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Whoa, Nashville!

Nashville Symphony 2019 Approved Color Balance for Giclee
Nashville Symphony, 2019, 60w x 36h Oil on canvas

After a three day drive across the country, through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri (loved the Ozarks), the southern tip of Illinois, Kentucky, and into Tennessee, I set up a 20 foot trade show booth, finishing at midnight, for the League of American Orchestras annual Conference. The main event would be a night at the symphony with our gracious hosts, the people of Nashville Symphony.

It was extremely interesting that a spectacular performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana followed the tender and movingly spiritual Heichalos, or Symphony No. 4 by Baltimore-based composer, Jonathan Leshnoff. His symphony takes the listener through seven rooms of meditation on God, described in an ancient Jewish text, in the hope of communion with the Divine. This 22 minute symphony was transportive and a faith-inspiring salve, and sacramental once shared with a rapt and attentive gathering of souls.

I was constantly entranced by conductor, Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero. He was simply beautiful. The beat and rhythms were always defined and crisp, but he danced with organic grace as he moved expressively, both inviting and commanding every heart in the unspeakably stunning Schermerhorn Concert Hall to follow him. The Schermerhorn glowed as if lit by candles and it was more cathedral than concert hall.

Nashville Symphony Chorus filled yonder seats while their sheet music and the white of button-up shirts glowed an eerie blue. The choir had the rush of wind flowing over a mountain ridge, and was precisely unified. The soloists rang in rich vibrato, and with feminine power and appeal. Nashville Ballet, slightly above the stage plane of the Symphony, translated Carmina Burana into a religious and sensual filling of all of the senses. The dance was mesmerizing, and simultaneously worshipful and erotic. There was no air that had not been breathed by dancer or musician, and then rebreathed by every patron, nor particle that had gone untouched by a yellow globe of flying light. It was a night of supplication to higher lights for greater meaning, in rebellion against the materially and spiritually mundane.

Also amazing, but in a completely different way, was an experience I had outside of the hall once the concert was over. At the four-corner interescetion a host of people waited on every corner to cross the street while cars had either a red or a green light. At once, all four corners gave the “WALK” sign and all the traffic lights turned red. People walked in their various directions for just enough time, and then the traffic lights went back to alternating red and green. I have lived in or visited so many towns or cities where pedestrian street crossing rules have tied up lines of cars forever. This was a beauty of creative thinking by somebody, as important as the idea of forming a line when physical competition for who should go first is undesirable. I hope I can do my little part to help this innovation of human organization to advance, and maybe in pedestrian-congested intersections everywhere, everyone will cross at once, then wait a few minutes to do it all again, and there will be a little more time to get on with what we meant to do when we set out.

The people of Nashville have been so friendly. Thank you.




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The Keeper

Wichita Symphony, 2018, 60w x 36h Oil on Canvas

The gentle plains of Kansas looked in late spring like primordial plenty. Driving southward toward downtown, enormous elevators suggested that Wichita is a place to gather things, starting with billions of bushels of grain into towering concrete monoliths of connected upright cylinders. These shapes gave way to the rectilinear boxes of the city center.

After several days’ drive I was taken aback by the perfection of the multicultural public art space that suddenly appears amidst the cubes. Intersecting with the caramel-colored Little Arkansas River gorged with an over -abundance of late spring rains, spanned two beautiful pedestrian bridges. These evoked the architecture of Plains Indians ceremonial clothing and leather cords, and even the pier blocks recall woven fibers of grips or mats arranged in herring-bone style to mimic the supreme architecture of a feather.

It seemed to me, a stranger there, to be a shockingly appropriate community space. Expertly fabricated in rusted red sheet metal, The Keeper of the Plains sculpture, by sculptor Blackbear Bosin, loomed above, joining sky to ground. This is an incredibly relatable piece, situated on a stone column amidst a xeriscaped garden. While winding through the garden path one is accompanied by the primeval beat of a Plains Indian drum.

I saw a harmonious convergence of culture, offered in one medium and then translated into another. Stone into humanity and music into a dream, caught and translated again as it passed through a symbolic bridge, like a woven web piercing a sunset Kansas sky.

