Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Search for Shambhala

In a previous post I alluded to my long-standing interest in utopian societies. Over the years this interest inexplicably led me to the legend of Shambhala, also more commonly known as Shangri-La.

I stole the following two definitions from Wikipedia; it had a fairly accurate description of the “place”"

Shambhala is a Sanskrit term meaning "place of peace/tranquility/happiness". Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have taught the Kalachakra tantra on request of King Suchandra of Shambhala; the teachings are also said to be preserved there. Shambhala is believed to be a society where all the inhabitants are enlightened, centered on a capital city called Kalapa.

In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala (also spelled Shambala or Shamballa) is a mystical kingdom hidden somewhere beyond the snowpeaks of the Himalayas. It is mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Kalachakra and the ancient texts of the Zhang Zhung culture which pre-dated Tibetan Buddhism in western Tibet. The Bön scriptures speak of a closely-related land called Olmolungring.

What is it about Utopia’s and “myths about perfection” that inspire us? Franklin D. Roosevelt named his hidden retreat “Shambhala”. Even the Third Reich, as well as a few modern-day lunatics adopted the ancient “hollow-earth” theory as a means of proving both the validity and secret location of Shambhala (the theory promotes the pseudoscience ideal that the earth is a hollow shell with an interior sun and similar existence within; believers accept that there are at least four entry points to this difficult to reach interior society – these four points are the two poles and two well-hidden locations within the Himalayas and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky).

The 1933 novel, Lost Horizon by James Hilton probably did more to engage me in the legend, than anything else. I believe it was Hilton that actually changed the common name from Shambhala to Shangri-La. I suppose a universal pursuit of the “location” is no different than the search for the Garden of Eden or on-going interest in the Seven Wonders of the World. I know that I have always been intrigued with the idea of the giant mirror used in the Lighthouse of Alexandria; as well as the potential splendor of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Maybe what truly fascinates me is the concept that these initial searches for knowledge could be so fruitful. In essence, these types of legends (and in some cases, subsequent findings) teach us that humanity has always wanted to philosophically improve upon its own existence.

I seem to be constantly imbued with new ideas for stories or novels; rather than writing, I then try to take these notions and form them into narrative paintings. I’ve had theories about Shambhala bouncing around in my mind for years; maybe it will eventually encompass a future series of works. – DN

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Just Believe in Rain

I can smell the rain just on the other side of my mountain. My eagerness for a relieving spring wash has culminated with the rising natural pressure so that I now anticipate a burst of glass each time I look out my studio’s new windows.

Where have all the rainy days gone? I grew-up in Missouri, where the Mississippi flooding was a semi-regular June event. You could always count on two things rain on Halloween and rain on Easter… and quite a bit of rain in between, now that I stop to think about it. I always heard that too much rain was depressing, but I tend to believe that too much sunshine is worse on the psyche. Sunshine promotes a sense of an obligation to be happy and “have a nice day”; unfortunately, I’m not the type of person that needs constant joy in order to be complete. Surely, others must feel the same way. I prefer things to be a bit more “even”. Happiness becomes drab if you don’t have a couple real crapper days to remind yourself why the sunshine is nice. Trust me, between this week and last, I’ve had more than my fair share; but perhaps the rain can wash all that away.

I somehow chose to live in northern Montana during the midst of a seven-year draught - even the winter snow was slight compared to previous years. Of course the first year I choose to leave and winter in the southwest, my home in Glacier County receives nice heavy snowfalls that break annual records for the past couple years.

New Mexico should be called the “Land of Eternal Sunshine” rather than the “Land of Enchantment”. It must be bright and cheery 500 out of 365 days-a-year in Santa Fe – and let me tell you, it is getting old. Lately, I’ve been daydreaming about moving to Seattle, just to feel the rain on my face and in my socks (I refuse to own goulashes). It wouldn’t be so bad to eat good fish-n-chips down on the pier, once a week or so (rather than the local variety of Long John Silver’s). Take a ferry every couple months to Victoria or one of the islands in the sound; or maybe even just take a motorcycle ride a few miles south to have a drink at the “Brick” in Rosalyn – the town where they filmed the classic television show “Northern Exposure”. I have an acquaintance in Juneau that has an exhibition opening next month; it would be easy to just hop a flight from Seattle to “pop-in” on the show.

So where is the next move? Will it be a return to flooding Mississippi waters (doubtful) or a northern hop to the Puget Sound? Then again, maybe there won’t be another move – just plenty of random excursions. I’m not sure what the landscape has to offer for the next few years. My last few weeks have been spent working beyond the landscape to better understand the figure trapped in a reactionary society. The landscape is certainly still present, but I am beginning to question how many of these places in my paintings remain actual locales and what percentage has just developed from my memories – both recent and distant. So if traveling is no longer as necessary to the production of my art, is it still valuable to my soul? I tend to separate belief and faith by the ability to produce happiness. One can have faith in inevitability of the soul, but still believe in opportunities to improve it’s condition. I have a childhood friend that has moved more often than even I and for some reason, after seeing almost every nook-and-cranny in this vast country, he seems to believe Bellingham, Washington (suburb of Seattle) is a near-perfect slice of heaven. Maybe he is right, or maybe any place can be paradise if you choose to believe. - DN

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Genius or Pain in the A$$?

“How to Restore Pollock’s Drips” - Art conservation has become such an intricate and well-understood science that it sometimes seems as if there is no damage a skilled professional cannot undo, no work that cannot be perfectly preserved. But the paintings of Jackson Pollock present a unique challenge for restorers, with the famous spatters subject to cracking and other deterioration. A new restoration job on one of Pollock's more famous works points up how conservators' techniques have changed over the decades. The Christian Science Monitor (Boston) 04/26/06

Click here to read the entire article.

