Archive for the ‘art studio’ Category

A Quiet Word on the 4th of July

July 4, 2020
Social Distancing

. . . a single stroke of paint, backed by work and a mind that understood its potency and implications, could restore to man the freedom lost in twenty centuries of apology and devices for subjugation.

Clyfford Still

After an hour of reading news and social media posts concerning our Fourth of July and the event last night at Mount Rushmore, I decided to lay all that aside and read for my own edification. While reading a Robert Motherwell biography, I came across the above words from Abstract Expressionist painter Clyfford Still, one who gets little attention because he exhibited very little and wrote even less during his lifetime. Now, throughout the four decades following his life, we are uncovering much value from his work and words.

. . . a single stroke of paint, backed by work and a mind that understood its potency and implications, could restore to man the freedom lost in twenty centuries of apology and devices for subjugation.

I post them again, just in case the reader flew over them too quickly the first time, and I hope what I add enhances rather than diminishes . . .

Standing in pulpits for eleven years, I delivered thousands of words, many of which I would no doubt take back today, if only I could.

Standing in classrooms and lecture halls for thirty-four years, I delivered millions of words, many of which I would no doubt take back today, if only I could.

I meant well, truy wishing to improve lives by what I offered. And sometimes I did, no doubt. But today I think of all the words that were empty, all the words poorly chosen, and even worse, those that were destructive. If all public speakers and social media posters could possibly pause and consider the power packed behind their words, perhaps they would choose more judiciously, as I wish I would have.

I still think. I still write. And I still question. And at this age I am more aware that odds make it easier to be wrong than right, considering the complications of human experience. On this calendar day, if just some people would reconsider their public utterances, there is hope that life in this country could improve.

. . . a single stroke of paint, backed by work and a mind that understood its potency and implications, could restore to man the freedom lost in twenty centuries of apology and devices for subjugation.

As for making art, this quote shook me the most. “A single stroke of paint” . . . if ever I could harness the power of a good thought, saddle it with paint, and then release that pair into this world, then I would believe I have accomplished something worthy.

Thanks for reading. I hope this blog post doesn’t exude depression, because I don’t feel depressed in the least. But I do feel very sobered by what I read this morning. And I intend to do better, be better because of it.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Evening Ponderings over Motherwell Art

July 2, 2020
Time spent reading Motherwell biographies

As always, the studio was the space of revelation. For all his sociability and engagement with the public world, he admitted on several occasions that he felt essentially awkward outside the studio and only comfortable inside its solitude, that his real discoveries were made in direct contact with his materials.

Bernard Jacobson, Robert Motherwell: The Making of an American Giant

Having wrapped up another commission, it felt good today to relax, stretch and spend some time poring over a pair of Robert Motherwell biographies I purchased on the centennial year of his birth. I read both of them within weeks of their publication, but then put them on the shelf for five years. Those who know me are aware that I spend much of my leisure reading biographies on artists I’ve admired throughout my life–Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Paul Cezanne, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol et al.

Motherwell and Hopper are especially dear to my heart because they were profound thinkers, always adjusting their compasses to pursue the direction they felt compelled to follow. Both were needled by friends and associates that they spent too much time in books. Motherwell especially was criticized for devoting too much time to writing, publishing and lecturing. I am grateful that they left behind a considerable sum of pages of their ideas; I am just as immersed in their words as I am their images. As an artist, I have always aspired to be a thinker as well as craftsman.

Completed Commission

My main purpose in posting this blog is to show the commission I just completed today. This Ozark Court Motel no longer stands. Since 1977, I saw this motel ruin on the north side of Interstate 44 (historic Route 66) in Stanton, Missouri as I traveled back and forth from Missouri to Texas. All I know so far is that the business dated back to the 1930’s. Hopefully in the days ahead I will be able to uncover more history of the site and attempt to spin out some stories. Hank and Randy need some new adventures.

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.

Transformation by Choice

July 1, 2020
Nearing Completion of Work on a New Commission

Dr. David Harold Fink, the eminent psychiatrist, says that, by changing our mental concepts of ourselves, we can change our lives.

Advertisement from April 1963 Harper’s Bazaar

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo”

I must say that today has been one of the most satisfying of days. For some reason waking just around daylight, I felt a desire to go straight into the studio and work on this historic route 66 motel site that has been removed from our landscape but not from my memory. I am grateful to the patron who found my earlier painting of this site on the Internet and contacted me to commission a new one. Memories of these motel ruins I saw in my travels from St. Louis to Fort Worth keep stirring. And I recall the closing lines from the Woody Allen film “Another Woman”–

I wondered if a memory is something you have or something you’ve lost.

