Attended a Play Tonight

October 20, 2014

“Both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply poignant, “Superior Donuts” celebrates the human spirit. It’s as simple and complicated as that.”

– Ann Holt, Jackson Citizen Patriot

Playbill plus my Rapid Sketch of the Set

Playbill plus my Rapid Sketch of the Set

Today was a grinder of a day.  I taught three art history classes on ancient Greek sculpture (loving every minute of each), then returned to school late this afternoon to grade a backlog of journals and essays, dashed down the street to my favorite Cafe Acapulco for a quick Mexican dinner, then back to school to catch the final performance of Martin Theater’s Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts–a deeply-moving play set in a rundown Chicago donut shop.  I was seated about ten minutes before lights out, and managed a quick, quick pencil sketch in my Moleskine journal of the set.  The three-hour production was deeply moving and cathartic, as all excellent plays are, and the high school cast performed masterfully.  I will never forget the experience of tonight.

It’s late and I need to retire for some quality sleep.  But I wanted to share this moment with whomever reads, so thanks always for reading.  I am inspired to return to the brush, thanks largely to tonight’s performance on the stage.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Walking in the Cool Dawn

October 19, 2014
In the Morning, After the Walk

In the Morning, After the Walk

When a traveler asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answerd, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.”

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

This morning was a one-of-a-kind, considering I had trouble sleeping throughout the night.  Before dawn, I arose, found out it was 59 degrees outside, and decided to greet the Texas morning with a brisk two-mile walk through the sleeping neighborhood.  Words cannot record the delicious aspects of this encounter.

Returning to my study, I pulled Thoreau’s Natural History Essays from my shelf, and read an essay I hadn’t read since I studied at Oregon State University in the summer of 1992.  Where did all that time go?  Nietzsche always told his readers never to trust thoughts that were not born out in the open air, while walking about.  He is right.  I have spent the duration of this morning in the study, writing with delight the thoughts and observations that surged through my conscious being as I sauntered across my neighborhood.  More to come later . . .

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.

Friday Night Respite

October 17, 2014
A New Greeting Card Featuring John Dryden

A New Greeting Card Featuring John Dryden

Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how.  The moment you know how, you begin to die a little.  The artist never entirely knows.  We guess.  We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.

Agnes de Mille

My mind still second-guesses my decision to stay home on a Friday night and grade online college homework that was backing up.  But I did.  And I’m happy now to see an empty file on my Blackboard.  What surprises me even more is that I moved from that chore to cleaning up my dwelling place, which took even longer.  But now I can relax.  I have my last craft show in Arlington for this year, in the morning beginning at 9:00.  It is a one-day affair, and indoors. I went drove there late this afternoon and set up my booth, so all is ready.  As I was reaching for a book and heading for a comfy chair, I suddently realized that this blog has lay dormant since last weekend.  So, I decided to post one of my brand-new greeting cards.  Years ago I created a series of collages featuring my personal intellectual heroes from the world of literature, theology and philosophy.  I even put some of them on a greeting card, but never put a text on the backside, until this week.  Now I have a quantity of 5 x 7″ cards (collage image as well as tribute text) featuring Dryden, Shakespeare, Locke, Berkeley, Whitman, T. S. Eliot, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Einstein, Paul Tillich and Dickens.  I’ll be bringing them out into the public for the first time tomorrow at the fair.  I have a number of additional collage compositions ready for greeting card format, but I’ve decided to hold them back until I put a tribute on the back of each of them as well–Proust, Kant, Hegel, Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Tennyson and Poe.

This week has been wild and woolly for me, but not interesting enough to post details.  Suffice it to say that high school and college kept my plate full every day and every night, and it wasn’t much fun.  I read almost nothing outside my preparations for all the classes.  And I graded for hours and hours.  I’m just glad to have those details swept clean, to have a festival to attend tomorrow, and the rest of the week open.  Whether I read, journal, paint, or do all three, remains to be seen.  But I’m really happy I spent Friday night tidying up these annoying details in order to set myself free for another 48 hours or so.

