Archive for the ‘Andrew Wyeth’ Category

Pining for Plein Air Activity

April 5, 2017

South Fork Pine

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch of Colorado Pine

My one-man-show will close Sunday, April 9 at 5:00 p.m. and I hope to take a day or two to catch my breath.  Then I will dive head-first into my favorite annual plein air painting event: Paint Historic Waxahachie.  Artists who registered in advance were given the green light to begin painting April 1, but I’ve been too busy with this show and my daily school responsibilities–next week, I hope.

The watercolor sketch posted above is in my show at the Gallery at Redlands. I painted it in Colorado last summer while relaxing with daily fly fishing and plein air watercoloring. My pulse rate changes dramatically when I am in that Rocky Mountain environment, and I cannot wait to return there for an extended vacation this summer. Every time I look at this small painting, I recall those beautiful, chilly, sun-drenched mornings when I sat out on the porch of my cabin with my coffee, surveying the South Fork of the Rio Grande rolling by below.

I truly miss those days, and can’t wait for them to return.

Thanks for reading.

A Quiet Afternoon for Reflection

February 22, 2017

hamlet

Latest 20 x 16″ Watercolor in Progress

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

After hours of house cleaning and domestic chores, I was ecstatic to find a block of a few hours to paint late this afternoon before dashing off to an evening commitment. Because of an impending One-Man-Show, I have had this desire to return to a Blues theme for a new series of paintings. This one is barely off the ground, and already I’m second-guessing the composition. When such happens, I choose longer gaps for merely staring at the painting from across the room, rather than going full steam ahead.

As I drew and painted and stared for long periods from a distance at this piece, I listened with delight to some YouTube book talks given by William Powers, author of Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  This book has changed my life profoundly, convincing me that I don’t have to blog daily, and don’t need to live a life chained to my smart phone, anticipating the next alert.

This evening, I will present a brief talk at a monthly gathering that we call “the Salon.” This is a small group of people I adore who love to discuss ideas once a month. Most of the group is retired, having formerly worked in education, industry, politics and journalism. The topics are always approved in advance, and last month I volunteered to lead a discussion over William Powers’s book.  Hoping that none of the salon participants will look at my blog before this evening, I’ve decided to go ahead and post the substance of my presentation.

Thanks for reading . . .

Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age[1]

Shelley listened to an interview on NPR with author William Powers who had just published Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  She purchased two copies, giving one to me.  Henry David Thoreau, in the “Reading” chapter of his book Walden, writes: “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”[2]  Over the span of my life, only a few books have marked new eras, and this book is one of them.  At any age, it feels gratifying, to think of turning a corner or opening a new chapter.

Hamlet’s BlackBerry, offers these words: “The simple act of going out for a walk is completely different today from what it was fifteen years ago. Whether you’re walking down a big-city street or in the woods outside a country town, if you’re carrying a mobile device with you, the global crowd comes along”[3]  I found this passage very confrontational to me personally.  It brought my attention to how obsessed I had become to being “connected” digitally, because of a smart phone that was continually beeping, always alerting me to my blog, facebook, emails and text messages—my life was being chewed up chasing all these prompts, and it took this book to point that out to me.

I am not sounding a negative note for our improvement of technology, this digital age. Technology has transformed my teaching in the high school classroom as well as teaching online at the university.  Technology has connected me to the art and business world.  Computers are wonderful as are smart phones.  But there are two elements attending this digital age that run counter to my idea of a quality life—one is the fast pace, and the other is the emphasis on connecting all the time with others.  The fast pace disregards the importance of time to mature ideas; the social connection neglects the importance of solitary space and depth to find oneself.