As I painted this morning, my mind continually drifted to the Zeitgeist that swirls around us every day, and has done so for several years now. Wondering if my own temperament was coloring my perception of what I was hearing daily on the news, I had to pause and say emphatically No. The days we live in now cry out for introspection and evaluation since we are forced to spend time apart from the masses. And frankly, I look over my past life, admitting that there were years, indeed decades of rage probably spawned by my own self-doubt. Those days are gone, I hope for good now. I am deeply grateful for this gift of life, and that I am still allowed to share in it, and finally, to be genuinely happy.

But what I hear and read continually when I log on to the news or social media is a cascade of hate, anger and invective–words cascading like raw sewage across many platforms, cable news, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram–so much poison and stench.

Taking a break from my painting, I picked up and re-read portions of Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol and found the quote above from Harper’s Bazaar. It was in reference to people crowding into the new photobooths of the 60’s to print strips of pictures of themselves mugging in front of the camera. I laughed, thinking of people today on Instagram, holding up their smartphones and looking intently at them while posing for their glamor shots. The Harper’s Bazaar ad pointed out the potential for improving one’s own life wilfully.

From the Warhol reading I turned my attention to Rilke. The poem of Apollo I learned of for the first time when watching Woody Allen’s “Another Woman”, a severely underrated film that remains one of my favorites. Many themes can be abstracted from viewing the film, but what sticks with me the most is the protagonist wilfully choosing in the end to make hard decisions for the purpose of improving a life that others around her had judged a success.

From that point, I decided to re-visit a passage from my Greek New Testament, Romans 12:2. In that passage, the reader is urged not to be conformed (schematized) by this Zeitgeist, but to be transformed (metamorphosed) by the renewing of the mind. The renewing of the mind. Every day the invitation is there for renewal. Every day an opportunity to begin afresh.

I have now been three years retired from public school teaching, and a semester separated from the university classroom. When asked if I miss it, my immediate answer is No. I’m so thankful that when I sit down to read reflectively that I do not have to shape the material into a lecture or lesson plan. I do not have a schedule or deadline looming before me. I can now read for pleasure, at leisure, and take seriously the words confronting me. I can take time to hear the words, pause with them, roll them around in my mouth, repeate them, revise them, apply them. Every day, an opportunity to receive fresh revelations, novel insights.

I know I am meandering, but this is a blog, not a polished essay. So . . . back to the painting above. I have nearly completed the network of ruins beneath the motel sign and now look forward to refining the foreground whose foundation I laid last night with a series of layered masques and washes followed by plenty of dry brushing. Now the masquing has been stripped away and (my art history colleagues will understand this) I am free to “Jackson Pollock” my way down to the bottom of the composition.

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.

Returning to the Solitude Theme

June 30, 2020
Back Home, Working on a New Commission

I’ve been thinking a lot about Edward Hopper. So have other stay-at-homes, I notice online. The visual bard of American solitude . . . . Aloneness is his great theme, symbolizing America: insecure selfhoods in a country that is only abstractly a nation. “E pluribus unum,” a magnificent ideal, thuds on “unum” every day throughout the land.

Peter Schjeldahl, “APART: Edward Hopper’s solitude,” The New Yorker, June 8 & 15, 2020

After five energizing days working in The Gallery at Redlands, I find myself home once again, working on my next commission. This will be a painting of a subject I worked on several times back in the 1980’s. The site is no longer in existence: the Ozark Court Motel on old Route 66 in Stanton, Missouri. This business dates back to the 1930s and by the time I was seeing it on my annual trips between Fort Worth, Texas and St. Louis, Missouri, the site was abandoned. The iconic sign disappeared years ago, and I’m fortunate to still have 35mm photos I took of it back in the days. The patrons have a business in Missouri and fond memories of Ozark Court. Finding me on the Internet, they’ve requested a watercolor of the motel sign and I am more than happy to return to this theme.

Back in the 1990’s I immersed myself in the work of Edward Hopper and created stacks of watercolors of iconic Missouri and Texas small-town sites. Since those days, my subject matter has broadened, but I never abandoned totally these Hopperesque subjects. Now that I’m engaged in a Turvey’s Corner series, I’m finding delight in focusing on these themes once again.

