Archive for April, 2015

Avalanche II

April 26, 2015

What a surprise awaited me when I opened the blinds to my living room Saturday morning and looked out into my back yard. The night before, I was at the Kimbell Art Museum, and they rushed us underground to avoid a tornado threat. I got home well after dark and didn’t think of checking my back yard, totally unaware of what was lying there to greet me the next morning. Crap. I called TXU to tell them there was a powerline underneath the tree. They wanted to know if I lost power? No. Were there sparks flying? No.Then they would get there when they could. Not yesterday, and not today either, apparently. So meanwhile, I get to look out at this titanic corpse of a tree that fills my entire back yard until they deal with the power line. Then I get to hire a crew to cut it up and haul it out.

Choosing to stay home the entire day, JUST IN CASE THEY CAME, I began reclaiming the rooms of my house that were set in disarray from my hauling out art work and furniture for last week’s festival. I don’t know how I manage this, but I trash out my house every time I get ready for an art festival, with all the matting, shrinkwrapping, packaging, packing and loading. Then when I return, everything just gets dumped back into the rooms, and I usually walk around it for a week before I get so sick of seeing it that I finally set to work tidying, and reclaiming my special work spaces.

Motherwell Room

Motherwell Room

Most of my art work is stored in the room I like to call my Motherwell Room. Robert Motherwell’s blend of artistic prowess with scholarly erudition has always had ways of motivating me to learn more, to be more. Thus, I have this room set up with all my Motherwell books, as well as a table for making art, and most of my unhanged art work arranged around the walls and stored in the walk-in closet.

Motherwell Room

Motherwell Room

I also reserve a corner of that room for my special reading. Saturday was given to a day of reading and painting.

Beginnings of a New Painting

Beginnings of a New Painting

It’s been awhile since I’ve sketched or painted railroad subjects. Here is a Union Pacific caboose I photographed a few years ago in the historic Handley neighborhood of east Fort Worth. I have a railroad series in mind that was inspired by some things I’ve read recently from Proust concerning the series paintings of Claude Monet. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

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.

Advertisements

Avalanche

April 24, 2015
"Constellation" by Isamu Noguchi at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

“Constellation” by Isamu Noguchi at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

This has not been an easy day. Waking up to a dark, rainy morning does not crater my spirits, though that was the climate that greeted me at 6 a.m. and stayed throughout the day. No. Today was a day that brought me into contact with two students knocked down by serious medical issues. As a teacher, I know that I have stayed above the fray of meddling–I do not get emotionally involved with my students’ personal affairs. From my first day, twenty-seven years ago, I have felt that caution to stay away from the personal stuff–pour as much passion and intellectual material into their minds on a daily basis as possible, but do not try to be a father or big brother or guidance counselor to them. I have been consistent. But for the first time that I recall, I have spent an entire day inside this school building, fighting back tears, bitter tears. These students are too young to bear what has been dropped onto their slender shoulders. And I cannot even begin to know what their parents feel, because I am crushed beyond help as I write this.

Once school let out, I felt the need to shake off this heavy week, and decided to return to the Kimbell Art Museum in Forth Worth. The rains had brought cool winds, and I felt my tensions elide as I sat behind the Kimbell, sketching the Henry Moore “Figure in a Shelter” bronze that quietly anchors the outside corner of the museum.

Henry Moore "FIgure in a Shelter"

Henry Moore
“FIgure in a Shelter”

After the sketching period soothed my spirits, I turned to one of my Robert Motherwell books, and read his comments about one of his favorite poets, Stéphane Mallarmé:

Sometimes I have an imaginary picture in mind of the poet Mallarmé in his study late at night–changing, blotting, transferring, transforming each word and its relations with such care–and I think that the sustained energy for that travail must have come from the secret knowledge that each word was a link in the chain that he was forging to bind himself to the universe; and so with other poets, composers, and painters.

Just this morning, as I was ironing my shirt for school and listening to a DVD over the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, I thought of Wright’s analogy between the composer and the architect, how each symphony was an edifice of sound. As I sat on that back deck and mused over the synergy between all the creative souls on this earth, my eye drifted over to Isamu Noguchi’s “Constellation” in the sculpture garden below.

