Friday, April 28, 2017

A Defense of the Arts in America

Henry Miller once wrote "A corn fed hog has a better life than an American artist."  Years ago, that comment made me laugh when I read it.  However, times have changed.  What was humor then carries a dark cloud of serious disregard now.  The current President of the United States is someone for whom it may be said that his only serious connection to the arts may well be when he used his foundation's money to buy a portrait of himself.  His recent budget proposals reflect not only a disregard for the arts, but outright contempt.  Because of this, I wish to offer this defense of the arts in America.

When White House budget director Mick Mulvaney recently stepped forward to defend President Trump's current budget proposal, he stated that this was a "Hard power budget."  Not a surprising use of words when one considers President Trump's thuggish use of machismo and power language to cower his critics.  How on earth might people who believe in "hard power" ever be convinced that their proposals to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities to zero are bad proposals?  What it says, is that those who ought to be the stewards of the culture of these United States choose instead to invest nothing in it.  It says, in very plain terms, that the great many artists, writers, performers and so many others in the creative professions - are worth nothing to this administration.

It is a strange thing to think that an oil and energy companies should enjoy an estimated 4 billion in tax subsidies - essentially saying to taxpayers that we ought to subsidize their business...but to the "Hard Power" advocates in the Trump administration, if a tiny fraction of that money is invested in American Arts, it is clearly a waste.  This kind of mentality betrays the social Darwinist underpinnings of some strains of Alt-right philosophy.  To them, the arts and arts related businesses should be allowed to fail if they can't make it on the free market.  In the majority of cases, if an gallery doesn't make it, it does indeed fail.  The law of the jungle still holds true.  But my argument lies primarily in the fact that our government sees our arts programs as a needless extravagance (even though they represent a minuscule fraction of our overall Federal spending), and I see our arts spending as absolutely critical to the emotional and cultural lives of the American people.

Winston Churchill, who enjoyed making paintings in his spare time, was once asked to cut arts funding during World War II.  And he famously replied "Then what are we fighting for?"  Clearly the legendary British leader saw that he and others were not just fighting Hitler in the conventional sense - they were fighting for the preservation of English and Western culture.  And that means, among other things, the preservation of their arts.

The creative arts are different than other forms of productivity.  The creative arts represent the various arenas concerned primarily in the cultivation of a meaningful inner life for the artists and the broader culture.  The creative arts are deeply concerned with the search for meaning and expression in human life.  What would this world be without them?  What kind of grey, dystopian society would result if there were none of the creative arts to "wash the dust of life away", as Picasso once remarked?

I walked through a hotel just yesterday and found myself thinking about this problem.  If there were no artists, there would be no art on the walls.  Even that cheesy kind of low grade graphic art - the kind which is made to simply match the curtains and fit the decor of a space without upsetting anything.  Take the art of the walls and immediately you would have a different space.  If there was no art there would also be no music.  If there was no music there would be no pleasant sounds making even a short elevator ride more relaxing.  Take away the arts and there would be no real literature to read at the end of the long day at work.  Your suitcase would be lighter but your heart would be duller.  Take away the arts even further and those who decorate the interior of a structure would simply vanish - and the interior of our most pleasing buildings would just be gray walls.  No colors.  No life. Pure function.  The ceiling would keep the rain off your head.  The air conditioning would still work. But you would walk into a colorless, music-less, artless building.  Your senses would be reduced to dull functionality.  A lack of even the smallest reaction.  Emptiness.  And this is only what no art might do to one building...not forgetting either, the creativity in the making of truly original architectural wonders.

What would result in a world with no art would be a planetary North Korea.  Bland and tasteless - repressive and soul crushing.  Though we should not forget that authoritarian leaders are more than happy to bring out art in the service of their own personal goals - so even there art survives, but only in slavish service to the state.  And that, is more like no art at all.  North Korea would not survive if it had its equivalent of Delecrox's "Liberty Leading the People" or Picasso's "Guernica."

                         "Liberty Leading the People" by Eugene Delacroix

As it stands here in the United States of 2017 we still have our full freedom of expression.  For that, I and many others, are deeply grateful.  Luckily, the founding fathers put our freedom of expression out of the reach of greedy men of the moment who might snatch it away - and destroy it forever.  Yet, my primary argument is with the contention that the U.S. government gives, by way of this proposed budget, that the arts mean NOTHING in terms of funding.  It says to the little boys and girls who are drawing with their crayons and spreading joy in the world - that a future where they hold a paintbrush, or act in a play, or write a book - it is not worth having.  Therefore, commit yourselves to something else.  Art is not worth it.

