In the early 1980s I drew 36 thumbnail sketches of scenes from the traditional ballads in my repertoire. The set of sketches, later made into a little book of sepia ink drawings, were followed by small paintings, more drawings, and ceramics that utilized the ballad images as source material. Around the same time I made recordings of some of the ballads, their tunes somewhat altered from the traditional sources, with harmonization and rhythms of my own devising.The ballads had sparked my imagination in childhood. While listening to the stories they tell, with mood and atmosphere vividly evoked by music and lyric images, I imagined the events of the story as scenes with characters, in effect staging them as a play I could watch with my eyes closed. As I began to sing the ballads myself, this visualization deepened, through repetition, into an articulated virtual otherworld. Each staging of the imagined ballad added detail and clarity to the story, as the motivations of the ballad characters were informed by personal experience. As I became conscious of this process, the ballad project began to take form.
In 1990, just after the premiere performances of The Stone Man, and just as I was beginning to conceptualize The Secret Commonwealth cycle of dance operas, I deluded myself into thinking I could also begin work on a set of 12 large ballad paintings. The object model for these paintings was based on the erotic and mythological images produced by European easel painters before the 20th century. I began with Reynardine, followed by Barbara Ellen and True Thomas. Some aspects of those trial efforts were encouraging, but I had seriously underestimated the amount of time and materials such large paintings require. When it began to look like utter financial ruin, I moved the three canvases to my storage studio and turned my attention to The Secret Commonwealth for the next 13 years, which was challenging enough in its own way. The third part of The Secret Commonwealth, Love & Time, is an expanded version of True Thomas and has within it a compressed version of Ballads of the Barefoot Mind.
But luckily for me my friend Robb was poking around in my old studio and found the first three ballad paintings. He wisely advised me to continue work on the set, an idea which (because one must be cautious about artistic advice) I pretended was absurd. But we did move one of the paintings into my work space, where it remained until Steve Wilson happened to visit my studio. After he and Laura Lee Brown, his wife and art collecting partner, saw the first three paintings they commissioned me to complete the set.
Work on the paintings resumed in 2003 and continued through to the spring of 2006.
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Born in 1959 in Somerset, KY, Dutton resides and works on his family homestead. Aside from Dutton's exhibition of Ballads of the Barefoot Mind at 21c in 2006, Dutton has written and performed the now-renowned performances The Stone Man, which premiered at the Kentucky Center, and The Four Operas of the Secret Commonwealth. The Four Operas was aired on KET between 1995 and 2000, in which one part of the series was nominated for an Emmy.
From Dan's website:
Welcome to the Omnichronic, a webwork of artist Dan Dutton. Here you will find some of the Images (visual art created in various mediums), Sounds (music and spoken poetry), and Stories (written and performed) which form an object that I call The Omnichronic; a time-consuming rhapsody.
I live on a farm in the knobs of Kentucky, USA. My parents were farmers with strong artistic sensibilities. My father was a storyteller and singer who kept a pack of foxhounds especially chosen for their musical voices. This was in the days when the knobs were still a bit wild, and hounds could be loosed to run freely. The fox, my father informed me, was far too clever to be caught by hounds, and played them for fools in his game. He admired foxes and wouldn't have thought of killing one. The hounds lived in a noble state of denial. Fox, hounds, and father; engaged, as he put it, in the sport of kings.
My mother was, and is, a prankster. She told me fairy tales in the oral tradition, freely embellished with subtle intimations aimed at influencing my behavior, and providing us both with amusement and wonder. Some of her pranks have been elaborate and tease the boundary of propriety and reason. I noted this creative freedom from a very early age, and began to mimic it with an aim toward the joy which mastery of such a craft provides.
Both of my parents took great delight in song, word-play, curious events, the beauties of nature, and the foibles of humankind. This led me quite naturally to devote my life to art, a decision which I have had no occasion to regret. My work is at once a satire on the artist's life, and a very sincere pursuit. It is unashamedly a rural and colloquial art, saturated in pretension as all the best of its kind must be.
The finishing touch on the Omnichronic must be a skeletal one, I'm afraid, but I hope that you will enjoy this provisional offering.Review:
A Review of Ballads of the Barefoot Mind CD by Octavia Randolph
Abductions into the realm of Faery. Roses which sprout from the hearts of forsaken lovers - and briars from the hearts of those who spurned them. An English lord who sends his bride away at their wedding feast at the return of his long lost Turkish lover. Crows discussing their next meal. A queen of the Other World who restores her lover to Earth to save his soul and bestows him with a parting gift that he may only speak the truth. Runaway brides who outwit their murderous husbands. Demons vying for souls. Lovers dying for love. And John Henry.
These and other characters haunt the dreams and fill the music of composer/musician Daniel Dutton. His Ballad Project explores some of the most enduring old ballads in the English language folk tradition. At times he takes as his point of departure a traditional tune - and American roots music icon Jean Ritchie has been a long time source of inspiration - but much of the music is his original composition. His original music is fresh, engaging, and memorable, and his mastery of guitar, harpsichord, dulcimer, harp, hurdy-gurdy - not to mention wine glass - serve him well in providing diverse soundscapes. His rich and resonant voice conveys the full range of emotions explored in these ballads, and he employs his impressive guitar work in an equally expressive manner.
But the story of each song is foremost, be it dramatic or humorous, and his arrangement, playing and vocal phrasing makes the most of the inherent action.
Love, death, redemption, and sex are the most basic and eternal of themes, and this is the stuff of The Ballad Project.
