Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Austin and Alice

Since I am partially colorblind, I have never felt quite as confident with painting as I have with drawing. Even so, I was more pleased with the way this painting of my father turned out than any other painting I have done.

By the way, my father is Austin, not Alice.

Painted in 1982 (I think), the painting was an experimental oil painting. I had never painted a portrait before that was set in a natural background. Up until that time, all my paintings were fantastic and dealt with imaginary beings and settings. This painting of my father was inspired by a photograph of him out in the Mojave Desert, which was one of his favorite places to be. It captures him well and anyone who knew him would recognize the likeness and the appropriateness of the setting.

I may have tried to incorporate too many different influences but even twenty-five years later I still find the combination pleasing. The upper background was prepared with a textured gesso and the painting was inspired by Monet. For the foreground I prepared my own mixture of Japan drier and gesso that forced the surface to crack, which was painted over with a wash so that the paint would seep into the cracks to give them definition.

In the 1970s I was listening to albums on vinyl records, which meant that while you listened you could analyze the artwork on the large album covers. The album covers that impressed me the most were the Yes covers by Roger Dean and the Welcome to My Nightmare cover by Drew Struzan. With apologies to my father, this album cover influenced how I rendered him in the above painting. Struzan imitates a 1920's stylization that is crisp and clear and has patterned embellishments, that are usually seen in drawings and advertisements rather than paintings. These appear as sharp edged flat lines for shadows and highlights. (Note Alice Cooper's top-hat, hair, hands and the bottom of his vest.)

The painting of my dad is not as crisp nor as precisely stylized as Struzan's but it was the main influence to the style. Due to the informal setting of my father's portrait, in contrast to the formal setting for Alice Cooper, I rendered the lines in my dad's shirt more organically and not so rigidly as in Alice's tuxedo.

For me though, the best thing about the painting is not who influenced my technique; it is that it reminds me of the person who most influenced my ideal for character and integrity.

Welcome to My Nightmare - Artist: Drew Struzan

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Salvador Dali

Almost one year ago, I posted a drawing of A Young Girl by Haley and compared it to a drawing by Salvador Dali titled "Imaginary Portrait of Lautreamont at age 19 Obtained by the Paranoic-Critical Method" which is hanging in the Chicago Art Institute. However, at the time I posted "A Young Girl", I could not recall the title of the Dali sketch, so my description and comparison were incomplete. I recently stumbled across this sketch by Vee mack (posted above), which provides that information and a very rough sketch of how the Dali drawing appears - very rough! Dali's sketch is brilliantly and softly rendered in such a way that his pencil work looks much more painterly than any drawing I have ever seen.

While I am impressed with Dali's technical expertise, the philosophical ideas represented by Surrealism (and Dada) are of the most destructive form. Consider the definitions given in the Surrealist Manifesto:

Breton wrote the manifesto of 1924 (another was issued in 1929) that defines the purposes of the group and includes citations of the influences on Surrealism, examples of Surrealist works and discussion of Surrealist automatism. He defined Surrealism as:

Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.

Encyclopedia: Surrealism. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.

Wikipedia offers this further definition:

The English word "Surrealism" is a mis-translation of the French word "Surréalisme." The correct translation should be "Superrealism." Breton somewhere said that the "surréel is to the réel what the surnaturel is to the naturel." English-speakers say "supernatural". The reason why this matters is that the prefix "surr-" in English is often, not always, associated with the Latin prefix "sub" e.g. surreptitious (Fr. subreptice), surrogate (Fr. subrogé), implying exactly the opposite of the intended meaning.

Breton would later qualify the first of these definitions by saying "in the absence of conscious moral or aesthetic self-censorship," and by his admission through subsequent developments, that these definitions were capable of considerable expansion.

This excerpt from the above definition sums up the destructive nature of surreal/dada thought: "Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation." The call of the surrealist is to pursue a world view that elevates dreams, chaos, deconstruction and self-absorption in opposition to any moral or reasonable "preoccupation". No moral compass. No reliance on reason. The subversion of aesthetics (beauty). What is the natural consequence of such a world view? Imagine such a world as the surrealist propose. Oh, don't imagine it, just watch TV and read the Newspaper.

