Images that Evoke Memories

July 28, 2014

Scat Jazz Lounge, Fort Worth, Texas

Scat Jazz Lounge, Fort Worth, Texas

Every true artist has been inspired more by the beauty of lines and color and the relationships between them than by the concrete subject of the picture.

Piet Mondrian

A few years ago, I paused one night in a Fort Worth alley and photographed the lighted sign of this sub street-level jazz club.  Finally I am getting around to painting it, because the brightness of the lights and color against the smoky brick walls attracted my attention, and took my imagination back to my pre-literate childhood.  

My father worked at a Chevrolet dealership on Kingshighway in St. Louis when I was a small child. I cannot shake those memories of the lit-up signs downtown that I was not yet old enough to read. And I still recall those smoke-stained brick walls everywhere, colored by the downtown smog. The eyes of my memory still can see the signs, hear the traffic, and smell the stench of burn barrels on virtually every corner of that working-class district.  

The first time I saw Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie, I knew I wanted to attempt to paint neon signs and light bulb signs in watercolor.  The clash of the primay colors was always scintillating to my visual perceptions.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Working on the Fort Worth Scat Jazz Lounge Sign

July 26, 2014

Saturday Work on the Jazz Watercolor

Saturday Work on the Jazz Watercolor

Wallace Stevens is America’s great poet of the endles cycles of desire and despair.

PBS, Voices and Visions, “Wallace Stevens: Man Made Out of Words”

I could never have planned a better Saturday.  The light is bright coming through my studio windows, and I’m finding it a pleasant challenge distnguishing cool yellow light bulbs from the warm yellow sign from which they protrude.  This is calling for quite a bit of experimenting and study in color theory, but I love the exploration.  When I’m learning something new, I am inspired as an artist.

On days like today, I find it difficult, deciding between painting and reading.  Wallace Stevens and his poetry have been burning on my mind since the awakening hour this morning.  Fortunately, PBS has posted their Voices and Visions series on the Internet, and I have been thrilled listening to the readings of Stevens’s poetry during this sixty-minute documentary.  I played it through completely, twice, as I bent over this watercolor and made decisions.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

The Affirming Embrace of a Saturday Morning

July 26, 2014

Coffee: the Perfect Companion in the Art Studio

Coffee: the Perfect Companion in the Art Studio

For I have known them all already, known them all:–

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

July 26, 1992 marks one of the more perfect days of my earthly odyssey, especially when I measure out my life with coffee spoons.  That historic day was spent in Oregon, as I neared the finish of a blissful five-week seminar on the writings of Emerson, Thoreau and Margaret Fuller. To mark today’s anniversary, I’ve decided to begin with a cup of Hood River Coffee.  I ordered the beans from that company in Portland, Oregon, and was pleased to receive them on my doorstep yesterday.  This is only the second time in twenty-two years that I have ordered from them, but believe I’ll make a practice of it from here on out.  And today I will let the memories of Oregon, the mountains, the tall trees, the Pacific coast and the writings of those three bards flood my soul while I work on watercolor, read, scribble in the journal, and know from the heart the gratitude of feeling fully alive.

More later . . . thanks for reading.  It’s a beautiful Saturday in Texas.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not really alone.

 

The Coleridge Syndrome

July 25, 2014

Slow Excavation on this Large Watercolor

Slow Excavation on this Large Watercolor

I must forge ahead, and stop only to finish the Velasquez.  The human mind is strangely made!  I would have consented, I believe, to work at it perched on a belfry; now I can think of the finishing of it only as the greatest bore.  All this, simply because I have been away from it for so long.

Eugene Delacroix, Journal

I read somewhere that Samuel Taylor Coleridge was criticized on two fronts: 1) that he was a dreamy child given to long spells of contemplation, making him an easy target for accusations of indolence, and 2) as a writing adult, his room was perpetually littered with unfinished literary projects.  Today, as I let out a sigh, looking at a number of my unfinished watercolors, I was bemused to come across this quote from Delacroix as I was reading in his journals.  How hard it is to breathe life back into a work of art that has lost its initial spirit due to neglect.  I enjoyed lunch with a good friend and colleague earlier today, and we shared a laugh about our A.D.D. tendencies (he also has more interests than time to devote to all of them fairly).  Both of us admitted that we wish we were better “finishers” in all our endeavors, but we do enjoy our lives and all these avenues that seem to present themselves to us simultaneously.  Thank God for these three-day summer weekends.