It was nearly time to go inside for the 6:00 lecture on the contributions of Noguchi, so I gathered my books and went inside. Unlike many museum lectures, this speaker was stunning. Alison de Lima Greene, curator of contemporary art for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, delivered her lecture titled “Isamu Noguchi: Between Measured Time and the Vastness of the Universe.” Her scholarly erudition was first rate, and her skillful use of words kept me on the edge of my seat. Halfway through the lecture, the lights suddenly went up, and security instructed us to move directly to the underground shelter, as a tornado warning was in progress. I did not know until then that an underground tunnel connected the Kahn and Piano buildings of the Kimbell Art Museum.

Waiting out the Storm

Waiting out the Storm

Once the storm passed, and we were allowed to return, I would have had the perfect excuse to exit the lecture. But the thought never entered my mind. Returning to my seat, I listened to the second half, equally as engaging as the first. I would drive across several counties to listen to this scholar lecture on any topic concerning the arts.

Driving home later, I felt good for the first time today, and am fortunate that this evening’s opportunities were afforded me. Twice this week, the Kimbell has provided a respite for troubled days. I tried twice today to pull some troubled souls out of the waters. In the end, I needed to be pulled out as well, and I’m thankful that spiritual healing was offered. I want to close this chapter with some words from Emerson’s Nature that Frank Lloyd Wright never tired of sharing:

Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house a world; and beyond its world, a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you. . . . Build, therefore, your own world.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Momentum

April 23, 2015
Lexington, Texas Gas Station Finished (Perhaps)

Lexington, Texas Gas Station Finished (Perhaps)

I can’t get them out fast enough.

Frank Lloyd Wright

This afternoon I was in a watercoloring mood, and felt a little disappointed when I brought the old white house to a close. Then I poked around and found this one that I had forgotten some weeks ago. Without a second thought I went to work on the left gas pump which had been barely underway, then worked on the foundation underneath. All the while, I listened to the very lengthy Ken Burns documentary playing on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. I was thrilled to hear how prolific he became around age 80, almost fifteen years before his death. When asked how he managed to tend the details of so many works under construction at once, his answer was: “I can’t get them out fast enough.” I have known that feeling personally from time to time, but would like to experience it again. Maybe it’s about to happen. At any rate, I’m closing in on finishing this gas station from Lexington, Texas that I love seeing on my trips to the coast. I’ll try to make a decision soon on bringing it to a close, and then see about the next one . . .

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.

Andrew Wyeth Died Too Soon

April 23, 2015
Completed Watercolor of my 1987 Dwelling.

Completed Watercolor of my 1987 Dwelling.

What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their works is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.

Eugene Delacroix

I know. I posted that same Delacroix quote last night, but it has remained with me throughout this day, and I cannot let go of it just yet. Though it has been an art history day filled with 20th-century architecture and Abstract Expressionism with the A. P. classes and Henri Matisse with the Regular Art History class, my mind throughout the day has gone back to Andrew Wyeth and the legacy he built until he died at the age of 91. I was saddened the day he passed away, realizing his last watercolor sketch had been created, and nothing more would come from his fertile mind or sensitive eye. But today I realized that I cannot let go of the land or rural structures he explored. I lived among such places, and I still carry them in the best memories of my life. Once realizing that, I could not wait to get back to my studio and go back to work on the piece posted above, not realizing I was actually going to finish it today. Now I need to move on to something else. I’m very absorbed with the notion of rendering the raw land that engulfs us, and Andrew Wyeth remains my muse in that endeavor.

The day is just a blur to me now. Three sections of art history over two eras kept me occupied enough, but in every free moment, I was pouring words into my journal, re-thinking things we covered in Thoreau in yesterday’s philosophy class. One of the students, during roundtable discussion, read the following from Walden:

It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

I was moved at how long the students lingered over this text in discussion, musing: “how does one live a creative, artful life?” How does one begin to answer such a question? Indeed, it is much easier to make beautiful things than to live a beautiful life, simpler to bless others with your creations than with your behaviors. I was not able to provide an answer to the class, and I’m not sure who could.

As I moved through the day, I resolved to continue chewing on this one, and, once home again, pick up the brush and attempt to make something beautiful. While painting the above watercolor, I listened to a DVD of Ken Burns’ documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the archtects we covered in A. P. Art History today. Luckily our public library had the disk and I’m delighted to listen to his story as I 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.