If you think I am exaggerating, consider the quotes of surrealists posted at Wikipedia:
  • "I could spend my whole life prying loose the secrets of the insane. These people are honest to a fault, and their naiveté has no peer but my own."
  • "We are still living under the reign of logic: this, of course, is what I have been driving at. But in this day and age logical methods are applicable only to solving problems of secondary interest."
  • "Let us not mince words: the marvelous is always beautiful, anything marvelous is beautiful, in fact only the marvelous is beautiful."
  • "Surrealism will usher you into death, which is a secret society. It will glove your hand, burying therein the profound M with which the word Memory begins."
  • "Surrealism does not allow those who devote themselves to it to forsake it whenever they like. There is every reason to believe that it acts on the mind very much as drugs do; like drugs, it creates a certain state of need and can push man to frightful revolts."
  • "In this realm as in any other, I believe in the pure Surrealist joy of the man who, forewarned that all others before him have failed, refuses to admit defeat, sets off from whatever point he chooses, along any other path save a reasonable one, and arrives wherever he can."
  • "It is living and ceasing to live which are imaginary solutions. Existence is elsewhere."
  • "The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd."
The Surrealist Manifesto was written in 1924. Do you see how artists and philosophers, even from as far back as the 1920s, have influenced the thinking of unwitting teenagers of the present? The last two quotes, in particular, echo the madness of the Columbine shootings. Never fall for the mistaken notion that the ideas of distant philosophers and academics do not eventually appear in the hearts and minds of the common man.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Strangest Moon I Ever Saw

A father and son were outside on a hot Saturday afternoon digging a hole in the front yard. Beside them lay a small evergreen tree; its roots wrapped in burlap. The boy stopped digging and set the shovel aside while his gaze remained fixed on the hole.

“Dad, look!” There’s a deep pit or cave or somethin’ here!”

The dad looked and he could see the dirt dropping into the darkness.

“That’s strange. You better not stand too close.”

The son stepped back, not liking the idea of slipping into some awful abyss.

“Hmm.” The dad rubbed his chin. Lowering to his hands and knees near the edge of the hole, he sniffed thoughtfully, animal like.

“The air coming out of here is cool and fresh . . . definitely not the septic tank.” He looked up and smiled at his son and then became serious again. “Besides, that’s in the backyard.”

His son was now kneeling cautiously on the other side of the hole, opposite his father – periodically looking up at his father and then back down into the hole.

“Look dad! There’s smoke in there.” The boy pointed into the hole.

His dad stretched his hand into the hole and felt moisture.

“No, it’s more like mist or fog; it’s not smoke.” His brow furled curiously. “Look, it’s clearing away. Maybe we can see something now.” Both, father and son were now on their bellies peering into the hole.

Dad gasped, “I’ll be . . . there’s a bunch of lights down there!”

His son smiled. “Wow dad! It looks just like it did when we flew to Portland to see grandma!”

“Yeah, it sure does . . .”

* * * * * *

Somewhere else, it was night-time and a father and his daughter were outside enjoying the cool night air in their front yard.

“I can’t see the moon very well tonight through all of those clouds.” The dad observed.

His daughter looked up . . . “Hey! I got dirt in my face. There’s dirt falling out of the sky!”

“What are you talking about? How could dirt fall . . . huh?” The dad brushed off his face. “I felt it, too! Where could that be coming from?” The father scratched his head while his daughter spit dirt out of her mouth.

“It seems to have stopped.” The father observed, as he looked back up into the sky. “And the clouds have blown away. You can see the moon, now.”

The girl looked up and wrinkled her little nose. “The moon looks kinda’ funny dad.”

“Yeah, you’re right. It is kind of a strange shape tonight, isn’t it? Kind of like an apple with two bites out of it.” The father muttered.

Silence followed for a few seconds as father and daughter cocked their heads and considered the oddity. The girl spoke first, stretching a pointed finger out toward the moon.

“Hey dad, can’t you almost see what looks like a couple of faces up there? One big one on one side and a smaller one on the other side?”

“Yeah, I sure can.”

They continued to stare it for a while when the father finally concluded, “That is the strangest moon I ever saw.”

Vee Mack - 6/92

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Little Owl and Young Hare

Two of my favorite drawings are by Albrecht Durer: the Little Owl and the Young Hare. Many of Durer's etchings are Biblical illustrations and some drawings present dark apocalyptic themes but these two drawings - besides being beautifully rendered - are so peaceful and pleasant to look at: they are a vacation for my eyes. These are also two of my favorite animals. I think I could find in each of them an alter ego, two sides of the same person: one assertive, watchful and thoughtful and the other quiet, peaceful and lost in solitude . . . outside in the garden.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Blind Bather?

