Posts Tagged ‘Imagism’

Hemingway, Wintertime and Thoughts of Fly Fishing

December 13, 2012
Vintage Still Life

Vintage Still Life

Quality studio time has been scarce this week, with the school semester winding down and Christmas vacation rapidly approaching.  Nevertheless, I have been burying myself in Hemingway, though I don’t teach any of his writings.  Thoughts of his “Big Two-Hearted River” story reminded me of a vintage bamboo fly rod from the 1940’s that was given me by a big-hearted equestrian teacher from Colorado several years back.  I retrieved it from my display area, along with his Pflueger reel, and placed it over this antique Pepsi crate and thought “Why not?”  I’ve had an obsession for the past month for still life studies, and have no idea where this inspiration originated.  As stated in earlier posts, tenth grade was the first and only time I ever attempted a watercolor still life.

Texas waters are already being stocked with rainbow trout, one of the locations only 30 minutes from where I live.  I can’t wait to free up some time to travel there and see if I can have some success with my fly rod.  I may just take this bamboo one and see how it works.  It’s been too long since I’ve stalked rainbows with a fly rod.

I feel that I have a theory taking shape that combines still life aesthetics with what I have been gleaning from Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound and Andrew Wyeth of late.  I dare not put it into words just yet for fear that I’ll sound just as obtuse as Hemingway did when explaining his theories that combined Cezanne’s paintings with his style of writing:

I was learning something from the painting of Cezanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them.  I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone.

No, there is no typo above.  That is what Hemingway actually wrote in A Moveable Feast.

I do think I have something cooking that combines literary Imagism with Andrew Wyeth’s Regionalism and my own storehouse of Proustian memories.  I’m exploring it as best I can during these crowded-schedule days.

Thanks for reading.


Caught Somewhere Between Pop and Imagism

December 1, 2012
Watercolor of antique Lucky Strike cigarette tin on antique table

Watercolor of antique Lucky Strike cigarette tin on antique table

Saturday night finds me relaxing outside the Barnes & Noble Store at University Park in Fort Worth, one of my favorite places to chill.  I am posting the finished watercolor that I signed this afternoon, having returned from the Tyler Museum of Art to admire the Wyeth exhibit.  I was inspired to finish some of my dangling watercolors, so I first wrapped this one up, deciding only to scuff up and scumble the left-hand side of the table top, which I thought was lacking in woodgrain texture.  I’ll never forget working on this composition.  The cigarette tin I painted earlier this summer, inspired by Andy Warhol’s Pop images.  I was afraid to paint a prosaic image such as this tin which I purchased many years ago in an antique store.  But I finally decided to give it a try, and enjoyed immensely the sensation of focusing on the damaged paint and rust on the tin, and most particularly the peeling adhesive stamp on the lower left corner.  I experimented with watercolor, colored pencil, watercolor pencil, graphite and salt texturing, finding all these techniques to be plenty of fun.  My recent doorknob paintings have given me the courage to attempt this table top as well.  I still have so much to learn when it comes to rendering wood surfaces.  I’m looking forward to more experiments here.

Thanks for reading.

A Relaxing Afternoon in the Man Cave

November 9, 2012

Friday in the Man Cave

Well, another week of public school is in the books.  The students were wonderful, but I came home tired today.  I sat in the man cave and messed up the watercolor that I started recently.  So, I took a nap and returned to it refreshed.  Hopefully I have restored it and have it moving in the right direction again.  I am at the stage where I am combining drawing and drybrush, working these over the layers of wash already laid down.  I love this weaving stage of the watercolor.  I chose to stop at this point and let the composition sit for another day or so.  I believe that composting is the right direction for me right now.  I need to take my time and let this painting mature.

Thanks for reading.

