The Quiet Zone of the Morning

January 16, 2017

knob-outside

Painting During the Morning Hours

. . . Samuel rode lightning on top of a book and he balanced happily among ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe. But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Thnks to Steinbeck, I could not retire to bed until about 1:00 this morning. This book is scratching me in mental areas that have not been scratched in years, and I could never sufficiently express my gratitude for such engaging ideas. I must confess that I have always read more like Tom, which explains why I am trying, yet again, to understand the philosophy of Martin Heidegger as recorded in Being and Time.

Though retiring to bed rather late, I did manage to rise at 8:30 without an alarm (For nearly three decades now, I have detested those 6:00 alarms yanking me out of the sack in order to report to a 7:35 class on normal workdays). I showered and broke my fast as rapidly as possible so I could light a fire and resume my reading of Steinbeck over coffee for nearly an hour, as soothing jazz played in the background (I so love music playing as I read and write!).

fireplace

Ah, the Warmth and Intimacy of a Fireplace!

After an hour of Steinbeck, I returned to the drafting table and immediately got up to my elbows in the watercolor that I resumed yesterday. Like Tom in reading, I also burrow into the details of painting, pushing constantly at new ways to apply the paint. I spent about an hour scratching with brushes and pencils on the corn and the burlap around it. Last night, late, I worked over the textures of the door above (somehow I managed to paint the masking tape residue in places, and my technique worked!) and am happy with the way the overall painting is beginning to form. I was deeply dissatisfied with this piece when I stopped work on it over a week ago, and have had it displayed across the room from me so I could gaze at it repeatedly, day after day, and try to cope with the shaping of the composition. At this point, I am feeling some satisfaction, and I like that–I do indeed hate to lose a painting. Sometimes I just need time to “compost” as I gaze at the work critically and try to determine where it is failing.

heidegger

Another Crack at Heidegger’s Being and Time

And finally, thanks to YouTube, I’m getting some help, listening to excellent lectures on Being and Time. This morning I listened to the first of a series of 28 lectures delivered at University of California Berkeley by Hubert Dreyfus in 2007. Thanks to him, some of Heidegger’s concepts are beginning to become clear to me. Reading Heidegger’s Hut by Adam Sharr warmed me with its ideas about working in a solitary place, away from the workplace. Now, I wish once again to try and understand this thinker’s difficult philosophy.

It’s been a productive morning, and I’m happy that so much of the day and evening remain. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Into the Sanctuary

January 15, 2017

corn

Up-to-Date Photo of my Most Recent Watercolor in Progress

At most a city-dweller gets “stimulated” by a so-called “stay in the country.” But my whole work is sustained and guided by the world of these mountains and their people. Lately from time to time my work up there is interrupted by long stretches at conferences, lecture trips, committee meetings and my teaching work down here in Freiburg. But as soon as I go back up there . . . I am simply transported in the work’s own rhythm, and in a fundamental sense I am not in control of its hidden law. People in the city often wonder whether one gets lonely up in the mountains among the peasants for such long and monotonous periods of time. But it isn’t loneliness, it is solitude. . . . Solitude has the peculiar and original power of not isolating us but projecting our whole existence out into the vast nearness of the presence of all things.”

Martin Heidegger, “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” Radio Address, 1934

This three-day weekend arrived like that rare thoughtful friend. Some kind of stomach virus kept me out of school Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I returned to school, a shell of what I normally am, and I remember very little of that day. Thursday and Friday I was just tired, still not fully recuperated from the illness. The holiday weekend offered promise of a healing balm.

The reading posted above came from a book I just acquired, Heidegger’s Hut by Adam SharrBefore purchasing the volume, I was aware that the philosopher Martin Heidegger spent much time in a cabin in the Black Forest at Todtnauberg in southern Germany. What I did not know was that he wrote from that secluded dwelling for fifty years, and even turned down the offer to occupy the chair of philosophy in Berlin because it would take him too far away from this country sanctuary. In the same year, he broadcasted the quote posted above.

When I read that passage Friday evening, I just closed the book and sighed, staring into the dark night. I had already decided not to travel over the weekend, and stay in my own suburban home so I could have three days for reading, reflection and getting back to a watercolor I had abandoned before becoming ill. The temperatures had dropped enough to warrant a fire in the fireplace, so I put on music conducive for studying and spent much of this weekend reading the Heidegger book along with primary source texts I have enjoyed in years past from this unusual mind. I am over halfway through Steinbeck’s East of Eden as well. Finally I returned to the watercolor and have posted the latest developments on it for anyone interested in seeing it. I’m experimenting more with India Ink to darken some of the background and stale breadcrumbs to add more texturing to the wood and burlap surfaces. My intention is to continue working on it tomorrow and posting the progress to this blog.

