Posts Tagged ‘Henri Matisse’


January 3, 2022
Morning Coffee in the Living Room
Entering Studio Eidolons

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

During my REM moments this morning, I was actively drawing and watercoloring in my dream. Waking and stretching, I was already in the mood to draw and paint, but insisted on staying with my ritual–making coffee, building a fire and settling into the living room chair with Sandi and the napping dogs to read and write for a spell. I don’t know if one prepared me for the other, but the REM followed by what I read over coffee, produced a seismic quake in my imagination as words and images like jagged shards of glass thrusted and jousted among themselves to the point that I wondered where I was going to begin once I entered Studio Eidolons.

This book I’m reading by Miles J. Unger, Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World, is written so masterfully. While reading the chapter of Picasso’s transition marked by his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, I found the following words:

The story of how he arrived at this breakthrough is no less fascinating for being a tale of false starts and circuitous detours, more a case of a man feeling his way tentatively in the dark than of a hero striding boldly toward the light.

I needed that, as I was reeling from the earthquake of clashing images and ideas that I could not seem to harness before settling into my reading. This is what I had scribbled in my journal before Unger’s text set me squarely back on my feet again:

Clashing ideas, images, projects and wishes have been thrust through my consciousness since I awoke, like shards of jagged glass, like Picasso’s cubism. I have so many paintings & stories & projects slashing and clashing against each other, tearing into and ripping each other. And I wonder how on earth I can get them to fly in formation. Like E.T., I wish I could just lift a finger and make them all orbit in synchronicity. I wish I could take up my guitar, put my fingers on the right frets and strum that chord that resonates with the full-throated aesthetic beauty of all those elements working together. And then I read Unger’s description of Picasso stepping into that seam that held the disparate fabrics together before and after cubism. It appears that he stumbled his way into the discovery. Perhaps my stumbling, bumbling is OK.

Shaking off the anxieties, I am ready now to enter the studio. And as I paint, I’m sure I will find the peace and repose that always accompanies good moments in these endeavors. And who knows–maybe I’ll be able to produce something that can have a good effect on other viewers as it does on me while I’m making it. I close with these soothing words from Matisse, penned in his “Notes of a Painter” in 1908:

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.

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.


Painting through the Darkness

January 8, 2021
Beginning of an 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of winter evergreens

I promise to love this life I was given and do my best to deserve it.

Garrison Keillor, That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life

For 48 hours, I have been drifting in the darkness of this nation along with everyone else. I choose not to post my perspectives on this event, but still acknowledge a profound pain over events that defy description. Waking before daylight, I found solace this morning in the opening chapters of Garrison Keillor’s recent work, and when I reached the quote above, I had to close the book and just sit in silence for awhile.

Henri Matisse’s life as an artist lived through two World Wars, yet his art never reflected the dark eras of those times. Biographer Hilary Spurling observed “His deepest instinct in the face of erupting violence and destruction was to respond with an affirmation of everything that made life worth living.”

And so I as well have immersed myself the past couple of days in a series of watercolor experiments, recording many observations in an attempt to crank out better work in 2021. In the days ahead, I hope to share some of the insights I’ve recorded along with fresh ideas I’ve gleaned from reading and journaling. Meanwhile, I urge all of my readers to look ahead, to hope, and try at every turn to contribute something of value to our communities.

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.

Late Night Reading and another Tree Study

January 17, 2016


They went through me like an arrow, and from that moment I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

Robert Motherwell, upon seeing for the first time Henri Matisse’s paintings

This delicious Sunday night has been spent before the fireplace, reading more than forty pages from this new Motherwell book I just received. I posted his observation above of what happened when he was in his early twenties and saw paintings by Matisse in the home of one of Gertrude Stein’s brothers in Palo Alto, California. His testimony echoes what I felt when I saw my first Andrew Wyeth book in my ninth-grade art class. What a rush to recall that moment.