But we all know this isn't true!  It isn't true at all.  When we think of some of the great cities of the world, it is not an accident that such cities are often bound up with having profound museums, amazing theaters and gilded concert halls.  All the products of beauty and culture that have long contrived to make the dull regularity of daily life bearable for city people and country people alike.  I myself spent time in France and love that country very much.  It is interesting that being an artist in France has all the regularity of being an accountant or bureaucrat.  Art permeates the culture in France.  I remember sitting in bars and talking to random people who loved the poetry of Jacques Prevert.  Average people in France always had their favorite painters - and France claims its artists with great pride.  That comes from a culture that believes that art informs the life of the people.  And that the life of the people will ultimately be better if all segments of public life - including the government, acknowledge that art is worth something.

The creative arts are also important to American culture because we have often been a culture of endless work,  little play, and full throttled mass production.  American artists of all kinds have the ability to hold a mirror up to the culture and show the culture to itself.  And if we allow our government to say that art is worth nothing, then we are saying that we don't want to see what our artists may wish to say about our country, its people, and its culture.  We don't want to hear the poetry of Juan Felipe Herrer or we don't want to see "The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy, September 11, 2001" by Graydon Parrish.  We shirk from holding the mirror up to our culture.  Could it be that we are afraid of what we will see?

"The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy, September 11, 2001" Graydon Parrish (Used with permission of the artist)

At the end of the day, even if the cultural argument fails, it would seem to me that we should be able to understand that art jobs are JOBS.  I would think that that kind of ruthlessly capitalistic calculus would work on someone like President Trump.  All the mythos, all the things that Americans tell themselves about being free spirits - about working with their own hands, being independent and building businesses...all these things ought to ring a few bells with those who advocate for the rights of businesses - including arts businesses.  But strangely this doesn't seem to be so.  An arts job is seen as expendable - even worthy of elimination in the eyes of those formulating the Trump budget.  And this leads me to believe that they would prefer artists be silent - or complicit, which may be worse.  They fear the image of America in the age of Trump - and they would prefer to not have the nasty inconvenience of serious reflection in an age of demagoguery and deep political fractures.

Most artists would never contend that we are worth more than any other productive member of society.  But we would contend that we are worth as much as the rest.  And so if the United States government can spend billions subsidizing car companies - or billions subsidizing oil companies, or unthinkable amounts of money on our military - it would seem the smallest thing in the world to set aside a minuscule fraction of the federal budget for the propagation arts and culture.  The fact that the Trump administration doesn't even do this means that they not only do not value the arts - they mean to put the arts through the floor.  The message is clear.  Clearer still when we can place an order for 8.5 billion dollars worth of F-35 jets, and no serious public debate occurs on the issue.  Yet if we ordered 87 instead of 90 F-35s, we could fund the entirety of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The Presidential budget says, in effect, that these precious arts and cultural endowments are not worth 3 airplanes for the already mighty United States Air Force.

Though it may be hard to imagine it now - in Renaissance Italy there were cities and governments that placed tremendous value on the arts.  In Florence alone, city fathers were constantly scheming to get the finest artists of the day, artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leaonardo, Raphael, and many others - to create what today are some of the finest works in all of western civilization.  They eagerly awaited the great things their artists might portray about the history and accomplishments of their cultures.  Artists reaped the benefits of lucrative commissions, and their cities had great works of beauty and meaning brought forth in front of delighted citizens.  Today, many countries around the world - even with the stresses that most governments endure in trying to meet the needs of their citizens -  countries around the world still support their arts with small fractions of their budgets.  Even further, many countries have ministers of culture - who are themselves representatives in their respective governments as advocates for arts and culture.  And what about the United States?

Perhaps, as we go forward to resist this denigration of the arts by the Trump administration - perhaps a new rallying cry should be the previously mentioned phrase "Arts Jobs are American Jobs!"  A powerful thing to say because it is completely true.

Arts jobs ARE American jobs.

Conservatives, Progressives, Independants and all others - all groups enjoy and benefit from the arts.  So why aren't arts jobs held in higher regard?  Why is a subsidy to a huge multinational corporation considered essential, but not the pennies on the dollar spent for the arts?  The very fact that I have had personal experience with Conservatives, Progressives, and others buying my own work tells me that art in fact is a unifying force in an age of deep political divisions.  We need even the temporary healing that arts can bring in our culture.

