Only been working on this for 2-3 months. I think I’m finally satisfied with it, although no art is ever truly finished as they say. it’s a good 18×24 inches on nice thick sturdy watercolor paper. It started out gouache but has had lots of layers of spray acrylic sealer on top of both alcohol markers and pen and ink work, so I guess you’d have to call it “multimedia.”
My alma mater, Concordia University, Nebraska (CUNE) were the bulldogs and while the last six years were pretty bumpy, I’m proud again to have been teaching as a Boyer Valley Bulldog for my 22nd year now.
So as much as I like it, I’m not sure what to do with it. Leave it in my classroom I guess. I’m tempted to enter it in the Iowa State Fair next Summer, but my ego is still a little bruised from having two paintings declined by them this last Summer.
Part of me wants to offer it to the Booster Club to auction off, but their annual Jersey Auction isn’t till next September or October and that’s a long time to wait.
I guess I’m willing to sell it even though my conceited primadonna artist ego would kinda like it hanging in some college or high school office in either Seward or Dunlap, I’m realistic enough to know that’s not likely to happen.
I know my style is kind of eccentric (esoteric, unusual?) and isn’t very likely to match anyone’s couch or drapes, and it’s not framed or under glass, but maybe there’s some fan of Georgia, Gonzaga, Yale, Drake, the Marine Corps or Fresno State out there who’d like a big painting of an English bulldog. I had planned on donating the proceeds to the Boyer Valley Art Department, but I’ll be honest, I hit a deer on the way to school a couple weeks ago and doubt the insurance company will pay enough for any decent used cars in today’s inflated market. But I promise that at least a portion of the proceeds will go to the Art Department. For more paint and poster board to paint on- if nothing else.
I could download one of the ads I’ve seen lately on how to price your art, but I suspect they’re all click-bait. Why don’t I just remind you that you’re not paying for the $30 watercolor paper pad or the $30 of paint, $60 markers, $1.95 pen and $3.95 clearcoat. You’re not even paying for the 2 1/2 months of time on and off, during lunch, planning period, after school & or occasionally during Painting class. You’re really paying for 29 years of Art teaching experience, 27 years of being a bulldog and 42 years since I made up my mind to be some kind of an artist. That, and whatever imagination, creativity, heart, soul & love you think I put into it.
Too expensive for ya? That’s fine. I’ll try not to think of it as “my stuff is too weird, nobody’d ever want to actually buy it” and think of it more like “dang, I like this, how could I ever bear to part with it?” and since I’d just keep it either hanging or in some drawer in my classroom, eventually when I die, get fired, or retire in 2035 (whichever comes first) it will be discovered by either my replacement, a custodian or some nosey kid and they’ll get it for free. That’s fine too.
For other ways to support the Boyer Valley Art Dept. just visit https://bvartdogs.wordpress.com/support-us
FYI- this blog post was way too long for Instagram or LinkedIn. If you buy this painting, I will print this off & tape it to the back.
Evolution of a Painting
The day after the election I was a basket case (as you might have figured from previous posts on this blog). A professor of mine once suggested that our most prolific times would usually be times of emotional stress or poor mental health. He said it matter-of-factly, not even alluding to art therapy.
I remembered this advice (or admission) and decided that I needed to create something.
On the first day, my grief for my country was so deep all I felt that I could paint was what I felt. As Frida Kahlo once said, ” I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.” So this is what I painted:
I’d been teaching about the New York School. Action painters who emphasized the process as a cathartic, meditative experience and color-field painters who created pieces intended to invoke a contemplative mood in their viewers. It was very satisfying.
It wouldn’t leave me alone. It called out to me. This past Summer I’d read a biography of Lutheran theologian and WWII resistance member Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This Fall I re-read his reflection on Christian fellowship, ‘Life Together.’
Bonhoeffer refused to compromise genuine Christian discipleship to mollify the demands of the Third Reich. First this meant pioneering the “confessional” church movement and underground seminaries, but eventually he was recruited by the Abwehr (a German intelligence agency which pre-dated the rise of NAZI power) and thereby a number of assassination plots against Hitler.
He was For a year and a half, he was kept in a military prison, then to the Gestapo’s high-security prison, then to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was hung in April of 1945 days before German surrender.
So I attacked my muddy brown canvas with black, then built an almost ghostly face with stark white. The under-painting began taking shape.A ghost in a concentration camp. Certainly not the prophetic voice of hope which I had met in his writings. But definitely a product of my own angst.
