Archive for January, 2023

Friday in The Redlands Hotel

January 27, 2023

Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.

Vincent Van Gogh

This Friday morning has been pure stream-of-consciousness. Alarm woke me at 7:00. I lay awake in the darkness, waiting. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church across the street from The Redlands Hotel has a bell that tolls three minutes after my smart phone clock. Sure enough, at 7:03 my time, the bell tolled nine times. I have posted this frequently in my blog, but it still makes me laugh. The rest of the day the church tower will toll the correct number before it goes silent during the night time sleeping hours. Then, next morning, at 7:00, it will begin with nine tolls.

After showering and dressing, I enjoyed some “Executive Time” reading at the dining room table, sipping my morning coffee, and scribbling new thoughts in my journal. My attention was arrested by a poem from Adrienne Su, “The Days.” In this piece, she wrestles with the value of keeping a journal and recording one’s own thoughts. I have never second-guessed this value since I began in 1985. Two hundred volumes later, I acknowledge that I’ll never catalogue all those entries, nor do I need to. After I die, I don’t care what happens to them. They could be burned or trashed. But I won’t be discarding them. I take great joy in going back to them and reliving the memories much like one who flips through pictures on the smart phone. And I enjoy reviewing ideas I’ve visited in the past, and revising them.

But that is not why I practice journaling. The poem I just mentioned contrasted journaling with living “in the moment.” For me, journaling is living in the moment. When I journal, I am peeling back the layers of my current experience, savoring it, dwelling on it. As I wrote these words, I heard the clatter of men outside, beneath my fire escape, emptying the restaurant dumpsters into the waiting truck. It was 27 degrees outside. My mind was immediately transported to the 1980s when I worked jobs outdoors during the winter, and dreamt of a better future. Next thing I knew, pages of the journal were filling with memories of those days, contrasted gratefully with realities of these days. For me, the life of the mind is a luxury; I relish any morning that I am allowed just to sit, ponder, and feel gratitude for life and the gifts offered.

After journaling, I went back into the bedroom, retrieved my guitar, and went to work re-learning a song I had stopped playing more than ten years ago–“South City Midnight Lady.” I have always loved those guitar riffs! The death of David Crosby last weekend has gotten my mind back on alternative tunings, and I had to re-tune my guitar to play this song. I just loved the sounds coming out of those strange chords! Next thing I knew, I was playing variations on that theme, enjoying the moment. I stopped playing in bands long ago, but am considering a return to the open mike. There are so many venues opening up these days, and I just might step back into that pool one day.

Once I opened the gallery downstairs at 10:00, I got out my art supplies and went to work sketching a younger version of Neil Young. I had tried to draw him last night when I was tired, and the weariness showed. Today’s sketch turned out better. I’m trying to talk myself into drawing more consistently. Making it a daily practice would be a good thing.

One of our local artists dropped by the gallery for a visit this morning, Mike Harris from Malakoff, forty minutes away. Mike has been a participant in Palestine’s monthly Art Walk for quite some time now. We plan to re-open Art Walk in April, since January through March brings unpleasant weather for getting out. Mike enjoys using a magnifying glass to burn images into birch wood, then coloring them with acrylic pigments and wood stains.

I use the word “emerging artist” carefully. Mike Harris indeed fits this category as he’s decided to test the market. His inventory is sufficient enough to show in festivals and he’s ordered a booth tent and now seeks venues to show. We had an energetic discussion about online presence, application guidelines and ways to send one’s work up the flagpole for others to see. Mike has gotten plenty of attention from the Palestine Art Walks and private commissions. Now he’s ready to get out more into the public. I trust you’ll be hearing plenty about his work soon, and I’m proud to play a part in introducing him.

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.


Snapshot from a Sunday Painter

January 22, 2023

The fading afternoon light of my studio is not the best for photography, but I wanted to send out this snapshot of the watercolor as it continues to develop.

Thanks for reading.

Saying Good-Bye

January 21, 2023

Who wants to see an abandoned soul?
Who wants to try and open it?
Who wants to know what desperate is?
Who wants to buy what’s broken?

David Crosby “What’s Broken”

In my narrow life’s narrative, celebrities seem to be dying weekly, sometimes daily. The loss always gives me pause. The end of the songs, the poems, the novels, the visual works of art. No more new creations from these perennial creators. The book is closed.

But day before yesterday, the largest tree fell in that enormous forest of musicians who have enriched me. From 1969 till now, if I could name only one, it would be David Crosby.