Octavia Randolph has long been fascinated with the development, dominance, and decline of the Anglo-Saxon peoples. The path of her research has included disciplines as varied as the study of Anglo-Saxon and Norse runes, and learning to spin with a drop spindle. Her interests have led her to extensive on-site research in England, Denmark, Sweden, Gotland, and Iceland. In addition to her essays and The Circle of Ceridwen Trilogy, she is the author of Ride, a retelling of the story of Lady Godiva.--octavia.net
Once in a lifetime, if you are lucky, you might encounter an artist of the caliber of Daniel Dutton. It has been an honor to know Dan and to collaborate with him during the years since we met in 1992. There are many words to describe the work of this unique artist: fearless, wide open, remarkably complex, deep, versatile, scholarly, richly personal, virtuosic, synthesized, compassionate. Dan is a one-of-a-kind, vital container for the ongoing transmission and interpretation of the ancient ballads. He knows these songs are OURS, they belong to all of us, and yet he is unafraid to make them his own. Coming from a traditional Kentucky farming family, Dan unselfconsciously learned many of the ballads he depicts. He is so bonded to the stories, and so in tune with the characters, that they are a deep part of him just as he is an essential part of this powerful tradition.
To know Dan is to glimpse a purity of spirit not often seen in modern American culture--he is his own product from a rich, rural history which includes an utter lack of materialism, a quest for natural beauty, an artistic mission and scholarship so tightly woven together that most people don t quite know what hit them. Dan combines his intensely thorough and deep study, passionate and prolific artistic drive, brilliant musical understanding and prowess, and an exquisite ability to express all of this in writing.
In his work, the period of history being addressed is so long that it becomes timeless and we understand Dan s work as simply a powerful portrayal of humanity. Whether you are listening to Dan s musical interpretations of the old ballads, reading a scholarly cultural essay, gazing at one of his giant paintings, or even perhaps sitting in one of his many three-dimensional creations, you are entering the world of a rare and fascinating artist.
Aubrey started playing music at the age of five when she tapped out Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush on the piano. Her only formal musical training was the seven years of classical piano lessons that followed. Near the end of high school, she started to play the guitar and sing popular folk songs of the '60s and '70s. At Brown University, she studied psychology, history, and French, and played often in coffeehouses and campus rallies.
After Aubrey met her husband, Elwood Donnelly, at the Stone Soup Coffeehouse in Providence, her career developed dramatically. They formed a duo, Atwater-Donnelly, in the fall of 1987, which quickly gained regional and national recognition and popularity. Atwater-Donnelly specializes in American and Celtic traditional folk music as well as original songs, and since 1987 Aubrey has learned to play the Irish tin whistle, Appalachian mountain dulcimer, old-time banjo, and a variety of small percussion instruments. The duo performs widely in the United States in coffeehouses and concert series, festivals, radio stations, cable television, colleges, libraries, and other events. Their recordings also receive international air play.--atwater-donnelly.com
Monumental, narrative, and enclosed in heavy frames of carved and painted wood, Dan Dutton's cycle of twelve ballad paintings appears like something from another time, another place. The ballads themselves, of course, do come to us via Dutton's new recordings from ages past, from the early settlements of the Appalachian Mountains and, in advance of their appearance in the New World, from ancient England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
Some of these lyrics, or at least the tales they tell equally antique, can be traced to the towns and villages of West Africa. The actual maturity of these songs is tempered by their having been adopted in more recent times as signifiers of an ideal past. In nineteenth-century Great Britain, the ballads, along with other manifestations of folk culture, were resurrected by poets and painters in search of a remedy to industrialization s ruination of land and culture.
More recently, the 1960s folk revival in America adopted this body of songs as part of a back-to-the-land ethos that implicitly questioned the advances of modernity. So, as much as we might like to see and feel these works as part of the fabric of the present moment; as Dutton hopes we will we do so only with the knowledge that they are weighted not only with imagery from the past but with the very idea of the past itself.
Stylistically, his paintings share a nineteenth-century English penchant for pattern and decoration. It was common to the coterie that developed around William Morris, for example, to give as much attention to the frame as to the image. Art and craft for Morris and his followers were not estranged and their union was seen as signifying the union of art and life.
Dutton's anthology of ballads grows out of a conviction akin to these artists, that in the past lie the seeds of salvation for our time. While Morris bravely sought to transform contemporary society with his ante-industrial ethos, Dutton perhaps more keenly sees that the only path left for the utopian soul today is the path of the hermit.
Despite all I have said concerning the past in Dutton's ballad paintings, there is a current in them that flows in the opposite direction. Perhaps it is more apparent in the ballad recordings themselves, in which one clearly hears a tone of voice that is immediate and familiar. In his singing, Dutton never affects an archaic style. Instead he sounds like someone who has just put down their cell phone or taken your order at Starbucks. His voice is recognizably of our time, as is his instrumentation. The ancient ballad lyrics are transformed and sung to us in a voice we can understand.
Lawrence Rinder was appointed Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Curator of Contemporary Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art in May 2000. He was chief curator of the 2002 Whitney Biennial, served as an advisor on the 1991 and 1993 Biennials, and was one of six curators of the 2000 Biennial.
Prior to his position at the Whitney, Rinder was founding director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. From 1988 to 1998, he worked at the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM) in a variety of positions including curator of 20th-century art and curator of the museum's MATRIX program, an ongoing series of contemporary art exhibitions.
Rinder received a BA in art from Reed College and an MA in art history from Hunter College. He has held teaching positions at UC Berkeley and Deep Springs College and is currently Dean of Graduate Studies at California College of the Arts.--Ballads of the Barefoot Mind
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