We don't want to be an aesthetic North Korea.  We simply believe that the richest country in the world can do in peace what Churchill insisted on preserving even during a war.  Artists in America only want to be productive members of our society.  And we only want a government that recognizes that we are....just that.

Productive members of society.

This is our hope. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Fall in the Arizona Desert

The Arizona desert, with its brutal heat and unforgiving landscape, is unlike other places which are so often associated with what is ideal and beautiful in the outdoors.  In Arizona we live for the Fall and Winter seasons - we live for that relief that comes when the days are still warm and the nights are cool.  The few deciduous trees that line certain streams and valleys turn orange and red and drop their leaves.  Snakes and scorpions find somewhere to hide, and the great outdoors isn't quite the fearful place it is for so much of the hot part of the year.  And for the artist, it is a chance to be outside and truly experience the desert without the searing heat of the sun cutting short your plans.

The painting above is one of my recent favorites.  It is called "When the Desert Comes to Life" (It is a 24 x 30 inch oil on canvas, currently available at Cobalt Fine Arts in Tubac ).  This painting catches a very unique moment, usually in October, when we get a fall bloom of flowers in some of the lowlands in Catalina State Park.  They bloom below these magnificent stands of Giant Saguaros - giving a splash of color, and even a sense of the revival of vegetal life as winter approaches.  The fall blooms in Arizona are very distinct.  Not perhaps as striking as the spring blooms - but still very present - creating scenes of pictorial power and curiosity, as winter approaches.  I took the image this painting was made from on the Sutherland trail, only a few feet away from where I painted another one of my best paintings - that one titled "The Flowers of Fall."  Many of my works feature spring scenes and colorful hues - and thankfully, our fall blooms in Arizona also give an artist to explore these landscapes with the same contentment in his brush than that which he or she feels in April or May.

I have often said that when you are in the presence of Giant Saguaros, they feel like a plant that is almost anthropomorphic.   You can stand on a hillside of Saguaros and if you listen to the wind whipping through their needles and allow them to tower over you - you have the curious feeling that you are not alone.  Nature, through these towering cacti, looks down approvingly on these desert fields carpeted with flowers - rising up to greet the cool nights and the tepid air of winter.  These same plants and their ancestors would have towered over the Hohokam and the Apaches as they made their way through these harsh lands - and they too must have felt the power of these ancient plants.

Though I realize that the feeling may be only in my own mind - I doubt that this is so.  The feeling that every stroke, even one of an expressionist painting created in 2016, is connected to all those who felt strongly in the past - and who tried to represent their scenes with whatever methods they could.  Standing on Signal Hill outside Tucson with my older son, I made the connection between those ancient artists who carved petroglyphs into a barren, rocky hill protruding up from the desert - and people like me, pouring their souls into new works of art and new expressions with roots in the very same place.

I encourage everyone to do your part and support the arts in your community.  I will be a part of a Luminaria show next month in Tubac, and have works on display at Cobalt Fine Arts - which is a great place to visit during either the Fall Arts Festival in Tubac, the Luminaria show, or the Festival of the Arts in February.  Happy fall - I hope we can all hit the trails and get outside - for our health, for our sanity, and for our art...


Neil Myers show at Cobalt Fine Arts during the Luminaria nights

Tubac Festival of the Arts


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Eternal Spring and the Search for Color and Meaning

                    "The Symphony of Spring II" 30 x 40 in.  Available at the Marshall Gallery

I once joked to a friend by saying "It's always Spring in my works!"  And for many years that lighthearted observation has been true.  Despite whatever our general impression of the environment of the Sonoran Desert may be, the desert does present something of a monotonous face for much of the year.  No, that is not to say that there isn't life and change big and small - but the most brilliant explosion of color occurs in the Spring.

I latched on to the theme of Spring and how it is all pervasive in my work.  On the one hand, it was done with the idea to simply capture the Spring colors - when the yellows and blues and purples of the desert explode to life and the colors greet the arrival of warm days - leading into hot summer.  On the other hand my embrace of Spring themes in my work had also to do with the realization of how happy I was painting nature in a state of maximum color.  I began to realize that shadows weren't even shadows - they too had amazing color potential, and gradually all segments of the canvas brightened.  Until a tension was reached that left many of the paintings bathed in yellows, draped in flowers, and moving with color.

