Archive for December, 2014

Flying Beyond the Nets Tonight

December 15, 2014

Monday Night in the Studio

Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes. (“And he applied his spirit to obscure arts”)

Ovid, Metamorphosis VIII, 188

With this inscription, James Joyce opened his credo, titled A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  Identified as Stephen Daedalus, he took upon himself the identity of the Greek mythic hero who designed the labyrinth in Crete for King Minos, only to be imprisoned in that same labyrinth to keep the secret of its construction secure.  In the Ovid text, Daedalus pondered his fate until he realized that Minos, despite all his micromanagement, could not control the air, the atmosphere separating Crete from the freedom of the surrounding milieu.  So “he applied his spirit to obscure arts” and with his cunning, created the wings that would allow him and his son Icarus to escape the labyrinth.  As James Joyce surveyed the antiseptic influence of Irish nationalism and the Jesuit training that sculpted his youth, he inserted the following words into a discussion between Stephen Daedalus and one of his comrades in the novel:

The soul is born, he said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of.  It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body.  When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight.  You talk to me of nationality, language, religion.  I shalll try to fly by those nets.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man portrays Stephen Daedalus as a precocious youth in Jesuit school who grows up to become a young scholar who would ultimately reject taking the orders of the Jesuit priesthood and instead pursue the career of a writer, even if it meant having to leave Ireland to live in Paris.  Invoking the cunning of the heroic Daedalus, he offered the following manifesto to his trusted friend:

Look here, Cranly, he said.  You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do.  I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do.  I wll not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use–silence, exile, and cunning.

. . .

I set out this evening to work in the garage studio, and was experiencing some satisfying breakthroughs in this watercolor excursion.  As I worked, I was suddenly alerted to a very liberating and affirming word posted on Facebook by one of my former students finishing her semester at the university.  The verbal bouquet swept me off my feet as it spoke glowingly of how I had influenced her in the classroom during her high school years.  She will probably never know the power of the words she posted, or how they gave me the needed wings to fly this evening.  Realizing that I could not paint any longer, I laid down the brush and pursued something that had been on my mind anyway–to sit in the newly-furnished room in the back of my house with a pile of books, my journal, this laptop and my mind with the freedom of time and space to explore these Daedalus matters that have occupied my imagination since Thanksgiving break.  One of the problems we face in formal education involves those moments when we get stunned by some epiphany, the bell rings, we go to another class and are forced to change the subject.  We are not granted those vital spaces of soak time or intellectual composting. Those problems occur outside the classroom as well.  Life happens, and frequently we are covered up by daily domestic or business tasks that prevent us from thinking about life and where we are going as we try to navigate.  Tonight, I decided to sit quietly in the back room and let my thoughts move.

The garage studio will still be ready and waiting when I return.  But for now, I have a pile of books at my elbow, a steaming cup of tea filling this room with pleasant aromas, and a serene and grateful heart.  I owe this former student a great debt of gratitude for giving me wings tonight.

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.

 

Still Wrestling with the Notion of Epiphany

December 14, 2014

 

Getting a Better Grip on this Still Life in Watercolor

Getting a Better Grip on this Still Life in Watercolor

Mother indulgent.  Said I have a queer mind and have read too much.  Not true.  Have read little and understood less.  

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Today started out a bit rough because I was still physically and mentally exhausted from the national conference I attended the past three days in Florida.  Changing time zones twice within the three days, accompanied by all-day meetings and not enough sleep at night, along with long flights taxed me more than expected.  I slept in till 8:30 this morning, and decided after showering and putting on coffee that I would read and record ideas in my journal until I broke this feeling of lethargy.  I chose three different staging areas in my home set up as cozy little reading and writing nooks, and kept an eye on the clock so as to change locations on the hour.  It worked.  By the time I finished my third “session,” I was ready to re-enter the garage studio and resume work on the still life begun last week.  The indolent spell had been broken.

