Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Heavenly Shades of Night

There is an astonishing exhibition of Vincent van Gogh's art at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). “Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night” runs through January 5, 2009 and then travels to Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum (February 13-June 7, 2009).

The van Gogh we usually think of, the painter of passion, audacity, and exuberant brushwork, is more evident in his daylight paintings, such as Sunflowers or Wheatfield with Crows. But in his night scenes we see more restraint and a willingness to slow down and soak in the muted nocturnal colors.

Van Gogh was fascinated by night and twilight all his life. He wrote to his brother Theo that the night is much more rich and alive than the day. Terrace of a Café at Night is a wonderful example of this thinking.

My own fascination with van Gogh began when I first saw his work in art books my father brought home from the library. His art, so different from the older Impressionists, jumped off the pages and immediately became part of my visual unconscious. Later in Art History 101 I learned how van Gogh, along with Paul Gauguin, changed the course of modern art.

Years ago, two friends and I travelled around France for a month and ended up in Paris for the last three days. Eager to at last go out on my own, I snuck off one afternoon to the Musee d’Orsay, that glorious railway station turned art museum on Paris’ Left Bank. For over two hours I wandered from gallery to gallery, following a historical timeline of modern art.

My feet ached and my stomach growled, but, realizing Late 19th Century Art was just ahead, I soldiered on. Somehow I got behind a group of Japanese tourists and, thankful for their slower pace, dutifully followed along behind. Presently, we entered a large maroon-painted gallery and the Japanese stopped dead. Their excited whispers faded away, leaving the room in silence and me wondering.

Gradually the shuffling throng parted and I could finally see what had so completely commanded their attention – a gallery full of van Gogh’s paintings. The affect on me was immediate and stunning. Here in one room hung many of the masterpieces I had known only through book reproductions. Here was The Starry Night and The Bedroom at Arles and the portraits of Postman Joseph Roulin and Dr. Gachet. I do not easily show emotion, but there in the Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France, 1989, surrounded by lots of Japanese and van Goghs, I cried.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


One of the first things I realized about maintaining a blog is you’re only as good as your last post. To get the word out and drive traffic to your site, you must write, or photograph, or film and you must do it often. There are, after all, millions of folks out in cyber-land eagerly awaiting your pithy and erudite stories. They cannot even begin their day without first checking in with you.

Today while pondering the heavy responsibility this places on me, I naturally began thinking about the evolution of technology. It took humans millions of years to invent the wheel and only five thousand years after that to come up with the automobile. Eighty-four years later, in 1969, man first walked on the moon. Thirty-eight years after that, really, only the blink of an eye, this blog was birthed.

This month is the first anniversary of that momentous event and the proper time to thank everyone who subscribes or stumbles upon this site. I also allow myself some satisfaction, knowing I’ve turned all this into today’s post, and can now go eat my oatmeal.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Take A Trip To Tinytown

Here are two more new drawings done in oil pastel and chalk pastel. I will be exhibiting these and many similar works at the upcoming Art Festival Beth-El in St. Petersburg, January 24,25,26. They can also be seen at my studio. Contact me at dgaston@ij.net

Friday, December 12, 2008

Return To Smallville

I am just now putting the finishing touches on a new series of pastel, watercolor, and ink drawings. Most are 8" x 8", shadow-box mattedand framed under glass. These are drawings of our favorite friends, as they have never been seen, and are attractively priced for purchase. I will post other examples in the following days. Please contact me at dgaston@ij.net

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Workman's Compensation

In twenty-four years of making art, I’ve worked out of five studios in this little gulf side town, Dunedin. In two of my favorites, bull-dozers moved in after I moved out, while a third studio burned to the ground one December night. Developer’s progress doomed the first two and the third never had a chance against a determined arsonist.

What became most important in all cases was finding a way to continue working. This sweet agony of creation is a condition well understood by painters, musicians and writers. I’ll stop short of calling it an obsession, but many artists I know become seriously unpleasant after a few days away from the easel.

The affliction is poorly understood by producers of products or services in high demand. They wonder how so much labor can lead to so little. Where is the reward? And how many parents have argued late at night after learning their son wants to be a potter.

