Saturday, April 30, 2011

CULTURAL CONFLICT




My sainted mother’s tireless work in our kitchen has left an indelible mark on my life. The taste and smell of her cooking as well as 18 years of experiences at our kitchen table, alone, or with family and friends is woven into the fabric of my life, and with each passing year I am compelled to pay increasing homage to that history. I attempt to do this with my cooking, and quickly realized that no matter how hard I tried, I would never duplicate the meals she served. Instead I have set out to adopt her style, or process, which was to cook intuitively, using whatever ingredients were available at the time. I remember so clearly asking for a recipe for something I really liked, or how she cooked it, and her response…”I don’t know Billy, I just use a little of this and a little of that” leaving me quite frustrated. Only now, years later, when I am cooking every day do I appreciate what she was saying.

Like so many first and second generation Italian-Americans, my culinary culture is the result of a combination of American and Italian influences, the latter heavily determined by the region from which the immigrants came, the overwhelming majority coming from the impoverished southern Italy. For whatever reason, my mother served pasta in bowls or soup dishes, and we twirled the pasta on soupspoons. Imagine my distress when much later in life I learned that in Italy no one twirls their past on spoons! I managed to recover from this cultural tremor by telling myself that twirling was OK because that is what Italian-Americans did, only to discover just weeks ago that that was not the case. There are some who do not twirl their pasta on spoons! The foundation of my cultural heritage was cracking.

But it doesn’t end here. This week I read in an authentic Italian cookbook (the author lives in Milan and runs a culinary school) that one NEVER serves pasta in bowls or soup dishes; it should always be served on dinner plates. And there is more. The proper way to serve the pasta is to allow each person to serve him or herself from the main dish…a practice we do not observe. What is a soul to do?!
Everything I believed in, the source of so much cultural pride, was being torn apart. Oh…I can only imagine what something like this would do to a lesser man than me. But, being the tiger that I am (have I told you before that I’m a tiger?) I faced the crisis head on and …oops, the pasta water is boiling…gotta go.

Friday, April 29, 2011

HAVE I TOLD YOU TODAY THAT I LOVE YOU part 6

NURTURE YOUR MIND AND SOUL



Sometimes we need all the help we can get in the pursuit of our dreams and aspirations, especially when they take us into unfamiliar places, and that support can often be found in the world around us.

Avail yourself of those activities and experiences that provide inspiration and stimulation. Read books and journals, listen to music, travel, visit with friends, and pursue everything and anything else that inspires your mind and heart and is affirming to those dreams. It may be as simple as quietly listening to your favorite music, or as involved as a weekend away to some special place. You will recognize what it is that makes you feel alive and centered, and whatever that is, it is worthy of your time and attention. Such small endeavors can provide critical support for great work.

SEEK SOLITUDE



The world is a noisy place. The constant buzz and activity of everything around us often prevents us from hearing the quiet songs within us. Create time for yourself, quiet time when you can think, read, reflect, pray, or simply be, and enjoy the stillness of your soul. There are no formulas setting out times and frequency, you decide for yourself how, when, and where, knowing that it will be a constantly evolving process.

Sometimes our greatest work is conceived in times like this…when it appears we are “doing nothing”.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

SOMETIMES ART JUST HAPPENS


mixed media diptych...8x10 each

For the past several months I’ve been making a lot of noise about how cramped my gallery and studio have become, with paintings, prints, and drawings piled and stacked all over the place. I have even made half-assed attempts at a “clearance sale” with modest success. I’m sure those of you who know me well have simply passed this all off as Renzulli being himself, always finding something to make noise about. But I gotta tell you…this is different…this is serious! How serious? Since the beginning of the year I have not done any significant painting because of my reluctance to add to an already overflowing inventory. Now what kind of attitude is that for an artist…I can’t paint because I have too many paintings?

