation of various art historians going back to Pliny in the 1st century and who died in the Vesuvius explosion in C.E. 79. Or there may have been such a person, who was lost to history and the name became a sort of dump for various very fine sculptures whose authors had been lost to time. I included the essay on Praxiteles in a book called Persistent Illusions, which concerns various mythical and imaginary theses or invented histories that may have never happened. or fictions which are believed in in sprite of a dearth of evidence. The storyteller Phaedrus mentions that Praxiteles is well known name that many people like to claim as real, like Aesop, but actually many attribute things to him he did not do. My personal view is that there is no real evidence of a sculptor named Praxiteles and the sculptures attributed to him were really done by some really great unknown people whose names are now lost.
Aphrodite of Knidos, probably falsely attributed to Praxiteles
Hepatica and Bloodroot
April, 2014. Here are
two new paintings I did in the last week. I was afraid to do this
last year, not sure I was up to it. But I plucked up the courage and
I tried painting close-up of wild plants from life. I have done
trees and landscape and incidental plants like grasses or golden rod
flower, but never a whole painting of close-up plants. I was not
sure I could handle that much detail working from life. The Black
Squirrel painting I did as a commission recently helped. I set up in
a marvelous park called Furnace Run that has large number of
wild flowers, and while the kids played in the creek I worked,. When
we were all done we had a picnic.
It took me two days for each, a few hours each day to do these when often it take some 4 or 5 visits or more for a larger work. I think the result is promising and I might do more like this. The first is Hepatica and the second on the right is Bloodroot. Though I went out yesterday and today and tried to do a Trout Lily but found myself dissatisfied and ruined both attempts in frustration. I think because the Trout Lily has little contrast and its nodding yellow head made it hard to paint the flower itself in a way I found interesting. I love this flower and its leaves and would like to try again but we shall see. It takes a great deal of concentration to do this and I wish my hand was a little more facile.
Hepatica is very hard to find in this area, and we looked for some years before we found them in this park. The ones I painted where white with a slight lavender tint in them but I found a few others which are really a lovely lavender. The Bloodroot on the right does not alst long, and it moves alot while I sat there painting it. By 6 PM it was ready to close and closed quickly, though one never notices any definite movement as it happens, but if one looks away for a while and then looks back it is more closed..
March 2014. The title of this is “Making Frames”
This is something I have thought about all winter. I like how our
old and weathered garage looks at night when the moon is out.
I did this painting on the recent full moon and on days after our
last snow storm. It was such a cold winter this year, with
temperatures well below zero many times. This one shows
moonlight or reflected light from the sun contrasting with human
made light in the garage. This is not the first time I have done a
combination of natural and human light. The last moonlight picture I
did was the train station at twilight. Whatever its source,
light one of the great mysteries for anyone who paints reality.
So, I set up my paint box and started in Acrylics as an under painting, done very loose and fast and then began the painting over it in oil. This is not my usual practice, but I wanted to get an idea of the scale of things before I headed into details in oil. Acrylics allows quick changes that dry almost immediately. I tried out various compositions and then headed into oils. One thing I love about painting a scene like this is I could never take a photo of this and be happy with it. I did take some photos, but the backyard is way too dark to get a decent picture, even with moonlight on it. The camera cannot handle the contrast between the light in the garage, the half-light on the snow and the bright light of the moon. There are few good photos of moonlight, but quite a few good paintings of it. The eye is better than the camera in so many ways. I am not sure I can explain why I have always enjoyed painting the moon and its light so much. I suppose it began as some romantic impulse but now it is more about the light itself and what it does to our lovely planet, how it generalizes objects and casts its pearly glow of half-tones over everything, everywhere. It has a comfort in it, as it takes away the dark. So, I set up my paint box and started in Acrylics as an under painting, done very loose and fast and then began the painting over it in oil. This is not my usual practice, but I wanted to get an idea of the scale of things before I headed into details in oil. Acrylics allows quick changes that dry almost immediately. I tried out various compositions and then headed into oils. One thing I love about painting a scene like this is I could never take a photo of this and be happy with it. I did take some photos, but the backyard is way too dark to get a decent picture, even with moonlight on it. The camera cannot handle the contrast between the light in the garage, the half-light on the snow and the bright light of the moon. There are few good photos of moonlight, but quite a few good paintings of it. The eye is better than the camera in so many ways. I am not sure I can explain why I have always enjoyed painting the moon and its light so much. I suppose it began as some romantic impulse but now it is more about the light itself and what it does to our lovely planet, how it generalizes objects and casts its pearly glow of half-tones over everything, everywhere. It has a comfort in it, as it takes away the dark.
Female deer are such homebodies and love their daily habits. I knew they would be wandering by with their children of last year. As I stood next to my Female deer are such homebodies and love their daily habits. I knew they would be wandering by with their children of last year. As I stood next to my paintbox on a tripod a group of them walked by. There were at least 6 but I only put three in the picture. To do that I took picture and worked form those and I also had my wife take a photo of me so I could show myself making frames, but all the rest was done form life.
I had to make a frame in the garage when it was very cold a month ago. I found the work strangely pleasing, as such work makes one forget the cold. I measured and cut, applied glue to the boards and nailed the corners on the framing vice. You can see dim outlines of the framing vice on the edge of the table. I show myself as a man in the garage who is not aware just now that the deer are walking by, they are in their own wild world and living their winter life, looking for food. I like the silence of the world outside my garage and the awareness of life going on everywhere, even if I do not see it. You see the barn of a neighbor distant , maybe you can hear the coyotes… a whole family lives back there, herons fly over during the day, and barred owls at night might be hooting…
Feb. 2014. This is a second version I did of a
painting originally done in 2011. It was done as a commission. It
was an interesting exercise to try to improve on an earlier design.
I made new studies for it, as I wanted to understand the form of the
squirrel a little better, especially its hands. That meant doing
some drawings. It was an interesting exercise, since it showed me
that any of my paintings can be improved if I work out the details
further. There is not always time to do that. But here I had time
and so in the process I rethought some of the leaves and made some
improvements to the composition. It has more fullness, more life and
same among the leaves, the color is better and the spatial relations
are improved even though we are close up upon the squirrel the
squirrels is naturally set in a real space. It is not perfect there
are still problems with it, but I learned something from doing this
Painting directly from nature is itself a natural process where one is affected by the weather ad light conditions and the place and season where one is working. None of that is predictable. Plein Air painting thus involves some measure of spontaneous study. On the other hand, paintings done in a studio are always more static and have more features that are susceptible to planning and predictable results. This is a good thing too, but a different thing. I sometimes try to combine the virtues of both these processes together and that has many pleasing results. Many Plein air works are too impromptu, and many studio works are too stiff and between these extremes one can sometimes create something that has song and freshness in it, but at the same time is thought through and has moment and stability, Painting directly from nature is itself a natural process where one is affected by the weather ad light conditions and the place and season where one is working. None of that is predictable. Plein Air painting thus involves some measure of spontaneous study. On the other hand, paintings done in a studio are always more static and have more features that are susceptible to planning and predictable results. This is a good thing too, but a different thing. I sometimes try to combine the virtues of both these processes together and that has many pleasing results. Many Plein Air works are too impromptu, sketchy and incomplete, and many studio works are too stiff, self-conscious and lacking in real discovery. Between these extremes one can sometimes create something that has song and freshness in it, but at the same time is thought through and has moment, roundness, clear form and stability,
Emerald Creek in Winter
dec. 2014 It is such a pleasure being outside for many hours painting something like this, not just for me but for my wife and kids too.This one of me and ourkids is set in one of my favorite local places, I call this onee Emerald Valley in Winterrbecause of the green profusion of mosses and lichens that grow on the large rocks here. The large rock are Berea sandstone. There is a creek with a waterfall which also appears in another work below. That is to the right as you look up this little valley. Emerald Valley is known to others as Deer Lick Cave as there is a cave here too. The scene itself is entirely done from life though I had to use photos for the kids and my wife and I. It took quite a few visits both when we had snow and when we did not. When we had no snow I worked on rocks and water. I worked on the snow when it arrived again. The faces were very difficult as they are so small, and I tried to create my own brushes, but none of them were precise enough. The Victorian and Albert museum says that miniature painters used squirrel hair in preference to other hairs . They painted on Vellum, or animal skin at first but then the forbidden ivory. I have no wish to do either, but I might try making some squirrel hair brushes from a road kill, though I am not without mixed feelings doing that.because of the green profusion of mosses and lichens that grow on the large rocks here. The large rock are Berea sandstone. There is a creek with a waterfall which also appears in another work below. That is to the right as you look up this little valley. Emerald Valley is known to others as Deer Lick Cave as there is a cave here too. The scene itself is entirely done from life though I had to use photos for the kids and my wife and I. It took quite a few visits both when we had snow and when we did not. When we had no snow I worked on rocks and water. I worked on the snow when it arrived again. The faces were very difficult as they are so small, and I tried to create my own brushes, but none of them were precise enough. The Victorian and Albert museum says that miniature painters used squirrel hair in preference to other hairs . They painted on Vellum, or animal skin at first but then the forbidden ivory. I have no wish to do either, but I might try making some squirrel hair brushes from a road kill, though I am not without mixed feelings doing that.
Note: I have decided to change the name of this page. It was calledd 2 years of painting in Cuyahoga National Parkk. But that is too restrictive. I love the National Park, but these paintings are going beyond its borders now. I am thinking to call itt Life in the Valleyy. I have been doing this nearly two and a half years now. I want to branch out into everything that concerns me and widen the scope of the work.
In October, 2013, I did the painting of birds in the Wetland, (Birds Near the Eagle's Nest below) at the beginning of the month and began the painting of my daughter in the studio. But we were very busy and there was that absurd government shutdown which included shutting down our park. It is impossible that I should miss painting the fall. So when the kids and I went for walks in the woods in various places I took pictures of them, knowing I would not have time to do one plein air. They love to romp and play in the leaves, run through them or step on the rocks and over the creeks. There is nothing like fall leaves when you are a kid.
Most of the paintings in this series are done from life. But I did this one entirely from photos I took in October. It can be very challenging to work form photos too, though it is a different sort of challenge. I made this as a composite of various photos in various places. I was not entirely happy with any of the photos but, but liked aspects of many.
This might be a good spot to discuss photography again. My objection to working from photos is not a purist or dogmatic one. I know people who think it is impure or immoral to work form photos. That seems too precious to me. I am not opposed to photography at all. But I don't think one should directly copy or trace them. It is a kind of cheating to use projectors. It is said that this is what Vermeer did essentially, with the camera obscura or Ingres alleged use of the camera lucida, which is not proven to my knowledge. In any case, I like the meditative and exploratory nature of drawing from life. But I do not mind using photos as aides or references for free hand drawing. I don't make grids or use any optical devices. Sometimes I will measure in the classical drawing method of holding a pencil, plumb line or stick up to measure . But I find photography an important aid to seeing and study.
I feel photography is an extension of my sketch book and my imagination. The are a part of what I know about a place or an event. But I have no illusions about the limitations of photography. Photos are so imperfect and distort reality. The immediacy of it is its main drawback as life is not really immediate. Things take time, and understanding takes even more time. Photographers might find this surprising, as they think they are so accurate. But actually light and form are highly variable according to weather and time of year, not to mention subtle gradations of saturation or intensity of color, hue or shadow. Dark and light alone is a huge subject, as Leonardo understood very well as he wrote about light shadow and optics at great length. I think I can get more subtle gradations of shadow, hue and saturation than any camera. But I do not think I can be as literally as accurate with shape and form when I draw of painting free hand as a camera can be. But there is a proviso for this--- I add that a camera tends to be incapable of a certain deepening of the meaning of forms which the mind and brush can accomplish. By 'meaning of forms', I am implying that the study of a given form gathers depth with time and one must be exposed to it over a long period to begin to grasp some of its character and nature.
In the 1990's and 2000's I did various studies of leaves and forests in the autumn in the among them are these.
Part of my intent
in these larger autumnal works done
over a decade ago was to paint late
light, light near sunset or dawn.
This is clear in the "Chipmunk's
World" or in the "Squirrel Tail in
Sunlight", as well as "Breathing
with Deer at Dawn". The raking light
in the chipmunk painting was studied
over many weeks and involved getting
down on the ground a recording
leaves and sticks and very low
angles. I used a video camera too. I
studied nature closely for weeks and
then worked in the studio mostly
from video references. I was trying
to capture animals in their own
exact worlds as closely as I could.
In newer works I have been much more concerned with precision of drawing and modeling form as well as with accuracy of portraits and landscape. The influence of impressionism has diminished. My daughter is getting mature mentally and I had to please her with the portraits and that took some days, as she found fault with aspect of the portraits. In "October Walk" it was afternoon light, rather than late light I was painting. I was trying to catch a certain relation of the brown and decaying leaves on the ground, compared to the yellowing and old gold of the leaves still one the trees here and there enlivened by the green still left from summer.
I have also been interested in miniature paintings for a year or two. The Cleveland Museum of Art has a wonderful show, up just now, (Jan. 2014) of their miniature paintings from several centuries put together by Cory Korkow. This is an amazing show that features many fine portraits. She defines the miniature rather more narrowly than I do, and certainly she is right to be responsible to history and good scholarship. There were distinct conventions in this type of painting. But my concern is as a practical artist. For me the miniature is a challenge and test of skill, and could be done in watercolor, oil or any medium precise enough. What is it done on scarcely matters. I use board. 19th century "miniatures" in the narrow sense, were done in watercolor on animal remains of vellum or Ivory. I have ethical concerns using either material. I have also been interested in miniature paintings for a year or two. The Cleveland Museum of Art has a wonderful show, up just now, (Jan. 2014) of their miniature paintings from several centuries put together by Cory Korkow. This is an amazing show that features many fine portraits. She defines the miniature rather more narrowly than I do, and certainly she is right to be responsible to history and good scholarship. There were distinct conventions in this type of painting. But my concern is as a practical artist. For me the miniature is a challenge and test of skill, and could be done in watercolor, oil or any medium precise enough. What is it done on scarcely matters. I use board. 19th century "miniatures" in the narrow sense, were done in watercolor on animal remains of vellum or Ivory. I have ethical concerns using either material. I have also been interested in miniature paintings for a year or two. The Cleveland Museum of Art has a wonderful show, up just now, (Jan. 2014) of their miniature paintings from several centuries put together by Cory Korkow. This is an amazing show that features many fine portraits. She defines the miniature rather more narrowly than I do, and certainly she is right to be responsible to history and good scholarship. There were distinct conventions in this type of painting. But my concern is as a practical artist. For me the miniature is a challenge and test of skill, and could be done in watercolor, oil or any medium precise enough. What is it done on scarcely matters. I use board. 19th century "miniatures" in the narrow sense, were done in watercolor on animal remains of vellum or Ivory. I have ethical concerns using either material.
I am not making miniatures in the narrow curatorial strict sense of the terms. Those objects predated the photograph and were like photos or cell phone images are now, and thus they are really a thing of the past. They were intimate objects often carried on ones person and often meant to keep the loved one close. But my interest is in the intimacy of such miniaturization, not the conventions of the genre. In the 16th to 19th centuries the narrowly defined miniature arose as ah need in the wealthy classes and was developed as a trade--- an economic category of practice and sale. Artists and dealers had an interest in keeping this genre exclusive. But the best miniature art works, small paintings, such as those done by Sultan Muhammad in Persia, Hindu miniatures, the Book of Hours by the Limbourg Brothers or Van Eyck and Meissonnier, are also small paintings, often in books, that are incredibly accurate, accomplished acts of intelligence and skill, human sized and easily taken in by the viewer at close range. Katherine Coombs, in her book Portrait Miniatures in England, records that the miniature actually has its roots in similar book illumination, and was called "Limning" ( see Limning, 1534) and only later was called "Miniatura". A limner was an illuminator of manuscripts and one who works with color and gold and silver. Nicholas Hilliard tried to define limning as a genre only for gentleman, and only done in watercolor. But this is the rhetoric of a class system and not the reality of painting that are small and intimate, which crosses classes and countries.
It is not that far from the amazing
miniaturization of the Book of
Kells to Van Eyck to Hilliard. One
could stretch the conventional
definitions of miniatures and even
say that some of Vermeer's works,
tend toward the miniature, and
indeed, that Vermeer continues the
tendency began by the oils and
illuminations of Van Eyck. Coombs notes that the
Dutch or Flemish art of painting
small paintings had an influence on
early miniatures, so I am not
entirely wrong to connect miniature
painting back to certain Van Eyck's
and some of the other Dutch painters
of small works. Van Eyck is thought
to have done various illuminations.
Coombs traces limning back to Lucas Horenbout, who is thought to have brought small and precise painting from Ghent to England. Van Eyck was doing extraordinary small works a generation or two earlier, not far form Ghent, in Bruges. Indeed, Van Eyck's works are so startling that he changed the course of history. Van Eyck's presumed self portrait in the National Gallery in London is only 19x 26 centimeters and he shows every wrinkle around the eyes and beard stubble on the chin. This and other small works by Van Eyck might be the models that most influenced Horenbout, who was the teacher of Hans Holbein, who was Hilliard's teacher. Indeed the entire Northern Renaissance is in some ways the artistic child of Jan Van Eyck. Coombs traces one line of limning to the great Elizabethan painter Nicholas Hilliard , and another to Henry Peacham's influence on the history of watercolor in general. Coombs implies a much more broad understanding of the art of the miniature. The narrow concern with the personal miniature was evidently an art that grew up with royalty and the upper classes and really disappears with them. But the larger context is the rise of precise, one might say, scientific painting and begins with Van Eyck. There is no particular reason to obey the careful restrictions on the genre anymore, but the technical expertise can be adapted other uses, as Ernst Meissonnier thought in the 19th century .
It is stretching it a bit to say that Leonardo's late drawings in anatomy or mechanics could be put in this category, though many of these are watercolors on top of drawings, as are the 19th century miniatures, narrowly defined. But many scholars have pointed out that Leonardo was influenced by the northern revolution in art and that means, directly or indirectly, Van Eyck. What Leonardo shares with Van Eyck and with Holbein is a devotion to the intimate and precise perception of reality. What I admire in these is intelligence and skill as well as beauty, and when this is done in a small format , it gives the image great intimacy and human closeness, often illustrating ideas, myths, facts, people or histories. With the miniature now a dead art, its employment need not be so strict and I feel quite free to apply the miniature technique more broadly in oil and even into Plein Air. Small works by Winslow Homer or Eastman Johnson have this same intimacy and life likeness, which is often lost in larger works. In the Toledo museum I recently saw Johnson's picture of a man husking corn with his boy beside him, who is making a little house out of the corn husks. Johnson's work have great warmth and sympathy and I admire him. This work is a small masterpiece of the kind I am speaking of.
So in a work like "October Walk" I was trying to do a little of what these great forbears did. This is not to say that I have Leonardo's or Van Eyck's skill, but like them I am trying to understand reality. The size of the portraits in my painting is close to those of 19th century miniatures and I used some of their techniques, such as painting with very small brushes I made myself and I used a magnifying lens which I attached to my glasses. There is an old Hickory tree on the left and a few large Cherry trees further back. Most of the trees are Maple and they create the yellow canopy, making the space around my children luminous with light.
My daughter found this leaf at the Cleveland zoo, and I thought it the prettiest leaf I had seen this fall so I did a small oil of it. I love the harmony of the colors and the even gradation across its whole form.
We go to the Natural History museum often and they let us use some of their taxidermied exhibits. While my daughter was drawing the squirrel I painted her doing it over several days. I was intrigued by her concentration and the reflections of fall on the plexiglass container where the stuffed Fox Squirrel sits. it was raining outside and the new rake rests against the garage. The new rake broke a few days later, badly designed, I guess.
This is a an inch and a half less than life sized.
Birds Near the Eagle's NestBirds Near the Eagle's Nest
This painting is of the Eagle nest area, and is not as finished as some other recent works. This place is not that easy to get to when the kids are with us, as the tracks are long and hard for a young child to walk on.
This area is closed more than half
the year when they are nesting. It
is open down there now and it is a
marvelous place, ---full of birds--
including rare ones for this area
like the Hooded Mergansers and the
great white Egret. These are the
first eagles to nest in our county
for 72 years. I have done them very
small and subordinated them to the
wetland biome, and made them only
just a little bigger than the
Bluebird that is perched in front. I
was trying to show birds as I
actually see them in their context
and not do an illustration of
species. I saw the eagles, the Red
Headed Woodpecker, the Bluebirds and
the Egret on the days I was there
and painted them partly from life.
The Mergansers I saw there some
years agoa nd did them form a photo
I took. It is a small
painting, about 8 x 10". I
have enjoyed a certain pleasure in
miniature works of late. This one is
9x12” or so. I had to stand in the
mud to do it, wearing boots as the
pond is very clotted with buttonbush
and other plants..
