Southwest Wanderings

vista

Standing Atop Upper Sunset Trail, Franklin Mountains State Park

One must strain off what was personal and accidental in all these impressions and so reach the pure fluid, the essential oil of truth.

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

panorama

My View from the Upper Sunset Trail

The past several days seem a blur as I attempt to record punctuations from a road trip that included Cloudcroft, Carrizozo and White Oak, New Mexico, along with El Paso, Texas. My literary companions of Emerson, Woolf, Mann and Hesse also fed me with stories and immortal words. Woolf’s quest for “the essential oil of truth” has touched a deep chord within me, and during these excursions I found immeasurable solace in the vast expanses of nature as well as the printed word. On the other hand, my few forays online to sound the depths (or lack of) from podcasts and blogs were not so fruitful. In fact, Woolf’s words better describe those encounters:

Some of these books were, on the face of it, frivolous and facetious; but many, on the other hand, were serious and  prophetic, moral and hortatory. Merely to read the titles suggested innumerable schoolmasters, innumerable clergymen mounting their platforms and pulpits and holding forth with a loquacity which far exceeded the hour usually allotted to such discourse on this one subject.

My deeply-held sentiments are similar to those of Emerson and Thoreau. When Emerson boasted that Harvard taught all the branches of learning, Thoreau retorted: “Yes, but none of the roots.” I will always be grateful for my education. Yet, the decades devoted to thousands of hours poring over texts, I believe, have driven me ever more closely toward the primary source that fed the great cloud of geniuses: Nature. My belief holds that nature offers that “essential oil of truth.” These past few days have offered me a boundless quality of space and time to explore this intriguing world in its manifold beauty and grandeur. I could feel Whitman’s words from “Song of the Open Road” stirring from within my being:

From this hour I ordain myself loos’d

of limits and imaginary lines,

Going where I list, my own master, total

and absolute,

Listening to others, and considering well

what they say,

Pausing, searching, receiving,

contemplating,

Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting

myself of the holds that would hold me.

I inhale great draughts of space,

The east and the west are mine, and the 

north and the south are mine.

I seem to recall that I posted these quick sketches from my phone on the morning that I was making preparations for the road. The image I copied made me think of my friend Wayne White (https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/double-d-acres-llc/), a genuine cowboy and outdoorsman who has been my friend since second grade. No one to this day has made better coffee for me, using an old urn over an open campfire. By the way, Happy Birthday, Wayne!

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A Pair of Pages from the Journal

For several decades I have felt like a hypocrite in one major area of artistic endeavor: the sketchbook. Since high school I have believed that the “real” artist devotedly keeps a sketchbook. As an art teacher in the publc schools, I preached that doctrine. And throughout the decades, I have purchased and accumulated stacks of sketcbbooks. But I have never consistently maintained one. Every time I tried a “sketch”, I kept at it till it developed into a finished drawing, tore it out of the book, matted, framed and sold it. I have no lasting sketchbooks of any value for retrospective study and reflection. And throughout my years of teaching humanities and art history, I lifted up Leonardo da Vinci as the quintessential “Sketchbook/Journal-Artist/Thinker”. Personally, I have maintained a journal since 1985, with well over a hundred volumes on my bookshelves. These pages comprise approximately 99.5% words, with the very occasional sketch appearing.

On this excursion, I forced myself to alternate between sketching and writing, hoping, believing that I just might turn the corner and turn into a “Sketchbook/Journal-Artist/Thinker”. We’ll see. At any rate, I posted above a couple of my attempts.

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Looking East from the Valley of Fire to the Lincoln National Forest

After a lovely day spent in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, where I took a number of reference photos but never painted, I stopped at the Valley of Fire where I surveyed in wonder acres of black volcanic rock, and looking out toward the Lincoln National Forest, decided to work up a quick sketch of the Sierra Blanca. This was my first time in awhile to look at a distant mountain and attempt a plein air watercolor sketch.

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Franklin Mountains State Park

Ultimately settling in El Paso, I decided I wanted to paint mountain ranges en plein air. Going online, I discovered  a local plein air group that goes out every Tuesday morning to paint. On their website was an entry for anyone wishing to connect with the group. Twice I entered my name, email, phone number and message, expressing my interest. No response. When Tuesday arrived, I decided to set out alone, and came across the Franklin Mountains State Park. Driving to the end of the road, I parked and hiked up a hill to set up and paint the vista. Halfway through my first painting, my phone rang. I continued to paint, letting it pick up the voice message. As it turned out, the plein air group was finally returning my messages and announcing that they were not going out to paint today. Better that I just left the call unanswered; I found what I was seeking.

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First Attempt

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Second Attempt

I marveled at the subject rising high before me, its colors and textures continually shifting as the sun emerged and withdrew among the clouds. I recall the testimony of French Impressionist painter Claude Monet daring anyone to tell him nature never changes when he witnessed the continual changes with his own eye. I attempted two watercolor sketches because I saw at least half a dozen shifts in the mountain’s colors, textures and shadows. The encounter was invigorating and I chide myself for not engaging in plein air activity more than I do.

Today I find myself fatigued from all the travel, sketching and painting, and have given myself to reading and reflection. But I wanted to take these moments and send a blog up the flagpole in case anyone out there is interested in looking at what I’ve experienced.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

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