Posts Tagged ‘Imagism’

Buried in the Work, and Ecstatic

June 2, 2015
So Little Time. So Many Books

So Little Time. So Many Books

An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative, . . . to say what he has to say with the most direct and economical means, to be true to his objects, to his materials, to his technique, and hence, by a correlated miracle, to himself.

Irwin Edman, Arts and the Man

I found an amazing thread of continuity among some of the divines I’ve been reading lately: Ian Roberts, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and Andrew Wyeth. Each in his own way addressed the notion of getting at a subject directly and honestly, with no decorative scrollwork. Hence my recent interest in creating “vignette” compositions with my watercolors, leaving plenty of undefined boundaries so the viewer can have imaginative room to enter the composition. Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams addressed this in literary fashion with their “Imagism” theories. Andrew Wyeth addressed it when he said the strength of a composition is not what the artist puts into the picture, but what s/he leaves out. Hemingway, during his early years of writing in Paris, acknowledged that he created his best work when he cut out all the ornamental prose as so much scrollwork, and returned to the truest sentence that always began his writing. And so, in recent sketches and compositional studies, I have been creating simpler works of art, and plan to do that when I get to the Gulf later.

Another theme I am trying to work out is that which involves the boundary or tension between two features. I’ve been reading Paul Tillich this week, fascinated with his focus on the littoral zone separating ocean from beach, and how he continually applied this to his studies in philosophy, theology, art and psychology. He once wrote that “the border line is the truly propitious place for acquiring knowledge.” I have always enjoyed working this idea in my philosophy and art history classes, but now wish to push it in my own theories of aesthetics as I pursue my watercolor attempts.

In closing, I’m going to post this crayon drawing I dug out of my closet last night when I was foraging for watercolor paper for my next project. I didn’t know I still had it: the earliest “work of art” from my personal collection. When I was in third grade, my teacher entered this drawing in the districtwide art contest, grades 1-12. I still remember entering the high school gymnasium and seeing my matted work hung on the wall among hundreds and hundreds of student works of art. If the Presocratics and Aristotle were right in saying “the end is in the beginning,” then perhaps I ought to look at this one more closely and see if I recognize any of my own features in it.

My Earliest Saved Artwork--Third Grade

My Earliest Saved Artwork–Third Grade

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.


September 7, 2013
Saturday Morning in the Studio

Saturday Morning in the Studio

I do recall one time when I got to know him a little better, he called me in the office one day and he says to me, “Brownie,” he said, “Can you give  me your idea of what imagination is?”  And I said,”No I don’t have any idea.”  He said, “Well, why don’t you think about it a couple of days and come back and we’ll talk about it.”  But he never brought the subject up again.  I’m very thankful, too.

Lynn Brown Jr., recalling a conversation with poet Wallace Stevens while working at Hartford Insurance Group.

Sleep did not come easily last night.  Though darkness had descended, this watercolor, along with its possibilities, was burned into my retina, and I really wanted to return to it, but I have really become attached to the natural light.  Before falling into sleep, I turned the light on one more time, and scribbled in my journal a reminder to check out the ideas of William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound on Imagism.

Waking at 5:30 this morning, without an alarm, I rose to a dark, pre-dawn world, and, waiting for the studio window light, I took out my copy of The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound.  In the early summer of 1912, he agreed with H. D. and Richard Aldington on three principles which would later be called Imagism:

1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.

2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.

3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

I used these words as a reaffirmation of my current philosophy of watercolor composition: (1) to paint my subjects as directly as possible, (2) to purge ornamentation from my compositions, and (3) to work all over and around my painting, instead of following paint-by-number compositional steps from start to finish.

Reading further in Pound, I was moved profoundly as I contemplated the Subject, or Image, that I always chase in my watercolor pursuits:

An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. . . . It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneously wihich gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits, that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.

And then I laughed out loud when I encountered these words:

It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.

Wow.  In all my paintings, I am confronting some kind of Image that has held me spellbound, making me want to linger over it and use every means possible to capture its essence and put it on the page.  When viewers tell me they are “held” by a painting of mine, I’m gratified, knowing that what moved me got to them as well.  But as to presenting that “one Image” versus a great volume of work–well, how can one accomplish the former without the latter?  Frankly, I have no idea which painting from my past is my “best”, nor do I lose sleep wondering.  I find my deepest satisfaction in being prolific, and when my final painting issues from me, I can only hope that something in that “volume” can approach the notion of Quality, can meet the standard of Image in its ability to reach out to someone else besides me.