There is a thick crust that must be broken before I can take heart in anything; a rebellious piece of ground that resists the ploughshare and the hoe.  But with a little tenacity, its unfriendliness suddenly vanishes.  It is prodigal with flowers and with fruit.

Delacroix, Journal

I know very well this “thick crust” of which Delacroix wrote.  After a few days, I finally feel that a sense of momentum is returning on this large Fort Worth Jazz piece I began a few months ago. Returning to it has required some strong talk and even stronger coffee, but I’m glad I stayed with it. The detailing on the sign is coming along very slowly, with plenty of stops and walks across the studio to view it from a distance and see if what I am doing is O.K.  Not having a deadline is a good thing for me right now, and I’m glad to take my time and watch this develop slowly and naturally.

I wish that I could write interesting things about the Logic course I’m developing, as it’s taking large chunks out of my day.  I am loving the study of it, but cannot find a way to rhapsodize about the subject in my writing.  So I’ll just let that one simmer in the background.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Musings on the Storm-Free Area and the Chambered Nautilus

July 24, 2014

Large Watercolor in Progress of Fort Worth's Scat Jazz Lounge

Large Watercolor in Progress of Fort Worth’s Scat Jazz Lounge

There is a great virtue in such an isolation.  It permits a fair interval for thought.  That is, what I call thinking, which is mainly scribbling.  It has always been during the act of scribbling that I have gotten most of my satisfactions.

William Carlos Williams, Autobiography

Kerouac escapes this encircling loss in the act of writing.

Howard Cunnell, “Fast This Time: Jack Kerouac and the Writing of On the Road

The past few days, because of my understanding that Jack Kerouac was fascinated with Melville’s writing, I turned to a copy of the original scroll of On the Road and have been reading introductory articles on the manuscript, and re-reading portions of the Tom Clark biography of Kerouac.  Many agree that his longing for the American road was a response to his sense of loss due to the breakup of his family life (death of brother and father along with his own early divorce). Thoreau himself intimated that his move to Walden Pond was a search for something lost.

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove, and am still on their trail.  Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to.  I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

For most of my life, I have been enthralled with the sense of the personal odyssey, and have myself benefited from many American road excursions.  But honestly, at this juncture in my life, I don’t really need the road; I have memories, photos and journals that pull up the past as often as I choose.  But I am pursuing the odyssey of the mind inside my newly reorganized home, and enjoying what feels like limitless space and extensive free time.  I think what I have been seeking recently is what the German scholars of the nineteenth century called a Sturmfreies Gebiet, storm-free area.  This was sought by Descartes, Hume, Emerson, Thoreau, Tillich, Kerouac, and a host of our revered luminaries, a storm-free area where one is safe to come to some sort of self-understanding.  William Carlos Williams found great satisfaction scribbling thoughts and poetic fragments on his prescription pads while on the road to make house calls, or pounding the typewriter in his office when patients weren’t lined up and waiting.

While pondering these matters over the past couple of days, I happened across “The Chambered Nautilus,” by Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Though I’ve read this piece several times throughout my life, I never really “got it” until this evening, when it washed over my soul with fresh revelatory power.  Having grown up in the shadow of the Prostestant pulpit, I came under the conviction quite early in life that there is a power in that word, that oracle that comes when the hearer is ready, when the teachable moment has arrived.  When the student is ready, the master will appear.  I guess I was ready this evening.  I had decided to go to a local Starbuck’s with an armload of books and my journal, and sit in the outside cafe with some iced coffee and a sense of anticipation that something could happen.  It did.

“The Chambered Nautilus” is Holmes’s meditation of a mollusk that has died and can no longer expand its chambers.  They now lie open to him, and he gets a sense of its developing natural history by examining the chambers in the house it’s left behind.  As I pored over these words, my soul poured out nine handwritten pages in my journal.  What a rush!  It led me to Emerson’s essay “Circles” and to Whitman’s poem “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”  I felt my entire being stirred from within as I felt the cooling carresses and kisses of the evening winds sweeping across the nearby prairie and across my cafe seating area.  It was truly a delicious night.

Now, back at home, I feel my heart stirred with gratitude at this gift received this evening, and in the spirit of the chambered nautilus, I wish to continue expanding new chambers in my existence as I continually read new things, think new thoughts, and try to figure out this wondrous gift called Life.