I am quoting a chapter title from the Powers book: “Digital Busyness is the Enemy of Depth”.  The point he makes is that when we spend our lives surfing the Internet, flitting from site to site, platform to platform, screen to screen, we are not experiencing the depths of life, but merely skimming over the surface of the media.  In 1963, Paul Tillich addressed the fortieth anniversary of Time magazine, pointing out that America “was a free society, to be sure, but one without depth: its ceaseless expansion, whether into outer space or on the production line, had created an almost irresistible temptation on the part of everyone to produce in order to produce still more.  Tillich exhorted the producers of cultural goods to stop moving in this one-dimensional direction—to come to a halt in order to ‘enter creation and unite with its power,’ in short, to add the vertical line of depth to the horizontal line of extension.”[4]

In his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig pleaded for a more contemplative life, and wrote: “What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua—that’s the only name I can think of for it—like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer.  The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement.  Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep.  The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks.  In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated.  “What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow.  I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.  . . .   Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of  its own internal momentum.  Some channel deepening seems called for.”[5]

A major argument proposed by this book is that digital connectedness sacrifices depth.  One does not contemplate the qualities and meaning of life when clicking on links and flitting from headline to headline, text to text, opinion to opinion. It seems that the only motivation for such a lifestyle is to feel connected to humanity.

Well, I don’t believe that being connected to others is the sole quality of life. In Anthony Storr’s book Solitude, the noted psychologist maintains that Sigmund Freud shifted clinical opinion toward the emphasis of social relations as a measure of human quality. Storr argues for the merits of solitude, that an intrinsic outlook does not mean that the individual is lacking in human quality. In today’s world, so much emphasis has been placed on connectedness that many feel they are inadequate or uninteresting if they do not continually post on facebook or Twitter, or find someone to call or text on their smart phones.  Many feel chained to chat rooms and blogs on the Internet, convinced that the more connected they are, the more well-rounded and healthy their lives are. William Powers urges: “However, the external validation provided by incoming messages and the number of times one’s name appears in search results is not as trustworthy or stable as the kind that comes from the inside.”[6] I would also point out a relatively new best-seller by author Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

Is the fear of disconnecting a fear of loneliness or is it really the fear of irrelevance?  When I became immersed in my blog activity, I first regarded my daily posting as a matter of discipline, convincing myself that if I held myself to a daily deadline, like a newspaper journalist, that I would improve my disciplinary lifestyle in other areas as well. As time went on, however, I confess that what drove me was not a sense of discipline and self-worth, but rather the fear that I would become irrelevant and eventually forgotten, if I did not keep the blog fires burning by daily shoveling fuel into it via a new post.

The heart of this book argues that our age is not unique with the conflict between social connection and solitude, between speedy technology and plodding contemplation.  The author writes compelling chapters covering Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Henry David Thoreau and Marshall McLuhan. What these great figures share in common is living in an age of technological advance with its temptation for speed, and they used it where it was beneficial, but refused to abandon their contemplative natures.  They consistently maintained that technology and shortcuts would not rule their lives.

In addition to the chapters of Powers’s book, I would suggest some of the New Testament Gospel accounts concerning words and practices of Jesus of Nazareth.  His words from John’s Gospel:  “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  Think on those things for a moment: there are forces that try to steal from our lives—all we have is a measure of time, and whatever is taken is never recovered. Jesus said the thief takes, but he has come to offer abundance. Think about that rhythm—losing and gaining. And let me share a few examples from the life of Jesus that illustrate these rhythms.

After a full day of pouring out his life for the crowds in Capernaum, Jesus rose the next morning seeking restoration.  He departed for a solitary place, and there prayed. When his disciples finally caught up with him, they said, “Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!”[7]  But of course.  That is why he left; he had already given, and now it was time to recover.

This rhythm of public ministry and private retreat is a thread running throughout the Gospel narratives. Jesus did not hesitate to urge that practice upon those whom he loved. There is a time for pouring out our lives, and there is a time to restore.  When his apostles finished their first preaching tour, they came back to him overflowing with success and enthusiasm.  They had given, and they were enthusiastic, but exhausted.  His words: “Come aside with me to a solitary place where you can rest awhile,” because there was so much coming and going that they could not even stop long enough to eat. [8]

When Jesus went to Bethany to visit in the home of the sisters Mary and Martha, Mary sat at his feet with the other men, transfixed by his spoken words.  Martha was prattling about the kitchen. “Jesus!” she urged, “Don’t you care that I have no help in here?  Tell my sister to come and help!”  His answer: “Martha.  Martha.  You are distracted over many things.   One thing matters.  Your sister has chosen that one thing, and it will not be taken away from her.”[9]

When the digital age distracts us to follow the myriads of links, meetings and tasks throughout each day, then we should remind ourselves of this: You are distracted, harassed by many things.  One thing matters.  Don’t let them take away from you that one thing.  It is O.K. to disconnect from this connected world from time to time and find yourself in the quiet gaps of solitude.

