Feeling the Surge

September 20, 2016

claude-start

Beginning of a Watercolor of an Abandoned Gas Station in Claude, Texas

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.

He built like a composer improvising under the spur of a mystic guidance.  He had sudden inspirations.

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

What an extraordinary day at my high school! I have volunteered to oversee the Lunch & Learn tutorial service offered by A.V.I.D. students. Today was our first day, and I was ecstatic to find all four of my tutors present and ready to help students who actually showed up the first day to get help in their math classes.

While the students worked on their problems, I was engaged in conversation by one of our senior girls who had encouraged me to read The Poisonwood Bible. I finished that book a couple of weeks ago and still am vibrating from the experience. The student who engaged me has finished the book as well, and her Advanced Placement English class is now discussing it. How enlightening it was, listening to her take on the story and her own extracted ideas from the text.

After the tutoring session, I found that I still had about fifteen minutes of the lunch hour remaining, so I dashed upstairs to see if any of my “lunch bunch” was still assembled. They were, and what was the conversation over as I entered the room? Literature by Joyce, Melville and Hemingway! Wow. If I harbor any regrets from this splendid day, it is that I only got to sit with my colleagues for fifteen minutes to engage in a discussion about reading. How enriching to sit with colleagues over a simple lunch and listen to conversations soaring above the small talk.

When I got home, I felt the surge to begin a new watercolor, so I quickly sketched in a line drawing of an abandoned filling station in Claude, Texas that I have painted before:

route66memories-from-website

As I prepared to lay in the sky, I decided to pull out a limited edition print of mine with a winter sky that pleased me:

cold-desolation

A number of years have gone by since I’ve attempted a wintry sky.  So far, what I’m trying on the new painting is working.

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.

 

 

Recollections 54 Redivivus

September 19, 2016

abandoned-cafe

The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

On February 7, 2002, over fourteen years ago, I was convinced that I had finally found my artistic voice, and responded by launching my sole proprietorship Recollections 54, creating a market for my watercolors (www.recollections54.com). My passion has always been to travel  county roads through the sleepy towns of America, my watercolor block riding at my side like a faithful travel dog. Always on the lookout for something to paint, I experienced every day as a new opportunity for discovery of some artifact reminiscent of earlier decades of energy and prosperity. Today, only the shells and husks remain of filling stations, general stores, movie theaters and other public buildings formerly stirring with conversations, stories and glimpses of life. The writer Marcel Proust has pointed out the thrill of beholding an object capable of triggering profound memories from youth, and being filled with a sense of warmth and gratitude.

Holding down two jobs has made painting with any kind of regularity a challenge, and should I be fortunate enough to retire one day, I have this fantasy of pursuing my watercolor passion with fewer restrictions. In addition to working full time, I have also taken a number of detours throughout the past fourteen years, traveling roads that involved significant changes in my signature genre–still life painting, plein air painting, Texas coastal themes and fly fishing, to name a few. But lately, I’ve found joy in returning to this Recollections 54 genre, selecting scenes from vanishing America.

I have nearly completed another watercolor of this favorite genre, and posted it above. This relic of a roadside restaurant flooded me with a sense of loss and presence when I stopped and photographed it in New Mexico years ago. Loss, because the business was dead; presence, because the structure resonated with stories as I stood gazing at it from every possible angle, near and afar, taking dozens of photos and trying to imagine what it was like to pull into the gravel parking lot hungry and eager to enter a comfortable zone and be served.

Emerson wrote that detachment was the virtue of a piece of art, that ability to detach the subject from the surroundings that tried to draw away attention. Frequently that is what I do when selecting something to draw or paint. From buildings such as this, I frequently remove windows, air conditioning units, graffiti, dangling cables–anything I regard as taking away from the simple integrity of the subject. The surroundings often present that annoying tree or trash dumpster that is in the way. The fun thing about making art is the ability to make those decisions in framing up a composition. And so this subject also presented its own unique set of possibilities.

I believe the painting is nearly finished. As was the practice of Andrew Wyeth, I’ll put it up in my home somewhere, and glance at it as I enter or leave the room, always evaluating, figuring if there remains something to do before signing off on it.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Ecstatic Revision

September 19, 2016

new-mexico

Perhaps I feel happiest when, during the creative process, I simply let work “pour out”, so to speak, without critical intervention or editing . . . 