James Joyce remains my all-consuming interest in literature.  I’m enjoying a book about him authored by  A. Walton Litz, checked out from our school library.  I read the biographical chapter, along with the ones on Portrait and Ulysses.  Over Thanksgiving I had re-read almost in its entirety Joyce’s Portrait and have become fascinated with his theories on aesthetics.  I must admit that I have never myself worked out a comprehensive theory of aesthetics.  But noticing that Joyce could not cast off his Jesuit training when it came to structuring his novels, I acknowledge that I have not cast off my own seminary training when studying academically or pursuing the arts. Litz observed that Joyce, upon renouncing his training for the prieshood, turned to a priestly life in the arts, and that his aesthetic theories focused on “epiphany, the moment when spiritual reality is manifested in artistic form, just as the incarnate Word was revealed to the Wise Men.” Moreover, he stresses that Joyce’s Jesuit training continued to serve his writer’s craft, because the training was directed toward methods rather than content.  The Jesuit General in 1892 defined Jesuit education and training as directed toward the mind, and that the essence of the training lay in the “form” or “spirit of the system,” not the specific subject matter.

In recent conversations with friends, I have confessed that my own lifestyle could be deemed “religious” because I still experience epiphany from a myriad of sources.  In my earlier days of the ministry, I sought such experiences solely from my study of the Bible and I earnestly pursued such experiences.  In these later years, I note that epiphany comes to me when it comes, without my having to jump-start the experience by setting up some kind of program.  I find much satisfaction in this.

The still life arrangement has been a struggle with me, until tonight.  I’m not sure what happened.  Maybe I just did not have enough going on in the painting until tonight, or maybe I just found some important keys in the decisions I made a few hours ago (I determined that I needed to explore more contrast, both in value as well as the juxtaposition of warm and cool colors). All I know is that I have taken my readings and notes on Joyce today very seriously, and have continued to stare at this congeries of objects assembled in my garage, wondering how to make them “fit” into a pleasing composition on my paper.  I’m starting to like what I see now.

I regret laying down the brush but the hour has passed 11:00 and I have to rise at 6:00 to start another week of school. I close by inserting this composite sketch I did of Joyce back around 1987:

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.

Return to the Studio of Dreams

December 13, 2014
Back to the Studio after a Brief Hiatus

Back to the Studio after a Brief Hiatus

Look here, Cranly, he said.  You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do.  I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do.  I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use–silence, exile, and cunning.

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Hello, everyone!  I have returned, not from sickness, but from a three-day AVID national conference in Orlando, Florida.  We had to rise at 4:00 Thursday morning, and frankly, I never quite got used to that early rise, coupled with the one-hour time change on the Atlantic coast.  We were packed into solid meetings throughout each day, but managed to arrive back home Saturday evening.  Sunday will be a nice restorative buffer before I return for school next week.

I missed my garage studio like a long lost friend, and was pleased to see my supplies laid out as I left them Wednesday night.  I’m sleepy now, but perhaps I can shake off some of this weariness and pick up the brush tonight. If not, there is always tomorrow, and I could probably rise early.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll be posting more as soon as possible.  It’s good to be home.

Some After-Hours Disney Nonsense

Some After-Hours Disney Nonsense

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Cutting Through Two Days of Fog

December 10, 2014

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.

Graham Greene

We don’t experience much fog in Texas weather, but the past two mornings have featured a heavy fog, and my drive to work in the dawn’s dim light was quite out of the ordinary.  The more I peered into the density of the fog, the more I thought about writing and ways in which we can use it to take the fog out of our half-baked ideas.  Interestingly, I have been reading James Joyce, and his texts have given me considerable pause when thinking about the fog of expression.  I was amused recently to hear Joseph Campbell in a taped lecture describe the text of Ulysses as pure protein–no fat, no carbohydrates.  I could think of a number of other ways to describe this text.  After the first ten pages, I’m seeking plenty of help in elucidation of what’s going on with the story, but I’m enjoying the skirmish.  When thinking of role models of the literary world who knew how to cut through the fog with their writings, Joyce doesn’t immediately come to mind.  But I’ll explore that one later.

After a full afternoon and evening of chores, I finally got to return to my watercolor still life project.  I can feel my breathing and heart rate change every time I enter this garage studio, this man cave, my sanctuary.

We must reserve a little back-shop, all our own, entirely free, wherein to establish our true liberty and principal retreat and solitude.

Montaigne

The world retreated, and I bent over my study and went to work with plenty of masquing on the woven fly fishing creel and the carved decorations in the back of the chair.  Beyond that, I had to exercise patience and apply several layers of transparent wash to the creel, the hat, and the chair back.  While waiting for layers to dry, I continued to tinker with some of the details I had already begun yesterday.  The hour is drawing late, and of course I would like to have pushed further than I did, but I did my best.  Tomorrow will be another long 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.

