Reds in the Shadows

April 16, 2014
Working on the shadows now

Working on the shadows now

Aut lux nata est aut capta hic libera regnat.

The light is either born here, or, imprisoned, reigns here in freedom.

Inscription in the Archiepiscopal Chapel at Ravenna

Mark Rothko is an abstract expressionist painter who still intrigues me, particularly in his discussions of light in the shadows.  As I inch closer to completing this winterscape watercolor of Hermann, Missouri, I’m struggling with the storefront shadows and row of parked cars.  There will be more shadows creeping across the street.  I am not sure how it happened, but in a mindless moment, I introduced a plethora of neutral grays into the building facade shadows, and I don’t like them at all.  Today I decided to experiment with some red washes over those gray regions–Alizarin Crimson, Quinachridone Red and Pemanent Rose.  I then introduced some Pthalo Turquoise in the same areas, hoping to replace the gray deadness with some kind of living color.  I feel that it’s starting to improve.  The parked vehicles in the shade are also proving a challenge, and I’m trying not to repeat the same mistake with neutral grays.  There remains a significant puddle of ugly gray above the parked vehicles that I still have not decided what to do with yet.  In good time.

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.

If I Would Have to Choose a Sleepless Night . . .

April 15, 2014
Lunar Eclipse Over Arlington, Texas.  2:00 a.m.

Lunar Eclipse Over Arlington, Texas. 2:00 a.m.

Lunar Eclipse in Full Zoom (with Shaky Hands)

Lunar Eclipse in Full Zoom (with Shaky Hands)

. . . I suppose it would have to be this one.  I couldn’t sleep tonight.  Once the clock rolled toward 2:00 a.m., I decided to rise, dress warmly for a 44-degree night, and step into my backyard to witness a full lunar eclipse.  In these parts, they don’t come around very often.  In fact, the last time I witnessed a full lunar eclipse was on the night of September 26, 1996.  I attempted a Prismacolor rendering of that splendorous sight in my journal:

Journal drawing from 1996 viewing of lunar eclipse

Journal drawing from 1996 viewing of lunar eclipse

I’ll have to rise to teach in about three-and-a-half hours.  I’m still not sleepy, and filled with good thoughts about what I witnessed in the stillness of my backyard tonight.

Thanks for reading.

Getting Lost in the Shadows of Watercolor

April 14, 2014
Working the Shadows and Parked Vehicles

Working the Shadows and Parked Vehicles

Drawing is a way of organizing space.

Robert Motherwell (I think!)

The paper is the atmosphere in which the watercolor breathes.

(author unknown!)

I open tonight’s blog with two questionable quotes.  The first I am relatively certain came from Robert Motherwell, my idol of Abstract Expressionist thought and erudition.  But tonight I have been unsuccessful in tracing it to him.  The second quote came from an artists’ magazine I read back in the 1980′s, before I actually made watercolor a serious pursuit.  I have never been able to forget it.

Both of these quotes are swimming in my consciousness as I work on this piece tonight.  Temperatures outside are dropping to the point that I decided to don a heavy sweater rather than turn up the thermostat.  I am sitting adjacent to an entire wall of northern windows, and I feel the freeze warning that has been forecast throughout the day.  The chill is reminding me of the cold December morning that I walked the streets of Hermann, Missouri and took the photograph for this composition.  There was such a clarity of light that morning that I knew would be conducive for watercolor–I love the clear, sharp, cold light of a winter’s day and have worked hard to get that atmosphere into this painting.  I love what watercolor paper lends to the atmosphere of a landscape painting.

As for the drawing/organizing space principle, I have been handcuffed, trying to render the shadowed facades of this row of storefronts adjacent to a line of parked vehicles.  The Motherwell quote surfaced, and I decided to break the shadows into rhythms of geometric configurations, alternating warm and cool colors as I filled in the spaces.  I feel the way I did in high school when we painted large nonrepresentational acrylic-on-canvas compositions.  We were challenged to experiment with the combinations of warm and cool colors and seek some kind of pleasing balance.  That is what I am attempting to do here.  I have no serious aspirations to copy the myriad of representational images in my small photograph.  We’ll see how it turns out.  If it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else.  At any rate, I am enjoying this evening in the studio.