Making a living as an artist may not be the best career choice, but most legitimate artists work hard to make a life. New York is full of cab drivers who are actors and Nashville has its share of bartending musicians - their unspoken mantra, “Whatever it takes!”

Today, settling in at my kitchen-table studio, I’m thankful for the opportunity to create a series of small paintings.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The World's Most Famous Unknown Artist

Richard Gaston was many things in many places and some of them were not so good. Maybe a lesser man would have chucked it all and simply stayed out there on the road. My dad didn’t and made a career selling points-of-interest maps and guides up and down Florida, always returning to share the meager profits with his family.

To a growing son, his obstinate ways and brooding physical presence became a source of anxiety and longing for some part of him left out on the highway.

It was through his art that I came to know the man. He loved Kandinsky and the German abstract painters and created an oeuvre that harkened back to those early 20th Century masters. Artists often attempt to create a vision opposite the experiences of their own lives. Kandinsky, the son of Russian aristocracy, labored for years as a respectable attorney. The art he later pioneered became the antithesis of that kind of life.

My father’s abstract paintings, drawings, and throw-away sketches were the vivid chronicle of an artist immersed in life’s ambiguities. In their thick layers of color and simple isolated forms, one sensed a search for something perhaps long lost. I only later realized he was painting his own diary.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In Praise Of The Peel-Mobile

There is a certain pleasure that comes from living a predictable life - to know your slippers will always be near the bed or the morning paper will arrive at just the right time. This contentment of continuity is a buffer from other less predictable events we have little control over. I’ve often noticed this quality in older people, which may come from a lifetime of simply staying the course.

A simple pleasure for me is the knowledge that every morning I can get in my car and it will start. I then proceed to the next part of the day and after that I get in the car and it starts again, and every time thereafter.

One such car was a 1979 Dodge Aspen, hands down the best car I ever owned. Not top of the line or new, the utilitarian Dodge served me well for a dozen years before seizing up. Its knack for going and going for well over 200,000 miles earned it the name Energizer Aspen.

The answer, according to auto mechanics, lay under the hood- a slant-6 cylinder engine, stout and enduring enough to become one of the best out of Detroit. In an industry known for planned obsolescence, the slant-6 was so successful it eventually had to be terminated.

My rusty beast earned its reputation hauling art work and the removable back seat gave more room for oversize pieces. For years, the largest size art I could do measured 36” by 60”, just the right size to slide in the back.

Toward the end, the transmission started making strange sounds and age related problems finally rendered the Dodge undrivable. By then, my large paintings would only fit in a cargo van. The time had come for the Aspen to go on over.

My present car, a Ford van, gets the job done and carries much more, but does not bring a smile when I crank it up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Folding My Tent

One of my first sidewalk art shows took place on the same weekend a Florida winter storm blew through. All bluster and no bite, the storm came off the Gulf of Mexico with enough wind to topple my primitive art display.

As I cursed and scrambled to secure what I could, my artist neighbor sat stretched out in a lawn chair, reading a book. Finally, she looked up, and, with the hint of a smile, spoke for the first time.

"I always go to an art show expecting the best but prepared for the worst."

This past weekend I endured another disasterous show complete with the usual suspects - beer drinking good old boys, babies in strollers, goth students with no money in their pockets, corporate hot-shots with nothing except money in their pockets, and every kind of dog imaginable. And everyone of them competing to not buy the most art. It was the worst and I was not prepared for it.

In times like this, I tend to become philosophical and go on and on about "the wonderful learning experience even if I didn't make any money." The truth is, I should have learned my lesson with this kind of show years ago. Small art shows just starting out, with little advertising, and a bad location, should be avoided like a Thomas Kincade print.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sidewalk Art Shows Much Older Than Thought

In a remote mountain valley in Western China, scientists recently unearthed evidence that outdoor art shows are at least 2500 years older than previously thought. Working in an area of the rugged Tien Shan Mountain range in Xinjiang province, archaeologists from Chengdu Paranormal Institute stumbled upon remains of an advanced culture highly skilled in art making.