I closed the book and returned to my drafting table to experiment some more with the rendering of winter trees in pencil. I purchased a sketch book in an antique store last month, and am enjoying the qualities of the aged, darkened paper in the book. I’m still cutting lines into the surface of the paper with a ballpoint pen that has run out of ink, then dragging a 9B pencil over the creases. In addition to the soft pencil and dry ballpoint, I just just used a No. 2 pencil manufactured by Papermate–a Mirado classic. I have fallen in love with these, and find them in Albertson’s grocery stores and H-E-B stores as well. For the really fine and light lines, I use a 6H pencil, and from time to time I drag a blending stump through the pencil work. I’m still not sure what I’m doing, but loving the experiment.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Clarity of Mind

June 21, 2015

My Thoughts are Still at the Laguna Madre

My Thoughts are Still at the Laguna Madre

Hilary Spurling, in her magnificent two-volume biography of Henri Matisse, pointed out that he traveled to exotic places for the same reason as Eugene Delacroix before him–to cleanse the eye. He also took his cues from Paul Gauguin in his visits to Tahiti. Spurling wrote that Matisse’s year in Tahiti led to “clarity of mind”. This is what I am hoping to experience, compliments of a week spent on the spoil island in the Texas Laguna Madre. The quiet, the space, the ability to paint daily unhindered, with no appointments–all of these added up to a terrific week of watercolor output, plenty of journaling and blogging, and my eye was never weary of what surrounded me.

Now that I have been back home for a week, I desire to compost this island experience and translate it into worthy writing and a collection of paintings. Currently, I am carrying with me the Hemingway wistfulness from his book A Moveable Feast–“Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.” My mind is locked on the Laguna Madre, and daily in my journal, new ideas are pouring out, whose seeds were sown that week. The only aggravation I’m experiencing is my return to these demanding appointments that try to make me think of other things. I just finished 32 hours of A.P. training for Art History, which was a daily grind last week, and tomorrow I face a three-day (all-day) conference for A.V.I.D. training in Dallas. As I came home whupped every day last week from T.C.U., I anticipate coming home everyday this next week from Dallas, whupped. And throughout these days, voices will be hammering in my ears, urging me to think on a different objective than the one that owns my heart and will right now.

Realistically, nothing we achieve is performed under ideal circumstances. We give our best, working as best we can with what is given us. So, I guess I’ll just suck it up, and do what I can these next three days. BUT!!!!! Beginning Thursday, my calendar is completely clear for a few weeks. And I’ll certainly be ready to churn out some serious “island stuff” once I am free of all these appointments. There. I feel better already.

Thanks for reading (and listening to the whining).

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


May 8, 2015

An Evening at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

An Evening at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

It was a tremendous attraction, a sort of paradise found in which I was completeley free, alone, at peace.

Henri Matisse, discussing his experience while in Tangier

Last night’s excursion to the Dallas Museum of Art left me weary enough to tumble into bed well ahead of my habitual time. The surprise was waking around 4:30 this morning, rested, and unable to get back to sleep. By 6:00, I had found sanctuary in the rear of my darkened classroom, and chose to devote some quality time re-reading the second volume of Hilary Spurling’s biography Matisse the Master. Most of the volume covers his exotic travels to Ajaccio, Collioure, Tangier, Nice, Tahiti and Vence, drawing superb parallels between his artistic explorations and those of Delacroix and Gauguin. The more I read, the more I thought about that sanctuary sentiment, that within each of us is a stillness and sanctuary to where we can retreat at any time and be ourself (I read that on a school poster when I was in junior high school, and still remember the words and image). I found myself deeply gratified, having a good ninety minutes of alone time before the students entered the classroom.

