David Park’s Best Year Ever

Four People Drinking a Toast, ca. 1937

I recently visited the Modern Museum of Fort Worth which is showing David Park’s work from the 1930’s through 1950’s. Since he’s known as a figurative painter, I was very interested in seeing more of his work.

Now for the full disclosure: I do not appreciate most of David Park’s abstracted figurative work, especially those he did in later life.  I’m a portrait and figural painter with a completely different aesthetic. It seems to me that abstract expressionism may be able to be applied successfully to the figure and portrait, but I don’t like how Mr. Park applied it.

However, there are some wonderful paintings here, and all the best are from 1937. This show is definitely worth the trip to Fort Worth.

In the first painting above, Four People Drinking a Toast, Park shows an enigmatic foursome crowded around a small table, tightly squeezed and cropped into the picture plane.  It’s easy to imagine the rest of the cramped apartment and speculate on the underlying intimacy between the four people.  There is so much mystery here. I wonder why the woman in yellow is holding the fancy vase, rather than another goblet of wine.  Is she showing off a new purchase?  Perhaps it’s a valued heirloom.  Maybe it adds some comic relief or just necessary to complete the complicated composition. I love it when artists show off and I think that’s a bit of what’s going on here. Regardless, the seriousness of the group and their intensely focused gazes make for a wonderful and contemplative piece. 

Dancing Couples, ca. 1937

At some point, hopefully, each of us will have a really great year. It will be a stretch of time when everything comes together, we’re at the top of our game, and our best work is done. Perhaps it will be the culmination of long years of study and practice. Then the fates coalesce for a short time. Once you live through a period like that and achieve success at that level, the later years may be hard to accept. Lightning in a bottle is hard to conjure up a second time.

This second work, Dancing Couples, portrays the figures tightly entwined.  Once again maximum use of the picture plane is made and the space is tight. 

Self-Portrait Painting His Wife, ca. 1937

This last painting also has a lot going on in a small space.  We see the loveliness captured in his wife’s evocative pose.  And on the inner canvas, we get a glimpse of where his work will take him a few years down the road.  It’s unfinished certainly, but it’s lacking in depth and emotion. Perhaps it’s foreshadowing something of the path he will take in the future.

I’m interested in art that portrays and speaks to the human condition. There is much in these 1937 paintings that make me think the artist and his models have a connection and an interest in each other. They know each other intensely and there are bonds between them that will last. The later work, although vigorous in its brushstroke and color, loses that connection between artist and subject, and therefore me.

Permission to Have Fun

Russ, Terri, and Michael Albert at Crystal Bridges

Terri and I hung out at the Crystal Bridges Art Studio in Northwest Arkansas a few weeks ago with Michael Albert (michaelalbert.com). Michael has been doing collage for a number of years and his works are both colorful and whimsical, and yet insightful and serious too. Michael has a number of favorite texts, narratives, speeches, scriptures, and such which have meant a lot to him over the years and he has committed them to collage, as well as some of them to memory. I thought that was pretty cool.

Terri working on her Lone Start flag.

So, while Terri got to work on her collage, I hung out with Michael and as usual asked a ton of questions. He’s on an “Art-demo and Workshop” Tour across dozens of U.S. cities. Most of his stops are at libraries where he leads folks, mostly kids, in activities using art, but also discussing and leading conversations about a number of those texts and stories that are so important to him. I asked him how he chose the libraries, and he said that he had written and published a book. He looked up which libraries carried his book, and just called them up and told them what he was doing. So, he has been driving from city to city for a number of weeks, maybe months now, visiting small towns and big, and getting to know people. Once again… very cool.

He calls his collage work “cerealism” because so much of it is found in the packaging for cereal boxes. So, it’s a lot of fun to see the images in his art, originally on cereal boxes I know well from my childhood. It’s sometimes a bit educational, if not sobering, to see how he uses the text in his work. Some of my favorites were Psalm 23, the preamble to the Constitution, and the Gettysburg address. There’s lots to choose from though, he’s a well-read guy.

Terri chose to make her version of our state flag. She had some symbolic fun and included some numbers in the work that are personally very important to her. I thought it turned out very nice.

Lone Star Flag
Paper and glue
12″ x 14″
by Terri Reed

I have a tradition of working on self-portraits whenever I’m at making-art demos, working in new media, and I don’t know what else to do. So, I sat down and did a 30 second self-portrait sketch in pencil, and then started cutting up cereal boxes. I decided to do a layering technique, whereas Michael and Terri both do more of a mosaic effect where they cut the shapes out to piece them together like a puzzle. I overlaid mine, one on top of another, and got more of a 3-D effect, which really worked for the self-portrait.

When we were finishing up, Terri asked me where the grey was in my beard. I really was taken aback. It turns out that my self-portrait is not a bad likeness, but it’s more life-like to my appearance 30-years ago, than it is now. While I was making the portrait, I was actually thinking of myself with dark brown hair. So, I blamed it on the cereal boxes and told her that silver was not really a cereal color.

There are a few important things to me about going to these art-making studio demos. I love to meet artists who are doing their creative thing and are willing to share their time and ideas with me. Michael was so generous, gave us some fantastic posters, and talked about his creative background and experience. It’s really nice to just listen to artists talk about what inspires them. I think occasionally it rubs off and something important and perhaps philosophical might find it’s way into my art or my creative habit.

But, it also allows (forces) me to try something new besides oil painting. The painting is so serious and these different media allow me to relax and just have fun. Try cutting up some cardboard packaging like a 6 year old and make something out of it that’s meaningful. It’s fun. These new media really stretch me and push me into something new. I’m terrible about making art in front of other people. I like to be alone, alone, alone. But, in the middle of the chaos at the Crystal Bridges Art Studio there’s nowhere to hide and you just have to go for it. Give yourself permission to have some fun and be silly.

Paper and glue
10″ x 8″
by Russ Reed

JFK and the Speech Not Delivered

Inside the JFK Presidential Library and Museum (R.Reed 2018)

Terri and I were recently in New England, mainly to see the fall foliage but also to visit some lovely towns and great art museums. My mom and dad flew up later and we focused on the Boston area. We had a great time and some fantastic meals (the best ones were made by Terri!)

On a whim we decided to visit the JFK Library which turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of our trip. It was so refreshing to watch and listen to recordings of his political speeches and to read his words. They revealed a president who not only knew the language at a very high level, but was able to use it to impart an inspiring vision for the country.

One of the best moments came while reading his notecards for the speech he never delivered, but intended to give in Dallas at Market Hall. Here are the last few lines of that speech, taken directly from his note cards.

We in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility — that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint — and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’  That must always be our goal — and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. 

For as was written long ago ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’

— John Fitzgerald Kennedy