Archive for the ‘Colorado’ Category

Snow Rhapsody on the Stream

September 10, 2020
South Fork of the Rio Grande

The river was clear and smoothly fast in the early morning.
Down about two hundred yards were three logs all the way across the stream. They made the water smooth and deep above them. As Nick watched, a mink crossed the river on the logs and went into the swamp. Nick was excited. He was excited by the early morning and the river.

Ernest Hemingway, “The Big Two-Hearted River”

Riverbend Resort has been my favorite Colorado haunt since our friends the Darrs introduced us to this place twenty years ago. The South Fork of the Rio Grande cuts through the resort, and I decided to rent a tent spot for $30 so I could fish on this private stretch of water that I have come to know so well.

With temperatures hovering at 34 degrees and the one-foot snowfall thawing enough to make trudging through the meadows easier, I pulled on sufficient winter gear to enter the stream and not suffer chills with the icy winds coming down the gorge.

Rhapsody in the Stream

After working the waters for nearly two hours, I only encountered a small brown trout for five seconds before he shook free of the fly. Copper Johns have always been the trouts’ nymph of choice, and I was advised that they were still doing the trick this time of year in these parts. But I was having near-zero luck this time.

Nevertheless, the waters were beautiful as was the fallen snow all around, and I felt a serenity I always cherish when wading a mountain stream. The solitude was rich; I only enountered one other fly fisherman who hailed me from the shore as he was trudging back to his cabin, having caught only one small rainbow. Temperatures continued to hold steady in the mid-thirties, but I felt no discomfort. In the third hour, I finally reached my favorite hole–an enormous shelf of rock the size of a pickup truck slanting into the water, the darkness beneath making my pulse quicken.

My first cast into the shadow of the rock was greeted by a fourteen-inch rainbow whose aerobatics entertained me for about half a minute. By the time I had him within three feet of my net, he broke free and was gone. Still, watching his antics sent thrills throughout my being, and I knew there had to be more action where that originated.

After missing another trio of strikes near the rock, I finally hooked and netted a small brown and took a moment to admire the beautiful bronzes, golds and scarlets that played along his flank as he lay on the rocks. I wasn’t fishing for food today, and was glad to see him dart into the depths once I released him.

All at once the heavens opened and the air was filled with enormous snow flakes. This is the first time I ever stood in the midst of a mountain stream with a snow shower falling all over me and plopping all over the stream. I’ve been surprised before by sudden thunderstorms, always exiting the waters as quickly as possible, but this was different–the enormous flakes fell hard and thick all around me, and the sight was gorgeous. I wanted to take out my phone and shoot pictures, but the waters suddenly rippled in several areas at once as the trout were rising with a vengeance. Because I was using a nymph, I held little hope of landing any of these surface feeders, but I suddenly saw a good-sized brown rolling in the water just underneath the lip of that enormous rock outcropping. I dropped the nymph upstream and watched the grasshopper I used as a strike indicator drift along the shadow of the rock. Suddenly the hopper was gone and I saw the bright flash of gold beneath the surface. A minute later, he was in the net, all fourteen inches of him.

After a quick photo I lowered him back into the water and he was off like a shot. All I could think of was the Hemingway short story (a portion posted above) that I’ve loved since high school. And I laughed at recalling the prosaic line “Nick was happy.” That’s all I could say. Dave was happy. And exhausted. As I turned to leave the stream, grateful for such a day and thinking nothing better could possibly happen, a bird suddenly visited me. He landed on my fly rod and remained perched there. After a few frozen moments of our staring at one another, I reached into my pouch, fished out my phone, flipped to the camera mode, aimed, and caught his picture. He stayed another thirty seconds before deciding to move on. I couldn’t believe it: a bird suddenly perching on my flyrod as I waded toward shore. And staying awhile as I stood still, holding the rod as steady as possible.

