If Truth be Told

lines, photograph

“That’s part of what I love about abstracts.It’s not the symbolism; it’s not the metaphor. It’s the simple chord of tonalities… Such tones just make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.”

– Brooks Jensen

I also love abstraction but have sort of a love-hate relationship with it. The quote from Jensen comes from an essay he wrote that states categorically that abstract photographs do not sell (he concludes that if you do them, you’ll have to do it for yourself). This has also been my experience. It’s too bad…

I suspect abstraction in all art forms can make it less accessible to many people. Think of Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, 20th century atonal music, your most recent trip to any Museum of Modern Art… I happen to enjoy a lot of that type of thing (or I used to, as I get older I sometimes don’t have the energy to unravel the tones in the chord).

Photography bears perhaps an extra burden when it comes to abstraction because, by it’s very nature, photographs have a quality of verisimilitude – the quality of truth. Unlike any other art form, photography is always of something out there in the world. It cannot completely divorce itself from that pedigree, no matter how much interpretive license the photographer takes. Usually the first thing a viewer asks about an abstract photograph is “What is that a photograph of?”. They try to relate it back to the object that was actually in front of the camera when the shutter clicked.

A good abstract photograph actually takes advantage of this – it relies on the close juxtaposition of the object the photograph is of and the degree to which that object is somehow hidden behind the chord of tonalities Jensen refers to.

But an abstract photograph can never completely let go of what it is a photograph of. I wonder to what degree the weight of that underlying thing-ness undermines the abstract-ness of the piece?

Inside and Outside


I thought I’d share a small view of our surroundings – it’s such a beautiful time of year. I spent most of the weekend gardening – next weekend I’ll definitely use sunscreen while I put in the vegetables!

This panoramic shot is the view from the back of our house – we have windows all along the length so we get to see this from just about everywhere. This is facing east so the sun rises here every morning. Usually there is fog sitting down in the valley but we’re above it most of the time. It can make for a pretty spectacular light show.

I haven’t spent much time painting lately – I’m going to blame it on spending most of my weekend time outside. Once the temperatures get too hot to do much of that I’ll get back to it.

I’m just about done with the Universal Meaning series. I may have one or two more after this to show. While I’m working on a new series I may post some photography I had put together last year to pass the time here. Hope you all don’t find it too confusing to go back and forth between painting and photography (sometimes I find it confusing!).


Elation, 15 x 20 Acrylic on Illustration Board

Curioser and curioser…


Unraveling, 15 x 15″ Acrylic on Illustration Board

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

– Albert Einstein

I suspect that while we can find all degrees of talent among great beings or great actions, at the heart of each of them is this same passionate curiosity. It’s certainly at the root of all great art.

It’s what makes us continue to try new things, to do better, to explore different approaches, to come up with new ideas about what to paint and how to paint.

If we were not passionately curious, we would be satisfied with good, but never seek great. Curiosity is the fuel – passion is the spark that turns the fuel into energy. Have you ever met a good artist who wasn’t curious about, not just art, but most things in life? And isn’t their curiosity always a passionate one? I think this is one of the qualities that most attracts people to artists – they get to feel the wash of this energy fueled by curiosity as it emanates from the artist in pursuit of their work.

So nurture and develop your curiosity – keep an open mind and don’t label things too quickly, ask questions, enjoy not knowing rather than viewing it as a handicap.

Inner Moonlight


Whorlds, 15 x 15″ Acrylic on Illustration Board

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”

-Allen Ginsberg

I love the thought of our “inner moonlight” – usually we think of a brighter, sunnier source of illumination for our creativity. But the cool and uniquely intimate way in which moonlight reveals is a nice counterpoint to contemplate. Perhaps it is a better way to expose our madness.

Of course, there is that association between madness and artists. I think this madness exists along a spectrum, from the truly insane to the mildly eccentric.

Can one be a really great artist and not fit somewhere along that line? Can one be completely normal, sane, even boring and still produce art that is rich and exciting? Or maybe no one is really normal, sane or boring – what their inner moonlight reveals is always a bit twisted, no matter the external appearance.

At least with art we have a way to share our madness with others in a fairly harmless way!

What’s Bugging You?


Infernal, 10 x 10″ Acrylic and Spackle on Illustration Board

“You are no bigger than the things that annoy you”

– Jerry Bundsen

I love the efficient wisdom of this quote. What you let bother you defines you. Makes you think twice about to what exactly you are willing to concede that power to.

I’ll admit it – I have issues with patience and tolerance. I’ve been known to complain about this or that. I even recently participated in an experiment with my wife in which we committed to not complaining about anything for 40 days. In these challenging times, I think I lasted 4 days and only because my definition of a complaint was narrower than my wife’s.

What does this have to do with making art?

As artists we’re constantly confronted with challenges and problems – sometimes we call them “failures”. We are frustrated by them, dare I say annoyed. When we adopt this attitude toward these perceived limitations, we allow them to define who we are. We cannot become “bigger” than them, we cannot go beyond them.

I have sometimes thought that my frustration with my current limitations has been the fuel which propels me past them. And perhaps there is some role played by that attitude in my progress, maybe the pot is stirred in a necessary way. But I realize that ultimately I can only move past those limitations when I drop my annoyance with them. I’ve never really fought my way through a creative limit while holding onto these feelings. It’s only when I let them go, that I am able to redfine myself.

A Dancing Star


Dancing Star, 10 x 10″ Acrylic on Illustration Board

“Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.”