store-picMy Favorite Country Escape

rocking-chair

Porch Time at the same Country Sanctuary

In one of his rhapsodic passages about thinking and writing in the country, Heidegger wrote: “The struggle to mold something into language is like the resistance of the towering firs against the storm.” That is exactly my sentiment as I try to express how profoundly the reading of this book has enraptured my own soul.  Thoreau had his cabin at Walden. Hölderlin had his Tübingen tower. Goethe had his Gartenhaus in Weimar. And Nietzsche had his convalescent home at Sils Maria in the Austrian Alps. For decades I have craved such a “sacred space” for retreat from the work routine so I could enjoy the quiet and hopefully create something special, mentally or aesthetically. Above I’ve posted two photos of a very special place, several hours from where I live–a place to which dear friends have offered access for just such activity.

In 1985, while writing my doctoral dissertation, I fled Fort Worth and lived in rural Whitesboro, Texas in the home posted below. It was over a hundred years old, and though it had electricity, I preferred to write by the light of oil burning lamps at night and still recall the smoky smells that filled the house during those winter evenings as I worked. I still miss those days, thirty years later. Once the dissertation was completed and I graduated, I reluctantly moved back to the city to find work and have been living in the suburbs ever since. I have since revisited this home, too damaged now for an actual residence. The photos are posted below of how it looked around 2010.

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dscn2458

My Residence in 1985

knob-1

Close-up of the Painting in Progress

I look forward to retirement at the end of this semester. Though I’ll continue to live in my suburban home, I’ll seek opportunities to flee to the country for the quiet. I’m grateful that Heidegger left behind his musings on the values of retreat.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Pushing Further into the Portal Experiment

January 3, 2017

jan-3-door

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Today marked the first day of the spring semester and my second day of reverie in the writings of John Steinbeck. I read before my A. P. Art History classes the opening paragraph of chapter 13 of East of Eden, a passage pointed out to me by my ninth-grade English teacher, Lon Simmons. The students overall expressed approval, and one of them actually engaged me in conversation over the significance of the passage, a little later in the period. I found the first day of classes very satisfying.

Once back home, I began experimenting with the large watercolor I’ve posted above. Several days ago, I created for the first time my first batch of watercolor pigment–cobalt blue, combining the powdered pigment with gum arabic, honey and distilled water. I felt like a mad scientist in the laboratory, laughing at my cavalier venture. I managed to create a warm gray tone for some of my background by blending this newly-mixed cobalt blue with Winsor Violet and New Gamboge. I also applied India ink to some of the lettering on the burlap sack at the base of the composition. So far, I am pleased with the results of these latest experiments. I feel that I am getting bolder with these attempts.

Tonight I had the deeply satisfying pleasure of meeting with five of my artist friends at a cafe to exchange ideas over dinner. We have been gathering for these weekly discussions for over a year now, and I cannot express how rewarding these times are for me emotionally. Without fail, I come away from these meetings with a renewed sense of purpose and joy.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Seeking to Recover the Rhythm

January 1, 2017

new-year-final

Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches – nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair.

Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.

John Steinbeck, Nobel Laureate acceptance speech

This first day of the New Year has been a quiet one, with dark rainy weather outside, but a cheery fire inside to brighten the spirits of my living room and studio. Throughout the day, I have picked and chipped away at this watercolor, hoping to get back the rhythm that was broken before Christmas arrived. I’m really in the mood to watercolor, but feel that I don’t know how, and spend so much time staring at this composition, wondering just how to get back into it. These words I write are rather clumsy–I’m not fishing for compliments on my painting, and I don’t have a low opinion of my talent. It’s just that I’m feeling out-of-synch, and hating the fact that I return to school tomorrow without having resolved this. The evening is still young, so hopefully I’ll get some of my act together before bedtime. I would really like to come home from school tomorrow with the feeling that I’ve found my mojo again as a watercolorist.

O.K., so much for the whining about the painting process. . . . I’ve posted the Steinbeck quote because I’ve had wonderful You Tube company throughout this day of painting (I’m a sucker for documentaries and have enjoyed them today on F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck while painting).   I was deeply moved by his remarks when the lines above were read from his acceptance speech.  What he attributes to writers and literature I attribute to all those who create, period–writers, artists, musicians–anyone who feel the compulsion to create. That feeling is a remarkable gift to the creator as well as to those who enjoy his/her creations.  Throughout this Christmas and New Year holiday I have drawn so much strength and inspiration from reading the Bible, poetry, biographies, as well as looking at works of art from the hands of those I admire deeply.  Our creative expressions are gifts to us and to one another, and those gifts during this holiday season have made my personal life so much richer.

Thanks for reading. I just wanted to get some of my feelings out today. Now I return to the studio and see if I can get my groove back!

