Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Choco Love

Remember when you were a kid and your parents took you to a candy store? Remember when you thought working there must be the best job in the whole world? And then one of the workers said, “No, after a while, you get tired of all that candy.”

Well, it’s just not true. After five years of working at Richard’s Foodporium Dunedin, which has 32 different kinds of chocolate candy, I still get a powerful craving to eat each and every one of them; the dark chocolate almonds, the pistachio chocolate toffee, the goji cacao chunks, the dark chocolate pretzels, the dark chocolate coffee beans, the chocolate peanut butter malt balls.

I could go on and on, but lately have begun a courageous attempt at total chocolate abstinence. To this end I’ve joined the local chapter of CA, Chocoholics Anonymous. Their famous 12 Step Program has saved thousands like myself from the gooey clutches of demon chocolate.

It’s been tough going but I’m almost halfway through. Now let me tell you about the dreaded Step 6. This devious part of the program is more like a stumble than a step. “Step 6: I will never ever give in to temptation. Place a bag of dark chocolate hazelnuts in the kitchen cabinet and leave it there unopened and untouched.”  That was two weeks ago and I must say I’ve been quite strong in my resistance, even though I go in the kitchen a lot.

But the other night something woke me from a sound sleep. I’m sure I heard whispering, but was it in a dream. I lay there silent, straining to hear and just then came faint but unmistakable voices from the kitchen. “Denis, we’re in here. In the kitchen cabinet.” 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Two Reads For A Wet Week

A good friend recently down-sized her Florida home and offered me first pick from a stack of books headed to the library. Passing over exotic travel books and thick novels, I selected two very different paperbacks; Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris and Chris Rose’s 1 dead in attic. Only later when I began reading did I discover a connection between the two books. 

David Sedaris has made a career of making us laugh at the absurdities of life and Holidays on Ice is no exception. This is a collection of six of Sedaris’s most profound stories about Christmas. After reading “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!,” I’ll never be able to read another holiday newsletter with a straight face.
There is nothing funny about 1 dead in attic, journalist Chris Rose’s firsthand account of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Rose’s collection of essays, wonderfully complemented by Charlie Varley's photographs, offers a stark and gut-wrenching look at life in The Big Easy post-Katrina. It’s also a reminder of the failure of governmental bureaucracy that preceded and set the stage for the Hurricane.

The common thread that these two books share is the often irrational and ridiculous nature of life. Whether we laugh at the absurdity or cry, what results is a kind of catharsis. And through this collective release, we are able to go on with our own lives.

photo- 1 dead in attic, Charlie Varley, c. all rights reserved

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cool Time In Hot Town

This weekend marks the 27th year of the now venerable Cool Art Show. This small indoor event has, over the years, become the gold standard for artist run exhibitions. But those of us who launched the Show in 1987 had little idea it would evolve into a major summer exhibition. All we aimed for was to make a little money in that beastly time of year when no one dared have an outdoor show in Florida.

So we forged ahead with equal parts naiveté and hope and a tremendous amount of work. The results of that effort will be on display at St. Petersburg Coliseum where 80 top notch artists gather to share and sell their art. Thinking on Cool Art has dislodged a gaggle of memories that now deserve to be shared.

For a number of years, Jack Breit brought his miniature golf clubs to the Show. He lay out a course on the exhibition floor and during slow times artists and patrons tried their hand at putting. Amazingly, no artwork got destroyed or ankles turned on errant golf balls.

One year my van blew a tire on the Bayside Bridge and I nearly crashed into the side. As I cursed and sweated changing the tire, Steve Littlefield came driving by. He slowed down, honked and waved and kept right on driving.

In 1990, with July fast approaching, we still had no venue for the Show. At the last moment, the Dunedin Fine Art Center agreed to put up with us for the weekend, and 30 artists jammed their displays into the two unfinished main galleries. It was probably the only time an art center hosted an outdoor art show indoors.

Artists can be quite testy at times, but even worse are their spouses. One late night I got a phone call from an artist’s irate wife. She demanded to know why her husband had been juried out of the Show. For thirty minutes I listened to her rant and tried to remain calm and reason with her. But when she hinted at the possibility that something might happen to me, I hung up.

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.