Off capturing photographs this past mid-September I found myself constantly thinking, ‘You know, dummy, in a month the fall foliage will come out and this shot will look a thousand times better’.
Of course, the month went by and I was preoccupied with other activities and didn’t get back to the scenes where I’d had that thought. So it goes. Which is not to say I didn’t get anything, fall-colors-wise. Creating seasonal art is a rite of passage, or at least a habit – for many artists. Fall foliage now, Christmas art in a month, spring flowers in five or six months. Those are the three categories to which my portfolio is stuffed with work, and still each year I add more of it. That’s because each year I think I’ve done it better than the year before. Each year I’ve learned more, and I get to try new things. Each year the art gets better and justifies continued creation.
Or, arguably, it’s less a justification than a rationalization. I want to BELIEVE the new things are better than the old things so I can keep creating and feel good about it; so I can believe I’m not simply doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. That would be crazy. No – the new work is better. It is. I know it is. At least I think I do.
The ‘fade-out’ that concludes many songs we all know and love was created back in the AM radio days as a means of cueing the disc jockey (DJ) that the song was about to end, That gave the DJ the opportunity to start talking over the top of the music to tell the listener what they’d been listening to, and to introduce the next song, also while talking over the first few notes. It saves a precious few seconds of broadcast time, and some would argue made for a more dynamic presentation of the music. It’s become an anachronism, sort of like the grill on the front of an automobile, while at the same time being a legitimate and even expected stylistic component of song construction.
My favorite DJ growing up – and that was when AM radio was predominate – was Larry Lujack out of WLS Chicago. Lujack was always the most fun, had the wittiest things to say, much of it bitingly insightful sarcasm At the conclusion of the countdown for the best selling singles of 1969 – 50 years ago next month – concluded with the revelation that of all the great songs that year, the best selling was ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by The Archies, he said, “I absolutely positively refuse to believe this song is number one”. And he never said another word about it, ignoring its very existence.
For what it’s worth, number 36 on that list was Johnny Cash, ‘A Boy Named Sue’. Just thought I’d mention it.
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Three posts planned for next week, all bright autumn abstracts for all you fall color aficionados.
I had the good fortune just recently to capture photographs inside an old shoe factory that has been stripped, gutted, and is waiting for redevelopment. It is filled with big, blank, dark open spaces with a few smaller offices covered in dust, grime, peeling paint, and a little junk nobody seems to have wanted. Chief among the junk (not pictured) are the toilet fixtures; they weren’t left in what used to be restrooms – even darker and danker corners I didn’t desire to venture into – they were pulled out of their holes and stacked into piles (I have no idea what became of the holes, but suspect such unknown is the root of my fear of stepping into their former restrooms).
Of paramount concern now is what to do with the captures. Shooting it is not the issue – used two cameras and both performed admirably, especially my little Nikon1 with the 1.8 aperture lens. I have some lovely images waiting for my attention. But once my attention wanders that way what do I do with them? How do I use them to create art. I probably have more difficulty with interiors than anything else. I’ve four in the can at this point, the first of which was exhibited in my November 15 post, each completely different, and, well, none of them trip my trigger.
Some of my favorite work, though, sat for months before I hit upon something. So, hey, no worries.
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Oh, wait, make that five in the can. Did an abstract back on October 11. So abstract, you tell me, does it count?
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Any number of curiosities in this old building, most of which open easy rationalizations as to why they were left behind. Not so much the subject of today’s work. Why would you leave this behind in a crumbling office of a factory building you knew was closing? Wouldn’t you at least keep the vase? You can imagine it in full bloom as its recipient turned their back without investing so much as the emotion of disdain. Knowing full well it would decay there. A romance trapped, never progressing, never ending. Just eroding.
Seeing is breathing in. Creating art from it is breathing out.
Yeah, I stole that, I admit it. The exact quote was “READING is breathing in, WRITING’ is breathing out”, and if ‘The Google’ is telling me true it was first voiced by a woman named Pam Allyn, who is an author and literary expert and the founder of LitWorld. I was with a bro when it popped up on his Facebook page and he read it to me, which prompted me to announce I was stealing it, which I’ve done and paraphrased here because, well, I can. (give me credit for properly attributing it). My version isn’t any less true; it can be applied to any creative act as such acts are, for the artist, acts of breathing.
