2021 MoonBlog

This isn't really about the moon, I call it a moonblog because a new homepage image appears twice a month on the new and full moon. The home page shows a featured image —sometimes freshly minted, sometimes seasonal, sometimes from years past— along with improvised ruminations, something like a leisurely blog. Previous years’ entries are here for your perusal; see the links, above. The sharp-eyed visitor will notice that the year 2020 is entirely missing. I'll let you guess possible reasons for that. This year's will fill out as the moons go by. Meanwhile, let's get back to it.

Pear November

Robert Spellman acrylic painting of a bosc pear.

I mentioned in a recent post that I was interested in re-visiting a mode of painting from some decades ago, a certain kind of ordinary depiction of ordinary things. Fruit often fills the bill. When you look at any fruit or vegetable you soon discover that there is nothing ordinary there. Sometimes I buy fruit as much as to look at as to eat.

I've probably told you this story before but in the mid 1970s I took an evening life drawing class with David Sipress. This was at Mass College of Art in Boston and it would be many years before David became a regular cartoonist in the New Yorker magazine. We had homework assignments to draw fruit as a way of honing our ability to see shape and light. One of my classmates brought in a pencil drawing of a bowl of pears that almost made me pass out. It was so plain and luminous and sensuous. I never learned this student's name but her drawing changed my painting life for many years to come. I've had a special affection for pears ever since.

I finished this one just yesterday. It's 20 x 22 inches, part of a warm-up for a much larger commission.

Music of the Moment

A composition for cello, viola, piano, and percussion. I'm calling this one Nadezhda, after the Russian writer Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya, more popularly known as Teffi. She was a widely read and beloved writer during a tumultuous period in Russia - the overthrow of the tsar and subsequent civil war in which the Bolesheviks prevailed and managed to pervert the Socialist movement. I put this short composition together while reading her Memories: from Moscow to the Black Sea.

I've started adding one of these compositional sketches with each Moonblog entry on the new and full moon. I also have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

New Moon ~ November 4th, 2021

Santa Rosa Plums

Robert Spellman acrylic painting of a dish of Santa Rosa plums.

I was doing some unpacking in the Mountain Water studio recently and I came across this paintng from the mid-1990s. Looking at it provokes a kind of marvel. I think, "How in heaven's name did I do that?" I can remember that during the time of doing this painting I was deeply unhappy and finding much solace in painting. The paintings from that time have a focus and subtlety that I would like to re-visit. Perhaps it is the unhappy times in which we find ourselves.

Lawrence Weschler writes poignantly about Vermeer, the seventeenth century Dutch painter whose luminous paintings were produced during a period of terrible social chaos, and how these paintings still emanate something transcendentally peaceful centuries later.

I know it's a bit puffed up to compare these plums to Vermeers but the alchemy of beauty spawned by life's melancholy may be the same. And the painting: it's acrylic on unstretched canvas 18 ½ by 21 inches.

Music of the Moment

A composition for various instruments. Possible theme music for a busy anthill.

I've started adding one of these compositional sketches with each Moonblog entry on the new and full moon. I also have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

Full Moon ~ October 20th, 2021

Brewster Buffalo

Robert Spellman gelli print of a Brewster Buffalo WW2 fighter plane.

Here's a print of a Brewter Buffalo, a fighter plane from the Second World War. These planes were manufactured in Long Island City, NY. They are sometimes labelled "The worst fighter plane of WW II" and the American pilots didn't like them - they were quite heavy and not maneuverable enough in air combat. The Finns did quite well with them against Soviet aircraft. The Finns, more worried about the Russians than the Germans, cast their lot with the Nazis. A strange sight indeed to see American made planes decorated with swastikas. (If only our veterans of that war could see America now; you can be sure they would be cracking some heads together right here at home.)

This image is made as a monoprint on a gelli plate with secret, patented additions. It's about 6 x 10 inches.

Music of the Moment

Some program music for a non-existent film, conveying uncertainty, a little tension, and a wait-and-see vibe. This is for cello, piano, bass drum, and viola.

