Archive | spring in the Aegean

Painting, portraits and 4×5 photography…

The Fayum portrait I am copying

I have discovered an excitement and love of painting.  That is the only way to describe how I feel.  Using this medium to see light as opposed to the photographic process is a joy.  Although I tend to be a ‘fast’ painter, the inevitability of having to let paint dry keeps me from getting to far ahead of myself.  We are still engaged in tonal studies, but have branched out into some color variations based on ‘hot’ and ‘cool’.  Very interesting.   We have also begun the ‘Fayum’ process as well and using the tetrachromy is a challenging form that dates back to the beginnings of the Common Era (30 ACE to the 3rd century).  Art historians believe that these colors are actually the four used by the Greeks in the 4th an 5th centuries BCE and reference the four elements.  The spiritual aspect of this intrigues me.  The Fayum portraits themselves seem to have survived purely by chance while only written descriptions exist of the height of Greek painting from the classical age.  As a student of history I am happy to be looking at this course from both an artistic and academic point of view.

This afternoon I cleaned up the light studio and set up the four studio lights and scrims we use here at the Aegean Center.  This means that I can begin my portrait work this week, I hope.  I will use my 4×5 camera and produce images similar to the portraits made in the late 19th century.  The lighting will be dramatic and raking, borrowing  more from the style of Rembrandt than anything else.  My subjects will be students and locals and will be both an important part of my portfolio and my learning curve.  This vision may change, of course and I may find I like the open studio light concept better than the drama.  The composition will be head and shoulders only, 3/4 view or something like that.  We shall see…

JDCM

 

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Painting, Paros and changes in the weather…

The weather has finally turned around on Paros, at least it seems that way for the next few days.  Last week it was brutal and maritime with Force 8-9 winds at night and rain most of the 24 around the dark.  That lasted three days but yesterday the wind shifted and blew the clouds and rain south and began to dry the world.  In the sun it is warm and comforting, but step into the shade and the coolness returns to still chilled bones quicker than you can say ‘parakalo’.  I am looking forward to the hike tomorrow into the hills surrounding this small piece of vegetation covered marble floating in the wine dark sea.  I need to clear my head.  Two years of feelings cannot be discounted so easily, but as a friend reminded me,”on to the next hill!”  I digress–another story for another time perhaps.  Anyway, the walk will do me good.

My painting courses have been a series of remarkable epiphanies.  It turns out that I am pretty good at it and have a decent eye for color, tonal values and composition.  I have never painted in my life and find I love working with oils. They are forgiving in may ways but not to be taken for granted.  The white spirits used to thin them can run against me so I must be stern with the pigments and move them vigorously, not the other way around.  I can bully them around and they will behave.  So far we are using tonal values of black/white in exercises and today we began to use glazes and scumbling to build up color on that same grey-toned background.   Our pallets are limited on purpose so we get used to blending slowly.  Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Ivory Black and Mars White can be mixed to make myriad shades and colors.  One aspect I have discovered is the commonality between painting and photography.  Balance and tonal values rule the canvas as they do on the paper.

Tonight is Pub Quiz at Mikro Cafe here in Parokia.  My team, J.A.G., has won the quiz in the past two weeks.  If we win tonight that will be a hat trick.  I have joked about retiring from the quiz if that happens.  It’s just a joke.  I have no intention of retiring.  It is one of my ways to blow of steam.  That and the hike…

More to come…

JDCM

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Back on Paros…

I arrived here on Paros a few days ago.  The weather has been alternatively sun, wind, some light rain and clouds but overall very pleasant.  The new group of students is smaller this spring, but they are an enthusiastic bunch, very bright and ready for the challenges the school will put before them.  Having been through this process three times already I can attest to these challenges and will admit freely that once through does not mean that anything should be taken for granted or assumed.  We are all in for a wonderful and exciting time!