Drybrush Beginning on my Third Vintage Doorknob with Musings of William Carlos Williams

November 7, 2012

Beginning of Third Vintage Doorknob Watercolor

With daylight saving time providing much longer nights, I found myself desiring to withdraw to the man cave this evening and begin my third watercolor attempt of a porcelain doorknob from my collection.  About ten years ago, I began collecting old doors to hinge together and use as temporary walls for displaying my watercolors in art festival booths.  Because the doorknobs and lock plates interfered with folding the doors together and transporting them, I removed them all, stored them in my classroom locking cabinet and forgot about them until recently.  Now I’ve gone on this still life watercolor binge, inspired by a recent visit to the Wyeth exhibit at the Tyler Museum of Art.

For several decades, I have pored over images of Andrew Wyeth drybrush renderings of dilapidated doors and knobs, and have stared at real ones as well.  In a Proustian sense, they take me back to my grandmother’s ramshackle house that featured abused doors and porcelain knobs with skeleton key locks.  I always found them more fascinating throughout my childhood than the doors of our suburban home–brass knobs with all the doors featuring the same wooden stain.

As I worked in the studio this evening, I continually replayed the Voices and Visions VHS tape of William Carlos Williams, a family doctor who drove around his small New Jersey town in the 1930’s, taking in images all day, recording them on prescription pads and converting them to poems every evening, late.  Imagism emerged in his works, along with those of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.  “Say it again–no ideas but in things.”  Several months ago, I made a couple stabs at painting still life objects in a prosaic, commercial fashion, much as Andy Warhol did with his Campbell Soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles.  I have pulled them out recently, wondering if I should put the images on an old wooden table, or in front of one of my ten vintage doors resting in the man cave.  I’m fascinated with these images of late, staring at them, watercoloring and sketching them, reading William Carlos Williams poems and continually looking at Andrew Wyeth and Andy Warhol paintings of prosaic objects.  I am not sure where this is going to lead, but I must say I am gleaning much satisfaction, personally, from these experiments.

Thanks for reading.

Finished the Drybrush of the 2nd Vintage Doorknob

November 5, 2012

Second doorknob finished

Finally, I have completed my second attempt of a close-up of a vintage doorknob.  Andrew Wyeth and his drybrush technique has inspired me since ninth grade, but finally I work up the courage to attempt a still life with my own watercolor techniques.  This has been a fun adventure.  Earlier this year, I painted a vintage Lucky Strike metal cigarette case and a vintage Maxwell House coffee tin.  They have been posted in earlier blogs.  I think I’ll keep experimenting in this genre and remembering the literary theories of Imagism championed by William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound–no ideas but in things.

Thanks for reading.

Return to the Man Cave, Ezra Pound and the St. Elmo Watercolor

June 5, 2012

St. Elmo, Colorado

Sandi plans to leave around 5:30 a.m. to work horses.  It’s good to see her pursuing her bliss as retirement commences.  I’ve decided to rise early as well, and see if the man cave is cooler than the 92 degrees it was at 11:00 this evening.  I loathe Texas summers.  Sure, the sunlight creates potentially pleasing landscape subjects to paint.  But it also invites heat stroke, skin cancer and plenty of other assorted wholesome features.  At any rate, I’ll work in the man cave in the morning for as long as the temperatures allow, then move my work inside and work under whatever light I can set up.  I’ve posted the St. Elmo painting that I started and abandoned over two weeks ago.  I would love to finish that one in the morning.

Today I stood in a 45-minute line at Arlington’s Municipal Court to settle up on a traffic violation from last month.  I brought with me Literary Essays of Ezra Pound.  It was good reading while I stood and waited.  I’m extrapolating his three tenets of Imagist poetry and applying them to my ideas of watercoloring:

1. Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.

Edward Hopper, when referring to his earlier days of plein air painting, said that he used to work “from the fact,” but in later years, relied on his memory and imagination.  In my plein air work of recent years, I have tried to focus more on a single, concentrated subject on which to build my composition.  My greatest challenge in painting on site is learning to focus on one subject, and trying to disregard all the other objects in front of me, all clamoring for my attention and focus.

