ralph stanley & the clinch mountain boys
Almost at the end of August, the month when the weather starts to change from summer to fall, the first nights in the 50s last week. The weather during the day has been pleasant. It's been a mild summer. It steadily rose in heat level and is now steadily moving downward. Last winter did that way too, a steady getting colder, then a steady getting less cold. Cold of winter used to come in waves and the warm of summer did too. Those waves of warm and cold have evened out now to just a steady rise and a steady decline. A bit of fog in the last week of August, suggesting snow maybe in March. We'll see.
Finally have come close enough to the end of the Ralph Stanley painting to let you see it. I ought to be ashamed to show it like it is. The lighting is as bad as it can be, glaring on the picture. For me, it was a study in black and white. In this picture it's a study in glare. The 3 suits are black. Ralph's shirt is purple and black. All that is left is a touch here, a touch there. I'll go over the whole thing now looking for little details to touch in, fix this, fix that. A little stripe of white down his banjo strap reflecting the stage lights. I think I've suggested frets and strings about as much as I'm going to. A couple of places yet to suggest strings. I'll fuss with it til it's as close to what I want it to be as I'm able to get it. I'm satisfied it favors Stanley enough that he wouldn't be ashamed of the likeness.
In the painting itself is several black heads across the bottom like the heads in the audience in front of where you're sitting. The pictures that showed that had such bad glare it would be pointless to show them. This one is the only one the glare wasn't bad on. It was 9:30 taking the pictures with indoor light and not much attention paid to making it just right. This is ok. Wanted to show you what I've been at for the last months. It was conceived in May. Finished end of August. I've been lazy and not very motivated. I want to make a lot of paintings of mountain musicians. But sometimes I think up all kinds of things to do to keep from painting. Sometimes it's too frightening a thing to approach. When the time came to finish the faces, I was scared. It's a frightening thing to paint somebody's face so you can recognize who it is. Plus, I want a certain seeming of life in the figures, and that's really scary to approach. I dreaded the faces for weeks. Studied them and looked at how to approach them, bright light on their faces and shadows from the hats on their faces. It was an interesting challenge painting Ralph's face in two different colors, yin/yang.
I'm not satisfied now that I look at it almost finished. Knew I wouldn't be. Never am. I see everything wrong with it. When other people look at it they don't see any of that. It's like a musician hitting the wrong note. He's the only one notices. Scott Freeman when he is teaching stresses to the beginners not to twist up your face when you hit a wrong note. You're the only one who will notice; don't give it away. So I don't tell where my flaws are in the pictures. After several years I forget where they are and never see them again. It takes a little while in time before I can see something I've painted with a fresh eye that doesn't remember all that's wrong with it.
Back in May I drove to Clintwood, Virginia, to visit the Ralph Stanley Museum. It was what I wanted it to be. Whoever put it together did a beautiful job of it from conception to the last detail. Videos going of Carter and Ralph. Instruments on the walls. It's comfortable inside. It would be a comfortable place to stay awhile, going around listening to all the sample music in various places where you can pick maybe 3 songs from a given period. A lot of pictures. I noticed there were no paintings of Ralph in the place. Seemed like it needed a painting of him. I stood still entertaining the thought. Been wanting to paint Ralph Stanley for some time, believed I could make something they (curator, Ralph, Ralph's wife, everyone concerned) would like to have in there. Ralph Stanley has given me so many hours of joy listening to his music, his art form, at home, at concerts, playing him on the radio to people that love him, I want to give him, in turn, a thank-you gift of my art form to share with his fans.