And it is not just the larger canvases. I get frustrated tripping over all the smaller stuff, framed and unframed, lying around and always in the way. I certainly don’t want to add to that. So it is understandable that the muses have taken their leave of me and I’ve been flopping about the studio, reading, napping, finding busy work, or daydreaming….I do a lot of that. Last month a visiting artist showed me how she finished her watercolors with a coat of wax medium so they did not have to be framed under glass. I got back to the studio and tried it out on one of my small watercolors, was quite pleased with the result, and the next thought was to see how it worked with the clay mono types and drawings. It worked quite well and opened the door to a number of new ideas and options; one of them being the creation of small abstract clay landscapes. If you have seen me demonstrate the process you know that you never do just one print, but in fact pull 3 or 4, or more in order to get the interesting texture and colors the process provide.

At this point I have about 6 prints, all on the small side, to which I’ve applied the wax finish, and I’m faced with the question…what do I do with them. I have no interest in matting and/or framing them, so I decide to mount them on cradled hardboard panels and to my great dismay I was very pleased with the results; so pleased that before I knew I had created 21 of these waxed, mounted, clay landscapes. So much for not bringing any new work into the studio.


clay mono type triptych...each 8x8

The muses, in all of their sneakiness, crept back into the studio, and sometimes, despite our inclinations, art just happens.

On a darker note:


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

PASTA TO THE RESCUE, OR, SAVED BY PASTA



I think I’m going crazy, or at least flirting with it. I’ve lost my way in the studio; unable to settle down and do anything substantial, and spend a lot of time reading and thinking about the paintings I want to do. But I’m not painting, just thinking about it. When I do get close enough to sit down and work I’m then confronted with questions…what medium and what subject. My options include watercolor, pastel, acrylic, oil, clay, or mixed media, and I won’t even try to go into the range of subject matter from which to choose. (It makes me wonder how I ever got anything done.) You can understand the torment that has been dogging me for so many weeks.

Now a lesser man than me would be a basket case at this point, but I have had the one thing that has kept me tethered to reality and sanity…PASTA. Instead of wringing my hands and fretting in the studio I’ve kept myself busy in the kitchen reading my cookbooks and reviewing recipes. My goal is to prepare as many different pasta dishes as possible, from the most mundane to the most unique. I look at the different recipes for ideas on which I can elaborate or modify to fit the ingredients available to us here in Paducah. Of course this means pasta every night, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make. My dear wife Patience, bless her heart, is willing to support me in this endeavor.

I am confident that I will be painting again, but I do not think I will turn my back on pasta, not after all that it is doing for me.


Self Portrait...acrylic...24x24

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BOOKS Part 3… The How to books




As my interest in art grew, primarily pencil and pen and ink drawing, and before I considered art as a career option, I began acquiring books of drawing. It was all about the line; color held no interest for me. At every opportunity I looked for books on drawing and gradually accumulated a substantial library that included some of the following;

It wasn’t long before fantasies about an artist’s life began to creep into my soon to become devious mind, and with them came the realization that I needed color. The first thing I turned to were markers…they worked well with pen and ink, but the colors were fugitive so I turned to inks and then watercolor. As a result, my the shelves in my studio and study are sagging with books on color and painting with watercolor. I don’t think I’ve ever done any of the exercises they contain, but did carefully read and re-read the texts and study the paintings. This process has repeated itself every time I moved on to a new medium. At this point I am working in watercolor, pastels, acrylic, and occasionally in oil, and find myself going back to the books for needed refreshing from time to time. Last year, before my trip to Italy, I pulled out all my books on sketching and on the spot drawing and went over each of them from cover to cover.






I have never hesitated purchasing a book that I thought would help me become a better artist…when you are teaching yourself you need all the help you can get.

Monday, April 25, 2011

WATERED DOWN ACRYLICS

I use the pint sized heavy body acrylics in my work, and when I've finished with the jar (there is always some paint left that cannot be easily retrieved) I add some water and put it aside. The result is an ample supply of very aqueous acrylic paint that I've been using for glazing. Finding myself stuck in this "just playing around stage" Yesterday I tried something new.

I wanted to use some of the print paper I purchased several years ago that has been sitting in a large roll...waiting for something to happen. I stapled a piece to some upson board, soaked it, and let it dry, and then proceeded to paint with the aqueous acrylics as I would with watercolor. The sky and foreground were rendered in this manner. The abandoned building was then added using the acrylic in a heavier, opaque state.