The “volume” is where I find my satisfaction, and for years now, I have enjoyed the process of painting much more than standing back and looking at my finished, framed work hanging on a wall or positioned on an easel.  My joy comes in the act of painting, and much of my struggle currently as a schoolteacher is the knowledge that the majority of my daily hours now is given to the classroom, along with all the attendant “stuff” necessary to support the classroom hours.  My reality this weekend is an enormous stack of papers to grade, because after all, I am paid to produce numbers on a spreadsheet to give an indicator of a student’s educational growth.  No pressure there.

I did manage about ninety minutes of uninterrupted, slow-moving work on my watercolor.  Using purples with some yellow, I worked in the shadows beneath the truck, finished the front end of the truck, worked on the curbing in front of and behind the truck, and then did further corrections with pencil, trying to make the drawing portions of this work as accurate as possible.  I’m still working on the complementary balance of a lavender pavement in the foreground against a warm gold background.  The complementary greens against the reds are also a constant challenge.  I’m enjoying these matters of composition and decision-making, and it was a good ninety minutes.

Now, wIth reluctance, I lay down the brush and wade through the stack of papers, hoping to return to the Image before the weekend runs its course and I begin the next five-day round in the classroom.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep

Robert Frost

Thanks for reading.  It has been a lovely Saturday morning.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Falls the Shadow of the Night

April 21, 2013
Studying the Shadows

Studying the Shadows

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the Shadow

                        For Thine is the Kingdom

            Between the conception

And the creation

Between the emotion

And the response

Falls the Shadow

                        Life is very long

            Between the desire

And the spasm

Between the potency

And the existence

Between the essence

And the descent

Falls the Shadow

                        For Thine is the Kingdom

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Funny how the mind works, how words arrive in the still of the night.  I was poring over this watercolor that has held my fascination for a couple of days, wondering what to do next.  And, for the first time, I noticed the shadows beneath the spectacles, weaving serpentine-like around the case and the envelope underneath.  I started laying in the shadows, looking at the warm areas and the cool areas, trying to match warm and cool neutral colors, watching them flow along the wet trail I had initiated with my pointed brush.  I got lost in the shadows, and suddenly these words from T. S. Eliot, that I hadn’t read in months, or even thought about, rose in my consciousness.  I liked the feelings that came with them.  And I’m fascinated with that idea of what exactly falls betwixt the idea and the act of creation, whether it be a watercolor, a short story, a poem, a song–anything that we can call “creation.”  The interval between the idea and the process of actualizing that idea is what stirs my blood.

Thanks for reading.


Working on the Cafe Theme, Late at Night

April 20, 2013
Cafe Still Life at Night

Cafe Still Life at Night

To mean something, anything, art must provide a specific sense of where you are and where you have been, of your particular take on the larger history of which you, willingly or not, form a part.

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

I am driven to paint daily.  When a day goes by and I am not en plein air or in my Man Cave, I feel something was taken away from me, like missing a meal, or getting shorted on a decent night’s rest.  As I say repeatedly, I paint to remember.  Whether I use a word like “nostalgia” or “Proustian” to describe my sentiments, I just merely want to work on images that have played an integral role in my life’s composition.  “No ideas but in things” writes William Carlos Williams.

I turned 59 today, and all those closest to me had their beautiful ways of sending me the warmest, most loving sentiments.  I love and appreciate all of you, thank you so much.  During this exquisite day, I’ve had the opportunity to paint in a beautiful park setting, kicking out a pair of watercolor sketches.  And during that time outdoors, it finally dawned on me what I want to do with my next series of cafe still-lifes.  And this delicious day and night afforded me plenty of silence and space to work and play over this piece that slowly emerges beneath my gaze, like a developing photograph in a dark room.

This composition that I’m toiling over now (and loving the scrutiny and problem-solving) truly resonates with me.  The setting is a cafe, where someone has opened a letter while relaxing over coffee.  The spectacles I recovered from the estate of one deceased about twenty years ago.  The letter, postmarked 1962 was given me by a dear friend who deals in antiques and always has the objects I request for these kinds of compositions.  The diner mug I found in an antique store two days ago.  And the pillow case, also found in the antique store, will have to serve as my cafe tablecloth.

These days, I love the emails and text messages I receive from those I love.  And in the days of yesteryear I loved receiving the letters in the mail (I really love the handwritten letters that I still receive occasionally in these current days).   Communication has always been our lifeline, and coffee in the cafes has always been my spiritual life’s blood.  I wish I could find the right words to describe what a sanctuary the cafe has become for me in recent years, and how precious the moments are when I can sit with coffee and re-read something sent from someone who matters.