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.

Kaleidoscopic Moments in Archer City, Texas

October 13, 2014

Coffee Mug from Larry McMurtry's Booked Up Inc. store

Coffee Mug from Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up Inc. Booskstore

While seated in Murn’s Cafe in Archer City, waiting for dinner, I was reading David McCullough’s “Introduction” to the book A Writer’s Eye: Field Notes and Watercolors by Paul Horgan.  While visiting with Horgan in his living room, McCullough noticed a large, beautiful topaz from India the size of a golf ball.  It was a gift from Senator Moynihan.

“Paul told me to put it to my eye and suddenly everything remarkable about the room was made infinitely more so, a magic multiple of images, vivid, full of surprise, and everything bathed in the gemstone’s own warm, clear light.  To call the effect kaleidoscopic is not enough.  The room was transformed.

It is what he has done with his life’s work.  He is his own kind of Moynihan topaz, transforming the world around with his warmth, his clarity, his gifts of observation and brilliant command of language.”

This metaphor left me breathless.  For most of my life since graduate school, I have wanted to construct a kaleidoscopic world view from my reading, my art, my thinking, my teaching and my journaling.  At my present age, I no longer feel jealousy when I read of the success of writers/artists such as Paul Horgan; instead I am fueled by inspiration from their examples. Today I marvel at the contributions of giants such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Paul Tillich, Sigmund Freud, T. S. Eliot (I pause because I am leaving out myriads of geniuses, but you get what I mean) . . . thinkers who moved beyond the conventional wisdom and facts distributed in their classrooms and lecture halls and had the courage to synthesize from a plethora of sources–literary, theological, aesthetic, musical, etc.  And the more I come in contact with the gifts of these fertile minds, the more I want to put out a few of my own.  I would love to weave my own kaleidoscope, symphony, fabric or composition from disparate sources and create something attractive.

Leaving the cafe, I was surprised at the thunderclaps that seemed to shake the old buildings on my block.  I dashed into my hotel room, retrieved my watercolor supplies, and took up a seat under the awning in the front of the Spur Hotel.  Looking out upon the darkening western horizon, I chose to do a quick watercolor sketch of the antique store and cafe across the street where I had just conducted my morning business.

Murns Cafe

Archer City Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

After about an hour, I decided to quit, because the winds were getting cold, though the temperatures were only in the low-sixties.  My short-sleeved Tshirt was not getting it done for me.  Bundling up with additional layers from my room, I next decided to walk along Highway 79 and follow up on an abandoned gas station that I painted over a year ago.  I found the front door still intact, and was in the mood to work with charcoal and sketchbook. I found a large rock under the awning, about ten freet from the front entrance, so I assumed a comfortable sitting position and worked quickly on this subject.

doorknob

I still kick myself that I do not sketch enough, on site or otherwise.  I just don’t sketch.  I always go directly to watercolor, which to me is a terrible way to paint.  I draw so much inspiration from the sketchbooks of the likes of Edward Hopper, J. M. W. Turner, Eugene Delacroix, Andrew Wyeth, and continually chafe at myself for being too lazy to pursue that kind of disciplined compositional study.  After my bout with this filling station door, I then walked back to the square and began a sketch of the facade of the Royal Theater, used in Larry McMurtry’s “Last Picture Show.”  The rain aborted this attempt, but at least I got a start on it and took plenty of reference photos in the event that I return to the subject.Royal TheaterThe day proved to be a pleasant one, and I was ready to return to my room and read for awhile (and work on the lantern watercolor sketch).  Inspired by David McCullough’s “kaleidoscope” metaphor I thought I would look for ways to capture my surrounding world in images and words, thus preserving the memories I wish to hold.

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.

Glimpses of Eidolons in Archer City, Texas

October 13, 2014

Archer City, Texas

Archer City, Texas

I met a seer,

Passing the hues and objects of the world,

The fields of art and learning, pleasure sense,

          To glean eidólons.