I believe that this rhythm of social and private has kept me alive and vital over twenty-eight years in a public classroom.  Yes, I have known burnout, but I also have known how to recover.  I have witnessed complex changes in technology and social networking and I have always heard that call for acceleration.  But that is not my life.  I still live for the reflection, the quiet, the delicious moments of solitude.  And I always seek for ways to make time for those things that matter the most.  All we have is a measure of time.  Ralph Waldo Emerson got it right when he wrote: “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”

 

               

[1] Presented at the North Arlington Salon, February 22, 2017.

[2] Henry David Thoreau, Walden (New York: Penguin, 1983), p. 153.

[3] William Powers, Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (New York: Harper, 2010), p. 15

[4] Wilhelm Pauck, Paul Tillich: His Life and Thought  Volume 1: Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1976),  p. 274

[5] Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York: Morrow Quill, 1974), pp. 15-16.

[6] Powers, p. 46.

[7] Mark 1:35

[8] Mark 6:30-32.

[9] Luke 10:38-42.

The Quiet Zone of the Morning

January 16, 2017

knob-outside

Painting During the Morning Hours

. . . Samuel rode lightning on top of a book and he balanced happily among ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe. But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Thnks to Steinbeck, I could not retire to bed until about 1:00 this morning. This book is scratching me in mental areas that have not been scratched in years, and I could never sufficiently express my gratitude for such engaging ideas. I must confess that I have always read more like Tom, which explains why I am trying, yet again, to understand the philosophy of Martin Heidegger as recorded in Being and Time.

Though retiring to bed rather late, I did manage to rise at 8:30 without an alarm (For nearly three decades now, I have detested those 6:00 alarms yanking me out of the sack in order to report to a 7:35 class on normal workdays). I showered and broke my fast as rapidly as possible so I could light a fire and resume my reading of Steinbeck over coffee for nearly an hour, as soothing jazz played in the background (I so love music playing as I read and write!).

fireplace

Ah, the Warmth and Intimacy of a Fireplace!

After an hour of Steinbeck, I returned to the drafting table and immediately got up to my elbows in the watercolor that I resumed yesterday. Like Tom in reading, I also burrow into the details of painting, pushing constantly at new ways to apply the paint. I spent about an hour scratching with brushes and pencils on the corn and the burlap around it. Last night, late, I worked over the textures of the door above (somehow I managed to paint the masking tape residue in places, and my technique worked!) and am happy with the way the overall painting is beginning to form. I was deeply dissatisfied with this piece when I stopped work on it over a week ago, and have had it displayed across the room from me so I could gaze at it repeatedly, day after day, and try to cope with the shaping of the composition. At this point, I am feeling some satisfaction, and I like that–I do indeed hate to lose a painting. Sometimes I just need time to “compost” as I gaze at the work critically and try to determine where it is failing.

heidegger

Another Crack at Heidegger’s Being and Time

And finally, thanks to YouTube, I’m getting some help, listening to excellent lectures on Being and Time. This morning I listened to the first of a series of 28 lectures delivered at University of California Berkeley by Hubert Dreyfus in 2007. Thanks to him, some of Heidegger’s concepts are beginning to become clear to me. Reading Heidegger’s Hut by Adam Sharr warmed me with its ideas about working in a solitary place, away from the workplace. Now, I wish once again to try and understand this thinker’s difficult philosophy.

It’s been a productive morning, and I’m happy that so much of the day and evening remain. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Into the Sanctuary

January 15, 2017

corn

Up-to-Date Photo of my Most Recent Watercolor in Progress

At most a city-dweller gets “stimulated” by a so-called “stay in the country.” But my whole work is sustained and guided by the world of these mountains and their people. Lately from time to time my work up there is interrupted by long stretches at conferences, lecture trips, committee meetings and my teaching work down here in Freiburg. But as soon as I go back up there . . . I am simply transported in the work’s own rhythm, and in a fundamental sense I am not in control of its hidden law. People in the city often wonder whether one gets lonely up in the mountains among the peasants for such long and monotonous periods of time. But it isn’t loneliness, it is solitude. . . . Solitude has the peculiar and original power of not isolating us but projecting our whole existence out into the vast nearness of the presence of all things.”

