It's All One Song

 Horse, 18 x 23 in, oil and gold leaf on panel.

Horse, 18 x 23 in, oil and gold leaf on panel.

You have to choose.

I’ve been told that since I was a kid. You have to choose, you can’t do everything.

Yeah, so, maybe. Time catches all of us. I’m not going to get to learn to fly bush planes. I’m on the edge about surfing- a knee replacement makes the hop-up impossible, but I’m still thinking about going the route of a standup paddleboard. I don’t really have time to be a sculptor. Well, that’s still a maybe, too. But I have faced the reality of life, the demands of making a living have required some choosing.

As an artist, however, I still want to push. My brother, Chris, gave me a Neil Young CD a few years ago. It’s a live recording, from the late 90’s, and as Mr Young is just starting up, a few big chords rumble out and some guy yells, It all sounds the same! Without skipping a beat, Neil yells back, It’s all one song.

I listened to that disc, oh hell, I don’t know how many times. But I heard it when I was ready. Ongoing art conversations (arguments?), with my son Todd, and visits with my friend Troy Mathews, as well as exposure and conversation with several other students I’ve met through Darby’s job at PNCA, have me questioning myself. My unconscious, self-limiting rules on art, or at least my art. What is art? What can be art? Why do I have these rules, and where did they come from.

I’ve long been a fan of Gerhard Richter, but only recently realized there is a treasure trove of interviews and videos with and about him on the interwebs. (In my lame defense, I’m 58, and have managed to somehow avoid nearly every opportunity to be educated on technology. I stumble along at my own pace, rather like exploring a black hole.) But back to Richter. He was a very accomplished and successful photorealist, when his mind pulled him into abstraction. In one video, an interviewer (who comes across to me as a little snotty), asks him why, that his new work could be wrapping paper. He quietly smiles at her, and says something along the lines of, To make something beautiful. Something beyond myself.

And it occurred to me, Yeah, why not? Why do I have my self imposed restrictions? Where are they from? I have some ideas, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly interesting- the getting rid of them, past them, is the interesting part.

There will be a couple new gallery pages added to my website soon. I’m a slow study, especially when it comes to my own evolution. But that’s the part I like. Thinking, struggling. Well, like might be a little strong. Drawn to. Learning and expanding. When I get good at something, I often lose interest. And I don’t want to abandon the work I’ve been doing- the barn paintings and landscapes, in fact the landscapes will be growing too. The couple new directions will inform those bodies of work, much as they have spawned the new work.

So yes, I’ve had to choose, to specialize. But not too much. It’s all my song.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Mike Tyson

Winter, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

OK, so it happened. I was warned, and didn’t act quickly enough. Nothing like a friend thinking maybe you’d died to get you off the dime.

A couple months ago we were in New York, on Long Island, visiting my marketing consultant. I’m her favorite pro-bono client, the sort of privilege you get when your daughter happens to be a spectacular designer. I’ve been futzing over a new logo/identity, which she usually lets me muddle through on my own until I go astray with type and such. Then she shepherds me back in, (i.e., takes over and gives me a file when she’s ready). Anyway, she pulled up my website to see where we were currently, (yeah, I know - wouldn’t you think she’d be current, checking in every few days?).

Dad! You haven’t posted anything since 2015! People are going to think you’re dead!

I gave her my best hangdog look.

Knock it off! You don’t get to use cancer! That’s history. Over. Time to move on!

I admitted I knew that, but was trying to worm my way out of my complete and utter negligence of the publicity side of my career. She got me to promise to get back to updating, to journaling, to keeping current.

But I didn’t. I thought a lot about it, but I didn’t do it. We lost my younger sister Cindy this year. If you knew Cindy, you’d think it impossible, something as puny as cancer taking her. But cancer’s not puny, and despite strength and courage unimaginable to me, to say nothing of a will way stronger than iron, Cindy is gone. The earth should have cracked at her passing, the universe should have split. But as loss so often is, it was quiet, leaving us all deflated and heartbroken. It’s taken some time for me to regain focus.

I have some vague recollection of posting a while back about habits, and how mine are nearly all bad. And over the past few years, since before 2015, I’ve gotten way out of the habit of posting anything, out of the habit of a lot of things.

