Archive for July, 2020

Have Brush. Will Travel

July 29, 2020
Setting to Work on my Next Commission

A whisper ran through the crowd as it watched the two artists, one short and sanguine, the other tall and diffident, shake hands and exchange a few friendly words:

“Still producing marvels, I see.”

“As usual! What about you, have you nothing in this year?”

“Not a thing. I’m having a rest, looking for a new idea.”

“Don’t be funny. You don’t need to look for new ideas!”

Emile Zola, The Masterpiece

Reading this passage over coffee this morning gave me pause. I’m always astonished at how art imitates life; nearly everyday in my casual reading, a line of words lifts off the page, mirroring what I’m experiencing at this particular point in my life. Talking on the phone recently with artist friends, I find that we are all on the same page–no longer physically present in public exhibitions, and in the meantime working in our private spaces, developing new ideas as they come.

As the coronavirus has raged across the land, my entire art calendar has been systematically cleared. My last event was a one-man-show in Dallas that ran through the month of February. Since that time, all art festivals and gallery events on my 2020 calendar evaporated, even the ones running from October through December.

But I’m not complaining. This hiatus has truly been a gift in so many ways: I am more rested, travel less, stress less, and enjoy quality time in the studio painting, reading, writing in my journal, composing short stories–all those things I can now do with quality time abundant. For over a month, I experienced stress, feeling there was something I was supposed to go out and do. I had to remind myself “No”, there is nothing to be done out there. Relax. Rest. Make art at your leisure.

Other gifts have surprised me as well. Suddenly I am scheduled for art classes. I conducted one last week. Another happens tomorrow. And two more are scheduled for August. Commissions also piled up (I usually have one at a time). I am finally down to my last pair of commissions and should have them completed within a week or so.

So. This is just to say: if anyone out there wishes to commission a work from me, I am a hired gun with plenty of time on my hands. If not, I’ll continue to enjoy painting what I wish, when I wish. And always, I will post on the blog what I have going on.

Fort Worth Flatiron Building in Progress

Last week’s class involved watercoloring a section of the historic Flatiron building located in Fort Worth, dating from 1907. I have already painted it a couple of times and sold it. The print at the top is a photo of the last painting I sold out of the gallery where I’ve been invited to teach classes (I now am represented by an additional gallery–Show Me the Monet, located here in Arlington). The painting in progress at the bottom is what I was using as a demo when I taught the class. I decided not to throw it away but see if I could pull another decent painting from it. So, I’m working on it at leisure.

I haven’t checked to see if there is still available seating for tomorrow’s session. We’ll be painting wildflowers (specifically, firewheels as they appear on the islands in the Texas Laguna Madre). If any of you local readers are interested, please call the gallery to reserve your spot at (817) 468-5263. The one-time class meets tomorrow (Thursday, 7/30), 2-5:00. Cost is $55.

Sample of tomorrow’s “Firewheels” class

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Cogitations on Art Theory

July 28, 2020
Painting through the Darkened Morning

All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings . . .

. . . The imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads

Hurricane Hanna has finally delivered a dark day with rain in north central Texas. Morning coffee has enhanced the mood in my studio and I’ve been happy with the way the work has shaped up today.

Better still, I’ve had one of those quality “thoughtful” mornings and decided I wanted to devote a blog entry to my personal theories regarding the act of making art.

Jack Flam has been in charge of the Robert Motherwell holdings (the Daedalus Foundation) since the artist’s death. Countless times I have listened to him take part in a panel discussion on Youtube concerning the artist’s legacy. He shared the quote above from Wordsworth in describing Motherwell’s two-step approach to painting–1) spontaneous outpouring, followed by 2) logical scrutiny and adjustment.

While reading Zola’s The Masterpiece, I came across this amazing statement reflecting Cezanne’s approach to painting, which more succintly states the Wordsworthian position:

Following Delacroix and parallel with Courbet, it was Romanticism tempered by logic.

Romanticism tempered by logic–what a succinct way to describe what I try to do in making art. I choose watercolor as my prime medium, because I love the spontaneity of the pigments as they billow and flow across a wet surface. Much of what I start with in a painting cannot be controlled. I watch in wonder as the water and pigments do what they do. Then later, when it is set up and dry, I try to impose discipline in shaping the painting into a composition. Passion opens the painting process, and logic edits and concludes it.

