Archive for May, 2015

Sanctuary

May 8, 2015
An Evening at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

An Evening at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

It was a tremendous attraction, a sort of paradise found in which I was completeley free, alone, at peace.

Henri Matisse, discussing his experience while in Tangier

Last night’s excursion to the Dallas Museum of Art left me weary enough to tumble into bed well ahead of my habitual time. The surprise was waking around 4:30 this morning, rested, and unable to get back to sleep. By 6:00, I had found sanctuary in the rear of my darkened classroom, and chose to devote some quality time re-reading the second volume of Hilary Spurling’s biography Matisse the Master. Most of the volume covers his exotic travels to Ajaccio, Collioure, Tangier, Nice, Tahiti and Vence, drawing superb parallels between his artistic explorations and those of Delacroix and Gauguin. The more I read, the more I thought about that sanctuary sentiment, that within each of us is a stillness and sanctuary to where we can retreat at any time and be ourself (I read that on a school poster when I was in junior high school, and still remember the words and image). I found myself deeply gratified, having a good ninety minutes of alone time before the students entered the classroom.

The Kimbell Art Museum has extended hours on Friday, so I chose to journey there after school today and stay until closing tonight. The hours were refreshing, as I perused the galleries in the Kahn Building and the Piano Pavilion, and sat in several locations to read from a lovely birthday book given to me by a dear friend: Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to “In Search of Lost Time”. I was already in love with this author’s magnum opus, and could tell that he was alluding to artistic masterpieces, but this book takes the discussions much deeper than my imagination had been capable of pursuing.  I got lost in the volume, and the time evaporated quickly this evening.

Seated outside the Kimbell around Closing Time

Seated outside the Kimbell around Closing Time

Before leaving home for the Kimbell, I spent some more time on this watercolor that’s been developing slowly. I worked on the power plant to the right quite a bit more, and placed trees below it, then moved to the scraggly tree on the left side of the caboose and worked further on the branches. I’m always tweaking the caboose itself, enriching colors, drafting linear details, and refining the window tints as well as the trucks underneath. The foreground pavement also got some attention. I don’t think there should be too much left to do on this one. I’m ready to bring it to a close, but I’m too sleepy to work any further on it tonight. The museum tour and reading took quite a toll on me physically.

My college students are wrapping up their online final exam, and the semester there is coming to a close. Today also I saw the notice that progress reports for high school are due Monday. Charming. More after hours and weekend school 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.

Filling and Emptying

May 7, 2015
A Quiet Enclosure at Dallas Museum of Art

A Quiet Enclosure at Dallas Museum of Art

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 shall try to fly by those nets.

Stephen Daedalus, in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

I felt an inner compulsion to read from Hemingway as I lounged beneath lush trees in a secluded enclosure of the Dallas Museum of Art late this afternoon. Thundershowers had cooled the weather, the light was dim, and the cool breezes were delicious. Inside, the museum was filling up, as it extends its Thursday hours to 9:00 p.m. Outside, my mind was filling up from the past two days of stimuli related to art projects in the near future. Taking a cue from Hemingway, I thought it best to empty out tonight, so I would have room to refill tomorrow. Each day seems to bring newer and fresher ideas, and I’m loving this surge.

As I sat reading and scribbling thoughts in my companion journal, my mind’s-eye memory drifted back to the yellow caboose watercolor lying on my drafting table back home, and the power plant situated in the right-hand background of the composition. I had a little trouble getting started on it when I got home from school. After staring at it for a few minutes, I finally took a deep breath, crawled inside the building, took a look around at all the jumbled confusion of girders, cables and pipelines, then just shook my head, re-emerged, sat on my drafting stool, and decided just to fiddle around with geometric lines and assorted shapes. Long ago I decided: if you can’t copy it, abstract it. I could only hope that the result would resemble an east Fort Worth power plant and not a piece of Deconstructivist architecture.

Once my thoughts returned to the Hemingway reading, I found myself perusing his handwritten manuscript for A Moveable Feast. I always liked his way of reassuring himself when writer’s block threatened:

“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Hemingway's handwritten manuscript for

Hemingway’s handwritten manuscript for “A Moveable Feast”

I don’t struggle with painter’s block very often, and I’m seldom bereft of new ideas. But sometimes I do worry about stale art and overworked ideas. When I was in my teens, my creative psyche was fragile, no doubt. And it probably still is, but I’m thankful that I got to spend some years in graduate school, and have been allowed to live long enough that when the dark moments come, there is enough experience to fall back on, and find reasons to believe in my abilities. Hemingway wrote most eloquently of the travails of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his fragility:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think. He was flying again and I was lucky to meet him just after a good time in his writing if not a good one in his life.