I've started adding one of these compositional sketches with each Moonblog entry on the new and full moon. I also have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

New Moon ~ September 6th, 2021

Dream Room #4

Robert Spellman watercolor study for an imaginary sunlit room by the sea.

This image is from a series of watercolor studies – intended as trials for larger diptych paintings. I did actually make one of the larger versions later, which has spent most of its long life in storage. It was 1988. I did a lot of these smaller versions, about 5 by 12 inches, as quick and easy color studies. Looking back at them now they seem freer and more experimental than the “finished” version. I've found that making “finished” work all to often results in an over-starched version of itself, overloaded as it can be with expectation and self-conscious vexation.

Music of the Moment

I have many, many dozens of sketches that I call “starts”. They're mostly about two minutes in length and I seem to think that I will go back and work them into larger compostions. I am of course leary of the issue mentioned above about creating some kind of “important” work. For now, I enjoy the freshness of the sketch. This one is for string quartet using the digitally sampled Cremona instruments.

I've started adding one of these compositional sketches with each Moonblog entry on the new and full moon. I also have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

New Moon ~ September 6th, 2021

Flora

Robert Spellman close in photo of various plants in a mountain meadow.

A photograph of some of the spontaneous growth along the road at Mountain Water earlier this summer. I'm intrigued by arrangements of color, texture, and form that show up without effort or artifice. This can occur in any number of surprising places — from a pristine mountain meadow to a rotting cardboard box on a cracked sidewalk.

Music of the Moment

For the moment I'm calling this one Straylight 1 after the program from Native Instruments. Some of these digital music programs make it possible to create the kind of atmospheric soundscapes that we might associate with movies. I'm a fan of movie soundtracks, many of which can be enjoyed without even having seen the movie. I like to think of this one as being in that vein.

I've started adding one of these compositional sketches with each Moonblog entry on the new and full moon. I also have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

Full Moon ~ August 22nd, 2021

Himachal Pradesh

Robert Spellman drawing on a print; it looks like a snow storm on a mountain.

This is another of a series of doctored gelli prints. I'm thinking of calling these “retronyms”, a word that actually means something a little different from how I'm using it. Retronym here means something named later, for example, after some accidental marks seem to look like something. They can look surprisingly intentional. It can save a lot of work!

I'm calling this one “Himachal Pradesh”, a state in northern India in the Himalayan foothills. There was a terrifying landslide there a few days ago caught on video. Huge boulders racing down a hillside and destroying a footbridge over a raging river. Several tourists died when their car was crushed. Among them was a beloved young doctor named Deepa Sharma, who moments before had tweeted triumphant images of herself in the mountains.

Music of the Moment

This is a sketch, which for the moment I'm calling Start No. 154. I've been experimenting with a new set of digitally sampled string instruments from the famous museum in Cremona, Italy. It's a bit haunting to be “playing” these instruments, some of which are from the 1600s and priceless. This particular compostion also has a marimba along for the ride.

I've started adding one of these compositional sketches with each Moonblog entry on the new and full moon. I also have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

Full Moon ~ July 23rd, 2021

Bosc Pear

Robert Spellman three-panel painting of a vintage Saab sedan.

An ordinary pencil rendering of a bosc pear on previously prepared paper. The preparation in this case is a discarded Gelli® print. Gelli prints are made from a plate made of gelatin, the “real thing” made by a company called Gelli Arts. My friend Kalen Meyer first showed me this method a few years ago. Even though it's very easy to learn, I get a lot of discarded attempts that end up being great drawing surfaces. The sheets have the feeling of having already gone through their annoying formative years, that they've seen a lot already.

Music of the Moment

This one has the prosaic title Pan Drum Experiment No. 39. It's part of a series of compositions using the digitally sampled pan drum along with some other instruments and percussion.

I've started adding one of these compositional sketches with each Moonblog entry on the new and full moon. I also have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

New Moon ~ July 9th, 2021

Vintage Saab Sedan

Robert Spellman three-panel painting of a vintage Saab sedan.

There is an earlier Moonblog post with this same painting at a previous stage. I was recently reunited with this version; it had been included in what we were calling our “Dadaist” exhibition at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. The show was mounted as the pandemic was suddenly catching peoples' attention; there was no opening, and as things quickly went into lockdown mode the exhibition space itself was closed. The work spent itself in isolation for a year and then we took it down.

