Archive for May, 2014

A Barn Covered in Memories

May 31, 2014
Finally Finished the Ovilla, Texas Barn

Finally Finished the Ovilla, Texas Barn

It took me a few days, but I finally finished this one.  I have a number of other projects in progress as well that I feel a compulsion for finishing.  Tomorrow promises another Waxahachie adventure in plein air painting, and I’m ready.

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.

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“Things Seen But Not Looked At”

May 31, 2014
Ghost Sign on S. Rogers St., Waxahachie

Ghost Sign on S. Rogers St., Waxahachie

It is often said “The public does not appreciate art!”  Perhaps the public is dull, but there is just a possibility that we are also dull, and that if there were more motive, wit, human philosophy, or other evidence of interesting personality in our work the call might be stronger.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

It was a dark, overcast morning in Waxahachie, Texas when I arrived before 8:00 to begin painting en plein air.  The seventy-degree morning was inviting, and so were the cool breezes.  I don’t request bright, direct sunlight every time I paint, the way I used to do.  I strolled four city blocks before I decided to give this ghost sign a try; I have had more problems with brick facades in watercolor than most other subjects.  Twice when I walked past this building, it seemed to “put out a call” the way it was described when Edward Hopper shambled about town, looking for a space to enter and paint.  I felt welcomed by the bricks, the message, the ghost of a business that once welcomed many customers but now was shuttered.  The street was busy with traffic and pedestrians, and all the while I sketched and painted, the building stood contrastingly mute.  To borrow the phrase from Pop Artist Jasper Johns, I thought today I would paint something “seen but not looked at.”

I posted the Robert Henri quote with tongue-in-cheek, because pedestrians had to climb a hill to see what I was doing, and many of them did, the interest always seemed genuine, and the cordiality was heart-warming.  I even had the pleasure of conversing for a little while with a reporter for the Waxahachie Daily Light, their local newspaper.  In my past six years of participation in Paint Historic Waxahachie, I have always found the public in this town very interested in art made on site, and the conversations were always engaging.

I can’t wait to return to this town tomorrow in search of another subject to paint.

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.

Sweet Solitude in the Studio

May 30, 2014
Friday Night in the Studio

Friday Night in the Studio

I am here because “art” brought me here.  Obedient, I came.

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Still Later in the Night

Still Later in the Night

Artists toil in cells all over Manhattan.  We have a monk’s devotion to our work–and, like monks, some of us will be visited by visions and others will toil out our days knowing glory only at a distance, kneeling in the chapel but never receiving the visitation of a Tony, an Oscar, a National Book Award.  And yet the still, small voice may speak as loud in us as in any.

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s I toiled late into the night in the minister’s study, writing sermons, preparing Bible lectures and writing papers for seminary classes.  From the 1990’s until now I have exchanged that discipline for the production of lectures and lesson plans for university and high school classes.  Since about 2006, I have also spent thousands of solitary hours in the painter’s studio.  The one constant throughout all those decades of creative solitude has been the conviction that revelation was about to happen, that a visitation would occur, that darkness would yield to the light.  And I still live that way.  This has been an amazingly quiet Friday night, after a noisy day in public school.  The weekend offers organized plein air activity, and I plan to participate in that as well.  Time spent with other painters is always time well-spent.  But I would not have exchanged the sweetness of this evening for anything.  Julia Cameron wrote it well–artists toil in cells like monks, expecting the glory of some kind of visitation.

I am nearing completion on this barn I encountered in Ovilla, Texas a couple of weekends ago, and am also finding joy in a large painting of an historic Louisiana house.  The quiet of the evening has found ways to nurture me and affirm that what I am doing is quality work.  That alone is sufficient reward, filling me with a sense of eudaimonia.

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.

 

Sailing to Byzantium

May 30, 2014

Ovilla, Texas Barn

Ovilla, Texas Barn

I

That is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

—Those dying generations—at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unaging intellect.

 

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

. . .

