Archive for the ‘Laguna Madre’ Category

Friday Evening Gallery Serenity

April 7, 2017

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Lately from time to time my work up there is interrupted by long stretches at conferences, lecture trips, committee meetings and my teaching work down here in Freiburg.  But as soon as I go back up there . . . I am simply transported into the work’s own rhythm, and in a fundamental sense I am not in control of its hidden law.

Martin Heidegger, “Why Do I Stay in the Pronvinces?” (1934 radio address)

As the sun lingers a moment longer on the horizon of Palestine, Texas, I pause and enjoy the coolness of the breezes whispering across the quiet streets downtown and the voices of patrons drifting in and out of the Gallery at Redlands as well as the Historic Redlands Inn. It has been a most pleasant afternoon and evening, with friends dropping in from out of town whose company I find rejuvenating to me as an artist and lover of life. Shifting gears away from school life and into this small town and gallery life is comparable to what Heidegger described as he moved back and forth between the University of Freiburg and his cabin in the quiet town of Todtnauberg in the Black Forest.

As this evening grew quiet, I recalled enchanting hours spent on the Laguna Madre the past couple of summers, and drifted across the gallery to see the twelve framed island paintings arranged together on one of the walls.

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This one in particular appealed to me, because on the late afternoon I painted it, I was working through Martin Heidegger’s essay “The Origin of the Work of Art.” He quoted the Northern Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer–” ‘For in truth, art lies hidden within nature; he who can wrest it from her, has it.” Laying the book aside, I looked deeply into the cord grasses clustered at my feet, and as I thought of the layers of color embedded in those strands of grasses, my mind concocted a scheme that involved masking, layering, scraping and drawing. I knew that the task would involve layer upon layer of work and scrutiny,  and the effort took me well into the evening hours. By the time the final layers of masking were removed and the last glazes of wash applied, I indeed felt that I had wrested something from nature that evening. Hence, I felt the need to journal all over the page before submitting the work for framing.

The hour is growing late, and I feel the weariness of today’s lengthy travel, followed by long hours in the gallery. A special thanks to all my friends who came and kept me in good company and cheer this afternoon.  I love you all.

And thanks to all of you who read me . . .

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Sun Setting on the Second Day of the Gallery

March 25, 2017

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Late afternoon sun flooding The Gallery at Redlands

What you don’t feel, you will not grasp by art,

Unless it wells out of your soul

And with sheer pleasure takes control.

Goethe,  Faust

The opening days of The Gallery at Redlands have been unbelievable as I have met countless new friends and renewed acquaintances with old ones.  I’m exhausted to the bone, but thrilled to share that three of my original pieces have found a new home.  I cannot thank my patrons enough for their interest.  And the day has been filled with the loving presence of friends of mine who have journeyed for hours to spend a day with me, even though I was covered up most of the time in the gallery.

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Sold this evening

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Sold this afternoon

Thank you for reading.  I’m exhausted after a 10-hour day in the gallery, but very happy tonight . . .

How About Joining Me for an Island Workshop?

November 1, 2016

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I have great news.  The Center for Coastal Studies has covered expenses to where they can now offer a reduced price for my Island Watercolor Workshop on the Texas Laguna Madre just prior to Thanksgiving. The three-day adventure is now offered at a price of $350 that covers meals and lodging. This will be my third time to reside on this island where my adventure as Artist-in-Residence began in 2015.  Last spring I was delighted to offer our first workshop to a group of five participants.  The Center is now accepting applications and will take up to eight particpants to the island.

For anyone interested in joining us November 20-22, the information is posted below:

Dr. Tripp’s specialty is painting his surroundings “en plein air” (outdoors) and he will be teaching a workshop November 20-22, 2016. If you are an aspiring artist, or an artist already, we highly recommend that you sign up for a workshop to spend some quality time with him. He is truly a unique individual!

