Abraham Lincoln reminded us that: “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” Do your bushes have thorns or roses? Probably some of each. Although we struggle to remain positive the blues occasionally grabs hold of our consciousness and the bad thoughts eating away at our souls overwhelm us.
We’re told the path out of the blues and negativity is “thinking good thoughts.” Okay, that’s easy enough to understand, but those good thoughts have to be really good to stand a chance against the powerful force of our demons.
I’ve found that putting together positive thoughts is hard and often takes more concentration than I have the strength for. So I blank out all thoughts and let mental images appear at random. Kinda like being stoned at a ’60s psychedelic light show only you’re sober, partially anyway, and the light show is inside your head. Trust me you’ve stored enough images to make quite a show. Try this.
I confess, my images are not totally random, I steer ’em a little. Focus on one image and the rest will usually follow as your internal projector goes through some undefined slide show.I often bring to mind Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World. I study the painting waiting for Christina to move, to crawl, to turn around, to wave, to do something. She never does, she just stares across that field at that gray house on the horizon. I try to somehow cure her polio before the next image appears on my internal screen. Click. Christina is left behind.
I’ve got a sizeable library of images to draw upon. We proudly hang some thirty plus pieces of fine art in our little home. In addition to collecting we’ve schlepped through some the major museums of the world, places like the Prado, the Metropolitan, the Vatican, Uffizi, the Tate, MoMA, the Louvre, and a lot of lesser known galleries. But if I could point to one special place it would be the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. This gallery is filled with the bizarre, personal visions of “self-taught” artists. Although the gallery doesn’t publicize it, I noticed that many of the artists are patients of mental institutions. This is the place for truly haunting images. These artists have portrayed the images that haunt the insane. Wow!
If I were to rank other galleries or exhibitions the next would be the Impressionists in Winter: Effets de Neige exhibit at The Phillips Collection in Washington DC that I remember most vividly. I can still see the truly wonderful, seldom seen, impressionist paintings of les effets de neige (the effects of snow) by Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Camille Pissarro. They are wonderful!
But if you want dark and somber, nothing tops The Rothko Chapel in Houston with its fourteen huge black and color hued paintings Mark Rothko spent six years preparing for the chapel he co-designed but never saw finished. He took his own life before the chapel was completed, adding to the aura of this, his most important artistic statement. Now that’s haunting!
Some of the other random images haunting me are: the myriad of lily pads beautifully portrayed by Monet in the Monet in the 20th Century exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, seeing an elderly Norman Rockwell at his studio at Stockbridge, the spectacular Cezanne exhibit in Philadelphia, traipsing through R. C. Gorman’s gallery in Taos, chatting with Amado Peña in Scottsdale, and I almost forgot, falling in love with the works of two of the greatest American realists of the 20th century, Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper.
Wyeth’s Chadds Ford Gallery is especially memorable but it was the National Gallery of Art showing of 140 of his 240 “The Helga Pictures” drawings and paintings that moved him to the top of my list. One art historian and deputy director of the gallery said, “I think these paintings are among the most powerful images of the human figure in the history of 20th-century American painting.” You can’t get any better than that. Wow! And the author John Updike poetically said, “Helga’s body is what Winslow Homer's maidens would have looked like beneath their calico.”
The Edward Hopper exhibit at the National Gallery of Art and his permanent collection at MoMA are equally as powerful as Wyeth’s and are etched deep into my soul. I’m embarrassed to say that I not seen the original Nighthawks, his most famous painting, It hangs in Art Institute of Chicago, of all places. Oohing and aahing at Hopper’s 1942 masterpiece is near the top of my bucket list.
I can’t imagine anything more memorable than my first visit to The Phillips Collection and seeing Renoir’s masterpiece, Luncheon of the Boating Party literally jump off the wall, I was captivated. I stared at this masterpiece for the longest time trying to absorb how Renoir so beautifully used light and how wonderfully he portrayed his numerous subjects. And how did he get the rosy-ness in their cheeks just right? Actor Edward G. Robinson was quoted as saying: “For over thirty years I made periodic visits to Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party in a Washington museum, and stood before that magnificent masterpiece hour after hour, day after day, plotting ways to steal it.” Here’s to you, Edward G.
I also have images of the Southwest bouncing around in my tequila soaked cerebral cortex. I’m a fan or Georgia O’Keeffe. Who isn’t? Although I love her, I’ve grown far fonder of her as a persona and an independent trend setter than as an artist. But how about the Navajo artist once called the Picasso of the Southwest, R. C. Gorman? His lithographs filled our home in Oregon. We wanted to experience the glorious colors of the Southwest in the green but often dreary Pacific Northwest. We cherish our Carol Grigg and Amado Peña originals but Downe Burns is our absolute favorite Southwestern artist. He calls himself a colorist but he is an extraordinary landscape painter that uses wonderful and wild colors to convey the essence of New Mexico and the Southwest.
But it’s the abstracts that provide the most haunting images. I can stare at an abstract for hours admiring how the artist used lines and colors to create such fascinating visual illusions. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the Jackson Pollock exhibit at MoMA. Go there and get lost in the eerie world of Pollock’s genus. Now he’s haunting. Creative but haunting.
I’m unqualified to write about fine art. I only have my uneducated impressions. Impressions formed while being overwhelmed with the beauty and the emotion pouring out from the works of masters. And as you know, our memories are very selective. We remember what we want and often only those things that are pleasant to remember. These are the images my subconscious has carefully chosen to remember. This is the light show going on in this old man’s head. My haunting images.