Next, I mounted the painting on a cradled hardboard with mat medium gel and trimmed the edges. The final stage was a layer of Gamblin's cold wax medium.


acrylic...11x14

I was quite please with the results and decided to repeat the process. As always, the second piece came in...well, second. But I can see more of this in my future.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

MY BOOKS…part 2


Further down the wall my eyes encounter several shelves of art books. These fall into four general categories: books devoted to the lives and work of artists, books about art and art history, reference/picture file books, and how-to books. Commanding the most space on one shelf are books by, about, and illustrated by Paul Hogarth, the contemporary British illustrator whose work and approach to art had a most profound effect on me early in my art career. (I will have more to say about him later.)

These are the books I do return to when I feel the need to boost my enthusiasm, search for new ideas, or just want to look at good art. Some of these books have been with me for over 30 years, some I purchased new and a few were “finds” at used bookstores. Among the artists settled on my shelves are: Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Charles Demuth, Maxfield Parrish, N.C.Wyeth,, Edward Hopper, and Norman Rockwell. It has always been much easier for me to identify with realists and illustrators than with the abstract artists.

Also in my study, scattered throughout the house, and in the studio are the reference books, books used for ideas and images for my paintings. They are mostly photographic, depicting one or more places of interest, cities, rural vistas, or wilderness scenes. Because of my interest in architectural art, I have many volumes devoted to architecture and architectural art, which I refer to frequently.
All of the books in this “art library” serve two basic purposes, to nurture the creative spirit and to teach, functions vital to all artists, but especially the self- taught.

Like the practice of medicine…the desire/need to create art is both a state of mind, and an affair of the heart. The books I have acquired over the years serve both.





Just as water seeks its own level...books have a way of finding every available flat surface in the house and studio.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

WHEN IS ENOUGH…ENOUGH?


Let me say at the outset that I consider capitalism, monitored, and when necessary, restrained by federal government, the best economic foundation for our country. I applaud free enterprise and entrepreneurism. Economic growth and job creation are a necessary and vital result of successful capitalism, reaching out to benefit most of us. But I am bothered by what seems to be an excessiveness that permeates the system and the almost religious like devotion to the gospel of the free market. I think of the old clich√©, “If it is good for General Motors, it is good for America”. Today it seems to be…if it is good for big business and corporations, it is good for all of us. Making an honorable profit is not enough, it has to be more every year, and it has to be more than the nearest competitor. If there is money to be made…let’s do it, regardless of the harm it may do to the environment and to people. Growing the profit margin appears to be all that matters, trumping all social concerns and interests as it serves management and shareholders. I don’t know how the culture of profit over everything else can be muted…government can’t do it, and religion seems to be disinclined to do so (some churches have appeared to embrace such a culture.). Perhaps it is an ingrained part of the human character, to be driven to achieve the most, to have the best, to be in the front of the crowd.

I respect and admire those who create wealth through their own hard work and enterprise, but I have neither for those who make the accumulation of money their life’s goal, those who measure everyone and everything by monetary standards. It is not lost on me that it is a very fine line that separates the two.

I have concerns…but no answers. I suppose we each have to determine for ourselves where we place our values and when we say, enough is enough.

Friday, April 22, 2011

MY BOOKS…part 1

My original title for this post was...Friends between the covers...but the more I thought about it...well...you can understand why I changed it.

I have a morning routine that I’ve maintained for over 30 years…with my first cup of coffee in hand I settle into a chair and spend the next ten to thirty minutes writing in my journal. With few exceptions this takes place in my study, and from where I sit I can look around and see my books, at least the ones that fill the spaces available to them in this room. An almost equal number are scattered throughout the rest of the house and my studio.




I have read about 75% of them from cover to cover, and some of them more than once. Of the remainder…I’ve read about half of them in part, and the rest sit there unread. After repeated admonishments to myself, I have actually started to send some of them to the donations box at the library, typically books that I have not read and see no prospect of ever doing so. Still, the act of removing them from the room was not without some anxiety.

