Here is my twenty minute demonstration from last weekend's workshop at the Richmond Art Museum. It was a lot of fun with a great bunch of painters.
While I'm not especially anxious to schedule more workshops for 2018, the right sort of arm-twisting might change my mind. If you have a group that would be interested in a 1-3 day class taught by yours truly, especially those within walking distance to the beach, please get in touch.
I know I've shared this before, but I can't help myself...
A couple years ago, James Alexander Thom wrote a poem while looking at one of my paintings. It was a wonderful compliment, to say the least. I'm parting ways with the painting tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to sharing the poem at every chance I get.
Bloomington at Night
In wet wind below my dingy window
Tin wind chimes ding, ding lingeringly.
Knowing I’m the Center of the Universe
I keep near my mirror a white light
By which I can see myself doing what
A Center of the Universe does at night,
Up here in this shabby rented room
Three stories above the rain-puddled alley
Where you stand believing that you’re
The Center of the Universe.
We are, you and I, both right, of course,
As is every other Center of its Universe tonight,
Wide awake or sleeping tight, but God knows
Whether you’re there below the dinging wind chime
At this late time, because where you are no light glows.
My grandfather always had a pocket knife handy. When I was young, I watched him cut rope, remove splinters, disembowel fowl, and cut the grass around my great-grandparents headstone...all with his trusty Buck knife. His most impressive display of old-fashioned masculinity was the routine sharpening. It was the sort of thing that would make you put your iPhone in your pocket. In fact, if my grandfather was around to see how much I use my stupid smartphone, he would probably use his pocket knife to cut it into two clean pieces. I loved the idea of slicing and dicing my way to preadolescent manhood. So much so, I often rummaged through the drawers of my grandfather's "study" in search of his former favorite pocket knives. Most were whittled down to half the size and caked in dry blood, but always kept razor sharp and ready. I discovered this the hard way, of course, on a sunny afternoon when nobody was looking. I helped myself to a bone-handled Case Stockman and ran my thumb across the "sheepsfoot". While folding out the other blades, I was startled by the color red and discovered the deep cut bisecting most of my thumb. It didn't hurt until I saw the blood pour into my palm. I quickly folded the knife, put it back on the shelf, and ran outside before I polka dotted the carpet. I told my grandmother I cut my thumb on the chain-link fence and she believed me. Several years later on another sunny afternoon, when my desire to cut things had waned a bit, my grandfather called me inside. I found him in the study searching through his old tobacco pipes, wristwatches, and owner's manuals. He turned around and told me I was old enough with a small black pouch in his fist. He passed me the weighty object. A buttoned flap contained the hallowed contents. I knew what was inside before the hand-off took place. I opened the sheath but he had already left the room. As he walked outside to continue his work he said, "Ace, don't cut your thumb." My grandfather's terms of endearment were few...he called me Ace. It was a Swiss Army knife. I'm guessing he'd had it for years but never found a reason to carry it. It was clumsier-looking than the pocket knife he typically wielded, but I was fascinated by all of its folding sharp bits and bright red plastic. There was a long spey-point blade and a short spey-point blade, a wood saw, a can opener, a screwdriver, tweezers, a corkscrew, wire strippers, a punch, and a couple other doo-dads I never figured out. I used the knife every so often for tasks more easily accomplished with scissors and to sharpen every fallen limb in the yard into pointed, branch-less spears. My multi-tooled medal of manhood was always with me...mostly for cutting plastic packaging, but once, for the wood saw. Give a kid a wood saw and he'll spend his whole life looking for something to cut with it. My search took me to my front yard...it was my grandparents' front yard then. There were three trees spaced 50 feet apart along the driveway. Now, there's just one. That lone tree was significantly shorter than the two that have since been cut down. It was the only tree I could climb in my grandparents' yard, as one of the lowest limbs was easily reached with a running start. With a leap and a couple of dangling somersault maneuvers, I could be halfway up the tree, shielded by foliage to all points of view other than from directly below. On a hot summer day, I scaled that tree with my trusty pocket knife and a proud plan. I was going to cut a limb from my favorite climbing tree. I had it all planned out...sort of. The limb must've been around ten foot up the middle-aged maple. It wasn't an incredibly large limb, but it's size in relation to the entire tree was respectable. This was no measly branch...it would undoubtedly test the worth of the three inch saw blade hinged inside the Victorinox handle. I understood the danger involved in hacking a tree apart at that height, so I carefully planned my approach for safety's sake. While the limb was within reach from the lower branches, I quickly realized my cutting would be much easier from above. I climbed to one of the sturdier points near the top of the tree and steadied my body to cut away the targeted limb while dangling above it. I was higher in a tree than I'd ever been, but I was focused on the task at hand. I unfolded the wood saw and separated it from its Swiss companions. At 91 degrees or so, the hinge sprang the jagged teeth to a semi-locked position. I took my time in choosing the perfect location to make the first cut. I dragged the saw across the bark several times to reveal the green fiber within. I was about to do something really impressive. Five minutes in, I'd cut halfway through the limb and exhausted myself. While the physicality of