EXPLOITS: A Very Rare Painting Reboot

 

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Richard Bledsoe “The Ghost of Slumber Mountain” oil on canvas 30″ x 24″

The second version

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I have so many ideas for paintings, it is very rare that I would ever paint the same image more than once. In fact, there is only one occasion I can remember doing it. I was reminded of the circumstances recently while we were working on some home renovations, and I had to move 16 years worth of art.

I”ve written before of a troubled time in my artistic explorations, when for several years I made bad, unresolved paintings on wood panels. While most of these unsatisfactory works are exiled to my garage, while doing our rearrangements I found one stored in the house. It happens to be the only painting I ever explicitly repainted.

I am haunted by a story from the early days of film. In 1918 the stop motion animation pioneer Willis O’Brien made a movie called “The Ghost of Slumber Mountain.” Originally 40 minutes long, the distributors of the day cut the movie down to 19 minutes highlighting the dinosaur action O’Brien created.

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Innovator: Willis H. O’Brien at work

The plot that remains features a supernatural visit to a hillbilly cabin and a time traveling telescope. It’s unclear exactly what got cut out. That version still survives, but the rest of the film is lost. Commercial pressures destroyed a rare representation of the birth of a new art form.

The title alone evoked a vision for me, and some time  during the years 2004-2005 I tackled the painting, during the ebb of my artistic efforts. I wasn’t happy with the outcome.

But what I wanted that painting to be stayed with me, to the extent many years later, probably around 2008, I painted the image again. I was back in my artistic groove by then. The second version, depicted above, captures the eeriness I was after all along.

But what about the first version, which I did display in one art show before it was put safely out of sight?

Here it is, in all its dubious glory:

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Richard Bledsoe “The Ghost of Slumber Mountain” oil on wood panel 36″ x 30″

Version One circa 2004-2005

Ugh. I can only put this out there because it is so securely in the past. I have to say, out of all my bad paintings from the time, this is one of the better ones. Even now, I like the body of the creature quite a bit, and the rocks and trees of the skyline. But overall, a swing and a miss.

Seeing this made me feel maybe I should revisit some of the other works I failed to execute the first time round. There are still visions there that deserve to be manifested.

“It is the Stuckist’s duty to explore his/her neurosis and innocence through the making of paintings and displaying them in public, thereby enriching society by giving shared form to individual experience and an individual form to shared experience.”

-The Stuckists Manifesto

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Everyone’s a critic

Our cat Motorhead passes it by without a glance

ARTICLE: Photographing Van Gogh

 

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Will the Real Post-Impressionist Please Stand Up

“Ah! Portraiture, portraiture with the thought, the soul of the model in it, that is what I think must come.”

-Vincent Van Gogh

March 30, 2016  will be Vincent Van Gogh’s 163rd birthday.

In the Artnet article linked here, they discuss how another potential photograph of Van Gogh has been discovered. The contender is circled. If true, it’s a very rare thing.

We know the paintings. The face looks back at us with frank regard, and we think we see enacted in his eyes the story as we know it in retrospect. The suffering, struggle and madness, the lonely death, before the steep and steady rise to posthumous glory.

In the self portraits of Vincent Van Gogh, we have been conditioned to see the whole romantic artist myth personified in one highly misunderstood Dutchman.

This face we know so well, we know almost exclusively from paintings. And another thing we have been conditioned to believe is that it is photography that is the true depiction of reality. It’s almost as if we want a photo to reinforce the honesty the canvases already show us.

As a painter I would suggest that the artwork shows things that a mere mechanical reproduction could never capture. Van Gogh definitely remains relevant to artists today, and is an exemplary honorary Stuckist.  But I do understand the appeal of history as captured in photographs. There’s an immediacy to them.

I did not discover that there were actual photographs of Vincent Van Gogh until I was well into my thirties. It’s fascinating to see that visage that I know so well from lingering over every expressive brushstroke of Vincent’s portrayals of himself. Trying to see how he did it. Trying to recognize the magic inherent in the simple manipulation of paint.

