Archive for the ‘New Mexico’ 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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Early Morning Thoughts from Pedernal Casita at Abiquiu Lake

July 19, 2018

Pedernal in the Evening

Pedernal in the Morning (more…)

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.

 

Stuck in a Rut? Never.

June 14, 2018

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Watercoloring with a Glad Heart

. . . it is more salutary for thinking to wander into the strange than to establish itself in the obvious.

Martin Heidegger, “Logos (Heraclitus, Fragment B 50)”

For days now, my mind has been driven in various directions, all of them fascinating. After a splendid weekend of viewing mountains and sketching them in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, I decided to devote some serious scrutiny to color theory and composition applied to plein air painting. For any of you watercolorists who haven’t yet checked out the magazine The Art of Watercolour: The Art Magazine for Watercolourists, I cannot say enough for this amazing publication. I haven’t purchased every issue that has come out, but I have perused every single one from the past three years closely, and have really enjoyed the work of David Parfitt in this current edition. His work has made me revisit my paintings of the Texas Laguna Madre from 2015-16, and I am now inspired to try some different techniques on that subject. Today I am experimenting with some color combinations I haven’t tried before, as I resume a watercolor sketch that I began in Cloudcroft last weekend.

I posted the Heidegger quote above because I spent a couple of hours yesterday morning while seated outdoors in the cool morning breeze that I’ve been enjoying recently during my stay here in west Texas. His translation and exposition of this Heraclitus fragment has forced me to push my thinking down different channels than before, and I also find that kind of experience exhilarating. I have never wished to find myself in a rut. Life is too short to waste on boredom. A good friend and mentor has recently said some things to me that has inspired me to re-open a manuscript I began, chronicling my artist-in-residency experience while on the Texas Laguna Madre in 2015. After six chapters totaling over forty pages of text, I stalled on that project. But now I have resumed editing and have begun pushing out new chapters, and am enjoying my revisit of those memories.

The online summer school class for the university is also providing daily stimulation and opening new portals for discovery. We recently wrapped up discussions on John Donne’s “Meditation 17” and a portion of Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason.” And if I didn’t find stimulation enough from this new Humanities class barely underway, I was yesterday offered another course for this fall at Texas Wesleyan University, in addition to my two sections of Logic. For the first time, I’ll teach an online course on “Classical Judaism.” I am thrilled to the bone about this one. I have never had opportunity to devote an entire semester to Judaism. I’ve taught courses in the Hebrew Bible before, and have always welcomed the chance to dust off that language and work on some translations and commentary. I’ve also taught World Religions and enjoyed including that unit on Judaism. And I’ve had the opportunity of bringing the contributions of Jewish scholars into courses I’ve taught in Philosophy and Ethics. But I’ve never before been offered this opportunity to focus exclusively on Classical Judaism for a semester. So . . . I have another exciting channel to navigate this summer. Thanks to Amazon, my textbook will arrive by mail on Saturday and I can begin to flesh out this course of study for the fall.

Throughout my life I have been chided (in good humor) about my chronic mental distractedness. All I can say in response is this: I have no sympathy for anyone who complains of boredom. I do not understand how one can fall into boredom. I refuse to allow boredom to enter the mental portals of my life. There is too much to explore, and not enough time.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

Recollections 54 Redivivus

September 19, 2016

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The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

On February 7, 2002, over fourteen years ago, I was convinced that I had finally found my artistic voice, and responded by launching my sole proprietorship Recollections 54, creating a market for my watercolors (www.recollections54.com). My passion has always been to travel  county roads through the sleepy towns of America, my watercolor block riding at my side like a faithful travel dog. Always on the lookout for something to paint, I experienced every day as a new opportunity for discovery of some artifact reminiscent of earlier decades of energy and prosperity. Today, only the shells and husks remain of filling stations, general stores, movie theaters and other public buildings formerly stirring with conversations, stories and glimpses of life. The writer Marcel Proust has pointed out the thrill of beholding an object capable of triggering profound memories from youth, and being filled with a sense of warmth and gratitude.

Holding down two jobs has made painting with any kind of regularity a challenge, and should I be fortunate enough to retire one day, I have this fantasy of pursuing my watercolor passion with fewer restrictions. In addition to working full time, I have also taken a number of detours throughout the past fourteen years, traveling roads that involved significant changes in my signature genre–still life painting, plein air painting, Texas coastal themes and fly fishing, to name a few. But lately, I’ve found joy in returning to this Recollections 54 genre, selecting scenes from vanishing America.