For years I have worked on Nietzsche’s tension between Dionysus and Apollo in the creative process–Dionysus represents passion and spontaneity while Apollo imposes order and discipline. Art, to me, arises in the midst of that struggle.

Heidegger, in his essay “The Origin of the Work of Art”, describes the art process as a struggle between “earth” and “world”. Earth refers to nature as it is, whereas world is what the creator exerts on the earth to create something. Earth is resistant, but the artist’s world is unrelenting, and in that perpetual struggle, art emerges.

The morning has been most satisfying. For several days now, I have felt little success while working in the studio. But I am of the age that I don’t get depressed when the art I make is unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, I give much time to looking at the results, trying to discern what is missing, and whether or not it can be fixed. Today has been more rewarding, because I feel that some of the criticisms I’ve leveled against my recent work have been validated, addressed and corrected.

I am currently working (struggling) with three paintings in the studio this morning. Some good things are beginning to emerge, and at the same time, the resisting earth is scoring points in this tug-of-war. But it’s still OK; I enjoy the challenge and still look for ways to win. Few things can bring me more joy than spending time restling with art, not only in making it, but coming to some kind of understanding, some theory, of what I am actually doing.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

July 27, 2020
Hank and Randy at Caprock

I have decided to go ahead and post a pair of stories I’ve been incubating for quite some time now. The draft is still rough, but the ideas are in place. This continues my Hank & Randy cycle for the Turvey’s Corner 63050 collection of short stories . . .

______________________________

Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1 (King James Version)

Looking up, Hank noticed that Randy had put down his coffee cup and had a small volume open and was reading by the fire light. “What are you reading?” he wanted to know.

“Translating, actually. I still carry my little Greek New Testament in my pack because I like working the language.”

“You quit the ministry. Do you still believe all that stuff?”

“Not all of it. But much of it still rings authentic. And then there are other parts, like what I’m reading tonight that really stimulate my imagination. This is from Hebrews 12. The image is a race in a stadium filled with spectators. The spectators are “heroes of faith” mentioned in the chapter before, people who suffered hardship but still believed in what they were doing. The author writes that the one running the race is being cheered on by all those heroes of faith who have gone before. It’s supposed to give one courage and confidence living out this life as an arduous race.”

“When I was a kid, I always thought my aunts and uncles who already died were looking down from heaven, approving or disapproving of what I did. I like the picture you just gave—ancestors cheering us on and encouraging us.”

“That’s what I’m feeling right now. Since I quit the seminary, Paul Tillich and Karl Barth have stayed with me. I still read them a great deal, especially Tillich. I can identify with a lot of what he went through, though my own troubles seem microscopic compared to his. Still, I draw strength from his example. Then of course, there are other writers who are not theologians that give me plenty of encouragement and reason to believe—Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, Kerouac—I love them all and wish I could have known them in real life. But I really do feel their presence when I read what they’ve left behind.”

“I can identify with that. I wonder if we’ll still feel this way when we get old.”

“I wonder that too. I just hope I don’t get too mentally lazy and stop reading and imagining as I get older.”

__________________________________

Randy drifted slowly in and out of consciousness throughout the morning. It was his fourth day in hospice, and though he was unaware of how long he lay there, he knew he would drift away before too much longer. Judy, his only love, sat to the left at his bed and Hank, his lifelong friend, was seated on his right.

Eighty-three years. A satisfying sojourn. Few regrets. A myriad of memories worth embracing. In fact, Randy did nothing else but re-visit memories for four days now. The pain in his chest was minimal and breathing not very difficult. The drugs numbed his body, but his mind felt keen. The refrain of memories that occupied him the most included the west Texas caprock campouts, complete with campfire, coffee and soul-searching conversations.

