Posts Tagged ‘artist’

Staying Up Much Too Late

April 8, 2013
Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

We have gotten off the good ship America and will hunt for whales no more.  Perhaps we have failed to regain our confidence, our will to succeed, in this our nation.  We accept, albeit mournfully, that we will never be in the party, meet the honorable undersecretary of state for lunch, invent some hot new cutting-edge technology, or see our names spelled out in red plastic letters across a movie marquee.  We will not receive due mention in the sober black on white of The New York Times, discover our picture in Rolling Stone magazine, or Forbes, or People–not even in the background, at, say, a celebrity-studded charity event.  We will never, in short, amount to much of anything.  And more: Perhaps we have, through successive failures of our own or through witnessing those of others, become honest skeptics, not merely of our own potential for success but of our culture’s values in general.  We do not believe that anything is possible, that good fortune is just around the corner for anyone but the few and very lucky, that anyone perpetually reawakens to a perpetually new dawn.

Gordon Theisen, Staying Up Much Too Late: Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and the Dark Side of the American Psyche.

I am sitting up in bed, reading, waiting to become drowsy.  My school work for tomorrow has been completed in a timely manner, and I’ve decided not to go into the studio tonight to begin something that will keep me up at a dreadful hour.  I hate to come up short on sleep when the school week is barely under way.  I’ll live to paint another day.

I was deeply stirred at what I’ve posted above.  I am nearly finished with this book by Gordon Theisen, and it is penetrating, to say the very least–a sobering look at the American psyche, particularly through the eyes of those who wish to create art in some fashion.  I believe I can say, at age 58, that I am sober-minded when assessing my personal role in the arts.  I did not set out to make it a career, choosing instead to work jobs that paid me consistently and provided benefits.  I don’t regret that decision.  When I started my sole proprietorship in 2004, I of course had dreams of it blossoming into much more than it has at this stage.  But in the midst of all those trials and errors, successes and disappointments, I believe I still have found what this enterprise is all about, to me.  I have warm memories of those times when I was publicized and sought after, and certainly don’t want to diminish the value of those experiences.  But the reason I know that I am an artist, is because I still make art by compulsion.  I cannot be happy, not making art.  I make art when there is no audience, when there is no market, when there is no one to whom I can show it.  I make art, even when it’s going to be matted, sleeved and placed in a steamer trunk for safe keeping.  I make art because I cannot see myself doing anything else with this degree of inner satisfaction.

An English professor whom I profoundly admire told me back in the late 1980’s that when students told him they wanted to be writers, he asked: “Why?”  He wanted to know if they wanted to write, or if they wanted to become famous, wealthy, successful.  His conviction was that if they sought to become writers because they wanted to write, that they would probably turn out to be great writers.  I still remember his dictum: “History owes us nothing.  If we are famous, wealthy, successful, then so be it.  But it isn’t owed.  It’s a gift.”

Those words abide with me.

I hope the tenor of this post is what I have intended to get across.  I feel badly for anyone suffering disappointment, having never achieved the Dream.  As for myself, I’m grateful still to be alive, well, and granted the ability to create.  An artist creates a lot of good work, and a lot of bad work.  An artist just creates, period.  And I am grateful that I have been granted the freedom to create.

Thanks for reading.

I paint to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


In Memoriam: Steven A. Mullins. The Passing of a Dedicated Artist and Friend

January 9, 2013
"Old Bones Valley" first acrylic landscape by Steve Mullins, 1970

“Old Bones Valley” first acrylic landscape by Steve Mullins, 1970

I received the phone call yesterday.  My friend since the age of five, a fellow artist, retired teacher, athlete, coach, home builder, antique dealer, all-around Renaissance Man and lover of life, passed away.

I recall 1960 as though it were yesterday.  A family was building a new home up the road from where we lived.  Two brothers came calling on me as playmates–Steve (my age) and Mike (two years older).  Steve and I began first grade together, and my family joined the church where his family were charter members.  A year later, I moved four miles away, to another elementary school, but remained in the same school district.  We remained playmates throughout our growing up years in the church, then were reunited in high school.  Together we traveled four hours north to study for our art degrees at Northeast Missouri State University in Kirksville.  There, Steve met his wife and lifetime companion, Polly.  We went our separate ways, Steve moving to Iowa and me moving to Texas.  Only a few years ago did we manage to reconnect by telephone.  We talked of former days and the present.  I did not see this end coming.