Rising from my reading feast, I realized I was physically hungry, and noted with dismay that my timing for dinner was not good. The museum cafe features live jazz music on Thursday evenings, and listeners fill up the tables, even if they are not eating. And the museum does not allow food to be carried out of the dining facility–not good planning on my part or theirs. But I had forgotten that food trucks line up north of the museum on Thursday evenings, alongside Klyde Warren Park. And the weather frightened away all the patrons, though it was no longer raining. I found a table beneath the trees and enjoyed a piping hot pastrami sandwich.

Dinner at Klyde Warren Park

Dinner at Klyde Warren Park

As my stomach filled and the museum neared closing time, I sighed, realizing that my college students are now taking my online final exam. It was time to head home, look over the test results, and make sure the grade book is up to date. Another spectacular day, thank you for spending some of it with me.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

David Tripp, Artist in Residence. Really?

May 6, 2015

When I was in my third year at the university, pursuing my art degree, my school hosted Jack Tworkov as Artist in Residence. I was not familiar with the title “artist in residence” and knew that Tworkov had recently retired as Chairman of the Art Department at Yale. During the week or so that he visited our campus, he shared with us his current work, and spoke of his years spent with the other Abstract Expressionist painters, and I was amazed to be standing in the presence of such an historic man. In the years since, I have always wondered how it would feel to become an “artist in residence” at a university.

I am about to find out–after a series of negotiations and correspondence of the recent past, I was today informed that I will be Artist in Residence for Texas A&M University Corpus Christi–the “Island University”! This summer, I will be taken by boat to their Laguna Madre Field Station to spend ten days watercoloring en plein air, journaling, blogging, and salt water fly fishing. A one-man show will be scheduled after the residency, and I am available for anything else they wish from me. A plein air watercolor workshop has been suggested, as well as other possibilities.

I was so numbed by the announcement that I hardly remember anything at school after 10:08. When I was free this afternoon, I thought hard about what I could do that would be appropriate for this news. Realizing I had not visited Fort Worth’s Japanese Garden in over a decade, I drove there, arriving at 5:00 and staying till they closed at 7:00. I thought I would immediately find a bench and just sit and write, but I strolled for nearly forty minutes before finally sitting, breathing deeply, journaling, and feeling good feelings.

I threw a little celebration with the koi. They ate well!

I threw a little celebration with the koi. They ate well!

Usually I would celebrate an announcement like this by throwing a party. So, looking at the waters below me brimming with koi, I decided to stick quarters in the vending machine and dump pellets into the water so they at least could celebrate with me. They seemed happy and grateful. Some of them may have even clapped fins.

Looking at the Japanese bridge made me pause and think of the lovely gardens Claude Monet planted at his residence in Giverny. Too bad the Japanese Garden does not allow paint on the premises. I’ll have to work from a photograph on this one.

Before darkness descended, I did attempt a quick sketch of one of the lovely structures placed in the Garden. I plan to come back and try to capture some of the others as well. This is a marvelous place for reflection and peace.

It’s been a wonderful day. Thank you for sharing it with me.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Art Museum Wanderings

May 5, 2015

Architecture is the thoughtful making of space.

Louis Kahn

Inside the Fort Worth Modern

Inside the Fort Worth Modern. Photo by Joe Mabel

Waking without an alarm clock at 7:40 Sunday morning proved to be the commencement of a stellar day for me. The sun was bright, breezes high, and temperatures cool as the morning greeted me with its gentle caress. Saturday was spent all day at the Kimbell Art Museum, participating in a writing workshop. Today, I decided to visit the neighboring Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Thjis beautiful piece of architecture, designed by Tadao Ando of Osaka, Japan, has become to me a cathedral for art. Every time I enter the premises, I feel a hushed state of expectancy. I just know that epiphany will occur.

Rooftop Scultpure Garden

Rooftop Scultpure Garden

After lingering in the galleries featuring the Abstract Expressionist, Minimalist and Pop artists, I decided to venture upstairs to the rooftop Sculpture Garden and enjoy some time outdoors in the shade, sketching the Henry Moore Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 gracing the lawn. I cannot explain the serene contentment I feel when I render something three-dimensional in pencil, whether it is a scullpture of piece of architecture. But I enjoy taking it all in, pondering it, and attempting to express it in the confines of a two-dimensional space.

Sketching the Henry Moore Sculpture

Sketching the Henry Moore Sculpture

Stephen's Iron Crown, by Robert Motherwell

Stephen’s Iron Crown, by Robert Motherwell

Gazing at the Henry Moore sculpture made me think of the contours of a Robert Motherwell painting inside: Stephen’s Iron Crown. Returning indoors, I spent some time in front of this large painting and sketched its compositional contours in the small sketchbook I was toting with me, finding ways to relate it to the sculpture outdoors.