Letting the Muse Have Her Way

April 22, 2015
Sketch of

Sketch of “Crouching Aphrodite” from Kimbell Art Museum

What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.

Eugene Delacroix

After a third consecutive difficult day at school, I decided at the close to take myself to the Kimbell Art Museum in neighboring Fort Worth. My birthday was Monday, and I could not even stop to think of it, thanks to the grading deadline. Tuesday featured another long day, capped with a 90-minute meeting, but two dear friends went out with me for dinner, drinks, and splendid conversation afterward–many thanks to you! Today, I decided it was time to celebrate my own birthday alone by visiting the art museum for all the right reasons–muses linger there and fuel the tired but willing imagination.

Birthday cards have been trickling in for days, all of them soulful. Today, having received yet another card in the mail, I paused in the Kimbell atrium, choosing to read it and think over its message for awhile. Then I entered my favorite gallery of antiquities, and there she was, waiting for me–my favorite sculpture from the Greco-Roman era: Crouching Aphrodite. I had my sketchbook in hand and attempted five renderings of her, choosing to post the final one above. I could not stop admiring this beautiful female form, chiseled and polished out of marble, and over 2,000 years old.

After an hour of perusing the permanent collection, I then strolled over to the neighboring Fort Worth Modern Art Museum to find a place out back to enjoy coffee and books.

I closed out the afternoon reading from my favorite birthday book: Paintings in Proust, writing my thoughts in the journal, and perusing two of my Robert Motherwell books. I couldn’t have dialed up a more perfect afternoon. The evening would bring on a crush of college grading and art history preps for tomorrow’s high school load, but the afternoon put the necessary wind in my sails to face the task.

Thanks for reading. It’s good to be back on the blog.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Watercolor Respite

April 21, 2015
Picking up the brush again

Picking up the brush again

Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists . . . 

Marcel Proust

A gentle reminder from a special friend sent me back to reading Proust last week after another long hiatus. Then I had to close up my shop and leave for a three-day art festival. Once the festival closed, I returned to two days of grading hell, promising me not one minute of down time. Finally I return home late today to find a surprise in my mailbox–a gift book Paintings in Proust. I’ve had some wonderful rocking-chair time with this beautiful volume. Now I’ll need to design a way to continue my reading of Proust’s novel, as well as The Fountainhead.

I managed a little time today on the watercolor I abandoned last week. The more I stare at the sprawling land around that house, the more I think of a passage from The Fountainhead as an architect surveyed the surrounding landscape:

The earth was like the outline of a great story, like the steel frame of a building–to be filled and finished, holding all the splendor of the future in naked simplification. . . . Wynand wondered what reins this man was gathering from all the points of the landscape into his hand.

Between this Ayn Rand novel, the writings of Proust, and a library book I checked out today on Andrew Wyeth, I am getting a profound itch to explore the land in watercolor and pencil, and find a way to fit the architecture into its natural surroundings. So many things are starting to come together in my mind, and it’s been frustrating that I’ve been buried in administrative details to explore them. To borrow again from The Fountainhead:

It was as if an underground stream flowed through the country and broke out in sudden springs that shot to the surface at random, in unpredictable places.

Sometimes I think our decades of ideas and experiences from reading and living life form a deep, still reservoir which from time to time bursts forth like an artesian well. Over the past week, these streams from Rand, Proust and Wyeth have comingled with ideas gleaned from Thoreau in my Philosophy class and certain twentieth-century ideas in my A. P. Art History classes, particularly Frank Lloyd Wright. In a perfect world, I would shut down my school for a week, crawl under a rock, and give these ideas time to hatch and develop. But alas, the hour is drawing late, and I have school again tomorrow. It just never ends.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

Art Festival Devastated by Storms

April 18, 2015
Brickworks Art in the Park, Kennedale Texas

Brickworks Art in the Park, Kennedale Texas

I am heartsick as I pause late tonight to write this. On Friday night, we opened the Brickworks Art in the Park Festival, and remained open only three hours before severe thunderstorms shut us down. Heavy, heavy rainfall took a toll on some of the artists’ booths and merchandise, and reopening this morning was a somber event for many of them. Tonight again,we were chased out of the park by severe weather at around 7:00. Once I got home, I checked the radar to find that winds were gusting up to 70 mph. This was not a simple repeat of last night. Panic shot through me, because 70 mph winds are the limit my tent is designed to handle. I rushed back to the festival grounds to find anywhere from 60-75% of the tents destroyed, tables scattered, and art work littered all over the park. My tent was intact, but I couldn’t turn around and go back home. Dozens of artists and family members were combing the grounds with flashlights, digging shattered art work out of the mud as the rain continued to come down in sheets. After a few hours, with much help from the local police and city employees, we realized that we had done all we could for one night.