This painting "The Symphony of Spring II" is a derivation from a scene in one of Paul Gill's photographs ( Which I use with permission - and I remind all artists to seek the permission of the photographer before working from someone else source materiel )  Paul Gill has long struck me as one of Arizona's finest artists working in any medium - his being that of the camera.  His work has been featured in Arizona Highways Magazine, and he is one of the most respected Arizona photographers.  I was so very fortunate to strike up a friendship with him that has been fueled by art - some from the camera, some from the brush.  When I met Paul at a show opening in Scottsdale some time ago - he was so very happy to see artwork having been made from his photographs.  Early in his career he wanted to be a painter - and then transitioned to photography.  But he still sees scenes as a painter would, and I have no doubt that informs the excellence in his photography.

When I work from a photograph, as I did in this case, I take the most bare, basic outlines of the photo and use it primarily for the sketch of the painting.  In this case, if you were to see the photograph you likely wouldn't identify the painting that came from it.  I use the sketch and then I deviate completely using only basic details.  As I have matured as an artist, I find strangely that I don't stick to the sketch as tightly as I used to.  In fact, the early sketch and source photograph probably only informs 15 to 20 % of the total image.  The rest is imagination.  I feel often that I am imagining "against" the scene.  I confront the image and make in interpretation that is part emotion, part structure.  And in recent years, more emotion than anything else.

"The Symphony of Spring II " captures a wealth of sentiments that are my internal treasures.  The deep blues that seem to speak of sky and ocean and shadow.  The yellows that emerge with all life during the Springtime in the Sonoran Desert.  All the renderings of contrast - the colors against an inky, ivory black.  And the sense that a special time of year has arrived.  When a brutal land of heat and spikes and stinging insects undergoes the change that ushers in the Summer.  I have been many times into fields of poppies such as this - several of the trails of Catalina State Park have beautiful carpets of Mexican Gold Poppies during the Spring.  I've seen my kids playing with these little flowers - and seen the excitement of hikers who have hit the trails to experience this special time of year.

This painting also reminds me of something said by my mentor and friend Jean-Claude Quilici.  He said "A painting articulates itself by contrast."  And the entire foreground speaks to this principle - as it was first a painting in a pitch dark, shiny ivory black.  The entire lower half of the painting - and then one by one the flowers and details painted on top of this contrasting element.  It might well be that all things arise out of the darkness.  Something that informs our deepest primitive part of the brain - all light against darkness.  All emerged, created against that deep black.  Like the stars upon the deep black of space, or a candle in the dark.  Life created against non life - created almost in spite of it.

Most all my paintings make me very happy - this one was a standout.  It hummed with contrast and color as it emerged on canvas.  And if you'd like to see it, I invite you to visit the Marshall Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ to see this and other works.  It's a goal of mine to write more about my paintings going forward - because even I realize that there is a story behind every painting.  And it is a healthy thing to pause and remember the life of a painting as it relates to the internal visions of the artist.

One of the great joys of my life has been the constant compliment of having had my work bought and  collected for so many years.  With amazing galleries to support me, fantastic collectors who buy my work regularly, as well as magazines and books who've written about it - I remain always deeply grateful to be able to be an artist, and to dream with abandon countless Spring scenes.  Thank you!


Marshall Gallery, Scottsdale 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Artist at 40, And the Art of Growing up on Canvas

It has been a long time since I have published an art work has always taken precedent whenever I had free time - and I also run a survivors group for people who have had Schwannoma tumors, as I have had.  Throw two kids into the mix and busy is the word - but I wanted to step back in and write a little more...

Last September I turned 40.  And I remembered a quote that I heard attributed to the artist Thomas Hart Benton, where he was reported to have said "The life of the artist is great, if you can just get through the first 40 years of it."  I think this is a very wise observation.  In much of the professional world you are expected to be well on your way by at least the age of 30.  Art has a strange kind of gravity that seems to force a longer maturation period....

In 2005 I was selected by Southwest Art Magazine to be one of the young American artists to watch that year.  And for a period of time articles or mentions of me had much to do with my age.  I was in fine arts galleries by my late twenties - and then was noted as being a young artist to keep your eye on.  But now at the age of 40, I find myself at a curious tipping point, in my own eyes, and the eyes of others.  Not old by any stretch - not young either.  And by no means still able to call myself a "Young artist."  The grey hairs thick in my beard give the game away some time ago.  And that's ok - I accept it and wouldn't change it.