Bird on the Flyrod

Two summers ago, while here at Riverbend Resort, I was watercoloring on the porch of my cabin and was visited by a bird who perched on the painting I was working on en plein air. He also remained to be photographed for warm memories. My friends laughed at the encounter, calling me Saint Francis.

Bird on the Painting

In the morning we continue our Odyssey as we venture into Utah. Thanks for reading. This has been a heart-warming day for me.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Snowbound September 9, 2020

September 9, 2020
View from the Cabin Porch, South Fork, CO

When the early morning light quietly

grows above the mountains . . .

            The world’s darkening never reaches

            to the light of Being.

            We are too late for the gods and too

                        early for Being. Being’s poem,

                        just begun, is man.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

We decided we had had too much of the Texas triple-digit daily temperatures, so we put together a plan for a one-week Odyssey to Colorado and Utah. Two days before departure, we saw the winter storm warnings for Colorado, but decided to soldier on. Spending the first night in Amarillo, we noticed temperatures dropping to 59 degrees. By the time we cleared Walsenburg, Colorado, snow began dumping on us and the temperatures dropped to 32 degrees. South Fork greeted us one hour later with no snow and a surprising 57 degree afternoon, but that changed at nightfall. At 7 p.m., the electricity for the city failed, and did not resume till 1:30 a.m. Fortunately the cabin was well-insulated and sleeping was never a problem. Morning greeted us with a foot of snow, and it continues to fall, expecting to continue till noon Thursday. Today is Wednesday. The first thing I did when rising this morning was read “Snowbound” by John Greenleaf Whittier. After that, I read the Heidegger poem, then went outside to photograph the breath-taking mountain vista shrouded in mist above.

28 degrees isn’t so bad if you’re sufficiently bundled. So I set up my plein air easel on the front porch and gazed at that lovely mountain scene, deciding to give it a try in my watercolor sketchbook diary.

View from Inside the Cabin
Sandi captured this photo of me working on the sketch

This is only my second watercolor sketch in the diary. I purchased it last week, deciding to bite the bullet and see if I could do some decent watercolor experiments and keep them in a bound book. In the past I’ve attempted many sketches that ended up worthy of framing, so I feared that I would merely tear up a sketchbook. Now I’ve decided that I will work freely in this book, and if something is suitable for framing, tough luck; I will keep the sketchbook intact and enjoy flipping through its pages.

Even when my watercolor attempts don’t pan out, I have a luxurious time painting, loving every moment. This mountain view really sent me to another world, watching the mist descend over the crown of the mountain, all the time trying to capture the colors and textures I saw evolving. Thanks to a small spray mist bottle, I was able to continue dissolving the paint at the top of the mountain while continuing my work down the slope. This is only a 5 x 7″ attempt, but I’m happy with how it came out and will gladly keep it in the book. I’m still amazed that I was able to paint en plein air outdoors in 28-degree weather.

Thanks for reading. Our first full day here in Colorado is proving an eventful odyssey, and we’re happy and safe.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Reaping the Whirlwind

September 23, 2019

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This Watercolor Just Found a Home

Go into Nature raw and simple and just sit quietly doing nothing other than allowing Nature to become accustomed to your presence. Soon enough, often just beyond what you had taken to be the threshold of your patience and perception, Nature steps forward and begins to reveal its features to you.

Peter London, Drawing Closer to Nature

Two summers ago, I had a one-day plein air experience that now seems to have altered my watercolor trajectory in a profound way. I was sitting for hours on a cabin deck in South Fork, Colorado, staring at the beautiful evergreens lit by the sunrise. Musing over how exactly I could capture the evanescence of these lovely trees in transparent watercolor, I thought over what I had learned about sixth-century Xie He’s “canons” of painting. Briefly stated, he pointed out that the artist’s aim was to capture the spirit or movement of the subject.