So, as  I linger over this piece in the days and nights ahead, I just wanted to let anyone out there who reads me know, that this is a personal composition for me.  And I have the desire now, the genuine compulsion, to work on a series of cafe still-lifes depicting these quiet, pondering moments harbored in quiet contemplative American lives these days and nights.

Thanks for reading.

I paint to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Death in the Afternoon

March 6, 2013
Watercolor Sketch of Vintage Fishing Equipment

Watercolor Sketch of Vintage Fishing Equipment

He would have liked to set down in words, as Goya did in paint, all that he had “seen, felt, touched, handled, smelled, enjoyed, drunk, mounted, suffered, spewed-up, lain-with, suspected, observed, loved, hated, lusted, feared, detested, admired, loathed, and destroyed.”  But he knew that “any part you make will represent the whole if it’s made truly.”  And he knew, finally, that all books must end somewhere.

Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, by Carlos Baker

These are the notes concerning Hemingway’s completion of his nonfiction book on Spanish bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon, published in 1932.  I republish them today, tongue in cheek, because I know I could not possibly put into words all that I experienced this afternoon, my first long stretch in the Man Cave since my illness a couple of weeks ago.  Daily school tasks have managed to suck every ounce of vitality out of me, leaving nothing for the creative process in the afternoons or evenings, until today.

I won’t bother talking about the school day.  My life began when I got home this afternoon, and re-entered the Cave after a late lunch.  For over a week, I have had this notion of launching a pile of 8 x 10″ watercolors.  I just couldn’t seem to break loose to get into the studio.  Currently I am poring over this fabulous assortment of vintage fishing lures (many of them wooden), vintage fishing reels and trout flies that have been lent by dear friends.  The close scrutiny of these objects is taking a toll on my eyes, but I am nevertheless enjoying the process.  I am posting a picture of three compositions I have in progress now.  I’ll be matting them in 11 x 14″ mattes with plastic sleeves as soon as I finish them.  I have a large festival coming up in a little over two weeks (Art on the Greene in Arlington, Texas).  In the past, I have sold many prints and greeting cards of reproductions of my work.  This time I hope to set out for sale a large quantity of small original watercolors, all of them about 8 x 10 image size.  We’ll see how many get made between now and then.

Ernest Hemingway is getting under my skin once again.  I am over two hundred pages into the biography I have been reading since the Christmas holidays.  I now am reading for the first time A Farewell to Arms.  Still I am seeking some kind of way to express my notion of watercoloring with the same “Imagist” technique expounded by the likes of Hemingway, Williams and Pound.  They write of approaching their subject directly with words, cutting out all the fluff, getting to the heart of the image.  I am trying that now with watercolor, painting faster, using fewer strokes, fewer colors, fewer embellishments, trying to draw better, to render more accurately.  It is a trial, but one that I welcome.

Thanks for reading.  I hope to be posting blogs daily now that I have a better handle on things around me.

Three Watercolor Sketches in the Man Cave

Three Watercolor Sketches in the Man Cave

Are there Meanings behind the Images?

January 3, 2013
Still Life with Ammo Crate

Still Life with Ammo Crate

The everyday things we live with are so beautiful and no one realizes it.

Andy Warhol

Temperatures reached 30 degrees this morning, with a real feel considerably lower.  The Man Cave was freezing, and I got so close to the space heater that I wondered if my sweater would catch fire.  Still I enjoyed rendering in watercolor the ammunition crate at the bottom of this composition.  My few attempts at painting wooden structures in watercolor have not reached my level of satisfaction, but this one is coming along better, it seems.  I’m focusing on the oil stains and grime that have soiled the surface over the years–the box actually smells as if it once contained oil cans. I also found it a pleasurable experience, lettering upside down.  The letters actually became abstract objects for drawing, and I hope they’ll come out looking O.K.  I could have turned the picture upside down, but chose not to.   I now realize that the crate needs to be re-aligned–something I did not notice with the initial line drawing, but can see all-too-well now that there is pigment blocking in the cubic shape.  I’ll fix that after I warm up and return to the freezing studio.

Recently I’ve been trying to discern the distinctions between Andy Warhol’s Pop images and Andrew Wyeth’s still lifes from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Cushing, Maine.  My own sentiments have sought connections between those two artists and the Imagist writers that include Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Hemingway and Williams.  Of course, I am looking at those magnificent works over against my own attempts with painting and writing about subjects charged with memories from my past.  I like to browse antique stores and museums so that I can remember things that were important to me growing up.  And now, more recently in still life painting, I am doing the same.