Martin Heidegger, “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” Radio Address, 1934

This three-day weekend arrived like that rare thoughtful friend. Some kind of stomach virus kept me out of school Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I returned to school, a shell of what I normally am, and I remember very little of that day. Thursday and Friday I was just tired, still not fully recuperated from the illness. The holiday weekend offered promise of a healing balm.

The reading posted above came from a book I just acquired, Heidegger’s Hut by Adam SharrBefore purchasing the volume, I was aware that the philosopher Martin Heidegger spent much time in a cabin in the Black Forest at Todtnauberg in southern Germany. What I did not know was that he wrote from that secluded dwelling for fifty years, and even turned down the offer to occupy the chair of philosophy in Berlin because it would take him too far away from this country sanctuary. In the same year, he broadcasted the quote posted above.

When I read that passage Friday evening, I just closed the book and sighed, staring into the dark night. I had already decided not to travel over the weekend, and stay in my own suburban home so I could have three days for reading, reflection and getting back to a watercolor I had abandoned before becoming ill. The temperatures had dropped enough to warrant a fire in the fireplace, so I put on music conducive for studying and spent much of this weekend reading the Heidegger book along with primary source texts I have enjoyed in years past from this unusual mind. I am over halfway through Steinbeck’s East of Eden as well. Finally I returned to the watercolor and have posted the latest developments on it for anyone interested in seeing it. I’m experimenting more with India Ink to darken some of the background and stale breadcrumbs to add more texturing to the wood and burlap surfaces. My intention is to continue working on it tomorrow and posting the progress to this blog.

store-picMy Favorite Country Escape

rocking-chair

Porch Time at the same Country Sanctuary

In one of his rhapsodic passages about thinking and writing in the country, Heidegger wrote: “The struggle to mold something into language is like the resistance of the towering firs against the storm.” That is exactly my sentiment as I try to express how profoundly the reading of this book has enraptured my own soul.  Thoreau had his cabin at Walden. Hölderlin had his Tübingen tower. Goethe had his Gartenhaus in Weimar. And Nietzsche had his convalescent home at Sils Maria in the Austrian Alps. For decades I have craved such a “sacred space” for retreat from the work routine so I could enjoy the quiet and hopefully create something special, mentally or aesthetically. Above I’ve posted two photos of a very special place, several hours from where I live–a place to which dear friends have offered access for just such activity.

In 1985, while writing my doctoral dissertation, I fled Fort Worth and lived in rural Whitesboro, Texas in the home posted below. It was over a hundred years old, and though it had electricity, I preferred to write by the light of oil burning lamps at night and still recall the smoky smells that filled the house during those winter evenings as I worked. I still miss those days, thirty years later. Once the dissertation was completed and I graduated, I reluctantly moved back to the city to find work and have been living in the suburbs ever since. I have since revisited this home, too damaged now for an actual residence. The photos are posted below of how it looked around 2010.

dscn2454

dscn2458

My Residence in 1985

knob-1

Close-up of the Painting in Progress

I look forward to retirement at the end of this semester. Though I’ll continue to live in my suburban home, I’ll seek opportunities to flee to the country for the quiet. I’m grateful that Heidegger left behind his musings on the values of retreat.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Entering the Portal of a New Year

December 30, 2016

door-friday

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

As 2016 slowly slides into a chain of memories, I’m happily painting my way into a New Year, hoping to make new discoveries. Returning to this watercolor begun last week has not been without its interruptions and now that I have a couple of days left before this holiday ends, I’m glad to come face-to-face with the composition, yet feel somewhat lost and out of practice.  I suppose the momentum broke. I paused late into this evening to re-read a book by Hemingway that I have always loved. This passage I’ve cited is one of my favorites. The setting is Paris in the 1920s when the young Hemingway was seeking his literary “voice” and seething in self-doubt. I love this soliloquy and have claimed it as my own. Yes, I’ve done this kind of work before and I shall again. All I have to do is begin with the simple, honest strokes that I have known for decades. To me, drawing and watercoloring can be simple and direct. Upon that foundation I’ll return to form, I’m confident. I love the subject I’ve chosen this time, and am looking forward to entering through this new portal and seeing what happens when I come out the other side.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone. 