I have nearly completed another watercolor of this favorite genre, and posted it above. This relic of a roadside restaurant flooded me with a sense of loss and presence when I stopped and photographed it in New Mexico years ago. Loss, because the business was dead; presence, because the structure resonated with stories as I stood gazing at it from every possible angle, near and afar, taking dozens of photos and trying to imagine what it was like to pull into the gravel parking lot hungry and eager to enter a comfortable zone and be served.

Emerson wrote that detachment was the virtue of a piece of art, that ability to detach the subject from the surroundings that tried to draw away attention. Frequently that is what I do when selecting something to draw or paint. From buildings such as this, I frequently remove windows, air conditioning units, graffiti, dangling cables–anything I regard as taking away from the simple integrity of the subject. The surroundings often present that annoying tree or trash dumpster that is in the way. The fun thing about making art is the ability to make those decisions in framing up a composition. And so this subject also presented its own unique set of possibilities.

I believe the painting is nearly finished. As was the practice of Andrew Wyeth, I’ll put it up in my home somewhere, and glance at it as I enter or leave the room, always evaluating, figuring if there remains something to do before signing off on it.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Ecstatic Revision

September 19, 2016

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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

After a weekend tour of five Texas universities with the senior A.V.I.D. students from my campus, I found myself quite exhausted and mellow when I finally awoke in my own bed Sunday morning. My gas station and passenger rail car watercolors are nearly complete, and I really was not in the mood to look at them and make final decisions. So, instead, I picked up this demonstration piece I began a couple of years ago, to see if I could edit it and pull out a finished painting. The site is an abandoned restaurant in New Mexico that I photographed a number of years ago while passing through from Colorado.

My first painting of this location has already sold to dear friends. I’m always glad to sell to a friend, but I missed looking up at that framed painting that hung in a prominent place in my living room. So far, this one is not living up to the standards of the first, but we’ll see what happens as I bump it a little more.

The original painting was titled New Mexico Closure, and it is featured on my website recollections54.com. With this current attempt, I am attempting to put more foliage around the back and enrich the foreground textures. So far, the bread crumbs and salt are not creating the effects I’m seeking, but I’ll give it another go this evening, hopefully.

I posted the Robert Motherwell quote above, completely affirming that joy in pouring out spontaneously all the richness of my emotions as I begin a work, then revising later. Oftentimes, the earlier joy far exceeds the work of revision. However, there are times like now that my ecstatic high is reversed, and I find more joy in the revision. That is true on this occasion because this painting began as a demo for a local art society. I fielded numerous questions as I put down the preliminary colors and shapes, and of course, was conscious of an audience, so I could not experience that “high” that I know when alone in the studio and pouring out a new work.

William Wordsworth opined once that “all good poetry is the spntaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” But he then later wrote that “the imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.” What makes this current watercolor experience enjoyable for me is the time I’m spending staring at the work from across the room, making compositional decisions. When I see something I don’t like, I don’t despair but wonder “can it be improved, and if so, do I have the skill”?  So far, I’m saying Yes and Yes.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

On the Road with Jack Kerouac

July 8, 2014
On the Road Collage

On the Road Collage

“Now, Sal, we’re leaving everything behind us and entering a new and unknown phase of things.  All the years and troubles and kicks–and now this!  so that we can safely think of nothing else and just go on ahead with our faces stuck out like this, you see, and understand the world as, really and genuinely speaking, other Americans haven’t done before us . . .

Dean Moriarty, in On the Road

Before retiring to bed, I felt the itch to create another Route 66 collage, something I haven’t done in over five years.  I’ve missed this genre.  Working through the images compelled me to take out my copy of On the Road and spot read some of it, for the ump-teenth time.  As I write this, I am playing my On the Road DVD on the television, enjoying the jazz music and Beat dialogue.

Thanks for reading.  I think I’ll let this stuff go for the night . . . 

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Finding One’s Passion in the Midst of the 10,000-Hour Rule

July 8, 2013
Stage Coach Hotel, Fort Worth Stockyards District

Stage Coach Hotel, Fort Worth Stockyards District

Every art form conveys a message.  When an artist is young and still learning, that message is usually about technique: see what I can do.  Decorative art has a perfectly valid message, one of beauty.  As we mature, in both our art and in our life, we learn to understand our passions and these then become the subject we express in our works.  But at the same time, passion is not the only source of expression because thought can also come into play.  So an artist’s expression evolves from the heart (passion), the brain (thought) or a combination of the two (with usually an emphasis on one or the other).  