Robert Motherwell

After a weekend tour of five Texas universities with the senior A.V.I.D. students from my campus, I found myself quite exhausted and mellow when I finally awoke in my own bed Sunday morning. My gas station and passenger rail car watercolors are nearly complete, and I really was not in the mood to look at them and make final decisions. So, instead, I picked up this demonstration piece I began a couple of years ago, to see if I could edit it and pull out a finished painting. The site is an abandoned restaurant in New Mexico that I photographed a number of years ago while passing through from Colorado.

My first painting of this location has already sold to dear friends. I’m always glad to sell to a friend, but I missed looking up at that framed painting that hung in a prominent place in my living room. So far, this one is not living up to the standards of the first, but we’ll see what happens as I bump it a little more.

The original painting was titled New Mexico Closure, and it is featured on my website recollections54.com. With this current attempt, I am attempting to put more foliage around the back and enrich the foreground textures. So far, the bread crumbs and salt are not creating the effects I’m seeking, but I’ll give it another go this evening, hopefully.

I posted the Robert Motherwell quote above, completely affirming that joy in pouring out spontaneously all the richness of my emotions as I begin a work, then revising later. Oftentimes, the earlier joy far exceeds the work of revision. However, there are times like now that my ecstatic high is reversed, and I find more joy in the revision. That is true on this occasion because this painting began as a demo for a local art society. I fielded numerous questions as I put down the preliminary colors and shapes, and of course, was conscious of an audience, so I could not experience that “high” that I know when alone in the studio and pouring out a new work.

William Wordsworth opined once that “all good poetry is the spntaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” But he then later wrote that “the imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.” What makes this current watercolor experience enjoyable for me is the time I’m spending staring at the work from across the room, making compositional decisions. When I see something I don’t like, I don’t despair but wonder “can it be improved, and if so, do I have the skill”?  So far, I’m saying Yes and Yes.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Perpetual Wanderlust

September 15, 2016

brookfieldbrookfield-close

Abaondoned Gas Station on Missouri Highway 36

I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Finding myself impounded in a school classroom five days a week, my imagination goes back on the road that I enjoyed so deeply last summer, as travels took me to the Texas coast, to Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri.  I started a painting of an abandoned gas station I encountered on Missouri State Highway 36, west of Macon, and watching the watercolor coming into focus over the past week has filled me with the most pleasant memories of that summer trek.

It has been surmised that Edward Hopper was so taken with a particular gas station in the Cape Cod region that he turned his automobile around and went back for a closer look, eventually creating a collection of drawings and a magnificent oil painting.

gas

Edward Hopper, Gas

That was precisely my experience last summer–several miles past the abandoned gas station, I suddenly turned my Jeep around and returned to the location to take pictures and make thumbnail sketches for a future watercolor. In the Hopper painting, I have always been drawn to the dark woods beyond the station at night, thinking of one of Hopper’s favorite poets, Robert Frost:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Even though my watercolor is set in the blazing heat of a Missouri summer at midday, I wished for my woods backing the gas station to have that same dark look as I see in the Hopper painting.

Yesterday afternoon was quite rare, as I had the entire afternoon and evening free to do as I pleased. I spent the entire time bent over this painting, enjoying every piece of the composition as it slowly came into focus beneath my brushes and pencils. I used a good deal of salt and stale bread crumbs to help texture the gravel parking lot and scattered patches of grasses in the foreground. A good, sharp #2 pencil helped me render carefully the details of the frame siding, as well as the windows and doors around the structure, and the ridges in the roof. The continual layering of warm and cool colors in the foliage proved to be challenging, but I’m satisfied so far with how that part of the painting is going.  I’m a little timid about finishing out the clouds, as it’s been months since I played with Q-Tips and grays, and am rather forgetful of what exactly I have done in the past to get the effects I want there.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Henri’s Wisdom

September 12, 2016

The technique learned without a purpose is a formula which when used, knocks the life out of any ideas to which it is applied.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The words of Henri, always an inspiration to his disciples, fuel my imagination this morning. The original Ash Can School would gather in his apartment at 806 Walnut Street in Philadelphia where he would read to them from Whitman and Emerson. Later, at his school in New York, he would continue to lecture and inspire, and his writings are now collected in The Art Spirit.

