Tuesday, June 25, 2013

two junes

I amuse myself with my adjacent calendars. The 1941 one makes the cheery note that '1997 dates are the same as 1941!'
1997 is so far in the future, I can't even imagine.
And the grass painting on my own calendar is from two Junes ago, way back in 2011.
I haven't posted any new paintings lately. Working on two; one of which, a closeup detail of an old taxicab, I'd begun last winter and put it aside to figure out whether it was worth trying to finish. I still didn't know, and of course the only way is to keep painting and see.
It's based on a photo I took in 2010, so while working on it I was remembering that day- I'd gotten slightly lost while driving, and found myself in an old junkyard full of weird cars. I will post it when it's done, since as usual I forgot to take progress shots. Same with the other painting, which is a large one of another 1960 Edsel from my vintage booklet. I'd painted one on the lightbulb, and then I had a long canvas and wanted to give that long car some space. Still figuring out the background. The car itself I repainted three times before it decided what color it wanted to be.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

find your focus

One more bit I wrote in Cape Cod. Why does this stuff look pretentious to me afterwards. Yesterday's post made me gag. Nothing holds up, or maybe I just get sick of myself.
I've slept deeply each night I've been here, though as usual the dreams mostly fragmented upon waking. After biking so much on Sat, beach lounging (so arduous) and rock-hopping all the way along the jetty- though not as far as the lighthouse- I was worn out and fell asleep early. Sunday morning I walked to the end of the road where the house is (in Eastham) to the bay beach and found the tide was low. When I'd checked it out on Thurs, the tide was high, lapping against the rocks, and the sand mottled with rain. The way the tide changes the terrain is always a surprise, at least to those of us who are usually land-bound. I walked far out across the shallows, the wet sand squishing pleasantly beneath my feet. Tiny crabs scuttled sideways and bits of seaweed lay in clumps. I looked back at the shore as I'd done from the end of the jetty, and imagined the waves rushing in to cover me, sweeping me away out to sea. 
Later, I drove to Provincetown once more, rented a bike again and rode to the beach, but by that time clouds had obscured the sun and a breeze had picked up. 

Noticed I sure seem to have more hours in the day when there's no internet. I'm probably not on as often as others, but I still want to practice more discipline, to block off chunks of offline time and adhere to them. There's no reason why I can't- I don't have the kind of work/life where everyone's expecting me to respond within the hour, though I wonder if I'd be more successful if I did. I just read Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, a weightily titled small book by various accomplished and effective people. The ideas probably apply to virtually every creative person trying to get something done in this buzzing world, even those without smartphones or offices.
I stopped in Wellfleet on my drive back to the house, as I'd heard there was a strawberry festival there. I don't know how, but I just hear about these things. On Main St, I followed the signs with strawberries on them to a table where ladies sold tickets for strawberry shortcake. I bought my ticket and was handed a heaping bowl of berries, a biscuit and real whipped cream, which I carried to a picnic table. This was the extent of the festival, but it was good enough for me, since I'd skipped Beacon's Strawberry Fest last weekend. Plus, I found another used-book shop down the street, and left with a signed copy of David Byrne's book Bicycle Diaries. I'd briefly considered getting my ear pierced in Provincetown, but I decided books were a better souvenir. 

 Before leaving on Monday, I detoured to Coast Guard Beach, one of the gateway beaches to the Cape Cod National Seashore. Gateway beach like a gateway drug, I mused as I stumbled to the car giddy and blissful, tossing my sandy towel in the backseat, as ready for a 4-hr drive through traffic and heavy rain/ blinding sun as I'd ever be.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

land's end

 The weather at the tip of Cape Cod conspired well with me. The rain and clouds, the cool damp air, followed by Saturday's perfectly blue-sky clear, sunny warmth, helped me decide what to do when. Thurs afternoon and Friday, I'd roamed the galleries and museums, and bought one pair of tiny car-shaped earrings, and I could sit quietly in an empty restaurant and eat a fine burger- the same restaurant that was packed on Sat night.
I'd spent the rest of Friday at art receptions, drinking wine and watching the boisterous, hand-holding crowds that had suddenly arrived.

