Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hogtown Hussies & Omnibus Gents

October 29, 2015
   I'm researching a gunfight in Tascosa, Texas and I must say, Fred Nolan's wonderful book "Tascosa: Its Life and Gaudy Times" is a much overlooked gem. In fact, I poached a segment in the book about the amazingly named soiled doves in that area and have expanded it for an upcoming True West Moment.

Hogtown Hussies
   In the Old West there were numerous notorious settlements called Hogtown, which was derogatory slang for a gaggle of whore houses. Near Tascosa, Texas in the 1880s was perhaps the wildest of the Hogtowns with shady ladies who had names to match the town's sobriquet: "Frog Lip Sadie," "Panhandle Nan," "Slippery Sue," "Box Car Jane," "Mustang May," "Feather Legs" Gauntz, "Rocking Chair Em," "Frenchy" McCormick and my personal favorite, "Bronco Bride."

Daily Whip Out: "Hogtown Hussies"

    When I was in Paris last month I bought a book of old photographs. I love the old styles, especially the stiff collars and the rake of this derby.

 Daily Whip Out: "Paris Omnibus Gent, 1900"

"Virtue is the lack of adequate temptation."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Quien Es? Quien Sabe?

October 28, 2015
   Chuck Parsons is doing a book on Jack Helm and wants a dust jacket. I asked for a description of the lawman (there are no known photos) and Chuck said he was described as "heavy chested, dark beard and arrogant." Went home for lunch and whipped this out.

Daily Whip Out: "Jack Helm Hard Charger"

   As we dig deeper into the croquet photo controversy I am struck by the sheer splitting of hairs nature of the discussion. I have a hunch the Kid himself would laugh at us all.

 Daily Whip Out: "Quien Es, Quien Sabe."

"In the first act, you get your hero up a tree.
In the second act, you throw rocks at him.
In the third act, you let him down."

—George Abbott

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Canyon Rider & Two-fisted Law

October 27, 2015
  Went home for lunch and finished a little study  I started before our trip to Pasadena last week.

Daily Whip Out: "Canyon Rider"

I've been cleaning and learning to let go (see quote, below) and, of course running across little gems, like this little postcard which I bought for a buck back in 1971 at Wylie's Leather in Tucson.

Tim McCoy postcard: "Two Fisted Law"

   Here's the irony. When I bought this show card, it was of a movie that was, at that time, 45-50 years old. And today, the card is 45 years old. The card is as old as the movie was at the time I bought it. Groovy, no?

   Let goooooooooooo. . .

 "The greatest step toward a life of simplicity is to learn to let go."
—Steve Maraboli

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Bobbing for Bobby Cakes

October 24, 2015
   Got the babysitting assignment last week and dropped everything to head for Pasadena to hang out with this guy.

"Broccoli. Again? Seriously?"

   This morning we went to a Halloween Festival and Weston got to bob for apples with a babe, okay, a classmate of his, but she was a little princess babe.

Weston Bobbing for Apples With A Princess Babe

They also had these nifty little apple peelers and Weston dug that more than anything else:

The Apple Peelers

If he looks like he has a mustache, this is because we tried to dress him as a cowboy with a mustache, but he was having none of that. In fact, we were lucky to get pants on him.

"Why is that Baby Boomer so angry?"

"When one teaches, two learn."
—Robert Anson Heinlein

Friday, October 23, 2015

My Very First Billy the Kid Art Show

October 23, 2015
   It was 23 years ago today I premiered my first graphic novel, "The Illustrated Life & Times of Billy the Kid" at Suzanne Brown's Art Gallery in Oldtown Scottsdale, Arizona.

October 23, 1992, Suzanne Brown Galleries, Scottsdale, Arizona

   Thanks to my production assistant, Julie Sigwart, we got a big write up in the Arizona Republic (she was working for me at nights and for the Republic during the day. Or, was it the other way around?). Tri Star Printing actually delivered 200 books to the gallery at six o'clock, that's how tight the schedule was. Sold those in about a half hour. Had about 1,500 people, sold most of the artwork. In 1996 we came out with the second edition, which was heavily redone with new photos and illustrations and this is the one most people have today. There are still first editions floating around (I kept one box) and they go for a pretty penny.

   Hard to believe we're approaching the quarter century mark on the art and the book. The gallery is gone as is Suzanne, but the legend of both lives on. I saw her take a painting that wasn't selling, move it to another wall, double the price and it would sell. Now THAT'S an art.

   That was a long way back, and I have so far to go. Wonder what the old vaqueros have to say about this?