So, I’ll catch you up, briefly. See if I can’t get a habit started again. Sometime a while back I was diagnosed with cancer in my vocal chord. If you’ve known me a long time, you’ll remember a voice that could really holler. I was loud. As a child I was asked by innumerable teachers to get everyone’s attention. In high school, the adorable little girls next door, Amy and Julie Hoffman, told their mother they were afraid of my brother Todd and me. They’re so loud, was their explanation. I could stop my dogs in their tracks at 400 yards, occasionally terrifying innocent bystanders (even some not so nearby) in the process. Yeah, that’s gone. But I’m still here. Two surgeries to extract the cancer, two more to rebuild my voice as much as my throat would allow, and then, once I was convinced I was going to live, I had my knee replaced. It would have seemed a waste of money otherwise.

And I lost my mind for a bit. Or more accurately, was kind of lost in it. I was unable to digest a book, paint well, and seemed to have suffered almost a complete loss of my sense of direction. I didn’t even know I had a sense of direction, I was just never really lost, comfortable still when others were sure I (we) was, or might have been, lost. A midnight paddle, for example, and portage and more paddling through the Adirondacks that left my brother-in-law a little fuzzy on how we’d arrived at our campsite. That sort of thing. But after my medical adventures, it was gone, along with the rest. And a few other oddities, skips of perception, etc. Finally after a couple of really strange and disconcerting episodes scared me to the doctor, my GP, my wonderful GP, ran a few tests and confirmed two things- 1. The anesthesia required for five surgeries, over so short a period, had been, “a severe insult to my brain”. 2. Outside of the cancer, I was insanely healthy. Not healthy like a 55 yr old guy, but maybe 28 to 30. (This is not to claim anything affecting my appearance, which is all of the current 58. Or more).

And the cancer seems to have been dealt with. When will my mind be my own again, I asked. Well, that’s a tough one, he said, (or something along those lines). You need to be active, to sweat a lot, to make your system circulate, and it will come back with time. But there’s really no telling how long it will take. A couple years. Maybe more. So get busy, he said, with life, with living. Don’t think about it.

Hard not to think about. And I’m hard headed. I was raised to work, so I kept painting. Poorly for a long while. They made beautiful flames when they burned.

I went to Alaska and ran a remote river with friends. I walked the dogs. A lot. Exercised. We welcomed an amazing granddaughter into the world. And after the kids gave me permission, I convinced Darby we should move back to the Pacific Northwest of my youth.

And then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, Darby got a job that really excited her, in Portland, OR, my home town. Next thing I knew, she was there working, we bought a house I hadn’t seen other than Zillow, and with the help of friends and family, we packed up a truck, loaded three cats and the White Devil into Darb’s truck, Uly in the cab with Todd and me, and off we went to Oregon City, OR. A trip we all swore we’d never do again, but I knew I had to repeat it a few months later with the rest of our stuff, with my buddy Paul Driscoll along as co-pilot.

Damn. What a pain in the ass. Seriously. But we’re here now, and I love Oregon as much as I did when I was a kid. More for all the years of missing it. The whole place is new to me again, and I hope to explore it until I drop, 35 or 40 years from now. Rivers to run, mountains and coast to hike, and steelhead to chase. At least that’s the plan. I’m not new to the idea of plans going awry, of punches to the head, but I’m making plans anyway.

And granddaughter No. 1 has been joined by a little sister, and a cousin. That’s the downside of the move - them so far away. But it’s actually quicker to fly back and see them than the drive was. And I don’t have to drive through New Jersey traffic. And the other part of this plan is grandma and grandpa’s ultimate summer camp. Hiking, horses, rivers, rafting, paddling, ocean…. they’re not going to want to go home. And until they get out here, or if they don’t, we’ll be back there frequently.

So out of the blue, I get a call the other day. I didn’t recognize the number, and didn’t answer. But there was a message, and it’s from an old fishing buddy- like way back old, college days. I call him back, we catch up a little, and he said, Yeah, I was on your website, and I saw that you hadn’t posted since June of 2015. I was afraid you were dead.