During this coronavirus rampage, I feel very fortunate that work has found me through personal contacts and Internet traffic. Commissions are still stacked pretty high for me, and painting subjects that please others pleases me as well. I’ve also been fortunate to mix plenty of reading and writing with my watercoloring. Yesterday I finished Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and now find myself resuming Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Cody. A quirky reading habit of mine involves flitting from book to book, but since I am diligent with bookmarks, I’m pretty good at returning and finishing works once started.

Ideas in general have not been as fresh the past few days as I’m accustomed to, hence the gap in blogging. This morning Sandi found a good word for me from Washington Post. Among their 2019 Neologism winners comes the word bozone: the substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. So that’s it. I’ve been stuck in the bozone the past few days. Hopefully I’ll find a way out soon.

Commission Completed Last Week

I want to close this blog with a photo of the commission I completed while in Palestine last week. Friends from the community wanted me to paint this man sitting on the bench admiring the fall foliage surrounding the pond on his property. The subject reminded me of the general Edward Hopper theme, and now fortunately for me, my new patrons have requested this abandoned hotel site on route 66 for me to paint. I’m having a good time with these subjects.

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.

Another Crank of the Wheel

June 25, 2020
Early Morning Downtown Palestine

Early morning is a time of magic in Cannery Row. In the gray time after the light has come and before the sun has risen, the Row seems to hang suspended out of time in a silvery light.

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Yes, and early morning is a “time of magic” in downtown Palestine as well. The warm silvery light came peeking through the second story window of the Redlands Hotel shortly after 6:00 this morning, accompanied by the clang, clang, clang of the bell two blocks away announcing the arrival of Union Pacific #7159, a bright yellow C44ACM built by General Electric back in 2018. The sassy loco was making a grand entrance and letting me know it was time to get my sorry rear end out of bed and back to the drafting table in The Gallery at Redlands downstairs.

The Gallery at Redlands
Laying out Work for Framing
The drafting table has seen plenty of action this week
Newest Commission in Progress

I started this commission yesterday and hope to have it completed today or tomorrow. My artist friend Elaine Jary is en route to the gallery now to take down her show. Her ETA is two hours plus, so I have some time to work on this painting before we get busy taking down her show and putting my work back up on the walls.

It’s already shaping up to be a busy day. The hotel lobby is bustling with maintenance men and staff pursuing their own tasks. I seem to work better when I know people all around me are busy.

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.

Stream-of-Consciousness from The Gallery at Redlands

June 24, 2020
Rainy Dawn in Downtown Palestine, View from Gallery Window

“Have a wonderful day, young man.”

At sixty-six, the Artist smiled as he turned from the cash register having finished breakfast, and headed for the exit of the Bird’s Egg Café. A gentle rain moistened the pavement of West Palestine Avenue in the gray dawn. Adjusting his hat, he strolled across the parking lot toward his Jeep.

I couldn’t resist that. For as long as I can remember, I have narrated episodes in my everyday life as they occur. My journaling habit insures that I scribble out the narrative, and returning to it later, decide whether or not to use it on the blog or somewhere else. The Bird’s Egg Cafe is my favorite breakfast establishment in Palestine, and they open at 5:30. Since I awoke without an alarm shortly after 4:00, I was glad to know that I could take my first meal in a good “down home” feeling cafe. The waitress/cashier always addresses me as “young man” and it never fails to jar my funny bone. After three years, she still doesn’t know my name, but always looks up with that sign of recognition when I walk in, and she always calls me “young man.” I guess senior citizens like to hear those words of address.

Reading Cannery Row and taking in the sounds of a town waking up fills me with a satisfying stream-of-consciousness, and I’m beginning this blog impulsively in that manner.

He looked up a little nervously as Mack entered. It was not that trouble always came in with Mack but something always entered with him.

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

This passage made me laugh out loud. I could say that about so many parishioners entering my study during those pastoral years, or students coming into the classroom during the teaching years. Honestly, no one from the Palestine community fits that description (yet!), but how funny to recall all those people throughout the years who had their ways of entering the room, transforming the moment into an Event.

Traffic is picking up now around the hotel and I have started on a new commission that I would like to complete no later than tomorrow. Work has stacked up on me and it’s a good feeling knowing there is plenty more art to pursue on the horizon.

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.