Randy wondered why he had held fast to theology throughout his years. He never would pastor a congregation. He dropped out of seminary without completing a degree. Yet the life and writings of Paul Tillich had held the center of his broad reading and musing throughout his years. From the day he dropped out of seminary, he had fed on a steady diet of Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, and Kerouac, among other essayists, poets, and novelists. But he always came back to Paul Tillich, the German theologian expelled by Hitler from German universities. The Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary faculty in New York City came to his rescue, arranging for his passage to America. At age forty-three, the frightened scholar would arrive on New York shores to begin a new chapter in his life that would last the remaining three-plus decades of his life.

Randy had always felt he found a kindred spirit in Tillich, though the man had died a decade before Randy even learned of his life and work. As the energy slowly ebbed from Randy’s body, he felt the warm kiss of Judy on his forehead. “I love you, Randy. I always have.” Hank squeezed Randy’s right hand. “Love you Pal.” Randy tried to whisper: “Hell of a ride,” but was not sure if the sound passed from his lips.

Though his eyes were closed, Randy could see clearly where he was now—on an enormous crowded ship pulling into a harbor. The statue of liberty loomed overhead as they glided by. How unusual to be surrounded by a throng speaking a cacophony of European languages. On the shores, thousands of people were thronged, waving in a frenzy, welcoming the refugees on board. Sadly, Randy had not arranged for anyone to meet him. As he flowed with the travelers off the boat and onto the land, he watched with an aching heart as men and women embraced, children leaped into the arms of parents, and joyous clamoring rung out across the frenzied city.

But suddenly, he saw a thin man in a gray suit pushing impatiently through the crowd, gesturing at him. Paul Tillich? Randy was incredulous. He had seen dozens of photos of the Prussian scholar in books he had read and collected throughout the years. And now, Paul Tillich was eagerly fighting his way through a crowd to greet Randy?

“Randy, my dear Friend!”

“Professor Tillich?”

“Paulus, please.”

“You know me?”

“Of course!”

“How? You died ten years before I even heard of you.”

“Such a naïve lad! So. You didn’t really believe what you told Hank by the fire that night when you shared the words from Hebrews 12?”

“You know about that?!”

“Of course. Out here, we don’t have limits! I wasn’t the only one watching and listening that night. Let’s go. Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, and Kerouac are waiting. I left them in the café to come get you. We have plenty of things to talk about . . .”

Judy and Hank wiped tears from their eyes. “At least he went peacefully,” was all Hank was able to say.

“Yes,” replied Judy. “I wonder what he was dreaming there at the end. He seemed happy.”

____________________________________

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Stirring the Embers

July 26, 2020
Sunday Morning, reading Karl Barth

This tranquil Sunday lovingly embraced my mind as I enjoyed coffee in the early morning light and pored over several texts. Oftentimes when I turn the pages of several books, the discussions tumble round like a kaleidoscope, presenting a brilliant stained glass arrangement of ideas. This turned out to be one of those mornings.

The discussion began with Saint Paul in Romans 12:2, and as I chewed on the Greek text, along with a German translation, the words took on new life: “Be not conformed (schematized) by this age (I prefer Zeitgeist), but be transformed (metamorphosed) by the renewing (stirring the embers) of your mind.

From the Greek New Testament, I turned to a biography of Karl Barth (I’ve been reading lately his commentary on Romans), and felt memories of my earlier life washing up on the shores as I read of his first faculty assignment.

“Now I was studying night and day, going to and fro with books old and new until I had at least some skill in mounting the academic donkey (I could hardly call it a horse) and riding it to the university.” Barth devoted himself to the preparation of his lectures with unprecedented zeal–“almost always on night shift”. “More than once, the lecture which I gave at seven o’clock in the morning had only been finished between three and five.” He always had to work “rather faster than my natural tempo . . . And our ‘complicating’ points of view, which turn everything upside down, do not simplify matters: there is an everlasting battle between these ‘viewpoints’ and the material, which keeps wanting to snap back into its old familiar commonplace form.”

Eberthard Busch, Karl Barth: His life from letters and autobiographical texts

Naturally, this reading took me back over three decades of sweating out research, writing and re-writing, frequently late into the nights, in order to put fresh bread out for students the following morning. The memory now is far more pleasant than the reality of those years. But the end of that text, referencing “material, which keeps wanting to snap back into its old familiar commonplace form,” reminded me of the battle I fought most of yesterday (and lost!) in the studio.