Today was the first official day and we have spent most of it in orientation and introductions.  The assorted work spaces have been visited and already people are eager to sign up for as many courses as they can handle.  I am helping out Liz Carson in the Silver Darkroom but I have also decided to take the painting classes.  As a third formal course I am going back to Creative Writing and will try my hand at some personal essay.  This is a heavy load, but I can manage the time and work required of me.  The Painting course means that I will be also attending the Figure Drawing, Basic Drawing and Free Draw sessions.  In total that is 15 hours of class time.  The Creative Writing is another 4 hours per week in workshop.  I will consult with Liz for probably another 2 hours per week.  On top of this I will be attending the Art History lecture (1 1/2 hrs), Classical Literature (1 1/2 hrs), and maybe Photo History (1 hr).  This is my official week of class time.  That’s 25 hours.  Top that off with the time I will be spending in my studio painting, working in the darkroom, writing and reading and I am looking at about 50 hours total per week working.  I am hoping to get some time in for Greek language classes so let’s just say that is another 2-3 hours total.  The Friday hikes will be a much needed breather for me and, I imagine, the others.

I am very excited about the days and weeks ahead.  Right now dark clouds are rolling in and I hear thunder nearby.  It is supposed to rain tonight and I am looking forward to this as it means more green things in the hills of this lovely place I am beginning to call home.

JDCM

 

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6 days and eager to get going…and a little rant…

I leave for Greece next Monday and I am, as you all know, eager to get on the road and back to what I love to do: work, travel and be anywhere but here.  By ‘here’ I mean the country in which I live, not the circumstances, or is it the circumstances within the country…?

This place has lost its charm for me.  There is little joy left in Mudville when I contemplate a life led here in North America.  The Religious Right are  taking over much of the country with their backward-ass medievalism; politics is becoming more obviously about money and elitism; the growth of the police state is of great concern since ‘The People’ seem to welcome it and the mainstream media circus provides Fear of the Outside World in much the same way that Ed Sullivan introduced his variety show–a little tease, the wind up and the pitch…Kapow!  Watch out folks!  The Boogieman is back in town, in fact he has never left and is hoping to turn your quiet and peaceful (both lies!) neighborhoods into cesspools (which they have always been, btw…) of moral and religious degradation.  God, I am so tired of this place…

At least where I am going there is no doubt who the fascist/liberals/Greens/Commies are.  They are upfront about it and do not speak in double-talk designed to confuse and disorient the voters.  Protest is allowed and not cordoned off a mile away from the place of interest and , yes, sometimes it turns violent.  What can one say?  People are pissed off…

But I remain in eager need to be gone.  I’ll start packing on Friday, but I have to inventory my socks and so forth to make sure they are all good.  I’ll pick up some new ones if I need to.  I have more film to shoot and develop, but I have time for that.  There are a few odds and ends of errands I have to cross off the list, but otherwise I am good to go.

There are two art openings this spring in the area in which I will be represented.  The first is a ‘small works show’ at Noble Horizons in May and the second is a 14th Colony gig in Millerton, also in May.  I have two pieces being matted and framed as we speak and I’ll leave them with a friend to hand in.  So yes, I am happy to be a part of something here in The West, but I will keep much of it at arms length at least, if not further away.  Best not to get involved.

JDCM

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12 days, 1200 Euros…

My debacle with Greek Customs is all but resolved.  Three of the four boxes I have sent have been delivered to Paros, safely and without incident.  The other four that Customs snagged have been evaluated and the price is high, in fact it is as if I have to purchase everything again.  They have assigned the value at 1200 Euros, just over 1500USD.  Ouch indeed.  As a good friend told me, I am now part of an exclusive club.  I have little choice but to comply if I wish to have my possessions back.  There is an avenue of appeal, but this would be a long, drawn out affair and in the end it is doubtful I would gain anything from it except to garner resentment from the Greeks.  As my friend also reminded me, the customs agents probably have relatives on Paros so why make my life difficult?  Give them their pound of flesh and be done with it.  Lesson learned, but what lesson that is remains unclear.  The good news is that the boxes have been released from customs and are waiting for me at the PO on the island.

