Archive for December, 2013

Painting My Way into 2014

December 31, 2013
Historical District of Hermann, Missouri

Historical District of Hermann, Missouri

Thus, the lived experience of the length of a year changes radically throughout our life.  A year that to a five-year-old constitutes a full fifth of his existence must seem much longer than when it will constitute a mere twentieth or thirtieth of his time on earth.  We all know how the years revolve quicker and quicker as we get older, until, with the approach of old age, they slow down again because we begin to measure them against the psychologically and somatically anticipated date of our departure.

Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind

Well . . . all I can say in response to Hannah Arendt is that 2013 is a blur to me.  I wish I could believe that that is a sign that I have  of many more years to live.  To me, the calendar year has not slowed down since my twenties.  Perhaps I will feel anxiety in the event that my years begin slowing down!  Oh well, I choose not to dwell on that today.

I wish I had something more profound to offer my readers this New Year’s Eve, as I have read so many extraordinary blog posts today capping the old year and opening the new.  I have given this day to reading, journaling, cooking and house-tidying.  And I have begun another 8 x 10″ watercolor of the historic district in Hermann, Missouri.  I have wanted to visit this German town ever since I read William Least Heat-Moon’s River-Horse.  Throughout the recent years, patrons have visited my booth during art festivals and asked me if I had any paintings from Hermann, Missouri.  The answer was always No, because I had never visited the place.  This Christmas, I included Hermann in my Missouri visitations.  The winter day was extremely cold, but the sun was bright, the 10:00 a.m. hour was perfect for shadows and light, and I took over forty photos.  This watercolor sketch is my first attempt, and so far I like what is emerging.  Hence, I am fulfilling my #1 Resolution for 2014 to paint my way into the new year.

I cannot express to readers visiting and commenting on my site how grateful I am for all the encouragement you have provided.   Makng art is a solitary enterprise, but blogging has definitely taken away any semblance of loneliness from this venture.  Thank you for that.  I wish you a fabulous 2014.  Perhaps tomorrow I’ll begin sharing Resolutions.

Thanks always for reading.  I wish you a fulfilling night of anticipation.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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2013 in review

December 31, 2013

I am truly gratified by the annual report I received from WordPress this morning.  2013 has been a fabulous year for my blog, beginning with that January morning when I was Freshly Pressed.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 41,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 15 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

A New Year Approaching and Thoughts on a Life of the Mind

December 30, 2013
Another Dellicious Morning for Reading and Reflection

Another Dellicious Morning for Reading and Reflection

Bob told me the reason he’s after Newsweek is so they’ll do a cover story on me, but I don’t want one.  I mean, what’re they going to say?  Reporters will just rehash.  “He lives on the Upper East Side with two dachshunds and he’s a sometimes walking-stick for Paulette Goddard.”  Well maybe they’ll feel the same way I do, too, that it’s too boring.  I mean you have to do something different like get married and have a couple of kids or take a few drugs or lose a few hundred pounds or die, to be good copy.

The Andy Warhol Diaries, September 17, 1979

I was amused beyond words when I read this from Andy Warhol this morning over coffee.  As I think of the life he lived, I don’t think of the details he just dropped; I think of an artist who was driven hard by creative endeavors and business decisions during the morning and afternoon hours each day, who then spent every evening chasing parties, nightclubs, gallery openings and headlines.  And from my own personal perspective, I find his nightlife boring material for reading, but his art and business affairs I find endlessly fascinating.

I remain surprised at the vacuity of the Warhol Diaries.  I don’t know if he thought the gossip was good copy worth selling, or if he really did not spend much of his life in contemplation.  There is the testimony from one of his staffers that he spent the morning “paying the rent” (working on commission portraits).  Then, in the afternoon he would go into the Think Tank with his associates and ask: “But what can we do for Art?”  After reading several more pages of him, I pulled from the shelf my copy of Hannah Arendt’s The Life of the Mind and began experiencing deeper satisfaction in reading.  I should have read this treasure decades ago.  I love her introduction as she discusses the classic Western disjunctive between thinking and acting.  Citing the work of Thomas Aquinas, she presents the following:

Seen from that perspective, the active way of life is “laborious,” the contemplative way is sheer quietness; the active one goes on in public, the contemplative one in the “desert”; the active one is devoted to “the necessity of one’s neighbor,” the contemplative one to the “vision of God.”