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

I am trying to return to the “vignette” approach of watercoloring, allowing the perimeters of my composition to go out of focus, and eventually fade to white.  Taking a step further, I am trying to avoid detailing elements that are not central to my subject.  I’ve always been attracted to the words of Andrew Wyeth, saying that the strength of a composition is not what you put in, but what you leave out.  I also liked Henry David Thoreau writing that a person was rich in proportion to what things he could leave alone.  I’m still working on this, the idea that less is more.  My watercolors too often have too much in them, competing for the viewer’s attention.

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

I may be misinterpreting all of Pound’s tenets, but I’m at least using his words as a springboard for my own ideas as I pursue my place in the art enterprise.  When I read statement #3, I think of my notion that there are no sequential rules to painting out a composition.  I don’t always start with the sky.  I don’t always lay down my planes of color before detailing.  I don’t always draw out every detail in pencil before laying down water and pigment.  I just don’t follow a sequence of steps from start to finish in a painting; I work on what I feel like working on, from one moment to the next, and the only time I am forced is when the painting becomes too wet in one area, and I must devote my attention to another place where it is dry and controllable.

So.  There is my though of the day.  Ezra Pound’s tenets for Imagism (I like William Carlos Williams: “No ideas but in things.”) applied to my own watercolor ideas.

In less than two weeks, I have the privilege of traveling to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to teach a one-week plein air watercolor workshop.  I have already spoken to seven of the nine students enrolled in the course, and found them all to be fascinating and engaging in conversation.  I cannot wait to meet them and get to work.  This will be my third year to do this, and I absolutely love that school, its staff, its Board, and that town.  I cannot wait to get there.

Thanks for reading.

Composting Ideas Between Paintings

May 16, 2012

Sifting Ideas Between Paintings

This is a comfortable interim for me.  The school year is winding down, grades are pretty much settled, all my students are passing, and we see no need for stressing between now and final exam days.  I am about a week-and-a-half away from my next art festival, and once that day arrives, I will enter a 10-day marathon of art events and school closures simultaneously.  I will try to be as discerning as possible during that grind in order to avoid tragedy.  My gradebook is caught up, and daily I make sure all the latest entries are in place before I come home.  I have also begun cleaning out my classroom and disposing of all materials so that I can walk away on the last day.

Memorial Day weekend will kick off a three-day art festival at the Levitt Pavilion in Arlington, coinciding with the opening of their 2012 concert season.  That weekend will also kick off the Paint Historic Waxahachie ten-day event.  Waxahachie will be a day event, Levitt will be evenings.  I plan to do both over the weekend.  Then when school re-opens for the final week, I will work school by day, and Waxahachie by afternoon and evening until dark.  It should be interesting.

Between Ezra Pound and Natalie Goldberg, I am drawing plenty of inspiration right now.  Much of what I glean for painting ideas comes from writers.  I’m pleased to learn that Robert Motherwell and Edward Hopper also turned to literary works for inspiration to paint.  Ezra Pound launched “Imagism” (using the term for the first time in 1912) as a new movement in poetry that called for “direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.”  William Carlos Williams also wrote in Paterson: Book I–“Say it!  No ideas but in things.”  Edward Hopper made no apology for avoiding abstraction in his painting, saying “I choose to work from the Fact.”  As for myself, I believe that objects contain the stuff of revelation in them.  I am probably closest to the New England Transcendentalists who proclaimed that for every physical object, there is a higher spiritual corollary.  Emerson built his essays on this bedrock, and Thoreau lived out his Walden experiment as an exercise in it.  So also, I choose to paint subjects that point to themes of my growing up that have come to mean a great deal to me.

Natalie Goldberg, in her book Writing Down the Bones, has a chapter titled “Composting” that sums up much of what I feel about my experiences in choosing subjects to paint–“It takes a while for our experience to sift through our consciousness. . . . Hemingway wrote about Michigan while sitting in a cafe in Paris.  ‘Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.'”

Goldberg referred to this latent period of sifting as “composting.”  To quote her further:

        “Our senses by themselves are dumb.  They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies.  I call this ‘composting.’  Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil.  Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories.”