Organizing Scattered Pieces

June 22, 2020
Busy in the Studio

Hazel’s mind was like wandering alone in a deserted museum. Hazel’s mind was choked with uncatalogued exhibits. He never forgot anything but he never bothered to arrange his memories. Everything was thrown together like fishing tackle in the bottom of a rowboat, hooks and sinkers and line and lures and gaffs all snarled up.

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

This Steinbeck read is providing plenty of entertainment today. Yes, Hazel is a man, and I laughed at the passage above because it sounds like the author was describing my own mind on a typical day. This was one of those odd conglomerations of reading over coffee, painting in the studio, dashing to the store to pick up furniture ordered, joining Sandi in another home improvement task that yielded great rewards, and taking breaks now and then for thinking, blogging, catching up with a ton of art-related correspondence that had piled up and packing for yet another road trip.

Tomorrow I will delightfully return to The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas. It has been over four months since I last inhabited that space and I have missed so many of my friends and acquaintances down there. The gallery will get a new face lift, though I will be sorry to say good-bye to many of Elaine Jary’s pieces that have enlivened the walls this year.

Latest commission in progress

I was hoping to finish this commission today, but too many other things entered my space and I had to stay on top of them. Hopefully I will complete this one tomorrow and then move on to the next. The coronavirus has rendered a nasty world about us, yet at the same time I have been blessed to meet new friends and patrons, and there remains plenty of art to be made.

Thanks for reading. Next time I post, I should be doing so from the gallery.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Pre-Dawn in the Gallery

June 22, 2020
Gallery at Redlands

Over a period of years Doc dug himself into Cannery Row to an extent not even he suspected. He became the fountain of philosophy and science and art. . . . He lived in a world of wonders, of excitement.

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

4:04 a.m. Really? The Redlands Hotel was quiet by 9:00 last night. Weary from the day’s events and road trip, I trudged upstairs and was asleep by 10:00. The suites here at the Redlands are wonderfully sound-insulated. The Union Pacific railyards are two blocks away and the sound of the occasional freight coming through town is little more than a rumble, more of a gentle feel than a disturbing sound.

One thing I certainly did not expect from this new day was to be seated in the gallery at 4:40 with it still dark outside. Nevertheless, looking out my favorite window to the world before sitting at the desk flooded me with the finest memories of this special town of Palestine.

The City of Palestine of course does not fit the shabby, grungy descriptions of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. But the historic downtown section holding the Redlands Hotel, Carnegie Library building, Chamber of Commerce, Sacred Heart Church and of course the Union Pacific railyard has offered daily narratives to me that would compete with any Steinbeck novel. As I’ve stated before, I really miss the radio guys who used to broadcast out of this gallery in the mornings, and at this particular moment I’m saddened to look up at the space where they used to sit, drink coffee, laugh when they were not “live”, and fill this room with a warm communal feel. Right now, no one moves through the lobby, and they won’t for several more hours. But I do anticipate with gladness the arrival of hotel employees and those working the offices upstairs later. In many ways I experience the warm vibe of this town the way Doc felt when he worked daily at Cannery Row.

The day is full of promise, I brought plenty of work to pursue while staying here for a spell. Later today, Elaine Jary plans to come down and take her work that’s been on display here since February. Then I’ll re-hang my work that will include new framed pieces not seen here before.

Time to get to work. Thanks always for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Westward on the Greyhound

May 16, 2020

Here is my latest installment of the Hank & Randy saga . . . (two stories precede this on my blog)

8 x 10″ watercolor

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 going to lead. Best to find a quiet place and do what you have to do.

From the motion picture Pollock

Oklahoma. Randy gazed tiredly out the window of the moving Greyhound bus as it cleared the small town of Vinita. Squinting across the prairie under a bright sun, he tried to visualize Hank camped beneath the stars there eleven months ago.

He pulled from his pocket the postcard saved from the day he received it.

Randy,

Oklahoma stars are winking at me tonight in Vinita. I found a stretch of wide open prairie to sleep on.

More later,

Hank

Smiling now, Randy decided it was time to read. He still had hours of travel rolling out in front of him. Taking his field pack down from the overhead rack, he drew out his tattered volume of Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans. This along with his Greek New Testament was all he retained from his seminary years.

The barrier marks the frontier of a new country . . . Looking up from his book, Randy mused over the barriers that had hampered him. Until now. Turvey’s Corner was virtually a town hemmed in by a Medieval wall to keep out cultural invaders. Lutheran piety sheltered him from “the things of this world” his church leaders continually reminded him. College could have been an “opening up” for him, but he simply found the Jesus People wall a substitute for the Medieval one. Once out of college, he withdrew once again into the Lutheran fortress, in fact Luther’s Wartburg castle. Inside those walls, he studied his Greek New Testament, believing he had finally found genuine sanctuary.