The show also included a series of landscape color experiment paintings done in the 1980s that had never been exhibited. Those paintings languished unseen for over thirty years and finally were hung in a locked building unseen by anyone. There is a kind of purity to it, don't you think? The Saab painting here is a triptych, acrylic and surface textile attachments; it measures 26 x 66 in.

Music of the Moment

This one has the title Lérida. Lérida is the name of a city in the Catalonia region of Spain, which I've never visited. So the music isn't intended to convey anything about that city. I just liked the name. In Catalan the name is Lleida.

I have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

Full Moon ~ June 24th, 2021

Pitcher Drawing on Recovered Titanic Stationary

Robert Spellman gelli print; a bunch of randomly generated shapes that could suggest a snowy scene in the forest

This is a pencil drawing on what is being called stationary recovered from the Titanic. This is of course, another fraudulent claim. The evocation of a drawing on ancient, distressed paper is, however, plausible. I suppose this could be related to the kinds of tricks deployed by magicians, politicians, and spiritual sophists; all woven in persuasive yet baseless feasibility. This can be a lot of fun or quite dangerous in ways that are evident in the daily news cycle.

Music of the Moment

This one is called Leah. I can't remember why I called this one “Leah”, but so it goes. This one uses a range of instruments from glasses to orchestral simulations.

I have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

New Moon ~ June 10th, 2021

“Stopping By The Woods on a Snowy Evening...”

Robert Spellman gelli print; a bunch of randomly generated shapes that could suggest a snowy scene in the forest

The title here is, of course, from the well known poem by Robert Frost. Maybe an odd choice for the beginning of June but hey, it's been a crazy year. This is another of a series of chance operations I've been doing with gelli prints and secret manipulations. The results are mostly outside of any control on my part. So the title here refers to whatever comes to my mind when I look at the result. I usually let the prints sit for a day or two or even a few weeks before giving them a title. I can claim that I meant to do what you see.

The various parts here vividly convey trees, branches, pools, drifting snow, even some animals; but the parts never coalesce into a coherent “picture”. This mimics something of the way that the Cubists broke down seeing into moments of perception that generally do not cohere as an optical “freeze”.

Music of the Moment

This one is called Kulintang. Kulintang is a general category of music originating in Indonesia. The Balinese gamelan being a well-known instrument in the west. This piece begins with a synthesized approximation of this music. What follows has very little in common with Indonesian music.

I have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

Full Moon ~ May 26th, 2021

1959 Dodge Royal Lancer

Robert Spellman painting - a triptych of a Dodge Lancer automobile from the 1950s

This is a work in progress, another item from the “Decaying Murals of the Ancients” series. This one has undergone quite a few permutations in the past two years and I wouldn't say it's finished yet. During the image research for this I marveled at the size and weight of cars during that time. Some of them weighed over two tons! Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the suburban assault vehicles on American roads today weigh about the same as 1950s sedans.

I suppose my attraction to these cars is pretty much the same as my interest in the fighter planes of the Second World War: aerodynamic, strangly stylish, seemingly invincible. Decaying Murals of the Ancients. This one is three panels, acrylic on canvas, 26 x 60 inches overall.

Music of the Moment

This one is called Vrangelya. Vrangelya is a remote island off the coast of eastern Russia, in the Arctic Ocean. The name and this song are picked randomly. Let's see how they get along.

A photograph of Vrangelya Island in the Arctic Ocean.

A photo of Vrangelya Island. (courtesy of Wikipedia).

I have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

New Moon ~ May 11th, 2021

Mont Blanc (detail)

Robert Spellman painting, well actually a paint rag designated as a painting of Mont Blanc in the Alps.

This could be a depiction of the famous Mont Blanc, which straddles the border between France and Italy; it's the highest mountain in the Alps. I say this could be a depiction of Mont Blanc because it's actually a detail of a paint rag pulled from the wastebasket.

I've lately been interested in naming otherwise abstract images using impulsive impressions. “This looks like such and such.” It's another form of play. You could call it deception or fakery. I prefer play. Or maybe playful suggestion.

