Divided Attention

May 22, 2015

Eliminate something superfluous from your life. Break a habit. Do something that makes you  feel insecure.

Piero Ferrucci

Well, I’m following Ferrucci’s directive, but not by conscious choice. Since I learned that I would be painting in the Laguna Madre this summer, my attention has been drawn to photos I took of the island and a series of thumbnail compositional sketches for watercolors I plan to execute on site, but also some abstract designs and small works that I haven’t done in well over a decade. I enjoyed working in abstraction during my college and post-graduate years, but since the late 1980’s I have worked more exclusively in watercolor and representational subjects. Now, I’m wondering if my one-man-show following the residency should show my sketches and abstractions along with the finished representational watercolors. Plenty of time to decide on that, I suppose.

To add to the schizophrenia, I will leave in less than an hour to set up for a three-day festival (most likely in the pouring rain). My festivals, of course, do not display abstract or non-traditional art. And oftentimes, I’m sitting in my booth reading the writings of Motherwell or poring over a book of paintings by Rothko, and people looking at my work are seeing only traditional art, and oftentimes wondering if what I’m selling would look O.K. in a living room or office space. Two worlds.

Actually, much more than just two worlds. I probably should be too embarrassed to post this, but I wanted to send out a word to my blogging friends, because I was too busy yesterday packing and loading for this show to put up a blog post. If I don’t blog over the next couple of days, it will be because I am too exhausted from the show, especially if rain plagues us the way it has the past three weeks. I’m still trying to get over this ugly sinus infection and allergy symptoms (no doubt from all the mold that is flourishing during this swamp weather). My plan in the art booth is to bring my large thermos of coffee and good books to read, just in case the weather chases away all the patrons.

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 New Limited Edition

May 21, 2015
1st Edition of 500 just Came off the Press

1st Edition of 500 just Came off the Press

Every time I participate in an art festival, I try to bring out something new. For several years, I have wanted to make this painting available in a limited edition, but couldn’t seem to get it done. Finally, it has happened. The subject is Haltom Jewelers at Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth. This painting has been popular with my greeting cards and small 5×7″ and 8×10″ prints. But it is now available in a giclee limited edition that measures 18×24″. I’ll be putting it on display for the first time at tomorrow’s Center Stage Music Festival in Arlington, Texas. http://levittpavilionarlington.org/events/downtown-arlington-center-stage-music-festival/ We will be showing and selling our work near the performing arts pavilion on W. Abram near Center Street.

I’m pricing these prints at $100 and the first five are being processed this weekend. The first edition (pictured) is priced at $150 which seems pricey, but there are two reasons for that: #1–it is my best painting to date, and #2–for the first time ever, I plan to custom frame one of my own limited edition prints, and I would like it to be this one!

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.

Sedentary in Mind Only?

May 20, 2015
Preparations for a Three-Day Art Festival

Preparations for a Three-Day Art Festival

I envy [painters] because there is so much physical satisfaction in the actual work of painting and sculpture. I’m a physical being and resent this sedentary business of sitting at one’s desk and moving only one’s wrist. I pace, I speak my poems, I get very kinetic when I’m working. . . . When I insist on poetry as a kind of action, I’m thinking very much in these terms–every achieved metaphor in a poem is a gesture of sorts, the equivalent of slashing of a stroke on canvas.

Stanley Kunitz

I loved reading this interview given by poet Stanley Kunitz. He lived in Greenwich Village, and later in Provincetown, enjoying close relationships with Abstract Expressionist painters including Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and Willem DeKooning. I understand his disjunctive between the sedentary posture of a desk-bound poet and the action painter standing before a mural-size canvas. I knew the action painting posture in my former years. But as a watercolorist, I feel more sedentary and reflective, and certainly don’t burn calories when I’m in the midst of my work.

However, tonight I have been everything but sedentary. There is a three-day festival approaching: Centerstage Festival at the Levitt Performing Arts Pavilion in central Arlington, Texas. I will have to rise early on Friday morning to begin the load-in for the show. Tonight I decided to get out in front of it, instead of waiting for the deadline to bite me on the butt tomorrow evening. I have been working out of three rooms (that explains the burning of calories): printing in one, matting and sleeving in another, organizing and loading in another. This time I have taken an oath not to leave my house with that trashed-out look when I drive away for the festival. So, I’ve had to work harder to keep from tossing discarded items into corners and empty spaces on the floors.