Somewhat mysteriously, the sycamore trees which dominate the wetland all died in the last 4 or 5 years. It was a Heron rookery 5 years go with a hundred herons there,--- but that rookery moved across the valley and you might recall my painting of that in March 2013. The Eagles where predating the Heron’s chicks. The official explanation for the loss of the sycamores was a Beaver backed up the pond, but I never saw the evidence of that and doubt it. We had record rain fall and that raised water levels for a few years then there was a drought year. I think that killed the trees. Many sycamores are springing up on the banks now. Because of all the dead snags there are a lot of red headed woodpeckers and I love them. I painted one on the closest tree. But they chatter and carry on everywhere. I saw what appears to be a Siskin and have seen many warblers in this area including the Prothonotary and Cerulean. Both are rare birds in this area..
It is one of the healthiest wetland around here, in short. The train track go right beside it and on the maps is called Pinery Narrows.
I did it during the
absurd government shutdown, where
republicans shut down the government
to try to blackmail democrats to go
along with their desire to railroad
Obama's health care program, which
is neither radical or enough to
solve the heath care horrors that
occur with terrible regularity in
America. In 2011, 700,000
people went bankrupt and 45 died--
and those are just the ones counted,
probably thousands died who were not
counted, directly due to lack of
medical insurance . One of my old
friends died due to insurance
company denial of care last year. She was not
counted in any statistics of
Insurance company caused fatalities.
The insurance and hospital systems
kill people while they make money
from them. It gets worse every
year .The republicans lost the
health care debate and wish to
subvert democracy by demagoguery and
blackmail tactics, forcing their
will without bothering to vote. The
republican party should go the way
of the British House of Lords and
simply be dissolved as one of the
most corrupt parties that every
existed in American politics. It
really is just a tool of American
corporate interests . In any case we
went into the park during this time
and it was not a good place to be in
many ways. The loss of any
overarching authority in the parks
made them somewhat lawless. Our
national parks do not belong to
congress, but to us, and congress is
merely our nominative
representatives. but they are so for
bought off by corporate lobbies that
one would never know they work for
us. various people made same great
signs to protest the closure of our
The anti-federal land and national park tendency of the republican party bore some nasty fruit in late 20015, when the Bundy bothers are their associates took over Malheur Wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon. It later came out that ALEC and the Koch Brothers, two very corrupt oil billionaires, who hate anything not privatized for corporate profits, had some influence on this as they too wish to undermine the national park and wildlife system that does so much good. Malheur and Tule Lake, among other places, are very important migration areas for millions of birds who migrate down the Pacific Flyway. The Koch Brothers are worth nearly 50 billion dollars a piece and in my view they should be taxed at least 90% of their income. Any rich people that advocate destroy protected bird migration areas and seizing protected land for cattle is immoral and criminal.
Milkweed Beetles on Milkweed in a Wild Field
This started out as a goldenrod painting, but then I saw the Milkweed beetles so it became about that too. I have admired them for years and they don’t seem to affect the milkweed population much, though I read they do make some seeds infertile. More than once I had to herd them around the milkweed pods with a paint brush to get them on my side of the plant. I don’t think I have every herded bugs before . They seemed to be drinking white ooze that comes from the pods which are poisonous, so I imagine like the monarch butterfly they have somehow adapted to not be affected by the plants toxic liquids. Maybe that is why they have such strong designs too, telling birds that they are poisonous.
Notice I put a Monarch butterfly in the field. This is because wherever milkweed is Monarchs are often nearby or on the plants. The new National Geographic magazine (Aug, 2015) has an article that states that there were one billion Monarch Butterfly a decade ago and now they think there are only 50 million. This is very alarming. They try to blame this on killing off milkweed, which is the host plant for this butterfly. but there is much much more to it, as genetically engineered crops and herbicides are the main culprit and this boils down to Monsanto corporation and their glyphosate, which has the brand name of Round Up. It is evil stuff. We went to Oberlin College recently to see a few plays and driving back I studied some of the fields closely. I was wanting to see evidence of the use of glyphosate, the Monsanto chemical that is killing off all the monarchs. All the fields I saw have a brown ring of dead grass at the edge of the crop which indicates use of an herbicide. This is so in the corn and soybeans. The other thing is that there was not one stray plant, weed, blade of grass in the crop itself, which suggests they are using the technique of using herbicide resistant Monsanto seeds. Chillingly, I realized that nearly every farm is using this dangerous and destructive method and that the whole continent is getting doused in an ocean of toxic chemicals every year. I did not realize the extent of this till recently. Tis is an atrocity of huge proportions and one that should lead to shutting down or withdrawing the charter of Monsanto corporation and anyone else that is killing milkweed and Monarchs.
fascinating, and the more I learn of
them they more they are interesting.
When I was younger I was quite
interested in them and even brought
home a Black Widow Spider in a jar
for my mother to see when I was in
3rd grade. She was frightened by it
and drowned in in formaldehyde. It
turned pink. That was sad.
When I was young too, I was looking for snake with my brother and thought I saw a snake in a gopher hole and put my hand in and pulled out a Jerusalem Cricket. I was sure it was a Tarantula and started running around in circles in hysteria. My brother slapped me and I woke out of my delirium and crying. For some years I think my mothers horror of bugs got me too. I struggled against it and slowly have come to admire them. Being able to study insects in drawers at the local natural history museum has helped allot. Talking with entymologists has too. I recall infestations of cattle flies form Chicago meat yards in the Northern Peninsula of Michigan and infestations of Stink bugs on the gourds we grew in our garden one year. Life is amazingly fecund sometimes and one has to learn to develop a certain strong stomach to see these things without prejudice. I love the sound of Cicada's in later summer and ants are amazing. Leaf Cutter ants actually farm fungus, which they culture on the masticated leaf bits they gather from trees. One should strife to see all life as valuable and each species as having the right, and try not to see even the most repulsive species as repulsive. There are a few things that one kills because one must, such as mosquitoes or germs that might cause disease, hence the use of necessary vaccines. But it best not to kill any animal or insect if one can help it.
Wingstem, Deer and Barns Reverting to Nature, Deer and Barns Reverting to Nature
My original motive for this was to paint the leaning old barn reverting to nature. It is near where I painted Shirley's Horses early in winter of this year (2013). I love this reversion to nature that building go through. Nature reasserts its primacy in the end, even if, as here, there once was a series of families that lived here and prospered on this fine piece of land, now part of the National Park. I have been seeing it for some years and have admired it, abandoned in an old field not far from where I live. One purpose of this painting was originally to paint the Wingstem, whose flowers die off in mid September. I worked on this one for or five days, a few hours each day. The Wingstem was out still, when I started, but had gone to seed by the time I was done, the petals all fallen.. The rusty old water container raised up on a pedestal is typical in old barns. This one has rusted right through and is leaning rather precariously. The history of Barns is a worthy subject and it would be interesting to identify different sorts of styles and structures built i the last few hundred years. I am guessing this bar is at least 100 years old perhaps more.
I was out painting an old barn that is down the street from our house, it is slowly falling down and a real pleasure to watch nature take it over again,--- so I was peacefully working and towards twilight a whole group of at least twenty Night Hawks (ChordeilesChordeiles minor, Caprimulgiformess) showed up and started darting all around me, up to within a few feet of my head, and they were doing this along with many chimney swifts and dragonflies. Quite amazing. I found out later that they are now thought to be related to the Swifts, which is interesting. I tried to photograph and video this but my little camera could not handle the light well. I have only seen nighthawks in mass like this once before. Usually they are fleeting glimpses later at night. I could not see what they were all eating, but it must have been very small midges or gnats as they were invisible to me. I wish I had a better camera as it was really amazing to see these birds so close, I could even glimpse their mouths open sometimes.
Crows Talking Near Rusting Boxcars
This painting like the one above,
also began partly as a study of
Wingstem. I am not a botanist but I
love painting plants, and mean this
series partly as a portrait of some
of the plant species in our Valley.
These trains are abandoned inside
the national park. They call forth
the days of the Hoboes for me, a
time I admire, when the reign of big
business came into question in
America, perhaps more than any
other. Of course, these are
rusting boxcars and trains are not
used as much as trucks now, which
waste huge amounts of gasoline.
They are not a cliché to me, though
many see them as such, as they see
anything to do with the past as
cliché. But painting of the
kind I do is about looking hard at
something for days or weeks, and the
more real it is the better. The wear
of reality interests me, my own
ageing skin, my mothers dying face,
the look of old flowers and the way
time changes wood or fabrics, or my
children's faces. The world of
advertising is the world of people
who do not want to admit anything
gets sick or dies and there is no
sad passage of time. No one knows
why time keeps passing. Those
who live enclosed in cities or in
their cell phone world of cyberspace
are often divorced from the actual
and daily suffering of ordinary
people. An old box car holds the
dreams of an American that now fades
and fails into the future, done in
by CEO's and corporations who put
themselves before workers. The crows
sound the call of the renewal of
nature, coming back to bring life
again, as a new generation seeks to
make the world better than mine has
As with the neglected trains and ordinary species like crows, I too feel out of the mainstream and live a life closer to nature and gladly farther from the self-regarding crowds of New York City. The talk of crows is part of the language that few understand and few listen to. Over many years I have often watched crows talking and they are amazing communicators, smart birds and much hated for it. No one knows exactly what they are saying but the more you listen the more you begin to see that their abilities are quite advanced. Chomsky would deny that such language skill as crows have means very much, but I know he is wrong about this and many other things. It started as a portrait of the Wingstem next to the trains, but then become something else. The crows kept me company.
the Blacksmith at Hale Farm"12x16"
This was done over a month or so, with a few visits to the barn Where Marty works at Hale Farm. The figure I could not do from life but a lot of the rest of it was done form life. Hale Farm is a sort of living museum run by the Western Reserve Historical Society. I had to stand in the in the door of a barn where Marty has his shop, and it was a narrow space and lots of visitors coming and going asking Marty questions. It is too crowded to be a good place to paint. I don't like to paint around people that mush, though I do it pretty often, but this was particularly hard to do. Also, I had to stop for a few weeks awhile because they did a civil war re-enactment there which we took the kids too and that was great. There was a reenactment of the first day of Gettysburg, when the South was winning and they drove back the union into the town
I could not resist painting this. I was often bringing my kids to educational class and experiences at Hale Farm. It is a good place to teach them history and expose them to various occupations common over a hundred years ago. I was attracted by the skill of Marty's artistry. He has been in this shop for 34 years and is a real craftsman. I love this sort of knowledge and expertise. Indeed, I think of it as applied science, which it is, of course. He knows a lot about metal and how it magnetizes and un-magnetizes and its structure and weaknesses. Indeed, according to Clifford Conner, in his Peoples History of Science, he says pottery probably helped create metallurgy, and first that meant making bronze and copper, but later Iron was forged and blacksmiths began their experiments. So blacksmithing is probably part of the the origin of chemistry and thus is important in the history of science.
It was fun to spend a few weeks trying to paint him from life. I learned a lot form him about his trade. I had to take photos for the actual pose as he moves too much. But you you can see how amazing his shop is. I painted as much of it as I could, but you can see how intricate and involved his space is. The detail in his shop is infinite, and I left a lot out. It was fun to spend a few weeks trying to paint him from life. I learned a lot form him about his trade.I had to take photos for the actual pose as he moves too much. But you you can see how amazing his shop is. I painted as much of it as I could, but you can see how intricate and involved his space is. The detail in his shop is infinite, and I left a lot out.
The anvil, grinding wheel, bellows, table, water barrel and vice and many of the implements were done from life. I had to use photos for other parts, like the drill press, calipers and the pliers. these tools are all part of a long tradition of inquiry and science that went into this craft, a rare craft nowadays, but historically one that was very important.
I spent more time of this painting than on some of the others, but I did enough from life that it is not a studio work. This is part of the series on the National Park, and it is an anomaly already in that collection, so I wish to retain some measure of plein air savoir faire, as it were. But as I did work part of the painting form photos I learned a good deal about the limitations of working form photos. I went back several times after working form photos and could see how limited and blind to certain things the photos were. A certain feeling or texture, a given lighting condition and even the special appearance of skin or a hand can be beyond the camera. Cameras only take the general idea of the form, and they are very good at that, but miss a lot of what the studious eye can see.
I mentioned to a friend that I was working on a blacksmith painting and she suggested I look at Joseph Wright of Derby. Though my aims are very different than his I admired his lovely modeling of form. Derby’s “Experiment on a Bird” is dramatic and rather disturbing, (below) but beautifully staged and painted. It suggests a rather anti-science interpretation, unlike some of his other works which seem to be about science. The man is torturing a bird, depriving it of air. His painting “A Philosopher giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun” is definitely positive about teaching children science, on the other hand.
Joseph Wright 'of Derby', 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump'
Derby’s made some interesting light studies and recalls Caravaggio in some ways. His Blacksmith paintings is more dramatic and romantic than my blacksmith, and he seemed to want to evoke something like his Vesuvius erupting works. He wants to picture intensity and fear, awe and human power.
Mine is done mostly plein air and is about the actual doing of blacksmithing, the science and skill of it, which I admire. Mine is calm, with none of the intensity that seemed to interest Derby . .
Derby seems to have admired it too, but there is an atmosphere of almost Frankensteinian tension is his paintings ofDerby seems to have admired it too, but there is an atmosphere of almost Frankensteinian tension is his paintings of
forging and Blacksmithing. I am not sure why, or what he intended, and it would be interesting to do more research on him. His blacksmith seems almost an alchemical industrialist or magician sort of figure. He likes to huddle the women and children the corner, crowding them into anxious admiration for the men.forging and Blacksmithing. I am not sure why, or what he intended, and it would be interesting to do more research on him. His blacksmith seems almost an alchemical industrialist or magician sort of figure. He likes to huddle the women and children the corner, crowding them into anxious admiration for the men.
He seems to have been divided in his attitudes toward science, whereas I am not. Science and inquiry are the only way to go. Religion has utterly failed us.
In any case, the best painting I came across on Blacksmithing was not Derby or Velasquez, as worthy as their works are. This one maybe better, actually. I prefer this painting called Blacksmith, by Jefferson David Chalfant, 1907. It is a good deal larger than mine and so has more detail. I did not use this painting as a reference at all, but like mine it shows the common elements one sees is such a shop. The windows on the barn are great and the flakes of burned off metal on the floor are very accurate. The chimney , barrel and the handles of the hammers are also finely done. there are a few of Smithy's and forges by Stanhope Forbes too, that are quite good.
Blacksmith, by Jefferson David Chalfant, 1907Blacksmith, by Jefferson David Chalfant, 1907
"Violin Class", April 2013
My painting of a blacksmith is not entirely an anomaly in my recent work however. I recently did another recent painting that is a picture of an occupation done in admiration of work and artistry. I did my daughter and her violin teacher.This painting does not belong in the National Park series, but it is a picture that grew out of some of its concerns. This is a very small painting, only about 7x10 inches.
Also when I did the picture of the train station in winter with the bridge last January, I was mentioned my interest in Ernst Meissonnier and Jan Van Eyck, and their amazing ability to draw and paint in a very small or miniature manner. Van Eyck could paint tiny figures with the utmost care and precision, as for instance the figure on the bridge or the town in his Madonna of Chancellor Rolin. You can see part of the town below. Look at the people walking up the steps between the churches. There is amazing detail i all of Van Eyck paintings. I admire this skill just as I admire the work that Marty does.
This picture above like the one above it, is the only picture I can think of that appears to be a realistic, even a plein air picture of what it actually looked liked during the 1400's. You can see horses on the bridge and people on foot. The boats lined up against the paved riverbank, This is an amazing piece of work, both as a historical document and a feat of painting. one of the first images I saw that was a tour de force of miniature painting was the Van Eyck in the MET in NYC. The subject does not interest me but the technical brilliance still astonishes even after 550 years since he did it. You can zoom in on the image here:
July, 2013 .
I really do not see that much difference between all the species and humans. Our interdependence with all living things becomes more and more obvious as one gets older and really looks at things. I still think I am a student, though I am in my fifth decade now. I had kids because of birds, as I have said. The two years I spent at Heroes Wetland really made me aware of birds and their babies. The wonderful study I did of Canada Geese and orioles in the wild between 1999 and 2001 or 2002 taught me so much about being a good father. It is literally true that birds and animals taught me to love parenting. So in a way when I paint my kids in nature I am doing birds and animals. Indeed, the more I have studied evolution the more I see that we have all grown up on the earth together, and though here are great difference there is great unity too. This is the main point of thee Origin of the Speciess. Dinosaurs became birds, microraptor became a blue jay. Speciesism, the idea that one species is superior to all the others is a juvenile anti-Darwinian attitude. Humans do not "possess" nature as Noam Chomsky claims in a recent essay. That is an immature and patriarchal attitude to nature that has to do with conquest and machismo, the illegitimate and unjust powers of the world. Even the rocks and trees in my back yard are not mine. I am merely a caretaker. I try to disturb as little as possible, to nurture when I can, and only remove things like poison ivy that might harm my kids..
So I really do not see that much difference between all species and humans..So I really do not see that much difference between all species and humans..
teaches one the value of nature.
Young deer or chimps playing are
not that different than young humans
playing. I have watched Canada Geese
parents watch their kids and it is
not all that different than me
watching my kids. One problem
with those who study human or animal
behavior is they don't watch wild or
ordinary populations enough.
People like to parse their
differences from animals to make
themselves feel superior, but
actually, a fox mother is no less
admirable that a human mother. She
will risk her life for her kits if
she has to.
My kids are allot like little deer, chimps or foxes. The love to play. Over the week or two I did this painting we went to the creek maybe four times and another time by myself. No one was there but us, and occasionally a train went by over the trestle bridge. I had to stand it the stream to do it as my kids played. The kids were building a sort of dam so I called i the painting "Dam Building". My son is only four so he would not pose for very long of course, but my daughter was very helpful. I had to do most of him from a photo, but managed to block her in from life. I find myself experiencing more and more pleasure in the act of drawing or painting.My kids are allot like little deer, chimps or foxes. The love to play. Over the week or two I did this painting we went to the creek maybe four times and another time by myself. No one was there but us, and occasionally a train went by over the trestle bridge. I had to stand it the stream to do it as my kids played. The kids were building a sort of dam so I called i the painting "Dam Building". My son is only four so he would not pose for very long of course, but my daughter was very helpful. I had to do most of him from a photo, but managed to block her in from life. I find myself experiencing more and more pleasure in the act of drawing or painting.
Various painters have done people in water, Sorolla, Eakins, Bellows, Rembrandt, and these are all fine works. But actually I did not think of these works till after I did the painting. I love to review the history of art and think about it. But in this work I wasn't really influenced by anyone. My kids are not always joyful by any means. But in this work, I was trying to picture the joy I have in my children and the joy they have in their own lives. This is a picture of ordinary kids playing in a healthy creek on a lovely day in summer. The painting it resembles the most is the Scarlet Tanager bathing, below. The birds was bathing on a spot not more that 300 feet down the creek from where my kids are shown playing. Various painters have done people in water, Sorolla, Eakins, Bellows, Rembrandt, and these are all fine works. But actually I did not think of these works till after I did the painting. I love to review the history of art and think about it. But in this work I wasn't really influenced by anyone. My kids are not always joyful by any means. But in this work, I was trying to picture the joy I have in my children and the joy they have in their own lives. This is a picture of ordinary kids playing in a healthy creek on a lovely day in summer. The painting it resembles the most is the Scarlet Tanager bathing, below. The birds was bathing on a spot not more that 300 feet down the creek from where my kids are shown playing.
When I showed this to the former owner of this house, a woman who used this outhouse for fifty years, she looked very wistful and thanked me for seeing the beauty in it. The park ripped out the barn that used to be on this property and moved the outhouse form where it used to be. So it hovers on the edge of a little ravine, and there is a low hill opposite. One of the boards was broken off the nicely made door. The hinges are getting rusted and a vine creeps up the side and poison ivy and other plants grow beneath it. Light danced on the front of it as I worked. It took me quite a few visits to finish this. It was harder to do that it looks.
When I showed this to the former owner of this house, a woman who used this outhouse for fifty years, she looked very wistful and thanked me for seeing the beauty in it. The park ripped out the barn that used to be on this property and moved the outhouse form where it used to be. So it hovers on the edge of a little ravine, and there is a low hill opposite. One of the boards was broken off the nicely made door. The hinges are getting rusted and a vine creeps up the side and poison ivy and other plants grow beneath it. Light danced on the front of it as I worked. It took me quite a few visits to finish this. It was harder to do that it looks.
