Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Favorite Artists Who are Not Oil Painters

This week I am working on a painting of the Rhyne building at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina. I learned just recently that Lenoir-Rhyne, which is the university both I and my wife graduated from - that they are going to be awarding me their "Rising Star Award" for young alumni. After having such wonderful memories of my 4 years at Lenoir-Rhyne, from 1993 - 1997, I told them I would like to give them a painting provided that it would be well displayed. It is not certain as of yet, but it may end up in their library or alumni house.

Just the other day I was talking to the artist Paul Sheldon, and concluded that it was not really an accident that so many artists play music. For many of us it's a way to blow off steam. However it can also feel like what comes out thru music is the same kind of feeling that comes out through the paintings - only the means of expression are different. I've played guitar since I was about 13 years old. When my grandpa David Walters died in 1987, I was given his guitar - which I still have today, and I learned to play on it. He was quite a player and I heard that he used to play on radio shows with his friends.

So thinking about other artists who are NOT oil painters, here are some of my favorites...

1) Justin Rutledge. This guy is a poet with a guitar. I don't know anyone who would dispute this. A number of years ago I heard him on NPR, looked him up, and have been an admirer of his music ever since. Turns out, he enjoys art - and he and I are now friends by correspondence. If you were to describe Justin's music to anyone it would be difficult, because I've never heard anyone like him - but when you hear songs like "This Too Shall Pass", "Penny for the Band" and "Everyone's in Love" etc, it's easy to get hooked. He has a masterful sense of music and melody, with hands down the best lyrics that I've heard in music today. He has a new CD that will be released on May 4th called "The Early Windows", and I urge everyone to check it out. . You can find him on Myspace and Facebook as well.

2) Ansel Adams. I suspect that there are some people who have a kind of nostalgic view of Ansel Adams, as his images have become so much a part of Americana. But behind those stunning black and white photographs was a deeply complicated, sensitive, and extremely artistic person. I feel that all landscape painters, like myself, should do a study of Ansel and his way of working - his way of framing an image in the picture and his keen eye for granduer both big and small. Some of his images are so clear, so sharp and lucid - and then you can look at the date and see something like "1939" or "1941". It's astounding he got such images from old photographic technology. And his legacy of activism and environmentalism is truly inspirational, as he was one of those people who took it as a personal thing to fight hard for the preservation of our pristine wild places in America. Here is one of America's finest artists period, and I suggest all landscape artists make a good study of Ansel and it will make them better painters. .

3) Antoni Gaudi. My main feeling with regards to Gaudi is a true reverence for someone who bucked the conventional in the most extreme of ways - often in one of the most conservative art forms, that of architecture. Gaudi's structures seem to go from candy land childlike visions to the towering and awe inspiring "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona. The fact that one could make buildings that seemed to undulate and flow like liquid - and that these were viable buildings that could stand the test of time - that is extraordinary. He is a true original.

4) Frank Lloyd Wright. Another true original in the field of archetecture. His homes and structures have frequently given me the feeling that I was looking at buildings that were easily 50, 75, or even a 100 years ahead of their times. Like Gaudi, Wright allowed himself the full reign of his imagination, and even though I hear that some of his buildings are not structurally stable, they leak, and have other problems - as an artist and an individual he was incredibly significant. It also emerges, once you learn a bit about him, that he was not always a nice guy - especially with regards to his family life. But the artist is there, and though I wouldn't want him for a dad and probably not even for a friend, he was unique and therefore notable.

5) KISS. The rock band Kiss has been a cultural phenomenon in America since the early 1970's. The reason I mention them as an artistic inspiration, is that they were the biggest and most flamboyant proponents of a kind of rock-theatre, the idea in general being to heighten the experience of a rock and roll concert by making the performance theatrical. Face makeup, explosions, dripping blood, flaming and smoking guitars, drum risers, etc - Kiss took some of the things they loved best about the act of performance and did it to the n'th degree. And to their credit they have countless fantastic songs that have stood the test of time even without regard to their performance style. I must admit, I've always preferred the original Kiss with members Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. And I've recently soured a bit on Kiss recently because it has become abundantly clear that Gene Simmons is a massive egoist, who seems much more interested in stuffing dollars into his pockets than being a musical artist. This is not an issue of confidence, mind you. Most of us creative artists have to be stubbornly confident in order to create things. Arrogance, or, one could say, the belief that gravity doesn't affect you anymore - that does not make you a good artist. That makes you a bullheaded primadonna. But despite all this, I rank KISS very high on that list of original creative artists.

6) Carl Sandburg. The poetry of Carl Sandburg took a grip on me when I was in college, and that grip has never let go. His beautiful free verse style seemed to me to be an improvement on the groundbreaking work of Walt Whitman. Sandburg's work is something rooted very firmly in the soil of America, in the city streets of our towns and deeply connected to us generally. His work comes across, to me anyway, as a hybrid of prose and poetry. Sandburg once offered a definition of love as "The touch of two hands that foils all dictionaries." He was a true creative person, and someone who was dedicated to their own vision of poetry.

7) Jack Kerouac. I must admit that I go back and forth on Kerouac's work. And by that I mean that his form of spontaneous prose seemed at times to be rambling and rolling along with so little object as to just be words - and at other times it seemed to be some of the most sensitive and descriptive work since Proust. (Truman Capote once said of Keroauc's work "That's not writing! That's typing...") However the entire spectre of bop prosody was very original. It was at its best in works like "On the Road", "Big Sur" and "October and the Railroad Earth" and was less effective in other works. But it was original and thus retained an inherent power and freshness which has assured Kerouac legacy. Ginsberg, the poet, does get credit in this same spirit of work - but Kerouac was the most visionary of that group of writers. In 2008, a stroke of luck allowed me to see the original "On the Road" scroll that Kerouac wrote the book on - at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What a pleasure to see the breathless stream of words that Kerouac produced, that went on to be one of America's legendary books.

8) The Drive by Truckers . Around 2003 a good friend of mine gave me a CD by an Alabama band called the Drive by Truckers. I put it in the player in my car and immediately fell in love. I've since seen DBT twice in concert, met and spoke to Patterson Hood (who has a painting of mine that I sent him awhile back) and have not ceased to be impressed by this roughshod group of Southerners who seem to embody intelligent rock music with biting social commentary. DBT music is often narrative driven and full of stories - quite the antidote to a world full of jingles. Via DBT I also learned of an amazing songwriter who ranks equally good named Jason Isbell. I've spent time with Jason at two of his shows, and he's a great guy and a terrific songwriter. He used to be a member of DBT where he penned such knockouts as "The Day John Henry Died" and "Never Gonna Change," and he now tours and records with his band the 400 Unit.

9) Deanna Johnston. Back in 2005 my wife and I were watching the TV show "Rockstar INXS" and a blond lady stepped up to the mike to do the song "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash. When I heard this lady sing, I sat up straight. This woman had a power, a force like I'd not seen or felt since listening to Janis Joplin for the first time. Her voice had a punch that hit me immediately, subtle, powerful, and memorable. Her later performance of the song "Long Train Running" on the show literally blew the roof off the place. Sometime later I got in contact with Deanna and we have been friends by correspondence for around 4 years. Deanna continues to make great music and I would especially suggest you check out her EP of original songs "GFN", available at .

These are just a few musical, literary, and architectural artists that inspire me. All of them have a quality of distinction that is important to appreciate in the creative act. I've long believed that the impulse to create is more or less universal in most of us - however some grab a mike, or a guitar, or a drafting board or a pen to express it. Art is vast, for sure, and that's a fertile and beautiful landscape we can all appreciate.