Art Studios

Thoughts on New Directions, New Possibilities

I'm an oil painter in the River Arts District in Asheville, North Carolina. I love our spot in the Blue Ridge mountains. It's really a fun, dynamic and sometimes crazy little city here in Western North Carolina. I've been painting in a studio in the arts district for almost eight years now and in my current studio for three years this month. It's been amazing. I get to paint and talk to people interested in artwork all day long, five days a week.

It is very much in my personality (maybe it's a basic human tendency??) to think "this will last forever". I love to "pigeon-hole" things so that life looks organized. And as much as I love change, there is something almost intoxicating about the idea of stasis, you know? Predictability can be comforting. The trick for a person with an artistic-adventurous spirit like me to find the line between predictability and unplanned adventure. The balance between predictability and adventure, comfort and fun -- that is the goal.

Sometimes though, so many things can change so very quickly. This season I am entering looks like one of those seasons of change, and from where I sit, it all (thankfully) looks like very good change. There are possibilities of new interesting painting commissions here in Asheville, new painting themes, expansion of my technique with a variety of finishes on my work, expansion of my market with international art galleries and the development of a new part-time art studio in the Dallas area (where three of our four kids live).

So over the next few months, I'm looking forward to sharing my adventures (if they work out) and maybe some disappointments (if my expectations do not work out) but it may be a pretty interesting next several months. In the mean time, I will keep painting, keep my studio doors wide open and totally enjoy the fall season (traditionally the busiest time of our year).

 

On the Brink of a Huge Failure

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It's Sunday, and traditionally a day of rest. And it IS restful today for me, but last Sunday...my head was in a very different place, and that place was not at all pretty. I was basically a basket case. Let me explain...

A couple months ago, my son (who was visiting Maui with his wife at the time) emailed me from Lahaina and says "Dad, there's a gallery owner over here that wants you to contact him!". I was not familiar with the gallery (or Lahaina for that matter) but apparently, because Hawaii does not charge sales tax for artwork purchased, it's become an art destination. And apparently, some the THE top-dollar galleries in the world are on Front Street running through the town of Lahaina. So, I contacted the owner of the gallery and ended up sending him two of my paintings. They are now hanging on his gallery wall there. But he then asked for three more pieces ASAP. Understand, these three paintings (of water lilies) have GOT to be amazing. Awesome. Unrivaled. Because, if this gallery picks me up as one of their artists...that's a total game-changer for me. It makes what I consider now as the artistic "big leagues" look like the pee-wee league. It's absolutely amazing (and humbling) that my paintings are even being considered for representation there.

So all that to say, these paintings are potentially VERY important. And last Saturday afternoon when I left the studio, they looked horrible.

The paintings had turned the corner.

I didn't sleep many hours at all that night. So after church on Sunday morning, Joy was okay with us heading over to the studio to look that these paintings with fresh eyes. To be honest, they actually looked a bit better than I'd remembered from the night before. So we prayed, and asked for artistic and creative insight. And we looked at these paintings afresh and figured out what to do next. I spent about an hour that Sunday afternoon a week ago implementing the ideas we came up with and...when I left that afternoon to enjoy the rest of my "day of rest" at home, I left a bit encouraged. The paintings had turned the corner. 

So now a week later, I honestly think these three paintings may well leave my studio as my favorite pieces I've ever done. Imagine that. How ironic it was I was really thinking I'd failed just one week ago.

There's a moral to this story I think. Maybe it's up to you to apply it to your own life and situation right now. Your input at this point would be awesome! I'd love to hear what you think!

A Word About Accolades

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Since it's Sunday and my "day of rest" in which I can enjoy some down time to think and relax, I was mulling over this past week at my art studio. There were moments of listening to critique and moments of listening to praise. I've written previous blogs about some of the critique artists can get, and learning how to gracefully listen to that critique (without punching someone) is a useful skill. But there is one skill infinitely more important to master and that is how to deal with praise. Not dealing with praise correctly, I think, can destroy creativity and ruin a life and I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that. I'm speaking from personal experience. 

When I was a kid, art was the only thing I did well. I was teased a lot and easily crumbled emotionally. But I found that if I created something artistically, the same people that teased me earlier would praise me. So...I wanted to be the best at art. And the insidious thing about it was that this determination was unrecognized by me (or anyone else) as being dangerous at all. What's wrong with wanting to be really great at something? We praise people who have grit like that. But I didn't just want to be great. I wanted to be greatest. And because I probably had some natural abilities in art, and because I applied myself to the extreme to creative endeavors, I was consistently the best artist in all my school classes and life was sweet. Until...