As a school teacher, I surprise and disappoint some in that I’m almost never seen at school-related extra-curricular events.  I go home.  And I don’t read long hours in the evening because I feel the compulsion to create better lesson plans (I know that after a quarter-century of teaching, I could enter the classroom with zero preparation); I read long hours in the evening because I love the contemplative life, and have at least since before my years in graduate school.  It has become my lifestyle.  And currently, my division between thinking and acting is my division between reading and making art.  The two dimensions feed off each other.  And I would concur with Andy Warhol that my lifestyle would not provide good copy.  By today’s standards, it would be judged as boring.  However, I am not bored.  This holiday season has been bliss-filled because I have been able to devote entire days and evenings to reading, journaling and making art.  And I offer no apology for that.

We are not on this earth for long.  Part of what a midlife crisis is about is figuring out what gives you pleasure and doing more of that in the time you have left without asking for permission or a financial or emotional subsidy from anyone else.

Howell Raines, Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis

Hannah has been excellent company this morning, and she has inspired me to begin a second watercolor, to work on alongside the one I began yesterday.  Who knows, tomorrow I may choose to begin a third.  It’s great to have some time and space to chase these delights.

Thanks fo reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Musing Over New Year’s Resolutions and Starting a New Painting

December 29, 2013
Bait Shop

Bait Shop

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:11

This day has had more than a fair share of rewards.  I’m pleased that I rose early from a good night’s sleep, enjoyed a good breakfast, and devoted some serious “chair time” to reading Ecclesiastes in its entirety, taking my time, letting the message seep in.  The words of the Preacher have lingered with me throughout the day, and put me in the mood to begin a new watercolor.

This is an 8 x 10″ sketch I’ve begun on a bait shop I photographed a few months ago when I was on the coast.  The details are slowing me down considerably, so it’s not shaping up as quickly as I had imagined.  But there is no deadline here; I hope to begin a larger, more serious watercolor of the same subject once I get more comfortable with it.

I am haunted by the words of the Preacher posted above.  As I move toward the New Year and contemplate the things that matter, I find myself saddened deeply by the sentiments of one who feels that the final assessment of his life’s accomplishments was empty.  I have always felt sorry for anyone who hated his/her job.  I have not known that misfortune.  But sadder still is this writer’s broader assessment of his life’s accomplishments.  How could one regard the overall value of a life’s endeavors as worthless?

Personally, I have enjoyed life as an educator, and I’ve pursued this nonstop since 1985, full time since 1988.  Besides teaching a handful of my favorite subjects, I have also tried to pursue a life in the arts.  In my later years, art has become more my center.  The line from Hippocrates resonates profoundly with me:

Life is short,

and art long,

opportunity fleeting,

experience perilous,

and decision difficult.

I don’t fret over Malcolm Gladwell’s dictum that 10,000 hours are required for one to master his/her field.  I think I have put in my 10,000 hours, paid my dues.  But as I grow older, my awareness increases that art technique requires long and sustained study and practice, and life is comparatively short.  I understand better at my current age why Leonardo and Michelangelo felt a pang of discontent that they would not live long enough to figure it all out.  I’m just glad that I haven’t gotten so old that this reality bothers me.  I know I’ll never “get there”, but that’s not the point–I love the process, love the search, love the endeavor.  I’m still enchanted when I see paintings emerge beneath my brush.  I cannot describe the emotion I feel as that happens, and I can never express how grateful I am that I was given this chance while on earth to engage in this task.

