Archive for the ‘billboard’ Category

Labor Day Wanderings

September 1, 2014
Plein Air Watercolor Sketchin in Hico, Texas

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch in Hico, Texas

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.

Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”

Monday.  Labor Day.  At around 11:00 this morning, I suddenly felt the window slamming shut on my three-day holiday.  I had not yet taken to the open road, and determined that it was today or not for a long time.  I gassed up my Jeep and felt the whisper of Hico, Texas, a town I had not visited in several years, but could still remember that quaint boulevard running down the center of historic downtown, replete with park benches and a gazebo.  The afternoon drive proved to be a long and arduous one, with termperatures lingering right at a hundred degrees, but I loved the old boulevard the moment I saw it. Once I began work on the sketch, I found the nonstop traffic rumbling along the highway through the middle of town to be a comfort, and I focused on the rough-cut stone facade of one of the historic buildings replete with a Coca-Cola ghost sign.  I had tried this composition a few years back and was glad to rest the watercolor block on my knees for a second try.

My Littered Work Area

My Littered Work Area

The play of the hot sun off the rusticated facade delighted my eye, and I spent most of this afternoon peering at those textures and colors, attempting to capture them on the page.  Throughout the afternoon, Walt Whitman’s words resounded in my memory, and I was grateful for his companionship.

Hico, Texas bench with watercolor and the view

Hico, Texas bench with watercolor and the view

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

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Images that Evoke Memories

July 28, 2014
Scat Jazz Lounge, Fort Worth, Texas

Scat Jazz Lounge, Fort Worth, Texas

Every true artist has been inspired more by the beauty of lines and color and the relationships between them than by the concrete subject of the picture.

Piet Mondrian

A few years ago, I paused one night in a Fort Worth alley and photographed the lighted sign of this sub street-level jazz club.  Finally I am getting around to painting it, because the brightness of the lights and color against the smoky brick walls attracted my attention, and took my imagination back to my pre-literate childhood.  

My father worked at a Chevrolet dealership on Kingshighway in St. Louis when I was a small child. I cannot shake those memories of the lit-up signs downtown that I was not yet old enough to read. And I still recall those smoke-stained brick walls everywhere, colored by the downtown smog. The eyes of my memory still can see the signs, hear the traffic, and smell the stench of burn barrels on virtually every corner of that working-class district.  

The first time I saw Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie, I knew I wanted to attempt to paint neon signs and light bulb signs in watercolor.  The clash of the primay colors was always scintillating to my visual perceptions.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Musings on the Storm-Free Area and the Chambered Nautilus

July 24, 2014
Large Watercolor in Progress of Fort Worth's Scat Jazz Lounge

Large Watercolor in Progress of Fort Worth’s Scat Jazz Lounge

There is a great virtue in such an isolation.  It permits a fair interval for thought.  That is, what I call thinking, which is mainly scribbling.  It has always been during the act of scribbling that I have gotten most of my satisfactions.

William Carlos Williams, Autobiography

Kerouac escapes this encircling loss in the act of writing.

Howard Cunnell, “Fast This Time: Jack Kerouac and the Writing of On the Road

The past few days, because of my understanding that Jack Kerouac was fascinated with Melville’s writing, I turned to a copy of the original scroll of On the Road and have been reading introductory articles on the manuscript, and re-reading portions of the Tom Clark biography of Kerouac.  Many agree that his longing for the American road was a response to his sense of loss due to the breakup of his family life (death of brother and father along with his own early divorce). Thoreau himself intimated that his move to Walden Pond was a search for something lost.

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove, and am still on their trail.  Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to.  I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

For most of my life, I have been enthralled with the sense of the personal odyssey, and have myself benefited from many American road excursions.  But honestly, at this juncture in my life, I don’t really need the road; I have memories, photos and journals that pull up the past as often as I choose.  But I am pursuing the odyssey of the mind inside my newly reorganized home, and enjoying what feels like limitless space and extensive free time.  I think what I have been seeking recently is what the German scholars of the nineteenth century called a Sturmfreies Gebiet, storm-free area.  This was sought by Descartes, Hume, Emerson, Thoreau, Tillich, Kerouac, and a host of our revered luminaries, a storm-free area where one is safe to come to some sort of self-understanding.  William Carlos Williams found great satisfaction scribbling thoughts and poetic fragments on his prescription pads while on the road to make house calls, or pounding the typewriter in his office when patients weren’t lined up and waiting.