So this is the first attempt at re-establishing the habit. To let you all know, I’m not dead. There are a few updates tucked in here, on the Artist Statement page. And the painting above. I've been working a lot, with a bunch of pieces finally coming together. More soon. I think. If not, Emily, give me a swift kick this time. I can’t have anyone else thinking I’m gone.

ps- (do blog posts have ps’s?)- This spring, something has cleared out more of the cobwebs. I suddenly have more ideas than I can keep track of. Like it was pre-cancer. I have some summer travel in between, but I’ve got to find a larger studio this fall. So much to do. Big stuff. Stuff I’m really excited about. I’ll try to remember to keep you all in the loop.

Snowfall

Snowfall, 48 x 48 inches, oil on canvas.

We had lots of snow this past winter. Lots. I eventually get tired of dealing with it- well, the cold, more than the snow. It was bitter cold for weeks on end. But all that aside, I love the look of it. The feel of it. Snowshoeing. Cross country skiing. The dogs' happiness with it. But most of all I love the effect it has on the land.

I spent much of the winter thinking about how I put paint down. Mark making is a very popular topic in painting the past decade or so, and I suppose on some level that's what I am meaning. But to me, that makes it seem too specific, the marks too precious, to have their own identity. I'm concerned about the lay of the paint, the texture and surface, not as individual expression of marks, but as a intuitive representation of what the experience of being in that place, at that moment, feels like. I don't want it to be that conscious an effort, no more so than the dreamy feeling I have when I am outside and find something I want to paint. So in the moment it's even closer than intuition.

But then I guess it's a combination of marks. Of colors. Of paint.

I'm still thinking about it.

Philip Glass

I am without musical ability or understanding- something I hope to address in the next few years. My folks tried, piano and guitar lessons, trumpet in grade school band. But I never got past Every Good Boy Does Fine. It never clicked. As I've gotten older I've wondered about it- am I just not wired for it? I suspect that's it. I don't remember music, I can't seem to hear lyrics in the midst of it. But I haven't given up yet, and hope to try lessons again before long.

Last night on NPR, Terry Gross interviewed Philip Glass. I had only fleeting memories of his work, music that seemed impenetrable to me. Memories that were wrong. I loved so much of what was broadcast of his work, and look forward to hearing more.

And the conversation about his new memoir, Words Without Music, struck me as strongly as his music. At 78 it's easy to see him as a hugely accomplished and successful, and just assume it was always like that. But he drove a NYC cab up until his mid or late 40's. He worked all kinds of jobs, plumbing, electrical, moving company, studio assistant for his longtime friend, the sculptor Richard Serra (who's work I love). And finally the cab. All things I can appreciate, and to an extent, identify with, having done carpentry, laid tile, poured concrete, and built canoes further into my 40's than I had hoped. I tell young folks all the time that multiple income streams is the key to an early art career, maybe made easier by Starbucks new education policy, if you can embrace your inner barista.

Near the end of the interview, Terry Gross asked (something like), Don't you ever want to write a simple melody and a lyric to go with it? And he responded that of course he did, he was always struggling to simplify, to be more direct, but he had to follow where the music took him. Or something like that…. or is that me mixing my own struggles with his answer?

It seems that the struggle is a constant. Lately I've been feeling like painting is really hard. Damn hard.  Maybe another similarity with music- the level of concentration required. But if I look at it honestly I realize it's my own fault, turning from what I know how to do, to trying new things, new ways of handling paint. New ways of thinking about making pictures. It's where the work is taking me.

For scale

One of the biggest reasons I moved the studio a couple years ago was for space. The work is getting ever larger, and I didn't have enough room to either set it up at an easel, to get back from it enough to see, or even more problematic, to photograph it. In the space I'm in now I have a white wall- well it was just a plasterboard wall until my son Todd got after it with a big roller and buckets of paint- large enough to install a gallery hanging system. And my old friend, the multi-talented Tim White- helped me figure out how to light the large landscape work I am doing. But the scale is still hard to convey, so I decided to put my studio mate to work.

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, Yellowstone National Park, oil on canvas, 30 x 120 inches.
With Uly, 120 lbs of good company.