 

Another One of those Multi-Faceted, Rewarding Days

December 9, 2014
Continued Work Tonight in the Studio

Continued Work Tonight in the Studio

Every life is many days, day after day.  We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love.  But always meeting ourselves.

James Joyce, Ulysses

As the evening hour draws late, I hardly know how to set forth this day in words.  The classes at school were as energetic as always, with AVID students tearing into their tutorial sessions with a vigor unlike what I’m used to seeing as a semester winds down.  The energy was electric and I still tingle at every remembrance.  Philosophy came later and Nietzsche was our man of the hour.  I’m not used to lecturing for such long stretches, but the students seemed to give me the space ungrudgingly, and I took it.  I felt their passion as I endeavored to lead them through his lifetime contributions and point out his tragedies and triumphs.  Quiet hours in my classroom/studio later yielded some excellent reading in texts from Hegel and Joyce.  I still cannot stop thinking about what our guest lecturer brought to our class last Friday.  I also was privileged to pass some afternoon time in conversation with outstanding business associates in the art and retail business.  I always come away from those encounters with a renewed sense of optimism and enthusiasm for making and selling art.

After some afternoon studio activity, I got to spend time over dinner in conversation with a fascinating, engaging man who shares so many of my interests, in philosophy, theology, art, politics–the longer we talked the more convinced I was that I had found a kindred spirit on more levels than I could imagine.  I can’t wait for follow-up conversations.  This is the kind of man I wish I could have had regular conversations with during my graduate school years–I look back on those lonely, solitary times when I continually wished I could find one, just one creative spirit with whom I could engage in these kinds of exchanges.  Why is good conversation so rare?

When I got home, I found an email waiting from the West Coast from a creative spirit who always says the right things to encourage me in what I’m trying to do with watercolor.  I just had to read the letter again and again and again.  Though I was tired, I knew I had no choice but to get back into the garage and pick up that brush again.  By the time I re-entered the studio tonight, I knew my physical energy was in decline.  But I broke all rules of common sense, put on a pot of coffee, and resumed work on the still life that has absorbed my attention for days.

I spent most of these late hours drawing, erasing, re-drawing, erasing some more, yet never frustrated with the revisions, just drawn in by the whole process.  There are no deadlines here.  I want to get it right.

After about an hour of intense concentration over the watercolor, I decided it was time for some decompression.  I pulled up a chair, drank my final cup of coffee, and resumed reading some excellent secondary material on Joyce’s Ulysses.  Our high school librarian is a rich resource who provided me today with a remarkable James Joyce bibliography.  I was wanting to read some critical discussion on his style and contribution to modern thought, and she put the right books in my hand.  Thank you, Suzanne!

Pouring out my soul tonight feels good.  Thank you for reading.  Thank you for sharing in what has been a fulfilling day.  As I moved from person to person throughout this day, I was allowed to meet myself.  Thanks all of you.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Crack Between Appointments

December 9, 2014

image

After a day of school and an afternoon of gallery sitting followed by some general art business I had this delicious hour in the studio. I have another appointment, but look forward to exploring this still life further tonight. I promise to publish more then. Thanks for taking the time to look at this.

Growing Like Corn in the Night?

December 8, 2014
Detailing a Small Portion of the Still Life Watercolor

Detailing a Small Portion of the Still Life Watercolor

We blossom just as the trees blossom, but we cooperate so much less.  While the trees lean into the approaching seasons and submit themselves to the will of nature, we fight the richness being made of ourselves and we fight it with “busyness.”  Too many people, too many books, newspapers, and events, crowd our consciousness for our own ripening to occur.  We are distracted from the matter at hand: another soul being brought into maturity.

Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch

I posted the above quote because throughout this day I heard in my heart Thoreau’s remark about growing “like corn in the night.”  This was a day filled with “busyness” that began around 7:35 and did not stop until after 4:00 this afternoon.  I never stopped.  Yet, all day long, I just ached to get back into the studio.  Once I finally did, I stayed. There is not much work to show for all the hours and concentration, but I do feel that I grew in some ways that matter.