Team leader, Dr. Toe Chin Fat, explained that many fine examples were just lying around the site, which he named Glorious People's Art Valley.

"We find many beautiful art piece there, such as brightly embroider pot holder, drippy candles, and a line of shaman’s walking sticks."

On one clearly visible roadway, workers discovered remnants of felt tents, suggesting ancient artists may have come to town to sell their creations. Dr. Toe reported one richly carved mammoth tusk even had pieces of blue ribbon still attached to it.

"This piece probably win Best of Show," he chuckled.

If carbon dating is verified, the Glorious People's Art Festival would be almost 2000 years older than the next oldest festival, Winter Park, FL.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Art Takes A Hit At USF St. Petersburg

Below is a copy of an e-mail received from Joani Spadaro, USF St. Petersburg Professor of Graphic Design, regarding the imminent demise of that program. Just now emerging as a major cultural destination, St. Petersburg cannot afford to be without this vital art education.

"I wanted you all to know that USF St. Petersburg has plans to eliminate the Program in Graphic Design. My students were told of this just last week. At this point, it is not known if the juniors in the program will matriculate; they may have to transfer to other programs. The seniors will graduate with adjunct professors.

I have resigned my position from USF St. Pete due to a variety of reasons, all related to a lack of support for this vibrant, important and interesting program. The program is currently the only public BFA granting graphic design program on the west coast of Florida. It is popular, successful and at this point, I fear, doomed.

After being told that a national search was to be conducted for my successor, the students were then told that, due to budget cuts, the program would be eliminated. This makes little sense. The program is one of the most cost effective to run (according to the administration) and it is the only art program that is currently being offered on the St. Pete campus. This is a terrible situation for my students and for the arts community in general. The university seems to think of art in general and the Program in Graphic Design specifically as a dispensable. I hope that you share my outrage and concern.

There is a meeting of the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Council at 2:00 on Friday, November 14 to discuss this situation. The meeting is open to the public and is currently scheduled to be held in the Dean's Conference Room, Davis Hall 100. I will update you on any change of venue.

Thank you for your support!"

Warm Regards,

Joani Spadaro
Associate Professor of Graphic Design
Director, Program in Graphic Design
USF St. Petersburg

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I Wish The Sun Would Come Out

Several days ago I received an e-mail asking my help to promote an awards ceremony for people who have contributed to the area art scene. The non-profit organization hosting the ceremony listed all the winners on its web site.

Glancing over the list, I was struck by the fact that most of the winners headed up businesses other than art. The few artists I recognized were honored, not for their art making abilities, but their marketing skills and business acumen.

Every month state and county art council newsletters show up in my e-mail box. Under opportunities in the arts, there are pages of jobs available at art museums, art centers, art galleries, schools, and government art programs. Opportunities to actually sell art take up only a few paragraphs.

The whole support structure of American art has slipped off center. In the rush of organizations to secure funding, maintain programs, meet payroll, and please the board and fickle public, the artist is becoming marginalized. Over the years, artists have been asked to donate art in support of political campaigns, AIDS benefits, social service organizations and even high school football programs. On occasion, they have requested a quid pro quo arrangement, only to be labeled whining malcontents.

The Arts can be likened to a unique solar system with myriad planets circling around a central shining star. Museums, galleries and arts organizations are the planets spinning around an artist sun. They thrive in the creative glow and reflect back much needed warmth and support. The order of this solar system has changed and the artist is getting knocked out of orbit.

Monday, November 3, 2008

New Pictures At An Exhibition

The 45th Dunedin Art Harvest took place this past weekend and judging from the sparse crowds and low sales, the rotten economy is indeed affecting art lovers (buyers).

I will not complain. Beautiful weather, plentiful friends and free spanakopita made up for everything. An Award of Excellence didn't hurt either. Thanks for the photos Matt and Ligia.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jack Barrett Retrospective

In 1984 I moved back to Florida with the idea of finding employment in graphic design, the same kind of work I had done for fifteen years. Daily I scoured the St. Petersburg Times classifieds in hopes of landing a lucrative job I felt I richly deserved.

