Stage Coach Hotel, Fort Worth Stockyards District
Every art form conveys a message. When an artist is young and still learning, that message is usually about technique: see what I can do. Decorative art has a perfectly valid message, one of beauty. As we mature, in both our art and in our life, we learn to understand our passions and these then become the subject we express in our works. But at the same time, passion is not the only source of expression because thought can also come into play. So an artist’s expression evolves from the heart (passion), the brain (thought) or a combination of the two (with usually an emphasis on one or the other).
Alex Powers, (Interview) The Art of Watercolour, 2nd issue
I am posting my second attempt at watercolor sketching the Stage Coach Hotel in the Fort Worth Stockyard District. When I photographed this portal a couple of weeks ago in late afternoon, the temperatures had already reached triple digits. My eye was “held” at the richness of reds in the sun-damaged door, and the smoky, grimy window panes that survived above. I couldn’t stop looking at these details, and took quite a number of photographs of the subject. I knew I wanted to take this one back to the studio and see if I could make something of it.
Following the thread from the Alex Powers interview, I am finally settling down to watercoloring my passion after years of adding techniques and tricks to my toolbox. Reading Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit finally got my attention about that–it is time to let techniques support my objective in painting rather than building “interesting” paintings on a myriad of techniques. The immediate result is that my paintings are coming along even faster now, and I’m spending less time combing through my toolbox for gimmicks to toss out onto the painting.
Portals have fascinated me for decades, but it wasn’t until this past winter that I took my first crack at painting close-up studies of door knobs. I next turned my attention to the surfaces of weathered old doors. When the spring came around, I began experimenting with screen door compositions. All of these studies took place in my studio. For the past few weeks I have been traveling about, painting portals on site and enjoying the speed and decision-making of plein air painting. Now that Texas has settled into its inferno summer temperatures, I am perusing photographs that I’ve taken of these portals and making plans for additional compositions. All of this has been fulfilling for me. I don’t know how to explain my passion for the subjects I paint. I suppose I could just toss out the adage: for those who don’t understand, no explanation is possible; for those who do, none is necessary.
I have probably mentioned in earlier blogs that I play guitar. I have not been able to accomplish with music what I have with the visual arts. I suppose that would fall somewhere under the “10,000- Hour” rule of Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. I have easily put in my 10,000 hours of study and application in the visual arts. On guitar, well that’s another story. But my point in opening with the quote from Alex Powers is this: younger, less experienced artists can easily get caught up in the fascination of learning many, many techniques and tricks that “wow” the observer, just as many younger, less experienced guitar players load up their toolboxes with tricks and gimmicks to stun listeners with their performance. And yet, many young and less experienced artists still do not know how to build a painting, just as many guitar players in the same class cannot play a single song all the way through. And when they do (painters and guitar players), they often show creative flourishes, but not a finished masterpiece. I don’t say this with the sadness that I used to: when I play guitar, I am conscious that I can play all the notes correctly and sometimes even keep my timing consistent. But the “soul” is not there. My guitar does not gently weep. My listeners do not feel what I feel, because it is not coming through my fingers, not emerging from my guitar. I have witnessed scores of guitar gods playing my instrument, and I would swear that it was not the same instrument. I marveled at how they coaxed that sound, that soul, from my acoustic box. At this point, I still cannot.
I used to complain this way about my paintings–that they were fine illustrations, ably constructed, correctly rendered, and so on. But now, I want feelings and moods to emerge from my pictures, not gimmicks. I want viewers to see my work, and feel what I felt in constructing it. And, to borrow a line from Hemingway: “I’m not there, but I feel I’m getting closer.” I am more excited about painting now than I ever recall feeling before. Because I know what I want. I know what I seek. The passion is there. And I’m starting to believe that the passion can emerge from my brush. Who knows? Maybe some day passion will rise from my guitar strings as well. But, one thing at a time.
Thanks for reading. Sorry if this was too much navel-gazing. It’s been on my mind awhile now.
I paint in order to remember.
I journal because I feel that I am alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.