Now, with my rain-soaked clothes spinning in the washing machine, I feel sick inside. My tent and art work survived, but I will never forget how heart sick I was all those times throughout the years when my art festivals were torpedoed by bad weather. It just meant taking a loss, collecting less money in sales than I paid out in rental fees for the show. And that always hurt. But I’ve never known the agony of losing my entire investment. I haven’t lost the tent, or the furniture, or the art work. Tonight I saw scatted jewelry, shattered picture frames, canvases and paper products soaked in the rain. And I saw shredded tents, bent poles, and broken furniture hurled across the park. There was a tornado warning southwest of us, and I do not yet know what exactly tore through us, but the high winds meant that over half the artists will not be there tomorrow to close out the show. And for that I feel very despondent tonight. Their work was a labor of love and it just feels so unfair to see their products wiped out in just a matter of minutes tonight.

I don’t know that I’ve posted appropriate content on this blog, but tonight I grieve for friends I’ve known for years in the art festival circuit who lost their entire inventory of original art, along with their furnishings. Tomorrow will be a sad day, walking into the park and seeing all those empty lots that were filled with laughter, conversations, and good will the past couple of days.

Thanks for reading.

Art Festival Fever

April 15, 2015
Working on Inventory in Preparation for the Next Art Festival

Working on Inventory in Preparation for the Next Art Festival

The drilling machine for the Aargau lecture (“Biblical Questions, Insights, and Vistas”) is going at full strength and an unbroken pillar of smoke is rising from my pipe to the ceiling as in the best times of my life.

Karl Barth, letter to friend Eduard Thurneysen March 17, 1920

Throughout this afternoon of work, this remark from Karl Barth kept clattering around in my brain, and I decided to post it. I’m not smoking a pipe, but the aroma from my coffee cup has been rising throughout this afternoon and evening, and I am feeling, like Barth, that it reflects the best times of my life. He was referring to the composition of a lecture he was to deliver at an historic event, whereas I am simply trying to enlarge my inventory for an approaching festival.

I will participate in the Brickworks Art in the Park festival in the neighboring city of Kennedale, Friday through Sunday. Throughout this week, I’ve come home from school each day and hurled myself into the enterprise of printing, matting and sleeving my enlarging inventory of prints and greeting cards to accompany my watercolors in the booth. The photo above is a sample of what I’ve tackled for the duration of this afternoon. The slowest part of the process was the creation of new greeting cards. For each painting I reproduce on the front of the 5 x 7″ card, I compose a text for the back, leaving the inside blank. Always, I worry about doing “hack work” when I write for the cards, especially when I am creating a dozen of them in the same afternoon. And then, there is that added detail of diving into the trunk filled with well over a hundred different cards, looking for the ones that are becoming scarce, as well as missing the ones that have sold out. It takes a while, and I find the effort taxing, especially after I’ve already taught all day.

Sorry I have to cut this short, but I have a long list of tasks that still need tending, and the fesitval is drawing near.

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.

Pausing for Memories that Matter

April 14, 2015

What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

          Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of spendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

                   We will grieve not, rather find

                   Strength in what remains behind;

                   In the primal sympathy

                   Which having been must ever be;

                   In the soothing thoughts that spring

                   Out of human suffering;

                   In the faith that looks through death,

In years that bring the philosophic mind.

William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immorality”

Reliving Some Sacred Memories

Reliving Sacred Memories

The work schedule this week seems in conspiracy against the dreamer. As schools move into their final grading period, administrative details accelerate, and much of what teachers do has no connection with the task of educating students. I am moving toward another art festival this weekend, inventory matters need to be addressed during these evening hours, and I am addressing them. But there is this small watercolor I started over the weekend that has opened a portal for all kinds of Proustian memories from 1986-87 that just won’t stop flowing. Today as we worked on Emerson in my Philosophy class, I could not stop my mind from re-visiting this site where I lived. The house was then over a hundred years old, but still livable. I was writing my doctoral dissertation and preaching in a small church next door. During the fall semester, I rose at 4:00 a.m. two mornings a week, made a large breakfast of eggs, sausage and biscuits, and traveled one hour and 45 minutes south to Fort Worth to teach an 8:00 Religion class at Texas Christian University. During the spring semester I kept an office at the University of North Texas, one hour south in Denton, where I revised and typed my dissertation.

