Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Playful Paul

Paul Gauguin

                                 Paul Gauguin, Still Life with Onions…, 1885

Our artist is concentrating on painting his Impressionist still life while women talk in the next room.  How often has this been the experience of any one of a number of artists?  Gauguin’s storyline lightens an otherwise somber painting.

                                            Paul Gauguin, The Wave, 1888

I think this man is a rather playful guy.  The women talking in the next room was a sly bit of humor on himself.  Little Paul is indoors practicing his violin lessons while the boys are busy roughhousing outside.  This picture at the shore is just plain fun.  Yeah, red sand, colorful surf… it gave the Fauvists something to think about. 

What’s he doing up there?  From the cliff he can easily hear shouts of delight coming from those frolicking below.  It has the look of a landscape but his choice in colors makes this painting about expressing joy.  He’s also introduced something unexpected.  Gauguin gives us a bird’s eye view of people playing among the crashing waves.

Both pictures give us sound – grouped women conversing, frolickers shouting.  Not a bad thought.  It breathes life into the scenes.  

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

g o d

The spirit of our exchange on God is that of a conversation between two people that share mutual values.  We have all the latitude that goes with being casual.  This has to reward joining in with a sense of fun. 

You provided a particularly interesting topic when you said, “God took the risk of manifesting in human form, trusting us to carry on the creative action of life.  Jesus is the example of how we pray to the whole as a consensus that is alive with all knowledge of everything, including all the mysterious things we can’t understand.”

There’s a lot there but I just want to focus on the phrase “with all knowledge of everything.”

God misses nothing.  We see an unknown future ahead of us.  God has no need for time.  He knows all, always.  God has no need for trust.  He already knows what we will do and plans accordingly.  God sends his son Jesus to us knowing of Christ’s fate.  It’s every facet was foretold by God.  What is gained in return for the death of the Son of God?  Eternal life for mere mortals.  We become one with the Spirit following the death of our flesh.  What is God’s price for this gift?

We must witness the merciless inhumanity we inflict on one another.  We must see ourselves as God often sees us – unworthy of salvation.  Why?  Because we exercised our free will in a manner that defies God?  Partly.  We’ve always exercised our independence from God’s will.  It’s what got us evicted from the Garden of Eden.  In response, God decreed we would continue no further than the grave once we died.

Not long ago God changed the rules.  He offered us eternal spiritual existence... even though God often objects to what it is we choose to do.  We truly are in God’s image.  As such, we wouldn’t be worth a damn without free will

Jesus is nailed to a cross and left to die.  On Earth it is no big deal.  These things happen all the time.  Then the word spreads.  Jesus was the Son of God.  Who would think such a modest man would have divine connections?  This is a story too good to stop.  People know of things this man said.  His outlook on mankind is revolutionary.  His message is mostly of love.  Jesus is revered for his teachings but practical considerations require us to often turn another way.  After all, it is in our nature.  We ourselves are, in some way, Sons of God.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Good Morning Jack

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 28 December

Good Morning Jack…

It’s Christmas day.  The antebellum home sits on a hill overlooking the neighboring farm.  There are horses, of course, and a few donkeys.  But there is also a camel, some llamas and gazelles.  I want to say there is an ostrich but I honestly can’t remember.  It’s a clear oversight if there isn’t. 

Christmas is all about family.  You look at a home and its surroundings and you have to know the entire shebang is centered on the love of a woman.

This is her brother.  A man works his life, not for exotic cars or luxurious homes, but for dignity and the respect of those he loves most.

The barn is a mysterious place.  It’s nestled amidst trees and near a pasture.  A cat lives inside.  He startled me when he made a flying leap from the loft, sailing ten feet to the ground.  Landing on his feet he went lickety-split out the barn door and straight for a thick hedge.

It’s an obligation for the man of the house to fall asleep after eating.  His wife is wide awake but she’s happy to be near him.

The young lady in charge of festive atmosphere happened to dress as a mouse for the occasion.

Seldom does it get better than this.  They can’t believe how lucky they are to know each other.

Happy New Year!