I immediately began experimenting with numerous panels of stretched watercolor, combining masquing, pouring, splattering and dripping of the pigments. As I worked, I was joined by some cute critters.

bird on painting

Feeding chipmunk4

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A New Attempt at Evergreens

Today I decided to go after the evergreen subjects with some new ideas for experimenting. All day, my mind has been in a whirlwind as I’ve thought up new techinques and approaches, filling several pages of my journal. It feels good when the mind and imagination begin percolating new ideas and approaches.

I wanted to take a moment and share the paintings I worked on yesterday at the Queen St Grille. It was a great experience, and I am grateful for Jean Mollard’s invitation to paint there again.

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I’m painting well into the night tonight, which is unusual for me. I hope I’ll have more to share tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the rush.

Thanks always for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Dave and Abraham Heschel

August 27, 2018

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Heschel and The Torah

It is the sense of the sublime that we have to regard as the root of man’s creative activities in art, thought and noble living. Just as no flora has ever fully displayed the hidden vitality of the earth, so has no work of art ever brought to expression the depth of the unutterable, in the sight of which the souls of saints, poets and philosophers live. The attempt to convey what we see and cannot say is the everlasting theme of mankind’s unfinished symphony, a venture in which adequacy is never achieved. Only those who live on borrowed words believe in their gift of expression. A sensitive person knows that the intrinsic, the most essential, is never expressed.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion

This book by Heschel was a real treasure I found at Half-Price Books two summers ago. The only reason I pulled the volume off the shelf was because I recognized the name, invoked on the first day of class in Hebrew Prophecy, when I was studying at the seminary. The Professor read an extensive quote from Heschel, and I promptly went to the campus bookstore to purchase volume one of his work titled The Prophets. It proved to be a very technical book that I found useful in my studies way back then. But this current volume that has kept me company for two years now certainly provided a compelling word for me during my morning reading.

I lack that scholar’s eloquence when I try to describe my own pilgrimage. To put it succinctly, when I was a child, I pursued art because it was the only talent I possessed. Art was the only way I could gain entrance to a university. Once I “grew up” (I was a very late bloomer), I tumbled headlong into the study of ideas, falling profoundly in love with scholarship and the power of the word. After fourteen years of earning degrees, I picked up the pencil and brush again, and not only discovered that I had solid thinking behind my “talent”, but a reverence for the power of art that I had not acknowledged throughout the years of my youth. Even during my years of undergraduate study (majoring in art) professors would occasionally refer to art as having a “religious” foundation, and I only scoffed in immaturity, because my only notion of “religion” was liturgically based, and I thought art was a “worldly” or “arrogant” endeavor.

All of that changed after my personal “earthquake” in 1984, that I won’t go into at this point. All I wish to say, is this: following my personal crisis, I slowly moved into that circle of art as a religious instinct. And Heschel uttered with genuine erudition my heartfelt belief about art emerging from a sense of the sublime. And I am on the same page as he is, in admitting that this sublime “power” is never fully released in the finished work of art. No human can harness completely that divine force and reveal it to the viewers.

Along with reading Heschel, I am also chipping away at the Hebrew text of the Genesis creation account. I will always be grateful to the seminary for training me in Hebrew, and though my skills are clumsy now compared to back then, I can still work with the language. I am most intrigued with the first two verses in Genesis, reading about the earth as a chaos of unformed matter, and I shudder when I translate that the spirit, or wind of God “brooded over the face of the waters.” And then God spoke, and the world began to organize. In a series of words, the world began to shape with opposing forces: light and darkness, day and night, water and land, etc. Later, the Greeks would coin this word “logos” that we like to translate “word.” But this particular word points to a gathering, and organizing, a pulling together. My feelings intensify when I think of the artistic process–organizing, separating, identifying, coordinating–all the things described in the account of God creating a cosmos. When the Genesis narrative states that God created people in his own “image”, I tend to think that that “image” is one of a creator. An artist is a creator, and in that endeavor is most like the divine. Michelangelo believed that when he made people from marble, that he was doing something comparable to God’s act.