"Always concentrate on how far you've come, rather than how far you have left to go."
—Old Vaquero saying

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Food For Thought

October 22, 21015
   Leave it to the Arizona State Fair to combine foods that really don't go together, or that a cardiologist wouldn't recommend ever going near, but, well, it's the state fair and these things are expected.

• Chocolate Covered Chicharrónes (Bacon A-Fair)

• Chicken Fried Bacon (Bacon A-Fair)

• Southwest BLT Indian Fry Bread - Indian Fry Bread served with hickory smoked bacon, lettuce, fire roasted salsa and homemade chipotle mayo topping (B & J Concessions)

• Bacon Wrapped Pork Belly - Premium pork belly rubbed with sage and rosemary and wrapped with 2 feet of thick cut honey smoked bacon on-a-stick. (Biggys 1 & 2)

• Frosted Flake Fried Chicken (Get Pickled O Petes)

• The Koolicle - a Kool-aide infused pickle (Get Pickled O Petes)

• Deep Fried Nachos - nacho cheese inside of piping hot orbs of crispy nacho goodness bursting with nacho flavors. Can be topped with guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños and cheese. (Tater Twister)

"We literally dig our graves with our teeth."
—Old Vaquero saying

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Billy Looks Back

October 21, 2015
   Woke up this morning thinking about Billy and the Regulators after the Big Killing when they split up and went their separate ways, with the Kid heading for Tascosa, Texas.

 Daily Whip Out: "Billy Looks Back" or "Leaving All That Behind."

   I'm doing a Classic Gunfight that happened in Tascosa, Texas in 1883, so that weighed into my whip out. Dug out Fred Nolan's excellent book, "Tascosa: It's Life and Guady Times."

"People love to admit they have bad handwriting or that they can't do math. And they will readily admit to being awkward: 'I'm such a klutz!' But they will never admit to having a poor sense of humor or being a bad driver."
—George Carlin

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Vicious Little Cop Killer

October 20, 2015
   Last night I was watching the second half of the "Billy the Kid: New Evidence" show on Nat Geo when our house guest said, "He was nothing more than a vicious little cop killer." I realized at that moment we shouldn't hold our breath for a Billy book from the talented author (hint: she's a policeman's daughter) who gave us both "Doc" and "Epitaph."

Daily Whip Out: "The Kid and His Silver City Pards."

    Here is our house guest with Kathy this morning.

Kathy and Mary Doria Russell

   Afterwards, I drove her over to Ken Amorosano's house to do a taping for our documentary on Wyatt Earp In Hollywood: The Untold Story. Mary was in Tombstone the other day for a book signing when the accidental gunfight broke out on Allen Street and two people were wounded by actual gunfire. I have to say it was a tad ironic when the mayor of Tombstone said the shooting was "unprecedented." As the home of the O.K. Corral street fight, I don't that is true.

"Until you make peace with who you are, you will never be content with what you have."
—Doris Mortman

Monday, October 19, 2015

Close Encounters of The Kid Kind

October 19, 2015
   Ever sit around and wonder if the Billy the Kid Bermuda Triangle actually exists and is it still sucking us all into its vortex?

Daily Whip Out: "Billy Just Keeps On Riding"

   I must say that Kid has certainly turned my world upside down. I can't go into that triangle without something strange happening.

 Daily Whip Out: "Close Encounters of The Kid Kind."

   Watched the Nat Geo show on the croquet photo and actually enjoyed parts of it. I thought the re-enactment of the photo, moving back and forth from color to sepia, complete with movement, was impressive. And it does look more than a little bit like the Kid.

   My gut tells me it's not New Mexico, but that's just my eye.

   The costuming was excellent, best Billy-stoved-in-hat yet.

   Of course, I have issues with some of the history re-enactments, especially the killing of Tunstall, which was embarrassingly wrong.

   I heard through the grapevine that they already have two buyers interested (and neither is Bill Koch). I have asked the producer to write up his defense of the photo and we will do a point-counterpoint on this so readers can decide for themselves, once and for all,who to believe.

"History is a cruel trick played on the dead by the living."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Friday, October 16, 2015

Impressions and Sketches vs. Finished Masterpieces

October 16, 2015
   One of the things that appealed to van Gogh, and most of the Impressionists is the idea that a sketch can sometimes be more powerful than a finished piece.

Daily Whip Out: "Sketch of Rene Secretan" 

      The French Impressionists of the 1880s were reacting to the official Salon—The Art Establishment—which dictated what was a finished piece of art. Here's what van Gogh had to say about that: "What has impressed me most on seeing paintings by the old Dutch masters again is the fact that they were generally painted quickly. Not only that: if the effect was good, it stood. Above all, I admired hands painted by Rembrandt and Hals, hands that were alive though they were not finished in the sense that is being insisted on nowadays."

