I manipulate metals and minerals and some people have called it art. I've called it fun.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Sometimes I go back...

Inevitably, in my business an artist will create a sound painting, but it never finds a home. Maybe it is too big, or too green, or too boring... but for whatever reason it is too resistable... and after a certain period, I will take mine which fall into this category and rethink and ultimately reinvent them.
So here is "Lost Maples Shadows" modified to become "As the Deer Pants." The name is a reference to a popular song in Christian circles twenty years ago... which quoted Psalm 42: "As the deer panteth for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God." After adding the deer, I had to admit the painting felt complete... and needs no more attention. The canvas is quite large- 36" x 48," and requires a LARGE wall to hang comfortably.
Another painting, one I now call "Phantom," was done on location in Palo Duro Canyon, and again... needed something... and after years of annoying me as it was moved around my studio, I finally found the focal point that fit. Yes, it is an extremely unusual composition... with the subject low and outside of the normal central space afforded "main subjects." But it seemed to work.. as if you just walked up and caught a glimpse of this puma, lurking in the tall grass... and entered that instant of fear and wonder... Anyway, I liked it a little edgy... kind of being a little unpredictable. "Phantom" is a small (11 x 14) oil on panel, painted on location in Palo Duro, the mountain lion having passed through just recently!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Bread and Butter: Small Works

I have a great selection of new "Plein Air" field sketches available right now... they run around $250.00 - $300.00 (unframed).
"Grimes County Line" SOLD (12 x 24)
"Union Grove" (12 x 24)
"Summers Mill Falls" (11 x 14)
"Summers Mill" (11 x 14)
"Adams Rd Bluebonnets" (11 x 14)
"Old Baylor Spirit" (16 x 20)

Pet Portraits... You Bet

Show me an aritst who makes a living and I'll show you one who has painted pet portraits. Artists often avoid them, and only do them under duress, and there is a reason for that timidity. Portraits are difficult... and people who commission portraits have very specific expectations... and especially about the immortalization of a beloved pet. You may have to possess a dangerous amount of hubris to even take on such a task... but pet portraits are up there with the "best sellers," and can often be a key to financial survival.
Some of my first commissions 50 years ago were pet portraits... (I include livestock and horses in this category) and those jobs introduced me to the agony and ecstasy of pet portraiture. I did them, considering them the "dues" I had to pay... but benefitted greatly from the experiences, which drove me into new horizons. It was almost haunting when a lady I knew for years, one day told me that she had commissioned me to do her horse forty years before... and it had been so long that I did not even recognize her, or remember the painting. So that proves that no matter how daunting the task, you will not be scarred for life! And you will put a little bread on the table...

Saturday, May 2, 2020

a NEW DIRECTION...

Yes... I have been writing a lot, written a long book in fact, and put it on the Internet. It is called Mothers Teach Your Children. It can be read at: mothersteachyourchildren.blogspot.com 

Simultaneously, for the past two years I have been visioning and researching and experimenting with a totally new art genre for me...

I call it "Sea America." It is about the coastal life I grew up with as a boy... the wonders of the out of doors, especially the sea, and the people who love those things. Which is most people. It is also about the wonders of womanhood... and vintage cars, and surfing and bonfires and everything which drew us from Houston to spend our weekends on the Island. I grew up loving and exploiting the west end of Galveston Island, a time when we were, and tragically did not know it, the last youths to really relish in the freedoms and beauties and bounties of Texas beaches. It was the combination of exotic adventure, sporting life, and real freedom framed by an eternal horizon. You never knew what you might see, or whom you might meet, or what you might drag up on the beach from your fishing line.

I'm returning to the best time in my life... remembering the fun and beauty and the fellowship. The place where I caught my first fish... where I fell in love with nature... and camping, and my wife.  I think it has universal appeal... and I don't care if it does or not. It's in me... and it's got to come out. Or at least that was Hank Williams Jr's excuse.

The first painting along this line was conceived and started three years ago... and I was too busy to ever pursue it... well now I have the time. And since it was finished during this infernal pandemic,  I call her the "Corona Girl."

"Corona Girl"

I think she would make a smashing Corona tray... maybe I should contact the Corona beer folks...