This is why I falter when I try to explain to others the profound feelings I undergo when I am drawing or working in watercolor. There is a primal force urging me forward in this endeavor, and I never feel that I rose to the intensity of that primal force when I view my finished works, no matter how good I think they may be. The act of making art, to me, is always much, much more than the satisfaction of looking at a finished piece.

Hopefully, I will have a chance to pick up the brush later today. I still have some college work to complete before class tomorrow, but I feel the itch to explore these new techniques in rendering trees that began several weeks ago.

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One of my Colorado tree experiments

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Paul Cezanne

August 22, 2018

cezanne

Within the painter, there are two things: the eye and the mind; they must serve each other. The artist must work at developing them mutually: the eye for the vision of nature and the mind for the logic of organized sensations, which provide the means of expression.

Paul Cezanne, quoted in Emile Bernard in “Cezanne’s Opinions,” 1904

Throughout my life, Cezanne’s work washed over my consciousness in successive waves. I was introduced to his work while taking art history as a senior in high school, and recall those days of fixation on one of his Card Players paintings:

cezanne card players

Continuing my study of art history into the college years, I became more aware of his still life arrangements.

cezanne still life

But while teaching the Humanities in my early years as a teacher at Lamar High School, I twice visited the Barnes Foundation while it was traveling, first to the National Gallery in Washington D.C., and later to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. It was during that exhibition that I was smitten for the first time by the work of Cezanne, notably because of this piece:

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I was smitten because the oil colors were so rich that the painting, ninety years later, still appeared wet. I also was amazed because I recognized some kind of Arcadian presentation, unlike the natural plein air landscapes or studio nudes of the Impressionist painters of his company. I then wondered what exactly was going on in Cezanne’s imagination to frame such a presentation.

Throughout the nearly three decades of teaching art history in high school, I never gave Cezanne the attention he deserved. I was honest with my class, explaining that he had many theories going on throughout his life, and I never quite understood them, aside from the popular explanations of his attempting to find a relationship between form and color. I believe in that regard I was more honest and direct than Hemingway was in his early Paris years as an emerging writer:

. . . I could walk through the gardens and then go to the Musee du Luxembourg where the great paintings were that have now mostly been transferred to the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume. I went there nearly every day for the Cezannes and to see the Manets and the Monets and the other Impressionists that I had first come to know about in the Art Institute at Chicago. I was learning something from the painting of Cezanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. 

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I have laughed so many times over that passage! I scribbled in the margin of my book: “and you STILL are not articulate enough to explain it!” As for my teaching, I didn’t try to explain what I did not comprehend about Cezanne’s theories. And I will not attempt that this morning. Rather, I just want to share what his work and ideas have come to mean to me in my own pursuits.

Since retiring, I have taken up a number of famous artists in my leisure, grateful for the time and space now provided me to read quietly, reflectively, and not have to scurry about writing lectures and meeting three classes every day. I have taken up Motherwell, Rothko, Newman and Cezanne in these past two years, and poured countless hours into reading their interviews, biographies, criticisms, and poring over their images. Other artists will follow, I am sure, but I chose these particular individuals because they were serious, independent thinkers, not just skilled painters. And the Cezanne quote that opens this blog this morning has arrested my attention. As an artist, I have tried in recent years to focus my mind as well as my eye on the task of painting in watercolor. In studying the works of great artists, I have always been enamored with their talents, but their serious thoughts and constructions of theories have been just as fascinating to me.

While discussing three different ways of studying history in his Untimely Meditations, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche expounded his preference for the “monumentalistic” approach which concentrated on past heroes in order to confront contemporary mediocrity with the possibility of greatness. That has been my practice since finishing graduate school, to fasten my attention on great figures of the past in order to better myself. I like that the graduation exercises are called “Commencement” because I truly believe that a person’s real education commences once s/he crosses the threshold of the stage, diploma or degree in hand. And since my commencement, I have continually sought out the words of visionaries, all the time feeling that I was climbing the mount and approaching the temple to consult the Oracle.