When I entered high school, I met a guy that toppled me from my throne: John Howarth. John was a nice guy and popular. But I kept my distance. I did not like John Howarth, because he ruined life for me. He was the first person I met that was a much better artist than I was, and for the next three years, I was forced to deal with being "second best" (which to me, felt like utter failure).

Thankfully, I can honestly say I learned something from that whole experience. I learned that praise is addictive. It's nice but the more you get, the more you need. It's never enough. I learned that I was USING my art and my abilities to create and bolster a sometimes sagging self image. But I came to believe that creative ability was not given to me as a means to an end. I firmly believe that art is a joy in and of itself. It is the gift, not the means to the gift. And interestingly enough, I can look back at my high school years and the emotional-spiritual processing going on in me and can see that that was a real turning point for me, and my creativity radically increased. When I stopped using art to get attention and "be someone" and simply enjoyed art, creativity opened almost unbidden, like a flower in my hand.

So, I feel sorry for people who are criticized. Unasked for critique especially is difficult to hear and not become instantly defensive. But I'm terrified of people who can't bear to not be "the best". I've been nearly destroyed by people like that. But I'm probably scared of them because I was just like that, so it's like looking in a mirror if I can be honest (and it's my blog, so that's my prerogative). They say that the things that bug you the most about someone else are probably your own weakest areas. I have found that to be true.

So for what it's worth, here's some advice:

If you're criticized for something you do, don't let criticism crush you. Listen to it. I mean, there may be some helpful nuggets of truth mixed in with all the garbage, so sort out the critique like someone sifting through a latrine for a wedding ring dropped into it.

If you're praised for something you do, just enjoy the praise for what it is in the moment it's given. Don't live off it or for it, and don't make adulation and attention that thing you need to base your life on. Personally, I need something much more stable and eternal for something that important. That's just my opinion. Happy Sunday!

"On the Water"

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"On the Water" was a surprise. See, every now and then, I get a visitor to my Asheville art studio (in the River Arts District) that sees one of my paintings in progress...with just the aluminum leaf applied to the texture, no paint, no resin, nothing but texture. And they say, "I love it just like it is!" Okay, so this one is for you, visitor, if you've thought "why does he muck it up with all the paint???"

Muck it up? Really?? (Some comments call for a thick skin.)

Listening to the Minority...

I had intended to paint this one but at the very last minute, I thought that maybe this would be a good one to leave naked (so to speak). I was especially happy with the composition, because it really does hold together well (and is interesting) sans coloration. And so, I just coated it with one thin layer of resin and voila!

"On the Water" is the only painting in my studio collection with no color at all. But it's still getting a good deal of attention so I'm thinking those few people who have wandered into my Depot Street studio in the River Arts District may not all be wrong. Not entirely anyway. We'll see if it sells (that's the real test). But honestly, it's pretty cool. Am I allowed to say that? I REALLY LIKE THIS ONE. There. I feel much better being honest.

Cheers!

"Valley of Shadows"

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Valley of Shadows

In September 2017, Joy and I visited a good friend in Munich, Germany. While there, we explored what is left of the concentration camp at Dachau. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw and felt. 

Visitors to Dachau are very quiet. It's a horrible and holy place. The weight of the evil is still there. You can still feel it. I think it will always be palpable. It should be. I left Dachau needing to express my own grief. This painting is that expression.

Notes about Valley of Shadows
1) Featured on the far left of this piece is the iron gate with the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes you Free). This gate was the way in, but rarely the way out.

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2) Moving to the right, set against and gray and blue stripes reminiscent of the uniform prisoners were given to wear is the gold star of David, beneath which are the countless souls who suffered here.

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3) Moving to the far right, I inserted a scene from the Arch of Titus in Rome, featuring Roman soldiers carrying off the menorah from the temple in Jerusalem (another time of absolute grief and horror). It is at this point, against the blackness, I inserted a symbol of hope. Hope is displayed near the far right of the canvas, carrying the eye off the artwork...onto...what? That is what hope does -- carries our imagination into the unknown, with the assumption that goodness and beauty and life is coming soon.

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"Even when I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death,
I will not fear, because You are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4

Catawba Falls

North Carolina waterfall

I love Catawba Falls. It's a really beautiful waterfall at the end of a (sometimes steep) trail just down the mountain from us in Old Fort, North Carolina. The trail winds along the river and ends at a cliff and this really beautiful waterfall and pool (great for swimming in summer by the way). 

Joy and I discovered Catawba Falls with the help of my daughter Camden. She had hiked here before and told us about the trail so...we had to discover it ourselves. This is one of countless waterfalls within an hour of our home here in Asheville. What an amazing thing it is to be a landscape painter in the River Arts District, so close to so much...uh...landscape! We try to get out and hike every day off (weather and house chores permitting). 

