Archive for the ‘cafe’ Category

Restful Reminiscences in the Midst of Calendar Frenzy

May 23, 2018

Starbucks chilling

The Cafe–always a respite for those driven by creative forces

After reading the first chapter of Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Cafe, my heart is “strangely warmed,” to borrow the words of John Wesley when hearing the reading of Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans.  The above picture was taken last week, the day before I left for St. Louis to join my friend Wayne White for a three-day primitive camping/fishing adventure. I’ve chosen not to photograph my current setting, though it is also outside a Starbuck’s in a different city.

My mind is still at a whirl, and sitting at this cafe table to sip coffee and scribble in my journal is about the only way I know how to cope with the turbulence (a good turbulence this is, I wish to add).

I have been on a day-to-day chase through one art appointment after another. A couple of weeks ago, I finished a week of a plein air painting competition in historic Waxahachie, Texas.

waxahachie 2 framed

One of three paintings submitted for competition

The same day I turned in my paintings for the plein air competition, I headed back to my home in Arlington forty minutes away to set up for a local Art on the Greene art and music festival.

art on the greene booth

Arlington’s Art on the Greene 2018

The day after the three-day festival ended, I drove an hour south to demonstrate in watercolor for the Lake Granbury Artists Association.

Granbury demo

Set Up for the Painting Demonstration

The morning after the Granbury demo, I drove to Texas Wesleyan University to collect the final writing portfolios from my Humanities classes, then spent that day and the next grading all the portfolios as well as the final exams for my online Logic class. I then submitted the grades to the registrar and left the following day for my drive to St. Louis. I don’t recall a more pleasant ten-and-a-half-hour drive across Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri. The windshield time was soothing, the sunlight was warm and strong, and all I could think about was how fortunate I was to have the time off to leave the work calendar behind.

Wayne White and I have known each other since second grade, but drifted apart after high school, and found one another again thanks to Facebook. Several times we have connected over the past years to camp, fish, and just sit to enjoy quality conversation. Both of us love John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and spend hours discussing what we read from their legacies. I anticipated a delicious break from the frenetic schedule of appointments I had recently endured.

Wayne pouring coffee

Wayne Pouring the Camp Coffee

Our adventure this year took us to the Silver Mines recreation area near Fredericktown, Missouri. Wayne has already posted a delicious blog of our time there. You can read him at https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/ and admire his photography covering our excursion. He is ten times the photographer than I could ever dare to be.  And he is unparalleled as a camp cook, preparing everything in Dutch ovens and skillets, right down to his biscuits-made-from-scratch. And his camp coffee from a percolator always tastes better than what I get out of my modern kitchen appliances.

breakfast 2

We enjoyed three days and two nights that included fishing, hiking, photography, plein air painting and yes, hours of uninterrupted conversation about things that matter to us. We also endured three major thunderstorms, though our tents kept us dry inside. And somehow, Wayne always managed to keep a campfire going through the downpours, and his spirit never turned soggy with the environment. That is one of many things I will always admire about his character. Emerson must have had Wayne’s temperament in mind when he wrote that “nature wears the colors of our spirit.” Constant rainfall ruins most people’s camping experience, but it did not diminish ours, and I have to credit a great deal of that to Wayne’s ebullient attitude when out in nature.

Wayne cooking painting 1

Day Two: Wayne cooking breakfast while I try to capture the moment

breakfast 1

Plein Air watercolor sketch of breakfast in progress

I would be lying if I said that I fished all day, never got a bite, but it was still a good day. When I don’t succeed in fishing, I am pissed. But I can honestly say that if I paint all day and turn out nothing but lousy paintings, it is still a good day. I enjoy every moment at the plein air easel, or in the studio at the drafting table; I can never say that making art was a lousy experience, even if the product fails consistently. So, all of this to say that I have no judgment on the quality of my camp paintings; I just had a sublime series of thoughts and emotions the entire time I tried to make the paintings.