I leave for Greece in 12 days and I am very excited.  The mystery of the future fills me with hope and I am looking forward to being a beginner in school, working on my own photography and contemplating the possibility of my own, first, book.  The recent news regarding the social unrest in that little country is unsettling, but according to friends I know in town the press has exaggerated the scale and scope.  Yes, there are troubles both social an economic and many Greeks are distressed about their own abilities to cope.  The good news is that they have gone through worse before and in more tense situations.  WWII and NAZI occupation, the Junta of the The Colonels, the Greek Civil War…These all overshadow the current crisis and, in a way, keep the population centered around what they can do instead of what they are powerless to achieve.  Their future, like all futures, is uncertain and I have faith that a solution will present itself.  No one wants a return to the military rules of the past nor the brutal foreign dictatorships that governed with iron fists.  Social reform and economic balance is never easy and the Greeks have their work cut out for them.  Europe will not let them leave the EU so it is logical to feel that they would not allow them to leave the EuroZone.

This brings up the Euro itself, a troubled and controversial subject from its inception.  It is incorrect to compare the EU system with that of the USA.  Europe is not the US, thank the gods.  Many analysts feel that the Euro was doomed front the start and perhaps they were right.  Still, it is always easier to destroy than to build, seemingly more sensible to abandon than to support.  Responsibility is a good place to begin and all of Europe must take responsibility for the failure or success of their fledgling currency.  It is a brave venture to change 1500 years of historical divisions and nationalistic pride.  It is a matter of faith and action which, I have heard, is like a blind man walking down the stairs.  This painful growth spasm is just that.  It will pass.

More to come…

JDCM

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16 days, crossing things off the list and postal updates…

I haven’t been counting the days recently so imagine my surprise when I realized that I had only 16 days until I head back to Greece!  Amazing, really, just amazing.  I am very excited to return to Paros and the Aegean Center and begin working. It feels like I do no work here.  Although I take pictures and develop film I seem to spend more time combing through my Netflix queue and meeting friends for coffee and all that.  On Paros I have days full of reading, dark room work, digital work, artistic discussion and more that are much more fulfilling.  I also get more exercise which is good since I tend to loaf around here more than anything-and gain weight in the process.  This isn’t saying that I do not “get things done” because I do.  I have been crossing many things off the list recently and  am confident that I will be departing Ancramdale in ship-shape-and-Bristol-fashion.

The tree work and storm cleanup has been finished.  The place looks lovely and we are getting everything ready for spring, which is just around the corner.  No snow to speak of, but we are supposed to get some tonight and this weekend.  the ‘Farmer’s Almanac’ claims a big storm later in the month, but thankfully before I leave.  We shall see.  Mom’s care is all set-up and all the important adjustments have been made for her going forward for the next few months.  I have visited my father in Pittsburgh and followed through on that commitment.  The donations to charities have been made and I feel hundreds of pounds lighter than I as before–not so much material stuff anymore.  It has been a cathartic few weeks for sure.  I have also hired some new employees to replace my mother’s long-time home maintenance man.  He has been a good guy but in the past few years has begun to flake out due to burnout.  It is time to switch to those who have the resources and will to do the job.  I’ll bring the Mini Cooper up to the shop in Latham next week for a tune-up and then it will be ready to sit quietly until I return in July.  I’ll have someone drive it once in a while during my absence.

The boxes I have sent to Paros have all but arrived.  Three are on the island and have been delivered to the school, but four are still in customs, waiting to be released.  I have had to jump through some hoops to have them cleared but I think that they will be soon.  I’ll be charged a fair amount of money for their freedom, but it will be worth it in the end.  The other night I had to call Greek Customs at 3:40 AM to speak to the official there, but I think I have solved that problem.  It was not without a lot of help so, from the bottom of my heart, I thank those who eased the tensions and fears around this issue and acted on my behalf.  You know who you are!

