Archive for May, 2014

Sailing to Byzantium

May 25, 2014

Maypearl Bank

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 unageing intellect.

William Butler Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”

I am following up the broad lacuna of my blog by acknowledging another grueling week of school (only two weeks left now), followed by a three-day art festival.  I have been watercoloring consistently, but without time or computer access for posting.  My art work is in Booth #11 at the Downtown Arlington Levitt Pavilion Music Festival.  We set up on Friday, opened that afternoon, then I rose early Saturday and drove forty minutes south to the quaint little town of Maypearl, Texas, where I twice painted the Dr. Pepper billboard on the side of an aging hardware store.

This time I looked across the street at what used to be the bank in downtown Maypearl, and devoted my morning hours to cranking out this watercolor en plein air.  I was forced to stop at 1:00 and returnn to Arlington in order to shower, re-pack and get to my festival booth by opening time at 4:00.

As I painted, I thought of these words from the W. B. Yeats poem, and the reality of loss that comes with time passing.  Though it was Saturday, hardly anyone stirred on Main Street in this town as I whiled away the hours painting.  It could just as well have been Edward Hopper’s depression-era Early Sunday Morning.  Nevertheless, I chose to look at this bank building as one of our American “monuments of unageing intellect.”  And as I soaked in the cool breezes of the overcast day and painted the building in the gray light of a Texas morning, I thought of how time passes, yet we find ways to hold fast the memories of things that we knew as stable and dependable, much as the citizens of Maypearl did this bank.

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.

 

Plein Air Watercoloring in Ferris, Texas

May 18, 2014
Abandoned Structure in Ferris, Texas

Abandoned Structure in Ferris, Texas

Language is the house of Being.

Martin Heidegger

Sunday morning, like Saturday, I awoke to a 68-degree temperature with plenty of sun and pleasant breezes.  I chose this morning to try out Ferris, Texas, and found more subjects than I could paint in a week.  The first structure I saw on the west side of downtown was this one I’ve posted.  The moment I saw it, I thought of an Andrew Wyeth watercolor titled “Prevailing Wind” that I saw a couple of years ago in an exhibition at the Tyler Museum of Art.

"Prevailing Wind" by Andrew Wyeth

“Prevailing Wind” by Andrew Wyeth

I feel embarrassed to say that I tried “channeling Andrew Wyeth”, but he is my idol, and he certainly was on my mind the entire time I worked on this plein air composition.  I thoroughly relished this opportunity, the sun was nice and strong on the building, and I was shivering with wonder as I worked at reproducing that cupola on the watercolor paper with the trees framing it.  I always find corrugated rusted iron a problem to do in watercolor, and am never satisfied with my results.  I chose to stop early on this one, and not overwork it the way I did yesterday’s gas station.

This composition I tried on 140 lb. D’Arches hot pressed paper.  I abandoned hot pressed paper about eight years ago, because I found it difficult to layer washes without wiping out what was put on earlier.  I have to say that I found this slick surface a comfort to draw on, and I rather enjoyed what was happening with this sketch.  I think I’m going to try some more watercolors on hot press surfaces and see where it takes me.  I prepared this paper by soaking it and stretching it on a canvas stretcher.  The winds dried out the work very quickly, making it much easier to work outdoors with speed.

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.

What if Every Class Began with Heidegger?

May 18, 2014

North of Waxahachie, Texas

When on a summer’s day the butterfly

settles on the flower and, wings

closed, sways with it in the

meadow-breeze . . . .

            All our heart’s courage is the

            echoing response to the

            first call of Being which

            gathers our thinking into the

            play of the world.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

Reading the text above left me breathless, late one night recently.  I had been working over several days, trying to prepare a lecture on Martin Heidegger for my high school philosophy class.  Anyone who has tried to read his work, especially Being and Time, knows that Heidegger’s thought is a difficult nut to crack.  Finally, I read his piece titled “The Thinker as Poet”, read it again, and read it still again.  I couldn’t believe the ideas that washed over me.  For several decades now, my life has zig-zagged between art and academics.  I am salaried to teach academics to high school and college students (art history, philosophy, literature).  I have never stopped making art, and I have pursued watercolors for a number of years now.  And I love the kindredship I feel when I read words such as these from a writer who loved both fields.

With only a few weeks of school remaining, I oftentimes find this time a year the best of times, for me.  Most students (and teachers) have given up by now and are on cruise control.  I always find this an excellent time to pursue studies in areas outside my comfort zone, and I feel that I am a student again, off-balance, leaning into new ideas, and stretching to understand the more nuanced teachings from the masters.  Right now, I am loving my reading and my art endeavors more than ever, and hope that the trend continues a long time.  I can think of nothing better.