I can’t imitate my way to the same pinnacles he reached. It would be pointless to try. What I hope to understand is how he let himself go, to better understand how I too can become more of myself in my own art.

Even though photography was widespread during his lifetime, Vincent seems to have been a bit camera shy. There are two photos we can be certain of, both from his youth:

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Vincent Van Gogh as a boy

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Vincent Van Gogh Age 19

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After that, nothing is certain, not even necessarily the paintings. For example, this one portrait was long considered to be a Vincent self portrait, all dressed up as a Parisian dandy:

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But now it’s been decided this is probably a picture of his art dealer brother Theo. The determination was made in part due to the shape of the ear lobes, ironically.

But along the way there have been several controversial photos that claim to depict Vincent in the flesh. A Greek woman is holding onto one she claims her partisan father stole off of a Nazi train full of plunder during World War II.

The one below recently surfaced. It is said to show Van Gogh’s artist buddies Paul Gauguin and Emil Bernard. It is suggested Vincent is there with them, smoking his pipe. vincent-is-it-you

Gathering

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Maybe, maybe not

The artist group photo failed to sell when it came up for auction. The art world remains unconvinced.

The photo below is even more doubtful, based on little more that a hunch. It was picked out of a batch of photos of nineteenth-century clergyman. Van Gogh’s father was in the ministry, so perhaps this is at least some long lost relative.

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Doubtful: An uncanny likeness, but no proof

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But since Vincent Van Gogh has become such an archetype of the artist, there is no shortage of portrayals of him in the mass media of today. Below are just a few of the times Vincent Van Gogh has been portrayed in the movies and television, as the cautionary/inspirational figure at the heart of the tragic tale of the undiscovered genius.

February 24, 1980 Film, television and stage actor Leonard Nimoy returns to The Guthrie Theater in his one-man show VINCENT: THE STORY OF A HERO on Thursday, February 28 and Friday, February 29 at 8:00 p.m. and on Saturday, March 1 at 5:00 and 9:00 p.m. Tickets for VINCENT are $8.95 and $7.95 and may be purchased by contacting the Guthrie Box Office, Vineland Place, Minneapolis, MN 55403, (612) 377-2224, or any Dayton's ticket office. Minneapolis Star Tribune

Boldly Van Gogh: Leonard Nimoy wrote and starred in a play called “Vincent”

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No Stooge: Kirk Douglas  displays his “Lust for Life”

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Brotherly love: Tim Roth in “Vincent and Theo”

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WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 2009

It’s elementary: Benedict Cumberbatch in “Van Gogh: Painted With Words”

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In “Dreams”: Martin Scorsese

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My precious: Andy Serkis in “Simon Schama’s Power of Art”

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Vindication: On “Doctor Who,” Tony Curran as Vincent gets a glimpse into the future

VIDEO: When Worlds Collide-A Python Talks Conceptual Art on Doctor Who

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Cameo: Wonderful affunctionalism

I’ve made no secret about my vintage Doctor Who fandom on this blog. Recent comments by comedian John Cleese reminded me when he made an art-related appearance on the legendary television series in 1979.

For his brief dialogue, story editor Douglas Adams served up a piece of art babble worthy of Vogon poetry status. Cleese and actress Eleanor Bron give the Doctor’s time machine, the Tardis, a critique that could straight out of  Saatchi gallery press release. (See the John Cleese clip from “The City of Death” at this link. )

Cleese: “For me, one of the most curious things about this piece is its wonderful… afunctionalism.”

Bron: “Yes. I see what you mean. Divorced from its function and seen purely as a piece of art, its structure of line and color is curiously counterpointed by the redundant vestiges of its function.”

Cleese: “And since it has no call to be here, the art lies in the fact that it *is* here.”

[Doctor, Romana and Duggan dash in and enter the TARDIS; it dematerializes]

Bron: “Exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.”

Pompous elitist art patrons like the ones caricatured here are real enough. They are the type of people that have given non-talents like Tracy Emin a simulacra  of relevance and a facade of a career.