The photo above represents only about 20% of the area space of the still life arrangement I’m trying to render.  The rest of the picture plane is just white paper with some stray pencil marks.  I can scarcely believe that I spent a large part of tonight just focusing on the doorknob with the adjacent wood and fabric, as well as the chair spokes and door behind it.  But I loved the process, the concentration.  The decisions I’m forced to make with this slick hot-press paper surface keep me from putting my brush on automatic pilot.  The neutral colors involved also have me experimenting with color combinations I’ve never before tried.  I was hoping I would have more to put on the blog tonight, but I’m feeling spent.  I guess there are faster ways to write: I was busy throughout the day with assignments, then settled into a night of painting.  But I think that would leave the blog a little flat.  At any rate, it’s time to get some sleep and hopefully find renewed energy to face tomorrow’s tasks, at school first and the studio later.

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.

Keeping Shop in my Rustic Christmas Gallery

December 8, 2014
Keeping Afternoon Hours in my Classroom Christmas Art Gallery

Keeping Afternoon Hours in my Classroom Christmas Art Gallery

Beauty in art reminds one what is worthwhile.

Ezra Pound

Every year as we near the Christmas season, my principal gives me the nod to display and sell my art out of my classroom at Arlington Martin High School.  Scores of faculty and students seem to enjoy browsing what I have as they make last-minute Christmas shopping decisions.  I stay after school until 3:30, hanging in the gallery, reading, drinking coffee and chatting with anyone who drops by.  It feels good as we wind down this semester and anticipate the holidays.  I’ll have my gallery open Monday through Wednesday this week and next.

Later tonight I plan to get back to my studio work.  My mind has been on the fly fishing still life all day and I’m itching to return to it.  With some good fortune, I’ll post an update tonight.  For the time being, I’m chilling in my gallery, listening to good music, and trying to learn more about Hegel’s philosophy.  The guest lecturer last Friday really lit a fire under me and I desire to know more . . .

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.

 

Closing Out a Weekend of Joyce Literature and Watercolor Experiments

December 7, 2014
Closing Out a Weekend in the Studio

Closing Out a Weekend in the Studio

The poet, through his command of words, is a mediator between the world of ideas and the world of reality.

Harry Levin, Preface to Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

I’m feeling the fatigue stemming from a weekend of scrutinizing, drawing and watercoloring still life objects.  But my heart is filled, and the words of James Joyce have been a soothing balm for my soul.  I would like to have gotten further into my watercolor, but I took my time, and built up quite a few layers, darkening the background on the righthand side of the composition.  The doorknob and surrounding wood has been fun to work on, and from time to time I’ve used pencil, eraser, straightedge and circle templates to lay out the other objects.  This is going to be a 16 x 20″ watercolor and I’m excited about the prospects.

The Beginnings of the Watercolor

The Beginnings of the Watercolor

Time now to bed and a decent night’s sleep for tomorrow’s school hours.

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.

Absorbed into the Artwork

December 7, 2014

Finally Breaking Ground on the Watercolor Still Life

Towards dawn he awoke.  O what sweet music!  His soul was all dewy wet.  Over his limbs in sleep pale cool waves of light had passed.  He lay still, as if his soul lay amid cool waters, conscious of faint sweet music.  His mind was waking slowly to a tremulous morning knowledge, a morning inspiration.

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This sweet passage from Joyce’s novel describes the Saturday and Sunday mornings I experienced.  I would probably know such sentiments on weekdays were it not for a 6:00 alarm alerting me that I have sixty minutes to get out the door en route to school.  The fortune was mine today to spend the majority of my life in this garage studio drawing, revising, laying down my first layers of watercolor wash, and finally detailing some small areas.  I am falling headlong into this painting, and regret that I’ll have to call it off before long so I can begin my work week.  This weekend has been a Gift though, and I don’t mean to complain.  The temperatures today have remained chilly, the atmosphere outside dark and dim, and the coffee has stayed hot throughout the day.  I couldn’t have asked for a better script.

My Jumbled, Tangled Work Area

My Jumbled, Tangled Work Area

While working, I have listened to some old VHS tapes of Joseph Campbell discussing the writings of James Joyce. Though I myself have never fabricated and layed out a suitable aesthetic, I so enjoy listening to the discussions and theories of others concerning art.  Last week over lunch I was thrilled at the back-and-forth between myself and an alert student as we tried to hammer out some kind of feasible explanation of what exactly “art” is.  I often hear others say that aesthetics occur when we feel “held” by the object, when we linger.  Beauty suspends the desire to be elsewhere (I read this somewhere, it’s not my line!).  All I do know is, I enjoy making art, and unlike fishing, when I get skunked, I’m still in good spirits about the enterprise.  There is nothing like engaging in the task of making art, and this day has given me the opportunity. I remain grateful.

Thank you for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.