Though I’ve experienced an evening brimming with physical energy, I have every reason to believe that the sedentary will return. Texas has been soggy, slushy, muddy, moldy and swampy with rain for weeks, and the forecast calls for this to continue daily through next Monday. In prior years, this would draw an explosion of profanity from me. Not this time. I have seen more than my fair share of this in Texas. I need to be glad to have a good, sound, waterproof tent. The festival will be on paved streets, not in swampy, grassy parks. I have added a back “porch” to my tent. So, if the rains descend, as forecasted, I will enjoy a thermos of coffee and a stack of books with my journal. If storms chase away all the patrons, as in festivals past, I’ll have three days to reflect, write, and plan for the exciting weeks that lie immediately ahead. I know solitude, and how to appreciate it when it is offered as a gift. And sedentary sounds like a good thing.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Consummating a Marriage of Imagination and Intellectual Love

May 19, 2015
Continuing work on the Laguna Madre project

Continuing work on the Laguna Madre project

This spiritual love acts not, nor can exist

Without imagination, which in truth

Is but another name for absolute power

And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,

And reason, in her most exalted mood.

This faculty hath been the feeding source

Of our long labor: we have traced the stream

From the blind cavern whence is faintly heard

Its natal murmur; followed it to light

And open day; accompanied its course

Among the ways of Nature; for a time

Lost sight of it, bewildered and engulphed;

Then given it greeting as it rose once more

In strength, reflecting from its placid breast

The works of man, and face of human life;

And lastly, from its progress have we drawn

Faith in life endless, the sustaining thought

Of human being, Eternity, and God.

–Imagination having been our theme,

So also hath that intellectual love,

For they are each in each, and cannot stand

Dividually.—Here must thou be, O Man!

Powers to thyself; no Helper hast thou here;

Here keepest thou in singleness thy state;

No other can divide with thee this work;

No secondary hand can intervene

To fashion this ability; ’tis thine,

In the recesses of thy nature, far

From any reach of outward fellowship,

Else is not thine at all.

William Wordsworth, “Prelude”

As night follows night, I chuckle to see my Laguna Madre files bursting with new pages of sketches and notes taken from my readings, and I’m beginning to see a similarity with Marcel Duchamp’s “Green Box.” This can be viewed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in a long trough mounted on one of the gallery walls–over a decade of sketches and writings of Marcel Duchamp as he secretly worked on his “Large Glass: The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even.”

Duchamp's

Duchamp’s “Green Box”

For a couple of months now, I have been feeding on William Wordsworth’s “Prelude”, particularly his eloquent meditation on the twin powers of imagination and intellectual love which drive the turbine of creativity. Tonight, as I sat down to my drafting table to plan further on my approaching residency, I recalled his words that no one else could direct us in this endeavor–if they could, then the powers would not be ours at all.

With a renewed faith and determination, I re-opened some volumes from my private library that discuss composition in two-dimensional art, comparing what I read to what I’ve been taught since high school and college. The one discipline that I have avoided throughout the decades is the thumbnail sketch, the compositional study, and value studies of a proposed painting. Looking again at the photos I took while on the island last weekend, I began again to work on small thumbnail sketches of proposed drybrush watercolor compositions. Turning to my favorite watercolorist, Andrew Wyeth, I selected about eight of my favorite drybrush compositions from him and outlined the subject matter, noting what kind of vignette shape lay upon the white picture plane. This was a first for me, and I could feel myself laughing out loud, because I was practicing what I preach on the first day of every semester at school concerning Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology and learning to approach a familiar subject in a different way. This I was doing tonight–planning my future painting compositions as never before in my life. And the activity felt good, real good.

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.

Watching Abstract Compositions Emerge from Nature

May 18, 2015
Working tonight on ideas for the Laguna Madre excursion

Working tonight on ideas for the Laguna Madre excursion

Albrecht Dürer, did after all make the well-known remark: “For in truth, art lies hidden within nature; he who can wrest it from her, has it.” “Wrest” here means to draw out the rift and to draw the design with the drawing-pen on the drawing-board.” . . . True, there lies hidden in nature a rift-design, a measure and a boundary and, tied to it, a capacity for bringing forth—that is, art.

Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”

The French mathematician Poincaré said, “Thought is only a flash between two long nights.” Artists work by these flashes of thought . . . 

