Painting from Box Canyon

July 21, 2018

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Box Canyon at Ghost Ranch

Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and the birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.

Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to a young writer, April 23, 1903

Today’s adventure included a hike into Box Canyon from Ghost Ranch. Finding a shady spot near a stream, I looked up at the towering facade of bluffs and decided to set up the easel and give it a try. The winds were cool in the canyon, and the time spent there was lovely. All week long, I have tried new pigments in my painting attempts, and have made some compositional decisions unlike what I have tried before. I am very much enjoying this time of experimentation, and am now reading Rilke’s collection of letters to a young writer for the second time this week. I am moved deeply by his words and convictions.

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View of the Pedernal from the Casita

Yesterday morning, I drew out this composition completely in pencil and laid down my first few pale washes. But today I chose to spend the morning painting in Box Canyon at Ghost Ranch. So when I returned to the casita this evening, the colors and shadows were completely different on the Pedernal. Knowing I leave for Colorado in the morning, I decided to give this an evening attempt. It will be my last Pedernal painting from location. The one I began yesterday afternoon at Ghost Ranch was stopped early because of a rare desert storm that drove me to shelter. I took out the painting this evening, and transferring the reference photo I took to my laptop, studied the image and decided to push it further. Perhaps tomorrow from Colorado I can work on it further and post it on the blog.

Again, borrowing the words from John Muir, “The mountains are calling me and I must go.” New Mexico has been a perfect rest for me this week, and a perpetual inspiration to paint. I expect the same from the Colorado Rockies over the next two weeks.

Thanks always for reading. It feels good to post these sentiments, knowing there are readers who are interested.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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New Mexico Enchantment

July 20, 2018

This country is very beautiful and also difficult . . . it is not a country of light on things. It is a country of things in light, therefore it is a country of form, with a new presentation of light as problem.

Marsden Hartley, letter to Alfred Stieglitz, 1918

It’s been a few hours since I left Ghost Ranch, attempting to paint en plein air. My efforts were thwarted by a desert storm–one of those rare cloudbursts with powerful gusts of wind. I had to turn my watercolor face down to avoid the large drops. Of course it was over in a few minutes, and the earth here still looks like iron ore. But I had already packed my easel and gear, and fatigue from my morning hike had set in.

I’ve resumed reading an O’Keeffe biography and came across this Marsden Hartley quote which matches my sentiment. This is an amazing environment that I’m still working on solving in watercolor. I appreciate O’Keeffe’s remark that no one could ever teach her how to paint her landscape–only theirs, but not hers. I feel the same way; I admire so many watercolor artists who have mastered landscape, but I don’t want to attend a workshop to learn their ways; I’m seeking my own voice, my own vision here.

Thanks for reading.

Plein Air Painting as Re-Invention

July 20, 2018

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The fact is, I am an intuitive painter, a direct painter. I have never worked from sketches, never planned a painting, never ‘thought out’ a painting. I start each painting as if I had never painted before. I present no dogma, no system, no demonstrations. I have no formal solutions. I have no interest in the ‘finished’ painting. I work only out of high passion.

Barnett Newman, Interview with Dorothy Gees Seckler

As I began painting shortly after sunrise, with temperatures at 62 degrees, I started with a blank sheet, and as I stared at the Pedernal, contemplating what to put on the picture plane, these words from Barnett Newman seeped into my consciousness. Without delay, I did something for the first time–took up a pencil and drew in my landscape composition completely, every shadow and facet of the Pedernal, along with the rock outcroppings below and the sweep of the meadows and desert in the foreground. I never do that–always in plein air landscape attempts, the pencil is used only for architecture or human-made structures. I never draw trees and seldom draw horizon lines. As for mountains, I have only laid down an outline for a suggestion, but never tried to draw the details or shadow lines. And then, as it came time to lay down the colors, I ignored my basic palette and began mixing a stew of new colors never before used. And I laid down light washes without trying to accent with the dark tones. All of it was brand new to me, and I thought of Newman describing the sensation of painting as if he had never done it before. In another context (I could not locate it), Newman discussed inventing painting as if it had never been done before (around 1941). The sensation was indescribable. I enjoyed experimenting, and did not concern myself with how the finished product would look. These plein air attempts are a laboratory for me, and I’m swimming in bliss.