I had been passing
this house in the National Park for
a long time and was always struck by
its age and loneliness and wondered
why it just sat there, abandoned. It
is so strange when a home looks
homeless. I've thought a lot
about the housing market these last
years with so many people being
thrown out of their houses,
foreclosed on by corrupt banks. In
fact, the banks are responsible for
the housing speculations that lead
to the ‘crash’ of 2007. Congress
under the Republicans deregulated
the markets. They helped engineer
overcharging and specious house
loans, defrauding billions from
house buyers. The government is
partly guilty in this flim-flam,
allowing the banks to speculate in
this way, hurting many Americans in
the process. Then the government
allowed the banks for
foreclose on people who had been
charged outrageous and inflated
prices for houses. Some had been
sold bogus and inflated “subprime
loans”, which should never have been
allowed. Banks created 'derivatives'
and other bogus ways to 'leverage'
money into fictional wealth.
So the government hurt millions of ordinary people on both sides of a scam that that sent house price climbing and then plummeting, with banks and realtors skimming off huge profits and victimizing millions. Some of the investment banks, like Bear Sterns, went bankrupt, due to their own greed and corruption. More of the backs should have died. But the government bailed many others out, proving yet again that the government helps the abusive rich and neglects and abandons the victimized middle class and the poor. The banks should never have been bailed out. People who were foreclosed on should have been helped and they weren’t. “Too Big to Fail” was a lie. It was ordinary people the government should have helped and who should have been bailed out..
So I started looking at this abandoned house and its graceful columns and beautiful old Victorian tracery, as a lost house, and a dream deferred. I could see the beauty and love in the construction. I painted it to celebrate a time when it was not so hard to get a house and one could take great pride in it. I finished this painting wit foreclosure and lost homes in mind. I admired the sadness of the broken porch, sagging on the left some, and the winter storm window fell down and off the porch. After I was done with the painting and had started the outhouse on the same land, I met the sweet old woman that lives near the house and learned her story. Let's call her Joe, short for Josefina. Turns out the house had been bought by force of eminent domain by the government in the 1980's and they had promised to fix it up and make it part of the park as a place where a family could live. They have a program where families live in park houses and resell farm produce to locals. But the parks had been neglected and stinted on by Congress, since the Republicans wish only to feed our money to the rich and starve the National Parks and education and all things that really matter. and so this house fell into neglect and was vandalized. The old woman who used to live there was angry at how the government treated the house she grew up in, rightfully so. She is a wonderful old lady and reads books and studies history. Her favorite politician was Eleanor Roosevelt, who cared so much for ordinary Americans. That was my mom's favorite too . Indeed, there are few politician who actually "represent the people" most of them represent corporations, who are neither people nor worthy of representation.………
Barn in Spring and My Kids
I love spring trees, there so much
life in them, and fragrance. The
birds and bees love them too. This
crab apple was full of bees and
flies of many kinds.
I had wanted to paint
this barn for some time too and had
done two other paintings in this
area, one of the woods in November
looking across the Valley and one of
a pine tree in snow. In the one in
the woods looking across the valley
I stood to the left of this painting
down the hill a bit, and in the snow
paint of the pine I stood to the
left of the barn maybe twenty feet.
Deer come and go in this field a lot
and that explains why there were so
many ticks. I got one and my son got
two, but we got them off us before
they did any real damage. The one he
got in his ear was particularly
objectionable. he felt it
there and took it out himself. They
are not insects but rather are in
the arachnid family. I took to
wearing high boots, and we made the
kids wear them too, which is why you
see my daughter’s boots on the
platform up to the barn where she
sits in her socks..
The sun on the opposite side of the Cuyahoga Valley shines on the spring trees over there, the new leaves looking yellow in the bright light. The sky is grey but no rain threatening over head. I had been sick for a month or so and was now feeling much better. I was glad to be out painting the spring light again. Life is short and celebrating beauty in life is very much a part of this series. I loved painting all the grasses in this field, the light on the old barn and the glow of the sinking sun on the far hills. It is hard to explain to my kids that the light on the leaves in the center of the paintings is what their father thinks life is all about. Something of the great value of life is in that light, in the color of it, in the leaves themselves, in the fact of existing. Henry Thoreau called it the "light on a bank side in autumn", and I know what he meant. It is nothing mystical or religious, it is rather the special quality of being on our earth, which the early or late sun suggests at dawn or twilight. It is such a rich and varied world and we are part of it and this is a tremendous thing. Life on earth is all we have and so light on leaves, light on water, and and life itself are precious, even if often difficult and sometimes full of problems. It is true that life, like light, is not a measurable quantify. Matter has mass and occupies space and has weight. Energy or light does not seem to occupy space, nor to have weight, though it appears to be affected by gravity. But it is our world it illuminates, the world where science seeks to understand who, where and and what we. The amazement of life is that it exists at all and since it does, it is up to us to inquire and appreciate it, or not. The sun on the opposite side of the Cuyahoga Valley shines on the spring trees over there, the new leaves looking yellow in the bright light. The sky is grey but no rain threatening over head. I had been sick for a month or so and was now feeling much better. I was glad to be out painting the spring light again. Life is short and celebrating beauty in life is very much a part of this series. I loved painting all the grasses in this field, the light on the old barn and the glow of the sinking sun on the far hills. It is hard to explain to my kids that the light on the leaves in the center of the paintings is what their father thinks life is all about. Something of the great value of life is in that light, in the color of it, in the leaves themselves, in the fact of existing. Henry Thoreau called it the "light on a bank side in autumn", and I know what he meant. It is nothing mystical or religious, it is rather the special quality of being on our earth, which the early or late sun suggests at dawn or twilight. It is such a rich and varied world and we are part of it and this is a tremendous thing. Life on earth is all we have and so light on leaves, light on water, and and life itself are precious, even if often difficult and sometimes full of problems. It is true that life, like light, is not a measurable quantify. Matter has mass and occupies space and has weight. Energy or light does not seem to occupy space, nor to have weight, though it appears to be affected by gravity. But it is our world it illuminates, the world where science seeks to understand who, where and what we and others are. The amazement of life is that it exists at all and since it does, it is up to us to inquire and appreciate it, or not.
Trillium in spring. Near Furnace Run creek. It is a lovely plant. When it is not predated too much it can grow into marvelous stands of hundreds of flowers. But a stand of hundreds of them is rare. I have only seen that a few times in my life. Deer consider it a delicacy. Though there may be other reasons it is rarer than it used to be. I have seen deer eat it. But there are places where it continues to grow despite the deer. It would be interesting to study this further. Furnace Run Creek which has plenty of deer, is also one of he cleanest of our creeks. The CRCPO says that
Furnace Run is one of healthiest, intact streams that flow into the Cuyahoga River. Previous work in Furnace Run (1991-1996) indicated that this watershed is in full attainment of biological and water quality standards- which means Furnace Run is meeting Ohio EPA standards. Some sites within Furnace Run exceeded Ohio EPA standards and were noted as “Exceptional Warm Water Habitat (EWH)”. http://cuyahogariverrap.org/ABOUTCRCPO.htmlFurnace Run is one of healthiest, intact streams that flow into the Cuyahoga River. Previous work in Furnace Run (1991-1996) indicated that this watershed is in full attainment of biological and water quality standards- which means Furnace Run is meeting Ohio EPA standards. Some sites within Furnace Run exceeded Ohio EPA standards and were noted as “Exceptional Warm Water Habitat (EWH)”. http://cuyahogariverrap.org/ABOUTCRCPO.html
This may be one reason why wildflowers do so well there, the water is largely free of pollutants. It would be good to see a serious study done of Furnace Run and why species around it seem to do better than other creeks in our area. I also did the Virginia Bluebell painting there, in spring 2012, below.
This is April. I had been quite sick and was in the hospital a few times. It got me thinking about dying again, and how much I love my kids. I want to stay alive for them. I had been thinking of painting this graveyard in previous springs because of this marvelous Cherry tree, so much like the one that was at my mother's house, which I loved. But this one is of the graveyard down the street from us. It is very old, with graves back to 1800. I love these old stones, weather by time and rain, snow and sun. The Forsythia grows on the edge of the woods. Maybe because I was sick recently I have a certain affection for graveyards and seeing the kids with such happiness there was marvelous, as I was again saved from death and so very glad to be with my kids,---- I hope for many years yet. We had a few picnics in the graveyard and when the kids had gone the black cat—oddly named Plato--- from the veterinarian next door came and curled up at my feet. Nice to paint with a cat purring curled at your feet. It has been a beautiful spring. I love the spring trees, so much life in them, and fragrance. The birds and bees love them. It is a picture with contradictions in it, certainly, but this is reality and not fiction. Beauty in the midst of so much death and childhood heedless and exuberant, playing while their old man paints, chasing each other around the cherry tree.
The graveyard is not
far from our house. We have
brought the kids there several times
and they are hardly strangers there.
We have taught them to love
graveyards and not fear them. We go
see my mother’s grave once a year at
least, and have a picnic on her
grave and reminisce about her life.
They are allowed to run and play as
they wish. So to them graveyards are
a place of life and not of doleful
death. While I was painting here we
had a picnic too. They played hide
and seek with my wife and it was a
finny and light time. While I
painted this one the kindly black
cat from next door, the opposite of
Edgar Allen Poe’s malicious feline,
came and curled around my legs as I
painted for a few minutes. After
expressing affection for me and my
company, he settled down and slept
leaning against my feet for the rest
of my session. I saw him other days
too as this painting took at least 5
visits. The gorgeous yellow
Forsythia was in bloom and the
Cheery tree, which was the main
object of my painterly attention..
This graveyard has graves in it that go back to 1830, which is not old by Massachusetts standards, which go back to 1620 and are positively young by English standards, which has graves that go back to Roman times or before---- but here in Ohio that is very old indeed. One of the stones is actually a man who fought in the revolutionary war in the 1770’s and died in 1830. I love the character it he old stones and left some of the newer ones out of the painting, just so I cold paint more of the old ones. The stone takes on a life of its own, made by what nature has done to it over the century or two. The white marble one was leaning a bit and stained by who knows what lichens or weathers. Some hands holding flowers and ones that were sandstone had obliterated names worn down worn by wind and rainn
Maybe because I was in hospital recently I have a certain affection for graveyards, Hard to explain this and seeing the kids with such happiness there was marvelous, as I was again saved from death and so very glad to be with my kids,---- I hope for life for many years yet.Maybe because I was in hospital recently I have a certain affection for graveyards, Hard to explain this and seeing the kids with such happiness there was marvelous, as I was again saved from death and so very glad to be with my kids,---- I hope for life for many years yet.
This one was hard to do. It was a half
mile into the woods, which was not bad,
but it is a really wild rookery and very
new. Hardly anyone has seen it, and I
was up on the steep hill, almost a
cliff, over looking the Cuyahoga River,
---a very beautiful dramatic place for
Northern Ohio. But the question was how
to get the trees to appear high enough
without making a very tall painting. I
wanted the March and April ground and
all those leaves and trunks to be in it
too, so the viewer could see how much
in the forest this really us. The small
Beech tree keeps its dead leaves all
winter here. I have always wanted to
paint one. There are a lot of mosses at
this spot and that explains the green on
the ground, ---with all the gnarly
leaves and soil hit by the late sun
coming down behind me where I had my
back to the drop off, which must be
150-200 feet or more down to the river.
Most of the birds were painted form life, which is not easy to do. For instance, the bird flying into land on the nest in the upper right sky was done over several days and I had to wait to see many birds assume just that position to try to paint it. It would have been easier to work from photos but I wanted to do it as much as I could from life. The challenge of painting birds form life is so rare. Some of the smaller. more distant birds were done from photos but as much as I could the majority of them are done from life. The trees in the foreground are oaks, and there was a dead old sycamore, I think. Anyway, I have never done anything quite like it. It is perhaps a little crude, but it had to be really. I could not go any bigger in size, it is about 10 X 17 ". It was a good adventure and one that had me in the thick of the birds lives for many weeks. A rookery is such ordered chaos and the birds croak and groan like I imagine terradactyls sounding.
Shirley's Two Horses
This is really part of my second year. It shows of Shirley's horses. She is a neighbor of ours. They are older horses, one of them is 29. I have admired them for some years and wanted to do a painting of them and the Barns and stalls they live in. We are still next tot he national park here. It was cold some of the days I worked on this and the horses rarely cooperated with the pose I had in mind. But I did the best I could form life.
It was certainly a good year, I don't know if it could have been much better actually. There were some hardships in our personal lives, deaths of a dear animal and an old friend of mine died, Lynn Szalay, and other losses, which I have not mentioned. I myself got sick and was hospitalized, but we weathered them as best we could. We were brought much comfort and enjoyment by nature in this this marvelous and under-appreciated Park. To be near this Park is why we moved here and it has paid us back many fold. I have deliberately lived near public lands most of my life. It is hard to imagine life without nature. Nature largely still free in our park systems. Everywhere else nature is under threat by the arbitrary dictatorship of private owners. Life is decreasing and human over population is the norm. But in the National Parks there is an effort to restore ecology and balance. That means life in more abundance for all the species that live there. Outside the parks capitalism rules with its oil spills and foreclosed houses, its wars and rich people who steal from the poor to feed themselves more than they can eat. There is grim reality in the parks too. But at least life is given more of a fair chance. It is that 'fair chance' I wanted to show in these paintings, the wondrous variety and diversity of nature left alone to flourish. That flourishing is the natural state of evolution, and that could be our lives too, if we learned to care for our world better than we do. Human rights will come if we learn to treat nature with the same rights. Watching my own children playing in the natural world, there is no deeper happiness.....
This last one was done during the tropical storm Sandy, which came to Ohio from the east coast in early November. There was a stormy sky and the air currents were weird, with the normally west to east wind reversed and went from east to west instead. The is the view of the Beaver pond which I also painted in the Green Heron painting, above. As I have said throughout this essay, it was a year of weird and usual weather. The fact that corporate greed has begun to even harm the temperature balance of our planet is proof enough that corporations are false and destructive artifacts of the old toxic monarchies. Like the monarchies, corporate culture must be ended. It is not sustainable any more than aristocratic culture was sustainable. The vacuous devotion to meaningless and formal corporate art should stop, as it suggests a kind of complicity. It probably won't, just as corporations will continue to wield their unjust powers, but we have a responsibility to object and spread the word about them. Eventually the corporation will go the way of slavery and the refusal to let African Americans and women vote. CEO's will go the way of Kings and will cease to rule our world unjustly. That is when global arming and the abuse of nature will end.
The train here is number 800. A man who
works in the maintenance yard told me it
is their best engine. Trains save allot
of energy. They use a tiny fraction f
the energy spent on cars and trucks. I
loved trains when I was a kid. We rode
on one in the Second Grade, and sang
"I've been working on the Railroad" and
rode behind a big engine up the San
Joaquin Valley and back. Painting this
train next to this lovely wetland
reminded me of that. I also noticed that
when the train went by none of the birds
or animals I the pond seemed disturbed
by it. It really takes up less space
than cars and highways and does not
pollute the atmosphere and cause global
warming to anything like the destructive
effects of cars. The car and oil
industry and congress got rid of many of
the trains and street cars we used to
have. They should be brought back..
The original reason for doing this
painting was to try to capture the far
Valley ridge and how it turns this
lovely copper/brown/orange color early
in November. It is the Oak trees that
stay this color, when the leaves of the
Sycamores, Willows and Maples are all
down. So what you see here are trunks of
Willows and Sycamores low down near the
river and shorn of leaves and Oaks
higher on the hillside still in
brown/orange leaf. I also wanted to
paint this pond with the sky in it, and
the ducks swimming across it as they
are. But then I realized I wanted to
train in it too..
Once I decided that I was thrown back to lots of memories from childhood about train sets I had and played with. My brother and I even had my Dad's train set at one point form the 1930's and we played with that. My brother and I actually jumped a moving train once, like a couple of Hoboes, and did not ride very far, but it gave us an idea of how dangerous and thrilling that was. But the most vivid memory was a tiny train set I had, the only one that was really mine and my friend down the street had one of these too and we set up our sets together one day in his house. We got our son a little wooden train set recently and he has been playing with it all the time. I am not sure what the fascination with trains is, but it goes beyond cars and diggers..
Lastly, I think what this painting was about finally was space,---- the space of the rather wild skies we were having that week. The space of those huge trees next tot he railroad tracts that tower over the trains. The space of the pond. It is actually a fairly small painting, but it has a great deal of space in it. Where they is space there is life, and life is what I tried to show in all these works, real life.
Sad to say, we are coming to the end of our first year now. In October I walked down the railroad tracks a ways and set up next to the Cuyahoga River again, fascinated by how the light of late afternoon played in the water and through the trees. There was was snag in the middle of the river of the sort Mark Twain talks about in his books about the Mississippi. I think the Yellow tree, on the right, was an old fruit free of some kind. Its yellow leaves slowly died and dropped as I was working, but again I kept my first impressions intact. I was standing in between the railroad tracks and the river, so that was a little uncomfortable when the train came by as it rumbled and creaked so loud. But the engineer always waved real nice and he we got used to seeing one another about 6 O'clock or so..
The sun was on my left and came pretty far over the trees to hit the opposite bank. The closer bank had streaks of light on it that come through the trees and illuminated a section of the 'beach', as it were. That is one of my favorite parts of the painting actually, ---where that streak of light passes up over some plants and into thee rufousscolored or orange Japanese Knotweed. This is an invasive plant in this area too, which crowds out native pants like thee Phragmitess, but it is beautiful in the fall..
I like the left bank where you can see the strata left by generations of rocks or soils worn away by erosion and the river. The river really winds around many double-backs and heads out into a wonderfully wide area of willows and cottonwoods created over eons. If you blur your eyes and look at this painting from a few feet away you can see the hints of a far distant hillside at the end of where the river disappears. The far hillside is actually the other side of the Cuyahoga Valley..
The main subject in this painting is light on the river or the lessening of it on the trees. The the middle distance on the left bank is a tall Sycamore. Other trees are probably Cottonwoods, Aspens or Oaks..
The beaver swam by me everyday about the same time, headed to a bank lodge perhaps, which I was unable to see. She would swim down to the lower left of the painting and disappear into that area and not come out. the first time I saw her I thought maybe he swam down the river underwater. But that would not happen twice, probably, so I was pretty sure she went into a lodge of some kind.
Sunlight on Sunflower LeavesSunlight on Sunflower Leaves
There are great paintings of sunflowers byy Vincent Van Goghhandd Georgia O'Keefee. But it is an irresistible subject. I grew these in my garden from seeds and they got to be about 9 to 12 feet tall. This is really more about the leaves than the flowers. What was most of interest to me was the light on the leaves and the way light passed through them. On the front leaf there is sunlight both passing through and sunlight on the surface of the leaf, reflecting off the leaf. This is the situation that Da Vinci says is too confusing to paint, but it was not confusing on such a large leaf,--- it was very interesting and I like the result. It gives a feeling of verisimilitude. I can feel the weight flower head and how it pulls on the strength of the of the stalk..
The stalk seems quite resilient, and able to withstand the stress of the constantly bowed and heavy head of the flower. The leaves were starting to die by early September and so I put yellow brown areas where cell death was occurring on the edges of a few of the leaves. Each leaf was a totally different presentation of light/dark, tone, color, form, and perspective..
I was especially intrigued by the space relationships. I liked the way the upper ten leaves revolved around the stem in a sort of spiral of fan like shapes, each leaf gathering as much light as possible without crowding the light of the other leaves too much. The sun seemed to be evenly distributed among all the leaves. All these variables made the work a challenge to finish and I think I worked on it 6 or 7 times instead of my usual 4 or 5..
There is a feeling of atmosphere around the plant too. I like this feeling of green and full growth of a North American plant, strong and hardy, growing strenuously into the late afternoon sun. There is a vigor in the plant and a great need to put forth that huge flower. We enjoyed having these this year very much and they fed many goldfinches, who loved the seeds we left for them on the great seed heads. Maybe even a Pine Siskin or two showed up, who we rarely see here..
The woods behind the Sunflower are part of the National Park, though I suppose, strictly speaking, this is not a portrait of the National Park. But it is part of our experience which is so closely bound up with the Park. Maybe in the future, if we can stop the destructive and irresponsible use of lands. Many people like to live in cities, connected to the internet and ceil phones, surrounded by concrete and steel, wires and barrages of advertisements. Unaware of other species besides cockroaches, pigeons, rats, and domestic cats and dogs, they shut out the natural world entirely from their lives. We moved here to be close to the land and love the natural world we live in. It is a source of deep happiness to be close to wild land and nature.
Portrait of the Sun Over Chippewa Creek
I wanted to have the sun and moon in these works. I spend so much time in my life watching them both. I got to see the Sunspots at the Natural History museum recently when their astronomer let the sun come through their 10 inch telescope onto a white board. I did a portrait of the sun a year or two ago and studied it through Nasa;ss Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)).
