Tag Archives | abstract art

Just a bleak update…

Hudson Station, 2013I haven’t updated in a while.  My apologies.  Not much happening here in New York to report, really.  Not much I am too enthusiastic about here in the US, actually.  I visited New York City twice and although my motives were sound I was very disappointed by what has happened to humanity.  There are far too many people there and no one seems to be happy.  They are always on their mobile phones or some other application, as if these things will make them happy or even connect them to other human beings in some meaningful way.  They haven’t understood that by using the internet to connect with others they are merely closing themselves off to the realities of actual one-to-one contact.  This is the great myth of the electronic information age.   Online reality is fiction.  Also, the more I have been talking to other teachers and mentors about the kids of today the more we all agree:  few of them actually want to work towards a goal that requires effort or any real thinking.  They want the end result right now.  They want their hand-held devices to do the thinking for them.  The turn their cameras on ‘auto’ and let the machine create, not their minds.   They demand good grades just for showing up.

This was evident at the Museum of Modern Art yesterday.  I rode the train into the city to see a wonderful show by the photographer Walker Evans.  It is the 75th Anniversary of his exhibit of American Photographs.  First off….MoMA is a terrible museum.  It didn’t feel like a museum.  It felt more like a large shopping mall.  It was crowded and noisy.  People were stuck to their handheld devices as they wandered lost an unseeing through the many chilly rooms.  They impolitely took pictures of the work, not really looking or learning, but rather documenting in a poor fashion.  They talked loudly into their mobiles.  Children screeched, ran around.  I was appalled.  90% of the people there were only present so they could check MoMA off their NYC list.

The Walker Evans show was in a small room on the 4th Floor, not in the photography section.  It was shoehorned between the crass, colorful and superficial 1960s pop-art section and the large abstract works of Arshile Gorky.  These photographs are small, none larger than 8×10, and perfect.  Precious.  Lovely.  Evocative.  “American” in the best sense of the word.  Yet people were wandering in and out, disinterested and not comprehending the importance of these images, especially when compared to the emptiness of Warhol, Stella and Lichtenstein.   I left the museum after 45 minutes, disgusted.  Humanity is doomed.  We have already forgotten our history.  But MoMA has succeeded.  It is a perfect modern art museum.  It represents all that sucks about modern art and modern culture.  It is about fashion, fads and the next shocking big pile of expensive, market driven shit.  It is superficial and dead, cold and, in the end, not worth the real estate it sits on.  It is about the $25 adult ticket fare and the gift shop.  It is about money.  If you worship money, please go.  If you, like me, have grown so disillusioned by the cesspool that the US in many ways has become, then skip it.   It is a train wreck of culture.  Nothing to see here.  Move along folks.


wire and wood


News from the sick bay…

The rains have come in to stay, or so it seems.  It is winter in the Aegean and it is damp and cold, the kind of damp that seeps into one’s bones and begs for all to just stay in bed.  There have been a couple of days of sunshine, but other than that it has rained, drizzled, poured down and showered.

Last Sunday evening I was sitting in my apartment reading when suddenly it felt as if all the energy had drained from my body and mind.  I was ill, I knew it.  I managed to stay awake for another hour or so but then I was in bed and out like a light.  The next morning I woke up as sick as one could be. My lungs were full of crud, as were my sinuses, swollen glands, etc…I took the advice of friends and went to the doctor who gave me a prescription for antibiotics, expectorant, throat gargle and high strength ibuprofen.  As the days have progressed I have improved but I feel I am not out of the woods yet.  Three more days of pills and I should be, well…right as rain.  Over the days friends have brought me food.  Chicken soup from one, a fish stew from another.  Today I was given some onions and carrots so I could make lentil soup.  These are some of the finest people I have ever known.

On another note, my quarantine has given me the chance to photograph my immediate surroundings from the viewpoint of the small balconies on either side of my flat and out my kitchen window.  They have an abstract quality that perhaps I would like to paint also; geometric shapes of varying hues of tan to white, blue expanses broken my myriad antennae.  I’ll post some images next week.

So it is movies, books, soups, plenty of fluids and lots of bed rest for me.  I have been reading Joseph Campbell and Edward Weston; James Bond and Harry Potter–comfort foods for the mind, body and soul.  The weather is supposed to improve by Monday and then John and I can get back to work building benches and so forth.



Guidance, delineation and communication…

It began with lamp posts in 2005.  There was a quayside in Ermioni, a boat on dry dock and an ornate iron lamp post looking out over the still water at sunset.  Then there were more lamp posts in Bosnia, arcing around the gentle curve of a mountain road, leading to where…?

