Sunday, February 24, 2008


I love to be outside. Probably the foundation of my being a landscape painter. And my well being. Darby seems to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. She needs sunshine fairly regularly. I don’t mind overcast, clouds, rain, snow. I prefer it, actually. What I like to call Big Weather. I enjoy a beautiful day as much as the next person, but I don’t need that many. I find days and weeks of bright sunshine kind of tedious. But either way, I want to be out in it.

Of course, I love my Gore-Tex.

Somewhere under there is my beautiful wife, having fun, wishing it was sunny.

On the Way Upstream blog, I read of a recent study by the Nature Conservancy, documenting for the first time the building evidence that people, especially children, are spending less and less time outside, in the natural world.

From The Nature Conservancy-

“As a scientist and a conservationist, I find these results almost terrifying,” said Oliver Pergams, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead author of the study. “We are seeing a fundamental shift away from people’s interest in nature, not just in the US but in other countries, too. The consequences of this could be deep and far-ranging for health, for human well-being, and for the future of the planet.”

When tied together with ideas like Nature-Deficit Disorder - outlined in Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods- this study leads to some ideas for addressing a lot of childhood issues - get them outside.

Under the layer of snow is a very happy Finn, loving her favorite season.

For me, to be removed from the environment, not to be outside on a regular basis, leaves me stressed, depressed, and generally unhappy. I enjoy cities and all they contain, for about three days. I had a studio - a wonderful, north-light filled space- at Anderson Alley in Rochester, for a couple years. I loved the space and my neighbors, but I hated being in the city all day everyday. The studio I am in now is less than ideal, but it is in a pretty ideal location. I’m out with the dogs for at least an hour everyday, and usually a little more around the studio. Kind of a minimum for my well being. And the source of my work.

And I love my new neighbors, too.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Damien Hirst

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
As I was writing the other night, Damien Hirst was on Charlie Rose, talking about the exhibit/auction Red. He and Bono were hanging out and, apparently after some serious drinking, they decided to do this big charity auction. They raised 400 something million for the United Nations Foundation to support HIV/AIDS relief programs in Africa. I can't say anything more about that than, Wow.

When he painted his first dot paintings, he went out and hired people to paint some more of them. Now he says that at the end of the day, he likes to have done as little as possible. Meaning he concepts, others produce. Man, if I had just stuck with my butterflies and carbon tetra chloride, (another hobby of my youth). I went to school for business. I just need to hire a few assistants. And if I knew some rock stars.

Charlie Rose made the observation that Hirst understands the economics of art better than anybody since Warhol. I, like nearly everyone, need to make a living. But this interview seems as much like an interview with a hedge fund manager as an artist. How much did you get for that? And that? And your net worth is.......?

It leaves me pretty cold. I expect more from Charlie Rose. Why else am I up this late? Oh yeah, blogging. I do think Hirst has some interesting things to say, and I find some of his work.......thought provoking. Whether it says anything really profound or not, I'm not so sure. He just swims in an ocean I don’t have much interest in. It seems that much of the really cutting edge art world is primarily concerned with the next big, shocking thing. Hirst says that he uses shock almost as a formal element.

For The Love of God. 8600 diamonds set into a plaster cast of a real skull. Those are the real teeth. Hmmmm. It sold for a bazillion dollars. Mr. Hirst was a substantial part of an investment group that bought the piece. He'll be paid in cash. ??? Think hedge fund. And the title? Apparently in response to his mother saying to him, For the love of God, what are you going to do next?

I don’t really care. I’m more concerned with what we as a people, as a group, as society are losing as we draw further away from the natural world. I don’t want to have a huge television so I can watch the planet from my couch. I want to see the planet. Closely. In all kinds of weather. I want the planet and the human race, and all the other inhabitants, to find equilibrium. To find a sustainable way to live. I don’t think we want to be displayed in formaldehyde anymore than anything else does. And where does the current concern over blood diamonds come in? Hirst seems to have an ongoing fascination/preoccupation with death. Should things be thought through in terms of impact, of not causing death? How many carbon offsets should he buy to offset the damage?

I want to paint my own things. One of the biggest reasons I headed down this path was I wanted to do something that was tangible. Make stuff. Not tell people what to do, what to make. Not Artist as Chief of Operations. I’m more the Head Cook and Bottle-washer type. And as I've painted, I've found an awareness in the tangible handling of the paint that I don't want to give up. The texture.

As far as rock stars go, I wonder if any of them like to fly fish. Or ride horses. Paddle?

Oh well.

Hirst did say, Art is a map of a persons life. I'm sure he's not the first to say it. I feel as if I've spent the passed years acquiring the skills I need to begin the map.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pollock and intention.

Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist),1950, National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund,

While I’m on the subject of fractals, and thereby Jackson Pollock, what’s the deal with Mr.Pollock? More specifically, the lack of respect his work receives by the general public. I think it’s because nearly everyone has at some point spilled something, dripped something, may even have thought, Hey, that looks cool. They just never thought any further.

I know people who have seen Pollock’s work and said, I could do that. And have, or a reasonable facsimile. But that’s nowhere near the same as having had the original thought.

“That looks cool” is not the definition of art. Of cool maybe, but not art.

Or is it? A short quiz. Think of intention.

An artist or an ape?

And here is an opportunity, from Miltos Manetas, to release your own inner Pollock.