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A Little Re-Touching of Yesterday’s Attempt

I felt a rush of enthusiasm as I worked on the new composition, and then laid aside the art materials in order to return to Ghost Ranch for a hike up toward Chimney Rock, one of my favorite sites from Georgia O’Keeffe compositions.

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Chimney Rock

There wasn’t time to get all the way up there (three hours required), as lunch reservations had been made. But the ninety-minute trek was exhilarating, and all the while I wondered (after an old Timberland Footwear advertising tag–“What kind of footprint will you leave?”). The desert here in Abiquiu is not Extreme, but worse: Exceptional. So I tried to stay on the hardest surfaces of the hiking trail, hoping not to leave boot prints in soft soil. At any rate, the hike was an experience I seldom know.

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View of the Pedernal from near Chimney Rock

During my descent, I saw a button on the trail, face down. Thinking of the environmentalist adage: “Take only memories, leave nothing”, I picked it up, not wishing for litter to remain on the trail. Turning it over and reading it, then looking back down at where it had been lying, I realized what someone had done. So I replaced the button, face up:

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Hope that doesn’t offend. I felt embarrassed when I saw the message, knowing someone, somewhere was amused at folk like me picking up the button and turning it over to read.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Early Morning Thoughts from Pedernal Casita at Abiquiu Lake

July 19, 2018

Pedernal in the Evening

Pedernal in the Morning Read the rest of this entry »

In the Presence of the Pedernal

July 18, 2018

I’ll try to post more tomorrow, but wanted to share just one of many good moments here from Abiquiu, New Mexico. My painting above is from a location midway between Ghost Ranch and the Pedernal. I began it last evening shortly after arriving, and today didn’t like what I saw–too gray. So this evening I introduced some stronger colors and believe I’ve improved it somewhat.

(Yesterday evening’s beginning)

Thanks for reading. Ghost Ranch awaits tomorrow . . .

A Rolling Stone

July 15, 2018

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Work in Progress on a Commission

In recent weeks, I’ve done everything except gather moss. Since Bloomsday (June 16), I’ve had the itch to wander in the fashion of James Joyce’s Ulysses, and so I set out to experience adventures between Arlington, Fort Worth, Denton, and Palestine, Texas. But all the while I wandered and collected experiences, I itched to return to the mountains, and on July 1, after finishing my last art show of the summer, I began loading the Jeep for my journey west. Of course, I had to bring my work along with me, so I decided to call it a “working vacation.”

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This watercolor is commissioned by a special man who had his own epic “Ulysses” experience while at Fort Worth’s Santa Fe Depot in recent years. I haven’t yet heard his full story, but this view of the depot triggers deep-felt memories for him, and I’m delighted to take on the task of recreating the image.

Pointing the vehicle to Amarillo, and subsequently travelling the great Southwest, I have painted daily, and prepped for my fall load of college courses. These regular activities, along with moving about and experiencing new things, has kept my life busy and satisfying in the best way.

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I accepted an invitation to watch a parade and local rodeo in O’Donnell, Texas, and took dozens of pics, marveling at every turn. A heavy shower watered the countryside that afternoon, cooling temperatures and making for great photo opportunities.

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Though growing up in the St. Louis area, my father was always fascinated with the rodeo, and I attended these events as a child, seeing my last one while in high school. Now, forty-five years later, I attend a small town event, and experience an unforgettable evening.

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I still haven’t reached the mountains, but they are still on my radar. I am dying for the opportunity of plein air painting again.