The establishment rejects the self-evident principle expressed in the Stuckism manifiesto: “Art that has to be in a gallery to be art isn’t art.”

The elitist’s response is, “We declare it is art because we say so. We camouflage our unscrupulous power trip with lots of pretentious, pseudo-intellectual banter. We don’t care about art, we care that we are the only ones whose opinions matter.”

The art world is full of hopeful supplicants who will wage war on behalf of the most absurd cultural institution dogma, hopeful their conformity will be rewarded with crumbs of acknowledgement. Their whole identity is invested in acting as defender of the woefully inept establishment artistic status quo.

Sadly most of these acolytes would not acknowledge real art if it appeared – or vanished – right before their own eyes.

Bonus video clip: Cleese and the Doctor (Tom Baker) indulge in a little backstage skit with some Python bite.

 

ART QUOTES: Ivan Albright

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Ivan Albright “Captain Joseph Medill Patterson”

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“A painting should be a piece of philosophy-or why do it?”

-Ivan Albright

He painted reality with such intensity it became hallucinatory. His obsessive details, painstakingly methodical methods, and preoccupations with darkness and decay led to a low output of paintings and a small audience of admirers. But Ivan Albright (1897-1983) was a true American original, a visionary painter of the uneasy melding of body and spirit in our fallen world.

He saw horrors first hand as a medical illustrator during World War One. He spent the rest of his life seeking to perfect his skills, always striving to bring greater focus and forceful presence to his paintings.

He had a brush with Hollywood fame, rendering a ghoulish Technicolor monster for the climax  of Oscar award winning film “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945).

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But mostly Albright worked on his own private concerns, using a palette the color of bruises, ashes, and mold, with imagery that was resolved with almost microscopic intensity.

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Ivan Albright “Woman”

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Joe Coleman "Albert Fish"
Joe Coleman “Albert Fish”

Contemporary artists like Joe Coleman may strive to follow in the master’s traditions, but they always straddle the finely rendered line between homage and mere imitiation.

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In addition to creating stunning paintings, Albright contributed his own taciturn kind of wisdom to art and life. The consistency of his ideas make sense alongside his paintings. His quotes have the same kind of deadpan existential fascination as his visual creations.

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“Actually one place is just as good as another for me. Traveling around the world wouldn’t move me any more than sitting right here in my studio. It’s the meaning that you bring to your painting that’s important. Nature herself can only go as far as your mind can bring it.”

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“The artist must be the human reservoir for all emotions, all thoughts, all kindness, cruelty, pain, joy.”

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“Paint the dancing sun beams – in this case shadow beams – all is a unit – all is one… The bit of universe is repeating itself and moving in a circle… the universe within your studio walls… Study it, penetrate it… painting it as a ball of motion. Everything is included in it. Its motion includes time, also life and death. In its movement it’s on its way to eternity.”

-Ivan Albright

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Ivan Albright “Poor Room-There is No Time, No End, No Today, No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever Without End”

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Ivan Albright “Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida”

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Ivan Albright “Self Portrait Smoking” 

COMMENTARY: The Special Effects of Human Expression and Ray Harryhausen

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Gazing into the Mirror of Art: Ray Harryhausen

“I had to learn to do everything because I couldn’t find another kindred soul. Now you see eighty people listed doing the same things I was doing by myself.”
-Ray Harryhausen

A New Yorker article written after stop motion animation master Ray Harryhausen passed away in 2013 has some some hits and misses.  Harryhausen and the Expressively Imperfect World by Adam Gopnik captures something of the mystery, but is a little too pat in its Postmodern self regard.

Where the article goes awry is the typical “Of course I know how he did that” smugness and detachment that is the curse of the contemporary academic mind:

“Though who—at least among those who saw her at an impressionable age—can forget the snake woman who emerges, Play-Doh body writhing serpentinely, before the Sultan’s court—and is met by carefully directed gazes of awe and wonder and cries of ‘Allah, be praised!’ on the part of extras who are, rather obviously, looking at nothing.”