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Outlaws with Paint

Vlaminck     The Orchard     1905

What do you make of using all this intense color to create a landscape?  The reds, blues and yellows are like those found in a basic box of crayons.  They are chosen for reasons other than depicting trees and brush.  Emotion is expressed here; that of the artist and of the viewer, as well.  Blue and green constrain the energy of red and yellow.  That’s a start.  The frenetic, oil laden brush strokes stir up an overall agitation.  The trunk of the tree gives our eyes a resting spot.  It’s 1905 and this is the work of Maurice de Vlaminck – one of the early practitioners of Fauvism.  The expressive brushwork reminds us of van Gogh but the charged colors point elsewhere for its source.  We’ll be looking for someone unconcerned with dimension.  His choice of colors might seem arbitrary.

van Gogh     Self Portrait     1889

van Gogh     Wheat Field     1889

Let’s first look to van Gogh.  He shows little concern for modeling form.  Such an approach would distract from the mood he intends to convey.  The mountains flow as a river, separating the sharp glint of sky from the warm turbulence of wheat ready for harvest.  Amidst it all a man swings his scythe.  Can he be representing us?  We are strangers on this Earth.  Our life a pilgrim’s progress – a passage from Earth’s womb to the uncertain realm that is God’s.   Of course it could just be the scene of a man reaping the late summer harvest.

Gauguin     Tahitian Landscape     1897

Gauguin     Self-Portrait with Halo     1889

Gauguin freed color from representing nature.  Where van Gogh might choose deep blue to depict a mountain shadow Gauguin would ignore what he saw and instead provide a flat field of red if it suited his purpose.  His self-portrait of 1899 foretells the work of Henri Matisse by about fifteen years.  Decorative design substitutes for the illusion of form.  The painting insists on remaining flat.  Color is as much the topic as is Gauguin’s sardonic portrayal of himself.   

Matisse     Lady on a Terrace     1907

Why would one of the great Twentieth Century artists deliberately give his painting the look of a crude postcard?  Imagine the impact of the colors if the scene had been skillfully rendered.  Carefully considered design and color would be swept aside by our admiration for storyline and the masterful modeling of form and depth.  We might mistake landscape for the subject when Matisse is actually exploring the matter of yellows and reds. 

Matisse     Self-Portrait in a Striped T-Shirt     1906

Someone gave the name of ‘Wild Beasts’, or Fauves, to the followers of Matisse.  They were the Beastie Boys of Parisian art salons.  How could anyone find art in these garish pictures?  This is the work of anarchists who knowingly perpetrate fraud on those foolish enough to purchase these insults to Western civilization.    

Picasso     Self-Portrait     1907

Picasso     Nude Women     1906

Henri Matisse was undisputed leader of the Fauves while his greatest artistic rival defied categories and would be known simply as Picasso.  He mastered classical oil painting while still a youth living with his parents.  He could have made a splendid living for himself painting portraits of the wealthy.  Ha!  Look at this self-portrait.  Picasso is an arrogant son-of-a-bitch.  The only person good enough to judge his work is himself.  The best of his work dares you to say otherwise.  The Fauves may have coaxed him away from a rose palette but he would always be a movement of one – except for his brief collaboration with Georges Braque and the development of Cubism. 

Dufy     Self-Portrait     1899

Raoul Dufy would become one of the Beastie Boys of color.  A few years prior to his transformation he painted himself as a disdainful, callow youth with a pugnacious tilt of the hat.  Compare the image with that of Picasso.  They are of similar age.  One wishes to sell you on his self-assurance.  The other doesn't care what you think. 

Dufy     Boats at Martigues     1908

Dufy     Martigues

Now look at Dufy under the influence.  He’s absorbed the intensity of Vlaminck and the audacity of Matisse.  Such is the fire that burns within youth.  Dufy’s running with the bulls would be spectacular but short-lived.  He returned to the portrayal of substance.  Forms once again exhibited weight.  His return to the subjects of classical masters was refreshed with the influence of C├ęzanne.