The subject I have chosen to teach in next Thursday’s watercolor class involves the painting of wildflowers and grasses. I would like to bring back very special moments I experienced in 2015 while serving as Artist-in-Residence on an island in the Laguna Madre. Those moments involved breakthroughs as I painted firewheels blazing in the weeds, and cordgrasses as they separated from the undergrowth behind the building where I resided.

My struggle on the island was the same as what I endured yesterday–the tension between painting things the way I do by habit and rendering things thoughtfully and analytically, the way I see the subjects now. Yesterday started well, because I was scrutinizing my subjects and thoughtfully arranging colors and contrasts the way they appeared before me. The beginnings of the work were very promising. But then, later in the day, when fatigue settled in, I began finishing up the paintings the way I always do, and the results were very unsatisfying. I know better than this, but habits are difficult to slay. So today offers another chance . . . When I paint something worth posting, I’ll put it up on the blog for viewing.

As I continued rotating the reading kaleidoscope, another set of ideas emerged, these from Karl Barth’s The Epistle to the Romans:

To be sincere, our thought must share in the tension of human life, in its criss-cross lines, and in its kaledoscopic movements. And life is neither simple, nor straightforward, not obvious. Things are simple and straightforward and obvious only when they are detached from their context and then treated superficially. The reality to which life bears witness must be disclosed in the deep things of all observable phenomena, in their whole context–and in their KRISIS.

We live in a deeply troubling and complicated era. The coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across our land, and daily some public figure steps before the cameras and microphones somewhere to offer his/her simple solution. Are our state and national leaders that simple minded, or do they publicly voice their bromides because their constituents merely want simple answers? I do not know. Life is complicated. Society is complicated. We do not solve problems with simple solutions. There is always KRISIS, as Barth testified. There is always tension to navigate. There are always options to untangle and present. Meanwhile, we individuals know what steps to take to minimize danger. My hope for all of you is that you do whatever is necessary to stay safe.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Creative Eros, Ebbing and Flowing

July 25, 2020

Our moods do not believe in each other. To-day I am full of thoughts, and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should not have the same thought, the same power of expression, to-morrow. What I write, whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the world; but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in which now I see so much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall wonder who he was that wrote so many continuous pages. Alas for this infirm faith, this will not strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flow! I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”

Emerson has been a polestar for me since my first year as a teacher. I still remember my liberation the day I read “Circles” and came to understand his sensitivity to the natural ebb and flow of the creative lifestyle. From that day forward, that idea has been brought to my attention repeatedly, reading it in the poetry of Walt Whitman and in the interviews of a number of twentieth-century painters. Long ago, while in the ministry, I learned that parishioners often deceived themselves, believing they could receive the gift of perpetual spiritual bliss. In my years of teaching, the question was repeatedly put to me–how can one sustain a high level of creativity? From the days of reading this Emerson essay, my answer has been the same–one cannot sustain that peak of spiritual bliss or creative eros. Life moves in circles. We require intake if we are to output. We must inhale in order to exhale. We must rest in order to exert. The ocean ebbs and flows. These rhythms are natural and inevitable.

I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly tried to cheat the natural order. I know the stories of creative spirits taking amphetamines in order to sustain creative exploits for up to 72 hours without sleep. I have always been alarmed at that thought. In my years as a graduate student, I recall drinking coffee and swallowing No-Doz tablets in order to stay up an entire night typing a paper to meet a deadline. But I believe I always returned to my bed the following evening. I never thought it possible to sustain beyond that. Besides, if staying awake were the only prerequisite for creative eros, then the chemical answer would suffice. But the reality is, excellent sleep, diet and exercise can still yield a day of zero creative eros, despite the peak physical condition.

Creative eros comes and goes. For a number of weeks I have faithfully shown up at my studio daily to read, reflect, write and paint. There have been some good moments, but nothing to write home about (hence the recent blog hiatus). But this morning, when I awoke, the fire was lit—I’ve been in the studio the entire day, spreading my attention across five watercolors. In earlier years I would have been concerned about A.D.D., but I think I am just interested across several subjects today, and have enjoyed grazing from more than one pasture. Reading has been rewarding as well, though usually I pick up a book while waiting for a watercolor to dry. When working on a number of them, I just move from one painting to the next, not requiring a book for those drying periods. Still, I’ve been nourished by Hemingway, Zola, Emerson, and have been spending quality time in a number of Andrew Wyeth books. A splendid day.