This is probably all the painting I’ll be able to post this evening.  I still have work to do on a Nietzsche lecture for tomorrow morning’s Philosophy class.  I cannot seem to create a lifestyle with a singular focus–there is always another task to perform.  I love reading, writing and talking about Nietzsche.  But I also love watercolor.  With tonight’s limited time, I need to find a way to address both.

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 Cold, Rainy Afternoon in the Studio

April 14, 2014
Quiet Retreat to the Watercolor Studio

Quiet Retreat to the Watercolor Studio

At such times there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen.  It fills us with surprise.  We marvel at it.  We would continue to hear it.  But few are capable of holding themselves in the state of listening to their own song.  Intellectuality steps in and as the song within us is of the utmost sensitiveness, it retires in the presence of the cold, material intellect.  It is aristocratic and will not associate itself with the commonplace–and we fall back and become our ordinary selves.  Yet we live in the memory of these songs which in moments of intellectual inadvertence have been possible to us.  They are the pinnacles of our experience and it is the desire to express these intimate sensations, this song from within, which motivates the masters of all art.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The day has been physically and intellectually dreary.  Forty-four degrees, dark and rainy outside.  Indoors we have studied A. P. Art History, focusing on the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement fueled by World War I.  George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and Ernst Barlach all served in the German army during that Great War.  They entered as enthusiastic patriotic idealists, exited as horrified, burned-out and disillusioned artists.  As we looked upon their paintings and reflected on the writings of Nietzsche that transformed the world views of the young soldier Otto Dix, as well as the chaplain Paul Tillich, I felt the cold of the outside gripping my own artistic sensitivity.  The longer we looked at these works and talked of the war’s atrocities, the more I wished to retreat to my studio and revive the song that has stirred my heart recently, encouraging me to paint and explore beauty.

The first thing I did when I got home to my studio was put on a fresh pot of coffee to help stave off the cold and wet climate that settled into my bones and offset the dark gray world peeking through the miniblinds of my studio windows.  Then I tilted the surface of my drafting table and settled into drawing, erasing and re-drawing the details in the shadows of the buildings lining the winter streets of Hermann, Missouri.  Slowly, the depressing themes of the morning studies melted away and I was once again looking upon a beautiful watercolor world, unscarred by war and destruction.  The winter atmosphere in this painting is cold and hazy, but within my soul, I feel a clarity and sense of color and warmth.  I still need to add more layers of shadow to the areas on the lower left of this composition, then along the facades of the stores facing the street.  This is going to take awhile, it appears.  But I have time, and renewed energy.  Making art today has lifted me from the despairing subjects of the morning classes.  Once again, I am grateful for that gift.

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.

 

 

 

Late Night in the Studio

April 13, 2014

Hermann close upWorking Late Sunday Night on this Hermann, Missouri Cityscape

The ideal modern artist must become this unobserved but “passionate observer” who watches the world yet remains hidden.  He is a flaneur (a stroller), a tourist in his own land, whose scenery of choice is the crowd, “a prince who always preserves his incognito.”  He delights in “the rippling, moving, fleeting, infinite” multitude.  Here is the artist as voyeur, seeing but unseen, “a mirror as immense as that crowd; a kaleidoscope endowed with consciousness.”