My searches were in vain, but I discovered something else that would be just as rewarding. It was there in the Times I began seeing the wonderful art of Jack Barrett, first in small spot drawings and news features and later in full-color illustrations.

Jack’s work made an immediate impression, being neither cartoons nor generic clip art, but a style quite different. His bold figurative drawings demanded attention and I realized here was no mere illustrator but an original artist.

Jack retired from the Times in 1989 to pursue fine art full time and his paintings began showing up in gallery exhibitions. His was a rich painter’s vocabulary, and no matter the style, from meticulous realism to loose expressionism, Jack’s vision always shone through.

Over the years, Jack stayed true to the belief of the artist as storyteller, and to his credit his narrative paintings never give anything away. They, instead, pull the viewer in and allow them to become part of the story. His art retains mystery and freshness on the fourth viewing or the fortieth.

Jack passed away in February of this year and The Arts Center in St. Petersburg has mounted a large retrospective, Jack Barrett: A Soul's Journey. This week I had the pleasure of viewing the exhibition with curator Amanda Cooper, who shared insightful stories of Jack and his art making.

Of particular interest is a wall size display of a small portion of Jack’s many sketch books. Standing in front of this time line of masterful gesture and spontaneity was an awe inspiring experience.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Jockey

This is a recently completed mixed-media painting titled The Jockey. It is one of a new series called "Eikones" (Icons), heroic portraits of familiar figures, in this case a jockey. I will be exhibiting this and six other iconic portraits at Dunedin Art Harvest, November 1,2. If you would like to get a sneak preview, please contact me at mrcoolink@ij.net or 727 733-1688.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dale Chihuly In St. Petersburg

The Arts Center of St. Petersburg is embarking on a major expansion that will feature a beautiful new building on Central Avenue. The central component of the project will be the first ever museum of glass art by visionary artist Dale Chihuly. Chihuly is credited with being the first person to take art glass out of the studio and into the museum. His colorful organic creations grace public spaces, corporations, and museums all over the world.

The groundbreaking for Phase 1 took place this past Friday, and was well attended by supporters and city and county representatives. Evelyn Craft, Executive Director of the Arts Center, gave a short history of the Center and introduced local philanthropist Beth Ann Morean, whose generous gift made the new building possible.

St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker gave his enthusiastic stamp of approval on the project and welcomed Dale Chihuly, appointing the artist an honorary citizen of St. Petersburg.

Scheduled for completion in spring 2010, the Arts Center and Chihuly Collection will join a new Dali Museum building, expanded Museum of Fine Arts, and Florida Holocaust Museum, making St. Petersburg a premiere cultural destination.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mr. America

This new mixed-media painting titled Mr. America is one of a series on familiar iconic figures that I'm presently working on. Others in the series are The Housewife, The Clown, The Attorney and a Gulf Coast heroic figure, The Hurricane Survivor. Watch this space, more to come.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My Favorite Gustav

We are deep into summer here in Florida and hurricanes are stacked up over the South Atlantic like 747s coming into La Guardia. Weather forecasting has become so sophisticated we know instantly when one of these swirling dervishes spins out of Africa. I can't decide if long term forecasts are a good thing or another opportunity for high anxiety.

Perhaps early homesteaders had it right after all. When they saw their pigs sailing through the air, they knew it was time to go. And going was probably easier back then; hitch up the wagon, load the family in and head out. With the population nearing two million, evacuating from the Tampa Bay region would not be so easy today.

I'm putting my faith in the fact that this area hasn't had a direct hurricane hit since 1921. While ruminating on all of this, I thought of another Gustav, a kinder, more gentle one, Gustav Holst, the English composer of The Planets. As Hurricane Gustav raced up the Gulf, 400 miles to the east, I drew a picture of the composer.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nothing To Say

I had big plans to go to my art studio today for four hours of uninterrupted painting. With no telephone solicitors, or chain e-mails to worry about, I looked forward to quality creative time.

