Venus of the Planets

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Joy Riding

Decades ago at 2:30 a.m. on a back street in La Jolla, I was arrested driving my mom’s ’68 Firebird 400 convertible. I had our tiny mutts Nikki and Dinky as passengers. I was 12 years old. The feeling of driving was incredibly delicious. Riding home in the back of the cop car, I asked the two burly policemen what I did wrong. I obviously didn’t want to make that mistake again. They looked at each other, not sure they should educate me on the rules of the road. It turned out I was driving with the high beams on. After some prodding, they kindly explained what and how they worked.

My feeling for art is a lot like that adventure–it is hot, daring, and a beautiful experience. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything, including life and love. I didn’t have the words to answer people who tried to steer me towards business or a tennis career–it wasn’t going to happen.

 

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1-minute concept sketch, interesting to compare it with the finished version.

 

Overwhelming Peace

In my late teens, I was very lucky to travel to New York and Europe, where I took the opportunity to visit art museums. Every time I walked into a room filled with life-sized ancient Greek sculptures, I had the same emotional experience: an overwhelming feeling of peace and that everything was right with the world. That experience was something I could never feel for the visual rantings of suicidal, CIA-sponsored abstract expressionist 

I’ve never wanted to live back in time, and I wasn’t going to play the postmodernist game, so the only place for me and my art was the future.

 

The Beautiful and the Noble

The toughest, most ruthless, and most demanding thing to do in art is to make something noble and beautiful. Any blemish of color or skewed perspective or proportion screws one’s vision. (Artists, daunted by the challenge, and lacking skill and fortitude, give up, and they trade their best visions for ugliness and abstraction–a horrific choice). Holding onto great visions and simultaneously growing and trying new things as a totality is a great accomplishment, and yet, the art itself looks like the simplest and most natural thing in the world.

This brings me to Venus of the Planets. She is the result of all the hard work, adventure, the lovely model Georgie Leahy, my journey to Washington, D.C., Star Trek NG, and bridging the feeling of ancient Greece with our future decades from now–and a result of joy riding.

 

About Venus

Venus started life in the swirling currents of rage, envy, hopelessness, promises, and unchosen obligations. She wasn’t meant for life as it was known on planet Earth. She had within her, as all humanoids have, a minuscule fragment of DNA, so tiny it was, and is still, unknown to most of humankind, yet this spec of stuff can ignite and light a universe. It is called the Sublime gene. Venus had no words for it, only a recognition that it was within her. Humans had no time to notice such an insignificant thing, they were too busy fighting against or running away from each other’s hammers. Venus wasn’t immune from the ravishes of anger and fear, until one day she noticed that they were cords that bound humans together in security and endless conflict. She wondered: what happens when you cut the cords? She did just that and an amazing thing happened, she became free. Free to let go, free to be beautiful, free to let the sublime gene grow, expand, and ignite. Her inner light burned so brightly it reached the farthest planets of our Universe, and she made her home there. If you look deep enough within and without you will see her there in her home of flowing arches and glass windows with vistas of Jupiter and her moons Callisto, Io, and Ganymede.

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Venus and me this am, after just signing the painting.

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.