de Kooning and me

It has been a while since I last posted, obviously. Over the intervening time I’ve been engaged in some self-reflection- no surprise here, either. Anyway, I’ve been reading a book on de Kooning that has surprised me in a good way. I was expecting to read this book at a steady clip, like I read most nonfiction books. However, as I transitioned into the chapters on de Kooning’s life in New York during the 1930’s I began to slow down. I found his efforts to develop his style, his love of ambiguity, and his attempts to meld his more traditional training with a need to rebel against it and thirst for modernism eerily resonant with the internal push and pull of my own artistic ambitions. But most of all, I was struck by his struggle with how he defined himself.

He began his art career as a commercial artist, a craftsman-artist similar in spirit to the Bauhaus, which he defined as very distinct from a fine artist. He seems to have defined himself as a first a commercial artist, doing decorative painting, etc. to make a living and then following his desire to paint in a modernist style on the side, almost as a hobby. It wasn’t until he met and befriended Arshile Gorky that he really began to believe in his ability to be a fine arts painter. And it wasn’t until the opportunity to work under the Federal Art Project (FAP) that he took the final step and attempted to devote himself to fine art painting full time. An interesting note, he was actually making pretty decent money working on contract as a decorative artist during the early years of the Depression and gave that job up in order to qualify for the FAP in the later Depression despite being offered twice his current salary to stay.

I have been struggling with a similar self-definition dilemma. Since I became serious about art – 18 years ago – I have always defined myself as something else first and artist second. That initial/primary label has changed continually over the years, but artist has always remained secondary. I have as of yet not met my own Gorky nor have I looked for or stumbled across an FAP-like opportunity. I have a feeling my reticence to define myself as an artist has similar foundation as de Kooning- a mix of social signals that define “artist” as a devalued thing and my lack of confidence in my own skills. I wonder if I can ever overcome this psychological block. All I know is that until I do I am limiting my ability to make art and the power of the art I create. I will continue to wander from style to style, subject to subject, and probably place to place always feeling a bit disjointed and awkward in my own skin.

Eric in a Word: vagile
Book of the Day: Salt - Mark Kurlansky
Song of the Day: Ghost of a Shark - Tom McRae
Religious Figure of the Day: Erecura

Medium: black tea & ink on business card (study after Daumier)

RIP Harry Kalas

Yesterday another icon from my childhood passed away. The great Harry Kalas, the golden-throated voice of the Phillies. He and Richie Ashburn ushered me through untold years of Phillies baseball, frustration and incredible memories. Harry was the voice that brought Michael Jack Schmidt home and his delivery made Mickey Morandini a household name in the Philly region. He was the sound of baseball for me every bit as much the crack of the bat and thwock of a leather glove. I always imagined him as the imaginary narrator of my successes and the voice of my baseball dreams- “There it is! Outta here! Homerun Eric Giles!” Baseball just won't be the same without him.

Harry, you will be missed.

Harry Kalas (1936 -2009)

Eric in a Word: physiurgic

Book of the Day: Theory of the Earth - James Hutton

Song of the Day: Yellow Fever - Fela Kuti

Religious Figure of the Day: Eshmun

Medium: Graphite on card stock


Civilization writ large

I’ve been thinking a lot about human history on the macro scale lately. Usually I tend towards a holistic contextualized view of history (i.e. every event and person is the product of and acts within the context of their time), but occasionally I like to mentally step outside of time and take a broader view. The danger in this approach is a tendency to see patterns where there are none or create hypothetical rules where none apply. That being said, there is something that resonates throughout human history for me. It is the constant push and pull between individual wants and collective cohesion.

At some point in our collective past, maybe at the dawn of what we consider “human”, maybe before, maybe after it became apparent that the species had a better chance of survival if it worked together rather than individually. In order for this to occur individual wants and desires had to be redirected or subsumed by rules both conscious and unconscious. I would argue that the history of human civilizations is really the history of this struggle. Each society/ civilization throughout history has had its own way of dealing with it, built on the past, adapted to the present situation, emphasizing one thing over another, etc… in continuous and ever changing movement.

In my opinion the two main “things” that humanity has tried to control or direct throughout history are violence and sexual desire – in other words the means of survival and reproduction. The ironic thing is that we are in actuality using a social unit as a tool to redirect and channel the means of survival and reproduction in order to ensure our survival and ability to reproduce. Marriage, war, money, industry, art, etc…are all tools in a society’s toolbox with the overarching goal of preserving our ability to survive and reproduce through channeling our tendencies to use socially destructive means to achieve these self-same goals. In order to do away with one of these tools, war for instance, we would need to have another to replace it that would serve the same purpose with the same efficacy or endanger our civilization/ civilization writ large.

Eric in a Word: clepe
Book of the Day: The Spell of the Sensuous - David Abram
Song of the Day: Cold Water - Tom Waits
Religious Figure of the Day: Saa
Medium: Rooibos,ink, white out, and graphite on business card

My presence of mind is absent

I was not going to post this initially. It struck me as simultaneously banal and too personal. But I realized that in order to be honest to my personal intentions with this blog, to increase my ability to communicate clearly and openly. One of the reasons I felt it necessary to post it was the topic, how I experience the world. It’s on a topic that’s difficult for me to adequately communicate, mainly because of the inherent bias of the English language towards the visual.

I am feeling really, physically uncomfortable today, as if I am not me. It’s that feeling most people would describe as “not comfortable in my own body”. For me, at least, it’s not quite like this. I am unusually aware, consciously at least, of my physical reactions to input from my visual, auditory, and olfactory senses. Almost as if all my senses are routed through the part of my brain that analyzes my sense of touch. For example, when I see something visually beautiful, like the sun setting behind the Rockies, I simultaneous see the scene and feel the raising of gooseflesh, my hair prickling, various muscles relaxing and tightening in response. The scene physically hits me. And it’s like this with 90% of my daily experiences, not just the particularly stunning ones. Now, in my understanding, most people have similar reactions, it just registers on a sub-conscious level except under special circumstances.

On days like this, I am at best discombobulated. I can’t fully rely on my physical reaction to give me an accurate representation of what’s happening and have to do more conscious analysis of what’s going on. It slows my reaction time and reduces my mental capacity. Not only that, it just feels weird. The world is a bit alien and my interaction is just a hair out of sync. I end up feeling alienated and disconnected. So, if you run into me today, do not be disturbed by the palpable aura of absent mindedness I’m sure surrounds me.

Eric in a Word: desiderate
Book of the Day: Candide- Voltaire
Song of the Day: Longest Days- John Mellencamp
Religious Figure of the Day: Kumari Devi
Medium: Rooibos and graphite on business card