2016 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.

Two Milarepas

A Robert Spellman diptych of the Tibetan yogi Milarepa.

I had an invitation to come up with some images of the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa for a book currently in production. Milarepa's story has been told, dramatized, written about, and studied for nine centuries. After a really bad start in life he was, through dogged tenacity and the good fortune of meeting the right teacher, able to attain what is sometimes called the state of unity in one lifetime, being utterly freed from habitual tendencies and limiting conceptions. He is famous also for the plain language of his innumerable poems and songs that cut right to the center of what it means to wake up.

He is most often depicted with one hand held to his ear. The distressed images that came to mind for me also allude to the near destruction of Tibetan culture and the millenium of its flourishing tradition of inquiry into the nature of reality itself. At the moment, it seems unlikely that any of these images are going to be used for the upcoming book cover. But here they are.

New Moon ~ September 1st, 2016

Cuerno Verde Dyad

A Robert Spellman dyad photograph.

A few days ago I was up on Mt. Greenhorn in southern Colorado, one of my favorite places on our planet. To the casual visitor it's a homely and scruffy place – messily lumbered over the past century, far less spectacular than it's younger neighbors in the nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains, and not boasting enough height to attract the kind of atheletic scramblers trotting up and down the Colorado mountains. Some say it's one of the oldest mountains in the western hemisphere. So she's like an old crone unlikely to give up her secrets to anyone in too much of a hurry but inexplicably tolerant of the occasional abuse of ignorant intruders.

There were still patches of snow all around last week, wildflowers and grasses were already making good on the June sunshine, and water was on the move. These photographs use the compositional form of dyads, sometimes called diptychs, of paired squares. This is one of many possible variations of a practice I call Window Shopping. Square format digital cameras are a handy means of composing and arranging images, which are then paired either plausibly or not. The result is often more than the sum of its parts. The example here is a conservative example made while enjoying salami and cheese on a nearby boulder smoothed by uncountable millenia.

New Moon ~ June 4th, 2016

Orange Couch

A Robert Spellman Sofa Painting.

Here's another work-in-progress, for the moment we'll call it Orange Couch. Images of sofas and couches have been popping up in my work for a long time. Back in the 1980s, while I was living in Boston I did a series of watercolors of a particular red couch, a red leather job from the 1950s that I still sit on every day. (You can see an example of one of those watercolors right here.) These more recent couch paintings are considerably larger – this one is six feet across – and more somber. Perhaps furniture holds a memory of the countless people who sit on them, and the memories are bound to be a strange brew of hope, elation, desperation, and woe. I'm not sure where Orange Couch goes next, but here's a view of this week's moment in its life.

Full Moon ~ May 21st, 2016

Copy Proliferation

A Robert Spellman watercolor grid drawing.

Another variation of the proliferation exercise is to combine it with grid drawing. Grids have been in use for many centuries. The ancient Egyptians were using them in the second millenium B.C. It's an ingenious and low-tech solution for copying things in proportion. In this instance I prepared some grids in Adobe Illustrator and printed them out. I made a corresponding set of grids to be printed on transparent mylar to go with the above grids on paper. Is this more than you wanted to know? Okay. In combination with a proliferation session, the grid drawings were done quickly. I used books of so-called “Old Master” drawings as a reference. I was working quickly so I never made note of which artist I was copying. (This was directly contrary to what I tell my students: always keep track of your references and influences – it makes it much easier to go back to them.) So I don't know who's drawing is being copied here. I was using a monochromatic wash in watercolor, well suited to quick working. The actual image is about 4 by 5 inches.

New Moon ~ May 6th, 2016

Sofa Triptych, 2nd State

A Robert Spellman sofa painting.

Here is a continuation of the previous Moonblog post announcing the beginning of a series of sofa paintings. The earlier image and some description will fill you in on that. Meanwhile, I'll probably continue with this and change the color scheme, possibly quite a bit. But meanwhile, this one has a slightly haunted, turn of the last century look to it that appeals to me. Furniture is capable of absorbing so much human weirdness over time. And an old, worn out couch can be such a sad blob of a thing. I once saw a mountain of discarded couches and upholstered lounge chairs behind a Goodwill thrift shop in Pueblo, Colorado. And when I say mountain, I'm not exaggerating. The sight was such a strange blend of comical and tragic. Anyway, I like the way this painting is going; in real life it's almost life size. The effect is charmingly peculiar.

Full Moon ~ April 21st, 2016

Sofa Triptych

A Robert Spellman sofa painting.