Macke     Self-Portrait     1906

Macke     Woman with a Yellow Jacket     1913

August Macke is all of nineteen in this portrait he painted of himself.  Possibly he’s struggling at growing a beard.  It’s 1906 and the Fauves are the talk of the avant-garde.  Within a year he will be swept up by the excitement of the Paris art scene.  Macke is enraptured with color.  He composes luminous fields of reds, yellows and blues.  The people populating his paintings are barely implied.  His love affair with Fauvism lasts but a couple of years.  He’s intrigued by Robert Delaunay’s work at coloring Cubist structure.  Form once again matters.  See the woman before the window.  Look at all the unexpected facets that required his expertise in color.  What painter of illusion could resist this play of light and dark? 

Macke     Woman in front of a Large Window

Malevich     Self-Portrait     1910

Here’s the portrait of the Russian painter, Kazimir Malevich.  He’s giving us the look of serious intent.  The back of his mind, though, is filled with thoughts of sex.  How can you not savor the sensual backdrop he provides us?  Now view his study of the crucified Christ – it’s nearly drenched with runny yellow.  Everyone, including the pious old saints, is stripped to their unadorned flesh.  Kazimir will likely undress you with his eyes.  So what direction does this man of sensual desire take himself?  He arrives at the doorstep of Piet Mondrian – the artist celebrated for painting pure abstraction:  a few black lines, intersecting perpendicular to one another; a white background; a box or rectangle here and there, filled with basic blue or red or yellow.  For Malevich these compositions are music.  It views like Stravinsky sounds – a romance unadorned.  Malevich exiles all things organic.  Make abstract geometric.  Make it simple, simpler, simplest.  Finally, Malevich falls off the deep end with White Box on White.  The box is curiously set ajar.  Actually it’s not really a box because it doesn’t quite fit in the canvas.  It’s five-sided.  It only gives you the illusion of being square.  Brilliant!  Malevich gives us the simplest geometry, void of primary colors.  He nearly renounces the pictorial narrative.  Still, we have to ask ourselves, “Why is the box askew?”  Actually, it’s not a box.  It’s a square.  Wait!  It can’t be a square if there are five sides.  But there really are only four sides because part of the square is out of the picture.  Who says – the artist?  Hmm.  Guess who created a storyline out of radically minimal abstraction?

Malevich     Sketch for Fresco     1907

Malevich  White Box on White     1917

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Good Morning Jessicca

Letter to my Daughter
Sunday, 21 December

Marcella and Jeremy

Good Morning Jessicca…

Four days until Christmas and I think I am about finished with my shopping.  Last year I was making last minute decisions Christmas Eve, which is more like me.  I rely on something catching my eye.  That’s different!  It may or may not be but, whatever it is, it stands apart from what I’ve been wading through looking around for what feels right.  Picking out a gift is always very personal.  That means I have to like it.  Sure, it’s not for me but I’m not going to purchase a gift strictly on the basis of hoping they find something appealing about it while I can’t imagine what they would see in it.  That’s aiming in the dark.  The gift one purchases should always reflect something of the person giving it.  We feel good giving it partly because we see the value in what is being given.  Then we hope they like it because it is important they are happy with the gift because they are important to us.  It’s a gift because it is given with the best intentions to a loved one or sincere friend.  A gift does not involve the self-serving quid pro quo of a business arrangement.  You know the best kind of gift?  Your child gives their special crayon drawing to you along with some dandelion flowers.   It’s straight from one heart to another.  Perfect.

Your big brother Jeremy is headed to Europe with his wife, Marcella, just after Christmas.  They will be visiting her family.  I hope they have a wonderful time but I always worry just a bit.  My mind always contains a list of things that may go wrong.  I’m reminded of the many evils in life.  I become especially superstitious.  I’m helpless in determining events large and small.  Plane accidents, terrorist acts, car wrecks, matters of the heart… I have no say in preventing any of these horrors.  I can’t even prepare myself for the shock.  I’m always blindsided.  I suspect I shouldn’t even be writing of such things.  Vapors from Hell are released with the slightest pretext.

When I was very young I went with my grandparents to the wedding of a cousin.  We stayed for a bit of the celebration afterwards and then we headed home.  It was a long drive.  Once we arrived a neighbor came by to say a message awaited us at the telephone company.  My grandparents didn’t have a phone so we drove to the nearest town having the phone company office.   A woman at the switchboard passed along the message.  Evelyn and her new husband had died in a plane crash.  It had rained the night before.  Apparently moisture had gotten into the fuel system and the plane stalled on takeoff, crashing into trees near the end of the runway.  My grandmother was beside herself.  Her sister’s daughter was gone.  The honeymoon would be postponed. 