William Butler Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”

Forgive me.  I am not a trained literary critic, so my comments on texts may not fit mainstream published interpretations.  However, I am a bona fide lover of literature, a lover of the printed and spoken word.  I delight in lingering over language, believing that revelation is always possible.  As I’ve been painting this sign-covered barn, these words from William Butler Yeats have been washing over me in successive waves.  No doubt some of the reason is due to the recent passing of beautiful Maya Angelou.  Incidentally, I did read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the opening of yesterday’s Philosophy class.  And yes, I choked on the final stanza, as I always do.  Her words flood me with uncontrollable emotion.

Funny–in years long past, I have wrestled and fretted over this William Butler Yeats text, was required to teach it in senior English, and always felt unable to “get it.”  But now it speaks to me soothingly as I come to peace with my own aging, and feel a serenity when I linger in the presence of unaging monuments erected in days gone by.  This well-preserved barn from Ovilla, Texas, clothed in advertisements by companies–many of  which no longer survive–whispers a presence to me during silent moments as I gaze upon it.  The barn still stands in quiet majesty, though many of the companies advertised exist only in the memories of aging intellects.  Thus, I experience that dual feeling of presence and loss as I look upon this subject.

I have had difficulty finding quality time to work on this painting since the end-of-year procedures at school are taxing my daily hours, leaving little time in late afternoon to paint.  But when I do enter the studio, I feel that I have sailed into the holy city of Byzantium.  The fading northern light of these spring afternoons provides a warmth and comfort to me, and bending over these watercolor compositions leads me into a sublime realm.  The Waxahachie plein air experience begins tomorrow and will run non-stop for a week.  I am anticipating a rich experience of painting in the open air once again.

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.

On the Pulse of the Morning

May 28, 2014
Painting of a Young Maya Angelou on One of My Public Murals

Painting of a Young Maya Angelou on One of My Public Murals


On the morning of the Inauguration of President William Jefferson Clinton, I was working at Lamar High School where I taught.  Walking through the receptionist’s office, I heard the television broadcasting the Inauguration and froze in my tracks, listening to the recitation of the poem “On the Pulse of the Morning.”  I did not know Maya Angelou, but as soon as the copy of that poem hit the Barnes & Noble Store, I purchased it and tried on several occasions to inaugurate my high school Philosophy classes by reading it aloud before the students.  I seldom could finish it without choking up.  I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and my life changed.  I cannot express my feelings for the beautiful, creative soul of Maya Angelou.

When I transferred to Arlington Martin High School, I was offered a commission to paint a mural outside the Little Theater upstairs (pictures of it in its entirety may be seen on my website www.recollections54.com under “Murals”.)  I found a photograph of a young Maya Angelou playing solitaire at a table.  I removed the cards, and placed her alongside Arthur Miller in this cafe setting.

I learned this morning that Maya Angelou has passed away.  I feel this grief profoundly.  Something sweet has passed from the atmosphere.  I’ll never find the words to describe how her pathos moved me.

Below are the words to the Inaugural Poem I heard her read on that historic day:

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed,

Marked the mastodon,

The dinosaur, who left dried tokens

Of their sojourn here

On our planet floor,

Any broad alarm of their hastening doom

Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

 

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,

Come, you may stand upon my

Back and face your distant destiny,

But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no hiding place down here.

 

You, created only a little lower than

The angels, have crouched too long in

The bruising darkness

Have lain too long

Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words

 

Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,

But do not hide your face.

 

Across the wall of the world,

A River sings a beautiful song. It says,

Come, rest here by my side.

 

Each of you, a bordered country,

Delicate and strangely made proud,

Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit

Have left collars of waste upon

My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet today I call you to my riverside,

If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs

The Creator gave to me when I and the

Tree and the rock were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your

Brow and when you yet knew you still

Knew nothing.

The River sang and sings on.

 

There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African, the Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.

They hear. They all hear

The speaking of the Tree.

 

They hear the first and last of every Tree

Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside the River.

 

Each of you, descendant of some passed

On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you,

Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you

Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then

Forced on bloody feet,

Left me to the employment of

Other seekers — desperate for gain,

Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,

You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,

Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare

Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am that Tree planted by the River,

Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree

I am yours — your passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need

For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain

Cannot be unlived, but if faced

With courage, need not be lived again.

