2019 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.


Robert Spellman triptych painting of a 1937 Buick

I would like to claim that this is a large work measuring six by nine feet, executed on sheets of steel. Well, it could be! It's actually three close-up images of an old, well-used cookie sheet that I happened to notice earlier today when I was making a cup of tea. (Should I be telling you this? Does it spoil the illusion?) I have an interest in things that “do themselves”, they arise without affect or contrivance. It's difficult to do this in painting or any art form: we always have something up our sleeve. Maybe it's money, maybe it's a drive to be seen as brilliant. Whatever the reason, these hidden agendas have a way of sabotaging the whole endeavor of art. I'm pretty sure this cookie sheet doesn't care about much. But here it is effortlessnessly emanating beauty and mystery.

Music of the Moment

Here is a musical composition I've been working on. Let's say it's for this moon, even though I've been fiddling with it since 2017. It's called Labdrun. For piano, string ensemble & percussion.

I've added a new page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

New Moon ~ April 5th, 2019

1937 Buick

Robert Spellman triptych painting of a 1937 Buick

This is a painting of a 1937 Buick Century Coupe. Driving one of these around town would have been a fine way to show off in the midst of a depression. At the time, a new Century Coupe went for $1,524, a tidy sum in those days. According to the CNN Money page, “General Motors was among the first automakers to put real emphasis on design in creating its new cars. An example is the Buick Century which was also one of the first examples of what would later be called a "muscle car." It was one of Buick's smallest cars but it had the biggest available engine, a 130 horsepower 8-cylinder that helped give the car a 100 mile per hour top speed.” It is still a handsome car. One of these today can fetch $75,000, probably a lot more than this painting will ever sell for.

Music of the Moment

Here is a musical composition I've been working on. Let's say it's for this moon. It's called Aaron. For two pianos and string ensemble.

I've added a new page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

New Moon ~ February 4th, 2019

Outlier (Detail)

Robert Spellman painting detail showing a charcoal drawing of an eye.

This is a photo of a canvas in process, taken from an oblique angle. The charcoal drawing of an eye is the beginning of a triptych –later abandoned– of an early Wonder Woman comic book frame. The canvas background colors are from a much earlier –also abandoned– painting of a green ocean wave. I started that one some time in the late 1980s. Both of these paintings are in a category I think of as “outliers”, they don't seem to fit into any category or sequence. I've had the fantasy of some time doing a show of paintings with no identifiable thematic relationship whatsoever. It would probably be like a meal with courses that have no good reason to be together; it might be kind of sickening. Still, I'm glad to be able to photograph these things in progress, even if they never come to completion. Sometimes the results have a refreshing sense of “not-me-ness”, if that makes any sense.

Music for this phase of the mooon

Here is a musical composition I've been working on. Let's say it's for this moon. It's called Rogero. See if you can figure out the time signature.

I've added a new page with more of these compositions in progress. Go here for a listen.

Blood Moon ~ January 20th, 2019


Robert Spellman photo of some crushed sticks on the ground that looks like a cave painting of a horse.

I kept walking by this crushed stick on a path at Mountain Water. It seemed an ordinary, even childish thing to notice that it looked a little like a horse. It does remind me of the beautiful images painted and drawn on cave walls millenia ago. It got me thinking about very early people and how they could have made similar associations, and that it may have been a prod to create likenesses out of things. “This is a horse” or “This is a bison” or however these early people may have indicated their co-inhabitants. It may not have been linguistic. And it seems unlikely that they would have thought about it as “Art” in any way that humans do today. But then again such activity millenia ago may have seemed quite magical in an ordinary, reverential way. We really don't know.

New Moon ~ January 5th, 2019

Pewter Salt & Pepper

Robert Spellman painting of a set of pewter salt and pepper shakers.

This diptych of salt and pepper shakers is currently on view at the Buddhist Arts and Film Festival in Boulder, Colorado. I'm happy to be part of this event, both as an exhibiting artist and as a panelist along with the Ven. Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche and Barbara Dilley. I'm also looking forward to the many films and presentations that the event offers. One of them is a demonstration of virtual reality that gives you the opportunity to step off a plank many stories over a city street. I'm not sure I'll be able to live through this: I can barely look at photographs of steel workers walking on I-beams eighty floors above the street. Maybe I'll stick with the films. Read more about the Buddhist Arts and Film Festival. Oh, and if you missed the price list for the paintings I have in this exhibition, here it is.

Full Moon ~ June 27th, 2018

Trois Coquillages Tropicaux

A Robert Spellman watercolor copy of an 1837 James Holland painting.

These three watercolors of a conch shell came out a few weeks ago in my Naropa watercolor class. It's part of proliferation, a practice that I encourage anyone to try. The idea is to set aside a bracket of time during which you do an unreasonable number of pieces. In our class, we try to do thirty paintings during a three-hour session. With setup and cleanup we really only have about two and a half hours. In previous years I had us doing fifty in a class session but too many people had nervous breakdowns. Thirty seems more doable for most people. The practice is designed to wear out the fear of messing things up; in this exercise there just isn't time to worry about it. It's also a good opportunity to practice repetition, a good way to work things out by making subtle changes in how you go about the same moves with the same colors and the same composition, which I've done here. Try it some time it's fun.

