EXPLOITS: The 2017 48 Hour Create-A-Thon – Two Gardens

Richard Bledsoe “Two Gardens” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

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It was that time again. For the last three years I’ve taken part in Camelback Bible Church‘s 48 Hour Create-A-Thon. Starting on Friday night February 24, a group of artists gathered at the church, where we were presented with our inspirational theme. By 4pm on Sunday February 26, we needed to have a completed artwork created on site, ready to share at a reception. Throughout the weekend, the public was invited to visit with us to see the artistic process unfold.

This year I had a different experience than how the 2016 Create-a-Thon started. For 2017 we had two juxtaposing inspirational passages: Genesis 2:8-17, the description of the Garden of Eden, and Matthew 26:36-46, the story of Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane,  where He prayed to escape his destiny if possible, but put himself in God’s hands.

This year, as soon as I heard the subject matter, the vision came. I saw the image in my mind; now I just had to bring it out so everyone else could see it.

I immediately laid in broad planes of textured colors. I don’t like working straight off a white canvas. In this shot I’ve actually flipped the canvas over to get better access to the blue area; in the completed work, it’s the upper right corner. I stayed until about 9 pm that night, just getting the under painting laid in.

A fast start

I was there around 9am the next morning, and stayed until almost 5pm, a good solid working day. I didn’t even take a break for lunch, as the church provided us lots of good snacks, and cup after cup of coffee.

No time to lose, had to get the drawing in right away

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The first thing I did Saturday was crudely block in my two essential elements: Christ and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then, with wide swoops from the shoulder, I dragged loops of white paint over the blue, and gray over the yellow. These were the faint beginnings of Eden’s hazy atmosphere and Gethsemane’s tangled branches. The rest of my time spent on this painting was spent revising and refining these loose beginnings.

An action shot from the 48 Hour Create-A-Thon

My wife Michele Bledsoe was there for support. She wrote her own blog post about the experience, “Marathon Painting and the Art of Sitting on the Sidelines.” She spent her time drawing and taking pictures and videos. Michele spends a lot of time on her art. She jokes if there is ever a 480 Hour Create-A-Thon, she might take part.

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Finishing touches

By the time I came back Sunday morning, I was well positioned on the painting, and I spent time on all those little details and touches that can make or break a painting. One of my ongoing quotes about this stage is “That’s why painters go mad.” Anyone who has ever seriously engaged in painting has probably had that experience when the most minuscule adjustment or mark can make a work spring to life-or crush it into a mess. As an intuitive painter, I never know in advance what mark that may be. I have to discover it.

To see my art is to see me, performing my role as a conduit for something else 

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So the question for me becomes, if the Create-A-Thon shows I can complete a resolved and meaningful painting in really less than 48 hours, why do I normally work on them for months?

In that environment, in that experience, the Spirit really moved me, I suppose.

The Remodernist’s job is to bring God back into art but not as God was before. Remodernism is not a religion, but we uphold that it is essential to regain enthusiasm (from the Greek, en theos to be possessed by God).

-The Remodernism Manifesto

COMMENTARY: Art and the Heart of Darkness

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Richard Bledsoe “This Man Has Enlarged My Mind” acrylic on canvas 14″ x 11″

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“All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness.”