The work day begun un-ravelling the moment I stood in front of the blank canvas. The studio was too hot. My sore shoulder started aching. I paced back and forth, wondering if there was any iced-tea in the fridge. Maybe some music would help. How did the place get so dirty. I'll just clean up a bit.

Forcing myself back to the canvas, I felt at a loss, not knowing where to begin. The movie "Pollock" popped into my mind. At one point in the movie, Ed Harris, playing Jackson Pollock, stood in front of a blank canvas. The thing was so huge it covered the entire screen. Pollock became overwhelmed and sat in front of the empty canvas for two days.

There is a term for what Pollock was going through and it's called existential angst. This condition occurs whenever it becomes necessary to create something from nothing. After procastinating and waiting in vain for something to happen, I decided I must have existential angst. After three hours, it became obvious that today I had nothing to say.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Attraction of Opposites

The above piece is just now available for purchase. The title is The Attraction of Opposites, a pastel on paper, 38"h. x 30"w. frame size, 31"h. x 24"w. image size. $800.00 plus tax and shipping. PayPal is available. For information or to arrange a studio visit, please contact me at mrcoolink@ij.net More art work can be seen at my web gallery.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

New Art Offering

I continue to offer for purchase certain art works under glass, and pictured is the current piece. The title is Pele Rekindled, an oil on paper, 38"h. x 29"w. framed, 31"h. x 23"w. image. The price is $800.00 plus tax and shipping. PayPal is available. Contact me at mrcoolink@ij.net All are also welcome to visit my studio in Dunedin, FL. 727 733-1688 727 560-3766

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Brillante Weblog

My blog has received this cool award thanks to fellow blogger and primo writer Augusta Scattergood.

So now I get to choose some of my favorite blogs and spread the word.

Here are the rules:

1) Put the logo on your blog.

2) Add a link to the person who awarded you.

3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs.

4) Add links to those blogs on yours.

5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.

Here are some very good visual art blogs:


Toy Camera Play

Nancy Cervenka

Art Squeeze

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Picture at an Exhibition

A couple of hours ago, art buddy Matt Larson whipped out his cool i-phone at the Cool Art Show in St. Petersburg and clicked this pic. Actually, I don't think it clicked at all, just made an odd pixellating sound. He captured the artist as a relaxed chap. Art sales have a way of doing that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Way Cool

In May, 1987 a friend and I sat commiserating in some dim Chinese restaurant. We had just completed our last outdoor art show of the season, and now faced a hot bleak summer of no shows and few opportunities to sell art.
Somewhere between the egg-drop soup and the Buddha's Delight, I casually suggested there should be an indoor show for artists who did not travel during the summer. Indoors and air-conditioned, we could call it, oh I don't know, maybe call it Cool Art.

At that, my friend looked up from his plate of Egg-Fu-Yung, and allowed that was the best idea I'd had in a long time. "Why don't you do it," he challenged.

Thus was born The Cool Art Show, now in its 20th year and one of Tampa Bay's oldest artist-run exhibitions. Early on, the idea for a show was taken up by PAVA, a fledgling local art group, and the first Cool exhibition of twenty artists took place only because of some gentle arm twisting and hopes for a few art sales.

For a completely volunteer, mostly unsponsered, artist run art exhibition to succeed for twenty years is extraordinary. This could only come about through the efforts of a group of dedicated people and the continued participation of exceptional artists.

The 20th Anniversary Exhibition of the Cool Art Show will take place July 19, 20 at the historic Coliseum in St. Petersburg. For more information go to http://www.pava-artists.org/ and click on Exhibitions.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Life In The Urbs

Natural selection has not been kind to the city squirrel. Or perhaps mom nature decided to have a bit of fun at the little rodent’s expense. There are 250 world-wide squirrel species, from a 4" African pygmy to a 35" Asian whopper, and I suspect they all share the same odd characteristics as the Eastern Grays that scamper about my neighborhood.

