Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Waldo Emerson’

Drawing the Next Circle

July 24, 2017

redlands

In the Gallery at Redlands, Palestine, Texas

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn, that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”

Awakened at 5:30 this morning by a heavy rainstorm (love the sound of rain on a tin roof!), I rose refreshed, and by the time I finished showering, making breakfast and loading the Jeep for the 50-minute drive to the gallery, I was surprised to be at the desk by 8:00. My pump is primed, and I am ready to begin the next painting.

Emerson’s meditation on “Circles” has possessed me since 1992 when I was first introduced to it while at Oregon State University. The words resonate with me, because I seldom feel that I’ve been mired in a rut; there is always a new adventure to pursue, a new experience to savor.  When Jack Kerouac wrote that beyond the hills in the distance something wonderful is going to happen, I believe it was Ken Kesey who retorted, “It turns out there are just more hills.” I have met many with Kesey’s sentiment, but I am not one of them. In a short time I’ll be departing for my next road trip, and I’m excited beyond measure. Meanwhile, I have a commission to complete, so I’m getting down to the business of it. It’s a beautiful morning in Palestine, Texas for working on a painting.

20170723_181237

Last evening, between soggy rainstorms, I did manage to get in a little fly fishing in a private pond near the store where I reside in the country. I managed to land two largemouth bass and a pair of fat panfish. I returned them all, just enjoying the sport of fishing. I couldn’t imagine a better way to finish an evening. Last week in Louisiana, some of my best evenings were capped by fishing area lakes, and I’m still thinking fondly of those experiences.

Time to get to work . . . thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Recollections 54 Redivivus

September 19, 2016

abandoned-cafe

The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

On February 7, 2002, over fourteen years ago, I was convinced that I had finally found my artistic voice, and responded by launching my sole proprietorship Recollections 54, creating a market for my watercolors (www.recollections54.com). My passion has always been to travel  county roads through the sleepy towns of America, my watercolor block riding at my side like a faithful travel dog. Always on the lookout for something to paint, I experienced every day as a new opportunity for discovery of some artifact reminiscent of earlier decades of energy and prosperity. Today, only the shells and husks remain of filling stations, general stores, movie theaters and other public buildings formerly stirring with conversations, stories and glimpses of life. The writer Marcel Proust has pointed out the thrill of beholding an object capable of triggering profound memories from youth, and being filled with a sense of warmth and gratitude.

Holding down two jobs has made painting with any kind of regularity a challenge, and should I be fortunate enough to retire one day, I have this fantasy of pursuing my watercolor passion with fewer restrictions. In addition to working full time, I have also taken a number of detours throughout the past fourteen years, traveling roads that involved significant changes in my signature genre–still life painting, plein air painting, Texas coastal themes and fly fishing, to name a few. But lately, I’ve found joy in returning to this Recollections 54 genre, selecting scenes from vanishing America.

I have nearly completed another watercolor of this favorite genre, and posted it above. This relic of a roadside restaurant flooded me with a sense of loss and presence when I stopped and photographed it in New Mexico years ago. Loss, because the business was dead; presence, because the structure resonated with stories as I stood gazing at it from every possible angle, near and afar, taking dozens of photos and trying to imagine what it was like to pull into the gravel parking lot hungry and eager to enter a comfortable zone and be served.

Emerson wrote that detachment was the virtue of a piece of art, that ability to detach the subject from the surroundings that tried to draw away attention. Frequently that is what I do when selecting something to draw or paint. From buildings such as this, I frequently remove windows, air conditioning units, graffiti, dangling cables–anything I regard as taking away from the simple integrity of the subject. The surroundings often present that annoying tree or trash dumpster that is in the way. The fun thing about making art is the ability to make those decisions in framing up a composition. And so this subject also presented its own unique set of possibilities.

I believe the painting is nearly finished. As was the practice of Andrew Wyeth, I’ll put it up in my home somewhere, and glance at it as I enter or leave the room, always evaluating, figuring if there remains something to do before signing off on it.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Depth

May 10, 2016

Joyce

Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences.  The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.