Sat morning I rented a bike and rode the trails through the dunes. It was some of the most wonderful bike-riding I've ever done. I lay on the beach out there, reading my Michael Cunningham book about Provincetown. I would've never thought to read it otherwise- in fact it was published in 2002- but being here, it was exactly what I wanted, like an especially poetic and articulate guidebook. He discovered Ptown 30 years ago when he was at the Fine Arts Work Center. His writing is so effortlessly evocative that I feel no need to try and overly describe it myself, only to say, anyone with an interest in this idiosyncratic and beautiful town, whether you're here or want to visit someday, should read it. I was remembering another Cape Cod book I read, The Outermost House by Henry Beston, about his year in a tiny house by the ocean.

I walked the mile-long stone jetty out to Long Point, the skinny sandy curl of land, thinking about Hopper's Truro paintings and about how my photos were mostly of three pristine wedges of blue and beige, a strip of white or gray between.
I haven't used the art materials I brought, except for the old 'mechanical sketchbook' (camera). As in California, I thought I'd sit and draw, but I felt vaguely anxious about time and wanted to be out exploring. Even though, being in the physical place the experience is most potent, impressions most likely to translate to paper. During my 7 years in NYC, I did far more 'absorbing' everything around me than actually producing art. I rarely even took photos, regrettably- I rely on random emails or nearly-illegible journal entries (which unhelpfully ranged from obsessive to sporadic) to trigger my memory. Still, I have to believe it's all stored away in this brain for me to excavate over time. It must be. The more I write, or paint, the more I see them. Even though it seems that my paintings are more about some 'idea' of memory than a concrete one. Objects as placeholders.

I am alone plenty in my life- honestly more than I'd like- but the focused solitude of 'away-alone' is still more productive. Depending on how you define productive. "How long did that piece take you?" was a question I wrote about recently. The only answer that really makes sense is, My lifetime. And someone else's lifetime, too- not in a mystical or reincarnated way, but in that everything that came before me is in each piece I make, even if I don't understand it. I feel sometimes like I'm holding onto other people's memories, too, I am just not sure what to do with them, if anything. Maybe it's ok just to have them.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

provincetown, cape cod

 When someone offers you their house near Provincetown, MA, for you to stay in for a few days but urges you to go out there now cause they'll be using it soon… you go now.

Since I had no easy access to internet while I was there (partly intentional), I am posting this week what I wrote each day, as I knew nobody was exactly awaiting a real-time trip report, and this blog is also an ongoing record of notes for myself.

I had the time to go, if not much money, but I reasoned I only had basic expenses (food) I'd pay at home, plus fuel. I planned to spend my few days walking and visiting galleries, soaking up the place. Taking pictures and notes, maybe talking to people. Getting a sense of the history. Remembering all the painters and writers I'd read about, who lived in or visited Provincetown. The 'someone' who encouraged me was a family friend who knew I would love it and find inspiration.
I drove out here in the rain Thursday, found the house and settled in, then drove 30 miles out to the tip of the land. By the sandy dunes, I pulled over and looked at the damp gray beach for a moment through my rain-spattered windshield.
Back in town, I parked and went into nearly every gallery that was open, and peered through the windows of the ones that weren't. While there are a few galleries that are what I think of as the vacation-town sort-- kind of predictable and full of identical paintings to sell to the summer crowd (not that I wouldn't try it myself if I could manage it, steadily producing canvases and sitting back as they sail out the door- wait, why can't I do this? I should), there are a lot of really good, original galleries too, featuring work you wouldn't expect. I recognized some artists' names, and chatted with the owners, all of whom were friendly.
I unhinged my jaw to gape at the impossible charm of the pretty little houses and courtyards, the winding brick paths and gardens, all as impossibly charming as promised. I've been to Nantucket, no slouch in the charm department, and actually I'd been to Cape Cod once before- 12 years ago, when I went with my whole family- but I hadn't been thinking about the art so much that time. I did drag my family into some kooky galleries here and in Truro- like the Susan Baker Memorial Museum- but it's different when I'm alone and can duck in and out of places at my own whim.
This morning, Fri, I climbed the 252-ft tall Pilgrim Monument, up '116 steps and 60 ramps' to the top of the all-granite structure where I emerged to a windy, sweeping view. Inside the Provincetown Museum, I learned about the monument (built 1907-10), the local history, and the Mayflower pilgrims (who first arrived here in 1620, before they'd moved on to Plymouth). I thought about the complex history regarding those Europeans and Native Americans, certain parts that we never dwelled on in school. I walked down the hill into town and into a used-book shop, where I found Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown by Michael Cunningham, and Winter: Five Windows on the Season by Adam Gopnik. I've read most of their books, but not these. As he rang me up, the owner said they regularly visit the shop, and that Cunningham is a friend of his. I left feeling happy, the effect that new books always have on me.