Only ‘seeing’ without creating is like suffocating. What’s the point of living if you can’t produce something from it?
Only ‘creating’ without taking time to see or feel, that’s burn out. An unthinking routine is a form of dying.
Having exhaled a most astute and warm breath we only hope it is subsequently inhaled fraternally. But if we fear breathing out into black, empty space we become reluctant to breath at all.
Fear not the black dog.
OK, sabbatical over, more or less. I may not be creating and posting as frantically as this past summer; after all, we don’t want this to become a … dare I say the word … a JOB!
August’s exertions took me in new directions stylistically, and, after the afore mentioned break, I still find myself visualizing in those terms. There are folks who prefer the more unadulterated noir side of my portfolio; I’ll certainly get back to that at some point, but the abstract techniques I’m using seem to be opening up entirely new vistas. These things run in spurts.
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This past Sunday afternoon, while attending a gallery reception, smart phone alerts went off simultaneously around the room while one of the featured artists was speaking. It was sunny and nearly 70 degrees outside and I was wearing shorts and a pair of Keen Uneek sandals. The alerts turned out to concern a winter storm warning set to begin 12 hours later. Eighteen hours later I was putting on a winter coat and boots to take the dogs out in freezing rain and sleet. Twenty four hours later there was two inches of snow on the ground and the temperature was 40 degrees colder.
Sure, that’s a quick change, but relative to what? Social media is constantly awash with trite like, “If you don’t like the weather in [name any city or state] just wait an hour”. An hour, a day, a month – if one is not open to change any timeframe seems fast. A year, a decade, a century – hasn’t that crap changed yet? Why would these damn fools want to go back and do that crap again?
I completely get ‘time’s up’.
Just a simple sort of mid-sabbatical work today; just to keep the ball rolling. I looked at applying the fractionizing techniques I've been developing, but in the end decided simple works better. Even simple techniques suggest a dreamy, idyllic atmosphere with one foot in realism and one in the imagination. Not every dream has to be complicated.
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A good friend I’ve known for a thousand years reminded me of a time we and another guy took off walking across town on a January day to see Little Richard. His career had waned at the time, and while it would resurge again later that hadn’t happened yet. So we got to see him at a small club in downtown Bloomington, Illinois after walking at least five miles through the cold and ice to the small club he was playing at. We sat in the front row and he talked to us between songs and shook our hands a number of times.
So says my friend; the thing is, I have no memory of this. None. Doodley squat. One of the most important live performances of my life and I don’t remember it.
Several possibilities here, the most obvious of which is that I’m self-centered in the moment and don’t place enough importance on people or things in the external to prioritize remembering any of it. (In other words, I’m an asshole). Indeed, I have been known to go through doors pretty hard; I have a terrible time remembering names even of people I met 30 seconds ago, and I do put the past behind me rather absolutely. I’m the worst person on earth to talk about “old times” with because, well, I ain’t got any.
Just as strong a possibility is that my friend is confusing me with another guy. I like to think it’s a stronger possibility except that the guy he’s confusing me with is not necessarily a guy I’d like to be confused with.
I’ll probably never know for sure. And that’s the thing about memory, really. We forget about the most important things in our lives. We remember as “great” things that were really crap. We grope about the present for context. And all life is ‘context’.
One more, and then I really must go clean something … anything! The irony of pausing now is that in the last several weeks I’ve begun using a new series of techniques that really have me excited for the future. Starting with my September 16 post ‘Passerby’s’ and culminating with this one, ten works total, or nine works with two variations of one, depending on how anal one wants to be. Of them, I would place ‘The Chalk Artists’ from September 23 as one of my best ever – top ten at least, maybe top five. And maybe a couple others in that class. It is so life affirming, after all the photographs and all the art and all the years to still be able to create something completely NEW! I’ll repeat words from the September 16 post – In the end, the art creates the artist.
Perhaps for that reason this is actually the perfect time to pause; focus on other aspects of life, clear my head and put what I’ve just accomplished here in perspective. Incubate. If nothing else, there are other sections of this web site I haven’t touched in months that need to be updated, plus there are other projects I’d like to delve into. After all, we don’t want this blogging thing to become, dare I say the word, a JOB!