– Henry Brooks Adams

I like the contrast between “life” and “habit” in this quote. One of the reasons I love non-objective subject matter is that helps me avoid habit, which, for me, equates with boring. When I was painting landscapes years ago, I found that eventually they all started to look the same. There is an order to the objects we see around us, perhaps imposed by how we have created them or at least in how we perceive them. This sense of order imposed its will on me, made me move in certain directions and not in others. I’m not saying that others who paint differently create boring, habitual art – obviously this is not true! I only speak to my own experience.

By not attempting to depict this order, I am free to roam in all directions. This is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it’s up to me what I create – the curse is that I have few guideposts to help me know if I’m on the right track.

This series is, in some way, all about that chaos. I’m trying to honor the chaos while offering enough order to connect with the viewer.

Nietzsche said that you need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star – this piece is my homage to that sentiment.

Artful Violence


Cycle, 10 x 10″ acrylic on illustration board

“One never paints violently enough.”

– Eugene Delacroix

Painting and violence are not words commonly juxtaposed. We often think of painting as a refined activity, one in which we connect with our gentle spirit. Painting calms us, allows us to achieve an almost meditative state. So what place has violence in this serene tableau?

I think Delacroix (who was a French Romantic painter) is commenting on passion and abandon in painting. Violence is defined as “swift and intense force”. When we unfetter our passion as we paint, the force is palpable. When it is “swift and intense” we often sit back and look at the result and wonder “where did that come from?”. And often these pieces are our most satisfying, having bypassed our common ways of thought, our conventions and comfortable patterns. Leaving all that behind leads to an exciting place.

It is challenging to paint “violently” – letting go is not something we do often in our daily lives. What is great about art is that it is a safe place to do so. If the word “violent” offends, substitute “passionate”, but be sure that your passion is swift and intense!

Practice Makes Perfect?


Macrocosm, 10 x 10″ acrylic on illustration board

“Artists are notorious for spending more time ‘producing’ paintings and spending little or no time ‘practicing’. “

– Tom Lynch

I will admit it – I am very bad about practicing anything. Making art is no exception. So I am one of the “notorious” members of the non-practicing art crowd mentioned above. Are you also?

I don’t know why this is. I know that practicing specific techniques or subjects would probably produce  better results. But I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t even be bothered to spend 5 minutes doing a value sketch, much less a full study. Nor can I bear to spend any of my precious, too-little time I dedicated to art working on something that has no chance of being a finished masterpiece because it is just practice. Not that many, if any, or my efforts become finished masterpieces anyway!

This character flaw is very evident in my piano playing – once I reach a stage where I can stumble through a piece in a recognizable fashion, I move on to the next piece. I would much rather learn something new and be less than skilled at it than be a master of one or two pieces.

I prefer to learn by doing rather than practicing. It is probably not as efficient but more fun for me! Maybe it means I’m not serious enough about developing into a better artist.

Have you found for yourself the right balance of practicing and producing?

What’s in a Pattern?


Intersection, 10 x 10″ acrylic on illustration board

“A repeated shape is not actually the same – the more subtle, the more poetic this repeat is, the more we feel that resonant pulse.”

-Suzanne Northcott

In the pursuit of confusing myself, I am working on two series simultaneously which have very different objectives. Recently I’ve been posting work from the series titled Universal Meaning in which I am trying to use a more fluid style with little or no pattern or straight lines. This work is from a different series, as yet untitled, in which am exploring pattern and shape. Maybe a sort of left brain/right brain dichotomy. I like to exercise as many dimensions of my creativity as possible, even at the risk of a hopeless snarl.

I love the quote above because it reveals something about pattern that I truly feel – it’s “resonant pulse”. Pattern creates a rhythm which we unconsciously respond to. By making the patterns more or less subtle we can regulate the pulse of that rhythm in the observer. Paintings without pattern (I’m thinking of the Universal Meaning series) create a feeling of floating or being adrift – perhaps not the right words. But something other than a pulse with its insistent regularity.

Somehow our perceptual system translates these marks into some type of dynamic that we feel, rather than see. All art forms impact us on more than one level. Non-visual art such as music can have color, non-kinetic art such as painting can make us feel movement and temporal art such as dance can have structural permanence.

The more ways in which we respond to the art, the more interested we become in it. Artists who cross over into other art forms benefit greatly from this exploration as it allows them to infuse each with some aspect of the others.

The Spirit of Art


Cosmic Dance, 10 x 10″ Acrylic on Illustration Board

“Being ‘spiritual’ simply means being willing to look into the nature of life, to ask questions and to wonder, and to listen. It also means seeing art everywhere.”

– Quang Ho

I liked the simplicity of this definition of “spiritual” and its connection to art. It means being curious about the important questions, contemplating what you discover and being open to everything that might teach you.

Spirituality becomes more of a mindset than a set of particular beliefs. This mindset keeps us open to possibility at all times and protects us from rigid doctrine. It’s why people who hold widely differing beliefs can all be considered spiritual –  they share this mindset.

When we engage the world with this mindset we see art everywhere. We honor what we find by viewing it as art. We find the beauty and grace in even the smallest thing when we ask questions about it, wonder and listen to what it tells us. The art we find in the world around us serves as the source of inspiration that allows us to create our own art.

Imagine how different you would feel if you did not see the art in the passing clouds,  the bloom of early spring flowers, the joyous bustle of the farmers market or the laughter of children at play. Where would our art come from?