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Relaxing into Christmas

December 24, 2016

christmas

Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:–

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,

As the swift seasons roll!

Leave thy low-vaulted past!

Let each new temple, nobler than the last,

Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,

Till thou at length are free,

Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Chambered Nautilus”

Happy Holidays to all my treasured blog readers!  I haven’t posted for over a week, as Christmas obligations and errands, along with the responsibilities of closing out the fall semester, left me with little time for communication.  I did however begin work on my first new series that I am titling “Portals.”  I dragged an antique door from my man cave into my living room studio so I could enjoy painting near the fireplace while listening to Christmas music this past week.  As with every Chrstmas season, I leave a fresh painting-in-progress behind in my studio as I flee to St. Louis and visit with family and friends.  But I always am able to return to my home free of post-holiday depression because of a painting still waiting for me that I’m excited to engage.

I am re-reading an Andrew Wyeth biography that I enjoyed years ago, Richard Meryman’s Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life.  My soul stirs deeply as I read of his life and legacy, and the life and ideas of his father N. C. have taken such a hold on me that I just ordered and received (thanks Amazon!) The Wyeths, by N. C. Wyeth.  That incredibly large man was so charged with literary ideas and philosophical sentiments that I cannot wait to read from the 1200 letters that he left behind, exposing his most intimate thoughts and dreams about art. So, in addition to enjoying my circle of family and friends, I’m enjoying some quality reading and times for reflection.  The holidays are such a warm and intimate time for these kinds of pursuits.

I wish all of you the very best of life as we sail through this season.  Christmas and the New Year always fill me with the most meaningful ponderings.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself tha I am not alone.

Working Sometimes from the Fact

November 17, 2016

20161116_100144

I can’t work completely out of my imagination. I must put my foot in a bit of truth; and then I can fly free.

Andrew Wyeth

It was 85 degrees in north Texas yesterday, November 16.  I have been impatiently waiting for fall weather and winter to follow.  One of the reasons is that I enjoy so much gazing at winter trees with their core anatomy on view.  Leaves, like clothing, conceal the tree’s essence, and I regret that living in the southwest, I see the bare trees for such a short span of the year.

I have posted the Andrew Wyeth quote because I feel those same sentiments.  Beginning last winter, I drew trees in pencil, rendering them as accurately as I could see them.  I know that Wyeth and Edward Hopper said that in later years they could work out of their imagination, no longer requiring the “fact” in front of their eyes for scrutiny.  I am not there yet; if I try and draw or paint something that I am not looking at, then it comes out looking like a cartoon or cheap illustration.

The tree above, I guess, is a hybrid.  I began drawing it from life Tuesday evening, as I awaited my artitistic friends for our weekly gathering at the cafe.  I didn’t get very far before they arrived.  So, I finished the drawing yesterday, using my imagination rather than a reference photo.  I’m satisfied with the result, and am now ready to move on to the next tree.  Unfortunately I spend my workdays indoors in an interior room without windows.  So I’ll have to wait . . .

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Preparing for the Next Show

November 14, 2016

9-x-12

Six Paintings en route to Fort Worth Community Arts Center’s 9 x 12 Works on Paper Show

My struggle is to preserve that abstract flash–like something you caught out of the corner of your eye, but in the picture you can look at it directly.  It’s a very elusive thing.

Andrew Wyeth

On my first day returning to work following a lovely weekend of painting and reading, I suddenly discovered I was up against yet another deadline, but I met it.  This afternoon I shipped the six watercolors above to the Fort Worth Community Arts Center at 1300 Gendy.  Their annual 9 x 12 Works on Paper Show features unmatted works 9 x 12″ or smaller put on public view.  Everything is priced at $100.  I managed to do some selling last year, despite having only a picked-over portfolio.  This year I am much happier with what I am sending, and hope some, if not all of these paintings find a home.  At this stage of my life, I am producing a large quantity of work that can no longer hang in my home because every wall of every room is filled.