Wayne cooking painting 2

The final morning: again, Wayne cooks and I paint

breakfast 2 painting

On the final morning, I attempted a watercolor sketch of the base of a tree on our perimeter. Once Wayne began cooking, I rotated the easel 180 degrees, and attempted to capture his craft at the fire. On both mornings of breakfast preparations and painting, we were in a campsite soaked from the deluge of the night before. Wayne labored over a wet cooking area, managing a fire while I worked hard against the humidity, painting on paper that was constantly dotted with raindrops falling from the leaves overhead. Still, we both managed to laugh at our predicament and our spirits remained high.

cliff painting easel

cliff painting 2

cliff painting gear

Before breaking down our camp, we hiked down a steep hill into the bottom of a gorge to see the dam and the swollen St. Francis River raging by. I set up my easel, and refused to paint the true color of the muddy water below (it looked like raw sewage). Overwhelmed at the sight of the massive cliffs and forests across the gorge, I chose to edit this sketch, painting only about one-third of the vertical dimension of the bluff. I wanted sky, trees, rocks and water in the painting and could not accomplish that without severely diminishing the size of the foliage and rocks to fit them on the page. After my attempt to capture the essence of what was arranged across the gorge from me, I then enjoyed sitting on the cool boulders in the shade, scribbling in my journal, and watching Wayne far below, moving up and down the trails taking photographs of the spectacular views. I encourage you to check out his blog and see his magnificent work.

Both of us brought books to the camp, along with our journals, and enjoyed conversation over those.  I want to share now something I had read from the Journals of the Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix. Wayne and I had plenty to say over this:

(from Sunday, July 14, 1850): Today, Sunday, I may say that I am myself again: and so it’s the first day that I find interest in all the things which surround me. This place is really charming. I went this afternoon, and in a good mood, to take a walk on the other side of the water. There, seated on a bench, I started to jot down in my notebook some reflections similar to those I am tracing here. I told myself and I cannot repeat it to myself often enough for my repose and for my happiness (one and the other are but a single thing) that I cannot and must not live in any other way than through the mind; the food that it demands is more necessary to my life than that which my body calls for. 

Why did I live so much, that famous day? (I am writing this two days afterward). It was because I had a great many ideas which, at this moment, are a hundred leagues away. The secret of not having troubles, for me at least, is to have ideas. Therefore no effort is too great if it gives me the means of bringing them into existence. Good books have that effect, and above all certain ones among those books. The first thing to have is health, to be sure; but even in a sickly condition, such books as those can reopen sources through which imagination can issue forth generously.

I have said it in other blog posts: the life of the mind is what has saved me throughout my existence. When circumstances were dire, my ideas saved me, buoyed me. And yes, my ideas come from reading as well as observation and the efforts to make art. I suppose one of the reasons I blog is that my 130 volumes of journals scribbled over the years, along with the preparations and lectures delivered over the past thirty years of teaching, are still not enough in themselves. I continue to seek other outlets to express what is in me.

Now, I am fifteen hours away from that geographical region, but the sights still fill my mind’s eye, and returning to the reading of this book about the existentialist cafe experience, I recall Hemingway admitting during his early Parisian years of writing that he could not write about Michigan until he was in Paris, and couldn’t write about Paris until he was in Cuba or Key West.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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Acceptance into SWA International Juried Show

March 21, 2018

redlands finished oxbow

Old Town Palestine

I was pleased this afternoon to be notified that the painting above has been juried into the 2018 Society of Watercolor Artists International Juried Exhibition, to be held in Fort Worth April 15-May 20. I thought there was something special happening as I worked on this composition last month. The Oxbow is located in the old historic downtown section of Palestine, across the street from the popular Pint and Barrel pub. This establishment is famous for its home-baked pies. I’m thrilled that we’re able to inject some Palestine history into this upcoming show.

Thanks for reading.

Post-Christmas Musings

December 27, 2016

hotel

Holiday Hotel Insomnia

 Ut pictura poesis (“as in painting, so in poetry”)

I am slowly waking to a most unusual day. For reasons unknown, I awoke a little after 3:00 this morning and could not return to sleep. The hotel was dark and quiet.  Finally, I rose, showered, and spent two hours at the writing desk recording my thoughts, reading and reflecting in the stillness of the post-Christmas pre-dawn. Finally, I went to a 24-hour diner for breakfast, then to Starbucks where I have remained until now (8:14 a.m.), reading and enjoying this cold winter morning (dropped to 34 degrees in St. Louis this morning).

My reading has been an extraordinary experience, finishing the Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life biography, then resuming The Wyeths by N. C. Wyeth and beginning Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings (a much-appreciated Christmas gift).