Gopnik undermines the nostalgic awe by pointing out that of course HE knows that it’s just a campy movie and that a sense of wonder is just kids stuff. It wouldn’t be so annoying if he and his ilk didn’t live their entire lives that way, and insist on telling the rest of us about it constantly.

People like that think picking apart the presentation is the fun part; not to better appreciate the artistry, but to try to out-analyze someone who is actually accomplishing something. That sort of thing is only fun for deconstructive wankers who assume others are impressed when they whip out their tiny little pride.

But the heart of the article gets it right in the following quote:

“For, deeper still, in some primal part of us, there is always a vital role for the not-too-perfect in our pleasures. Imperfection is essential to art. In music, the vibrato we love involves not quite landing directly on the note; the rubato singers cultivate involves not quite keeping to the beat. What really moves us in art may be what really moves us in “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”: the vital sign of a human hand, in all its broken and just-unsteady grace, manipulating its keys, or puppets, and our minds. Expressiveness is imperfection, and Harryhausen’s monsters and ghouls are expressively imperfect. ‘I don’t think you want to make it quite real. Stop-motion, to me, gives that added value of a dream world,’ he [Harryhausen] once said, wisely, himself.”

Wisdom is in short supply in our intellectuals, so that is a welcome admission.

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Since I wanted to make movies from a young age, and was enthralled by fantasy, it’s natural Harryhausen has been a huge influence on my art. Not so much purely in subject matter, but in atmosphere.

I never approached his movies with the clinical awareness of how-did-he-do-that while watching them; I just embraced the poetry of the moment. In any great art, there is level of fascination that defies verbal explanation and rational analysis.

Later, when I pondered armatures, miniature sets, and incredible patient craftsmanship, it wasn’t doubt that was intriguing, it was the power of the achievement.

Gopnik does acknowledge this as well, though he seems leery of being so lowbrow to actually admit he enjoyed something: “…we appreciate them poetically, not for what they did given what they didn’t have, but for what they did with what they did have. We genuinely like them more than things we know are better at doing what they seemed to set out to do.”

A description of painting in the Stuckist Manifesto captures what Harryhausen accomplished in his animated films: ” Painting is mysterious. It creates worlds within worlds, giving access to the unseen psychological realities that we inhabit. The results are radically different from the materials employed…”

As Ray Harryhausen was an innovator, visionary and solitary creative genius who made art for the people, I nominate him as an honorary Remodernist.

The legendary career of stop-motion and visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen will be showcased in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and SciencesÕ new summer exhibition ÒThe Fantastical Worlds of Ray Harryhausen,Ó opening to the public on Friday, May 14, in the AcademyÕs Fourth Floor Gallery in Beverly Hills. Admission is free.

EXPLOITS: Stills From The Movies In My Mind

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

How do artists decide what imagery to depict?

The possibilities are endless.

I often say before I start into a new work, “What am I going to paint? It could be anything.” Since I am an intuitive artist, working not from observation but from visions that arise in my mind, the potential subject matter is limited only by the freedom of imagination and the skill I have to render it visible.

Other artists might work in the great traditions of landscape, still life, portraiture, or figurative painting. I’ve come to realize that the visions I present are a blend of all these different explorations into a single unified image. I’m sort of a mutant form of a history painter, the genre once considered the highest form in the hierarchy of Western art, but much neglected in the modern and contemporary art worlds.

The difference is story telling. Rather than make a detached work of art for art sake’s, emphasizing merely formal concerns, history painting depicts a moment of drama. It shows action arrested for contemplation, rich in implications of past, present, and future activity. It injects the element of time, suggests consequences and resolutions are pending, and extends the liveliness of the art beyond the edges of the canvas.

I gained insight into the nature of my painting by going back to first principles, and what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I saw Star Wars in 1977 when I was 7 years old, quite possibly the perfect age to have seen that movie. I spent my whole youth wanting to be a film maker. And 10 years later, in 1987, that’s what I went off to college to try to be.

