Long Story and uh, not really up for sharing that one. Sorry.
Here's a tiny one (on a stretched canvas!) that went to a special someone I encountered
for a brief but intense spell.
He told me of warming up a cold shocked hummingbird he found on the ground in Seattle.
She thawed up and flew away.
It's been a such a long winter. It's really getting to me.
I had volunteered my time working on a graphic art holiday project for fundraiser and/or awareness raising regarding a unique and tragic cause that moved and saddened me. I took the team leaders' direction and gave it the equivalent of about a 40 hour workweek. The end result (which was deemed by the same group members to be professional, attractive and attention getting) was dismissed and discarded upon completion. In addition I was told any further contributions of mine were not to be trusted. It makes absolutely no sense to me except it was spawned from a good deal of already present collective dysfunction, distrust, inflamed egos and poor communication, despite individual good intentions. To the individual who was the focus of my efforts...sorry-I tried. I'm glad to hear you are keeping brave and may be coming along in your journey.
Moving on: I'm working off and on a series of images for my friend and niece's mama, Susan Michalski, author of the Geodesy Series. It's about the world of four teenagers linked with a psychic, sensual, and emotional bond. Each book narrated by one of the characters: Sage (Book One -Safe Distances),
Elena (Book Two - Stellar Navigation), Ethan (Book Three) and Finn (Book Four) as they unravel their interwoven personal tragic past and grow into adulthood.
In Safe Distances we are introduced to Ethan, an intellectually and artistically advanced seventeen year old, who is also emotionally stunted..stuck at age four, when he had suffered a violent loss. Susan asked me to create his drawings and paintings described in the book.
More are coming.
Currently, I'm working on a collaborative animation project for David Huntsberger. He is a witty, silly, and thoughtful comedian, host of Huntsberger Junk and podcaster of Professor Blastoff (along with the amazing Tig Notaro and Kyle Dunnigan) Unlike past projects, I won't be previewing any images ahead of time on this one.
There's an past stalled animation project (didn't have/couldn't afford the right software at the time, as well as other considerations that pushed it down on priorities) that may be yielding a painting series before I make it into a video.
Just contributed my paintings to a multi media party featuring experimental live music (homemade instruments-like a gong made from industrial gas tanks!) and a fiction reading headed by this group: http://questionthetruth.com/ in a big open hippie loft house in Takoma Park, MD.
This piece lightened up both in pallette and mood from my original concept to the finished result. It was darker and more somber in my sketches. I don't mind the change, but would like to try variations of my original idea and sketches in future figure work. It certainly is seasonally appropriate.
(Edit/update: My goal was to have this ready for a show I'm hanging in Arlington. However, there is an issue that the piece may be too big and a safety issue to hang. After sleeping on it, I'm thinking the piece lacks something in a flow. I'm going to take it back home today and try to take it to a resolution that works for me.)
This started as one of several on-scene night landscapes I've been working on lately. My plan was to work on this start to finish from direct observation. Unfortunately, I had a major disruption that kept me from being present on location to complete it. I had to use my backup photos and improvisation to conclude it.
I'm still debating whether to tweak it a bit more or not. The color is a bit much for me, could be toned down For right now, I'm just going to let it be.
I'll describe the disruption, as I've been trying to get the word out for my neighborhood's safety. The usual places that would publish this kind of incident aren't taking much note of it, despite my efforts (so far, anyway).
Here in Shirlington, a small and upscale neighborhood with a village of boutiques, fine dining and bars is considered to be an extremely safe area in terms of crime stats. For night owls, it is very easy to be comfortable with late night grocery errands, walking/running/working out on the nearby outdoor trail fitness equipment , and wandering to and from the bar scene. I felt very safe painting some views nearby when the sun went down. I'm fond of the look of artificial light on natural scenery outside. It has a sort of lonely drama to it.
Sometimes I do get interrupted when I work, but mostly just dog walkers and a couple of semi buzzed patrons leaving the village. I'm not crazy about that, but the attention is usually benign. Generally, the most I've had to deal with are unsolicited critiques, or someone who wants to bend my ear about art when I try to show with my body language I really need to focus on my work.
