Merriam-Webster’s Full Definition of realism
1: concern for fact or reality and rejection of the impractical and visionary
2a : a doctrine that universals exist outside the mind; specifically : the conception that an abstract term names an independent and unitary reality
b : a theory that objects of sense perception or cognition exist independently of the mind — compare nominalism
3: the theory or practice of fidelity in art and literature to nature or to real life and to accurate representation without idealization
Back when I was in school, the abstract expressionists, modern artists from
the 40s and 50s, were heralded by the professors as the pinnacle of artistic
expression. I joined in. The professor would commence with classical drawing
methods teaching the students to draw using a real object, a model or a
still life, but gradually encourage a more personal means of expression so
that one’s inner self could be released. This led to abstraction. All the
abstract principles, the elements of design, i.e. line, value, color, shape
etc. were encouraged and taught. The actual draftsmanship (the ability to
draw and thereby depict a figure or an object accurately as it was in life)
was put on the wayside in favor of a more emotional and inner depiction.
Five or 10 years down the road with the hope and genuine effort to make a
living as an artist, I was still busy attempting to do better work as an
artist. I don’t recall reading this or having any outside influence, but one
day it hit me as a revelation that a real world existed quite apart from my
view or interpretation. Merriam-Webster’s 2a : “a doctrine that universals
exist outside the mind”; was something I had always believed. I needed to
honor the subject by depicting it as a real thing to itself, not a thing
subject to my imagination. Meantime I was using abstract tools: line, color,
value, shape, etc. when I painted an object. I can’t help with all of my
abstract tools to interpret an object according to the way I see it (my
I was helping a friend clean out a garage when I saw two tricycles, probably
from 50s, hanging from the rafters. I took them home. My wife wanted to
throw them in the junk pile and even followed through once, but for me there
was something compelling about the trikes. I let them lay around the yard
and our grandchildren played with them. One of them got frozen in the mud
last fall. I took photographs of it as it was buried at various levels as
the snow got deeper, melted and got deeper again. Before the snow was
totally melted I accomplished this painting.
I rarely can express why I am visually drawn to an object, a human figure or a landscape. It is not normally because of classic beauty. I’ve gotten in trouble by looking at a human specimen in this way. In the past and every so often I’ve tried to verbally express what moves me visually, but the only way I can express my appreciation is abstractly on a flat piece of paper or canvas. Meantime I want to honor my topic by keeping my drawing as close to reality as I see it and as my ability allows.
I could attempt to explain what this painting is about. There is something
kind of forlorn… and well… figure it out for yourselves. As I’ve explained,
it’s a visual expression.
I’m calling it “Lost Memories”.
In keeping with with our theme of fecundity I have accomplished three more paintings. Fecundity #1 I posted last fall. Fecundity #2 and 3# are shown above and #4 is on it’s way.
We had a productive garden last summer. A couple of years ago my wife, Kathy, bought a packet of 10 sunflower seeds for three dollars at our local Buck’s Hardware. The plants struggled into the summer but grew to an astonishing eight or 9 feet tall. They were an inspiration in our garden. All 10 blossomed with one flower and each flower contained (I looked it up online, not attempting an accurate count) 800 to 1200 seeds. Rounding this to an average of 1000 seeds in each flower, that means we have the potential of 10,000 plants come next spring.
These plants portrayed a violent lust for life in the velocity of growth and giant stature. They became the royalty of the garden displaying pointy leaves and ponderous, golden crowns always focused on the sun.
Van Gogh painted sunflowers. I decided to do my own interpretation. The flower in the painting is approximately life-sized. The painting is 20 x 16″ acrylic.
Here is a selection of four works from summer of 2012 to spring 2013. I think they make a seasonal quartet representing our neighborhood. As I was posting these images I realized they were each started very close to the spring, summer, fall and winter equinoxes and solstices.
Part of the joy of living here in northern Minnesota is the dramatic change in scenery as the year progresses.
A long time ago I made a living as a wood carver. Then my tools were stolen. I was more interested in painting so I retired from wood carving and continued with painting. A little more than 10 years ago I borrowed some carving tools and carved the door for the Angry Trout Café in Grand Marais, Minnesota(above). Because of the restaurant’s prominent, beautiful location and fine, delicious food I received a lot of potential commissions, but I turned them down. Besides not specializing in wood carving anymore I had acquired carpal tunnel syndrome and then other wrist related problems, which made me give it up. However, I got a call from Pennsylvania with a commission and decided to give it a try again. The client wanted me to do a replica of the Angry Trout door but applied to a cabinet door about 32 x 32″.
The panel was made out of 1.5 x 8″ local birch timbers. The stain is fine oil paints diluted with turpentine with Watkins oil finish.
The following photos and narrative are a description of the work in progress and finished.
The steps include:
- original sketch showing the basic composition
- making the panel and sketching the composition on the panel
- carving out the negative spaces
- carving the details
- applying the patina
This little watercolor is a portrait of John Redshaw and his horse, Kadance. I contrived the oil from the above watercolor and several images of the Black Hills with John and other friends riding and shooting at the Cowboy Mounted Shooter events. I have a bunch of digital images to work from.