So for this painting I spent time in August looking for a place where I could do a sun portrait. What I liked about this particular place is how the creek lines up on an east-west axis more or less, so the sun goes down at one end of it and comes up against at the other. Hence the trees are light on one side of the creek and dark on he other side. I liked the symmetry of this as it made the creek itself a sort of solar observatory and reflector. The single tree pointing up to the sun is full of light.So for this painting I spent time in August looking for a place where I could do a sun portrait. What I liked about this particular place is how the creek lines up on an east-west axis more or less, so the sun goes down at one end of it and comes up against at the other. Hence the trees are light on one side of the creek and dark on he other side. I liked the symmetry of this as it made the creek itself a sort of solar observatory and reflector. The single tree pointing up to the sun is full of light.
The kids played around me in the water and out of it, while I was working. These are again tiny portraits of my family from life, except me of course, I had to do myself from a photo. But in this case I was able to actually have my family pose for me for 10 or 15 minutes off and on. My son was in a quiet enough mood to talk with my wife while she held him in her arms. My daughter was making the most lovely of wildflower bouquet's. The figures are less than an inch high so there is not that much detail. Though in this one I was able to suggest the eyes and nose without using a magnifying glass. I suppose as my eyes get worse now that I am in my fifties, proving I still can see the small things is important to me. Young people think their faculties will last forever. But those of us who have lived long enough, know that everything passes away, and even eyesight is mortal and will die one day. I paint these visions against that day and to share my joys and heart aches with other generations, perhaps bringing these days of joy to my children again one day when they are older and have forgotten their childhood and how much we loved them. My daughter likes to tell me that "Daddy I love you more than the universe", before she goes to sleep, I tell her I love her more than the universe too. My son has started saying this too. Maybe what we should say is that I love you as much as the universe, as indeed, it is a wonder-filled place, at least while the children are young. Over the whole face of the earth, childhood is a special time for all species.
Maybe now I can sum up the involvement of my family in these paintings. I always wanted to have children. But back in 1998-2001 I spent over two years going to Heroes Wetlandnearly everyday. The result of this daily contact with the animal world was profound on my wife and I. I watched the males and females of many species have sex, make families and raise their young. I watched Orioles go through their life cycle many times. I saw how thoroughly the female made the nest and how the males fed the babies once they came out of the nest. I saw the babies take their first perilous steps to climb up a tree from the ground. I watched males teach young orioles how to catch bugs. In late summer young birds form into flocks with parents and there is allot of learning and education that goes on. Robins and Grackles could be seen in the woods in such flocks. I watched how female Wood Ducks worry about ducklings, with good reason too. I watched similar activities with Canada geese over many years. I saw a Goose more or less lose her mind when her eggs did not hatch after 35 days of sitting. Indeed, I do not know that I ever had a more profound educational experience than learning from other animals how to be a parent..
I saw concretely that the lives of animals are no less precious to them than our lives are to us. I always wanted to be a parent but seeing animals parent convinced me of the utter joy and goodness of it, as well as he hardship and suffering involved. Life on earth offers no deeper and richer thing than having kids..
I learned both how to love children and how to care for them from watching animals and how they treated their young. But also I learned this from my mother who had Alzheimer's. We cared for my mother for 10 years and she had an advanced dementia for 5 of those years. She lost the ability to speak and eventually walk and even use her eyes. I become her father and her primary caretaker. What I learned from animals helped me enormously in the car of my mother. It is accurate to say that birds, mammals and my mother taught me how to care for children. I am far from a perfect parent, but parenting is not about perfection, it is about teaching children about how to love what is loveable on earth and to deal with reality and how to survive and even prosper in a difficult and sometimes painful world..
My children are old enough that I can bring them into the natural world now and they can begin the life long learning that only nature can give us about how to live on earth. I doubt there is a better education than prolonged study of nature, up close and in the company of those who love nature. This is not to say that one should neglect Algebra or Physics, but that all of knowledge really has its origin in the natural world and our relationship to it. Darwin, Da Vinci, and Dewey understood this. Life is short and we began to share the natural world with our kids as often as we can. My children are old enough that I can bring them into the natural world now and they can begin the life long learning that only nature can give us about how to live on earth. I doubt there is a better education than prolonged study of nature, up close and in the company of those who love nature. This is not to say that one should neglect Algebra or Physics, but that all of knowledge really has its origin in the natural world and our relationship to it. Darwin, Da Vinci, and Dewey understood this. Life is short and we began to share the natural world with our kids as often as we can.
In the hot months of July and August, We sometimes take the kids down to various creeks in our area, which are shallow enough that they can get cool and wet without there being much danger of drowning. Once at such a place, I spied a popular bathing spot among the local birds. Often if one bird likes a given spot for a bath, other birds will imitate. I have even seen Redtail Hawks come to bathe at a spot where Goldfinches were a minute ago. On this day in July it was again Goldfinches that I saw first. Soon there were other birds, some Sparrows and at one point, a Scarlet Tanager. I have wanted to do a picture of birds bathing for years.
Now I must say a few things about Scarlet Tanager's in our area. They are very rare. The first one I saw, many years ago was in North Chagrin Reservation. It was very far away and we could only identify it with binoculars. I later saw one up close in Allegany State Park in New York. They were eating some Honeysuckle berries. Later I saw a 3 or 4 of them, all males, together in early May in France Run. That was the first time I photographed them. This painting is loosely based on a photo I took a few years ago in July 2010.
In his novell The French Lieutenant's WomannJohn Fowles notes about birds as follows: "The appalling ennui of human reality lay cleft to the core; and the heart of all life pulsed there in the wren’s triumphant throat" Fowles sees in humans as in birds have this amazing capacity of life, apparent in their songs, which we all admire. Fowles sees the heart of human and avian reality as about love of life, despite all the boredom and horror that exits in the world. Like these paintings, the songbirds song is the song of life, the song of family and the need of one's own place, one's own locale in the world, a place where children my grow, life prosper and the sun shine equally on everyone.John Fowles notes about birds as follows: "The appalling ennui of human reality lay cleft to the core; and the heart of all life pulsed there in the wren’s triumphant throat" Fowles sees in humans as in birds have this amazing capacity of life, apparent in their songs, which we all admire. Fowles sees the heart of human and avian reality as about love of life, despite all the boredom and horror that exits in the world. Like these paintings, the songbirds song is the song of life, the song of family and the need of one's own place, one's own locale in the world, a place where children my grow, life prosper and the sun shine equally on everyone.
Studying Green at Moonrise, (self-portrait)
Beginning with the Beaver painting at CVNP, above, I spend most of the summer studying variations on the color green. One of the goals of thesummer was to understand green better. it is a much neglected and abused color by many artists--- for instance, I once heard or read that the artist Robert Bateman said he does not like the color green, indeed, he said it made him sick. It seemed silly for an artist not to like any color, much less one as common as green. I have always thought all colors are wonderful. But then most of Bateman's paintings contain copious amounts of dull grey, for reasons unknown. i asked him once and he relied that that grey is "him", whatever that means. I follow my kids who sometimes have said when asked what their favorite color is, I answer, 'my favorite color is "rainbow".' No doubt there are places in the world where there is little green, places such as deserts, the Arctic, or the middle of the ocean. But wherever there is abundance of life on the earth there is a saturation of green. When I say green I really mean the whole panoply of colors, not just the mysterious Chinese green or of the green of jade, olive greenh, Peacock green , Malachite green or the greens of Ireland, but perhaps these were not far away either.When I say green I really mean the whole panoply of colors, not just the mysterious Chinese green or of the green of jade, olive greenh, Peacock green , Malachite green or the greens of Ireland, but perhaps these were not far away either.
The more I look at it the more I see in green. I
remember the first time I thought about green in
isolation was when I saw a painting by George
Inness, perhaps 35 years ago. The name of the
"Gray, Lowery Day"",
1877. It is a marvelous array of the most
varied green vegetation I can think of, and some
ducks in a creek. It also hands in my mother's
college, where she spent four of the happiest
years of her life, so very likely she saw
this work. There are other works by Inness and
Monet that really liberate green from the dreary
green used up until Inness and Monet. And then
there were some Pre-Raphaelite works whose use
of green is new and marvelous for their time.
The marvelous greens in Milliet'ss
the Hireling Shepardd,
where the green shadow of the trees illuminates
the sheep, for instance. The background of such
greens if of course in the Celtic green of the
Ancient past, a green not yet put under the
plow, the green of life in the British isles
before Christianity started squeezing life under
the veil of repression and priests. Green was
the color of life then, the color of what
matters, the color of Spring and Summer and the
Maypole festivals, life celebrations, the
Midsummer Nights Dream. John Fowles summarized
this greenness of being as symbolized by the
"Green Man", a pagan figure still picture in
some British churches and a sort of hypertrophy.
I am not inclined to symbols anymore. But having
lived in England I know what green Fowles talks
about in his writings. Blake did not praise this
"green and pleasant" land for nothing. The
greens of Ohio are not too much less spectacular
than those of England, indeed, they are even
denser and more plentiful and less relieved by
island clouds and cultivated fields everywhere.
The greens of Ohio are wilder and taller in tree
But yet the I was not trying to evoke these magical greens in my paintings. i was trying to evoke the magic of real greenery that lives in actual trees and go back even before the ancients festivals to the origins of evolution itself, before culture starts to deform reality. Leonardo was afraid of green and specifically cautions us against trying to paint sunlight falling through leaves, because it was too difficult to do. He only wants us to paint the sun side of leaves, and not stand behind the tree and painting it from the shadow side, as I do in the painting below. Leonardo was was right it is difficult to do this but, it is precisely the transparency and very absorbent nature of leaves that makes leaves to stunning and interesting to me. Leaves are the veritable face of life, without them there is no life at all.
So what I was driving at in my
study of green in these works was an inquiry
into the evolution of green. So what is the
evolutionary function of leaves? We know that
leaves were adapted to accomplish the task or
process of photosynthesis for trees. For years I
have been looking at leaves as light gatherers,
which they are of course, but only lately have I
come to understand another function. They are
darker than I used to think. The green is
vibrant but if you look at plants in reaction to
the sky they are markedly darker than the sky.
The intensity of the green color does not
increase the dark tone of the color. Indeed,
seen against the sky tress are invariably dark,
often nearly black, as in my second Goldenrod
painting at the top of this essay. The dark
green of the leaves is absorbing precisely
because it is dark and the green of trees is
really the color that maximizes light gather
from the sun. The ability to absorb more
light from the sun helps the trees do
photosynthesis more effectively and thus
synthesize or obtain more food. Since
human would hardly exist if it were not for
pants and green, it seems quite fitting to
contemplate why green is so ubiquitous. Far from
being sick of greens, I want to celebrate it and
enjoy it infinite variations, from black jade to
milky celadon, and mustardy -olive to emerald
and opaline green..
There was Vervain at this site, which is hinted at in the lower right and Queen Anne’s Lace. I love the latter, a plant in he carrot family. Obviously, my wife took a photo of me so I could put myself into the painting. I could not very well paint myself in this position from life. I love Plein air work and I wanted to show what is actually like to stand for hours in these environs.. The title The title Studying Green at Moonrise, (self-portrait) is a little cumbersome, but it makes the point I wanted it too. It was wonderful to study the green of our world. The moonlit greens of twilight take on a certain Alpenglow from the luminous air.
But all this beauty has its problems too. Unfortunately there is some Mulitflora Rose at this site, another invasive plant and my son, who is only three, cut his eyeball on a thorn. We rushed him to the ER and had it looked at. It was fine and he healed quickly. But the experience taught us again how dysfunctional or health care system is and how the whole system is corrupted by Insurance companies, who are parasites of the system. They are not needed at all, and should be eliminated. It is unethical to profit from people's sickness as they do. They exploit and gouge and do all the can to take your money and give as little care as possible. So from the moonlit greens of wonderful summer days to the horror of the American health care system, such is our lives, and one must face the truths of each day as they arise..
In any case, this painting is one of three that I did at this site ......here are all three: In any case, this painting is one of three that I did at this site ......here are all three:
Green Heron's World
The first is a study of the pond that is close to us, there is a beaver pond on the far side of it. You can’t see that in the painting, however. I wanted to do the wetland and the White Pines in the distance with the summer trees on the hill beyond that. The Green Heron is not form a photo, but was more or less invented as I have seen them in this position. I put a tiny painting of a kingfisher on one of the snags and i Leopard Frog and a Bull Frog up closer . The frogs are miniature again, and are actual life size as seen here.
This is another attempt to celebrate the color green, as well as sing a song for wetlands. Wet areas create so much life in and around them they are irresistible to anyone who loves life. I suspect that is the real fascination that fisherman have with such places, though they express it is a twisted way, needed to kill and eat what they love. So I stood down below the railroad tracks that you can see in the painting of the train below. I painted for a week or more, my wife and kids came with me every time because they love it here and the kids got to chase frogs and play with sticks and mud. We ate veggie dogs on the railroad tracks and went for little walks together to explore the surrounding area. We waved 'hi' to the engineer as the train rolled by full of passengers. When I asked my wife a few nights ago what this year of painting nature meant for her, she said it was great for the whole family: we were outside so often together and got to know all these places so closely. It brought the kids closer to the natural world and all of us closer together..
The pond was drying up in the drought we had this year and by the time I finished this painting at least half of the water you see here was gone. I blocked in the water the first and second afternoons. I kept it at that height. The pond was drying up in the drought we had this year and by the time I finished this painting at least half of the water you see here was gone. I blocked in the water the first and second afternoons. I kept it at that height.
There was a pair, with a young one, living at this pond and they would fly around me or fish across from me. The logs in he foreground were where the Green Heron was going to go into the painting. Painting the Green heron from Memory was a challenge. I have tried this on other occasions, especially at Life drawing and painting sessions. There is an interesting 19th century book by Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, (1848) in the public domain that you can down load or look at heree.
The Border of this painting is a Celtic Braid, not quite a Knot design.
Having been in the Green Isle of Ireland myself years ago and being mostly Irish, I can't resist such designs. I used it to try to illuminate an aspect of these paintings that is about the the wonder of the natural world and animals and us in it. The undulating colored lines evoke the ocean,or the Shannon or Cuyahoga Rivers and call forth sun and grasses, grey clouds, ferns curling and braids in a woman's hair.
Lastly you can see the attempt to paint a tiny Kingfisher from life on the second tall snag form the right side of the painting and mid-way up. The Kingfisher was there looking for frogs I presume, for a few minutes. I had just enough time to put down some tiny brushstrokes and block him in.
Kingfisher. Graphite drawing, Oct 2012
If I do use photos to help my art I like to use my own. I am not a photographer in the regular sense, but for years I have been making images that are more documentary and sometimes aesthetic with cameras, both video and still. I see cameras as an extension of sketchbooks or notebooks. So at various points my wife and I were trying very hard to photograph kingfishers. We had bad luck, the bane and friend of all photographers. We even located some nests on the Rocky River and attempted to hide in bushes, and watch as the Kingfishers came to feed their babies inside the long tunnel they build in the bank of the river. The babies live in a nest of fish bones deep in there. One can here them chattering and crying when the parents are near. Though we got a few distant photos and some video nothing much came of all are efforts..
In later years we have tried again and still with no good luck. So recently, a few months ago, while my kids were playing at the Natural History museum here, I spent an hour or two drawing one of their taxidermized exhibits. It is very nicely done, showing the bird in a lovely hovering pose just as I have seen them above a river looking down at a possible catch in the water. So this small drawing is a study of a kingfisher such as I had wished to make in previous years but was unable to for lack of a good reference of my own making. In later years we have tried again and still with no good luck. So recently, a few months ago, while my kids were playing at the Natural History museum here, I spent an hour or two drawing one of their taxidermized exhibits. It is very nicely done, showing the bird in a lovely hovering pose just as I have seen them above a river looking down at a possible catch in the water. So this small drawing is a study of a kingfisher such as I had wished to make in previous years but was unable to for lack of a good reference of my own making.
Montaropa Uniflora, Indian Pipe
This painting is of a similar environment to the image far above of the Red Squirrel in the woods: both depict damp woods and a fertile and humus rich leaf litter. This is July and is based on a photo I took in Allegany State park in New York State. But it could be many places in Ohio or Cuyahoga National Park too. I did this painting this year so include it here, even though it is not of CVNP. We saw the Indian Pipe in a Pine and Oak woods. Indian Pipe used to be called a saprophyte, but this has been changed and now is is held to be in the Heath family (Ericaceae) which have an unknown or "parasitic" relation to mychorrhizal fungi. The relation to fungi appears to be unknown so I hesitate to use the term 'parasitical'. They are also somehow related to host trees like Oaks though the fungi, but it is not very clear to me just how this works. In any case they are fascinating plants, perennials which do not have chlorophyll and do not do photosynthesis, and yet have seeds like other angiosperms. They can live in the dark. It is related to the Sugarstick or Candy-stick (Allotropa virgata) and Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys). We got to know the candy-stick a little in California. We even found a little restaurant called the Candystick, devoted to it, in Fortuna, California. This is a separategc area of study all to itself, and it would be interesting to pursue this further.... This painting is of a similar environment to the image far above of the Red Squirrel in the woods: both depict damp woods and a fertile and humus rich leaf litter. This is July and is based on a photo I took in Allegany State park in New York State. But it could be many places in Ohio or Cuyahoga National Park too. I did this painting this year so include it here, even though it is not of CVNP. We saw the Indian Pipe in a Pine and Oak woods. Indian Pipe used to be called a saprophyte, but this has been changed and now is is held to be in the Heath family (Ericaceae) which have an unknown or "parasitic" relation to mychorrhizal fungi. The relation to fungi appears to be unknown so I hesitate to use the term 'parasitical'. They are also somehow related to host trees like Oaks though the fungi, but it is not very clear to me just how this works. In any case they are fascinating plants, perennials which do not have chlorophyll and do not do photosynthesis, and yet have seeds like other angiosperms. They can live in the dark. It is related to the Sugarstick or Candy-stick (Allotropa virgata) and Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys). We got to know the candy-stick a little in California. We even found a little restaurant called the Candystick, devoted to it, in Fortuna, California. This is a separategc area of study all to itself, and it would be interesting to pursue this further....
Homage to Rachel Ruysch, (1664-1750)
This was done a year earlier than
the previous painting. This
Toad was in our garden for a few
weeks. We grow Tomatoes Squash,
Zucchini, Strawberries as well as
other vegetables and flowers. I have
studies Toads to a degree. I used to
often see them at Heroes wetland
where they had a sort of singing
convocation in the spring. Toads
have surprisingly elegant and lovely
singing voice, as you can hearr
here if you
I did this little vignette of the Toad as an homage to a great woman painter who painted around he time of Rembrandt, De Hooch, and Vermeer. Indeed, what this painting is about is my own predilections. My interests have turned increasingly toward science in recent decades, with increasingly skepticism toward myth, religion and even poetry, insofar as poetry serves irrationalism and myth. The Dutch realists, along the with French and British Realists and Naturalists of the 1900's as well as Da Vinci have held a lot of interest form me this year. In all these cases I admire the devotion to reality as well as a certain advancement in inquiry and social consciousness that all these artists stove to accomplish.
Rachel Ruysch was a great and early
woman artist in Holland. Her
teachers were her father,
Willem Van Alest and
Otto Marseus Van Schrieck.
These men together with Rachel, and
others were among the first science
painters and naturalists and began
the process of rejecting religion in
art. Her father was a scientist, a
botanist and anatomist, remembered
for his developments in anatomical
preservation, as well as some
discoveries about the lymphatic
system, snakes and the eye. In 1693,
Ruysch married the painter and lace
dealer Juriaen Pool. She had ten
children and this did not stop her
production of paintings, indeed, it
seems to have accelerated it. One of
the most prolific women in history
who was creative both as a mother
and an artist. She finished her
final painting in 1747, when she was
83. There is great love of
life n this woman..
Some of her Some of herpaintings are said to be allegories, I don't think I accept that myself, or perhaps she did that because it was in fashion at the time. Hardly anyone escaped religion then, and it was dangerous to try as Descartes' career shows. Van Schrieck and Willem van Aelst were both are more naturalist that religious, indeed in the context of the time they are very progressive and Rachel for me stands out as a bright early light of both women's rights and scientific naturalism. She appears to have followed in her father's footsteps too, who was a devoted scientist..
My Daughter and Foxglove. June 2012
June: 2012 The land behind our place is overlapping jurisdiction, part Metropark and part National Park. So the woods in the painting are actually in park. I loved painting the light playing on the trees back in the woods. I suggested some of the space relationships between the boughs of leaves. It is a mile or so to the other side of the park from our land and you can sense that distance in the upper left of the painting. There is a tangle of red grape vines in the woods. My daughter delicately touches a flower, amazed at its color and shape. She actually posed for a a short time while I did the drawing of her. She is curious and studying the flower heads which are exactly her height. At age seven this is an image of perfect consciousness and life, as yet untroubled with the tragic power struggles, yearnings, failings and losses of the adult world.
