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Thursday, May 28, 2020

In Memoriam: Duane Ivan Todman

A recent unfinished self-portrait by Duane Todman
It is with great sadness that I recount the death of Duane Ivan Todman, a 27-year-old multi-talented artist who was shot by an unknown assailant in Schenectady last Saturday.

Duane and I became acquainted two or three years ago when we met during a reception at Albany Center Gallery. He struck me immediately as an unusually serious person who was deeply thoughtful and very dedicated to his artistic pursuits. He showed an interest in having input from me, and we proceeded to talk from time to time about his pursuit of a career as a neo-Renaissance painter.

One of those talks took place in his studio at The Barn in Albany, where Duane also lived. Having lived in my own studio for many years when I was younger, this was a very comfortable experience, leavened with philosophical discussion and casual critique of his current work, which included portraits, still lifes, and figures.

Duane made great progress in his technique during the few years I knew him, and regularly told me he was seeking the right studio school in which to hone his skill. Apparently, he was about to realize that next step in his dream, as an obituary in today's Times Union reports that Duane had won a scholarship to the Academy of Realist Art Boston, and was set to go there next year.

Duane also was reported to have been working on a book, a screenplay, and musical recordings.

In our last email communications, which took place in March, Duane mentioned the book project and asked me if I'd be willing to read a first draft, to which I enthusiastically agreed; however, he hadn't yet followed up on that, so I never learned what the book was about.

At that time, he also sent me images of two paintings, one finished and one in progress, which I include with this post. As you can see, they are both excellent. Based on the strength of these paintings, I initiated an attempt to connect Duane with a New York City-area dealer of African American painters, but that had not yet borne fruit - perhaps stalled by the intensity of the pandemic in that area.

Now, with one brutal and senseless act, all that promise is gone, and we are left to grapple with the loss of this fine young man. One can only hope that Duane's killer is brought swiftly to justice, and that his family can temper their grief. May he forever rest in peace.

A recent figurative painting by Duane Todman

Monday, May 18, 2020

My favorite musician

Corinne Bailey Rae performs on a recent tour.
If Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell had a baby, she would be Corinne Bailey Rae.

This British singer-songwriter is that unique, and that good.

I became an instant fan in 2006, while watching the great and too-short-lived TV series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, in which Howie Mandel, portraying himself as the guest host of a fictional Saturday Night Live-type show, introduced Bailey Rae as the episode's guest musical artist. As she launched into Like a Star, the camera only lingered on Bailey Rae for about 10 seconds before pulling back to the drama of the program's fictional characters. But, by then, I was totally hooked.

Debut album cover
Sure, I wasn't alone - that year's debut album launched two big hits (Like a Star and Put Your Records On), got a bunch of nominations, and sold millions of copies, as did her second album, The Sea, from 2010. Eventually she won a couple of Grammys, one for a Mitchell song she recorded with Herbie Hancock, and several of her songs make up the soundtrack of the film Venus, in which Peter O'Toole created a role that nearly won him the Best Actor Oscar he so richly deserved throughout his career but never won.

Album #2: The Sea
Still, she is greatly underappreciated. This may be due to the challenge of today's extremely individualized or (conversely) overgeneralized commercial music market. Wikipedia has Bailey Rae categorized in the R&B and neo soul genres - as close as you're going to get, but far from the complete picture. She is really not a soul singer, but being bi-racial (and therefore perceived as black) probably pushes that label forward; neither is she a folk singer, but you could just as easily go there.

Third album cover
Maybe uncategorizable, but I'd probably choose pop as the nearest description, because it captures the infectiousness of her every song, and it's vague enough not to exclude the variations in style she easily embraces. Her lyrics have poetry, and charm, and bite. Her tunes are often atmospheric, though more than a few are also totally danceable. What it comes down to is that nearly impossible feat: She is an original.

I think Bailey Rae's third album, 2016's The Heart Speaks in Whispers, is even better than the other two, not a surprise for an artist of great talent who takes long breaks between releases. I find myself still listening to it often, and still getting new feelings from it each time. Live, she exudes a joy that is absolutely radiant, yes, like the sun. If you want to see what I mean, check out this NPR tiny desk concert.

I'm in awe. Just wanted to share that!

Bailey Rae performs at NPR in 2016