Composting New Ideas in the Studio

I compost my ideas by drawing.  I wish I had the beginning of a new painting to post to this blog, but right now, I’m reading, sketching and looking through my photo files for ideas for the next painting.  I’m sifting out my world as captured on camera, earlier sketches, and dozens of plein air watercolors, waiting for the next idea to blister to the surface of my consciousness.  Something will come soon, I’m sure.  I’m going to close this entry with one of my favorite passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar.”  He of course is referring to the writer, but the artist fits this mold:

“The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again.  It came into him life; it went out from him truth.  It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts.  It came to him business; it went from him poetry.  It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought.”

Thanks for reading.

William Carlos Williams and Rural Colorado Mailboxes

July 5, 2011

Colorado Mailboxes

This morning,  my mind has drifted back to the poetry and legacy of William Carlos Williams, whose theory now known as Imagism was laid out in a line from one of his poems: “No ideas but in things.”  Williams chose to remain in the quiet town of Rutherford, New Jersey, where he worked as a physician and created as a poet.  I love this statement from his Autobiography: “All that I have wanted to do was to tell of my life as I went along practicing medicine and at the same time recording my daily search for . . . what?  As a writer, I have been a physician, and as a physician a writer; and as both writer and physician I have served sixty-eight years.”

This small town physician drove from residence to residence throughout his working days, his eyes always taking in images that seemed to contain the stuff of revelation in them–a red wheelbarrow, shards from a broken green bottle, a housewife stooping outside her front door to pick up milk bottles–all of these images were recorded on prescription pads, and long after nightfall would grow into poems.

For several years I have wanted to do with watercolor vignettes what Williams did with small poems–record objects that I take in during the day that strike some kind of chord of recognition from my past.  So, with this current posting, I began by sorting through my plein air sketches from the past, and stopped with this tree top in my neighbor’s yard that I painted from my garage studio view early one morning.  Turning to my digital library, I pulled up this pair of rural Colorado mailboxes that I photographed last summer as my wife and I stopped alongside the highway to admire a railroad bridge and the deep gorge cut between two mountain ranges.  After photographing the bridge a dozen times, I turned and my attention immediately fastened on this pair of mailboxes.  I probably looked like a stooge,  shooting pictures of old mailboxes when all the natural beauty of the Colorado mountains lay sprawled before us.

Twice in my life, I have lived in an isolated rural setting, and depended on a mailbox much like these to keep me in contact with the civilized world.  In 1973, I worked for a summer at J. P. Coleman State Park near Iuka, Mississippi.  The postmaster arranged for me to use an abandoned mailbox along one of the county roads, but it required a 3-mile walk for me to reach it from the interior of the State Park where I resided.  I daily made that 3-mile walk.  I was a college student on summer vacation and was blessed with a plethora of “writing” college friends that led to “something in the box” almost daily.

In 1986 I lived in rural Whitesboro, Texas,  on a Farm Market road seventeen miles out from the nearest city.  Again, the mailbox kept me in touch with my remote friends and working associates.  While living there, I spent many afternoons in the shade of the front porch, watching the mailbox down the dirt road and the approaching mail truck to see if the driver was going to stop.  Letters, packages, anything left was a “connection” with my working world beyond the horizon.

Although the sight of rural mailboxes has held my attention for years, it is only now that I pause to paint a pair.  I’ve selected another photograph from my Arkansas odyssey of last year, and am considering a small watercolor sketch of that one as well.

Thanks for reading.

William Burroughs–Life is a Cut Up

April 19, 2011

Dry brush study of a tree

So, what does the Beat writer William Burroughs have to do with a tree?  I’m spending some time in the book Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts.  I have always gotten a kick out of his “cut ups” and I myself used to pursue collage quite seriously.  But during this past week or so (while the blog has unfortunately lay dormant) some disparate elements have been “composting” within my consciousness, and I’m now trying to find a way to bring them to the surface.