Beth Archer Brombert, recording the ideas of Baudelaire concerning the contemporary artist

The Entire Composition in Progress

The Entire Composition in Progress

Though I’m confined to the studio, working from photographs, the Texas weather is inching toward plein air capability, and I am happy to see a couple of events on the horizon where I am invited to engage in it.  The Baudelaire sentiments remind me of Emerson’s comments in Nature when he describes the observer as a “transparent eyeball”–he is nothing, he sees all.  Andrew Wyeth enjoyed such a feeling when he sat in the Olsen household in Maine, creating watercolor and tempera works inside the dim interior of their house as they went about their daily chores.  He oftentimes felt that he wasn’t visibly present because of the ease in which they worked as though incognizant of his company.

I felt the same transparency when I walked the streets of Hermann last Christmas holidays.  I know no one in that town, and no one was out walking in the frigid weather that morning.  I was delighted to take photos, knowing I would try my hardest to convert some of these into decent watercolors once I got back to my warm studio.

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.

 

Returning to the Muse

April 13, 2014
Taking a Fresh Look at the Hermann, Missouri Watercolor

Taking a Fresh Look at the Hermann, Missouri Watercolor

Michelangelo, El Greco, Rembrandt imitated; Raphael imitated, and Poussin, Velásquez and Goya; Delacroix, Manet and Cézanne . . . whenever documents allow us to go back to the origin of a painter’s works, or a sculptor’s, or any artist’s, we encounter . . . the dreams, the anguish, or the serenity of another artist.  For artists do not emerge full-grown from a formless world, but from their struggle against the forms imposed by others.

André Malraux

Henri Matisse and Eugene Delacroix often spoke of “cleansing the eye” after a long hiatus from painting.  It has been weeks since I’ve been able to look at this painting.  Now that the intrusions from common life’s tasks have been addressed, I’m glad to linger over this watercolor tonight and resume work that I reluctantly abandoned long ago.  Kick-starting this has not been easy.  I find myself poring over the reference photo, taking in details, and constantly asking questions like: “How would Hopper have addressed this?” or “How would Wyeth render this?” or “Would Homer have included this detail?”  Thus I’ve inserted for my own good the quote above that all artists work in dialogue with their predecessors and ultimately (hopefully) find their own way in the end.  I’m still searching for my voice among these multitudes, my signature, my contribution.  Yet in the midst of all this, I’m just happy to be painting again.

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.

Reminiscences of an Extended Plein Air Road Trip

April 12, 2014
Abandoned Zephyr Station on Historic Route 66 Southwest of St. Louis

Abandoned Zephyr Station on Historic Route 66 Southwest of St. Louis

I paint so I’ll have something to look at. . . . I write so I’ll have something to read.

Barnett Newman

My reason for not posting on the blog all week is a legitimate one.  It’s called Income Tax.  My appointment with the accountant is this afternoon.  I spent every day Monday through Friday of this past week gathering receipts, spreadsheets and files of data to organize for this afternoon’s meeting.  Twice I went to bed at 1:30 a.m. (I have to rise at 6:00 to teach school).  Another pair of nights saw me retiring to bed at midnight.  My earliest night was 10:30.  But now it is behind me (except for the meeting and the filing).  I am letting out a deep sigh of relief.

Understandably, I have not been able to pick up a watercolor brush, though thoughts of it remained with me on the hour each day.  I have posted above a watercolor I completed a few years ago.  I traveled to this site in Villa Ridge, Missouri (southwest of St. Louis, just north of Interstate 44).  Before leaving Arlington, Texas to travel home to St. Louis to visit family, I checked on the Internet and found photos of an abandoned quonset hut Zephyr station on historic route 66.  I tried to find specific directions to the location with no luck.  I concluded that all I had to do was get to Villa Ridge and ask directions.  Ten hours into my drive, and very road-weary, I took an exit off I-44 for Villa Ridge and drove in circles for about an hour, constantly re-entering the freeway.  I tried following every “historic route 66″ sign I could find in a ten-mile radius, all to no avail.  While sitting in a left-turn lane at a traffic light, waiting for the green arrow, I changed my mind and decided to go straight through the intersection.  Crossing over the solid white line resulted in my being pulled over immediately by a Missouri State Highway Patrolmen who happened to be in the left-turn lane behind me (smart move).