   Van Gogh also liked to quote his hero Delacroix who suggested that a hasty sketch might be more effective and alive than the finished product. This was the main sticking point with the Impressionists against the Salon. Van Gogh and his comrades were rebelling against the "established" rules of the game. It wasn't their subjects that offended the art establishment, it was the perceived sloppiness and unfinished quality that upset the professionals so much.

   The same thing happens in music. Imagine what trained musicians thought the first time they heard "Cinnamon Girl" by Neil Young. "He can't sing, it's three chords and off-key falsetto yelling. This goes against everything I have been trained to achieve." And yet, "Cinnamon Girl" still has incredible power several decades later. In fact, it's as impactful, to me, as it was the first time I heard it. The same is true of many of van Gogh's paintings.

   So, what we all strive for in our sketches is aliveness of line and the overall effect which we try to do as quickly as we can. Toulouse Lautrec believed that if his hand stopped moving, the drawing would die. That's what I tried to achieve in the above sketch. On the second pass, I tightened it down a notch, trying to control the image to achieve a likeness (or, at least how I imagine the young punk who shot van Gogh might have looked, based on his photo as an old man).

 Daily Whip Out: "Rene Secretan Study #2"

   Did I ruin it? Of course!

"A dreamer of pictures, I run in the night, I can be happy the rest of my life with my Cinnamon Girl."
—Neil Young, Cinnamon Girl

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Life Lessons From Vincent van Gogh

October 15, 2015
   I've been chasing The Redheaded Madman for two months now and, so far, here are the takeaways for me:

Daily Whp Out: "Life Lessons From Vincent Van Gogh"

    In the 1880s virtually all the known world hated Vincent van Gogh's artwork. His own mother called his art "ridiculous" (even after he started to become famous) and he sold only one painting while he lived. Today, of course, his paintings are valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars and he is considered one of the father's of modern art. The VG lesson: Be careful what you condemn. 

   Two different women remembered van Gogh coming to their house when they were kids and drawing pictures of their families and then leaving the drawings as gifts. In both cases the kids got up the next day and used the paper as kindling for a fire in the fireplace. Those were very expensive fires. The VG lesson: Be careful what you burn (includes bridges).


Daily Whip Out: "Van Gogh In The Asylum"

   After his second meltdown in the Yellow House at Arles, Vincent was placed in an insane asylum south of nearby San Remy. He was kept in a room with bars on the windows and he had several relapses and "attacks" while he was there but he continued to paint, although he was assigned a "handler" to watch him at all times (Vincent at times ate his paints during attacks and was a danger to himself). One can imagine what the handler thought of the strange scenes Vincent painted (short answer: not much). And yet, today, thousands of people a year make the trek to the asylum at San Paul to see where Vincent painted some of his most famous paintings. VG  Life Lesson: If a nut house is revered today as a holy site, don't worry about your current habitat in the world.

 The entrance to the insane asylum near San Remy, France that is today a mecca for art lovers.

Van Gogh's room at the asylum. Note bars on windows.

"There are some things one can only achieve by a deliberate leap in the opposite direction. One has to go abroad to find the home one has lost."
—Franz Kafka

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My Poor Discarded Baby

October 14, 2015
   Drove across the London Bridge this morning. Last time I was here was in 1978 when the Razz Band performed on the beach for the Sigma Pis. One drunk Pi kept requesting "Out of Time" by The Stones and Hans Olson must have sang it 10 times.

Scene of Razz Band gig #247

When I opened the blinds in my room at the Nautical Inn and saw this cove, all the lyrics came flooding back. "You don't know what's goin' on, you been away for far too long. . ."

Sent the photo to Dan Harshberger, the Sigma Pi, who got us the gig, and he says, "I remember it well. I'm thinking it had to be 'Buck' that requested it. He liked that song and 'Hey, Joe' was another fave of his."

The Razz Band, circa '79

You don't know what's going on
You've been away for far too long
You can't come back and think you are still mine
You're out of touch, my baby
My poor discarded baby
I said, baby, baby, baby, you're out of time

—The Rolling Stones

Monday, October 12, 2015

Putrid Dogs and Million Dollar Kindling

October 12, 2015
   Many artists do not like to have people watch them draw. I am one of them. When Mrs. Bonelli would come around in sixth grade to see how we were doing in art class, I would shield my drawing with my right arm to cover my work. I was hiding my work from criticism and judgement. It takes a special breed of cat to enjoy drawing in public. Steve Benson is one member of my tribe who seems to enjoy it. The longtime Arizona Republic editorial cartoonist told me he once even did a stint as a mall artist, plying his wares by doing quick cartoon portraits of passersby for $10 and $20. That takes a certain kind of confidence and bravery I don't have.