Once while driving down the freeway, I noticed a truck with a sign on it declaring "Blind Bather", which offered a phone number where you could reach this person. This begs several questions: (1) How is this blind bather able to drive a truck at 70 MPH - or at any speed without crashing? (2) Is this person bathing while he is driving? Is that why he needed that big truck to drive in - so there's room for the bath tub? (3) Why would anyone advertise the fact they bathe - no matter what their disability? (4) By the way, I am color blind. Should I print "Color Blind Bather" on my car? And if I did, who would care and why would they call me about it? Forget those questions about the Hegelian Dialetic, predestination and existentialism, I need to know the story behind blind bathers driving trucks!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Existentialist Vegetable

Getting in touch with one's inner self isn't always a pleasant process.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I Wonder Why

By Louis Tutwaller

I wonder why there's no clouds up in the closet I looked for my favorite shoo fly! Don't bother me with a bunch of carrots and paisleys that look like hairy little parameci - um, could you repeat that last parting your hair in the middle is a sign of rebellions, tomatoes and hold the may. . . yo - -yo string is all tied in Knots Berry Farm used to be a simpler kind of life when folks would just go to the park and listen to music played by trombones and Sue's got a new phone in if you know the answer to our trivia question: How many steps would the average millipede take to walk around the Earth and back again so soon?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More wisdom from Mr Tutwaller

When all else fails, bewilder your audience with nonsense. Say it with confidence, so that those who are listening will assume that they do not measure up to your erudition. Politicians and philosophers are masters at this. A perfect example of this is the philosophical phrase that has become part of everyday communication: "There is no right or wrong answer." Consider the paradox that this meaningless statement is always presented as an absolute statement, which any sensible person should ascribe to. Amazingly, it is a favorite statement employed by teachers. The alert student ought to reply with something like this: "So, why am I taking this class from you?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wise Words from Mr Tutwaller

Mr Tutwaller offers sound and stable advice to politicians, clerics and academicians, who value both clarity and ambiguity. And who well understand that straight talk is certain evidence of a limited and narrow mind.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Here is a doodle by Vann3, which reminds me of an M.C. Escher drawing, where there are multiple vanishing points. When I asked the artist about the meaning of the title ("racketship"), he indicated that the title did not have any correlation to the drawing. However, even before Vann3 had replied to my query, the bottom half of the drawing reminded me both of a top view of a waterfall and the thrust of a three-engined rocket ship blasting off. Whatever the case, I enjoy the dynamic and disconcerting perspective all in one drawing.

By the way, here is a great website for M.C. Escher:

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Happy Anniversary

March 6, 1980 - September 20, 2003

Here is another example of a drawing with arms that are much too long. [Ref the post "Comic Gone Awry", December 3, 2006] No one has arms that long, except a Gibbon! So, a drawing that has some real pathos is made ridiculous because the artist didn't notice that the arms are extended beyond physical reality. Or, did the artist intend to convey that he was reaching for that which was lost and therefore unatainable? No, I don't think that can be chalked-up to a retro-active Freudian "save" due to some subconscious deeper meaning. The artist simply got sloppy and wasn't watching what was right before his eyes. How could he have missed then what is so obvious now?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Strolling Through Modern Art

This particular drawing came to mind while I was looking at the Art Institute of Chicago's website and I came across some artwork by Joan Miro, who is exhibited at AIC. Vee Mack's drawings generally demonstrate better draughtsmanship than this drawing displays but I thought that the concept was amusing and the implied commentary worth considering. Are you a fan of Joan Miro, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and Vasily Kandinsky?

What does this elderly gentleman think of his stroll through the paramecium of the artworld? Francis Schaeffer noted in "The God Who is There" that Paul Klee and similar artists, introduced the idea of artwork generated in a manner similar to how a Ouija Board generates words from outside the artist's conscious intent. Schaeffer observed that Klee "hopes that somehow art will find a meaning, not because there is a spirit there to guide the hand, but because through it the universe will speak even though it is impersonal in its basic structure." [page 90] Why would an impersonal universe have something to say? What does meaninglessness have to communicate? Schaeffer explains that "these men will not accept the only explanation which can fit the facts of their own experience, they have become metaphysical magicians. No one has presented an idea, let alone demonstrated it to be feasible, to explain how the impersonal beginning, plus time, plus chance, can give personality . . . As a result, either the thinker must say man is dead, because personality is a mirage; or else he must hang his reason on a hook outside the door and cross the threshold into the leap of faith which is the new level of despair." [page 115]

Vee Mack's sketch demonstrates the paradox of an average man viewing images, which represent the nonsense of Dadaism and chaos. It is the overeducated who will look at something that is inherently meaningless and try to find deep meaning in it, while the average man sees it and observes with reasonable common sense that this or that is an absurd waste of time.

By the way, while it may appear as though I am favoring one artist for these posts, I am not receiving the variety of artwork that I had hoped for from other artists and I happen to have ample access to much of Vee Mack's unpublished portfolio. Therefore, until I receive other artwork, I will have to rely on what I have on hand.