Wanderings of an artist in the trenches.

Still in the air – second flight


Sitting on the final flight to Brussels and we’re a couple of hours into it. “Eat, Pray, Love” is the in-flight movie and dinner has already been served. I’m now faced with what to write about on this trip, besides the small happenings and goings on with seeing/attending the show and all that.

In the last hours of getting stuff together before leaving, I was scrambling getting the final grades in for my students. I usually wait until the end of the semester to grade the material that my students produce. I like being able to see the work in its totality and see the growth of each individual student, rather than just grade along the way, plugging numbers into some gradebook.

What happens, though, is that students misplace some of their work, or they have just thrown it out, not liking it, or they’ve painted over an older piece to save money on supplies. I can implore them all I want not do these things, but it doesn’t change anything. So, what happens is that I’m left scrambling, trying to get students to turn work in and collar different people for things that I ultimately don’t get. And the grades HAVE to get turned in. (I do some grading along the way, so it’s not a total struggle. So maybe just grading along the way is ultimately better, at least as a time saver, to be sure.) That was my weekend, though a ray of sunlight in that weekend was time spent with my children, going to my son’s soccer game and catching a flick with my son and daughter. Monday was consumed with finishing up the grading, and all the while I’m needing to pack and print out things for the show.

I did get the grades in but found myself wallowing in packing and printing. I ran into a weirdness while trying to print this time around. Recently my copy of Photoshop, supplied by the school, gave out (I was still using CS3, by the way, as I was comfortable with it and hadn’t wanted to mess with any surprises that crop up with upgrading.). I rarely open Photoshop these days except to stitch multiple scans together or to compile a page of comic art. But I like printing from Photoshop, which has always given me the closest representation of my work on my printer. So they installed CS5 and I went about my business, thinking all was well. Except it wasn’t. For some reason I still don’t understand, Photoshop took it on itself to add a grey tone over everything I was printing. Very strange. Couldn’t figure it out, so I opened everything in Apple’s Preview application and it all printed just fine. Go figure.

Anyway, I didn’t sleep last night, instead packed and printed. Was able to get together a handful of very nice prints of some of the paintings and the poster to take along with me.

Luckily, my copies of the new Harvey Dunn book by Walt Reed came in. I’ve been waiting for this book for so many years! Walt mentioned it to me something like ten or fifteen years ago, and I’ve been patiently waiting ever since. I was hoping it would come in before I left so I could take a copy with me on this trip and recharge my batteries by scoping out some amazing paintings by Dunn. But by Monday I had given up hope on that happening, until the mailman bumped the door setting the package down. Yeehah! I couldn’t believe my good fortune.


Printing and packing had to wait while I took an hour or so to dig through the books. The wait has not been in vain. I knew it wouldn’t, anyway, as Walt’s a great writer and is always passionate about illustration and most certainly Dunn (I got to spend a great day with Walt a couple of years ago while we filmed him for our Harvey Dunn documentary, which is still in progress.).

And now, for the first time a new audience can see Dunn’s work in glorious full-color from new shots taken directly from the original paintings. There’s plenty of work here that I’ve never seen and that alone makes the book worthwhile. But even seeing paintings that have become old friends to me in these new separations is stunning. And the book gives a pretty thorough run through of the various avenues his art explored throughout his lifetime. And if the eye candy weren’t enough, I’m thrilled to get to read more about Dunn and his processes. For art students the inclusion of the complete “An Evening In the Classroom” makes the book worthwhile, in an of itself. There one can read notes taken by Dunn’s students from his critiques in painting class. A rare treat.

I hope to do a more thorough review of this book when I get home and can include nice shots of some of the work. A huge hats off to Flesk Publications for giving this book an understanding and sensitive home. The production is lavish and worth picking up for sure.

Back to Belgium:

I’ve been lucky enough in my career to have visited many different countries in the pursuit of my work. I’ve usually been a guest, having been invited to participate in various festivals and/or shows over the years. I’ve loved all the places I’ve been to, they all have multitudes of things to recommend them, not the least of which is the people themselves, all incredibly generous with their time and energies in welcoming me to their countries. They are rare moments, to be sure, and I soak up as much as I can while I’m there.

I’ve been to Belgium a few times and always enjoy myself immensely there. It holds a particular fascination for me because of my interest in the First World War. So much happened there during that conflict and one can spend incredible amounts of time visiting various battlefields and museums. There are still sections of trenches at are maintained, and ruins, and, of course, cemeteries. And when I visit these places they really do speak to me. I think of how much blood was spilled on these lands and the mind boggles.

My first trip to Flanders was, as now, in winter. And I remember taking a train to Dixmude to be picked up by a stranger to take me to the battlefields. My guide, whose name I unfortunately cannot remember, arrived with a bag busting with bottles of wonderful Belgian beer. The thing I noticed most of all while whizzing along in his car was how green the fields were even in winter. When I remarked on this my guide said his father told him it was because of all the blood in the land. Evocative and ironic. And I spent the day exploring a section of trench called the “Halls of Death”, or something like that. But before I was taken there, my guide informed me that he wanted to take me to a place that he thought I might like. This ended up being the cemetery where Peter Kollwitz is buried.

Peter Kollwitz was the son of Kathe Kollwitz the great German artist whose work has been a profound influence on me. My guide had no idea that I was so strongly influenced by Kathe Kollwitz and that this cemetery was one of the places I dreamed of visiting, in order to see the two statues that she sculpted for her lost son. The Grieving Parents is a powerful piece of work. A father and a mother (Kathe and her husband) on their knees bowed in grief before the stones marked with the names of the dead soldiers. So I stood in that place and thought of the years that she worked on those pieces as a tribute to all the fallen sons, working toward the day when she could see it installed on that piece of land before her son’s grave. And now, having children of my own, I shudder at the task that lay before her. Basically putting herself into a position to have to live with that grief every single day through her work, an overt reminder of what she lost. One would be unable to not grieve each day anyway, but to then add to that burden by trying to produce a piece that substantiated that grief, would stand as a reminder of that horror, is amazing to me. But one need only look at her work to know the depths of her sensitivity and struggle to give voice to others’ pain and strife.

More later…

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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