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So my web client people from Weebly did indeed get back to me as to the discrepancy in the way they once tracked page visits vs. how they’re doing it now. They explained:
I can live with this explanation. Give them credit for owning the change as well as being conscientious about explaining it to their customers. They’re a quality web client I’d recommend to any artist looking for a platform for their work.
Doesn’t mean the wind still hasn’t been taken out of my sails, leading, of course, to this little vacation. Logically, I could argue nothing has really changed – the wind I thought was in my sails wasn’t really there after all. Call it an illusion that emboldened me to sail into deeper seas. Not, I guess, necessarily a bad thing.
My web provider – Weebly if it’s not listed somewhere – routinely provides statistics as to the number of page visits and unique page visits made to their customers website. This blog is now a year old or something close to that. In that time I’ve watched with great delight as the number of page visits has constantly grown. Especially beginning with my tornado works in June, page visits over the previous week climbed into the 400s, and then 500s, and then 600s, and then 800s! A couple weeks ago I was astonished to see that the number of page visits for the previous week – that encompassed three posts as it usually does - had surpassed 1,000! As this has gone along, I have tried to place greater priority and dedicate greater periods of time to creating new art and posting new blogs exhibiting that art. As page visits crossed 1,000 I thought, WOW, I’m really accomplishing something here! I had begun, over the months, to feel an obligation to create new work. In doing so, I thought, I’m contributing just that little bit to the creation of a better world.
Last Monday, as I went out to upload a new blog, total page visits for the previous week were listed as 1,065.
Last Wednesday, as I prepared to upload another new blog, I was met with a notice by my web provider that they had changed the way they counted page visits such that it would be more consistent with the way Google does it. Or words to that effect.
Those 1,065 page visits had suddenly become just 47.
Forty fraking seven! Hardly worth the effort!
To be clear, Weebly offers terrific tools for creating and maintaining beautiful, efficient, and productive websites. I can’t complain one iota about their services. How their page visit accounts have been so wildly inaccurate is beyond me, and, yeah, I tried to ask their customer service that question, and no one has gotten back to me. I suppose I should be grateful they came clean with their error and didn’t continue stringing me along. Talk about flummoxed.
Understand, over the months I’ve let any number of other activities slide. At one time, my wife called me the “kitchen police“ because I couldn’t stand to let any kind of dishevelment alone. Right at this second my kitchen looks like ogres from the woods out back have been entering every night to cook slime. The garage cleaning activity I had planned for the spring has yet to be touched. Long-distance friends I have for years regularly corresponded with are asking where I am. My long sought-after and fragile sense of mellow is under siege as I have put more and more emphasis on the photo blogs while trying to cram in just the least amount of other responsibilities I could manage.
What a perfect time, I have reasoned, for a little vacation. Leave the art alone for a while. Stop fixating; stop stressing. Get some things done around the house. Talk to actual people. Come out of my studio. After today’s work I have one more I want to exhibit before the end of the week, then I’ll slow down for a period.
Fear not – after all, how abroad can a damn photo artist travel.
I actually created four versions of Chalk Girl, one of which I threw out immediately, and after it was too late started thinking about it (yeah, I’ve been told never to delete anything), a version I find interesting but not nearly as good as my previous post which I think is the best of them, and this one. An artist should be able to determine which version of any series is the one they want to represent them, but artists, as we’ve established before, are nuts. I wasn’t going to post this version at all, but I keep being drawn to it. So here it is.
So you tell me? Version 1 as shown previously, or Version 2 as revealed today. Or just Nuts. Click on ‘Comments’ below and tell me.
Recently I undertook, at a doctor’s recommendation and prescription, consumption of a new drug. Again, I tempt HIPAA, so details will not be forthcoming. The drug has a number of conditions which it is intended to improve, one of which I own. And indeed, it worked! It worked wonders actually. I would even use the word remission. It solved the problem. Unfortunately, it created three more.
After several days and a withdrawal period we dropped the prescription to a third of the original, the lowest possible. That went for a few weeks, by which time every possible side effect plus a few new ones re-emerged. A longer withdrawal period and I thought I’d try a different schedule for consuming it, which only took a couple doses to reveal its futility.
So take the last week of August and the entire month of September and throw it into the dumpster. Label it my zombie period. It was a sucky month in Cubsland anyway.