James Joyce, Ulysses

Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”

Late last night, while trying to read Ulysses, I came across the above passage and just had to close the book and my eyes for a spell.  I needed some kind of epiphany, coming off a scintillating week of plein air painting activity in Arkansas and re-entering my high school to face a pile of work from my weeklong absence.  It was like plunging into a warm summer pond after leaving a sauna.  I had no idea how a single Monday could suck all the creative aspirations out of me, but I guess that is how the daily job can be.  Today is better, because I’m feeling the inspiration once again that fueled my desires last week.

I have an incredibly busy two weeks facing me before I leave for another round of art festivals and plein air workshop activity.  There is so much preparation that goes into leaving for these activities, and I enjoy most of those details, especially the anticipation of the events.  But at the same time, I have this need to stop, rest, contemplate, and make new art.  I have always believed that quality art comes out of the depths, and for me there is no depth when I am covered up in social encounters.  The book I read last year that has come to mean so much to me, Hamlet’s Blackberry, by William Powers, urged to the reader that depth is sacrificed when one’s life is immersed in social media.  I could not agree more.  The art events that have enveloped me the past several weeks (with more to come) have taken me to the heights, but alas, I am not making art, not exploring new frontiers, and feel that a significant part of me is drying up.  I’m glad that I know how to fix this; I just need to find a way to adjust my daily calendar in order to get back to drawing and painting.

I apologize if this has come out as a “whiny” blog (I detest those!). I suppose that what I’m putting  out there right now is more of my private journal musings.  But still, there may be many of you who need to read these kinds of things, so thanks for reading.

I paint in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

When the Imagination is Flat, Draw Anyway

January 22, 2016

image

Books are for the scholar’s idle times. When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men’s transcripts of their readings. But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must, — when the sun is hid, and the stars withdraw their shining, — we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”

This advice from my beloved New England sage I have taken seriously throughout my adult life. As a schoolteacher, at least one idea begins percolating in my consciousness while getting ready to go to work every morning. That way, if the classroom dynamics are flat, I have something going on in my head worth exploring that makes the day better, anyway.

But this morning, of all rare times, nothing came. And as I moved through my classes, it never did come. Now that I am into my Friday night, with a welcoming weekend stretched out before me, I still have no idea to pursue. Following Emerson’s dictate, I now have a stack of quality books at my elbow. But before opening one of the volumes, I was struck by the thought: “Hey! You haven’t drawn or painted today! Do it.” But I didn’t feel like it. I did it anyway, and the drawing is posted above. Things are already looking up, and I am ready to read and relax into the rest of the night now. If nothing happens tonight, I’m confident that I’ll wake up with an Idea tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Drawing of my Drawing

December 8, 2015

image

Seated in my classroom after hours, I wanted to draw, but my room has no windows.  So . . . I took out my Sunday drawing of the tree and decided to draw from the drawing.  Unfortunately, the lighting is not good for photography here, but I’m happy with the result of this drawing-of-a-drawing.  At least this will hold me till I can get outdoors again to draw from the real subject.

I will forever be grateful for Youtube!  Listening to Harold Bloom discussing Emerson in an interview gave me great company during this quiet afternoon.

Thanks for reading.

Wishing for a Siphon Hose

October 19, 2015

image

Human labor, through all its forms, from the sharpening of a stake to the construction of a city or an epic, is one immense illustration of the perfect compensation of the universe. Everywhere and always this law is sublime. The absolute balance of Give and Take, the doctrine that every thing has its price, and if that price is not paid, not that thing but something else is obtained, and that it is impossible to get anything without its price, is not less sublime in the columns of a ledger than in the budgets of states, in the laws of light and darkness, in all the action and reaction of nature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation”

Good evening, dear Friends. I posted the photo above, taken as I was driving wearily home Sunday from Corpus Christi. As I pulled alongside this coffee truck, I wished for a siphon hose so I could snake it out there and suck down some of that coffee in hopes of regenerating my sagging body. I have known the compensation laws expounded by Emerson for decades, and knew that the weekend including a sixteen hour round-trip drive would suck all the vitality out of me, as it in fact did. Today’s school experience was most unpleasant, and I chalk much of that up to my strength being drained by the weekend’s events. In time, I will get the energy back, but there are no shortcuts, and daily school obligations are not going to wait for me.