My reading interests mirror my taste in music…very eclectic. On the very top shelves are the books that were so instrumental in enabling the difficult journey from medicine to art, and include poetry, biographies, journals and memoirs, and numerous volumes on psychology, religion, and philosophy. There is almost an entire shelf dedicated to Rilke, Merton, and Jung. Will I ever read them again? Maybe a little bit of some, but it is unlikely to be more than that. Will I give them to the library? Equally unlikely, I simply cannot imagine not having them there. They are important to me as old friends are, a constant reminder of the paths I have traveled. I expect most of them will be tossed, donated, or sold when my journey ends, which if fine with me, but until then they give me comfort and require nothing of me in exchange.

I can list among my friends, Carl Jung, Thomas Merton, Rainer Maria Rilke, Aldous Huxley, Elton Trueblood, John Sanford, Matthew Fox, Alan Watts, Elizabeth O’Connor, and May Sarton, all of whose words spoke to me at a time when I needed them most. Of course there were many others, too numerous to list here. These were books with words that provided comfort, encouragement, and direction, and were powerful enough to enable a life to change. Their physical presence continues to serve me, simply by being there.

Further down the wall my eyes encounter several shelves of art books, but that is fodder for another post.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

HAVE I TOLD YOU TODAY THAT I LOVE YOU part 5

BE PATIENT WITH THE IMPORTANT THINGS IN YOUR LIFE


Learn to trust the inner “timer” that will guide you through paths and transitions even before you become aware of them. Some things need time to gestate, to grow and mature before coming into being; these may be ideas, plans, projects, or whatever. Pamper and nurture them. Do not give up on something that is not as immediate as you think it should be. A more patient part of you may recognize that the time and circumstances are not yet right. Worthwhile ideas and plans will not abandon you. Those that do fade away were not meant to be.

The same is true for the doubts and questions, which, always seem to find their way into our minds, sometimes in astounding abundance. Rilke said it best when he wrote, “have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the question now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” *


* M. D. Herter Norton, Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (New York, W W Norton & Company,1934), p. 35.

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS


When confronted with a choice between your head and your heart, and both appear to be of the same weight, choose your heart. Soon after I opened my first medical practice I was caring for a patient in the hospital who was quite ill. She was a very old woman whom I had treated in the clinic during my days as a medical resident. We had established a mutual fondness and respect for one another, and she became my private patient. Her condition was terminal, and on rounds one morning we talked about her imminent death. Like so many others in her position, she was not afraid to die. As I prepared to leave I wanted to kiss her cheek, but didn’t, because I thought it was not what a “doctor” should do. That night she died, and I never saw her again, and I promised myself that with few exceptions, I would never let my head over ride my heart again.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

STILL PLAYING...

I have not been able to walk away from this latest series since I started it over a week ago. It began with a series of small abstract clay mono types and later expanded to enhancing the prints with applications of ink and/or acrylic washes. The latest twist has been resurrecting old prints that have been tucked away in the file drawers and making them into more than were.

First...a triptych from a newly pulled print:





Next...2 older prints "updated":




All of the prints will share the same fate...mounted on cradled hardboard and finished with several coats of a cold wax medium. They may eventually become part of an exhibit of new works at Gallery 5.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SUNDAY MORNING ON THE PORCH…



It is Sunday morning in Paducah, which means the streets are quiet, very few cars and even fewer souls out and about. The sun is shining brightly from a clear blue sky, and if I ignore the cool breeze blowing across the porch I can believe it is ideal porch time.. I’m pleased to report that I have successfully ignored the breeze and am sitting here with my laptop and a cup of coffee listening to Godspell on my ipod (it is Sunday.). Delia is keeping me company, lying in the sun on one of the several dog beds we’ve consigned to porch duty. Jabber the puppy was with us until he started to feast on yesterday’s cut grass, and I mean feasting. Hopefully I caught him early enough to prevent a major tummy ache.