I read the following in a letter from the young N. C. Wyeth to his parents, regarding a challenge just given him from his teacher Howard Pyle:

“Wyeth, I’ve been watching your work very closely and I see you have a great deal of talent but what you need is knowledge, that is, you have not had a good training and thereby no foundation.” 

Pyle then invited the young N. C. to enroll in his school for illustrators.  I purchased this book, because I’ve been astounded at the erudition of N. C. in his letters written late in life.  Here I am clearly reading of the turning point in his experience, when he was identified as basically unlettered though talented, and requiring intellectual development and maturing.

I am moved by this reading, and recall my own experience forty-four years ago,  when starting out in college on a scholarship granted because of my artistic abilities, but discovering quite quickly that my mental laziness throughout high school had finally outed me.  Some of the painful conversations with my professors still haunt my memory. Looking back, I’m now very grateful for my years in graduate study that poured a foundation beneath my art that now gives me more of a purpose to pursue what I pursue. Though I cannnot yet articulate a particular theory of aesthetics of philosophy of art, I nevertheless am aware of a much deeper motive for making art than I knew in younger years. And of course I still study and practice technique as much as possible and will never neglect this important part of the artistic enterprise. But the message still needs to be explored. Gladly, I still have some holiday vacation time to do this.

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.

Recollections 54 Redivivus

September 19, 2016

abandoned-cafe

The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

On February 7, 2002, over fourteen years ago, I was convinced that I had finally found my artistic voice, and responded by launching my sole proprietorship Recollections 54, creating a market for my watercolors (www.recollections54.com). My passion has always been to travel  county roads through the sleepy towns of America, my watercolor block riding at my side like a faithful travel dog. Always on the lookout for something to paint, I experienced every day as a new opportunity for discovery of some artifact reminiscent of earlier decades of energy and prosperity. Today, only the shells and husks remain of filling stations, general stores, movie theaters and other public buildings formerly stirring with conversations, stories and glimpses of life. The writer Marcel Proust has pointed out the thrill of beholding an object capable of triggering profound memories from youth, and being filled with a sense of warmth and gratitude.

Holding down two jobs has made painting with any kind of regularity a challenge, and should I be fortunate enough to retire one day, I have this fantasy of pursuing my watercolor passion with fewer restrictions. In addition to working full time, I have also taken a number of detours throughout the past fourteen years, traveling roads that involved significant changes in my signature genre–still life painting, plein air painting, Texas coastal themes and fly fishing, to name a few. But lately, I’ve found joy in returning to this Recollections 54 genre, selecting scenes from vanishing America.

I have nearly completed another watercolor of this favorite genre, and posted it above. This relic of a roadside restaurant flooded me with a sense of loss and presence when I stopped and photographed it in New Mexico years ago. Loss, because the business was dead; presence, because the structure resonated with stories as I stood gazing at it from every possible angle, near and afar, taking dozens of photos and trying to imagine what it was like to pull into the gravel parking lot hungry and eager to enter a comfortable zone and be served.

Emerson wrote that detachment was the virtue of a piece of art, that ability to detach the subject from the surroundings that tried to draw away attention. Frequently that is what I do when selecting something to draw or paint. From buildings such as this, I frequently remove windows, air conditioning units, graffiti, dangling cables–anything I regard as taking away from the simple integrity of the subject. The surroundings often present that annoying tree or trash dumpster that is in the way. The fun thing about making art is the ability to make those decisions in framing up a composition. And so this subject also presented its own unique set of possibilities.

I believe the painting is nearly finished. As was the practice of Andrew Wyeth, I’ll put it up in my home somewhere, and glance at it as I enter or leave the room, always evaluating, figuring if there remains something to do before signing off on it.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Ecstatic Revision

September 19, 2016

new-mexico

Perhaps I feel happiest when, during the creative process, I simply let work “pour out”, so to speak, without critical intervention or editing . . . 

Robert Motherwell

After a weekend tour of five Texas universities with the senior A.V.I.D. students from my campus, I found myself quite exhausted and mellow when I finally awoke in my own bed Sunday morning. My gas station and passenger rail car watercolors are nearly complete, and I really was not in the mood to look at them and make final decisions. So, instead, I picked up this demonstration piece I began a couple of years ago, to see if I could edit it and pull out a finished painting. The site is an abandoned restaurant in New Mexico that I photographed a number of years ago while passing through from Colorado.