I love Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) . I
was hesitant to plant it as it is
invasive in California, Alaska and other
states. I have not been able
to find it's status in Ohio, but I do
not see it on the roads and read it is
invasive mostly on the coasts. It is
poisonous to humans so it is not near
the house. It is way out back near the
woods. I loved painting my young
daughter next to it. It is used as
a heart medicine in some cases. I have
never used Digitalis but certainly my
daughter has been a medicine for my
heart, so I enjoyed pairing her with
My daughter showed interest in bows and arrows, so I made her one in June, the same month I was doing this painting. The fireflies came out then too. She loves to catch and release the fireflies, figure out if they are male or female, and watch their cold, greenish-yellow light in the magic of twilight. We spend lots of time in the twilight back yard watching the Brown Bats come out and fly and the Fireflies dancing in our fields. This year my son joined in this too and we all were out there catching Fireflies and letting them go. I have wanted to paint that too, but have yet to imagine how..
Her interest in these activities called forth a certain poetry of greenness, innocence and flowers and in my mind. The green I was thinking of has a springtime hint of that suggests the Elizabethan miniatures I have seen in various museums i the US and UK. There is a certain naturalism in some of these portraits, a certain botanical 'grace', You can see hints of this, for instance, inn Nicholas Hilliard's "Young Man among Roses""and there are 19th century English works that echo this love of flowers and innocence, such as William Homan's Hunt'ss Ourr English CoastsEnglish Coastss,or Sergeant'ss Lily, Carnation, Lily Rose. These two paintings are two of the best paintings of the 1900's, in addition to being the best of these artist's works. I did not think of either of these when I did my portrait of my daughter, but I think I so internalized both works in previous years there are echoes.When I lived in England in the 1980's these were my two favorite works and I went to see them again and again at the Tate. Together they summed up for me what is fair and loveable about England , in terms of its land, its light, its Springtime and it people's love of gardens, coasts and flowers. I doubt that is any people on earth as loving of flowers as English..
This romance of roses and gardens can also be felt especially in the lovely textures of language in Shakespeare's playy Romeo and Juliettorr As You Like Itt. The Forest of Arden suggests a special green, a green that is very much the green of May or spring. In this painting I tried to capture something of that late May or June green, of new life and hope for a great harvest, such hope as I place in my beloved daughter..
This is the first of the "green paintings" of this year,--- as I will explain later I spend allot of time thinking bout the color green and its many meanings and evocations.
I have spent time designing and hand making frames for some of these paintings. I worked with Oriental rugs, doing repair and restoration between 1982 and 1990, and that gave me a love of these objects of craft. I particularly liked the one I did for this painting. It was actually based don a Persian carpet I photographed long ago in 1982. In the carpet there are green leaves on an ultramarine background and then white birds and orange cartouches. There was a poetry in Iran at one time that had carpets as one of its special creations. I have always admired the design skill of the makers of these rugs, mostly women. But in addition to the evocation of carpet design I added to this border a certain feeling that comes form the Elizabethan poetry and English gardens. I wanted to celebrate the love of my dear daughter with an evocation of Kew Gardens in England, where I spent many fine days in May and June, as well as my own poor attempts at gardening. I have spent time designing and hand making frames for some of these paintings. I worked with Oriental rugs, doing repair and restoration between 1982 and 1990, and that gave me a love of these objects of craft. I particularly liked the one I did for this painting. It was actually based don a Persian carpet I photographed long ago in 1982. In the carpet there are green leaves on an ultramarine background and then white birds and orange cartouches. There was a poetry in Iran at one time that had carpets as one of its special creations. I have always admired the design skill of the makers of these rugs, mostly women. But in addition to the evocation of carpet design I added to this border a certain feeling that comes form the Elizabethan poetry and English gardens. I wanted to celebrate the love of my dear daughter with an evocation of Kew Gardens in England, where I spent many fine days in May and June, as well as my own poor attempts at gardening.
One other detail about doing this painting....I saw a rare Yellow Billed Cuckoo above me while I was working on the this. I am a pretty good birder, but do not seek out the rare for the rarity sake and I have never been a lister. But it is marvelous to see a bird one has never seen before. The slow awareness came over my brain as I went though my memory and finally realized that that characteristic tail would only be one thing.
Beaver pond near Vaughn Road. May 2012
This is the second of the Beaver Lodge paintings, this one done in Cuyahoga National Park , not far for the yellow houses that are the Park headquarters. There are various beaver ponds spread around CVNP, most of them have bank lodges rather than the sort of independently existing structure that I was painting in Alleghany State park. I would think that a lodge surrounded entirely by water would be the best and safest option. But Beaver have their own minds and reasons for doing things. I wonder if it takes decades or years to develop pods that will support a lodge that is at the center of the pond, or if it is merely a matter of what is convenient for the Beaver. beavers have not lived long in CVNP, so it maybe that as tome goes buy and they make their ponds larger, the lodges will move away from the backsides. This lodge is connected to a fairly large beaver made pond, upstream perhaps 100 feet form the small pond shown here. The pond is at least 100 feet across, I am guessing. Beaver often create the sort of stepped or terraced system of ponds as they appear to be culturing on this site. This is the second of the Beaver Lodge paintings, this one done in Cuyahoga National Park , not far for the yellow houses that are the Park headquarters. There are various beaver ponds spread around CVNP, most of them have bank lodges rather than the sort of independently existing structure that I was painting in Alleghany State park. I would think that a lodge surrounded entirely by water would be the best and safest option. But Beaver have their own minds and reasons for doing things. I wonder if it takes decades or years to develop pods that will support a lodge that is at the center of the pond, or if it is merely a matter of what is convenient for the Beaver. beavers have not lived long in CVNP, so it maybe that as tome goes buy and they make their ponds larger, the lodges will move away from the backsides. This lodge is connected to a fairly large beaver made pond, upstream perhaps 100 feet form the small pond shown here. The pond is at least 100 feet across, I am guessing. Beaver often create the sort of stepped or terraced system of ponds as they appear to be culturing on this site.
Willow trees are so often near or next to Beaver ponds that I chose this small pond partly because i could paint the Willow trees too. These three are older Willows with deep furrows in the bark and lovely lacy leaves that we fun to try to represent in paint. I liked how the light played on them. What I have found, invariably, whenever I have visited A beaver pond, is that the wetlands they create provide habitat for an amazing diversity of plants and wildlife, many of which are becoming scarce due to continuing wetland destruction, paving over and 'development'. Over 90% of Ohio wetlands were destroyed between the 1780s and 1980s (Noss and Peters 1995). We obviously need as many Beavers as we can get to help restore some of these areas. The destruction of the "Black Swamp" in northwestern Ohio was particularly onerous. Some of this huge wetland should be restored.
Wetlands are beautiful and they also serve as important stop-over places for migrating birds, or nesting areas for local birds and animals. Beavers create lots of life around them. The more Beavers there are the more diversity and life will be seen. I like the light on the willows too and the Yellow Flag iris that grows next to the pond.
We are in May now and the sun is higher
in the sky. This is the first of my
summer paintings. The whole summer long
I was meditating on he color Green and
you can see various yellow-greens,
blue-greens and olive-greens here. What
I was especially happy with in this work
was capturing light in the water itself,
around the Beaver, where the willows are
reflected it he water..
The beaver at his Lodge posed for me several times. I got the basic color, light and and shape from life, and refined it further at home. He or she (?) also walked up the path to my left several times, without smelling or seeing me. Beaver do not hear or see very well, I was standing on a rise above the pond for hours and move little when I am concentrating. Painting Plein Air involves deep concentration and precise calibrations of color and tone. It is a meditative and active state, head and hand working together is making many subtle decisions..
In the background of the painting, on the middle right are some tall ochre colored grasses, actually a kind of Reed, that are from Asia called Phragmities. Unfortunately the National Park has done little to remove these very invasive plants. They are choking wetlands. I had doubts about putting them in the painting, but they are there next to this beaver pond and I put them in because it might be worth it if others notice and try to get the park to do something about this problem.
Picnic on Furnace Run Creek April May 2012
The next one is one is another of my favorite images. It was done over several weeks in late April and early May. The painting of the Virginia Bluebells above was done a stones throw from this bridge. Indeed, it was when we were walking around looking at wildflowers that I got the idea to paint the bridge and my kids not for from it.
So, for a week or so in early May, when
the weather was perfect, my wife and
kids and I went to Furnace Run to play
and paint. The kids played in the creek
as I worked. My daughter was
playing with pebbles. In nothing but his
"unders", as we call his underwear, my
son looked on his sister with the
sparkling water all around him. They
were in the cool water because it was
strangely warm for this time of year.
This is the strangest year of weather in
my life. But this did not prevent our
joy in this day. I often think that
humans are hard-wired to love their kids
with an intense aesthetic appreciation.
Indeed, some of the most intense moments
of love and beauty in my life have come
from watching my kids on an ordinary
day. Love of children may be the deepest
of all human emotions. Religious
imagery, such as the "Virgin and Child"
seems to be a sad exploit of this simple
and fathomless love. Love of children is
perhaps the most wonderful aspect of our
In any case, my wife made us all veggie dogs and green beans cooked on our tiny camp stove, which we call "Little Sister" and have been using for years now. We ate sitting on the rocks over there on the right bank. These were special days, the air was cool, the water clean, the children playing in the water were happy. My daughter kept coming over to me while I was painting and telling me she loves me, to which I replied that I love her too very much. Life seemed wonder filled and worth every breath of spring air..
I am well aware that some will call this a "cliche" image, but I don't care about that. For me it is real poetry. There are images of 'the covered bridge' that are hackneyed and cliché and no doubt over-cultured cynics will see this one as one of those. But my interest in this structure is quite authentic and the structure itself is quite authentic. admire the craftsmanship of any bridge so nicely made. Indeed, there are two portraits of bridges in this series. This was a functioning bridge for a century or so. The fact that it is persevered is a testament to our history and the love of where we live. This is also one of our cleanest creeks and my kids love it there. I am not ashamed of celebrating thiss and those who despise such authentic testaments to our real history, are the real fools. and those who despise such authentic testaments to our real history, are the real fools. Snobs who prefer their art to picture empty grids or drawing made of elephant dung, can go jump in the lake, as they say. II am proud of this painting, and always warm to it when I see it.
Not far from Everett there is a farm where I often took my daughter. We went to Hale Farmmmany times from when she was 3 until she was 6. We have taken our son there a few times too.. Jonathan Hale came to the Western Reserve from Glastonbury, Connecticut, and acquired the valley acreage from the Connecticut Land Company In 1810. The Hale's made their living with commercial fruit orchards, market gardening, and the butter and cheese industry became popular due to urban demands. My daughter learned about this history as well as how to make butter,Jonathan Hale came to the Western Reserve from Glastonbury, Connecticut, and acquired the valley acreage from the Connecticut Land Company In 1810. The Hale's made their living with commercial fruit orchards, market gardening, and the butter and cheese industry became popular due to urban demands. My daughter learned about this history as well as how to make butter, candle making, basket weaving, blacksmithing, ice cream making, glass making, broom making and gardening. She also learned what it was like to farm and be a kid and go to school in the 19th century. All this was quite valuable and gave us both deep appreciation of the history of the Valley to complement what we learned elsewhere about the geology and Native History, and this history of the Canal Boats.
The Everett Road bridge and the Creek is Furnace Run, near the town of Richfield . Everett was a small town near to the Bridge, which had about 200 people in the 1920's. The remaining houses of that town are now used by the Park managers. In thee 1880s wooden bridges was replaceddwith more durable iron bridges like the one that still stands near at Station Road. I did a painting of the Train Station above, during the winter.with more durable iron bridges like the one that still stands near at Station Road. I did a painting of the Train Station above, during the winter.
Beaver pond in Allegany State Park,,
N.Y. April 20122
I am not arranging this material by
subject so much as chronology. I want to
stay with the time line. This series is
a sort of calendar of a year in our
park. The next in the series is
this Beaver Lodge, done in April.
I intended to do a Beaver lodge in
Cuyahoga National Park too. But we took
a brief holiday and went to Allegany
State Park in New York for a few days, a
place we have been going for years. So I
did two beaver lodges. Compare this one
to the other beaver lodge two paintings
down, the one below, done in CVNP..
Allegany Park has some of the best and wildest Beaver ponds in the eastern states. They were restored there many decades ago and allowed to build or not build on their own. Beavers were first introduced in 1926 (2 adults and 4 babies eight months old). They were shipped by train from Palisades Park and were released on the north shore of Science Lake, according to the Allegany Park Historical Society. Much of the construction in the park was done by the Conservations Corps (CCC), which did great environmental work all over the country, including here near CVNP. The Beaver of course, existed in Allegany and CVNP centuries ago but they were wiped out by the greed of the fur trade, when Europeans starting trapping and killing every animal they could all over north America. By the middle of the 1900's many animals were gone locally and some were extinct, like the Woodland Buffalo and the Passenger Pigeon..
Some of the Beaver ponds are ephemeral in the sense that some of the beavers move allot, and a pond that one might see for a few years is suddenly breached and will be gone for some years as those Beaver move down or up one of the creeks or river valleys. On the other hand there are ponds that we have seen in the same spot for years. It would be interesting to know exactly how this works, but I do not claim to understand it. I suspect it has to do with family dynamics, deaths, or with conditions of the actual pond and its viability. But I have not studied it enough to know..
In any case, we were in Allegany Park for a few days and I wanted to paint at least one lodge from life. I chose one and started it, but there were problems with the light and I was not happy with it, so after some hours of work I wiped off the board. My kids and wife had founds some Newts in a puddle next to the beaver pond and we studied those for while. I saw, oddly, a bat flying around aimlessly and wondered if it had a disease, the so called, "white-nose syndrome", a fungus which kills bats at an alarming rate. as for awhile. Then we moved up the Valley a few miles and started over at a the pond you see here. This is near the top of French Creek Road. My wife decided to take the kids to a playground in the park..
So I set to work. It took some doing to get into the Willow thicket that is at the base of the pond. But I managed. Because I was below the dam I had a good view of the lodge from a low angle, more the point of view of child than a man. That pleased me because it made me closer to the animals themselves. The beaver was swimming around his pond once twilight arrived and I made some attempts to paint him. I finished him from a few photos I took once I got home. I am not sure what the trees were beyond the lodge but the spring growth of leaves was decidedly yellow. The dam was breached towards the front and little waterfall flowed there. When I was done painting after many hours passed my wife and kids picked me up and as I was talking with them a rather strange man pulled up got out of his car with two of his kids. He started trying to breach the dam to show off for his kids. He pulled out stick after stick until he started sizable waterfall. I walked over to him and pointed out how much labor the beavers put into this pond and perhaps he would like to be more considerate of all their hard work? ---after all this dam and the lodge in the middle that the dam creates is their home. Would he like it if someone messed with their house?. He grunted, got back in his car and drove off with his kids. It is mysterious why he wanted to destroy the dam in front of his kids. Was he trying to teach his kids to despise Beavers? Many humans have a dysfunctional relationship to nature that makes them do odd things when confronted the lives of other species.
Then in early May the Warblers come. This is always a marvelous time, with rivers of birds flowing north all over the eastern states. Waves and rivers of birds come up from Mexico and across the Gulf form the Amazon and beyond, traveling on warm air fronts. Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Black and White, Yellow, Redstart, Magnolia, Palm, and Yellow Rumped Warblers, among many others all arrive in early May. Many other species, totaling millions of birds come in one of the great migration on earth. It should be much more celebrated than it is. There should be holidays that celebrate it, much like the great migrations in the fall, where I have seen 50,000 Mergansers in a single flock on Lake Erie. Spring celebrations would be in early May and perhaps could involve Migratory Bird Festival.
This little migrant is the Prothonotory
Warbler, and he lives down near Station
Road train station. We have known him
over a number of years. He sings his
small heart out most of the time,
marking his territory near where his
spouse nests. The Heron's roost was near
there, west of the train tracks. But an
Eagle pair moved in a few years ago and
started harassing the Herons. They moved
out, when the Eagles predated
their babies and moved across the Valley
east of the tracks..
Home schooling has its rewards but also its hardships and stresses. I have little time to take photos. Usually, i ht least few years, when I was in the park in the during the week I was with my son walking him in the stroller. Last year I was using a bike for rides or a walks. There is a baby seat on the back of the bike. We stop somewhere for lunch on the Tow path. The I have a few minutes, when my son is playing with sticks or pebbles, to sue a camera. But the photos are less than ideal. Taking care of children does not leave one with allot of time to do things for photography. I I photographed this Warbler when I could safely.
I love the Yellow Warbler too, but the Prothonotory male has the most beautiful yellow imaginable, set of by the bluish grey back and tail. He has singing perches were he likes to belt out his favorites songs, to warn other males about the nesting presence of his family..
My wife deserves special thanks for giving me what time I have been able to devote to this book. Perhaps half of the works done in the last year were done when my wife was home or when we are all out in nature together. Perhaps half these paintings were done when I go out by myself. In both cases, I was able to do the work I have done because of my wife..
Virginia Bluebells and Spring Light, Virginia Bluebells and Spring Light,
April 2012April 2012
This also is a celebration of spring. One of my favorite things about it is the illuminated trees in the distance. There is a hill there and the trees are on top of it catching the last of the sun's rays, whereas the Bluebells are in the woods and in shadow.The largest tree towards the viewer is a Locust tree.d I have been in love with Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica))for over a decade. They grow in colonies, usually in wet areass near rivers, creeks or floodplains. I have often seem them near Wild Hyacinths (Camassia scilloides) which also likes rich wet soils. Wild germanium is often in the same areas, This particular stand is not that far from the painting below. I had wanted to paint the Bluebells for some years and spent some days I the woods admiring them. Getting that particular blue was not easy. I find that intense blues are especially hard to do in paint, as the blues that are available just do not have the saturations that I need. I wonder how it would be to make my own blues out of Lapis Lazuli.
I don't know what proportion of the
paintings in this series are about
Wildflowers, but certainly it is one
of my favorite subjects. I would
like to do more of them. We
spent a good deal of time in the
last two years looking for Hepatica
in the parks. We succeeded in
finding it in a number of places. It
is so rare I will not say where, but
it is a gorgeous little flowering
plant. I have not yet figured out
how to paint it on site. They are
small and doing a close up would be
difficult unless I use a camera.
I have taken pictures of it and may
do a study of one of them, but I
would like to paint it form life if
possible. I am still thinking about
how to do it. It is an 'ephemeral'
and so does not last long..
In any case, just beyond where
the foreground trees end, is Furnace
Run Creek, and this meets up with
the Cuyahoga a mile or so from here.
Furnace Run is one of healthiest,
intact streams that flow into the
Cuyahoga River. It meets Ohio
In any case, just beyond where
the foreground trees end, is Furnace
Run Creek, and this meets up with
the Cuyahoga a mile or so from here.
Furnace Run is one of healthiest,
intact streams that flow into the
Cuyahoga River. It meets Ohio
There are allot of wildflowers here.
I recall seeing Bloodroot, Cut
Leaved Toothwort, Spring Beauty and
Rue Anenome. There is a high deer
population there so it is
interesting the wildflowers are
doing so well, since deer are so
often said to decimate such areas. I
did see deer came by as I was
painting, but there were still
plenty of wildflowers. There is a
claim that various
species of earthworms are invading
our hardwood forests and causing the
loss of tree seedlings, wildflowers,
and ferns. I do not know how true
this is, but it seems as likely an
explanation for the loss of
wildflowers as the deer hypothesis.
Perhaps both causes are at fault..
I also saw, every afternoon I painted there, a roost of pehaps 15 Turkey Vultures come in just before sunset cavorting in the pines near me. As I was painting my Bluebells, one of the Vultures came crashing down through the trees and landed on the ground. Another day the same thing happened. I puzzled about this for some time and the only explanation I could come up with is that one or more of the youngsters, born this year, fell, and the branches of so many trees prevented it from stopping its downward trend, and so it landed in an ungainly way on the ground. They need some space to regain flight, with such large wings. I also saw, every afternoon I painted there, a roost of pehaps 15 Turkey Vultures come in just before sunset cavorting in the pines near me. As I was painting my Bluebells, one of the Vultures came crashing down through the trees and landed on the ground. Another day the same thing happened. I puzzled about this for some time and the only explanation I could come up with is that one or more of the youngsters, born this year, fell, and the branches of so many trees prevented it from stopping its downward trend, and so it landed in an ungainly way on the ground. They need some space to regain flight, with such large wings.
My Kids Overlooking Cuyahoga National Park from the Ledges
By early April a more normal temperature
was abroad. That is why my kids
are wearing coats. It is colder. This
painting was a joy to do as we all went
to the Ritchie Ledges over a week's time
and brought dinner to eat at a picnic
table. The kids got to play down below
the ledges with their mom while I
painted up above and they came to visit
me frequently to talk and see how it was
Many of the hardwoods are in bloom.