I would like to say more, but I’ve promised myself a full day of class preparations, and I haven’t even yet started. So I’ll just say Thanks for Reading, and I hope to post again before too long.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Losing Myself (or Finding Myself?) in a Large Watercolor

July 11, 2018

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Santa Fe Depot in Fort Worth, Texas

It is humanity’s tragedy that today its leaders are either sullen materialists or maniacs who express the psychopathology of the mob mind.

Barnett Newman, 1933

I was stung this morning by these words from Barnett Newman (an artist and thinker), published in 1933 when he was running for mayor of New York City, being dismayed at the slate of candidates. These words could have been printed in this morning’s newspaper. Throughout my six decades-plus of living, I am losing hope that matters can improve in our nation’s leadership, or the rank and file of American voters that judge them worthy at the ballot box.

I’ll try to get this negative stuff out of the way quickly. Also this morning, I read an article from The Atlantic, posted by one of my stellar former students on Facebook: “The Wisdom Deficit in Schools.” The argument was one I held to no avail for nearly three decades in public schools. I am losing hope there too, and am glad to be retired. In three decades, I saw no improvement, only state legislators who dared not enter the premises of public schools while continuing to drain them of their resources, along with “experts” putting out annual talking points to improve education. And I concluded that most experts are to education as bumper stickers are to philosophy. The only thing I could do in three decades was teach the students entrusted to me to the best of my ability, with resources gleaned from my own education, hoping it would be enough–it was all I had to offer. I once read from someone that education was the pouring out of a life. And I did that (still do, but with much more fulfillment in semi-retirement).

Enough of that.

I rose from my reading and went out, hoping to waddle my way out of the cesspool of negativity that was drowning me. I found a public facility conducive to a studio, spread my supplies across a large table, dialed my phone to my favorite YouTube music, and proceeded to swan dive into this 30 x 22″ watercolor. And the longer I drew, painted, wiped, and splattered, the more contented I grew.  It always happens that way.

Years ago, I made art, hoping for attention, sales, and a sense of self-worth. Today, I can honestly say I am blessed to have received satisfying measures of those. Now, I make art because it brings quality to my life. As I paint and listen to music, messages sink into my soul that I have gleaned from my reading earlier in the day (today from Barnett Newman, Edward Hopper, Eugene Delacroix and Ralph Waldo Emerson). And yes, I am currently on vacation, but it is a working vacation as I pursue this promised commission and prepare for three college courses in the fall. And it is all good.

Eugene Delacroix has spoken to my soul repeatedly, and I thank God he kept journals. I’ve posted this one before, but do so now again, because he pours out his sentiments in words more eloquent than mine, and all I can say is that I affirm his testimony 100%–

(from Sunday, July 14, 1850): Today, Sunday, I may say that I am myself again: and so it’s the first day that I find interest in all the things which surround me. This place is really charming. I went this afternoon, and in a good mood, to take a walk on the other side of the water. There, seated on a bench, I started to jot down in my notebook some reflections similar to those I am tracing here. I told myself and I cannot repeat it to myself often enough for my repose and for my happiness (one and the other are but a single thing) that I cannot and must not live in any other way than through the mind; the food that it demands is more necessary to my life than that which my body calls for. 

Why did I live so much, that famous day? (I am writing this two days afterward). It was because I had a great many ideas which, at this moment, are a hundred leagues away. The secret of not having troubles, for me at least, is to have ideas. Therefore no effort is too great if it gives me the means of bringing them into existence. Good books have that effect, and above all certain ones among those books. The first thing to have is health, to be sure; but even in a sickly condition, such books as those can reopen sources through which imagination can issue forth generously.

Thank you for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Vacation Wanderings

July 9, 2018

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Standing with Ian Watson at the Opening of His One-Man-Show

I’m the subject. I’m also the verb as I paint, but I’m also the object. I am the complete sentence.

Barnett Newman

Finally, vacation has arrived. Summer School ended Thursday for Texas Wesleyan University, and by Friday morning, I had completed all grading for the term.  The university paid out my contract several days before the term actually finished, so I was more than ready to sing the Song of the Open Road (Whitman).

