Archive for the ‘Route 66’ Category

Requiem for the Fourth

June 24, 2019

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Requiem for the Fourth (Still in Progress)

He tasted the dry dust as he walked along the Historic Route 66 thoroughfare, the hot August winds bending the roadside weeds. After twenty years away, he had resolved to return to Turvey’s Corner to see what remained. What he hadn’t anticipated was his truck breaking down more than ten miles from the town he longed to see. Rounding yet another bend in the road and looking up at the weed-choked hill on his left, he felt his heart sink as he gazed upon what remained of the combination fireworks and souvenir shop. In the 1950’s, this established was one of the major draws for tourists crossing America via Route 66. Interstate 44 had managed to strangle and kill the few remaining businesses on old 66. 

Pausing in silence, he felt a sense of loss as he gazed upon this relic barely peeking over the heads of the dancing weeds. But as he lingered, he slowly sensed a presence as he recalled the sounds that used to reverberate from this site. Station wagons would pull into the parking lot and children squealing with ecstasy would leap out of the car to rush inside and explore. Later they would re-emerge, their arms laden with moccasins, beaded necklaces and tomahawks.

During the Fourth of July season, he recalled the scenes of fathers pulling up in their cars on their way home from work. Though tired from their labors, they seemed to reignite with fresh energy as they went inside to fill grocery sacks with Roman candles, bottle rockets, firecrackers and sparklers to take home to anticipating children.

The conflicting emotions of loss and presence flooded the man’s soul as he trudged past this scene on his way to the town he once knew.

.  .  .  .  .

I am nearing completion of my fourth painting in the new series Turvey’s Corner 63050.  For years I have looked for a vintage roadside fruit stand to include in my new project, but all I seem to find are new structures. Meanwhile I decided to go ahead and paint this derelict structure that I have passed by for years in southwest Missouri along Interstate 44 en route to St. Louis to visit my folks.

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.

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Thanksgiving Gladness

November 22, 2018

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A New Kerouac Collage

Kerouac saw On the Road as a story of America, and the split in his own character–between his wanderlust and his desire to “work and make your life” . . .

John Leland, Why Kerouac Matters

The highway rolled out as an endless manuscript and the American landscape punctuated it with chapters and illustrations. For days now, I have found delight filling my journal with observations from roadside parks, truck stops, cafes and gas stations. All of this came together in collage fashion in my mind’s eye, and the ideas of William Burroughs and his “cut-ups” were refreshed. All of us cut up the world differently with our visions and our thoughts.

Thanksgiving offers a warm, welcome embrace after countless hours and days on the road in recent weeks. I have enjoyed my lifestyle, balancing college responsibilities with gallery, studio work and personal life. But I never dreamed of rolling out so much time on the road. One of the better results of this has been a return to the writings and life story of Jack Kerouac, and a fresh look at the work of the other Beat writers. The romance of the American highway and landscape has remained with me throughout my life, but not until this past year have I had opportunity to experience it fully.

From time to time, I have reached into my bag of scraps to explore collage techniques. Recently, it has been difficult doing plein air watercolor on the road, and the temperatures have been quite frigid as well. Collage-making has been a nice change of pace for me.

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My Messy Work Area

I am enjoying a second read of Why Kerouac Matters, particularly the dualism of his character, as he vacillated between his road odysseys and the desire to build something permanent with his life. I have known that tension for years, but am living more contently with it in recent days. I am old enough to know that I cannot accomplish all I wish to accomplish. Perhaps coming to terms with that reality has made things better for me. At any rate, I am enjoying the serenity now of the holidays, and am spending much of this leisure time playing solitaire at the kitchen table. I occasionally lay aside the deck of cards to read another chapter from my book, or scribble out a few more pages in my journal, or build another collage, or chip away at this evolving blog entry.

Thanks for reading. I wish you the happiest of Thanksgiving.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Another Limited Edition for the Weekend Show

March 30, 2017

Christmas at Spencer's Grill horizontal

Christmas at Spencer’s Grill

And finally, I’m bringing this limited edition back out for the weekend show at The Gallery at Redlands, 400 N. Queen St., Palestine, Texas.  It is priced at $80.