I’m often on the receiving end of a lot of questions regarding the archival nature of my scrolls. I’ve used a number of different mediums over the years and have become disgusted with nearly all of them - my heavy impasto oils are terrible for collecting dust; my acrylics (well, nothing wrong with them in an archival sense, I just don’t like the frosted/pasty look of acrylics); charcoal and graphite images get smudged no matter how much care you take; and watercolors require too much protection from natural light. All of these issues combined to lead me to work-out new ways of both mixing my pigments and playing with new materials on which to lay my paints. Now-a-days, my paints are constructed from archival ink and acrylic polymer bases, mixed with just the right amount of elusive Asian mineral spirits. I also construct my own scrolls from various rice paper sources - in fact, it is common for most of my scrolls to be pieced together bits of rice paper from no less than four sources at once. The added balsa wood panels just cater to my tactile love of mixing two and three-dimensional objects in art – I use Balsa wood because it is light as air so I don’t have to worry about the added weight ripping the paper scroll.

So from an archival standpoint, I’m doing everything I can to head-off any problems down the road; but I know I can’t predict everything. Sure Pollock’s work has become a classic example of an archivist’s nightmare, but it doesn’t make the work any less important. - DN

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Get a Clue: It was Picasso with the candlestick in the parlor!

The first three figurative scrolls have been posted on the website:

As you may have noticed from the extended recent period between updates to my online portfolio, I’ve slowed down production, considerably, in order to spend more time on reading and research. That leaves my current painting schedule at around 6 hours/day. I am now spending roughly one week/per scroll as opposed to the previous two days (keep in mind those two days were 10-12 hours each). It works out that I am still spending about the same amount of time in the actual painting process, I’m simply spreading it out a bit in order to spend more time in contemplation of the painting stages. In other words, I’m just lengthening my favorite part of painting – the process.

Lately, I have been reading a lot about “emerging artists” in other blogs as well as in various art periodicals. I don’t have much use for the term especially under the light it is currently being cast. One of the less respected art magazines Southwest Art, even has an annual issue of the top thirty artists under the age of 31. I have yet to figure out where they are looking to find these people (I at first thought it was via gallery dealers, but not all of the selected artists have representation). Am I distrustful of magazines creating such labels? - Sure. Would I agree to be listed among their choices if given the chance? Certainly – I’m just as much a whore for good publicity as the next working artist.

Southwest Art did not pluck their criteria out of the very blue New Mexico sky (Southwest Art is actually produced on the east coast – that in itself says something!). As a general “art world” rule, the default definition of “emerging artist” seems to be any artist under the age of 31 that can be manipulated by trends in the art market. Luckily, I’ll withdraw from this group next January when I turn 32. Unfortunately, I don’t perceive many changes in my public relations approach to galleries and museums. Until recently, I didn’t even realize I had, by the curse of age, been pigeon-holed into this select group of artistic newbies. I’ve been painting for more than half my known life and doing it professionally for more than ten years. Labeling me with terms like “Emerging” just seems a bit sophomoric. Especially considering the fact that I can safely say no one is producing work anywhere within the same realm as mine. If one were to look at the term “emerging” from a different perspective, sure – I’ve spent a number of years developing my distinctive style and unique set of themes that have only in the past two to three years matured into my current cohesive body of work. Am I once again "emerging" because I am returning to the figure as a major subject in my work?

Were the Pre-Raphaelites simply “emerging” when they formed their band of merry men? Was Picasso simply “emerging” when he knocked Braque over the head with a heavy blunt object and ran away with his “Cubism” style? – DN

Monday, April 24, 2006

Creative Dynasty

One of the earliest American painting dynasties was the Peale family of colonial and revolutionary times. Although I have never cared much for the work any of the members of that family produced – I do admire the manner in which it became a “family business”.

The Wyeth’s are another remarkable family, maybe mostly because of their stylistic diversity. The clan’s father, N.C. Wyeth was an accomplished illustrator that home-schooled his children and taught them the technical aspects of studio art. Andrew Wyeth, the son, is a favorite artist of mine, particularly his series of “Helga pictures”. Anyone that has taken an Art Survey course will remember his famous 20th century masterpiece “Christina’s World”. Click here to see some examples of the “Helga pictures”.

There is actually a Wyeth-family-only Gallery, located in Santa Fe. Unfortunately it involves a lot of prints as opposed to original works and the family collection seems to have grown to include in-laws and such (or basically anyone that married into the family and once took an evening class on Tole painting).

Can one control the formation of a “creative dynasty”? My daughter wants to be a writer (although when this eight-year-old is not sitting in her room writing short stories, she is in my studio painting scrolls); I named my other two sons after authors but they spend every day with me in the studio, painting. The oldest boy’s name: Samuel Harrison comes from my great-grandfather Samuel and the Montana novelist Jim Harrison. The younger boy: Dylan Thomas… well that one is a little more obvious.

My two and three year-old boys, Dylan Thomas and Samuel, actually try and have conversations with me about paintings, because they have figured out that they have meaning beyond just being pretty pictures. My daughter’s young mind has made the natural decision that Dylan Thomas will be a poet like his namesake and Samuel will be a painter because he has the same temperament as his father. I’m not sure. It is always amazing how different a group of people can be despite the fact that they share the exact same genes. Madeline is intelligent and nurturing, but always stopped by a good story. Samuel is aggressive, yet protective – devoted to his brother and absolutely passionate about painting and the outdoors. Dylan Thomas is gentle, yet comedic. He always stops people to ask if they are “okay” and if something scares him, the easiest manner to help him overcome his fear is to expose him to the farce of the situation. I look at my children and I see Dylan Thomas traveling to Tibet and India to study non-violence, Samuel following in order to trek the Himalayas and protect his younger brother – while Madeline hangs out in New Delhi to record their adventure.

