Archive for the ‘landscape’ Category

Morning Coffee with Dave & Ezra

August 31, 2018

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Relaxing in a Coffee Shop with Ezra Pound’s Literary Essays

There has been so much scribbling about a new fashion in poetry, that I may perhaps be pardoned this brief recapitulation and retrospect.

In the spring or early summer  of 1912, ‘H. D.’, Richard Aldington and myself decided that we were agreed upon the three principles following:

  1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

. . .

It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works. 

. . .

To begin with, consider the three propositions (demanding direct treatment, economy of words, and the sequence of the musical phrase), not as dogma–never consider anything as dogma–but as the result of long contemplation, which, even if it is some one else’s contemplation, may be worth consideration.

Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”, in Pavannes and Divisons, 1918

I have returned to Ezra Pound because of recent reading of Hemingway and poems by William Carlos Williams. When I taught English long ago, I learned that Imagism was a popular movement in literature that has been associated with these writers and others. Williams was famous for saying “No ideas but in things.”

At any rate, while on a road trip yesterday that lasted for hours, I enjoyed what I refer to as “windshield time”–allowing thoughts to drift through my mind while watching the landscape drift by. I thought of Hemingway’s early writings from Paris (I referenced this in my last blog) when he settled on the notion of beginning with one true, direct sentence, and building from there. I then recalled that Pound laid down the three principles I’ve just posted above, about the necessity of addressing something directly, with as few words as possible, and following a musical phrase rather than a metronome. As I drove, I thought about the possibility of applying this literary theory to visual art. Why not give it a try?

At one point, I saw a high rocky mesa along the highway, and on impulse, did what I frequently dream of doing–pulling the Jeep over, getting out my art supplies, and attempting to paint/sketch the landscape en plein air. I decided to address the same principles I recalled from Pound’s theory of Imagism in writing–approach the subject directly as observed, use as few strokes of the brush as I can get away with, and not follow pre-set rules of sequence.

Setting up the easel, I decided to render the mesa first, with quick broad strokes of neutral color, then move to a foreground tree later, and finally lay in the sky (I have had so many “arguments” with other artists who insist that a legitimate landscape always begins with the sky). As I worked quickly (spent only about 30 minutes in the 97-degree heat), I recalled these principles of Ezra Pound, and smiled to think I was applying his literary criticism to plein air painting.

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Pleasures of a Road Trip–Stopping on Impulse to Paint

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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Morning Coffee with Joseph Mallord William Turner

August 26, 2018

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A Relaxing Morning in a Remote Place

With dark shadows cast across the lives of his family and friends, the compulsion that drove Turner to paint hardened into something closer to insularity. Turner’s own career was marching forwards. He reduced his exposure to domestic life to its most basic function, the environment in which he slept, or ate, otherwise keeping it distinct from the professional life that so engrossed him.

Franny Moyle, Turner: The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J. M. W. Turner

My intention was to spend the day in the country. And I did indeed spend most of the morning on the porch of this special place, enjoying my coffee, quality reading, and a magnificent spread of land under the east Texas sunny skies. Some events arose, however, that made it necessary for me to return to the gallery, and that is why I am able to post this blog after all (I do enjoy being off the grid when I go to this special retreat, however).

So, before I return to the wilderness, let me write a few quick words about the wonders of this Turner biography that I am reading. In 1794, Turner made a plein air watercolor tour that led him to “experiment with an emotive and dramatic response to scenery.” As I read these portions describing how he stepped into that experimental stage of painting romantic landscapes that would eventually help shift the French painters to Impressionism, my heart was stirred by a recent experience in Colorado. Having come to a dissatisfaction with how I rendered trees in watercolor, I spent a day throwing caution to the wind, using pigments I seldom use, and allowing for a great deal of spontaneity and chance by working with wet paper and unconventional tools. This ushered me into a new era, and I wish next to do some plein air sketches of landscape, applying some new techniques learned from another artist friend. It won’t be long before the fall foliage begins to emerge, and I want to be ready to try some things never tried before.

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A Recent Experimental Sketch

Since high school, I have been amazed with Turner’s atmospheric techniques, even more than those of the French Impressionists. I am now hoping with the reading of this biography to learn more of his approach to paintings. I read somewhere that he created some 19,000 watercolors in his lifetime. If that is accurate, then I have new incentive to generate more pieces.

The afternoon is growing late, and I have quite a drive ahead of me to get back into the country.

Thanks always 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.

 

 

 

 

Restful Reminiscences in the Midst of Calendar Frenzy

May 23, 2018

Starbucks chilling

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

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

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

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

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One of three paintings submitted for competition

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

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Arlington’s Art on the Greene 2018

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

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Set Up for the Painting Demonstration

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

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

Wayne pouring coffee

Wayne Pouring the Camp Coffee

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

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

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

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Plein Air watercolor sketch of breakfast in progress

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

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The final morning: again, Wayne cooks and I paint

breakfast 2 painting

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

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cliff painting gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Sensing the Splendor of Georgia O’Keeffe

April 18, 2018

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Plein Air Watercolor of Canyon Rock, Ghost Ranch

Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded . . . the mountains are home.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I sensed the mountains calling out to me last week, and blogged that I was going to respond. Two days after the blog, I was in Taos, New Mexico, for the first time. The Goji-Berry Farm outside Taos provided a wonderful place to stay.  The cabin available was built in the 1880’s and the English artist Dorothy Brett resided there. The cabin next door was the one occupied by Georgia O’Keeffe at one time.  I felt a genuine stirring deep within, realizing I was visiting this area ninety years after Georgia O’Keefee first arrived.