-John Ruskin

Darkness exists not only externally as a physical absence of light, but also references the state of mystery that abides inside every person. Part of the task of the artist is to go into that inner darkness and bring its contents to light. To reveal the hidden lets us know ourselves, and each other, better.
Visionary analyst Carl Jung referred to this as the Shadow Aspect of ourselves. Darkness does not necessarily equal evil, but evil is part of the terrain we must navigate in there. There is something in us all that remains primitive and covetous, the old animal nature, snarling over its prey.
In one of my favorite books, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad took his own particular experiences working in the Belgian Congo and translated them into a universal exploration of the corruption of power.
His character of Kurtz was a great man gone wrong. He went into the jungle thinking he would bring enlightenment to the  savages. But like many a Classical playwright could have warned him, overestimation of one’s capacities leads to tragedy.  Hubris made Kurtz into the worst savage of all, a demon god demanding worship and tribute.
I’m very comfortable in my own shadowy depths. I see the dangers of it, but also the wonders contained therein. There is great vitality stored in there, forces beyond my own limited resources. It’s exhilarating.  In the Conrad book a ragged, youthful sailor  gushes about Kurtz, “This man has enlarged  my mind,” ignoring the poles festooned with severed heads of Kurtz’s victims all around him. Carried away with enthusiasm, he has lost all perspective.
But Kurtz himself, who unleashed those great capacities, who tried to live like he was above good and evil, can not avoid acknowledging the consequences of his own choices. He is left murmuring about “The horror” with his dying breaths, a confession of the life he sees flashing before his eyes-an admission of his ultimate failure.
Good intentions are not enough.
The ends do not justify the means.
I am humbled in the presence of the Shadow. I don’t make the mistake of believing its power is my own. I can accept the flaws it shows me I have. And as a artist, I can translate its secrets into a shared experience.
“Spiritual art is not about fairyland. It is about taking hold of the rough texture of life. It is about addressing the shadow and making friends with wild dogs. Spirituality is the awareness that everything in life is for a higher purpose.”

PAINTINGS: A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She Was Dead

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Richard Bledsoe “A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She was Dead”

acrylic on canvas 12″ x 12″

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The genre was once referred to as History Painting, and it was considered the highest form of artistic expression. For hundreds of years, ambitious artists poured their skills into epic works which depicted scenes from not only history, but from religion, mythology, and literature as well.

The Modern Art era did a lot to sever visual art from this traditional engagement with story telling. This was a huge mistake.There’s nothing to be gained from trying to substitute theoretical intellectual stylings for the passion, drama and resonance of imagery inspired from narrative, whether derived from reality or imagination.

The Remodernist artist is a story teller, visually defining essential moments in the never ending action of the world, the mind, and the spirit.

A few years back I launched into a series of paintings inspired by a favorite book: Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs. Its controversial reputation obscures many of the elements that I really enjoy about it. It’s totally disjointed and incoherent compared to a conventional novel, but amongst the fragments it is built from are elements of hard boiled noir mysteries, adventure tales, paranoid science fiction, wicked humor, cheap porno, and most poignantly, autobiography.

Burroughs was the black sheep son of wealthy parents. His drug habits and homosexuality kept him in trouble and on the run in the 1940s and 1950s. He and his common-law wife Joan Vollmer wound up in Mexico City. In 1951 an awful event occurred. While they were wasted and partying, Burroughs suggested to Joan it was time for “their William Tell routine.” Joan put a glass on top of her head. Burroughs tried to shoot it off and missed, hitting and killing Joan instead. It was a stupid spontaneous act that haunted Burroughs for the rest of his days. He fled to Morocco and sank into severe addiction. It was in this deranged state he wrote the rambling pages that his friend  Jack Kerouac later assembled at random and typed into the manuscript that became Naked Lunch.

Many of my “Naked Lunch” paintings are crude, rough, and unfinished, which suits the subject matter. I flipped through the book, and just like Burroughs wrote by scrambling random words together, I pulled out random quotes to base my paintings on.

“A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She was Dead” is the best of the series, so far. Painted a few years ago, I remember how moved I was by the quote when I read it. I read into it the futility of denial, and how truth and remembrance must have kept getting through to Burroughs even through his drug haze. It’s haunting, and I feel this painting captures the same sense of sadness and accusation.

1917: A Shattering Discovery From The Year Art Went Into The Toilet

fountain

What happened to R. Mutt’s “Fountain”?

For the last few days, inside the cocoons, there is much shock. As out-of-touch elitists in the would-be ruling class are processing an historic rejection of their presumptions, it’s worth revisiting a defining and divisive moment in elitist art history.

Recently, in some random reading I was doing, I came across a surprising story that may actually solve a genuine art world mystery.