All of these are still in progress, but I’m in no hurry. The process has been most engaging. Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Announcing the Next Watercolor Class in One Week

July 24, 2020

After this long corona virus induced hiatus, I returned happily yesterday to teach my first watercolor class this year. Time spent with eager watercolorists was so invigorating, that I’m really looking forward to another one next Thursday July 30 from 2-5:00. We will meet at the Show Me the Monet Gallery inside Gracie Lane’s in Arlington at 4720 S Cooper Street. Cost for the three-hour session is $55. Seating is limited, so it is highly recommended to phone (817) 468-5263 and secure a seat in advance.

We are going to pull out all the stops and experiment as we paint a wildflower composition. I’ll be sharing a number of techniques I discovered while painting as Artist-in-Residence on the Laguna Madre a number of years ago. After retrieving my journals recorded from those days and re-reading the joy of discovering new methods for painting wild settings, I knew this was the kind of session I wanted to do with willing participants.

If you live in the area, I hope you will join us. If registration overflows, I guarantee we will repeat this lesson as soon as possible. I anticipate that we will uncover some of the magic that inspired such greats as Andrew Wyeth and Albrecht Dürer as they experimented in dry brush, drawing, scraping, masquing and spattering techniques in watercolor.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

OK, So I’m Writing a Book

July 20, 2020
My New Studio Still under Constsruction

Life! Life! Life! What it is to feel it and paint it as it really is. To love it for its own sake; to see it as the only true, everlasting, ever-changing beauty, and refuse to see how it might be ‘improved’ by being emasculated. To understand that its so-called defects are really signs of character. To put life into things, and put life into men! That’s the only way to be a God!”

Emile Zola, The Masterpiece

Studio time has been pleasure-filled today as I’ve returned to the task of painting evergreens in watercolor. I certainly share the sentiments expressed by Paul Cezanne long ago when he wrote “I am still learning from nature, and it seems to me I am making slow progress.” The Zola novel I’m reading has been reported to be based partly on the life of Cezanne and the quote above is from the character believed to be the artist.

Evergreen Experiments

I have accepted the invitation to address the Mansfield Art Association this evening. The ninety-minute presentation will combine a talk on our current art scene, my new projects in progress, and finally a demonstration of one of my watercolor techniques (these evergreens, if I can get a handle on them sometime today!). I have missed dearly the camaraderie of other artists, and this group I have never met before. So I’m looking forward to tonight.

Showcasing my art and my writing in the form of a published book has been a long-time fantasy of mine. But I never really took the idea seriously. Until COVID19. For months I have been satisfied with reading, blogging and making new paintings. But now, with my final art festival of the year canceled, meaning 2020 will pass without my doing a single public art event, aside from my One-Man-Show in February, I have decided I will indeed publish a book, even if I have to self-publish. As with other artist friends with whom I’ve contacted over past months, I feel that I must do something.

Currently, my work on Turvey’s Corner 63050 has reached forty-five typed pages with my watercolors as illustrations. But new characters have been born in my mind over the past forty-eight hours, and I have decided to introduce one of them now . . .

THE PHILOSOPHER

Bob Farrow (prismacolor pencil)

Bob Farrow liked to sit. And smoke. And drink. And think. The septuagenarian still had plenty of blonde woven through his hair and beard, and he struck quite a figure in the sun, seated in his old chair with nothing but time on his hands. His leisurely life came, compliments of the federal government. A Navy World War II veteran, he suffered the misfortune of standing nearby when an aircraft disintegrated upon landing, scattered shards of steel and glass in all directions. Bob spent six months in the hospital, discharged with the orders of never to lift anything heavier than twenty pounds. Since 1944, Bob fished, tinkered with small engines in his tool shed and engaged in his favorite hobbies mentioned above. Turvey’s Corner folk referred to him as The Porch Front Philosopher.