The pastel shades of spring, which some
will confuse with fall, cover the land
in delicate tints and hues.
time when a rainbow falls over the
land", is obviously still here. The late
sunlight is pouring through the tender
new leaves, casting light on the
grey stone making in purplish and blue,
ochre and green..
I especially like this painting. This is a special place, with the Berea sandstone cliffs raising up to 100 feet in some places and covered in mosses and lichens. You can see some of the mosses on the rocks here and an old root of the tree just out of view. All of this painting was done on site expect the children. This was a very dangerous place for my little three year old and we took the picture with his mother just out of the picture. There is a 40 foot cliff in front of the children so it was out of the question that they could pose. There was no danger of him falling as his sister and mother were both looking out for him. I painted them into the rest of the painting, which was otherwise entirely Plein Air, from a photograph. This is also one the best views over the Cuyahoga Valley. I have gone around the Valley from many directions and it is hard to find places to get such a wide view. That is partly why I did the painting, as well as to memorialize a moment in the life of our two children, who love this place dearly and love our park. It is a celebration of spring. It is also a study in the poetry of color and the use of aerial perspective
Redbud Tree in March
April, 2012. Spring in Ohio is
glorious. I love spring anywhere, but in
the eastern states it is so spectacular
a change from winter to spring that it
takes your breath away. I have always
thought so and remember the rapture of
this season going all the way back to my
teens. It is not just the beauty of the
trees, though that is a major part of
it, but the air itself is full of hope
and new life.
This is another portrait of a native tree in our area: the Redbud. I got to know Redbuds at Hereos Wetland years ago. I had seen a large stand of them in Richfield, and knew of this stand up on Hines Hill Road. These are special trees. The flower actually grows on the stems themselves, rather like the lovely Spice Bush which comes into bloom around this time too. I've seen Cardinals, Golden Crowned Kinglets or Goldfinches in them. So for a week or so when I had some time I went up Hines Hill road and painted this. It was so warm the trees were coming on quickly and I did not have much time. It was done again in probably 4 or 5 visits. The tree with brownish/red buds in the background is the Sugar Maple. I am not sure what the white blossoms were, perhaps Serviceberry, or Dogwood. Below the Redbud is more Little Bluestem gasses as well as a few daffodils someone planted long ago. The Redwing Blackbirds were back and kept me company at the pond near where I stood. I have been wanting to paint flowering trees again for many years and was very glad to be doing it. I hope to do more next year. Spring is so dear to my heart and I cna't imagine why I have spent so many years no painting spring trees..
In any case, I was not prepared for an early spring and had to rush into painting the Redbud before I was psychologically ready for it. The Turkey Vultures were back weeks earlier than usual and the Magnolias burned out early. Dragonflies were out early too. The ponds where the Jefferson's, Yellow Spotted and Red Backed Salamanders migrate was lower than usual because there was so little snow. The daffodils you see in this painting should not be out yet, but they were out a few weeks early. Usually they come out in early April, but here there are out of the 24th of March or so. In any case, I was not prepared for an early spring and had to rush into painting the Redbud before I was psychologically ready for it. The Turkey Vultures were back weeks earlier than usual and the Magnolias burned out early. Dragonflies were out early too. The ponds where the Jefferson's, Yellow Spotted and Red Backed Salamanders migrate was lower than usual because there was so little snow. The daffodils you see in this painting should not be out yet, but they were out a few weeks early. Usually they come out in early April, but here there are out of the 24th of March or so.
Once I finally adjusted as best I could, I was glad to see the Redbuds coming out in late March. I finished this sometime around then. In years past I used to call this time of year "the time when a rainbow falls over the land", as the spring trees look so various and fresh in their pastel colors.
The last two paintings before this, one of a waterfall and the other of a spring creek, both had to do with water and early spring run off. We had so little snow that there was little run off though. There was a bizarre heat wave in March and this caused the fruit trees to bloom early and then many flowers were killed in a later frost. No flowers, no fruit--- and so allot of our local apple growers only had apples till November instead of December. That that was hard on them. Certainly all this was caused by global warming. It was again the warmest year on record. Indeed, NOAA's National Climate Data Center reported that over 7,000 daily record high temperatures were tied or broken from March 1 through March 27, 2012. Businessmen unregulated will destroy the earth if we let them. They don't care as long and they make their billions. We need to tax and regulate them much more than we do.
The heat wave affected my paintings. Spring was odd, as some trees came early and some came at their regular time. I worried about the birds as their timing is partly motivated by 'photoperiodism'. That is to say they move north when the length of daylight suggests they should. I was worried that the “shift” to an early timing for the emergence of vegetation and insects could compromise survivability for birds . Would the insects they prefer to give their young be there for them? But it seems weather also plays a part, and it may be that some birds have been moving north early..There is evidence that some did come early. The effects of early arrival might affect birds in various negative ways too. Like the fruit trees they could be exposed to sudden cold or their food supply be decimated. I worried about these things over the spring.There is evidence that some did come early. The effects of early arrival might affect birds in various negative ways too. Like the fruit trees they could be exposed to sudden cold or their food supply be decimated. I worried about these things over the spring.
Spotted Salamnders in Flashlight. ( Jan. 2013)
While the leaves are still well off the tress and only a few species have shown signs of spring life, the Salamanders begin to stir form their hibernation. While the leaves are still well off the tress and only a few species have shown signs of spring life, the Salamanders begin to stir form their hibernation.
The challenge of this one was to try to sum up
not just one year of visits to the Salamander
Migration but 4 years. Photographing
Salamanders was not easy because I did not like
turning over logs to find them. They can be
easily killed by this practice. The only time
that these beings can be easily seen is in the
early Spring, March usually, during a rain, when
the temperature is above 40. That is when the
migrate. More akin to frogs than lizards
these are very interesting amphibians migrate at
the same time as Wood frogs, Peepers and Chorus
Frogs and to vernal pools..
We have brought our children the migrations in various spots since 2007.We took the kids out numerous times each year looking for Frogs and Salamanders. These migrations are wisely monitored by park officials as there are ignorant and greedy people who like to steal these animals and in doing so hurt Salamander populations. All amphibians have been in serious decline for some time. The causes are many, including a fungus (Chytridiomycosis), environmental destruction, pollution, global warming and other factors. Some species have become extinct. They often cross streets to migrate to the Vernal ponds and they are hit by cars, which is why it is wise to close off roads when the migration is on. It is amazing to watch them both in and after the migration as it is a sort of orgy of Frogs and Salamanders which occurs. Great numbers of eggs are laid down in egg masses and fertilized by very ardent males. Here I was trying to capture the fact of it being nighttime and we use flashlights or Coleman Lanterns, which casts a strong light on the animals. They don't seem to bothered by it, driven by hormones and spring the ardency of desire..
This work is recent and is different than most of the others in that it is partly invention and partly done from photos I took of Spotted Salamanders during the migration. An artist in Toronto I know named Barry Kent MacKay thinks that one of the the best way to do birds is through the informed imagination. Certainly that is what Da Vinci was doing in some respects. Many of the old masters created pictures out of their minds more than their eyes. Of course, the great ones like Da Vinci first mastered drawing with the eyes. Barry has mastered bird anatomy more than anyone I know, and he can draw nearly any species from his head. He sets these in what he calls 'Vignetttes' and some of these are amazingly beautiful. I also admire his animal rights work. Alan Brooks, Fuertes, D.M. Reid-Henry, George M. Sutton T.M. Shortt, Liljefors, and Roger Peterson were all influences on Barry. Barry is an scientist/artist of the kind I am advocating for in this essay. I admire him you can see some of his work here.
I let myself be influenced by Barry on this one and like the result, though it was a struggle.
We are now in March, 2012.
I enjoyed finding
this place and doing this painting very much.
It is near a place called Deer Lick Cave, which
I ended up calling Turquoise Valley, because of
the wonderous copper green lichens that grow on
many of the rocks there, The bluish/green lichen
color combined with the yellow/green mosses
makes for a lovely concert of colors that is
rare in such profusion. There is a trail that
goes through the area, but it was
sympathetically made with wood for the small
bridges that go over the creek and not metal.
My knowledge of geology needs improvement, but I
believe the rocks are also Berea Sandstone, a
very hard rock that resists erosion. This is the
same rock we see at Ritchie Ledges, (see
My Kids Overlooking
Cuyahoga National Park.)
This whole little valley is made of hard
sandstone and it makes it a cool hidden place
under the e tree canopy. The water does
not run all the time, but when there is rain it
runs and fills the little valley with the sound
of dancing water.
The original painting was started in the rain and the water was soupy, greenish yellow and heavy as it poured over the huge rocks. After my first foray there, pictured here in a smaller image, I decided the light was too overcast and dark. This is an early state of the same work, after one session, the one above is after four sessions. The original painting was started in the rain and the water was soupy, greenish yellow and heavy as it poured over the huge rocks. After my first foray there, pictured here in a smaller image, I decided the light was too overcast and dark. This is an early state of the same work, after one session, the one above is after four sessions.
I changed the ambiance and the next three visits were on sunny days when the light was better. The water was cooler, blue and dancing. I painted in the late afternoon, looking toward the sun. The water was less milky, less full of sediment, less swollen from recent rain.
The painting posed many problems. The highlights in the water were very bright. As the water descends it gets bluer and greyer, and this was not easy to capture. The ochre rock on which the waterfall falls was also very dark, and capturing this large wet and black/ochre rock posed problems. I didn’t use black but Prussian blue and Burnt Umber. The waterfall itself, where it hits the pool, reminded me of one of Da Vinci’s greatest drawings. In that drawing he shows the dynamics of water hitting water, plunging down and bubbling up in concentric circles. I knew I could not match his peerless hand and observational skills, but I did the best I could. The painting posed many problems. The highlights in the water were very bright. As the water descends it gets bluer and greyer, and this was not easy to capture. The ochre rock on which the waterfall falls was also very dark, and capturing this large wet and black/ochre rock posed problems. I didn’t use black but Prussian blue and Burnt Umber. The waterfall itself, where it hits the pool, reminded me of one of Da Vinci’s greatest drawings. In that drawing he shows the dynamics of water hitting water, plunging down and bubbling up in concentric circles. I knew I could not match his peerless hand and observational skills, but I did the best I could.
Leonardo's water studyLeonardo's water study
In the lower right of the painting, there is a spiral galaxy-like form. This results from bubbles from the waterfall getting caught in a whirling current or cul de sac. That charmed me very much and added to the poetry of the place. Nature echoes itself in so many places.
The main thing I wished to express in this work was the greenness of this turquoise valley as well as the liquid tracery of the fluid light in the waterfall, contrasting with the cantilevered gravity of the massive rocks. I am not sure I achieved my goal, but then I rarely do entirely. I am interested in art serving science and objectivity. I always make mistakes and go back and try again, hoping to improve slowly over time. I look forward to painting in this spot again, and tried once, but that painting failed and I did not keep it. I might try to do this scene yet again and this time I would make changes, make it taller and include more of the woods, or change my view and do it from another angle, perhaps on top of the waterfall.
Winter Creekk, (Columbia Run), (Columbia Run)
This is a study of rocks, water and ice, it is not at all an abstract work, though it might appear as one. The rippling stream is called Columbia Run, a little noticed creek about midway between Boston Mills and Vaughn Roads. This creek is said to have Redbelly Dace, a rare minnow. I have seen minnow in it but could not tell which ones. It also is said rare Cerulean Warblers nest here. I have not seen them here, though I have seen them elsewhere in the park. I was interested in the whites, grays and blues of the ice and snow and the color of the many rocks in the water and how the two contrast. There were a few leaves from the fall. It was March already and a feeling of early spring was at large, with the slushy snow and the melt. If you squint your eyes at the painting you can almost see and hear the water dancing over the small stones and under the ice on the rock in the middle of the rivulet. At the top of the painting I like the feeling of slushy snow.
A comment might be in order on abstract art here. I generally breeze through areas in museums that have abstract things in them, as they are usually so badly conceived and done. There are some exceptional abstractions that have real content, but they are rare. Kandinsky and Klee and sometimes Picasso are often very interesting, even if Kandinsky's spiritual ideology is bizarre, Blavatskian and even delusional. But what is good in these men's work is bested by certain Oriental or Native American carpets, which is largely a woman's art, as well as some quilts and pottery designs, which are often abstract and very amazing. Folk art, costume and decorations of many kinds are often very human and compelling in ways that the fashion/art world in New York is not. Most of these are by women too. Defining the difference is not the place of this essay, but it boils down to corporate, institutional art as against an art that grows from actual people and their real needs. A great South Persian tribal carpet has real flowers and birds and a love of nature in it. In the painting above I was not concerned with abstract design at all, but rather with the facts of the subject and doing justice to water, snow and stones. What matters is the felt empathy with colors and forms. In a really good oriental carpet that is what one sees: nature translated organically into a wool design felt deeply and made concrete by art. Art by definition is not mechanical or corporate. The weaver has been sensitive to the colors and forms that wool makes and translates that sensitivity into abstract floral or geometric shapes. Some quilts do this too and one can feel the love that was put into the design, meant to warm a child in the bed or keep warm a married couple who have been together 30 years.
Dark Eyed Juncos are lovely small birds that
come down form Canada every late fall and live
with us all winter. I am always glad when the
arrive and sad when they go. We are faithful
feeders so they are sure to get their food and
stay with us for the winter. Their tail feathers
suddenly flick a whitish stripe when they
flitter from here to there. Here they are eating
a few peanuts on our deck. I was intrigued by
the subtlety of the whites in this scene. The
snow in the sunlight appeared with a bluish
tint, but the underbelly of the birds was a
light lemony yellow. I liked that contrast very
We got to know the Oregon Junco in Northern California, which some ornithologists list as a sub-race of the Dark Eyed, and some list as a separate species altogether. It is quite different with a russet back and peach or ochre colored sides These two in my painting seem to be two Slate Colored males, which are a type of Dark Eyed Junco. We got to know the Oregon Junco in Northern California, which some ornithologists list as a sub-race of the Dark Eyed, and some list as a separate species altogether. It is quite different with a russet back and peach or ochre colored sides These two in my painting seem to be two Slate Colored males, which are a type of Dark Eyed Junco.
Muskrat Lodge and Pond
This is the same site as the painting above called "Cuyahoga Floodplain and Hillside". This is the second of three paintings done there. I was interested in the Muskrat Lodge next to the ice as well as the ice itself. There was an area of ice apparently kept clear by ducks or geese, but they had left during the times I was there. The ice was smoky with an old snow frozen and melted and refrozen again in a gray and misty color. I love that color and it reminds me of ice skating on Cedar Pond in New jersey, when I was a kid.
There was more of the Little Bluestem here. I struggled with the trees in the background because the light was so variable. When the sun sets here it goes down in the valley to the far right and casts very long beams of light though the trees from right to left in the painting. The winter trees are normally a grayish umber, but I show them here as reddish because the sun was on them and they glow with warmth. There were purple shadows beyond them.
Walking back on the railroad tracks from
doing the Sycamore painting, I started
seeing this lovely train station across the
parking lot at Station Road. I love trains
and wish our society would rebuild them.
They are much more efficient than cars and
waste less energy. I like the loneliness of
train tracks and the hope of stations, the
longing to go elsewhere. I lived in England
for 6 months years ago and loved the
stations there and the ease of travel by
In the distance is a bridge which is one of the most beautiful bridges in the state of Ohio: both to look down from and to look up at. It recalls bridges on Highway One in California I have seen, with great arches that span lyrically over the Valley. There is an Eagle nest in a wetland near here and I have seen Peregrine Falcons, many Herons, as well as Prothonatory and Cerulean Warblers in this area too. Many people get the Valley train here, which goes to Akron or Canton, or they park here to get on the towpath to walk, jog or ride bikes. The towpath trail runs along the old Canal way, and goes the entire length of the 17 or so miles to Akron..
I don't usually like to paint around people much, excepting my students, but will do it if I have to. On this painting I could see I had to. I have had people take pictures of me while I paint plein air and I find that particularly annoying, and I stop them if I can. But the lights on the train station were so lovely at twilight I could not resist it. Ever since my teens, walking home in the winter, I loved seeing lighted windows in houses, suggesting warmth and a place to go where you feel you belong. Indeed, for us humans, belonging is almost everything, and it is that need that makes us fear shunning and homelessness so much, the cruelty of the tribe. But this painting is far from cruelty, a family wants a the warm station, all its members happy and together. Even the so called "winter weeds" in the foreground of the painting have a certain invitational warmth. I have always loved the shapes of dried out winter plants. My mother loved them too and I keep on her traditional of making flower arrangements of dried winter plants and berries..
As I worked on this painting over 5 days or so, I had various weather. One day I was out there for several hours in a snow storm and the temperature dropped below 15 degrees (F). The snow that was falling was no longer melting on impact and was falling in perfectly classical 6 point star designs. I could see these in my black coat. The snow began to congeal in my paint. Soon, snowflakes made it thick like pencil shavings or sawdust mixed with glue. The paint became so viscous and clumpy I could scarcely get the paint onto the board much less manipulate it like ordinary paint. I tried to put it on the painting and it merely fell off it clumps..
I had cut off the two fingers on some very warm wool gloves and made them into painting gloves that free the two fingers on my right hand. I was painting in these. After a few hours int he cold, my two exposed fingers were so cold I could barely move them and was beginning to fear getting frostbite. So I went home. I had to give up for that day. It was a good day of painting though. and I was happy..
The last afternoon and early evening I was there was still cold. I worked under the the cold blue northern sky. I love these cold skies form Canada, because the air is clean you can see stars. You can see this clear cold sky beyond the bridge, hinting at the Sky over Lake Erie all the way to Hudson's Bay. It was too cold for anyone to be there the last twilight I was there and I painted away happily. The light was just right and I was thrilled with the work. But it is one for or five to this finest in this series, I think. The last afternoon and early evening I was there was still cold. I worked under the the cold blue northern sky. I love these cold skies form Canada, because the air is clean you can see stars. You can see this clear cold sky beyond the bridge, hinting at the Sky over Lake Erie all the way to Hudson's Bay. It was too cold for anyone to be there the last twilight I was there and I painted away happily. The light was just right and I was thrilled with the work. But it is one for or five to this finest in this series, I think.
One further note about this work. I brought
it home and decided that it needed us in the
painting,---my family and I. We have taken
the Valley train to Akron Zoo several times,
not from this station but from another, and
it is a marvelous trip. I wanted to do
another miniature of my family. I did one a
few years ago with figures even smaller and
sued a magnifying glass. I don't know why I
find miniature work interesting. Maybe
it is the small miniature thatt
did of my
grandma that is in the Metropolitan Museum
in New York. But not really as years earlier
to knowing about Kahle's picture I was
Jan Van Eyck
Jan Van Eyck's
amazing tour de force of miniaturization in
his famous crucifixions and hell scene in
the Metamazing tour de force of miniaturization in
his famous crucifixions and hell scene in
I admire the left panel in particular,---
look at the faces of all the men on horses.
It is refreshing to see the very small and
humble done with honest authenticity of
subject and of the best execution one can
achieve. I think I admire the miniature
partly because today there are so many huge
gigantic paintings in museums that are
utterly empty of any content. Corporate art
is the art beloved of psychopathic
corporations. (note: See also
Van Eyk's or any of his other paintings too,
such as the famous mirror in thee
Arnolfini portraittor theor theamazing landscape and town in the background
of thee The Virgin of Chancellor Rolinn. ). ). )
My eyes are not good enough to achieve anything like that level of detail. But I admire this skill greatly. Indeed, I can't think of anyone who has done as well and Van Eyks in this genre of exquisite detail in the very small. There are many miniatures in the Portrait Gallery in London, as well as other museums, that are quite amazing too. What I admire is the skill of There are some works by Ernst Meissonnier , Cleveland has a very fine example--- which are amazing but not up to Van Eyck. Meissonnier's politics are quite reactionary but that does not detract from his skill as an artist. I think Van Eyck had exceptional eyesight and the hand control to match it. There is nothing quite like him in the history art. In any case, I tried my hand at this on a hand-made box a few years ago. Here I did not use a magnifying glass as I did then, and managed to make tiny figures less than an inch high, with some verisimilitude. My daughters red coat with the fluffy collar and her dress with a Scottish plaid is suggested. My generous form and my wife's blue coat as well as my son riding on my wife's hip are apparent. But it is still far from the expertise of Van Eyk and Meissonier. I am just venturing a little in their direction, which only increased my respect for their skill. I do not aspire to be a great miniaturist, but I have come to admire those who have mastered this skill.