November 20-22, 2016 at the Laguna Madre Field Station

For registration information on this 3 day workshop at the LMFS please call the Center for Coastal Studies at 361.825.2736 or email theresa.walker@tamucc.edu.

Cost $350.00 and seating is limited (8 people) so sign up now! Deadline to sign up is November 13.

Registration costs cover:

  • Transportation and lodging at the LMFS
  • All meals and drinks

Please plan on bringing your own bedroll, pillow, and personal care items. The field station has electricity, running water for showers, bunk beds and composting toilets.

Dr. David Tripp will be your guide to this unique experience in the Laguna Madre. For more about the man and his art please visit the links below.

WEBSITE: http://www.recollections54.com/ and BLOG: davidtripp.wordpress.com

David Tripp’s Suggested Watercolor Supplies for Workshop

If you already have your own watercolors, brushes, palette and paper, then bring them to the workshop and we will work with them. If you have no supplies, or wonder what I prefer, then continue reading.

Watercolors. I prefer Winsor & Newton (I know, they are pricey, but professional, and you get back all the value you invest in them). I use the professional pigments, not the Cotman brand (which is a “school boy” substitute). I avoid the use of gouache, and go with the pigments.

My restricted palette is:

  • Winsor Green and Alizarin Crimson (for mixing black)
  • Winsor Red
  • Winsor Blue (this comes in Red Shade and Green Shade-I use both)
  • Transparent Yellow

The above colors are all I need to make a decent painting. I will occasionally throw in the following colors: Winsor Violet, Quinachridone Red, Permanent Rose, Cadmium Red, Cerulean Blue and Winsor Lemon. I will have extra colors in tubes if you need to squirt some onto your palette. I always have these available in workshops at no extra charge.

BRUSHES: For the kind of paintings I do, I require a good liner brush (one that will give me the sharpest details possible), and a good round brush of size 10 or 12. For large washes, I generally use a cheap flat brush or a large round (as large as I can afford). I also find flat brushes helpful, between sizes ¼” to ½”. For the bare minimum (especially if I’m painting in the field), I use a liner brush and a size 12 round. Sometimes I complete an entire painting outside, using one brush, a size 12 round. For foliage, I use what I call an “ugly” brush-one that I have modified. It begins as a flat brush and I alter it with a razor. If you would like an “ugly” brush for foliage, then bring a flat brush that you can abuse, and I’ll be happy to help you make it. The flat brush should be at least ¼” and ½” is probably better. I always let workshop students use mine (but they often fight over it-there is only one!)

PAPER: I prefer cold-press paper. 140-pound is good, if l can keep it flat (by soaking and stapling it to plywood or around canvas stretchers, or if it is attached to a watercolor block, like a tablet fastened on all four sides). If using single paper without attachment, I use 300 pound (again that is quite pricey-about $20 for one sheet 22 x 30″. My favorite brand is D’Arches (again pricey), but I’ll use any paper I can acquire. I have discovered that when using brands such as Utrecht or Canson, that I have difficulty getting a flat wash, as in a blue sky for instance.

You will need a white palette to hold your pigments. I use a butcher’s tray (I purchase mine at Asel Arts) because they are quite low-cost. I also have a large watercolor palette (but they’re not cheap). When desperate I can use a paper plate or a ceramic plate, but it has to have a white surface-watercolor pigments are transparent and you cannot really see their colors on surfaces that are not white.

If you like to work from reference photographs, feel free to bring them to the workshop. I will bring a box of my own (all of them 8 x 10″, and over a hundred of them-all suitable watercolor subjects). I will also bring a Jeep load of antique still life objects if the class is interested in working in that genre during the indoor studio time. If weather permits, then I would love to get us outdoors on one or both days, for some of the time. Anyone who has not participated in plein air watercolor activity has really missed out on something special. I regret that I never started that until I was over fifty years of age-now I’m addicted to outdoor water coloring on site.