My first painting of this location has already sold to dear friends. I’m always glad to sell to a friend, but I missed looking up at that framed painting that hung in a prominent place in my living room. So far, this one is not living up to the standards of the first, but we’ll see what happens as I bump it a little more.

The original painting was titled New Mexico Closure, and it is featured on my website recollections54.com. With this current attempt, I am attempting to put more foliage around the back and enrich the foreground textures. So far, the bread crumbs and salt are not creating the effects I’m seeking, but I’ll give it another go this evening, hopefully.

I posted the Robert Motherwell quote above, completely affirming that joy in pouring out spontaneously all the richness of my emotions as I begin a work, then revising later. Oftentimes, the earlier joy far exceeds the work of revision. However, there are times like now that my ecstatic high is reversed, and I find more joy in the revision. That is true on this occasion because this painting began as a demo for a local art society. I fielded numerous questions as I put down the preliminary colors and shapes, and of course, was conscious of an audience, so I could not experience that “high” that I know when alone in the studio and pouring out a new work.

William Wordsworth opined once that “all good poetry is the spntaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” But he then later wrote that “the imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.” What makes this current watercolor experience enjoyable for me is the time I’m spending staring at the work from across the room, making compositional decisions. When I see something I don’t like, I don’t despair but wonder “can it be improved, and if so, do I have the skill”?  So far, I’m saying Yes and Yes.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

A Quiet, Reflective Afternoon

August 17, 2016

baroque cat

Baroque Still Life of Rich Foods and Sleeping Cat

Emerson lived for ideas, but he did so with the reckless, headlong ardor of a lover.

Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire

Good afternoon from a dark, rain-soaked Texas afternoon. After weeks of triple-digit temperatures, my home territory has been soaked in rain for three days running, and forecasts say it could last a few days more. The darkness of the afternoon provides quite a respite for my weary soul, having just finished my third day of Inservice in preparation for the opening of a pair of campuses. My college began its first day today, and high school will open Monday. Meanwhile, we educators are slogging through hours and hours of daily meetings. Thursday and Friday “promise” to be uninterrupted days spent in our classrooms putting things in order, and of course, the building will be open Saturday if we need still another day to get ready.

Time has not allowed me the luxury to paint at all this week, so instead of my recent watercolor activity I’ve chosen to post a photo I took recently while dining quietly one afternoon at the College Street Pub in Waxahachie. The temperatures that afternoon hovered around 103 degrees, and the floor fans on the porch were doing their best to cool off the patrons. I could not resist pointing my camera phone at the slumbering cat stretched out on one of the cafe tables. I was reminded of a Dutch still life composition of objects assembled to depict the good life as well as the notion of vanitas. 

While reading last night, I came across this line concerning Emerson that I posted above. The Richardson biography I read when it was a brand new publication, then alas, someone stole the volume out of my classroom about ten years ago. Having just purchased a new one, I have to read it once more, and underline once again the passages that resonate with me. I felt genuinely exposed when I read the author’s assessment of Emerson’s passion-driven life of the mind. I know the pain associated with having lived such a life, and am more conscious than ever of others I have hurt in the past as I’ve charged full-bore along such a path. One hates to come into the senior years with a sense of regret, but indeed I look back and regret that there are things I cannot re-do. When I approach my Philosophy class this coming semester, I think I’m going to explore some of these character issues from an existential framework. Jean-Paul Sartre argued that our character is the sum-total of our decisions in life: the good, the bad and the ugly.  We are what we have made ourselves to be, nothing more, nothing less. I wish someone would have talked to me of such matters when I sat at a high school desk. Maybe the teachers did, and I was just too indolent to listen. I don’t know. Now it’s my turn to talk to the next generation, and I’m grateful to have the chance once again this semester to try and get it right.

Looking back over this post, I fear it sounds more pessimistic than I feel right now. I’m tired from the three days of meetings, but not morose, not depressed. With a little rest, I anticipate I’ll regather some energy to face what lies ahead, grateful that I still have a few days . . .