I am posting some of Steve’s work that I was fortunate enough to have on 35mm slides.  The painting above, an acrylic on a masonite panel, was done when he was in Art III.  Steve never lacked for courage in trying new things.  Acrylic was a brand-new medium for him, and when he considered the difficulties of rendering a blue sky over the desert, Mr. Scucchi challenged him to paint and varnish the sky “whiter than white,” just as a hot, dry desert sky would appear.  He did just that, and then, in a final flourish, painted in abstractions of bones, skeletons, and wasted carcasses littered along the desert floor.  Finally, he applied several coats of varnish, bringing the luster to a stunning finish.  As he mused over a possible title, I reminded him that we had recently heard a sermon in church from Ezekiel 37, the vision of the prophet preaching to the valley of dry bones.  So, Steve titled this piece “Old Bones Valley.”

Caricature of Steve

Caricature of Steve

Six Flags Over Mid-America opened in the summer following our Junior year in high school.  Steve landed a job there as a portrait artist, and was instrumental in getting me hired a couple of months later.  There were caricature artists working in the studio alongside of the serious portrait artists, and one of them did this quick charcoal of Steve, capturing his likeness masterfully.

Female Pastel Portrait by SteveFemale Pastel Portrait by Steve

Steve was no caricaturist; he worked on the serious portraits, and learned to crank them out quickly and skillfully.  I had missed the training classes for the portrait artists, so he gave hours of his time training me, always patient, always encouraging.

Steve entered public education much earlier than I, and when I finally signed my first teaching contract, I phoned him long distance, more than a little apprehensive about whether I was up for the task.  I’ll always remember his encouragement:”You don’t have to be the students’ friend.  You don’t have to be cool.  The only thing you need to be is fair.  They will respond to you, if they know you are fair.”  That became my mantra, and has helped me survive in over twenty years of public school work.

I regret deeply that I do not possess a Steve Mullins watercolor.  He mastered that medium, and I’ll never forget looking at one of his fly fishing compositions painted near the historic Byrnes Mill dam near House Springs, Missouri.  I had not yet gotten the hang of watercolor, and I still remember marveling at his mastery in that day, more than ten years ago.  He assured me that I would “get it” if I stayed at it long enough.  Since then, watercolor has become my passion, so Steve, I thank you for encouraging me and believing in me.  You remain the quintessential artist and mentor.  I know full well why your students and athletes in your school adored you the way they did.

Steve was the artist indeed.  But he was much more than that.  Steve was a genuine friend and human being.  There are a thousand things I could record about his personality, but right now I just want to recall his big laugh.  Steve had a horse laugh, a contagious laugh.  And when you entered a room to the sound of his laughter, you didn’t have to know what was funny.  His laugh was funny.  No one could keep a straight face when Steve exploded in laughter.  I have met so few people throughout my 38 years with that kind of bottomless laugh.  And I wish to God I could have heard that from him just one more time.  I need it today.

Thank you, Steve.  Rest in peace, my dear Friend.

To all my friends, subscribers, faithful readers–thank you for all the times you’ve read me and encouraged me.  I will not be posting again until at least Sunday or Monday.  I depart soon for northern Illinois to attend Steve’s services.  Understandably, I’m not painting right now–there remains much packing, travel arranging and work details.  But I’ll be back.  Thanks for reading.

David Tripp watercoloring a 1903 cabin from Flippin, Arkansas

September 10, 2011

Tripp painting historic cabin in Flippin, Arkansas

 With watercolor pad and digital camera at his side, Texas watercolor artist David Tripp drives his Jeep along meandering county roads, seeking small towns and open countryside to paint.  Every day presents 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. David’s watercolors feature subjects drawn from 1950’s America, now present as mere relics of a once-thriving civilization fading from our American landscape, but not from our memories.

David received his Bachelor’s degree in art from Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State) in 1976, focusing on drawing, painting and art history.  Graduate school took David’s curiosity down a more academic path, focusing on philosophy, religion, literature, and art history, finally earning him the Ph.D. in 1987.  Since then he has been a full-time educator in high school and part-time at the university. 

Every derelict commercial structure or private residence leaves this artist with a feeling of profound loss, but at the same time an exhilarating presence. The writer Marcel Proust has pointed out the thrill of beholding an object capable of triggering profound memories from our youth, and our being filled with a sense of warmth and gratitude.  Pausing before these subjects allows space to re-live important elements from our past, the recollections that create what we are now.