There is not space here in writing to tell of all the splendid benefits that come from plein air studies-those disciplines revolutionized my still life and reference photo watercolor endeavors. If we do get outdoors, you will want something for seating. Perhaps you have folding chairs in the studio, but they are rather cumbersome for carrying around. Lawn chairs and camping stools are much lighter and often have a shoulder strap for toting.

And of course, you need a container to hold your water. The larger the container the better, as you will constantly have to refresh it with clean water-larger ones “dirty” slower than small ones.

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Thanks for reading, and I hope you will consider joining us!

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Working on a Manuscript

July 24, 2016

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What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?—it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye.  But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

During this dog-day July heat in St. Louis, I’ve spent some time reworking a manuscript I began last year.  I’m releasing the Introduction as it currently stands.  I have six chapters written, but I continue to revise.  I find great pleasure in that.  And I hope someone can find pleasure in reading the following:

A Week on the Laguna Madre

INTRODUCTION

 Cleansing the Eye:

Recollections from a Grateful Artist-in-Residence

“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.” [1]

How do I introduce myself as quickly as possible and then get out of the way?  I am aware that I am writing a book about what is flowing through my mind, but I hope, Dear Reader, that I am also creating a space into which you may enter, explore and discover deeper layers of yourself as well.  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 remembered; I just want to make a contribution.  I want someone’s life to improve because they spent time with me in this work.

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.  Like many others, my career did not go in the direction I had intended, but I have found immeasurable pleasures in what I have encountered.  And now, my only real issue is figuring how to make a gift of the knowledge and experiences that have enriched me throughout these years.  My lifestyle, in this worldly sojourn, has been to absorb knowledge, Faustlike, and imbed these observations in lesson plans, lectures and paintings, hoping always that others could receive 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.[2]

Travelling to Walden Pond to live for over two years, 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.

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.[3]

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.[4]

“Alone” is the key word that describes my life, though I have been in relationships throughout most of my years.  Space has always been required 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 and 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 bookshelf—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.  Today as I edit these pages, I have added three more workshops to the list and am preparing to return to the island for a second week of solitude.  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.”  The existential theologian Paul Tillich, in a sermon titled “Loneliness and Solitude,” emphasized that loneliness is the cross of humankind, and solitude the glory.  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.  Jack Kerouace said it best:

What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?—it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye.  But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.[5]

                [1] Wayne Andersen, “Introduction” in Paul Gauguin, The Writings of a Savage, ed. Daniel Guérin (New York: Paragon House, 1974), p. X.

                [2] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, in Emerson: Essays & Poems ed. Joel Porte et al., (New York: Penguin, 1983), p. 7.

                [3] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience, ed. Michael Meyer (New York: Penguin, 1983), p. 135.

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

                [5] Jack Kerouac, On the Road (New York: Penguin, 1955), p. 156.

Sunday Night Ponderings

July 10, 2016

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Power Plant visible from where I stayed this summer on an island in the Laguna Madre

LMFS 3 (2)Assortment of Fire Wheels and other grasses on the island in the Laguna Madre

. . . it’s always been private occasions that make me feel connected to the joys and sorrrows of the world, often in the form of communion with writers and musicians I’ll never meet in person.  Proust called these moments of unity between writer and reader “that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.”

Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Finally, I can relax, late this Sunday night.  Today was an indoor art festival in Fort Worth, held at Stage West Theater.  A Texas summer festival is delightful when held inside an air-conditioned venue. The theater space granted me was perfect for me to set up my work, and we were only open for three hours.  Still, the loading in and out on the same day (only 97 degrees today) has ways of sapping my energy, and of course, the days leading up to festivals still after all these years have ways of rolling anxiety throughout my being.

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But I’m happy with how things went.  I’ve posted two of the plein air watercolors I did recently while at the Laguna Madre Field Station.  They sold today, and I’m always happy when my art finds a home.  I had the time of my life, visiting with patrons and fellow artists, and am much better for the time spent in such good company.  It’s truly been a rewarding experience and I’m grateful to have been included in this event.