Walt Whitman, “Eidólons”

As our public schools transitioned into a three-day holiday weekend, I chose to begin mine early by trekking to Archer City, Texas, leaving the bustle and the clatter of the city in my rearview mirror.  Seven weeks of high school and university teaching had rendered me tired and in need of a change of pace.  Long stretches of time had passed since I last nestled into the town of Larry McMurtry’s “Last Picture Show” and his iconic Booked Up Inc. (over a hundred thousand quality used books in his store).

After climbing three flights of stairs and dropping my luggage inside Room 7 of the historic Spur Hotel, I wandered across the desolate Main Street (Highway 79) and into Cobwebs, an antique store I have enjoyed shopping over the past decade.  It only took a moment, drifting through that dimly-lit store with more smell of the musty past than light from the present, that phantoms of memory emerged from the gloom, and I was “home” again.  The real seasoning of life for me may be found in those Proustian moments of recognition of episodes long buried in my childhood past.  Moving past vintage plates, coffee mugs, and tools, I continued to peruse those mute occupants of the shop, until I found something I could not push away—a $12 lantern covered in dust and grime, with its globe still intact.  Winter is not far away, and still life painting is my passion during those long dark months in my garage studio.  I made the purchase and hurried to my room across the street to get busy sketching and watercoloring this iconic object from my past.

Lantern Purchased from Cobwebs

Lantern Purchased from Cobwebs

As the chilly weather descended on Archer City and the overcast skies remained dark, I cozied myself in my rented chamber and set to work sketching the lantern in the corner.  Allowing myself stretch breaks for walking about the desolate town, perusing the used book store, and reading in the quiet of my room, I would return to this lantern at night, finally succumbing to drowsiness a little after 9:00.

At 5:00 a.m., I awoke with a runny nose (ragweed season has arrived in the Texas country).  Outside it was raining hard and 53 degrees, and I could not return to sleep, thanks to eight hours’ rest accompanied by the excitement to return to the lantern waiting silently in the dark corner.  I adjusted the bedside antique lamp to throw light on the lantern, and then arranged a small desk lamp on my makeshift drafting table, leaving the rest of the room in darkness and quiet, save for the rain on the windows.

lantern painting

Watercolor Sketch of Lantern

I will write more later of my Archer City excursions.  As I write this now, I am enjoying a darkened Columbus Day Monday morning in my quiet home.  I set my alarm for 6:00 as though getting up for school, but when it chimed, the 60-degree morning had made the house chilly, and the rain was steady on my bedroom windows, so I pulled the blanket tighter and slept another 90 minutes.  Rising for a quick shower and an old-fashioned country breakfast, I took my coffee to my bedroom writing table and turned on one lamp to light my table and prepared to read from Thoreau’s Journals.  Whitman got in the way, however, because all I could think of during my stay in Archer City was his poem “Eidólons.”

Monday Morning with Whitman

Monday Morning with Whitman

Taking out Leave of Grass, I found the poem and read it three times slowly, letting the words sink into my grateful, receptive consciousness:

Put in thy chants said he,

No more the puzzling hour nor day, nor segments, parts, put in,

Put first before the rest as light for all and entrance-song of all,

          That of eidólons.

I will always be grateful that my seminary days provided me the opportunity to study the Greek language, and following those years, I have expanded my explorations beyond the New Testament and Septuagint texts to those of Homer, the Presocratics and the Classical Age.  In a later post, I’ll probably write of my Presocratic “morning after” as I alternated my time between the lantern watercolor and Presocratic reading.

Eidolon is Greek for phantom, often translated in the Bible as “idol.”  Walt Whitman, a serious student of words, kept a “Notebook on Words,” and developed this eidólon theme to express that ancient Platonic sense of eidólon as an image of our own imagination, behind which lies an ultimate reality, eternal and changeless.  In our world everything changes and is ephemeral, but our sense of imagination tries to seize onto that changeless and spiritual reality lying behind all these shifting images.