Spencer’s Grill is located on Kirkwood Road (old Route 66) in St. Louis, Missouri. The business has been there since 1947, and the colorful billboard that advertised the place caught my eye since the days I was too young yet to read. Nearly every time I visit my family in St. Louis, I go to this establishment for an old-fashioned breakfast, seated at a counter stool, feeling that I have entered Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks. I guess I will always be a painter of memories.

Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper_1942

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.

 

Reminiscences of an Extended Plein Air Road Trip

April 12, 2014
Abandoned Zephyr Station on Historic Route 66 Southwest of St. Louis

Abandoned Zephyr Station on Historic Route 66 Southwest of St. Louis

I paint so I’ll have something to look at. . . . I write so I’ll have something to read.

Barnett Newman

My reason for not posting on the blog all week is a legitimate one.  It’s called Income Tax.  My appointment with the accountant is this afternoon.  I spent every day Monday through Friday of this past week gathering receipts, spreadsheets and files of data to organize for this afternoon’s meeting.  Twice I went to bed at 1:30 a.m. (I have to rise at 6:00 to teach school).  Another pair of nights saw me retiring to bed at midnight.  My earliest night was 10:30.  But now it is behind me (except for the meeting and the filing).  I am letting out a deep sigh of relief.

Understandably, I have not been able to pick up a watercolor brush, though thoughts of it remained with me on the hour each day.  I have posted above a watercolor I completed a few years ago.  I traveled to this site in Villa Ridge, Missouri (southwest of St. Louis, just north of Interstate 44).  Before leaving Arlington, Texas to travel home to St. Louis to visit family, I checked on the Internet and found photos of an abandoned quonset hut Zephyr station on historic route 66.  I tried to find specific directions to the location with no luck.  I concluded that all I had to do was get to Villa Ridge and ask directions.  Ten hours into my drive, and very road-weary, I took an exit off I-44 for Villa Ridge and drove in circles for about an hour, constantly re-entering the freeway.  I tried following every “historic route 66” sign I could find in a ten-mile radius, all to no avail.  While sitting in a left-turn lane at a traffic light, waiting for the green arrow, I changed my mind and decided to go straight through the intersection.  Crossing over the solid white line resulted in my being pulled over immediately by a Missouri State Highway Patrolmen who happened to be in the left-turn lane behind me (smart move).

When the patrolman approached my window, I explained that I was a watercolorist who had just driven ten hours straight from Arlington, Texas, looking for this route 66 landmark to photograph and paint.  I handed him my stack of papers and photos printed off the Internet sites, along with my driver’s license and proof of insurance card.  Returning five mintes later from his patrol unit, he mildly handed me a warning citation and gave me verbal directions on how to get to the Zephyr station.  What a Mensch!  I am not used to getting that kind of courtesy from traffic law enforcement officers.

First Sight of the Zephyr Station

First Sight of the Zephyr Station

Once I pulled into what was left of the parking lot of this derelict station, I saw that all signage, lights and gas pumps (visible on the Internet historic photos) had been removed.  Nevertheless, the structure remained, so I got out of my Jeep and set up a portable easel, quickly knocking out a plein air sketch of one end of the station as it began to get dark.  A curious neighbor approached me to see what I was doing, and gladly took me on a tour behind the station to show me what was left of the roadbed that preceded route 66.  It was then called The Old Post Road.  She was full of stories, and I filled several pages of my journal later that evening as I recalled as many details as possible.

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Walking to the far end of the parking lot, I was enthralled at the sight of this Zephyr billboard completely overgrown with leaves.

Overgrown Zephyr Billboard

Overgrown Zephyr Billboard

By this time, it was too dark to paint, and I was extremely exhausted from the ten-hour drive and quick painting session.  So I snapped a photo and decided to return the next day.  My parents lived about an hour further down the Interstate.

All night long, it rained and rained.  Returning the next day, I sat in the back of my Jeep and watercolor sketched this sign until the rains resumed.  I would have to take the painting back home with me to finish on a subsequent day, relying on photos I took.

Completed Watercolor of the Billboard

Completed Watercolor of the Billboard

The only thing remaining for me to do was to take photos of the parking lot that had been transformed into a reflective pool by the hard rains and take up a serious studio project of the subject in the future.