I’m happier still to find my calendar for the summer at an end–no more engagements booked before school begins in the fall.  I am juiced to begin my next series of watercolor experiments without interruption, and overjoyed to have some quality reading time before me.  The Susan Cain book I quoted above is overflowing my heart with joy as I read her affirmations concerning the introverted life I’ve known from my beginnings.  How wonderful to read a book that extols the virtues of solitude when I feel that I am bombarded with media messages around the clock arguing for the merits of group think, collaborative learning (I’ve always struggled with this as a public school teacher), staying connected on social media, etc.

From my shelves I am pulling Anthony Storr’s Solitude: A Return to the Self, and I have borrowed a copy of William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  These three literary works are speaking to me in the most profound way, and this gift of time and space has arrived at a perfect time, I feel.  More than ever, I am eager to explore new horizons and learn new things as I pursue my art and ideas.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Preparing for my First Festival of 2016

April 14, 2016

Still in a basic sense art cannot be taught, and we do not try to. Yet paradoxically it can be learned, in the beginning from other artists, and then from oneself.

Robert Motherwell

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Tomorrow I travel to Kennedale, Texas to participate in my first art festival of 2016. I always look forward to setting up in this pretty municipal park. The venue is a small one, but I’ve had a good following of local patrons in the past, and hopefully I can enjoy the same this time around. I have selected eight watercolors to display from my Laguna Madre experience, and this will be the first time they have been shown in my locale.

I’m bone tired as I’ve spent nearly every night of this past week getting my booth furnishings and inventory in order. But I’m glad not to have fallen behind on the details.

Thanks for reading and I hope I’ll get a chance to post during the festival hours.

Sun breaking through the Gloom

April 10, 2016

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Sometimes I have an imaginary picture in mind of the poet Mallarmé in his study late at night–changing, blotting, transferring, transforming each word and its relations with such care–and I think that the sustained energy for that travail must have come from the secret knowledge that each word was a link in the chain that he was forging to bind himself to the universe; and so with other poets, composers and painters.

Robert Motherwell

As one who loathes reading pity-party blogs, I will just say that this weekend took me to rock bottom, simply started by spending my entire Saturday, from 9 a.m. till 11:30 p.m. grading exams from high school. I awoke this morning with a stiff neck, headache (I almost never get headaches) and a deep feeling of depression. Fortunately, I shook it off by traveling to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth to view for the third time in a week the extensive Robert Motherwell installation, to take more notes, record more observations, and then retreat to the cafe patio to read further from my new book Robert Motherwell: 100 Years over a cup of coffee. With rainy weather throughout the day, the sky was overcast rendering the temperatures cool and delicious.

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Reading Motherwell’s imaginative ruminations about the poet Mallarmé inhis study stirred my blood, as it brought to my mind images of Motherwell working through the night in his Greenwich, Connecticut studio, painting, scrutinizing, adjusting, second-guessing, editing further. This is what motivates me when making art, and I wish to God I could have had studio time yesterday instead of burning up the entire day and night with grading deadlines. The past weeks have featured abundant obstacles, and time away from the studio pushes my spirits downward. At least on this splendid day, I could vicariously enjoy Mallarmé and Motherwell’s creative processes, and drink deeply from the Modern’s art collection. I feel more than ready to walk into tomorrow’s art history classes as we continue our push through the modern era.

The week ahead will be a busy one, with an overcrowded school schedule, and my first art festival of the year coming up Friday. I’ll do my best to blog between now and the weekend. Another part of my afternoon was spent going over the rough drafts of this book I’m attempting to write about my experiences last summer on the Texas Laguna Madre. The draft is still rough, just not as rough as yesterday. I will go ahead and post it below. It covers the first day of my island observations.  Thanks for reading.