For any of you readers living in the area, I would love to see you at the artists reception on December 2 from 6 to 9 p.m.  Last year’s reception witnessed a huge turnout, as there were hundreds of works hung spanning multiple galleries.  At least two other shows were also taking place in the same facility.  Usually I only hang around such receptions for an hour or so, but there were so many artists, friends and patrons to see that I ended up staying for the entire reception.

My website has just been updated and I wanted to share that with you: www.recollections54.com.

Tonight has offered me hours of quiet for reading and reflection.  I don’t seem to get enough of those in my own home lately, and I’m grateful for this gift.  I am halfway through an engaging Leonardo da Vinci biography, and hope to write more about it later.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Afterglow of a Wilderness Retreat

November 13, 2016

rocking-chair

That’s me, in a rocker, in a secluded place three hours from my home

It is Sunday evening, and I have just returned from my country sanctuary.  I spent another precious weekend watercoloring inside a general store where I was privileged to reside as a guest. While working and looking around at the grocery items from decades past, I kept hearing in my mind the following script from the motion picture Pollock starring Ed Harris. The painter had just moved to Springs, Long Island to escape the madness of New York City.  The proprietor of the local grocery had this to say to Pollock the first time he shopped in the store:

You're the fella moved into the old Quinn place.

              Morning.

              You moved out from the city?

              I don't blame you.

              In a world where they can split a tiny atom...

              and blow up hundreds of thousands of people...

              there's no telling where it's all gonna lead.

              Best to find a quiet place...

              do what you have to do.


The morning following our presidential election, I returned to work and was surrounded with teachers and students wanting to discuss the election’s outcome.  This was a conversation I did not wish to engage. I took ill, and in the following days called in sick, and by the weekend decided I needed to retreat to the country.  The healing balm offered by this special place and my special friends has far exceeded my expectations in providing needed rest, quiet, recharged spiritual batteries and recalibrated ideas for my future.  I can return to work tomorrow, grateful for the past few days of peace.

thoreau-window

Reading from the Journals of Henry David Thoreau

After an exhausting three-hour drive, I found myself extremely sleepy early Friday night, so I turned in early.  Waking without an alarm at 6:48, I felt refreshed, rose and made breakfast and coffee, hiked to a neighboring pond to fly fish awhile (caught only one bluegill on a popper, but managed to catch an additional seventeen bass by the time the weekend ran its course), then sat at a bedroom reading desk looking out a pair of French doors across a sun-washed pasture.  Turning to the Journals of Thoreau, I read the following:

I require of any lecturer that he will read me a more or less simple and sincere account of his own life, of what he has done and thought,–not so much what he has read or heard of other men’s lives and actions, but some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land,–and if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me,–describing even his outward circumstances and what adventures he has had, as well as his thoughts and feelings about them.  He who gives us only the results of other men’s lives, though with brilliant temporary success, we may in some measure justly accuse of having defrauded us of our time.  We want him to give us that which was most precious to him,–not his life’s blood but even that for which his life’s blood circulated, what he has got by living.  If anything ever yielded him pure pleasure or instruction, let him communicate it.

I needed to read that.  Having taught for three decades, and in recent years posted to a blog, I have always second-guessed how much quoting of others vs. how much personal stuff I should communicate to anyone willing to listen.  My life has been stirred by what I have read of those who have traveled this life before me.  And daily I seek to record my personal visions.  But when it comes to blending the two, I’m never sure, and I guess I never will be.  At any rate, I appreciated Thoreau’s sentiments, because I’m always fearful of putting out blogs that offer nothing more than navel-gazing.

store-shelf-in-progress

Rising from my reading, I returned to the main store counter and looked among the cans, bottles and packages on the shelf, trying to decide what to paint first.  I chose this section, hoping that the bright red Coca-Cola ad would draw immediate attention to the painting, and then hoping that the coffee tin and bottle adjoining would support enough detail to satisfy the curious eye.

store-shelf

As usual, I spent a good part of the weekend perusing Andrew Wyeth drybrush sketches, and decided to leave this one as a vignette.  It is approximately 9 x 12″ so I’m seriously considering putting it into the Fort Worth CAC 9 x 12 show two days from now.  They allow us to submit up to six unframed original pieces and they price them at $100 each.  This sketch just might be able to find a home there.  In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy looking at it, grateful for the memories it exudes.