In 2014, I would drive through the darkness of the pre-dawn listening to the lyrics posted above from the album Croz. I couldn’t believe the man remained so prolific in his seventies.

In 1969, we were playing electric guitars in high school, trying to copy riffs from the Beatles, the Stones, the Monkees. I was bored with the scene. And then, one day in my friend’s bedroom, on his portable stereo, he put on the new album Crosby, Stills & Nash. The very first song I heard from them, “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”, totally astounded me. The tight vocal harmonies, the acoustic guitars. From that very day, I dropped all interest in the electric guitar. I purchased an Alvarez 12-string acoustic, and my musical life changed. Now, years later, I still play an Alvarez 12 and a pair of Martins. So much has changed in my musical tastes and abilities, but one musician still towers above them all. I no longer play in a band. I no longer perform. But in the stillness of my room, cradling an acoustic guitar, I feel his Presence affirming what I attempt.

In 1969, when I looked at their faces inside that first album, I was amused at the red-haired musician with the walrus mustache and mischievous twinkle in his eye. When I learned which voice was his, that rich baritone that always found the sweet spot in the chord, and later learned of his amazing assortment of alternative tunings, I knew I would be spending the rest of my life trying to figure out all the possibilities of acoustic guitar riffing and song writing.

And of course, I drew his portrait. Over and over and over again throughout the years. And now again early this morning at my gallery desk, I draw him yet again as I say Good-Bye.

I lived in Texas when he was arrested in 1982 at a Dallas night club. I cried. And then I cried again in 1985, the day he turned himself in to the FBI as a wanted fugitive, his hair full of lice and his body wasted by disease. His imprisonment cratered me. And then . . . he was out again. Writing music. Performing.

I finally saw him in person in 1992, in Dallas of all places, when Crosby, Stills & Nash were doing an acoustical tour. When they finished singing “Deja-Vu”, Graham Nash chirped: “So. You think you have been here before, David?” Crosby then cracked a smile and said, “Yeah, but at least now I’m not getting arrested!”

I saw Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young later in Dallas, then the trio two more times in Grand Prairie. David’s stage presence, to me, was always riveting.

Since his liver transplant, I have anticipated his death. But when it finally came, I was not prepared for how I feel. For two days, I’ve wanted to draw his portrait and post a blog tribute, but the gallery has had me covered up the entire time and today is also filled with appointments. Hence, this early morning attempt to get something out there. I have to say something. Write something. No matter how many months go by, I’ll never get the words to come out the way he deserves.

So, for now, all I can say is Good-Bye, my Friend. I’m sorry you never got to hear the words from me, but at least you got to hear the words from thousands, hear the applause from countless thousands, and know there were millions more out there touched by your creations.

Stream of consciousness
On a sleeping
Street of dreams

Like scattered leaves
Slowed in mid-fall
Into the streams

Of fast running rivers
Of choice and chance
And time stops here on the delta
While they dance, while they dance

I love the child
Who steers this riverboat
But lately he’s crazy
For the deep

And the river seems dreamlike
In the daytime
And someone keeps thinking
In my sleep

Of fast running rivers
Of choice and chance
And It seems as if time stops here on the delta
While they dance, while they dance, while they dance . . .

David Crosby, “The Delta”

Thanks for reading.

Monday Morning in Studio Eidolons

January 16, 2023

Back to work on my Watercolor

Goya was not a systematic thinker, much less someone given to producing treatises or manifestos. He was an artist, a man who expressed himself in images.

Richard Lacayo, Last Light: How Six Great Artists Made Old Age a Time of Triumph

Waking at 5:39 this morning was not the plan, but it’s worked wonderfully for me. Our last four days in The Gallery at Redlands were packed beyond description with tasks that were rewarding, yet rendered me a mindless boob by the time we got home last evening. Retiring to bed around 10:00-ish, I set an alarm for 8:00, and found myself rising from sleep at 5:39. Coffee and executive time, sitting up in bed, yielded restful bliss in reading and journaling. By 8:00 I found myself at my drafting table in Studio Eidolons, Paddington seated nearby, and good sentiments bathing my being.

Paddington, my Studio Companion

I won’t discuss all the darkness I read regarding Goya this morning. Suffice it to say that I also am not a systematic thinker, and hope I can tell my story through images as well. But I choose images filled with light, rather than darkness. My second attempt at a watercolor illustrating “Palestine Blues” is coming along slowly, but satisfyingly, for me. I did manage to get in quite a bit of work while in Palestine the past four days, but now am happy to have some peace and quiet here in our home as I continue to chip away at this large piece.