Robert Motherwell

From the time school dismissed today, I have been unable to leave this drafting table. Having finally rested my body from the lengthy weekend travels, I was surprised today to be visited with surges of ideas related to my upcoming sojourn at the Laguna Madre. Gazing into the computer screen at photos I took on Saturday, I was surprised to see a myriad of compositional images emerge for paintings of the wild landscape that surrounded me. As a plein air painter, the most difficult task I always faced was selecting from the complex scene before me the necessary objects to construct a painting. But in my former plein air days, I often resorted to architecture to provide a focal point for the composition. I never knew what to do with raw landscape. Today, I saw patterns emerge as I looked at broad swaths of land and gulf waters. And with those patterns came new ideas for future paintings.

It seems timely that I had the movie playing on DVD “A Beautiful Mind.” About the time that I noticed patterns standing out from the landscape and seascape photos I had taken, John Nash was standing before a great wall of numbers, and certain numerical sequences were appearing before his eye, thus forming patterns across the wall. This immediately led me to pull my volumes of Heidegger and Motherwell off the shelves and begin looking. It did not take long to find the passages posted above.

I am choosing not to post the stack of compositional sketches that immediately followed, because I am already trying to organize material for my university one-man show that follows the Artist in Residence period this summer. But that is what chewed up the rest of my afternoon and evening–a stack of compositional sketches, abstracts, and notes that I now believe will serve as a sturdy architecture for the paintings that develop when I am back on location.

This has been truly a delicious experience, as I enjoyed the stories of John Nash being played out on TV, as well as the film documentary “Jean Michelle-Basquiat: Radiant Child.” Both men and their stories fed my imagination as I worked on this project.

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.

Adjunct professor David Tripp recognized for talents outside the classroom – Texas Wesleyan University

May 17, 2015

Adjunct professor David Tripp recognized for talents outside the classroom – Texas Wesleyan University.

The First Glimpse Beyond the Veil

May 17, 2015

The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did, since it was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that now reviews the vision. No dust has settled on that robe; no time has elapsed since that divinity was revealed. That time which we really improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

View of the Laguna Madre from the Field Station

View of the Laguna Madre from the Field Station

Extending the spirit of Thoreau, I peered past a veil yesterday, not shielding an ancient statue, but one of the largest of the six hypersaline ecosystems on our planet. And I’m certain that I felt the same kind of shudder experienced by Thoreau with his first look across Walden Pond, or Annie Dillard with her first gaze across the terrain of Tinker Creek. In less than a month, I will live as a guest on one of the islands of this “mother lagoon” system and pursue my bliss of painting, observing, writing and fly fishing. I arrived home late last night, after my first escorted visit to the island, slept soundly, and today have been doing nothing but reviewing the extensive weekend notes I took from the people who were key to this new experiment.

Associate Professor Paul Zimba was the one who met me and drove me to the launch site, then traveled with me to the island.  Dr. Zimba was a research scientist for decades before taking his current post on the faculty of Texas A&M University Corpus Christi as Director of the Center for Coastal Studies. In our conversations throughout the morning, I found him to be an amazing man, taking his Bachelor of Arts degree in science, and appreciating the art history and philosophy courses he took. In the ensuing decades, he has managed to present himself as a lover of pure research, yet still cognizant of what is actually inside the test tube besides numbers and descriptive labels. He has a passion for the ecosystem of the Texas coast, constantly observing the plant and animal life that teems there, and converses about his discoveries with genuine enthusiasm. As a man who thinks outside the box, I’m proud of his vision for opening the Laguna Madre Field Station to serve an abundance of educational avenues in addition to the field studies of a handful of university departments.

Robert (Bobby) Duke is a biologist and research assistant for the Center for Coastal Studies. He was the skilled driver Paul preferred since the waters were way up from a recent 15” rainfall. When we arrived at the island, the men noted that thirty yards of one end of the island was underwater. Once we docked, the high winds knocked my hat into the water, and without hesitation, Bobby dove in, searched the bottom of the chest-deep waters, located and retrieved the hat for me, like it was something he did all the time. Bobby is also an enthusiastic conversationalist, appreciating many fields of study outside of his disciplinary home of biology. Above all, he is passionate about astronomy, and filled me with wonder as he discussed the myriads of constellations visible in the night skies above the island. Not knowing his passion for astronomy, I was recently reading portions of Thoreau and his comparison of astronomy to the discipline of classical studies. I can’t wait to flesh out this area of my research, now that Bobby has struck a nerve there.