So I was doing my 3rd session on this scene and it got to a point where the canvas was really saturated with oil and not taking any fresh color without mushing and muddying so I packed it up and thought I'll finish up with a final visit later before the foliage changes.
I was kneeling on the ground over my bag of paints when I heard a man's voice directly behind me.
"What are you doing?" As I noticed out of the corner of my eye his legs were very close to my back, I felt him touch the back of my upper arm.
I stood up and whipped around quickly and was about a foot away from a man facing me with a 4"-5" knife held low but pointing at me. He softly said to come with him and "everything will be ok". I glanced and saw a vehicle idling in the street, door open. I was blank, numb and staring, but unfortunately not really taking in his features or what he was driving in much...was focused on the knife.
(This I know: 5'7"-ish, Hispanic, black short hair, clean shaven, medium build, late 20's/early 30's--oh, and the location was Taylor and Arlington Mills Drive, across from Four Mile Run trail and creek This all went down around 1:30am -ish on 10/19)
My mace was well buried in my pocket, in my key chain holster so it wasn't helpful. He repeated to just come with him and there won't be any problems.
I leaned my body like I was going to go with him, then bolted as in the opposite direction to the 24/7 grocery a few blocks away, screaming "MURDER-RAPE" at the top of my lungs. I didn't turn to see if he was following until I got to a more populated street several blocks later. I didn't see him. From there I jogged to the grocery store up another block and called the police.
I understand I didn't look like a typical Shirlington resident at the time. I'm dressed for work with paint, shabby clothes, dirty hands, etc. The police seemed skeptical and asked me to repeat my story several times stopping at details as if to catch a discrepancy, asked for my ID (which I expected) and then my social security number (which I didn't expect..never had that experience when I had reported apartment neighbors domestic brawling/other criminal disruptions in Austin, TX--maybe it's procedure here in VA? Tell me in the comments if you know). They appeared to have swayed to the notion that I might be credible as I continued with my consistent report. Appeared to.... might be...
I had about 300 bucks worth of oil paint in my art bag, plus painting, easel and cart left behind and I needed to get it. They seemed reluctant to escort me or deal with that inconvenience, but they eventually got a younger officer to retrieve it. I do appreciate that they spared me from having to even consider returning to the scene . I would have had to get a cab to idle there with my sister accompanying me I suppose. Or just let the supplies and work go untill sunrise and risk someone hauling it off.
I was assigned a case number but I have not seen it up on the Arlington police daily crime reports.I passed the word on to my apartment staff so they could get the word out to my neighbors. I've tweeted info to different Arlington/Shirlington handles and emailed DC metro news agencies and so far, again no response. (UPDATE 10/23- The local DC metro Fox and NBC affiliates got in touch and filmed spots regarding the incident. Also, a detective from Arlington Police department gave me a call earlier this evening.)That bothers me, because especially during this time of year, it would be good to alert fellow Shirlington residents, patrons, and employees not to be lulled into a false sense of security.
Anyone with a large Arlington/Shirlington/DC metro area following please link this story to your followers. Thanks.
Oh, yeah...and I sort of lost my taste for painting outdoor night scenes for the time being. I have a few balcony images I'll still sort out but that's about it. I'll take more advantage of the fall colors in sunlight this season.
You may have seen this in earlier stages a while ago on this blog.
A scene outside my old apartment in Austin.
I had previously left it in a state that wasn't quite resolved when I was suddenly dealing with a myriad of personal/family issues and lost focus. I put it away hoping I could bring it to some resolution in the future. Right now I'm working on several night scenes of trees around Arlington. Having recent practice observing and interpreting similar artificial night lights on nature scenes gave me some confidence to give this one a final workover.
One of the pieces I'll be presenting at Northside Social at the end of the month. This is a collection of older dreamscape work. I thought the images resonate well with each other as a group, and that this presentation has a sort of non-linear anti-comix like narrative.
Total size: 45"long x 35"wide.
