Archive for July, 2018

Hello from the Top!

July 31, 2018

Just thought I’d wave hello from the peak of The Great Sand Dunes.

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Musing with Cezanne: Focus on the Pine

July 30, 2018

There would be other trees, but his first love was the pine. For Cezanne, the pine itself was a lieu de memoire, a memory place, redolent with mythology, packed with history, and charged with feeling. 

Alex Danchev, Cezanne: A Life

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Cezanne, “Large Pine and Red Earth”

This Large Pine and Red Earth is more than a tree: it is a personality. It is also a vision. Cezanne painted the treeness of the tree, as Kandinsky said. The branches are twisted or contorted; the foliage shimmers.

Alex Danchev, Cezanne: A Life

pine photo

This is my third consecutive summer at Riverbend Resort in South Fork, Colorado. I have been coming to this place since 1999, but am now on my sixth visit. My favorite place to reside is the Brookie Cabin with this view from the deck overlooking the stream. And every year, my time has been divided deliciously between fly fishing in the stream and plein air painting from this deck.

In 2016, I spent every sunrise on this deck, with fresh coffee, reading essays from Martin Heidegger and translating Greek Pre-Socratic fragments. Every time I looked up from my reading, I was smitten with this rugged pine in front of me, the rusty-red texture of its bark, and its needles against a hazy mountain backdrop. Finally, I attempted a 5×7″ plein air watercolor sketch of it. Liking what I saw, I framed and matted it, and before I knew it, the painting had become the property of someone else. In all my years, I have never regretted a sale, but in the two years passing, I have regretted letting this one go.

pine 2016

And so it happens, I’ve been reading this Cezanne biography, and learned that the pine was his favorite tree, for many of the same reasons that I have been so smitten with this solitary Colorado pine from the past three summers. As is my custom, I’ve spent nearly every morning on the Brookie deck this visit, with my coffee and books, and have decided to give this painting another try.

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I have spent the past two mornings working on this 9×12″ plein air composition. I always quit once the sun gets high enough that the bark loses its intense color. When painting en plein air, I usually work quickly, completing an 8×10″ composition within the hour. But this one is different. Like Cezanne, Leonardo da Vinci, and Willem de Kooning, I am now spending many minutes between brushstrokes, and often laying the painting on the deck floor to look at from time to time while reading and sipping coffee. I guess you could say I am composting. This painting is coming along very slowly, but every layer, every brushstroke, and every pencil stroke is studied. And I am greatly enjoying this process.

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Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning River Mystique

July 26, 2018

 

When the early morning light quietly grows above the mountains . . . We are too late for the gods and too early for Being. Being’s poem, just begun, is man.

To think is to confine yourself to a single thought that one day stands still like a star in the world’s sky.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

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View from Brookie Cabin

July 26, 2018

The fifty-two degree Colorado morning was a chilly one with all the cabin windows open and the mountain breezes coming through. I rose at 6:56, showered, made French press coffee (pinon blend tastes so delicious in the mountain air), and prepared a three-egg omelet with asparagus, red pepper, onion, bacon jerky and shredded mozzarella. At 7:56, with breakfast over, I stepped out onto the cabin deck to view the meadows separating my cabin from the stream. My eye was filled with delight, seeing that the grasses were artistically woven with contrasting strips of amber sunlight and teal green shadows.  Beyond them, the stream laughed gently. I pulled on waders, boots, gravel guards and belt, then joined together my four-piece fly rod, attached the reel, and threaded my line through the guides.

rigging up

Tying on a Parachute Adams dry fly and attaching 18” of tippet with a Micro Mayfly nymph, I picked up my net and shoulder bag and hiked my way to the stream below.

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I felt the serenity I know all-too-well from reading Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River, Part II.” I could just as well have been Nick, happily hiking along the stream, surveying the flow and listening to the birds that filled the trees and bushes along the trail. Carefully stepping among the slick rocks in the stream bed, I slowly made my way out to where the water was flowing along a narrow channel between boulders and a fallen tree. Stripping the line from my reel, I flicked the dry fly and trailing nymph out into the current and watched it glide by as I mended my line and took out the slack. There seems to be a calming Zen rhythm to fly casting, and it didn’t take long for me to feel that I had meshed with the flow of the stream.

After a dozen casts, the dry fly suddenly disappeared beneath the surface and I hauled back sharply on the rod. The heavy throb at the end of the line indicated that a trout was on. He fled to the tree, and I managed to pull him away. Next he darted downstream, and I turned him back. As he rocketed out of the water, the sun reflected off the golden sides of a 12” brown trout, a nice sturdy one. Several somersaults later, he finally drew close enough for me to slip the net under him. I wet my hands, removed the barbless hook from his jaw, photographed him lying next to my flyrod, then gently placed him back into the water and watched him dart into the depths and disappear.