And then, he read Karl Barth. In that second year of seminary study, Randy experienced the equivalent of Europe’s eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Die Aufklärung, the clearing. The scales fell from his eyes, and he felt he was looking at life squarely for the first time, like Matthew Arnold’s record of the ancient Greek “who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.”

With that Enlightenment came a heavy price: a young marriage and an established profession. Randy continued reading from Barth: But the activity of the community is related to the Gospel only in so far as it is no more than a crater formed by the explosion of a shell and seeks to be no more than a void in which the Gospel reveals itself.

Closing the book, Randy leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, recalling all Professor Kirkpatrick had shared in the theology seminar last year. Barth’s commentary, written during the first World War, “fell like a bomb on the playground of the theologians,” wrote Karl Adam. Randy sighed deeply, thinking over the ramifications of the crater left in his life by recent convictions and decisions. As he journeyed westward, he wondered, what would now fill this enormous cavity opened up in his life?

Randy recalled Hank’s final words as he was saying good-bye to Turvey’s Corner nearly a year ago. Continually citing Thoreau’s Walden, Hank shared with Randy on that final day that Thoreu walked away from his parents and friends who continually hounded him with questions such as “When are you going to make something of yourself? With your Harvard degree, why don’t you get a job? When are you ever going to grow up and take responsibility?” Hank’s words before he turned to walk toward the highway leading from town still whispered in Hank’s memory:

Thoreau moved to Walden Pond in order to clear the cobwebs that clogged the ductwork of his daily consciousness. This is the only way epiphany could happen, by entering the Great Silence. I’ll get back to you soon, my Friend.

Closing his book, Randy stretched in his seat and closed his eyes for a nap. He was entering the Great Silence, no longer afraid of the crater.

_____________________________________________

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.

It is Now “Hank and Randy”

May 14, 2020
Hank & Randy

“Collect call from Hank Shelton, will you accept?”

“Yes.”

“Randy?”

“Hank! Is that really you?! Where the hell you calling from?”

“Lubbock, Texas. Can you believe it?”

“Jesus! How’d you get so far away?”

“Long story, and this call’s gonna cost you already.”

“Are you alright?”

“Aw yeah. Things are good. I just wanted to hear a friend’s voice. I’m all by myself still. How ‘bout you. Seminary treatin’ you right?”

“I dropped out.”

“What?!”

“Yeah. And Debbie and I are through too.”

“No!”

“Yeah. Lot’s changed since you left.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I think this is gonna be the right thing.”

“Hang in there, buddy.”

“Hey, Hank.”

“Yeah?”

“Call me back in a couple days, promise. After 5:00 when I’m off work.”

“O.K., sure.”

“I wanna come out there where you are.”

“Really? You’re kidding!”

“No, really. I need a change. Bad.”

“You’ll hear from me, promise.”

“Thanks for calling, pal. I’m gonna tie up some loose ends here and get ready to hit the road, so call me. We’re gonna raise some sand!”

After weeks of traveling between Lubbock and Arlington, Texas and working on this house daily, I was struck with a new idea yesterday to continue my Hank saga. Enter Randy Singleton, Hank’s friend since second grade.

In answer to friends who have asked “Who is Hank, really?” my reply is that Hank has been a combination of my life and my friend Wayne White since second grade. Thanks to Facebook, we found each other a few years ago after being separated since high school graduation. Since then we have camped together, fished together, and sat up all night telling stories. Wayne still lives in Missouri, so I don’t see him nearly as often as I wish. But he also keeps a blog (https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/) and we stay in close touch.

My stories and paintings hit a snag recently, not only because of this move back and forth between two cities five hours apart, but because I ran out of steam with Hank always being alone and my having to create interior monologues. I knew he needed a companion. So . . . I am now introducing Randy and will attempt to flesh out their separate identities as they prepare to join each other on the road.

The painting posted above is of Wayne and me, camping. I created it a couple of summers ago. I already have plans for the next painting of the pair of characters for the story, but I have yet to start that actual painting. Hopefully, it won’t be long. Since yesterday I have written three brand new stories of this pair, and plan to launch them soon, after some more editing.

Thanks always for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.