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Sunday, July 18, 2010


elegy by robert motherwell
thank you Moma

The application of today's paint has brought the negative space, the space between figures, background, to about where I want. The 4 figures are dressed in black and near-black. All have white hats. The proximity of black brightens the colors in the zone of the suits. Above, all their hats are white. That darkens the color above their shoulders. When it's all one color, the upper part is darker than the lower part. Bright yellow light, though more white-yellow, like it's light. White above. They seem to balance each other, give the sense that it's all one color when it's slightly not. When it's time to paint their clothes, I want a lot of light reflecting off the clothes, the folds in shiny black cloth, a mirror for the light. I want to get the musicians covered up in light like they are on stage.

It's been awhile since I've painted. A few years. Before, I never knew what I was doing from one to the next. Now I do. Now I have purpose. It's settled that it's not about money and attention. It's about mountain musicians, like the radio show was. What time I have left in the body will go to painting mountain musicians. That's a done deal. My retirement from society will enable the painting. I see a long line of paintings I want to make. If I were to have a show sometime, I'd want it in the new Alleghany County historical museum. All Alleghany musicians. That would work. I want to wed my art with the county. I suppose what I'm doing is declaring purpose at the beginning. I've never had the light of purpose in the painting before. Before, I felt like everything I did was about learning. Now I feel like I've gone through the learning and it's time to proceed with what I've learned.

I know that seeing documentaries about art are inspiring, so is reading books. I may pick up my David Hockney book, That's The Way I See It. I have a book of Larry Rivers paintings. His images inspire me. I have a book of Brancusi I haven't looked at in awhile. Robert Motherwell. I know Motherwell inspires me. When I'm in a modern art museum in a city, whatever Motherwell hanging there is totally satisfactory before my eyes. I've been interested in 20th century art along the way as it was happening. I don't feel compelled to paint abstractly or minimally. That's city art. I don't live in the city. In the world I live in, people watch television. They do in NY too. But I don't watch television, so that's not my world. My world is the people I know and the people I live among. I'm happy with my world as it exists at this time in the life. All is apparently friendly in my world. I'll paint musicians who are friendly, intelligent people. Artists is what they are.

Jr was an artist. That was another realm we communicated well in. When he first saw my paintings he was intimidated. "I don't see how you can do that." I told him I figured it out the same way he figured out the banjo, and I don't see how he can play the banjo like he could. He got it in that moment. From then on he was comfortable with my paintings. Until then, he felt sorry for me because I couldn't weld or operate a bull-noser or shoot a grouse. He understood I get the same kick painting as he got pickin. I think of Jr one hell of an artist, among the better ones in his place and time, where the bar ran way high. There is no visual art tradition here in the mountains, such as painting. Quilting is a visual art form, but it's not painting. Music making was the only active art form I found in the area. Jr would roll on the floor laughing at being called an artist.

Scott Freeman and Willard Gayheart, excellent musicians, both good song writers, both good singers. Bobby Patterson of Heritage Records in Woodlawn is an artist. Like I've had to find intelligence manifested in mountain culture differently from in city culture. I've known several people here from other places who can't find intelligence outside their own box of beliefs. That's ok. It took me a long time to get over my own belief systems from my life in the flatland. I wasn't a bit slow at seeing intelligence in the mountain people. It's the first thing I saw. Next thing I saw was they were all philosophers. My grandmother was a philosopher. She's where I got it. When my parachute landed me here, I fell in among philosophs, though you might not want to call them that. I find it a good thing the mountain people are largely ignored as a culture by newcomers. No sentences that start, "You know what you oughta do?" "You need to get those rusted pickups out of your yard, to start with." "What'r'ya keepin em for?" We've had so many of these people coming into the mountains that counties are passing laws saying you can't have rusted pickups and cars in your yard. Totally absurd. Years ago, nothing told me better that I'm in the mountains than a yard with cars and pickups that didn't run, and an engine block hanging from a swing set by a rusted chain. Not everybody wants to be suburban middle class. Sameness might be model living for some, but not for all.

The light fades. Looking at the paint applied today, the upper color and the lower color look the same, have the same intensity. In half light the contrast of the dark and the light stands out even bolder. I'm seeing painting the black suits with the light reflecting off parts of them in a mildly cubist kind of way. I want to get patches of reflected light on them to the point they appear flooded with light, which they are in a concert. I can use the light reflections to place the figures forward or back. I have the thrill of anticipating putting microphone stands around in front of the musicians. That's one of those things like a fiddle bow that I study the entire time working on the image. By the time it needs doing, I'm ready. It's just a mental readiness, seeing how to do it, seeing I can do it, seeing it's the same as done.

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