Archive for the ‘Blues’ Category

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.

 

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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.

Getting in Some Quick Watercolor Sketching at Eureka Springs

June 17, 2012

30-minute watercolor sketch

I thought I would go ahead and post this “effort” to catch the last thirty minutes of light in this fabulous Arkansas mountain town.  After rising at 5:00 and driving seven hours to get to this place, I laid my weary body on one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever encountered.  But for some reason, countless friends began “popping” me with emails, texts, Facebook messages, and so on.  The BlackBerry would not shut up, and didn’t want to turn it off!  It was cool, hearing from so many people whom I appreciate.  I loved every word.

So . . . I got back up, went out on the back deck, and tried to capture what I could of this rustic structure across  the gorge that yawns beneath my temporary residence.  It felt good, trying to sketch fast in watercolor, and though I didn’t get what I want on paper, I nevertheless had the time of my life trying.  Across the way, a bar has a live band playing blues.  As I painted, I heard their rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on my Mind.”  I loved it!  They played all kinds of wonderful Delta Blues classics, as I continued to sketch and listen in delight.

I think I’ll take a long, sweaty walk through the historic district now, and then call it an early night.  I need to greet my 8:00 students in the morning with the best I can call up.  I appreciate so much this opportunity to do this again.  Below, I’m posting a photo of the gorgeous Anderson Suite of the Twilight Terrace where it is my pleasure to reside this week.  What a lovely, lovely place.

Thanks for reading.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

blues

Twilight Terrace

Anderson Suite, Twilight Terrace

Close-up of the Saint Ignatius Academy Watercolor

April 22, 2012

Saint Ignatius Academy Fire Escape

Well.  It appears that it’s going to be another late night (my choice).  I took a cat nap around 5:00, and once I rose and stretched my limbs, I knew what I wanted to do–return to the garage studio (where I’ve already spent the day) and pick up the brush again.  This time I poured all my concentration into the fire escape, all the geometry, angles, irregularities of the rusticated exterior behind it, shadows–the works!  And I have loved every minute of it.

My companion this evening has been Son House.  I have his legendary 1941-1942 recordings in chronological sequence on vinyl.  Yesterday when my band played at J. Gilligan’s Pub, I found myself enjoying immensely a Keb’ Mo’ blues tune we hadn’t played in a couple of years–“Keep It Simple.”  I have gotten away from playing acoustic blues on my guitar, and it was so fun to come back to it.  So, Son House is flooding my soul this evening with good things as he hammers on his acoustic.

I still have some art history to finish up for tomorrow, but I’m quite sure that I’ll return to the watercolor (or else read a book!).  I don’t know why, but staring deeply into the facade of this bastion of Jesuit scholarship always makes me want to read theology!  My volumes have been neglected recently.  I have had an itch to re-study some of the theological trends that blistered between the World Wars (that’s where we are in A. P. art history right now).

I believe this will be my last post tonight, even if I do continue working on the watercolor.  The light in this garage has been fine for painting, but it’s giving me fits when I try to photograph this piece for blogging.

Oh well, it’s 10:00, so I’ll say Good Night to you, and thanks always for reading me.  Oooohhhh . . .  I put on Howlin’ Wolf’s London Sessions and he’s now singing “Sittin’ on Top of the World.”  That one always hurts.  Hopefully, I’ll write you tomorrow!

