Friday, June 5, 2020

It Feels Different This Time

Last week, on a Monday, a man named George Floyd was arrested in a section of Minneapolis, MN called Powderhorn. He was suspected of committing forgery using a fake $20 bill. Police were called and in the process of arresting the man, they used a tactic that was not recommended, not really taught in police academy, and not practiced. Derek Chauvin used his knee as a chokehold, applying pressure to Mr. Floyd's neck. He could be heard by the crowd saying "I can't breathe. Please let me breathe." After nearly nine minutes, the chokehold was released, and Mr. Floyd, unresponsive, was placed in an ambulance, and taken to a hospital where he later died.

Last week, one man's callous and unthinking cruelty sent shockwaves across the nation. We've seen eruptions of this kind since Michael Brown and Ferguson in 2014, but this one feels different. I have spent enough time on this planet to remember the riots in 1992 in Los Angeles after a black man named Rodney King was savagely beaten by LAPD officers. When the officers were not held responsible, the city exploded in violence and flames. This feels like that moment to me. Then, there was a video recording. Now there are recordings, including footage of the entire 10 minute encounter that ended in George Floyd's death. I've linked to it here.  For my own sanity, I have not watched that footage, and I will not post it here.

"I can't breathe", he said.
"Please let me breathe", he said.

My God.
What are we?
What have we become?
Do we understand how our actions can have far-reaching effects and consequences?

Do we understand that we have sown to the wind and are reaping the whirlwind?

Do we understand that we've done this before?

How many times do we need to hear those words?

How many more have to die before we repent this nation's original sin?

More Later


Friday, May 22, 2020

Muscle Memory

In the last two weeks,  I've tried to really focus on making sure I get time in on my drawing table, even if it's just a couple of hours in a day. Because of health issues,  I was away from it for quite a while. As you might imagine, I felt rusty. So the first marks on the page felt unsteady, and I wasn't very happy with my execution. But I think, well, bit by bit, I can feel it coming back, getting steadier and more natural. It's a work in progress (I'm starting to dislike that phrase), but...what counts is how it feels to be doing it, and it feels GREAT. The technique and the fluidity will come back. I just have to keep at it. It's like the title implies...muscle memory.

So here's a sketch detail of an idea. I don't know where it will go or if it will become anything. It's based on a concept I came up with years ago called "Snow Angels". It was used in a holiday card that was sent to friends and family. After so long away, it felt good to re-visit the idea and see if I could improve on it a bit. Right now it's just practice.

Anyway, here it is. Enjoy.

Here's what the original looked like when I first conceived it.

More Later

Friday, May 15, 2020

So...Here We are In Bizzaro World

Look what's changed in a mere 3 months.
Up is down.
Down is up.
The sky is red.
The oceans are chartreuse.

Seriously...what the actual HELL??
Is this...ACTUAL HELL?
They taught us that Hell was a place of torment and eternal suffering.
If you visit an ICU anywhere in this country, that's what it feels like.

Oh, but you can't visit an ICU anywhere in this country right now. Even if you have loved ones in the ICU, you can't see them. That could be a definition of hell. During this pandemic, there have been absolutely horrific stories of families who have loved ones in the ICU who are dying of COVID-19 and they aren't allowed to see them to say good-bye. So people are dying alone.

This was not supposed to happen. We are supposed to be smarter than to allow a microscopic virus to essentially bring the country (and the world) to its knees, aren't we?
Apparently, something has taken over for our good sense and our much touted American ingenuity.
We are now seeing what happens when we give in to our worst instincts, which we did in November of 2016, when we allowed a callous, venal, odious, and wholly unqualified thug wannabe to ascend to the highest office in the land.

We wondered, those of us who knew this was going to be bad, just how bad it could get.
We now have the answer.

83,284 dead Americans as of this writing. That's a football stadium full of moms, dads, grandparents, kids from all walks of life, all political persuasions, races, etc. That's a small city.

A microscopic virus. Amazing how something so small could be so utterly destructive.
Our economy has ground to a halt.
Gatherings of large sizes have been effectively banned for the time being.
The big cities are ghost towns. New York City, that colossus, is empty.
As is L.A. And Chicago. And Boston.

I live in a city of 185,000 people in Central MA. Normally getting around this town by car is a trial.

Not lately, though. Not for the last two months.

Also amazing is the fact that we were a country that was humming along in familiar if problematic fashion just 8 weeks ago. Overnight, we were plunged into this...Bizarro World where things like shaking hands and hugs and closeness could potentially kill us.

Someone said that we aren't missing the material things so much as we are missing the need to physically connect with each other. I agree. I miss that most of all right now.

I am grieving.

So, in times of grief, we artists make art. I was debating whether to save this piece for another post. I've decided to share this now for those who are dealing with the various shutdowns, lockdowns, quarantines, or as we have here in MA, "stay at home advisories".

That's basically all of us right now.

So, here it is. Hopefully it lightens things a bit.

It's possible that by the time I post next, things will have eased up a little.
I certainly am holding on to hope.

Do what you can to hold on to hope. This will end. Hell may be eternal torment and suffering, but this will end. Do what you can to stay connected. We need that more than ever, any way we can get it. And please be safe.

More Later


Friday, January 31, 2020

Where Have I Been?

For the 153 of you who found this blog last month (including one in the Netherlands), I apologize for having been away so long.
Health issues.
I'll explain more in another post.

For now though, I'm glad you found this little space dedicated to affirming the work of making art.
Thank You.

More Later


Friday, January 12, 2018

Our Fixation on Saviors and Superheroes

Happy 2018!
Dear God, in the words of John Winston Lennon,

"Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear"

From his lips to God's ear. If anything, before we get too far into what this new year may bring, it might be a good idea to look seriously at what 2017 and the years before it have brought us.