Thanks for reading.

Good Morning from The Gallery at Redlands

January 7, 2023

For then I saw

That fires, not I,

Burn down and die;

That flare of gold

Turns old, turns cold.

Not I. I grow.

May Sarton, from “On a Winter Night”

I managed to go downstairs into the gallery by 8:00 this morning. Eschewing my custom of going to the desk to read, I went directly to the drafting table, picked up my brush and pencils, and completely rendered the harp player that was only a line drawing last evening.

Now I’m enjoying coffee and reading from a magnificent book acquired recently, Richard Lacayo’s Last Light: How Six Great Artists Made Old Age a Time of Triumph. This is not a self-help book. I didn’t purchase it because of a diminished art output or interest lately; I was just curious to read about the “winter years” of artists including Hopper, Goya, Titian and Matisse.

German art historian A. E. Brinckmann identified elements he referred to as altersstil (old-age style), and I was struck by his observation of “a reduction of forms to their essences and a preference for unfinished surfaces.” I have been moving in that direction, not because I read of it from another artist, but because of my fascination with Xie-He’s “Six Canons of Painting.” I have wanted to go to the “spirit essence” or “vital force” of subjects I paint, and spend less time with the peripheral elements of the scene. I’ve been happier to leave blank spaces for the viewer’s imagination to fill with whatever s/he perceives in the narrative I’m illustrating. Throughout the years, looking back at photos I’ve taken of works in progress, I nearly always like my paintings better when they are about 60% complete. My framed, finished works (to me) often appear over-worked.

The May Sarton poem at the top of this blog opens this book that I’m now reading. The words stirred me profoundly. I’m grateful that life and art have not diminished for me in these retirement years. It was always my hope that I could harvest something sublime from these years after all that time spent working a job to please others.

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 Friday Night in The Gallery at Redlands

January 6, 2023

. . . and the philosophical light around my window is now, my joy; may I be able to keep on as I have thus far!

Friedrich Hölderlin, letter written December 2, 1802

My sentiments match Hölderlin’s as I work on this watercolor tonight in The Gallery at Redlands. We stay open till 9:00, so I still have another hour, and have decided to let this painting rest till the morning and settle into some comfortable reading before I shut down and go upstairs for the night.

Though January usually brings a considerable drop in business, the gallery has been busier than normal throughout this day and evening. Still I managed to squeeze out some quality time to study and continue work on this painting. In my previous work (pictured below), I featured the ghost of Lightnin’ Hopkins walking the rails with his guitar. This bluesman actually played in a juke joint in Crockett, Texas, thirty minutes down the road. A life-size bronze of him playing guitar graces the park across the street from the establishment where he played the blues.

The watercolor I am working on now features a seated guitarist. I’m using David Honeyboy Edwards as my model for this fellow. Beside him, playing harp is Don Gallia. I met him a few years ago while participating in the Randy Brodnax and Friends Christmas Show at the Sons of Hermann Hall in Dallas. Part of that festival’s tradition was “Church in the Bar.” An hour before opening, artists gathered for worship on Sunday morning in the barroom of the Hall. Don played harp masterfully as he accompanied guitarists leading the music part of the services. I decided to insert him into this composition.

It is nearly time to close the gallery for the night. I’ll return to open around 8 tomorrow morning and remain open till 9 p.m. I’m looking forward now to going upstairs to cozy up to a good book and read myself to sleep.

Thanks for reading.

A Quiet Evening Painting in Studio Eidolons

January 4, 2023

Remember that art is process. The process is supposed to be fun. For our purposes, “the journey is always the only arrival” may be interpreted to mean that our creative work is actually our creativity itself at play in the field of time. At the heart of this play is the mystery of joy.

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Julia nailed that one. During this quiet winter night, I have known exquisite delight, bent over the drafting table, working on some of the exacting details called on by this composition. When I get lost in a painting, I have no idea whether I have worked for 15 minutes or two hours. Time elides.

Paddington has curled up to slumber in the chair beside my drafting table. The presence of the Christmas tree continues to soothe my spirits as well. I cannot dial up a better environment for watercoloring. More tomorrow . . .

Thanks for reading.

Paddington Under the Writing Desk

January 3, 2023

January 3, 2023 still brings contentment inside Studio Eidolons. The early part of my morning I savored at my desk while Paddington napped underneath. Then I returned to work on my latest Palestine blues watercolor. Signage and foliage are slowing me way, way down, but there is no deadline for this; I’m working at my own leisurely pace and enjoying every stroke of the brush and pencil.