I thought I remember reading somewhere that angst is the combination of anger and anxiety born from the inability to control a situation or effect change. This is certainly how I feel about the election of Trump; a hateful, unprepared, unqualified, angry, entitled, demagogue.
There it stood on my easel for a week. Students commenting that it looked like me- perhaps an indictment of my melancholic disposition. To me it felt like Poe’s raven, constantly reminding me of the death of equality, liberty, justice and any hope of any kinds of peace at home or abroad. A dour ghost haunting my classroom.
I experimented in Photoshop with blending the original photo with my under-painting. The image was exciting and moving, but still ghostly. For me it evoked the spirits of Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, Corrie ten Boom and Viktor Frankl, not just Bonhoeffer.
Finally this week, I resumed painting. Like the prophet Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, I attached flesh to the bones. But alas, dry ache became weeping sorrow. But at least students told me, “now it’s finally starting to look like him instead of you!”
Yesterday I made a great deal of progress, although I think it looked more like a cross between William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Now I felt like it had some indignation and resignation rather than just depression and despair. Somehow I hoped to add some sense of hope or faith, since these are the things Bonhoeffer demonstrated most to me.
Today, I feel like I gave it a great deal more dimension and solidity. I feel like it looks more realistic and closer to finish. This may be prejudiced somehow, but I think it even looks German or at least European- although I’m not quite sure it looks like Bonhoeffer exactly. I’m also not sure how to capture any hope. It may be too late for that.
It’s hard to imagine a martyr with any hope or joy- but that is what is so amazing about Bonhoeffer’s story- witnesses claim that they were amazed by his warmth and encouragement for his fellow prisoners and his amazing composure and bravery even in his final moments.
I haven’t decided whether or not I’m finished with it. Perhaps if I live with him for another week, he will tell me again. But I do like it. Of course, I liked that ghost-like mummy from the second and third days too.
To check that I had the spectacles in the right place, I held my canvas up to the projector on the SmartBoard in my classroom and projected the original photo onto the painting. I loved what I saw so much, I had to take a picture of it. It seems to me still sorrowful, but challenging as well. “What are you prepared to do, Ted? For democracy? For authentic Christianity?” Would I have the faith or the courage to make the kinds of sacrifices he did?
I pray I’ll never have to. One biographer notes that while he wrote treatises and essays and devotions and letters, he never really wrote much poetry until he was imprisoned. But I have to say, one of his poems is one of the most amazing pieces of reflective existential art that I’ve ever run across.
Once you read it, look back over the various stages of my painting’s development and imagine them reciting it to you.
Who Am I?
by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!
HungryEye; Lincoln in Dali Vision
I’ve been thinking about starting a vlog. There’s tons of them out there, trust me, I have no delusions of grandeur or driving ambition for fame. As a teacher I read a lot about the three steps in the “new literacy;” Discover, Process, and Share. So, I’d like to demonstrate this practice for my students.
When I teach Art students about Art History, I try to share a sampling of exemplar painters’ works and introduce concepts of perception, design, expression and execution techniques. Because the purpose is to inform my student’s own work, and we’re limited by time, I don’t tend to focus on which works are my personal favorites or why. This series would give me an opportunity to do that.
Art impacts the lives and thinking of both viewers and makers. Since I’m not a teenage YouTube star, I’m going to process these discussions by writing first, before recording. Feel free to share your own responses to these artworks in the comments on these blog posts. If I follow through with this, I’ll embed the videos into these posts. If I don’t (for whatever reason, time, obstacles or inclination) I figure I’ll still write some burbs about famous paintings here anyway, just as a blog and not a vlog.
First up, Salvador Dali’s 1976 Surrealist painting, “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea; Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko)” better known as “Lincoln in Dali-Vision.”
Please try not to be put off by the nude woman’s tush. While a lot of Dali’s work explores psycho/sexual themes, legend has it that his wife Gala was his only female model.
This thing is over six feet wide by eight feet tall. Dali got the idea for this from an article in Scientific American magazine which reported about the smallest pixelation at which an image can be reduced and still be recognizable by the human mind. Dali used just 121 pixels to represent President Lincoln.
I think that Dali deals with four things which were important in this work; Faith, Civics, Love, and Art. That may be why I like it so much, because I can identify with these same four aspects of life.