My friends also have a chuckwagon parked in a nearby barn, and have furnished me the keys the section where it is parked.  For a couple of years, I have wanted to attempt sketches of it and finally worked up the nerve Saturday afternoon to visit the barn.

chuckwagon-in-progress

Just as inside the store, I found difficulty narrowing down the pletora of ojects to just a few.  After all, I have to return to work on Monday, and I knew I could not paint the entire scene in one day.

chuckwagon

This one I have not finished, but took plenty of reference photos in hopes that I can complete it in my studio at home.

Late Saturday night, I was too wired to sleep, filled with good feelings about all that had happened during the day–fly fishing, painting, reading, journaling, sitting in a rocking chair and staring across beautiful landscape.  So I returned to the front of the store and began a sketch of one of the old doorknobs and locking mechanisms on the main door connecting the store to the residential section of the building.

doorknob-in-progress

Retiring to bed finally around 1 a.m., I thought I may sleep till noon.  But I awoke at 5:40, feeling rested and energized to make something else happen before loading up and making the three-hour trek back home.  After breakfast, coffee and more quality quiet reading time, I returned to the store and worked further on the painting.  It still isn’t finished, but I took a good close-up reference photo of the details and will certainly finish this one.

doorknob

The weekend in the wilderness has done everything I wished for, and more.  I think I’ll do O.K. returning to work tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Learning from Repetition

January 11, 2016

image

Motherwell is ruefully aware that the “Elegies” are regarded by some as a formula. (“When he gets stuck, what should he do but make another ‘Elegy’?” he quotes one critic as saying).

Grace Glueck, “The Creative Mind; The Mastery of Robert Motherwell,” The New York Times, December 2, 1984.

My art history reading of late has taken me back to Robert Motherwell, an Abstract Expressionist painter who has always fascinated me because of his erudition. I’ve had the pleasure of reading his Collected Writings and have perused many volumes of his work that I’ve purchased over the years.  The Youtube interviews with him are also rich in ideas, and after wearing out the VHS tape, I purchased the DVD of his “Storming the Citadel.” Yesterday I found this New York Times article and read it with great interest as well. He painted the “Elegy” series well over a hundred times, and sometimes took criticism that he just fell back on the pattern when he was out of fresh ideas. In response, he said in an interview:

. . . the reason I’ve made so many of whatever I’ve made that could be called a series–because I detest serial painting–is simply because I feel that I’ve never really solved any of them, and so they remain a challenge.  The day I can make an Elegy that really satisfies me, then I’ll stop.

In the past month or so, I have become absorbed with drawing. Throughout my artistic life, I have believed in my heart that drawing is fundamental to art, and yet have felt like a hypocrite, because I have always drawn so little.  Finally, I am obsessed with the practice of drawing.  And for many years, I have stared at the anatomy of trees in the winter, when they are so exposed and accessible to the naked eye, yet never pulled the trigger in deciding to fill up sketchbooks with tree drawings.  That has changed.

All I wish to say is that I am not falling back on tree drawings because I have no fresh ideas.  Like Motherwell, I’m still trying to figure them out, still trying to find a satisfaction with my own efforts.  Meanwhile, I have learned a great deal by this repetitive exercise.  Following is an abbreviated list of what I’ve come to understand while attempting to draw trees:

  1. Tree boughs are not silhouettes; they have a range of tones.
  2. In watercolor, the tree’s wood is not uniform throughout in color and value.
  3. Tapering the boughs and limbs, for me, is extremely difficult and requires much concentration and repeated checking.
  4. The snarls of twigs are similar to scribbles with the pencil.
  5. There are always more twigs at the ends of the tree that I tend to notice in early glances.
  6. I do not want the tree to look badly pruned.  I must taper the twigs all the way to the point that they nearly disappear into the sky.

My attempt at watercoloring the tree tops in my back yard is coming along much more slowly than the drawings, but I’m happy in the struggle.

tree wc

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.