Archive for March, 2016

First Viewing of the Show

March 13, 2016

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“One must enter the art world like one enters the priesthood: to serve a higher power. A work of art is both human and spiritual. A painting, a sculpture, a tapestry is s physical thing expressing the non-physical. The beyond-physical. Great at had spiritual power. Embedded within it. The power to cure the heart, heal the human spirit, save, and uplift the soul.”

Bakersfield Mist, by Stephen Sachs

I have known sacred moments in art museum galleries when I was the only one present with the works of art, usually just after they opened or right before closing.

Today felt like one of those moments. They locked me into the gallery today so I could have 90 minutes alone to judge the current exhibit of the local watercolor society hanging in the gallery space adjacent to mine. The show was first rate, and I loved the time alone with so many magnificent
paintings. After the judging, they hung the ribbons and let the artists and patrons back in. I enjoyed thoroughly the critique session that followed, and am so glad to have met so many fascinating and imaginative artists.

Following the critique, a group of artists then asked to view my show with me because they had questions. I love discussing my work and am always amazed at the insight behind questions and observations posed. The time in the gallery meant so much to me, and I can’t wait to go back tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Quiet Moments

March 13, 2016

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“I’m the subject. I’m also the verb as I paint, but I’m also the object. I am the complete sentence.”

Barnett Newman, Abstract Expressionist painter

Portland, Texas is gorgeous this time of  year. I’m resting, reading and reflecting after a long, long drive, recharging my batteries before judging an art exhibit hanging at the Art Center at Corpus Christi. I’m of course anxious to see my one-man-show hanging there for the first time. While in this vicinity, I’m also anxious to begin a new body of work. I’ve been too busy to paint this past couple of weeks with all the preparations necessary for this show.

I’m posting a photo of one of my watercolors hanging in the home of my host. I was surprised and gratified to see it on the wall.

Thanks for reading.

The Call of the Island

March 10, 2016

Having dashed out a quick watercolor sketch of the morning seascape with as much deep color as possible, I then turned my attention to a bag of assorted seashells that Dinah Bowman had gathered and presented to me the day before. They had been hanging overnight from a hook on the front porch. Taking out a few and pushing them around on a white sheet of watercolor paper in the bright sun, I delighted in the strong shadows cast by the small forms, and felt that I had returned to the discipline of closely-scrutinized still life disciplines.

Lifted from my Laguna Madre journal from June 2015.

Tripp painting number 16

My Second-to-Last Day at the Laguna Madre Field Station

Village Beneath the Lagoon $425

“Village Beneath the Lagooon”

The past several mornings I have awakened to those recurring feelings of being on the island again in the Laguna Madre. Next week I will be privileged to take a group of watercolor artists back to that location for a two-day, overnight plein air watercolor workshop, with the anticipation of reliving those sensations of breathing that air and feeling those breezes. I am posting the pictures above, celebrating my shift from the macrocosm to the microcosm–I had painted and repainted the vistas of cloud-clogged skies with shimmering blue salt water underneath and scattered foliage and sands in teh foregrounds. The sketch above was my first still-life attempt, looking intently at a collection of shells and finding a different kind of delight as I thought of life beneath those waters–a life that only showed its remnants in broken homes.

Thanks for reading.

Good Thoughts Stretching into the Night

March 10, 2016

One Man Show Art Center Poster

Ὁ βίος βραχύς,ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή,ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξύς,ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερή,ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.

Life is short, and art long, opportunity fleeting, experience perilous, and decision difficult.

Hippocrates

As my age creeps closer to 62, I find these late-night sessions preparing Advanced Placement Art History classes to be filled with clashing sentiments of a weary body and an exhilarated mind.  Yes, I feel cranky over the loss of sleep, but the ocean of art in which I find myself treading water fills my imagination with childlike wonder.