Individual images: 9"long x 7"wide
India ink on acid free paper
White archival ink on black acid free matboard.
white acrylic painted wooden recycled frame
covered with uv acrylic protective "glass"
I just wanted to mention that I will be having a solo exhibition of my work at Northside Social up at the end of the month (I'll be hanging the work on the 28th, but all pieces should be up by Halloween if not sooner).
It will be a mix of both my observed work in oil: still life, figurative and outdoor paintings, and my "dreamscape" decorative, patterned, symbolic stream of consciousness body of work. They both serve important but usually separate veins of expression. There is actually an experimental work underway that does combine both ways of working (to be posted soon). That said, I'm untroubled if these styles resist overlapping. Those concerns are more about galleries wanting a marketable brand.
Currently, I'm mostly working on the work from observation, but there's a lot of framing of the dreamscape work (mostly ink/watercolor on watercolor paper) to finish up too. For those pieces, the frame becomes an integral extension of the design and concept of the piece. I've found and collected quality vintage frames from thrift stores (and some left over from the family homestead) that I sand and repaint as well as the acid free mat/mounting board, then add a uv acrylic cover (I don't like to use glass for all the risks of damage). Here's a couple of examples of work (painted in 2011-2012/frame & embellishments 2013 that recently were shipped to my fellow friends/collectors back in Austin. (Thanks Terri & Border!)
By November, I'll be putting up a page of what is for sale at Northside, with photos of new work and the newly enhanced older pieces and prices.
A little something on the light and cuter side I had finished earlier this summer
(my twitter followers may have seen this already):
The Bunny Hutch Sleepover
acrylic ink and acrylic paint on stretched canvas
approx 12"x 8"
One of the frequent questions I'm asked by people when they see my work is if I can do a portrait of their infant/young child/pet in a similar approach as I would with a self portrait or other portraiture. The answer is, unfortunately..no! That kind of work requires someone who can commit to a live sitting over several sessions and keeping reasonably still.
I suppose they mean from photographs, but I really hate using them other than for very small reference areas post live sitting. There is so much lost in translation (color, dimension, as well as the vibe and urgency of all the moments of the session distilled into one) in using photo references as a main source.
I have painted a few older children directly. They do need to be mature enough to understand what they are committing to, be a willing volunteer (separate from the parent's imposed wishes) and are able to relax into a pose with minimal fidgeting, I ask that the parent also budgets for and pays the kid for their time as they are working almost as hard on the portrait. I'll bring a roll or two of quarters per session and pile up the earnings for every 15 minutes (after each period I give them a mini break) of keeping still. It also helps to have a favorite movie playing in their line of vision.
I've also made gestural action sketches from life...the type of drawings that are only minutes long and made in multiples. I would then pick the best out of a group from an afternoon's work for a reasonable compromise with someone who wants an observed interpretation. ( Side note: As far as pets go, cats, with their flexi spines and springy selves are great for this sort of thing. Dogs can get a little weirded out if they are on to the fact you are watching them intently for a period of time..they feel stared at which is a threat to them. They hunch over, lick their nose nervously and sloooowly slink out of the room....)
The other alternative is to create work based on infants/young children/beloved pets is to approach it with my dreamscape/fantasy kind of work. In the example above I had the mom give me some highlights of the child's loves, quirks, curiosities, anything that captures his attention. I will accept family photos for this, as it's more for a broad cartoon like approach to a likeness.
The boy pictured was only about a year old. From what the mom told me, he was a pretty chill little kid, friendly, loved cookies, his blanket, and was born in the Year of the Rabbit which she wanted to me to reference in some way. So I imagined him just a little older with a bunny pal, having his first sleepover get together at his BBF's (bunny best friend) family underground hutch. His own family is comfortingly nearby (used references of the family home) in upper right background.
On an end note: I worked with this family quite a bit in the past.
I painted his older brother (the zipping by skater pictured above) as an infant in the same approach years ago:
I remember photos of a really cute little baby with huge ears! Fortunately for me, his mother made a point that I capture them. So I played with it by using the shape of a Saturn like planet framing him, the shape furthered echoed with the U.S. Earthmama flying the spaceship he's tethered to.