My reading this morning mined genuine gold from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I found it timely because I find myself again scratching my head in the midst of a large, complex watercolor, unsure of what to try next:

Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.

Agnes de Mille

Thanks for reading.

Ideas of the Creative Eros from Goethe and Friends

January 2, 2023

Mysterious in the light of day,

Nature, in veils, will not let us perceive her,

And what she is unwilling to betray,

You cannot wrest from her with thumbscrews, wheel, or lever.

Goethe, Faust

The New Year finds me resurrecting an old practice abandoned some time ago–Julia Cameron’s concept of The Morning Pages. With this practice, you begin the day by writing out longhand three pages of junk as rapidly as possible to prime your mind for the flow of ideas. This task takes me anywhere from 17-20 minutes to complete, and once done, I throw away the pages and start anew with ideas spilling out faster than I can scribble them into my journal. This morning’s activity catapulted me back into my reading of Faust which then led to Heidegger’s essay “On the Origin of the Work of Art.

The Faust quote posted above reminded me of the watercolor I’m now pursuing (also posted above), a blues theme set in Palestine, Texas that has me bemused as I stare into the complex tangle of spring foliage, power lines and deep shadows. The last time I found myself perusing texts from favorite books in an attempt to solve problems involving color, composition and landscape subjects was summer 2015 when I spent a week on the Texas Laguna Madre as Artist-in-Residence. I had taken to the island the essay by Heidegger and was arrested by his quote from German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dűrer:

Albrecht Dűrer did after all make the well-known remark: “For in truth, art lies hidden within nature; he who can wrest it from her, has it.” “Wrest” here means to draw out the rift and to draw the design with the drawing-pen on the drawing board. . . . True, there lies hidden in nature a rift-design, a measure and a boundary and, tied to it, a capacity for bringing forth–that is, art.

The communion I enjoyed with this trio of great minds inspired me to scribble out some new ideas I’m ready to apply to this current watercolor. As I enjoyed thinking and writing out the new theories, Julia Cameron joined in on the dialogue with the following (from her book The Artist’s Way):

Once you accept that it is natural to create, you can begin to accept a second idea–that the creator will hand you whatever you need for the project. The minute you are willing to accept the help of this collaborator, you will see useful bits of help everywhere in your life. Be alert: there is a second voice, a higher harmonic, adding to and augmenting your inner creative voice. This voice frequently shows itself in synchronicity.

Participating in this Great Conversation this morning has energized me. My heartfelt thanks to Goethe, Heidegger, Dűrer and Cameron for caring enough to write out their ideas to share with other hungry, kindred spirits seeking to create.

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.

Beginning 2023

January 1, 2023

Behold that which I have seen; it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him; for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-19. King James Version

The first day of the New Year finds me in my usual contented space–seated in bed with my coffee, my loving companion, slumbering dogs and a pile of books and journal. With a snicker, I refer to this as “Executive Time.” With sincerity, I refer to it as “Centering Time.”

Since January 1, 1973, my ritual is to read from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The one pastor I knew throughout my formative years in church was an able administrator, but not much of a pulpit presence. Throughout my public schooling, he preached “over my head.” I could not stay with his sermons. All that changed when I came home from college my first Christmas for the holidays. Attending a New Year’s Eve service, I listened intently for the first time as he preached from Ecclesiastes. That moment remains one of the major hinges of my life.

I recommend this urgently to all people I know who read–read Ecclesiastes, at least the first chapter. If that doesn’t get your attention, then close the book. It will seem darkly existential. An aged writer who ruled over Jerusalem seems to conclude that nothing matters–all is empty and meaningless. Everything passes. There is nothing new under the sun. Pleasures do not endure. This meditation goes on for twelve chapters. An aged man seems to assess that his life has accomplished nothing significant.

But he closes the book with this:

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.”

The King James Version italicizes the words that are supplied by the translators to smooth out the translation. Most of the time this is a good thing, but not in this case. Remove the italicized words and Voila! It completes this book magnificently.

For twelve chapters, the constant refrain is “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.” The Preacher tells his readers that all of life is empty, without meaning. Empty. Empty. Empty. Then comes the final word–Fearing God and keeping the commandments is his answer. It makes one Whole.

For anyone having trouble with language concerning God and commandments, let me offer this. The two statements refer to God–the Sublime, to the Origin, to the Source, and the commandments–how you treat people. Look to your Source and treat people as you should. This makes you whole. This removes the emptiness.

Thanks for reading.