The watercolor above I painted en plein air at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, O’Keeffe’s residence wonderfully preserved. The hike up the ridge was a steep one, and the icy mountain winds made the thirty-nine-degree day feel worse than it actually was. I managed to find a spot behind a large bush that partially shielded me from the blasts, and worked on this 10 x 8″ watercolor for about forty-five minutes.

As I worked, I understood Georgia’s sentiment that she felt she had come home at last. There was an intimacy I felt as I gazed into the facades of the ring of mountains around Ghost Ranch, and the huge sky filled me with a depth of wonder I could never capture in words.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

El Despoblado

March 18, 2018

el despoblado

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”

Today I wait for a plane to take me back to the suburbs where I will thrive only if able to sustain a life of the mind. I return from a week spent in the open country. I believe that El Despoblado could be translated “open country.” That is one of the descriptive titles of Big Bend National Park, a site that I have just visited for the first time in my life. Throughout the past week, canyons have overpowered me, embraced me, enfolded me, deeply delighted me. I was privileged to visit Caprock, Palo Duro and Big Bend over the past seven days. I believe that this is the best Spring Break I have ever known in all my decades of school employment.

Thanks to technology, by use of my phone I have been able to send a few snapshots of what I encountered this past week. Once back in the suburbs, I will perhaps have these myriad sensations sorted out and be able to post something commensurate to what I feel right now. Meanwhile, I sit and mentally, emotionally compost these rich experiences.

Thanks always for reading.

The Silence of the Canyon Evening

March 14, 2018

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Palo Duro Canyon

Meanwhile, there rages round the earth an unbridled yet clever talking, writing, and broadcasting of spoken words. 

Martin Heidegger, ” . . . Poetically Man Dwells . . .”

Spring Break brings me abundant blessing on many fronts. The most obvious is the chance to escape the clangor of city and suburban life. Since last weekend, I have forsaken 24/7 news and Internet searching. I packed only one book (I’ve always had this penchant for loading dozens of volumes–stupid!) and my journal, and I significantly downsized my art supplies–only three brushes along with portable plein air watercolor kit. I chose to bring my wooden pochade box because it mounts to the camera stand, and when opened, will hold the small kit.

Last evening in the quiet of Palo Duro Canyon, I set up about an hour before sundown and the place had already turned windy and chilly. The stillness and sanctuary of this enormous fissure in the earth was so soothing as I worked about 45 minutes to lay down the 5 x 7″ sketch above.

It is so soothing and fulfilling, being out here with all this natural space and quiet.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Entering the Canyon

March 13, 2018

Tripp at easel

To be old means: to stop in time at

that place where the unique

thought of a thought train has

swung into its joint.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker As Poet”

Spring Break has arrived. And after a few days of rest and catching up on postponed details, I managed to find myself at Caprock Canyons State Park. For me, it was the fullness of time. For about a week now, I’ve been reading a collection of seven Heidegger essays under the title Poetry, Language, Thought.

heidegger

The section posted above comes from his opening poem, one that caught my eye last summer while vacationing in Colorado. Just as much time has been spent on these poetic verses than on his extended essays. The reason I like the line posted above is because I feel that thought has slowed down for me during these senior years, now especially since I only teach two days a week at the college, and am covering courses I’ve taught for decades. Finally, I am afforded quality time to savor ideas and synthesize topics, with no pressing deadline, and without a log of five subjects swarming around my head like angry hornets. As a result, quite a few train cars have naturally swung into joint, aligning with idea trains that I’ve assembled throughout my life.

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In his seminal essay “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Heidegger discusses the process of art being created as a result of an arena of conflict between earth and world–earth representing the raw material that is there, and world representing everything we humans bring to the earth as we enter this arena of conflict. The result is that art emerges in this nexus of conflict, with the earth refusing to yield willingly, and our world continually finding ways to work the elements of the earth. I experienced this exhilarating feeling last evening as I stood at Caprock, surveying the horizon and attempting to capture some of it on paper.

The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
(Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up”)
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day.
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
(Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”)
For years, I have read Wordsworth with deep-seated joy. But as I worked yesterday evening on this plein air watercolor sketch, I realized that I do not share the sentiments of the words above that were playing through my soul. Yes, my childhood has fathered my present condition, but no, I cannot say that I no longer feel the soothing richness I knew as a child playing outdoors alone at age four, with the wind caressing my hair, the sand blowing and sticking to my arms, and the sounds of the breeze rushing through the canyon. I am just as much stirred by these natural delights as I was as a child, and pray that the feelings never ebb.
Thank you for reading.
I make art in order to discover.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Re-Stoking the Fires

January 1, 2018

high ridge

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

The first day of the New Year is a sluggish one for me, as I’m still shaking off this nagging respiratory infection that saps my energy. I’m spending more time in front of the fireplace under a blanket, watching TV when I would rather be reading, writing or painting. But I just don’t seem to have the energy or drive to be creative.  The Steve Jobs biography is still exciting to me, yet fails to fire my own spark plug of creativity. I did pull out an old watercolor abandoned from a year or two ago, and I worked on it for over an hour, but I never felt much of a rush or thrill, which is so unlike me when I’m painting. Nevertheless, I’ve posted a photo of its progress above.

I wish all of you the happiest of new years, as I myself am anticipating many new adventures. Meanwhile, I’m just going to keep taking it easy until my strength returns.

Thank you always for reading . . .

A Soothing Christmas Respite

December 27, 2017

christmas painting

Watercolor Sketch along the Meramec River

Christmas 2017 in St. Louis was blessed with fresh-fallen snow, and I could not stop staring at it out of windows, and even spent time walking in it and taking pictures with my phone. Over the past few days I have been looking at the pictures uploaded to my laptop and finally dashed out this 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of what I saw during a stroll along the Meramec River in Fenton, Missouri.

Thanks for looking.