Fine-Tuning some Details

Fine-Tuning some Details

Despite the work details, I fell in love with the land that engulfed me throughout that year, along with the changing of the seasons. I had no close neighbors. The road in front of my house was gravel. The nearest city was twelve miles away. No airplanes could be heard passing overhead. No A/C units of suburbs humming into the night–only the sounds of birds, insects and wildlife. I returned to Thoreau’s writings during that year, began keeping a journal that has endured to this present day, and felt the embrace of nature.Though I now live in the suburbs of a major American city, I close my eyes and the memories take me back to this most perfect natural environment I ever knew. Hence, I gave myself an hour this afternoon to tinker with this painting. And now, I must return to the inventory details of the upcoming art festival.

Packaging art for the Festival

Packaging art for the Festival

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.

Lingering in the Shadow

April 13, 2015
Raw Photo of a Watercolor Sketch Attempted Months Ago

Raw Photo of a Watercolor Sketch Attempted Many Months Ago

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

WIth an art festival approaching this coming weekend, I came home from school today in a burst of energy and began cranking out reproductions of my recent watercolors, in images 5 x 7″, 8 x 10″ and custom greeting cards. This task ate up a number of hours of the late afternoon and early evening. Finally, I slumped in a rocking chair with coffee, deciding it was time to stop for awhile. An image suddenly flashed into my mind’s eye, and before I thought better, I was out of the chair and back at the computer, photoshopping, cropping, and playing around with one watercolor that I had forgotten completely over the past several months. Below are two cropped, photoshopped compositions of this painting:

Back in the rocking chair, I sipped my coffee and stared at these two images alongside my original, and like Andy Warhol, found myself fascinated in the abstract possibilities of the shadows and negative areas, not just the subject matter. I don’t know how much time elided as I sat, sipping and thinking, pondering these possibilies, But I was truly “drawn in” by these compositions. Since adolescence, I have looked at Andrew Wyeth watercolors, popularly called “vignettes”, and loved the way he allowed his colors to bleed off into a white wasteland beyond the focused subject matter. As for myself, I have often been too timid to leave my work this way, fearing that it would be judged “unfinished.” But I am changing my mind tonight. I’ve determined that I will eventually have this piece custom framed, leaving the unfinished boundary. After all, I’m not entering it into a competition. I’m not subjecting it to another judge’s opinion. And I really have no interest in selling the piece. I have not been “attached” to any single painting of mine for over a decade, but this one is definitely clinging to me tonight. And I am beginning to feel stirred by the idea of creative authenticity. After all these decades of practicing my craft, I feel that I could be drawing nearer to finding my own voice.

Another Partial Watercolor Sketch from Months Ago, and Forgotten

Another Partial Watercolor Sketch from Months Ago, and Forgotten

I decided I needed to get out of the house and do at least a two-mile exercise walk in the park. This habit of the past couple of weeks will hopefully provide a boost of energy that I’ve felt sagging in recent months. The longer I walked, the more my mind spun with ideas gleaned over the years from Paul Tillich, Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn, Andrew Wyeth and one of my high school art teachers, notably that compositional strength is frequently discovered in the boundaries, rather than the heart of the subject. No doubt, I have plenty of matters to ponder as I venture closer to the art festival, but these things definitely have my attention.

The borderline is the truly propitious place for acquiring knowledge.

Paul Tillich, Religiöse Verwirklichung (Religious Realization)

I did manage to return to a watercolor I began over the weekend, experimenting with some foreground texturing and figuring a way to transition from the painting itself to the surrounding white ground. My studio lacks decent photography lighting at night, so this is the best I can muster:

I close with this note from Irwin Edman that has lodged into my consciousness throughout this fertile evening:

An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative . . . to say what he has to say with the most direct and economical means, to be true to his objects, to his materials, to his technique, and hence, by a correlated miracle, to himself.

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.