I’m very critical of the nihilistic stylings of the contemporary establishment art market. I’ve written at length on its dynamic as both an elaborate con game and as an insidious effort at social programming and control.  Conceptual Art is the official art of the New World Order. Talentless cynics like Jeff Koons and Tracey Emin are promoted as pinnacles of achievement, and showered with elitist money and accolades. These conceptual artists claim that just having an idea is good enough to be considered art, as long as the right people agree.

The conceit of conceptual art, like most of the abuses of this decadent Post Modern era, comes from a thirst for power. Anything can be art if the gatekeepers say it is, and you better submit to their superior opinions. Contemporary art has become a wedge, a means for primitive tribal virtue signalling. You can divide the population up based on savvy insiders who prattle on about a dirty, unmade bed in a museum as a fascinating comment on normative functionalism, versus those mundane types who recognize a feeble failure when they see it.

A certain segment of the glitterati like to flaunt their ability to see shit as sophisticated art as a badge of honor, for some reason.

We are coming up on the 100th anniversary of the totem these poseurs use as credibility for their if-it’s-in-a-gallery-it-must-be-art attitudes. In April 1917, New York City’s Society of Independent Artists had an egalitarian idea for an art show: anyone who paid the fee could show their art, which would be hung in alphabetical order. But the organizers were shocked when they received an anonymous submission, called “Fountain.” It was a sideways urinal, signed “R. Mutt 1917.”

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Marcel Duchamp, sporting a reverse mohawk

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One of the organizers was French artist Marcel Duchamp. When the committee balked at showing the urinal he resigned in a huff. Years later he spread it around that it was actually his piece.”Fountain” was a Dada assault on taste, a rejection of artistic skill, an undermining of the noble purposes of art. Duchamp and his advocates like to say it poses philosophical questions about what art is. Regardless, the piece can be seen as the harbinger of the whole empty, alienating, transgressive mess the contemporary art world has become. “Fountain” has been used as the justification for turning art into an ironic elitist assertion, rather than an uplifting communal experience. It’s a truly nasty legacy.

But did Duchamp even make the piece? Evidence suggests he stole credit for the piece from a female artist, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, an wildly eccentric friend of his. She was part artist and part public nuisance, an exhibitionist, kleptomaniac and poet, who often dressed herself in food and utensils. The urinal would have been just her style.

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The real R. Mutt? Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

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On April 11, 1917, Duchamp wrote in a letter to his sister: “One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture; since there was nothing indecent about it, there was no reason to reject it.” So it seems while he may have submitted it to the show, Duchamp was not the one who came up with this iconic gesture. By the time Duchamp started to claim “Fountain” as his own, the mentally ill Baroness was long dead and forgotten.

It would match Duchamp’s character to perform such a swindle; he lived his adult life sponging off of, using, and abusing a series of women. He really was a cad.

It is so fitting the impetus of our contemporary establishment art world is most likely based on lies, theft, corruption and exploitation. But the originator of the piece is not the mystery I’m writing about.

What happened to the original “Fountain”?

Avant-garde gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz snapped a picture of it, but we are told the original was lost. The versions of “Fountain” now on display in museums around the world are “replicas” Duchamp commissioned in the 1960s to cash in on the notorious reputation of the piece.

I just found a surprising clue to what happened to “Fountain” in an unexpected place, while I was reading about a very different type of artist.

William Glackens (March 13, 1870 – May 22, 1938) was a significant painter in the early decades of the 2oth century. He got his start as an artist journalist. Before there were photographs in newspapers, illustrators had to create the imagery. They had to work fast, and since they were covering the news, they were used to depicting the common people as opposed to esoteric artistic subject matter. Glackens’s most notable journalistic work occurred in 1898, when he accompanied Theodore Roosevelt’s troops to Cuba during the Spanish American War.

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William Glackens artwork from the field of battle

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After he left journalism, Glackens continued to make an art of the people, as compared to an art of the Academy. He was a key figure of the early American art movements The Eight and The Ashcan School, realist painters that rebelled against the stuffy elitist attitudes of the art establishment of their era. Glackens and his colleagues were considered controversial and gauche at the time for their depictions of everyday life.