What’s my point? My point is that we do this as artists. We take an idea that sort of works one way and doesn’t work three other ways and obsess and work it and make ourselves crazy. Sometimes we can pull that process off and create something really great – might take years and might feed any number of psychoses first, but, hey, success. Of course, until that happens, we’re just feeding psychoses.
I suppose there’s a parallel to life in the shadow of Wrigley Field. Or am I still obsessing?
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More from the Chalk Festival – one I’m especially happy with. There’s another version of this work coming shortly. We’ll discuss!
More from our recent Chalk Art Festival. It’s funny, I spent very little time there and only captured a few shots; it was a hot day and I’d already been out shooting a couple hours prior and I was worn out. But from those few shots I’ve created more works than I’ll get from three times the number of earlier captures. I guess because the shots I captured fit in with new techniques I’m developing; sometimes the magic just works.
This is the most stylistic and abstract of the chalk art works I’ve created. But tell me: If you didn’t know it came from the festival, hadn’t seen the friends holding umbrellas to block the sun from the artists on the sidewalk, how would this imagery strike you? If you didn’t KNOW it came from the chalk art festival does it suggest a figure looking down on a smaller figure prone on the ground beneath? How does it strike you? Is it threatening or simply mysterious or something else? Love to know your thoughts!
If you do something, especially if you do something only marginally, and then you find out you’re only doing it because you were influenced by misinformation and outright lying forwarded by someone not a friend, do you keep doing that something? Do you say, “Well, shoot, we can’t go back now,” and dig your heals in because you’re too embarrasses or stubborn to admit you were conned? Or do you have the good GD common sense to just stop doing that something and reset? Can’t change the past but you can reconcile it and change paths.
Asking for a friend.
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The work featured in my September 23 post has already been suggested as one of my best, and, I gotta admit, I knew it almost the second I finished it. Sometimes it goes that way. Sometimes the artist knows immediately they’ve done something exceptional. More often, by my experience, it’s time that informs the artist. But the work goes out with the artist’s full expectation that it may be good.
And sometimes the artist just doesn’t know if it’s anything. This is one of those times.
While this work uses some (not all) of the same techniques used in the September 23 post, it’s more conceptual in its execution. Its 1x1 scale may not offer the same sweeping visual of the 1x2 landscape of the earlier work (although, one could argue a 1x2 perspective, via the sidewalk, runs vertically through the work). I was very happy with the abstraction of the figures in the background and the subtlety of the work, but the contrasting color burst may be … well, it was an idea. But that’s what the artist DOES. They test. They experiment. They push. They cannot simply fall back on what has always worked. They have to try – to SEE – in new ways. THAT is the nature of art; not a craft, an exploration. A blind lunge to the edge of the Earth.
Drop off day for new exhibitions is a hoot. Each artist that comes in is like a mother bringing her baby in for a play date, each one like a spring ready to tell anyone available all about their new born and how it is the cutest baby in the joint, And that spring will be sprung at the slightest change in air pressure. At my recent drop there were roughly five of us standing around, all jabbering in our own little bubbles. I was right there with them, umbilical cord in full view.
At my favorite gallery the staff is truly interested in knowing everything they can about every work. They feel the backstory is important for being able to communicate the context of the work to potential buyers. But stuff is coming so fast and furious they’re bleary-eyed, bless their hearts, trying so heard to listen to everybody. It’s adorable, really, which I suppose is why it’s my favorite. Another gallery I use is so clinical trying to get everything checked in and cataloged, artists lined up in a queue, it’s like trying to talk to an accountant. Coincidentally, it’s the gallery I’ve been least successful at, so I suppose there’s a moral there.
Ninety-nine percent of my work exists only in the digital world. And I love posting a new work, don’t get me wrong. But to see that work in the analog, hanging large and lighted on the wall of a gallery, is always a thrill.
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For this exhibit I decided I wanted to give ‘Forest Mother’, which I’d previously done as a small 5”x7”, the full, framed treatment. The work generated fair attention as a small work; it’s been one of my favorites since I created it last fall and I have hopes for it, given that I live in a region in which factories have to shut down the first day of deer season due to absenteeism. ‘Chance’s Hand’ is a retitling of a work that’s been out there a few times – a number of people consider it their favorite of all my works – and ‘Ghost of Past Lives’ has also been well regarded.
