Archive for the ‘mountains’ Category

Plein Air Painting as Re-Invention

July 20, 2018

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The fact is, I am an intuitive painter, a direct painter. I have never worked from sketches, never planned a painting, never ‘thought out’ a painting. I start each painting as if I had never painted before. I present no dogma, no system, no demonstrations. I have no formal solutions. I have no interest in the ‘finished’ painting. I work only out of high passion.

Barnett Newman, Interview with Dorothy Gees Seckler

As I began painting shortly after sunrise, with temperatures at 62 degrees, I started with a blank sheet, and as I stared at the Pedernal, contemplating what to put on the picture plane, these words from Barnett Newman seeped into my consciousness. Without delay, I did something for the first time–took up a pencil and drew in my landscape composition completely, every shadow and facet of the Pedernal, along with the rock outcroppings below and the sweep of the meadows and desert in the foreground. I never do that–always in plein air landscape attempts, the pencil is used only for architecture or human-made structures. I never draw trees and seldom draw horizon lines. As for mountains, I have only laid down an outline for a suggestion, but never tried to draw the details or shadow lines. And then, as it came time to lay down the colors, I ignored my basic palette and began mixing a stew of new colors never before used. And I laid down light washes without trying to accent with the dark tones. All of it was brand new to me, and I thought of Newman describing the sensation of painting as if he had never done it before. In another context (I could not locate it), Newman discussed inventing painting as if it had never been done before (around 1941). The sensation was indescribable. I enjoyed experimenting, and did not concern myself with how the finished product would look. These plein air attempts are a laboratory for me, and I’m swimming in bliss.

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A Little Re-Touching of Yesterday’s Attempt

I felt a rush of enthusiasm as I worked on the new composition, and then laid aside the art materials in order to return to Ghost Ranch for a hike up toward Chimney Rock, one of my favorite sites from Georgia O’Keeffe compositions.

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Chimney Rock

There wasn’t time to get all the way up there (three hours required), as lunch reservations had been made. But the ninety-minute trek was exhilarating, and all the while I wondered (after an old Timberland Footwear advertising tag–“What kind of footprint will you leave?”). The desert here in Abiquiu is not Extreme, but worse: Exceptional. So I tried to stay on the hardest surfaces of the hiking trail, hoping not to leave boot prints in soft soil. At any rate, the hike was an experience I seldom know.

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View of the Pedernal from near Chimney Rock

During my descent, I saw a button on the trail, face down. Thinking of the environmentalist adage: “Take only memories, leave nothing”, I picked it up, not wishing for litter to remain on the trail. Turning it over and reading it, then looking back down at where it had been lying, I realized what someone had done. So I replaced the button, face up:

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Hope that doesn’t offend. I felt embarrassed when I saw the message, knowing someone, somewhere was amused at folk like me picking up the button and turning it over to read.

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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Vacation Wanderings

July 9, 2018

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Standing with Ian Watson at the Opening of His One-Man-Show

I’m the subject. I’m also the verb as I paint, but I’m also the object. I am the complete sentence.

Barnett Newman

Finally, vacation has arrived. Summer School ended Thursday for Texas Wesleyan University, and by Friday morning, I had completed all grading for the term.  The university paid out my contract several days before the term actually finished, so I was more than ready to sing the Song of the Open Road (Whitman).

In my second year of high school teaching (1989), Ian Watson came into my life as a sophomore and has remained in the best way, though he now resides in Amarillo, over five hours away. In art and humanities classes, he was an enthusiastic learner, and very skilled as a young artist, encouraged by his father, an accomplished photographer (who took the above photo) and graphics design artist.

By the time he was a junior, Ian had become enthralled with the Abstract Expressionist tradition, and spent hours studying its history, particularly Jackson Pollock, even reading that massive biography by Naifeh and Smith. Rolling canvas across the art room floor, Ian experimented with Pollock’s drip style, even embedding pieces of glass, cigarette butts and bottle caps into the wet enamel. Many years later, when we caught up again, I learned that he had moved into Color Field investigations, and that he had read the Rothko biography by Breslin. He also gave me as a gift a book I had had my eye on for years, Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews.

