I manipulate metals and minerals and bonding solutions in order to provoke emotional responses from people I will usually never meet. That which happens in the process some people call art. My talent for creating icons and illusions turned into a lifetime of manipulations... in various pigments, bronze and steel, some quite large, which loom in museums, schools, collections and public places all over Texas. Here on this blog you can watch my creative actions and insights unfold...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Art makes a difference!

My good friend and patron Faber McMullen has assembled a charming list of weekend get-aways and remodelled them to perfection... now available to rent.

As the finishing touch, he decorated them with my art... and the results have been very pleasing... to us anyway!

The 1900 farmhouse known as Pleasant Hill sits a good 150 yards off of a country road in southern Grimes County.
It has been completely overhauled... The exterior appears much as it did when the German farmers who lived there called it home...
But the inside has been freshly remodeled and beautifully decorated. Still, visitors can enjoy the old- fashioned Texas farm life, with lots of WOOD, wood floors, wood burning stove for heat in the winter, and board and batten wooden walls, just like everybody used in times past.

The spacious kitchen is well equipped, and has modern amenities such as coffee-maker and micro-wave oven.

Surrounded by quiet and the sounds of nature, the cute, intimate dining room is perfect for conversation.

The bedrooms are comfortable and yet filled with light and austere country life. There will be curtains installed here, but I enjoyed not having any, as the sun can wake you up in the morning. This bedroom sleeps three.

The east bedroom faces the rising sun, and sleeps two. One on the bed, one on the floor... just kidding. These beds are primo- very comfortable, and provide for excellent sleeping, even through a thunderstorm!

Still, my favorite part of the old place is the porch, which must have fifty foot of breezeway which wraps around three sides of the house.

Pretty cool huh? Let me know if you ever need the place, I'll try to get you a deal, my "Blogger's Discount"!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

One man's version of Heaven on Earth

photo by Stephen Williamson

The LINK below will take you to Stephen's website... where he has done several great studies of this photograph.

What is "Plein Air"?

A dry gully empties into the creek in the belly of Palo Duro Canyon.
Plein air painters can be kind of like reformed smokers or alcoholics... they seem to take a superior, all-knowing stance and make other artists miserable with their quasi-scientific, technical talk about "edges" and "transitions" and "values." Suddenly they assert confidently how they understand art, nature, artists, YOU, everything... annoyingly so. I have been one of those smug "outdoor painters" for a long time... as I taught or chased off all of my disciples. What could possibly make an artist so insufferable?

It's a French term, so that fits. It comes from the French Impressionists who thought they had invented something... painting from life, in the OPEN AIR, out in the fields of France. But a simple definition will not do. It was, more importantly, what happened to these pigment slinging iconoclasts, as they began to paint in the sunshine... and the dust... and even the fog and the rain.

About 90 minutes of intense study... produces an 8" x 12" field sketch on Masonite panel done "Plein Air" at Palo Duro Canyon. The details and colors and values were swiftly and yet carefully recorded.
A photograph taken at the same time. Cameras exaggerate light and shadow and miss the true colors of things. Digital cameras have serious blind spots to certain colors.
Rendering a landscape became an experience;  A souvenir from real life; with glimpses of real life; the sheen from the sun, the haze from the dust... and it became a real life struggle to capture a particular moment in nature. It was not enough anymore to paint contrived counterfeits of earth and sky. Artists began to speak of mass, form, atmosphere and temperature.  And landscapes would never be the same.

Sure artists have always depended on their imaginations to create their works as well, but artists ever since Monet and Pissaro and Van Gogh have found spectacular effects while studying nature; while painting what they see, or trying to, as opposed to their own pre-conceived, if not ill-conceived notions.

John Cogan and Stephen Williamson discuss "transitions."

If you are not an artist, it is hard to quantify the difference. But most plein air painters would agree that the difference in their work would be the same as the difference between a day on the beach and a snapshot of it.

I have often told my students that the difference between my work now than before is the difference between a color and a black & white photograph. We all carry snapshots in our memory, and these were re-enforced for artists through photography... but there will never be a substitute for an immediate, hands on experience. The difference for the art audience is more exciting art, greater passion, greater authenticity, and most importantly, an artistic statement with just one step between them and the great wide open. Like a gardener handing you a handful of fresh vegetables, or a hunter handing you a day's kill.

And for most plein air painters, it does get to be more like hunting or harvesting than the tedium of artwork at a desk or an easel.  They become restless with studio work as they suffer through it, longing to make another plein air trip. They become more at home, more creative, more artistically satisfied, anywhere out of doors, where they mine for images in the wealth of God's Creation. I soon began to realize that plein air painting was also, for me, another form of worship of God.

So you can see, it is a big deal to those that partake. When they appear a little distant or opinionated, as if they have someplace else they need to be. They do. It is the call of the wild and making a living and worship all rolled into one. And maybe that will help you understand why they seem bored with just hanging out. There is nothing plain about plein air.

