Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Everything must go

The shoemaker is closing down shop.  It wasn't lack of business that closed him down, it was lack of time to spend in the shop, as he had to work around his full time job with a large shoe manufacturer. I know how hard that is, although I'm not ready to give up my second job as a painter yet.  But boy, it would be nice to have weekends off.

I'm glad I caught the shop when I did and was able to complete my series of paintings of it. He is too and jokes that the shop has been immortalized by my paintings. I don't know about immortalized, but in a way it seems like a signal that I'm probably finished using shoe machine imagery, or will be when I finish one last large painting.

So he contacted me to let me know he asked if I wanted any mementos of the shop. I didn't hesitate to visit before the beautiful machines, already sold, are loaded on to a truck and shipped west. 

As we talked he demonstrated how some of the machines worked, something I hadn't seen to this point. It was crazy to see them actually move, almost like Pygmalion seeing his statue come to life. They clicked along with a oily clatter, spinning of wheels and pumping of levers. It kind of blew my mind. I would have loved to take one of them home, but they weigh half a ton and are probably better off continuing their mission of making shoes. I ended up taking some simple tools, and these beautiful shoe lasts, circa 1969.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Life, drawing

Even though the Providence area offers plenty of life drawing classes it's been years since I've drawn from the model. Not that I don't want to, but I never seemed to be able to commit the time.  But I finally made it back into the circle of charcoal dust at Kate Huntington's Open Life Drawing. I've only gone twice so far, but it's a great group of very talented artists who are also very sociable, so it's a good time, despite me being so rusty that I begin to doubt I know how to draw at all.

My incentive for finally getting my butt down on the drawing horse was thoughts of beginning a good-sized oil painting of sand dunes to send to Great Sand Dunes National Park in return for my residency last year. While I was out there I kept being struck by how much the curves of the dunes reminded me of the human body, so since I can't sit in the dunes these days, I'll work from the figure and think about how the human body reminds me of the dunes.

The weather is warming up here, low 40s and sunny, so the studio will heat up a lot faster. I'm hearing birds all of a sudden too. In the fall they fall silent one by one so I don't think I really notice... but just one little chirp this time of year and I remember what I've been missing. It's only mid-February though, so I'd better not get too used to it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Living for the weekend

I had a good weekend, the kind where I think, if only I could continue on this way, maybe I could actually be an artist.

Friday I went to the opening of the 2010 RISCA fellowship recipients exhibition at Imago Gallery. It was packed, so much so that it was hard to actually see who beat me out for the grant. From what I could see, it looked pretty interesting, although nothing made me stop in my tracks. Some good people there to talk to though, and the glass of white wine in the little plastic cup hit the spot after a full day of work and pilates class.

Saturday it felt really good to get back into my studio, despite the fact that my tubes of paint were icy cold and it never warmed up to more than 50 degrees, even with the propane stove running full blast.

I'm reworking the big (almost 4x5 feet) painting that I had envisioned as the finale to my Shoemaker series. Even though I had already exhibited it, I was never really satisfied that I had pushed it as far as I could have. So I'm going at it again by changing some large areas and ramping up the color. The only problem is that when I finally get a chance to heat up the studio and spend a few hours working on it, it's a bit hard to connect back to it. But it might help that now I have a deadline that will force me to make it more of a priority. I have to deliver a painting by June 9 for the Art League of RI's members show at the RISD Museum and I'd like to submit it, being a big museum show and all. It's the first, and probably only, time my work will grace those hallowed halls, so I hope I can pull this painting together.

Sunday I took a break to spend with my valentine. We went on a snowy winter hike in Borderland State Park. I had never been to the 1700 acre park before, which is just north of Mansfield MA, but it's a beautiful spot.

We started out the hike by heading towards the mansion. I wasn't especially interested in it, until I found out that the couple who built it were a botanist (Oakes Ames) and a painter (Blanche Ames). Born in 1878, Blanche actually designed the mansion after firing the architects who were making it too ostentatious. From the distance it looked pretty square and unremarkable, but closer up was full of surprising patterns of granite, a huge bell imported from Cuba on the roof and stained glass windows. Unfortunately the mansion wasn't open, but I looked up Blanche online when I got home and found she was a really neat person. She illustrated her husband's book of orchid research, painted in oils, and worked hard for womens rights, especially for access to birth control, all her life. She engineered the dams that created the lakes in the park, and received a patent for inventing an antipollution toilet at the age of 90. All this while raising 4 children.

After peeking in the mansion's windows, we walked around the ponds and over the earthen dams. The biggest pond was frozen over and people were walking across it inspecting several ice fishing holes. We skirted it instead, to avoid a cold wind. Otherwise I was perfectly comfortable in the mid-30's temperature. We walked for about 4 miles, but only explored a small part of the park. I'll have to return to see how it looks in the spring or summer.

• • •

A good article in the NY Times on Sunday. Enough with Minimalism, how about some Maximalism for a change? (my headline)

Thursday, February 11, 2010


...but not by much, so you'll have to hurry if you'd like to catch my show at the Bert Gallery.  The last  day will be this Saturday,  Feb. 13.  I'm sorry to see it come down—it's been a great few weeks and  I can't think of a better person to work with than Cathy Bert. I wish she had a bigger space to display her contemporary artists, but she does more with her beautiful little gallery than most do with huge white boxes. If you stop in, wish her a happy 25th anniversary, it's quite a feat to survive that long as a gallery here in Providence!

It's funny, when I exhibited some of this work over a year ago the silence from the press was deafening. This time around, the show was mentioned in 2 reviews - Providence Phoenix  and  The Providence Journal,  and had a full-page write up in The Warwick Beacon.  It was also mentioned as an editor's pick in a several publications and will be reviewed in the April/May edition of Art New England.  Working in the newspaper business I have come to realize that the merit of a show is only one factor in whether it gets press. Others factors are:

• The writer's schedule
• The news hole
• Whether you have a "hook" or local connection
• What else is exhibiting while yours is up
• Whether they've been sent good imagery
• Whether the reviewer takes your venue seriously
• Other miscellaneous factors

I'm just glad the planets aligned for this show. Thanks so much to all who came, purchased or wrote about my work, it is much appreciated!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Hard Winter

South Dakota, 2002
The long drive on 44 into Rapid City is becoming more familiar. Two miles from the park entrance I pass through Interior. The Badlands wall runs off to the distance on the right for awhile and on the left, the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation and the White River. Barbed wire fences with wooden gates anticipate a few far off ranch buildings. The abandoned Chicago-Milwaukee-St Paul and Pacific Railroad draws a line through the grass first on the right, then left. The Conata Road crosses. An abandoned old car is a landmark, as is the coyote that looks more dead each time I pass. Nothing blocks the sky, which is as active as the ocean. Signs that mark with an x where someone died on the straight and empty road sometimes stand in clusters of 3 or 4. More...
I tend to like to paint environments which are harsh, which is why I loved spending a month as artist in residence in South Dakota. But the harshness of the environment is not a facade. For those who live on this land survival can mean a life and death battle with the elements.
While the world is focusing on the tragedy in Haiti, there is another emergency here in the U.S.  Ice storms have toppled power lines and disrupted heat supplies for one of the poorest Indian tribes in this country, as blizzards crossed over the plains.

With unemployment up to 80% and desperate poverty, I guess you could say that the Oglala Sioux Tribe is always in a state of emergency, but if you'd like to help them get through the winter and buy propane for the most vulnerable members and elders of the tribe, here's a link.  http://www.oglalalakotanation.org/

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