Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Down Under Blues

In 1980 my father, newly retired and with time on his hands, decided to become an urban farmer. After time researching at the library and going through seed catalogs, he decided to go the exotic route. Over the next few years, with varying results, he planted jicama, carambola, chayote, and sapodilla. He also planted a carrotwood and a silver oak tree.

Thirty years later I inherited the old homestead and a large yard in dire need of tender and not so tender loving care. The carrotwood and silver oak trees, in particular, needed my immediate attention. They had grown into green monsters that threatened to devour the back yard.

My inquiries about them at the county horticultural office brought instant reprimand. “Those are opportunistic invasive trees from Australia. You should cut them down.”

Their candid remarks were surprising and a bit irritating. After all my father’s and later my work, cutting down trees was not an option. I would revisit that decision many times in the following months.

The carrotwood tree has proved to be a royal pain where I sit. A tropical evergreen, the tree was introduced to Florida in the 1950s as a decorative ornamental variety. Bad move indeed. The fast growing exotic produces tons of flowers and then tons of seeds. The seeds and seed casings end up on the lawn and are soon followed by a two week shower of dead leaves, a dry land deluge of epic proportions.

Turns out the seasons down under are the opposite of Florida’s. Australia’s fall is our early summer, which means I must rake up all that @%^&%$*!! leaf litter in 90 degree heat and humidity.

My father left me a lot for which I am grateful. An endless summer of windblown rained-on dun colored leaves is not one of them. Aussie go home!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Hot Type In Hot 'Lanta

From 1969 until 1983 I lived in Atlanta and made somewhat of a living as a graphic designer. My loner temperament would not condone the 9-5 workaday world, so most of my time was spent doing free-lance work.

The city was awash with hot-shot designers during the '70's and us free-lance folk could not afford to be choosy with jobs. During my years there I designed display windows, television props, newspaper and magazine illustrations, gift catalogs and logo designs,

One of the more interesting jobs turned out to be doing the paste-up for a monthly magazine called "Army Aviation Digest." A paste-up involved taking the various elements of a magazine; type, photos, illustrations, and ads, and making them camera ready before being printed.

Everything was straightforward except the magazine's body copy which came from the last of Atlanta's hot type shops. This old school method produced metal type from molten lead on a Linotype machine. I was able to see the machine in action several times and the sights and sounds of the hulking beast reminded me of some Rube Goldberg contraption.

I knew I was looking at a machine that had somehow escaped the hot type mass extinction. Quick and clean photo type had finished off the others years ago. And photo type would be eclipsed in turn a few years later by super fast computers. In mass communication change is the only constant and I felt fortunate to get a glimpse of the last of a gone-by era.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Free Art

Silent Sentinel, mixed-media on wood panel, c. 1960

My father, Richard Gaston, was a mapmaker by trade and an artist by spirit. He loved Kandinsky, the German abstractionists and Surrealism. He considered himself a serious painter, but never made much money from his creations. In his life time he painted less than a hundred pieces.

If someone expressed interest in a painting, my father often gave it to them as a gift. For years I marked this down as a character flaw; the insecurity of a part-time painter. And it took years to realize my mistake.

Recently, going through his things, I was surprised to discover a record of all his art work. The list, hand written in his distinctive style, began in the 1940's and included titles, dates, media, and prices. After some works were the names of  people who had purchased them. There was a doctor, a printer, and several business associates. Other paintings were given as gifts and even bartered.

I've come late to the realization that an artist's worth has little to do with their sales record, except in the market place. And the market place can be as insecure as a pampered Rock star. More important is the ability to see beyond the thing created and realize it does not define who we are. That is a good definition of an artist very secure in what they create. And it becomes another lesson given to me by my father.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Second Coming

After a long hiatus and browser snafu, I have rejoined the blog world. The challenge of stringing words together in more or less coherent form became the impetus to get me going again. Sharing images of mine and others art over the years proved to be an important visual journal.

This piece, titled The Second Coming, is one of a series inspired by poetry. The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats has long intrigued me and resulted in several works based on this prophetic poem. Some days I look at the painting and consider it finished and other days I see much revision ahead. Something is still waiting to be born.


Monday, November 11, 2013

I Will Not Click On This Link

I will not click on this link I will not click on this link I will not click on this link I will not click on this link I will not click on this link I will not click on this link I will not click on this link I will not click on this link I will not click on this link I will not click on this link I will not click on this link

Thursday, November 7, 2013



In 1876, Italian circus performer Paulo Duccio, like millions of Europeans, immigrated to the promised land of America. Unable to find work, he bummed his way west until he wound up broke and desperate in St. Louis. The Gateway To The West they called it, and the train station was the point of departure for everyone bound for California. Duccio figured it would be the perfect place to hustle spare change.