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to know.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Filling the Lacuna

April 7, 2016

image

Motherwell’s formidable intelligence was matched by his capacity for deep feeling, and the conflict between intellect and instinct formed one of the richest undercurrents of his art. He approached the situations of his life and of his art with a remarkable flexibility–constantly alert, his thought constantly in motion, his attitudes toward the world around him continually in a state of reappraisal.

Jack Flam, Robert Motherwell: 100 Years

There has been a considerable gap since my last blog posting, because I’ve felt that nothing was going on worthy of a post, though I have been extremely busy chasing school-related and income tax deadlines. I seem to be currently slogging around in the swamp water, yet life is good. Grateful for so much good that has washed over me in recent weeks, I still find myself fumbling over what to do just now with my life with this overload of stimuli. Still, that is a good thing, right?

Last Sunday, I stumbled on a Robert Motherwell installation at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the timing couldn’t have been better–Amazon just delivered to me the book I quoted above. I am immersed in the reading of this remarkable text, always in awe of this marvelous, spiritual man.  And I have already returned to visit the show a second time. Thanks to Motherwell, I am drawing more in my sketchbook and plotting out my next series of watercolors. With an art festival approaching in eight days, I doubt that I’ll be able to pursue painting for another week-to-ten days. But at least my mind and heart are fixed on the notion.

20160405_184421.jpg

My Tuesday night “Parisian Café” is one of the most precious events to enter my solitary life. As I’ve stated before, “the French Impressionists had their Café Guerbois. Picasso and friends had their Les Deux Magots. The Ash Can School had 806 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. The Abstract Expressionists had the Cedar Bar in Greenwich Village. I myself have ached for an art cafe where I could show up once a week or so and just talk with other creative people . . .”  This gathering of artists and writers fills my cup to overflowing every time I sit down with them. I have gone most of my adult life without a close circle of friends, and I cannot describe the joy and warmth I feel now that I have been embraced. Stacy (seated on the left) is the most soulful poet I have ever known personally, and conversations with her always leave me with an overflowing sense of gratitude.  To make things better, she teaches in the same school as I. Here is a link to Stacy’s blog:

stacycampbell1010.wordpress.com

 

laguna madre poster

Since my last blog post, I’ve cranked out thirty-nine pages of typed rough draft on a book I’m trying to write, recording my Laguna Madre experience of last summer. All my adult life, I’ve wanted to write a book, but never knew how to go about getting it published. I’ve decided I’m writing this one anyway, for me. I’m enclosing the draft of my introductory chapter, and trust me, it’s rough.

Cleansing the Eye:

Recollections from a Grateful Artist-in-Residence

PROLEGOMENA

“Gauguin returned from his first Tahitian sojourn in 1893 with enough canvases and carvings to constitute a one-man show; but he knew that the strangeness of his Tahitian imagery would require some stage-managing if it was to be a success. He had in mind the idea of producing a book that would introduce and explain his imagery to a Parisian audience.” (page X, Writings of a Savage)

How do I introduce myself as quickly as possible and then get out of the way?  I hope that this is not a book about me, but a book about you, dear Reader. I have never believed that quality reading is a passive exercise; you the reader create your own world as you read my words and interact with this text.  Upon completion and release of this book, I will not go forth into the rest of my life, wondering whether or not I am understood; I just want to make a contribution.  I want someone’s life to improve because they spent time with me in this book.

So, what exactly am I?  An unfrustrated public school teacher who has had the pleasure (for the most part) of doing as he pleased for more than a quarter of a century.  My only real issue has been how to make a gift of the knowledge and experiences that have enriched me throughout these years.  My lifestyle, as I’ve sojourned in this world, has been to absorb knowledge, Faustlike, and embed these observations in lesson plans, lectures, and paintings, hoping always that others received something significant from the encounters.  I never expected others to see the world my way, but always hoped to deal an ace worth picking up and inserting into someone else’s poker hand.

Why did Henry David Thoreau go to Walden Woods?  My perspective has been this: he received a vaunted Harvard degree, and with it a skill set, an academic toolbox.  But early in life, he reached the conviction that all knowledge he had received up to that point was secondary.  All the divines whom he had read received their truths directly from nature, he from their books and lectures.  He had lived out Emerson’s complaint that opened Nature in 1836:

The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes.  Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?  Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?  Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe?  The sun shines to-day also.  There is more wool and flax in the fields.  There are new lands, new men, new thoughts.  Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

Travelling to Walden Pond to live, Thoreau decided it was time to learn directly from nature, to find out what he could learn from her, and then to publish those results to the world.

