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Sunday, April 8, 2012


rackstraw downes, henry hudson bridge, 2006

An email from a friend today mentioned seeing a show of Rackstraw Downes paintings at the gallery of UNC-Greensboro. I'd never seen nor heard the name, as far as I can recall, have wondered quite awhile who the present NY artists are who paint "realism," curious to know what they're doing, I have to say I've never been curious enough to research it. Just an idle curiosity. I found a NYTimes article about him. It said he paints outdoors, a  plein air painter. The way he paints it must take half a year to finish one, going back every day to the same spot. He sometimes uses 3 perspectives, paints from three different locations during the course of the image, giving long straight lines a gentle curve. I'm grateful to know about Rackstraw Downes. I feel like I have backup now when somebody accuses me of painting outside the mainstream. Evidently, "realism" is mainstream again, at least for a few years, as those things go in NY. I love seeing the art that comes out of NY, but refuse to use it as the authority on what I paint. I use abstract and minimalist principles, same as I use principles from mountain musicians. Only difference, these principles are invisible in my pictures. They amount to intent. I can see them, but not many others can.

A woman looking at my paintings from the early 90s of round fruits and vegetables, very detailed realistic, said to me, "You really paint abstraction, don't you." I said, "Yes." One or two others have noticed, but not many. Evidently, Downes was like me, went on painting what he wanted to paint against all advice from everyone around him. Abstract is the mainstream, man. Sounds like something Dennis Hopper would say in a movie. And I feel like it carries as much truth as the characters he plays can emote. Like in Apocalypse Now, the classic Dennis Hopper role, along with Easy Rider. Dennis Hopper is for me in film what Willie Nelson is for me in music. Both their tones of voice repel me. I don't have a reason that I can pinpoint. Their projection of presence is somebody of no interest to me. I hear somebody out here in the world bullshitting like a Dennis Hopper character, I turn around and go the other way in my mind. I can't be that articulate about Willie Nelson. It's in the realm of feeling that Nelson turns me off. I've an idea if I knew him, I'd probably like him. I might even hear his singing differently.

I don't have any photographs from Friday night at Willard's Front Porch Gallery. It was Edwin and Scott a-pickin and a-singin. Both good singers. Both Xcellent pickers. I think of what they're doing musically is playing "realism" (tradition) and they give it spice with an abstract examination of the notes. Scott can do all sorts of things dancing around the notes in the tune he's picking so it continues to be the tune, but very different. The way Cumberland Gap is played around here comes to mind, in relation to how it is played in the Kentucky mountains. Same tune, but approached very differently. Johnny Williams played June Apple in a new way. Sometimes while Edwin was singing, I'd see a minstrel show with a banjo, I'd see Doc Boggs, Doc Watson, Roscoe Holcomb, folk singers who are also good pickers. I doubt Edwin would embrace being compared to Doc Watson, he who is out there among the night stars, the ideal. No, he doesn't sing like Doc Watson, which is all the better. Edwin has a humility about him that doesn't reconize the quality of his banjo pickin, his singing and his self. He doesn't like to go into self praise, so he doesn't. He tells me I'm this and that as a painter, and he is coming from a place where he is this and that, and then a whole lot more, as a banjo picker and singer, in my way of seeing. Again, in my way of seeing, both banjo pickin and singing are art forms. Edwin and Scott are both artists I appreciate as such every time I hear them make music. It's music they make too, not something that will pass for music.  

I can't show pictures from Friday night. Some day I'll learn how to get past the present road block of instruction manual with essential information missing. Can't go on without it. The camera is back in the box and on a closet shelf with the pictures waiting inside. Might have got a good still shot or 2, but nothing else. Was practicing using the menu and all the places I have to go to when I want to do something. I like the way the camera works, but can't download from camera to computer. Major hole in the instructions. I refuse to worry over it. Someday it will work out. Or not. In the meantime I have Old Faithful by my side. I made a few videos from some songs to see how the sound took and to get familiar with working the new mechanism. Won't know how the sound took until it's hooked up to the computer. I can tell from the camera's tiny speaker that it took, but can't hear how well.

I'm not as indifferent to the new camera as I'm letting on. I do want to get it going, but have to wait. It's beyond me and I need help from a tech nerd, or somebody who knows how to fill in the blanks in manuals. It's like the Mario Bros video game kids played 20 years ago. You have to know where the holes are, which you find by trial and error, and learn the bricks in the sky that you have to jump up to claim. They're invisible too. What great training the Mario Bros game was. There are so many things about computers and other tech items it's necessary to know about before you start, things you'll never find on your own, things you need an instruction manual for, until you come upon a blank missed by the proof-readers, if they do that anymore. I'm also willing to accept that the problem is I don't know how to translate tech-eze into language I understand. That's more than likely where the roadblock is. I'm willing to accept that I'm totally off the beam. But I still need help getting the thing going.   

               rackstraw downes


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