Late in life, after his first one-man show, in 1895, at the age of fifty-six, things began to change. Awestruck young artists would make their way to Aix, as if on a pilgrimage, to seek him out and hear him speak–and if they were very lucky, see him paint. As accounts of these meetings began to leak out, so the word spread. The sayings of Cezanne circulated like the fragments of Heraclitus.

Alex Danchev, Cezanne: A Life

It was not until I read this biography this summer that I learned Cezanne was a serious scholar, rising at 4:00 a.m. and entering his studio by 5:00 to read for at least two hours before going out to paint. He was classically trained, and loved translating Greek and Latin texts. I was fascinated to read of his fixation on Virgil and Horace, and his ability to quote them in their original tongues, from memory. As a lover of Greek, I had always hoped that my hours spent translating would in some way feed my artistic eye as well. Now, I receive encouragement to continue from Cezanne.

During my senior years, not only have I fastened my attention on the words of famous artists, seeking some kind of Oracle to direct my own efforts, but I have also returned to nature to look at it with fresh eyes in an attempt to come up with a theory or method to capture what I see and place it on paper. I was delighted to read Cezanne’s encouragement to study the masters but always give priority to nature:

The Louvre is the book in which we learn to read. We should not, however, content ourselves with retaining the beautiful formulas of our illustrious predecessors. Let’s take leave of them to study beautiful nature, let’s undertake to disengage our minds from them, let’s seek to express ourselves in accordance with our personal temperaments. Time and reflection, moreover, modify vision little by little, and finally comprehension comes to us.

Paul Cezanne, letter to Emile Bernard, 1905

As he discussed his pilgrimage to Cezanne’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence and his trek to Mont Sainte Victoire, Martin Heidegger remarked: “These days in Cezanne’s home country are worth more than a whole library of philosophy books. If only one could think as directly as Cezanne painted.” While traveling to New Mexico and Colorado this summer, I managed to finish the book Cezanne: A Life, by Alex Danchev. And it was Cezanne’s influence that moved me to spend an entire day on the cabin deck in South Fork, Colorado and do nothing but study and experiment with watercolor, rendering the evergreen trees that were bathed in that splendid Rocky Mountain atmosphere.

I painted “on the motif” (Cezanne’s favorite expression about painting en plein air). And as I gazed at the evergreens in the changing light and intermittently fed the birds and chipmunks that gathered on my deck, I eventually developed some experimental steps to painting trees as I had never tried before in watercolor. Below is the page of my journal that I scribbled on August 5 at 2:34 p.m.:

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s painting 6

s painting 4

s painting 1

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Because Cezanne was absorbed with blue pigments in his rendering of atmosphere, I experimented with blues that I had not used with much frequency before: Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Winsor Blue (Red Shade), Indanthrene Blue, Cobalt Blue, Phthalo Turquoise, Prussian Blue, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Antwerp Blue and Payne’s Gray. Previously, I had only worked with blue in my skies, and a little with color mixing. But I had never worked so much with blues in and around my green palette. I was truly in a different zone, and now that I have returned to Texas, am looking forward to experimenting further with this.

I just finished my first day in Logic class, and so marks the transition into my university duties. I have three courses this semester, but two are online, so I won’t have to invest as much in travel time and lecture writing. I believe focusing on logic will be a good thing, as I work to organize my mind as well as my eye and continue in this artistic enterprise. Reading always thrills me, but so does picking up the brush.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Henry

August 15, 2018

I am home now, my imagination overrun with memories of natural beauty that was my real home for most of the summer.

dave & henry

Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have . . . Hebrews 13:5 (KJV)

That I might never be blind to the beauty of the landscape! To hear music without any vibrating cord!