I said to my wife the other day that if I were to die tomorrow I would have no regrets as an artist.  I would have regrets as a father, because both of my children are young - and the same kind of regret at the idea of leaving my dear wife too early.  But for my art, I would have no regrets.

Thinking back over it all, I realize that I was no prodigy.  I made shaky drawings as a young man - and only made improvements that came slowly, painfully, and with time.  But when they came I realized it, and so did others.  That x-factor became present in my life - that being, the regard of others for my work.  I still struggle to realize how highly some people regard my paintings.  One collector I know has 12 of them.  Others have 5 or 6.  As time has passed, the fact that I have sold a great many works hasn't pumped me with arrogance - but it has filled me with the confidence of my own visions.  I found a style that I enjoy and I work in that style.  I don't try to reinvent the wheel....rather, I try to make the one I myself made roll - as well as possible.  The overwhelming feeling of gratitude is what I am often left with.  I feel like the fate of things could have landed on any other person, but it landed on me.  And I worked and worked and worked on it - and for it.  I have never assumed anything for granted.  I have doe everything I could to squeeze the very marrow of meaning out of oil paint and canvas.  Subsequently, I have grown up on canvas - from the time of first being noticed nationally, in my late twenties, until where I am now.

The other thing I do differently now is that I rely more on inner vision.  My paintings look less like the photographs they are often sketched from - they are wild departures that often can't be matched to the photographs I've used to inspire them.  What measure of success I have managed, it has simply told me "go forward" when ideas fill my mind's eye.  I make the kind of paintings that I want to exist.  I don't follow anyone - except perhaps my friend Jean-Claude Qulici and a still abiding need to occasionally leaf through the works for Vincent Van Gogh.  The roots of the tree, in that regard - haven't moved.

If being 40 years old has taught me anything, it is the permission to bring inner visions to life.  The hesitations are mostly gone.  If I see an image in my head - I try to paint it.

Like Picasso, I have often believed that children were the truest of artists.  They make art without the legion of hangups and pre-conceptions that weigh down the adult act of making art.  That's why I am soon to likely take on my first art student - a 2nd grade girl who wants to paint with me.  And I am seriously considering teaching only children.  There lies the chance to plant the courage of convictions for the next generations of artists...

So it goes.  There was no crisis as I hit the age of 40.  Just a sense of satisfaction and happiness.   I hope that I am still here to say something about what it means to be 50, 60, or 70 - but whatever the case, I am grateful to be here now - and mainly concerned with being here now in the best possible way that I can.  I've grown up on canvas - just as much as I have grown up in the world.  The world needs a little beauty and color - and I should only be grateful to have had the chance to make my own mark into filling that need.  It has been amazing - and I thank all my dear friends, family, and collectors who have seen in the work what I hoped they would.  What we believe about ourselves is one thing.  What others make of us is often another.  I have had the good fortune and the faith of many others who enjoyed my work - and thus gave me the outlet to say what I needed to say in color and brushstrokes.

So here's to the next ten years - glittering canvases and unforgettable experiences - and undying hope for the better
and for the beautiful...

- Neil

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What Airplanes Taught me About Creativity

This week I am working on a new 36 x 48 inch painting of Organ Pipe Cacti...cacti that perhaps fall under that shadow of the more famous and iconic Saguaro, but one which is still very much a treasured part of the ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert.  Also, it should be noted that Organ Pipe National Monument, which is home to many such cacti, has been long regarded as one of the more dangerous National Monuments to visit.  It sits right on the border with Mexico, and I certainly hope that, in the future, it can become a more peaceful and visitor friendly place - where the whims of mankind would do better to give safer harbor to our natural treasures.

I should say also that I never write blogs to suit my own vanity.  I write them when I feel that I have something worthy to say, or share about my work or the arts in general.  And something that has occupied my mind more and more lately is a strange artistic comparison that I feel between airplanes, and creativity.  I thought this might be worth exploring...

