Monday, April 29, 2019

Tucked In

     Provincetown Massachusetts the first landing spot of the Pilgrims.  They stay briefly before heading to Plymouth.  These days a very different type of pilgrimage takes place.  This small town has become a tourist mecca.  At one time it was a grand fishing village. My indoctrination to P-town was as a crewman on a 95 foot Coast guard cutter.  I would roam the galleries while my crewmates roamed the pubs and discos of the late 1970’s.  Whale watch boats ran cruises and ferry boats ran to Boston and Plymouth while we waited for a call to search for or tow in a fishing vessel in distress.  On one occasion, we executed a dramatic rescue that changed the way I saw myself, and from that new perspective, how I saw the world and how I fit into it.  A little heavy for this blog, but I mention it here to show the powerful connection I feel for this storied seaside town.

                                         Tucked In

 Most of the fisherman have moved on.  There are a few left, but it is the throngs of tourists that give the town its life now.  In the harbor there are hundreds of boats moored and waiting for the next cruise or sail.  The colors in the sky, the light changes constantly as the day evolves from morning to noon, then noon to dusk.  The deep blues shift deeper and then more red, to violet, to rose then fire red, it is an amazing transformation.  

     I walked along the sandy shore on one afternoon.  I was filled with a day of consuming fresh art and fried clams, French fries and a stuffie or two.  If you don’t know what a stuffie is, I feel pity for you, and will leave it at that.  The day was slipping away.  Down along the shoreline, several boats were beached for the day.  It was over. They were tucked in as the sailors had gone home.  On nights like this one, when the world gets quiet, I can hear the hissing of the sun as it tucks itself behind the horizon afforded by the ocean.  It is the sound of magenta.

     The evening follows, and the muse has been fed.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Drawn to Music Project

I wrote this text in 2015 as part of a booklet describing the project.  I wanted to share those thoughts.  I have worked on several new series since, but this first one is still close to my heart.  My studio is one flight down, no longer just steps away from the stage, but the muse is still strong, as are the beat, the guitars, and those powerful vocals!

The Venue

Along the industrial waterfront of Fall River, under the span of the now blue Braga Bridge, which provides a delightful rhythm of its own, one finds a beautiful green park.  At the southern edge of Heritage Park, there is a carousel.  The former merry-go-round from the defunct local amusement park spins memories and new fantasies as it twirls to the music of the calliope at its center.  Just beyond, the Battleship Massachusetts, a museum to World War II, floats on the river as if guarding the city, protecting it from ignorance and naiveté.   On special days, the song of a single trumpet can be heard echoing off the steel beams and granite walls.  There is a train museum, a working pier with a ferry to Block Island, and a freighter that makes regular trips to Portugal, what many residents would call the old country.  The ship’s whistles and horns add to the song of the waterfront.  It is a diverse mixture of sound that blends like a natural symphony.

Across the road, near the train tracks, the ones that sustain traffic to and from the state pier and cargo ships, are old factory buildings built of brick or granite.  The first, and smaller, houses a pub that features live music and tasty food.  It is a popular spot on weekend nights.  I am inspired by the sounds that sneak out of the opened doors, and by the people, dressed for date night, making their way over the cobblestone street toward the front door.  That door is emblazoned with the words, “No Colors Allowed.”

Behind the pub building stands a three-story granite factory building.  It is here that I have spent eighteen months creating my artwork.  From January until August of 2014, I have focused on the music inside.  Walking in, I step up the forty-two stairs to the third floor.  The stone walls are pleasantly painted in neutral colors.  The area is clean, not much like the factory it once was, but like a place where art is created and performed.  On show nights, I arrive in early
evening.  As I climb the stairs, the music of the sound check gets louder and clearer.  First the bass, the drums if there are any, guitars, and keys. I love the sound of the old Hammond as it kicks in, and finally the vocals.  I walk through the doorway and the sound is complete.  More times than not, a smile is drawn across my face.   I greet the staff and the volunteers of the Narrows Center for the Arts.  It is the home for up to ten studio artists in five working studios, and most importantly for the purposes of this project, home to hundreds of musical performances each year from which to be inspired and create ten oil paintings in eight months.  I am a slow and thoughtful painter.  This project required commitment and drive for me to complete.  This is my workplace and my muse.  The performers and the patrons who come into my studio before or after the shows are as much a part of this work as the paint, the brush, or my own hand.  The idea of this project was to show how performance art can influence visual art, and I am grateful for the experience.