   That's why Vincent van Gogh's fearlessness at drawing in public is breathtaking. He reported in letters to his brother Theo that when he was drawing on the streets of The Hague, he would constantly get catcalls and unwanted criticism. One time a ruffian spit tobacco juice on his drawing as he was working. All the jerk's pals laughed.

    As he got older and crazier, Kids threw rocks at him and played terrible tricks on him, like putting a snake in his paintbox when he wasn't looking.

   When Vincent was traveling he often spent the night at a random home that would take him in and he would invariably draw pictures of the kids to leave as a token payment for his appreciation of their hospitality. More than one old woman who was interviewed in the 1920s, when asked what they did with van Gogh's drawings, reported, "We used the paper as kindling for our fireplace."

Daily Whip Out: "Putrid Dogs and Million Dollar Kindling

   When Vincent attended a university class in drawing at Antwerp in 1886, he set up his easel and attacked his sketchbook with a ferocity that took the other student's breath away. When the professor, Charles Verlat, came in and looked at what Vincent was drawing, he thundered, "Who are you?" Van Gogh answered, "Well, I am Vincent, a Dutchman."

   The teacher was aghast. "I cannot correct such putrid dogs! My boy, go quickly to the drawing class." Vincent gathered his gear and left the class in humiliation.

   But his humiliation wasn't just confined to the classroom. On the streets of The Hague, people mocked him as he tried to work. "They laughed at me," Vincent wrote, "and made fun of me."

   But until the day he died, he never stopped going out in public to draw and paint. For this alone, he has my admiration.

   "In spite of everything I shall rise again. I will take up my pencil."
—Vincent van Gogh

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Scene of The Crime

October 11, 2015
   It had to hurt. Had to hurt like a mother.

Daily Whip Out: "Cutting Off His Ear"

  It's interesting to me that van Gogh actually painted the scene of the crime less than two months before the deed was done. This is the actual spot where Vincent cut off his ear:

"The Bedroom," Scene of the crime: note the washstand and mirror
on the left side of this painting of van Gogh's bedroom in the Yellow House.
Some see the razor on the wash stand, but I do not.

Daily Whip Out: "The Slice Heard 'Round The World"

   In fact, Vincent also painted the spot where he confronted Paul Gauguin before the cut:

Crime Scene, Exhibit B: Vincent confronted Gauguin
at the lower left of this painting, as the latter walked towards
the gates to the brothel neighborhood of Arles.

"Vincent is working himself to death."
—Paul Gauguin in a letter to his wife, prior to the events of December 23, 1888

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Bloody Gift to Remember

October 10, 2015
  Starvation, absinth abuse, raging syphilis symptoms and delusional expectations have taken their toll on the mind of Vincent van Gogh. "Vincent has been turning very strange," Gauguin told a friend. 

   On the evening of December 23, 1888 Gauguin said he was going out. Because of rain and bad weather, the two artists had been cooped up in the Yellow House for several days. As Gauguin walked across the public park towards the ancient gates of Arles, he heard someone behind him walking quickly. He turned and what he saw scared him.

Daily Whip Out: "The Face of Madness"

"You are going to leave?" Vincent demanded.

"Yes," Gauguin said.

   Without another word, van Gogh stepped forward and handed Gauguin a story from the day's newspaper and pointed to the last line, "Le meurtrier a pris la fuite"—the murderer has fled.

   Perhaps Vincent meant that Gauguin was murdering the dream of an artist colony in the south of France. Perhaps he meant it literally, "Hey, dude, you're killing me here." Either way, it was passing strange, as they used to say in my hometown.

   Gauguin walked on and Vincent fled into the darkness. Van Gogh never could recall the specifics of what happened next, only that he was having "mental fevers" and hallucinations. He returned to the Yellow House and climbed the stairs to his bedroom, going to the corner where the washstand stood. When he looked in the mirror he saw only one thing: The Wretched Loser who had failed his family, killed his father, all but bankrupted his brother and blown the artist colony he so desperately wanted to build in Arles. And so he pulled out a straight razor, grabbed the ear lobe of the Loser and pulled it straight out, and sliced off his ear at about the midpoint, cutting diagonally, clear to the jaw. The gristle at the end was a little tough, but he got it.