I don’t know how to begin to introduce Dinah Bowman, the local artist/visionary who brought my name into this residency. Dinah Bowman has her own gallery (http://www.dinahbowman.com/) in Portland, Texas, a small coastal town next door to Corpus Christi. Her gallery director and framer, Mike Catlin, was a student of mine during my first years of teaching, and he brought my work into the gallery, introducing me to Dinah. After I taught a pair of watercolor workshops out of her gallery, Dinah broached the subject of this Artist in Residency, which would be the university’s first, and she then worked tirelessly to help make it happen.

Dinah has her B.A. in marine science/chemistry, and her M.A. in terrestrial biology/art from Texas A&M Corpus Christi. She is a highly-skilled painter of marine life, creating rubbings as well as watercolor and acrylic works, and presents her subjects with the precision of a scientific illustrator. Her work in scientific research is so vast, that I wonder how one human can serve a dual role of fine artist and scientist so effectively. But she has done this with skill and enthusiasm for years, and one of her pieces of art now hangs in the Smithsonian.

Twenty-four hours after leaving Corpus Christi, I still feel myself vibrating from all that transpired over the past two days, and I am filled with enthusiasm, despite being sick with allergy symptoms (a nagging four-day episode now). I’ve managed to lose my speaking voice, and am wondering just exactly what I will do before my students in the morning, not having learned sign language. But that is tomorrow–I’m still very happy to be pursuing these fresh ideas today.

Thank you for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

First Visit to the Laguna Madre

May 16, 2015
Resting on the Front Porch

Resting on the Front Porch

Well, to me, 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)

Though bone-tired after thirteen hours of driving over the past 48 hours, I cannot stop thinking this night about the enchanting morning spent on the Laguna Madre at Corpus Christi. Dr. Paul Zimba and his associate Robert Duke took me on the twenty-minute boat ride out to the island that will be my home during this summer when I serve as Artist in Residence for Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. I knew that the experience would far exceed the marvelous photos sent to me a few months ago, but I was spellbound from the moment the first salt spray hit my face on the boat journey. Once we arrived and walked the island, I could not find the words to express my enchantment with this location.

Paul and Bobby--two scientists overflowing with information about the island

Paul and Bobby–two scientists overflowing with information about the island

The colors, the winds, the smells, and the feel of the place made me feel that I had been placed in the midst of an unspoiled Paradise. I have been granted unbridled license to watercolor the environment from the oceanic horizons to the smallest prickly pear cacti. The research center will offer the basic creature comforts of home that I would need, but there will be no Internet access on the island. That just means that I’ll have to be meticulous in recording my daily observations on the laptop and release all the stories when the residency ends and I get back to civilization. I think this is for the better–solitude without the technological incursions. And no wasted time.

View from the back porch

View from the back porch

Standing in front of the Field Station that will serve as my home

Standing in front of the Field Station that will serve as my home

I could not begin to express the depth of gratitude I feel this night for the opportunity that has been handed me. This site is going to be a perfect environment for painting, fly fishing, reading, writing, and just simply pondering. I’ll know Motherwell’s sentiments firsthand once I experience this dwelling alongside the ultimate earth mother.

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 Power of a Well-Placed Idea

May 11, 2015

The pressure disappeared with the first word he put on paper. He thought–while his hand moved rapidly–what a power there was in words; later, for those who heard them, but first for the one who found them; a healing power, a solution, like the breaking of a barrier. He thought, perhaps the basic secret the scientists have never discovered, the first fount of life, is that which happens when a thought takes shape in words.

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

As the soothing strains of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” play softly in the darkness, I sit with coffee and books under the warm glow of my desk lamp, grateful for the past several days of events. Last Wednesday, I was notified that I’ve been chosen as Artist in Residence for Texas A&M University Corpus Christi this summer, and that I will spend days alone on an island in the Laguna Madre to make art, explore ideas, and fly fish. Saturday morning I signed up for a four-hour fly fishing class in Fort Worth, having heard from two reliable sources that if I cannot fly cast at least fifty feet with accuracy, that I will catch nothing while down there. Arriving thirty minutes before the 8:00 class, I sat outside in the cool morning that threatened rain, and began reading one of Martin Heidegger’s pivotal essays, “The Origin of the Work of Art.” In my reading, I came across Homeric Hymn #30 “To Earth, Mother of All,” and trembled at what I read (Later, after I got home, I found out to my delight that I have the Greek text to this piece in one of my Loeb Classical Library volumes!). The editor of the Heidegger writings, David Farrell Krell, discussed how this poem, along with works by Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin, fed into Heidegger’s notion that “all artwork and all thinking are . . . participations in the creative strife of world and earth: they reveal beings and let them come to radiant appearance, but only by cultivating and safeguarding their provenance, allowing all things the darkness they require and their proper growing time.”