I am of two minds about Sundays in Paducah. On one hand, the quiet and stillness that settles over out town is a welcome relief from the previous 6 days, which are not exactly a beehive of constant noise and movement, but then everything is relative.

On the other hand, the city promotes itself as a weekend getaway, and having all but one of the downtown restaurants, and most of the shops and galleries closed on Sundays puts a bit of a crimp in that claim. I have kept Sunday hours for as long as we have been here, along with Wil at Stornaway Galleries, the other Sunday warrior.

I don’t mind being in the studio on Sundays; the stillness and quiet finds its way in and I can enjoy it there as well as on the porch.

Monday, April 18, 2011

MY COLORING BOOK WATERCOLORS

Or...how I learned to paint with watercolors.

My first attempts with watercolor were disastrous; I tried working wet in wet and ended up with mud, sludge, and things that you would rather not look at. Being the eternal optimist…I concluded that pencil, pen, and ink were all that I really needed anyway and the watercolors ended up somewhere in the bowels of the closet. When I was struggling with the momentous decision to pursue art professionally I knew that it would be necessary for me to move beyond the world of black and white, into the world of color. I could have turned to oil or acrylics, but being in Wilmington Delaware, watercolor was the predominant medium, reflecting the influence of the Weyth family in nearby Chadds Ford. So the challenge before me was to become a watercolorist, and I went about it in my own way, utilizing what I call the coloring book method. Let me explain.

Since I had so much trouble with working wet in wet and controlling the medium I chose to avoid that altogether. I would start with a clean drawing, either in pencil or with permanent ink and then fill in with the wc, just as one would do in a coloring book. I made no attempt at producing gradients in the washes, and simply applied a flat color. For shadows I would go back and use ink.




It was very simple but effective, and as I worked in this manner I gained confidence and facility with the medium, and soon began to expand on my work, gradually working some areas wet in wet.




Over time I learned how to render skies, trees, water, and all the elements you would expect from a watercolorist.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

MUSIC & THE VISUAL ARTS

I don't usually do this but I have a 2nd post for today...

Last night we attended the Paducah Symphony Orchestra’s last concert of the season. I have absolutely no knowledge and/or understanding of classical music, which puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to appreciating the scope and the nuances of the music. But I can appreciate the passion it evokes in the listener and even more, the passion so clearly obvious in the musicians and the conductor, especially the conductor.

The musicians were of course limited to facial expressions imposed upon them by their instruments of varying bulk. But the conductor…his every emotion was betrayed by his body movements, and when visible, his face. First he stood very still, and the orchestra was quiet, then his arms began to move gracefully in purposeful arcs and the music followed. Suddenly the baton, an extension of his right hand began to bounce and gyrate, pulling his body along with them, and the music kept pace with every movement. Here was an artist immersed in his work with such physical and emotional passion, and I was envious.

I can be engrossed in my work, sitting or standing; I may walk away momentarily and pace, which I do quite often. But to be able to experience the sound and the physicality of my work… that is something else. The best I can do is to have music blaring from a CD, Johnny Cash, Luciano Pavarotti, or maybe the Beatles. OK…I have a confession to make. On rare occasions when I am especially moved, I will actually dance (I insist on calling it dance) around the studio, but not until I have checked to see if Patience, or anyone else could see me.

That is the difference between a symphony conductor and a painter. The conductor can let it all hang out in front of his audience. The painter must be devious and sneaky. That is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

THE FIRST PATIENT


My first patient ever, an experience seared into my mind. It was early in my third year of medical school and our small group was in a general medical clinic where we were to see our patients, examine as necessary, and then report our findings and treatment plan to the medical resident or staff physician. After all these years the specifics of the clinic are rather vague, but two things are still very clear to me.