The Kimbell Art Museum has extended hours on Friday, so I chose to journey there after school today and stay until closing tonight. The hours were refreshing, as I perused the galleries in the Kahn Building and the Piano Pavilion, and sat in several locations to read from a lovely birthday book given to me by a dear friend: Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to “In Search of Lost Time”. I was already in love with this author’s magnum opus, and could tell that he was alluding to artistic masterpieces, but this book takes the discussions much deeper than my imagination had been capable of pursuing.  I got lost in the volume, and the time evaporated quickly this evening.

Seated outside the Kimbell around Closing Time

Seated outside the Kimbell around Closing Time

Before leaving home for the Kimbell, I spent some more time on this watercolor that’s been developing slowly. I worked on the power plant to the right quite a bit more, and placed trees below it, then moved to the scraggly tree on the left side of the caboose and worked further on the branches. I’m always tweaking the caboose itself, enriching colors, drafting linear details, and refining the window tints as well as the trucks underneath. The foreground pavement also got some attention. I don’t think there should be too much left to do on this one. I’m ready to bring it to a close, but I’m too sleepy to work any further on it tonight. The museum tour and reading took quite a toll on me physically.

My college students are wrapping up their online final exam, and the semester there is coming to a close. Today also I saw the notice that progress reports for high school are due Monday. Charming. More after hours and weekend school work.

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.

Bursts of Color: A Fresh Start

April 9, 2013

Tackle Box Filled with Vintage Lures

Tackle Box Filled with Vintage Lures

She ran the section of the shop that sold housepaints, making up the customers’ orders and advising on colour schemes.  The colours impressed Henri as a boy much as they did another future painter, Felix Valloton, whose parents also kept a provincial hardware store in the 1870s:

“The second shopwindow was the best: twelve tubular glass bottles, drawn up in battle order on a stand and filled to the brim with colours whose very names made me feel proud.  They were, in order, pale chrome yellow, dark chrome yellow, cadmium, cobalt blue, ultramarine, Prussian blue, milori green, English green, rose madder, Austrian vermilion, Turkey red and pure carmine.”

Matisse said he got his colour sense from his mother, who was herself an accomplished painter on porcelain.

Hilary Spurling, The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Early Years, 1869-1908.

Resting up from the weekend art festival, I had an idea of the subject I would take up with my next watercolor endeavor.  That idea was confirmed this morning before school began, when a student entered my room delivering a package (posted above): a locked tackle box, that, when opened, exploded in color with vintage lures and paraphernalia from a fisherman’s supply of yesteryear.  The benefactor was a remarkable man I met at the festival who took an interest in my recent watercolors of vintage lures, and made a purchase.  Others followed suit, as the weekend progressed and I was delighted to find these small paintings to make such a hit with the public.

The Matisse biography by Hilary Spurling I had the privilege of reading back in 2006 when I took an extended Jeep odyssey, looping from my Dallas/Fort Worth region to Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and finally back through Texas.  As I fly fished and watercolored along my journey, I spent hours poring over the pages of this book, again and again reading of how the young boy Matisse’s eyes lit up at the sight of the paints in his mother and father’s general store, along with the brightly-colored exotic fish in beakers, birds in ornamental cages, and finally the tray of watercolor pigments given to him as a gift.  It made me think of my times as a small boy, when I was surprised by the brilliant colors of fishing lures when dad shopped at the sporting goods store, or the gumball machines just inside the doors of the drugstore, or the color chart at the hardware store, when mom and dad shopped for interior household enamel paint.

Seeing this tray of lures has made me decide it is time to see how bright I can make future watercolor compositions.  Until 2006, I had followed the somber, neutral palette of Andrew Wyeth drybrush.  In recent years, plein air activity has forced me to match colors with what I saw in architecture, on automobiles and in botanical gardens and arboretums.  Now, it is either fishing lures in a tray, or a gumball machine.  Until someone lends me a gumball machine, I believe I will stick with these vintage lures, eternally grateful for recent friends lending me these treasures to explore in drawing and painting.