And so scribbled the thirty-three-year-old Henry David Thoreau in his journal while rhapsodizing over the landscape  engulfing him. Yet, while beholding the richness of the land, he languished over his perceived poverty in his own soul:

Looking through a stately pine grove, I saw the western sun falling in golden streams through its aisles. Its west side, opposite to me, was all lit up with golden light; but what was I to it? Such sights remind me of houses which we never inhabit,–that commonly I am not at home in the world. I see somewhat fairer than I enjoy or possess.

A fair afternoon, a celestial afternoon, cannot occur but we mar our pleasure by reproaching ourselves that we do not make all our days beautiful. The thought of what I am, of my pitiful conduct, deters me from receiving what joy I might from the glorious days that visit me. After the era of youth is passed, the knowledge of ourselves is an alloy that spoils our satisfactions. 

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1850

Thoreau

I awoke this morning in my own bed, after a forty-five day odyssey across Texas, northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. In my sleep, the babbling sounds of the South Fork of the Rio Grande rolling past my cabin deck soothed my dreamscape. Waking up to suburban Arlington, Texas was not the fairest of greetings. I swear I can still smell the pines that I strove to paint early each morning in that fifty-degree Colorado climate. And if I close my eyes, I can still see the chipmunks scurrying about the deck in search of food.

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chipmunk

I am fortunate to be old enough to know better than to lapse into the kind of dissatisfaction Thoreau was facing in his journal. True, Arlington for me comes nowhere near the sublimity of the Colorado Rockies or the New Mexico canyons. But I have been blessed to spend a cool, seasonable summer in those environs, and I believe they have made me a better person to face the tasks that now lie before me. And I am old enough to know that the real wealth is what lies inside my soul, and my genuine happiness stems from my urge to create something from it. I could never possess the landscape, but can only enjoy it as a gift. Thoreau actually knew that as well:

I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.

Emerson believed that the quality of life is carried inside oneself, not in the abundance of possession:

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. 

Today marks a new day and a fresh beginning. Thankful for the summer restoration, I find myself able to pursue new work, new endeavors, while I continue to carry the thankful memories within.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

In the Great Silence of these Distances

August 8, 2018

Riverbend Resort

Last Week

starbucks

This Morning

The month-long Odyssey has been an abundant blessing, moving across Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. Though I have moved on from the mountains, I still feel their call rising within me. This morning, situated in the city, I have moved into the interior, into the Cave, which is fitting, because time has arrived for me to devote the remaining two weeks to university preparations involving intense study and the creation of necessary documents for three courses.

I will also be focused on commissions I have in the hopper, so watercoloring will also be part of my daily diet. I cannot conceive of anything more rewarding—a life of the mind each morning, and the creation of art each afternoon.

As I work, images from Colorado still flood my inner vision, both of mountains and of wild critters that visited me daily.

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The Mountains Called out to Me, and I Answered

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A Friend Recently Called me Saint Francis

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I Still Hear the Birds Conversing about the Deck

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This One Appeared Curious over what I was Reading . . .

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. . . and This One Spent Three Days with Me as I painted

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For the rest of my years, I’ll be grateful for the memories of this month-long Odyssey, as I am this morning grateful for this gift of teaching university students. In two weeks, I shall open the next Chapter, and commence the challenge of inducing young minds to embrace new ideas from Judaism and Logic at Texas Wesleyan University. Since the year 2000, this small private institution has embraced me as I have explored with my students ideas contained in the New Testament, Old Testament, World Religions, Logic, Ethics and the Humanities.

Life is much more comfortable for me now than it was when I first began my own university studies. I no longer feel the anxieties associated with having more questions than answers. After all these decades, I still have more questions than answers, but it is O.K. I hope I can pass on the wisdom to these new students that I read in the letters from Rilke to a young poet:

You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. 

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Resuming the Commission this Afternoon

After a three-week hiatus, I am also returning today to complete this promised commission. Throughout my travels, this image has continued to compost in my mind’s eye, and I am enthusiastic to pick up the brush and resume work on this engaging subject.

