The Known Unknown

When we say a name we associate it with a person and accept it. The name fits the person and the person fits the name. However, when I investigated the namesake of my son Simon, I found surprising details. I knew there was an apostle named Simon. However, little is known about him. Additionally, the apostle Peter is referred to as Simon Peter and I also found a reference to Jesus having a brother Simon. When I began to see depictions of Saint Simon (also referred to as Simeon) it was not often the apostle, rather it was a Simon born later. This Simon, presumably named after the apostle, was an ascetic that spent much of his time on a pillar. I also found there were two Saint Simons who inhabited a pillar (Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder and the Younger). In paintings and illustrations sometimes the pillar appears as a column and other times as a tower. In Aleppo, Syria Simon’s stone ‘pillar’ is a site to see, and a round stone has been placed on top of it. However, what originally inspired my investigation was a calendar image depicting Saint Simeon Stylites.

Above is an image of the calendar where I found Saint Simon. Below is the page where Simon can be seen depicted on top of his pillar.

Św. Szymon Słupnik (en. Saint Simeon Stylites),
Belarussian icon, end 18th century, tempera on board,
Orthodox church in Milejczyce, Poland.

Upon translating the text on the calendar, I found that the image was originally published in a book of 300 icon images titled Ikony w Polsce. Od średniowiecza do współczesności by Micha ła Janochy. All the icons were found in Poland. Although I learned more about Saint Simon, my investigation is just beginning.


When I was an art student, I was taught about color threshold. While exploring color mixtures there is a point where one color becomes another. This point could be a debateable. For example, a color can appear yellow but depending on its proximity to another color, the same color can appear to be green. A precise measured chroma does not guarantee a precise definition.

The artist Richard Cramer, was one of my mentors at University. For many years he focused on making abstract paintings that explored color thresholds. While he later continued the same maticulous approach, his subject changed. First he introduced abstract characters and later narrative scenes emerged.

Richard Cramer, Redbank (detail on the left side) 1975, Acrylic on canvas, 96 x 127 inches.

How Cramer moved from geometric abstraction to a focus on imagery involved a change in thought, a tiping point, or threshold where one type of work led to another. A more recent example of his work can be found below.

Drawing by Richard Cramer, Circa 2000’s

While I am reminded of many other thresholds, even a record titled On the Threshold of a Dream, the birth of my child this summer highlighted another transitional state. Before he was born preparation involved gathering clothes and new furniture. When I saw his new clothes washed and hanging to dry, it felt like a moment on the threshold of birth. However, when the baby arrived under emergency circumstances, I also came to realize that certain thresholds do not have forgone conclusions.

While the outcomes of events can be uncertain, change is a constant and faith can be a source of stability. Fortunately the little boy crossed the threshold, though I know each day is a challenge of its own kind.

Room For Let

The drawing/painting below was started from a scrap of paper found in a puddle on the way to work. The paper appearing at the top of the drawing was a hand written solicitation that became unreadable. I imagined it being about a lost cat or a room for rent. Using the cut marks on this paper, lines were extended and a new territory was added. Within the larger image, a view of interior and exterior space gets combined. Occupants of the building appear and for certain there is at least ‘one room for let’.

Room For Let, Media: Watercolor, ink, and, collage, Size: 16″ x 7 1/4″

Elsewhere, in the detail of the drawing, one sees signs of activity and life on the balcony. Personality almost gets lost when quickly viewing window after window on a tenement building. However, on closer inspection, ultimately a more idiosyncratic identity emerges.


Coat of Arms, Protection For the New Year

As an exercise, I created a coat of arms that was meant to offer a symbolic protection as well as a reminder of key virtues. What began as primarily a written exercise that listed noble qualities became a visual interpretation in which the written part was minimized.

Title: Coat of Arms, Media: Water Color, Ink, & Acrylic Paint, Size: 16″ x 12 1/4″, Date: 2015

At the time I did not know the degree to which the unconscious played a roll in the making of this picture. What began as an image of mountains and towers became a type-rope act. The central tower or totem exhales smoke. The background was a puzzle. I wanted the shield to stand out, but the earthy colors around the edge that offer a contrast also relate to compost and decay (this perhaps a reminder of mortality). There was more anxiety in the picture and in my life than I wanted to admit. While the image is not devoid of charm because of more wide ranging elements, it did not give a clear sense of well being that I was searching for.

Title: Coat of Arms #2, Media: Water Color, Ink, & Collage, Size: 16″ x 12 1/4″, Date: 2016

After realizing an unsettling result, I wanted to try this exercise again. The rounded the edges of the new shield immediately hinted at a warmer result. While an eclectic mixture of subjects were subsequently added, I leaned on brighter colors and made certain the balance was in favor of a more optimistic forward looking protection. Beyond a kind of self therapy this process brought up questions I had:

1. The absence of an explicitly planned outcome means that an unconscious element is at play. Yet, how deep is this connection to the unknown and what is its relation to a wider collective unconscious?

2. While mysteries are uncovered, are they substantial? Do they extend beyond the small mysteries of how a picture comes together (i.e. in a way that is slightly different than the creator would expect)?

3. While not an empirical study (i.e. it is not objective/scientific study or an attempt to recreate a time and place), I see here a process that is related to romanticism. Focusing instead on issues both formal and political, It seems that art in the vanguard of critical attention has largely moved on from a palpable imaginative place. What role does a personal and emotional place represent? Does a lack of interest in this realm mean that while flavorful it is a limited exercise that gets repeated over and over?

Given my belief that a blog post should be a short read, I will not attempt to answer these questions at once. Like the case of making a second coat of arms, sometimes one has to ask questions and be allowed to come back after time for a more precise solutions. Also, This sets up questions and challenges for 2016 that are invigorating and worthy of time.

Ellsworth Kelly (May 31, 1923 – December 27, 2015)

The first time I saw Ellsworth Kelly’s paintings/sculptures I was a high school student visiting Washington DC. The work was direct and palpable. To me the paintings seemed monolithic and akin to the blunt but elegant geometry of the Egyptian Pyramids. I did not know what to make of it. The fact that the work had an author seemed irrelevant. The name Ellsworth Kelly seemed fictional, like a symbol rather than a person I could know. Kelly Ellsworth seemed more accurate. While more informed, years later these feelings lingered. The exact meaning of the shape and color does not hide (there is little attempt at illusion). This caused a mix of pleasure and consternation. While I knew who made the work, color and purity does not have an author.

Now that Kelly has passed away, I am confronted with the question of whether biography matters? I learned that he served in the military and that he studied in Paris. I enjoyed seeing images of him and his studio (here is his New York Times obituary and a recent lecture). With this knowledge, he became a figure of greater depth. While I will never know Ellsworth Kelly personally, I will live with the shapes and colors he fashioned. Kelly’s paintings and sculptures are built from math and precise chroma, but they are also breath. Since I only have pictures, It would be nice to go to Egypt and see if my analogy holds true. However, judging from afar I think there is room to make this connection.

Ellsworth Kelly, “Red Curve.” 1986. Painted aluminum, 120″ x 204″ x 1/2″ (304.8 x 518.2 x 1.3 cm)