Archive for November, 2013

The Visitation

November 6, 2013

A Day to Re-Calibrate

Where “two or three are gathered together” the Gods flee away!

John Cowper Powys, A Philosophy of Solitude

This morning, the rain-soaked back yard shines in the northern light through the open blinds of my living room windows.  It is fifty degrees on this north Texas morning, and wet from the past couple of days of rain.  No sun is visible, and that makes the grey morning even more inviting for me.

Sickness has visited me, as is to be expected when one does too much and reposes too little.  Nevertheless, I had to rise at 6:00 this morning to place lesson plans on my desk for the substitute.  Returning home, I was unable to sleep further, so I put on the coffee, then printed watercolor images on one hundred greeting cards for my upcoming art festival.  I still have to print the one hundred texts on the backside, but I’ll do that later.  I’m weak now, and need some down time.

Relaxing into my reading chair with my second cup of coffee, I pulled at random from my bookcase a journal of mine from 2003 (I’ve been keeping them since 1986–over 120 volumes now).  For weeks I have been craving solitude, quiet reflective “me” time, some kind of quasi-religious “visitation” of the muses–anything to make me feel sublime and creative once more.  I have had little-to-none of that for weeks now, and I don’t like living this way.  There has been simply too much job-related responsibility and demand.

The fire fell when I read the following passage I recorded from 2003 (and have since forgotten completely!) drawn from a book I was reading at that time: A Philosophy of Solitude, by John Cowper Powys:

Only when the soul is alone can the magic of the universe flow through it.

It needs silence for the murmur of the long centuries to grow audible, for the mystery of the cosmic procession to make itself felt.

And this silence can be attained in the maddest hurly-burly of the most crowded city.  Material noises, material uproar, cannot interfere with it.

What destroys it are the crowd-thoughts, the vulgar clamour made by the thoughts that are no-thoughts.

Life is full of mysterious Presences voyaging to and fro; Presences that are god-like.  But these Presences can only be caught upon their airy journeys by minds that have learnt the secret of being alone.

To converse with the Gods you must become as the Gods; and this means that you must cultivate loneliness.  Where “two or three are gathered together” the Gods flee away!

I removed my glasses and simply whispered–“Wow.”  Then I drew out my pen and scribbled three pages of gratitude in my current journal.  What a rush!

In the midst of this Quiet, an idea began to form in my mind about my own watercolor approach, my own theory of aesthetics.  Over the past week, my Advanced Placement Art History classes have been trying to articulate the ancient Greek ideal of classical beauty as expressed in sculpture and architecture.  The exercise in that realm has provoked me to try and find out my own personal standard for beauty.  Finally this morning, something began to take shape and make sense to me:

What I love to do in watercolor composition is called “vignette” by some–I like to leave undeveloped, white areas around the perimeter of my paintings.  I often choose to detail my focal area with as much precision as possible, then as the eye moves toward the periphery of my composition, I choose to diminish detail and fade altogether into white borders.  I have often said that this is what our eye does–it focuses on one small area, while the surrounding areas go out-of-focus.  I have also read those who use the darkroom analogy of developing film–the image slowly emerges as it lays in the pool of developing flud.

Years ago, a judge who awarded Best of Show to one of my watercolors titled “Cold Desolation” noted that two of my watercolors in the competition featured surrounding white, undeveloped areas.  The judge expressed appreciation for this, saying that these undeveloped areas left room for the viewer to enter the composition with his/her own imagination free to complete the picture.

Cold Desolation

Cold Desolation

New Mexico Route 66

New Mexico Route 66

I realize now that my favorite way of doing philosophy is to enter into fragments of readings rather than complete systems, so that I may stir in my own ideas.  I prefer reading from the literary fragments of the Pre-Socratics, from the aphorisms of Nietzsche, Emerson and Thoreau.  I love reading from the Autobiography of William Carlos Williams.  I am able to move about and think freely within the poems of Walt Whitman.  How many times have I heard a guitar player express frustration when invited to jam with a band, only to find out that the band members filled up the music so completely that there was no room for him to insert a lead riff or lay in power chords–a great wall of sound, walling out any would-be musical intruders.

I think I may be on to something–I want to explore further this aesthetic theory of focal points and peripheral elision.  As my mind picks around among the truncated monuments, sentence fragments and musical phrases,  I hope to find a way to translate these ideas into a watercolor aesthetic.

Once again, drawing from Powys:

Thus in the first and greatest of all arts, the art of concentrated self-consciousness, the profit to be derived from the utterers of mystical “logoi’, from Heraclitus down to Goethe, is far greater than the value which accrues to us from any rounded and completed systems.

Thanks always for reading.  I hope this has made some sense.

Cleansing the Eye

November 6, 2013
"Fishing Memories" now at Bowman Studios, Portland, Texas

“Fishing Memories” now at Bowman Studios, Portland, Texas

But the painter most vividly present in [Matisse’s] mind in Tangier was Delacroix, who had recharged his own vision eighty years before under the brilliant soft light of the Moroccan sun, drawing strength, like Matisse, from the power and harmony of Oriental design and colour.  Matisse dismissed suggestions that he (like the Orientalists) had picked Morocco in order to retrace the footsteps of Delacroix, but he saw his work reflected everywhere in the landscape, even recognising the background to The Capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders as the view from the terrace of the Casbah cafe.   . . . For Matisse, as for Delacroix, travel was a means of cleansing the eye.  He needed an unfamiliar world and a new light, for the same reason that he needed the alien decorative discipline of Oriental art, so as to break through to a fresh way of seeing.