My parents wanted my happiness in life, but they also wanted me to have security and the available “out” of retirement. I’m a different father than any I ever knew, personally. I don’t want my children to be “professionals” - I want them to slug life, while remaining free from the illusions of company policies and politics. I don’t care about the refuge of retirement or a health plan with good dental coverage. I don’t want them to have some career that they will only need until they can finally retire. Life is brief enough without spending 20-25 years (Kindergarten through grad school) training for a job that doesn’t stir excitement every day you do it.

As much as I try, I’m not good at tending a garden. I’m always too busy going somewhere new. My young children have already seen further places and experienced more cultures than I did in the first twenty years of my life. Will they become poets or painters? Will they help establish my new art movement by continuing my search for meaning via art? I don’t know the answer to either of those questions – but I do recognize that the odds are much higher that they will continue their learning and travels long after I am just a memory and thus they will have the desire to live a richer life because of the manner in which they were raised. - DN

Friday, April 21, 2006

Harry Potter be Damned! or How I learned to hate the ignorance bomb!

Some Atlanta area parents are leading a campaign to have the Harry Potter books banned from local school libraries. "People who love the books say they are happy that kids are reading the books as much as they are. They say that the books are ultimately about good versus evil. But opponents say that the books with their magic wands and spells are all about evil." WXIA (Atlanta) 04/20/06

Click here to read the entire ridiculous article.

Book banning in the south… lovely. My daughter adores the Harry Potter books. She read her first one while in the first grade at the age of five. The little witch.....

For all its typical small-town, closed-minded southern faults; I recall that my High School had a very strong English Department. Three out of four of the instructors were extremely well-traveled; in fact I recall one teacher was actually in Tiananmen Square when the protests broke-out.

Every year the department’s teachers recruited interesting literary figures to lecture and sign books for two days. I still have my signed edition of Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Meyers. Undoubtedly, the most impressive of all our celebrity acquisitions was the appointment of a national Poet Laureate to speak at our humble school. At the time of his visit, Howard Nemerov was actually living only three hours away in St. Louis, so that may have had something to do with our luck in landing such a prestigious figure for a lowly high school speaking engagement.

Quite a bit of Mr. Nemerov’s work, to say the least, is rather graphic. Other works notoriously reflect his less than stellar views on blind faith and the authoritarian power of God. Here are a few quotes from Nemerov:

The nice thing about the Bible is it doesn't give you too many facts. Two an a half lines and it tells you the whole story and that leaves you a great deal of freedom to elaborate on how it might have happened.”

Somebody asked me 'Do you believe in God now' I said "No, but I talk to him much more than I used to.”

“Well the spirit world doesn't admit to communicating with me either so it's fairly even. As it's said if you talk to God its prayer. If God talks to you it's paranoia - an early 20th century American folk saying.”

It was this perspective that he reflected in his poetry (or maybe it was more that he chose to live his poetry), that led to a bit of an impertinent confrontation between a group of self-imposed teenage religious authoritarians and this poet during his address at our southern Missouri school. This small, but vocal group of bible-thumpers, called Nemerov on the carpet as a pornographer, tool of Satan, and swindler of ersatz-literature. He was obviously distraught by the auditorium altercation, but in true Nemerov fashion his quick wit sailed him through the barriers of our peer’s ignorance.

I was still a lowly Jr. High student at the time, only allowed to attend the lecture because my father was a teacher and it gave me carte blanche to many of the school functions. I remained quiet throughout the talk, absorbing his genius and hiding in my shame for the vocal dissidents. That evening after the address, Mr. Nemerov was gone but not forgotten as the rebels regaled their champion tales of conquest over the great sinful “poet” of all that was wrong with the nation. We were together, them and I, at a church-related function. Although I did my best to maintain some distance over the course of the evening; it was blaringly obvious that the morning’s actions were deftly coordinated by this small youthful group of my fellow congregants. I relive the disgust of that entire day every time I hear a story of censorship directed towards saving the innocence of our youth. I mentioned in a previous post my adoration for the word “true”. When I think of innocence it is the word “true” that first comes to mind as a proper description. Looking back, those protesting students were hardly innocent in their mocking dissent and final evening’s celebration. That morning in that auditorium the mass of us sat by, as the only person with a hint of truth was attacked for his artistic integrity. The following year Howard Nemerov died of cancer in St. Louis. I suppose the fight for genuinely honest art is often a very lonely battle. - DN

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Stand for Something or Fall for Everything (...or your work may be the next to get censored)

My last post was specifically directed at prudish behavior in regards to nudity in art. To a certain extent I understand the more conservative view of nude models in art being a source of sinful behavior – what else are non-artists to believe when Hollywood continuously produces films promoting this behavior while claiming to be truthfully based on the lives of actual artists. Did Picasso and Diego Rivera have affairs with multiple women who were actually their life models… more than likely. Did these trysts always occur as unbridled passion during the midst of work sessions as displayed in films such as “Surviving Picasso” and the more recent “Frida”… very doubtful. For one thing these artists constantly drew from life, so for the act of creating nude drawings to be a constant source of sinful influence over the lives of these late great fornicators in history… there would have been little time left for the actual making of art. Ask any artist that has spent a considerable amount of time actually drawing from life and they will tell you the same thing – it is just another still-life that you have to remind to not move.

