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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Comrade: Binding the Oath

One of my latest paintings is hanging in the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Reading.  It is a beautiful hotel and I feel pretty honored to be able to hang my work there.  I have had a few people ask me what the painting is all about, and someone (thank you Susan Scofield!) asked if I could write a blog post about it.  Here goes....  


In case you haven't seen the finished painting, here it is.  Below I explain how I got here.



First, let me explain that the Native American guy pictured in my painting is someone you too can visit if you happen to be in Berks County...I came across him while tooling around one afternoon looking for some good plein air painting spots and checking out the Conrad Weiser homestead in Wolmelsdorf.  I was admiring the historical buildings when I peeked into a clearing and there he stood. The light was so good that day, creating these heavy contrasts and showing off his planes and form quite nicely. I took a bunch of photos knowing I would paint him... According to what I could find, this statue is a rendition of Iroquois cheif Shikellamy whom Weiser befriended. If you are interested in reading more about that history, check it out here.    

Putting aside the statue for the time being, I must confess that I am a lifelong student of mystic philosophies and spirituality in general.  It is not something I share readily as I have learned it is better to keep my mouth shut in matters such as this.  But, in the happy spirit of explanation, I will admit this...  I recently have been studying sacred geometry and how it has been employed for centuries by artisans, architects and even computer programmers in designing amazing and masterful works of art and more..  It is a fascinating subject and too much for me to delve into here.  Just know, that if you google Sacred Geometry, you likely will be up the rest of the night following threads all over the place, to all parts of this amazing world we live in and maybe beyond.
A pretty well known explanation of sacred geometry is the Fibonacci Sequence: A series of numbers: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34 and so on.  This series and subsequent ratio is found everywhere in nature.

The Universe... Sacred geometry of course...

Sunflowers...

Humans...



Getting back to Weiser's Native friend.  As I began designing my image I saw that the Indian was going to require some type of sacred imagery to speak to his obvious posture of peace and strength. What is he doing anyway? He is holding a peace pipe and it appears he is paying homage to the sky... standing strong in the face of adversity?... Calling for peace?  Standing up for what he believes in?... (Btw, I was now calling Weiser's native friend Comrade as he indeed seemed friendly enough to do so..) Coming across the image pictured above, of rectangles designed in a perfect spiral, I overlayed it on a flipped image of Comrade, I was happily amazed to find that things were lining up...  (I flipped Comrade purely as a design choice...  wanting to emphasize the baroque diagonal vs the sinister.. if you care about this, you can read more about it here...)


Now what?  Something else was needed...  I know...Graffiti!  I have created a number of paintings that have included some kind of graffiti.  Another side passion of mine is admiring graffiti for what it is, other than the illegal defacement of private property - that is, abstract text which is often beautifully executed.  It is this combination of the abstract with that quality of 'you almost can read what it says, but not quite' that I love about graffiti. It is the same reason I often listen to music that has lyrics that are sung in a different language.  The words become abstracted and form sound, rhythm, shape and color, without the cumbersome meaning inevitably attached to the words.  I liked the idea of including graffiti for this reason, because really, Comrade didn't yet have a true meaning to me.  In other words, his image speaks of something I can almost grasp, but not quite... 

Jumping ahead, I will say this, I often work this way when designing a more complex painting.  I pick and choose imagery that feels right together, whether it is because of it's underlying design, inherent meaning or some other je ne sais quoi.. Below, you see I also chose to put the edited image through a sepia filter to negate any color... I was interested in a less descriptive background.. one that also spoke of something possibly spiritual, possibly further giving an indication of what our friend was doing...


The graffiti I settled on was chosen for it's acceptable abstracted quality as well as the fact that it worked well with the design.  I also opted for some birds radiating away from the apex which of course carry all kinds of symbolism... freedom, death (if they are crows...), flights of fancy, the spirit materialized, etc, etc...

So, there it was... the design I pretty much intended to paint... Another thing I should mention is that I often will paint on a black ground.  It's just something I have grown to like for the ability to see some pretty stark contrasts very quickly...


So this is how I started Comrade.  And after I blocked in the initial shapes and lines, I decided I liked the darkness afforded by the black background.  I began adding color to emphasize the spirals and radiating lines but decided to leave the bottom largely dark.  The design and patterns of light and color could also be seen as having meaning.. but I will let that up to you.


Of course now my painting needed a frame.  Yay!  Another passion of mine happens to be wood working, particularly frame making.  I knew he needed something that made a statement... something special.. Cutting to the chase, I have had the recent good fortune of both acquiring some barnwood with a lot of character (translate: very dirty, splintery and extremely cool once cleaned and sanded) and being gifted some fine framing materials by an artist friend of mine, Harry Bentz.  I decided to meld the two together... blending old with new, binding two very different materials from two very different time periods.  More layers of meaning, but exactly what it means, again, I leave this up to the viewer...




I don't spend as much time talking about my frame making, but I will say that it is an important and integral part of my art making.  I love pairing a painting with a frame that I can make custom for it. I enjoy taking raw and often difficult wood and sanding, sawing and nailing it to bend to my wishes, to create something both useful and beautiful...


And he ended up hanging here, in the DoubleTree hotel in Reading, right outside of the grand ballroom!  I love that he will be greeting all manner of folk as they make their way to a most likely splendid event.  If he gives just one person pause, to consider what the sacred symbolism, the waving Native American, the lines, the colors and even the frame.. what it all means... then I guess at the very least, we can call this Art.

Thank you for reading this. Hopefully it was an enjoyable glimpse into my process and hopefully it inspires some to visit the actual statue on the Conrad Weiser Homestead, and maybe even visit my painting in the hotel! :)






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