Hilary Spurling, Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Marisse, The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954.

Throughout his painting career, Henri Matisse travelled broadly to different regions in search of different landscapes and subject matter.  This practice of getting out of his painting rut he called “cleansing the eye.”  I had the rare privilege of cleansing my eye over this past weekend, travelling to Corpus Christi for the first time in my life.

I am proud to announce that I have added a second art gallery to my market.  The Dinah Bowman Studio and Gallery has ten of my original watercolors on display and sale.  This gallery is located in Portland, Texas, just up the coast from Corpus Christi.  The eye-cleansing weekend was just what the doctor ordered for my recent treadmill of high school/university grading and teaching, along with the weekend art festivals.  It’s been hard to find quality down time.  In recent philosophy classes, we have discussed Descartes and his stove, Hume and his cottage, Emerson and his European Odyssey, and we are about to get into Thoreau and his Walden Pond.  I have ached for leisure, for quiet, for solitude.  I have needed a retreat, a getaway, a healthy withdrawal from this daily grind.

The six-and-a-half-hour drive Friday night from Arlington to Portland was only the beginning.  Driving through the darkness down Texas highway 77 (I chose to avoid most of I-35 with its infamous Austin and San Antonio traffic snarls), I rolled down my Jeep windows and breathed deeply the autumn night air, listened to the wind, and enjoyed the space.  After a good night’s sleep at the Days Inn, I enjoyed breakfast on the outdoor patio of La Iguana.  Breakfast was beyond excellence, and the extra cups of coffee over my journal and reading from the Hemingway biography provided a perfect respite from the recent labors.


Breakfast on the patio of La Iguana, Portland, Texas

Meeting with Mike Catlin, manager of the gallery and a former student of mine, was a perfect closure to a circle forming since 1990.  We looked through my porfolio at leisure, and he selected ten pieces for the gallery.  Later, as Mike met with one of his other studio artists, I retreated to a quiet place on the gulf beach, and sat beneath a shelter to write further in the journal and read from my Hemingway biography.  As I wrote, I felt that warm connection with Hemingway’s Key West days as a morning writer.  The winds carrying the salt scent from the gulf seemed to wash over me in the gentlest, most affirming way.

Hemingway Outdoors

Quality Time for Reflection over Hemingway

The remainder of my Saturday was spent with Mike as we travelled to Rockport and Corpus Christi, photographing everything available that would lend itself to a watercolor composition.  On Sunday morning, rising early, I made my return trip to Arlington, retracing my route on Texas highway 77 and photographing historic architecture in the towns of Refugio, Victoria, Hallettsville, Schulenberg, La Grange and Lexington.  The sun was bright, contrasts were strong, and the 65-degree windy day was perfect as I photographed nineteenth-century Catholic churches, courthouses, Victorian homes, and vintage gas stations.  I have enough material to last me through more than a dozen watercolors.  All I have to do now is find time to get after them.

I reach in vain for words to express the gratitude I feel for such a wholesome weekend of travel, art, photography and friendship.

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 Question of Balance

November 1, 2013
My Booth at Huffhines-Trails Art Festival October 26-27

My Booth at Huffhines-Trails Art Festival October 26-27

Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

I love the talk about a professional athlete’s sense of “vision”, the ability to “see” plays before they develop.  When Marshall Faulk caught passes out of the backfield for the St. Louis Rams, he could see the gaps between the defenders, the positioning of his blockers, and zig-zag his way down the field en route to the end zone.  Wayne Gretzky, when he centered for the NHL, could see the geometry of his wingers closing in on the slot, and knew how to tic-tac-toe the puck from winger-to-winger to the back of the net.  After more than twenty years in education, I can no doubt compare bad times in school to juggling cats, but in the good times, I can see a number of things progressing in Aristotelian fashion toward the Good, from lesson planning, to lecture delivery, to dialogue, to various students rising for that teachable moment–I can see good patterns emerging from their writing, their verbal remarks to me, to their peers, to their response to written examination and oral cross-examination.  I know the joy and satisfaction of students coming to my class as a “safe room” during the lunch hour in order to talk to me about the things we didn’t have time to address in the Philosophy class or the Art History class.  They want more, and the curriculum only has so much space to fill.  Few things are better when I have that “feeling” in the educational enterprise.  And I need to keep those good moments before me during current days when I continually experience numbers being pushed at me.  Public education feels the necessity of measuring everything, and I sense that there are professionals occupying the top seats of education who only look at spreadsheets but not into the eyes of the students.  They are pushing data into their educational monologue while remaining blind to the myriad of factors not measurable, factors which only the teacher has the privilege of seeing and directing.

My own life is out of balance, to say the least.  My days are chewed up by high school classes and far-too-many meetings centered on data-driven details, my nights are devoured by a university part-time teaching schedule, and my weekends have been consumed by art business, mostly festivals.  My studio no doubt feels neglected, so does my study, so does my journal, and most certainly so does my blog.

My past weekend was given to an art festival–Huffhines Trails in Richardson, Texas.  I have posted a shot of my booth at the top of this post.  The weather was splendid, and so were the crowds and sales.  I enjoyed every moment of that weekend outdoors, every conversation, and every page read during the slow moments (I’m still trying to finish Carlos Baker’s biography on Ernest Hemingway).  There was plenty of time for journaling and reflection as well.  But alas, five days of school and college have inserted themselves between that festival and the posting of this blog.  Late again!

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.