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William Glackens “The Shoppers”

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I love reading artist biographies. So when I was recently at the library and saw on the shelf William Glackens and the Eight: The Artists Who Freed American Art, I was very excited. I knew about him and the Ashcan School, and I see the art movement Remodernism as fulfilling a similar role for artistic renewal now.

The book is by his son Ira Glackens, written in 1957. It is full of amusing and affectionate anecdotes about both of his parents; William was married to socialite and artist Edith Dimock. She is the central figure depicted in the painting of the shoppers above.

As William Glackens was one of the most important artists of his day, he was involved in many major events. I was thrilled when Ira Glackens wrote about when he was a little boy, during the legendary 1913 Armory Show that introduced Modern Art to America. He met visionary painter Albert Pinkham Ryder there, one of my favorite artists. But I was stunned when he recounted a story about 1917.

William Glackens was the president of the Society of Independent Artists committee that received “Fountain.” Another artist on the committee along with Duchamp was Charles Prendergast. Here are Ira’s words about how the  “Fountain”  situation was resolved:

It would be difficult to visualize W.G. [William Glackens] in an executive capacity, but nevertheless he proved a very valuable man, especially when an impasse was reached. The story of how he solved a great dilemma that confronted the executive committee was later told by Charles Prendergast, and he laughed so hard telling it that the tears ran down his cheeks… Everybody perhaps knows the story of the “Fountain” signed R. Mutt, a nom de guerre of Marcel Duchamp which the creator of the “Nude Descending a Staircase” submitted as his entry. This object was a urinal, a heavy porcelain affair meant to be a fixture, and it caused a great deal of dismay in the executive committee…The executive committee stood around discussing the thorny problem. Presumably the best art brains in the country were stumped.

Nobody noticed W.G. leave the group and quietly make his way to a corner where the disputed object d’ art sat on the floor beside a screen. He picked it up, held it over the screen, and dropped it. There was a crash. Everyone looked around startled.

“It broke!” he exclaimed.

By the 1950s when this book was written Duchamp had appropriated credit for “Fountain,” but it had not yet become the cultural touchstone it is now considered. I see no reason why Ira Glackens would just invent a story like that, or why their family friend and fellow artist Charles Prendergrast would say such a thing about the mild mannered and low key William Glackens for no reason.

We now have some hearsay evidence about what happened to the original “Fountain,” which has been overlooked for decades. There’s no way to prove it, but it’s a compelling conclusion to a sordid tale. As far as I’m concerned, William Glackens was on the right track and did the world a favor. If only it had ended there.

The pissy head games of elitist art need smashing, now more than ever.

11/22: Welcome Instapundit readers! Check out some of my other posts to see more about the state of the arts from a Remodernist perspective. -RB

BOOKS: Used Book Treasures

Used Books

“What we read and why we do so defines us in a profound way. You are what you read, I suppose. Browsing through someone’s library is like peeking into their DNA.”

-Guillermo del Toro

I received a very special St. Valentine’s Day present from my wife Michele Bledsoe. For the first time in several years we attended the annual Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association Used Book Sale. On Sunday February 14 we spent the morning at the Phoenix Fairgrounds, going through an immense exhibition hall crammed full of super affordable used books.

We are thrifty people, so it worked out great Valentine’s Day was Half Price Day. Michele and I share a love of books. We’ve even written one together, “The Secret Kingdom,” which was quite an adventure in itself.

Once inside the VNSA Book Sale we both went to the Art section, excitedly showing each other new discoveries. Eventually Michele headed off to explore some other favorite topics, but I stayed, determined to see everything. By the time I left the section, I had already found so many books it was hard to carry them.

Art books are very important to me. Art is a continuum; what we are doing now in art right is part of an on-going story as old as humanity itself. I love to see what was done before, because real art is always remains relevant, no matter when or where it was made. I find it inspirational, plus exposing myself to all those pictures and ideas is crucial to the process I call “feeding the image bank.” I never know when what I see might trigger the visions so vital to my own work.