Feeling an urge for coffee, I returned to the serene space I visited last week–the outdoor patio of the Modern Cafe, and read from my small Robert Motherwell: Works on Paper. I had managed to find the perfect time, space and climate for journal writing–no appointments, no responsibilities, just free time and great art around me.

Returning home I found myself now in the mood to pick up the brush and work further on this Union Pacific caboose I photographed years ago in the historic Handley neighborhood of east Fort Worth.

I find many reasons to delight in our era of improved access to information. Over a decade ago, I collected historic railroad manuals in order to track down information on diesels and cabooses, based on their road numbers. Now, I find nearly everything I need to know online. Thanks to donsdepot.donrossgroup.net I learned that this particular Union Pacific caboose was built by International Car Company in June 1967. After cabooses were removed from the freight trains, no longer needed for communication with the engineers in the locomotives, this piece of history was donated to the Old Towne Handley Railroad Museum. It now sits on the corner of E. Lancaster and Handley Drive in Fort Worth. I can see by photos of it online that it today sits on refurbished, gleaming trucks, whereas the photo from which I’m working still has the dark rusted wheels and undercarriage showing. I don’t recall how many years it has been since I took my photos of this caboose.

The day has been a genuine inspiration, and I think I can return to school Monday with a renewed spring in my step. 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.

Cultivating the Garden

May 2, 2015
Saturday Morning, waiting for the Piano Pavilion to Open

Saturday Morning, waiting for the Piano Pavilion to Open

“I also know,” said Candide, “that we must cultivate our garden.” “You are right,” said Pangloss; for when man was put into the Garden of Eden, he was put there with the idea that he should work the land; and this proves that man was not born to be idle.” “Let’s work, then, without disputing,” says Martin. “It is the only way to make life bearable.” 

Voltaire, Candide

Driving this morning to Fort Worth for an all-day writing workshop at the Kimbell Art Museum, these words from Voltaire whispered into my consciousness, and I felt that I had found something to help me understand our role while living out our lives on this planet. I have never understood what it is to be bored (except when I’m trapped in a meeting), as there are more things to do than I can tend. But I felt that today was a Gift, because there was this opportunity to spend a day in the museum under someone else’s direction, perusing the art collection and finding new ways to write about art. Granted it was a workshop for teachers, I nevertheless wanted to stir up my own soul with these stimulants.

Arriving about forty minutes before the museum opened, I took this sweet opportunity to sit in the shadow of the Kahn building and look across the lawn at our new Renzo Piano Pavilion, where the workshop would actually take place. I brought with me Ernest Hemingway’s autobiography, A Moveable Feast, and read again the sections about him struggling to write during his early days in Paris:

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

That was the oracle I needed to start my task. Once the workshop began, the hours flew by, as the capable instructor never ran out of ways to inspire us to write and look at the art with different spectacles. It turned out to be a splendid day of drawing and writing about the pieces in the Kimbell.

Spilling out the Day's Work on my Desk

Spilling out the Day’s Work on my Desk

There is nothing like coming home at the end of the day, opening the book bag, and spilling out onto the desk all the material you created during the day of inspiration. Our hours were divided evenly between studying select pieces of the permanent collection and finding ways to write about what we saw and thought.

"Selim and Zuleika" by Eugene Delacroix

“Selim and Zuleika” by Eugene Delacroix

One of our assignments was to write a character profile based on one of the paintings in the museum. The key word I drew from the bag was “lively”, so my task was to find a lively painting and choose a character for composing the profile. Looking at this Delacroix painting inspired by Lord Byron, I found myself recalling Samuel Butler’s quote that every work of art is a portrait of its creator. Having spent time in the Journals of Eugene Delacroix, I saw him all over this painting, and chose to compose my profile on him, writing the following:

Name: Eugene Delacroix

Where do I live: In exotic settings

What do I do: Explore the boundaries

Friends would describe me as: Restless and Inquisitive

My hobbies are: Traveling, painting, reading Romantic literature, dreaming and journaling

My favorite place to hang out: Tangier

My secret is: I am never bored, and I am never certain.

What am I going to do next? Cleanse the eye, by looking for something new.

How did I get into this work? I followed my curiosity, refusing to obey conventions.

Our next project was to “mash up” a story by combining our work with that of another workshop participant, seeking a way to bring the two characters together in a plot.

