Posts Tagged ‘Rothko’

Friday Night and the Beginning of the Christmas Recess

December 19, 2014
First Night of the Christmas Break

First Night of the Christmas Break

The grizzled teacher slowly woke from his late afternoon December nap, felt the winter chill filling the bedroom and decided to pull on warm clothes, draw the quilts up over his lap and prop in his bed with a pile of books and a fresh pot of coffee at his elbow.

It was the first evening of Christmas break, a two-week holiday from high school classes.  As he gazed across his room at the volumes on the bookcase inviting him into the spring term of classes–DeKooning, Motherwell, Rothko, Pollock, Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Pound, Eliot and William Carlos Williams–he felt a stirring of contenment under his skin much like the spring thaw bursting through the winter rocks.  He opened his first book and began . . .

Thanks for reading.  I’ll probably post more later . . .

Setting Our Sails to Catch the Wind

February 3, 2014
3 x 4' Acrylic Painting in Martin High School Library

3 x 4′ Acrylic Painting in Martin High School Library

Thoughts let us into realities.  Neither miracle, nor magic, nor any religious tradition, not the immortality of the private soul, is incredible, after we have experienced an insight, a thought.  I think it comes to some men but once in their life, sometimes a religious impulse, sometimes an intellectual insight.  But what we want is consecutiveness.  ‘T is with us a flash of light, then a long darkness, then a flash again.  The separation of our days by sleep almost destroys identity.  Could we but turn these fugitive sparkles into an astronomy of Copernican worlds!

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Inspiration”

For a couple of days now, I have had the luxury of lingering over good books, scribbling out a few journal ideas, and making some stabs at some sketches.  And today I even broke the surface on a watercolor that had hardened from neglect over the past couple of weeks.  It was nice to pick up the brush again, feeling it had been ripped out of my grasp by an unforgiving work routine replete with deadlines and demands.  Every time I swear “Never again,” it somehow happens again.  Believe me, I don’t ask for it.

I cannot say that I have accomplished inspiring results, or that I have felt the winds of inspiration.  But I believe those breezes will stir again.  I am old enough now not to despair as I had in earlier years, when spiritual barrenness seemed to set in.  Perhaps my antidote for such despair comes from experience, or even from reading the works of former creators who chafed when they felt that inspiration had fled them.  Emerson’s “Terminus” comes to mind, as also Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”

Emerson encouraged the 1837 graduating class of Harvard with his commencement address, knowing they would go out into the world and face those times when inspiration cools.  He told them that they could always find their tonic in books:

Books are for the scholars’ 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,–we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is.

(“The American Scholar”)

During spells of creative barrenness, I have found solace in contemporary works, like a pair of books by Julia Cameron: Finding Water: The Art of Perseverence and The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  Recently, I have also found genuine warmth in The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art.

For a number of years now, I have tried to keep my skills and aesthetic sensitivities sharp, always looking for ways to improve my craft.  From my youth I was aware of possessing a talent for visual art, but figured out years ago that talent is worthless without development and discipline.  Furthermore, if I am not producing art, who gives a hoot about whether or not I have talent?

The world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts, sometimes conspicuously flashy gifts, yet never produce anything.  And when that happens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented.

You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good . . . 

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: On the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING

I read years ago in an issue of Newsweek an article about creative geniuses, asking where are the Einsteins and Picassos of today.  The article pointed out that geniuses created a large amount of good work and a large amount of bad work–they just created, period.  I have never forgotten that.

Currently,  I am inspired to create, indeed am salivating at every opportunity to create.  But I cannot say that my results have been inspiring.  No worries though.  I’ll get it back.  The winds will blow again.  Meanwhile, I’m just trying to keep my sails adjusted, so as to catch those winds once they blow my way again.  Incidentally, I like to post current photos of my work, when I think it is good.  Since recently the stuff is not looking so hot, I’m posting a golden oldie.  This is one of about a dozen or so 3 x 4′ acrylic on canvas pieces I created years ago to hang in the library of the high school where I teach.  The librarian of that day requested a series of “book cover” canvases, asking me to design each cover instead of copying one that was already published (and copyrighted).  Here is how I would have designed a cover for Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, had a publisher asked (and paid) me.

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.


Why the Abstract Expressionists Matter to Me

May 1, 2013
Screen Door Study Coming Along Slowly

Screen Door Study Coming Along Slowly

I have this conversation with my high school students so much, that I cannot remain silent about it on the blog.  Especially when we come to the end of the year in art history and my students, knowing the kind of work I do, ask me if I truly enjoy studying and teaching about the Abstract Expressionists.  I tell them that they are among my favorite artists and muses.  I have read major biographies on Rothko, De Kooning and Pollock, and have read The Collected Works of Robert Motherwell.  Of course it goes without saying that I have read biographies of Wyeth, Hopper and Homer and have studied their works extensively over the years.

But I draw much inspiration from the lives of the Abstract Expressionists (New York School) and have learned a great deal, studying their works.  For two weeks I have been poring over Willem De Kooning’s works, and the textures I saw in his painting “Excavation” made me decide I wanted to try a close-up study of this paint-peeled, abused screen door.  As I’ve worked on scuffing, scumbling, scribbling and texturing the wood on this door, I’m reminded of techniques I’ve seen from De Kooning, Motherwell, and Cy Twombly.  Many of the techniques that contribute to the overall paint quality of De Kooning’s paintings I have tried to put into this watercolor.  And for years, I have joked with plein air painters that I copy just as much from Jackson Pollock as Winslow Homer when attempting to render tree foliage.

Robert Motherwell is a kindred spirit, because he was a scholar of art history and philosophy and a lover of literature.  He was also a splendid writer.  I haven’t found too many “published” artists that I’ve enjoyed reading more than him.  I understand that he was perpetually conflicted between studio time and reflective, scholarly time in his lifestyle.  I love that conflict, and love reading that a man was successful, not having to choose one over the other.  That is one reason why I’m choosing to leave the studio for the night (unless the creative bug bites me again, or the muse whispers in my ear).

The other reason I am backing out of this painting is the need to look at it from a distance, study what is going on, and decide on what exactly to do next with it.  Again, I find that Willem De Kooning was often ridiculed for that.  He would look at a painting for thirty minutes, pick up the brush, stare a little longer, add one or two strokes, and then sit back again for another thirty minutes, looking, contemplating, deciding.  Sometimes, at the end of the day, he scraped every bit of the painting off the canvas and onto the floor, completely obliterating his day’s efforts (I don’t plan to do that with this watercolor).

So, I plan to spend the rest of this evening, reading, journaling, contemplating, looking at this watercolor, and deciding my next move. I’m very happy with what has happened so far, and hope it continues, tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.