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Monday, July 25, 2011


the old abbot

Here is a better picture of the recently finished painting. I've never done anything like this. Done some abstractions, which I consider this one to be. I like to make abstractions using realism for colors and shapes. Several years ago several of my fruits and vegetable paintings hung in a bookstore for 6 months. Of all the people that saw them, one said to me, "You're really painting abstractions, aren't you." I wanted to know her, but never saw her again. Everybody saw the fruits and vegetables and thought they belonged in the kitchen, but were too big to go in the kitchen. Oh well.

Having some popcorn. It feels like watching a movie. I have liked popcorn at a movie since walking to movies in childhood. Then, popcorn didn't cost $5 or $10. I haven't gone to a theater in so many years, I don't know how much it is. And while going to theaters, it was many a year since I bought popcorn when it started going way-way up. I expect by now it could be $20. Evidently they sell it at those prices. I saw people standing in long lines to pay it. Popcorn and coke filled to the top with ice. Essentially, a coca-cola snow cone to drink with a straw while it melts.

The head in the image above is a likeness of a man I sat with a few hours a week to give round-the-clock caregiver a chance to get out of the house, go to the store, take a nap, whatever. This was with hospice. He was from Dickenson County, Ralph Stanley's home county, in the Clinch Mountains of Southwestern Virginia. He was essentially helpless, needing constant care. Could barely talk. It was with him I saw redneck weddings on Country Music Television. He was pretty far along. The last I heard of him, he was taken to Tennessee to be kept by a relative there. The day after I'd signed the painting using his likeness from a photo I made of him with permission, I learned he died the day before I signed it.

I took an interest in painting a portrait of him the day I saw him looking like a zen monk on a Japanese scroll, the face in lines of black ink on gold scroll. He was wrapped up around his neck by his blanket suggesting a monk's robe. I wanted to make a portrait of him in a way that suggested a Chinese or Japanese scroll portrait of an abbot in times past on a monastery wall. Only suggest. And only suggest to me. I have had in my mind flash cards used in Japan to teach children, a picture of an ear above, and the word below in calligraphy. I used my hand for below, for the calligraphy American style, graffiti. I had thought of using spray to write the words, like graffiti, but I don't have a great deal of control over spray like I have with a brush. So I used stencil as contemporary artless print.

In my western version of the flash card, the calligraphy has its own meaning. His face at rest and lightly painted like a memory becomes the image of other. The hand becomes the image of self. Both are painted using the same colors, white, light purple and light yellow. Other and self are interchangeable. From other's point of view, other is self. It runs both ways at the same time, like a state highway. This is the nature of every relationship, even seeing a dove through the window flying to the bird feeder. This is how we know each other, a play of consciousness. The head without hair is not gender specific. It could be monk or nun. The round face could be Asian or western, the abbot Buddhist or Catholic. Taking an eastern form, I've filled in the blanks with western parts. On such scrolls a poem might be written on a part of it. Other and self is my three-word poem that goes inseparably with the image.


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