Looking up, he noticed Hank pulling up in front of his shed in the old borrowed Dodge pickup from Jerry’s Texaco, and a trailered john boat.

“Where you off to?”

Hank stepped out of the truck with a pint in hand and sauntered across the grass to sit in one of Bob’s empty chairs. “Rock of David. Things are slow at the station, so I closed early. I may just camp out overnight if the fishing’s good.”

“What’s that you got there?”

Hank handed Bob the pint of Jim Beam. Taking off the cap, Bob poked the bottleneck into his mouth and took a long pull.

“Sodie pop! If you want the real thing, it’s this.” Bob handed over his pint of Ten High.

As far as Hank was concerned, the Ten High tasted about as good as gasoline, but he just nodded in acquiescence. No doubt it cost less than half what he paid for the Jim Beam, and worth even less.

“Yer lookin’ sorta grumpy,” Bob observed. “Somethin’ happen at the station?”

“Nothing ever happens at the station. I’m just tired of all days being the same, that’s all. I thought if I got out of town a little while, things might look better.”

“We talked about this before,” Bob mused, taking another long draw from his bottle. “Yer still young, yet. Don’t worry. You’ll find yer way.”

“I guess you’re right. Anyway, thanks for the time. I want to get on the river before dark, so I’ll catch ya later.”

Two days later, Hank returned to catch Bob up on the news of his fishing. The old man wasn’t in his lawn chair, his shed was padlocked, so Hank went to the door of his small house and knocked. Nothing. Looking up, Hank noticed his old Rambler sitting in the driveway, so he knocked again. Still nothing.

Walking around to the side window, Hank shielded his eyes and peered into the dim living room. There was Bob, seated in his recliner, his head slumped forward. Hank knew.

He’s No Longer Here

The quiet neighborhood was shattered by the sharp crack of three crushing blows from the ball-peen hammer that broke open the padlock on The Philosopher’s shed door.  They had just found Bob in the living room of his small house, dead, seated in his favorite recliner with a cold cup of coffee and his tattered copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on the side table.  Beneath the layers of his faded beard, they thought they could detect a slight smile.  His book was opened to “Song of Myself” and he had underlined in pencil: “I am large; I contain multitudes.”  The onlooking friends mused about his seven decades and all that his life had encompassed.

Entering the dim interior of the fishing shack, they looked silently at the tangled pile of gear in the corner, and hesitated to gather it up, as though rudely disrupting the sanctity of a shrine.  There lay the Garcia Mitchell 300 open-faced reel, with which he had landed his 6-lb. largemouth bass while poking about the lily pads in a rowboat one evening on Hunnewell Lake.  He was only a teenager then.  The bait caster was still there–the one he never could seem to get the hang of, trying in vain to cast old wooden bass plugs without backlash.  His Uncle Art would just look on, shake his head, smile, and mumble through the smoke of his Lucky Strike: “Cute Kid.”  The Pflueger fly reel and vintage bamboo rod were a gift from an aged farrier in Pine, Colorado, who passed them on as a torch, noting that his fly fishing days were behind him.  The battered suitcase was from college days back in ’42, when he hopped the Frisco passenger train for his monthly cross-the-state visits to his parents back home.  And on that train, he was always served Dining Car Coffee.  And the old knapsack–he never tired of bragging on the day he talked an Athenian merchant out of that tattered leather bag for $12.  On that day, he owned the world.  

Hank stood there silently, his tear-filmed eyes surveying the stack of assorted memories, each item with its own story, clinging to its own fragment of history. It was time to take down the monument. As he removed and packed each item, Hank vowed that Old Bob’s story would not end here. Somehow, Hank and Randy would write new chapters and find ways to extend The Porch Front Philosopher’s legacy.

_____________________________________

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

The Soothing Sweetness of the Morning

July 12, 2020
Gathering Ideas and Images for the Day

Ernest Hemingway was dedicated to the proposition that each day should be rewarding in some way.