 

Lift up your eyes upon

This day breaking for you.

Give birth again

To the dream.

 

Women, children, men,

Take it into the palms of your hands,

Mold it into the shape of your most

Private need. Sculpt it into

The image of your most public self.

Lift up your hearts

Each new hour holds new chances

For a new beginning.

Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness.

 

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and out and upon me, the

Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

 

Here, on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, and into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope —

Good morning.

Searching Out the Deeper Current

May 27, 2014
The Beginning of an 18 x 24" Watercolor

The Beginning of an 18 x 24″ Watercolor

 

Beginning to Watercolor

The Beginning of an 8 x 10″ Watercolor

The deeper current carries no propaganda.  The shock of the surface upheaval does not deflect it from its course.  It is in search of fundamental principle; that basic principle of all, which in degree as it is apprehended points the way to beauty and order, and to the law of nature.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

I am still working on the dualism posted earlier today, involving the deep-seated permanent truths vs. the superficial changing phenomena always demanding too much of us in day-to-day life.  After spending most of the afternoon and evening hours on the two watercolors posted above, I began to lose the northern light I depend on in my studio.  Texas temperatures are cooler now, compliments of recent thunderstorms.  Feeling a touch of cabin fever, I snatched up my journal and Robert Henri book and headed for this beautiful green belt at the Arlington Highlands.  I didn’t know till I visited that location last evening that there was a Starbuck’s Cafe located there.  Treating myself to coffee, I took up temporary residence on a large flat boulder overlooking the coursing stream below me, and read for a long time, occasionally scribbling out my ideas in the journal.  The gentle laughter and babbling of the flowing water over the rocks below soothed my soul and provided a much-needed decompression time.  This past weekend was a real bugger-bear in more ways than one.  I’m glad finally to recover my physical and emotional sense of rest and repose.

At this age, I am still trying to sort out my identity as a practicing artist, knowing I have this deep-seated desire to paint meaningful memories, yet still making decisions on technique and compositions.  Of course, I will never reach the bottom of it, but still I can become fretful when I feel I am not making enough progress.  This morning’s meditation on the Presocratics is still with me–each of those thinkers sought the ultimate Ground of life, and I suppose that is what I am trying to do as I pursue the arts.

I have loved this challenge from Henry David Thoreau for years:

Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe . . . till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d’appui below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state . . .

There is a solid bottom everywhere. We read that the traveller asked the boy if the swamp before him had a hard bottom. The boy replied that it had. But presently the traveller’s horse sank in up to the girths, and he observed to the boy, “I thought you said that this bog had a hard bottom.” “So it has,” answered the latter, “but you have not got half way to it yet.” So it is with the bogs and quicksands of society; but he is an old boy that knows it.

I suppose I am not yet half way to this hard bottom.  So, I’ll continue to search the depths.

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.

Finding the Seam

May 27, 2014
Poured Watercolor of Myself Flyfishing in South Fork, Colorado

Poured Watercolor of Myself Fly Fishing in South Fork, Colorado

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The 2013-2014 academic year slides now into its twilight, and we spent the morning in my high school Philosophy class attempting to pull the drawstring on the bag containing the fragments of wisdom collected throughout the semester.  Norman Maclean and Henry David Thoreau have provided a framework for my current musings on a philosophical summation.

Sifting through the philosophical fragments of the Presocratics, we find two thinkers who fastened their outlook on opposite worldviews.  Heraclitus of Ephesus, arguing that one cannot set foot in the same river twice, concluded that the essential core of life is flux, or change.  Everything flows; nothing abides.  Parmenides of Elea, on the other hand, maintained that the core of life was stable, eternal, permanent; there is always Being.  A century later, Plato synthesized these thinkers, positing a world of appearances, physical, always changing, yet supported by a world of ideas, pure Being, eternal.  Throughout western history, thinkers wrestled with these two poles, seeking the seam that unites (or divides) them.