When he was older, he posed for a live sitting with no small help of the first Harry Potter Movie playing nearby:
Thought I'd add this too:
Years ago I had also had painted a album cover and graphics for the mom (the originals are in her collection), who is a musician. She wanted themes in reference to her experience of being a first time mother. I see a continuum of motifs in my current dreamscape work..fertility, tendrils of tangled growth, and space.
Here are just two additional pics to add to today's previous post.
These are repaired and reworked previous images.
both 6"x6" acrylic and acrylic ink on canvas
I've found that acrylic ink is a great portable, fast drying, pigment rich medium for on the go one shot studies. However, I discovered if the paint is laid on too thick, it can risk cracking shortly after a session. Generally, I have painted in thin layers so it hasn't been a huge issue overall. I currently bring along a tube of good regular acrylic white and a few other colors, along with gloss medium if I think I might get a little heavy handed, and the result has been stable. Larger work of more depth in oil will be coming up in a near future post.
This piece is the most antithetical to my usual process. My typical approach to work when I'm moving too slow for comfort is to put it on the back burner and pick up another painting in progress, or just start a new one. This was a almost daily building and assembling of smaller pieces. Sometimes it plodded, where I'd spend more time looking than in movement, but it did pick up momentum near the end. I first thought the presentation would be simple, but getting the worlds of the smaller images to relate meant going back into those panels and larger backing plank with more paint, and reminding myself to review and adjust the piece as a larger whole.
The piece is in acrylic inks and paints. Some are metallic so I shot it in different light to get the different effects. (Size: approximately 40x26 inches, assembled wood panels, stretched canvases, and mini frames)
In summer 2011 until the end of that year, my siblings and I were dealing with mom's cancer, subsequent passing, and the aftermath of our father's care. Up to age 84, Dad had maintained a semblance of physical independence, but his mental health was more fragile. He had long suffered ongoing bouts of severe anxiety. This was compounded by an early but (at the time) undiagnosed stage of dementia. He still managed to present a competent, if somewhat agitated facade to the outside world, and refused residential care or medical treatment for these health issues. It wasn't until he was discovered on his back by the cellar stairs, post-fall (a month after our mother's passing) that he could be removed from the family home for rehabilitative/assisted living.
During Dad's nursing home stay, there was a window of time where my sister and I could mutually communicate with our father with calm and rationality. He had finally been medicated and we could connect with the good intentioned man behind the static cloud of anxious impulsive outbursts. We wished our father could have accepted this help earlier in his life.
After this period of some peace and clarity, Dad's health continued to decline. His suffering of a myriad of digestive problems from a decade's past radiation cancer treatment was compounded by irrevocable increasing loss of all motor control, leaving him bed bound and unable to even swallow food. Dad died this past December, just over a year Mom left us.
Because of our father's service in WWII, we found he and Mom were eligible for interment of their ashes in a wall at Arlington National Cemetery, just a few miles from where my sister and I currently live. They were on a waiting list, so the service was performed this past June. It was worth the wait. The weather was beautiful, warm but not hot, clear skies and everything green. The ceremony was dramatic, brief, solemn, and silent other than the punctuation of a multi gun salute.
It's a weird feeling to think about the family home. Dad bought the three bedroom stone colonial when mom was very pregnant and near due with me. I was raised there with my brother and sister, then boomeranged back for brief periods during and post college years, until I left the Philadelphia metro area for good at 25. I needed to make a solid break away from childhood. My parents remained there until Mom was moved to my sister's place for endcare, and Dad's accident, so it was the homestead for just over 40 years.
Other than for cobwebs and debris, it's empty now.
As a little kid, I remember me, my brother, sister, and parents crammed into the family Honda, pulling out of the driveway for weekend daylong excursions. Leaving the rows of pretty, tree lined but cookie cutter well maintained homes of Drexel Hill, we would occasionally pass a dilapidated abandoned home at the edge of some farmland or some solitary crumbling brick structure bordering on between a depressed desolate urban and industrial area. Dad would point it out exclaiming, "There's a dreamhome!" Being five and not quite hip to the concept of sarcasm, that's what I thought a dreamhome was: a lonely, dark, ramshackle dwelling. The name made sense as I started to have dreams of being lost in them late at night, with no one around as far as I could see. Sad and scared, not sure how I got there, nor how to get home, I'd awaken in my flowered twin bed next to my sister in the sunshine lighting up our blue bedroom.
