Monday, December 29, 2008

Cave Paintings and Rock Art

This week I am working on a 20 x 24 vertical Saguaro landscape with blooming paloverdes in the distance. I'm also busy organizing the advertisements, invitations, and the special online exhibits that will go along with my January 16th show at the Max Gallery in Tucson. I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season, and we look forward to a happy and fruitful 2009. This coming year will see the birth of my son, in March - and on top of all the great things that have come to pass for my wife and I, we are the MOST excited about this little man who is soon to come into our lives.

I'm currently reading a book by Gregory Curtis called "The Cave Painters, Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists". This is a study of the primitive arts that existed in the Paleolithic era of early man. The books spends a great deal of time talking about world landmarks such as Lascaux, the beautiful painted cave in France that features the "Hall of Bulls", which I myself painted a rendering of last year. I've always been deeply fascinated by art of this kind, and only recently did a begin to ask myself why.

There is always in me a great love and respect of the primitive. That is to say - what art would be without any social conventions or training. Paul Gauguin sought such a place where he could establish his vision of art free of western social norms, in a raw, primitive environment. Picasso, after mastering representational painting by the age of 14, spent much of the rest of his life in a process of exploration that involved some drastic simplifications, and complexities, that strayed far from his classical training - and resulted in, at least on some of his canvases, very primitive works. Picasso had a great fascination with masks - and some of the Fauvist painters looked to African crafts for inspiration in the qualities of simplicity.

I think that I respect the primitive works on some level due to my own lack of training in the arts. I took one drawing class in college and absolutely hated it. Drawing was something I enjoyed all my life, even as a small boy - and to have the act reduced to something the professor wanted to see led me to the conclusion that most art professors want artists that will just paint or draw like them. They see themselves as an ideal, and thus seek to conform others to it. I dare say not all fall into this category, but I'm sure many do.

It seems to me that primitive artists very likely didn't have the hangups that come with the rigid formulations of training. None the less, many of them displayed a great deal of talent - the ability to render colors and shapes impressively, and the ability to have an eye for composition and perspective. That is what appeals to me on canvas. The seeking of something raw and beautiful - rough and luminous at the same time. I enjoy a perfect Michelangelo or Leonardo as much as the next guy - but it never gets to the root of my own artistic feeling. My feeling in front of the canvas is a feeling that is hard and rough. My work shows it, and that's certainly deliberate.

So when I discovered through books the wonderful painted caves of France I immediately felt a connection rooted from those early artists and running right up to contemporary painters like myself. I painted a large wall-sized work called "The Dawn of Painting" which depicts one scene from the Hall of Bulls at Lascaux. I've never shown the painting outside of my home, but countless friends have commented on it. It has simply my homage to those wonderful early artists whose works still survive.

I feel it is crucial to the artist to get down to the core of what art could be - art with no hangups or framework. To answer the question of what the soul would put on canvas before it asked the permission of a professor or classicist to feel what it is feeling. An honest urge - a true expression. The cave painters did not need a university or art school to make compelling images, they just did it. Let art be as natural as the rain. Let it speak in honest ways. Drop the filters and see the uncut version. That is the language of the human heart. The cages came after.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Music, Art, and Originality

This week I have just finished my first painting of Aspens in yellow fall colors. I am now working on 20 x 24 inch study of the mountain peaks of the Grand Tetons. Having finished most of the Arizona works for my show on January 16th, I am letting loose with the urge to paint some other western subjects that I love.

I remember my French professor Dr Augustin Quilici relaying to me the phrase "le style est l'homme" (the style is the man), and as we can assume that this is always the case in art - I found myself thinking of how much it is also true in music. In the art I have tried to make, I have attempted to create painting that would be unmistakeably my own - that there would be no debate over who made them. It was very important to me not to have my work confused with anyone else's. In the years that I have been browsing galleries I have come to the conclusion that it is easier to be a strong draftsman and absorb the talents brought out by artistic training - than it is to have an original idea and relay that idea on canvas. That is to say, I think more people can draw and paint, than can dream something truly original. And even that depends on what one wants from painting. Some artists are hyper realists, and they get the most happiness from that.

It should also be remembered that nobody who is successful is without their roots. My own roots lie tangled between the work of Jean-Claude Quilici, Vincent Van Gogh, and Maurice de Vlaminck. That is to say, your own original ideas are built on the foundation of the discoveries of those you admire. My breakthrough was to try to apply a certain vision to the Southwest that I had not yet seen. But these ideas came from a fusion of those who inspired me.

For many years music helped me to understand the qualities of distinction that were necessary in a work of art. It occurred to me frequently that songs live by their quality of distinctness - how they stand out from a background of noise and jingles. I remember hearing an NPR interview with a Canadian singer / songwriter Justin Rutledge, and they played a clip from one of his songs where the line goes "They've got armchairs in Vienna, where a man would wanna die. They've got Ludwig Van in garbage cans where the poets go to cry..." and I thought "whoa!" I still remember where I was driving when those words struck me. They stood out as more poetic, more rich, perhaps even a little strange when you consider all the pop jingles and do da do da stuff that gets shuffled around today. It was poetry in music. I became an instant fan because I realized that Justin Rutledge had done in music what I will have hoped to have done in art. That is when you hear Justin's music, you know it. I would hope that when you see a Neil Myers - you know it.

I remember Jim Morrison saying that "the doors is just a white blues band". But even as he seemed to try to find a label for the Doors, it seems they defy anything even he might say. Amazing lyrics, powerful stage performances - a deep sense of drama and a poetry of the times. Unorthodox views of how a song should be created - one of the most distinct aspects being the way that Doors music was held together by Ray Manzerek's keyboards, giving the music the quality of organ like processional - dark and lyrical.

I would also rank KISS as one of the most original super groups ever devised. Take one look at those guys and it's not hard to see that they hit on something different. No doubt about that. But if KISS had only been about 4 goons in makeup, then it would not have lasted. Those same guys proved the ability to put on an astounding rock show, and they had the near infinite capacity to write dozens of songs that are now part of our rock lexicon. I got to see the original KISS in 1996 in Charlotte, NC, so I have seen this for myself and will vouch for it.

What's interesting in music today is that the most original artists are often on independent labels, because the larger labels have become so risk aversive, indie labels are almost all that's left. American music is too much industry and too little art, that's the reason we've not had a KISS, or Beatles, or Led Zeppelin emerge in the last number of years. Because the value of an original idea in music is lower now than it was in the 60s and 70s.

But I still have my Will Hoge, Justin Rutledge, Deanna Johnston, Kathleen Edwards, Drive by Truckers, and countless others to inspire me as I paint. They paint with chords, but to me they are all full of color.