By mid-afternoon the sun came out. I walked over to see the Fine Arts Work Center, which offers a 7-month residency to 20 fellows in visual arts and writing. I nearly applied twice, and made it halfway through the application last winter, but just wasn't sure. I'm still doubtful- about the length of the program and about my chances of getting in- but after visiting today, I have to try. I even got an impromptu private tour. It would be a game-changer, I know. I can barely imagine. Would it be right for me? And I for it? I'm glad I saw it- there's always someday. I've got a lot of ideas for someday, though many are at odds with each other. To calm my thoughts, I went and sat by the bay eating exotic ice cream and wiggling my feet in the sand.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

the lightbulb project, newburgh


I posted a portion of this painted 4-ft wooden lightbulb a couple of weeks ago, so here it is in its entirety, both sides! It will be displayed for the next couple of weeks somewhere in Newburgh (across the river from Beacon). This poster here describes the project and the event; also see the site www.newburghilluminated.com for more info about the festival.
I think the bulbs are for sale- it may be up to the individual artists. Mine is, though it might be fun to just install it somewhere for awhile.

This was the vision of the curator (Gerardo Castro) when he came up with the project:

"Public art plays two roles in a community: It helps to create an authentic sense of place and serves as a tool for revitalization. The higher people rate the beauty of their community, the higher their overall level of community satisfaction. Human beings crave physical beauty. We look for it in so many of the things that surround us, and especially in the communities and places we live. The Lightbulb Project is consistent with the vitality and soul of the community."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

what i said

My short talk at TEDxLongDock on Friday went well. It was a good day altogether. I think that all the presentations will be edited and put online in the next couple of weeks, so if I can, I'll post a link. For now-- although it's not nearly as fabulously enthralling as hearing me speak it-- here is the text of my talk and the accompanying slides. Nothing too fancy. I got some positive feedback. Many seemed surprised at the perceived incongruity of my generally-known persona, and the ease (they said) I projected up there (the morning's heart palpitations notwithstanding). I like to surprise sometimes.

This is a story about the intersection of romance and reality.

On East Main, you can find a small traffic light that stands alone in the middle of the street. It has been there for decades, during which Beacon has seen a lot. Other similar lights were removed as the roads changed over time, the city deeming them dangerous obstacles, maybe, or just not relevant anymore. It became one of only three in the country. It stopped working at some point and was shrouded in black plastic while its fate was debated. I don't quite know what brought it about, but the light was eventually repaired, and reliably blinks yellow or red from its post, whether or not anyone is there. And as Beacon has gotten busier again, there always seems to be somebody making a turn.

 My painting of this light was not so much a romantic gesture as one of observation and response. My interest in old things with a sense of history is part of what inspires me. After ten years of painting and sporadically exhibiting, with the support of various jobs,  I can propose that one romantic vision of being an artist is to have ample space and time to make art, then to have eager galleries and dealers clamoring to show and sell it.
Turns out, romance is a lot of work.