We found many other wonderful books that day, books on faith, history and nature, and some fiction as well. But the most exciting part for me were the volumes on art. All told, we probably spent less than $30 on an immense boost to our art library. I was very selective. I put much more back than I actually bought.

In review of my purchases, I can see now how what I actually picked was influenced by a growing concern in my life: the nature of the American artist. What is the art of this very special place, and what does it look like in these times? You’ll never find out by looking at the offerings of the art establishment. That’s why contemporary art is suffering a crisis of relevance. That is why Remodernism is rising to sweep away the corrupted old hierarchies and renew the art spirit.

Here is a list of our Art Book finds that day, and some notes on their significance. Listed roughly in order of size:

  1. Thomas Hart Benton – mostly black and white images from the American Regionalist painter
  2. Dali Jewels – color photos of jewelry designed by the great Surrealist
  3. Oskar Kokoschka – brief biography and mostly color images by the Expressionist painter
  4. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Symbolism – as a painter in the Symbolist tradition, I am very aware that at its best my art is full of archetypal meanings that come upon me from outside of myself. Like in a dream, I’m shown a picture that is full of significance. Afterwards, looking up the visions that appear to me is very educational, and help me understand what is being conveyed.
  5. Rodin: His Sculptures, Drawings, and Watercolors– Biography, commentary, and black and white images from across the range of Rodin’s artistic output
  6. Great Housewives of Art – a fun collection of domestic themed art
  7. O’Keeffe & Stieglitz – biography on one of the great romances and partnerships in art, between Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer/gallerist Alfred Stieglitz
  8. Alfred P. Ryder – A real score, a color and black and white illustrated book on one of my favorite artists, Alfred Pinkham Ryder
  9. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America by Robert Hughes – another real score, a book I’ve wanted for years, by my favorite art critic. Even when I’ve seen it used at other locations, I considered it too expensive ($20+). Here I paid $3.50 for a pristine hardback version. I was thrilled.
  10. The Mode in Costume – drawings of clothing styles from 3000 BC to the 1940’s, when the book was made. This will be a great resource for me, as I love evoking history in my paintings, and outfits provide a powerful time reference.
  11. Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance – a lavishly illustrated overview of an exciting movement in the Modern Art era
  12. Russian Lacquer Legends and Fairy Tales – beautiful color photographs on the bold, graphic style of Russian miniature paintings
  13. Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present – a wealth of information and images on Outsider art, including the amazing Thornton Dial
  14. An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art-full color book on a talented family of painters
  15. The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculptures by Writers – as an artist who writes, it is very interesting to see the results when they come at it from the other way around

STUDIO: A Full Day in the Studio

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Richard Bledsoe “The Crystal World” acrylic on canvas 20″ x 24″

My first completed painting of 2016

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2016 and suddenly we find ourselves inundated with projects. I always say there’s nothing like a deadline for inspiration. Well, Michele Bledsoe and I have lots of inspiration right now.

This past Saturday, having so many time sensitive requirements pending led to a wonderful event: pretty much a full day in our studio, painting together.

Michele and I were both accepted into Inglorious Arizona, an upcoming exhibit co-sponsored by Artlink (a downtown Phoenix arts organization) and the Arizona Republic newspaper. We’ll be part of an upcoming Art Detour 28 group exhibit commemorating some infamous Arizona history. I’ll share more details on the true story I was assigned to depict in a future blog post.

Pieces for this show are due by early February, so we are in a real time crunch to get them done. Michele especially takes a long time to craft her elaborate and detailed imagery, so she has already been in extreme painting mode for days now, ever since we were notified of our acceptance.

On Saturday, when Michele woke me up at 7am she had already been at her easel for hours. Before I joined her I had to take care of some typical tasks and errands: exercise, shower, an abbreviated internet news and Facebooking session, then a quick run to the grocery store for the week. But by about 10am I was done and at my own easel, where I more or less spent the next 12 hours.

There will meals long the way, and even a brief nap. But the majority of the time we were both blissfully painting away.

Did I say blissful? You might not think so if you heard the way we act when painting. There is cursing sometimes. And screams of horror.