With delight, I finally finished Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast last night.  Now I am back into the biography I started of him a few weeks ago, written by Carlos Baker.  I enjoy reading about Hemingway’s disciplined focus on writing during the morning hours.  It inspires me to set an alarm (as I did at 7 this morning) and enter the studio as soon as possible to focus on the painting enterprise.  Hemingway was satisfied if he completed a good paragraph after a morning’s work.  So also I feel satisfied if I painted only one good object after the morning has passed.  School begins next week, and I really must find some kind of a schedule that will allow me to continue making art on a consistent basis.

This morning I was notified by that they have selected my January 1 post, “Peeling Back the Layers” to post on their homepage under “Freshly Pressed.”  That announcement knocked the wind out of me, as I have admired the blog posts on “Freshly Pressed” over the past year, and wondered how those bloggers were fortunate enough to be posted prominently that way.  I never dreamed that such fortune could come my way, and I am still breathless with gratitude.  Thank you, WordPress!

And thanks to all of you who read me.

Peeling Back the Layers of the Watercolor Still Life

January 1, 2013
Watercolor Still Life in the Man Cave

Watercolor Still Life in the Man Cave

Ernest Hemingway could not write about Michigan until he was in Paris, and could not write about Paris until he had returned to the United States.  On this first day of the New Year, I am returning to my ninth grade in House Springs Missouri, at Northwest High School.  In Proustlike fashion, this still life with the kerosene lantern is transporting me back to my Art I class, period 1, when we walked into class and saw a collection of at least fifteen objects assembled in the middle of the classroom, and the table arranged in a circle about the perimeter.  Each of us was given a full-size sheet of newsprint paper (perhaps 18 x 24″), a charcoal pencil, a blending stump and a kneaded eraser.

Immediately, a girl protested: “Mr. Scucchi, I cannot fit all that on this paper!” Coolly, the teacher replied: “Did you ever draw a house?”  Discussion over.  Time to draw.

At college there was an ancient Greek vase on the table in the seminar room where our class in Greek was held.  Fresh from Michigan, I had never seen anything before with lines so simple and yet so beautiful, and I marveled at it day after day.  In those hours of a student’s trancelike wonder there was born the resolve, unconscious at first, to go to Greece. 

The Art I students would sit before this giant still life for three weeks, fifteen instructional periods.  And in those periods, I became lost in wonder at the kerosene lantern, the focal point (for me) to this immense pile of objects that included a jug, a Ruffino wine bottle with straw bottom, corn scoop, football helmet, antique water pump, bricks and drapery.

With charcoal pencil and blending stump, I became absorbed with the textures of the kerosene lantern, the complications of a smoky globe with highlights and scratches and thin wires wound about it, the rusted and pitted armature catching highlights and absorbing shadows, the thinness of the bail that arced above the lantern, and the issues of rendering this delicate piece of iron with charcoal as it presented itself as a string of highlights, mid-tones and shadows.  I realize now that, as a ninth-grader, I was not as dull as I and my peers had regarded me.  It is a certainty that I was not academically astute or interested, but during those days I realized that I was visually alert and interested in these objects.

No Ideas but in Things.

Leaning into the New Year with Renewed Watercolor Resolve

December 29, 2012
Still Life in the Man Cave

Still Life in the Man Cave

Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass.

–Walter Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance

I have returned from my St. Louis Christmas vacation, spent with Mom, Dad and siblings.  I was privileged to have my son accompany me from Austin on the trip to and from as well.  The white Christmas was beautiful, travel was safe, and I’m glad to be back in my Man Cave for the next chapter.  I’m caught rather flatfooted, realizing it is already December 29, and I have yet to record a single New Year Resolution in my private journal.  I take those seriously every year, and for the life of me cannot figure out why I have yet to think these through.  Perhaps later today.

I have been in the Man Cave since about 8:30 this morning, when it was 23 degrees outside.  Now, at 10:00, it has warmed up to 33, and with layers of  clothing along with a space heater, I am making out quite nicely here.  I have posted a photo taken last night of my drafting table, tilted and positioned in front of the still life that I began assembling before I left for St. Louis.  I am choosing to work on a 28 x 22″ composition, and am thrilled to the bone to be attempting this.  Throughout yesterday evening and this morning I have drawn, erased, re-drawn, erased, re-drawn, constantly working to get the proportions and details right.  I firmly believe that the success of this large watercolor is going to depend on the strength of the drawing, and I am determined not to do it halfway.  So, I continue to revise, often feeling like Willem de Kooning, who didn’t hesitate to scrape off three hours’ worth of painting and start over.