I already posted some pictures of Saturday’s event at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, where the library is hosting my one-man-show. I now have some others to share. I was bowled over to find two large foam core posters on easels announcing my exhibit. On the prior blog I posted one of them. Here is the other.

Turning my head in the library, I was shocked to see my picture on a flat screen monitor:

Walking about campus that day, everywhere I found a flat screen monitor, there appeared my picture. I also was surprised to see the poster appearing on other easels in other buildings. Then of course, the one below took the cake:

"I can't get no respect!"

“I can’t get no respect!”

Great–right next to the trash cans. Oh well. The show looked terrific and I was filled with pride. Below I’ll post a few more photos from the hung show:

I have always wanted to present my work in journal format, with the ragged edges of the stapled watercolor paper showing. But I was always afraid to ask. I was thrilled when Dinah Bowman of Bowman Design and Framing asked if it would be O.K. to display some of my work this way. I love the rawness of the display.

This will always remain one of my preferred landscape sketches done on location. I wanted to emphasize the cumulonimbus clouds billowing above, with just the strip of lagoon showing beneath and a small part of the foreground shoreline.

This algae study of the mermaid’s wine cup I did back home in my studio. On media day at the island, Captain Jay Tarkington waded out into the lagoon and reached down beneath the waters to pull up this sample and give it to me for future studies. I keep it in a jar next to my drafting table.

I excluded this study of cactuses and firewheels from the show, thinking it not very good. Dinah disagreed and so did Mike. I’m glad they disregarded my wishes and framed it for me to see. Once seen, I said “Definitely Yes, thank you!” I’m frequently surprised at what presentation adds to a piece of art. Thanks, Dinah and Mike!

And finally, I’m so proud of the photograph taken on media day when the film crew arrived on the island. This is the focus of the promotional poster the university’s Communications Department created.

Poster Detail

I am so tired this Monday evening I can hardly hold my eyes open. The weekend travel was exhausting, but I’m still glad I went down to view the show. And I am so delighted at the outpouring of well-wishes that I found on facebook. Thanks all of you!

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.

Tearing Off and Beginning Again

August 23, 2015

imageTo fend off the crowd, Stoics believed, it was essential to cultivate inner self-sufficiency, and Seneca returns to this notion over and over. Learn to be content within yourself, to trust your own instincts and ideas. Those who achieve this autonomy, he argues, are best able to enjoy and make the most of their outward lives. They thrive in the crowd because they’re not dependent on it. 

William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry

Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

The photo above was taken early Saturday morning in the back of my darkened classroom, and it became a sacred space for me. Nearly three months of summer solitude and quiet are about to end as I enter the public classroom arena in the morning and write the first page of a new chapter for all of us. I’m choosing the title above because I have torn off and discarded a number of teaching points I have grown to love over the years, replacing them with some new ones.

This latest book I’m reading Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age has seized my attention and held it like no other in recent years. Not only am I appreciative that the author got my attention of how social media can drive one’s personal agenda, I am glad now to seek a more satisfying lifestyle that balances my quiet solitude with the demands of a social business schedule. The summer has furnished an excellent training ground for the quiet side of my life, and tomorrow I’ll find out just how successful I am at balancing the tumult of daily school with the quiet of my study. I find such attractive sweetness in the lives of Emerson, Thoreau, Annie Dillard and Aldo Leopold because I imagine them to have found ways to balance their quiet inwardness with the demands of business. I see them as very positive role models for anyone who wishes to pursue creative exploits.

I did fight for some painting time in the studio this day before school begins. Here is a 20 x 24″ beginning of the same Laguna Madre painting that I completed a couple of days ago. I want to explore the serpentine countour of land in the foreground as I did in that very small watercolor.