For new viewers, once I’ve produced a work from at least 10”x14” it will never be reproduced again in that size. Ever. If I receive a request to produce the work again in a larger size the cost rises exponentially. The buyer can have confidence exclusivity of the work they’ve purchased.
Struck, was I, by dialog from an old science fiction show a couple days ago. An Earthling, a doctor, was explaining to a friend from a far-off planet and one-time enemy the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. “The boy”, he said, “was a shepherd watching over a flock of sheep in a far pasture, and he was bored and lonely and wanted some excitement, so he cupped his hands around his mouth and screamed, “WOLF!”. Villagers not terribly far away heard his cries and grabbed their pitch forks and came running. When they got to the pasture the excited shepherd boy told them the sound of all the villagers coming scared the wolf away and saved the sheep.”
"Very clever”, the friend said.
"He was so pleased with the attention that the next day he did it again. And again the next. And again the next. But on the following day, a wolf really did come. And the boy screamed “WOLF” at the top of his lungs. But by then, the boy had lied so many times the villagers no longer knew whether to believe him. And the wolf killed the sheep and also gobbled up the boy.”
"Rather a gruesome story to tell a child”, the friend grimaced.
"The point is to illustrate that it’s wrong to lie”, the doctor explained.
"Or”, said the friend, a known intelligence operative for his world, “Don’t tell the same lie twice”.
And so we see the wonderful ability of science fiction to reflect modern day issues.
Happy first day of Fall! And in the words of the great KT Tunstall, hold on ‘cause the world will turn if you’re ready or not.
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We recently had our annual chalk art festival along the sidewalks at Riverside Park. Too hot a day to be parked in the sun on concrete, at least for my candy ass, but a good turnout anyway and a line of fine artists, old and young, splayed out through the park, creating beautiful works. I grabbed some shots while I was there, and hope I’ve created works flavored by the art I loved around me. Look for more in future posts.
I’d planned to write about something else, even composed it in my head instead of falling asleep right away last night, but something in my newsfeed today stopped me cold.
In music news was a passing reference to the artist Chris Cornell, whose song ‘Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart’ is one of my more recent favorites. As I read the article which actually focused on new work his daughter has done, it became clear that Chris Cornell killed himself two years ago. It had completely escaped me at the time.
I hadn’t purchased and downloaded ‘Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart’ much before that, and it remained in my ‘currents’ list for a good year-plus. So, while I was lounging on my deck digging that song, grilling cheeseburgers and drinking scotch, the artist I was enjoying was hanging himself in a Detroit hotel bathroom. I find poignance in that on a dozen levels.
I was reminded immediately of another musician named Patty Donahue, lead singer of a post-punk band called ‘The Waitresses’. They had a hit called ‘I Know What Boys Like’, but the song that had the greatest influence on me was ‘Luxury’, a song all about travel and serendipitous adventure; that song got me through Peace Corps. “Here I’ve got nothing and nothing is nothing is luxury”. It’s still one of my all-time favorites. And while I was basking the joy of my newborn son and on the upward swing of a stint in public service and still blasting ‘Luxury’ over headphones on a typical Friday night, Patty Donahue was dying of lung cancer. I didn’t know that for about 10 years.
Granted, Cornell had fought with depression and alcoholism all his life. Donahue had chain smoked cigarettes like a charcoal factory. Each produced work that influence a generation, at least. I can only pray my work has the most remote impact theirs did. One couldn’t make it past 52 without giving up on life, and the other couldn’t survive past 40 before life game up on her. And I sit here, contentedly cranking out photo art in my air-conditioned studio, surrounded by puppies and family, driving my son to work every day through my quiet and peaceful small city, anticipating another movie night. Poignance.
Oh, I’ve had my own heath issues (including one in the last month I may or may not get into at some point), I’ve had my share of disappointments, and I never did get to own that sports car I wanted, but, hey, I’m not in (that much) pain, any stress I feel is self-generated, I’ve got plenty to eat, hot and cold running water and cable TV. But my contentment is built at least partly on artists whose lives ran out in great pain.
And I’d nearly forgotten my broken heart.
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Please enjoy these links to these great songs:
‘Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart’ by Chris Cornell
'Luxury' by The Waitresses, Patty Donahue lead singer
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.