Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Though I took some time to finish a canal painting, I also worked on a view of a large tree in the backyard of the farmhouse where the three black barns are located.  It's 11x14, mainly charcoal with touches of pastel.

D&R Canal

Over the years, I haven't painted very many versions of the canal in oil.  This one is 9x12 on mdf panel.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Kline Barn

Another version of the Kline barn, 11x14, pastel and charcoal.  This is like an addiction.

Brooklyn Break

This weekend I did visit the house that looks like it belongs in a cartoon, though the painting and drawing above, both 9x12, were done earlier.  It's located on Carroll Street near the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.

Still Going Barney

Two more barn views.  The top is 11x14, and the bottom is 9x12, both pastel and charcoal.  I did visit Brooklyn yesterday, so may add a little city into the mix.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Three Barns

A view that includes the three barns.  Again a 9x12 pastel and charcoal drawing.  I figure that by the time I finish this series, one might be able to plot out all the barns, in terms of what they look like, and how they relate.  But again maybe not.  The sprawling T barn has roof outcroppings and unexpected additions.

Black Barns

Maybe this one, another 9x12 pastel and charcoal drawing, is juiced up.  But the old homestead is remarkable.  The wind was blowing just enough to wave the metal panels on the roof every now and then, to make creepy noises.  Some twisted panels had been previously blown off and were on the ground.   The dead coyote added to the mood.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Still on the Old Farm

Both 9x12 pastel and charcoal drawings, the black barn at top and the Kline barn below.  It finally occurred to me that it made more sense to apply the color pastel first.  So many composition options with these flying, falling barns.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Two More

Two more drawings, one of the black barn from behind, with the entrance and fence, and the other of what is probably a garage and bunk house for farm help.  Both are 9x12 charcoal and pastel.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two A Day

These are both 9x12 pastel drawings made mainly with hard black pastel.  The top is the Franz Kline barn, and the bottom is the Sprawl T barn.  These are my names for them.   Just taps and scratches.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Black Barns and Solitary Confinement

This past weekend, I luckily found and received permission to visit some barns that have been neglected for at least a generation.  One is as imposing as a beached ship, another sprawls into a large "T" shape, while a third barely stands and looks like a Franz Kline painting.  When I first arrived I disturbed some buzzards, and only later did I find their point of interest, a dead coyote.  The above is a 9x12 pastel and charcoal drawing.

Here are a few quotes from Christian Wiman who writes a lot about the relationship of experience and one's art.

"Our own experiences matter only insofar as they reveal something of experience itself.  They are often the clearest lens that we can find, but they are a lens."

"To inspire, meaning both to take in breath and to take in spirit, to be awakened by and to the creative force of one's own mind, by and to all that lies beyond."

"Most artists make art precisely because they feel some sort of absence or incoherence in their lives.  It seems not simply inevitable but necessary that the art they produce in some way seek to contain or heal whatever is missing or wounded or wrongful in them."

Wiman writes the following to demonstrate more deeply the difficulty and possibility of communicating one's yearnings through art:  "There is a passage in the writings of Simone Weil that has long been important to me.  In the passage Weil describes two prisoners who are in solitary confinement next to each other.  Between them is a stone wall.  Over a period of time--and I think we have to imagine it as a very long time--they find a way to communicate using taps and scratches.  The wall is what separates them, but it is also the only means they have of communicating.  'It is the same with us and God,' she says.  'Every separation is a link.'

... If you never quite feel at home in your life, if being conscious means primarily being conscious of your own separation from the world and divinity (and perhaps any sentient person after Modernism has to feel these things), then an idea or image that can translate that depletion into energy, those absences into presences, is going to be powerful.  And then there are those taps and scratches: what are they but language, and if language is the way we communicate with the divine, well, what kind of language is more refined and transcendent than poetry?  You could almost embrace this vision of life--if, that is, there were any actual life to embrace: Weil's image for the human condition is a person in solitary confinement.  There is real hope in the image, but still, in human terms, it is a bare and lonely hope."

Wiman focuses on poetry and language, but the same confinement metaphor applies to painting.  I tap and scratch away on paper and canvas for the same reasons he writes poetry.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


9x12 oil of Washington Avenue in Brooklyn, a 9x12 drawing of Lambertville, NJ, and an 8x10 pastel of the swamp at Field Farm.  I move quickly.