I don’t want to say I am facing dissatisfaction with my watercolor work.  Rather, I am creating a rather unsatisfying body of work as I’m experimenting with new images and studying new techniques and approaches.  Currently I am trying to solve some “tree” problems–I have never, ever, been satisfied with my watercolor trees, though many have spoken very well of them.  My actual foliage (to me) is nothing more than Jackson Pollock techniques that somehow translate into foliage.  Right now, I’m staring at leaf clusters of various trees in parks and in neighborhoods as I drive daily, and have decided it is time to figure out how to capture their structure, or “essence” if I want to go in the direction of the “canons” of Xie He.

I’m getting closer to what I want with the tree bark, though I must confess I spend hours gazing longingly at Andrew Wyeth dry brush studies.  What a Gift he was!

To return to my rambling discourse (perhaps I should edit this carefully before sending it up the flagpole), I’m comparing some of the remarks of William Burroughs in writing with statements I have pulled up from the Autobiography of William Carlos Williams and his ideas that launched Imagism in poetry, and also some real gems from The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell.  In all three of these brilliant minds, I see this idea of “abstracting” from daily life the elements that arrest our attention and rendering them artistically in some form or fashion.  This is what I am trying to do with trees (and Victorian homes and simple framed buildings, etc.–it never ends!).

I’m going to try again today to get some watercoloring done.  I did manage that on Sunday and Monday, but the work was really God-awful bad to look at, so I kept it off the blog (I know, it goes against my principles of what blogging is all about, but really, the recent work is really bad!).

Thanks for reading.

Lunch at a Romantic Mountain Town Getaway

March 23, 2011

Romantic Musings

Pausing for a romantic luncheon in the historic business district of Eureka Springs, Arkansas last weekend, my wife and I could not stop gazing down at Spring Street  below us.  The more I looked, the more I thought of Edward Hopper’s birds-eye views of New York City that he painted so enchantingly.  I realized that I had never tried this, so it was time.  I have posted a link to the Basin Park Hotel, where we enjoyed lunch, and this fabulous balcony view.  The link shows the flat-iron building across the street that anchors this composition.

I am so pleased to get in-and-out of a small painting so quickly (this one is 8 x 10″ and will be available for $300 unframed).  I never thought it possible (for myself) to get so much minute detail crammed into such a small working space, and to be nearly finished this quickly.  I began on Sunday afternoon (the day after the luncheon), and have posted the picture as it appeared Tuesday.  I have yet to finish the handrails in the foreground, and still have some decisions to make on the overall composition (perhaps some broad darker tones in the background landscape, or the row of brick buildings–I don’t know yet).

My wife has suggested a diptych, again, something I have never tried in watercolor groupings.  I like the idea, so now I have the second one underway of the flat iron building, viewed from the end–an extreme low-angle view (worms-eye?).  The wet and sloppy sky is still drying, hence I pause to blog for a bit.  This second one is also 8 x 10″ and will be extremely, minutely detailed (I hope).

My poetic muse companions the past three days have been Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams.  I’m filled with a sense of wonder as I contemplate their theories of Imagism (Williams: “No ideas but in things”) and for the moment am attempting paintings of subjects that have no long-term personal history with me (The first time I visited Eureka Springs was last summer) but nevertheless arrest me with their grace and beauty.  In the cities I have always been fascinated with the co-existence of cosmetically beautiful objects and utilitarian ugly ones.  Ezra Pound noted in one of his literary essays that James Joyce juxtaposed the beautiful and the ugly in his stories.  Pound referred to these as the “bass and treble” of his arrangements.  Thus, in this painting (and the next) I am trying to present the  objects in which the tourist’s eye takes delight, as well as those which are either abhorred, or not even noticed at all.

One final thing I wish to point out–on that particular day in Eureka Springs, it was cold, windy, overcast, and there was absolutely no light or shadow to pick up on the objects.  I photographed it all anyway, and have chosen to paint it anyway.  Though the afternoon was a romantic one, it was nevertheless the last day of winter, and winter weather was in the air.  I tried to capture that gray, overcast, chilly atmosphere in the painting.

Thanks for reading.