Now before anyone says "Donald Trump as POTUS", it should be noted that in 2009, many people thought our unresolved national and cultural issues were finally addressed with the election and swearing in of Barack Obama as President of the United States. We were riding a multi-cultural, "post racial" wave of optimism. Finally, FINALLY, someone had come to unite us all and save us.

The same thing has been said of Donald Trump by his apparently narrowing base of supporters, and a fair number of them are feeling the same sense of disappointment as many people did with Obama when they began to realize that neither man had "saved" us. Hence the rumblings of our discontent continue as we search for the next "savior", and wait for his (or her) glorious appearing. But there's a problem with saviors, and there's a problem with always needing to be saved. It kind of speaks to a predilection for finding trouble or trouble finding us. It says we haven't solved some basic problems in a truly meaningful way. We haven't resolved the issues that keep getting us into the kind of trouble that requires a dramatic rescue. Saviors and superheroes can be very good at dramatic rescues, and God knows it makes for great TV, movies and art. Witness the current box office titles or spend a night watching the CW network.

But what happens when our purported saviors are merely human (Barack Obama), or as in the case of Mr. Trump, not a savior at all but a blunt-spoken, charismatic (albeit mean-spirited) con artist who knows how to manipulate racial and gender animus to a contingent of our fellow citizens who are already inclined to believe that women, minorities, immigrants, LGBT people, and other "liberals" are what is holding this country back? More importantly, what happens when these saviors or savior wannabes fail us, as they invariably do?

If recent history is any guide, there will be the search for another savior, a crisis of faith such as what John the Baptist had when he sent people to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we be looking for another?" Unfortunately, then as now, this tendency misses the point. During the Golden Globes event on January 7th, Oprah Winfrey addressed a crowd of celebrities about the gravity of the current "Me Too" moment. In a mere nine minutes, she once again proved why she is the icon and inspiration that she is. Following that came speculation of Oprah running for president in 2020. I groaned at the suggestion.

Let's just take this off the table. Oprah Winfrey will not save us. Barack Obama did not solve our racism problem. Donald Trump is not solving his base's perceived problem with the afore-mentioned "out" groups. In fact, he's given strength to a resistance whose real power is only beginning to be felt. These people, many of them women (not surprisingly) and the very diverse people who Mr. Trump and his cohorts wish would just go away, are not superheroes or saviors. We know that neither Superman nor Supergirl nor the Flash are likely to come rescue us. We know that what needs to happen is the kind of creative thinking and problem solving that keeps us out of dire peril in the first place and we know we're the only ones who can do it.

We are, as Mr. Obama, a now rising icon said, the ones we've been waiting for. Cynics scoffed at the time. Note that these same cynics embraced their icon/savior with almost equal fervor in November 2016. Even so, Obama was right. With that in mind, our heroes and icons serve a purpose for good or ill. They inspire us to be more than we are or imagined we could be. Or they remind us of our failings and our sometimes dark and grotesque tendencies. We might do well to steer clear of saviors offering easy fixes to complex problems. They often fail us, and when they do, we tend to crucify them.

Behold, our next saviour?
Surely not!

More Later


Monday, June 19, 2017

New Work In Progress

I've been at this picture for a while. It's a kind of update or snapshot of my progress as an artist in the last 20 years. It's called "Chiaroscuro 2.0". Now the word "chiaroscuro" comes from the Renaissance painters who used light and dark to create a dramatic effect when rendering three-dimensional forms. Leonardo daVinci and Rembrandt van Rijn are known for developing the technique. When it's done right, the results are stunning.

My attempt began 20 years ago with a pen and ink rendering based on some really great photography in a Victoria's Secret catalog. Now, some may scoff, but I should note here that beyond the obviously gorgeous women and the clothes, the photography in these catalogs is quite exquisite. One could argue that Russell James (no relation to LeBron) has a pretty sweet gig.

Anyway, my attempt in 1997 won Honorable Mention in a town art show up here in New England. Not too shabby considering that I was just figuring out how light and dark contrasts worked and how to render them correctly. Twenty years later, I'm still intrigued by it and I wanted to do another version of the piece, but this time in colored pencil. Herewith, I present to you, the original, and the newer piece which, at this moment is a work in progress.


 The original, done in 1997 and, below, the update for 2017 work in progress.

As you can see in this last image, it really begins to take on a kind of life, a substance if you will, which is exciting for me. Sometimes, prior to that moment, I have no idea whether the damned thing is even going to work. Here, it begins to. Obviously, it needs more to get the full effect, but we're well on the way at last. Check back for more updates as this gets closer to completion.

More Later

Friday, June 2, 2017

P.S. Re: Chris Cornell

Just a note to add to the story of Chris Cornell's still bewildering suicide: according to his wife Vicky Karayiannis, Cornell spoke to her after his show in Detroit and she noticed that his speech was slurred, so she asked that one of his crew check on him. He said that he may have taken a bit more Ativan, which is an anti-anxiety medication, than he should have. One of the side effects of the drug is suicidal thoughts. Ativan reportedly is taken by some recovering addicts.

Chris Cornell had been an addict but was in recovery.

Everyone around him said he was fine, upbeat, and looking forward to more of life, more of touring, more of his family, so the suddenness of his passing is confusing to say the least. That he committed suicide is even more confusing, and only adds to the grief his wife and family, as well as all who knew him are feeling. Bad enough that he's gone. Worse that the circumstances surrounding his death are unresolved. Adding to this is the fact that the City of Detroit Police Dept.  is considering this an "open investigation" and hasn't released any records yet.

Cornell's remains were cremated on May 23rd.
He is gone. Now we can only remember.

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