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

New Years Eve Contemplation

December 31, 2016

new-year

Reading from The Book of Ecclesiastes

The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

Ecclesiastes 1:8

We spend so much time on the hunt. But nothing ever quite does it for us. And we get so wrapped up in the hunt that it makes us miserable.

Dan Harris, author, 10% Happier

For two days, I have been covered in New Year musings, and it’s all good. Yesterday, searching out documentaries to hear while working on my painting, I came across a film that my artist friends have been praising for months: “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.” Dan Harris is one of the featured speakers throughout the presentation. Halfway through the film I laid down my brush, took a seat, and watched the remainder, and felt tears welling up as it concluded.

The message of the documentary is not new for me; I’ve been hearing these ideas since about 1972, just finishing high school. But I never grow weary of the discussion, and never stop hurting for all the lost souls caught up in the maelstrom of possession fever that can never feel satisfaction.

My personal ritual, since 1973, is to read from The Book of Ecclesiastes during New Years Eve. I just finished doing this a short while ago, and feel moved to post something. The treatise was written by an aged king who had concluded near the end of his life that “there is nothing new under the sun.” One of his most quoted summations is “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”  This author had gained it all–political power, wealth, physical pleasure, knowledge. He held back on none of his pursuits and apparently never failed.  Yet, at the end of his life, he sounds deeply unhappy.

The New Year invites us to be retrospective and prospective. I like that.  And, looking back over my past, I acknowledge the many times I have shot for the moon, fell short, and suffered deep dissatisfaction.  But that is not what is on my mind this evening, pausing before the New Era arrives.  My focus now is on the beauty experienced during this earthly odyssey.  Two orbits have never left me impoverished: the pursuit of knowledge and practice of the arts.  In those two realms I have been blessed beyond measure. And during this recent holiday, my library and my studio have offered genuine solace. In these two areas I have drawn strength, and am still happy in the pursuits.

After months of soul-searching, I have made the decision to retire at the end of this school year. The five months before me, I am sure, will race by more quickly than the twenty-eight years behind me.  I anticipate the closing chapter with gladness.  Even more so, I anticipate with gladness the new chapter waiting to be written.  Retirement is the reason I’m pursuing a series of paintings now titled “Portals.”  There is so much waiting to be explored with any series focusing on the open door.

new-year-2

door-friday

Thanks for reading, and I wish all of you the very best in life as you prepare to write your next chapter, as you pass through the next portal.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Entering the Portal of a New Year

December 30, 2016

door-friday

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

As 2016 slowly slides into a chain of memories, I’m happily painting my way into a New Year, hoping to make new discoveries. Returning to this watercolor begun last week has not been without its interruptions and now that I have a couple of days left before this holiday ends, I’m glad to come face-to-face with the composition, yet feel somewhat lost and out of practice.  I suppose the momentum broke. I paused late into this evening to re-read a book by Hemingway that I have always loved. This passage I’ve cited is one of my favorites. The setting is Paris in the 1920s when the young Hemingway was seeking his literary “voice” and seething in self-doubt. I love this soliloquy and have claimed it as my own. Yes, I’ve done this kind of work before and I shall again. All I have to do is begin with the simple, honest strokes that I have known for decades. To me, drawing and watercoloring can be simple and direct. Upon that foundation I’ll return to form, I’m confident. I love the subject I’ve chosen this time, and am looking forward to entering through this new portal and seeing what happens when I come out the other side.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone. 

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Rubbing the Cold off the Object

December 30, 2016

door

These great men [Thoreau, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy] forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of the artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. “Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event.”

I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have had no thought of consequences.  Anyone who creates for effect –to score a hit–does not know what he is missing!

N. C. Wyeth, final letter to his son Andrew Wyeth, February 16, 1944

Finally, after a considerable hiatus, I am delighted to re-enter my studio.  It has taken a few days to get over the weariness generated by a drive from St. Louis to Dallas/Fort Worth following my holiday visit with family. It takes me longer to hit the reset button following those long drives than when I was younger.

The watercolor has gotten cold on me since I left it last week.  But I have been excited to return to it, and am confident that the warmth and confidence will emerge once I give it a few strokes. I am painting this composition for my own pure pleasure, and thus the “commission pressure” is not present. And I’m not painting it with a market in mind; I just want to explore this subject that has been residing in my mind’s eye for quite a long period now. Hence, the quote from N. C. Wyeth above. I did not realize until later in life that I received far more joy and fulfilment in the making of art than in the attention or selling that followed. As my holiday draws near its close, I’m delighted, in this quiet studio, to pursue what gives me the most satisfaction. I’ll continue to post blogs as the painting runs its course.

