Archive for September, 2016

First Kiss of Autumn

September 26, 2016

When Sept. 22 arrived last week, Texas temperatures climbed to the high 90’s. We’re in the lower 60’s now, thanks to some weekend rainfall. I opened the windows to my studio for the first time since early Spring, and the cool winds filled my room with delight as I painted. 

I decided to visit one of my “sanctuaries” for some reading and reflection. The Arlington Highlands is a shopping center with a green belt that no shopper ever seems to notice. This is where I’ve chosen to pause this evening to celebrate a delicious day, climate wise. I’ve made myself a pledge thus fall not to miss out on plein air painting opportunities once the leaves begin to turn.

Thanks for reading.

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Finishing Touches

September 26, 2016

barnbarn-closeup

An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative, to eschew violence where it is a fraudulent substitute for power, 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.

Ezra Pound, Literary Essays

Rising early this Monday morning, I decided to try and finish this piece I began as a demo for a workshop last Saturday. As I looked over the composition, I decided the lower right-hand corner needed more grass and texture work. Then, I decided to build an “action line” leading the eye from the lower right corner up to the barn in a serpentine fashion.

Thanks for reading. I’m ready to start a new one!

 

On the Road with Wordsworth

September 25, 2016

workshop-barn

Ye blessèd creatures, I have heard the call    

    Ye to each other make; I see          

The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;  

    My heart is at your festival,             

      My head hath its coronal,

The fulness of your bliss, I feel—I feel it all.

William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

As soon as I was free from school Friday, I headed eastbound on I-20 for a 2 1/2 hour drive to the Tyler, Texas vicinity–a small town called Flint.  There, in the facilities of Saint Mary Magdelene Catholic Church, I led an all-day Saturday watercolor workshop.  The first painting posted above was the demo, with all participants observing and practicing the compositional pieces throughout the day: cloud-filled sky, barn, horizon foliage and ground texturing. When the day was done, each of us had a 9 x 12″ watercolor of a barn in a field.

Later that evening, my host and her husband took me to the shores of Lake Palestine just as the sun was setting.  We had ten minutes to kick out a watercolor sketch as we sipped wine, and my attempt is posted below:

lake-palestine-with-wine

Throughout my combined five hours of driving, Friday afternoon and Sunday morning, I drank in the east Texas countryside and felt the shivers of joy I knew as a small boy growing up the first four years alone in Missouri.  Actually, my brother didn’t really become an outdoor playmate until he was about four, so I guess I had eight years of the outdoors to myself growing up with no company except for a vivid imagination.

I drank in that ever-expanding universe that enveloped me as I played in my yard, the garden, and the neighboring pastureland. And while I drove this past weekend, I recalled my childhood questions: is there a person behind those clouds watching me, why are the distant hills blue, and why do trees so far away appear to be no larger than my hand? As I grew older, scientific explanations drove away most of the magic, but not the curiosity and attraction of this world.

The Wordsworth poem flooded my consciousness as I drove home early in the morning. I cannot describe the feeling of overhearing oneself reciting the portion posted above while driving alone through the countryside, but 8:17 Sunday morning marked a sublime feeling of “eudaimonia” as I recited the words aloud, and looked at the sprawling, affirming countryside outside my windsheld.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Feeling the Surge

September 20, 2016

claude-start

Beginning of a Watercolor of an Abandoned Gas Station in Claude, Texas

The pressure disappeared with the first word he put on paper,  He thought–while his hand moved rapidly–what a power there was in words; later, for those who heard them, but first for the one who found them; a healing power, a solution, like the breaking of a barrier.  He thought, perhaps the basic secret the scientists have never discovered, the first fount of life, is that which happens when a thought takes shape in words.

He built like a composer improvising under the spur of a mystic guidance.  He had sudden inspirations.

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

What an extraordinary day at my high school! I have volunteered to oversee the Lunch & Learn tutorial service offered by A.V.I.D. students. Today was our first day, and I was ecstatic to find all four of my tutors present and ready to help students who actually showed up the first day to get help in their math classes.

While the students worked on their problems, I was engaged in conversation by one of our senior girls who had encouraged me to read The Poisonwood Bible. I finished that book a couple of weeks ago and still am vibrating from the experience. The student who engaged me has finished the book as well, and her Advanced Placement English class is now discussing it. How enlightening it was, listening to her take on the story and her own extracted ideas from the text.

After the tutoring session, I found that I still had about fifteen minutes of the lunch hour remaining, so I dashed upstairs to see if any of my “lunch bunch” was still assembled. They were, and what was the conversation over as I entered the room? Literature by Joyce, Melville and Hemingway! Wow. If I harbor any regrets from this splendid day, it is that I only got to sit with my colleagues for fifteen minutes to engage in a discussion about reading. How enriching to sit with colleagues over a simple lunch and listen to conversations soaring above the small talk.