In my second year of high school teaching (1989), Ian Watson came into my life as a sophomore and has remained in the best way, though he now resides in Amarillo, over five hours away. In art and humanities classes, he was an enthusiastic learner, and very skilled as a young artist, encouraged by his father, an accomplished photographer (who took the above photo) and graphics design artist.

By the time he was a junior, Ian had become enthralled with the Abstract Expressionist tradition, and spent hours studying its history, particularly Jackson Pollock, even reading that massive biography by Naifeh and Smith. Rolling canvas across the art room floor, Ian experimented with Pollock’s drip style, even embedding pieces of glass, cigarette butts and bottle caps into the wet enamel. Many years later, when we caught up again, I learned that he had moved into Color Field investigations, and that he had read the Rothko biography by Breslin. He also gave me as a gift a book I had had my eye on for years, Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews.

Ian opened his first One-Man-Show at the Object Gallery in Amarillo, Texas Friday night, and I knew from the day it was advertised months ago that I would be present. In 2010, Ian attended the opening of my first show, and I’ll always be indebted to him for that.  His opening was an enriching experience, and I’ll always appreciate the special feeling of seeing someone emerge as a professional artist that I knew as a young student in my earliest years of teaching.

Because of the Amarillo show, I was unable to attend the monthly Art Walk in Lubbock, Texas, where the gallery Art for Goodness Sake just hung seven of my newest plein air landscape watercolors of the Southwest. But I at least had the pleasure of stopping by the gallery and visiting with the owners.

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“Ghost Ranch”–One of seven watercolors now at Art for Goodness Sake

I am on my way to the mountains now. As John Muir once wrote, I feel them now calling out to me, and I feel compelled to go. I anticipate much joy as I paint them en plein air. I’ve brought along with me my half-finished volume on Cezanne, and I am at the part where he was stunned at the sight of Mont Saint-Victoire and felt moved to paint it about sixty times, never feeling that he got it right. At this point, I know I haven’t gotten my mountains down on paper the way I wish them to appear.

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Historic Santa Fe Depot, Fort Worth, Texas

I have also brought along my work on a commission I was offered last April. I am painting the Santa Fe depot of Fort Worth, located on Jones Street, choosing a full sheet of 300-pound D’Arches cold-pressed watercolor paper. A patron approached me at Artscape 2018, offering a generous sum of money for me to paint the location posted above, because years ago he experienced an existential turning point in his life while standing there admiring the structure. He wishes to preserve a visual memory of this significant moment in his life. For that reason, I feel very close to this subject as I work, thinking of this man at a crossroads who today celebrates a key decision in his life. I also like the thought that the painting will be developing across west Texas, New Mexico and Colorado as I journey.

The summer is hot, but at least in west Texas it cools to the low-seventies at sundown, and remains that way till almost noon the next day. The scorching three-digit temperatures in the Dallas/Fort Worth area are not for me. I’m glad to be quit of them.

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Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Thrilling Transitions

July 3, 2018

Redlands first

Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.

Henry David Thoreau


Good morning from the Redlands Hotel in Palestine. I have taken my seat inside the newly-reconfigured Gallery at Redlands, Room 109. Fascinating changes have occurred inside this historic hotel, with more to come.

Redlands FM

In a previous blog, I mentioned that the Red Fire Grille came under new ownership earlier this year, and with that change came hotel renovations that created the beautiful RFG “Sparq Bar” just down the hall from the gallery. Patrons are now coming in great number to enjoy fine dining as well as cocktails in the evening. And just recently, the Red Fire Grille opened with lunch hours for the first time. Now we don’t have to wait till evening for people to visit the first floor of the hotel.

