Archive for the ‘city’ Category

Sunday in the Gallery

December 10, 2017

I begin a painting with a series of mistakes . . . 

Robert Motherwell

Sun2

Sun1

Sun4

It is Sunday morning, and I feel well-rested, despite a Saturday filled with events lasting into the night. Palestine had its Main Street Wine Swirl and over 400 people purchased tickets for the event that took them to places all around the business district, including the Redlands Hotel. Knowing the lobby would be filled with people, I took advantage of an opportunity to play guitars and sing with my new friend Drew Minshew that I met while painting on the Waxahachie town square last spring. Drew and I spent the evening filling the gallery with our favorite tunes, and everyone coming in seemed to have a good time.

Sun7

This morning, I have begun work on a new painting of the Chamber of Commerce building across the intersection from the Gallery. The one I started a few weeks ago sold off the easel unfinished, and I was delighted that the buyer preferred the vignette look of the work in progress. Nevertheless, I have begun another, hoping I could perhaps finish this one. I cannot say I agree with Motherwell’s sentiments of beginning a painting with a series of mistakes, though I know that experience all-too-well. I just don’t prefer it!  Instead, I like Andrew Wyeth’s sentiment that working with watercolor and pencil is much like fencing–you need to thrust the point of  the pencil with precision and confidence, with no second-guessing.

Thanks for reading. Sundays are usually quiet around here, but this morning has been filled with interruptions as more people seem to be getting out on this sunny, cold Sunday morning in Palestine. I opened the gallery at 9:00 and found people all over the hotel lobby already.

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Sketching Archer City

February 6, 2016

cobwebs

Watching the sunset glow over Archer City fills me with a serene sense of eudaimonia. Since I left the swirling metroplex behind yesterday, I have been unconscious of time, and am surprised that this afternoon has already evaporated. I spent it in the hotel lobby, sketching the facade of one of my favorite antique establishments, and visiting with Sarah, who organizes art activities for this city and surrounding area, works as a journalist for the local newspaper, manages this hotel, and seems to have interests in many other areas as well. I thought I was busy–I wonder how she manages to wear so many hats!

Laying out the composition for this antique store was difficult for me, and I’m going to have to take it back to my studio for some further adjustments. I think it has real potential, and if this piece doesn’t work out, I’ve taken good reference photos and would love to give it another shot, perhaps larger than this 8 x 10″ attempt.

It is serendipitous that I began reading Kerouac’s Visions of Cody right before I journeyed to Archer City. The author’s graphic descriptions of New York City in his day match up perfectly with what I see around the remains of this town. I have always been intrigued with decaying buildings, debris-strewn streets and the wide-open spaces surrounding small Texas towns. Every time I cross any of the streets downtown (which are actually highways 25 and 79) I see The Last Picture Show being replayed, but now I am in the movie. it is enchanting, to say the very least. Right now, as I type this, I hear the occasional pickup truck passing below, and looking out the windows of this corner room  on the third story, I swoon at the deep orange glow that has rested on the horizon for more than thirty minutes now, past the sun’s disappearance. The flashing red lights of the intersection are more intense now, and flooding my room with light, as I have yet to turn on any lights inside. I hurt for anyone who feels loneliness when put in this kind of atmosphere–to me this is sublime solitude, a soothing balm.

Thanks for reading.

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.

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.

Stirring of the Muses on a Friday Night

July 18, 2014
Historic Flatiron Building in Fort Worth, Texas

Historic Flatiron Building in Fort Worth, Texas

I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Aaron Copland plays “Appalachian Spring” as I sit up late on a Friday night, with a desire to think, to write, to be.  The day started beautifully at 6:00 a.m., with no school to go and teach.  I love the three-day weekends of summer school.  I sat in my living room and watched through the open blinds the dawn breaking across my backyard while I re-read chapter two of Thoreau’s Walden,“Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.”  I love his salute to Aurora and the beautiful meditations about the dawn being the heroic age–that all intelligences awake with the dawn.  The chapter marked a delicious start to the day.  Following Thoreau, I then turned to Proust and to Melville, reading for well over an hour before rising to enter the kitchen and make breakfast.  Following breakfast I worked a long time in the watercolor studio, mostly finishing up abandoned work that had piled up the past couple of months.

To begin this delicious night in my darkened studio, Marcel Proust delivered beautiful images in Swann’s Way.  The young narrator is smitten by the sight of a girl with a fair complexion and azure eyes.  The mere sight of her overpowers his eyes at the same time the hawthorns are flooding his senses.  He cannot separate the beauty of the two.  How many of us still recall those first instances of romantic love and how we lost all bearings?  What a marvelous gift it would be to set such a profound experience down in prose as Proust managed to do.