Late tonight, I finished my last A. P. Art History class before Spring Break and that comes with a splendid feeling of accomplishment.  Above, I’ve posted am image of the poster that the Art Center in Corpus Christi has placed in the midst of my show that opened last week. I’m counting the days till I get to meet interested people at the Artist’s Reception March 16 from 5-7:00. Below I’m going to post a few photos of the thirty-four paintings I’ve placed in the show.

Thanks for reading, and perhaps I’ll have the time and space to post more thoughts tomorrow.

Across the View $550

Across the View

Firewheel Frenzy $450

Firewheel Frenzy

Following the Labyrinthe $750

Following the Labyrinthe

Drybrush Ruminations $525

Drybrush Ruminations

Homer's Wine-Dark Sea $400

Homer’s Wine-Dark Sea

Shell Collaboration $470

Shell Collaboration

From the Island to the Gallery

March 8, 2016

18 paintings

Nine months after leaving the Laguna Madre Field Station, the one-man-show is finally hung at the Art Center of Corpus Christi.  The staff was kind enough to send me pictures of the show, since I won’t get to see it for another week.  The artist’s reception is set for May 16 from 5-7:00.  My mind is having so much trouble concentrating on my work up here on the opposite end of Texas, teaching school, crunching income tax figures and feeling restless.

I was pleased to learn today that enough people signed up for me to teach the 2 1/2 day watercolor workshop at the Art Center, then take a group to the island for an additional 2-day workshop.  I will also judge a watercolor exhibit by their local society. Below are pictures I’ve received of the show.

Thanks for reading.

Art Center 1

Art Center 2

Art Center 3

Finding the Seam

March 6, 2016

Finding the Seam

My Watercolor from Several Years Back

I admit that this is highly unorthodox, but I’m going to post the talk I’m planning on giving before the Samaritan Sunday School class at the First Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas later this morning (hoping that none of the class members will find and read this in advance). This is a class of adults that I came to love deeply about twenty years ago when I was asked on a number of occasions to speak before them.  They even invited me to attend a weekend retreat at Lake Murray Lodge in Oklahoma, serving as a conference speaker.  The memories of them have always been rich, even though we drifted in different directions over the past decades. Recently they found me again and invited me back last Sunday.  Today I will close out my series with them.  Thanks for reading:

Finding the Seam[1]

          Good morning. The title of this morning’s meditation is “Finding the Seam.”  I shared with you last Sunday that my mind has already surged ahead to summer, that I have already booked a cabin in Colorado so I can pursue my passion of fly fishing for wary trout.  I only regret that I still have twelve weeks of classes to endure.  Once that final bell sounds, I will experience escape velocity.  I’ll begin by visiting Mom and Dad in St. Louis, but only for a short time.  I believe it was either Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain who once remarked that fish and house guests begin to smell after three days.  So I’ll only trouble my parents for three days.  Then I’ll point my Jeep west for a nice, extended over-the-road trip, Jack Kerouac-style, to pick up, as though it were a hitchhiker, a life that I dropped off a few years back.

I recall the words of the author Robert Travers, snickering at the reputation of the frustrated artist, and identifying himself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman.  I don’t think I have ever been a frustrated artist, but I do know that I regard myself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman. It was not always so.  In my redneck days of rod-and-reel river fishing, I heard people say that if you spend the beautiful day outside and never catch a fish, it’s still been a good experience, imbibing the beauty of the outdoors.  Well, I knew that for me that certainly was not true.  If I fished all day and got skunked, it sucked.  But once I converted to fly fishing all that changed profoundly.  There is a ritual that comes with rigging up.  I used to want to jump out of the vehicle, and get my line into the water as quickly as possible. I always wished that I could have the rod-and-reel ready and baited up, and that I didn’t have to drag a tackle box and folding chair and minnow bucket and stringer and lunch pail and all that stuff down to the river’s edge.  I just wanted to catch fish and catch ‘em fast.