My friend John Nix made a comment on a previous post referring to the unilateral ignorance of censorship and political correctness. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s not only the Religious Right-wingers that want to “protect” our citizenry under a shield of ignorance. The Leftist Democrats also have their share of hacks that want to assimilate not just this nation, but the entire world into a cauldron of mediocrity. For example, why would we want to lose public recognition of the unique holidays and traditions of our many cultures residing in this nation? If they do not impede upon the civil rights of others and no one is physically or financially harmed then just ignore what you dislike and embrace what you find intriguing(and that does not include getting one’s feelings hurt – I’m not responsible for the fact that someone else is an emotional basket-case… I have my own basket to carry). If we sanitize everything, what reason do we have to travel and experience new cultures and unique perspectives on life?

Even the ever-popular website “Tongue Tied” has fallen into the trap of taking sides politically. While the site’s author may present some wonderful examples of ridiculousness, his endless “reader comment posts” display a Republican-bent conservatism that undermines the site’s very mission of exposing insane examples of “political correctness” run amuck. His commenting readers seem perfectly disgusted with political correctness as long as it does not disrupt their support for the war, the Patriot Act, their own homophobia or Jesus. We need to take a stand against all censorship or crawl back into the primordial muck (which is most likely a politically incorrect comment, in itself, for inferring the belief of evolution). - DN

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

To Nude or Not to Nude… That is the Question

As I enter my new phase of scroll paintings involving the human figure, I reflect upon what impact this new series may have upon my ability to exhibit. Having grown-up in the southern Midwest, I can only assume that the work will be adamantly refused by the same prudish souls that instilled faux values of modesty upon my young impressionable mind. Unfortunately, rather than improving, the situation seems to have darkened in the past five or so years (you know where I’m going with this… ahem… Religious Rightwingers… ahem).

Below are some stories (as well as a few quotes) I dug-up about censorship of art:

· The Tennessee Arts Commission bans nude art at its gallery, but an anti-censorship group says the naked truth is that nudes have been a staple of Western art since ancient Greece. -Tennessee art gallery's no-nudes policy draws criticism By The Associated Press 2001

· DAVAO CITY--EVERY-one's naked in the eyes of God--but a replica of Michelangelo's naked statue of David, which was built near a motel here has been causing uproar for several weeks already. First it was a debate between morality and a work of art, reminiscent of the century when Italian sculptor Michelangelo Buonarotti first came up with his masterpiece in Florence, Italy. Councilor Angela Librado-Trinidad said she could not have raised a howl if the statue was built somewhere else, not near a motel. She said this would send a wrong signal to the public, and teach wrong values to the children. Later, officials changed the issue to the legality of the statue saying it was built on land owned by the city government. After weeks of threatening to demolish the structure, however, officials are now saying they are open to a compromise, probably putting a pair of pants on the statue, or underwear, or the classic fig leaf. - Philippine Daily Inquirer Nov. 2005

· A statue of a naked man in San Francisco's Castro district is causing controversy. Some parents have complained the anatomically-correct sculpture is too explicit to be kept in a store window - even in the sexually-liberated Castro. Police threatened to cite the statue's owner and confiscate the $3,800 piece of art. The owner covered a key portion of it, but still can't believe anyone complained. Robert Hedric, 'Phantom SF' owner: "I was shocked and to some point, devastated. It was quite mind boggling, because I thought to myself, am I in San Francisco? Am I in the Castro, or not?" Bevan Dufty, San Francisco supervisor: "None of us wants to see the neighborhood change, but at the same time being aware of things - it just puts it in people's consciousness'." – ABC7 News San Francisco Nov. 2005

And now my personal favorite from the acclaimed television show “Rick Steve’s Europe” on PBS:

Coming down the home stretch on the production of our latest TV series, our shows are under review while public television executives consider the nudity shown in the paintings we feature. Suddenly, it seems, Titian's Venus in Madrid's Prado museum may be too racy for the American public...and too risky for a TV station to air.

Compared to Europe, America has long been laughable in its modesty. Only Americans are biking into trees as they explore Europe's parks-littered with topless sunbathers. But things have really gotten serious with a new FCC ruling making too much flesh on TV a very expensive proposition.

This has been brought on by the highly politicized atmosphere in our country and the outcry after recent antics by the Irish musician Bono, Janet Jackson and Howard Stern. After Bono was given a Golden Globe award he exclaimed with delight, "This is fxxkin' brilliant." Janet Jackson had her now infamous "wardrobe malfunction." And Howard Stern continues to do his best to be crude on the radio.

"Decency proponents" complained that fines for these transgressions have been inconsequential. Consequently (in June 2004), congress approved a ten-fold increase, raising fines from $27,000 per incident to $275,000 (with many conservative congressmen pushing for even higher fines). Any station airing anything potentially dangerous can be made to pay dearly if some of its viewers feel offended enough.

As public broadcasting (its network and several hundred individual stations) lacks the resources to survive a major fine, it needs to be particularly careful in this regard. One of PBS's new shows (Cop Shop, starring Richard Dreyfuss), has already (July, '04) bleeped out previously acceptable bits of street language.

Context used to matter. Bono's used the "f" word as an adjective (not the much more sinister verb). This was permissible under the old standard. It is after all-as any traveler knows--about the most common adjective in the Irish dialect of English. But new standards have changed that.

The issue of classical art-a nude David for instance-seems okay for now. But, these days, the power of America's moral guard should not be underestimated-especially with an administration quick to do what it can to "shore up" its moralistic base. This has a chilling effect: to be safe, producers are more likely to avoid ideas, words, or images that could offend American conservatives.

Those of us who produce broadcast material on a shoestring (like me and public broadcasting in general) have to ponder: Should we put a digital fig leaf on David's full-frontal nudity? Fuzz out Venus's short hairs and Titian's titties? Bleep Bocaccio's bawdy language? Can I only film the three graces from the waist up? Will Raphael's randy cupids be labeled "child pornography" and Bernini's Rape of Proserpine as "S & M"?

