Archive for October, 2020

Leisure Painting on a Rainy Morning

October 27, 2020

We poets struggle with Non-being to force it to yield Being. We knock upon silence for an answering music.

Chinese poet

I am tearing myself from this painting long enough to send a blog post of the flag pole. So many readers have responded that I feel compelled to continue sending up the posts.

This cold, dark rainy morning called me from my bed before dawn. Sitting comfortably in the studio, I opened and re-read a chapter from Rollo May’s The Courage to Create, a book I highly recommend to any one who pursues creativity. The chapter titled “Creativity and Encounter” I have read more times than I can count. In it, the author explores the state of anxiety that many creators cope with in their exploits. The reading prompted me to write over a half dozen pages in my journal, exploring my entire past life ridden with anxiety and how that state fueled my pursuit of the arts.

Since retiring in 2017, I can honestly testify that most of that anxiety has elided, and I don’t feel that a life of leisure has blunted my artistic sense or drive. All I can say is that I am truly thankful for the time to pursue activities like this current commission without the distractions of class schedules, grading and lecture preparation. The last five years I spent in the classroom were indeed miserable, and I’m so happy finally to leave that environment.

I’m itching to get back to the drafting table. Above is a photo of the flatiron as it now appears before me. I am truly loving these late stages of composition. More later . . .

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.

Looking for the Parking Lot

October 25, 2020
In bed, Looking for the Parking Lot

You can’t cut yourself off from the mystical or you’ll be-you’ll remain-completely lost. You have to see these things as expressions of God’s will. You don’t have to like it, of course. . . . things aren’t so bad. Look at the parking lot, Larry. Just look at that parking lot.

“A Serious Man”

I awoke this Sunday morning recalling the hilarious lines from the Coen brothers’ movie “A Serious Man.” The film’s protagonist went to a junior rabbi to pour out the details of his life in shambles. In thoughtful response, the young rabbi discussed the importance of hashem, a term popular in Judaism that refers to the ineffability of God’s personal name. As the rabbi became more animated, discussing the thrill of experiencing the divine, he pointed out the window to the parking lot as an example of finding God in the mundane.

Since early childhood my life has been consumed by that romantic notion of the divine in daily experience. I have loved literary references to it, from Emerson’s “transcendent eyeball” to Kerouac’s “It.” And so, waking this morning tired from yesterday’s eight-hour session bent over the drafting table working on the large watercolor of the Fort Worth flatiron building, I stayed in bed with coffee for a long stretch, reading for inspiration. I needed some kind of a jolt before returning to the studio because frankly, I was still fatigued from yesterday and not really in the mood to continue work with such concentrated intensity. Poring over a stack of books in bed, I continued to read, looking for the parking lot.

I found the parking lot while reading A Writer’s Eye: Field Notes and Watercolors by Paul Horgan. As I read, I thought of the work of Eugene Delacroix, Paul Gauguin, Robert Motherwell and Barnett Newman–artists who found a creative way to blend their disciplines of writing and making art. I entered the studio, determined to mix painting and writing throughout the day. Hence, another blog post.

Studio Eidolons
Focus on the Details

I have reached a stage with the painting that I have to lay the brush down and pick up pencil, ruler and templates to resume drawing. The flatiron building is covered in bas-relief sculpture and decorative embellishments. My eyes glaze over at the abundance of details, and I have to block out ninety percent of the building’s surface to work on one tiny section at a time. Yesterday’s eight-hour session yielded very little change in surface area and I marveled at how long I could work on something, and a viewer entering the room would not be able to see the difference between where the painting stood today versus yesterday.

Baby Paddington (2 months old), Napping beneath my Drafting Table

Yesterday, Paddington slept for hours under my table as I worked. I was so grateful to be in the company of such a low-maintenance living being!

At one point of the day, while waiting for an applied wash of watercolor to dry, I walked away from the drafting table, and my eye lighted on the cover of my high school yearbook, sophomore year, fifty years ago. Opening the book out of curiosity, I wondered if there were pictures of me besides class photo. Surprisingly I found two art room photos I had completely forgotten about over the decades. So there I was, focused on a detailed subject with patience, even in adolescent days! Fifty years. Wow.

Here I am, fifty years ago
1970 Yearbook, my sophomore year in high school

So, here is the work as it stands now. I’ve spent the entire Sunday morning working on the north end of the building, drawing in the sculptures and decorative elements as well as framing in more portals. The work is proceeding very slowly, but deliberately. At this rate, I intend to finish this in about a week to reach the deadline.

At this Stage, Much more Tedious Drawing than Painting

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.

Shifting Gears

October 20, 2020

Life belongs not to those who know, but those who discover.