While pondering these matters over the past couple of days, I happened across “The Chambered Nautilus,” by Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Though I’ve read this piece several times throughout my life, I never really “got it” until this evening, when it washed over my soul with fresh revelatory power.  Having grown up in the shadow of the Prostestant pulpit, I came under the conviction quite early in life that there is a power in that word, that oracle that comes when the hearer is ready, when the teachable moment has arrived.  When the student is ready, the master will appear.  I guess I was ready this evening.  I had decided to go to a local Starbuck’s with an armload of books and my journal, and sit in the outside cafe with some iced coffee and a sense of anticipation that something could happen.  It did.

“The Chambered Nautilus” is Holmes’s meditation of a mollusk that has died and can no longer expand its chambers.  They now lie open to him, and he gets a sense of its developing natural history by examining the chambers in the house it’s left behind.  As I pored over these words, my soul poured out nine handwritten pages in my journal.  What a rush!  It led me to Emerson’s essay “Circles” and to Whitman’s poem “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”  I felt my entire being stirred from within as I felt the cooling carresses and kisses of the evening winds sweeping across the nearby prairie and across my cafe seating area.  It was truly a delicious night.

Now, back at home, I feel my heart stirred with gratitude at this gift received this evening, and in the spirit of the chambered nautilus, I wish to continue expanding new chambers in my existence as I continually read new things, think new thoughts, and try to figure out this wondrous gift called Life.

Oh yeah, the painting!  Posted above is what I worked on after summer school and before the oracle stirred me at Starbuck’s.  I finally got some texturing accomplished on the right side with the bricks, and tried to scratch in some grooves to show the lines of the bricks.  I then turned my attention to the sign, carefully painting in the red fluorescent tubing within the letters, along with the shadows cast and the brackets securing them.  This of course took a great deal of time, but I am in no hurry with it.

And now, I still have to continue working on material for this new online Logic course I’ll teach this fall at a nearby university.  The things I’m learning in that area are also opening up a new chamber of thought within me, and I’m grateful for that as well.  I’m delighted that this mollusk hasn’t yet perished.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Only One Thing Matters

July 22, 2014
Second Evening on the Scat Lounge

Second Evening on the Scat Lounge

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and distraught over many things.  Ony one thing matters.  Mary has chosen that good portion, and it will not be taken from her.

Jesus (Luke 10:41-42)

-You city folk worry about a lotta shit. . . . Y’all come up here about the same age.   Same problems.  Spend about fifty weeks a year gettin’ knots in your rope.  Then you think two weeks up here’ll untie ’em for you.   None of you get it.  Do you know what the secret of life is?

– No. What?

– This.

– Your finger?

-One thing.  Just one thing.  You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.

-That’s great, but… what’s the one thing?

-That’s what you gotta figure out.

Dialogue between Curly and Mitch, (City Slickers)

This morning, as I sought to untie a few knots, I looked up the passage about Jesus visiting in the home of Mary and Martha, and then read a fine Paul Tillich sermon on the text, titled “Our Ultimate Concern.”  As I wrote in my journal and pondered on the one thing that matters, I recalled the scene from the motion picture City Slickers that made me laugh many years ago.  Yesterday’s thoughts about Captain Ahab’s challenge to “strke through the mask” was still fresh on my heart, and I began to write about the values that matter to me now at this age, and how much they have been challenged over the decades.  It seems that much of our hitting against that mask is an attempt to clarify what it is exactly that matters to each of us.

At this point, I’m not going to address what matters in my life, but encourage anyone who reads to consider what matters most in his or her life, and try to keep it in perspective when other distractions demand attention to the diminishment of that one thing which matters.  What Martha did in the gospel story was important, but so was that which Mary chose.  I feel that readers of the story too often try to take sides between the two.  Jesus didn’t do that–he only admonished the one criticizing that the source of her angst lay in the reality that she was responding to too many stimuli; only one thing matters.  Emerson addressed this problem as well, saying that oftentimes we try to answer to everything around us that demands our attention, and that action only manages to “scatter our force.”

The painting posted above appears as though not much has happend to it in the past twenty-four hours.  Actually there has been substantial work added.  I spent a good portion of the afternoon layering transparent wash on about fifty percent of the surface (right-hand side) and then salting, spritzing and drawing into the wet surface.  It will take awhile for me to get these brick textures to do what I want them to do.  But I’m feeling confident and in control of this one, though I’m still aware of how much slower it’s going, due to the overall size of the composition.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Strike Through that Mask!