As a passionate fly fisherman, I think on these things nearly every time I enter a Colorado mountain stream.  As my eyes survey the waters, I eventually detect the seam dividing the swifter current from the deepening pools, and if I look long enough, I can see the rows of trout lining the seam, staying in the quiet waters while watching their food drift by on the flow.  I take delight in watching my dry fly drift down the current, close enough to the seam to entice a rainbow to rise.

Another seam, articulated by Mclean and Thoreau, divides the coursing waters above from the basement foundation of rock below. I love that metaphor of life as a river, surging and coursing, over the eternal, supporting foundation below.   Robert Henri in his celebrated book The Art Spirit, has struck a similar chord repeatedly in his remarks, dividing surface appearances from deep realities:

There is an undercurrent, the real life, beneath all appearances everywhere.

In these times there is a powerful demarcation between the surface and the deep currents of human development.  Events and upheavals, which seem more profound than they really are, are happening on the surface.  But there is another and deeper change in progress.  It is of long, steady persistent growth, very little affected and not at all disturbed by surface conditions.  

There is so much truth to mine from these literary musings of great minds from the past.

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 Place Remembered

May 27, 2014
Old Watercolor Sketch of my Grandparents' Home

Old Watercolor Sketch of my Grandparents’ Home

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight, 
Make me a child again just for to-night! 

Elizabeth Akers Allen

Another day opens, I am back in school, but my mind and tender sentiments keep returning to yesterday and time spent in front of the shuttered Ferris, Texas lumberyard.  I posted in last night’s blog that the structure reminded me of my grandparents’ home in rural Jackson, Missouri.  So, this morning I am posting above a watercolor sketch I completed around 1988.  It shows something that I had then, but cannot seem to call up now.  It was in that day that I used much less watercolor, allowing the pencil and paper surface to do its work.  For some reason, I tend to overwork my compositions now.   But I have not lost hope; I will try and find a way to return to this earlier technique and rely more on paper and graphite, letting the watercolor pigment support the composition, not overpower it.

I could call yesterday’s painting session out in the field a Wordsworthian experience:

I HEARD a thousand blended notes,

          While in a grove I sate reclined,

          In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts

          Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

 

          To her fair works did Nature link

          The human soul that through me ran;

          And much it grieved my heart to think

          What man has made of man.

The co-mingled sentiments of contentment and melancholy do tend to reside in me when I am out alone in the field, watercoloring en plein air, and letting my thoughts drift over a thousand memories and anticipations.  And there is always something in an abandoned residence standing mute before me that helps call up these sentiments.  I wouldn’t have traded yesterday’s experiences for anything, and a part of me is ready to go back to those places remembered (as soon as I finish my job for the day).

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am never alone.

 

 

Turning the Page

May 26, 2014
Plein Air Watercolor Sketch of Closed Lumberyard in Ferris, Texas

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch of Closed Lumberyard in Ferris, Texas

I write to preserve memory.  I write what should not be forgotten.

Isabel Allende

I awoke to a new and refreshing day, feeling that I had turned the page in a most significant way.  Last night’s festival ended, and loading out took forever, getting me home finally around 1:00 a.m.  I turned off the phone and all alarms, sleeping a delicious sleep until a little after 10:00 a.m.  Following breakfast and a shower, I had this itch to jump into my Jeep and head for Ferris, Texas, where the Waxahachie plein air group would be spending the day, painting the landmarks.  But I knew I would get in this evening, late, exhausted and fretful that I had Philosophy and English classes to prepare.  So . . . I forced myself to sit at my writing desk and go to work.  As I worked on the English II assignment, covering work by the Chilean writer Isabel Allende, I came across this quote from her that fits my own painting and blogging philosophy.  What a difference that made, setting the table for my Ferris excursion!  I put this qote on a small piece of paper, folded it, and tucked it into my pocket to carry with me as Edward Hopper carried the Goethe quote about in his own pocket when he was out looking for subjects to paint en plein air:

Look until you become fascinated.

Trust that you will see something.