Some of my teachers at Mass College of Art would have been horrified by this idea. Abstraction should never refer to something other than itself, they might say. Well, that was half a century ago, and now look where we are. Losing oneself in an imaginary snowy mountain scene using a found piece of stained cloth might be a momentary antidote to discouragement.

Music of the Moment

This one is called Sudath. I think I picked the name from an online random word generator. It turns out that Sudath is a common name in Sri Lanka. According to the website kabalarians.com, “The name of Sudath indicates you are a diligent and persevering worker who enjoys doing a job well and finishing what is started. Not overly ambitious, you have restricted your life to working at occupations involving routine.” I don't think this has much of anything to do with the music. But you never know (see above).

I have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

Full Moon ~ April 26th, 2021

P-47 Thunderbolt

Robert Spellman triptych painting of a World War II P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane.

Here's a painting of a World War II P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane. This painting appears in an earlier form on this site. I've lately been re-visiting and re-working many of the paintings in this series. One reason for this is seeing that some of them needed more work on the surface, the roughness of which is not entirely apparent in a digital format; or I may have not liked the color of the earlier version.

The second reason for the re-workings is to add the star insignia. This is to denote the American origin of many of the planes in the series. In the 1930s there was a poisonous spread of fascism in Europe and Asia, led by arrogant and deranged men skilled at whipping their people into a misinformed froth. Not unlike our own time. So adding the star insignia calls on an earlier time in the USA, a national facing down of global fascism.

Working on these feels like a way to invoke a certain American mythology of our having been the decisive force in that war. It gives me an idea for a film: The ghosts of American World War II veterans come back to the America of the twenty-first century to sort things out with present day American nazis.

Music of the Moment

This one is called Lumbricus Terrestris, which is the Latin name for a common earthworm. I don't know if this music has anything to do with earthworms but it does have a slightly creepy crawly quality of something slithering through the night.

I have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

New Moon ~ April 11th, 2021

Chance Operations

Robert Spellman print, an abstract composition based on the accidental behaviors of saran wrap and air.

This image is from a series of prints that make use of the accidental behaviors of plastic wrap, block printing ink, and air pockets. It's a kind of chance operation in which the results are quite unexpected and sometimes strangely inviting. The twentieth century composer John Cage made much use of this in his work and commentary. Someone once asked him, "If you don't like the result [of a chance operation] do you change it?" He replied, "No. I change my mind."

These prints seem to me to be free of artiface or intentional meaning. Even the arrangement of parts occurs without any guiding “aesthetic”. And yet the shapes can be so specific. To what, I'm not sure. Perhaps specific to themselves. The form also mimics the color and arrangement of Dutch etchings from the 1500s. Or Chinese landscapes from the same period and much earlier. 

Music of the Moment

This is an arrangement of a traditional Chinese composition called Akebono. Here it's played on the yangqin, a Chinese instrument resembling a hammered dulcimer, likely descended from the Persian Santūr  . The yangqin is in conversation here with a piano.

I have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

Full Moon ~ March 28th, 2021

Grumman Hellcat

Robert Spellman triptych painting of a 1937 Buick

I seem to have wandered away from any kind of website maintenance for quite a few few months by now. It's more like a year and half come to think of it. We're still in the thick of a pandemic, with a bit of hope that it could abate in the next several months. Meanwhile, I'm back at the website trying to remember how to use html and all of it.

I've been away from painting, too; but now easing back into it. This painting of a Grumman Hellcat is a re-working of an earlier version. I added the star insignia and changed the color scheme. While working on these paintings of World War II planes I find myself doing a lot of poking around online to find out more details. I was reading last week that when this plane - the Grumman Hellcat - appeared in the Pacific theater of the war, the Japanese pilots were, like, "Holy Crap". Of course, they only revealed this some years after the war was over. It seems this was quite a formidable fighter plane.

Music of the Moment

Last fall I did a series of musical sketches featuring a pan drum. The pan drum is a refined version of the steel drums common in the Caribbean and elsewhere. This sketch has a pan drum and vibraharp in a simple duet.

I have a page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

New Moon ~ March 12th, 2021