In Moby Dick, after 120 pages, Captain Ahab finally emerged into view, and what a powerful force his presence exerted on his surrounding environment.  Like the solid bronze of Cellini’s Perseus, he towers above his ship and crew, the mere sight of him with no accompanying speech evoking a sense of genuine awe from the narrator.  His aggressive gesture toward second mate Stubb rattled the otherwise stalwart officer, leaving the bemused fellow wondering what it was exactly that evoked such a fear from him.

With sadness, I resumed reading a biography of Jack Kerouac by Tom Clark.  I read the book several years ago, then lent it out and never got it back.  So now I’m reading a newly purchased copy, re-highlighting, etc., and of course, am very surprised at how much of the content I have already forgotten from the first reading.  The details of Kerouac’s migratory life always leave me with the same kind of disturbed thoughts that I get from reading about Hemingway: these men had such a passion for disciplined writing that always drives me to find another gear to crank out work, no matter how tired or discouraged I may become in my own life and work.  They truly induce me to work even harder in my research, thinking and writing.  But the misery of both these men brings me to such overwhelming sadness.  I’m glad I never mixed alcohol with my life’s work—I am not able to identify with that problem on a gut-level.  But the despondency, the self-doubt, the second-guessing—that kind of a hell I have known all-too-well, and don’t like to visit or re-visit.  And it hurts deeply every time I read these details in their life’s work.

This afternoon, I was deeply moved, listening to a trio of thirty-minute lectures from The Teaching Company.  I have been so fortunate to receive a number of these lecture sets, first in VHS and later in DVD, from a number of dear friends and occasionally from one of those “can’t miss” sales that the company offers.  One lecture was from Daren Staloff (“Hegel—History and Historicism”), and the other two from Daniel N. Robinson (“The Idea of Freedom” and “Human History as the Unfolding of the Ideal: The Hegelians”).  The lectures prompted me to draw out a volume placed in my hands earlier this year by our remarkable school librarian, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  Anyone familiar with this volume is no doubt grinning already, but I am actually getting enough from the text to stay with it.  Hegel’s mind was Faustian in the way he incorporated and excerpted virtually everything he studied throughout his lengthy life, and then fashioned all that knowledge into a comprehensive system.  His mind reminds me very much of that of Paul Tillich, with that interdisciplinary drive, and of course I have always wanted to be that way.  So, tonight I also spent some more time working over Hegel’s text and recording observations in my journal.

Last night I took out my Latin grammars and workbooks and resumed a project I started in 2003, but abandoned on three subsequent occasions.  Eleven years later, I still cannot read Latin, but love and respect the language and am now finding myself devoting some summer evenings to working on my vocabulary and grammar exercises, and pulling out occasional texts from one of my Loeb Classical Library volumes as well as my Biblia Sacra Vulgata.  Tonight marks my second consecutive night working in the Latin text.  I had always hoped I could work this language as I do the ancient Greek, but alas, I took many semesters of Greek and it stayed with me fortunately.  Latin was never available in the schools I attended.  I love the line from Byron’s Beppo:

I love the language, that soft bastard Latin,

Which melts like kisses from a female mouth.

All of tonight has been given to reading, note-taking and writing.  I did manage today to finish a number of watercolor projects that had been abandoned over the past months.  Above, I have posted my finished product of the historic flatiron building on the south side of downtown Fort Worth, Texas.  I don’t know why I had laid it aside for so long, but now I’m glad it’s finished and has been delivered to the Weiler House Fine Art Gallery.

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.

Responding to the Muse on Sundance Square

June 13, 2014
Early Morning Plein Air Attempt of a Monumental Bronze Clock

Early Morning Plein Air Attempt of a Monumental Bronze Clock

In order to make art, we must first make an artful life, a life rich enough and diverse enough to give us fuel.  We must strive to see the beauty in where we are planted.

Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper

We are not on this earth for long.  Part of what a midlife crisis is about is figuring out what gives you pleasure and doing more of that in the time you have left without asking for permission or a financial or emotional subsidy from anyone else.

Howell Raines, Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis

Last night in downtown Fort Worth was restorative to my weary soul.  I enjoyed the sounds of people milling about Sundance Square, enjoyed my late-night coffee, read my book, and scribbled in my journal with utmost serenity.  Suddenly, I was drowsy and knew it was time to go home and retire.  Passing by the Haltom Jeweler’s clock that I had painted as part of my downtown composition a few years ago, I wondered why I had never sketched the clock en plein air.  It seemed that the Muse whispered that question into my ear, and the matter was settled.  Arriving home near midnight, I set my clock for 6:00 a.m., having checked the Weather Channel app on my phone to note that the morning was expected to be about 71 degrees.