This project will emerge slowly.  The dreaded tax deadline is nearly here, and I am spending countless deadening hours gathering my tax data so I can get this stuff filed.  And of course, school is relentless as the year draws to a close and more testing is just around the corner.  And the endless grade reporting.  But these paintings will get done.  Soon I will be breathing much easier as I get out from under these other deadlines and demands.

Thanks for reading.

I paint to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

“Thinking Out my Pictures” during the Hiatus

January 17, 2013

22 x 28" Charcoal Still Life from 10th Grade

22 x 28″ Charcoal Still Life from 10th Grade

“What are you doing, Mr. Hopper?”

“I’m thinking out my next picture.”

(Fellow artist asking Edward Hopper what he was doing, as he was spotted wandering aimlessly around Washington Square in Greenwich Village)

I didn’t paint or post to the blog yesterday.  A late-afternoon conversation at my school gave me much to think over, and I had a heavy academic load of classes to prepare for today, so all I managed yesterday were thoughts and musings about what I am trying to accomplish now with my art.  Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth (two heroes of mine) spent hours and days “composting” between paintings, and always believed that what they pondered would seep into their compositions in some fashion.

“Look until you become fascinated; trust that you will see something. If you learn to wait, the objects will slowly sink into your consciousness and they will acquire a significance that can be measured in color and feeling…”

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It was said that Edward Hopper carried this quote scribbled on a piece of paper in his pocket as he walked about.

I have posted above a charcoal still life that I set up in my bedroom while in high school.  The Art I and Art II classes featured still life drawing on a large scale, and I always wanted to work on one at my own leisure, even if it was set up on my desk at home for weeks or even months.  The art teachers let me take these objects out of their massive storage collection and bring them to the house for this project.  I would work on this composition in the afternoons and evenings after school, with my bedroom door closed, and Crosby, Stills, Nash spinning on the turntable (I still love “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”!).

My bedroom I shared with my younger brother, and so at night, I would lie on the top bunk bed and look down on my desk, half-lit by the hallway light streaming through our half-closed bedroom door.  The play of light and shadows fascinated me, but more than that, the dynamic of what was happening between the highlights and deep shadows–how would an artist render those zones lying in the half-light?

Leonardo da Vinci recorded the following from his ever-fertile imagination:

Remember: betwixt light and murk there is something intermediate, dual, belonging equally to the one and the other, a light shade, as it were, or a dark light.  Seek it, O artist: in it lies the secret of captivating beauty. . . . Beware of the coarse and the abrupt.  Let your shading melt away, like smoke, like the sounds of distant music!

I titled this post “Thinking Out my Pictures” because I have been preoccupied with two matters in the past twenty-four hours, while not painting.  One is this notion of half-light, a transitional gloom hovering between highlights and deep shadows.  I was taught that Michelangelo Caravaggio made use of tenebrism, a dramatic shift from extreme dark to light in order to capture attention from the viewer across the room. Leonardo, on the other hand, worked subtly between the lights and the darks, in a soft-focus effect.

In my recent observations of Andrew Wyeth watercolors, I have been intrigued by his dim interiors, where the overall composition is dark and low-contrast, allowing only a few accentuated objects to capture the light.  This is what I have wanted to accomplish, but so far, it isn’t happening.  I’m still trying to find a way there.

The second observation that has been holding my attention recently is this notion of focusing on one feature in a still life, and letting the peripheral objects melt away, either out-of-focus, or partially painted, or merely sketched in, or something–I want to find a way to focus on one particular object, and let the others support the composition, rather than fight for attention with all their details and contrasting colors.  Always in paintings, I have gotten lost in a myriad of details, wanting to capture all of them.  All the objects vie for my attention, and the viewers as well, so it seems.  This second observation got my attention because I’ve been reading from The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell, and I was fascinated with his citation of Alfred North Whitehead and Henri Matisse on this subject.  From Whitehead, he quotes:

Abstraction is a  form of emphasis, expressing what one wants to without being involved in everything else.