Now there are stone walls climbing and moving across the landscape of the Kyklades.  They have been accompanied by electrical poles, maybe telephone lines, I am not sure…

I have been photographing them for the past few years, mixed in with all the rest.  Driving back from an area here on Paros the other day I was struck by how these all are indications of the hand of man in an otherwise wild landscape.  I have a choice.  I can bemoan the state of affairs regarding these structures or embrace them as something more, strong vertical and horizontal lines, shadows of human needs.  I have thought of lamp posts as bringers of light in the darkness, guidance along dim roads.  The stone walls define our boundaries, of both self and property, for they are often too insignificant to keep any creature at bay.  The poles signify communication over distances.  Guidance, delineation and communication.  I would post some examples, but I feel that everyone has an idea of what I am speaking of without the illustrations.

It is raining here.  Last night the deluge dropped a hail of roaring ice in Paroikia.  It woke me at 4AM.  It also deposited all the red, sandy dust that has been blowing from the south, out of the deserts of North Africa.  This is the scirocco.  The air was clear this morning and as I drove south to visit some friends for coffee I marveled at the archipelago surrounding me: Sifnos, Serifos, Sikonos, Ios, Kimolos, Syros, Tinos, Andiparos…rugged walls ran through green hills, telephone lines stretched thinly into the blue distance and, even though the sun was bright, my heart was gladdened to see the occasional unlit streetlight along my path.  If I came this way on a dark and stormy night I would not become lost in the tempest.


A dilapidated hand cart on the Greek island of Milos. Mamiya c330, Kodak Plus-X, June 2012

A dilapidated hand cart on the Greek island of Milos. Mamiya c330, Kodak Plus-X, June 2012

This is a short post.  Some of you have noticed that I have updated my blog.  It is more spiffy, easier to change and I am liking the header photo idea.  I have been taking some pictures to use specifically for this image. It changes my eye, this is for sure.

I have also spent the last few hours updating my photography site right here .  There is  link on the right hand side of this page, but this makes it easier.  New to the gallery is a portfolio called ‘Kyklades Wall Project’ which is an idea I have bounced back-and-forth with Liz Carson for the past year.  It is a medium format study of the stone walls throughout the Kyklades.  I still have many islands to photograph, so this is just a beginning.  I am hoping to make the best of them into a book someday.  There is a reason for these photos, but that is my business.  If you search for ‘island hopping’ in my blog you will find more details on these images…

I also cleaned up the b/w image bank.  I have separated out the Greek from the American and the European from the Greek.  Nice and neat.  I have changed the slide show so that the photo captions can now be read and the user gets to move back and forth at will.  Overall, I think it represents a more current file of my work to date.  ‘Goodbye’ to the Bosnian color pieces and ‘farewell’ to the Roma of the Former Yugoslavia.  They were getting me down.

Christmas has passed and 2013 is just around the corner.  Then I have three more weeks before I head back to Greece, Paros, The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts, gavros, gigantes, horta and the next round of photographic adventures.



Quiet Andiparos…

I am visiting Andiparos for part of our fall break from the Aegean Center.  I have been sleeping in and staying up late reading and watching movies.  Today I drove around for a while and photographed some of the stone wall formations that wind their way across the rugged landscape.  I am disheartened by some of the building I see going on–large luxury estates high up on the sides of the mountains, along the steeply sloping terrain, ruining the views of the sea.  Still, with my Mamiya c330 I can extract the beautiful lines of stone from the uglier new constructions, taking them out of context by cropping out the obvious greed and ego of modern man.   Such is my fantasy.

Throughout the day I have had the song “Wichita Lineman”, written by Jimmy Webb and made famous by Glen Campbell, stuck in my head.   I have always loved the melodic loneliness and deep heart of this song.  A friend, mentor and colleague reminded me recently that country music is just as much ‘soul music’ as the famous hits of Aretha Franklin.   This song is a good example for it is in that broad expansive landscape that one hears the lonely soul of America, forever distanced from its European and Asian roots, forever isolated from the rest of the world.  Webb wrote,

I am a lineman for the county

and I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload

I hear you singin’ in the wire,

I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman

is still on the line

I know I need a small vacation

but it don’t look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south

won’t ever stand the strain

And I need you more than want you,

and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

Campbell has many religious and political views that I do not share but one enduring legacy that I admire him for, however, has been his musical work, his labor.  As a member of the “Wrecking Crew” he was one of the most sought out session players from the 50s through the 60s.  He wasn’t a mainstream star until later.  Last year he announced publicly that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  He is currently on tour with his family, a tour which will be his last.  When I read Webb’s lyrics again, hearing Campbell’s voice, I cannot help but cry.