Through the ages, Europe's history has been scarred with sword of censorship: During the Inquisition, the Spanish king kept Titian's Venus out of public view-while burning those with similar "transgressions." Savonarola's moral vigilantes burst into people's home gathering up anything too fleshy to stoke his "bonfires of the vanities." And in London's Victoria and Albert museum today's tourists laugh in front of the case holding the plaster fig leaf which once hung on Queen Victoria's otherwise perfect copy of Michelangelo's David.

I now have to wonder if future tourists might look back at the first decade of the 21st century as equally absurd. And historians will rightly attribute this sudden spasm of Puritanism to the electorate. My partners in public television and I now have to wonder if we can show Venus's breast. Can we risk the possibility of a $275,000 fine...and is that per nipple? – Rick Steves, PBS

Censorship reflects society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. - Potter Stewart

“Censorship is the very wall that holds creativity back from complete freedom; because without Exposure to the good and the bad, the acceptable and inappropriate, and the offensive and polite, how will the mind thrive for more than what is given?” (I’m not sure who said this one, but I wish it had been me.) - DN

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Be Perfect

A composer who teaches on the faculty of the Juilliard School observed in a television documentary marking its centennial celebration that an average graduate of law school or medical school can still have a decent career. But it is not possible, he said, for a successful artist to be only average. – taken from the ‘Gotham Gazette’ New York City News and Policy

While the average portrait painter or guy that can draw a ‘really nice cowboy and his dog’, can easily make a decent living in America; competition in the art world is fierce for any "real" artist with vision.

Let’s look at some of the expected contradictory criteria for a “great” artist:

1. Must be completely dedicated to the work of making art, without concern for having supplemental employment or income. Must use only the best archival materials without regard for price.

2. Must be a graduate of one of only the select few BEST art schools. Must not be concerned with paying back over $100k in student loans.

3. Must never compromise vision for sales. Must always produce work to fit the following criteria: Over the Bed, Over the Buffet, and Over the Couch (I was told this exact word-for-word ‘top 3’ list by more than one Chicago-based gallery director).

4. Never think of your artwork in terms of monetary value. Always have prepared a specific retail/wholesale price list for the work in your portfolio for dealers/galleries.

5. Be completely unique in your vision and direct all efforts to creating a truly original art style and direction. Make sure you fit in with others so your work will be a “good fit” with other artists in the galleries’ “representation stable”.

6. Last but not least – perfect technical skill. Unless of course you are a conceptual artist… (I know there are many conceptual artists with exceptional technical talent, such as Judy Chicago; but at the same time I also recognize that there are a lot of hucksters roaming around under the banner of ‘conceptual artist’ as well.)

There are a couple thousand more criteria, depending on geographic location; but just the above generalized list is a lot to live-up to. So what makes an artist great? Success? Success in what?

What scale is an accurate measure of the success?

Here is my personal application for “success” (if we had to apply):

I live in what is considered one of the greatest art towns in America – it is also one of the most expensive and I am able to live here comfortably. I drive a "status" vehicle (Land Rover) and I own another home in Montana (only my favorite place in the entire world). There are a handful of select collectors (outside this town) that sporadically buy my work – but I still have to work very hard to garner gallery and museum exhibitions every year. I don’t sell as much as I would like and because my work doesn’t “fit-in” with the standard styles of other artists, I tend to get more solo shows than group shows. Now that last part sounds great, but there are not nearly as many solo show opportunities available as group displays – so it makes landing exhibitions a bit more difficult.

So the bottom line of my measure of success is:

I have absolute freedom to make any kind of art I want, and pursue any theme or subject that I find intriguing, but at the same time, I have a tremendous back-stock of paintings waiting to sell or be exhibited.

It reminds me of my favorite quote from the movie, “Off the Map”, I’ve mentioned it before in previous posts to this blog, but here it is again:

You know, I really admire you, Mr. Grodin. More than any man I've ever met. You don't have a penny in the bank, no life insurance, no credit. But your house is all paid for, you got four years worth of food stored away, three years worth of firewood, stockpiles of clothes, beautiful wife, great kid. Your life is yours. I think you're a genius.”

Therefore, I refuse to measure success in financial terms. If I had unlimited funds, I’d still paint scrolls steeped in themes of philosophy, religion and literature – so I already have what I basically need to survive in life. Do you? - DN

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dealers are not post-grad study mentors....

Today's market for contemporary art is so hot, dealers and collectors are turning to art schools. "Though the conventional image of an artist's mentor is not generally a venture capitalist, such a presence is not so surprising in an era when collectors from Wall Street are underwriting high prices for contemporary art. The art world is, in the end, a numbers game: as collectors, art fairs and galleries keep growing, while first-rate artworks for sale decrease, dealers and collectors are scouring the country's top graduate schools looking for the Warhols of the future." The New York Times 04/15/06

Click HERE to read the entire article. If you click the link and read the entire article summarized above, it makes some additional genuine points regarding the danger of setting-up students to never mature as artists.

The entire idea of “students” becoming immediate long-term cash-cows reeks of ignorance in so many ways. Firstly, it proves that most art dealers don’t really understand the process of making art. The greatest difficulty in “art school” is the five to ten years it takes to unlearn everything you were taught. Sure the survey classes were great and the studio courses made wonderful inroads in teaching the importance of a dedicated work ethic (hopefully) – but come on, every artist knows the best way to do well in art school is by picking-up techniques and shortcuts via emulation of your peers and professors. I shudder at the thought of thematic influence of an instructor over naïve students (most of whom have never actually stopped going to school).