This stuff may or may not sell... but I am having a blast!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Portraits: Never Say Hate!


Portraits



Portraits are the most difficult, most frustrating, most controversial, and yet the least satisfying of all the things I do. I would say that I hate doing them, except that tomorrow somebody will ask me to do one... and I would be on record demonstrating a negative attitude. Otherwise I would say that I hate doing them.

NEVER THE LESS, we have to do them. There was a time, and I believe we are returning to that paradigm, where portraits were the most popular kind of art. Few people owned a landscape of any consequence, or any kind of genre art, but everybody had a still life or a portrait somewhere in their house. The still lifes were usually badly done vases of chrysanthemums or sunflowers, or some awful thing from somebody's kid in art school. But the portraits were pretty good. And that's because a portrait artist cannot be a bad portrait painter. You can wing it with flowers and clouds and 70% of most landscapes, but with portraits, you cannot get anything even a little wrong... or your client will not be pleased, and probably will not pay for your work. At least not happily.

This book jacket cover required a lot of reading and research, 
to create likenesses of Comanche Chief Ten Bears and Jesse Chisholm.
1984

So maybe it's not the doing of them, its the sour gut I hate, which I have until my customer has seen and smiled upon the likeness I have painted of their loved one. I'm not sure that I have ever been totally pleased with any portrait I have done. Even if the customer liked it, and paid me, and walked happily away. Nothing you do should cause you that much anxiety. And the anxiety is that no matter how much I strive, I have never been very good at portraits... but I had customers who begged me to just try one time for them. And I hate disappointing a customer worse than painting a portrait.

Nell Cushman, by Vera Reeks. An outstanding Houston portrait artist, Vera inspired me for a lifetime with this excellent likeness of my grandmother. 

I have known some excellent portrait artists. In fact as a child, one lived in the neighborhood and trained my mother how to paint. She painted from life. I have learned the hard way that painting a subject from life is the far more preferable approach. But I was too young to know about any of that, and missed a great opportunity to learn from a true master. But there was another reason that portraits never came easily, and that was that I never really wanted to be good at them. Portraits were just faces. Boring. People just sitting there. I wanted to paint happenings, grandiose panoramas. Portraits were for sissies.

A bronze,life-sized portrait of Harvey Mitchell, Bryan pioneer
1998

But I did them... because I liked to eat. And over the years I have done more than I ever planned. Portraits of wives, young couples, an airline pilot, a newspaper editor, and a few family members. You see, my in-laws were the first audience who demanded portraits- Art which one could relate to; Portraits of parents and grand parents and grand children. And then there were the folks who wanted a portrait of the their dog, their horse, or their first house. I've done them all.

An early attempt at portraiture in watercolor, of my girl friend.  Now my wife, this profile of Linda has stood the test of time.
1974

"Three Young Texans" 
1979
This watercolor of my niece was my first attempt to paint a portrait as a major work... The painting gave the gallery owner the creeps... but my wife loved it so we just kept it.

A good friend asked me to paint his brother, a handsome airline pilot, as a gift to him. He had since fallen intp ill-health and was confined to a wheel chair.  The portrait was to be a tribute top his sterling patriotism and service.



Finally, a Bryan businessman asked me to do a magnificent, near LIFE-SIZED portrait of his beautiful wife, in her wedding glory, which he planned to hang over the gorgeous fireplace in their grand new home... within a couple of years, they were divorced and it was gathering dust in her garage. Lesson? There were actually several. Women do not want a GIANT PICTURE OF THEMSELVES to look at every day... and if the marriage goes badly, a wedding dress only becomes a awful reminder. And nobody has room for such a monstrosity... no matter how much love was put into it. The wife did not want it, and especially after the divorce... even if significantly cut down. That was when I swore off any more portraits.

I had sworn off portraits after my gargantuan alley mural in Navasota, where I designed about seventy-five feet of ten foot musicians. 

Mance Lipscomb sings down Blues Alley in Navasota, 24 hours a day.

Then my preacher asked me to do just one more. A portrait of his favorite Confederate general. It took me a year to get up the gumption to just agree to to do it... and another year to figure out how to immortalize Stonewall Jackson, a man who was the second most famous behind Robert E. Lee for rebelling against the United States and defending the South's tradition of slavocracy.