Fly fishing, for me, was a revelation, an entrance into a new world.  Indeed I’ve heard some speak of fly-fishing as reverently as religion.  In fact, Norman Maclean opens his famous book with this hook: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”[2]  I have to testify in all seriousness that Colorado fly-fishing always restores my weary soul.  I take my time, rigging up the fly rod, tying on tippet and flies, pulling on waders and boots, all the while sensing the river rolling by as it has for millions of years. And then, to approach the river, survey its dynamics, and step into the stream—at that point, I feel my breathing change and sense that my heartbeat has settled down. And yes, if I fly fish the entire day without a hit, it’s still been a most magnificent day to be alive, outside, and away from the daily routine.

Ever since I read the book by former New York Times editor Howell Raines titled Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis, and then saw that marvelously engaging film based on Maclean’s novella titled A River Runs Through It, I knew I was missing out on something spectacular in this life.  Even in high school, when I read Ernest Hemingway’s two-part short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” I knew I wanted to hold a fly rod in my hand one day, and step into a mountain stream.  It would be different from what I had known as a child growing up with a cane pole and later a rod and reel.       
Over the past decade, every time I stood in a stream, beneath the shadows of a Colorado canyon, Emerson’s words from his very first book would come whispering back out of the atmosphere to soothe  me, as he wrote: “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”[3]  Drawing from another Emerson metaphor, I can testify that when I enter that place, I cast off my years like a snake does his skin, and remain forever a child.  In the river I find perpetual youth.  In the river, I return to reason and faith.

As I listen to the sounds of water rushing over and around the rocks, past my boots as it cuts through the banks, I hear Maclean’s words coming back to me: “Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”[4]

Now, when one steps into that swift stream, the casual eye will see only a large volume of water surging past.  But there is so much more going on, as anyone observing long enough will come to realize.  The water is running past in channels, or separate lanes, if you please.  Some of those lanes are flowing faster than others.  And oftentimes you will notice that there are pockets of water that are hardly moving at all.

What the fly fisherman is looking for are the seams dividing those channels.  More specifically, the fly fisherman is looking for the seam that separates moving water from still water, or at least the swifter water from the lazy current.  The trout, you see, are lined up in the slower lanes, where they can just hang out with as little effort as possible, and they have their noses in the seam, watching the swift current carry the insects by.  The fly fisherman drops his fly in the seam and lets the current carry it down the lane, past those lines of fish, in hopes that the fly looks real enough that one of them will dart out and take it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are institutions of American literature, but few people really know what these nature writers are doing. Their school of thought is called New England Transcendentalism, and it urges that for every physical element we perceive, there is a higher, corresponding truth.   And that is where I am going with this morning’s remarks about fly-fishing in mountain streams.  This morning’s topic is about that seam that divides the forces, the fault line separating the dual channels.  There are several modern thinkers I wish to share with you this morning who had intriguing ideas about these seams we find in life.

Paul Tillich, early in his life, published a book titled On the Boundary.  His “boundary” is the same as the “seam” I’ve just been discussing.  The boundary is what separates opposing forces—it’s the seam that separates opposing ideas.  It is the seam that not only divides the camps, but appears to hold them together in tension.  Tillich found that boundary cutting through his religious traditions, his university responsibilities and his daily tasks.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described the human condition as a rope stretched over an abyss, between the beast and the person of excellence.  The actual life is the journey across that rope, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous across, a process and not a destiny.  Life is that narrow seam, cutting through the abyss. On one side are the traditions and on the other are the discoveries. We keep threading the path, one step at a time, between the standards and the experiments.

Karl Barth, a contemporary of Tillich, and likewise indebted to Nietzsche, used the same imagery when he described his life as a dialectical theologian.  He said he had to walk a narrow precipice and keep moving so he would not be in danger of falling to one side or the other.  He was describing the extreme party positions of his day, between the Protestant Liberalism of the late nineteenth century, and the Neo-Orthodoxy of the early twentieth.  Barth testified that the challenge lay in threading the seam between them, always moving forward.