Secondly, dealers and collectors already have a wonderful place in the PR portion of the art world. Pulling them into the process of "making artists" is jumping the gun a bit. This can be likened to promising a child a toy for being good in a store, but instead of holding out the 'carrot' till check-out time, giving them the toy to play with as soon as they enter the building. By the time the shopping is done, they've already played with it... are now bored and don't know what else to do with their time.

Finally, the power of dealers to manipulate an artist’s content is much more likely if the artist has gone from pleasing instructors for grades to satisfying dealers for monetary gain. Is selling work for some good bank a bad thing? Of course not, just don’t sell yourself in the process – if an artist never has the opportunity to grow, then everyone becomes bored. The dealers and collectors dry-up and the artist is stuck storing a bunch of meaningless work that no one wants. There is only so much of you to go around and once your boring… it’s like you never existed. - DN

Sunday, April 16, 2006

IT is Time for the House Painters of the World to UNITE!

“We’re painters, Jackson!” - Pollock (2000)

When asked ‘what I do’, I always have the same answer – “I’m a painter”. Even in my previous professions as a gallery director and educator, I always provided the above answer. Why? – Because it quite literally is who I am as a person. I only worked those TYPES of day jobs to be around art, when I could not be making it (as a gallery director, I always painted at night and as an educator I was fortunate enough to paint both during the day in my classroom as well as at night).

Moving to Santa Fe has caused me to have to clarify my answer for the first time in my life. On at least three different social occasions, people have asked me the fateful question and when I offer my common reply – they think I am a “house painter”. Now this is a city overrun with painters, sculptors, jewelry-makers, actors, singers, musicians, furniture builders and such. So how is “I’m a painter”, not a recognizable answer? Am I an artist? – Certainly! Am I disenchanted with roughly ninety percent of the people I meet that also “claim” to be artists? – Most definitely! The word “artist” is overused, the proof is every pop star that comes along and sings a few chords without any ability to actually write music. Santa Fe (as well as most communities) is ripe with persons that retire and decide - “Hey, I really enjoyed those art classes I took at community college, twenty-five years ago – I’m retired now and don’t know where I fit into society without my former professional label (accountant, lawyer, doctor – choose one), I think I’ll be an artist now.”

I am a painter by choice, but saying that is ignoring the fact that at college enrollment time the options for me were somewhat limited. My choices were art or …. Art. Sure, before college I did well in Math, History and English – if I hadn’t my paintings would be much less meaningful. I know I would have done well as an attorney or stock broker; but at college admissions time - I knew that I’d have little reason to survive the daily idiocy of life if I chose something besides Art as my mainstay.

The term ‘artist’ carries very little weight with me. While it is true that I love to read and write my little narratives and the act of research, for my paintings, is nearly as exciting as dining at a fine restaurant (I adore good cuisine) - I am still just a painter. I enjoy sculpting and construction of works (hence my inclusion of ‘making’ my scrolls and inks/paints in the process of my work); but most important for me is the application of paint (inks). Therefore I am first and foremost a PAINTER.

I always have something to say, and I believe every word I utter – but if there is a way of telling the story through the combination of allegory and paint, then that is how it will most easily flow from my mind.

So don’t call me an artist, for there are already too many charlatans staking that claim – just call me a painter – and I will answer. - DN

Friday, April 14, 2006

Bad Week = Good Painting

My posts this week have been spotty at best. It has been one crap week for more reasons than I care to get into. On an up note, two very good things have occurred this week.

1. On Wednesday evening, my family and I attended a lovely Passover Seder at the home of our friend and cantor.

2. I spent five solid days working on the second of my new "figurative landscape" scrolls. It is nearly done and I am more pleased with it than anything I've painted in quite some time. I prefer to add new work to the website after every third completed scroll, so look for portfolio updates around April 24th!

So here's to looking to the brighter side of life... I don't do it very often, but sometimes things get so bad that being positive is the last weapon left in the arsenal. - DN

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Entering Passover

Hanging Scroll - "Sangre de Cristo: Passover", Sumi Ink and Acrylic Inks on Rice Paper, Tamrisk Sticks
My three children are looking across the River of Blood (the Nile) to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico, as they embark upon their first Passover.

A larger version of this scroll can be found in the New Mexico section of my portfolio at:


Tuesday, April 11, 2006


It rained only briefly this morning maybe it was just what I needed to get motivated. A couple days ago we had another hard rain for about an hour – the sky even tossed in a bit of hail for good measure. My Newfoundland pup, Goliath, barked and growled at it behind the dry safety of new studio windows. He reminded me how long it had been since it last rained. It was the first shower since September. He was only born last November and had not yet experienced the rattle of water from the sky.

Also this morning, an anonymous comment was posted on the “100th Post!” Check it out, this person has some good ideas – although I believe the concepts presented probably fall within the realm of a single fantasy that many of us share. A community based around a system of appropriately handled community-controlled economics that allow security and freedom for creativity.

Utopia. I once read Thomas More, as well, and was left with a feeling of plastic ethics. How can a society preach perfect peace and harmony, all the while hiring mercenaries to fight their wars – in order to keep their hands (and conscience) clean. It all seemed very Pontius Pilate, to me.

But like I said, many of us have had the same dream. Is it the tendency of artists, writers and philosophers to want these societies more than most? As I stepped outside this morning just to inhale the fragrance of the outdoor shower against my mountain, my thoughts continued to linger on this utopian ideal. Thomas More stole it from Plato and I can only assume Plato stole it from Socrates. My youngest son, Dylan Thomas, is only two but has long demanded to “do it myself”. Which path will his independence take? Will he grow competitive and autonomous - financially successful put possibly alone; or will his drive for self-sufficiency lead him inadvertently to seek the possibilities of self-reliance viewed through the lens of a like-minded community of socialists. Then again, am I being hypocritical in my judgment of societies influenced only by their financial success? Isn’t it this same society that allows me to write in the morning and paint scrolls in afternoon and evening?