Chapter One

S U N D A Y

1

 

 

Watching my Friends Pull Away

What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?–it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.[1]

At 10:43 a.m., Sunday morning, June 7, 2015, I stood at the dock and waved at the boat pulling away, carrying with it my two new acquaintances that had just transported me to this small island on the Texas Laguna Madre. They will return in six days. For the first time in my sixty-one years on this planet, I stand, gazing across a hypersaline body of water. But I don’t feel exiled, cut off, expelled from civilization. On the contrary, I have been honored with space to create and find my artistic voice. Having reached a plateau in my body of watercolor work, I now have an opportunity to reclaim my mojo hand.  I have landed an Artist-in-Residence assignment with Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, and will spend a week exploring and painting this exotic environment on a spoil island in the Laguna Madre, with no distracting appointments and no transportation to use as an excuse to run off and find something else to do. As a painter, I am filled with deep-seated gratitude at what Eugene Delacroix and Henri Matisse described as “cleansing the eye.” This is not my home, not my environment. Just raw nature enveloping me, and in Emersonian fashion my head is bathed in the blithe air.

Having risen at 4:30 this morning to catch the boat to the island, and 3:00 yesterday morning, to make the eight-hour drive from Arlington to Corpus Christi, I felt fatigued and worried that Day One of my residency would be flat due to lack of rest. But as I watched Paul and Bobby pull away from the dock, a switch flipped, and turning to the front porch table I had converted to a workbench, I immediately began soaking and stretching paper for my first paintings.

From my tenth-grade Art II teacher, Mr. Leo Hoeh, I learned to soak and stretch watercolor paper over canvas stretchers, using a staple gun to secure the edges, in the same way oil and acrylic painters stretch canvas. When the paper dries, it shrinks and stretches tightly over the stretchers and feels like a drum skin. When painting outdoors en plein air (I was told that was French for painting with the bugs!), the paper dries rapidly while watercoloring, since the front and back surfaces are exposed to the breeze. After years of practice, I can stretch these very quickly, and immediately set to work stretching four 9 x 12” papers, laying them out in the sun to dry.

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. . . and so begins the task . . .

As the paper dried on the stretchers, I took out my small Fluid watercolor block and went to work, looking to the west by northwest at the distant gas-powered electrical plant for Flower Bluff, adjacent to Corpus Christi. The billowing clouds piled above were very attractive, and for the first time in my life, I tried to paint the actual clouds as portraits, recording their contours and colors as closely as I could to what I saw above me.  In time past, I had always “faked” my clouds, using gimmicks like pouring, blotting with cloth towels, scouring with Q-tips, etc.  I had never actually tried to copy clouds from life as I did on this day.

The longer I worked on the clouds, the more my soul smiled, feeling a connection with Monet and company as they experimented en plein air more than a century before. Desiré Louis, viewing the work of Monet, recorded the following on May 19, 1891 in L’Événement:

His skies, whether pure or cloudy, gay or melancholic, resonate with the mysterious sounds of the universe.  He forces the spirit to think and to soar above these magisterial representations . . . of reality . . . . In front of this seductive painting, you have the impression of a full and benevolent life which makes you recall the intoxication one feels with the dawning of a new day.[2]

3

First Attempted Painting at the Laguna Madre

By the time I got to the water below, the sun had risen high enough that the colors had muted considerably. That is the challenge of plein air painting: light conditions change rapidly and the painter has to make quick decisions while painting this moving target.  Monet himself complained of nature not posing still for him, saying “I am grinding away, bent on a series of different effects, but at this time of year, the sun goes down so quickly that I cannot keep up with it.”[3]  I am thinking seriously about setting up at the same time tomorrow, and if the sun is strong and the day clear, perhaps I’ll get another look at that fabulous teal lagoon. I have little-to-no experience painting broad expanses of water and am unsure as to how to match those deep colors I saw earlier when I began.