On the surface it might not appear that aircraft are acts of creativity.  But I think that they very much are.  Most especially military aircraft.  When conditions present themselves where an airplane needs to have a certain kind of capability to do what is required of it, a great deal of creativity - and one might even say, counter-creativity is needed in order to make an airplane that can do things that have never been done before.  Or one that does known things better, faster, or in wartime - a more lethal way.  This is not to congratulate warmongers for the great rivers of misery and destruction that they have wrought on the world.  That is an abhorrent feature of human nature.  Rather, this is simply to contemplate how aircraft represent creative solutions to problems posed.

One of the most stirring examples is the World War II era German Messerschmidt 262, - the world's first fully operational jet fighter.  In the dying throes of the Nazi regime in 1944-1945, it is well known that Hitler and his regime turned to what he called "Wonder weapons" that could somehow salvage a German victory against overwhelming odds.  As German cities were pounded night and day by British and American bombers, German engineers pressed into service the Messerschmidt 262, in hopes that it could stem the tide that was then turning against Germany.  With untold thousands of piston engined fighters and bombers numbering the skies all around the world at that time - suddenly there appeared the Me 262 jet fighter, which could outrun the American P-51 Mustang by a full 100 miles per hour.

I have long been fascinated by this airplane and even built a model of it.  When I am in need of reflection I sometimes even hold it and look at it, and allow myself to think about it as a kind of catalyst for contemplating new solutions to problems - even in painting.  It is a question worth thinking about; how then do we create new solutions that change the paradigm entirely - without borrowing from the past?  What happens when we disregard the old rule book, throw that sucker out and just write a new one?  The Me 262 is an interesting thing to contemplate because it represented, in aviation, the act of throwing the rule book out.  That there have been essential and pivotal times when that act was necessary.  There are countless aircraft that prove this.

Fortunately, the disgusting, racist, and inhuman regime of the Nazis did indeed suffer the inevitable defeat that was necessary for human civilization to stand a chance at flourishing.  I can say with no hesitation that the marvels of German aircraft engineering in all their breadth and scope would never excuse or erase the terrible cruelty exhibited on Jews, and others, by the Nazi regime.  I take great satisfaction in knowing the great fleets of Mustangs and Spitfires proved too much for even the modest numbers of Me-262s that saw combat.  But the presence of that airplane did not go unnoticed, and some may not be aware that there were very well organized British, American, and Soviet efforts at procuring German technology, including the Me 262, after the war was over.  The moment they had defeated Germany - they wanted to get their hands on this aircraft, and others.

Part of being a good artist is to be able to comfortably allow the flow of creative insights, from whatever source.  Many artists I know are into music deeply, because they feel that cross pollination with musical inspiration.  But when I hold my model of the Me-262 somehow I gain the courage to sometimes throw the rule book out, and try to rewrite a new one.  The confidence to put that first line to that first new page, of a book that has not yet been written - that is what it really means to be an artist. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Short Essay on the Texas Musical Duo "Penny & Sparrow"

Music can find hope again in the spare and haunting harmonies of the Texas-based duo Penny & Sparrow.  Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke have created a sound that is both new and reminiscent of something old – as if there were two Ray LaMontagnes sitting around a campfire exploring the surprises and pauses of melody and lyric honesty.  The short history of their body of work, most poignantly put forth by the CD “Tenbloom”, shows Baxter and Jahnke to be kings of the act of musical minimalism – as they challenge the listener to a kind of intimate conversation with the music.  When so much of the radio is a blur of popstars, synthesizers, drums, and light shows – here, two honest men lay bare the simple poetry of sound.  Here they almost seem to say, come and sit with us – as if you were one of only a few invited.   Andy Baxter’s voice floats like smoke over old wood – and is further raised up by Jahnke’s own guitar and piercing vocal harmonics. 

Penny & Sparrow are much like the artist that paints the entire picture with a few strokes of color.  Much is left to the space of the imagination – what is illustrated on the vocal canvas shared by these two artists – is exactly what they feel you should know…to perhaps learn something about yourself and all the binds those with the sensitivity to listen.  And so it seems like a perfect fit that the music is infused with that most universal theme of human experience – shared emotion.  Lines left lingering in the mind on things that we have all felt, losses we have all endured, and wishes we’ve all had – fulfilled and un-fulfilled.  Heartache said simply – this is heartache.  And both the closeness and the interminable distances between two people.  Penny & Sparrow’s music gives us breathing room.   The benediction that to simply be alive and sensitive to the world can be held up in all its beauty and mystery.

