Posts Tagged ‘Mark Rothko’

Morning Coffee with Dave & Barnett

August 16, 2018

newman 2

An artist paints so that he will have something to look at; at times he must write so that he will also have something to read.

Barnett Newman, “The Ides of Art”

Barnett Newman has been an effective vitamin pill along with my morning coffee recently, providing plenty of inspiration for me as I continue work on my painting and ideas. For several decades I have been absorbed with the art and milieu of the Abstract Expressionist painters, also known as The New York School. I have read The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell and parts of  Mark Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art. Ian Watson, a former student of mine and now an artist emerging in the gallery milieu, presented me with this copy of Newman’s writings when I attended the opening of his show in Amarillo last month. And I have found his ideas very engaging.

The present painter can  be said to work with chaos not only in the sense that he is handling the chaos of a blank picture plane but also in that he is handling chaos of form.     . . . it can be said that the artist like a true creator is delving into chaos. It is precisely this that makes him an artist, for the Creator in creating the world began with the same material–for the artist tried to wrest truth from the void.

Barnett Newman “The Plasmic Image”

When I read this quote, I had to close the volume and catch my breath. For a number of years I have mused over a theological approach to creation. I have even used it in talking points during workshops I have conducted recently.

    In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 

    The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And          the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

    And God said,“Let there be light,” and there was light. 

    And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

When reading these opening verses of Genesis, I still tingle at that description of the world without form and void and darkness moving over the face of the abyss. Then God spoke, and as he spoke, the chaotic mass began organizing as he divided light from darkness, day from night, earth from sky, etc. Robert Motherwell said that drawing was a way of organizing space. God did that by dividing, and so also do we, as we look at the white expanse of surface and begin dividing it into a composition.

In verse 26, Genesis records that God made people in his own image. For centuries, thinkers have mused over the Imago Dei, wondering what it means to be made in the image of God. I answer the question with another: what is the very first thing recorded in Genesis about God? He created. And he made people to be like him. What do humans do? They create. Personally, I delight in that mandate. And I love rising to the challenge of confronting chaos and seeking to organize it into something worth seeing.


Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to be like God.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.



Vacation Wanderings

July 9, 2018

opening 2

Standing with Ian Watson at the Opening of His One-Man-Show

I’m the subject. I’m also the verb as I paint, but I’m also the object. I am the complete sentence.

Barnett Newman

Finally, vacation has arrived. Summer School ended Thursday for Texas Wesleyan University, and by Friday morning, I had completed all grading for the term.  The university paid out my contract several days before the term actually finished, so I was more than ready to sing the Song of the Open Road (Whitman).

In my second year of high school teaching (1989), Ian Watson came into my life as a sophomore and has remained in the best way, though he now resides in Amarillo, over five hours away. In art and humanities classes, he was an enthusiastic learner, and very skilled as a young artist, encouraged by his father, an accomplished photographer (who took the above photo) and graphics design artist.

By the time he was a junior, Ian had become enthralled with the Abstract Expressionist tradition, and spent hours studying its history, particularly Jackson Pollock, even reading that massive biography by Naifeh and Smith. Rolling canvas across the art room floor, Ian experimented with Pollock’s drip style, even embedding pieces of glass, cigarette butts and bottle caps into the wet enamel. Many years later, when we caught up again, I learned that he had moved into Color Field investigations, and that he had read the Rothko biography by Breslin. He also gave me as a gift a book I had had my eye on for years, Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews.

Ian opened his first One-Man-Show at the Object Gallery in Amarillo, Texas Friday night, and I knew from the day it was advertised months ago that I would be present. In 2010, Ian attended the opening of my first show, and I’ll always be indebted to him for that.  His opening was an enriching experience, and I’ll always appreciate the special feeling of seeing someone emerge as a professional artist that I knew as a young student in my earliest years of teaching.

Because of the Amarillo show, I was unable to attend the monthly Art Walk in Lubbock, Texas, where the gallery Art for Goodness Sake just hung seven of my newest plein air landscape watercolors of the Southwest. But I at least had the pleasure of stopping by the gallery and visiting with the owners.

ghost ranch upright

“Ghost Ranch”–One of seven watercolors now at Art for Goodness Sake

I am on my way to the mountains now. As John Muir once wrote, I feel them now calling out to me, and I feel compelled to go. I anticipate much joy as I paint them en plein air. I’ve brought along with me my half-finished volume on Cezanne, and I am at the part where he was stunned at the sight of Mont Saint-Victoire and felt moved to paint it about sixty times, never feeling that he got it right. At this point, I know I haven’t gotten my mountains down on paper the way I wish them to appear.


Historic Santa Fe Depot, Fort Worth, Texas

I have also brought along my work on a commission I was offered last April. I am painting the Santa Fe depot of Fort Worth, located on Jones Street, choosing a full sheet of 300-pound D’Arches cold-pressed watercolor paper. A patron approached me at Artscape 2018, offering a generous sum of money for me to paint the location posted above, because years ago he experienced an existential turning point in his life while standing there admiring the structure. He wishes to preserve a visual memory of this significant moment in his life. For that reason, I feel very close to this subject as I work, thinking of this man at a crossroads who today celebrates a key decision in his life. I also like the thought that the painting will be developing across west Texas, New Mexico and Colorado as I journey.

The summer is hot, but at least in west Texas it cools to the low-seventies at sundown, and remains that way till almost noon the next day. The scorching three-digit temperatures in the Dallas/Fort Worth area are not for me. I’m glad to be quit of them.



Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Divided Attention

May 22, 2015

Eliminate something superfluous from your life. Break a habit. Do something that makes you  feel insecure.

Piero Ferrucci

Well, I’m following Ferrucci’s directive, but not by conscious choice. Since I learned that I would be painting in the Laguna Madre this summer, my attention has been drawn to photos I took of the island and a series of thumbnail compositional sketches for watercolors I plan to execute on site, but also some abstract designs and small works that I haven’t done in well over a decade. I enjoyed working in abstraction during my college and post-graduate years, but since the late 1980’s I have worked more exclusively in watercolor and representational subjects. Now, I’m wondering if my one-man-show following the residency should show my sketches and abstractions along with the finished representational watercolors. Plenty of time to decide on that, I suppose.

To add to the schizophrenia, I will leave in less than an hour to set up for a three-day festival (most likely in the pouring rain). My festivals, of course, do not display abstract or non-traditional art. And oftentimes, I’m sitting in my booth reading the writings of Motherwell or poring over a book of paintings by Rothko, and people looking at my work are seeing only traditional art, and oftentimes wondering if what I’m selling would look O.K. in a living room or office space. Two worlds.

Actually, much more than just two worlds. I probably should be too embarrassed to post this, but I wanted to send out a word to my blogging friends, because I was too busy yesterday packing and loading for this show to put up a blog post. If I don’t blog over the next couple of days, it will be because I am too exhausted from the show, especially if rain plagues us the way it has the past three weeks. I’m still trying to get over this ugly sinus infection and allergy symptoms (no doubt from all the mold that is flourishing during this swamp weather). My plan in the art booth is to bring my large thermos of coffee and good books to read, just in case the weather chases away all the patrons.

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.

Sedentary in Mind Only?

May 20, 2015
Preparations for a Three-Day Art Festival

Preparations for a Three-Day Art Festival

I envy [painters] because there is so much physical satisfaction in the actual work of painting and sculpture. I’m a physical being and resent this sedentary business of sitting at one’s desk and moving only one’s wrist. I pace, I speak my poems, I get very kinetic when I’m working. . . . When I insist on poetry as a kind of action, I’m thinking very much in these terms–every achieved metaphor in a poem is a gesture of sorts, the equivalent of slashing of a stroke on canvas.

Stanley Kunitz

I loved reading this interview given by poet Stanley Kunitz. He lived in Greenwich Village, and later in Provincetown, enjoying close relationships with Abstract Expressionist painters including Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and Willem DeKooning. I understand his disjunctive between the sedentary posture of a desk-bound poet and the action painter standing before a mural-size canvas. I knew the action painting posture in my former years. But as a watercolorist, I feel more sedentary and reflective, and certainly don’t burn calories when I’m in the midst of my work.

However, tonight I have been everything but sedentary. There is a three-day festival approaching: Centerstage Festival at the Levitt Performing Arts Pavilion in central Arlington, Texas. I will have to rise early on Friday morning to begin the load-in for the show. Tonight I decided to get out in front of it, instead of waiting for the deadline to bite me on the butt tomorrow evening. I have been working out of three rooms (that explains the burning of calories): printing in one, matting and sleeving in another, organizing and loading in another. This time I have taken an oath not to leave my house with that trashed-out look when I drive away for the festival. So, I’ve had to work harder to keep from tossing discarded items into corners and empty spaces on the floors.

Though I’ve experienced an evening brimming with physical energy, I have every reason to believe that the sedentary will return. Texas has been soggy, slushy, muddy, moldy and swampy with rain for weeks, and the forecast calls for this to continue daily through next Monday. In prior years, this would draw an explosion of profanity from me. Not this time. I have seen more than my fair share of this in Texas. I need to be glad to have a good, sound, waterproof tent. The festival will be on paved streets, not in swampy, grassy parks. I have added a back “porch” to my tent. So, if the rains descend, as forecasted, I will enjoy a thermos of coffee and a stack of books with my journal. If storms chase away all the patrons, as in festivals past, I’ll have three days to reflect, write, and plan for the exciting weeks that lie immediately ahead. I know solitude, and how to appreciate it when it is offered as a gift. And sedentary sounds like a good thing.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Reds in the Shadows

April 16, 2014
Working on the shadows now

Working on the shadows now

Aut lux nata est aut capta hic libera regnat.

The light is either born here, or, imprisoned, reigns here in freedom.

Inscription in the Archiepiscopal Chapel at Ravenna

Mark Rothko is an abstract expressionist painter who still intrigues me, particularly in his discussions of light in the shadows.  As I inch closer to completing this winterscape watercolor of Hermann, Missouri, I’m struggling with the storefront shadows and row of parked cars.  There will be more shadows creeping across the street.  I am not sure how it happened, but in a mindless moment, I introduced a plethora of neutral grays into the building facade shadows, and I don’t like them at all.  Today I decided to experiment with some red washes over those gray regions–Alizarin Crimson, Quinachridone Red and Pemanent Rose.  I then introduced some Pthalo Turquoise in the same areas, hoping to replace the gray deadness with some kind of living color.  I feel that it’s starting to improve.  The parked vehicles in the shade are also proving a challenge, and I’m trying not to repeat the same mistake with neutral grays.  There remains a significant puddle of ugly gray above the parked vehicles that I still have not decided what to do with yet.  In good time.

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.