New Paintings

I started into a group of new paintings tonight. I have 8 canvases set up in my little basement studio and I started painting on 6 of them. I’ll add the other two and more into the mix sometime later.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been stalling.

All I can say about tonight’s work is that I laid down some paint. I had a starting point in mind (you have to start somewhere) but my mind was racing way beyond that even as I was brushing in the first tentative little ideas.

The beginnings of paintings are both everything and nothing. The first session sets a kind of tone for the activity to follow, but at the same time, I know I’ll be wrestling my way through dozens of ideas, motifs, and so on along the way, leaving the beginning marks as ancient history, to be buried and forgotten.

4th St.

I came across various covers of the tune 4th Street Messaround on YouTube, and I realized I know two tunes about 4th St. The first one is that old Memphis Jug Band tune. They were a great band and were very well recorded. If you don’t know their material, I highly recommend it.  The Memphis Jug Band were active from the 20s right into the 50s. Their personnel changed quite a bit along the way but no matter, it’s pretty much all excellent.

The other 4th St tune I know of is Positively 4th Street by Bob Dylan. Here’s Lucinda Williams covering it…

Mark Twain on the banjo….

The piano may do for love-sick girls who lace themselves to skeletons, and lunch on chalk, pickles and slate pencils. But give me the banjo. Gottschalk compared to Sam Pride or Charley Rhoades, is as a Dashaway cocktail to a hot whisky punch. When you want genuine music — music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system like strychnine whisky, go right through you like Brandreth’s pills, ramify your whole constitution like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose, — when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo!
– “Enthusiastic Eloquence,” San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle, 23 June 1865

Dogs, hedgehogs and lobsters

George hadn’t had a good run since his neuter surgery and he has really needed one, so I loaded the dogs along with my mushroom basket into the car and headed for a forest not too far from the city. George and Memphis know this spot well, and they love it because there is lots of forest to romp around in.

These days Memphis sticks fairly close to me in the forest. George on the other hand needed to run so he barrelled through the woods out of sight and a moment later came bounding back toward me from a different direction. With his size and weight he’s like a locomotive running through the forest. Ten minutes of this and he settled right down, and while I wandered about looking for mushrooms, they sniffed about, rolled, explored, happily goofing about among the trees.

This particular spot is reliable – that is to say I almost always find some edible mushrooms there, but on the other hand I don’t usually find large quantities of mushrooms, just enough for a dinner or two.

My first find consisted of a few hedgehog buttons, and one strangely deformed hedgehog mushrooms. This mushroom was trying to grow out from under a log, and the cap didn’t develop properly. The teeth appeared to be on the top of the cap. For someone with no experience I can imagine this would be confusing. The pictures in the field guides don’t look like this.IMG_2092

In fact a photo in a field guide shows how the specimen could look, or did look under particular conditions. In the forest, you see all kinds of mushrooms that just don’t quite look like they’re supposed to. Always be careful with your identification and if you aren’t sure, don’t eat the mushroom.

Most of the mushrooms I found today were lobster mushrooms – Hypomyces lactifluorum. There has been quite a bit of interest in some earlier posts I made talking about how to prepare these mushrooms, so I’m going to touch on it again. Lobsters are often found partially under the forest duff. They sometimes look dirty and other times they get partially eaten by forest critters .

The first thing I do is wash a lobster mushroom as best I can under running water. I’ve often thought that a toothbrush would be handy for cleaning them but I never use on. Once the mushrooms is as clean as I can get it, I cut off any obviously unappetizing parts.IMG_2098Then I cut the mushrooms into roughly eighth inch slices. My basic rule for lobster mushrooms is that I keep anything that is white or red and cut away anything brown or unappetizing.IMG_2100

The lobsters I found today were not great – they had a lot of waste. Still, along with the hedgehogs I have plenty of wild mushrooms to add to the chili I’m making this afternoon.IMG_2102


I took the day off work today and spent a good part of it working on a mosaic project. I did manage to find the time for a couple practice session on the banjo though. I’ve been playing some tunes from Illinois that I learned back in June at the Midwest Banjo Camp. I like that mid-west old time music a lot.

Here’s a video I came across on YouTube featuring the late Garry Harrison and his band the Indian Creek Delta Boys performing Waterbound. Great tune and very fine band…

I’ve been learning a tune on clawhammer written by Garry Harrison. It’s called Dull Chisel.  Here’s a great driving version by Hopping Jenny…

French bagpipe polka music?

I came across this strange video tonight. It features a duet with French bagpipes and accordion doing a polka suite. OK, it’s a bit off the beaten path. What’s really strange though, is the video is full of bizarre visual distortion –  the background around the players is constantly shifting. I was starting to feel sea-sick watching it.

It would be interesting to explore some of the various bagpipe traditions around the world. For the longest time I thought the only bagpipes were the Scottish Highland pipes, but not so.  I bet trying to trace pipe traditions would also teach a lot about world history.

The Mystery

I notice I become increasingly inarticulate when it comes to talking about my painting, almost as if I don’t want it to be infected by words. Words can sully a painting and cling to it and drag it down.

A few painters have a gift for words as well as paint. Francis Bacon is one of those:

“The creative process is a cocktail of instinct, skill, culture and a highly creative feverishness. It is not like a drug; it is a particular state when everything happens very quickly, a mixture of consciousness and unconsciousness, of fear and pleasure; it’s a little like making love, the physical act of love.”

Yeah. Like he said.

Ornette Coleman by Eugene Knapik, 1997.
Ornette Coleman by Eugene Knapik, 1997 (private collection).

Starting a new set of paintings is a strange experience. I look at works I’ve completed  as if somebody else painted them. How did I get there? Although I thought them up, I applied the paint, it seems that I’m helpless to answer.

I have 7 canvases set up in my little studio ready to go and I’m stalling.



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