Ian opened his first One-Man-Show at the Object Gallery in Amarillo, Texas Friday night, and I knew from the day it was advertised months ago that I would be present. In 2010, Ian attended the opening of my first show, and I’ll always be indebted to him for that.  His opening was an enriching experience, and I’ll always appreciate the special feeling of seeing someone emerge as a professional artist that I knew as a young student in my earliest years of teaching.

Because of the Amarillo show, I was unable to attend the monthly Art Walk in Lubbock, Texas, where the gallery Art for Goodness Sake just hung seven of my newest plein air landscape watercolors of the Southwest. But I at least had the pleasure of stopping by the gallery and visiting with the owners.

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“Ghost Ranch”–One of seven watercolors now at Art for Goodness Sake

I am on my way to the mountains now. As John Muir once wrote, I feel them now calling out to me, and I feel compelled to go. I anticipate much joy as I paint them en plein air. I’ve brought along with me my half-finished volume on Cezanne, and I am at the part where he was stunned at the sight of Mont Saint-Victoire and felt moved to paint it about sixty times, never feeling that he got it right. At this point, I know I haven’t gotten my mountains down on paper the way I wish them to appear.

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Historic Santa Fe Depot, Fort Worth, Texas

I have also brought along my work on a commission I was offered last April. I am painting the Santa Fe depot of Fort Worth, located on Jones Street, choosing a full sheet of 300-pound D’Arches cold-pressed watercolor paper. A patron approached me at Artscape 2018, offering a generous sum of money for me to paint the location posted above, because years ago he experienced an existential turning point in his life while standing there admiring the structure. He wishes to preserve a visual memory of this significant moment in his life. For that reason, I feel very close to this subject as I work, thinking of this man at a crossroads who today celebrates a key decision in his life. I also like the thought that the painting will be developing across west Texas, New Mexico and Colorado as I journey.

The summer is hot, but at least in west Texas it cools to the low-seventies at sundown, and remains that way till almost noon the next day. The scorching three-digit temperatures in the Dallas/Fort Worth area are not for me. I’m glad to be quit of them.

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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.

Thoughts Meandering between Nostalgia and the Present

June 21, 2018

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White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.

Proust, Swann’s Way

Nearly three hundred pages into Cezanne: A Life, by Alex Danchev, I’m completely absorbed by this intense artist’s life of painting. Cezanne certainly personifies the “driven” artist, and I’ve uncovered a host of amazing facts I never knew about the man and his ideas, though I’ve read about him since I was in high school. Last week while visiting the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, I thought of Cezanne’s fixation while painting Mont Sainte-Victoire. My feeble attempt to render the sand dunes at sundown with the San Andreas range behind them made me smile. I believe Cezanne attempted his mountain sixty times, and here I was, expecting something grand with my initial attempt.

However, I have been immersed in Cezanne’s theories of mountain painting, and have been reading of Martin Heidegger’s repeated visits to Cezanne’s home town and treks to Mont Sainte-Victoire as well as his writings about the mountain experience, and I have engaged in some serious mountain sketches of my own, beginning with my recent visit to Cloudcroft, New Mexico. In time, I plan to launch these activities and musings onto my blog.

Reading of Cezanne’s break with his lifelong friend Emile Zola was sobering, though. And the timing of this reading was poignant. A few days ago, I chose to unfriend over 150 people who were on my Facebook. I’m not going into the details here, but I’m sure it comes as no surprise to any reader that it was over politics; America is as deeply divided now as I’ve ever known her to be. I made a decision to eliminate scores of daily negative postings on my Facebook timeline, and in the days since, have thoroughly enjoyed a sunnier climate of expressions. I am working now to return to what I prefer writing and posting–art and daily musings.