The Performers

I had no idea about the range of musicians that would step though that doorway and onto the stage just a few dozen feet from my easel.  There were nights that it took extreme effort to remain an artist and not a fan boy.  When Carl Palmer, drummer for the progressive rock band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer came into the studio and began a wide-ranging discussion about art and painting, my heart beat like the sticks on his snare drum.  I have been a fan since I was sixteen or so.  There were others of note.  Dave Davies, of the Kinks, Dr. John, Leon Russell, The Zombies, Jefferson Airplane, Members of Little Feet, Live, and so
many more.  Some were up and coming performers, Seth Glier, Shamika Copeland, Samantha Fish, and many more.  On some level it is the last group that I found the deepest inspiration from.  The local folks who opened the shows, Mark T, Small, Rebecca Corriea, the many whose names slipped by in the shadows between the flood lights and the headliners.  Their names may have flitted by, but their impact remains.  I sat in the darkness of my studio with a dim lamp shedding a soft glow on the drawing table and drew with a soft pencil or a black marker and captured the gesture of the performance.  While I often found myself whistling and cheering with the audience for the headliners, (sorry Carl no sketches of you), it was the performers I did not know who allowed me to respond and create from their work.  They don’t even know how profoundly they influenced me, but they did.  As for the headliners, yes, they were important as well.  The sketches were cruder and less evolved, yet the impact of the songs in my head remained long after the echoes died out.

The Music

Ahh, the music.  It starts with folk and Americana, moves with a quick step to Rock and sometimes Jazz, and even a bit of Country.  There are solos and harmonies.  Sometimes the tunes are familiar and quite often they are new discoveries.  I love it when I discover something new.  Royal Southern Brotherhood came in with legendary family names and did not disappoint me with a group of songs that added to the legacies of at least two musical families.  I play the songs regularly.  Chuck Cannon, a man I had never
heard of, opened with a collection of songs that reminded me of Johnny Cash and so much more.  His deep haunting voice flowed over the rhythm and strum of his guitar.  Shamika Copeland is a powerhouse vocalist, reminding me of Etta James.  Her voice was like a great trumpet blast.

I love discovering new work and that’s my motivation with this series of paintings.  My intent is that they come across like a song heard for the first time.  It is no longer important who they were at the start.  What is important is how they are
received and translated.  The colors vibrate like notes on a scale.  The values are like a bass drum, beating the time and full of guidance.  My strokes of paint, like improvised flares during a solo.  Like the music and performances that inspired this work, it is more important now that that I am finished.  Like the songs on an album, this collection now belongs to those who are moved by it.  The Drawn to Music Project will continue at a slower pace.  I don’t think I could ever let go of this particular muse.  For now, this album is complete.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Return

     Let me flash back to 1981. It was mid-summer, hot humid and I was 20 years old.  I was a crewman on a Coast Guard small boat training for search and rescue.  There was a helicopter over head.  I remember thinking that it didn’t seem far enough overhead.   Seaspray was buffeting about cooling us off and the downward prop wash from the chopper seemed to cause a minor maelstrom around our 41ft rescue boat.  It was loud. It was exciting and yes it was memorable.  I looked over us toward the source of all that incredible power and energy and watched the crewman on the helicopter send down the rescue basket.  I wondered what he saw.  That though was quickly buried as training continued.  And as has often happened for me, buried was not forgotten

The Return

    More than 3 decades later, I found myself on a foot bridge on the coast of southern Maine watching day trippers returning after a day at sea.  I stood above the calm water inhaling the salty air, listening to the seabirds calling to each other from across the channel and remembering those times spent training under the helicopter.  The thought, buried, or filed away back in 1981, came to the fore of my mind.  My persistent muse doing her job.  I thought, this is the view I wondered about.  Although there is no adventure to the view, the perspective was a new one to me, and because of the whispered memories, inspiring as well.

     I watched as the boat disturbed the placid deep blue water, creating ripples that worked toward the shore.  Two men in wet gear stood in the pilot house area, the decks had already been cleaned.  It was the end of a long work day.  The interplay of color called to my creative side, and marked a place upon my memories in the same way my experience with the helicopter rescue training had.

     It amazes me how memory is linked.  Side by side unrelated events join each other and spark my creativity.  

The Return is my poem for both the journey of that small day tripper and the journey of my memories across the decades.