Oh yeah, the painting!  Posted above is what I worked on after summer school and before the oracle stirred me at Starbuck’s.  I finally got some texturing accomplished on the right side with the bricks, and tried to scratch in some grooves to show the lines of the bricks.  I then turned my attention to the sign, carefully painting in the red fluorescent tubing within the letters, along with the shadows cast and the brackets securing them.  This of course took a great deal of time, but I am in no hurry with it.

And now, I still have to continue working on material for this new online Logic course I’ll teach this fall at a nearby university.  The things I’m learning in that area are also opening up a new chamber of thought within me, and I’m grateful for that as well.  I’m delighted that this mollusk hasn’t yet perished.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Only One Thing Matters

July 22, 2014

Second Evening on the Scat Lounge

Second Evening on the Scat Lounge

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and distraught over many things.  Ony one thing matters.  Mary has chosen that good portion, and it will not be taken from her.

Jesus (Luke 10:41-42)

-You city folk worry about a lotta shit. . . . Y’all come up here about the same age.   Same problems.  Spend about fifty weeks a year gettin’ knots in your rope.  Then you think two weeks up here’ll untie ‘em for you.   None of you get it.  Do you know what the secret of life is?

- No. What?

- This.

- Your finger?

-One thing.  Just one thing.  You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.

-That’s great, but… what’s the one thing?

-That’s what you gotta figure out.

Dialogue between Curly and Mitch, (City Slickers)

This morning, as I sought to untie a few knots, I looked up the passage about Jesus visiting in the home of Mary and Martha, and then read a fine Paul Tillich sermon on the text, titled “Our Ultimate Concern.”  As I wrote in my journal and pondered on the one thing that matters, I recalled the scene from the motion picture City Slickers that made me laugh many years ago.  Yesterday’s thoughts about Captain Ahab’s challenge to “strke through the mask” was still fresh on my heart, and I began to write about the values that matter to me now at this age, and how much they have been challenged over the decades.  It seems that much of our hitting against that mask is an attempt to clarify what it is exactly that matters to each of us.

At this point, I’m not going to address what matters in my life, but encourage anyone who reads to consider what matters most in his or her life, and try to keep it in perspective when other distractions demand attention to the diminishment of that one thing which matters.  What Martha did in the gospel story was important, but so was that which Mary chose.  I feel that readers of the story too often try to take sides between the two.  Jesus didn’t do that–he only admonished the one criticizing that the source of her angst lay in the reality that she was responding to too many stimuli; only one thing matters.  Emerson addressed this problem as well, saying that oftentimes we try to answer to everything around us that demands our attention, and that action only manages to “scatter our force.”

The painting posted above appears as though not much has happend to it in the past twenty-four hours.  Actually there has been substantial work added.  I spent a good portion of the afternoon layering transparent wash on about fifty percent of the surface (right-hand side) and then salting, spritzing and drawing into the wet surface.  It will take awhile for me to get these brick textures to do what I want them to do.  But I’m feeling confident and in control of this one, though I’m still aware of how much slower it’s going, due to the overall size of the composition.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Strike Through that Mask!

July 21, 2014

Strike Through that Mask!.

Strike Through that Mask!

July 21, 2014

Progress on a Large Watercolor of Fort Worth's Jazz Scat Lounge

Progress on a Large Watercolor of Fort Worth’s Scat Jazz Lounge

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks.  But in each event–in the living act, the undoubted deed–there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.  If man will strike, strike through the mask!

Moby Dick, Captain Ahab’s speech

Nothing auspicious loomed on my radar this morning when I sat down to breakfast around 6:40.  It was Monday, the beginning of another week of summer school was waiting, fifty minutes around the corner.  I had Moby Dick lying open beside my plate and was reading while slowly chewing bites of breakfast.  I had to stop and close the book when I read this passage, ideas swarmed so thickly I could scarcely begin to process them.  I wished for an hour at my writing desk, but had to dash to school to be on time for a 7:30 class.

For nearly thirty years, I have patiently pointed out to anyone who would listen, in the lecture rooms or in the lounges, the scaffolding of Platonist thought in literature.  Plato’s split-world view was divided between Ideas and Appearances, the former permanent and spiritual, the latter ephemeral and physical.  And the transcendent ideas provide the scaffolding for the physical appearances.  In this dramatic confrontation in Moby Dick, Captain Ahab publicly confronts a reluctant Starbuck who protests that selfishly seeking revenge on a white whale is impractical business.  Ahab twice retorts that Starbuck inhabits a “little lower layer”–the realm of money, measurement, accounting and computing.  This layer is only a portion of the pasteboard mask that hides the real intelligence lurking behind it.  I heard Ahab shouting at me when he cried out: “If man will strike, strike through the mask!”  