July 21, 2014
Progress on a Large Watercolor of Fort Worth's Jazz Scat Lounge

Progress on a Large Watercolor of Fort Worth’s Scat Jazz Lounge

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks.  But in each event–in the living act, the undoubted deed–there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.  If man will strike, strike through the mask!

Moby Dick, Captain Ahab’s speech

Nothing auspicious loomed on my radar this morning when I sat down to breakfast around 6:40.  It was Monday, the beginning of another week of summer school was waiting, fifty minutes around the corner.  I had Moby Dick lying open beside my plate and was reading while slowly chewing bites of breakfast.  I had to stop and close the book when I read this passage, ideas swarmed so thickly I could scarcely begin to process them.  I wished for an hour at my writing desk, but had to dash to school to be on time for a 7:30 class.

For nearly thirty years, I have patiently pointed out to anyone who would listen, in the lecture rooms or in the lounges, the scaffolding of Platonist thought in literature.  Plato’s split-world view was divided between Ideas and Appearances, the former permanent and spiritual, the latter ephemeral and physical.  And the transcendent ideas provide the scaffolding for the physical appearances.  In this dramatic confrontation in Moby Dick, Captain Ahab publicly confronts a reluctant Starbuck who protests that selfishly seeking revenge on a white whale is impractical business.  Ahab twice retorts that Starbuck inhabits a “little lower layer”–the realm of money, measurement, accounting and computing.  This layer is only a portion of the pasteboard mask that hides the real intelligence lurking behind it.  I heard Ahab shouting at me when he cried out: “If man will strike, strike through the mask!”  

All dissatisfaction that arises from life today springs from our efforts to “strike through that mask.”  What is the mask, the wall, the barrier, standing between us and what we seek?  I shudder every semester when my philosophy class reads and discusses Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”  The one prisoner breaks his chains, and rises to the world of truth.  The class discussion can turn lively when students begin to discuss the chains that bind us, the masks that fool us.  The human predicament is the quest for something more, only to find out that that “something more” was a mask, and not what we really thought we were seeking.  There is so much to ponder here.  What is the nature of the mask through which we are challenged to strike?

Tonight I am posting a watercolor that I began a month or two ago and revived this afternoon.  Large works do tend to intimidate me, but it doesn’t take long to feel that I have gotten up to my elbows comfortably, wading around inside this composition.  All of my work this afternoon has been on the sign, and it’s not going fast, but I’m enjoying the process so far.  As I work, I listen gladly to PBS documentaries of various poets (the Voices and Visions series), and feel such a connection with Wallace Stevens, working in an insurance firm, but working on poems in his mind his entire life, while most of his surrounding colleagues remained unaware of the reality that was driving him.  He was constantly striking through the mask.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Our Town

July 5, 2014

I am not an innovator but a rediscoverer of forgotten goods and I hope a remover of obtrusive bric-a-brac.

Thornton Wilder

On the third of July, I inadvertently picked up a copy of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and began reading.  By the time I was on the third page of the play, I had forgotten the fortuitous nature of my picking up the book.  I have such deep feelings as I read this play over the Fourth of July holiday.  I have never considered myself patriotic, but I have always had a warm place in my heart for small-town America.  I grew up in High Ridge, a highway town southwest of St. Louis that never possessed its own significance, like Nazareth to Jerusalem.   And throughout my pilgrimage on this earth, I lived frequently in small towns–Queen City, Missouri and Ponder, Texas.  Though I now live in the largest city in the U. S. without mass transit (they are proud of that), my creative aspirations still go back to the small towns where I lived out significant years in my life.

The watercolor I have posted was completed in 1999 and titled “Turvey’s Corner” (no such place).  It was to be the first of a series called “My Town, 63050.”  The zip code is fictitious, lying between the zip codes of High Ridge (63049) and House Springs, four miles down Highway 30 (63051).  I had this notion that I would create an environment for stories and paintings.  Garrison Keillor has his Lake Wobegon, Sherwood Anderson had his Winesburg and Thornton Wilder his Grover’s Corners.  I had planned on a series of watercolors and short stories.  I abandoned the project after about six paintings (because all six sold rather quickly), and living in the predigital age, I could no longer look at the collection before me (currently I have lifted the images of them from 35mm Kodachrome slides I made with my film camera before selling).  From time to time, I think about returning to the series and creating more paintings of this fictitious town and stories of its citizens.  I believe it to be a good idea, only requiring a dedicated creator to birth the images and stories.