But is what you have done art? The National Gallery of Art's Jackson Pollock pages are very good.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


The crow landed, then hopped to the left.... before we got there. Darb and I skied with the dogs this morning, in the fields and woods behind our home. I love winter.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Fractals of my own

As promised, here are some samples of my own fractals.

Of course, when I started painting this way I didn’t know they were fractals. At a memorable Thanksgiving dinner years ago, during a break from a heated discussion with our dad, I was accused by my brother of being socio-politically irresponsible, (he was a pre-law, political science major). I replied that I would be happy to talk about impressionist color theory. He said he didn’t know anything about it, and I said, I can’t stop thinking about it, ........ all the time, .......which is why I don’t have time for politics.

I thought about it while I was fishing, which I did a lot of then, driving to school, to work. And it pulled me deeper into the landscape, where it seemed more obvious, more apparent. Or was I just happier outside, so I was able to see it all easier there. At the time I was studying water color. I was, and still am a big fan of Winslow Homer’s watercolors, and really wanted his life - well, except for the part about living alone an the coast of Maine. I love being married.

How’d I get from fractals to waxing on about being married? Hmmmmm, Valentine's Day.

Watercolor. I love Homer’s, but slowly realized I was never going to be the next Homer. Or Sargent - he painted some killer watercolors, too. But I am not a painter of the flourishy stroke. After years and years of painting, I have realized I paint the same way I talk. I throw something up there, see how it looks, then I adjust it, ad to it, restate it. I started doing this with watercolor working wet over dry, scrubbing a lot, so I could build texture. Then went to pastel to work opaque, as preparation for working in oil. And got sidetracked for several years with pastel. When I finally returned to oil painting, I thought, What have I been doing, I’m an oil painter. And look at all these fractals I can make.

OK, I still didn’t know a fractal from fructose. But I’d been working with a variety of media, building layers of texture, at some point recognizing that I had started thinking of representing light and form with veils of color. Sometimes translucent veils, some times opaque, broken veils. Cool over warm, warm over cool. Sometimes layering complements, more often tertiary complements or analogous colors. Sometimes really intense colors, sometimes subdued. Trying to produce the texture I see and feel in the atmosphere, and in the world. And it turns out those layers produce fractals. The texture of light and color defining form. The texture that makes me feel connected to my life.

These last fractals are much more pronounced. The painting is the largest piece I've ever done, about 9 feet wide. And it's not finished yet.We'll see how the fractals go.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I am most aware of Susan Sontag as a result of being a fan of the work of Annie Leibowitz. I’ve never read any of Susan Sontag’s writing, but I came across this quote the other day, “Interpretation is the revenge of intellect upon art”. I think I need to read some of Ms. Sontag’s work.

Anyway, a sculptor I met last year referred me to an article on fractals and the analysis of Jackson Pollocks drip paintings. Pollock, another one I should have appreciated way sooner.

Richard Taylor, a physicist at the University of Oregon in Eugene - not far from my birthplace of Hillsboro (synchronicity?)- recognized and analyzed the fractals seen in the work of Mr. Pollock. After biology, physics was the only science that ever made much sense to me, but the whole fractal thing reminds me of Ms. Sontag’s quote. It, like all analysis and criticism, is after the fact. The act of concepting and creating is where the art lies. Beyond that there is a level of craft. One informs the other, but I can’t believe Mr. Pollock read a treatise on physics and thought, Hey, I can make those fractal things by dripping paint. I think he conceived of a different way of representing three dimensional space in two dimensions, utilizing his familiarity with media and its application,bravado, chaos, and maybe some bourbon. I wish I had been ready to appreciate his work sooner. I appreciated bourbon pretty early. Still do.

But some of the fractal observations are interesting. It turns out the relationship between fractals seen in nature, and what I am hoping/trying to put down in paint, may be something similar to what is seen in Pollock’s paintings, and in the work of any number of other painters. I’ll see if I can rustle up some of my own fractals later this week.

The images of Pollocks work were taken from the pdf Fractal Expressionism by Richard Taylor.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I have cross country skied for years. I really prefer bush-wacking rather than groomed trails, and when we have a good snow season (meaning lots of snow), we go right out the back door. When we have a light snow season, I head to Harriett Hollister Spencer Park, where the skate skiers go zinging past and make me envious of their speed. So this year I joined them.

I'm terrible. A combination of lack of technique and lack of aerobic fitness to the degree required. And we have had such a disappointing and inconsistent snow season it has been difficult to get out with any regularity. But it's really fun, and I love learning new things, struggling along the learning curve.

Yesterday was about 33 degrees. The trees weighted down with ice and snow, waving in a light breeze, branches clicking and tinking together, sounding as if I was surrounded by enormous bowls of Rice Krispies.

And Molly and Finn were as happy as dogs can be.

One of the most important aspects of being an artist is the same as any small business person- you have to show up for work. If you are sitting around waiting for the muse to show up, it may be a long wait. Or a short career. But the flip side of this is that there is always something to be done. You can work all the time you are awake and not get done. I am making a real effort this year to work as much as necessary, probably even a little more, but not all the time. My muse is somewhere in my head, and a good regular dose of fresh air helps me see her more clearly.

Today we are back to 50 degrees. Then back to freezing later in the week. And hopefully some snow.