The Proust quote above crossed my radar this morning while reading of the Cezanne/Zola split and I’m going to try now to put this into words. As Proust pointed out, our past experiences have been stitched together to create the complex individuals we find ourselves to be in the present. And when we find ourselves awash in those memories, we know the gratitude of warm memories as well as the melancholia of knowing those moments remain no longer, except in memory. When I discovered Facebook some years back, I felt genuine gratitude when over a hundred friends from high school and college came onto my page. Many of them I have had the privilege of re-visiting in person and enjoying warm conversation that included plenty of reminiscences. And, in line with Proust, that is how I choose to remember those friends, with grateful stories of things we encountered long ago. Unfortunately, it has to end there. The daily flow on Facebook of belittling discourse and political intolerance is not what improves my life, and I reached the conclusion that it would only be these kinds of postings waiting to greet me every day when I pulled up my page. So, I made my decision and there is no looking back, only forward.

My blog will still go to Facebook, and it won’t be political. And, as I’ve written before, my friend Wayne White https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/ and I only hope that readers will feel good when they read our musings. The world has too much hatred and vitriol already. It doesn’t need to hear that from us.

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.

 

Pre-Mountain Meditations

June 8, 2018

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Plein Air Watercolor Sketch from Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico

I am about to embark on a long road trip that will get me into the mountains by this evening. I have just completed my first week of a summer school online class in the Humanities for Texas Wesleyan University. I love how technology has made this possible–the university is in Fort Worth, and I have been hours away from Fort Worth all week while interacting with fourteen students in the class. The eighteenth-century Enlightenment has been our focus, with readings from Immanuel Kant and Alexander Pope along with art from the Neo-Classical era. I have loved the student response, and always love combing through these primary sources.

I feel the mountains calling out to me, and am deeply moved at the prospect of leaving my familiar surroundings to be enveloped by them. But just as I was preparing to load and leave, I paused on the computer and learned of the tragic death of Anthony Bourdain. I am sad to say that I didn’t know him, and never followed any of his published statements or televised performances. And now I really feel that loss, reading some of the things he said while still alive. I feel inspired to post this one, because my class just spent a week talking about the subject of “enlightenment.”

Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom . . . is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.

Anthony Bourdain

I love this sentiment because I have been conscious since graduate school in the 1980’s that I myself am a traveler on this planet, and this life is an odyssey. There is no roadmap provided, and we have the right to navigate this path as we choose. There are so many rich discoveries around each bend, and yes, many dangers and risks as well. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am saddened that Anthony Bourdain chose to end his travels. I’m not sure we will ever know why, and it remains his business. But I’m saddened that I did not know him while he was alive and creating ideas to share with us.

Thanks for reading. Next time I write I should be in the mountains.

The Intermittent Shadow

May 2, 2018

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Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Words from T. S. Eliot flowed through my mind shortly after waking early this morning. I don’t pretend to know all the nuance of this great work of his, but I know what I feel as I respond to these words. Having just come off the best art festival of my career (Artscape 2018 at the Dallas Arboretum), I have a four-day interim before leaping into back-to-back art events (Paint Historic Waxahachie from Friday till the following Thursday; Art on the Greene the following three days). I depend on gaps like this four-day respite for rest, reflection and restoration. But alas, I am constituted in such a way that when I awaken with no appointments of deadlines, I feel that I have fallen into the nadir. I have to fight off feelings ranging from listlessness to laziness.

For years I have known the reality of these cycles of ebb and flow, of repose and activity. I have understood what’s been read of Jackson Pollock in Springs, Long Island, ceasing his activity after an immense output of work. He would wander the property smoking, lying in the grasses, thinking, waiting for the energy to return. I have understood Walt Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life,” fearing that his 1860 second edition of Leaves of Grass would fall flat and the literary public would label him as a pretender, a phony.