After the Rain

After the Rain

Completed Studio Watercolor

Completed Studio Watercolor

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

He’s Out of His Tree

September 3, 2013
Laumeier Tree House

Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis

After a grueling first week of school, I found the opportunity to scamper home to St. Louis to visit my parents for a couple of days over the holiday weekend.  I had not had a real visit with them since Christmas, and was long overdue.  Time spent with Mom and Dad was a quiet respite from the weeklong frenzy I had just experienced at school, and on the second day of my visit, I retreated to Laumeier Sculpture Park, found this tree house, and decided “Why not?”

Inside the Tree House

Inside the Tree House

Taking my Titian volume, I climbed the ladder, sprawled inside, and enjoyed my reading and journaling in the peace and quiet above the beautiful sculpture garden.  I read of Titian’s idyllic youth spent in the mountainous region north of Venice, in the remote township of Pieve di Cadore.  The quiet Sunday afternoon in Laumeier yielded the perfect enclave as I read and reflected on the early influences of that remarkable painter.

Jonathan Borofsky Sculpture

Jonathan Borofsky, “Man with Briefcase at #2968443”

I also took some time to stroll around the grounds, taking dozens of photos of the monumental sculptures and recording notes from them.  Eyeing this Borofsky monument, I determined not to allow myself to be another number, another cog in this impersonal workforce that engulfs me daily.  The school where I teach has over 3,000 students and over 200 faculty in one large building.

Drawing with a Ballpoint Pen

Drawing with a Ballpoint Pen

Sitting on a park bench in the shade, I took out my ballpoint pen and tried to render a cedar in my Moleskine notebook.  I don’t draw nearly enough in my later years, and enjoyed this moment of relaxation, though I preferred to have my watercolor block in hand.  The Jeep was parked a long distance away however, and I didn’t feel like walking the distance (and risk losing the urge to sketch).  Besides, I had an earlier opportunity to kick out a quick plein air watercolor sketch the day before . . .

Roadside Park along Historic Missouri Route 66

Roadside Park along Historic Missouri Route 66

I got a late start to St. Louis over the holiday weekend, choosing to drive through the night.  When I realized that I was going to reach my parents’ house around 5:00 a. m., and that I was growing drowsy, I chose the safety of a roadside park along I-44, parking in the midst of a row of seven or eight cars, reclining my seat, and drifting off to a welcoming sleep.  When I awoke, the sun had just risen, and I looked out and saw this bluff across the divided highway.  I didn’t have to think twice about it–retrieving my backpack, I dug out my watercolor supplies, found a picnic table, and went to work sketching this out on an 8 x 10″ D’Arches block.

Winsor & Newton Field Box

Winsor & Newton Field Box

I worked very quickly, enjoying every moment of the encounter, and musing over the works of Joan Miro as he rhapsodized over the rural Catalan landscapes of his environment.  I don’t emulate the style of Miro, but my heart beats faster every time I read of an artist who works at capturing the landscape of his youth.  The cliffs carved for the thoroughfares of Route 66 always held my attention as a young boy, gazing out the window from the back seat of the passing car.  I always wished I could sit atop them, look across the land, and attempt to paint them.  Finally I’m getting that chance.

After the rhapsodic moment with the morning cliffs, I climbed back into my waiting vehicle, knowing Mom and Dad would have fresh coffee waiting.  It was good to go home again.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Uh-Oh. Another Warhol in the Making

August 21, 2012

Maxwell House Watercolor in Progress

Good evening from the studio.  As some of you know, I am now neck-deep in back-to-school Inservice meetings (some of them as interesting as watching paint dry).  I am determined that school this year will not derail my blogging.  I had too many excuses for my blog going on semi-hiatus this summer (all of them poor ones).  I will not let this happen again.  This year’s school schedule will not be the black nightmare of last year’s.  I am happy to return to only six classes to teach, all of them subjects I enjoy.

Andy Warhol still resonates with me.  He died at the age where I find myself now (58), and this is sobering.  I have not made the mark yet that I wish to make with my contribution to the artistic enterprise, and perhaps I will not.  But right now, the inclination to explore and experiment is very strong with me, so I am making a concerted effort to explore alternatives while at the same time developing the genre that I have tried to anchor in recent years (and still remain a somewhat-decent school teacher).