Jeremy came to visit me a little over a year ago.  He’s quite tall, a couple inches more than me.  We had a cookout in the backyard the day after he arrived.  I remember he wore a t-shirt with birds on the front – finches and such, with their names beneath their picture.  He was among strangers but his conversation blended in effortlessly with the topics of interest to these people.  He has a natural reserve but it seemed appealing.  He appeared open to accepting everyone on their own terms.  Where he was comfortable I might have felt on trial.  I marvel at how well he handles people and situations.  He’s not like me. 

Christmas is still a bigger family event than Thanksgiving.  Both are bigger than the Fourth of July.  It’s arguable but I think Easter is a close fourth.  Thanksgiving definitely brings extended family together.  So do the others but maybe to a lesser degree.   Still, these all seem family oriented holidays.  The joy feels artificial without loved ones around.  There’s just no amount of hoopla and drinking that will make the day truly festive.  We simply need these times to connect with the people that matter most.  Merry Christmas.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Good Morning Justin

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 14 December

Good Morning Justin…

Saturday night was the occasion for the biggest event of the year.  It was time to flood the center of town with season greeters dressed in their best winter garb.  We all count the days until the annual Kannapolis Christmas Parade.

Out front of the Old Stone Vino they were selling hot chocolate and cider so long as it lasts.  As it turns out it didn’t last all that long.

The owners of this establishment once provided the townsfolk with fine cuisine and wine that featured intriguing complexity.  But they gave up.  Now they offer everyone’s favorite fare – burgers and brew.

Dogs always make their appearance at the parade.  This year featured a three legged dog running down the center of the street.  I couldn’t get a picture of him.  He was too fast.

Some floats assembled across from a field, near the Exxon station and local minimart.  People were anxious to get the procession started.

With a flurry of police sirens the parade officially begins just as the clock strikes six.  It’s about the lights, you know, so we wait until it’s good and dark.

We’re standing at the intersection of Main and Earnhardt Boulevard – named after hometown hero Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR’s famous number 3.  We have a statue nearby, commemorating his life.

It’s good to have your smartphone with plenty of battery life so you can record these special moments.  It makes for good viewing on Facebook.

People arrive in seasonal hats and they aren't always in the parade itself.  No one need be a mere bystander to the celebration.

Here comes the Fire Department.  Some people make it here every year – among them a local pizza parlor and a dentist handing out toothbrushes.  I didn’t see the tow truck company this year, though.

I didn’t see a single person inside the police station.  Ring the bell inside and no one answers.  They were all at the parade.

You know one thing that makes a kid happy?  Put them in a small wooden wagon with plenty of bright lights and pull them down the street.  They were too shy to shout “Merry Christmas” but people cheered anyway.

This old guy’s bones ache from the cold but no one is going to keep him from enjoying the magic of the season.  It’s a moment to feel truly grounded.  You’re a part of something joyful.  Kind of makes one a little teary.  Your nose begins to run.

There were so many bands in the parade this year.  I think there must have been seven or eight.  Buses brought them in from North Cabarrus and Rowan County.  There was even the Marching Hawks from West Mecklenburg, near Charlotte.    They were definitely something jazzy and new.

People came for the lights and, seriously, this parade was definitely about the lights.

What’s a Christmas parade without a manger scene?  Here we have Joseph and Mary with the Christ child.  Santa was there, as well.  He’s been around a long time.

I wonder how many people asked this guy if the parade is going to be on local TV news.

One of the more shocking moments of the parade came with the surprise appearance of the Abominable Snowman.

It took over an hour and a half for all the participants to march by.  As always, I think there were more people in the parade than there were standing by watching.

Don’t you know it was a chorus line of little girls that stole the show?

It was the Kannapolis Wonders band of A. L. Brown High School that finished out the parade… just ahead of Santa and his sleigh, of course.  Ho, ho, ho.