In Critias, Plato wrote of the eidólopoiía, the painter who forms images to point us to that underlying reality: the substance of an artist’s mood or savan’s studies long—(Whitman again).  I often refer to myself as a “painter of memories,” because I paint only the images that evoke memories worth remembering.  I have generally shunned popular images that may tickle the fancies of the masses, but do nothing for my own imagination.

          The present now and here,

America’s busy, teeming, intricate whirl,

Of aggregate and segregate for only thence releasing,

          To-days eidólons.

The themes of light and darkness have profoundly moved me since the years before I could read, and still do.  Hence, the lantern, with memories of my grandmother’s farm house that relied on coal oil lanterns and heaters in the dark winters, those all-night campouts and fishing trips when we graduated to Coleman lanterns, and that winter of 1986 when I lived in a house that was over a hundred years old, and though it had electricity, I endured a brutally cold and dark winter, and chose to gather up several lanterns to light the interior with those antique lamps instead of flipping on light switches to power up those boring incandescent ceiling fixtures from the 1950s that were in every room.

          Ever the dim beginning,

Ever the growth, the rounding of the circle,

Ever the summit and the merge at last, (to surely start again,)

          Eidólons!  eidólons!

 This has been a good weekend, and thanks to Columbus Day, it is not yet over

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.

A Soothing, Late-Night Afterglow

October 6, 2014
Awarded "Best in Show" at Trinity Arts Guild

Awarded “Best in Show” at Trinity Arts Guild

We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores, and obligations.  I’m not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for that.

Toni Morrison

Wow, Toni, you certainly hit that one between the eyes.  For years I have languished beneath that shadow, blaming my daily job for restricting my output of artwork.  Several years ago I decided to stop using my job as an excuse, and occasionally have cranked out over a hundred watercolors per year (yes, some of them small, some of them sketches, but still over a hundred watercolors worthy of matting and shrinkwrapping).

Two winters ago, I devoted some quality evening and weekend hours to assembling large still lifes in my garage (man cave). I took the dare and painted two 28 x 22″ still lifes in watercolor, then ponied up the money to have them custom framed and matted.  One them just won Best in Show tonight at the fall juried show of the Trinity Arts Guild in Bedford, Texas.  I’m pleased that the painting got the attention of a judge, and received some recognition tonight.  Following is a short story I wrote, inspired by this particular watercolor, and now displayed on the back of a 5 x 7″ greeting card that I package and sell at my art festivals:

He’s No Longer Here

When the neighbors hammered the padlock off the deceased man’s fishing shed, they peered inside the darkened room with sadness at the world of memories their dear friend had left behind.  Guarding the assembly from its high perch, the kerosene lantern called to memory nights spent on the Mississippi River dikes, waiting for catfish that would find their way to the Griswold skillet.  The Canada Dry crate served as the old fisherman’s stool for the nightlong vigils.

Bass fishing featured the Garcia Mitchell open-faced reel and the vintage wooden plugs for the area lakes and ponds.  In his retirement years, fly fishing took over, and the old man delighted in the long road trips in his Dodge pickup to the Colorado Rockies where he would not be heard from for weeks at a time.. The battered suitcase was his lifelong road companion, as was the dark leather knapsack that he bought from an old leathershop on the dusty streets of Athens during his European excursions. 

The old man had not been heard from for more than a week, and the inquiring neighbors were saddened to enter his home and find him in his final resting place—his favorite recliner in the small front room of his ramshackle house.  His cup was still half-filled with the Dining Car Coffee he relished throughout his years working on the Frisco railroad.  Now, only his possessions remained to tell his life’s story.

Thanks for reading.  This has been a good night.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Sunday Afternoon Leisure

October 5, 2014
Sunday Afternoon in the Quiet Study

Sunday Afternoon in the Quiet Study

All the arts we practice are apprenticeship.  The big art is our life.