I went to the Man Cave and fished out this Maxwell House tin that I purchased a long time ago in an Oklahoma antique store along Route 66.  My earliest “Proustian” childhood memories include the sound of the stove-top percolator gurgling in the pre-dawn, and my sitting in a high chair at the breakfast table, watching my father eat bacon and eggs before leaving for work as a garage mechanic.  I still remember the aromas and the warmth I felt in that safe world.  I don’t believe my parents drank Maxwell House (actually it was 8 O’Clock Bean) but that goofy commercial that made the percolating sounds musical will be stuck with me throughout my life, I confess.

Thanks for reading.  I think this painting has dried enough for me to push it further down the road to completion.  I started it this afternoon as soon as I got home from school, and I hope to have quite a bit more done before retiring to bed later.

The Artist as a Collector of Memories

March 27, 2012

Spencer's Grill, Kirkwood, Missouri

I apologize for my recent hiatus.  I became very sick with allergies Saturday night at the Art on the Greene Festival, and now on Tuesday, still cannot shake it.  I am just a shell of a teacher here at school during these state-mandated tests for four hours, and then a full slate of classes following.  Not a good time to be sick.

The art and music festival was a resounding success.  I have not yet inquired about the official numbers, but know that over 3,000 came through the park during the short days of Friday and Sunday.  It would be easy to assume that the Saturday attendance pushed the numbers far beyond 10,000.  My booth was full much of the time, and I enjoyed every single patron that paused to converse with me.

Some patrons came, looking for bargains, some looking for just that perfect piece to fit in a space at home or at work, but many entered my booth to remember.  My company is Recollections 54, as I create scenes and vistas reminiscent of our small-town America during the fifties.  And I truly loved every story, every experience that was shared with me by patrons over those three days.

The posted picture has finally sold, in the original watercolor.  A patron who had been eyeing it for over six months came and made the purchase Sunday.  And I was also delighted to sell limited edition prints of it as well as greeting cards carrying its image.  It is no doubt a scene that has resonated with many.

I grew up outside St. Louis, Missouri, and have known this Spencer’s Grill since my early childhood.  The business was established in 1947 on historic Route 66 (now Kirkwood Road, or Lindbergh Blvd.) and the sign has been in place since 1948.  The business has never closed, and I do not fail to go there when I visit my St. Louis family to enjoy a breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, hash browns and scrapple.  Entering this diner is like entering a time warp in the 1940’s and 50’s.  I relish every sensation and memory culled from my visits there.

Proust reminds us that there are sensations that arrest us unexpectedly and take us back to warm, primal memories of our childhood that matter, that are worth remembering.  Spencer’s Grill does exactly that with the smell of the old diner, coffee brewing, and breakfast foods frying.  The sounds, the aromas, the look at the people hunched over the counter and crowded into the booths–all of this brings back my childhood, and my memories of an America that will not die until I do.

Thank you for reading.  I should be feeling better soon and return to blogging.

 

Finished the Route 66 Gas Station Watercolor

February 23, 2012

Abandoned Gas Station in Robertsville, Missouri

Despite another night’s restless sleep, I somehow found the energy and enthusiasm today to push out the remainder of this watercolor and declare it a fait accompli.  As stated in prior posts, the abandoned service station is located at Robertsville, Missouri, west of St. Louis near historic route 66, six miles southwest of Pacific.  I created an earlier version titled “Cold Desolation” which is a frontal view of the station.

Though my body is ragged from lack of sleep, I feel compelled to write about this satisfying day in the classroom.  My topic in regular Art History covered the Neo-Classical, Romantic and Realist periods of European and American painting.  As I lectured through these areas, I found my personal life and my art connecting more intimately with these periods than ever before.