And sometimes, others join in on that bliss.  Tonight, I received two emails, fifteen minutes apart, from two patrons that commissioned work from me for Christmas.  They wanted me to know that they loved the paintings, and so did the ones who received them as gifts.  Patrons will probably never know just how deeply I am stirred to hear that someone else has been touched by something I  made.  Those two emails in themselves were genuine Christmas gifts to me, tonight.

Art still has truth, take refuge there!

Matthew Arnold, “Memorial Verses April 1850”

This has been a most satisfying day.  Meaningful reading and reflection, another chance to pursue watercolor, and gracious words from good friends.

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.

In the Studio Tonight

In the Studio Tonight

No Slant of Light, but an Excellent Beginning to the Day

December 29, 2013
Breaking the Fast

Breaking the Fast

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.

Ecclesiastes 2:24

I retired to bed around 10:30 last night, after watching the St. Louis Blues prevail over the Chicago Blackhawks in an epic come-from-behind-three-times battle (I am a hockey fanatic).  I was surprised to wake up at 7:14 this morning, and further surprised that there was no slant of light coming through my bedroom window.  In fact, as I write this now at 11:47, there has been no sunlight at all in my space throughout the morning, just cold, overcast winter light.  We have a cold front approaching Arlington, Texas and temperatures are supposed to hit a hard-freeze tonight.

After breakfast, my thoughts shifted toward this New Year, and I began to scribble out resolutions in my journal (always a sacred moment for me).  And then, I settled in to read the Book of Ecclesiastes in its entirety.  I want to do this every year at this time, but seldom get it done.  But this morning, I read the entire text and am profoundly moved by the message.

Reading fron Ecclesiastes

Reading fron Ecclesiastes

Throughout the years, I have rarely found another who has read this great book, and the few who have read it seem to write it off as “too depressing.”  The book has never struck me that way.  In the text, I hear the tired voice of an aged ruler who had been successful in administration and the acquisition of wisdom and wealth.  In his closing years, he concludes that “all is vanity.”  In his tone, I hear that constant refrain: “What is the point?”  I am not depressed in hearing that. I am intrigued.  I love that honest question that cuts to the core of our souls.  If we’re going to die, then why do the things that we do matter?

I’ll probably pick this up again in the blog, but it is nearly noon, and I knew at bedtime last night what I wanted to paint today.  As Qohelet (the Preacher in Ecclesiastes) observed, we should experience good in our labor.  This is a gift.  I am grateful for that gift.  I love life.  It is too short.  Art is long.  And now, I wish to give myself back to making art.  The morning read has been very satisfying, my heart is lifted, and I have found a sense of calm and contentment, even without that slant of light.

More later.  Thanks so much for being there to read me.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Texaco Gas Pumps in Lexington, Texas

December 28, 2013
Gas Pumps in Lexington, Texas

Gas Pumps in Lexington, Texas

A car whipped past, the driver eating and a passenger clicking a camera.  Moving without going anywhere, taking a trip instead of making one.  I laughed at the absurdity of the photographs and then realized I, too, was rolling effortlessly along, turning the windshield into a movie screen in which I, the viewer, did the moving while the subject held still.  That was the temptation of the American highway, of the American vacation (from the Latin vacare, “to be empty”).  

[A woman in Texas] longed for the true journey of an Odysseus or Ishmael or Gulliver or even a Dorothy of Kansas, wherein passage through space and time becomes only a metaphor of a movement through the interior of being.  A true journey, no matter how long the travel takes, has no end.

William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways

On November 3, while returning from Bowman Gallery in Portland, Texas, I chose to take the long road home, avoiding Austin and San Antonio (it was Sunday and I did not want to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic).  The trip lasted the entire day, as I could not help stopping in virtually every small town along the way to take photographs and record information for potential sketches and watercolors.  This abandoned Texaco station I found on Highway 77 in Lexington, Texas, next door to the Texas 77 Diner at North Street.  So far, I have been unsuccessful in finding information on the station’s history, ownership, closure, etc.  Below is the thumbnail tonal sketch I attempted before beginning the watercolor while at my parent’s house near St. Louis this past week.  I spent about a day on the painting.  It measures 8 x 10″ and I am listing it for $150.  I will probably attempt additional compositions, as I took over twenty photos of the structure from various angles.