What is that fault line?  What is that junction in the midst of the dualism?  Where are the seams in your life?  Well, I’d like to take the time to point out a few possibilities for thought this morning.  In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that there was indeed a seam in the human spirit, but not a division between soul and body as Plato and all his descendents assumed.  Taking his lead from ancient Greek theater, Nietzsche said the two patron gods Apollo and Dionysus personified this dualism, with Apollo representing our reasonable side and Dionysus portraying our passionate side.  Apollo was the tradition and Dionysus was the exploration. These sides are not to be equated with good and evil, by any means.  Nietzsche urged that either extreme was unhealthy.  In the centuries following Greek theater, Aristotle himself urged that all forms of extremism are wrong; the healthy human soul should seek the Golden Mean, another nice synonym for the seam, the fault line that passes between the extremes.  It is easy to see the two sides of reason and passion in our individual makeup.  One side of our makeup is given to order, to rules, to convention, to propriety.  The other side explores the drama, the new, the adventure, the creative impulse.  Neither side can yield a fullness of life.  Regimentation is no way to live life in its fullness, but neither is recklessness.

Another seam that could be found in personal life, if I may draw from the world of basic mechanics, is that line separating Intake and Exhaust.  As human beings, we require nourishment as well as exercise, intake as well as output.  And in our everyday social lives, we take steps to take care of ourselves, and we also find opportunities to reach out to others in our circle.  Throughout my life, in the workplace, and among my circles of friends, I’ve seen many suffer from a dreadful imbalance, and I certainly have suffered it myself.  Exhaustion occurs when you spend all you have in personal resources to prop up others, and neglect your own basic needs.  I still remember the first time I heard the word “burn-out.”  It was used by NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, when he abruptly retired from coaching the Philadelphia Eagles after a Super Bowl loss.  He had been driven like a locomotive, sleeping little, skipping meals, and even keeping a cot in his coaching office instead of going home at night to his family.  Finally, he collapsed in exhaustion and retired.  In his press conference, he described his personal life as “burned out.”

Then there is that other extreme—the individual who lives only for the self and develops a kind of spiritual autism.  When people are elderly we sometimes use the word shut-ins to describe a lifestyle that no longer leaves home, and experiences no one coming in to check on welfare.  They turn in on themselves and eventually their world is just an internal world.  Likewise there are those who in younger years find ways to close themselves off from meaningful contact.  Many times they are diagnosed with clinical depression.  Some are brutally honest and say they just don’t like people and prefer to be left alone.  At times they can degenerate into suspicion and paranoia.

I have often in the past held up Jesus of Nazareth as a prime example of one who poured himself out in the service of multitudes, but balanced it with retreats into solitude where virtually no one knew where he was staying.  He avoided the exhaustion by taking quality time to pay himself and revive.  You could count on it.  If the New Testament record testifies to his spending an entire day teaching, arguing, healing and resolving disputes between parties, you could then find him in absentia the following day.  He is in a mode of prayer and meditation.  In solitude he regains his focus and determines what to do next in his ministry.

Another seam that I would like to address this morning was brought up last Sunday, and that concerns what lies between the individual and the social dimensions of our being.  I once heard a psychology teacher defining introvert and extrovert in the following way: the introvert knows the self and stands confidently in that identity, whereas the extrovert depends on others to define his or her identity.  Some people are more private, so they may be referred to as introvert, whereas others are more gregarious and are therefore deemed as extrovert.  But the human being functions in solitude as well as corporate activity.  And as a teacher I’m just as concerned with one extreme as the other.  Parents are understandably upset at a son or daughter that comes home and broods, choosing to withdraw from family and friends.  Other parents are equally perturbed at the child who comes home with the cell phone perpetually in the line of vision, knowing it’s going to stay there for the duration of the night.  Because, you see, some teens are terrified at the thought of being alone.  If no one out there is talking to them, then they have become meaningless.  And Tillich testified that the fear of becoming meaningless is one of the gut-level anxieties that plague the modern consciousness.