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Rogue Valley Afterglow

Rogue Final 2019 008
Rogue Valley Symphony, 2018, 60w x 36h Oil on canvas

At the end of September 2018, on Rogue Valley Symphony’s opening night of the season in Medford, Oregon, the skies opened up a downpour of rain, like nature knifing through a smoke tarp suspended overhead at the corners and heavily laden with water. Enormous raindrops bounced off the ground while I ran a block in my suit to retrieve the 30×30 portrait on white canvas I had painted of the Symphony’s charming conductor, Martin Majkut.

I hadn’t seen Joelle Graves since our first meeting in Chicago in June for the League of American Orchestras Conference, where, having survived a gauntlet of aggressive panhandlers outside the stadium, we sat a few seats away from each other for a White Sox home game. Within a few innings we had established that we were both from Oregon and both new to our orchestra work, with Joelle as a recently minted executive director of one of the most adored symphonies per capita in the country, Rogue Valley Symphony, and I as a painter of symphonies. We left the conference a few days later with a conspiracy to paint a portrait of Martin, if not the whole symphony, and quite possibly both.

Soaking wet I arrived back in the lobby ninety minutes before the season’s first concert, with the portrait facing downward to keep the oil paint out of the rain. Our initial idea was coming together much as we had first envisioned it. Martin’s exhilarated and buoyant passion came out in the portrait, and it was a strong likeness except for the lower jawline and an eyelid confusingly indistinguishable from a lens of his glasses. I had roughed in the painting only a week before, and most of my painting is done with a palette knife, so after rummaging through my leather and canvas messenger bag and not finding such a tool, Joelle and I searched the concert hall for anything that might stand in for one. Upstairs in a reception room she found a cheese spreader and I made progress on the eyelid and jaw on the spot, and then took the painting home until the work on both sides of the painting, administrative and artistic, could be finished. After the concert, plans progressed quickly and a full symphony painting due for auction in February got put on my calendar.

The symphony almost completely sells out each of three venues: Medford, Ashland, and Grants Pass, each time it puts on a concert. I could see why, beginning when Maestro Majkut took to the stage for a pre-concert lecture about the night’s performance to come. Martin is personable, engaging, wicked smart, and funny. I understood a lot of what he said, but Bethany also was interested and informed by his remarks. He was able to illuminate the program for me, a newcomer to classical music, while still engaging someone with surpassing classical music knowledge, like Bethany. In his opening remarks on the new season, Maestro Majkut acknowledged the welcome rain on a region that for the night was basking in an illusion of relief from worst-in-a-generation wildfires; an illusion because the worst fires in the region’s recorded history were still to rear.

When the rosy light shone behind the musicians and Martin conducted lightly on the balls of his feet, I could feel the affinity of the full house knitted together with their symphony. By the time the full symphony painting was on my easel a few months later, it had been hell for thousands of neighbors not far to the south. The sky of the painting was a mixture of the last minutes of sunset and a prolonged clearing of smoke. I saw a lot of fire in the painting and also washes of that natural beauty of sage, and purple peaks, a floor of golden grasslands, and a glow that had settled on the mountains and valleys as Bethany and I left for our 4 hour drive home to the north, when the Rogue Valley took a fresh breath between ordeals, in reflection of its more constant and rugged grace. And speaking of grace, it is women musicians that are the essence of this painting, and the focus of the symphony’s upcoming season.

Majkut 2018
Martin Majkut, Conductor, 2018, 30w x 30h, Oil on Canvas
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Spokane and I Go Way Back

Spokane Symphony, 2018, 60w x 36h Oil on canvas

Spokane comes in and out of my life like a train depot. It seems as I travel that I step off a train and look up to see that it is Spokane’s sign overhead again, and I am never quite sure how to feel about that. Even though I can’t quite pin down the feelings, they are surely there, like visitors on the depot platform, most of whom are family in some stage of separation. I guess the feeling is somewhat anxious and a little melancholy. More than any other of my symphony paintings, this one evokes the host of people and an enormous set of doors that lets them in and through which they depart after some kind of meeting together, a meeting that has moved them and stirred the imagination, but not without complications.

I was born in Spokane in 1972 but I remember very little except a swing in the backyard of a beloved aunt and uncle, a dollhouse under construction on the uncle’s work bench, and a crushing bear hug from a beloved old fellow named Spencer W. Kimball. Almost all of my childhood memories begin in New Mexico after age five and contain the dirty gullies where I hunted blue tailed lizzards and horny toads with my best friend, Levi. My first experience with the symphony was “Peter and the Wolf” with my school class, and I remember being thrilled with the way the musical instruments matched the personality of the characters. I had a strangely transportive experience in the creation of this painting when my mind put that symphony experience as a child in this, the Martin Woldson Theatre at the Fox, but this memory isn’t true. I am sure, however, that I sat on the far right hand aisle of whatever venue it was that hosted that mystery symphony.