Time to go to work. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Hoping to Turn a Corner

August 5, 2018

S tree

Sunrise View from my Cabin Deck

All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings . . . 

. . . the imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, “Lyrical Ballads”

Every morning for this past week, I have been spellbound at the sight of this evergreen below my cabin deck when the sun rises and washes it like this.  After making a couple of watercolor studies of the rugged pine that is closer to my cabin, I mused about how to paint such an evergreen as this. For days, I ruminated over how to approach the problem. This morning, reading Heidegger’s “The Thinker as Poet”, I came across the following:

As soon as we have the thing before our eyes,

         and in our hearts an ear

         for the word, thinking prospers.

Recently, I revisited Annie Dillards reference to “the tree with lights” in her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  This morning, as Dillard, Heidegger and Wordsworth converged in my imagination, I decided to try and paint evergreens in experimental fashion.  I have brought along on vacation with me a children’s book, titled -Ish by Peter Reynolds. The story is a delightful one that has reminded me that I don’t have to copy nature with the accuracy of a photographer. Rather, I just need to make these trees look “tree-ish.” During my years of teaching art history, I was always intrigued by Xie He’s Six Canons, and decided today to see if I could put his principles to work. I split my time evenly between painting, reading, and scribbling observations in my journal.

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Work in Progress

I painted all morning, took a break for lunch, then again all afternoon. Throughout the morning, I was continually visited by the little wild critters.

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Here is a Bold and Hungry Little Fellow

Chipmunks continually scurried about the deck, searching for scattered sunflower seeds I had tossed about me. This one in particular climbed up my pant leg and looked in my lap for seeds. I decided to gather a few in my palm and reach down. Sure enough, he came fearlessly to me and ate every morsel.

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Guarding my Paintings

This gorgeous bird (I believe he is an Evening Grosbeak) has spent the last three days perched near me on this deck while I painted or read. When I take sunflower seeds to him, he might scamper a few feet away from me, but never flies away. He just stands nearby, like he’s waiting for something, and remains long after he’s eaten all my offerings.

I’m not certain that I have yet arrived at a solution for painting evergreens in watercolor, but I certainly pulled out all the stops as I experimented today, following Wordsworth’s message of spontaneously pouring out all my passions at first, then returning after the pieces dried to try and complete an attractive composition “by judgment studied.” I am exhausted by the process, but am exhilarated by the feelings I experienced today in pursuit of this process.

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s painting 7

That’s all for this day. Thank you for reading.

s painting collection

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Colorado Splendor

August 4, 2018

chipmunk close

A New Little Friend

chipmunk

Follow your genius closely enough and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect at every hour.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

My friend Dian Darr, who is part of this Colorado excursion, gave me a gift of a plaque with the above quote from Thoreau engraved on it. When I return home, it will be placed in front of me at my desk to view every time I sit down there to work. Thank you, Dian!

The windows of the Brookie Cabin have been left open every night, which has made for some bone-chilling mornings. Today was not an exception, with temperatures dipping to 48 degrees. I rose at 5:55, took a quick shower and donned clean clothes, and intended to sit at the table to read and write for awhile, but I made the mistake of looking out the cabin window:

tree

Tree Filled with Lights!

When my eyes were dazzled by the sight of this tree in the brilliant light of the mountain sunrise, I immediately remembered a line from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, relating a story of a girl blind from birth that had had a special surgery allowing her to see for the very first time:

“When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw “the tree with the lights in it.”