Now with the debut of the song and video “Rattle”, off Penny and Sparrow’s forthcoming CD “Struggle Pretty”, we hear again the minimalist glow between Baxter’s voice and Jahnke’s guitar.  The sound and lyrics speak the spirit of what was created in their previous recordings, and the inner chambers of heart and mind for which Penny & Sparrow have created a soundtrack like no other.  Even the name “Struggle Pretty” seems to hold up to the light the very essence of life – that struggle itself can contain the beauty of life – and can even help create it.  What would life be without the beauty we create in all opposition to the struggles that descend upon us?  Penny & Sparrow have shown us poetry in song that allows us to sit right in the middle of all the storms of life and think them to be beautiful.  The great expanse of the lone star state has given us many musical artists we can be thankful for – but none so great as Penny & Sparrow.  Their storied harmonies give us permission to be human – and we will be thanking them for a very long time, for that gift.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Selling Art is Wonderful - It's NOT Selling Out

This week I am working on a painting that is slated to be a gift to the city of Oro Valley.  Can't reveal much in the way of details…more to come later.  I am also framing a group of works that will go to Cobalt Fine Arts for a small paintings show that I am in with my dear friend the artist Natasha Isenhour - called "Jewel Tones."

One thing that has been on my mind recently was a question put to me by a friend who is an aspiring writer…and that was the question about "selling out", i.e., having your art or what you do affected by selling.  The question wasn't loaded, and it was well meant.  But it did cut to the chase over the issue of the role of selling work and how that affect the creation of it.

I'll just come right out and say it, because the older I get the more honest I am - I LOVE selling work!  I love it.  The fact that people pay notable sums of money to collect my paintings is one of the most gratifying experiences in my life.  It tells me many things - primarily that the modes of expression that I have tapped into are not just my own.  And that when others see it something resonates inside of them, and they can then visualize the work in their homes or in some meaningful space.  That is wonderful - and having galleries back you because you have a reputation of selling, also a great compliment.

As to whether selling works affects my work - I can also be honest and say YES it does cross my mind, the fact of wondering whether a work might sell or not.  The way I see it, an accountant likes to get paid.  A teacher likes to get paid.  A doctor likes to get paid - why should an artist not like to make his or her modest sum?  I think this is fine.  It's totally normal.  My wife once made the point that in the vast majority of cases when one of my works sells, she said it is obvious why.  It is more detailed, more colorful, the contrasts are sharper - something is notable and raises the bar in those paintings, and as she said, those paintings are often the ones that sell.

However the caution that I work under is simple…I do not let the fact that certain works sell dominate the selection of new works.  It's ok to do something that is your bread and butter kind of work - that's fine.  But one must always keep an eye to the creation of new images.  All the time.  You have to remain an artist and the cash signs can't be the first things that decorate your goggles you see the world through.  The creation of new images is important also because when you consider your work in retrospect, even those 'bread and butter' paintings that you know collectors want and buy - even they were original works dreamed up, composed, and painted out of nothingness.  They too were new at some point, so you can't close down that regenerative process by which new works are made.

There is a sense that I have noticed - that an artist has to be so avant garde as to be a misunderstood pauper - and then they get some kind of stamp of legitimacy.  I think that is a bunch of crap.  I have seen artworks that don't communicate anything at all.  That seems to me to be representative of a breakdown in the relationship with the viewer.  And I am sure many such artists comfort themselves in the fact that they are doing something ahead of their time - so much so that nobody gets it.  Again, I don't believe that.  I have always said that an artist is free to go out on a limb if they want to; but that they can't turn around and blame everyone else if the crowd doesn't want to go out on the limb with them.  And from my experience in the art world, sales are not terribly common out there on the limb.  I stick a little closer to the tree…

Lastly I would say that it should not be unsaid that ART IS WORK.  Maybe that's why they call it artwork.  It is not gratuitous leisure.  It is work.  If anyone has the temptation to trivialize art, they probably have never wrestled with the difficulties of created a meaningful and complicated piece of work.  After I have spent three or four weeks on a single painting I feel that it is a wonderful reward when the work finds a home and makes someone else's living or working space beautiful.  I'm very happy that I can make a very modest living at it.  No, visions of dollars signs shouldn't ever be allowed to dominate your process.  But YES, selling is a great thing.  It gives you the confidence to dream big - and in many ways, helps you be more creative, more fulfilled, and able to be full of faith that you can make something equally great to the things that have come before.