Le Corbusier

Sleeping only from 3 a.m. till 8 dictated a change in today’s routine. Sandi lovingly brought coffee to me while I propped up in bed to read and enjoy the snuggling pups.

Letting the Sleeping Dogs Lie

Reaching for my volume of Robert Motherwell’s Collected Writings next to the bed, I found real gold in the following interview:

The subject does not pre-exist. It emerges out of the interaction between the artist and the medium. That is why, and only how a picture can be creative, and why its conclusions cannot be predetermined.

Since Motherwell painted non-objective canvases, I could see the relevance of this remark to his paintings. However, I came to the conclusion that the same is true with my own work. For instance, I had pre-conceived ideas of how this Fort Worth flatiron was going to be presented in this picture, yet already I have made three major changes based on the way the painting was emerging. It was as though the painting had a mind of its own. I know that writers often talk about how their plots and characters change from the original plans drafted, as though the story was taking on a life of its own.

I need to return to the Martin Heidegger essay The Origin of the Work of Art. Motherwell’s statement above reminds me of Heidegger speaking of the artistic endeavor being a clash between world and earth, “world” being the artist’s visions and “earth” being the subject approached for the project. Out of the clash between the two, a work of art emerges that contains elements from both sides.

After several cups of coffee and excellent reading from Motherwell, I felt enough energy gathering to enter Studio Eidolons and figure out what to do next on this painting. Since I have spent many days tediously working on the exacting details of the architecture, I decided today would be nice to break out and try to paint surrounding trees with a flourish. The change of pace is certainly welcome, although I admit that my brush is not on automatic pilot when I work on foliage; I have to study the phenomen of trees just as carefully as the nuances of architecture. The network of light and shadow and the shift from positive to negative space in the clusters of leaves, along with the juxtaposition of warm and cool colors is taking me to an entirely different approach to watercolor. I welcome the change from what I’ve known for days, but still find myself very tentative as I seek to discover the “essence” of these trees framing the composition. Foliage brings an entirely different set of disciplines than the geometry of buildings.

Though I’m more tired now than usual, the day is turning out to be lovely all the same. For that I am grateful; another splendid day in the studio.

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.

Sunday Morning Eudaimonia in Studio Eidolons

October 18, 2020

. . . the artist like a true creator is delving into chaos. It is precisely this that makes him an artist, for the Creator in creating the world began with the same material–for the artist tried to wrest truth from the void.

Barnett Newman, “The Plasmic Image”

Working in Studio Eidolons

The loveliness of the Sunday Morning Solitude began early as I continued reading from the collected writings of Abstract Expressionist artist Barnett Newman. The quote above seized me as do all allusions to the Creator God making humanity in his own image (I believe the imago Dei is that creative eros that stirs in the souls of all people).

Thinking of Newman’s words as I resumed work on the Fort Worth flatiron, I realized that there will be some who admire my watercolors and say affirming things about my ability as an artist. I always appreciate that, but honestly, as I gaze upon the majesty of this 1907 building, I marvel more at the spirit of the architect who first envisoned this form, translated it onto the surface of paper, and eventually a team constructed this marvel. Out of the void, this magnificent building emerged. And now, over a century later, I humbly seek to record a two-dimensional impression of it back onto paper once again.

Emerson’s rhapsody from “The American Scholar” is worth repeating here:

The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him life; it went out from him truth. It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts. It came to him business; it went from him poetry. It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires.  Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

Sleeping Pups at my Feet

The quiet company of our dogs has been a comfort this morning as well. Coffee in the living room usually draws them beneath the table to slumber while I continue to enjoy the musings of Newman.

I have embedded the word “eudaimonia” in the title of this blog. The Greek word, I believe, is best translated “spirit of well-being.” The prefix “eu” is “good” and the root “daimonia” is “demon”. Before the New Testament shaded the sense of the demonic, the word referred to that artistic spirit or creative eros that fills a human with the finest ideas and the compulsion to express them. I have come to embrace that word in my daily life, hoping to carve out an artful life while sojourning on this planet.

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.

Painting on a Saturday Night

October 17, 2020
Getting Lost in the Myriad of Windows!

My thrill on this Saturday was helping an emerging artist friend set up for her first art festival in downtown Arlington. Two other seasoned artists joined Sandi and me in helping her set up and take down the booth. With so many hands in the mix, the booth and artwork was up in a snap, and came down at night even faster.

Welcome Stacy Campbell to the Art Market!

Stacy’s inaugural festival event proved a success with her landing a number of commissions. She’s already looking forward to the next one.

Finding myself tucked into the quiet of our home on a Saturday night, I’m pleased to spend quality time now in Studio Eidolons. Jazz music at night puts me in the mood to paint, and though I’m mired in the details of all those flatiron windows, I’m actually having a serene time. The pups have been in and out of the studio all evening, and Sandi has settled into a good book. All is serene here.