I have been re-reading the essays of Christian Wiman in Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet.  I think there are a lot of parallels between poets and painters.  He writes,  "I once heard a painter say that he wanted in his paintings a feeling for nature but without the nature.  What he meant by that, I think, was that he wanted the natural world but colored with his own consciousness, wanted his art to be at once of the world and his own mind, but not merely a mirrored image of either one.  It's the difference between illustration and the creation of original forms. between representing or refining reality and enlarging it.  It's the difference between sight and vision."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On to Something...Else

An 8x10 pastel of a house near the end of the road of the first walk on Route 43.   Gotta move on to something else.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Back to the Second Walk

On the second walk this past weekend to reach the abandoned barn and the abandoned house, I had to pass an abandoned tractor about halfway up.  At the height of summer the tractor is buried in tall weeds, but right now is cleanly visible.   The oil ix 11x14 and the charcoal drawing is 9x12.  I will return to the first walk tomorrow.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Digression

These two are 11x14 charcoal and pastel drawings of streets in Lambertville, NJ.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Still on the Road

Just a bit further down Route 43 going towards Williamstown but still in Hancock are this set of barns with shiny tops.  8x10 pastel.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Border Line

A 9x12 oil of the view approaching the Williamstown border at the top of the distant hill from Hancock.  I left out the power lines.   Edward Hopper left out power lines in his paintings, especially his watercolors, and when he didn't he probably regretted putting them in.  It's difficult to get them taut and slight without messing up.  Telephone poles imply lines.  In the air.  The light makes them hard to see.  So no need to put them in, unless one wants to make some kind of comment about their presence.  The garage in the above painting is next to a former commercial garage, both of which probably had their best days around 1940.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

First Walk

This past Saturday I walked along Route 43 from Hancock to Williamstown, MA, a journey of several miles.  I've done this before on this road and elsewhere at different times of the year.  My wife will drop me off, and pick me up when I am ready to stop.  Macfarlane concedes later in his book The Wild Places that all the wild places aren't found in remote, never-travelled sites, but often, very often, right where we all live.  I think many wild places are at edges, such as edges of fields, rivers, and roads.

Route 43 doesn't have too many cars on it to be overly bothersome, but it does have incredible views, which one can't appreciate fully from a car.  Route 43 runs through a valley with mountains on either side.  I started at my favorite barn with the barber pole (above 9x12 oil).  I take pictures and notes, and always find something I had not seen before.  This time an overgrown 19th century cemetery which no one in a car would ever see.  In fact, I missed it the last time I walked by a year ago.  There are plenty of fallen down structures, and non-traditional views to be seen when walking along a roadway.  I did see some deer, plenty of cows, and lotsa crows.  More images to come.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Second Walk, Trees and Macfarlane

This past weekend I went on two long walks.  First, the second walk:  I walked up the road and put on my boots when I entered the farmer's field, since my sneakers would have drowned.  I crossed several more fields, went through some woods, and visited the abandoned barn and house.  No sign of activity beyond some more slow decline, especially the house.  Though sunny, it was quite breezy and cold.  I found a spot on the edge of a field that was dry, in the sun, and out of the wind.  Seated I drew what I saw in front of me, a stand of trees with mountains in the background, and then turned 90 degrees, and drew the large tree.  I mention all this because I was thinking of the Robert Macfarlane book The Wild Places.

He writes: "Single trees are extraordinary; trees in number more extraordinary still... Time is kept and curated in different ways by trees, and so it is experienced in different ways when one is among them.  The discretion of trees, and their patience, are both affecting.  It is beyond our capacity to comprehend that the American hardwood forest waited seventy million years for people to come and live in it, though the effort of comprehension is itself worthwhile.  It is valuable and disturbing to know that grand oak trees can take three hundred years to grow, three hundred years to live and three hundred years to die.  Such knowledge, seriously considered, changes the grain of the mind."

Then he continues, and this part is more difficult: "Thought, like memory, inhabits external things as much as the inner regions of the human mind.  When the physical correspondents of thought disappear, then thought, or its possibility, is also lost.  When woods and trees are destroyed--incidentally, deliberately--imagination and memory go with them.  W. H. Auden knew this. 'A culture,' he wrote warningly in 1953, 'is no better than its woods.'"

Later in the book he writes: "We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world--its spaces, textures, sounds, smells and habits--as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies we absorb.  A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical forms of the world around us, and the cast of our inner world of imagination.  The feel of a hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a bird's sharp foot on one's outstretched palm: such encounters shape our beings and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt.  There is something uncomplicatedly true in the sensation of laying hands upon sun-warmed rock, or watching a dense mutating flock of birds, or seeing snow fall irrefutably upon one's upturned palm."

Certainly I am not tempted by his constant desire to sleep in 'wild places' but I can appreciate the deep relationship between natural things in the world and the imagination that he describes so well.   The first walk will be my next topic.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Top of Luce

An 8x10 pastel of the top of Luce Road looking into a farmer's field.

From the Robert Macfarlane book The Wild Places, a quote for which he has lost the source: "Landscape was here long before we were even dreamed.  It watched us arrive."

Monday, April 1, 2013