The reality is, I need to live, and I need to paint.
I want to engage the public, support artists and open a good-looking place to show art on Main St; I need such a venture to sustain itself and to facilitate my own work.
My friend and I manage Catalyst Gallery as a rental space where people can realize their creative projects, independent of a more typical gallery model. They rent it short-term to install essentially whatever they want, find new exposure, experiment with ideas and inspire dialogue. They have full control, which is something we as artists so often end up handing over to someone else, or waiting for others to make decisions about our work.

This way, artists have access to a professional gallery space in a highly-visible location, to try something out for a week or a month. A sculptor used the gallery as a testing ground for new pieces and to meet with collectors. Another wanted to explore the local market potential with an eye towards opening a permanent shop. A group of New Paltz MFA students were able to curate and install their own show. As for us, we have extra studio space, a venue for group exhibitions and workshops, and a home for my phone booth- in itself an additional space for art.

Every time I see a new show going up, and watch people walking by, peering through the windows, I am reminded that the vitality that drives Catalyst is rooted in making our own work, providing a way to sustain and encourage the creative life, and supporting the art community we are part of.

One recent artist was a woman who grew up in Beacon in the '50s and '60s, but hadn't been back in over 30 years. While she was here, which coincided with the centennial celebration, she mentioned her amazement at how the city had changed, and changed again, in the time she'd known it. "Young people come in and talk about the 'historic' end of town-- they say, 'you know, by the dummy light?'" she laughed. "The historic end! And back then, nobody dared to venture down here!" During her show, she made an installation in the phone booth with paper speech bubbles of collected "do you remember"s, which stimulated conversation (and sometimes debate) with visitors and residents about what was where, and for how long.
Somehow this exchange seemed to clarify the light's attraction for me. An ordinary object in the middle of everything, but overlooked. It faced indifference and neglect, and is now not only fixed up, but used as a local point of reference. And an unexpected source of inspiration, embodying the romance of looking back, and the reality of moving forward.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

tedx long dock short talk

I'm going to give a five-minute talk at this event, coming to Beacon this Friday, June 7:

"A group of committed citizens is organizing a day-long event full of stimulating and inspiring talks on the impact of arts, culture, the creative class and entrepreneurship in the Hudson Valley.

Up and down the Hudson, our communities are reinventing themselves. In many there is a newfound optimism and a sense of civic pride. And it is boldness and creativity, not big industry, that are shaping the new economic landscape. Warehouses are being repurposed as microbreweries, sensational food is being coaxed out of our land, and our Main Streets, once desolate and deserted, are back, busy, bustling.
TEDxLongDock will challenge traditional views of economic development, and explore the vital role of the creative economy, entrepreneurship and the “creative class” to the longterm vibrancy of our region.

TEDxLongDock will convene the doers, the thinkers, the facilitators and the catalysts.."

The what? ;)

What will I be speaking about, one may ask? A bit about our rental space, Catalyst Gallery, a bit about the artist life, a bit about Beacon. That should occupy five minutes, and hopefully be passably interesting.
One of the advantages of speaking is getting to hear everyone else. Also, a nice lunch. Follow the link above to the site which has the full agenda and bios of each presenter. It will be quite a day.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

retro rally

I have five or so paintings in this upcoming Retro Rally car and art show at Cornell Street Studios in Kingston (168 Cornell St). I didn't have to think for very long whether I ought to enter. It's been a while since I got to simultaneously exhibit my work AND look at classic cars, not since a few years ago when I set up a table at a few auto shows. I did enjoy checking out the cars, though I found it to be a more remote kind of appreciation. I will be heading back from the Catskills this Saturday, so I'll dig up a suitable frock and see the show on my way back to Beacon.
I would post the selected works but I already have, at some point or another. I believe the show runs through August.

Okay, these are two of the paintings. After all, one can never see them enough. Ice Cream Signs (after Burckhardt), 36"x36" oil on canvas, and The Spot, 9"x11" acrylic on wood.