Then from Matisse:

Superfluous details would, in the mind of the beholder, encroach upon the essential elements.

Henry Adams echoed my sentiments when he wrote the following about Andrew Wyeth and his drybrush compositions:

While in my mind I know that [Wyeth’s] reputation rests primarily on his remarkable tempera paintings, I have always personally responded less powerfully to them than to his drawings and studies—particularly to the studies that don’t attempt to cover the whole surface of the paper as in a conventional watercolor, but instead focus on a few elements, so that the image seems to emerge magically from the empty white paper, rather like a photograph that we observe in the process of development.

So, tonight in the Man Cave, I continue to pick away at the 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch I started night-before-last.  I’m not sure that I’m giving this composition my undivided attention–the details of today’s classes are still flooding my memory with good things worth saving.   I also have the TV/VCR playing old Woody Allen films (“Interiors” is now playing), and I’m mulling over in my mind these ideas about the half-light and the need to focus on just one object in a composition.  Meanwhile my eye keeps moving over these objects before me, and my hand keeps reaching for brushes, pencils, sandpaper, salt, spritz bottle, towel, etc.  I’m having a good time out here tonight.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll close with a few pictures of what’s happening in the Man Cave:

Pepsi carrier close up

Pepsi Carrier Thursday night

Man cave Pepsi carrier from above


Out of Rhythm on January 2, 2013

January 2, 2013

Still Life in the Man Cave

Still Life in the Man Cave

Every brush stroke diminishes the importance of the preceding one.  Revisions, increases of amount are necessary to recover the original structure.  To do this I must organize my ideas; the relation between the hues must be so established that they will sustain one another.

Henri Matisse

It’s too bad, even during holiday, that we cannot control our daily agendas.  Too many household, business, domestic things crashed in around me early this morning that could not be postponed, so I did not even see the inside of my Man Cave until 2:30 this afternoon.  As all of you artists and creative spirits well know, we just cannot control these things.  And once we let them have their way with us, we find it hard to get back into the zone that we so anxiously wanted to enter.

So, once I entered the Man Cave, I was just stuck, looking at my watercolor.  I could not just jump into it.  I laughed, recalling a taped segment of Muddy Waters in the recording studio of Chess Records:   “This    #!**&@#   is   #@#)*$#   my   @)#*%*@($*#    up!!!”  He was complaining about Leonard Chess insisting that he begin the song immediately when prompted.  “I can’t start just like that!  I have to warm it up, Baby!  I have to get into it!  I can’t just hop in on the first beat!”

And so, I looked, and I dabbed, and I looked some more, and I dabbed, then I blotted out, then I tried again, and I looked, I dabbed, and I blotted out.  Again, I felt that I was doing the Willem de Kooning thing–his contemporaries laughed about how he would scrape off an hour’s worth of paint and let the junk fall to the floor, then begin again on the “cleansed” canvas.  I just can’t seem to get into rhythm today.


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January 2 Still Life

January 2 Still Life

O.K.  The above was posted when I had managed to accomplish nothing.  Now an hour has passed, and a few things have been added to the still life painting.  I have been working (and erasing and re-working) the burlap coffee bean bag that hangs on the right side of the door, and trying to re-do a disaster that occurred when my purple background ran down all over my coffee percolator (that required much scrubbing, re-drawing and repainting).  I have also been adding scratches and chipped paint to the door all around, and returned to work on the doorknob and locking plate.  Now that the rhythm has begun, the light has vanished.  So, I guess I’ll spend the rest of this night reading, reflecting, journaling–things I have neglected the past couple of days.  After all, the New Year has arrived.  Time to turn pensive, yes?

Thanks for reading.  Hopefully tomorrow I can get started on this painting early, assuming another crisis doesn’t flare up.