County Line Road, between Washington and Marshall Counties, Kansas.
Photo courtesy of Robert Crowe, photographer, St. Louis, Missouri.

For more of Robert Crowe’s photography and prose, please go here.




Building the foundation…

We all begin somewhere.  If one wishes to build fine furniture, knowledge of the tools, types of wood, adhesives, joinery, stains and finishes must be mastered first.  This begins with an apprenticeship, since the novice knows nothing except the novel desire to see a project through.  ‘The right tool for the right job’ is not an idle cliché.   This applies to the studio arts as well.  When I began my painting classes last spring I knew little of this craft and had very limited skills.  All I knew was what I would like to portray, not how to accomplish it.  I had to ask for help.  I asked my teachers, since that is what they were for.  I asked fellow students who were more able than myself, for that is part of their role as well.  The great leap is that I took their advice and my work improved.  I also do this with my photography.  I ask for help and take the advice.  There are many ways to do this.  I go to the Kodak webpage for help with start times and other technical details, for example.  I ask those who have come before “How did you do this…?”

And so my foundation is built of sturdy stuff–strong mortar, supportive materials, able to carry the larger structure that becomes the rooms, halls and stairways of this artistic domicile.  There is more to the photography than that, however.  My skills and craft are broadened by reading Homer, or T.S. Eliot.  I get ideas from looking at the sculpture of Canova and Bernini and the paintings from a diverse world of museums and galleries.  I soak in the experience of waiting at the bus station in Ravenna in the rain.  By writing about these things I synthesize what I know into something else, perhaps not new to the untrained eye, but certainly original, if only in small ways.

The foundation–my foundation–is greater than the sum of its parts, yet contains all that I have seen and heard.  I become my work and in doing so my work defines part of my being, part of my ‘self’ and grants a sense of community.  More about this later…




Emerson on the beach…

I sat on the beach the other day and listened to the waves lapping against the sloping sand.  While the currents slowly rolled the soft-colored stones rounder, my mind drifted from the page I was reading to the motorboat out in the bay and then back to the page only to be distracted again by the clarity of the sky and shadowy islands lying not-so-distant from my colorful towel.  I wonder if Emerson ever thought that one of his essays would become the subject of this writer’s musing or his book find its way to this sandy place?   Probably.  I am sure that his young admirer Walt Whitman would have felt at home here too.  He’ll be next.  “Leaves of Grass” during a wet Aegean February might be a good read for me.  In any case, in his essay ‘Circles’ published in 1841, Ralph demonstrates prescience.  In the modern world the concept of circles and cycles is common.  Society knows the words ‘reincarnation’ and ‘oneness’ as well as other ’round’ concepts.  Buddhism is not the mysterious idea it was so many decades ago and the phrase “what comes around, goes around” has been in the modern lexicon since, I suppose, the early 1960s.  “Ye reap what ye sow” has been around longer and means much the same thing.  What Emerson speaks of, I feel, is something larger than that.  Ideas come and go and  those who live in the past naturally point in fear and condemnation towards any revolution of thought or action that may threaten their temporary power.  That’s a good word too—revolution.  It implies a turning.  Seasons turn, wheels turn and the wheel inside the wheel turns as an analogy of an invisible world we may only glimpse in dreams or moments of sublime inspiration, connections with something larger outside ourselves.   Then again, there I was sitting on a beach in an archipelago called the Cyclades, or “The Circle”.  Hmm…Here is an excerpt from Emerson’s essay titled “Circles”, published in 1841:

“There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees. Our globe seen by God is a transparent law, not a mass of facts. The law dissolves the fact and holds it fluid. Our culture is the predominance of an idea which draws after it all this train of cities and institutions. Let us rise into another idea; they will disappear. The Greek sculpture is all melted away, as if it had been statues of ice: here and there a solitary figure or fragment remaining, as we see flecks and scraps of snow left in cold dells and mountain clefts in June and July. For the genius that created it creates now somewhat else. The Greek letters last a little longer, but are already passing under the same sentence and tumbling into the inevitable pit which the creation of new thought opens for all that is old. The new continents are built out of the ruins of an old planet; the new races fed out of the decomposition of the foregoing. New arts destroy the old. See the investment of capital in aqueducts, made useless by hydraulics; fortifications, by gunpowder; roads and canals, by railways; sails, by steam; steam, by electricity.”

“There are no fixtures in nature…”  Indeed.  The waves roll and dissolve stones to sand, the wind shifts and islands disappear.  My eye wanders from the page to the sky and back again.  I blame the Meltemi for these ramblings.  The wind rushes, sometimes feeling as if it is blowing through my head.  In one ear and out the other.



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.




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.