On another note, I have so many wonderful interactions with other Aegean Center alums here in New York that I am bowled over by the solidarity.  First was the meeting at the Metropolitan with Jeffrey, Liz and the others and then the other day I met with some other former students at MoMA and the Met for a wonderful day of art and conversation.  Really great!  I am grateful to have had the time with them and thankful that I am able to do so.  Super photography, beautiful paintings and a lot of crappy post-modern junk have assured me that I am on the right path and that my ethics are true.

More to come…

JDCM

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Travel news and photo exhibits…

In about three weeks I’ll be back in Greece.  I cannot wait.  My time in the US has been excellent and I have been able to take care of business, visit with family and maintain an adult demeanor most of the time.  Certainly there is a great deal of emotion surrounding my leaving for this extended period of time because in many ways I am moving to Europe.  I will return periodically, of course, to visit with family and friends, but my heart is now directed towards a new life.

I have shipped 7 boxes of personal goods to Greece and so far only 1 has reached Paros.  4 are still in Greek Customs and await negotiating to be let through.  There are no goods for sale, no items of great import except of personal value.  I am imaging a huge fee for their release.  The remaining 2 are most likely in Greece by now and I hope they will be let through easily.  Those 2 have my medium and large format cameras in them as well as some clothes and books.  I’ll cross my fingers.

I have just visited my father in Pittsburgh and yesterday we went to the Carnegie Museum of Art to view an exhibit on the photojournalist Teenie Harris.  It is an amazing show and worth seeing more than once.  Massive amounts of 4×5 prints spanning almost 40 years.  He did not consider himself an artist.  He worked and fulfilled his job.  Through this I feel that he has accomplished more than the artist that goes out to purposely to ‘create’ an image.  There is a purity to his work and it cautions me to the perils and pitfalls of assuming I am an artist.  My work will decide this for me and it is up to others to assign a label even if I find this label arrogant or incorrect.  I would rather be known as a hard worker and someone who tried to perfect a craft rather than a popular figure in the art world.  Skill and craft: the cornerstones of my life these days.  On Paros I can practice this.  Soon I will be back in my comfort zone and hard at work.

JDCM

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Counting down and mailing out…

I depart for Europe in about 40 days.  By 1 March I will be back on Paros and in my apartment.  I am looking forward to the next phase of my life, but I am nervous.  Perhaps this will never go away.  I have faith that if I show up, do the work I am assigned and participate in the human experience around me I will do well, and probably better than that.  I am just nervous because for the first time in 10 years I am branching away from my biological family again and taking on the mantle of an adult, a garment I do not always wear well or properly.

I have heard that due to the economic crisis and possible political instability (from a US standpoint of course ) there may be a drop in enrollment this spring.  This is believable in this day and age and perhaps this is one curse of the electronic info-era we currently live in.  There has always been and always will be economic woes and political upheavals.  The media has blown so much of this out of proportion that it feeds the fears of those who stay glued to their TV sets and believe everything they see and hear from that medium.  As a student of history I am thrilled to be living through and in this period of time.  Once again we are perched on the brink of change,  imminent growth and cultural wisdom, but only if we take a helpful and positive track.  Hiding in the shadows helps no one.  As a species we are slowly overcoming many of the angers and fears that have directed our thinking for millennia.  The currents flowing down the river of change are paced by the fierce creatures that run along its muddy banks.  They wave crude spears and dark banners, shout slogans designed to divide and alienate and try in vain to alter the water’s course. But water always seeks its own level and these creatures have historically been left behind, rendered hoarse and obsolete by time.   All of this is out of my hands.  I am grateful for that.