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You may have seen the new entry at the bottom of the window sign: Smooth Rock 93.5. The offices of this new FM station will be opening upstairs in Room 205, but the broadcast booth will be my new roommate in the gallery. This radio station, currently based in San Antonio, will be moving to Palestine this month, and launching their first broadcast August 1. The broadcast booth will occupy the south end of the gallery at the display window facing the street. Broadcasts will occur Monday through Friday, and I will work the gallery most weekends. But, with a college schedule of Tuesday-Thursday classes, I’ll be sure to spend some Fridays and Mondays inside the gallery so I can soak up the atmosphere of FM radio featuring Eric Clapton and other musicians of that genre. The radio has pledged aggressive advertising for the hotel, gallery, restaurant and bar, so naturally, we are all excited to welcome our new resident.

I arrived yesterday with my Jeep packed to the gills with all the art merchandise and furnishings from my festival last weekend. Once I unloaded everything into the gallery, it was time to begin work re-configuring the Gallery at Redlands to make room for our new residents. This involved moving the heavy desk from the site of the future broadcast booth to the front of the gallery near the lobby window. Then, we set up my Pro Panels to form a temporary wall separating the gallery from the broadcast area, but allowing passage on both sides from one space to the next.

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Redlands wall

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The gallery has a completely new, more intimate feel now.

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The lobby of this historic hotel, dating from 1915, has been completely renovated, with offices removed and a large, open lounge area inviting people to relax in conversation, books, television, and drinks.

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The Redlands Hotel, dating from 1915, is a veritable time warp for me every time I enter the main hall, and I’m thrilled that the gallery is in this hall. When I climb those stairs to move into the suite that provides a luxurious dwelling, I feel I’m supposed to be wearing spats from the previous century, a vest with watch chain, and a fat cigar in my mouth.

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The Gallery at Redlands is open, on the right

These are truly exciting days in Palestine, Texas. For anyone reading this, I sincerely hope you will find the time to visit us at The Redlands Hotel on 400 N. Queen Street. The rooms are absolutely stunning, and the prices are very reasonable. The gallery is improving each week, and come August we will welcome FM 92.5 Smooth Rock to the premises. Unfortunately, I will be out of town when that occasion arises, and I hope I will be able to stream the inaugural broadcast on the Internet. I’m preparing to leave for the mountains for some exquisite time to paint and fly fish. I’ll return to the gallery in mid-August.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Musings of Gratitude

June 30, 2018

Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful; patience is everything!”

Rainer Rilke, in a letter to his young disciple Franz Xaver Kappus

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The Adobe Western Art Gallery located in the Stockyards in Fort Worth

Many days have slid past without my posting a blog. The online summer school class has kept me busy, as well as everyday matters that demand attention as well. Summers can be dog days for the artist, but I’m grateful that they offer a long spread of time to make art while the galleries and festivals slide into their annual hiatus. And with summer school ending next week, I’ve packed my art and fly fishing gear and am ready to take off for some serious fishing and plein air painting.

I love the quote from Rilke, and laugh at the impatience I suffered needlessly over the decades. In my senior years, things are making more sense, and my art is bringing me more pleasure than ever before. I’m proud to announce that I have been accepted into the Adobe Western Art Gallery at 2400 North Main ‘Street, in the Stockyards at Fort Worth. I have heard artists speak in awe of this gallery over the past ten years, and always wondered what it would like to be on the inside. My friend Wade Thomas, who leases the Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, pitched my work to the manager, and he invited me in. Currently I have only giclee prints in the gallery, but originals have been requested and I’m working earnestly on filling the order. I’m extremely grateful for this exposure.

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My Set-up for the M.A.D.E. festival at Stage West in Fort Worth

Tomorrow (Sunday) from noon till five p.m., I’ll be at Stage West Theater for their annual M.A.D.E. (music, art, drinks, eats) festival. I had good times here for two years, then missed last year because it occurred during my Colorado vacation. I’m delighted this year to learn that I did not lose my place in line. In fact, they assigned me Booth #1. This will be first time I have been in the front gallery of the event. This will be my only summer art event, as Texas doesn’t seem interested in holding indoor events, and the temperatures today soared to 106 degrees. I’m glad that Stage West has the vision to put on this indoor show.

Thank you for reading. I hope to post again soon, because I have exciting news about changes on the way at the Gallery at Redlands in Palestine.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.