I immediately put on a fleece hoodie and went out onto the porch to attempt to paint this tree of lights.

me 3

Taking Advantage of a Bright 50-degree morning

And speaking of painting, allow me to jump back in time. I just have to post this picture of what happened to me last night as I worked to finish my second attempt at a pine tree, this one in the late afternoon light:

evening pine

My Second Attempt at the Pine Tree

As I was finishing this pine tree painting, birds began to crowd each other at the feeder that hangs from the corner of this deck. I decided to put some of the sunflower seeds along the rail of the deck beside me, figuring that after I went inside for the evening, one of them could gather up those seeds.  Well, this one couldn’t wait:

bird

I believe this bird is an Evening Grosbeak, judging by the illustrations in a bird book I’ve consulted. He was only 18″ from my left shoulder as I painted! I looked directly at him and took this picture with my cell phone. He stayed almost thirty minutes, gobbling up every single sunflower seed that I had spread along the railing.

And now, back to this morning . . . After painting about an hour, I accepted the Darr’s generous invitation to have breakfast with them in their cabin nearby. After breakfast, we drove to Beaver Creek Reservoir to see if we could catch some trout for dinner. It was then that I realized that I had mistakenly packed all three of my fly reels to ship back to Texas! So . . . Plan B.  I decided to try the spinning reel with a casting bubble to throw dry and wet flies into the water. It worked!

trout bigger

Trying out a Casting Bubble and Dry Fly

This beautiful rainbow rose to the surface and gobbled up an enormous dry fly of a grasshopper. Ron and I alternated between Parachute Adams dry flies and Copper John nymphs and managed to catch our limit.

ron and I 2

Fishing with my Buddy Ron Darr

ron and I

Proud of our Catch!

trout big

It has been a spectacular day in Colorado. I’m not ready to return to Texas, but will have to leave here eventually.

Thanks for reading.

Musing with Cezanne: Focus on the Pine

July 30, 2018

There would be other trees, but his first love was the pine. For Cezanne, the pine itself was a lieu de memoire, a memory place, redolent with mythology, packed with history, and charged with feeling. 

Alex Danchev, Cezanne: A Life

cezanne pine

Cezanne, “Large Pine and Red Earth”

This Large Pine and Red Earth is more than a tree: it is a personality. It is also a vision. Cezanne painted the treeness of the tree, as Kandinsky said. The branches are twisted or contorted; the foliage shimmers.

Alex Danchev, Cezanne: A Life

pine photo

This is my third consecutive summer at Riverbend Resort in South Fork, Colorado. I have been coming to this place since 1999, but am now on my sixth visit. My favorite place to reside is the Brookie Cabin with this view from the deck overlooking the stream. And every year, my time has been divided deliciously between fly fishing in the stream and plein air painting from this deck.

In 2016, I spent every sunrise on this deck, with fresh coffee, reading essays from Martin Heidegger and translating Greek Pre-Socratic fragments. Every time I looked up from my reading, I was smitten with this rugged pine in front of me, the rusty-red texture of its bark, and its needles against a hazy mountain backdrop. Finally, I attempted a 5×7″ plein air watercolor sketch of it. Liking what I saw, I framed and matted it, and before I knew it, the painting had become the property of someone else. In all my years, I have never regretted a sale, but in the two years passing, I have regretted letting this one go.

pine 2016

And so it happens, I’ve been reading this Cezanne biography, and learned that the pine was his favorite tree, for many of the same reasons that I have been so smitten with this solitary Colorado pine from the past three summers. As is my custom, I’ve spent nearly every morning on the Brookie deck this visit, with my coffee and books, and have decided to give this painting another try.

pine me

I have spent the past two mornings working on this 9×12″ plein air composition. I always quit once the sun gets high enough that the bark loses its intense color. When painting en plein air, I usually work quickly, completing an 8×10″ composition within the hour. But this one is different. Like Cezanne, Leonardo da Vinci, and Willem de Kooning, I am now spending many minutes between brushstrokes, and often laying the painting on the deck floor to look at from time to time while reading and sipping coffee. I guess you could say I am composting. This painting is coming along very slowly, but every layer, every brushstroke, and every pencil stroke is studied. And I am greatly enjoying this process.

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Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.