Sousa’s Resurrection Retreat

Sousa’s Resurrection — from the Invocational series

Some paintings are like the geology of the Earth, and you have to paint large or you lose the work you have in sight on your mind’s visual horizon. This one now resides at the Lake Marion, South Carolina home of two of my oldest friends, one of whom bought his first painting from me when we were still in our teens at USC.

Begun after 9/11/01, and finished to replace another triptych of the same size that I had sold in Columbia, SC a year and a half before at an Osmosis exhibit, this one sprang from current events coupled with the remembrance of an earlier time, the turn of the 20th century, when Theodore Roosevelt was president and John Philip Sousa’s martial music marched across America with pomp and circumstance to spare.

I think I first posted an image of this painting on Facebook back in 2013. I was living in Jerome, Arizona at the time, and it was then already 12 years old. That was a long period of invisibility; by rights, if a painting is never seen it denies its own existence, and it had disappeared fast. It was sold almost as soon as I finished it, therefore I wasn’t allowed much time to absorb its presence after being completed. For the last year off and on, I’ve been living in close proximity to it again while on a prolonged visit to South Carolina, my native state. It’s allowed me a number of visual dialogues revisiting the way I was painting in 2001, when I finished this work now very nearly 18 years ago. It is art history of my own making. It’s older than digital natives. And it’s laden with coded sequences of marks, numerals, and image transfers. It’s a dark painting, not only in terms of hues and values, but what I was thinking as I created it. It was an aesthetic juxtaposition on the nature of presidents, music, and war.


The office of President is a great one; to every true American it seems the greatest on earth. And to me, as I was engaged in weaving a background of music for the pageantry of it, there came a deeper realization of the effect of that office on the man.” ≈ John Philip Sousa


It is, after all, honoring a great American composer, who lent his talents and ebullient enthusiasms to a martial cadence of mind. He was a contemporary of one of my favorite presidents, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt is not a favorite because I agree with all of his policies, actions, or beliefs. The reason has to do with his being progressive, decisive, intelligent, and extraordinarily capable as both a writer and president. All of which made him a very dangerous man in a dangerous time at the dawn of the 20th century. Couple that dynamic with the bombastic music of John Philip Sousa, and we experienced a number of years of living dangerously. But not foolishly.

It’s an interesting thing to revisit old work; it’s similar to seeing an old friend after some time. You can recall the motions, the strokes, the thoughts of when the conversation began. Right before you stands the evidence of all your moves as a painter 18 years prior. You look for things, for you remember being somewhat cryptic in the manner in which you composed the elements. You know that you placed nearly subliminal marks and glazed them into harmony with the 80 or so layers of paint you applied. This painting is a parable. In that same manner is the nature of the conversations I’ve had with it when I was at Santee.

It’s also allowed me to consider the small Hybrid works I’ve been working on while here, for it was one of the last Invocational paintings; I had wanted to end the series with a bang, along with drums and trombone fanfare. I welded it together from constituent parts and elements of the many paintings which preceded it. Small images applied to it’s surface as the layers worked their way physically up to the final surface were tried and true veterans of that entire series of Invocationals, as well as methods and symbols I had developed from the Sandhills and Moab series of non-objective paintings, both of which were still in full throttle as I closed out the Invocationals. In this way this painting is a hybrid work, and I clearly remember being very aware I was doing exactly that: hybridizing previous works. So in that sense, this is the beginning of where I am now, some 18 years after the final brushstroke was laid upon it in 2001. In the Hybrid series, the final works to come as I process forward all of the preliminary pieces will be large, like this one, composed and built from smaller ones, graduating to larger scale with each pass.

While having been here in South Carolina, I’ve only been able to create smaller component works, sections and studies. Preliminary pieces and maquettes. Sketches and photos. And many digital composites in Photoshop. The real work will begin in earnest in New Mexico, back in my studio, and after I’ve built and primed the larger panels, making them ready to paint.

On my last visit to Santee, I sat down again in front of Sousa’s dark cadence and knew that the conversation would soon draw to a close. Through studying it again ideas and remedies began a dance of resolute moves, much like a tango which seems wild and chaotic but in reality is very structured in essence. I’ll see it again before I leave for the West. I expect it will be a short conversation by then, with a thank you to it’s original purpose coupled with a smile as I walk away.

Nothing is finer than a good beginning, even though it has at times seemed mired in a slow-motion burst from the starting gate.

Tom

Almost born on the hospital steps of Camden in a rush to be on time...