The last time I was in the family house was during a brief trip with my sister. I was to gather any remaining mementos: letters, photographs, and art. Jan collected the important documents and financial records. The place had already been overhauled by a local so called samaritan who offered his services to sell the family furniture, crystal, and other items of value for our father, but then pocketed the proceeds. As a final courtesy to the neighbors, (not being sure when the bank would claim the property) we did a little yard work.
In the dark master bedroom, superimposed on the dusty, strewn, unfurnished, picked over leftover...stuff, I could recall the final version my mom maintained during a previous caregiving visit. Like the rest of the house, it required renovation, and there was some help needed with the housework (I pitched in), but it still had Mom's touch. Up to that time, she had kept the home colorful, comfortable, and reasonably clean as long as she could. Even when she was too ill to stand, she wanted to be productive, so I'd fetch clean laundry from the dryer in the basement for her to fold in bed, while she watched her tv shows. Junior the cat would be lounging by her hip, gazing besottedly at her all the while (I never met a cat so...fixated on a person than that little fuzzy tuxedoed gentleman), purring.
Her bedroom was the unofficial family gathering area. In the early evenings we (any number of us: me, my siblings, or even my siblings friends ) would bring up ovaltine and snacks hang out on the pushed together twin beds and chat over the primetime lineups or cable movies. Family pets would flank my mom's bed or simply drape themselves around her. Sometimes Dad would be there, but more often he was away working the nightshift for IBM fixing computers around town. He later took over other bedrooms as we grew up and out of the home, due to his ingrained sleep schedule.
In the surrounding neighborhood I had picked up the lifelong habit of long walks. Once, as a hormonal stressed teen, I had impulsively bolted out of the house for a run through the dusk spring night. Never being athletic or even all that physically active, I couldn't go that fast, nor could I keep the pace up for long but I did get the sensation of a tightness in my chest loosening. I slowed to a walk and just observed the trees and sky overhead for a several mile loop. The anger and anxiety lifted and I felt, (although couldn't really articulate it), a sense of "flow". I set out again the next night, and it became a regular activity.
The running didn't do well for my shins or ankles (I'm sure my form was shit), so I transitioned to just walking. I'd skip bus rides home in favor of hoofing it. I'd hike in the early evenings after dinner on school nights in all weather and seasons. Sometimes I enjoyed the company of Mom (she developed endurance and we would walk and talk for miles, a treasured memory) or with a friend, but usually it was a solitary activity, where I passed through nature and time at a rhythmic steady clip.
That "passing through" is what I think of when painting those symbolic succession of profiles in this piece below. I understand they could be interpreted as ghosts, which can be a fun narrative to creatively play with, but I don't really believe in them, nor an afterlife. The living are haunted with memories of loved ones who can't be reached anymore. Some are deceased, some have permanently split ways as the bonds that were once strong and genuine have withered or been severed.
Houses aren't haunted, but they haunt dreams.
A repeated dream: walking at night from 69th Street Terminal to the house like I used to, expecting to see my mom's bedroom light in her window, maybe Buddy the cat on the porch roof peering in and meowing for her to let him in (his own way of coming and going when he was alive). Instead I arrive at a dark dirty, empty place and I can't find anyone. Only then I notice street lights have gone dark and so have the neighborhood homes. The area is abandoned. The only sign of life are the overgrown trees,shrubs, and unmowed lawns spilling over the sidewalks. I think about turning around and heading to the city, but then suddenly remember that too many from my circle of early adulthood have also passed away recently. I search on my phone for other contacts, but can't find or make a successful connection. There's noise, they talk but can't hear me, or I can't hear them. We drop off.
I don't know where to go.
I wake up at my sister's apartment in Arlington, relieved to be in my current life and shake off the plaintive, creepy pull of the dream. Sometimes it helps if I imagine a young couple moving in our old residence, making repairs and setting up their new life.