As he had done many times before, the clever carny reached into his bag of disguises. This time he pulled out a clown. Dressed as a bumbling aristocrat, Duccio became an instant hit on the station waiting platform. Weary travelers loved his disappearing tricks and slap-stick comedy; loved him enough to throw a few coins into the stove pipe hat he passed around.

The railroad company liked Duccio too. They hired him to perform at employee functions and shareholder meetings. Performing in halls all across the Midwest, the clown gradually took on the role of jester. Dancing and cavorting in total silence, he became Punchinello, the fool.

After every performance, with great fanfare, he produced a gilded hand mirror from his baggy trousers. Staring intently at himself for a few seconds, the clown suddenly burst into silent laughter. Then, slowly shuffling through the auditorium, he showed people their image in the mirror. The clown clearly enjoyed this burlesque, and his self-deprecating buffoonery soon had the shareholders chuckling. Many saw in the mirror that they also looked foolish, yet all chose to join in the charade.

The clown’s performances injected levity into the serious business of making money, and Duccio found himself in demand for other corporate meetings. Famous at last, he began wearing his Punchinello costume everywhere. At restaurants he sat at special tables, eating in silence as patrons laughed and applauded. People recognized him on the street, men tipped their hats.

Over time, Duccio forgot his other self and could often be seen at home in the evening reading his paper, dressed as the clown he had become.

One Fourth of July, the clown was hired to provide laughs at a picnic for railroad employees. This time, however, he was given a different task to perform. A tiny platform had been constructed high above a great wooden barrel filled with water.

For his part, the clown must somehow climb a flimsy rope ladder to the platform. After much melodramatic hand-wringing, he would leap into the water forty feet below. His practice jump had ended badly when he bruised his shoulder on the barrel’s edge.

The afternoon performance arrived, and the clown seemed understandably anxious. Clinging to the swaying ladder and unsure of himself, he sweated profusely in the blazing sun. With great effort, he crawled onto the platform and stood, eyes closed, now shivering in the Midwest heat.

As the crowd cheered wildly, the clown inched his oversize shoes to the platform’s edge. Sweat stung his eyes, and he felt like puking. But he could not go back. Duccio was, after all, a performer. So, crossing himself once, he raised his arms high and jumped.

Down and down he plunged and every mother and every child gasped in astonishment. In a blur of color, the clown hit the water, a warm spray splashing the circle of excited onlookers. He surfaced, gasping, alive, and checked to see that all body parts were accounted for.

Under a darkening sky, the clown treaded water, marveling at his good fortune. Everyone squeezed forward for a better look and did not mind when the skies finally opened. It rained long and hard, like on a Kansas corn field summer day. Not one person walked away.

And then a peculiar thing happened. The rain, and water, and sweat began to have an effect on the clown. His gaudy grease paint make-up puddled and ran. His bulbous rubber nose gave way and slid into the water, followed by fuchsias, yellows and blues.

As the clown slowly washed away, the crowd stared in disbelief. Someone else began to emerge, someone altogether different; a pink incredulous old man. From somewhere deep under water, a shiny mirror found its way to the surface. The man held the mirror up and gazed, unbelieving, at his reflection.

Lifting his eyes, he looked out past the people and railroad tracks, out beyond the rows of tasseled corn to a spot on the horizon. Fierce rain pelted his wrinkled face, but he continued gazing into the distance. Now the gilded mirror fell from a gloved hand. Duccio the forgotten man gave an audible sigh and slipped beneath the rainbow waters.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Worst Of Show

The first time I saw him was late Sunday morning standing in front of my art display. Middle-aged with a Donald Trump comb-over, he stood motionless, taking in each of the seven art works. Satisfied, he turned, and with a thumbs-up in my direction, walked away.

I saw the same man later inside my booth closely examining one of the paintings. This time he came over and introduced himself. A retired antique dealer, he went on and on about the painting and how its image stayed with him as he walked the outdoor show.

“That piece is the best painting I’ve seen all day.”

With visions of a big sale dancing in my head, I went into my best sales pitch mode. I told him the story behind the piece and the laborious effort to create it. In my enthusiasm, I told him my entire life story. He grew more and more interested and seemed unfazed with the painting’s steep price. After looking at the other works once more, the man turned and pointed at the painting.

“I’ve made a decision, I want that painting!”

I forget what I said in response, but my bumbling naiveté surely came pouring out. We discussed framing and wall placement, what kind of varnish was used and where I had signed my name. Here, I thought, was a no nonsense art collector who appreciated my work. Talk then came round to delivery and payment options.

“Great!” said the man, “do me a favor and hold it for a bit. My wife has the check-book and I’ll just go get it from her. Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”

The man, of course, never came back. Some time later, I worked up the nerve to share this story with a friend. She, an art show veteran, looked at me with a mixture of surprise and pity.

“Oh, that was one of those awful ‘be-backers.’ He had no intention of buying your art.”