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.

 

Retreat to the Wilderness

May 18, 2014
Plein Air Sketch of a Former Gas Station in Ovilla, Texas

Plein Air Sketch of a Former Gas Station in Ovilla, Texas

Once the voices inside the classroom ceased for the weekend, I cloistered myself at home and spent a quiet Friday night poring over Martin Heidegger texts.  Cleansing waves of revelation washed over me, and the late night hours were indescribable.  I have enjoyed for years reading over the general themes of existential thinkers, but Heidegger’s three-part discussion of the human condition I found so appropros for matters I have felt for years, especially these senior years.  Heidegger breaks the subject into facticity, existentiality, and forfeiture.  

Facticity is the world into which I’ve been cast, my world.  It is the world that I inherited, the world in which I find myself entangled.  Existentiality is my anticipation of possibilities.  I want more, want to be more.  Existentiality is my way of appropriating my world and transcending it.  Existentiality is my aiming toward what has not yet occurred.  It is the primal energy to push beyond these boundaries, to learn more, become more.  My art and my academic pursuits are my way of pushing beyond what I’ve inherited from my world.  Forfeiture is the reality that this world is not only the material offering itself for existentiality, but also the agent that seduces me away from my pursuits.  There are so many distractions from the enterprise that I wish to pursue.  There is the everyday call to perform duties.  I know what I want to do, but I also know that I often turn away from these exploits, and perform the everyday tasks.  I forfeit the opportunity to be more.

O.K., now that I have  dropped the Heidegger bomb, I move on to discuss the sketch posted above.  Friday night was the Heidegger delight;  Saturday was my retreat to the wilderness.  The 2014 “Paint Historic Waxahachie” assignment for this past weekend included an excursion to Ovilla, Texas to paint en plein air the sights found there.  The old downtown is quite small, with the Main Street twisting and turning, and heavily trafficked.  I had to be careful of the constant passing cars and trucks.  But my eye was filled with delight at this old structure that the locals told me was formerly a filling station and general store.  Currently a man sells resale items out of this store.  I met him and had a very pleasant conversation about his business and the general business about town.  In fact, I met a host of pleasant people as I painted the day away here.  There were half a dozen plein air painters present from the Ellis County Art Association, and all the businessmen up and down the street came out to look, to chat, and exchange pleasantries.  The day was filled with charm.

I cannot say I’m happy with this watercolor.  I overworked it, and actually it looked better 30 minutes before I quit.  I still haven’t quite figured out when to leave something alone (and may never figure it out!).  But the experience was deeply satisfying, and I’m happy that I spent the best part of my Saturday in Ovilla.  The setting and the people were very charming and memorable.

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 Day Filled with Andrew Wyeth Images

May 15, 2014
Not Coming Back

Not Coming Back

I think one’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes.  I see no reason for painting but that.  If I have anything to offer, it is my emotional contact with the place where I live and the people I do.”

Andrew Wyeth, quoted in Richard Meryman, Andrew Wyeth, Houghton-Mifflin, 1968

All day today in my high school Art History classes, we have been examining the art of Andrew Wyeth.  Such days make me sad to be stuck indoors in a classroom with no windows.  I am posting this image of one of my first plein air watercolors, painted about six years ago in Waxahachie.  It was the first time I participated in the Paint Historic Waxahachie competition, a week-long event that draws over fifty artists from around the area.  I was scared at wit’s end to paint from life as I had been depending on photos in the studio for a number of years.  After several days of stumbling about on the courthouse square, painting downtown store fronts, I happened across this abandoned residence about a block north of the square.  The longer I sat in the shade of the large tree and worked on this rendering, the more I was struck by the dual sense of profound loss and exhilarating presence.  Every detail of this house seemed to whisper some record of history.  I will always be grateful that I paused long enough on the adjacent vacant lot to crank out this rough sketch, because when I returned the following year to repeat the event, I found only a foundation remaining where this derelict house once stood.  Even today when I drive past the location, I am saddened at the clearing.