When the patrolman approached my window, I explained that I was a watercolorist who had just driven ten hours straight from Arlington, Texas, looking for this route 66 landmark to photograph and paint.  I handed him my stack of papers and photos printed off the Internet sites, along with my driver’s license and proof of insurance card.  Returning five mintes later from his patrol unit, he mildly handed me a warning citation and gave me verbal directions on how to get to the Zephyr station.  What a Mensch!  I am not used to getting that kind of courtesy from traffic law enforcement officers.

First Sight of the Zephyr Station

First Sight of the Zephyr Station

Once I pulled into what was left of the parking lot of this derelict station, I saw that all signage, lights and gas pumps (visible on the Internet historic photos) had been removed.  Nevertheless, the structure remained, so I got out of my Jeep and set up a portable easel, quickly knocking out a plein air sketch of one end of the station as it began to get dark.  A curious neighbor approached me to see what I was doing, and gladly took me on a tour behind the station to show me what was left of the roadbed that preceded route 66.  It was then called The Old Post Road.  She was full of stories, and I filled several pages of my journal later that evening as I recalled as many details as possible.

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Walking to the far end of the parking lot, I was enthralled at the sight of this Zephyr billboard completely overgrown with leaves.

Overgrown Zephyr Billboard

Overgrown Zephyr Billboard

By this time, it was too dark to paint, and I was extremely exhausted from the ten-hour drive and quick painting session.  So I snapped a photo and decided to return the next day.  My parents lived about an hour further down the Interstate.

All night long, it rained and rained.  Returning the next day, I sat in the back of my Jeep and watercolor sketched this sign until the rains resumed.  I would have to take the painting back home with me to finish on a subsequent day, relying on photos I took.

Completed Watercolor of the Billboard

Completed Watercolor of the Billboard

The only thing remaining for me to do was to take photos of the parking lot that had been transformed into a reflective pool by the hard rains and take up a serious studio project of the subject in the future.

After the Rain

After the Rain

Completed Studio Watercolor

Completed Studio Watercolor

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.

Issues of the Autodidact

April 7, 2014
8 x 10" watercolor sketch done in my festival booth

8 x 10″ watercolor sketch done in my festival booth (More of my watercolors may be seen on my website www.recollections54.com)

 

“Are you self-taught?”

Having just finished another art festival, I feel the impulse to spend a moment and address this most frequently asked question I hear when sitting in my booth.  Am I self-taught?  Throughout my life, I have heard the occasional artist making this claim, usually with a hint of superiority.  My answer to that question always appears ambivalent, but I know the bottom line:  no, I am not self-taught.  I have a bachelor’s degree in art.  I have been trained.  However, the only medium I work with now is watercolor, and that I did not learn in college, though I tried.  The professors could not help me.  And I made many, many more stabs at watercolor in the years following, without success.  Now that I have made gains in watercolor to the point that I can market them, could I claim to be self-taught in watercolor?  Not really.  Throughout the years, I have pored over books and visited museums to learn all I could about the watercolors of Andew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer and J. M. W. Turner.  And I have purchased scores of watercolor magazines, and a few books explaining the processes and techniques.  On the basis of all the above, I cannot claim to be self-taught in watercolor.  I have absorbed all I possibly can from the masters, and I still seek to learn more, to improve.  I could call myself an autodidact had I not gotten a college degree, and resorted to educating myself exclusively from sources I’ve selected.  But it didn’t happen that way, and I will not decry my university education.  It laid a foundation for me that continues to support the edifice I erect atop it.

My philosophy class has been reading Thoreau’s Walden, and he no doubt makes the claim that nature taught him to write such a book.  But there should be no doubt that his Harvard degree contributed much to the construction of that wonderful, alert mind that composed the literary materpiece.  Thoreau’s mind was soaked, not only with four years of Harvard education, but also his love of books borrowed from Emerson’s library, and the texts over which he continued to linger in the ensuing years.  Being fluent in Greek, Latin, Italian, German and French, Thoreau loved the power of language and constantly drew inspiration from written sources, along with the great outdoors, and found ways to spin these ideas with his own unique perspective.