In Heidegger’s thought, “earth” is what I like to call “nature”, that primal force that generates our activity, whereas “world” is that matrix of people and activities that we are forced to accomodate. The text above is a distillation of his philosophy that creativity occurs in that juncture of earth and world. I was fascinated to read these things, but suddenly it was 8:00 and time to go to the park for fly casting lessons. I was delighted to learn that I could actually cast up to sixty-five feet with accuracy, dropping my fly into a hula hoop placed in the grass. However, I have acquired bad habits over the past decade, and this instructor was patient in helping me erase as many of those habits as possible. My casting improved greatly. And then! We had a crash course in fly tying, and I tied my very first fly!

Since the fly fishing lesson, I have had the privilege of returning to my thoughts on Heidegger, art, and my pending experiment on the Laguna Madre. The university’s science department sent me a fabulous powerpoint of photos taken of the island, and I’ve been scrutinizing them and coming up with compositional sketches of the kinds of things I want to render in watercolor. I’m even fascinated with how the field station rises architecturally from the natural environment of the land mass. Devoting hours this weekend to writings by Frank Lloyd Wright and Tadao Ando, along with my reading of The Fountainhead (I just love that novel’s discussion of architecture and ideas!), I pulled out some antique drafting kits I had acquired a few decades ago and began playing with some ideas in my sketchbook.

Noodling with Fresh Ideas

Noodling with Fresh Ideas

Working on fresh ideas and sketches has taken my life to a different level, and just when I thought things could not possibly improve, I arrived home from school today and found that work has finally commenced on removing that giant corpse of a tree that filled my entire back yard!

Clearing the Debris at Last

Clearing the Debris at Last

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.

Sanctuary

May 8, 2015
An Evening at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

An Evening at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

It was a tremendous attraction, a sort of paradise found in which I was completeley free, alone, at peace.

Henri Matisse, discussing his experience while in Tangier

Last night’s excursion to the Dallas Museum of Art left me weary enough to tumble into bed well ahead of my habitual time. The surprise was waking around 4:30 this morning, rested, and unable to get back to sleep. By 6:00, I had found sanctuary in the rear of my darkened classroom, and chose to devote some quality time re-reading the second volume of Hilary Spurling’s biography Matisse the Master. Most of the volume covers his exotic travels to Ajaccio, Collioure, Tangier, Nice, Tahiti and Vence, drawing superb parallels between his artistic explorations and those of Delacroix and Gauguin. The more I read, the more I thought about that sanctuary sentiment, that within each of us is a stillness and sanctuary to where we can retreat at any time and be ourself (I read that on a school poster when I was in junior high school, and still remember the words and image). I found myself deeply gratified, having a good ninety minutes of alone time before the students entered the classroom.

The Kimbell Art Museum has extended hours on Friday, so I chose to journey there after school today and stay until closing tonight. The hours were refreshing, as I perused the galleries in the Kahn Building and the Piano Pavilion, and sat in several locations to read from a lovely birthday book given to me by a dear friend: Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to “In Search of Lost Time”. I was already in love with this author’s magnum opus, and could tell that he was alluding to artistic masterpieces, but this book takes the discussions much deeper than my imagination had been capable of pursuing.  I got lost in the volume, and the time evaporated quickly this evening.

Seated outside the Kimbell around Closing Time

Seated outside the Kimbell around Closing Time

Before leaving home for the Kimbell, I spent some more time on this watercolor that’s been developing slowly. I worked on the power plant to the right quite a bit more, and placed trees below it, then moved to the scraggly tree on the left side of the caboose and worked further on the branches. I’m always tweaking the caboose itself, enriching colors, drafting linear details, and refining the window tints as well as the trucks underneath. The foreground pavement also got some attention. I don’t think there should be too much left to do on this one. I’m ready to bring it to a close, but I’m too sleepy to work any further on it tonight. The museum tour and reading took quite a toll on me physically.

My college students are wrapping up their online final exam, and the semester there is coming to a close. Today also I saw the notice that progress reports for high school are due Monday. Charming. More after hours and weekend school work.

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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