Madness And Bullfights
    Before Gauguin had arrived in Arles, van Gogh had gone to the bull fights and was impressed with the Spanish pageantry and especially the tradition. He even painted a picture of it. One of the traditions is that at the end of the bull fight the matador presents the ears of the bull to someone in the audience, usually a woman. Van Gogh took his severed ear, wrapped up in a newspaper (perhaps the one with the article he showed to Gauguin?) like a piece of deli meat, and walked it to a brothel and asked to see "Gaby," a stage name of an "actress" named Rachel, who was one of Gauguin's favorites. The bouncer would not let him in, so he handed the package to the bouncer and asked him to take it to Rachel with the words, "Remember me."

   I think it's safe to say she never forgot him or that gift!

   Bleeding like a stuck pig, Vincent returned to the Yellow House. Later, Gauguin wrote that the entire house was covered in blood and the whole town showed up and he, Paul Gauguin, was arrested for the bloody deed.

When we were leaving Arles, I took this photograph of the park Paul Gauguin was walking thru on December 23rd, 1888 on his way to the brothels, beyond the ancient gates of Arles just beyond the signs. This is about where he was when he heard something behind him. The whore houses were down one of the streets that veer off from the Roman guard towers (behind the signs).

And, by the way, Gauguin was the last person to see Vincent with two, intact ears.

"If you are going to be an artist people remember you need to stand out."
—Old Gallery Owner edict

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Eerie Ear Deal

October 9, 2015
   It is my humble opinion that in the long, bizarre history of the world, the Vincent van Gogh "ear deal" is by far the strangest, most outrageous act an artist has ever pulled off. Suffer for your art, yeh, been done a bunch, even by me. Die for your art? Thought about it, got a good night's sleep and moved on. But cut off your EAR? That is just off the charts crazy. How in the world did he even think of this, much less, consider doing it? Here's the lead up to the bloody event:

Daily Whip Out: "Van Gogh's Eerie Ear, Take III"

   In August of 1888 Vincent was painting up a storm in his Yellow House, in the south of France, anticipating the arrival of fellow artist Paul Gauguin, so they could join forces and begin creating an artistic utopia of shared vision and a solid front. "If we have [Gauguin]," he wrote Theo, "we can't lose."

Losing It, Part I
   But the former stockbroker with a family of six to support, had other ideas. In fact, Gauguin began making noises that he wouldn't come to Arles to join Vincent.  This amped up Van Gogh's already frail nervous system as he started working even harder in the daytime, plying himself with endless cups of coffee, sometimes laced with rum, and then capping off his long days in the evenings with absinth. "If the storm roars too loudly," he wrote Theo, "I take a glass too many to stun myself." He also punished himself with starvation (something he used to to do in his missionary days) and he cut off his beard and shaved his head. Strike one.

Dark Clouds Ahead
   Into this jagged mess of a mental state, Vincent received news that his rich uncle Cent (also named Vincent but everyone called him Cent for short) had died and in his last will and testament he lavished large sums of money on family and even distant relatives, but he ripped his nephew a new one in his will: "I want to make the clear statement that it is my intention that Vincent Willem van Gogh, oldest son of my brother Theodorus van Gogh, will have no share of my estate." Strike two.

The Silver Lining Paintbook
   In the midst of this turmoil, Vincent painted his "Sunflowers" and "Starry Night On The Rhome River," and "The Poet." Masterpieces all. But he will pay a terrible price for his over-heated exertions. 

The Loser Has Landed
   After almost a year of promising, Gauguin finally shows up at the Yellow House and the conflicts begin immediately. Gauguin complains about the cold, the wind and the miserable food. He hates the color of the house: "Shit, shit, everything is yellow," he complains. Gauguin believes in slow and deliberate work, turning out three paintings where Vincent churns out a dozen. Gauguin doesn't believe in painting from real life, but rather conjuring images in his imagination. He mocks Vincent's "Night Cafe" by painting his own version, totally done from his imagination and never spending a second with easel on the exact location. Van Gogh is crushed (both are excellent paintings with Vincent getting a little extra juice out of the subject, in my opinion). By mid-December, Gauguin has had enough and dropped the bomb, "I am obliged to return to Paris," he wrote Theo, and with that, all of Vincent's dreams of an artistic collective went up in smoke. Strike three.