M. C. Richards

In the calmness of the Sunday afternoon before returning to work in the morning, I have found delight in having met several major deadlines over this difficult weekend.  And so, this afternoon, as I sat with coffee, wondering what to read, I decided instead to draw the coffee cup and saucer before me with an Ebony pencil.  I have really missed sketching, and the sensation of dragging the soft graphite over the sketchbook paper revived some lost pleasures.  In response to this sacred moment, I then gave another part of my waning weekend to tidying up my studio and reorganizing my watercolor supplies.  This I did in anticipation of a busy life once the leaves begin to turn in Texas and reveal some new colors I have missed over this past year.  In the meantime, some quiet reflection and writing in the journal are now giving me the kind of quiet afternoon I have coveted for several days.  Hopefully, as I look for ways to live a more artful life, my attempts at making new art will get me back to the prolific levels it knew before the fall school schedule became so demanding.

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.

Re-Visiting Watercolor Subjects from Former Days

October 4, 2014

"Poly Theater Blues Revue" (watercolor from 2007)

The small are always dependent on the great; they are “small” precisely because they think they are independent. The great thinker is one who can hear what is greatest in the work of other “greats” and who can transform it in an original manner.

Martin Heidegger

For nearly six weeks now, I have found myself treading water as I’ve tried to come to grips with great ideas from great creators from our past and present.  I have been dying for time to stop and post something of significance in my blog, but it seems that deadlines continue to pop up before me like those annoying barricades at night that post sentry alongside construction zones.  This weekend has found me swimming in grading, as my six week grading period at the high school comes to an end and my first unit at the university also draws to a close.  Stacks and stacks of papers, numbers, data–all those things I enjoy the least in the educational arena.

I am posting a 2007 watercolor that I have recently re-imaged and produced in an 8 x 10″ print to sell in an 11 x 14″ frame.  I’ve found some success with it, and am encouraged to re-visit some blues guitar themes in my work that I laid aside unintentionally several years ago.  Perhaps in a few days I will be able to lift my head out of this grading thicket and get back to what I enjoy the most.

Martin Heidegger spun quite a web of metaphors with his “Woodpaths” analogies, ideas first published around 1951.  He spoke of how we enter the woods along a number of paths, oftentimes encountering thickets and occasionally that clearing, or cul-de-sac.  I’m not sure I’ve grasped the meaning he’s intended, but I feel that for several weeks I have been hacking my way through the timbers trying to find a clearing in which I may be able once again to do what I enjoy most–create, either in painting, thinking or writing.  But the creativity I am missing now more than ever, and I’m trying my best to get back into that mode.

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.

In 1951 Martin Heidegger, originally a student in theology, (1889-1976) publishes a collection of essays on “Woodpaths” (Holzwege). In the essays he clarifies the nature of the forest and how we gain knowledge and understanding of the forest by following paths and structures that are determined by the forest itself (and not by planners constructing paths for leisure, walks and a like). Heidegger has a point about the paths in the wood that is quite intriguing in a discussion concerning the meaning of nature in Western culture, science and philosophy. He writes: “Wood” is an old name for forest. In the wood are paths that mostly wind along until they end quite suddenly in an impenetrable thicket. They are called “woodpaths”. Each goes its peculiar way, but in the same forest. Often it seems as though one were identical to another. Yet it only seems so. Woodcutters and foresters are familiar with these paths. They know what it means to be on a “woodpath” (Heidegger 1950/1993:34). In the text Heidegger makes the term “Holz” (wood) synonymous to “Wald” (forest), where the materialistic and specific become equal to the general. We shall return to the hybrid meaning of language and etymology in the intriguing work of Heidegger when it comes to actual dwelling and building.

According to Heidegger the apparent dead-ends and cul-de-sacs (or “Holzwege”) of the forest tell us something about processes and procedures of thought and existence. The woodpath is the way we, in our everyday existence, appropriate events and situations that are out of our immediate control. According to Heidegger this counts as well for processes and procedures of more systemic character like for instance the rehearsal and performance of a symphony orchestra, or the practices of the scientist in the laboratory.  We create meaning in retracing our actions and reflections on the path, and understanding comes through familiarity, practice and process.