And hence I find myself this day at the Laguna Madre.  This is a gift.  My education over my past sixty-plus years has been a gift, but nearly all of it secondary.  Now, for the first time, I hope to scoop primary experience and pass it on to other outstretched hands.  Hopefully, by the end of this sojourn I will echo Nietzsche’s words that I have become weary of my wisdom as a bee that has gathered too much honey, needing hands outstretched to receive it.

Quoting Thoreau, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

My conviction has always been grounded in the notion that solitude is the studio for creativity.  I myself have never found fulfilment in collaborative projects in the visual arts, nor have I found my inspiration in the vortex of think tanks.  The school of solitude is where I have always mined my ideas for painting.  Anthony Storr has argued:

The creative person is constantly seeking to discover himself, to remodel his own identity, and to find meaning in the universe through what he creates.  He finds this a valuable integrating process which, like meditation or prayer, has little to do with other people, but which has its own separate validity.  His most significant moments are those in which he attains some new insight, or makes some new discovery; and these moments are chiefly, if not invariably, those in which he is alone.[1]

“Alone” is the key word that describes my life, though I have been in relationships for most of my years.  I have always required space for my own thinking, writing and creating.  This was true in public school, the university, graduate school, the ministry, and all my subsequent years devoted to the classrooms and lecture halls.  I still look back with gratitude at those times spent in library study carrels, in my own study, under trees, beside flowing streams, in hotel rooms and lobbies, coffee bars and book stores, in roadside parks or staring through a windshield while driving across the country.  My private study cubicle has been wherever I could pause, alone, and pull out a journal or laptop or sketchbook, and pour out my thoughts on the pages.  And throughout my years, I have looked at those file drawers filled with stuffed manila folders, those computer files filled with data, the over one hundred volumes of handwritten journals on my shelf—and wondered how to distill those memories and research efforts into some kind of a book, my life, my philosophy, my love.  Volumes and volumes, pages and pages, layers and layers of themes and threads seeking some kind of resolution, some kind of synthesis, some kind of understandable “story” for others to read and use as desired.  My clusters of recorded ideas have milled about over the decades, as actors on a stage waiting for a director.

As shared in the opening of this chapter, Gauguin returned from his island excursion with a stack of canvases and sought a way to “stage-manage” his public exhibition. So I too returned from the Laguna Madre with nineteen plein air watercolors, with a plan to show them in two exhibitions, conduct a series of watercolor workshops, deliver some public addresses, and attempt to relay to my audiences what I gleaned from this peak experience.

And so, this book will be my first effort, since my doctoral dissertation, to engage in an extended essay, synthesizing the ideas that have meant so much to me over the years and found a way to crystalize while sojourning on a small spoil island in the Texas Laguna Madre.

When Hemingway accepted his Nobel Prize, he declared that “writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”  I would propose the word “solitary.”  I don’t feel lonely when I make art, though I am alone, solitary.  I find those moments soothing.  When the boat pulled away from the dock that first Sunday morning on June 6, 2015, and I waved good-bye to my new friends, watching as they diminished in size on the horizon, the first thing I noticed was that the island was quiet, very quiet.  And I could feel myself beaming inwardly.  I was in an unspoiled paradise, though standing on a spoil island.  It was time to go to work.

[1]Anthony Storr, Solitude: A Return to Self (New York: The Free Press, 1988),  p. xiv.

Thanks for reading.

 

Closing the Weekend on a Kerouac Note

February 7, 2016

image

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

Jack Kerouac, “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose”

Before closing out my weekend with some quality reading before the fire, I felt the compulsion to work on a second Kerouac collage, finishing it just moments ago. My studio felt good once again, and though I had a splendid time out on the road, I am happy to be back in my own domestic environment.

studio

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your coming week!