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The story would repeat about fifteen more times, with some of the trout escaping after a brief flourish, and one heavy one breaking my line as I tried unsuccessfully to keep him out of the fallen tree that was damming up the stream. Unfortunately, I never got to see him, as he stayed deep and pulled violently on my line. No matter. All of today’s trout were released and I took only memories from the stream.

trout

Three hours later, I decided the morning was spent. Selecting a large boulder, I sat down and drew out of my small shoulder bag a slim volume of Pre-Socratic fragments that I love translating from their original language. Selecting perhaps the oldest fragment of Western thinking, I translated a line from Anaximander, a sixth-century BCE thinker from the island of Samos:

From where things have their origin, they must also pass away, according to necessity. for they pay penalty for their injustices, according to the ordinance of time.

There will be plenty to unpack from this ancient oracle, but this morning, one particular idea stood out—the necessity that whatever comes into being will pass into oblivion. At age sixty-four, I think of this much more now than I did twenty years ago. I am grateful that I have been given the gift of appearing on the world’s stage to do my performance and then exit, hoping that what I leave behind will be more good than bad.

Every time I am given this precious gift of standing in a mountain stream on a chilly, sun-splashed morning at an altitude surpassing 8,000 feet, my mind returns to the reading of A River Runs Through It. One of my favorite passages involves the Reverend Maclean seated in the woods after fly fishing, and translating from his Greek New Testament the Prologue to the Gospel of John. I did this last week while seated in a lovely library at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.  For anyone not familiar with the New Testament text, I encourage you to meditate on it, particularly the first five verses. In A River Runs Through It, Reverend Maclean discusses with his elder son Norman the significance of the passage and how it can be related to the flowing mountain river and the eternal rocks beneath the surface. Every time I pause beside a mountain stream to read, or wade the channels in search of trout, I am struck by this thought of rocks from the basement of time lying quietly beneath the flowing, restless waters of the stream.

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. 

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Thanks for reading. My time in Colorado surpasses words to describe.

boulder

Painting from Box Canyon

July 21, 2018

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Box Canyon at Ghost Ranch

Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and the birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.

Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to a young writer, April 23, 1903

Today’s adventure included a hike into Box Canyon from Ghost Ranch. Finding a shady spot near a stream, I looked up at the towering facade of bluffs and decided to set up the easel and give it a try. The winds were cool in the canyon, and the time spent there was lovely. All week long, I have tried new pigments in my painting attempts, and have made some compositional decisions unlike what I have tried before. I am very much enjoying this time of experimentation, and am now reading Rilke’s collection of letters to a young writer for the second time this week. I am moved deeply by his words and convictions.

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View of the Pedernal from the Casita

Yesterday morning, I drew out this composition completely in pencil and laid down my first few pale washes. But today I chose to spend the morning painting in Box Canyon at Ghost Ranch. So when I returned to the casita this evening, the colors and shadows were completely different on the Pedernal. Knowing I leave for Colorado in the morning, I decided to give this an evening attempt. It will be my last Pedernal painting from location. The one I began yesterday afternoon at Ghost Ranch was stopped early because of a rare desert storm that drove me to shelter. I took out the painting this evening, and transferring the reference photo I took to my laptop, studied the image and decided to push it further. Perhaps tomorrow from Colorado I can work on it further and post it on the blog.

Again, borrowing the words from John Muir, “The mountains are calling me and I must go.” New Mexico has been a perfect rest for me this week, and a perpetual inspiration to paint. I expect the same from the Colorado Rockies over the next two weeks.

Thanks always for reading. It feels good to post these sentiments, knowing there are readers who are interested.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

New Mexico Enchantment

July 20, 2018

This country is very beautiful and also difficult . . . it is not a country of light on things. It is a country of things in light, therefore it is a country of form, with a new presentation of light as problem.

Marsden Hartley, letter to Alfred Stieglitz, 1918

It’s been a few hours since I left Ghost Ranch, attempting to paint en plein air. My efforts were thwarted by a desert storm–one of those rare cloudbursts with powerful gusts of wind. I had to turn my watercolor face down to avoid the large drops. Of course it was over in a few minutes, and the earth here still looks like iron ore. But I had already packed my easel and gear, and fatigue from my morning hike had set in.