My goal tomorrow is to have all the windows on the facade completely finished. I truly believe the painting will move along considerably faster once they are in place. It would have been faster merely to paint every single window space black, but in the photo I took, something can be seen in the interior of each one, and it is not always the same pattern. I’m convinced that treating each of them in its individual appearance will pay dividends to the overall look of the painting.

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.

More Decisions on the Flatiron

October 16, 2020
Friday Morning in Studio Eidolons

Between the conception

And the creation

Between the emotion

And the response

Falls the Shadow

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

On this resplendent, sun-washed Friday morning, I’m enjoying coffee in Studio Eidolons and reading Barnett Newman’s discussion of the artist’s “struggle between beauty and the sublime.” While reading, I’m looking up at my drafting table with painting in progress, projected image on the flatscreen and a large limited edition print of my previous painting of the flatiron.

Every morning when I walk in here and face this task, a new struggle greets me. I feel that I’m following the old carpenter’s adage “cut once, measure twice.” My deadline for the painting is in November, so there is not a serious time crunch. And now that I have a copy of my earlier limited edition I can compare an old painting to the new photograph I took for the current work. New issues arise concerning color scheme, contrast, etc., and so it seems there is always some kind of decision hanging in the midst of the work. But I love the work, love the struggle, and offer prayers that the result will be good.

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.

Flatiron painting in Studio Eidolons

October 15, 2020

When I walk into the art studio, my entire life comes with me. Leaning over the surface of the painting, my soul’s voice calls out over the canyon of consciousness, and the echoing cry of memories returns.

David Tripp, journal entry

With puddles of wet watercolor scattered about the surface of this 16 x 20″ painting, I need to walk away awhile and let it set up lest I lay my hand in one of the pools and screw up the painting.

Earlier this morning, over coffee, I re-opened a book, Barnett Newman’s Selected Writings and Interviews. I was rocked by the following quote from his essay, “The New Sense of Fate”–

Those who believe that classicism is possible are the same who feel that art is the flower of society rather than its root.

The context of this quote was Newman’s contrast between ancient Greek notions of art vs. a more primitive one (in this case, Egyptian). Newman concluded that Egyptian art was more primal whereas Greek was decorative. Whereas, for the Egyptians art was the root of their expression, for the Greeks, it was their flower. Newman discussed whether art was a root or flower for society. I chose to think more personally about the matter. Is art my root or my flower? To use Newman’s categories, does art flow out of a sense of tragedy, or is it decorative, for me? I began writing in my own journal about the role of art in my own history, hence the quote opening this blog entry.

Newman’s essay contrasts his own culture of art viscerally responding to the horrors of World War II with other cultures that wished to create beauty and calm. Newman, believing the world could come to an end, could not paint flowers or pretty things (he said in an interview). While reading this, I thought of Henri Matisse who endured two world wars yet refused to respond to them. Rather he chose to paint vivid, colorful compositions, hoping to emit an atmosphere of calm.

When I make art, I am calling forth my entire life. The way I see it, I endured many personal tragedies that rocked me for decades (as I’m certain most people have). But I also was conscious of beauty and calm, and have been blessed with a quality education. Hence, I truly believe my art is more romantic than tragic, more calm than visceral, and I truly believe that when I practice making art, the experience indeed flows from my root, but the calm side, not the tragic. If the result of my art is calm and beautiful, then I’m grateful for that. But the end result, to me, is never as profound as the process which springs from a primal root that has not been eroded by a life of tragedy.

If I were a more seasoned writer, I would let this one cook awhile longer and refine it. But I’m a blogger so I’m sending it up the flagpole. If I need to restate it later, I probably will. The painting is dry and I’m ready to get back after 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.

Working into the Night, Drawing more than Painting

October 14, 2020

. . . drawing is the dividing of a plane surface (parallel to Denis’s definition of painting as “essentially a plane surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order”). I personally like that dividing to be as decisive and fast as the cracking of an Argentinean’s bullwhip . . . . Painting can overcome one with its sensuousness, like the soft warm skin of a woman, in a way that drawing cannot. But drawing can be as clear-cut as one’s father’s precepts. Drawing satisfies our sense of definition, even if we cannot define “drawing” itself. Drawing is a racing yacht, cutting through the ocean. Painting is the ocean itself.

Robert Motherwell, “Thoughts on Drawing”

Tonight I feel a kinship with Motherwell because his habit was to work late into the night in his studio. That is seldom my practice, but this evening I have been drawn to this project and have been putting in good time with it.