And finally, the seam dividing Time from Eternity. While living for two years, two months and two days in a cabin beside Walden pond, Henry David Thoreau penned these words:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[5]

That makes my heart flutter.  In the sixth century before Christ, two pre-Socratic philosophers argued over whether the essence of life was time or eternity. Heraclitus said “You cannot set foot in the same river twice.  All things flow; nothing abides,” while Parmenides argued that time is only illusion; there is only Eternity, there is only Being.

Henry David Thoreau, bending over to drink from a flowing stream said:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[6]

Norman Maclean wrote: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

So, life as a river surges forward, cutting a path between the extremes: Reason and Passion, Intake and Output, Individual and Social, Time and Eternity.  At any rate, it moves forward, in a perpetual flowing stream, never stopping. Emerson mused that few people could look at a flowing river and not make the transcendental leap to contemplating life as a moving stream meandering along its path, enriched by the seams embedded in that contextual flow.

That is my testimony this morning.  Life’s river is comprised of many seams dividing the channels.  And in those seams are clues that offer a greater understanding of life’s choices and rich possibilities.

 

[1] Sermon delivered at Arlington First United Methodist Church, 6 March 2016.

[2]Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), p.1.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 24.

[4] A River Runs Through It, p. 113.

[5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 142.

[6] Ibid.

Troublesome Fly Fishing I

March 4, 2016

Troublesome 1

Some friends have been asking recently about my fly fishing watecolors. I am posting the three originals that remain in my collection. This one above measures 8.5 x 11.5 and is not currently in a mat or frame. I’m offering it for $125.

Troublesome 2

This one measures 13.5 x 10.5″ and is in a 20 x 16″ white mat.  I’m offering it for $150.

troublesome framed

This one I have difficulty photographing because of the glare on the glass. A better image is on my website http://www.recollections54.com.  The image measures 9 x 17″ and it is in a 19 x 31″ custom frame with insets of a pair of trout flies and a reprodution of one of my brown trout watercolors (I still have the brown trout original as well). This one is priced at $900.

Thank you for the inquiries.

Watercoloring into the Night

March 2, 2016

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I have been one acquainted with the night.

Robert Frost

Having been gashed nightly with school-related tasks for nearly two weeks, I find tonight much more satisfying, with grading for high school as well as university all caught up. I regret having such a sour attitude, but having taught high school for twenty-seven years, one would think that I could relax in the evenings, having all my lesson plans essentially built, and only needing to tweak them where I feel it is necessary. But the College Board has decided to trot out a new curriculum for A. P. Art History this year, so every single class now has to be reconstructed from the foundation up, and the man-hours have been excruciating. The timing could not have been worse, because I had that blessed privilege of serving as Artist-in-Residence for Texas A&M University Corpus Christi last summer, and have worked extremely hard to create a total of thirty-four watercolors for a one-man-show to be hung in the Art Center of Corpus Christi.

My show opens tomorrow, and I’m excited just thinking about it, though I am eight hours away, and won’t even see it until Spring Break. The Artist’s Reception will be March 16, and I hope to meet friends there that I haven’t seen in so long, as well as find an opportunity to make new acquaintances. I am also anxious to see how all my larger works look in frames (to date I’ve only seen the small pieces in presentation mode). Despite all the school work, I’m still glad that I managed to push out that many paintings over the past eight months. And I must say, that I feel a measure of sadness that this chapter is nearly complete, and will close at the end of this month. Since May of last year, the Laguna Madre project has been front and center in my day-to-day consciousness. Tonight I really find myself wondering what comes next.

Reading didn’t come easily this evening, so I got this watercolor back out that I haven’t touched in nearly a week. This store front has always held my attention, reminding me of the kinds of country stores I enjoyed in the days of my childhood. I have spoken by phone to the grandaughter of the proprietor of this business, and am excited to hear so many fascinating stories about the days when this business thrived. Perhaps the time has arrived for me to re-open my “Recollections 54” genre of nostalgic middle-America scenes.

Thanks for reading.