At my age, I’m still learning technique, but still wonder what exactly it is, to select a subject and assemble a composition that creates a work that will inspire. Perhaps artists, writers and musicians never really know the secret to this big picture.

Thanks for reading. I’m getting close to finishing this passenger rail car relic (I think).

You cannot stop the machine

September 11, 2016

It is Saturday night, and I cannot shut off the muse. I laughingly recall the story from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, when the narrator tried to shut down his friends who were talking late into the night. In retort, Carlo shouted, you cannot stop the machine!

I stopped painting once the sun went down and I lost the northern light through my studio windows. Now, cozied in my small library, I’m reading the volumes on Edward Hopper I’ve collected and loved over the past decades, waiting for sleep to overtake me. I’m glad it’s only Saturday night, because the hour has grown late, and I cannot stop the muse.

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. 

Creating Worlds

September 10, 2016

eureka-springs-rr

The blank canvas is the blank page. You start with nothing. It’s hugely provocative. It’s frightening because you may have too much to put on it. Or not enough of yourself.

Wim Wenders

This cool, dark, overcast, rainy Saturday morning put me in the mood to continue a watercolor I worked on last evening. I’m getting close to finishing it. While painting, I like to listen to some kind of creative stimulus, often spinning LPs on my turntable, or using the laptop to dial up a YouTube presentation. Choosing the latter, I was shocked to discover a nearly hour-long documentary on Edward Hopper titled “Edward Hopper and the Blank Canvas.” What jolted me after all these years was to discover how much film footage remains of Hopper’s television interview with Brian O’Doherty. The presentation is very engaging, and filled with plenty of interviews with film maker Wim Wenders (who was deeply influenced by Hopper’s scenes and collaborated with his photographer to re-create many settings reminiscent of these paintings). The above quote from Wenders is still working on me as I pour myself into this most recent painting.

Eureka Springs is the setting, and their historic railroad depot provides a lengthy section of abandoned trackage where derelict rolling stock has been parked. Every time I visit the town, I love to stroll the length of these tracks, taking pictures and making sketches of the rail cars. As I painted this afternoon, watching my blank paper slowly develop into a painting, I felt the sweet memories of last summer’s excursion flowing through me. Of course, I’m never sure if my feelings come out in the paintings (and Edward Hopper never knew, or perhaps didn’t even care, whether his thoughts were recognized by viewers of his work). I think what engages me the most, thinking of the Wim Wender quote, is when I should declare a painting finished, whether or not I have pushed my feelings far enough into the process. Of course, that is something I’ll never know. But I still think about it as I work.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

dark-studio

Suspended between Wordsworth and Pink Floyd

September 9, 2016

gas-closeup

Remains of a Gas Station near Brookfield, Missouri

passenger

Remains of a Passenger Rail Car in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb.

Friday night has arrived, the week in school has been deeply rewarding, watching classrooms filled with students enthusiastic about pursuing new ideas. Evenings have been given to watercolor activity, and I’ve posted a pair that were inspired by some of my summer travels. Memories associated with these two images are so thick tonight, it seems I have to brush them away from my face so that I can breathe.

Tonight, a deep feeling has overcome me. I’ve returned from a funeral visitation. One of my precious students has lost a father unexpectedly, and her mother is a colleague of mine who has always been a generous resource when needed. Driving home, I listened to “Comfortably Numb” and the words I’ve posted really went deep into my heart. Once I was home again, I dug up Wordsworth verses, including “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” I have felt an intimate kinship with this poet when he speaks of childhood memories that have their ways of sweeping over us during our more pensive moments. And like Proust, he urged that those feelings were worth remembering, even when fleeting, and even when we cannot put our finger on what it is exactly we feel we have lost along the way. Again Thoreau’s haunting words of losing the horse, the bayhound and the turtledove come back to me tonight. I don’t think I’m sad. But something is stirring deep within, and I’m trying to find a way to express it. I’m glad the weekend has arrived and I can walk away from my regular schedule for a couple of days.

Thanks for reading.

Studio Sanctuary

September 7, 2016

studio

It is very well to copy what one sees. It’s much better to draw what one has retained in one’s memory. It is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.

