Posts Tagged ‘Sinclair Lewis’

Altar Building

December 7, 2014
Early Sunday Morning in the Studio

Early Sunday Morning in the Studio

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

—Introibo ad altare Dei. (I’ll approach the altar of God)

James Joyce, Ulysses

A friend whom I highly respect yesterday jestingly referred to me as “the James Joyce of watercolor.”  I liked the sound of that, but know in my heart that I’m not worthy of it.  Joyce laid out his credo in the introduction to his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, quoting from Ovid’s Metamorphosis:

Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.

The words are translated “And he applied his spirit to obscure arts.”  I personally stand in awe of all the creators of our past who have pushed the boundaries into new frontiers for the arts we enjoy so much.  As for me, I still feel that I am the student, the technician, yet still I read in wonder the penetrating discussions of those who tried to get to the bottom of aesthetics, and recently Joyce has held my attention in this regard.

Joyce opened Ulysses (opening my blog above) with words that many interpret as his way of parodying the Roman Catholic mass.  I was not brought up a Catholic, and I’m not making fun of any religious institution with this blog.  I was a pastor long ago, and though I no longer practice that as a profession, my “spiritual” side has not diminished–I still approach what I do with a deep sense of devotion and passion.  Entering the studio on Sunday morning, of all days, was just as precious as any other day or night that I have approached this “altar.”  I may be reading too much into their biographies, autobiographies, or journals, but I really believe Twain, Hemingway, Joyce, Frost and a host of others approached their writing desks with a sense of awe of the sublime, a sense of spiritual depth, that they were not mere technicians or salespersons hawking their products.  I believe they felt something that goes beyond words, and that is what happens to me when I study, write or enter the studio to create art.  I’m moving into another dimension, and love it so.  I am approaching the altar in a spirit of worship, expectancy.  I recall an argument in a Sinclair Lewis novel I read decades ago, and loved, Arrowsmith:

You think Gottlieb isn’t religious, Hinkley.  Why, his just being in a lab is a prayer.

The med students were arguing over the religious state of a German scientist who would not engage in the compulsory chapel practices of the medical school.  The young Arrowsmith knew that the man was not orthodox, but devout in his pursuit of the truth through his medical studies.

I doubt that I’ll ever be able to convey the wealth of good will I experience in the quiet moments of solitude when I’m searching out the sublime.  This morning, before returning to work in my studio, I came across these words in my re-reading of Thoreau’s Walden:

We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.  A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.  Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows.  The really diligent student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervis in the desert.  The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all day,  hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is employed; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but must be where he can “see the folks,” and recreate, and as he thinks remunerate, himself for his day’s solitude; and hence he wonders how the student can sit alone in the house all night, and most of the day without ennui and “the blues;” but he does not realize that the student, though in the house, is still at work in his field, and chopping in his woods, as the farmer in his, and in turn seeks the same recreation and society that the latter does, though it may be a more condensed form of it.

It’s been a quiet Sunday, but it isn’t yet noon.  I can only hope for more quiet as the day unfolds.  The freedom to pursue these matters engaging my mind and spirit have made it a very enriching day so far.

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 Charms of Painting a Small Texas Town

May 3, 2014
Main Street Maypearl, Texas

Main Street
Maypearl, Texas

My God, how difficult painting is when you want to express your thoughts with pictorial rather than literary means.

Paul Gauguin, Journal

The annual Paint Historic Waxahachie event has extended its activities this year in a most excellent way.  The weeklong Paint Out will actually commence on June 2 and run through June 8, but this year the organization decided to expand the painting hours to include all the weekends in May.  Today marked Day One, and the location was downtown Maypearl, Texas, a town I have been aware of for over thirty years, but never once visited.  It does not lie on any of the major Texas Interstate arteries.

I found Main Street so filled with traditional American images that I cannot wait to return tomorrow.  Every storefront was worthy of a cover illustration for a Sinclair Lewis novel.  I stopped at this Dr. Pepper ghost sign on the corner of Main and First, probably because the sun was up and hot, and there was this immense spreading oak tree directly across the street, throwing a twenty-foot cool shadow across the soft, velvety grass.  I set up my easel in the shade, and worked on this piece for a few hours at my leisure, not once having to chafe at the sun.  I saw five other plein air painters at their easels further up the street, all of them working directly in the sun.  I cannot do that.

Last night I received the benefit of the best night’s sleep in a week or more.  I suppose that was one reason I was able to stay with this piece and see it to its conclusion.  Granted it’s only a plein air watercolor sketch, measuring 8 x 10″, I still found myself absorbed with the brick exterior of this old building and the weathered, faded ghost sign running along its side, and I just couldn’t rush it.  I didn’t want to.  It’s been ages since I’ve painted outdoors, looking directly at my subject with delight, soaking in its details and trying to solve the problems on paper of composition, contrast, faithfulness to colors, detailed drawing, etc.  The small picture presented plenty of problems, but all of them worth fighting through.

As I worked through the afternoon,I found the surroundings of this sleepy Texas town very idyllic.  The occasional passerby was always friendly, and people even pulled over in their vehicles, rolling down their windows to inquire, pay complements, and chat.  I felt as though I were home for the first time in decades.  The occasional thunder of a group of cruising Harleys also added to the small town’s charm.  A cook-off was happening half a block away, and the aromas were enough to stir up anybody’s appetite.  Everything worked–the sights, the sounds, the smells, the overall serene, unhurried feel of a Texas Saturday under a bright sun.

Today was the gift that kept on giving.  Later, I was surprised while driving to find an old-fashioned diner where I could relax over a classic small-town American supper:  Liver and onions, fried okra, red beans and rice, sweet iced tea.  I pushed the empty plate aside and followed the sumptuous dinner with coffee, a good book, and a journal for scribbling the day’s highlights, and there were so many.  No appointments, no deadline, no clock.  Just what the doctor ordered.  I could not have planned a more perfect Saturday.

I’m ready to retire for the night and hope to greet such a painter’s paradise again tomorrow.   I just cannot believe the good fortune of this day.

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.