Socrates defended his wisdom as a limited awareness of his own ignorance. By his death via hemlock, Socrates proved that wrongdoing was a consequence of ignorance, that the free who did wrong knew no better and only slaves did evil without regard. Despite his knowledge, he was still a slave to the government that forced him to commit suicide. In reality, he never asserted his wisdom - he only claimed to know the trail that a hunter of wisdom must take in pursuing it. - DN

Monday, April 10, 2006

An Open Letter to One That Inspired Me

Professor Frye,

My friend Hank and I took your class as a freshman English course at Southeast Missouri State University. You were a graduate assistant forced to teach an English course to freshman that scored less than spectacular on the entrance writing exam. Hank and I were unacquainted before the course. We lived on the same floor in the dorm and your class ultimately brought us together; a friendship that has now lasted thirteen years. He wrote me an email, yesterday that mentioned your class – hence my thoughts turned to your influence over my life.

Your fervor for the course was refreshing. It seemed that no one bothered to tell you we were forced to take a class that would not even give credit towards our university-mandated English requirements. You encouraged us to expose ourselves through writing, a difficult feat for children fresh out of high school. It was from you that I learned to only write “what I know”. It was also from you that I forever fell in love with the “first-person-narrative”.

You anonymously read our stories aloud, saving us the embarrassment, yet giving the gift of joy in acknowledging the worthiness of our accomplishments. I wrote two stories that you read aloud, over the course of the semester – I believe I was the only student you granted this honor. The first story took place during the last song of a middle school dance – you likened it to an episode of “The Wonder Years”. Near the end of the course you read a comedy I wrote, titled, “Old Joe and Testosterone”. While both stories were taken from my life, you seemed most enthralled by the second tale of my 40-year-old Wal-Mart bakery co-worker that spent the vast majority of his workday chasing and ogling women from afar.

Whenever Hank and I reunite, our conversation inevitably turns to you. Wondering where you have gone. I had four more English instructors at Southeast, after your course; and none matched the impression you left on both my writing and my passion for life. A few years after graduation, I remember seeing you working at the local Barnes & Noble. I remember thinking, “What the hell happened?” Inevitably, I feel like your fate was one of the deciding factors in my distrust in the rewards of graduate studies.

Hank is a physicist, now and I am a painter. Ironically, I believe we would both prefer to be writers. He recently wrote this to me:

“But you know, while I don’t seem to remember much from my Physics classes or math for that matter, I can still clearly see that ugly fiber optic lamp Frye Guy asked us to describe.”

Another friend from the course, Kim C. – went on to get her teacher certification in High School English. I wonder even now, where you might be… though I believe I would rather have the memory than the reality. - DN

Friday, April 07, 2006

True fear or fear truth?

“Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” – Hermann Goering, Hitler’s Reich-Marshall at the Nuremberg Trials after WWII

My thanks goes to John Nix for the quote. Scary truth as usual, John. - DN

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Philosophical Philandering

Just a little insight to where I am at in my work, philosophically. - DN

The Heart Sutra

translated by George Boeree

Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, meditating deeply on Perfection of Wisdom, saw clearly that the five aspects of human existence are empty*, and so released himself from suffering. Answering the monk Sariputra, he said this:

Body is nothing more than emptiness,
emptiness is nothing more than body.
The body is exactly empty,
and emptiness is exactly body.

The other four aspects of human existence --
feeling, thought, will, and consciousness --
are likewise nothing more than emptiness,
and emptiness nothing more than they.

All things are empty:
Nothing is born, nothing dies,
nothing is pure, nothing is stained,
nothing increases and nothing decreases.

So, in emptiness, there is no body,
no feeling, no thought,
no will, no consciousness.
There are no eyes, no ears,
no nose, no tongue,
no body, no mind.
There is no seeing, no hearing,
no smelling, no tasting,
no touching, no imagining.
There is nothing seen, nor heard,
nor smelled, nor tasted,
nor touched, nor imagined.

There is no ignorance,
and no end to ignorance.
There is no old age and death,
and no end to old age and death.
There is no suffering, no cause of suffering,
no end to suffering, no path to follow.
There is no attainment of wisdom,
and no wisdom to attain.

The Bodhisattvas rely on the Perfection of Wisdom,
and so with no delusions,
they feel no fear,
and have Nirvana here and now.

All the Buddhas,
past, present, and future,
rely on the Perfection of Wisdom,
and live in full enlightenment.

The Perfection of Wisdom is the greatest mantra.
It is the clearest mantra,
the highest mantra,
the mantra that removes all suffering.

This is truth that cannot be doubted.
Say it so:


Which means...

gone over,
gone fully over.
So be it!

* Emptiness is the usual translation for the Buddhist term Sunyata (or Shunyata). It refers to the fact that no thing -- including human existence -- has ultimate substantiality, which in turn means that no thing is permanent and no thing is totally independent of everything else. In other words, everything in this world is interconnected and in constant flux. A deep appreciation of this idea of emptiness thus saves us from the suffering caused by our egos, our attachments, and our resistance to change and loss.

Note: Perfection of Wisdom is a translation of Prajnaparamita. The full title of this sutra is The Heart of Prajnaparamita Sutra.

[This is an interpretation based on many others.]

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

100th Post!

As I write my 100th posting on A New Art Movement blog, I wonder if anything has been accomplished, in these past five months, towards the objective of establishing the groundwork of a viable movement.