Edgar Degas

Finally, FINALLY I am afforded the opportunity to return to the studio! I’m in my third week of a new school year and have managed to do plenty of pencil sketching in my journal the past few days, but I have had an uncontrollable itch to pick up the watercolor brush. So, when I saw a gap in my schedule this afternoon, I charged full-bore into a 20 x 24″ stretched paper surface and have felt such a rush of eudaimonia throughout this afternoon and evening.

My subject I recognize as an abandoned filling station I photographed this summer, I believe in the vicinity of Brookfield, Missouri on Highway 36. About a month or so ago, I did a small watercolor of a brightly-colored restored gas station further east along that same stretch of highway that friends had pointed out to me.

station new

Painting from last summer near New Cambria, Missouri

My current project will have far less color, just a white frame building with all its signage and pumps removed. Still, the sprawling highway alongside the abandoned structure has such an Edward Hopper kind of feel, and I have always loved his painting titled Gas. 

gas

Edward Hopper, Gas

Most viewers with whom I’ve spoken are fascinated with the solitary man at the pumps. As for me, I’ve always been more interested in the white frame building, the pavement, and a dark forest framing the composition. When I drove across Missouri last summer and saw the remains of that gas station to my right, I knew I had something very near to my recollection of a Hopper composition.

studio-2

The evening has also been delicious because of the quiet time and space to work on my art history for tomorrow. With each passing day, I am getting more attached to my students in the three A-Day art history sections. I am trying something new this academic year, and so far I’m pleased with how it is working. For about four years now, I have been hammered by “experts” that collaborative learning is the wave of the educational future, and that we should be forcing the students into such groups to enhance their learning. This is completely counter to the way I learned during my significant years, and cuts against the grain of how I am comfortable teaching. I have heard the scoffers ridiculing the lecture format, referring to it as the Dark Age of schooling. I couldn’t disagree more. For one thing, when I lecture, I continually throw questions out on the floor to engage students willing to engage, and for the most part they are willing. Last year, I almost completely abandoned the lecture format in favor of group learning and discussion, and I found the year among the most dissatisfying in my nearly three decades of experience.

This year I have compromised, working earnestly to cut each ninety-minute class period into collaborative portions, in additon to lecturing portions as well as time for independent work with chrome books or smart phones. Each session still has a thesis, and I don’t lose sight of the goal. But I am very pleased to watch how these classes have developed. For instance, in my last session, our focus was on early dynastic Egypt, and we studied three select sculptures from the day’s unit. And as the three figures were examined, I sought a healthy balance of independent computer research, group collaboration and lecture. And once the ninety-minute period was completed, the students not only were exposed to the historical background and technical vocabulary of those three pieces, but when prompted by me to connect with what they had worked on during the first two weeks, there emerged from the discussion allusions to the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic eras of Greek art, along with ideas from Heraclitus, Parmenides and Plato. In further discussion, ideas were dropped as well from the lives of Isaac Newton, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. That provided quite a rush for me, and I hope it did for them as well.

It’s been a great week, and I’m so pleased to be making art again. Thanks for reading.

 

 

Afternoon Thoughts

September 5, 2016

As the sleeper hovers between consciousness and dream, a shadowy thought emerges from the twilight gloom, sharpens eventually to a silhouette, takes on color and finally assumes three-dimensional form, yet casts from itself a second shadow.

–my own words

Pausing on this final afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend, I take full delight in writing out my ideas, happy that space has been given for quiet solitude. Grateful to re-visit early scraps of thoughts hastily scribbled in old journals. Happy to re-read handwritten notes poked into dented manila folders running back to the 1980’s. In doing this, I recall a Whitman poem where he sensed a specter rising before him and gesturing toward his manuscripts, perhaps mocking his efforts. I knew of such days when I mocked my thoughts as shallow and immature. Today however, I feel little such humiliation while reading half-baked thoughts from my past. Granted, the stuff I wrote thirty years ago lacks the growth of what I am capable of composing in my older years, and why shouldn’t it? We grow up. Life files off many of our sharp, brittle points, replacing them with better-rounded, more durable surfaces. Still, it is exciting to find those occasional recorded thoughts from earlier days that still pack a punch of authenticity today. And as we continue to revisit our earlier dreams, we oftentimes find intriguing shadow-twins emerging next to them. And in these shadows we find new adventures waiting, new ideas worth exploring.

Thanks for reading.