Tag Archives: Philosophy

On Equity

Ice Pops   Oil on Linen, 30 x 24 inches, private collection

There’s something special about this painting, what exactly that is I don’t know, but everybody loves it, even I love it, and honestly if I had the formula for it I’d be cranking them out as fast as I could (I’ll admit it: I tried).  I’ve given this some thought, and my conclusion is it’s never one thing that makes a painting hit the mark, such as the subject, atmosphere, color palette, technique or whatever, rather I’m thinking it’s more the effect of an ensemble performance by the selfsame players, a performance which mysteriously rates rave reviews.

IcePops

To be fair, I should mention that the girls had an entirely different response to the painting, which is the story I’m here to tell.

The girls are friends of my brother’s family, and neither they nor their parents knew that I had done anything with the snapshots I had taken two years earlier.  I had been given permission that day to photograph them and spent about half an hour following them around the back yard while they swung on the swings, threw the baseball around, dug in the sandbox, and ran here and there just for the fun of it.  When we were done with all that, mom gave popsicles to the girls in thanks for their cooperation.  The camera came out again, too, just for fun.  The girls were fairly oblivious throughout the proceedings, still too young to ham it up, or mug or preen for the stranger behind the camera.

Before I had an opportunity to present the newly finished painting to the girls’ family, I had a postcard made of it which I sent to my brother.  The image was eventually shown to the girls who said upon first sight, in effect, ‘Hey, how come she got two treats and I got one?’ and, vice-versa, ‘Hey, how come I got two and she got one?’   Which is an angle I hadn’t considered whatsoever while doing the painting.  In fact there was only one popsicle split between them that hot summer day, and Madeleine was painted holding a second pop for compositional reasons and not as a slight to Anna, who anyway could have been holding her other half at her side behind Madeleine’s back, couldn’t she? if she also had two?  I mean, if we take the painting to be ‘real’?

Not to make a big deal out of it, but isn’t this a painfully familiar scenario?  Aren’t we always seeking what’s fair and square?  We people, we adults?  Isn’t that what we truly value?  Where there is equity the mind is put to rest, there is no wishing things to be different than they are because all is well: I got mine, you got yours: even Stephen.

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Washington Slept Here

Whenever I have an opportunity to look at paintings, be they in brick-and-mortar or marble-columned establishments, in books, on the internet or in mind (seen once and not yet

Flash in the pan

‘Flash in the Pan’, 14 x 18 inches, oil on panel

forgotten), I am always fascinated by what the artist chooses to commit to canvas.  And as a witness to this ‘event’ happening in front of me that is a work of art, I wonder why it engaged me, what the effect of being drawn into it is, and how the artist was able to execute this feat of painterly magic, especially if it opened the heart at the same time.

Usually (and without thinking) we encounter paintings as relic – proof of a creative event that happened in the past.  Even artists forget that there is one key decision that always remains vibrant and inescapable in each work of art we produce:  What to paint?  Or maybe more to the point, Why paint this at all? 

Which raises the question of how I got into painting people and events as if we were still in the revolutionary era.

Washington slept here

But, so what if he slept here?  Before and after the great man took off his boots and lay his burden down in this rickety old canopy bed, others slept here, too.  Truth is, I’m not particularly interested in what happened long ago.  As a backdrop for a movie, okay, for the rare historical novel or the once-in-a-lifetime visit to (fill in the blank), great, but an historian I am not.

Yet last April I saw a sign in my neighborhood announcing the upcoming reenactment of The Battle of Bound Brook.  I’ve long been aware of this annual event, and on a lark decided to check it out.  As for the Battle itself, suffice it to say that the Americans were routed on 12th April and regained their ground on the 13th April, 1777.  This year they were routed yet again in clouds of acrid gunsmoke.  My hearing didn’t come back for days.

revolutionary soldiers

‘Eyes Left, Scotland’ and ‘The Patriot’, right. Both are 12 x 12 inches, oil on prepared burlap

What interests me most is what is happening right now.  And what appeals to me at these events are the everyday costumes, dragoons mounted on skittish horses, the encampments swathed in smoke from cooking fires, row upon row of unbleached cotton tents, clumsy troop gatherings, and the clash of colorful armies.  But more compelling than the spectacle captured in hindsight is the substance of the contemporary player-participant, the secret bit that one could say truly connects us all, vertically through time and horizontally in the present moment.  Their devotion to the spirit of the current (and orginal) enterprise and insistence on authenticity shines wherever you look, even if one hears a great deal of talk among reenactors themselves on how much authenticity is enough, and whether bearded actors should even be allowed to participate (Washington insisted on clean-shaven troops).

Picture of two sentries

‘Sentry Duty’, 16 x 12 inches, oil on panel

I’ve attended several historical events since Bound Brook, and as of this writing have completed a dozen works, several of which are shown here.  I’ll be painting more of them, anyway I’m pretty sure I will.  Ultimately we don’t know why we do what we do, we just make up stories to try to explain ourselves before and after the fact.  Perhaps it’s best to be as an actor playing a part in a play or, even better, someone in the audience: a witness to whatever happens, unattached and uneffected by however things turn out.  Sometimes the players win, sometimes they lose.

See more paintings at: http://www.sundwallart.com