When I got home, I felt the surge to begin a new watercolor, so I quickly sketched in a line drawing of an abandoned filling station in Claude, Texas that I have painted before:

route66memories-from-website

As I prepared to lay in the sky, I decided to pull out a limited edition print of mine with a winter sky that pleased me:

cold-desolation

A number of years have gone by since I’ve attempted a wintry sky.  So far, what I’m trying on the new painting is working.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Recollections 54 Redivivus

September 19, 2016

abandoned-cafe

The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

On February 7, 2002, over fourteen years ago, I was convinced that I had finally found my artistic voice, and responded by launching my sole proprietorship Recollections 54, creating a market for my watercolors (www.recollections54.com). My passion has always been to travel  county roads through the sleepy towns of America, my watercolor block riding at my side like a faithful travel dog. Always on the lookout for something to paint, I experienced every day as a new opportunity for discovery of some artifact reminiscent of earlier decades of energy and prosperity. Today, only the shells and husks remain of filling stations, general stores, movie theaters and other public buildings formerly stirring with conversations, stories and glimpses of life. The writer Marcel Proust has pointed out the thrill of beholding an object capable of triggering profound memories from youth, and being filled with a sense of warmth and gratitude.

Holding down two jobs has made painting with any kind of regularity a challenge, and should I be fortunate enough to retire one day, I have this fantasy of pursuing my watercolor passion with fewer restrictions. In addition to working full time, I have also taken a number of detours throughout the past fourteen years, traveling roads that involved significant changes in my signature genre–still life painting, plein air painting, Texas coastal themes and fly fishing, to name a few. But lately, I’ve found joy in returning to this Recollections 54 genre, selecting scenes from vanishing America.

I have nearly completed another watercolor of this favorite genre, and posted it above. This relic of a roadside restaurant flooded me with a sense of loss and presence when I stopped and photographed it in New Mexico years ago. Loss, because the business was dead; presence, because the structure resonated with stories as I stood gazing at it from every possible angle, near and afar, taking dozens of photos and trying to imagine what it was like to pull into the gravel parking lot hungry and eager to enter a comfortable zone and be served.

Emerson wrote that detachment was the virtue of a piece of art, that ability to detach the subject from the surroundings that tried to draw away attention. Frequently that is what I do when selecting something to draw or paint. From buildings such as this, I frequently remove windows, air conditioning units, graffiti, dangling cables–anything I regard as taking away from the simple integrity of the subject. The surroundings often present that annoying tree or trash dumpster that is in the way. The fun thing about making art is the ability to make those decisions in framing up a composition. And so this subject also presented its own unique set of possibilities.

I believe the painting is nearly finished. As was the practice of Andrew Wyeth, I’ll put it up in my home somewhere, and glance at it as I enter or leave the room, always evaluating, figuring if there remains something to do before signing off on it.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Ecstatic Revision

September 19, 2016

new-mexico

Perhaps I feel happiest when, during the creative process, I simply let work “pour out”, so to speak, without critical intervention or editing . . . 

Robert Motherwell

After a weekend tour of five Texas universities with the senior A.V.I.D. students from my campus, I found myself quite exhausted and mellow when I finally awoke in my own bed Sunday morning. My gas station and passenger rail car watercolors are nearly complete, and I really was not in the mood to look at them and make final decisions. So, instead, I picked up this demonstration piece I began a couple of years ago, to see if I could edit it and pull out a finished painting. The site is an abandoned restaurant in New Mexico that I photographed a number of years ago while passing through from Colorado.

My first painting of this location has already sold to dear friends. I’m always glad to sell to a friend, but I missed looking up at that framed painting that hung in a prominent place in my living room. So far, this one is not living up to the standards of the first, but we’ll see what happens as I bump it a little more.

The original painting was titled New Mexico Closure, and it is featured on my website recollections54.com. With this current attempt, I am attempting to put more foliage around the back and enrich the foreground textures. So far, the bread crumbs and salt are not creating the effects I’m seeking, but I’ll give it another go this evening, hopefully.

I posted the Robert Motherwell quote above, completely affirming that joy in pouring out spontaneously all the richness of my emotions as I begin a work, then revising later. Oftentimes, the earlier joy far exceeds the work of revision. However, there are times like now that my ecstatic high is reversed, and I find more joy in the revision. That is true on this occasion because this painting began as a demo for a local art society. I fielded numerous questions as I put down the preliminary colors and shapes, and of course, was conscious of an audience, so I could not experience that “high” that I know when alone in the studio and pouring out a new work.