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 Twilight Between Sartre and Heidegger

May 14, 2014
Beginning a Watercolor of the Fort Worth Scat Lounge

Beginning a Watercolor of the Fort Worth Scat Lounge

Thinking is hard work. It’s why so few people do it.
– Henry Ford

As reported in earlier posts, I have been engaged in a couple of larger watercolors that I could not post to the blog because there was not very much to see at that point–light pencil sketches and very little color.  Now I can finally publish this commencement of the Fort Worth Scat Lounge, a substreet-level jazz club in an alley on the south side of Fort Worth’s re-energized Sundance Square.  I have always loved the darkness of this alley and the lighted neon sign suspended above.  It’s fun to take the elevator down to the club proper when you enter from the alley at night.  For several years I have taken photos of this sign but never seemed to have the courage to begin.  So I finally thought, “Why not?  What have I got to lose?  I’ve made bad watercolors before and I can do it again.  I have the guts to make a bad watercolor.”   I have found working over this one to be deeply enjoyable so far, even though the image is emerging very, very slowly.  The overall composition is of substantial size, and will probably be cut to 16 x 20″.  I began last week with the careful pencil sketch, then made a decision to lay in a dark, warm background.  I applied a wet-on-wet coat of Aureolin (yellow) first.  One day later, I added a second wet-on-wet coat of the same.  On the third day (always making sure I was giving it 24 hours to dry on this 300-pound D’Arches cold-press paper surface) I applied a mixture of Alizarin Crimson, Winsor Green, Transparent Yellow, Winsor Red, Winsor Blue (Green Shade) and Cadmium Red.  Finally I’m getting that dark brick color I’ve been needing for three days.  I just needed the patience to let the layers of pigment do their work.  This evening I began work on the crimson part of the sign.  I will probably have to lay this aside now, because I have plenty of other (not as interesting) tasks to tend tonight.

I am also working on a Philosophy lecture for Friday morning, introducing Martin Heidegger.  In my high school classes, I haven’t discussed Heidegger (or Sartre) for at least three years.  Both thinkers I find too difficult to discuss, and I hate to simplify and distort them.  But I sucked it up and delivered the Sartre lecture this morning, and was pleasantly shocked at the level of interest and reception.  So, I decided to soldier on and see how it goes with Heidegger on Friday.

I would be lying if I reported that I’ve read and understood Being and Time.  My interest in Heidegger comes primarily from secondary sources about his life and work.  The only writings of his that I have enjoyed are his translations and meditations over the Greek Presocratic fragments.  I have loved the Greek language since my seminary days, and have spent as much time over the past couple of decades translating Homeric, Presocratic and Classical texts than New Testament passages.  What I love about Heidegger is the way he lingered over these ancient texts, expecting some kind of oracular encounter.  That is my own lifestyle as well, and I cannot put those emotions into words. But they are precious moments, and every time I read something significant from his hand that emerged from the words of Anaximander, Heraclitus or Parmenides, I feel as if he is in the same room with me, conversing over these fragments.  The word is indeed a living power.

Tonight I’m going to try and read Heidegger’s essays “The Thinker as Poet” and “The Origin of the Work of Art.”  I’m approaching them with a sense of expectancy.

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.

Dr. Pepper Painting and Thoughts about Purpose

May 13, 2014
Beginning of a Large Ghost Sign Watercolor

Beginning of a Large Ghost Sign Watercolor

Most of what we express creatively is prelinguistic.  The deeper insights are obviously coming from somewhere.  They are not logiclly structured in the mind, but it may take logic to get them expressed.

Ian Roberts, Creative Authenticity

Every artist has a central story to tell, and the difficulty, the impossible task, is trying to present that story in pictures.

Gregory Crewdson

Having finished the Kennedale clock tower, I’m turning my attention now to a subject I’ve tackled twice already en plein air.  This hardware store is located on Main Street in Maypearl, Texas.  I figured it was time to go after a large studio version of the composition.

Some of my students recently took up a discussion over life and its purpose.  One of the issues discussed concerns those who find life boring or without meaning.  I have to admit that I have not been able to sympathize with boredom.  For me, as long as I can remember, there has not been sufficient time to do everything I wish to do.  Any day that I have free time I have a fundamental struggle over whether to read or to paint.  I cannot do both simultaneously.  Even blogging takes time away from my books, my journal, and my art.  And there are many, many other things I like to do.  I had a long day at school, followed by a one-hour required session, followed by a school function.  When I finally got home at 7:30, I realized that the evening was nearly spent, and I had all these ideas I was wanting to uncover concerning Jean-Paul Sartre (our subject in tomorrow morning’s class).  I also had this Dr. Pepper watercolor on my drafting table, barely underway.  And I have found a renewed delight in the poetry of Walt Whitman.  Alas, too many interests, too little time.

Before I close however, I want to address this:  I never feel “blocked” as an artist.  I never feel that I go through spells of being unable to begin a painting.  I do acknowledge that my skill is not always “on”, that I don’t always “hit” when I attempt a new composition.  But that is not the same thing as a painter’s block.  I am painting, with joy, even if it’s not going well.  Instead of issues of being blocked, or dried up, I have issues of hot and cold: sometimes it seems I can do no wrong when I’m moving the pencil or brush; sometimes I am clumsy and obtuse.