"His Destiny and His Legacy"

Before he was a famous Confederate general, Jackson was
 a Military College administrator who taught Sunday School to the 
neighborhood slaves.  He considered it his most important project, even
 sending his wages as a Confederate general to support the mission back home.

 And here is the point, in so doing, I learned a ton. About Stonewall Jackson, about myself, and about how to paint a portrait. Up until that last portrait, I had never really applied my artistic vision. I had just painted, drudged my way through the assignment, like taking out the garbage. Sometimes, an inspiration would overtake me, to paint a portrait, but one which came out of my creative bank rather than a commission. In these I proved to myself that I could do them. They gave me the nerve to accept commissions... and thus eat more often.


My life-sized bronze sculpture of Marshal Frank Hamer in Navasota.

My "Stonewall moment" was after painting for a living for almost forty years. That last portrait taught me to do something I had always tried to practice, in every other subject I rendered. To first know it, then love it, then sing from my heart... whatever it was. I gave the preacher a serious surprise, a Stonewall he had only read about, a man he could admire and communicate with and understand... and yes, even love. So let me save you some time. If you are an artist, and you think you hate portraits...


My mother Margaret Cushman. Artist, antique dealer,
 and community organizer. The portrait I put off for three decades.
Special thanks to Rebecca Terry! 

After many years of avoiding the challenge, I recruited Rebecca Terry, an accomplished local portrait artist, to walk me through a decent portrait of my mother... who had been deceased 35 years. She was a great inspiration for me in many ways, and I dared not get into it, without knowing I could "paint my way out of it." Becky was a great help to me, and so finally I had the one portrait I thought I would never have... and cherish. It was worth it, for no other reason than it was theraputic to memorialize her, and to change my definition of myself... even though I had painted several major works before which were "portraits."

One was one of my first serious attempts to conquer the portrait. Here I took an old daguerreotype as the inspiration, and brought a young Victorian maiden to, life...


"Eliza Rae's First Dance"


Life-sized portrait of a Brazos bottom cotton picker... part of a series which wraps around the elevator at the Star of the Republic Museum. I had a face in my mind... and so I painted her from memory. She had to have a strong character, hard but not harsh, controlled in her life but in control of her immediate world... I drew her face from my subconscious, and afterwards realized I had painted our nanny we loved while growing up... The lady was dear Annabell! Strangely, doing something I found difficult and unpleasant became a labor of love... in the right conditions.



This raises a couple of questions. 
Should we ever turn down work, just because it seems undesirable to us? 
Might we be cheating ourselves out of a valuable experience?
Should we understand that our creative genius does best when it is under a 
little stress? 


I painted "The Bridesmaid" for a local wine label competition... it was not well received... but it was another attempt to get past the portrait boogaboo. 


"The Bridesmaid" 

Some of the most gratifying works I have done were... portraits. They were hard, and even grueling projects. But I am so glad I did them now.  I wish I could say it was maturity or wisdom that guided my decisions, but it was not. But it was a decision...

Years ago, I told God that I was terrible at running my life, and I was going to stop being so goal oriented, and just accept what he put in my path each day... I quit turning down things that i did not want to do. As you can see, God saw things in me that I never imagined. Faces. Personalities. Legacies. Touching lives and telling their stories for generations to come. As only portraits can do.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Okay, I'm only going to do this once. I have many friends, and bunches of associates, and maybe a half- dozen of them have had more than ten words with my wonderful wife. Unobtrusive, private, steady as Enchanted Rock, she has been the anchor to my sails for 45 years. But there is a good chance that most of you have never seen her, never talked to her, have no idea that I am even happily married. So I wanted to say these things, in case for some reason time might pass and I would pass and the chance would pass...


I met Linda Hardy in High School. The first time I remember seeing her, I wanted to ask her out. Every year, when it came time to nominate the “most beautiful” in our class, she was my pick. But she was engaged to a tall good-looking guy... then she broke that off and quickly she was “claimed” by another big hunky red-neck guy... everybody she dated was over six feet. Campus celebrities. Anyway at the end of our Junior year, she finally broke up with another guy who would later be our Valedictorian. I saw my chance and went for it. I asked her out...She stunned me when she said yes.