William Wordsworth opined once that “all good poetry is the spntaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” But he then later wrote that “the imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.” What makes this current watercolor experience enjoyable for me is the time I’m spending staring at the work from across the room, making compositional decisions. When I see something I don’t like, I don’t despair but wonder “can it be improved, and if so, do I have the skill”?  So far, I’m saying Yes and Yes.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Perpetual Wanderlust

September 15, 2016

brookfieldbrookfield-close

Abaondoned Gas Station on Missouri Highway 36

I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Finding myself impounded in a school classroom five days a week, my imagination goes back on the road that I enjoyed so deeply last summer, as travels took me to the Texas coast, to Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri.  I started a painting of an abandoned gas station I encountered on Missouri State Highway 36, west of Macon, and watching the watercolor coming into focus over the past week has filled me with the most pleasant memories of that summer trek.

It has been surmised that Edward Hopper was so taken with a particular gas station in the Cape Cod region that he turned his automobile around and went back for a closer look, eventually creating a collection of drawings and a magnificent oil painting.

gas

Edward Hopper, Gas

That was precisely my experience last summer–several miles past the abandoned gas station, I suddenly turned my Jeep around and returned to the location to take pictures and make thumbnail sketches for a future watercolor. In the Hopper painting, I have always been drawn to the dark woods beyond the station at night, thinking of one of Hopper’s favorite poets, Robert Frost:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Even though my watercolor is set in the blazing heat of a Missouri summer at midday, I wished for my woods backing the gas station to have that same dark look as I see in the Hopper painting.

Yesterday afternoon was quite rare, as I had the entire afternoon and evening free to do as I pleased. I spent the entire time bent over this painting, enjoying every piece of the composition as it slowly came into focus beneath my brushes and pencils. I used a good deal of salt and stale bread crumbs to help texture the gravel parking lot and scattered patches of grasses in the foreground. A good, sharp #2 pencil helped me render carefully the details of the frame siding, as well as the windows and doors around the structure, and the ridges in the roof. The continual layering of warm and cool colors in the foliage proved to be challenging, but I’m satisfied so far with how that part of the painting is going.  I’m a little timid about finishing out the clouds, as it’s been months since I played with Q-Tips and grays, and am rather forgetful of what exactly I have done in the past to get the effects I want there.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Henri’s Wisdom

September 12, 2016

The technique learned without a purpose is a formula which when used, knocks the life out of any ideas to which it is applied.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The words of Henri, always an inspiration to his disciples, fuel my imagination this morning. The original Ash Can School would gather in his apartment at 806 Walnut Street in Philadelphia where he would read to them from Whitman and Emerson. Later, at his school in New York, he would continue to lecture and inspire, and his writings are now collected in The Art Spirit.

At my age, I’m still learning technique, but still wonder what exactly it is, to select a subject and assemble a composition that creates a work that will inspire. Perhaps artists, writers and musicians never really know the secret to this big picture.

Thanks for reading. I’m getting close to finishing this passenger rail car relic (I think).

You cannot stop the machine

September 11, 2016

It is Saturday night, and I cannot shut off the muse. I laughingly recall the story from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, when the narrator tried to shut down his friends who were talking late into the night. In retort, Carlo shouted, you cannot stop the machine!

I stopped painting once the sun went down and I lost the northern light through my studio windows. Now, cozied in my small library, I’m reading the volumes on Edward Hopper I’ve collected and loved over the past decades, waiting for sleep to overtake me. I’m glad it’s only Saturday night, because the hour has grown late, and I cannot stop the muse.

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. 

Creating Worlds

September 10, 2016

eureka-springs-rr

The blank canvas is the blank page. You start with nothing. It’s hugely provocative. It’s frightening because you may have too much to put on it. Or not enough of yourself.

Wim Wenders

This cool, dark, overcast, rainy Saturday morning put me in the mood to continue a watercolor I worked on last evening. I’m getting close to finishing it. While painting, I like to listen to some kind of creative stimulus, often spinning LPs on my turntable, or using the laptop to dial up a YouTube presentation. Choosing the latter, I was shocked to discover a nearly hour-long documentary on Edward Hopper titled “Edward Hopper and the Blank Canvas.” What jolted me after all these years was to discover how much film footage remains of Hopper’s television interview with Brian O’Doherty. The presentation is very engaging, and filled with plenty of interviews with film maker Wim Wenders (who was deeply influenced by Hopper’s scenes and collaborated with his photographer to re-create many settings reminiscent of these paintings). The above quote from Wenders is still working on me as I pour myself into this most recent painting.

Eureka Springs is the setting, and their historic railroad depot provides a lengthy section of abandoned trackage where derelict rolling stock has been parked. Every time I visit the town, I love to stroll the length of these tracks, taking pictures and making sketches of the rail cars. As I painted this afternoon, watching my blank paper slowly develop into a painting, I felt the sweet memories of last summer’s excursion flowing through me. Of course, I’m never sure if my feelings come out in the paintings (and Edward Hopper never knew, or perhaps didn’t even care, whether his thoughts were recognized by viewers of his work). I think what engages me the most, thinking of the Wim Wender quote, is when I should declare a painting finished, whether or not I have pushed my feelings far enough into the process. Of course, that is something I’ll never know. But I still think about it as I work.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

dark-studio