"A canvas needs to be seduced; but van Gogh, he, he raped it."
 —The Zouave Milliet
Coming Next: The slash and burn

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Painting Like A Child

October 8, 2015
   To those who think Vincent van Gogh could not draw well, check out this early portrait:

Vincent van Gogh's "Portrait of A Man." (1886-87)

     As you can see, Vincent obviously had talent. He clearly knew how to do a proper portrait. When I first saw this painting, I thought it was by Degas, that's how good it is. But van Gogh wanted more. He, and his fellow Impressionists were "repelled by the dogmatic inflexibility of the official custodians of art" and were seeking new ways to draw and paint. One of their stated goals was to "paint like a child." Gauguin actually said this. Later, Picasso said something like, "it took me a lifetime to learn to paint like a child." One of the main reasons for this was the photograph, which when you think about it, was an early form of technology usurping human effort. A bigtime disruptor. Prior to the rise of photography, the artist owned visual representations of life. But that game was rapidly being taken over by the camera, the machine. And by the 1880s all the artists were clamoring to find a new way to  paint so they could differentiate themselves from a photograph. They were literally running away from photographs!

   So Vincent goes south (figuratively and literally) to find a new way to paint and by the time he stumbles back to Auvers in 1889, his portraits look like this:

Vincent van Gogh, "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" (1890)

   As you can clearly see, this is definitely in the zone of painting like a child. It's not one of my favorite van Gogh paintings because it goes too far into the child zone, i.e. abstraction, but who am I to judge? This painting recently sold to a private collector (who didn't want his name known) for 185 million Euros (that's $200 million bucks American).

   In the Twentieth Century art got even more "childish" and as more people became educated to the van Gogh story, everyone became over-sensitized (in my opinion) to images that didn't look like "art." They (we) were afraid they might be missing the next van Gogh. In the eighties, in particular, you have galleries and buyers snapping up artists who showed absolutely no skill at art (in the traditional sense) but the buyers were afraid they were going to miss the next van Gogh.

   Fast forward to our trip to Montmarte two weeks ago to find the apartment at 54 Rue Lepic where Vincent lived for a time with his brother Theo. On top of the hill in Montmarte are a couple streets of cozy shops overrun by a swarm of "artists" who accost all the tourists, they encounter, demanding, really, to allow them to do a "portrait." I especially stood out with my cowboy hat and I found myself fending off dozens of them with a gruff "No thanks." But, late in the day, as the girls were shopping for shoes, this one female artist (okay, she was cute) got in under my defenses by walking up to me and saying, "Oh, look at this cowboy, I'm going to practice on him," and she started to sketch without my permission. I should have told her to go take a hike but I didn't. As she continued to draw, her fellow "artists" came up and looked over her shoulder, assuring me I was going to love what she was doing. I thought to myself, well maybe she is the next van Gogh. Who knows?

   $20 later she showed me the results:

The next van Gogh?

"Art is whatever you can get away with."
—Old Masters Saying

The Passing of A True Friend

October 8, 2015
   It was a year ago today, we lost a fast and true friend:

The last photo I took of Charles Richard Waters.

    This was taken at a Mexican food restaurant in Kingman, where we all met after the funeral for his brother-in-law, Joe Lopez. We made big plans that day to get together in Henderson in the coming months, but it never happened. The book project, "The 66 Kid" happened (which Charlie edited) and then he got too sick from the chemo and then, before I knew it, he was gone.

   When we were in France two weeks ago, we (the Harshbergers and Kathy) toasted him on several ocassions. Thought of him more than once, as we walked by the spot near the Notre Dame where Charlie and I posed with berets on to send to Steve Burford, who was enamored of the "The Seine," a Hootenany song the Burf insisted on singing in our rock band, The Exits.

Linda, BBB, Kathy and Charles in Paris, 2010 at our favorite basement cafe when I had to abridge his infamous nickname "No Way Charlie" to "Charles Way," because he not only showed up in France but said yes to almost everything we wanted to do.

   Here's the six of us at Morro Bay, California after Deena's wedding.

   He was one of the best things to ever come out of Kingman, Arizona. Miss the boy.

"A true friend is someone who knows all your faults and likes you anyway."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Van Gogh by The Numbers: Read 'Em And Weep

October 7, 2015
   Interesting that no one to my knowledge has attempted to illustrate Vincent van Gogh's mutilated ear. He evidently made no effort to cover it and several who saw it at Auvers claimed it looked like a "gorilla's ear." And that it looked "mangled." Of course, he didn't cut off the entire year, but sliced off the lower half, at an angle. Here is my first attempt to capture this weird deformity:

Daily Whip Out: "Vincent's Eerie Half-Ear"

Van Gogh By The Numbers

1,300 number of known drawings

850 number of known paintings

800 number of letters to family members that survive (Vincent regularly burned Theo's letters after   reading them).