Trespass, 48 x 120 inches, oil on canvas, curio cabinet.


Along Kebler Pass, 48 x 100 inches, oil on canvas, curio cabinet.

Habits

For years I've told Darby my only habits are bad ones. I hope that's not entirely true, but I certainly seem to have fallen out of the habit of posting to this journal.

But my buddy David Oleski is much more disciplined, and an email conversation we were having turned into a post on his studio journal. You can find it here.

Maybe that will fill the bill for the moment, and get me jumpstarted to get back in the habit. There's lots going on. Well, besides snowshoeing with the pups.

Small works are back….

Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas….. or maybe 15. I've got a lot on my plate, we'll see how far I get. But starting today, the first two small pieces are available at www.RichardCHarringtonSmallwork.com.

Each is framed, ready to hang, and USPS Priority Mail in the US is included in the price.

Cathedral, oil on panel, 7 x 7 inches.

$350.00 framed and shipped to you by Priority Mail in the CONUS.
Bright Sunny Day, oil on panel, 6 x 8 inches.
SOLD, framed and shipped to you Priority Mail in the CONUS.

In the dark.

I left the pups at home and skied tonight, in a blizzard- first time int two years. My skis are in tough shape, needing a good waxing. The snow was 10 - 12 inches of peanut butter powder, drifts over my knees, wind howling, and within a 1/2 mile I could no longer see the lights of South Lima. At one point I was a bit concerned I was lost, surrounded in a mauve/gray swirl, visibility of about 20 ft. Then I found the hedge row I was kind of expecting.

So much fun. So quiet. And oddly relaxing.

First storm of the season.

First Storm of the Season, 11 x 11 inches, oil on panel.

I didn't want to go out. I wasn't expecting this weather yet- I was living in the fantasy of having another month of fall. But today we woke up to 14 º. I put off the walk til noon, when it had risen to a balmy 18º. And the wind had kicked up.

It would have felt a lot warmer at 7 in the morning.

But my first rule of living with dogs is, A tired dog is a good dog.

Rule 2? A not tired dog is a serious pain in the ass.

So layered up in wool, down, and whatever else seemed like it might work, we headed out. Of course my two companions were wearing their summer outfits. Their beards didn't ice up, their faces didn't freeze, their toes weren't numb. And they were not the least bit excited when I'd had enough and turned for home.

And then, for me, the walk paid off. Well, in addition to the aforementioned tired dogs. The sun, trying to push through the storm, slipping in and out. I don't paint very directly much anymore. My work has evolved into a very indirect process of layer after layer, applied over days and weeks, often into months.

But today I got home and went right at it. It was fun, and made the 45 minutes of freezing my….. of being cold, seem even more worthwhile.

These two. 45 minutes was nothing. Another half hour of all-star wrestling finally did them in.

Pale Horse

Pale Horse, 16 x 20 inches, oil on glass.

I've been toying with animal images for years, trying to escape my pre-disposition for rendering the snot out of things. Then one day I was cleaning my pallet (I use a big sheet of glass), and saw the paint through the clean underside. Maybe there was a solution there.

I don't think it's something I'm going to repeat, working on the glass ground, as the fragility makes it too iffy, but it was a fun and satisfying experiment.

It will be my contribution to the Rochester Contemporary members show this month.

The painting doesn't actually have the reflection of my shoulder along the top, or the chair leg on the right. Turns out there are more problems with the glass than fragility.

Prep work

With a big pile of stretcher bars, it was time to get busy stretching. After stretching, each canvas gets two coats of Golden GAC 100, a multi-purpose acrylic polymer. In this case, its purpose is to isolate the canvas from the destructive qualities of the paint, which can really degrade canvas or linen over time. Over two coats of the polymer, I brush on three coats of Golden Gesso. The gesso is also acrylic based, so it bonds well with the the GAC 100, but it is porous as apposed to the shielding quality of the earlier layers, so the paint soaks in and binds to it.  A safe, secure, archival ground to build a painting on.  I can usually juggle 3 or four big canvases at a time, moving them around the studio, propped and drying, waiting for another layer. Each is dated after the last coat, so I know that it's dried sufficiently over a couple weeks to provide a dry and stable surface.