No Need for a Cruel Month

February 7, 2016

sunrise archer city

APRIL is the cruellest month

T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

This opening to T. S. Eliot’s poem has always given me pause, wondering what was so cruel about lilacs blooming and the climate of April in general. To me, February was always the cruellest month. January, like the Roman god Janus, looked in two directions–ahead to new possibilities as well as backward in retrospect. The new year is still exciting as January unfolds. A spring semester offers a new beginning. January has many advantages. By February, often the world has gotten colder and darker (to me, anyway), and the newness of the year has already faded. I just always thought February had natural depressants imbedded, and I have frequently regarded it as the cruellest month.

Escaping to the country this weekend was my answer to a frenetic schedule and general weariness and inertia I felt settling into my bones. Archer City and its remoteness offered respite. One of my early visits to this town was for the re-opening of the Royal Theater (setting for The Last Picture Show).

royal theater

At this event, I watched Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” performed by a local theater troupe. Since that night, I have thought of Archer City every time I have read “Our Town”, feeling that it had much to compare with Grover’s Corners.

Nice town, y’know what I mean?

Nobody very remarkable ever come out of it, s’far as we know.

Residents no doubt would say the same of this city, had it not been for a man named Larry McMurtry. His more than fifty novels and Pulitzer Prize have cast a long shadow across the north Texas consciousness. And now, he also possesses the 2014 National Humanities Medal, awarded to him last September by the President at the White House. Sarah, the lady with whom I visited yesterday, was priviliged to attend that ceremony as part of the media corps. I am posting the link of local coverage of that momentous event.

http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com/2015/09/president-obama-honors-larry-mcmurtry-in-elegant-white-house-ceremony.html/

The 29-degree morning that greeted me probably came as a shock to sleeping Archer City, as the forecast called for lows in the upper 30’s. Retiring to bed before 9:30 last night probably meant that the hotel bed was more comfortable on the second night. Waking several times in the darkness, I finally rose at 6:55, refreshed, and smiled at the rosy-fingered dawn on the distant ridge, happy to know that the lovely sight did not have to foretell a tragic day as it did in Homer’s Iliad. Perhaps February will not be a cruel month.

Breakfast will be served a quarter mile down the highway at Lucky’s Cafe, and I haven’t decided yet whether to drive or walk the distance (I walked last evening for dinner, but it was 46 degrees then). For now, I plan to enjoy this Spur Hotel with its coffee, and settle in for some quality reading during this quiet Sunday morning.

Thank you for joining me.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Escape Velocity II

February 5, 2016

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My work comprises one vast book like Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past except that my remembrances are written on the run instead of afterwards in a sick bed.

Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody

Today, I gave in to yesterday’s wanderlust. I booked my favorite room in the Spur Hotel in Archer City, Texas, Larry McMurtry’s hometown. I packed last night, and loaded early this morning, so as soon as school let out for the weekend, I pulled out of the parking lot, angling north for the two hour-plus drive to this quiet, spacious part of north Texas in Archer County.  Population of this town is 1,848 and that is just about right for me. In the cold winter evenings here, the clouds emit the most marvelous array of blues and lavendars, much like what I experienced in Colorado evenings, looking across the front range of the rockies. I tried to take a picture above, but I’m not a photographer, and there just wasn’t much light left for me to accomplish what I wished.

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Larry McMurtry’s famous bookstore, Booked Up Inc., has been my mecca for shopping for over a decade. Today I found a first edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos and could not resist the sale that was running on books currently. I’m proud now to own it and read it.

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Dinner tonight in the cafe made me feel I had retreated in time to the days of Kerouac rambling the open roads across America. With this being Friday night, and a strong Catholic presence in Archer County, fish was on the menu, and the taste was just as delightful as the aroma that filled the diner.

And now, as I write this, I’m settled into my third-story corner room, overlooking the intersection of highways 25 and 79, with a flashing red light governing the four-way stop. The light flickers patterns across the interior brick walls of my room, and the swish of traffic below will probably lull me to sleep later tonight as I soak up some coveted reading.

I cannot describe the deep-seated satisfaction settling in over me, leaving the city and school behind, the noise, the deadlines, the endless prattle. Now there is no agenda. I have a stack of books on the table beside me, and a large carry-on bag stuffed with watercolor and drawing supplies. My journal is at hand, and I am ready now to settle into a quiet posture of reading, thinking, writing, drawing and painting. This quiet space has been so long overdue for me, and I am thankful to the depths of my being that the gift has finally arrived.

Thanks for reading.