sawing a six inch limb with a three inch blade was fairly demanding, the task was compounded by the precarious balancing act I was performing. Mind you, I was working as stealthily as possible, holding my breath and limiting my movements in such a way to prevent exterior branches from blowing my cover. You see, my grandfather was a typical 7-day a week yard man. If he wasn't mowing, he was mowing. And if he wasn't mowing, he was whacking weeds, tilling the garden, fertilizing something, or admiring the big green lollipop trees he had lovingly topped every other year to maintain the neighborhood's roundest tree honors. I definitely didn't want to be caught cutting the symmetry out of his front yard. The remaining radius of the limb took twice as long to remove. As the limb began to sag and the bark began to buckle, I felt myself getting stronger. I leaned into each stroke with my body weight. The folding knife had become hot from the work. I was proud of my decision to saw the limb from above rather than below. Not only did I have a better cutting angle, I was also out of danger when the limb chose to break free. I finished it off with long and powerful cuts. As the the mass of wood and bark and leaves fell away from me towards the earth, it ripped a long strip of bark from the main trunk. There was a roar of leaves being torn from their branches as those branches pulled against others. When the limb hit the ground, a beam of light hit my face. There was now a gaping hole in the canopy above me, allowing light to stream through the rustling foliage like a spotlight on the amputation I had performed. My Swiss Army knife had proven itself. I was satisfied. I was proud, but I needed to get down from the tree to hide the evidence. I rearranged my body from an awkward prone pose to one ready for descent. My knife was packed away in my pocket and all of my fingers were intact...it was time to make an escape before my grandfather discovered my mischievous rite of passage. I braced my upper body and let my legs fall downward to find something stomach wrenching. That is, with my legs swinging wildly, I found nothing. I couldn't believe it...I had cut down my only way down. That's right...I was so enthralled with the idea of removing the limb from the tree, I failed to notice it was the only limb that allowed me to pass from the lower branches to the perch I was presently stranded on. I had cut the rungs of my ladder from the top. Just as the initial panic receded and my predicament became clear, I noticed a silhouette working its way towards me slowly and steadily. It was my grandfather. There was no escape. I quickly tried to think of what I'd tell him when he looked up to me after looking down at the healthy limb I'd just removed from his topiary of a maple. I drew a blank and then he was there. My grandfather studied my handiwork before looking up at me with a squint. He made sure we made eye contact before looking back down at the massive limb I had removed. This action, creating a wordless dialogue between grandpa, the tree, and me, was horribly uncomfortable. He could've scolded me but instead remained silent. When he looked back up at me he smiled and said, "Didn't think that one through, did ya Ace?" He asked me to throw down the Swiss Army knife he had gifted me a few days before. I didn't say anything to him, but quickly complied. I pulled the knife from my pocket and dropped it about twelve feet down to him. He caught it and did something unexpected. Rather than putting it in his own pocket, he put it on a knot in the gnarled roots of the tree. He grabbed the large limb he was standing over, tucked the big end under his arm, and started walking in the direction from which he came. "I'd hate for you to stab yourself in the leg coming down," he said with his back turned to me, lumbering away with my only foothold in tow. He left me in the tree. I squirmed around at that dizzying height for half an hour before deciding there would be no ladder rescue. I could hear cars passing by at the end of the driveway and the mailman making his daily delivery, but the mass of branches and leaves that almost hid me from my grandfather's discovery now masked any distress signal I could muster. I began to dangle my body from my roost. I prepared for impact, tightened all my muscles, loosened my grip, and dropped like a rock to the grass below. I hit the ground hard, but my young and springy body absorbed the impact easily. I looked up the path my grandfather had walked. He was cutting the limb into smaller pieces in the backyard. The pieces were thrown into a brush pile. As I watched him, he never turned to see if I'd made it out of the tree...he didn't need to. I grabbed my Swiss Army knife off of the knot, put it in my pocket, and went inside for dinner. As I finished my meal that evening, my grandfather sat down to eat his. I was certain a stinging lecture would follow a well-deserved chastising. Instead, as my grandfather pulled his chair up to the table, he leaned over a piece of overcooked meat and said, "Hey Ace, could you cut this up for me?"
When considering a theme for an exhibit, I typically start by thumbing through a wide variety of subjects leaning against the walls of my home. Regardless of my focus on a particular concept at the outset, the collection of work finally hung in the gallery is almost always a careful selection from works created over several weeks of intermittent interest in many subjects and ideas. I like to think I am always in the driver’s seat, but I usually discover the most powerful themes and connections in my work when admiring a hodgepodge of pictures cluttering my dining room. Planned hindsight has always been my strongest collaborator.
The paintings and drawings selected for this show were created from life, from quick sketches, from paintings painted years ago, from memory, and from the screen of my iPhone. The subjects of these works include people I love, people I barely know, landscapes from afar, and scenes from my backyard. The common thread connecting each picture may not be pulled tight, but I am satisfied knowing I am the common thread.