The first few posts hinted at my desire to start a “new school of art” harkening back to the Black Mountain College days. I’m very interested in the concept of a “school of art” that could maintain consistency in philosophy without the stranglehold of barriers such as subject and style. However, I am equally inspired by the ideas of the “Beat Movement” of the 1950’s and stated some of my interpretations for utilizing the former “Beat Movement” into a viable second-coming in the art world – so it may be that only time will tell where we all end-up in this contemporary art blender.

I’ve received a number of e-mails regarding my recently stated re-emersion into figurative works. Rest assured, I am not abandoning my interpretations of the landscape or the philosophical bent to my works. I am simply utilizing “the process” to create a way of incorporating life-size figures, the landscape and literature into a unique yet interconnected vision via my scrolls. I already have four scrolls in the works. Forever the lover of good references, I have arranged the positions of my live models based on old figure drawings by Gustave Klimt as templates. That said - all four scrolls feature landscapes as well. For the literature influences look no further than the very brief Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra (commonly called the Heart Sutra) mixed with a bit of 21st Century self-reflective religious investigation.

I believe the world runs on clichés and it is very likely that people have forever repeated the statement: “these are exciting times we live in”. It has only recently occurred to me that every moment has the possibility for excitement if we chose to make it so… it is typically the obvious that we most take for granted. - DN

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Boredom With PR Leads to Renewed Interest in Painting the Figure

My friend “Ohio Greg” (I must know twenty guys named Greg), calls us the top 2%. Us - referring to the artists that get to do their art without any interference from such mundane things as outside employment. Not even college art faculty experience the range of freedom exhibited by this small percentage of artists.

So what happens in this vast array of “free” time? While I was gainfully employed in-the-world, I was already producing around 200 paintings/year; so why have my production numbers not gone up with this great influx of time? It is a common misunderstanding, amongst my family and friends, that I “retired-to-paint”… in order to actually paint. I already spent every moment painting. Sure, now my scrolls are larger and the works themselves have an even deeper meaning based upon more time for philosophical and religious research…. But my actual production numbers are pretty much unchanged. The truth is I left the greater workforce in order to spend time on self-promotion.

I spend most mornings dredging the internet for show opportunities, writing letters, printing labels, touching-up the website, working over the day’s blog posting and rearranging portfolios (which, often includes re-shooting images of paintings). Late-morning till dinner at six or seven, I paint. After dinner and through the late evening, I usually paint some more, read for research or some combination of both.

The whole PR thing really is important; ask any artist that doesn’t have exhibitions lined-up. It just grows old every once-in-a-while. At this moment, I’d really rather be reading that copy of Commentary on the Diamond Sutra by Hui Neng (Thomas Cleary, translator) that I checked-out from the library.

I’ve started a new series of scrolls which feature the human figure as the major component of the composition. The muse is the figure, the inspiration derides from the various Sutras and how they incorporate into our basic human existence as we interact with one another. I haven’t worked this heavily in the figure in a couple years; there was a time when that was ALL I painted. Visiting Ali Cavanaugh’s studio and witnessing her musings on her daughter must have had a deeper affect on me than I thought… or maybe I just dig the excuse to paint from life again. –DN

Monday, April 03, 2006

Emerging from the Cocoon

I have always loved the book The Razor’s Edge as well as the 1946 film version featuring Tyrone Power & Gene Tierney (avoid the 1984 Bill Murray version like the plague). The author, W. Somerset Maugham, did an amazing job recreating the anti-hero of the beat movement in the post-WWI world of the 1930’s. In essence, Maugham removed a character from the 1950’s “beat movement era” and dropped him into the environment of the roaring 20’s and depression-era 30’s; his character was the quintessence of the beat movement before it even happened because he proved his ability to maintain a steady dharma in the face of both great wealth and poverty. Most importantly Maugham accomplished all this in 1944 – four years before Kerouac coined the term “beat”. Below is an excerpt from the introduction to the novel:

"The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature." – W. Somerset Maugham in the introduction of his novel The Razor’s Edge

I visited the open studio of a fellow Santa Fe artist, yesterday afternoon. Ali Cavanaugh has created an amazing collection of portraits featuring her daughter as the almost exclusive muse. I dare say the underlying inspiration of the works is the act of observation as it surveys the growth from innocence transforming a child into the person you have already become, yet could not anticipate.

Although I moved away from portraiture a number of years ago; Ali’s work definitely made me consider the implications of the individual person on nature as opposed to the strict influence of nature as it places impressions upon the individual.

The visit also made me realize something else… there are a lot of us out there. By us, I mean artists. St. Louis had a fairly sad excuse for an art market, so not much happened for me while I lived there. Later, I purposely hid myself away in a non-artistic community in northern Montana, so that I could paint out my own demons without the influence or interruption of other professional creative personalities. I then relocated to Santa Fe for the sole purpose of becoming “involved” in the art market and subsequent community. Yesterday, I learned there are over 100 artist studios, just in my Santa Fe suburb of Eldorado. Unfortunately, my growing anti-social tendencies have slightly hampered my universal admission. I have kept busy enough with exhibitions in other states, as well as major architectural renovation to my new studio; so that my anti-social excuses in Santa Fe actually contain a bit of legitimacy and kernel of truth.

However, I find that I am in the midst of a great moment in my life. My irregular sales and out-of-state exhibitions have been successful enough in the past year to allow me to focus on mycreative process and paint my mind without concern for painting towards the market. I just have to overcome my tendency to hide in the studio. For me, the painting will always occur, just as it always has without interruption. My prolific production of paintings means something else as well - I need to take steps towards the security of new and permanent homes for my works. So the next step is obviously a decision between communal involvement in Santa Fe or a full-time return to Montana, which will inevitably lead to another social hibernation. - DN