When you look at it, realize there were numerous thoughts that went into each and every stroke... done by human hands, in a very limited space of time, a Divine mystery on canvas... and you could even own such a thing!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Untold Story

This is not a painting of a flock of birds flying across Palo Duro Canyon... it was right at sunset and there was time for one more quickie...

This is the number of buffalo gnats that stuck to my painting while I tried capture the moment. There were thousands of them in a nasty swarm and the rest of them were on me.  This may have been the quickest field sketch I ever did. Little suckers bite like hell and the bites itch for a week.

After I took refuge inside John Cogan's truck, they began to feast on the other two artists. They said that the smell of my bath soap attracted them... and once I was unreachable, they went after the others who had been camping several days... and had not been exposed to soap very recently... I guess the gnats prefer clean humans.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Deep Inspiration: Palo Duro

"Just me, Willie and the angels"
About twenty five years ago I pulled into Palo Duro Canyon at sunrise, listening to Willie Nelson and staring misty-eyed at the legendary canyon where Quanah hid the last of the wild Comanches from civilization, and later where Charlie Goodnight built his cattle empire. I'll never forget the song playing, as I stared at its awesome beauty: "Pancho was a bandit boy..." needless to say Pancho and Lefty has been one of my favorite songs since.

A view from the north rim of Palo Duro Canyon

Anyway I did several paintings from that early morning visit, so the canyon has put some serious meat on my table as well. One of them was named "Just me, Willie and the angels." So FINALLY I got to go out there again to meet up with Willie and the angels, and do some painting with my old Texas Wild Bunch friend John Cogan, now a premier painter of American canyons. John is something of a fixture in Southwestern plein air circles, having won the first prize at the Grand Canyon Plein Air Competition, and is one of the most popular Grand Canyon artists around.

John Cogan is known on You Tube for his "One Minute Art lessons." And there is a reason for their brevity...

Here is where I must confess, the recent announcements of the City of Navasota to support the arts... and/or artists, has already begun to pay-off for me personally. I would never have made this trip, and had such a great time, had I not contacted John about his views on the current state of the art business... to double check my own instincts about City affairs... and learned in the process he had over the years picked up "plein air" painting ( painting out of doors, from life ) and was even teaching it to a lucky few. His student on this excursion was Stephen Williamson, a very promising landscape painter from Temple, Texas. I shamelessly horned in on the deal and I owe the City of Navasota for stimulating the whole process!

Steve Williamson tackles painting water on his fourth day of instruction... and did a very nice field sketch.

Moreover THANK YOU to John and Steve for allowing me to tag along. It was wonderful to reconnect with John and to meet this excellent young talent who sure made a liar out of me. (It's a good thing!)  I had warned a couple of City Councilmen that a bunch of young rent-free artists would only tear up the place they plan to customize for them... and then... I met... one of the finest and most talented young men I have met in a long time... So anyway Art and the canyon and even the Navasota City Council inadvertently brought this article together. I still contend that Williamson is ONE OF A KIND.

Signs of weather extremes common to west Texas... luxurious rains have made the grass and wildflowers lush in time for "Indian Summer," as southern winds fill the canyon with dust.

I remember arguing with John when he told me he planned to move to Arizona, so he could be closer to his favorite subject, the Grand Canyon. "You don't have to leave Texas," I whined, "you can move to Austin and go paint PALO DURO!"

John explained in his typical gracious manner that Palo Duro was no Grand Canyon.

I agreed BUT, "The Grand Canyon is like Miss America... she is beautiful, but you could never get to meet her... OR DATE HER... only stand back in awe of her... Palo Duro on the other hand was beautiful... and accessible, like the girl next door"

Don't know what this cave is actually called... I call it the Georgia O'Keaffe Aperture... Don't ask me to explain that... just look at her work... still a very accessible girl-next-door climb for most people.

Of course John Cogan did not buy that for a minute... and packed up his family and left Texas for good. And that was what he should have done when you consider his success doing what he was born to do. I just hated to lose another artist friend- to...

 Texas retARTation... a syndrome I have grown immune to but am always reminded of...

If more people would get OUT of the house and see places like this, and get connected to our wonderful American landscape, artists could still make a living bringing these kinds of experiences into their living rooms...

Hell, we're going to to paint these places ANYWAY! Which gives me an idea... an INSPIRATION!


Return to Palo Duro Canyon! With John Cogan!

I had foolishly scurried through this marvelous landscape a few times before, always in too big of a hurry to do it right, always promising myself to return sometime "down the road" and do it justice. Sometime has taken way too long...

Finally an old friend of mine, John Cogan of Farmington, New Mexico, told of his plans to meet a student there for five days of plein air painting. I decided to hang out with them some and make good on my long ignored best intentions.

John Cogan teachs his outdoor painting methods to an eager young student.

For year-round inspiration, there is no place in Texas that offers the depth, color and diversity like Palo Duro Canyon.
I will be sharing my photos and thoughts about the trip in the coming week. It was a glorious experience... on that "magic carpet ride" I often refer to (where only God could be the driver!). Can't wait to tell you about it!