If you learn to wait, the objects will slowly sink into your consciousness

And they will acquire a significance that can be measured in color and feeling.

Goethe

Arriving in Ferris, I felt so serene, knowing I did not have deadlines hanging over me for the rest of the day.  Parking in a public lot, I pocketed my keys and strolled all up and down the main street of this town, looking at every building, every landmark, every detail.  Nothing really held me.  I looked, but did not become fascinated.

If you learn to wait . . . 

Returning to the Jeep, I next drove a circuitous route around downtown, and then saw this closed lumberyard, the front office of the building looking exactly like my grandparents’ house in southeast Missouri that I have painted so many times in past years.  I knew I had to give this one a try.

If you learn to wait the objects will slowly sink into your consciousness . . . 

I set up my easel in a vacant lot across the street from the site, and set to work.  Eventually the owner of the property came and chatted with me for awhile, and I learned so much more about this business and its history.  I was gratified to learn that I am not the only one who recognizes the character oozing from every corner of this structure.  The owner told me that it is frequently photographed as a backdrop by people from all around the area.  I later learned that the leader of our Paint Historic Waxahachie movement has also picked out this building to paint in past years.

When I was about 90% finished with the work, the heavens opened up and dumped rain all over me and this watercolor.  I sprinted to the Jeep, drove to a nearby gazebo and finished the work as best I could from memory of the building.  I’m happy with how this one came out and believe I will price it at $200 for the upcoming Waxahachie sale.  It is an 8 x 10″ piece that I’m getting ready to tuck into a white 11 x 14″ mat and enclose in a plastic sleeve.  It’s been a good Memorial Day.

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 Cool, Overcast Morning for Small Town Musings

May 25, 2014
Second Attempt at Plein Air Painting the Abandoned Gas Station

Second Attempt at Plein Air Painting the Abandoned Gas Station

I think an artist should be a sounding board for all these nervous vibrations, and should not just carry a set of rules and tricks around with him, and use them on different objects.

Andrew Wyeth

The madness continues.  Yesterday, having slept too little, I arose around 7:00 and dashed south to Maypearl to paint en plein air, then returned to open the second day of a festival at 4:00 p.m.  Getting home after 10:00 last night, sleep managed to elude me until nearly 4:00 a.m.  Nevertheless I rose at 7:00 and returned to Ovilla (where I painted last weekend) and made my second attempt at capturing the essence of this abandoned gas station on the main drag of old downtown.  The weather remained overcast so I had to invent shadows, but I still liked the cool breezes in the air following last night’s welcome rain.  I worked on this piece for two hours and decided to call it quits, return home and prepare to close out the festival tonight.  I’m feeling the effects of sleep deprivation, and may have to sleep in tomorrow before going to Ferris, Texas for a second round of plein air activity.  The madness of which I speak concerns the simulaneous events of the Downtown Arlington Levitt Pavilion Music Festival (at night) and the Paint Historic Waxahachie plein air event (during the day).  Friends call this burning the candle at both ends; I call it too much of a good thing.  Right now I’m a painter by day and a festival participant by night, and I hope I’m not coming across as “whiney”.  I made this choice.

I spent a great deal of time in my art booth last night reading the interview of Andrew Wyeth recorded in the book The Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth.  I had his work heavy on my mind when I came across this filling station this morning and regarded its remnants, thinking of how it had served out its usefulness before the owners moved on to other things.  How many of us in life feel that sentiment of being used and discarded?  I cannot explain the aesthetic sense of “beauty” I feel when gazing on remnants of abandoned businesses such as this.  But the longer I look at them and attempt to paint them, I can only think of what it must have been like to enter this establishment when it was viable, when the proprietors knew their customers in the small town of Ovilla on a first-name basis.  When I painted this subject last week, I enjoyed overhearing the conversations of the men who sat out in front of the open garage bay in their lawn chairs, soaking up the afternoon.  Today (Sunday) there was not a soul to be seen or a voice to be heard.  But I enjoyed the silence and the musings as I worked over this piece.

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.