The Neo-Classical era of painting, corresponding with the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment, focused on discipline, precision, draughtsmanship and composition.  It was an era of painting beset by rules and clarity of presentation.  Speaking of my own artistic endeavors, I have always been more of a draughtsman than a painter.  My painting professor from Vienna always told me that I created “colored drawings.”  I suppose that has something to do with my settling on watercolor as a means of expression, since I pursue it as an extension of drawing, and while creating a composition such as the one just posted, I feel that I am drawing 90% of it, and making an effort to paint the rest.  Moreover, as I worked at this piece, I was constantly stepping back to view it from a distance and make decisions concerning contrast, area of focus, warm vs. cool colors, and high vs. low intensity.  Compositional questions dogged me throughout this work.  So yes, I feel a Neo-Classical strain as I work at my art.

After the Neo-Classicists had their day in court, the pendulum swung to a movement we call Romanticism.  This group of painters rejected the structural “Apollonian” disciplines and rule-following of the classical style, and preferred instead to explore the spontaneity, the dark side, the emotive side of the human experience.  Dionysus seems to be the patron deity of this movement, as Goya, Gericault and Delacroix launched excursions into the turbulent side of life.  When I showed my students the watercolor and pencil rendering of the ruins of the Medieval cathedral at Tintern Abbey, by Joseph Mallord William Turner, I tried to convey to them the dual sense of loss and presence one can feel when regarding an abandoned subject.  My own company Recollections 54 (http://recollections54.com) focuses on abandoned subjects, and the more I study and paint them, the more I feel that dual experience.  I was glad when school finally ended today.  I was ready to re-enter the garage studio and finish this painting, seeking to inject into it some sense of loss, abandonment and opportunities missed.  I feel the Romantic strain when I focus on these kinds of subjects in painting, and I know the overwhelming feelings expressed by Wordsworth in his “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.”

Realism followed on the heels of the Neo-Classical and Romantic movements.  G. W. F. Hegel has left us with a philosophy of history that focuses on dual movements (thesis and antithesis) that become locked in dispute, and when a resolution arises that somehow finds a consensus between them, we call it a synthesis.  That is what the Realist school of painting seemed to do.  The artists could acknowledge that life contains rules and structure on the one hand, and the opposite extreme of romance and risk on the other, but life for the most part is Aristotle’s Golden Mean between the extremes.  Life involves going to work everyday, paying bills, eating, sleeping, and navigating through the extremes of success and failure.  The school of Realism wants to show slices of everyday life as they really are.  They thought history was for the past and romance was for dreamers.

Sometimes, I feel that my paintings reflect more the school of Realism than that of the Classics or Romance.  They are paintings of bland, dull, quiet, discarded subjects from daily life that the majority will pass without a look.  And the more I labor to turn them into works of art, applying disciplinary compositional techniques (Neo-Classical) or injecting them with drama (Romantic), the more I come away saying, “These are just subjects from the real, gray world, nothing more.”  Interestingly enough, I have never been able to separate my art from my profession, any more than one can separate the creation from its creator.  The reality is that I am a public schoolteacher, often with ideas and talk that exceed my accomplishments.  That alone could render me a Realist.  But my final word is this–I am, in the final word, an unfrustrated artist who always finds the act of creating a source of genuine joy and satisfaction, even when the work of art falls below expectations.  Like a satisfied fly fisherman returning from the stream with an empty creel who says, “It was still beautiful being out on the stream, breathing, relaxing, and listening to the 4-count rhythm of my fly casting.”

Another watercolor in the hopper.  A very satisfying day in the classroom as well as in the studio.  And a chance to think through some large issues that inspired the genius of Enlightenment thinkers and artists.  Thank you for reading and taking time to share this one with me.

Filling Station Desolation, still in progress

February 22, 2012

Robertsville, Missouri Abandoned Filling Station

I admit surprise at how fast this large watercolor is coming together.  I’m used to longer stretches of time for “composting” as I think through what I want to do exactly.  But time to paint is really scarce these days, and when I approach this particular watercolor, I seem to be painting faster.  Today I added the dark trees on the left border and worked on the power line as well as the guidewire attached to the post at the left.  I’m still tinkering with the drybrush weeds along the left as well.  I’m not sure what to do next, so I thought I would go ahead and put this on the blog to let anyone who reads this know that I am still chipping away at this piece, and think I may be finished with it in the next day or so.

I still want to deepen the shadows and heighten the contrast, hopefully to give the composition a nice “Edward Hopper” kind of pop.  I always gravitate to his watercolors because of their delightful use of contrast.

Thanks for reading.