Alex Powers, (Interview) The Art of Watercolour, 2nd issue

I am posting my second attempt at watercolor sketching the Stage Coach Hotel in the Fort Worth Stockyard District.  When I photographed this portal a couple of weeks ago in late afternoon, the temperatures had already reached triple digits.  My eye was “held” at the richness of reds in the sun-damaged door, and the smoky, grimy window panes that survived above.  I couldn’t stop looking at these details, and took quite a number of photographs of the subject.  I knew I wanted to take this one back to the studio and see if I could make something of it.

Following the thread from the Alex Powers interview, I am finally settling down to watercoloring my passion after years of adding techniques and tricks to my toolbox.  Reading Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit finally got my attention about that–it is time to let techniques support my objective in painting rather than building “interesting” paintings on a myriad of techniques.  The immediate result is that my paintings are coming along even faster now, and I’m spending less time combing through my toolbox for gimmicks to toss out onto the painting.

Portals have fascinated me for decades, but it wasn’t until this past winter that I took my first crack at painting close-up studies of door knobs.  I next turned my attention to the surfaces of weathered old doors.  When the spring came around, I began experimenting with screen door compositions.  All of these studies took place in my studio.  For the past few weeks I have been traveling about, painting portals on site and enjoying the speed and decision-making of plein air painting.  Now that Texas has settled into its inferno summer temperatures, I am perusing photographs that I’ve taken of these portals and making plans for additional compositions.  All of this has been fulfilling for me.  I don’t know how to explain my passion for the subjects I paint.  I suppose I could just toss out the adage: for those who don’t understand, no explanation is possible; for those who do, none is necessary.

I have probably mentioned in earlier blogs that I play guitar.  I have not been able to accomplish with music what I have with the visual arts.   I suppose that would fall somewhere under the “10,000- Hour” rule of Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.  I have easily put in my 10,000 hours of study and application in the visual arts.  On guitar, well that’s another story.  But my point in opening with the quote from Alex Powers is this: younger, less experienced artists can easily get caught up in the fascination of learning many, many techniques and tricks that “wow” the observer, just as many younger, less experienced guitar players load up their toolboxes with tricks and gimmicks to stun listeners with their performance.  And yet, many young and less experienced artists still do not know how to build a painting, just as many guitar players in the same class cannot play a single song all the way through.  And when they do (painters and guitar players), they often show creative flourishes, but not a finished masterpiece.  I don’t say this with the sadness that I used to: when I play guitar, I am conscious that I can play all the notes correctly and sometimes even keep my timing consistent.  But the “soul” is not there.  My guitar does not gently weep.  My listeners do not feel what I feel, because it is not  coming through my fingers, not emerging from my guitar.  I have witnessed scores of guitar gods playing my instrument, and I would swear that it was not the same instrument.  I marveled at how they coaxed that sound, that soul, from my acoustic box.  At this point, I still cannot.

I used to complain this way about my paintings–that they were fine illustrations, ably constructed, correctly rendered, and so on.  But now, I want feelings and moods to emerge from my pictures, not gimmicks.  I want viewers to see my work, and feel what I felt in constructing it.  And, to borrow a line from Hemingway: “I’m not there, but I feel I’m getting closer.”  I am more excited about painting now than I ever recall feeling before.  Because I know what I want.  I know what I seek.  The passion is there.  And I’m starting to believe that the passion can emerge from my brush.  Who knows? Maybe some day passion will rise from my guitar strings as well.  But, one thing at a time.

Thanks for reading.  Sorry if this was too much navel-gazing.  It’s been on my mind awhile now.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel that I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Nostalgic New Mexico Road House Watercolor

May 15, 2011

New Mexico Road House

The Weiler House just framed this watercolor for me, in preparation for the One-Man Show this fall.  See http://www.weilerhousefineart.com for the gallery’s website.  I saw this abandoned road house several years ago while traveling New Mexico during the late summer.  I painted it once before, putting railroad tracks in the foreground.  This time I thought I would let the “Mother Road” roll past the front.  I seem to recall that this collection of buildings was near historic route 66.

Thanks for reading.