Work hard at your picture.  Think of Dante.  Re-read him.  Constantly exert yourself to return to great ideas.  What fruit can I reap from my almost complete solitude, if I have only commonplace ideas?

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, March 3, 1824

I could wish that I had an original, creative mind, but frankly I draw my inspiration from a myriad of sources, and am grateful for every gift they offer.  Solitude offers me the environment to draw from the works of geniuses in the hope that some of it will rub off in my own creations.

I have posted a quick, one-hour 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch that I did sitting in my booth on Saturday at Kennedale’s Art in the Park.  I used a reference photo taken of me fly fishing in South Fork, Colorado.  I am still shy about rendering a human figure in watercolor.  Drawing the figure does not come easily for me, and applying watercolor wash and drybrush over the drawing still has me over-thinking.  I’m confident that I will reach a time when it comes more easily.  In the meantime, I’ll keep studying and experimenting.

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.

 

 

Thoughts in All Directions

April 5, 2014
Displaying at Art in the Park.  Kennedale, Texas

Displaying at Art in the Park. Kennedale, Texas

What pleases me is that I am acquiring reason without losing the emotions evoked by beauty.  I certainly do not want to deceive myself, but it seems to me that I am working more calmly than ever before, and I have the same love for my work. . . . What are most real to me, are the illusions that I create with my painting.  the rest is shifting sand.

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, February 27, 1824

One of Delacroix greatest gifts to me, personally, is the Journal he left behind.  I appreciate his paintings and what he contributed to the rising tide of Romanticism in the history of art.  But daily, I am surprised by his thoughts, and have spent considerable time over this past week lingering over ideas inspired by him.  His statement above resonates with me, because he testifies that his intellect balanced his emotions in the act of painting.  Historians, I believe, overstate Romanticism to make it more teachable, contrasting it with Neoclassicism to throw it into bolder relief.  And I have no problem with that.  At least we have the written words of one of the major players on that stage, emphasizing reason’s role in the creation of his art.

Though I’ve gone a week without posting to the blog, my mind has been focused on painting.  There just have been too many work-related deadlines to meet, along with the day-to-day maintenance issues with living.  But it has been a good week, the blog lacuna notwithstanding.  Currently I am in the midst of a three-day art festival about ten minutes from my home.  I was glad to awaken this morning after a good night’s sleep (yesterday’s load-in and set up left me quite achy and sore).  Rising refreshed, I was glad to know I had about two hours before having to return to the festival scene.  Hence, my quiet moments before the computer screen to put this together.  The coffee was good too.

I am taking my watercolor supplies to the booth with me today.  If time allows, I will work on a small watercolor sketch–something I have wanted to do all week but was prohibited by other deadlines.

Thanks for reading, for staying with me.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Aching for some Plein Air Painting Time

March 27, 2014
Summer Morning Silence Winfield, Missouri

Summer Morning Silence
Winfield, Missouri

I had the pleasure last evening of presenting Edward Hopper’s art to a living room filled with enthusiastic minds, a reenactment of the 18th-century Salon in my eyes.  We spent time admiring his plein air watercolors of the Cape Cod towns.  As I listened to others talking over his works, my mind wandered over the days past when I had the leisure to go on the road and look for subjects to paint in small-town Midwest America.  Above, I have posted one such painting from Winfield, Missouri, a small sleepy Mississippi River town north of St. Louis on Highway 79.  I studied this abandoned store just as the sun came up and washed the town in its yellow light.

Spring weather is trying to break through in Texas with the occasional rains and rising temperatures.  Hopefully soon I’ll be outdoors capturing some local sights rising to new life after a long dark winter.

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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