An American Journey

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My show Intimacy at the White Cloud Gallery, Washington, D.C. Nov 3 – Dec 14, 2017

Art Universe

Last year I was painting life-sized nudes, mostly monochromatic, in my Idyllwild cabin with my dog Frida for company. It was like living in a dream, get up in the morning, enjoy my coffee, and then enter into the universe of art. As I painted, I would play music in the background, listening to complete sets of Beethoven’s Symphonies and Handel’s Oratorios, or binge on the complete series of Star Trek Next Generation and Voyager. I was exploring new and challenging ways to express love, myth, and beauty on the canvas. One challenge was how to paint an explicit lovers’ embrace in order to capture their primary feeling of love. Another challenge was creating the deepest space I have ever done. In creating this body of work, I felt my prayers to contribute to a better world being realized.

The art universe, for me, is not the world of exhibitions, collectors, and recognition. Rather, it is about learning from my favorite buddies from art history and then going my way; making art an issue between me and god (nature). Art cleanses away all the bullshit of news, postmodernism, politics, Hollywood drama–I think this is one of the appeals of the hermit life, no?

Show in the Calendar

It was almost the ideal art existence.  As I finished the paintings and saw that they were forming a coherent whole, I experienced a pull to display them, which runs counter to the solitary life of painting. I was happy, content, and financially okay. Why mess that up? Why throw a wrench of a solo show into the works? I wasn’t sure that I wanted to put time and money into a show that I could use instead for another two or three future paintings. I wondered about the expression that a pianist freezes when playing for an audience but is good alone. And I wondered about the ultimate art cycle from creation to viewers witnessing the work in real life.

The clincher was that I was invited to show in Washington, D.C. by my friend, artist, and gallery owner Miguel Perez Lem at his beautiful White Cloud Gallery. He has a great respect for my work, and he was more than willing to show life-sized nudes.

Trip Underway

My friend and collector, Geir Friis, flew out to nearby Palm Springs to accompany Frida and me as we hauled the paintings across the U.S. He is a bit of an expert in road travels and mechanics, and he gave truth to the saying “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” (Zero issues came up with the car there and back). I picked up the U-Haul trailer in a rural area straight out of a Steinbeck novel. I drove by the pick-up location twice not believing the app directions. But right it was, and our journey started at the Diamond Valley Market.
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Just picked up the U-Haul trailer at the Diamond Valley Market, in Riverside County in California.

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We packed the paintings in about an hour. No fuss.

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So kind, Conrad Allen, offered his Texas cabin for a stop.

Chattanooga – The Seasons

The most inspiring stop along the way to Washington, D.C. was in Chattanooga at the entrance to the bridge spanning the Tennessee River. This illustrious spot is the location of my friend Daud Ahkrive’s The Seasons, four larger-than-life female sculptures. Not only did Daud create beautiful and expressive works, but he managed to get those humanistic semi-nudes placed prominently in a bible belt city. The inspiring message was that anything is possible but it takes talent, cleverness, and grit.

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Geir Friis with One of Daud Ahkrive’s Seasons, Chattanooga.

Doubt

Fear doesn’t play much of role in my life, and I have rarely felt it whether living alone in Greece or Holland, or facing emergency room test results, but faced with indifference towards my art puts me out of sorts. I feel disappointed with that segment of humanity. And it makes me wonder what is the point of sharing art. Where is the magic pill that transmits my soul to theirs? There is the expression, “build it and they will come.” What if no one comes? Perhaps I fear apathy, but less about people not liking my art, and more of what a horrible decision it would be not to continue making art.

Ha! That is the bane of most artists I know. But like my sister, Janny, always told me, even before Nike existed, “just do it!”
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Arriving outside the Gallery in D.C. with Geir, Katie (the painting), and Miguel. After 3,000 miles, some rural dirt roads, and mountain curves, they arrived perfectly.

Arrival

The art in the trailer arrived perfectly–without so much as a half-inch of settling. Hanging the show with Miguel was a pleasure. All of his placement choices were excellent. And before you know it the opening began and lovely people showed up. A subliminal but noticeable result occurred and recurred on later days: when I was introduced as the artist, most people lit up, conveyed their respects, and opened up about their feelings about the art and themselves without any self-consciousness. It was as if they took the magic pill and trusted me to understand them. It reminded me a little of my experience being rushed to the hospital. I came away with so much respect for the 40 to 50 health professionals who interacted with me. Both experiences restored my faith in humanity.