All dissatisfaction that arises from life today springs from our efforts to “strike through that mask.”  What is the mask, the wall, the barrier, standing between us and what we seek?  I shudder every semester when my philosophy class reads and discusses Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”  The one prisoner breaks his chains, and rises to the world of truth.  The class discussion can turn lively when students begin to discuss the chains that bind us, the masks that fool us.  The human predicament is the quest for something more, only to find out that that “something more” was a mask, and not what we really thought we were seeking.  There is so much to ponder here.  What is the nature of the mask through which we are challenged to strike?

Tonight I am posting a watercolor that I began a month or two ago and revived this afternoon.  Large works do tend to intimidate me, but it doesn’t take long to feel that I have gotten up to my elbows comfortably, wading around inside this composition.  All of my work this afternoon has been on the sign, and it’s not going fast, but I’m enjoying the process so far.  As I work, I listen gladly to PBS documentaries of various poets (the Voices and Visions series), and feel such a connection with Wallace Stevens, working in an insurance firm, but working on poems in his mind his entire life, while most of his surrounding colleagues remained unaware of the reality that was driving him.  He was constantly striking through the mask.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Memories Arriving in Layers, Like Waves

July 19, 2014

Relaxing on the Oregon Coast among the Rocks

Relaxing on the Oregon Coast among the Rocks, July 26, 1992

The ocean is the ultimate earth mother,I mean the constant change of the tides, its relation to the moon, the sound of it rolling back and forth—it’s almost too beautiful.  And I regard being on the water during the summer as my substitute for a Parisian café, and I can sit there by the hour.  It is certainly not profound, but it’s—I enjoy it.  All artists are voyeurs, not people of action.

Robert Motherwell (interview)

Sleep did not come easily last night.  My mind continually drifted over what I had been reading in Moby Dick.  Decades ago, I scoffed that I had probably been a whaler in a former life.  The legend of Moby Dick has always resonated with me, as have thoughts about life in nineteenth-century New England, though I have never even been to the coast in that region; Concord, Massachusetts is as close as I ever got.  

When I awoke this morning, my first thoughts recalled a 1990 summer afternoon in rural Waxahachie, Texas, when I gazed across a vast field bathed in the golden glow of the afternoon sun.  I was spending the day at an annual Renaissance Festival, Scarborough Faire, and as my mind drifted, I heard the voice of a storyteller entertaining an audience of children with a seafaring tale.  He was shouting in the dialect that I was reading in those days from Herman Melville short stories, and recalling that sound today makes me think of the settings in New Bedford and Nantucket.  I felt on that afternoon in 1990 that I was being transported far back to another era, another space, and the undulating meadow before me was turning into a rolling ocean.

Growing up in the Midwest, I never even saw an ocean until I was thirty-eight years old, in 1992.  I landed in the Pacific Northwest for a five-week study in New England Transcendentalism at Oregon State University.  My plane touched down in Portland, and my rental car took me westward to the coast for that first look at the vast, sprawling Pacific.  Above, I have posted a photo taken of me on Sunday, July 26, as I relaxed for a day on the coast, reading from Emerson and Thoreau, and listening to the thunder of the tides crashing against the cliffs that enclosed me.

Throughout this Saturday, I have not shaken off these deep feelings induced by Melville and personal memories.  I pulled my volumes of journals and read all my handwritten entries from that month spent in Oregon, as well as the dawn I sat on the beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, six years later, translating The Iliad and reading from Thoreau’s Walden.  Today has been a day of ocean memories, and I have gladly been enveloped by an ocean of space and time–no appointments, no agenda–just reading, reflecting, recalling.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Stirring of the Muses on a Friday Night

July 18, 2014

Historic Flatiron Building in Fort Worth, Texas

Historic Flatiron Building in Fort Worth, Texas

I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Aaron Copland plays “Appalachian Spring” as I sit up late on a Friday night, with a desire to think, to write, to be.  The day started beautifully at 6:00 a.m., with no school to go and teach.  I love the three-day weekends of summer school.  I sat in my living room and watched through the open blinds the dawn breaking across my backyard while I re-read chapter two of Thoreau’s Walden,“Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.”  I love his salute to Aurora and the beautiful meditations about the dawn being the heroic age–that all intelligences awake with the dawn.  The chapter marked a delicious start to the day.  Following Thoreau, I then turned to Proust and to Melville, reading for well over an hour before rising to enter the kitchen and make breakfast.  Following breakfast I worked a long time in the watercolor studio, mostly finishing up abandoned work that had piled up the past couple of months.