1 number of paintings sold ("Red Vineyards at Arles," 1888)

23 number of places he lived, including 3 different places in England, 10 places in Holland, 6 places in Belgium and 4 in France.

4 number of languages he spoke: Dutch, German, English and French.

93 number of publications by 1973 that had attempted to diagnose van Gogh's illness; 13 suggested schizophrenia, 13 predicted epilepsy, 5 proposed both. Others pointed to alcohol, absynthe and syphilis. Some chose a combo of all the above. Today the popular culprits seem to be a bi-polar condition with "temporal lobe epilepsy." And the syphilis and the alcohol—and absynthe—exacerbated everything else.

10 number of years he actually attempted to be an artist.

37 his age when he died.

200 million dollars, the price paid for one painting, "Portrait of Dr. Gachet," 1890.

Daily Whip Out: "Van Gogh By the Numbers"

Read 'em and weep
   Tragic numbers. Too sad, but then that's why he is an icon and legend. Take out the cutting off of the ear and would he be as big a deal? Nope. Take out his tragic death? Nope. Take out the fact that the world hated his paintings at the time? Nope. It all plays together to form what Ingo Walther recognized as "the staggering simplicity of his paintings."

"My pictures are of no value; though of course they cost me a very great deal, at times even my blood and my brain."
—Vincent van Gogh

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

To Be Or Not to Be van Gogh

October 6, 2015
   The first person I remember accusing me of painting like van Gogh was this guy:

BBB with Buck Taylor at the last Festival of The West (2013).

  I believe his actual comment was "you are the van Gogh of Western art." Perhaps he meant I don't draw very good, but I took it as a complement. And speaking of drawing good, I believe Vincent gets a bad rap on his draftsmanship (one critic claims part of Vincents attraction is his "amateurish" drawing skills that make him accessible to the average person). I do think he stripped everything down to the basics, and some of the paintings look a bit cartoonish, but I don't buy that he couldn't draw well. Van Gogh could do very accurate renderings when he chose to do them, but what he really wanted to do was capture emotion and the way to do that is to paint fiercely and quickly, details be damned.

   I'm not trying to be like van Gogh, or paint like him, I'm trying to learn from him. How did he break new ground? How did he get past the academics of drawing and painting as it had been done for the previous 500 years?

"Do not follow me. Seek what I sought."
—Old Masters Saying

  For one thing, he had tremendous passion for his subjects. Add to that a restlessness and indefatigable wonder that led to "storms of zeal" and you get an inkling of his enduring appeal (and why I like him so). His "inexplicable fierceness" transformed him into a fanatic. That, of course, had a downside. Almost everyone dismissed his art as "the work of a madman." One critic described his distorted forms and shocking colors as the "product of a sick mind."

   Van Gogh also had a very strong work ethic, starting out on the road at 5 a.m. with his canvas, tubes of paint, brushes, on his back, wandering far and wide, in the wind and rain, painting all day until sunset. He did this in a fury of intent. Those who knew him said he even read the newspaper "in a fury."

Daily Whip Out: "He Even Read The Newspaper 'In A Fury'"

   He also had a deep nostalgia for the past. For that alone, I admire him and relate to his efforts more than most other painters. He thought earlier eras were better, and more pure than his own. Ditto.

   On the other hand, his parents would not allow their children to read the cowboy-and-Indian stories coming out of America in the 1870s. They deemed them as "too rousing" for a proper upbringing. Given where this story is headed, that is a dark and ironic foreshadowing.

   His own family described him as "obstinate," "unruly," "hard to deal with," "a queer one," "a difficult temper," and with "strange manners." Even the family maid weighed in: she criticized him as "troublesome" and "contrary," and branded him as "the least pleasant" of the Van Gogh children.

   Is there any wonder why I love the guy?

"I am a fanatic!"
—Vincent van Gogh

Monday, October 05, 2015

What Did The Killer of Van Gogh Look Like?

October 5, 2015
   So, what did the 16-year-old punk and Buffalo Bill wannabe, Rene Secretan, actually look like? The Louvre in Paris found a sketch, done by van Gogh, which is a crude, quick sketch of a young kid (possibly too young) with a big hat on. The authors of "Van Gogh The Life," ran it with this caption, "head of a Boy with Broad-Brimmed Hat (probably Rene Secretan)."