I spent parts of Winter and Spring studying Vermeer and De Hooch too, as well as other Dutch painters. They did not affect my landscape work, but more my figurative work. I much prefer De Hooch to Vermeer, though there is much to admire in the latter. De Hooch's work is very warm and it is clear that his wife was very likely a model for many of his paintings. I like that he provides a window into the reality of life and one can feel a certain love of the domestic in him which I appreciate. It is this intimacy that I admire in De Hooch as well, which is lacking in Vermeer. We spend a great deal of time with our children and do not farm them out to privatized institutions and "day care".
The hatred of history in modern art is one of its most irritating aspects. I love art history and always have. The presumption of a Matisse, Picasso or Pollock to abandon the art of the past and "go beyond it, is so ridiculous that it is embarrassing. The suppressed the ability to draw and in the process made their art into poor imitations of Children's art. Children can draw much better than any of them. Science shows us that learning from the past really matters, and making yourself dumb and unable to draw or learn from the past is an ignorant thing to do. There is so much to be learned form the history of art about social facts, technique, experiment, inquiry, seeing, sensing, organizing as well as history, politics, philosophy, and so much else. Modern art through everything out the window and made art about art. But in doing so it killed what art is, which is everything except art. They made art into empty fetishes that really are all about money. How stupid was that?
Sycamore over Chippewa Creek
This is Chippewa Creek, one of many tributaries of the
Cuyahoga. The mouth of the Chippewa enters the Cuyahoga just
around the bend there up ahead in the painting. We have
entered December here. It was the warmest year ever in Ohio,
but that did not prevent some cold days. On this day there
was a dusting of snow on the opposite bank. The snow melted
on the left bank because the sun is in the southern sky in
the winter, which is to the right in the painting. To the
left is where the sun shines strongest and so it has melted
to snow on the left bank.
Sycamore trees are very common in Ohio. I used to marvel at them in Marietta when I went to college there briefly. I especially enjoyed seeing them at night as their white branches would glow against the starry sky. They grow along the Ohio river and indeed, they are wet soil trees and prosper where there is allot of water, streams or rivers. In this place, I was charmed by the way the tree managed to lean out so far over Chippewa Creek, and hold onto the bank, very nearly growing horizontally. It is in no apparent danger of crashing into the water. I have seen this many times with there threes. The help preserve river banks in this way, holding the bank back form erosion. Admirable trees,, which have interesting seed balls which goldfinches love to eat in the winter and spring.
One of my main motive in doing this picture was to try to represent the massiveness of the form of the tree and its weight and strength, holding itself up by a rotted attachment to the bank. This stretch of the Creek has cut right through a shale hillside. I had started back doing life drawings around this time and that study helped me understand form in nature a little better. After all, the human body and all other organic forms from horses to tree trunks have much in common. All this year I have been interested in turning form and the roundness' and density of things. The massive pull of gravity on this huge trunk does not succeed in pulling it down and the life of the tree holds it up with innumerable roots holding the entire bank together. One of my main motive in doing this picture was to try to represent the massiveness of the form of the tree and its weight and strength, holding itself up by a rotted attachment to the bank. This stretch of the Creek has cut right through a shale hillside. I had started back doing life drawings around this time and that study helped me understand form in nature a little better. After all, the human body and all other organic forms from horses to tree trunks have much in common. All this year I have been interested in turning form and the roundness' and density of things. The massive pull of gravity on this huge trunk does not succeed in pulling it down and the life of the tree holds it up with innumerable roots holding the entire bank together.
Andropogon Scoparius,( Little Bluestem) and Pines.Andropogon Scoparius,( Little Bluestem) and Pines.
It was the warmest December I ever
remember, but we did have a light snow a
few times. This is one of those times.
The snow flakes were large and fluffy. I
could see the designs of the snowflakes
on arm of my black winter coat. It was a
slushy snow and I was standing in a bit
of a puddle in the clumpy grasses. There
is an old clapboard barn near where I
was painting this and it is a matter of
feet from where I stood and did the
"Across the Valley Painting".
I love these native grasses and have admired them since I was at school in Southern Ohio, where they are more common than in Northern Ohio. For years I have been calling them Andropogon Scoparius, but recently they have been calledd Schizachyrium scoparium, both refer to the plant commonly called Little Bluestem. I imagine there is a structural reason for this change. In any case they are lovely in the fall and winter and have this russett, ochre or cinnamon tone that pleases me greatly. As I studied them they even turned a little towards crimson and purple in the shadows. So I decided to dedicate a whole painting to them as a sort of grass portrait. I loved the pine trees too, and there are several species here, and I do not mean to diminish them. But this painting is about these special grasses and snow as well as snow fall on pine boughs.
Berkeley's Mistake, Red Squirrel and Turkey
One day my nearly three year old son
and I were walking in the woods
above a Beaver pond and came across
this old fallen tree. I liked the
color of it, covered with mosses,
lichens and molds. The mosses were
all wet. Pine needles, dead
leaves, chewed up bits of pine cone,
and shredded bark surrounded the
damp base of the fallen tree. It was
under lovely canopy of pine trees
some of them my believed White Pines
but also hemlock and scotch pine..
(if you look att Green Heron's Worlddbelow, the stand of pines that is in the upper right of the painting is the one I am talking about. The painting of the Train near the Wetland at the bottom of this page was also done nearby up the hill form the beaver pond in this grove of pines))
I loved all the decay and new growth coming up. The wet old walnuts, somewhat purple in the misty rain that was falling that day. Red squirrels chattered up above me, eating pine cones, some of which surrounded me from here they dropped them. A turkey with one full grown poult ran up the hill while I was painting there, so I decided to put a Turkey in the work..
There are four species of Squirrel in our area, the Fox, Red, Gray(black) and the Flying. I just saw my first Flying Squirrel in the woods a few days ago. (Dec. 2102) I have seen them in cages, but I don't think of that as seeing the actual thing, really. The Flying Squirrel was up during the day, which I think unusual, and I saw it fly down to the ground is a graceful and fairly slow freefall, flight skin outstretched between the fore and back limbs. It hit the ground running and quite amazed me. I have only painted the Red, Fox and the Black, not the gray or Flying..
Red Squirrels have more energy than any mammal that I know of. They are even crazier and seem more nervous than Otters. I don't know much about animals like Martens, Fishers, Wolverines, and Ermines, though I have seen Minks. But for three years now Red Squirrels have adopted our house and my family. They built a house in the rafters of the garage and live there all year round. When the Walnut tree nearby is in nuts they hide them around the garage. They pull them out to eat them all through the winter and dump them on the floor for us to kindly clean up for them. I don't mind obliging them. We feed them generous portions of bird food, and that is fine too. But they are amoral beings and have destroyed a number of our favorite birds nests. I have not been happy about that. One year it was the House Finches nest. They killed one of the babies in the nest and the other just managed to get away when I yelled at the squirrel. This last summer one of these Squirrels raided the nest of the Cardinals or Redbirds we call Baldy, (because he gets head mites most years and loses his head feathers in the summer). But besides this lamentable lack of bad conscience, they are otherwise the most delightful and energetic beings I have ever seen, full of pluck and vigor, leaping form branch to branch, yelling at each other, and curling up together is their leaf-stuffed bedroom in the garage every night. Their babies are even more energetic and will chase each other around our huge Silver Maple in spirals up and down the tree. In the painting above I picture the Red Squirrel in one of it more placid moments. I often see them in this pose sitting in a tree gnawing on a nut or on the railing of our deck, chewing on a peanut. Red Squirrels have more energy than any mammal that I know of. They are even crazier and seem more nervous than Otters. I don't know much about animals like Martens, Fishers, Wolverines, and Ermines, though I have seen Minks. But for three years now Red Squirrels have adopted our house and my family. They built a house in the rafters of the garage and live there all year round. When the Walnut tree nearby is in nuts they hide them around the garage. They pull them out to eat them all through the winter and dump them on the floor for us to kindly clean up for them. I don't mind obliging them. We feed them generous portions of bird food, and that is fine too. But they are amoral beings and have destroyed a number of our favorite birds nests. I have not been happy about that. One year it was the House Finches nest. They killed one of the babies in the nest and the other just managed to get away when I yelled at the squirrel. This last summer one of these Squirrels raided the nest of the Cardinals or Redbirds we call Baldy, (because he gets head mites most years and loses his head feathers in the summer). But besides this lamentable lack of bad conscience, they are otherwise the most delightful and energetic beings I have ever seen, full of pluck and vigor, leaping form branch to branch, yelling at each other, and curling up together is their leaf-stuffed bedroom in the garage every night. Their babies are even more energetic and will chase each other around our huge Silver Maple in spirals up and down the tree. In the painting above I picture the Red Squirrel in one of it more placid moments. I often see them in this pose sitting in a tree gnawing on a nut or on the railing of our deck, chewing on a peanut.
I was not thinking of Van Gogh at all when did this. But I like many of Vincent's early works and one that I like especially for its tactile and earthy evocation of the ground in the forest, is this one,, heree. It occurred to me as I write this that It has a similar color scheme to my painting. I am not sure why the girl is there in Vincent's work, she seems unnecessary to his subject which is really the earth roots and leaves.
Occasionally I wax philosophical,
and I have always been irritated by
Berkeley's saying that "There is
nothing easier than for me to
imagine trees, for instance, in a
park [...] and nobody by to perceive
them. [...] The objects of sense
exist only when they are perceived"
In other words to be is to be
perceived, it is a philosophy tailor
made for narcissists. It is hard to
imagine anyone with intelligence
would invent such human centered
rubbish. So I painted a Turkey and
and Red Squirrel quite aware of the
fallen tree and no one there to see
them but animals or birds. But this
really is a small part of this
painting, something I thought about
as I was doing it. I like the idea
of refuting this sort of nonsense by
the evidence of a painting, a
painting moreover that is as based
in fact as this one is. Refuting
Berkeley is akin to refusing "Post
Modernism" (pomo) which has a
similar narcissistic idea that
reality is a human construction,
when obviously, it isn't..
But the main subject of this work is not Berkeley or "pomo" as some call it, but the forest itself and the animals in it. It does not need humans to exist. Indeed, the main threat to nature is humanity.But the main subject of this work is not Berkeley or "pomo" as some call it, but the forest itself and the animals in it. It does not need humans to exist. Indeed, the main threat to nature is humanity.
This downy woodpecker flew into our window and died. My daughter noticed it and we brought it into the house and both of us did a memorial picture of it. We are a family of bird lovers and we feed them. One of the hazards of feeding birds is that they are likely to fly into your windows, even if you have put up things to try to stop them like paper snowflakes or other objects on the window. Bird feeders also or attract Sharp-shinned Hawks and when they come there is nothing to do but stop feeding the birds till they go away. I have gone out too, whenever the hawk is around, and physically show him that I do not want him there. I have done several times, and the hawk leaves for a long period of time. I do not do anything mean, I just pay allot of attention to the hawk and follow it on foot. This makes him leave the area. This downy woodpecker flew into our window and died. My daughter noticed it and we brought it into the house and both of us did a memorial picture of it. We are a family of bird lovers and we feed them. One of the hazards of feeding birds is that they are likely to fly into your windows, even if you have put up things to try to stop them like paper snowflakes or other objects on the window. Bird feeders also or attract Sharp-shinned Hawks and when they come there is nothing to do but stop feeding the birds till they go away. I have gone out too, whenever the hawk is around, and physically show him that I do not want him there. I have done several times, and the hawk leaves for a long period of time. I do not do anything mean, I just pay allot of attention to the hawk and follow it on foot. This makes him leave the area.
There was a Black Squirrel nuzzling in the
leaves when I was working onn Across the
Valley.. I only put animals that I
actually see into these paintings. But few
animals are willing to pose for an artist,
so this one was from a photograph. It is the
same Black Squirrel that is in the above
painting. Indeed, I used this painting as
the model for the squirrel in the landscape.
While I was doing this study I remember
thinking about levels of detail, -- how far
should I go to reproduce reality. The
largest leaf in front, closest to us,
looks like a real leaf. Some of the
leaves in the back of the painting look
utterly real too, you can feel their papery
stiffness, the pliable strength of their
stems. Reality is not merely what our eyes
can see, but also what is too small or large
or hidden to sight. It would be interesting
to paint with a microscope..
I recently saw Jupiter through a ten inch telescope and it was no less amazing than this Black Squirrel, indeed, looking at living things or new planets you have not see before, can have the same shock of awareness of the rich varieties that exist in reality..
Black Squirrels are actually Gray Squirrels with allot of melanin. The city of
Across the Valley
f Now we are getting into November and all the leaves are down. It is almost as if you have entered a black, white or sepia photography website, such is the color difference. The carpet of orange leaves on the forest floor is the last remnant left of the fall, excepting, of course, the Black Squirrel who is collecting nuts and making herself fat to get through the winter. The November forest still has a certain warmth in it that it will not leave till January. f Now we are getting into November and all the leaves are down. It is almost as if you have entered a black, white or sepia photography website, such is the color difference. The carpet of orange leaves on the forest floor is the last remnant left of the fall, excepting, of course, the Black Squirrel who is collecting nuts and making herself fat to get through the winter. The November forest still has a certain warmth in it that it will not leave till January.
But the winter forest has a surprising variety in color that might go unseen after the much louder symphony of color that occurs in October. The trees now show many variations of color in their bark. On the left of the painting there is a Black Cherry tree, whose bark is nearly scalloped and has hints of a grayish purple. The Sugar Maple has a twisted wild grape vine around it and is greenish. Other tree trunks are Umber or more towards Naples Yellow. Oil paint is especially good at these colors that do not have names, and are in between brown and blue or purple and grey, ochre and umber.
Way down below at the bottom of the valley you can see hints of the Cuyahoga river snaking its crooked way toward the north. There are different trees down in the valley than close by up on the hill where I stood. In the Valley there are allot more Willows, Sycamores, Cottonwoods and Aspens and fewer Hardwoods, like Cherry, Oak and Beech. On the far side of the Valley is the eastern wall or slope of the Valley carved out most recently by the glaciers of the Ice Age.
What I especially like in this painting is the feeling of space as you look form the foreground trees to the background hills on the far side of the valley. You can feel the depth of the Valley carved by the river. The ridge opposite hints at the orange fall that was and suggests just how this Valley might have looked 500 or 5000 years ago. The bird in the young tree that is closest to the viewer is a Downy Woodpecker. This is a painting of one below the Squirrel.
This is a small study of a Sweetgum Leaf. The leaves on the tree change at different times so there is a progression of color across the tree as fall transpires. Some leaves are greenish, some yellow, some orange, or red and some even go as far as purple. Sweetgum is a rainbow tree and I love it for that.
I drove by this this lovely
Sweetgum Tree nearly everyday for a
year because I took my daughter to a
school out that way. I admired it
for some years before that. I
finally tried to paint it after
knowing it for three years. Next to
it are some White Pines, one of my
favorite Eastern trees. They have
been called the Redwood of the East,
which is not inaccurate. There used
to be large forests of them, from
Michigan to Maine, and they can grow
to huge sizes, but they were much
coveted and loggers destroyed most
large stands of them 150 years ago.
Among many others things, they were
used for Clippership masts. As
usual, there was little conservation
effort and little regulation. The
rapacious lumber industry destroyed
its own product. Greed often
destroys the thing it loves best.
This is the second of my tree portraits this year. It is also one of many portraits of plants or wildflowers. Some of the tall, dried out wildflowers mixed in the front grasses are Wingstem, which is very common in our Valley. Some of the other foreground plants are the remains of Ironweed, one of my favorite fall wildflowers. I have seen Coyotes in this area, and hoped I would see some during the says I spent painting this, but if any showed they were the only ones to see me, I did not see them. I find when I am painting these, however, that I get so wrapped up in the tiny decisions I must make to judge colors and mix them and consider values and intensities, that I forget everything around me but how to approach the "motif", as Monet called it..
The tree itself was a challenge to paint and Sweetgum leaves are so individual and I would have had to be there for months to paint every one. I only had about a week before the leaves would start falling off. So I went as often as I could. I wanted it to be a painting of the White Pines too so I worked on them allot as well. I wanted to show a sort of path that deer and coyotes use going up in to the woods and you can see that to the middle right of the painting. I like the light on the White Pine boughs. I also like the the hint of the trill that goes up into the woods on the right.
This is my first river picture, one of thirteen water pictures in the series of the year. I was a swimmer when I was a kid and love water. Moreover, we are water and life exists because of it, so I celebrate it every chance I get. I am pretty sure that is an Aspen on the river bank. Most of the trees in the background are willows. It was twilight. The brilliance of the twilit sky and how it echoes the colorful trees and influenced the rippling river was the subject. The Cuyahoga River bends at this point, off Vaughn Road. In the center of the river is a small island and so the river splits in two. This is one side of that split. I don' think this painting is quite finished, but it was October at the height of the tree change and I was very excited to get out and try my hand at other motifs.
Cuyahoga Floodplain and Hillside
This picture was done in a flood plain area not far from our house in October, 2011. I did this wet meadow three times in fall, winter and summer. I really like the little pond and cattails as well as the hillside. Geologically the Cuyahoga valley is ancient and was made by rivers perhaps 300 million years ago, which is the date of the rocks at Ritchie Ledges at the other end of the National Park. The Ice Age started about two million years ago. Glaciers bulldozed northeastern Ohio over millions of years before the Ice Age ended 10,000 or so years ago. Evidently there are few rocks that date from 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs died out, because of the glaciers that carved out the Valley later took away all this material. So in our Valley the rocks are either very old, 300 million years or older
( Berea Sandstone for instance) or very new, since the last ice age. When we dig in out backyard it is full of pebbles and stones, all laid sown as the glacier retreated ten thousand years ago. There used to be Saber Tooth Tiger and Woolly Mammoths back then as well as the large Woodland Buffalo.
So this is a Cuyahoga River flood plain and it and the hillside opposite it are probably relatively recent. The deer in this painting was actually done from life. She walked in front of me and stood there for a few minutes and I was able to block her in. I could do much better from a photo, certainly, but it is so rare to be able to paint a wild animal from life that I kept her as she is. The deer gave the painting a sense of scale and distance and I was thankful for that.
I did some of this painting in the rain and complained about water puddles forming on my palette, but since oil paint and water don't mix I didn't mind that much. I have an umbrella I can attach to my paint box, but during a good soaking rain I get wet anyway.
Syrup form our Maple Trees
As to the Amish themselves, there are degrees of Mennonite and Amish folks, some more fanatical than others as far as rejection of "English" technology goes. In Middlefield and in Holmes county one often sees the horse and buggy and the horse drawn plow. Women and children in 19th century dresses and bonnets often walk along the roads. There is a prevalence of animals and all this creates a certain sympathetic ambiance that is pleasing. Indeed, I like the different scale of Amish communities, there are buildings close to each other and everything is scaled down to human and horse bodies rather than cars. But there is a downside to Amish life that one sees too. Women are out hanging wet laundry in January, and there is evidence of animal abuse. We once talked with a 10 year old Amish girl taking care of her younger siblings and she complained of her parents making her get up at 5 in the morning to milk the cows and do other chores. It is a patriarchal society and has many negative features that adversely affect women, children and animals. The religious aspect of the Amish is disturbing and often employs cultish features such as shunning and ostracism.
Maple Sugar Bucket
I also did a small painting of the syrup itself after we made it from many gallons of liquid from the tree. We live next to the park so it is not entirely outside the parameters of my project. Indeed, we traveled both locally and further field to see people collecting maple sugar. The Amish do it quite allot down in Burton, Middlefield and surrounding areas. One sees the steam and smoke coming up from the woods. The fire that boils down the maple liquid into syrup makes alot of steam. There is also a "Sugar Bush" down at Swine Creek State Park, and the maple syrup and "maple stirs' are delicious as well as the fiddle and dulcimer music. The kids enjoyed this process immensely and got to learn about history and other cultures at the same time.
My Kids under the Red Maple
This is one of several portraits of trees in the series. Watching individual trees over many years time allows one to start to grasp the individuality of the tree. Part to the reason we bought our house had to do with the beauty of this tree as well as proximity to the National Park. Like us, trees are living things and have their stages of life and hardships they suffer. The tree is yellow to orange and it is a Red Maple. Watching individual tress over a years time allows one to start to grasp the individuality of the tree.
Originally this was going to be just a tree portrait. But the kids were playing around me so much as I stood in the driveway with my pochade box and painted, I decided to put them in too. My daughter was 7 here and my son is 2. He was unable to peddle the trike yet so she was pushing him around, laughing. This introduced a note of autobiography at the very beginning and violated the usual conventions of landscape art, which tend to make landscape into a sort of symbolist and spiritual theater. I am not terribly concerned with those conventions anyway, indeed, I have no interest in landscape as a metaphor for spiritual ideologies, The only conventions that interest me as far as landscape painting go come from realism and science , as these help me bring out things I wish to say. My relation to this landscape is deeply personal, not 'spiritual" and so next to a very real tree I place my very real children, with whom I spend most of my days, teaching and guiding.