Thumbnail Sketch

Thumbnail Sketch

Texaco Pumps in Lexington, Texas

Texaco Pumps in Lexington, Texas

In my quiet moments, I have been re-reading portions of William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways, along with other works he’s produced.  At midnight last night, I completed a fifteen-hour road trip with my son, returning from our Christmas vacation with my parents and siblings.  Our conversations along the open road, in both directions, I found very fulfilling, as he’s always been a fabulous conversationalist.  And during the quiet moments, I was grateful for the vistas that filled my imagination, priming my aesthetic pump to get new work started for the coming season.  The American road trip has been my passion since the 1980’s, and I hope that good health will allow me to pursue this for several more years to come.

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.

Changes

December 28, 2013
Transitions from Magnolia to Mobilgas

Transition from Magnolia to Mobilgas

The ever-whirling wheel

Of Change; the which all mortal things doth sway.

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene

Finally, I post this painting that I completed a couple of weeks ago for one of my Christmas commissions.  The owner requested a 1950’s-era filling station (I believe it was 1959) when Magnolia changed to Mobilgas.

With the coming of the New Year, our minds wax pensive with resolutions as we continually confront changes in lives, our environments.  I have been reading lately from the Book of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet) as I do in the closing days of every year.  The aged author seems to complain that amidst all the changes that there yet remains “nothing new under the sun.”  Personally, I grew weary of the adage years ago that “The only constant is change.”  But I live with that, and wrestle with it throughout my years in education, and now personally as I watch 2013 wane and prepare for the unknown features of 2014.  I do love the face of Janus, the Roman god, looking in two directions simultaneously, and continually think of January as the hinge between those two worlds.

This has been an excellent day to reflect and sort out some matters, while reading and painting (and blogging).  And I can indeed testify that I am looking forward to the new age about to dawn, even though it brings the typical anxieties.  Currently I am so grateful for the “down time” for reflecting and creating new things.  I won’t return to school until January 6, and plan to suck the marrow out of this week that lies ahead.

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.

 

Conoco Remnants in Oklahoma

December 28, 2013
Sign Encountered During Oklahoma Odyssey

Sign Encountered During Oklahoma Odyssey

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail.  Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to.  I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Each [Presocratic fragment] is a truncated monument of thinking.  Like the torso of a river god or the temple of Poseidon at Sounion, each fragment conveys a sense of loss, of tragic withdrawal and absence; yet each is a remnant of an exhilarating presence.

David Farrell Krell, Martin Heidegger: Early Greek Thinking

Remnants of an Oklahoma Conoco Station

Remnants of an Oklahoma Conoco Station

A couple of months ago, while retreating to southeastern Oklahoma for some fly fishing and relaxation, my heart felt heaviness at the sight of this solitary Conoco sign standing alongside Highway 37 about ten miles north of Clarksville, Texas, just south of the Oklahoma border.  I parked the Jeep, took over a dozen photographs, and walked among the weeds that covered what used to be the foundations of a gas station.  As I surveyed what was left of the parking lot entrance, I couldn’t help wondering if there were still children or grandchildren of this station’s proprietor still living nearby.  What would they think every time they drove past this site and remembered what it was like to see a gas station open for business, servicing passing motorists?  As I walked about this location, musing, I thought of the statements of Thoreau and Krell, and how it feels when we are confronted with significant loss.   I was on the brink of a lovely weekend of fly fishing and painting at Beaver’s Bend State Park, but the recollection of this Conoco sign would never leave me.

Conoco Recollections

Conoco Recollections

Over the Christmas holiday, I spent about a day working up this watercolor sketch from the photos I took.  It is 8 x 10″ and I tried to detail the damage on the sign’s surface as best I could.  Recently I have enjoyed working on gas station relics in watercolor.  The holiday visit with my parents was full of wonderful conversation, fattening foods, and plenty of space to work in watercolor.  I’ve had a most delightful Christmas break.