As we are intuitive artists, working out our own imaginations, we are trying to create something never seen before. Sometimes the struggle to get it right leads to some raving. We are passionate people, very engaged with a complex task, and occasionally we need to vent. Loudly.

However, the appearance of being upset is misleading: we are having the time of our lives. Like the Stuckist Manifesto counsels, “Painting is the medium of self-discovery. It engages the person fully with a process of action, emotion, thought and vision, revealing all of these with intimate and unforgiving breadth and detail.”

Like usual in the studio,  we played music to keep our energy up. Yesterday’s play list included:

Woven Hand – Woven Hand

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Soundtrack

Mark Lanegan – Blues Funeral

Electric Light Orchestra – The Essential ELO

Kaizers Orchestra – Maestro

Paul McCartney –Ram

Rimsky-Korsocov – Scheherazade

Inglorious Arizona is just one of the projects happening now. Another is a show I’m curating at the Firehouse, one of Phoenix’s leading alternative art spaces. The exhibit is Epilogue: Contemporary Literary Art.  It’s kind of a sequel to Booked, a previous literature inspired show I assembled at the Trunk Space.

I’ve been working on my own contribution for this show, and during yesterday’s painting frenzy I completed it: a work inspired by author J. G Ballard’s strange apocalyptic novel The Crystal World.

I’m looking forward to many more days like this in the upcoming months as we keep making art happen.

EXPLOITS: The Idea Book

Idea Book

Hundreds of potential paintings

My paintings come from visionary experiences. At the most random moments, I am suddenly shown a picture, an image of a painting I need to create. These visions usually come with titles, dimensions for the canvas, and maybe of bit of insight into their meaning.

Usually it takes a longer gestation period before their true significance becomes apparent. The visions are like dreams, in that what appears is full of  symbolic connotations which take some meditation to grasp.

I’ve been reading about eidetic memory, the mysterious ability to recall incredibly detailed information later on. Retaining the strange imagery that jumps out of my imagination seems to be my idiot savant version of this trait. Apart from painting ideas, my memory is terrible.

Since the end of 2009, I’ve been jotting down the ideas in a notebook and dating them. I do this instead of making sketches. It only takes a title and maybe a brief line of description to recall the fully articulated vision to my mind.

Sometimes the ideas hit me while at I’m at my job. Since my book lives in the studio, what I do is get the idea down on a post-it note and stick it into the journal when I get home.

CoverThe journal’s cover features writers and quotations, but it is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so it’s appropriate for paintings. My favorite quote is from George Bernard Shaw: “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?'”

The first entry is dated 12/24/09; it must have been a Christmas gift opened early.

Whenever I want to start a new painting, if I don’t have a specific one in mind already, I pull out this book and read through the listings. The associated imagery plays through my mind like a slide show. I look for one that really resonates with my intuition and get to work.

Later I might go back and note dates the painting was actually begun or completed, where it showed, if it sold. I’m not too consistent about this because the book is more about capturing the unfolding of new projects than record keeping paperwork.

For instance, here is a page from 2012:

Writing

Some of these have been made, some haven’t. This one I was excited about, and I had a deadline, because I started it almost right away:

“2/27 The Night of Wonders-1700’s telescope with sky full of wheels and devices begun 3/3/12 done 6/12”

This was the resulting painting:

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Richard Bledsoe “The Night of Wonders” acrylic on canvas 36″ x 18″

This piece ended up as my contribution to a group show I curated at our gallery Deus Ex Machina in July 2012: “Alien Technology II,” a commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Roswell Incident.

I counted up the scribbled lines currently included in my idea book. There are almost 250 paintings visualized in there. The most recent entry was added today.

While I am a productive painter that keeps multiple in-progress pieces on hand,  I will never live long enough to create all the painting visions I’ve had. And the list of potential paintings keeps getting longer.

The best I can do is trust I will always recognize which painting is the next one that needs to be done.

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“…The Stuckist doesn’t strive-which is to avoid who and where you are-the Stuckist engages with the moment.”

The Stuckists Manifesto