A. E. Hotchner (friend)

Yesterday witnessed a full day of painting at this dining room table, the enthusiasm fueled mostly by a pair of Youtube documentaries on the life of Ernest Hemingway. As a biography addict, I am thinking of reading for a second time in its entirety the Hemingway biography by the late Princeton Professor Carlos Baker. I have not read enough of Hemingway, only his Moveable Feast (twice), The Sun Also Rises and about a dozen of his short stories, my favorite “Big Two-Hearted River” Part Two.

As I’ve shared before, my inspiration to make art is fueled mostly by the works of famous artists and writers. And I am just as much an addict of their biographies as I am their primary sources. Yesterday my attention was split between painting and reading Emile Zola’s The Masterpiece. The book called to memory a myriad of details of the life and work of Paul Cezanne. While painting, I let the laptop fill my ears with details on the life of Hemingway.

Hemingway’s life inspires and saddens me simultaneously. I’m inspired by his drive to write, every morning at 5:00 until noon, and no, there was not a bottle of scotch at his table during these sacred hours. That always came later, unfortunately. As a former English teacher, I frequently told my students I would fail them if they turned in short stories with the spare vanilla sentences Hemingway was known for using. I never could explain to students or friends why I liked reading him, because those sentences alone certainly did not inspire me, though I’m always intrigued by his testimony that “all you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

I am deeply saddened that this decorated writer who lived life to the fullest did not live to be as old as we expect to live these days. Already at age sixty-six, I have outlived him by five years. What saddens me even more was his state of mind when he decided to take his life. Electric shock treatments for his depression rendered him incapable of writing. It has been said that he would sit at his writing table and nothing would happen. I don’t know how I would handle it if the day came when I could no longer record my thoughts in writing or express myself with a painting.

After all these years, mornings are still sacred to me. Currently house sitting, I’m glad that the five dogs are currently in the backyard where I can see them from this dining room window running wildly all over the property, burning off the fuel they consumed from their bowls a few moments ago. With the house quiet, I can now turn the spiggot with the push of a button on my ballpoint pen and watch my thoughts flow out onto the pages of my journal. Even if the words are no good, at least I still have living thoughts and energizing ideas that give me assurance that another good day can be lived. I just feel sad for anyone who has lost that feeling as well as for those who never know it.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Flitting from Painting to Painting

July 11, 2020
In progress watercolor of an abandoned caboose

Maybe I really shall finish it this time, just to show myself I’m not completely hopeless!”

Emile Zola, The Masterpiece

The quote above is the self-deprecating remark of a painter to his writer friend as they looked at one of his canvases in progress. Popular opinion holds that it is Cezanne speaking to his friend Zola. After years of reading about this novel, I am finally reading the work itself and finding it very engaging. I’ve always been interested in the creative synergy between Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola, from their childhood till the rupture of their friendship right after this novel came out. However, despite decades of reading about Cezanne’s work and gazing at it in museums, I have never until now read a word from Zola.

The quote above got my attention this morning because of my own habit of leaving many, many works incomplete. Last month while moving my studio to another room, I finally gathered all my scattered “in progress” watercolors and stacked them in two drawers of a lateral file cabinet. I didn’t count them, but I estimate there are over fifty. When I saw the quantity for the first time all in one place, I recall a jibe I heard once from an acquaintance who was observing my work in the studio: “Dave, do you ever finish anything?”

Maybe I have an Attention Deficit Disorder when it comes to painting. I doubt it though, seeing that I do indeed finish many of my pieces, and do a pretty decent job of pulling one from the stacks that is several years old, and finishing it with renewed interest. At any rate, I started two watercolors on the same day recently, and now decided to move to painting #2 while the fly fisherman remains unfinished in the midst of the stream.

This old wooden caboose is on the property of E & J Smokehouse and Grill at Spirit Ranch in Lubbock. We dined there a few evenings ago while it was cool outside, and afterward strolled the property. The setting sun cast an amazing light on this old car and I’m glad I climbed the hill for a closer look.