Fly Fishing at Beaver's Bend State Park, Oklahoma

Fly Fishing at Beaver’s Bend State Park, Oklahoma

Here is the painting I completed following my Beaver’s Bend fly fishing weekend.  I also enjoyed revisiting memories of this Evening Hole located in the Red Zone inside the Park.

Rainbow Trout in the Net at Beaver's Bend State Park

Rainbow Trout in the Net at Beaver’s Bend State Park

Don’t despair!  I released this beautiful rainbow trout after photographing him in my net.  He was one of several I managed to get in the net that afternoon.  All were given back their freedom.

A Better Slant of Light

December 28, 2013

Morning Winter Light in the Writing StudioWinter Slanting Light in the Writing Studio

Nothing goes by luck in composition.  It allows of no tricks.  The best you can write will be the best you are.  Every sentence is the result of a long probation.  The author’s character is read from title-page to end.  Of this he never corrects the proofs.  We read it as the essential character of a handwriting without regard to the flourishes.  And so of the rest of our actions; it runs as straight as a ruled line through them all, no matter how many curvets about it.  Our whole life is taxed for the least thing well done; it is its net result.  how we eat, drink, sleep, and use our desultory hours, now in these indifferent days, with no eye to observe and no occasion [to] excite us, determines our authority and capacity for the time to come.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, February 28, 1841

Reading from the Thoreau Journal

Reading from the Thoreau Journal

Good morning!  About thirteen days ago, I posted my last post about a “Slant of Light.”  Since then I have closed out two campus semesters, Christmas vacationed in the St. Louis area with my parents (who have no Wi-Fi) and returned home at midnight last night.  I was too wired-and-tired to sleep, it appears.  Finally I crashed around 3:30 a.m. and awoke again around 7:30.  No doubt I’ll crash later today, but for now, the coffee is brewed, Thoreau is touching me with his meditations, and I have so much reading and watercoloring on my mind.  I will be following up with posts as this day unfolds.  I did manage to create two 8 x 10″ watercolors while in St. Louis, managed a ton of quality reading, and still found warm conversation time with my parents and son.  Friends also reached out from several directions and I love all of them as well.

So, to all my readers, thank you for spending a moment on this page with me, and for all the earlier times this year we have shared.  You have truly enriched my life, enabling me to write and post about things that matter to me.  This is a great time of the year for quiet and reflection, and I am ready to settle into that now that my travels have ceased for awhile.  A host of pensive scribbles in my personal journal need to be re-visited and fleshed out.  Perhaps some of those will find their way into this blog as well.

More later!

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

There’s a Certain Slant of Light

December 15, 2013
First Waking Moment of Sunday

First Waking Moment of Sunday

There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
‘Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ‘t is like the distance
On the look of death.

Emily Dickinson

I love Emily Dickinson’s work, but have always wondered over this verse.  Like Edward Hopper, I love slanting light, and I love the quality of winter light the most.  So, when I awoke this morning and saw this on my bedroom bookcase, the words of Emily’s poem immediately flashed across my consciousness, and pulling the poem from my book, re-read it.  Still it reads with a sorrow that I never feel when gazing at winter light.  I always wonder if I am misinterpreting her in this poem.

I could not wait to enter the studio with such clear, cleain light flooding my house.

Race Horse Commission

Race Horse Commission

I am spending today, trying to finish this final commission to be devlivered on Monday.  That will make three commissions in three days signed, sealed and delivered.  A load will roll off my back when that happens.  I am overwhelmingly grateful for those two ice days that opened up a four-day weekend for me.  Withouut that precious time, I’m not sure how I would have pulled off these commissions.

Two Commissions nearly ready

Two Commissions nearly ready

The gas station painting will be delivered to its new owner this afternoon.

Christmas Commissions in Progress

Christmas Commissions in Progress

The Jeep painting I delivered yesterday.  I’m starting to feel like Santa Claus.

Back to work.  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.