Posts Tagged ‘William Unger’

Shocking Visitation from the Past

March 25, 2018

new image of painting

Today is Sunday. Outside is gray and overcast and The Redlands Hotel is virtually empty and silent except for the occasional visitor to the Gallery at Redlands. I found it an opportune time to resume work on a commission promised long ago. In our age of smart phones, most of us have grown accustomed to the frequent interruptions as emails, text messages, facebook notifications and tweets continually pull us away from what we are focused on completing. When I demand absolute solitude, I turn the phone off, promising myself to return later to see if there is anything I need to answer.

But today an email arrived with the opening line I have encountered countless times in my past: “I just purchased a painting by David Tripp, and searching online I found you, and now want to reach out to see if you are the artist.” When opening the attached photo I always find that it is someone else’s work, especially if it is prior to the year 2000. Today’s email said the painting dated from 1974. I knew it was someone else. Opening the attachment, however, I found an oil painting from my sophomore year at the university that had been purchased at my senior show!




Throughout the years, I have wondered about this work. The assignment was to paint a mobile home park east of Kirksville, Missouri, on a highway heading toward Brashear. Professor William Unger was excited about the network of TV antennas that crisscrossed high above the mobile home roofs, drawing geometric patterns into the skies. When I went to the location and began my preliminary sketches, I found no satisfaction in what I was creating. So, I decided to raise the horizon near the top of the composition, and draw the TV antennas downward from the homes, eventually turning the lines into glazes of translucent earth tones. Finally, I added a moon on the horizon and hoped the Professor would be satisfied with the piece. That was 1974.

Two years later, this painting hung in my Senior Show (it was mandatory for all art majors to hang a solo show during their final year at the university). To my surprise, the painting was purchased by the wife of a music professor at the university (Northeast Missouri State, now Truman State) who taught classes on the second floor of the Kirk Building (art department was on the third floor). When he came up to the third floor to visit with me and learned that I was at the time a Southern Baptist minister as well as an art major, he shared that he was active in church work and would be sharing the painting with his church family.

Countless times in the intervening years, I have envisioned this painting in my mind’s eye, wondering why I had never photographed it for a record, and always wondering what had become of it. Now, like a message in a bottle, the piece has washed up on my island, and the new owners were gracious enough to seek me out. In a follow-up phone conversation with these owners, I learned that they had just purchased the work from a Unitarian/Universalist minister in Dayton, Ohio. I found this amusing, because the professor of music, when learning that I was a Southern Baptist minister as well as art major in 1976, talked of the relation of art and religion, and wondered if I would find ways to fuse the two in my future work. As it turned out, I spoke from a Unitarian/Universalist pulpit for ten years at about the same time I was rediscovering my artistic muse. And yes, in the years since, I have actively sought ways to fuse religion and art.

This day, to me, is filled with wonder. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

A Gratifying Return to the Watercolor Studio

February 23, 2015
Return to the Garage Studio in Winter

Return to the Garage Studio in Winter

Abstraction’s original meaning is “to select from,” in the Latin; though I will not say, as is so easy for defenders of abstract art, that consequently all art is abstract because all art is selected; this is simply to win a dialectical point–in the Socratic sense of dialectical. Au Contraire. What is selected is selected on the basis of the most concrete, personal feeling.

Robert Motherwell, October 1959

With today’s school closure, I just learned that the grading deadline has been extended an extra day. With a shout, I returned to my garage studio that I had not visited in nearly a month. Yes, it is 28 degrees outside and ice has covered everything, but this electric space heater works in the garage, two still life arrangements are still set up out here, and the paintings have been waiting my return. So far, I have spent all my time this morning darkening this fly fishing composition over more than 50% of its area, making the background darker and deepening the tones of all the middle values, leaving the highlighted areas untouched. The overall look of the painting has changed profoundly to my eye, but I like the change, and there is certainly no going back. I’ll let it dry out awhile and then return for another look. Meanwhile I have other paintings in progress that have languished for weeks. I’m ecstatic now for this opportunity to get back to them.

Motherwell’s argument posted above has been buzzing in my head today while working on this still life, trying to bring it to fruition. One of my high school art teachers, Mr. Scucchi, was always trying to get me to understand this–no matter how naturalistic my style in rendering subjects in paint, the quality of the composition would always come down to abstraction, particularly to selection. I tried to listen, but didn’t really come to appreciate this until much later. My college painting professor, Dr. Unger, also urged this lesson upon me. Both instructors are now deceased, and I regret that I cannot tell them personally that I now get it, and wish I could tell them directly. I’ll always be grateful for their patience and belief in me as I struggled with these matters. Lingering over this still life today has drawn me closer to their spirits and I’ve enjoyed this feeling of kinship. In many ways, their spirits hover about my work.

What a wonderful way to spend a day off. Incidentally, I still graded for two hours this morning, and will do quite a bit more today. But what a joy knowing that the deadline is no longer tonight.

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.