The reason I shifted away from the Colorado landscape to this painting is because this morning I was seized with the interest to pursue detailed, painstaking work in watercolor. This is something I definitely have to be in the mood to do. I love the medium of watercolor because it allows me to be splashy and spontaneous as a painter, and at the same time allows me to focus and work more as a serious draftsman. I especially enjoy doing both tasks within the same painting. And so, as I shift between the architectural details on the caboose and the splashy clouds and foliage enveloping the composition, I enjoy feeding both sides of the artistic enterprise.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Hunkering Down during the Heat

July 10, 2020
Beginning an 8 x 10″ watercolor

Half the world wants to be like Thoreau at Walden, worrying about the noise of traffic on the way to Boston; the other half use up their lives being part of that noise. I like the second half.

Franz Kline, Abstract Expressionist painter

The past week has been rather quiet–a long road trip, and then several days of relaxation in deep west Texas. A string of 100-degree days has kept us mostly inside, but west Texas morning temperatures hover in the comfortable seventies. This lovely morning was no exception when I stepped out shortly after daylight and walked around a quiet neighborhood, enjoying the gaiety of a myriad of birds in the trees and admiring the clouds strewn across a bright cerulean sky.

Last evening I came across the Franz Kline quote posted above while reading Jacobson’s biography on Robert Motherwell, and it made me lay the book aside and ponder for a spell. In response to Kline, I have to acknowledge that my professional life was lived out in the second half of his description, with all that noise. I cannot say I would have preferred it that way, but it’s what fell to my lot. My professional portion was spent in the public sphere, while all the while I wished to be in the other half, the Walden half. Now, with deep gratitude, I find myself in the Walden half.

The first week of our journey was relaxing, much time spent in leisure reading and making some attempts at watercolor. With no appointments, it was nice to let the days flow by at a comfortable pace. Today we landed in a home where we’ve been asked to dog sit a few days. So I guess I’ll now introduce you to the menagerie.

Hazel, helping me edit

Hazel, a Jack Russell terrier, never relaxes. She needs a job. This is the only dog I’ve ever known who fixates on any lighted screen, jumping up and down in front of the living room smart TV, settling on my shoulder to read my phone, or in the above picture, staring into my laptop. As I work on this blog, she is supervising.

Hazel staring into my phone for a selfie

Bo is as large as I am, and usually finds a quiet place next to me when I work in one place for an extended time.

Bo, asleep at my feet under the table
This is our Patches, finishing his morning coffee

Patches is our own rescue dog, so he will always be nearby. He likes the cream residue at the bottom of Sandi’s coffee mug. Every morning he lingers close by for that special moment.

Guido, the senior citizen of the pack, sleeps all day in this chair

This old boy is a genuine sweetheart. I don’t believe he can hear now, but he awoke from his slumber as I approached to take the photo, so he is still alert.

Peanut, emerging from her nap

Peanut is Miss Personality, always wanting to sleep next to me wherever I work. She only asks to be against a warm body.

I already miss Eli, the Yorkie. We stayed with him all week until this morning. (with Patches)

I always hate saying good-bye to Eli. He has been a delight all week, continually wrestling with Patches, but always willing to pause long enough to pose for a photo. He is the only one among the dogs above who is not in this space currently. As I type this, all the others are in the same room with me, but quiet.

I have started two new watercolors, both 8 x 10″ My intention was to visit the canyons for some plein air work while out here, but with daily temperatures ranging from 105-110, I don’t think so. I have a backlog of compositions saved up over the years that I’ve wanted to paint, so I’m going to take a crack at them.

With the above painting, I’m making use of a reference photo taken years ago (before smart phones took over). I’m standing in the middle of the South Fork of the Rio Grande in Colorado. I have had the photo framed and hanging in my home till I took it down while packing for this trip last week. I determined I would attempt a painting before returning to rehang the picture.

Challenges I’ve avoided for years I am finally facing–(1) the armature of Colorado evergreens along with the actual colors of their needles both in the sun as well as the shadows, and (2) the dynamics of a rapidly flowing mountain stream. Both problems are making me focus more than ever before. And if I don’t get this one right, then I’m confident I will continue trying until I get closer to the truth. At any rate, while painting it, all the luxurious memories of days spent in that stream are returning to me. During these triple-digit-temperature days I certainly would love to stand in one of those cold streams, waiting for a trout to rise.

Hazel has gotten bored with my typing. She now sleeps in a chair nearby. And as I look up, I see all the dogs, littered like carcasses all about the living room. Nap time.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.