Sketchbook/Journal Experimenting

Sketchbook/Journal Experimenting

This morning, while reading something completely unrelated, my mind drifted to drawing, and I’m glad I closed the book and let the imagination run. This is not something I’ve been taught or read in any art manual–I have always balked at drawing landscapes in pencil, because I could not solve the problem of lightly colored grasses against darker backgrounds. I had solved that issue in watercolor through masquing, but could not think of a way to render light grass blades against darker ones in pencil. Recalling that I could impress shapes into paper with a hard pencil (6H or 8H) and then skate over it with a soft lead pencil, I wondered if I could take a ballpoint pen that had run dry, and use it to press lines of grass into the paper, and then drag a soft pencil over the top of it. The sketchbook/journal page above shows my first attempts. Turning to another sketchbook, I then worked more deliberately and got closer to where I want to go:

Combining stylus indentions with soft graphite drawing

Combining stylus indentions with soft graphite drawing

To get this effect, I used an empty ballpoint pen for the impressions into the paper, then skated over it with a 6B pencil and rubbed some of it out with a paper blending stump. Finally, I drew in darker grasses, first in 6B, followed by a #2 pencil and then finally a 6H. I’m getting closer to what I want to accomplish.  Too bad I have to break this off and return my attention to tomorrow’s first day of classes.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Thoreau Had His Walden

July 22, 2015
Back to Work on the Large Painting

Back to Work on the Large Painting

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse

I have not made it a secret that I was a bored student throughout my public school days. It wasn’t until college that I woke up intellectually. As a day dreamer, I was drawn to a poster in one of my classrooms, and now cannot recall what grade in school it was–I believe it was high school. This poster featured a color photo of an attractive woman with the patterns of leaves shadowed all over the side of her face, obviously standing beneath a large tree. Her expression was pensive and this quote was on the poster. I wrote it in my school notebook so many times that I internalized it, believing throughout those young years (and ever since) that I was the one described on the poster. I didn’t even read Hermann Hesse until I was past thirty, but am delighted to learn that this quote originated with him.

In my adult years, I have appreciated every story of a creative individual who found sanctuary and explored independent thought: Thoreau at Walden, Emerson on his European odyssey, Descartes in a stove chamber in Ulm, Germany, Kant in his chair every morning, Hawthorne in an upstairs bedroom. I challenge my Philosophy students every semester: Where is your Walden Pond? Where is your Cartesian Stove? Anthony Storr has written that remarkable book Solitude, challenging his readers to take their quiet, alone time seriously.

This summer started well, with my invitation to reside on an island in the Gulf for about a week, followed by a summer vacation (my first one as a teacher in many, many years) with no summer school classes to teach. The days in my studio, my study, my writing corner, have been a healing balm, and I am most fortunate to have been handed this quality time and space for creative exploration. Today I have returned to a large painting of the island where I stayed in June. I’ve been working the clouds all afternoon, staining, soaking, scrubbing and brushing as many textures and neutral shadow colors as possible, trying to make them look like the cumulonimbus formations that took my breath away when I was at the Laguna Madre.

In the Journals of Henry David Thoreau, I have finally reached the days when he took up residence at Walden Pond. The following entry is from his third day, July 6, 1845:

I wish to meet the facts of life–the vital facts, which are the phenomena or actuality the gods meant to show us–face to face, and so I came down here. 

That matches well with my sentiments during that brief span I resided on the Laguna Madre. There was time for reflection, time to gaze at nature face-to-face, time to think over the things in life that really matter. And now, as I bend over this painting, I remember those sensations, that special space, that special time, and truly believe that the experience has brought genuine change and improvement to my life. If nothing else, it has reinforced my conviction that I need a Walden Pond in my life.

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.

The Enrichment of Life Cycles

July 14, 2015
Staff Sgt. Jerry Tripp

Staff Sgt. Jerry Tripp

It is a common point from which I start; for there again and again I shall return.