I’ve resumed reading an O’Keeffe biography and came across this Marsden Hartley quote which matches my sentiment. This is an amazing environment that I’m still working on solving in watercolor. I appreciate O’Keeffe’s remark that no one could ever teach her how to paint her landscape–only theirs, but not hers. I feel the same way; I admire so many watercolor artists who have mastered landscape, but I don’t want to attend a workshop to learn their ways; I’m seeking my own voice, my own vision here.

Thanks for reading.

Plein Air Painting as Re-Invention

July 20, 2018

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The fact is, I am an intuitive painter, a direct painter. I have never worked from sketches, never planned a painting, never ‘thought out’ a painting. I start each painting as if I had never painted before. I present no dogma, no system, no demonstrations. I have no formal solutions. I have no interest in the ‘finished’ painting. I work only out of high passion.

Barnett Newman, Interview with Dorothy Gees Seckler

As I began painting shortly after sunrise, with temperatures at 62 degrees, I started with a blank sheet, and as I stared at the Pedernal, contemplating what to put on the picture plane, these words from Barnett Newman seeped into my consciousness. Without delay, I did something for the first time–took up a pencil and drew in my landscape composition completely, every shadow and facet of the Pedernal, along with the rock outcroppings below and the sweep of the meadows and desert in the foreground. I never do that–always in plein air landscape attempts, the pencil is used only for architecture or human-made structures. I never draw trees and seldom draw horizon lines. As for mountains, I have only laid down an outline for a suggestion, but never tried to draw the details or shadow lines. And then, as it came time to lay down the colors, I ignored my basic palette and began mixing a stew of new colors never before used. And I laid down light washes without trying to accent with the dark tones. All of it was brand new to me, and I thought of Newman describing the sensation of painting as if he had never done it before. In another context (I could not locate it), Newman discussed inventing painting as if it had never been done before (around 1941). The sensation was indescribable. I enjoyed experimenting, and did not concern myself with how the finished product would look. These plein air attempts are a laboratory for me, and I’m swimming in bliss.

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A Little Re-Touching of Yesterday’s Attempt

I felt a rush of enthusiasm as I worked on the new composition, and then laid aside the art materials in order to return to Ghost Ranch for a hike up toward Chimney Rock, one of my favorite sites from Georgia O’Keeffe compositions.

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Chimney Rock

There wasn’t time to get all the way up there (three hours required), as lunch reservations had been made. But the ninety-minute trek was exhilarating, and all the while I wondered (after an old Timberland Footwear advertising tag–“What kind of footprint will you leave?”). The desert here in Abiquiu is not Extreme, but worse: Exceptional. So I tried to stay on the hardest surfaces of the hiking trail, hoping not to leave boot prints in soft soil. At any rate, the hike was an experience I seldom know.

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View of the Pedernal from near Chimney Rock

During my descent, I saw a button on the trail, face down. Thinking of the environmentalist adage: “Take only memories, leave nothing”, I picked it up, not wishing for litter to remain on the trail. Turning it over and reading it, then looking back down at where it had been lying, I realized what someone had done. So I replaced the button, face up:

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Hope that doesn’t offend. I felt embarrassed when I saw the message, knowing someone, somewhere was amused at folk like me picking up the button and turning it over to read.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Early Morning Thoughts from Pedernal Casita at Abiquiu Lake

July 19, 2018

Pedernal in the Evening

Pedernal in the Morning (more…)

In the Presence of the Pedernal

July 18, 2018

I’ll try to post more tomorrow, but wanted to share just one of many good moments here from Abiquiu, New Mexico. My painting above is from a location midway between Ghost Ranch and the Pedernal. I began it last evening shortly after arriving, and today didn’t like what I saw–too gray. So this evening I introduced some stronger colors and believe I’ve improved it somewhat.

(Yesterday evening’s beginning)

Thanks for reading. Ghost Ranch awaits tomorrow . . .

A Rolling Stone

July 15, 2018

rollingstone2

Work in Progress on a Commission

In recent weeks, I’ve done everything except gather moss. Since Bloomsday (June 16), I’ve had the itch to wander in the fashion of James Joyce’s Ulysses, and so I set out to experience adventures between Arlington, Fort Worth, Denton, and Palestine, Texas. But all the while I wandered and collected experiences, I itched to return to the mountains, and on July 1, after finishing my last art show of the summer, I began loading the Jeep for my journey west. Of course, I had to bring my work along with me, so I decided to call it a “working vacation.”

rollingstone

This watercolor is commissioned by a special man who had his own epic “Ulysses” experience while at Fort Worth’s Santa Fe Depot in recent years. I haven’t yet heard his full story, but this view of the depot triggers deep-felt memories for him, and I’m delighted to take on the task of recreating the image.