On the top of Lincoln’s head, Dali painted Jesus being crucified on the cross, floating in the blazing sky. This puts the spiritual and the intellectual together. While I’m Lutheran where Dali was Catholic, my faith is central to my life and my faith life tends to be more cerebral, with a focus on theology and reading- rather than being just emotional or dogmatic.
Obviously you can’t think about Abe Lincoln without thinking about America or Democracy. I have a double major in Art and History. In the mornings I teach eighth grade Civics and then teach MS/HS Art the rest of the day. Naturally combining Art and Social Studies appeals to me. The more I read the Gettysburg Address, the more I appreciate it. While my religion cautions me not to turn politics or politicians into false idols, I kind of see this image a little bit like an old Byzantine icon- especially with the gold colors and the mosaic qualities that come from the grid Dali used.
Sure, Gala and Dali may not have been paragons of purity and virtue, their marriage somehow held together for almost 50 years. Not only was she his model, but also his agent. Dali is known for his both sensual and affectionate depictions of Gala whenever she modeled for him. My wife is my best friend. I can’t see God and representative democracy and federalism are abstract concepts which I can’t hold or talk to, so often my wife seems more real and consequently more important that faith or patriotism, even though she and I both believe in putting God first.
I feel like I have a bit of a connection color field painter to Mark Rothko because he committed suicide on the day I was born. His brand of minimalist abstract expressionism was to paint huge areas simple, non-objective color. His intention was that viewers could be with these color fields as with religious icons and be induced into a contemplative state, almost like in devotion. Lost in eternal meditations, escaping the tyranny of everyday hassles. I think that the soft shades and glows of each cube in Dali’s painting have a Rothko-esque feel to them.
The Dalis weren’t introverts, they socialized with other artist couples like the Magrittes in the 20’s and 30’s and later with pop stars and entertainers in the 50’s and 60’s. I’m convinced that no matter how proud he may have been of his own prowess as an artist, Dali also loved art so he viewed, enjoyed and explored art and talked with other artists about art. Ultimately, this painting isn’t about Jesus, Lincoln or Gala, it’s about optics. It’s about our eyes and how our brains process and interpret images. It’s about Art.
If a painting being about God, nations “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” love for a beautiful woman and ART isn’t enough to make it a great painting, I don’t know what is.
What will my eyes be hungry for next time? Come back in about a week and we’ll see. Stay hungry, my friends.
I promise that tomorrow I will rejoin society
tomorrow I will teach
and enter grades
and discuss pedagogy, lessons and curricula
I promise that tomorrow I will lecture about the judicial branch
give instructions about content theme and genre
tomorrow I will coach and advise
about code and syntax and hypertext markup language
But today I am a painter
today I am a poet
today I am a theologian
a philosopher, a maladjusted malcontent
Today I am possessed by Jackson Pollack., Willem de Kooning, Claude Monet,
and maybe Achille-Claude Debussy too.
maybe too much coffee
maybe the holy spirit
or some spirit-animal
maybe just automatism
Or maybe, I’ve been possesed by the spirits of
and Hugo Ball
all having a ball with my basal ganglia
What rhymes with ganglia?
Galling gangly genitalia?
Damn. That was a lot of alliteration without actual profane explication!
Perhaps I am ready to return to convention, conformity and community already.
But the smell of turpentine
and the layers of oil, acrylic and gouache
that I extricated today
from my palette
like a paleontologist with a trowel
are so intoxicating.
Perhaps a few more minutes
in this other world
the one where I enjoy some espresso
with Vincent and Theo
and Frida and Diego
I promise, I’ll be me again
POEM; About the Sky
I once read a koan that said something about seeing the world through the eyes of painters.
While I didn’t write it down and forgot who the bodhisattva who wrote it was,
the lesson stuck with me
so that now when I go for a walk
I cannot help but look at the sky and see above me El Greco’s view over Toledo in the East
and Gainsborough’s billowing clouds to the North,
Winslow Homer in the South
and Turner in the West
and along the trail I walk through Constable’s English woods
or look out over Wood’s rolling prairies of Iowa
or across at Monet’s haystacks
or down at his colors reflected in any water
I had an Art professor who painted with the lush, subtropical glories of Laguna. He told us that we all contain internal palettes derived from our surroundings in childhood.
He made me realize that I grew up in a world created by Ed Mell and Maynard Dixon but vandalized by David Hockney.
They say O’Keefe destroyed most of her own works when she realized that she painted like dead European men. She wanted her own voice,
but after all, aren’t these two koans also true?
That what has once been seen can never be unseen and
We don’t see things as they are, but as we are.