To begin this delicious night in my darkened studio, Marcel Proust delivered beautiful images in Swann’s Way.  The young narrator is smitten by the sight of a girl with a fair complexion and azure eyes.  The mere sight of her overpowers his eyes at the same time the hawthorns are flooding his senses.  He cannot separate the beauty of the two.  How many of us still recall those first instances of romantic love and how we lost all bearings?  What a marvelous gift it would be to set such a profound experience down in prose as Proust managed to do.

In Moby Dick, after 120 pages, Captain Ahab finally emerged into view, and what a powerful force his presence exerted on his surrounding environment.  Like the solid bronze of Cellini’s Perseus, he towers above his ship and crew, the mere sight of him with no accompanying speech evoking a sense of genuine awe from the narrator.  His aggressive gesture toward second mate Stubb rattled the otherwise stalwart officer, leaving the bemused fellow wondering what it was exactly that evoked such a fear from him.

With sadness, I resumed reading a biography of Jack Kerouac by Tom Clark.  I read the book several years ago, then lent it out and never got it back.  So now I’m reading a newly purchased copy, re-highlighting, etc., and of course, am very surprised at how much of the content I have already forgotten from the first reading.  The details of Kerouac’s migratory life always leave me with the same kind of disturbed thoughts that I get from reading about Hemingway: these men had such a passion for disciplined writing that always drives me to find another gear to crank out work, no matter how tired or discouraged I may become in my own life and work.  They truly induce me to work even harder in my research, thinking and writing.  But the misery of both these men brings me to such overwhelming sadness.  I’m glad I never mixed alcohol with my life’s work—I am not able to identify with that problem on a gut-level.  But the despondency, the self-doubt, the second-guessing—that kind of a hell I have known all-too-well, and don’t like to visit or re-visit.  And it hurts deeply every time I read these details in their life’s work.

This afternoon, I was deeply moved, listening to a trio of thirty-minute lectures from The Teaching Company.  I have been so fortunate to receive a number of these lecture sets, first in VHS and later in DVD, from a number of dear friends and occasionally from one of those “can’t miss” sales that the company offers.  One lecture was from Daren Staloff (“Hegel—History and Historicism”), and the other two from Daniel N. Robinson (“The Idea of Freedom” and “Human History as the Unfolding of the Ideal: The Hegelians”).  The lectures prompted me to draw out a volume placed in my hands earlier this year by our remarkable school librarian, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  Anyone familiar with this volume is no doubt grinning already, but I am actually getting enough from the text to stay with it.  Hegel’s mind was Faustian in the way he incorporated and excerpted virtually everything he studied throughout his lengthy life, and then fashioned all that knowledge into a comprehensive system.  His mind reminds me very much of that of Paul Tillich, with that interdisciplinary drive, and of course I have always wanted to be that way.  So, tonight I also spent some more time working over Hegel’s text and recording observations in my journal.

Last night I took out my Latin grammars and workbooks and resumed a project I started in 2003, but abandoned on three subsequent occasions.  Eleven years later, I still cannot read Latin, but love and respect the language and am now finding myself devoting some summer evenings to working on my vocabulary and grammar exercises, and pulling out occasional texts from one of my Loeb Classical Library volumes as well as my Biblia Sacra Vulgata.  Tonight marks my second consecutive night working in the Latin text.  I had always hoped I could work this language as I do the ancient Greek, but alas, I took many semesters of Greek and it stayed with me fortunately.  Latin was never available in the schools I attended.  I love the line from Byron’s Beppo:

I love the language, that soft bastard Latin,

Which melts like kisses from a female mouth.

All of tonight has been given to reading, note-taking and writing.  I did manage today to finish a number of watercolor projects that had been abandoned over the past months.  Above, I have posted my finished product of the historic flatiron building on the south side of downtown Fort Worth, Texas.  I don’t know why I had laid it aside for so long, but now I’m glad it’s finished and has been delivered to the Weiler House Fine Art Gallery.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 


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