I am nearly finished with Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, and am enthralled with his work ethic and discussions of the discipline of writing.  Those remarks are giving me the impetus I need to push ahead in my studio and crank out the paintings, believing in what I do.  The objects I have selected for this arrangement all have Proustian “ghosts” lingering about them.  I’m not ever sure if I’m on the same page as the Imagist writers and their philosophy “No Ideas but in Things,” but I certainly feel an inner compulsion to go after this still life arrangement.  I have checked out two more Andrew Wyeth volumes from our local public library as well.  I know there is much gold to be mined there as well.

There are two or three additional watercolor compositions I have churning about in my head, so I could very well be starting some additional works before this day comes to a close.  Once I actually start pushing watercolor pigments around on this enormous paper before me, I’ll certainly be posting those pictures as well.  I’m excited to be back on task.

Thanks for reading.

Christmas Vacation, Quiet Reflection, an Evolving Man Cave and Plans for a New Watercolor

December 23, 2012
The Reflective Side of the Man Cave

The Reflective Side of the Man Cave

Merry Christmas early, to anyone reading this.  Yesterday began my Christmas vacation from teaching school.  Very little got accomplished, I’m sad to say, but I did manage to roll up my sleeves during some down time and re-arrange my Man Cave while the temperatures were still mild in the garage.  I brought home five more vintage doors from my school classroom and re-installed them in the Cave, to close it off as a room separate from my Jeep.  All the steamer trunks and suitcases filled with watercolors, cards and prints are safely back home as well, where they belong.

Pictured above is my new seating area for reading, writing, thinking–something I have just gotten underway during this break.  Those moments can only get better as the days progress and I get used to the reality of not rising for classes every weekday morning in the pre-dawn.  I am ready to spend more time in Hemingway, Pound and Eliot.

Setting Up the Next Still Life

Setting Up the Next Still Life

Pictured above is the opposite side of my Man Cave.  This I also began yesterday, and am still tinkering with the arrangement and lighting today.  “No Ideas But in Things,” wrote William Carlos Williams.   These things are charged with personal history for me, and I plan on spending much quality time re-visiting and absorbing those ideas.  I am inspired to attempt a full-size watercolor sheet (22 x 28″) for this composition.  I have been too afraid for years to go after something of this magnitude, but as any recent blog readers will know, I have spent some time whittling away at still life objects in watercolor on a smaller scale, and I think it’s time to graduate to something larger and more focused.  Below I am posting the 22 x 28″ Andrew Wyeth watercolor that has fueled my imagination since I first saw the illustration as a freshman in high school, in Art I.  I will always be indebted to Mr. Scucchi, my Art I teacher, who believed in me enough to lay his massive Houghton-Mifflin Andrew Wyeth volume in front of me to peruse one day.  This particular watercolor of the interior of the house better known from Wyeth’s Chistina’s World was painted after the deaths of Christina and her brother, when this property was put up for sale, and Wyeth knew he was taking his last look at it.

The still life I have set up is an attempt to portray the belongings of one recently deceased as well, the residual property recording the decades of his life and the ideas/things enclosing his daily domestic domain.

Andrew Wyeth, Alvaro and Christina, watercolor 1968

Thanks for reading.

No Ideas But in Things

December 19, 2012
Vintage Coffee Tin and Suitcase

Vintage Coffee Tin and Suitcase

I believe it was Garrison Keillor who warned that when mining for deep truths, we should be careful not to come up with a handful of horse hockey.  So, with reservation, I confess that I am still muddling about with Imagism, a movement in poetry traced back to 1912, involving Ezra Pound, H. D., William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot and a host of other literary heavyweights.  This group of writers was interested in approaching objects directly with language, cutting unnecessary words and ornamentation.  I have much of that on my mind as I work at watercoloring these still lifes of late.  I also have Andy Warhol and the Pop culture all over me as well:  “A thing is a thing.”

I listen seriously as Andrew Wyeth testifies that one can talk too much about one’s art instead of just doing it and exploring it.  But I am earnestly in search of a theory, a reason.  It’s not enough for me just to say: “I make art in order to remember.”  Sure,, nostalgia is in my work, and the objects I select to paint resonate with my past.

I’m nearly finished with this still life posted above.  I can’t say I’m too happy with the finished results, but I did enjoy gazing at these objects over the past couple of afternoons, and I enjoyed the process of trying to solve problems in capturing and recording them in watercolor on paper.  I’m not sorry I tried.

Tomorrow is the first day of final exams.  I just finished typing up all mine to give to the classes, and I’m seriously considering a good night’s sleep and an early arrival at school in the morning.  So I guess I’ll shut down the studio for another night.

Thanks for reading.