What I learned along the way during my college years was it was very hard to work collaboratively with all the people needed to bring together a major project like a movie. And not only that, in academia, for the most part the need was to act as a cog in someone else’s machine, working on someone else’s project.

Technological advances have made creative control at lot more feasible at the entry level these days, but this was the 1980s. Film was an expensive and unwieldy undertaking.

However, I made another discovery in college: painting. From the first moment I tackled a big surface as a student project I was hooked, although it took a long while and several changes of majors to understand this. But now I’ve been painting seriously for 25 years, and it remains as fascinating as ever.

I’ve found the way to show my vision and tell my stories without needing the resources of a film studio. As I’ve gained comprehension of my art, I’ve been clearer about what it is I do.

I’m showing you stills from the movies in my mind. The possibilities are endless.

EXPLOITS: Artist Bill Lewis and the Cosmic Unconsciousness

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Remodernist Painter and Poet Bill Lewis at a recent exhibit in the UK

But where does imagination end and reality begin?

-Dr Julian Karswell                                                    

Carl Jung was a visionary psychiatrist who understood religion, spirituality and mysticism as key elements of the human experience. In his work he developed the concept of synchronicity, the significant coincidence. It’s when things happen that seem meaningfully related, but which happen without any apparent cause. For Jung it was a demonstration of the collective unconscious in operation, a universal awareness that everyone shares. In my life experiences synchronicity is a common phenomenon.

I recently experienced an amazing moment of synchronicity. It involved artist and poet Bill Lewis. Bill is one of the original  British Stuckist artists, having been part of the seminal Medway Poets group even before the art movement began. Bill Lewis has continued his work as a Remodernist artist, and as I got involved with the international movement, I made his acquaintance through Facebook of all things. Since then we’ve exchanged books and our thoughts of the mysteries of art and life. It’s one of the wonders of this age, how we can connect with interesting people half a world away.

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Reading “The Book of Misplaced But Imperishable Names” by Bill Lewis at a Phoenix AZ poetry event

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Bill Lewis with The Secret Kingdom

Bill has had many intense moments of synchronicity, so his role in my recent experience is no surprise. One evening just before Christmas I was coming home from work, driving down a short cut through the alley behind our house, when one of the neighborhood feral cats ran in front of my car.

The cat was far ahead of me, it was in no peril. In the dark twilight all I saw was the indistinct bobbing of its mostly white body. The sight reminded me of a creepy passage from an old favorite story of mine, “Casting the Runes,” by M. R. James.

At the beginning of the story an evil warlock puts on a magic lantern show that traumatizes the local children. The images included “a horrible hopping creature in white.” The glimpse of the cat in motion triggered a memory of that description, although I haven’t read the story in ages.

When I got home moments later there was a package waiting for me that had arrived that day in the mail. It was an unexpected Christmas gift from Bill Lewis. I couldn’t wait until Xmas, I tore right into it. It was a DVD of the classic British horror movie, “Night of the Demon,” and the recut American version “Curse of the Demon.” This film is based on the story “Casting the Runes” by M. R. James.

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I was so moved by this experience I ended up creating a painting about it, featured in the current exhibit “BOOKED: Contemporary Literary Art.”

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Richard Bledsoe “A Horrible Hopping Creature in White” acrylic on canvas 16″ x 20″

The connotations of this event are very interesting to me. A key plot point of the story is how the attention of paranormal forces get passed along by means of a rune inscribed slip of paper delivered to an unsuspecting recipient. In an interview, Bill Lewis describes inspiration being passed along like a virus between carriers. I see a connection  in these models.

I don’t see the demonic content of this particular transmittal as an ominous thing. If anything, it’s a cautionary example, a call to examine my own motivations and actions.  The warlock in the story and movie abused his knowledge selfishly, evoking energy in an effort to build his own power, and he was destroyed by it. In this unexpected and meaningful gift, I saw not a demon, but a demonstration of wisdom. Thank you Bill!