I am thankful for the gift Thornton Wilder left us, and my heart is warmed by reading this play once again.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Barn Covered in Memories

May 31, 2014
Finally Finished the Ovilla, Texas Barn

Finally Finished the Ovilla, Texas Barn

It took me a few days, but I finally finished this one.  I have a number of other projects in progress as well that I feel a compulsion for finishing.  Tomorrow promises another Waxahachie adventure in plein air painting, and I’m ready.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

In the Twilight Between Sartre and Heidegger

May 14, 2014
Beginning a Watercolor of the Fort Worth Scat Lounge

Beginning a Watercolor of the Fort Worth Scat Lounge

Thinking is hard work. It’s why so few people do it.
– Henry Ford

As reported in earlier posts, I have been engaged in a couple of larger watercolors that I could not post to the blog because there was not very much to see at that point–light pencil sketches and very little color.  Now I can finally publish this commencement of the Fort Worth Scat Lounge, a substreet-level jazz club in an alley on the south side of Fort Worth’s re-energized Sundance Square.  I have always loved the darkness of this alley and the lighted neon sign suspended above.  It’s fun to take the elevator down to the club proper when you enter from the alley at night.  For several years I have taken photos of this sign but never seemed to have the courage to begin.  So I finally thought, “Why not?  What have I got to lose?  I’ve made bad watercolors before and I can do it again.  I have the guts to make a bad watercolor.”   I have found working over this one to be deeply enjoyable so far, even though the image is emerging very, very slowly.  The overall composition is of substantial size, and will probably be cut to 16 x 20″.  I began last week with the careful pencil sketch, then made a decision to lay in a dark, warm background.  I applied a wet-on-wet coat of Aureolin (yellow) first.  One day later, I added a second wet-on-wet coat of the same.  On the third day (always making sure I was giving it 24 hours to dry on this 300-pound D’Arches cold-press paper surface) I applied a mixture of Alizarin Crimson, Winsor Green, Transparent Yellow, Winsor Red, Winsor Blue (Green Shade) and Cadmium Red.  Finally I’m getting that dark brick color I’ve been needing for three days.  I just needed the patience to let the layers of pigment do their work.  This evening I began work on the crimson part of the sign.  I will probably have to lay this aside now, because I have plenty of other (not as interesting) tasks to tend tonight.

I am also working on a Philosophy lecture for Friday morning, introducing Martin Heidegger.  In my high school classes, I haven’t discussed Heidegger (or Sartre) for at least three years.  Both thinkers I find too difficult to discuss, and I hate to simplify and distort them.  But I sucked it up and delivered the Sartre lecture this morning, and was pleasantly shocked at the level of interest and reception.  So, I decided to soldier on and see how it goes with Heidegger on Friday.

I would be lying if I reported that I’ve read and understood Being and Time.  My interest in Heidegger comes primarily from secondary sources about his life and work.  The only writings of his that I have enjoyed are his translations and meditations over the Greek Presocratic fragments.  I have loved the Greek language since my seminary days, and have spent as much time over the past couple of decades translating Homeric, Presocratic and Classical texts than New Testament passages.  What I love about Heidegger is the way he lingered over these ancient texts, expecting some kind of oracular encounter.  That is my own lifestyle as well, and I cannot put those emotions into words. But they are precious moments, and every time I read something significant from his hand that emerged from the words of Anaximander, Heraclitus or Parmenides, I feel as if he is in the same room with me, conversing over these fragments.  The word is indeed a living power.

Tonight I’m going to try and read Heidegger’s essays “The Thinker as Poet” and “The Origin of the Work of Art.”  I’m approaching them with a sense of expectancy.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Second Day for Plein Air Painting in a Small Town

May 4, 2014
Hardware, Feed & Supply Store Maypearl, Texas

Hardware, Feed & Supply Store
Maypearl, Texas

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”, 1840.

The season of plein air painting has dawned in Texas, and after a long winter of painting from photographs I am glad to stretch my limbs, go outside and engage the three-dimensional enveloping world that greets me.  I took Emerson’s mantra seriously this morning, deciding that yesterday’s feeble attempt at rendering the Dr. Pepper sign in Maypearl was an O.K. start, but I could do better.  And so today I returned to the scene of yesterday and gave the subject a second try.  The temperatures were unbearably hot, but the shade of the oak tree did its part, and I felt O.K.