This painting was commissioned by some very nice folks (Asheville locals) who came into my art studio and asked a question I LOVE to get asked: "Do you do commissions? We have a specific photo of a very special place to us". I love that. Of course, I was excited to talk to them about the project (about half of what I sell are commissions). I love commissions for many reasons. They are a pre-paid painting so uh, that's nice. But it's also a great way to not only get a nice piece of art (I'll keep painting it until it IS a nice piece of art) but it's also the opportunity to create something sentimental to the client. I've painted photos from honeymoons and vacations all over the world. 

So...Catawba Falls is done and is to be picked up this week. If you want directions to the trail, just email me or swing by my Asheville studio. Cheers!

"Valley of Shadows"

"Valley of Shadows" is taking shape, and it is haunting. This is really the most difficult piece I've ever done. I find I can only work on it for about 20 minutes at a time. The texture is nearly laid and should be ready to cover with the aluminum leaf shortly. I really enjoy painting beauty and this is not beautiful at all. I hope it's powerful though.

I find it difficult to interact with people coming into my River Arts District studio while I'm working on this piece. Seriously! "Oh!" says some woman from any random state in the U.S. upon entering the studio. "Look George! The artist is working!" (This is my studio. Of course I'm working.) "What are you working on?" she asks excitedly.

How do I explain what I'm working on? "Well, I'm depicted corpses at the moment". What do I say? I try to work on this first thing in the morning, before many people are wondering in. Folks, this is really difficult.

Everything else I paint, I am completely fine with being interrupted with questions and with people coming around my desk for a closer look at what I'm working on at the moment. This one is different. I feel like the time I am working on this is holy. Truly sacred. I don't want it interrupted.

So if you're reading this and you're a recent early morning visitor to my studio and wondered why the artist was so aloof and in his own little world, well...now you know. I apologize. I really was in my own little world, but I had to be there. I had to be focused. I had to listen in my head. So difficult. I would much prefer painting mountain scenes around Asheville. 

River Arts District painting 1
River Arts District painting 2
River Arts District painting 3

Valley of Shadows

inspiration for new oil painting

While we were in Germany the last couple of weeks, one of the things I needed to do was to visit what remains of the concentration camp at Dachau, just outside of Munich. I needed to see it because several weeks ago, a gentleman visited my Asheville studio and asked me to consider doing a painting commission based on the Holocaust, which was the strangest and most daunting request for an art commission I'd ever received. But I felt like this was something I needed to do.

The commission itself did not work out, but the idea was planted in my head and it's been growing. It will be dark and disturbing, but artists before me have depicted dark and disturbing subjects before (Goya comes to mind). So I wanted to visit Dachau (since it's so close to Munich where we were staying) and soak it in -- let it do in my heart whatever it wanted to do so that I could then depict that in my future painting.

It was not pleasant.

The only way I could take it in was to not fully take it all in. I don't know how anyone can "fully" take it in. I felt myself hardening while I strolled slowly through the grounds. Row upon row of barracks foundations still stand, and I felt a horrible weight. I've never felt anything so miserable and dark and dreadful before.

Row upon row of barracks.

Close your eyes and you still can't imagine the pain of the place. These were real human lives and I wanted to hear them but again, I felt a self-protective "deadening" of my heart. It was the only way I could keep walking; could keep "listening".

It got darker still.

We walked into the very room where people were told to strip. We walked into the next room, tiled floor to ceiling as though it were a shower. I walked into that dark room, silent now but you can still feel a horrible weightiness there. Crushing.

We saw rafters in front of crematory ovens from which people were hung, so that the last thing on this earth they would see would be the open oven door.

No one speaks at Dachau. Communication is in short whispers. It is a holy and horrible place. No one knows how to take it all in and comprehend it. How can you? How can you even begin?

How did this happen? Germany was not a third world country full of back-woods people controlled by superstition. They were a major western civilization, full of creative people. It was a country full of world famous musicians, painters, writers and scientists. But it was a struggling country. They felt like they were not in control of their destiny anymore. They wanted Germany to be great again and they found someone who promised the moon. And then they turned their head when the horrors began to happen. How could this have happened? I think the scenario sounds hauntingly familiar. Similar things could happen anywhere in any generation unless we remember and learn from the past. If you listen, in places like Dachau, the past still has a voice and it is dark and absolutely crushing.

I know now what I need to paint. Some would say it's a waste of time because it may never sell. But art is my voice. And right now, I want to speak.