Walt Whitman wrote “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life,” when he felt that his second edition of Leaves of Grass was not as crisp as his original one.  As he walked the shores, watching the ocean tide advance and withdraw, he drew parallels with his creativity as it surged with renewed energy as well as those times when it seemed to ebb.  Before he closed out the poem, he voiced the conviction that the flow would return.  And that is what I try to keep before me when I feel that the painting is not going too well.  I think this helps me keep my sanity.

Thanks for reading.  I want to pick up the brush now . . .

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

 

Watercoloring Indoors While the Thunderstorms Roll Through

May 12, 2014
Completed Watercolor of the Kennedale, Texas Clock Tower

Completed Watercolor of the Kennedale, Texas Clock Tower

The thunderstorms kept me indoors all afternoon and evening, which was a good thing.  I needed to complete this watercolor so I could return to other obligations beginning to pile up from neglect.  I’m happy with the way the process developed.  There were a few surprises along the way, but I felt that I was able to meet all obstacles and still finish early enough to get a decent night’s sleep, for a change.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll try to post more tomorrow.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Days Immersed in the Arts are Better than Days Without Them

May 12, 2014
Work in Progress on a Small Clock Tower

Work in Progress on a Small Clock Tower

The arts open up a dimension of reality which is otherwise hidden, and they open up our own being for receiving this reality. . . . Only the arts can do this: science, philosophy, moral action and religious devotion cannot.  The artists bring to our senses, and through them to our whole being, something of the depth of our world and of ourselves, something of the mystery of being.”

Paul Tillich, Address given before the National Conference of Church Architects

I have been making studies of this beautiful clock tower in a small park near where I live.  Several years ago, I designed a masthead of this image for an art festival poster.  Now it is time to attempt a real watercolor of the subject.  The setting is Kennedale, Texas where I have enjoyed their Annual Art in the Park for about five years now.  The park is beautifully landscaped and offers a perfect setting for an art venue.’  My booth has always been set up just beneath this clock tower, and I have spent many hours during three-day festival weekends admiring its verticality and sleek lines.  I have also enjoyed gazing at the rose bushes planted beneath.

Though I haven’t posted for awhile, I have been working on a series of watercolors almost nightly.  So far, the paintings are not really far enough along to photograph.  I’m a poor photographer and my pencil renderings that start out the compositions don’t pick up well when I try to post them digitally.  But I have two large watercolors in progress that I will be putting on the blog as soon as they have suffiicent color to make the subjects recognizable.  Both are paintings of local landmarks.

I posted the Paul Tillich quote because I just finished my second day lecturing on his life and work in my high school Philosophy class.  I also enjoy introducing him to twentieth-century art interpretations in my Art History classes because of his insightful remarks about the visual arts.  My soul resonates with his comments on the way art opens up avenues to us not as accessible through other academic disciplines.  Throughout this year, a circle of students have demonstrated this to me weekly as they’ve gathered to discuss art, literature and the vitalities of life.  I am most fortunate to be included in these weekly conversations.

This is an excellent afternoon for painting–outside the Texas skies are very dark and the thunderstorms are rather violent.  I’m glad to be sheltered, and the sounds of the rolling thunder are soothing to me as I pore over this watercolor project.

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 Second Day for Plein Air Painting in a Small Town

May 4, 2014
Hardware, Feed & Supply Store Maypearl, Texas

Hardware, Feed & Supply Store
Maypearl, Texas

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”, 1840.

The season of plein air painting has dawned in Texas, and after a long winter of painting from photographs I am glad to stretch my limbs, go outside and engage the three-dimensional enveloping world that greets me.  I took Emerson’s mantra seriously this morning, deciding that yesterday’s feeble attempt at rendering the Dr. Pepper sign in Maypearl was an O.K. start, but I could do better.  And so today I returned to the scene of yesterday and gave the subject a second try.  The temperatures were unbearably hot, but the shade of the oak tree did its part, and I felt O.K.

I found Maypearl, Texas deserted on Sunday afternoon.  Only the biker shop and a cafe were open.  There were no people to be found up and down the sidewalks, though I did notice there were four other plein air painters engaged in painting the town, two in oils and the other two in watercolor.  I began around 1:30 and finished 4:00.  Two-and-a-half hours proved to be enough in the hot afternoon.  I took my time, and promised not to hurry, but also not to do too much.  It’s only a sketch.  Only plein air.  Only practice.  It’s my conviction that time spent in the field will pay dividends in the studio.  I loved the quiet of the town and the space in my schedule to pursue this kind of activity.

Tomorrow begins another weary round of school.  We’re in the final grading cycle, so it won’t be much longer.  Hopefully, I put some of the extra time into serious painting.

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.