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Whence Walla Walla?

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Walla Walla Symphony, Oil on canvas 60w x 36h

I had owned my own business since my early twenties, starting as a self-styled and self-taught stonemason and sculptor with a permanent place in a pretty good art gallery. The stone masonry was a staple as I also secured patents for inventions of block systems and toys, more art platforms of mostly lackluster success, designer concrete contertops, Buddhist Shed construction, etc, etc… but I decided not to keep it going after 19 years, continually restless and reinventing what I wanted to do. Then came the total final gut punch of launching a new incarnation of my business in the height of 2011’s fiscal cliff debacle that didn’t do my nascent pizza oven product any good in the afterglow of a great recession my business had barely survived. For the first time that I recall in my life I created a job resume and I sought regular work. Weeks and weeks later and dozens of resumes delivered and rejected, I got an offer of a part-time job as a janitorial assistant. After some serious thought I didn’t accept. Weeks later and some 70 resumes delivered, I was offered a tour of Walla Walla Foundry. I was blown away. I had never seen anything like it: glowing liquid metal pouring from crucibles, enormous cyllinders made of cooked plaster that were being demolished in columnar- basalt-like pieces to reveal rough, sprued castings,  red wax forms floating in tubs of water, a metal shop full of the cacauphony of metal welders and chasers while Britney Spears and Ozzy Osbourne blared from a PA speaker. Six weeks later I was offered a job in the filthiest corner of the compound for ten dollars an hour, working under the tutelage of a twenty-something potty-mouthed video game affecionado. Five years later after serving as sand casting and crating lead, Walla Walla Foundry had provided me the hardest and most astonishing work experience of my life. I had been a part of making and delivering some of the most impressive art in the world today for A-list artists whose skills and insights ranged from wholly impressive to juvenile and profanely weak.

I relocated less than two years ago to Salem, Oregon, to live with my wife,  world-class harpist, Bethany Evans, after a year of weekend visits. Sometimes Bethany and the kids, or Bethany alone came to me, but usually I left for Salem right after work on Friday afternoons. Making the most of her visits to me, Bethany was featured in Walla Walla Symphony’s Heart Beat concert series in 2016 and performed for the Kirkman House music series. My favorite of her performances was at the church I attended, where she played a solo aria by Mikhail Glinka, named, “Nocturne” that melted me down and delivered great peace. This painting is a very meaningful convergence of both of our lives.

The piece depicts the symphony as conducted by Maestro Yaacov Bergman, with Cordiner Hall warmly enveloping the musicians in a soft glow. I sought to convey Maestro Bergman’s uncontrived style and his gentle control, as well as a hint of each musician’s personality. Symphony Executive Director, Leah Wilson-Velasco, said of the painting, “Wow!  This is gorgeous! It’s amazing how I can see the personality of each of our musicians!” This painting is an homage to Walla Walla Foundry, with my infusing of copper into much of the oil paint. Still residing in Walla Walla is my beautiful and beloved daughter, Veronika, and many dear friends, making this project particularly close to my heart.

 

 

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Diamond in the Rough

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“Tuning Low Strings” , 60w x 20h, 2018

Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra performs in the First United Methodist Church in downtown Portland, Oregon. The chapel is high-vaulted in hardwood beams and trim. Along the entire South wall is a full floor to ceiling bank of stained glass panels in red, blue, and rose that reflect the interior glow back onto the instruments on the stage. The effect is a warm and comforting mellowness. I painted “Portland Columbia Symphony Low Strings” at about the same time that I painted “Tuning Low Strings”, the subject of this post. Both paintings focus on the same group of musicians: those who work directly in front of where I routinely sit while admiring my sweetheart through their bows, instruments, and elbows.

One of my favorite parts of the symphony is the activity that takes place before the conductor takes his podium for the concert. There is usually a pre-concert lecture which is essential for providing context for the works that will be performed, followed by the wonderful activity and cacauphony of all of the instruments being tuned. The context of the lecture expands the imagination and my feeling of connection to the composer’s intent, and the tuning builds pregnant suspense in an insect-like swarm of sound. I was sitting there, after Maestro Byess offered some background to John William’s prolific career as blockbuster movie score composer, and I saw a very special glow of soft femininity in the midst of all these men in their sharp tuxes, like a diamond enclosed in carbon and rock. There, surrounded on every side by symphony men, I glimpsed Bethany standing at her harp, her right arm bent upward behind it, tightening tuners with a key, her left hand stretched and plucking at long strings made of gut, copper, and steel. Her left leg is straight while her right dances and kicks expertly at one of seven pedals going from flats to sharps. Tonight her shifting shoulders are mostly bare above the scoop of her black gown. All around were men clothed high up the neck in stiff collars, but within them, and through a window of instrument necks and sculpted cellos, was the soft femininity of a radiant woman poised in elegant work.

I am old-fashioned in my love of contrast, and even here in the unifying nature of the symphony as a single organism, rightly inclusive of all, I love the symphony for the beauty of women and soft curves against hard angular lines and handsome manliness, and glows amid pure blackness. I saw that night a repeating theme of timeless beauty, and although at the symphony, in a church, I ached as a man for this woman’s natural allure in the simplest way.