More to come.

the breakers

"the breakers" (18" x 24")

"the breakers" (18" x 24")

This was was...uh...interesting. I hear people come in my studio and say silly things to each other like "well remember, there are NO MISTAKES in art". Rubbish. I've made them all. I originally started this one several weeks ago and I liked the idea: very subtle gray, dark, muted colors. Anyway, it should have been hanging on my wall this last month except I was so disgusted with the original version of it that I took my paint-thinner soaked rag to it and wiped off as much paint as I could, then completely re-covered it with aluminum leaf and started over. This time, I switched gears and went with aquatic colors. As usually, I had no idea what was going to happen in this abstract as it progressed, but the very last day of paint application, it took the form of an abstracted seascape: waves crashing. I was very happy. 

So the next time you hear someone say something ridiculous like "there are no mistakes in art", just butt in please and tell them "uh...you mean there are no mistakes that can't be corrected". Happily, most "mistakes" can indeed be remedied with some grit and determination. 

So enjoy "the breakers".

The Three Voices
by Robert W. Service

The waves have a story to tell me, 
As I lie on the lonely beach; 
Chanting aloft in the pine-tops, 
The wind has a lesson to teach; 
But the stars sing an anthem of glory
I cannot put into speech. 

The waves tell of ocean spaces, 
Of hearts that are wild and brave, 
Of populous city places, 
Of desolate shores they lave, 
Of men who sally in quest of gold
To sink in an ocean grave. 

The wind is a mighty roamer; 
He bids me keep me free, 
Clean from the taint of the gold-lust, 
Hardy and pure as he; 
Cling with my love to nature, 
As a child to the mother-knee. 

But the stars throng out in their glory, 
And they sing of the God in man; 
They sing of the Mighty Master, 
Of the loom his fingers span, 
Where a star or a soul is a part of the whole, 
And weft in the wondrous plan. 

Here by the camp-fire's flicker, 
Deep in my blanket curled, 
I long for the peace of the pine-gloom, 
When the scroll of the Lord is unfurled, 
And the wind and the wave are silent, 
And world is singing to world.

 

"Cullasaja Falls" Completion photo

North Carolina Landscape - Cullasaja Falls

Well here it is. Done. After just over 13 months, it's now hanging on my wall, and it's hard for me to get used to. It's actually shocking every time I pass by. "OMG! Okay yes, there you are!"  It's like someone belting out a strain from a Wagnerian opera every time you walk by it (it's very hard to ignore).

I learned a whole lot from this project. I hadn't really don't much with the "waterfall theme" before, but now that I've gotten my feet wet so to speak (pardon the pun), I've got two other waterfall paintings nearly done (though much smaller in scale). 

No other painting has been so challenging and really, no other has given me so much joy in it's creation. 

"Under The Waterfall" by Thomas Hardy

'Whenever I plunge my arm, like this, 
In a basin of water, I never miss
The sweet sharp sense of a fugitive day
Fetched back from its thickening shroud of gray. 
Hence the only prime
And real love-rhyme
That I know by heart, 
And that leaves no smart, 
Is the purl of a little valley fall
About three spans wide and two spans tall
Over a table of solid rock, 
And into a scoop of the self-same block; 
The purl of a runlet that never ceases
In stir of kingdoms, in wars, in peaces; 
With a hollow boiling voice it speaks
And has spoken since hills were turfless peaks.'

'And why gives this the only prime
Idea to you of a real love-rhyme? 
And why does plunging your arm in a bowl
Full of spring water, bring throbs to your soul?'

'Well, under the fall, in a crease of the stone, 
Though precisely where none ever has known, 
Jammed darkly, nothing to show how prized, 
And by now with its smoothness opalized, 
Is a grinking glass: 
For, down that pass
My lover and I
Walked under a sky
Of blue with a leaf-wove awning of green, 
In the burn of August, to paint the scene, 
And we placed our basket of fruit and wine
By the runlet's rim, where we sat to dine; 
And when we had drunk from the glass together, 
Arched by the oak-copse from the weather, 
I held the vessel to rinse in the fall, 
Where it slipped, and it sank, and was past recall, 
Though we stooped and plumbed the little abyss
With long bared arms. There the glass still is. 
And, as said, if I thrust my arm below
Cold water in a basin or bowl, a throe
From the past awakens a sense of that time, 
And the glass we used, and the cascade's rhyme. 
The basin seems the pool, and its edge
The hard smooth face of the brook-side ledge, 
And the leafy pattern of china-ware
The hanging plants that were bathing there.

'By night, by day, when it shines or lours, 
There lies intact that chalice of ours, 
And its presence adds to the rhyme of love
Persistently sung by the fall above. 
No lip has touched it since his and mine
In turns therefrom sipped lovers' wine.'