Laying the painting aside, I resumed my reading of Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. I am about three-quarters of my way through the book now, and as I explore these pages, my enthusiasm just keeps building. I cannot believe the flair for writing the young Thoreau possessed. Finding my stretched paper dry enough to begin work, I turned my attention to a bed of wildflowers and prickly pear cactus on the south side of the field station where I’m living this week. I’ve never painted cactus before, and I’m going to have to make some more tries at this. I have trouble distinguishing it from the greenery surrounding it, and haven’t quite found the key to that. But the effort was still enjoyable. I love the process of plein air painting, even if I don’t get the results I anticipated.

4

Cactus and Wildflowers

About halfway through the cactus sketch, I looked out over another spread of wildflowers and lush grasses on the west side of my porch, and decided to give those a try, with a little help from a bottle of masquing fluid. I enjoyed the effort of duplicating the colors of the flowers that popped among the grasses, but also decided to make some abstract compositional decisions on the shape of the composition, thinking back over my recent experiments with Andrew Wyeth drybrush sketches.  My high school teacher of Art I and III, Mr. Robie Scucchi, taught me much about abstract compositional matters, pointing out the way Andrew Wyeth left the margins of his watercolor paper untouched, and shaping his positive spaces of landscape textures with fingers and tentacles reaching out into the white void in all directions.  Mr. Scucchi urged that the shape of the negative boundaries surrounding the composition were just as dramatic as the actual ground textures in the Wyeth drybrush studies.  I decided to experiment with the perimeter of my wildflowers sketch, pushing fingers of greenery into the surrounding void.

5

A Second Attempt at Sketching Wildflowers

As the June sun waxed in the western half of the sky, rendering the heat of my front porch unbearable, I retreated to the rear of the field station, seeking shade, and noticed some attractive clumps of gulf cordgrass with white flowers accenting their base, flourishing a few feet from the eastern porch. Sitting on a bench and leaning against the field station, I read some more from Thoreau, but kept looking up at the cordgrass on the shady side of the house, and could not stop thinking about the Albrecht Dürer drybrush studies of tall grasses that I have always admired. Wyeth was always harking back to those compositions, testifying that they inspired him to attempt grass studies in watercolor.  I recalled Dürer’s statement that “art lies hidden within nature; he who can wrest it from her, has it.” So, I closed the book and contemplated on solving the problem of rendering tall grasses in transparent watercolor. Suddenly it hit me: masque the white flowers first on the white paper, then flood the paper with the lightest, coolest shade of green. When it dries, draw tall grasses with the Masquepen. Let it dry. Then flood the paper with a little darker green (I mixed transparent yellow into it). Let it dry. Then draw more grasses with the masquepen. Let dry. Then I added Winsor Red to darken and warm the green and flooded the area again. After it dried, I masqued more grasses. Next I added Winsor Violet to the ever-darkening green I was building up. Then I masqued some more. Finally, adding Alizarin Crimson, I made the green nearly black, and painted grasses over the entire masque-and-layered composition, frequently raking my sharp HB pencil through the wet to draw out thin, spiky blades of cordgrass. Once it dried, I stripped away all the layers of masquing, and finding too much white grass, flooded it once more with a light, cool green to turn the white grasses into pale green.

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Fourth and Final Watercolor of the First Day

This was my fourth watercolor of the day, and I was too tired to assess whether it was any good (or any of the other paintings for that matter). But I was deeply pleased that I kicked out four sketches on Day One, got in some excellent reading, and ground out a number of journal pages.

That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.[4]

The day was perfect, but long. That night I planned to sleep a long time for the first time in three nights.

 

[1] Jack Kerouac, On the Road

[2] Paul Hayes Tucker, Monet in the ‘90s: The Series Paintings (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1989), pp. 3-4.

[3] Ibid,. p. 3.

[4] Thoreau, Walden.

 

 

Filling the Lacuna

April 7, 2016

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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.

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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.