As for me, I just have to realize that the few days ahead are a gift for relaxing and re-tooling, not fretting over the possibility of losing my creative edge.  I tried this morning to get in some quality reading, but instead decided to resume a painting that I began en plein air recently while camping at Big Bend National Park.  It was ninety per cent completed, but I took a reference photo and decided to use the photo to complete it this morning. I posted the painting above, when it was near completion. As I worked on it, I recalled another portion of T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”–

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Last night, I completed another work begun in Terlingua’s Ghost Town while I was at Big Bend. I have not been able to stop seeing in my mind’s eye the shell of the church perched on that rugged hill:

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Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blot to remind myself I am not alone.

Heaving my Spirit into the Mountains

April 25, 2018

Big Bend Santa Elena Junction upright

Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

With stacks of newly-fashioned greeting cards piling on my desk this morning, I am confronted afresh with plein air watercolors from several weeks back that I never got around to blogging. Spring is always a spastic season, with art festivals, gallery shows, competitions and workshops stacked in the calendar, along with my twice-a-week college classes.

The painting posted above was done at Big Bend National Park during Spring Break. We were taking the dirt road from Santa Elena Junction back to the park entrance. Stopping at a dry creek bed, I set up my easel in the bed and looked across the desert at this colorful range of mountains and mused over the contrast between their eternity and the creek’s intermittent flows. On another day, I could be listening to the laughing brook flowing by while staring into the mute mountains. But today, only the mountains were there, waiting to be confronted face-to-face. As I painted, the winds continually swept across the valley, and in my memory, I listened to the sweet, haunting strains of Richard Burmer’s song “Across the View.”

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 Flow

April 24, 2018

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Plein air watercolor of Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico

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

Robert Motherwell

For weeks now, art work has been pouring out of me, and I’ve fallen far behind in blogging the adventures. Since my recent plein air sojourn into New Mexico, I have travelled to east Texas to plein air paint, and am now making daily trips to Waxahachie to take part in the annual Paint Historic Waxahachie event. This weekend I will exhibit for the first time at Artscape 2018 held in the Dallas Arboretum. Two weeks later I’ll be exhibiting at Arlington’s Art on the Greene. Soon, I plan to post many new images, as I have completed a number of new paintings and am currently having them reproduced in limited edition prints as well as greeting cards. Preparing for this weekend’s show while painting daily in Waxahachie and maintaining my Monday and Wednesday college classes has my head spinning, but it’s a good life.

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Oh yes, and by the way, I’ve done other things besides paint. Fly fishing is another passion of mine. I landed fourteen of these.

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.

 

 

 

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.

Tying up Some Loose Ends

April 11, 2018

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Recently Completed Watercolor of Historic Bank in Palestine, Texas

When the early morning light quietly

 grows above the mountains . . .

            The word’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.

            To head toward a star—this only.

            To think is to confine yourself to a

                        single thought that one day stands

                        still like a star in the world’s sky.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

A long, yawning gap stretches out between this morning and the occasion of my last blog post. But I have not been yawning. Life has been very pleasing, but packed with activity, all of it meaningful to me, but boring to post on a blog. I have had the thrill of teaching my college classes, conducting a watercolor workshop, giving private watercolor lessons, chatting with artistic colleagues, and spending extended weekends in Palestine working out of The Gallery at Redlands.

I regret to say that it will be probably a month before I spend another weekend in the gallery. This time of year is when my calendar suddenly explodes with art festivals, watercolor workshops and competition exhibitions. I have no free weekend to do gallery work until the midst of May. The painting below will soon be exhibited in the downtown Fort Worth Public Library for the Society of Watercolor Artists Annual International Exhibition.

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Old Town Palestine

I posted the Heidegger poem above, because I still feel the draw of the mountains since leaving Big Bend National Park last month. I have been looking closely at the tightening calendar, scouting for a gap to return to a mountain range somewhere and take up once again the thrill of plein air painting the glory and the light and the atmosphere which they radiate. That time has come. By the time many of you read this I will be already en route to my next adventure, seeking scenes of beauty to capture on watercolor paper and journals. I have ached for this moment, though fully enjoying all the social events I’ve known the past weeks.

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.