Portrait of Mary Anne Bloxam (later Mrs. Frederick H. Hemming)

Portrait of Mary Anne Bloxam (later Mrs. Frederick H. Hemming)

My instructor had skillfully created a character profile of this lady and her conservative, conventional, public lifestyle (the key word for her profile was “proper”). The two of us talked of ways to get Delacroix and the future Mrs. Hemming into a story, and then we wrote our pieces. Hers was better than mine, but I’ll share mine:

In the midst of the Parisian Salon, the soon-to-be Mrs. Hemming could not stop looking at the strikingly handsome and rugged gentleman standing in the back of the parlor as Brahms was being played. Eugene Delacroix immediately perceived her furtive glances. As the evening played out, neither approached the other, but neither could stop looking or remembering.

Two months later, in the heart of the Grand Tour of Venice, the pair’s eyes met with a shock of recognition, and they strode toward one another. As the conversation and romantic drama unfolded into the evening, the unraveling dawned unmistakable. He could not forsake his traveling adventures, and she could not break her conventional engagement and matrimony. But neither would be able to forget the other.

After the fun of writing our fiction stories, our next assignment proved more difficult, and we only had ten minutes, as the session was nearly over. We were handed a page from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and our assignment was to lift words from the text to compose a poem inspired by one of the paintings in the collection. I thought this was impossible, but standing in front of a Cezanne painting, I began underlining particular words that caught my eye from the Austen text, and this is what I composed:

Maison Maria with a View of Château Noir

Maison Maria with a View of Château Noir

A Building that Does Not Belong

The high road

          Barely discernible,

The garden sloping

          Involuntarily to the road.

The parsonage

          Stopped at civility,

Displaying the recollection

          Of furniture.

Once I got back home, I poured out my day’s work, grateful for the memories and stimulation. As the light began to wane, I moved into my studio and pushed my waiting watercolor a little further down the road:

The light is now gone, the evening has arrived, and I am in the best mood possible to read, reflect, write and enjoy the memories of this day. I am overflowing with gratitude that a local art museum offered such a rewarding study.

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.

Clearing out the Debris

May 1, 2015
A Friday Evening Return to the Studio

A Friday Evening Return to the Studio

Only when the soul is alone can the magic of the universe flow through it.

It needs silence for the murmur of the long centuries to grow audible, for the mystery of the cosmic procession to make itself felt.

And this silence can be attained in the maddest hurly-burly of the most crowded city. Material noises, material uproar, cannot interfere with it.

What destroys it are the crowd-thoughts, the vulgar clamour made by the thoughts that are no-thoughts.

Life is full of mysterious Presences voyaging to and fro; Presences that are god-like. But these Presences can only be caught upon their airy journeys by minds that have learnt the secret of being alone.

To converse with the Gods you must become as the Gods; and this means that you must cultivate loneliness. Where ‘two or three are gathered together’ the Gods flee away!

John Cowper Powys, A Philosophy of Solitude

Tonight, as the sweet sounds of Bach fugues fill my chamber, I resolve in this blog not to discuss the past week, which consisted exclusively of grading and deadlines. I am just delighted to have finished shoveling all that debris out of the barn, and happy that I got to sit down to my watercolor before the daylight ended, and now my heart is filled with gladness at this delicious opportunity for reading and writing about things closer to my heart. I have a task to perform for tomorrow, but I anticipate it to be a glorious opportunity. The rest of this night is mine.

Recently, I re-read Anthony Storr’s Solitude and drew indescribable riches from those pages. Now I am re-reading the Powys book, and the words are coming to me in the fulness of time. I recall a proverb that said when the student is ready, the master will appear. Well, I have been ready all week, with the yammering sounds of voices about me throughout each day at work, and sitting down in the evening to complete assignments, unable to shut out the residue of all that yammering. Yet through the tumult, I have been teaching Nietzsche’s ideas to my philosophy class, and many of his writings have found ways to get next to my heart in the midst of all the hurly-burly.

When I finished my last task, about an hour ago, I drew out my journal and fountain pen, and wrote without stopping until five pages lay before me. And I felt that I was just getting started. Looking up at the watercolor across the studio, I realized the light was fading, so I gave myself thirty minutes to move it into the next stages. Once the light faded, it was back to the journal to write some more, and then I felt prompted to re-visit some journals of mine from recent years. Reaching back to 2013, I found a number of ideas recorded and since forgotten, and they are exactly what I needed for this day. The quote from Powys was the real capper. I felt “visited” and just sighed deeply with profound gratitude for that soothing feel. My breathing changed, and suddenly I realized: “O yeah. The Blog. It’s been awhile.” I feel it would have been fruitless to try and kick out some words during any of the recent days. It’s so rich, being back at this life that I love so much.

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.