We use this particular Red Maple tree to make male syrup too, and it has a delicious flavor, like the sugar maple. I did a few paintings around the subject of making maple sugar for the kids. Here is our maple bucket attached to the same maple tree in March. We got this bucket from an old man in maple sugar country out East of here, near Middlefield. We could have bought new ones, but the old style ones are very handsome. I like the rust on the top and the rusty spot of the side that is not yet a hole. The sap actually starts running in February. The sap starts running around the same time that Canada Geese start getting restless and begin mating now if the ponds thaw early. I was not trying to compete with Eastman Johnson's marvelouss "Sugaring Off",,which might be the best maple sugaring picture yet done.
I like Johnson's work very much. He is one of our best chroniclers of life in the 19th century. He is a great history painter, from paint the slave quarters at Mount Vernon to showing farmers and rural life and African American life around the time of the civil war. But I was just trying to record some simple observations about how maple sugaring has played a role in our lives with our kids. It is not the vast social thing it was over a hundred years ago. But it is a small social thing for us now now, and we enjoy its healthy pleasures in the late winter, and early spring. It ties us deeper to the land and the trees upon it.which might be the best maple sugaring picture yet done. I like Johnson's work very much. He is one of our best chroniclers of life in the 19th century, especially of African American life around the time of the civil war. But I was just trying to record some simple observations about how maple sugaring has played a role in our lives with our kids. It is not the vast social thing it was over a hundred years ago. But it is a small social thing for us now now, and we enjoy its healthy pleasures in the late winter, and early spring. It ties us deeper to the land and the trees upon it.
Goldenrod Above Cuyahoga ValleyGoldenrod Above Cuyahoga Valley, September 2011
jGoldenrod and Ironweed, September 2011
My first two works in this series were two studies of Golden Rod, a wildflower (solidago canadensis), a flower in the aster family. In September there are great masses of old yellow in the fall fields. In "Golden Rod Above Cuyahoga Valley", I was thinking of the immense distances and the closeness of the flowers. I knew I was going to do an entire series on the Park, as this is partly why we moved here. So I wanted to start with a sort of overview, literally. It is the first in the series. It had been some years since I painted outside and i was feeling a bit rusty at first..
My spouse and kids dropped me off near this field and I worked out in the middle of it, so I was totally surrounded with golden yellow. I took me for our five sessions, a few hours each to get this far. One night, I think the last day I was there, it started to rain pretty hard and my phone did not work. So I was stranded there for an hour in the rain, painting. I had a grey umbrella but it did not prevent getting wet anyway. There were many monarchs there that day so I painted one of them. At one point a deer appeared in the golden field and I tried to put his head in, but later took it out..
This initial foray was a struggle. I did my best to try to get the immensity of this field, but I am not sure I succeeded. I think it one of the weaker in the series. But it started the ball rolling and outlined my basic procedure. Throughout the series I tried to paint some of the animals or insects I saw into the scene. Most of the paintings have birds, animal or botanical studies in them. I was not trying to make beautiful pictures but to paint the the places and life I love..
In "Goldenrod and Ironweed", I think I improved greatly and was more confident. I am not sure what the small white flower was but I suspected it was one of the Hedge Bindweeds. There were a number of different grasses there. There is a Goldfinch in the painting that might take some effort to find. The clouds were low and threatening rain. The purple Ironweed reaches its apogee in color in September and it was gorgeous. I love to see Tiger Swallowtails on it, but not this time. You can see by the hillside far distant, on the right, that we are down in the Valley. This painting has the excitement of reality in it..
Painting is a form of inquiry, and the inquiry is an effort to see into the reality of things. By the 'reality" of things I mean nothing metaphysical, I mean the actual experiences of things and beings in real day to day life as it is actually lived, not merely thought about. It is exciting when reality starts to come into a work. I start to be able to feel the energy in the scene in my painting and in my hands. Oil paint has a certain visceral vitality in it that is able to imitate the feelings of things, the texture and virtual appearances of reality. Oil paint's viscous versatility in this respect makes it an amazingly sensitive vehicle to adapt thought and develop accuracy of perceptions..
The hand and the mind translate reality into paint and the process by which this happens is not magical. Magical is not the right word,--- wondrous and sympathetic are much better words to describe the process of reaching out of the mind into the world. One must be careful of analogies. Art for me is close to science and not at all Platonic. There are no essences that need to be 'evoked", there is only the reality of things and a process of assimilation and efforts to grasp, see and understand what is actually there. There is more to it than merely Aristotle's 'imitation' or mimesis, though mimesis is the beginning of education, as Aristotle taught. It is not nothing to try to grasp the physical and what actually happens in the world, indeed, it is extremely difficult and the only thing that really matters. The world can improve by such exacting efforts, it does not improve by Platonic essences, religions, superstitions and magical thinking.
What follows is the story of a few years
in paint, part catalogue of places,
trees, waters, and people, part year in
review, part autobiography. These are a
series of 40 or so mostly Plein Air
paintings done in, or close to, Cuyahoga
Valley National Park (CVNP). The park is
large, about 20,339 acres or
31.78 sq miles. The Cuyahoga Valley was
already known for its beauty in the
1800's when people came from nearby
cities for carriage rides or boat trips
along the Ohio and Erie canal. In any
case, the history of the park is really
about the effort to preserve the obvious
beauty of the place. This beauty has to
do with features that predate private
property and human use. To a large
degree the ancient beauty of the place
has been preserved.
In 1880 Valley Railroad became another way to find recreation in the Valley. Actual park development began in the 1910s and 1920s with the establishment of Cleveland and Akron metropolitan park districts became another way to find recreation in the Valley. Actual park development began in the 1910s and 1920s with the establishment of Cleveland and Akron metropolitan park districts. The National Park overlaps parts of the semi-wild areas of the Metroparks of Cleveland. I think of CVNP and the Cleveland Metroparks together as one of the best natural areas of any city in the country. These parks stretch Between Cleveland and Akron. Many people made these parks possible in years past. The Metroparks system, for instance, was largely created by an amazing man, William Stinchcomb, in the 1930's. He created the Metroparks during a progressive era when such things were still possible and the fox was less in charge of the hen house. The successor "Boards" who have run the parks since then have had alliances to corporations and have sometimes been guilty of corruptions. The Metroparks Board has been prevented from turning it into a giant golf course or selling it to MacDonald's because it has an excellent mission statement and the public has opposed such corruptions. But a number of the governors of the Metroparks have been found guilty of corruptions and crimes. The National Park is less threatening to the land, at least so far, if only because congressional corruption is further afield and has so for not be able to sink the wildly popular National Parks..
It is true there has been no lack of trying to open up the parks to oil companies and others. Private enterprise hates the whole idea of public ownership of anything. Business sees nature as an exploitable "resource". One need only look at how nature is treated outside the park system to see that Business does harm to the natural world virtually everywhere, 'externalizing' risks onto animals and trees, seas and rivers, soaking up profits for the rich and putting hardships and taxes on the poor and middle class. There have been efforts to defund the parks. Hopefully the relatively new CVNP will not become as corrupt as the Cleveland Metroparks became. But the parks still stand and hopefully will be enlarged and protected. More parks should be created..
In short, there is is a large area of semi-wild public land where I live and it is a great and wondrous thing. So here I wish to celebrate it. This essay or little book is partly done in praise of public lands. I am making an art about local plants and animals and people that are close to me, an intimate art of earth, science, scholarship and story telling..
As I painted more and more of these paintings, they began to echo each other until what you see now is a complex tapestry of people, plants, weathers, birds and animals in space, tied together by a mentality and a steady method of inquiry and observation. These are objective works, done by hand with brushes and oil paints. I stand with my paint box, which I carry on my shoulder into the woods or beside a pond, and place on a tripod. These paintings are done conscientiously and accurately. And they are done partly in rebellion against the orgy of arbitrary, human-centered subjectivism that has ruled art for the last 100 years. The "avant guarde" was useful at the beginning, but i the end became an orthodoxy far more insidious than what is originally sought to replace. Now hatred of beauty is a standardized dogma My my own aesthetic notions and interests are not with the current art world but gravitate toward some of old masters: thee Dutch Realists, Peiter De Hooch andd Rembrandtt, Da Vinci and thee French Realistss. Among American Artists I likee Willard Metcalff and a few, not all, of the works off Wyethh. I also like some regionalists, two in particular who are both eccentric nature painters, Burchfield anddUttech.. But in the case of both these painters it is their love of nature that I like, though I do not like the "spirituality" of either of them. There are a few Plain Air paintings I like such as these:: heree, hereeandand heree. I like Van Gogh's devotion to nature and social issues and Degas' ability to draw, as well as Monet's use of color and effort to perceive the "envelope " in nature as he called it. I particularly like Monet's Haystack series for what it reveals about the use of color and space.
My art is not merely optical. Cezanne said of Monet that Monet is "just an eye, but what an eye?" I am not sure he is right that Monet was that superficial. Indeed, Monet excels where Cezanne fails and that is because Monet had real insights about color and perception, landscape and the feeling of light in space he called the "envelope". My opinion of Cezanne is not very high. He really could not draw. He started out doing very violent scenes. Later he seemed to reduce the violence in him to a very cramped proto-cubism which I do not admire. His late Bathers have always seemed to me pathetic, the emperor with no clothes. Above all I like Da Vinci's intelligence, scope and use of art as an extension of inquiry. So my understanding of art is really that art is an extension of science and thought and not a form of visual entertainment for the rich or propaganda for the powerful. These paintings seek to go beyond all the nonsense about modern and post-modern and to plant art firmly in the place where Da Vinci wanted it to be. My art is not merely optical. Cezanne said of Monet that Monet is "just an eye, but what an eye?" I am not sure he is right that Monet was that superficial. Indeed, Monet excels where Cezanne fails and that is because Monet had real insights about color and perception, landscape and the feeling of light in space he called the "envelope". My opinion of Cezanne is not very high. He really could not draw. He started out doing very violent scenes. Later he seemed to reduce the violence in him to a very cramped proto-cubism which I do not admire. His late Bathers have always seemed to me pathetic, the emperor with no clothes. Above all I like Da Vinci's intelligence, scope and use of art as an extension of inquiry. So my understanding of art is really that art is an extension of science and thought and not a form of visual entertainment for the rich or propaganda for the powerful. These paintings seek to go beyond all the nonsense about modern and post-modern and to plant art firmly in the place where Da Vinci wanted it to be.
So it might be of value here to define
were I stand on the subject of what is
and is not art. But as this is a
somewhat theoretical discussion I will
append it below. Therefore I have
added six paragraphs of comments about
art and aesthetics at the bottom of this
page. It is under the heading
Some Observations of Art .*******
OK. Let's look at the actual paintings. On average, I have done a few paintings per month, not very many by contemporary standards. And it was not easy work, but took a great deal of concentration and purpose. I was also caring for children most days and working a job as a painting and drawing instructor during this time. During spare hours with my wife's and kid's help I was able to get out and do these. They are in some of them and so am I. I mean there to be a loose chronicle of our lives in nature.
It is interesting that Cuyahoga National Park follows the Towpath Trail alongside the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal. I have yet to paint the locks or other remains of the canal. I also haven't done the main water falls as yet, Brandywine and Blue Hen, opting for the less well known ones. I probably will paint these eventually, but for now, other things have called me. The winding Cuyahoga River, (Cuyahoga means "crooked river") gives way to deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands. But I have mostly been drawn to natural features, botanical treasures, as well as geographical features of portraits of water and streams, tree portraits, beaver dams, lodges and wildflowers, as well as the remains of history in the park, the old hoes, barns and hints of lost days. The old covered bridge, and the old train that goes through the valley or one of the the old stations where it stops, these4 too have held me rapt for days at a time while I paint them . I try to show the park partly though the eyes of my kids but also through adults eyes, reflecting and thinking about real things in a real way.
****************Some Observations on Art
It will take me about seven small paragraphs to explain how I feel about art and the "art world". So the next seven paragraphs put forward what amounts to an aesthetic---a theory of art,--- I put some asterisks *** six paragraphs down if you wish to get right to the stories about the paintings and come back to this later.
I think it is important to explain the
intellectual context of these works. These
painting are an outgrowth of two earlier
series of paintings I did. I did four years
of work on my Point Reyes Paintings, (not up
at this point) and perhaps three or 4 years
on a series on Heroes Wetland, which I call
Nature's Rights.The current series goes further into the
specifics of the local. This need to ground
myself in a local landscape and to make
nature a central focus goes back to the
1980's, or perhaps earlier. There are few
people in the contemporary scene that I
identify with I like aspects of the
contemporary Realism, the Atelier and Plein
Air movements, but some of it tends it tends
to be retrograde and to ally itself with
reactionary forces. Art is not
mythological escape. When art become myth it
tends to support the status quo. The vapid
angels of Borguereau or the erotic histories
of Gerome will not save us, though at least
they both could draw well and both made some
beautiful things. Art that aspires to be
religion does not interest me either, as is
the case with much modern art( Reinhardt,
Kandinsky) or such romantics as Inness, even
though I like some of his work. But I am
interested in art as a branch of a
progressive science, not corporate science
but the science of nature. Art comes
from nature and is Darwinian, which means
that it is basically about survival, not
just as a species but a member of the biotic
planet, where all living things exist and
deserve to thrive. For art to be useful in
our time it cannot be Dada, or stupid, nor
can it merely explore itself, in imitation
of the corporation and its psychopathic
The dissolution of reality after Impressionism did no one any good. The notion that we "construct" the world out of our mental states is a lie about our world and ourselves in it. The world exists and is not a human construction. The profound alienation from the natural world implied by the idea of "post-modernism" (pomo) and its rampant subjectivism is very disturbing. In fact, the whole idea of 'post-modernism' is an abuse of language. It is a fiction created by a corrupt, corporate art world. The world that is now is our world and it is not "post" anything..
The downfall of the 19th century aristocratic elites and then the fragmentation of art after Impressionism resulted in art being exploited by the corporate elites. That is what the subjectivism of Duchamp and Warhol is really about. They are pseudo-democratic elitists, really reverse elitists, who extol the presumed virtues of regressive subjectivism and mindless automatism and market buffoonery. They wanted to destroy art and turned it into silly jokes and cheap advertising and celebrity iconography. What the New York/Paris/Tokyo art world created after World War 2 is what I call Corporate art. Corporate art is the emptiness that visits the pages off Art in Americaamagazine. Indeed, as an experiment I take a look in this sad magazine once or twice a year and can find nothing in it worth looking at. One finds in this magazine utterly vacuous abstractions and 'installations' dictated by the dogma of a corporate market. To consider Corporate Art to be 'art' is a mistake. What goes by the name of art these days is mostly an extension of fashion and speculative capital exchange and has little to do with actual art making and knowledge and lots to do with advertising and promotion. Although it poses as 'democratic", it is really anti-people, anti nature, minimalist, formalist, systems and process oriented rather than content driven. It is anti-aesthetic and opposes the beautiful, and basically is not about art at all but about commerce, as well dictating what art will be by galleries and art commissars (so called 'critics')..
Henri Matisse speaks approvingly of of having heard Toulouse Lautrec say that "at last I don't know how to draw". ( Quoted in Deanna Petherbridge'ss The Primacy of Drawingg pg. 415 ) Picasso says that when he was young he "could draw like Raphael, but I have spent all these years learning to draw like [children]". First of all, though Picasso did some pretty good drawings in his career, however inconsistently, no drawing by Picasso comes close to Raphael. Indeed, while Picasso did a few fine things, many of his works are very hard to take seriously, and are superficial and frankly, childish and silly for an adult. Second, neither Matisse, Lautrec or Picasso knew much about children, much less about why or what children draw. Art for children is not blissful stupidity, but an attempt to understand reality. As they learn more their drawings become more and more sophisticated and concerned with reality and problem solving. I spend my days with a couple of young drawers and their attempt to grasp reality can be very concentrated and intense. The idealization of childhood is a misunderstanding akin to the ideology of the "noble savage". pg. 415 ) Picasso says that when he was young he "could draw like Raphael, but I have spent all these years learning to draw like [children]". First of all, though Picasso did some pretty good drawings in his career, however inconsistently, no drawing by Picasso comes close to Raphael. Indeed, while Picasso did a few fine things, many of his works are very hard to take seriously, and are superficial and frankly, childish and silly for an adult. Second, neither Matisse, Lautrec or Picasso knew much about children, much less about why or what children draw. Art for children is not blissful stupidity, but an attempt to understand reality. As they learn more their drawings become more and more sophisticated and concerned with reality and problem solving. I spend my days with a couple of young drawers and their attempt to grasp reality can be very concentrated and intense. The idealization of childhood is a misunderstanding akin to the ideology of the "noble savage".
Drawing is generally not a descent into
madness and the idiotic. The search for
authentic "outsider art" is itself an
admission of the inauthentic insider
emptiness of of the art world. Addicted to
"irony", the true irony is that the art
world as it now exists has very little to do
with art. It is really a fashion business
run by gallery owners and effete, servile
critics dogmatized by their own
pronouncements. It is a scam for the ultra
rich to get them to part with some of their
not-at-all-hard-earned money. Petherbridge
concludes her great book on Drawing(2010,
pages 413--414) by stating that recent art
has rejected intelligence and
"differentiated skill based systems of
drawing" in favor of expressive
irrationalism, "atavism" and "primitivism".
The dumbing down of art for corporate
culture has required art to become as stupid
and vacuous as possible, empty of content.
Recent art "enshrines Robocop rather than
Rembrandt as the graphic model for young
artists". Most recent art has tried to
destroy "skill and technical considerations"
and has a 'fear of literalism" or realism,
as well as a notion of drawing as an
"interrogative practice" or art as a method
of study. Study or inquiry,
intelligence, beauty and the seeking of
meaning in the reality of things is the
criteria or art. Recent art abandons
the very things I consider to be art and it
promotes meaningless geometries or ugly
scratches are are the ideal corporate art.
Art in the galleries of New York and the
university art schools in our
time endeavors to be anti-intellectual and
vacuous, and erect art proud of meaning
nothing, inquiring into nothing, telling no
story. Such art is perfect for corporate
lobbies as it signifies nothing yet takes up
space and entertains without any thoughts to
Petherbridge offers some hope in wishing art a return to "intelligence of practice". Rejecting the inanities of Duchamp and much of the art world, she hopes for an art that once again seeks into the meaning of things, "investigating the world". (page 432)Drawing and painting are above all an attempt to understand our world and our place in it, and as such they are basically one with he scientific project. Art can only progress forwards into beauty and science, rejecting corporatism and the ready-made inanities of "installations" and corporate art..
The anti-intellectualism among modern artists is an attempt to make a virtue of being dumb, and takes pride in emptiness, nonsense and the inability to draw or paint. It is this virtue of stupidly that has made art such a willing accomplice in the corporate con-game. Post-modern art is closer to religion than reality. Such art is not really art at all but a by product of fashion, fetish and commodity capitalism. Art, from its inception, has had the unfortunate vice of sucking up to power, and this is readily obvious in Hindu sculpture, Catholic Virgins, Islamic tile work or Chinese scrolls of emperors in flowing robes. Now art serves the corporate vacuum of the Board or the CEO and the virtue of wealthy emptiness that is at the heart of the phony mystique of "corporate personhood". Corporate art is as empty as the art that served the Pharaohs. If art is not to be merely a by-product of power systems it must look to science and reality as deeply as it can, be to be as independent of the need of money as is possible, without starving to death. The art martyr thing is also no longer necessary. What is necessary is to stay alive and look at the corruption with a dispassionate eye, and seek to do all the good one can for people of the future. Our best revenge against modern/post modern art is to seek truth and beauty, nature, life and reality, even if this beauty if found in the mundane of the ugly, or what Neruda called the "impure"..
The aesthetic that dictates much of what happens in the current art world is unsustainable. Much of what goes by the name of art is as distorted and destructive as the insanity in the banking sector that caused the recent global recession. The art of our time is fictional, 'derivative' and vacuous because it reflects corporate and government fictions, such as the fiction of 'corporate persons', which leave real persons without health care or housing. So if art is to not serve such powers, it must be clear about what it will serve and why. For art to be progressive it must be attached to science and to free inquiry. It must dedicate its fruit to all people and nature. It should be accessible, not esoteric and it should embrace feeling without being superstitious or exploitive or sentimental. I have known artists who have no idea what they are making or why and think this empty vacuum is a virtue. It is not a virtue to be ignorant or to draw badly. So part of the reason for this series of paintings is to continue to try to define art as a branch of study and knowledge that serves understanding, education and science and not as a formula that serves a conceit with materials or an empty system of "signifiers". My concern is with exploring the truth about the world I live in..