When the alarm sounded, I made quick work of showering, dressing and “breaking my fast” (Thoreau’s favorite expression).  I was on the road by 6:48, and seated beneath this monumental bronze clock by 7:18.  I sketched and painted exactly one hour, and stopped, strolled into Starbuck’s, and enjoyed my morning coffee with this piece lying before me on the table.  I’m not sure if I’ll work further on it–plein air, to me, is strictly for gathering information, learning on the fly.  The experience will remain with me and inform my future work.

I am so grateful that I listened to the muse and followed my bliss this morning.  Sitting at the Starbuck’s table and reading Julia Cameron’s The Sound of Paper, I came across these words:

I am more than my circumstances, more than the cage of my environment.  There is a dignity inherent in making art, a filament of largesse and generosity, a connection to something better and brighter than myself.

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 Note about Authenticity

June 6, 2014
College Street Rhapsody Waxahachie, Texas

College Street Rhapsody
Waxahachie, Texas

If we are to say something authentic, we need to stick with an idea for a while.  We need to gnaw at it, mine it, obsess over it.  I’ve met creative people who are painting, yet also distracting themselves trying to learn Photoshop and taking singing lessons.  It’s true that Bernini managed to sculpt some of the most virtuosic marble sculptures ever produced, while also finding time to design buildings and monuments that changed the face of Rome, write and produce plays and compose the music for them as well.  But that was Bernini.  

Ian Roberts, Creative Authenticity

I have read and re-read this book by Ian Roberts, with much delight, just as I have enjoyed re-reading Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit.  I like the point he raises here.  My own time is divided between watercoloring and teaching public school full time, and that is distraction enough.  I used to belong to bands and tie up much of my time with rehearsals and gigs, and I frankly no longer miss that life.  I would indeed like to be single-minded in my pursuit of watercolor, but that is not going to pay my bills, so there it is.  I can also throw into the mix books–I am a bibliophile and I cannot read enough art history and poetry.  That also requires quality time and composting.

I am also struggling with authenticity and a sense of identity with my recent watercolor pursuits.  Every time I think I have found my voice, I find myself turning yet another corner and exploring another realm.  For the past month of weekends, I have been gearing up for the Paint Historic Waxahachie annual event by painting in historic towns in north Texas.  Since last Saturday, I have spent every day in the town of Waxahachie making plein air paintings.  My heroic model for these exploits has been Andrew Wyeth.  I have focused on improving my drawing skills and seeking greater detail.  But a few days ago, when looking at the body of work that emerged from the past month, I grew tired of the sameness of it all, and took greater delight in looking at my colleagues’ work in oils featuring vivid colors.  So, I decided to go for brightness and contrast with the last four paintings.  I haven’t much liked the results, but do appreciate the difference between these and what I had been cranking out for a month.

Today was the last day for competition, with a 4:00 deadline.  I set up this afternoon on S. College Street, across from the College Street Pub (that I’ve painted three times over the past years), and looked up the hill toward the square.  Last Sunday, I painted the Ellis County Courthouse cupola peeking over the rooflines of the businesses.  This time, I looked away from the courthouse and focused on the backside of the imposing Rogers Hotel.  I decided once more to try and go for bold color.  I spent two hours on this composition and feel O.K. about it.  I would like to try and do a large studio watercolor of this same subject under the morning light instead of the afternoon.  There is much character in the windows, and I would welcome the chance to go after them with some fine draftsmanship and detail, instead of the sketchy way I cranked it out today.  I worked faster than I would normally choose, because a deadline was looming.

Now that the Paint Historic Waxahachie deadline has passed, and today was the last day of school, I look forward to some “chill” time as I try and figure out what direction I want to take next with my painting.  I need some wilderness time now, some solitude, some quality time for reflection and figuring some things out.

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.

Return to Drawing the Fort Worth Flatiron

April 18, 2014

 

Returning to Work on the Fort Worth Flatiron Building

Returning to Work on the Fort Worth Flatiron Building

It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.  To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.  Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Throughout this morning, while working on atmospheric qualities in watercolor, I was moved to find this passage from Thoreau that once impacted me while studying him back in the early 1990’s.  I don’t pretend to be consistent in living an artful life while making art, though it is sublime when life’s details and the tasks of making art are both at their best.  I can certainly vouch for a beautiful morning in the studio.  I reached a point in the Hermann, Missouri painting that I was willing to give it a rest.  Then, without a moment’s hesitation, I pulled out this closeup of Fort Worth’s flatiron building that I abandoned months ago and went right after it.  So far, the colors are working, and I am drawing, drawing, drawing.  I hesitate even to refer to this as a painting.  The sharp brushes are doing just as well as sharpened pencils, and I probably am feeling the same kind of satisfaction that an old-timer feels while whittling on a stick with a penknife.  The more I scratch and chip away at these details, the happier I feel as an artist.  I may not be too far from finishing up this work as well.

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.