Pointing the vehicle to Amarillo, and subsequently travelling the great Southwest, I have painted daily, and prepped for my fall load of college courses. These regular activities, along with moving about and experiencing new things, has kept my life busy and satisfying in the best way.

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I accepted an invitation to watch a parade and local rodeo in O’Donnell, Texas, and took dozens of pics, marveling at every turn. A heavy shower watered the countryside that afternoon, cooling temperatures and making for great photo opportunities.

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Though growing up in the St. Louis area, my father was always fascinated with the rodeo, and I attended these events as a child, seeing my last one while in high school. Now, forty-five years later, I attend a small town event, and experience an unforgettable evening.

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I still haven’t reached the mountains, but they are still on my radar. I am dying for the opportunity of plein air painting again.

I would like to say more, but I’ve promised myself a full day of class preparations, and I haven’t even yet started. So I’ll just say Thanks for Reading, and I hope to post again before too long.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Losing Myself (or Finding Myself?) in a Large Watercolor

July 11, 2018

commission tues

Santa Fe Depot in Fort Worth, Texas

It is humanity’s tragedy that today its leaders are either sullen materialists or maniacs who express the psychopathology of the mob mind.

Barnett Newman, 1933

I was stung this morning by these words from Barnett Newman (an artist and thinker), published in 1933 when he was running for mayor of New York City, being dismayed at the slate of candidates. These words could have been printed in this morning’s newspaper. Throughout my six decades-plus of living, I am losing hope that matters can improve in our nation’s leadership, or the rank and file of American voters that judge them worthy at the ballot box.

I’ll try to get this negative stuff out of the way quickly. Also this morning, I read an article from The Atlantic, posted by one of my stellar former students on Facebook: “The Wisdom Deficit in Schools.” The argument was one I held to no avail for nearly three decades in public schools. I am losing hope there too, and am glad to be retired. In three decades, I saw no improvement, only state legislators who dared not enter the premises of public schools while continuing to drain them of their resources, along with “experts” putting out annual talking points to improve education. And I concluded that most experts are to education as bumper stickers are to philosophy. The only thing I could do in three decades was teach the students entrusted to me to the best of my ability, with resources gleaned from my own education, hoping it would be enough–it was all I had to offer. I once read from someone that education was the pouring out of a life. And I did that (still do, but with much more fulfillment in semi-retirement).

Enough of that.

I rose from my reading and went out, hoping to waddle my way out of the cesspool of negativity that was drowning me. I found a public facility conducive to a studio, spread my supplies across a large table, dialed my phone to my favorite YouTube music, and proceeded to swan dive into this 30 x 22″ watercolor. And the longer I drew, painted, wiped, and splattered, the more contented I grew.  It always happens that way.

Years ago, I made art, hoping for attention, sales, and a sense of self-worth. Today, I can honestly say I am blessed to have received satisfying measures of those. Now, I make art because it brings quality to my life. As I paint and listen to music, messages sink into my soul that I have gleaned from my reading earlier in the day (today from Barnett Newman, Edward Hopper, Eugene Delacroix and Ralph Waldo Emerson). And yes, I am currently on vacation, but it is a working vacation as I pursue this promised commission and prepare for three college courses in the fall. And it is all good.

Eugene Delacroix has spoken to my soul repeatedly, and I thank God he kept journals. I’ve posted this one before, but do so now again, because he pours out his sentiments in words more eloquent than mine, and all I can say is that I affirm his testimony 100%–

(from Sunday, July 14, 1850): Today, Sunday, I may say that I am myself again: and so it’s the first day that I find interest in all the things which surround me. This place is really charming. I went this afternoon, and in a good mood, to take a walk on the other side of the water. There, seated on a bench, I started to jot down in my notebook some reflections similar to those I am tracing here. I told myself and I cannot repeat it to myself often enough for my repose and for my happiness (one and the other are but a single thing) that I cannot and must not live in any other way than through the mind; the food that it demands is more necessary to my life than that which my body calls for. 

Why did I live so much, that famous day? (I am writing this two days afterward). It was because I had a great many ideas which, at this moment, are a hundred leagues away. The secret of not having troubles, for me at least, is to have ideas. Therefore no effort is too great if it gives me the means of bringing them into existence. Good books have that effect, and above all certain ones among those books. The first thing to have is health, to be sure; but even in a sickly condition, such books as those can reopen sources through which imagination can issue forth generously.

Thank you for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.