I have mailed 5 boxes to Greece so far.  1 today and 4 last week.  The first 4 have arrived and are being inspected by customs.  If I have to pay fees for these I will, but I hope not.  They are not consumer goods, but rather goods I have purchased for my own use at the Aegean Center.  Most of it is used gear anyway.  The rest are books–a small library consisting of some collections: Hemingway, Chekhov, Callahan, Kertesz, Frank, Ashbury, Oliver…the list goes on.  To be honest I chose the best of my personal library and then weeded that out some more. Ex Libris Paros…

I have my painting supplies and will be carrying them in my checked baggage during the flight. There are  no caustic materials and I am already in love with many of the names on the list…Permanent Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Payne’s Grey.  Soon I will be an undeniable beginner again, a place I enjoy of only for its foolish zest and unknown questions.  I will be asking for a lot of help in the next few months.

JDCM

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Sleeplessness…

I have slept for a few hours and am now awake again.  I am sleepless and need to examine my thoughts on virtual paper…

I have been preparing for my return to Paros for two weeks.  This time it will be for an extended stay, not the three-months-on-three-months off that I have been experiencing for the past two years.  To that end I have been divesting myself of my unneeded possessions, mostly books and musical equipment.  I have given them away, with no misgivings. I have kept one guitar, a Fender Telecaster I bought in 1986.  It is a candy-apple red 1962 re-issue and holds too much sentimental value to discard.  The books are a mix of volumes never read, read too often and those whose message I have outgrown.  Clothing has been gathered and that, too, will be given away.  The monumental task of collating and burning the  set of my 1200 CD collection has been accomplished and my laptop is now full of the best I have collected since the late 1980s, when CDs were first released.  It is also a mix: classical, jazz, old rock, new rock…the list seems endless but of course is not.  These will go to the local library in Hillsdale.  I have packaged up four large boxes of goods to send  ahead and will mail them tomorrow.  One more box remains because I still have some darkroom work to take care of.  This box will contain last minute odds and ends, some clothes, a few books and some more darkroom gear that I still need to process film.  I cannot send any liquids, however, which means that my developers stay here in the US.  I can purchase replacements in Athens.  I have decided to take one extra checked bag with me this time instead of my usual  backpack/camera bag combo.  This will allow a few more items than I have usually taken with me.

It really feels like I am leaving, which I am, but this has been coming for a long time.  I moved back to the Hudson Valley in 2004 for personal and family reasons and in many ways my job here is done.  It is time to go.  What I need to do for my family I can accomplish easily via email and telephone and I proved that last year when I adjusted insurance payments over the phone from the island after being alerted of a payment glitch via my Gee mail account.  The modern world has its benefits but I am looking forward to the upcoming year, a year of photography, writing and painting.  Will I begin and finish my book?  Only Kronos knows and that giant sleeps too deeply to wake for the answer.  The future, like always, is unknown, but this time it really feels as if I am departing for the next phase of my life.  I have been a professional chef and an unknown rock musician, a composer of hook-laden pop tunes.  These paths led to a certain point where I then abandoned them like a sailor diving into the ocean lest he go down with the ship.  The lifeboat that found me has proved to be more than a rescue craft.  Its design for living has been impressed upon me and I have followed it, despite my fears.  These have turned out to be echoing voices from my distant past.  Unfortunately I have listened to these voices too much, but to quote a line from an old Chinese morality tale, “How do I know?”  Indeed, how do I not know that it was necessary for me to begin this new life now, on the eve of my 47th birthday, after enduring all that I have in the past?  This is how it is, I think.  There is always the illusionary choice of a straight line, filled with drudgery and boredom.  I was on that track.  As one of my sisters commented, living is not a straight line.  There is no simple way to get from A to B.  Perhaps there is no ‘A’ or ‘B’ at all.  The life ahead is not a known set of coordinates on a chart.  Each of us has his or her own map to design.  Only hindsight shows us where we have come from and the seemingly strange coincidences that have made up our non-linear path.

JDCM

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