 

Relaxing in Good Memories

March 18, 2016

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

Pablo Picasso

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The Remarkable Art Center Staff (L to R):

Sindi Alvarado, Education Coordinator; Dianna Bluntzer, Director; Sierra Shamblin, Exhibits Coordinator/Creative Manager

artist in residence friends

My Dear Friends in the Laguna Madre Experience (L to R):

Brien Nicolau, Asst. Dir. Center for Coastal Studies; Dinah Bowman, Bowman Design and Framing; Beth Almaraz, Center for Coastal Studies

final look

One final look at the show before closing

Words fail to convey my deep appreciation to all the people who enriched my life over the past year with the Artist-in-Residence experience at the Texas Laguna Madre. I posted my favorite photos of the ones who worked closest with me in getting this exhibit off the ground. Though I’m now more than six hours away, I feel their spirits and treasure every thought of them. The show will come down March 26.

My first day back was spent pursuing art matters. I traveled to the Fort Worth Community Arts Center to view their exhibit of over 300 artists. The reception will be tomorrow night during Gallery Night. The Center is located at 1300 Gendy St. in Fort Worth, 76107. I look forward to meeting several of the artists with whom I am close friends, and am honored to have one piece hanging in the exhibit:Tarrant County Courthouse Cupola

After viewing that exhibit, I enjoyed an evening in the Kimbell Art Museum and Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art, viewing the works and making quick sketches in my journal.

In closing, I’m posting photos of some of the highlights of the workshop I enjoyed Tuesday through Thursday at the Art Center of Corpus Christi:

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The enthusiasm and drive of this group of workshop participants was beyond belief. I walked among them in a state of perpetual amazement during the two-and-a-half days we spent together. When I return to my work schedule next week, I’ll carry every good memory from the coast with me in gratitude.

Thanks for reading.

Pre-Dawn Meditations

March 16, 2016

cropped fire wheels

Experiment in Watercolor Masquing, Spritzing and Spattering

To create oneself through making (either by writing or painting) is an ethical act of decision and passion: you become formed, differentiated from others; you  feel your place in the world and find your wholeness, integrity.

Richard Schiff, Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Inerviews

The pre-dawn mornings in Portland, Texas have been soothing this week. Temperatures are always lingering around 70 degrees, as a foggy mist hovers over the dawn. I love driving through the darkness toward the local Starbucks, and then watching the grey light emerge. The atmosphere is rich for reading and writing, and I am enjoying immensely this book of Barnett Newman writings on art that an artist friend has lent me. I always manage to settle into this coffee shop before 7:00 and the workshop doesn’t begin until 9:30.

My ideas this morning are driven by the comment posted above from the Introduction to this book. Yesterday’s experience of watching watercolors emerge from the brushes and minds of various individuals renewed for me that joyous “shock of recognition” (Motherwell’s words) as I saw how these artists view the world through their own eyes and filter their interpretations through their own souls. One of many highlights for me was meeting a retired Episcopal priest who expressed much of my own sentiments as we discussed our seminary training and how our lives have unfolded since that training many decades ago. Both of us are grateful for our education, and for the subsequent freedom to explore new vistas, applying our old disciplines to new discoveries.  I could feel his passion for making art, and was astounded as I watched his harbor watercolor come into focus. I could only admire the effects of his solid training and at the same time appreciate his willingness to explore new methods rather than cranking out the same thing he was used to doing from the past.

I also delighted in the work of a retired architect, one who referred to himself as “old school” because he drew his creations with his own hands and tools instead of relying on computer-generated schemes. His adept skill in using a straightedge and watercolor brush showed a disciplined eye, and at the same time he knew how to use the brush in a painterly fashion, instead of being bound by precision alone. I have always enjoyed that Apollo-Dionysus tension, with Apollo representing the rules and structure, and Dionysus representing the flourish and spontaneity.

I am anticipating today’s session with eagerness because these painters, most of them belonging to the same watercolor society, are not carbon copies of one another. And during the closing critique session yesterday, I was touched by their genuine regard and respect for one another. When the artist community is a nurturing one, everybody grows and experiences the very best of the art-making enterprise. So, here’s to new and affirming experiences . . .

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.