The inherited traits which could be said to have a most profound effect on urban squirrels are their curiosity, short attention spans, and hesitation. I’ve observed these same traits in the two that noisily stake out my yard. They race from tree to tree with carefree abandon, only to stop dead on a branch, and stare off into space for several minutes. One of them finally descends to the ground to dig for buried treasures, but just as quickly becomes bored with that task.

Eventually something across the street catches its eye, and the ever curious animal dashes onto the asphalt. And it is here where internal combustion trouble lurks. Halfway across, the squirrel comes to a halt, sits back on its haunches and looks all around. What was that strange noise from far off? What is that ominous vibration coming from below?

The squirrel sits perplexed, not knowing what it’s supposed to do. Should it continue across the street or beat a hasty retreat back to its leafy home? The sound gets louder and the asphalt moves under its feet, but the squirrel doesn’t budge. Suddenly it sees the approaching predator, a metallic beast bearing down on it.

Strangely, the squirrel remains in the middle of the street, hesitating, still weighing its choices. Then, as if a dim bulb goes on over its head, the squirrel turns and races for home. Too late, a shiny SUV flattens the hapless creature before it reaches the curb.

I’ve seen it happen too many times to be considered an isolated incident. There seems to be a common pattern in the various squirrel squashings, and I believe the answer lies in a squirrel's native instincts.

Nature, boiled down to its rude essentials, can be stated simply, “Eat and don’t get eaten.” For little critters way down on the food chain, that means don’t be seen, smelled or heard. And if a pine marten should get a whiff and come calling, squirrels know their best bet is to hide and freeze. This hard-wired reaction served the animal well for millions of years in primeval forests, but comes up short on America’s city streets.

You cannot hide from a soulless half-ton pickup barreling down the road at 50 mph. Play invisible and some unlucky city worker gets to scrape you off the black-top. But the squirrel’s real undoing may be that it just wants to get one more look at that fast approaching contraption. In the end, curiosity killed the squirrel.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Works on Paper

"Bird of Heaven," pastel on paper, 40"h. x 30"w. framed size, 33"h. x 24"w. image size, $700.00 plus tax, shipping. SOLD

This mixed media work-on-paper is part of a group that I rescued from the horrific Imago Studio fire last December. After conserving and, in some cases, elaborating on the pieces, the art was archivally framed and placed under uv glass. These are the last works of their kind from the years 1988-2007, and will be offered for purchase at a considerable saving. PayPal is also available. Please contact me at mrcoolink@ij.net

More art available for purchase can be seen at my web gallery, Denis Gaston Art

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Starving Artist Special

The other day I got a craving for a bowl of ancho flavored chicken posole washed down with a cinnamon dusted horchata. In all of my “you can do this but not that” mental games, eating great spicy food trumps everything.

So I hurried over to my favorite Dunedin restaurant, Casa Tina on Main Street. Grabbing a vacant window seat, I mentally prepared myself for the feast to come. A waitress I hadn’t seen in a while came by, and, after the customary chit-chat, asked if I wanted my usual, “The Starving Artist Special.” Hearing those words again caught me off guard. Staring in silence, I finally shook my head no and looked down at the menu I knew by heart.

In my many years of eating there, I became known as the artist who likes “The Starving Artist Special.” OK, what’s not to like about a delicious plate of frijoles negras, salsa, and rice with a side of chunky guacamole. Right there you have your three basic food groups, plus complete proteins, carbs, and fats. And I could get all that great food for six bucks.

It was the clever title that annoyed me and no amount of friendly cajoling would get the owners to change it. My stories of eating three meals a day and sometimes not even cleaning my plate could not dissuade them. The Starving Artist Special remained on the menu.

If truth be known, it was most likely artists who began using the term “starving artist,” probably in an effort to drum up more sales at the world’s first outdoor art show. We are often our own worst enemies. It did not take long for an amused public to add “starving artist” to their lexicon of marginalizing expressions. “You bohemian, self-indulgent, unconventional hippie! You starving artist!”

In a culture that considers art a luxury or does not take its creative class seriously, making a decent living will always be difficult. That does not mean artists are starving. Like many people, artists have learned to live within their means and use their creativity to fashion a rich and satisfying life.