The quote above about drawing vs. painting has preoccupied me tonight as I was aware of the tension since college days when I worked on my Bachelor’s in art. It was then that my professors told me I was much more the draftsman than painter. That bothered me for years, but in recent times I have owned it; I truly enjoy the precision of drawing much more than the swish of color. I suppose the reason I settled on watercolor as my primary medium is due to its constitution that allows drawing before, during and after the painting disciplines. I am struggling with the issues of color on this flatiron building and will not lay down the broad washes until I settle on a fitting recipe. But the drawing details relax that tension and I feel I could engage in that task for hours (in fact today and tonight I actually have).

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 Hollow Men

October 14, 2020
Continued details on the Fort Worth Flatiron

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the Shadow

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

My mind wanders far and wide when concentrating on minute details of a large watercolor. Waking this morning, I felt the compulsion to seek out T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” for quiet reading over coffee. As I read, my mind drifted to the watercolor in the studio waiting my morning arrival. I thought of the towering flatiron building on the south side of downtown Fort Worth, standing sentinel there for 113 years now, presiding quietly over passing history. And I wondered over the thousands of souls who passed by quietly beneath its shadows during that century-plus, especially in days when the south side witnessed more foot traffic.

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Those lines have always haunted me. I suppose it was during graduate school days in the 1980’s that I encountered the largest number of men around me, working on doctorates, continually complaining about their sense of hollowness and their attempts to fill the void with reservations for a racquetball court, a golf outing, or dinner somewhere with someone, anyone. I never knew those days. Financially I struggled then, and could not engage in social outings, but books were my companion, and now in better days, books remain my companion when no one is around. I don’t understand hollowness, listlessness. Even if I don’t have an art project waiting on the drafting table, I have a library of volumes I will never exhaust in this lifetime, and empty journal pages waiting to be filled. Life is full, and I’m grateful for it.

At this moment, I have four paintings laid out waiting for my attention, but this flatiron has a hard target deadline, so I know what my orders are for the days ahead. But once this painting is finished, several more are already on standby, and the books and ideas will always be swarming about me like a fragrant cloud, and for that I am grateful.

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.

Ruminations in Studio Eidolons

October 11, 2020
Second Day on the Flatiron

The quality of beauty in Hemingway’s work seems to come as naturally as the leaves to a tree.

Carlos Baker, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist

For nearly two weeks I have had rewarding morning hours in Studio Eidolons, mixing my reading and writing with watercoloring. I finished Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and am nearly halfway through Baker’s work on Hemingway’s writing. Years ago I read Baker’s major biography on Hemingway and have retrieved the volume from the bookshelf to re-read key portions I underlined. This has inspired me to write more as well, though I have yet to post the new material online. Maybe later.

While painting today I have been listening (I seldom look at the TV when it plays in the studio) to the motion picture “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” I have paused to post something on the blog because I was overcome with sadness at the reminder of how deeply unhappy this writer was throughout his life. Having read two biographies and watched a handful of documentaries on his life, I am all-too-familiar with how unlikeable he was to people who knew him. I also know the stories of artists Picasso and Pollock, and countless celebrities who had their ways of making the ones around them nearly as miserable as they were themselves. I have no pity at all for unhappy people who bring nothing good into our society, but do feel a deep sense of hurt for the miserable ones who made contributions in literature, art, philosophy, music and film that enrich and inspire us. I am always saddened to know that they did not know the same enrichment in return.

Daily I receive in my email a word of the day from Word Genius. About once a week, the word is a timely one, and today provided such a word–desideratum. The Latin word depicts “something that is needed or wanted.” My long-time friend Wayne White (now recovering from a complicated surgery requiring extensive rehab–we will probably be hearing much from him in the weeks ahead, which is always a good thing) has shared a sentiment with me repeatedly: both of us hope our blogs fall under the category of desideratum. We truly want our words and images to matter, to comfort, to build people up rather than tear them down.

New member of the family. Meet Paddington
Two Amigos enjoying the Fall Morning

Full disclosure–one of the reasons for my blog hiatus is the new addition to our family. Paddington is a rat terrier we adopted when he was only nine days old, and waiting till he reached the age of two months seemed an eternity. At last he is in our home, and our four-year-old Patches has bonded well with him. Though I’ve stayed busy daily with my art, reading and writing, I have recently found myself spending very little time on social media, choosing instead to roll around on the floor and chase the little beasts around the house. Domestic life is bliss.

The Fort Worth flatiron building is coming along slowly, but thanks to a large flatscreen TV moved to my studio, I have the luxury of blowing up the image and seeing the details better than ever before. The November deadline will keep me glued to this painting for awhile, meaning I’ve had to set aside three other large works that were in progress before the flatiron commission arrived.

I need to return to my painting. 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.