 I have my doubts, but I have utilized that sketch to build on a possible likeness:

Rare BBB faux-tintype of Rene Secretan

Thanks to research by Gay Mathis, here is the provenance on the pistol that surfaced: In the 1950s, a rusty revolver was discovered buried in a field just behind the Château d’Auvers, where Van Gogh is said to have shot himself. An examination suggested that it had been in the soil for 60 to 80 years. The gun was discovered close to the Chemin des Berthelées, the spot painted by Dr Gachet’s son in 1904, in a picture he entitled Auvers, the area where Vincent committed suicide. The revolver was found just beyond the low farmhouses in the centre of the painting.

That would be this scene with the Expert from Auvers pointing at the murder site.

   This actually makes some sense. That Rene buried the pistol, or hid it near the shooting site as the boys fled the scene.

   Good to be back in my studio working. One of the depressing observations from the trip is the fact that you really don't see anyone reading newspapers like you used to in the old days, say 2005, or so. This realization led to this:

Daily Whip Out: "Folding Newspapers"

"Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know."
—Pema Chodron

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Demise of The Redheaded Madman

October 3, 2015
    Got home last night after traveling more than 12,000 miles on my quest to find the truth about the demise of the The Redheaded Madman. Got up this morning with my head chocked full of van Gogh and headed out for a walk and this is the sight that greeted me.

Ratcliff Ridge this morning at about 6 a.m.

   And this:

Old Stage Road at sunrise as the storm moves in (started raining around nine).

   I saw plenty of sky on our travels, but none compared to this. 

  Now, back to the mystery of van Gogh's death. Many versions refer to the artist shooting himself "in the chest," but Dr. Gachet's report said the bullet entered his abdomen just "below the ribs." That is not a chest wound and actually supports the theory that Vincent was shot in an accidental way by someone else. Who shoots themselves in the side? Add to that the police report that the shot was fired "too far out" for Vincent to have pulled the trigger and you have a strong case—at least anecdotally—for the Buffalo Bill wannabe shooting Vincent by accident. That said, we should look at a motive for suicide and it's not hard to find one.

The Case for Suicide
   As interesting and intriguing as the suspicious events surrounding the van Gogh shooting are, there is ample evidence of a suicide motive. Vincent returned to the north of France from his incarceration in the mental institution outside San Remy, a mere three months earlier. He viewed it as a return to the north, towards his home in Holland, and he began a series of paintings he called "remembrances of the north" where he revisited scenes from his early days and transposed them to the lovely farmland around Auvers.
   As usual, he had an agenda: to woo his brother into leaving Paris and moving to Auvers Sur Oise where they could create the family he has been lacking since before his move to Arles. He has been exiled even from his fellow exiles (Gauguin, et al) and he is, once again, alone in a strange town,  But this time it's different. Theo is having financial troubles, wants to quit his job where he feels unappreciated, and their baby (named for Vincent) is sick and the mother, Jo, is stressed when van Gogh comes by train to visit, he sees all this and realizes the worst: he is a burden to his brother. He feels trapped. What can he do to help? 

   Well, exactly a year before, in July of 1889, a painting by his hero Millet had just sold for a record amount—a half million francs—because Millet had died. It's the old saw but a fact of life in the art world: dead artists sell better than live ones.

   He went back to Auvers and borrowed a gun from the inn keeper, hiked up the hill west of town, along the perimeter fence of the Auvers Chateau, shot himself, but botched it and walked back to his room at the inn and died two days later.

   It doesn't quite fit—the shot in the side, the angle, etc.—but it does make sense, emotionally. He does have the motive.

   For years, the pistol was never found (nor any of Vincent's art supplies which he carried with him) but about five years ago, the pistol surfaced. I don't know the details yet, but will report it when I find out.

Thanks to Gay Mathis for locating images online of the alleged pistol used in the shooting of van Gogh. Dealing with Old West weapons I am very suspect of this "find," and need to find out more about the provenance of it.

Did he? Or, didn't he?

   I was searching for a photo of Rene Secretan and, instead, found this take on why the murder of van Gogh is not sexy:

"Myth is all. Suicide makes a better sales point than death-by-yokel."

And this:

"We need closure. We need the myth of the crazy, tormented, self-destructive artist to convince us that painters, poets, and musicians are all nuts, so their larger-than-life lives can continue to offer escapism from the bourgeois armchair of our own lack of freedom. And also, paradoxically,  make us feel relieved we are not artists. In our dreams, van Gogh must commit suicide, otherwise the story doesn’t have legs."
—John Perreault, author of both quotes

As usual, this is about half-right. As Kathy put it, "John Lennon was murdered and it doesn't diminish his artistry." Touche m' lady.

"Now I think I know, what you tried to say to me and how you suffered for your sanity and how you tried to set it free.  They weren't listening, they're not listening still....perhaps they never will."
—Don McClean, "Vincent" on the American Pie album