Artists, who live life out of their own center, and have a vision they are able to create every day, could be said to be the most well fed of people.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


In 1886 Italian circus performer Paulo Duccio, like millions of other Europeans, immigrated to America. Unable to find work back East, he finally wound up in St. Louis, broke and desperate. That city had become the official gateway to the new West, 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 veteran carny reached into his bag of tricks, and this time pulled out a clown. Dressed as a bumbling aristocrat, he was 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 hired Duccio to perform at shareholder meetings and employee functions. Performing in halls all across the Midwest, the clown gradually took on the role of court 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 out laughing. Then, slowly shuffling through the auditorium, he showed people their image in the mirror. The clown clearly enjoyed this burlesque, and his infectious giggle soon had the shareholders chuckling too. 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 he found himself in demand for other corporate meetings. Famous at last, he started wearing his Punchinello costume everywhere. At restaurants he sat at special tables, and ate in silence, as patrons laughed and applauded. People recognized him on the street, men tipped their hats.

Over time, he 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 hot Fourth of July, the clown was hired to provide laughs at an outdoor rally for railroad employees. This time, however, he had 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 and, after much melodramatic hand-wringing, jump into the water forty feet below. His practice leap had ended badly when he injured his shoulder on the barrel’s edge.

The afternoon performance arrived, and the clown was understandably anxious. Clinging to the swaying ladder and unsure of himself, he sweated profusely in the blazing sun. After much effort, he pulled himself onto the platform and stood, eyes closed, shivering in the Midwest heat.

With a crowd cheering wildly, the clown inched his oversize shoes to the platform’s edge. Sweat stung his eyes, and he felt like puking. But there was no going back. Duccio was the performer. So he 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, waterlogged but alive, and checked to see that all parts were accounted for.

Under a darkening sky, the clown treaded water and marveled at his good fortune. Everyone moved forward for a better look, not minding when the skies finally opened, and it rained hard like on a Kansas corn field summer’s day. Not one person walked away.

And then a peculiar thing happened. All 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 slid off into the water, followed by fuchsias and yellows and blues.

The crowd stared in disbelief, as the clown slowly washed away and someone else emerged, 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. A fierce rain pelted his face, but he continued gazing into the distance. Now, as the mirror fell from his gloved hand, the man gave a barely audible sigh and slipped beneath the rainbow waters.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

But Is It Art?

I don't like paintings, but I love pictures! (Overheard recently at the Mayfaire Art Festival in Lakeland)

Outdoor art shows are a great place to hear unedited on-the-fly comments about art. People feel no compunction to reel in their feelings like they would in a museum or gallery. Perhaps they are more at ease in the great American outdoors, nibbling on a giant pretzel, sipping a cold Miller Lite, and perusing art.

Of course, the sun and suds take their toll, and viewers, wanting to impress their friends, suddenly become art experts, and often very loud ones. Artists, for their part, must learn to put up with all kinds of public display, and the art show veterans can easily be spotted. They stand next to their displays, looking slightly bemused, wearing thick coats of Armor All.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tabula Rasa

Painting should not be a career choice for the faint of heart. Faced with the prospect of paying the bills with art sales, an artist could be forgiven the occasional nagging anxiety; questions that refuse to go away. Where is the market for figurative abstraction? Should I get another part time job? In fact, it's been said that an artist’s success, depends, in part, on the ability to deal with such dilemmas. Acknowledge their presence, but never allow them into the studio.

I know from experience that it is much more than this. There are times when every brush stroke, or every color selection, is proceeded by an interior chorus of nay-sayers, all questioning my ability to make art. I believe I am not alone in this respect, and one definition of both courage and desperation might be ignoring those noisy critics - at least until one more painting gets done.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ateliers Encore

After a hiatus of several months, while we employed damage control, the Imago Art Group has finally opened its new studio doors. Working in a large space, graciously provided by the City of Dunedin, the artists have, once again, begun their monthly First Friday open house. On May 2 the public will have the opportunity for a close up look at the creative process, an endeavor neither boring or glamorous. The business of art making is a daunting challenge, but ultimately a very fulfilling one.