It was a dream come true. Damn she was beautiful... and really smart, and she always had a cute thing to say in class. And now I had to think of what I would say, if I had her all to myself. Of course I had no trouble.

I took her to the Literary Club Banquet, end of the year, where I had won the first prize in the school literary magazine. It was at Brennan's in downtown Houston. She was on the Annual Staff so I thought that might impress her. She was sweet and friendly AND she could have told be to jump off a cliff and I would have tried. I tried to be cool, like I dated girls like her all of the time. I'm sure she knew better. I was a “kicker”- as we were known then, had cows and horses and lived on acreage. Spent my extra time milking or riding or hunting rabbits. I did paint some then. And obviously, I wrote a little poetry.

She was used to guys that pretty much had one thing on their minds... and it wasn't poetry.

She said later that I was the most interesting person that she had ever gone out with. So it was a great start, and I was IN LOVE. She was somewhat more experienced in relationships, and although I had gone “steady” before, I had never been so smitten as I was with her.

Our Senior year was a blur... but a glorious one. Soon she was “running into me” at opportune times in the hall at school. Eating with me at lunch. Very much a lady. But hot as a two dollar pistol. 


We had tons in common- both the middle child in our family, both creative, both grew up in the Episcopal church, we scored similarly on our college entrance exams... But even I would have agreed that we were a “Lady and the Tramp.”

She wore these sexy scarves tied tightly around her elegant neck... and slacks that, well, revealed a very womanly form. Her eyes were emerald green. But it was her smile, a really wonderful, wholesome smile that reeled me in. I could go on. We finally kissed while strolling along the beach during a church retreat, on a cold November at Bolivar Peninsula. I will never forget that. We had been just holding hands... I did not want to scare her off, she was so precious. I remember how disappointed the other guys in the retreat were when we began to sit... REALLY close together. Our friends found the romance curious, even dubious. My best friend told me outright that she was too good for me. Several guys waited like pool sharks for me to finish my game. They are still waiting.

But she was going to have to break my heart to get rid of me. No, I was in it for the long haul. We went together all through our senior year, went to church retreats together, walked along the beach, took walks in the woods. Yes, WALKS. We had both been in “serious” relationships and did not want to rush things. I told her one day about my theory of successful relationships... marriages. It was a threesome. Me and her and GOD. Every great marriage that I had witnessed was centered in God. The really bad ones I had seen were not. If we were supposed to spend our lives together, God would show us in time... meanwhile, we would take it slow.

So far, so good.


When it came time to go off to college, neither of us was ready to declare any kind of engagement. It would be a test. We would either find somebody else, or nobody else would do. A year apart would tell the tale. She went off to Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches. I was four hours away in Fort Worth at T.C.U.. We were both miserable.

It was a no-brainer for me. But she tried dating and got all tangled up with some jerk who kind of scared her after one date. She called me in tears. She wanted us to be closer together. We made plans to move to Denton the next year. She was so gorgeous and sexy, she was all I could think about. No other girl even tempted me.

How could I do any better? My High School sweetheart. She was lighthearted, witty, and believe it or not, absolutely as funny as Lucille Ball, if she wanted to be. This was a girl who actually sewed me clothes. Just wanted to hang out with ME... not a bunch of loud, drunk friends. She loved to read. She smoked cigars... just to show off... she could pick up things from the floor with her feet. She was always wanting to go see her Granny. She was silly about animals, especially cats. She loved the things I loved. Nature, sunsets... little calves in the pasture... going to church... praying before meals. 


When she called me from Nacogdoches and told me some friends had introduced her to the BIBLE, and that she wanted to get Baptized... I knew then that God had brought her, without my interference, into a relationship with Him that could now become that THREESOME.

We moved up to Denton the next year, I went North Texas, she to TWU, and we became Youth Directors at the Episcopal Church, and well, the rest is “Ourstory.” There were plenty of ups and downs... after all I was half of the equation, but she stood by me through all the downs... it was not easy, and took every ounce of Faith we had. When we got married a couple of years later, my grandfather said it was the most beautiful wedding he had ever seen. We sang Morning is Broken. We asked everyone to join us in Communion. Linda laughed and cried... and laughed... Joy is like that.