When Cicely and I settled our young family in very rural eastern Washington in an abandoned church we were remodeling into a home, we passed through Spokane from time to time. My patent attorneys had offices in downtown Spokane and I had numerous meetings there and paid tens of thousands of dollars out of my back pocket for a 32-count Utility Patent for a new construction system that I demonstrated with 1/8 scale toys I had poured into molds on my kitchen counter. I secured several other Design Patents as well for modular masonry fireplaces that I first put on display in front of a downtown masonry supply store. Whenever I visited Spokane it was with a weight of mixed feelings, for it was these downtown streets where I was doing business that had seen my Grandpa Ben deliberately leap to his death a few years before. My Uncle Don and I spent many nights together in those patent days, sitting at a window that faced east toward Spokane, or on the deck facing east from a vantage high above the plains and coulees, drinking beer and talking over complicated though eviscerating family pain. I was compared, a time or two in my growing up, to Grandpa Ben who had died a severe schizophrenic, because I was somewhat crazy in my late teens and twenties. I was as torn in two as a guy could be because of religious dualism that I couldn’t understand, and I was giving my life to live creatively with no idea at the outset how to make money doing it. It was during the late night beer-laden and cigarette smoke-filled talks that I learned from Uncle Don that Grandpa Ben had been kicked hard in the head by a horse as a young man, and so jumping from a building’s upper floor need not be my destiny, though all three of us might have had a Coleman family depression in common nonetheless. And now, at the time of this painting, Cicely, my former wife and friend of nineteen years, calls Spokane her home. Uncle Don and I mourn our devastated friendship because I returned to my family’s faith after twenty years away and he never found anything to like about that faith that his brothers and a sister had joined without him. And it is four years this month that I no longer drink alcohol or smoke.

So, I guess my original analogy holds up pretty well. I pass through Spokane but I don’t stay. Maybe it keeps a certain kind of residence in me. This painting is a very spiritual one for me. There is a light above mere mortality that illuminates this darkened sphere that we will pass into and out of, and for a moment we try to do the impossible and suspend judgement, and surrender to that music on vibration, so that it can penetrate all the way through all of it, in a very human, but very uniting, and even healing way.


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Moved by Newport

Newport Sympnony hi res
Newport Symphony, 2018, 60w x 36h, Oil on canvas

Many of Bethany’s musician friends perform with Newport, Oregon’s Symphony. It is a rather small symphony and, thus, very intimate and much beloved by its small, tight-knit coastal community. I have accompanied Bethany several times when she has performed as second harp, to her friend, Martha Griffith. The best conversations I have had in the audience have been with Newport Symphony’s friendly patrons. I am quite shy but someone has always engaged me there. Newport was one of the very first symphonies that I approached with my idea to do an oil painting to auction off as a fundraiser. I was thoroughly vetted by the symphony executives before I was given access. What came next was a feeling of inclusion that gave me chills from the center of my bones to the surface of my skin.

Just prior to the last concert of the 2017-18 season, Newport had seen the passing of one of its favorite people, Mr. David Ogden Stiers, aka Major Charles Emerson Winchester III from MASH.  He was much beloved as a Conductor-in-residence for the symphony, and when concert time came the community was still grieving. Maestro Adam Flatt conducted a moving musical tribute to him that I observed from the side of the stage. As I watched, I was able to feel Mr. Flatt’s passion. I had told Flatt before the concert that I thought the best perspective for the painting might be looking toward him from the left side of Tubist, Jay Steele. At last, and as agreed, I climbed the several steps to stand beside Jay and his tuba for the final piece. My heart raced to study and film a conductor from within the symphony, albeit the back corner in the semi-dark where I stood wearing all black and with my camera raised. I was thrilled and moved. It is one of the most precious sensory experiences I have ever had. I hoped to paint Flatt’s intrinsic action and command. I hoped to portray the human individuality of the musicians, and I hoped to create a painting that would convey the architecture of this community’s ties, and their elemental relationship to their place.