Ideas Forming while Gallery Sitting

October 1, 2014

image

It is often said, “The public does not appreciate art!” Perhaps the public is dull,  but there is just a possibility that we are also dull, and that if there were more motive, wit, human philosophy, or other evidences of interesting personality in our work the call might be stronger.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

On Wednesday evenings I gallery sit as a volunteer for the Trinity Arts Guild in Bedford, Texas. My intention was to grade for my online class, but the Wi-Fi is malfunctioning, so I am left with no options other than perusing their magnificent library and writing in my journal (I cannot seem to get enough of that quality time lately).

I have posted a photo of one of the watercolors I have entered in their upcoming competition. The still life reminds me of the garage/man cave I have been reclaiming now that Texas temperatures are beginning to drop. This painting was one of a group of still lifes that I created two winters ago,  and looking at it tonight has me in the mood to return to this genre once the fall season gets underway. With my recent hiatus in sketching and painting. I have promised myself to get my groove back once the leaves turn by commiting myself to creating a painting a day (afternoons) of fall foliage, even if they are 8 x 10″ sketches. In addition to the plein air watercolor sketches of fall foliage, I have a compulsion to resume still life studies, beginning with the antique objects collected over the past couple of years.

Sitting in my festival booth last weekend, I had long stretches of quality time to reflect over the conversations I had with patrons concerning the kinds of artful images that evoke memories and imagination in the viewer as well as the creator of the art. All I need now is some time to put these new ideas into practice. It appears that my work schedule is going to provide two successive weekends coming up. My plan is to use that time “artfully”.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I  not alone.

Calming Reflections on a Cool Evening

September 29, 2014

image

Beauty suspends the desire to be elsewhere.
Ken Wilbur

The hour is drawing late, but I wanted to put on the blog some of the exquisite beauty I’ve known during these recent busy days. I’m glad to have some peace and serenity after such a frenzied extended weekend.

I bottomed out today, following the grueling 3-day art festival now in the books. The labor intensity extracts a heavy toll on my sagging body, but the affirmations pouring in from friends and patrons makes me feel 21 again. And I love that feeling. Those sentiments, plus a nap this afternoon, revived me.  It helps also that the business end of the festival paid financial dividends.

After a torrid evening of tidying the house and reorganizing my garage (I really make a mess of my environment during festivals), I required another shower, shave and shampoo (Texas humidity sucks even in September). But then it was 9:00, and I was awake, so I drove to one of my favorite outdoor haunts: Fort Worth’s Sundance Square.

image

Once seated with my journal and Starbuck’s iced coffee, the thoughts began flowing faster than my pen could write. This went on for an extended time, and it was refreshing to feel “alive” again.  The cooling breezes (temperatures dropped below 80 degrees) caressed my freshly – shaved face as though they were gentle, caring fingers, and the swishing of the fountains before me were just as hushed as the conversations of the couples seated all around me on this romantic evening.

At the top of this entry, I have selected one of the most intimate shelves of my personal library – writers and artists who were daring explorers pushing into unknown frontiers of creativity, and convincing people like me that it is OK to see the world differently than the conventional wisdom, that one doesn’t have to write and sketch the way pop culture demands.

Though I don’t think, write or paint along the same lines as these men did, and though I choose a lifestyle different from theirs, I still love them and feel them reaching out to me and making me believe that what I do matters. And if I, as an educator, can make one student believe in his or her abilities the way these men and my own teachers did me, then I’ll believe I did something worthy in this life.

Oftentimes I wonder about what I’m leaving behind, especially when I read the biographies, interviews and journals left behind by men like these whom I revere.  I especially wonder when I look at the trail of facebook quips and blog navel – gazings I’ve put out there in cyberspace. Ouch. No doubt I’ve had some fun and pushed out some rants (and of course so did they). But when the dust settles, I do hope to have some quality words lingering to stroke the young minds following in our wake.

Years ago, a graduating student wrote a Thank You note to me:

Shakespeare, Melville, Hawthorne and Joyce–these were only dusty volumes on forgotten shelves, until your class.  Now they breathe once again, so I suppose they are thanking you as well.


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