Second Day of Plein Air on the White River, Cotter, Arkansas

May 20, 2011

Aged Desoto on a Farm in Cotter, Arkansas

Thunderstorms and heavy rains are predicted to arrive this afternoon.  I wanted to get out in front of the weather, so I rose at 6:00 with my friend Bill Barksdale (he and Sandy are providing wonderful lodging for Sandi and me) and we drove to a farm outside of Cotter, Arkansas, owned by Helen Lacefield.  She graciously allowed us access onto the property, and I was delighted to find this aged Desoto sitting in the weeds out in a pasture.  Mrs. Lacefield shared the information that her husband arrived in this vehicle to pick her up on their first date!  I could not stop thinking about that as I worked on this composition, admiring the beautiful morning light of a rising sun that played all over the surface of this vehicle.  I got lost in the golds, reds, lavenders, and the patina of rust that was slowly taking possession of the car.  The more I looked at it, the more I felt it looking back at me in the morning silence!  From my early childhood, I looked at the fronts of cars as faces, with the headlights being the eyes and the grill being the mouth, and the logo plate on the front resembling the nose.  I always thought Desotos and Buicks and Oldsmobiles had the most interesting countenances in the early fifties.

I will probably re-post this later in the day.  Bill is a professional photographer, and he took many shots while he was on the scene.  This photo unfortunately had to be lifted from my  BlackBerry as I forgot to pack the cable that connects my digital Nikon camera to this laptop.  After shooting for quite awhile, Bill had to move on to assist some other artists in finding the locations they wished to paint today.  I remained on the scene, and had this small watercolor sketch finished in about 90 minutes.

Thanks for reading.

Smaller Framed Watercolor of Antique Store for One-Man Show

May 15, 2011

Smaller Antique Store from Winfield, Missouri

This is my fifth and final post today of the five framed watercolors I picked up from the Weiler House Gallery (http://www.weilerhousefineart.com).   Bill Ryan, the proprietor of the gallery, does a spectacular job framing, and is helping me get the paintings presentable for my first One-Man Show this September.  Those of you following my blog may recall this painting from January of 2010.  Recently I completed the same composition on a full-size sheet of watercolor paper.  That large painting has also been framed and posted on today’s blog.

Thank you for reading.

Smaller Watercolor Version of the Winfield Antique Store, now Framed

May 15, 2011

Small Watercolor of Abandoned Winfield, Missouri Antique Store

This is one of five framed watercolors I picked up today from the Weiler House gallery (http://www.weilerhousefineart.com).  We are preparing for a One-Man Show this fall.  I have now painted the facade of this abandoned antique store along Highway 79 in Winfield, Missouri, north of St. Louis.  Andrew Wyeth continually returned to his favorite subjects for painting, especially in watercolor, and so do I.  The morning I drove past this establishment, my heart nearly stopped.  The sun had just topped the Mississippi River, washing the front of this store in delicious yellow light.  I pulled my Jeep over and too dozens of photos from all angles, wishing I could go inside and peruse the interior.  Alas, it was out of business, and in fact had it been viable, I would have had to hang around four more hours, waiting for it to open.   Nevertheless, I got the same feeling that I do when I view Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning, and I’ve always wanted to do a painting of that kind of genre.

Thank you for reading.

Nostalgic New Mexico Road House Watercolor

May 15, 2011

New Mexico Road House

The Weiler House just framed this watercolor for me, in preparation for the One-Man Show this fall.  See http://www.weilerhousefineart.com for the gallery’s website.  I saw this abandoned road house several years ago while traveling New Mexico during the late summer.  I painted it once before, putting railroad tracks in the foreground.  This time I thought I would let the “Mother Road” roll past the front.  I seem to recall that this collection of buildings was near historic route 66.

Thanks for reading.

The Winfield Antique Store along Highway 79

May 8, 2011

Winfield , Missouri along Highway 79

I sincerely hope that this painting will be finished the next time I post it.  It’s had so many postings of its in-progress state that I fear I’m beginning to chase blog readers away.  Nothing new to say that I haven’t said before.  This is north of St. Louis on Highway 79 along the Mississippi River.  Winfield is a very small town, and unfortunately this classic antique store is closed.  I found it early on a summer morning, when the sun had just topped the ridge, lighting the facade with a magical rose glow.  I’ve tried to capture it three different times.  This is my first large painting of this subject (about 22 x 28″).

Thanks for reading.  Again, I hope to post it only once more, when signed and completed!