Parmenides

All things, indeed, are subjected to a rotary motion, either gradual and partial or rapid and complete, from the planet and system to the simplest shellfish and pebbles on the beach; as if all beauty resulted from an object turning on its own axis, or others turning about it.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, March 15, 1842

Contrary to the negative perspective of life as a vicious cycle, I argue that life naturally moves in a circle, and there is beauty in that. One of my favorite Emerson essays is “Circles.” As an artist, I am always cycling back to work I’ve done in years past, and even revisiting advice I was handed in high school by skilled and sensitive art teachers. This past week, I revisited a chronic issue I face in my personal practice–I simply do not draw enough. I have returned to the sketchbook, hoping that this time it might “take”. Sketchbook artists I have always held in the highest reverence, but the practice, I have never myself followed faithfully since high school. Picasso was always going back to his earliest sketchbooks, seeking inspiration and ideas to redo. I regret that I only possess one sketchbook from my high school years, though I used up many. Above I am posting my first attempt to draw a portrait of my dad from a photo taken around 1952 when he served in Korea. I have put out a request for friends to write tribute letters to him that I’ll transfer to custom greeting cards, and deliver August 4. My task now is to create a series of cards with pencil portraits of him on the front and the typed greetings inside from my friends. Already a good number have arrived and I have saved them all.

Back to the circle idea, my perspective of our present culture perceives people as goal-directed, setting out personal objectives and trying to meet them in a straight line. Any expression like “vicious cycle” or “spinning my wheels” is an expression of frustration when I hear it. I am not going to set out my personal biography at this juncture, but I can summarize it as a circuitous odyssey, and one that I am regretting less as I get older. The philosopher Hegel saw history, not just as a straight line, but as a circular series of movements we now label as thesis, antithesis, synthesis. The synthesis then becomes the new thesis. When I look at that model, I see history as a spiral, and though it goes in circles, it nevertheless is going somewhere. When I go back to pick up an idea from my personal past, I am not the same person that first encountered that experience, and after revisiting it, I am no longer the same person who went back to take a look.

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Time Divided Between New Theories and Old Responsibilities

June 4, 2015
New Limited Edition of my Fort Worth Cattle Drive

New Limited Edition of my Fort Worth Cattle Drive

As I prepare for my new adventure, I want to share some good news: my new edition is coming out next week of the Fort Worth Cattle Drive I rendered in watercolor a few years back. The edition measures 18 x 24″ without the frame and will go on sale for $100. The first edition is being custom framed, but numbers 2-5 will be available in a week.

Last night at 10:02, a light went on in my mind. A text from Emerson that I had filed away in my memory years ago burrowed its way back to the surface of my thinking:

Nature in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man; space, the air, the river, the leaf. Art is applied to the mixture of his will with the same things, as in a house, a canal, a statue, a picture.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

For about a week, I have been wrestling with Heidegger’s notion, expressed in “The Origin of the Work of Art”, that art is generated in that rift between nature and human endeavor. Heidegger quotes from the great northern Renaissance spirit Albrecht Dürer: “For in truth, art lies hidden within nature; he who can wrest it from her, has it.” Heidegger adds these words: “True, there lies hidden in nature a rift-design, a measure and a boundary and, tied to it, a capacity for bringing forth–that is, art.” Andrew Wyeth frequently maintained that the strength of a work of art lay not in the skillful detailed work of representational rendering, but in the discernment of what to record from nature and what to leave alone:

You know, it’s very easy to deteriorate when you have nature in front of you. You lose the grasp of what you are seeing. You can lose the essence by detailing a lot of extraneous things. . . . And it isn’t because you put in every fleck on a pile of stones or every blade of grass on the hill. That doesn’t make up a powerful painting. . . . It’s got to be abstracted through your vision, your mind. It’s a process of going through detail in order eventually to obtain simplification and cutting out. And it’s a very fine line because you can’t overdo it, you can’t cartoon it. It’s a subtle quality, very subtle. And with less sometimes to work with, you gain more.

Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth Drybrush:

Andrew Wyeth Drybrush: “Flock of Crows”

As I draw closer to my plein air experiments, I am keeping this idea in front of me. Always in my past, I have had trouble extracting from the complex display of nature before my eyes a composition for a watercolor. Throughout the past weeks, I have been looking at nature differently, with a notion to create vignette watercolors with a high focus on some small area, and the rest trailing away, out of focus, and eventually into the white border enveloping the picture. I’m excited to find out how this is going to play out in the days ahead.

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.