I wish all of you an exciting and promising New Year.  Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Post-Christmas Musings

December 27, 2016

hotel

Holiday Hotel Insomnia

 Ut pictura poesis (“as in painting, so in poetry”)

I am slowly waking to a most unusual day. For reasons unknown, I awoke a little after 3:00 this morning and could not return to sleep. The hotel was dark and quiet.  Finally, I rose, showered, and spent two hours at the writing desk recording my thoughts, reading and reflecting in the stillness of the post-Christmas pre-dawn. Finally, I went to a 24-hour diner for breakfast, then to Starbucks where I have remained until now (8:14 a.m.), reading and enjoying this cold winter morning (dropped to 34 degrees in St. Louis this morning).

My reading has been an extraordinary experience, finishing the Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life biography, then resuming The Wyeths by N. C. Wyeth and beginning Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings (a much-appreciated Christmas gift).

I read the following in a letter from the young N. C. Wyeth to his parents, regarding a challenge just given him from his teacher Howard Pyle:

“Wyeth, I’ve been watching your work very closely and I see you have a great deal of talent but what you need is knowledge, that is, you have not had a good training and thereby no foundation.” 

Pyle then invited the young N. C. to enroll in his school for illustrators.  I purchased this book, because I’ve been astounded at the erudition of N. C. in his letters written late in life.  Here I am clearly reading of the turning point in his experience, when he was identified as basically unlettered though talented, and requiring intellectual development and maturing.

I am moved by this reading, and recall my own experience forty-four years ago,  when starting out in college on a scholarship granted because of my artistic abilities, but discovering quite quickly that my mental laziness throughout high school had finally outed me.  Some of the painful conversations with my professors still haunt my memory. Looking back, I’m now very grateful for my years in graduate study that poured a foundation beneath my art that now gives me more of a purpose to pursue what I pursue. Though I cannnot yet articulate a particular theory of aesthetics of philosophy of art, I nevertheless am aware of a much deeper motive for making art than I knew in younger years. And of course I still study and practice technique as much as possible and will never neglect this important part of the artistic enterprise. But the message still needs to be explored. Gladly, I still have some holiday vacation time to do this.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Relaxing into Christmas

December 24, 2016

christmas

Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:–

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,

As the swift seasons roll!

Leave thy low-vaulted past!

Let each new temple, nobler than the last,

Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,

Till thou at length are free,

Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Chambered Nautilus”

Happy Holidays to all my treasured blog readers!  I haven’t posted for over a week, as Christmas obligations and errands, along with the responsibilities of closing out the fall semester, left me with little time for communication.  I did however begin work on my first new series that I am titling “Portals.”  I dragged an antique door from my man cave into my living room studio so I could enjoy painting near the fireplace while listening to Christmas music this past week.  As with every Chrstmas season, I leave a fresh painting-in-progress behind in my studio as I flee to St. Louis and visit with family and friends.  But I always am able to return to my home free of post-holiday depression because of a painting still waiting for me that I’m excited to engage.

I am re-reading an Andrew Wyeth biography that I enjoyed years ago, Richard Meryman’s Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life.  My soul stirs deeply as I read of his life and legacy, and the life and ideas of his father N. C. have taken such a hold on me that I just ordered and received (thanks Amazon!) The Wyeths, by N. C. Wyeth.  That incredibly large man was so charged with literary ideas and philosophical sentiments that I cannot wait to read from the 1200 letters that he left behind, exposing his most intimate thoughts and dreams about art. So, in addition to enjoying my circle of family and friends, I’m enjoying some quality reading and times for reflection.  The holidays are such a warm and intimate time for these kinds of pursuits.

I wish all of you the very best of life as we sail through this season.  Christmas and the New Year always fill me with the most meaningful ponderings.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself tha I am not alone.

Portals

December 13, 2016

portal

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

James Joyce, Ulysses

With one week of school remaining before Christmas holidays begin, I was delighted this morning to be seized with the inspiration to begin a new series of work I will call “Portals.”  I have studied with interest Robert Motherwell’s “Open Door” series as well as the motif used in Henri Matisse.  As I look toward the New Year, I’m thinking of new horizons, or new portals of discovery for artistic expression and I took some time this afternoon to research my blog through the months of October through December 2012 when I first began painting vintage doorknobs. Over past years, I have collected a number of vintage doors, doorknobs and locking plates and plan to begin a new series of watercolors on these subjects this winter.  All the ones I’ve painted from the past have sold, and I’m excited at the prospect of beginning this new series.

The above painting was finished over the weekend at my favorite retreat, several hours outside the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.  Dear friends of mine own an old general store that is not in business, but still has a residence attached to it..  They have been gracious in allowing me access to this dwelling over selected weekends, and I thoroughly enjoyed my restful, quiet stay this past weekend.  The door separating the storeroom from the residence was one of my subjects for study the last time I stayed there, and I managed to complete the work this time.  This afternoon I took the painting to a frame shop to be custom framed and I’m excited to see how it looks when ready.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.