It was hot…really hot…early in September, and as students we were dressed per school requirements, shirt and tie plus the short white jacket which identified us as lowly students, recognized not only throughout the hospital but in the surrounding neighborhood. On this hot, humid day, in my shirt, tie, and jacket, I entered a small exam room (no air conditioning) and introduced myself to my patient, and elderly, rather wrinkled woman whose problem has been long gone from my memory. What is not gone is the absolute, awful, knock you down, odor of her breath, enhanced no doubt by the heat and closeness of our quarters. Unfortunately It was necessary for me to examine her throat, and when I approached her with tongue blade and flash light (trying hard to overcome basic physiology by only breathing out) she signaled me to pause for a moment while she removed a huge clove of garlic from her mouth which I swear was the size of a tangerine…Ok, maybe a walnut, but I can tell you this, even the most Italian of all Italians would have been done in by the dear ladies breath. As for me, I did not get near a piece of garlic for days…Ok, maybe hours.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

PLAYING



Call it whatever you choose…making art, creativity at work, exploring the medium, artistic exercise, or artist at work, by any name it is still PLAYING. Just like the 5 year old with crayons and a piece of paper, I went at it with gusto today.
Looking at one of the clay mono types I pulled earlier this week I decided it needed a little something more for added interest, and looking around the studio I my eyes settled on the jars of thinned down acrylics I keep on hand. I retrieved the thick piece of acrylic from under the counter, sprayed it lightly with water and began playing with acrylic washes. Still not satisfied, I dried the print with the hair dryer, re-wet it, and began applying watercolor and ink, letting them run around the print until I found a satisfying pattern. One thing led to another, and before I was finished I had re-worked 4 or 5 prints.





That was fun, and the good news is…I’m not finished playing with them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

TRANSFORMATION ?



I don’t know if I can describe the feeling I have when I think back on my early years in medicine,… but I’ll try.

My internship and residency took place between the years of 1965 and 1971 and included 2 years in Uncle Sam’s navy. Medicine and the post graduate training programs were a lot different from current practices; as interns and residents we were given a great deal of responsibility where the “see one, do one, teach one” philosophy was the standard. Of course me and my fellow interns and residents thought of ourselves as the young Turks…able to handle anything, any time, that came our way. We did not shirk from the responsibilities of the procedures and crisis decisions we had to make; it was all considered a routine part of who we were and what we did.

That self-confidence remained with me through out my years in medicine, although like many other physicians in primary care practice I gradually began referring the more complicated cases to the specialists and gave up all but the simplest in office procedures.

In a few months it will be nine years since I walked away from that which dominated my life and to a very large part, defined who I was for 40 years. With each passing year the person I was becomes more and more a stranger to me.
I cannot think of myself immersed in a field of science and medicine, which has now become so foreign to me. I no longer recognize that person, and I wonder, have I made this complete transformation from medicine/science to art? Or did I make myself fit into that role, while my heart I really belonged to the broad world of art?

I am reminded of what a very dear man…a patient and an artist…once said to me in the early years of my “transformation”…”the doctor is not an artist, the artist is a doctor”.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

HAVE I TOLD YOU TODAY THAT I LOVE YOU part 4



REMAIN OPEN TO CHANGE - DO NOT BE AFRAID

Be open to new ideas and new directions and don’t be afraid of change. What is right for you now may not be so tomorrow. Don’t allow yourself to be trapped or locked into circumstances that you know to be wrong for you. Sometimes the forces aligned against you to change or move on will be extremely powerful and resourceful, but never invincible. Windows of opportunity can be very small, and often the greater the opportunity the smaller the window. Sometimes it will take all of your self-reliance and courage to move through those windows, but you can do it. Do not be afraid! If there would be one lesson for you to learn now it should be this...do not be afraid of who and what you are, and what you are called to become. Don’t be afraid of change, remember, it is your world.



LEARN TO RECOGNIZE THE EBB & FLOW OF YOUR LIFE

There is at least a little wisdom in the clich√©, “Go with the flow”. The human psyche is subject to the same cyclic or periodic variations that are so evident in the world around us; we all experience the ups and downs in our emotional life with varying regularity, sometimes predictable and some times not. By learning to listen to yourself you can begin to recognize similar patterns as they effect all aspects of your emotional or spiritual life...enthusiasm, sadness, the availability of creative energy, ambition, imagination, etc. Knowing this, it is possible to avoid wasting a great deal of time and energy trying to work against the tide, waiting instead for a more receptive time.