I found Maypearl, Texas deserted on Sunday afternoon.  Only the biker shop and a cafe were open.  There were no people to be found up and down the sidewalks, though I did notice there were four other plein air painters engaged in painting the town, two in oils and the other two in watercolor.  I began around 1:30 and finished 4:00.  Two-and-a-half hours proved to be enough in the hot afternoon.  I took my time, and promised not to hurry, but also not to do too much.  It’s only a sketch.  Only plein air.  Only practice.  It’s my conviction that time spent in the field will pay dividends in the studio.  I loved the quiet of the town and the space in my schedule to pursue this kind of activity.

Tomorrow begins another weary round of school.  We’re in the final grading cycle, so it won’t be much longer.  Hopefully, I put some of the extra time into serious painting.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Reminiscences of an Extended Plein Air Road Trip

April 12, 2014
Abandoned Zephyr Station on Historic Route 66 Southwest of St. Louis

Abandoned Zephyr Station on Historic Route 66 Southwest of St. Louis

I paint so I’ll have something to look at. . . . I write so I’ll have something to read.

Barnett Newman

My reason for not posting on the blog all week is a legitimate one.  It’s called Income Tax.  My appointment with the accountant is this afternoon.  I spent every day Monday through Friday of this past week gathering receipts, spreadsheets and files of data to organize for this afternoon’s meeting.  Twice I went to bed at 1:30 a.m. (I have to rise at 6:00 to teach school).  Another pair of nights saw me retiring to bed at midnight.  My earliest night was 10:30.  But now it is behind me (except for the meeting and the filing).  I am letting out a deep sigh of relief.

Understandably, I have not been able to pick up a watercolor brush, though thoughts of it remained with me on the hour each day.  I have posted above a watercolor I completed a few years ago.  I traveled to this site in Villa Ridge, Missouri (southwest of St. Louis, just north of Interstate 44).  Before leaving Arlington, Texas to travel home to St. Louis to visit family, I checked on the Internet and found photos of an abandoned quonset hut Zephyr station on historic route 66.  I tried to find specific directions to the location with no luck.  I concluded that all I had to do was get to Villa Ridge and ask directions.  Ten hours into my drive, and very road-weary, I took an exit off I-44 for Villa Ridge and drove in circles for about an hour, constantly re-entering the freeway.  I tried following every “historic route 66” sign I could find in a ten-mile radius, all to no avail.  While sitting in a left-turn lane at a traffic light, waiting for the green arrow, I changed my mind and decided to go straight through the intersection.  Crossing over the solid white line resulted in my being pulled over immediately by a Missouri State Highway Patrolmen who happened to be in the left-turn lane behind me (smart move).

When the patrolman approached my window, I explained that I was a watercolorist who had just driven ten hours straight from Arlington, Texas, looking for this route 66 landmark to photograph and paint.  I handed him my stack of papers and photos printed off the Internet sites, along with my driver’s license and proof of insurance card.  Returning five mintes later from his patrol unit, he mildly handed me a warning citation and gave me verbal directions on how to get to the Zephyr station.  What a Mensch!  I am not used to getting that kind of courtesy from traffic law enforcement officers.

First Sight of the Zephyr Station

First Sight of the Zephyr Station

Once I pulled into what was left of the parking lot of this derelict station, I saw that all signage, lights and gas pumps (visible on the Internet historic photos) had been removed.  Nevertheless, the structure remained, so I got out of my Jeep and set up a portable easel, quickly knocking out a plein air sketch of one end of the station as it began to get dark.  A curious neighbor approached me to see what I was doing, and gladly took me on a tour behind the station to show me what was left of the roadbed that preceded route 66.  It was then called The Old Post Road.  She was full of stories, and I filled several pages of my journal later that evening as I recalled as many details as possible.

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Walking to the far end of the parking lot, I was enthralled at the sight of this Zephyr billboard completely overgrown with leaves.

Overgrown Zephyr Billboard

Overgrown Zephyr Billboard

By this time, it was too dark to paint, and I was extremely exhausted from the ten-hour drive and quick painting session.  So I snapped a photo and decided to return the next day.  My parents lived about an hour further down the Interstate.

All night long, it rained and rained.  Returning the next day, I sat in the back of my Jeep and watercolor sketched this sign until the rains resumed.  I would have to take the painting back home with me to finish on a subsequent day, relying on photos I took.

Completed Watercolor of the Billboard

Completed Watercolor of the Billboard

The only thing remaining for me to do was to take photos of the parking lot that had been transformed into a reflective pool by the hard rains and take up a serious studio project of the subject in the future.

After the Rain

After the Rain

Completed Studio Watercolor

Completed Studio Watercolor

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.