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Opening, Luxman Nathan from L.A. in the foreground.
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With Marilyn Moore, my beloved copy editor.

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With Thomas C. McCollum III, author of Tainted Blood and Uncle Norm.

It was an honor to have the show reviewed in The Washington Post  print and online editions by Mark Jenkins, who said about Icarus,  ” … his depiction of Icarus, included in White Cloud Gallery’s “Intimacy,” is as contemporary as traditional. Posed serenely in midair, naked and wingless, the boy might be rising rather than falling. The emphasis is on physical beauty, not the original fable’s cautionary moral.”

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Journey Home – Pastel Landscapes

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One of the 40+ pastels on the trip home.

Before I had time to worry about the show’s traction, I was back on the road home and drawing pastel landscapes and photo referencing the beautiful land and skyscapes along the way. I hadn’t been doing pastels for some years, and it was a pleasure to revisit the medium with my newly updated knowledge of depth and light. My favorite place to draw was New Mexico. You can view an album of over 40 of those landscapes here:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10211166815587387.1073741878.1267526600&type=1&l=6e8eabe60e

Some are already in private collections, and the rest are studio inventory.

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Frida (the Champ) getting a water break in Arizona.

The Sublime

While driving I had a lot of time to think about friends, art, new projects, and the sublime. With these magnificent vistas I was contemplating landscapes as backgrounds for futuristic paintings. Especially the natural and beautiful colors. Jules Verne visuals of sea creatures and planets kept popping into my head. I had never done science fiction, and I wondered, “could I make it feel real as if we were there on the spot?” The answer was definitely “yes!” So, I started planning for the next series of big works.

On the way during breaks I was participating on a social media thread about Kant’s aesthetics, accompanying my opinions with Kant quotes and postmodern examples. I have published and lectured in the past on his aesthetics, yet I was brutally accused by a respected literary scholar and friend of being a “criminal,” and “ridiculous,” for my claim that Kant’s definition (his specifically) of the sublime established the foundations for postmodern art. The conversation rekindled my interest in further inquiry into the role of the sublime in art.

I looked again into the history of the aesthetic definitions of the sublime but couldn’t find any close to my intuitive understanding of it nor to the common use dictionary definition. In a nutshell, the sublime historically turns on experiencing displeasure. Ever since I was 13, I wanted to paint states of elation, meaningfulness, nobility, fulfillment, and I wanted to paint light. There is nothing grotesque, shocking, or displeasing with that. Something was wrong with the art worldview of the sublime. So after decades of practicing art and theory I decided to form my own definition:

The experience of the sublime is to be looked for in art. Art integrates senses, emotions, and thought. The sublime in art elevates our sensory experience, taps and heightens our emotional potential, and furthers our knowledge. The sublime in art can also give us a moral, a stance towards living. At its best, the sublime in art inspires awe in our human potential and gives us a path to evolve as a whole being and as a species.

Empathy

One  interesting consequence of my solidifying view on the sublime in art is that I became more empathetic to collectors and other artists. Before, when I would see their art or discuss art with them I would frown and think “that art is not me,” and become frustrated. Now with more clarity about my work and motivations I enjoy celebrating the differences with other artists.

Arriving home to exquisitely beautiful Idyllwild, I reviewed the whole of the journey and asked if it was worth it.  It is still a little too fresh to know with certainty, but I do know that because of the recognition of friends and strangers, I feel freer and clearer. And perhaps without going on this American journey the new understanding and new visions would have not come about.

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Arriving home under the gorgeous Tahquitz Rock.

New Journey

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At the end of one journey is the beginning of a new one. Here is a work in progress of Venus of the Planets, my first science fiction work, oil on linen, 48 x 64 inches.

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “An American Journey

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey. You are one of the most talented people I have ever met, I continue to enjoy your incredible creations with your ability to reflect light, your use of color and the honesty in which you respect your subjects.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed reading your reflections about the journey. Empathy is worth whatever it takes to acquire it. Happy to see that you returned to pastels during the drive home.

    Liked by 1 person

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