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Tuesday, September 14, 2010


ralph stanley and the clinch mountain boys at fairview ruritan

This afternoon I applied name to the Ralph Stanley painting. After the name is on it, I don't do anything else. Whatever flaws or flubs are on it when the name goes on remain. The most important result I want from a painting is that it have life. The people seem to be breathing. It's also important to me that when Dewey Brown, the fiddler, sees it he won't be ashamed and wish he never saw it. I wanted every one of them in the band to be as close to his likeness as Ralph, as he might like to see a picture painted of himself. One thing about it I like is what I think of as my flaws turn out to look like a style. That's convenient.

When I see this or that detail a little bit off, somehow it sets off a visual strobe effect, subtly, of course. The eye knows the shape of a perfectly round banjo head, so when it's a little bit off, because I only do circles free hand, the eye sees that and the mind's eye sees what it thinks of as right roundness, then the outer eye sees the slightly off round, and it goes back to mind's eye. It keeps on going like that. When there's a bunch of those slightly off places scattered about more or less randomly, it seems to me to give it apparent life, makes a subliminal sense of motion. When I sit back and look at it, paying no attention to flaws I found too late, receiving it as is, finished, the best I can do, the parts where I felt like I didn't quite get what I was after vanish so I can't even find them. It looks like somebody's style, I like to believe.

This is how I justify not seeking "perfection." Like Henry Miller said of enlightenment, there's nothing left but to go on and leave the body, there's no use for it here on earth. People who reach it don't make sense to people this side of that divide. Besides, once one has reached perfection, whatever that is in anything, that's it. Maxed out. Like when To Kill A Mockingbird was your first book, how do you write something else? Perfection is not my goal. I want my people to have the illusion of living beings in motion. I don't mean like you can see them move around. Something to make the first time viewer double-take subconsciously. There again, that back and forth subtle strobe effect. I might be making much of very little, but I have become convinced enough of it to use it when it's needed.

I find I like a sense of flatness on a 2-dimensional work, flatness like silkscreen. I also like roundness, and a sense of depth. I like both at once. That, too, gives me that back and forth visual tension. Today I looked at Robert Motherwell's Ode To The Spanish Republic, abstraction with black forms, my inspiration where composition is concerned. Google him and click on images for a treat if you like abstraction. Whenever I've seen one of his works in a museum, I've felt awe, inspired in the sense that I breathe inward a refreshing oasis kind of breeze for the tired lungs. A rush of oxygen to the brain that wakes up to see it as it really is.

Consciously left out all the microphone stands and wires. They are so incredibly distracting at shows. I don't like painting long, narrow straight lines. The image is about music and the joy in the music. A fence of straight lines all the way across the front, crossing each other at sharp and pointed angles that I take visually for expressions of anger. Anger is often expressed visually with pointed straight lines. I don't want to put a barricade of straight lines and sharp angles across the front of the band. At a concert they're necessary, but in a 2-D image when there's no sound, mics are not needed. It feels to me like the people on the stage are emitting a happy feeling to the illusion of an audience. I don't want to fence in that joy. I want it to go straight to the people listening without filtering. At a concert, the band connects with the audience through the mics, but in a 2-dimensional silent situation, seeing what we hear, they're not part of the picture.

Maybe this could be called a tribute to Ralph Stanley. It's a reverence for Ralph Stanley. It's music that connects with my heart, because that's where Ralph Stanley sings it from. I like to believe I paint from the heart. Searching for a likeness in a face I have to go way deep down inside and pull it up, like diving to the bottom for the oyster with the pearl, digging it out, taking it to the surface. It is definitely a sense of going deep within, searching for the life force I want, look at the eyes until I see how I want to in a way that you can't really see the eyeballs, but the eyes see. That's what I dive for. I do the same writing, looking for the right word, the right image for a given feeling. Go in, look at the feeling and find a way to define it in a way that it feels. Somehow. I suppose everyone who paints or writes has his/her own way of finding feeling going within. Maybe it could be called an inspired, or inspiring place, because when it's found it's accompanied by that inrush of a breath sending oxygen to the brain to get its attention.

I apologize if I sound like I'm bragging. I don't think I am. Just trying to find ways to help you see what I think I'm up to. It gets into subtle stuff going inside looking at feelings, like looking up words in a dictionary. It's a whole lot of fun to paint pictures. I used to want my painting to be "contemporary," go along with the mainstream of the moment. A fabric artist friend in Miami told me easel painting is not mainstream. I said, Good. By the time a style or school or whatever of painting becomes mainstream it's over. Something else is going on. I live in the mountains, paint for the mountain people, want to make paintings to honor mountain people, painted in such a way they believe they understand what they're seeing, someone they know. I'm not interested in putting a nose on one side of the face and eyes on the other side. That can make an interesting image, done right, but it's not what I want to do. I want to spend the rest of my days uplifting the self-esteem of the mountain people, my way of thanking them for letting me live among them as happily as I have, and for all I've learned from the people I've known.

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