I've had a recurring image in my mind for some time: a series of sofa paintings. As usual, I don't claim to have any overt message or meaning in mind (although the ironic possibilities of having a painting of a sofa hanging over a sofa have not been lost on me). The image here is of the preliminary drawing, done with charcoal on previously painted canvas. The overall size is 42 x 72 inches. At the time of this writing, the drawing you see here has already been covered over with scrap pieces of canvas cut into the shapes of the various parts; this is then draped with cheesecloth pressed into the wet gesso. “Patches” of modelling paste are applied over areas that look as though they need it. When this layered farrago is completely dry I'll be applying paint in a manner yet to be determined. If all goes well it should have the look and feel of a mural that survived some catastrophe. It's always possible that the work will in itself be a catastrophe. I'll keep you posted. Maybe.

New Moon ~ April 7th, 2016

Proliferation Day

Something I recommend to my students at Naropa and to all practicing artists is to engage in a session of proliferation. This can be designed any way you like. For the watercolor class we do thirty paintings in one three-hour class session. In the past I had students try for fifty but that seemed to be too many; most people would either buckle under the pressure or just crank out fifty crappy things. Thirty seems to make more sense. One of the demons of watercolor is preciousness; it shows up as a kind of suffocating prudence. Proliferation sessions can be a good antidote - there isn't any way to indulge the fear of looking foolish; there just isn't time! There is, of course, no guarantee that any good work will come of working this way and in fact I recommend doing this only on occasion; but try it, you may be surprised. The painting shown here came out of a session last week. It is clearly nothing anyone would do on purpose. But it surprises me to see it.

Full Moon ~ March 22nd, 2016


A Robert Spellman painting of a lily.

This dragonfly is a work in progress, something for an upcoming exhibition at Virginia Tech. The alert visitor to this website will recognize at least two recurring themes here: one is insects and the other is the folio, the appearance of an open book. In this case the book seems to be very old, possibly several centuries old. It may not be apparent on your screen, but this would be a very large book; it's 42 x 56 inches. The look of three dimensionality is actual; the two halves are stitched together with jute twine, which has the appearance of some kind of leather. There is no special meaning assigned to any of this, but I would say that I'm guided by a mysterious process of being attracted to particular visual impacts, in this case it's the visual impact of a very old book. By the time a book has made its way through the centuries it develops signs of wear and tear – spots, discolorations, wrinkles, rips and a relaxed sense of settledness into what it is. Why dragonflies? According to the website, Dragonfly-site.com,

“The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.”

Well, then. I honestly had no such thing in mind, but I'll take it! I have several of these dragonflies in the works right now. I'll be putting them up in a new section as they develop.

New Moon ~ February 8th, 2016 Tibetan New Year

The Nauman Lily

A Robert Spellman painting of a lily.

As I write this, an enormous blizzard is wending its way up the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. Big snow accumulations have fallen from the Carolinas to southern New England. Today in Colorado was sunny and in the sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Why am I telling you this? Everyone talks about the weather!

I finished this lily painting a few weeks ago; it was a commission for a pair of private collectors. To protect their privacy I won't mention the collectors' names, but I'm calling this lily painting The Nauman Lily. Last fall I noticed a clump of lily roots that a neighbor near my studio had thinned from his garden and set out in the alley to be carted away with the trash. I decided to rescue the poor bundle and plant it in a wild little volunteer garden along the studio building. By the time I got around to this the clump had dried out and looked pretty much finished. But it did come back and manage a good settling in before the frost came. Some weeks later as I was painting this lily, I found the color scheme of the flower coming to me with unusual clarity. Maybe it sounds far-fetched, but I couldn't help thinking that this clarity came to me from the recently rescued lily clump in the alley. And yes, the painting: it's acrylic on canvas 38 x 42 inches.

Full Moon ~ January 23rd, 2016

Pewter Pitcher No. 4

A Robert Spellman painting of a pewter pitcher.

Another pewter pitcher painting. The pitcher itself is a handsome old fellow from Zelpha Beidler, my wife's grandmother. Zelpha was originally from Monon, Indiana but spent much of her life in Ohio. As an adult she ran an elegant catering operation in the vicinity of Akron, Ohio; her customers included some of Akron's moneyed rubber magnates. My wife Joan and her mother Janet both learned a very particular attention to elegant detail from Zelpha (or 'Zuz' as she was called), the implementation of which could be inflected with a certain demanding Teutonic precision. The rubber barons are gone from Akron. Zelpha is gone. Janet is gone. The pitcher is still here; outliving, as many objects do, the people who used and cherished them. It's not surprising that many cultures regard ancestral objects with veneration. Not so much here in North America, where things are more likely to end up in thrift shops and junk stores. I sometimes think that painting these old things is a gesture of respect, or at least admiration. This painting is the fourth one of this same pitcher. I just finished it last week.

New Moon ~ January 10th, 2016