Studio Experiment in Pop Art with Watercolor and Pencils

August 18, 2012

Pop Art in the Second Man Cave

My detour into Pop Art has extended into a second day.  I cannot exactly explain how this has happened.  For about a year, I have been bothered that my genre for painting has anchored in landscape and nostalgic items of architecture, signage and vehicles.  I’ve been contemplating still lifes, but never made the effort until yesterday.  And I ended up backing into it because of my ongoing interest in Andy Warhol and the Pop Art phenomena.  For over ten years I have purchased objects from antique stores and nostalgia shops to support my Fifties interests (my company is, because the Fifties were my years of growing up, and my eyes were always filled with wonder at my surroundings.  I read that Henri Matisse as a young boy was enchanted at the sight of colorful birds, tropical fish in bowls, and his first set of watercolors.  Well, I too recall my pre-literature years and the fixation I had with commercial color schemes, most notably cereal boxes, coffee tins, gas station signs and billboards.

When I first saw the Stuart Davis Lucky Strike painting, I marveled at the dark green and bright orange-red color scheme, recalling that my growing up only witnessed Luckies as a red target on a white background.  About ten years ago, I found this cigarette tin in an antique store and couldn’t reach for my wallet fast enough–there were the colors that I found so enchanting in the Davis painting at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth.

Yesterday I began this 12 x 14″ composition in watercolor, Prismacolor and watercolor pencils with occasional ink.  My eye has always focused on details, colors and textures, whether I was staring at a landscape or building en plein air or an enlarged photograph.  But now I am staring at a cigarette tin, hand-sized, on the table in front of me, that keeps changing as the northern lights outside my studio windows change from sunny to overcast (it’s trying to rain in Arlington, Texas at this moment; yesterday it was bright and sunny throughout the day).  I am fascinated with the highlights coming off the painted surfaces of the tin, as well as the dynamics of all the rusted spots, scratches and imperfections.  And  I am trying to record these observations the best I can on paper with the materials at hand.  And I am enjoying the experience.

I have finally completed a second Man Cave environment.  My garage will not be available again until probably late September (Texas temperatures are deadly this time of year).  So I have moved a second drafting table to my living room, where I have an entire wall of windows to the north, providing excellent lighting.  As I’ve worked today, I have listened to a 120-minute DVD documentary titled Painters Painting.  The film features interviews with New York artists from the Fifties onward, including DeKooning, Motherwell, Newman, Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg and many others.  I am particularly enjoying the discussion of the shift in the art world from Abstract Expressionism to Pop.  I am sympathetic to both sides, and find myself particularly anchored in neither school, as I still find my comfort zone in the realm of Regionalism as I’ve enjoyed the works of Homer, Hopper and Wyeth.  But still, as a student of art history, I love all periods, and enjoy their contributions to art and the ideas we enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

Public Murals in a Local High School

February 17, 2012

Arlington Martin High School Little Theater Mural

Since I have  been unable to pick up the watercolor brush for a few days, I decided to post a few of the eight public murals I was privileged to design and paint at Arlington Martin High School, where I teach full time.  This is on the second floor, outside the Little Theater.  I painted it sometime in the late 90’s over a 17-day span one summer.  I was given total license as to subject matter.  I chose as an interior the Trent River Coffee Company I discovered on vacation that summer in New Bern, North Carolina.

I chose my favorite heroes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  I was inspired by the murals inside the Barnes and Noble cafes I was seeing in those days, with writers sitting around the tables, conversing.  I chose my favorite philosophers, poets, novelists, playwrights, painters and musicians to fill this environment.  Most visible from this perspective are Maya Angelou, Arthur Miller, Bernard Shaw, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.  I must admit that I did harbor somewhat of a communion with them as I worked on this, particularly on one of my 18-hour days.  Spending that much uninterrupted time alone on a large scale work tends to do those kinds of things to me.

I may post some additional images in the days ahead.  I hate to let this blog languish during the hiatus when nothing new is being created and I’m buried in grading and lesson planning.  Times like this are certainly low moments in my life.  I look forward to the day when space returns to create.

Thanks for reading.