As an art student I was taught not to use nostalgia, drama or photographs. I gradually have broken all these old rules implanted in my brain by long past teachers still speaking to me out of the Modern Art epoch. It is hard for me, this breaking of long applied art rules. It makes me feel guilty. Like committing a sin, it haunts me. Cultural taboos run deep even when they are irrelevant or out of style.
If you are offended by the use of nostalgia and drama in this painting you can use your own imagination or possibly darker memories to help you keep in mind that violence isn’t always as romantic as the setting shown here in the Black Hills and on galloping horses.
Meanwhile, I hope my motives are good. I wanted to make the point that even white folks that think alike and are from the same culture don’t always get along. Being of the same culture does not necessarily bring peace and unity amongst the members because some behavior is more primal than cultural. I am not familiar with every culture but judging by the wars and rumors of wars coming from all over the world, I believe that the tendency toward aggression is not only cultural but is a propensity that lies in every human soul. All humans share a predisposition toward violence.
Part of the event adding to the pageantry of Cowboy Mounted Shooting is that the contestants dress-up like citizens of 1885. I painted portraits of these contestants set in 21st-century parking lots. Of course it didn’t look right. The contestant’s art or craftsmanship deserved my endorsement. I started to paint the background to match the clothing of the 1800s.
In the above painting my friends are decked out in their vintage cowboy clothes and tack, set in the North Dakota Badlands, which we really did visit a few times and I assume hasn’t changed too much for three-thousand years. We have all had some fun studying old Sears catalogs and history books to find out what kind of tack and clothing 1880s folks used. Bill Pugh, who was very careful about being authentic, happened to be wearing his horn-rimmed dark glasses in one of the photos. I left them on his nose in the painting. I think the glasses are the only part of the painting that doesn’t quite fit with the era.
After the contest of shooting balloons from horseback as fast as we could, we often relax around a fire, enjoy a camp dinner and talk about a variety of subjects. This usually includes horses, guns, growing up in the 50s, the hippie generation and what we did during the Vietnam War.
Martine and her dad, John Redshaw, are friends of mine. It’s generally easier to be friends with someone with whom you have a lot in common. John and I have a lot in common. He lives about a mile and a half down the road from our place, and like us he lives on a little farmstead in the big woods. We both were children in the 50s. We spent hours in front of huge, primitive, little screened and fuzzy imaged black and white televisions watching Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, and Hopalong Cassidy. During our teen years we spent a lot of time hunting and hiking in the wilderness. We both got Bachelors of Arts degrees, he in music, I in art. We grew to adulthood during the hippie era. We sweated out the draft during the Vietnam War. In these later years we have both participated in several Cowboy Mounted Shooter events, sometimes trailering together to an event. More often we ride around our neighborhood together on our own horses in the big woods.
I frequently ride a horse over to John’s, have a cup coffee, and visit he and Martine. Several times I’ve watched DVDs of old cowboy shows that I haven’t seen since I was Martine’s age with she and her dad. One time I was visiting when Martine was almost two. Nowadays, she can get off and on and ride that spring horse no problem, but it was a challenge for Martine then. She led me by a finger to show me how she could get on her horse. It was a big deal. She was very careful and nearly got hung up a couple of times but she managed it and with justified pride she received my praise. Once on board she needed her gun which John handed her.
As she was mounting, I had a very clear flashback of myself back in the sunroom of our old farm house in Iowa. I had a spring horse probably made out of the same mold as Martine’s spring horse only my horse was a Pinto. I remembered how scary it was to negotiate past that big spring and I was afraid I’d get pinched. As I watched Martine I thought, “Even little Martine and I have a lot in common!” She plays with her horse and gun and I play with my horse and gun. I expect that Martine will go on loving both horses and guns. Today she is a five-year-old. She is already riding her own real horse and hunting with her dad.
Martine was about four when I did these portraits as a duet, she with her horse and gun, and I with my horse and gun.
This is the first self-portrait in a series of self-portraits that I am calling Manifest Destiny. I’ve heard it said that every painting is a self-portrait. In this case it is certainly true as I have attempted to portray myself and my horses in almost all of these paintings, usually at a moment of crisis fraught with fate.
Manifest Destiny is a title proposed by politicians in the mid-19th century for the expansion of the United States across the North American continent. I’ve chosen the theme of “Manifest Destiny” because of its major role in the forming of America and the collision between the various cultures and the trauma in human lives caused by this grand endeavor. My goal with this exhibit is to use this topic as a lens to take another look at the people we have become and the man that I am.
Several of the paintings in this series are studies or ‘meditations’ on Baroque and Renaissance old Masters. As I have copied the old Masters and the stories they tell, I painted myself as some of the characters and contrived the settings in the American frontier. The paintings and the stories they describe, the myths, lies or truths they tell are also part of our European heritage and play a role to compose our culture. Placing myself in the middle of the action causes me to reflect, “Would I really do this?” especially when I’m pitted against another culture that says, “You are wrong!” And in hindsight I can consider what their rational legitimate argument was.
“… I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…” No one gets to choose the culture into which he is born. The lies and the truth are all jumbled together. We must wade through our cultural heritage cluttered with paradigms based on lies and prejudice or truth and love, or take without question what we have inherited from our culture. I hope we have some choices left to us about how we live, but ultimately are we victims? Is it all predestined? Is this manifest destiny?
“…I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me”.”