New Moon ~ April 14th, 2018


A Robert Spellman drawing of a Citroen.

This is a preliminary charcoal drawing for what will become a painting along the same lines as the aircraft paintings elsewhere on this site. Automobiles share a lot of stylistic panache with planes. This one is a Citroën, an odd and charming put-put car that I remember from earlier days. The car takes its name from the company founder, Andrè-Gustave Citroën, who started the business in 1919. The word citroën means “lemon” in Dutch; leading to some questionable theories claiming that applying the term “lemon” to a defective car (as the term is used in the USA) derived from the French automaker's products. This seems to be more of an unfortunate coincidence than a reliable word etymology. Anyway, the drawing here is 66 x 26 in. on three canvas panels.

Full Moon ~ March 31st, 2018

Os Pisões

A Robert Spellman watercolor copy of an 1837 James Holland painting.

In my watercolor classes I encourage the practice of copying. This is a very old and reliable way of learning to paint, or learning to do anything for that matter. During this week's class I started the above copy of a James Holland painting from 1837. His painting is called Os Pisões, which in Portuguese means something like “The Fulfillment Mill”. Sometimes when doing this practice I have a wonderful experience of vividness - as though I am in the very place where this was painted so long ago. I think this vividness was embedded right within the original painting itself because of the vividness of the artists perceptual experience in the moment. I wonder if this kind of perception is in danger of being lost in the easy availability of digital imaging. It's so easy to snap a picture that we don't take the time to look at things with any kind of depth or duration.

New Moon ~ March 17th, 2018

Book of Dragonflies

A Robert Spellman painting of a dragonfly in a format that mimics an ancient book.

This one of a series on the theme of ancient books that keep coming around in my work, similar to the various folios elsewhere on this site. In person, these are larger than previous folios — these are 40 by 60 inches, reminiscent of giant tomes of yesteryear. Perhaps the sense of ancientness of these pieces is provoked by the rapid falling away of books as repositories of human wisdom, a function they have held for thousands of years. No one really knows the long term implications of digital media. It is both thrilling in its vastness and frightening in its insubstantiality and mutability. Books seem clunky by comparison, but they are substantial and their content is more difficult to change. These ruminations need not have anything to do with these dragonfly books, but they came to mind as I was putting this entry together.

New Moon & Losar ~ February 16th, 2018


A Robert Spellman painting of a persimmon.

This persimmon painting was just finished this morning. It will be donated to Naropa University for the annual Naropa Event, a fundraising gala for student scholarships. According to Wikipedia, the word persimmon itself is derived from putchamin, pasiminan, or pessamin, from Powhatan, an Algonquian language of what is now the eastern United States, meaning "a dry fruit". Persimmons have quite a variety of symbolic significances in various cultures. In Buddhism, six persimmons are said to symbolize the journey to enlightenment, starting with ignorance, the unripe fruit, proceeding all the way to the sweetness of the ripe fruit. I notice that the process of aging can go either way. Some of us become bitter rather than sweeter as we get older. Much of this seems to be up to each of us. It seems to be a moment-by-moment thing. There is a Navajo saying, "In old age, while traveling on paths of beauty, lively may I walk."

Blue Moon, Blood Moon ~ January 31st, 2018

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3

A Robert Spellman triptych of a World War II Russian fighter plane, a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3.

I've spent much of the past two weeks preparing work for a large solo show at Naropa University. It's partly a retrospective with some recently completed work. This painting of a Russian MiG-3 fighter plane from World War II is not in the show, but it seemed to be tagging along with other work that did make it in. This one probably isn't finished but I still like the look of things as they are cooking. One of the more reliable indicators of being on the right track with something is a quality of surprise or unexpectedness in the work. I could claim that I knew what leads to that quality but it's actually a mystery. It can't be contrived. Maybe that's what I like about works in progress, especially when they proceed by way of unknown byways.

New Moon ~ January 16th, 2018

Winter Dawn?

A Robert Spellman watercolor of what looks like a somewhat dreary winter dawn.

Today is the first day of 2018. Glad having 2017 behind us, and I do hope we have some reason for optimism in the coming year. It feels as though some global malaise has taken hold and it's easy enough to think that things are going to get worse before they get better. I've been reading One Man's Meat by E.B. White. He wrote these essays from his farm on the Maine coast during the late 1930s and into the 1940s as humans descended once again into self-inflicted chaos. There is some solace in realizing that even in the worst eras of discord that there are people maintaining sanity and decency. It's like a seed bank: protecting and preserving something for a future that can look awfully dim. As I write this a beautiful full moon is making its way above the winter-bare tree tops, and the days are ever so slightly longer.

Full Moon ~ January 1st, 2018

Ice Bucket &c.

A Robert Spellman diptych photograph of reflections in a silver ice bucket.

Some time I would like to make paintings that look like this, and do them big. For now this is a photograph that I imagine as a painting about six feet high and twelve feet wide. The great ease of digital photography and its ready enabler the so-called smartphone make image gathering very easy. It can be a great tool for composing possibilites of all kinds without having to commit to the labor of it. This can also be a danger in the same way that inherited wealth can rob one of initiative: it's too easy. But let's not moralize here; it's too hot.

Full Moon ~ July 8th, 2017