Imago Art Group is located at 620 Main Street, across from Mease Hospital and behind the Deli News Cafe. Friday, May 2, 6:30-9:00pm. Call 727 733-1688 for more information.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Amazon Seducer

One of my favorite musical groups is the Brazilian percussive ensemble Uakti. Classically trained, they draw inspiration from the rich and varied cultural traditions of that country. The name Uakti itself comes from a fantastic legend of the Amazon Tucano people.

Uakti was a monster with several holes on his body. When he ran across the forest, the wind passing through his body made wonderful sounds. Upon hearing the hypnotic rhythms, the Tucano women were drawn into the forest, where Uakti seduced them. The men became jealous and hunted and killed Uakti. From his burial site, three palm trees grew, which kept his spirit alive.

The musical wind instruments the Tucanos made from the palm trees reproduced the Uakti sound. This painting is how I imagined Uakti might have looked.

Monday, April 21, 2008


No artists I know are able to go into their studios and instantly produce art on demand. There is usually a period of time in which they resort to various tactics to jump start their creativity. This can be something as simple as sweeping out the place, or a more inner directed practice like meditation. Only then can they begin the serious business of making art.

I'm a lifelong doodler, a trait that's gotten me bounced from more than one menial job. Nonetheless, early on, I realized the importance of this seemingly innocent habit, and now use doodling to first get going in the studio. I often begin the creative day doing quick gestural drawings for an hour or so, after which time the ground has been prepared for more imposing work to come. I call this exercise "warm-ups," and above is one I completed this morning.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wicker Man

One of my favorite English films is the odd 60's release, Wicker Man, that became a minor cult classic, and spawned a recent inferior version starring Nicholas Cage. The original had Count Dracula himself, Christopher Lee, and centered on some pagan folk who lived on an island off the coast of Scotland. A young girl went missing and a devout police inspector goes to the island to investigate. That's when the weirdness begins.

For me, the most arresting image of the movie is the final scene of the burning wicker man. That scene stayed with me for years, and re-emerged as I worked on pieces for an exhibition in 2004. The theme of the show was the body as a vessel, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

The original movie played up the conflict between Christianity and paganism, but my interest lay in the transformative power of fire. With that in mind, I painted Wicker Man.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hot Tea

I recently completed this small painting, the first since a devastating fire last December destroyed my studio and most of my art work. Going through the rubble one day, I was surprised to discover a favorite tea cup sitting alone atop the charred remains of my desk. In awe that anything had survived the inferno, I carried the cup home and placed it on a shelf with other pottery.

After a few days of enjoying its refired beauty, I decided to test the cup's major function, holding tea. Hot water pooling on the counter told me it had not come through intact.

I brought the cup with me when I finally moved into a new studio. More than anything, I wanted to again make art, but grief became a roadblock against inspiration. Staring for long periods at the stout container that accompanied me through many creative journeys, I longed for a hot cup of tea. And so, slowly at first, savoring the process, I began to paint.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Woman In The Garden

I posted this piece as an example of an early oil pastel painting, but it looked lonely without a block of copy nearby. A story was called for. But to do that I must peel back a layer of the artist's unseen past. Here then is the story of a woman in the garden.

From an early age I've been fascinated by dark mysterious women from exotic locales; the coffee lands, chocolate lands, and olive-colored ladies from the Mediterranean. I kept travel magazines in my bedroom and looked at them over and over, transfixed by the beautiful women from far away places.

And just like that, those women began appearing all around me, starting in elementary school and continuing up to the present. Dark eyed beauties all, they possessed a certain magnetism that drew me near, but one glance my way and I instantly turned to tahini. Where in the world did these girls and women come from? Had I invented them?

Later, they even began appearing in my art, and always in unusual circumstances. Thus, in response to a woman I knew, I created Woman In The Garden. No other art work has had such an effect on me, and to such an extent that I felt compelled to get rid of it. I did not even feel right taking money for the piece, and eventually gave it away, very unusual for a working artist. Those menacing flowers in the painting are Venus Fly-Traps.