I had to give all of you just a tiny glimpse of what has kept us together, married for 43 years. A glimpse at my “mystery girl.” Now you know, it was from the very beginning, people were trying to steal her away. But all she wanted was a loving home. And God made that for us. It was love. It was forever.

That special day, when she stopped me in the hall back in High School, and said she knew that “we” were a “thing,” I was thrilled, and yet I wasted no time in telling her that to live my life, to live it with me, was going to be something like being a missionary in a foreign country. It would be hard. She said that she did not care. She believed in me. Sadly, I could not believe her. I did not deserve her. But that was the beginning of my wonderful life. God is like that.

Many of you have seen the trappings of my public life, actually an amazing amount of art all over the place. I wanted you to know, every time you see it, think of the wonderful girl, who could have done better, who did everything so I could follow my dream. She made it all possible. No telling what a mess it would all have been without her. She saw, as a fairly young woman, the wonderful things we could accomplish together. Whatever good or lasting we left behind in the Brazos Valley, has her name on it too.

 Linda, Russell and Raegan Joy Cushman, about 1990

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Black Cowboy Proposal

One of my often spoken sayings is that “Everything I have ever done, God will use to prepare me for the next thing He has for me to do.”
 

Thursday I met with a small committee from Houston- a historian, a cowgirl, and a custom prayer stool maker, who may have introduced me to “that next thing.” And afterwards they even prayed for me and the project they came to recruit me for… standing on the sidewalk in front of Classic Rock Coffee Company... These were messengers, seekers, believers. And they were driven by a Faith that as Jesus explained, can move mountains.
 
So it’s all about cowboys and the Texas horse culture and Houston heritage and Black History, and as they described their dream, I knew that I had been prepared all my life to do their sculpture. A sculpture, a monument, to the Black cowboy.

 A photo from one of my family photo albums. This cowboy worked
 on the Blakely Ranch, where my grandmother spent many happy times playing cowgirl.


If there was a significant ethnic group which was taken for granted at the time and then almost completely ignored by the American myth makers all through the golden age of “Westerns,” it was the Black cowboy. And citizens of Acres Homes in Houston have decided to fill the vacuum left by Western authors and filmmakers, and perhaps establish a new landmark on West Montgomery Road. And they came all the way up to Grimes County to see my works and ask me to help them.


The very subject, the precious committee of Black leaders, the honor they presented to me took me back, for a nanosecond, and then I saddled up like Gus after Lori darlin’. This is the announcement of a great new undertaking, for the folks at Acres Homes and the artist they will hire. And when we agree on a design, and a price, that will be me.


I have been especially honored before, by several “prestigious” major commissions, but none could be quite like this; the request for submissions that could result in a large monument, on a major thoroughfare, in the fourth largest city in America, and as it happens, my hometown.

 This is the first thing that comes to mind... ( this is a digital image 
I have created ) A traditional equestrian monument that would attract 
attention and even tourists, as it teaches our local heritage. But 
this would be the least visible from the highway and 
the most expensive alternative.


The whole process could take a year, even longer, and here is how the steps would progress:



  1. Conceptualization: At least a month of design work, where ultimately three distinctly different ideas are illustrated, considered by those interested and one is finally selected.
  2. Maquette: A scale model of the selected design will then be sculpted for the design committee, (one month) and when it is approved a 1/3 down payment will be made to start the actual monument original.
  3. The Monument: Depending on which concept and material is decided upon, this process could take from three to five months.
  4. Installation: Approximately five to seven months from now, if all goes well, the original sculpture should be complete. If it is welded steel, it will be ready for installation, which would take another month or so, weather permitting. If the original is clay, it must then be cast in bronze at a foundry and this adds as much as four to six months to the process.
  5. Estimated costs at this point will be hard to establish with so many variables in size, possible processes and materials. But fund-raisers for the Black Cowboy Monument should prepare for a minimum of $34,000.00 for a welded steel sculpture, OR $50,000.00 for an installed cast bronze cowboy figure, and up to $120,000.00 for a figure mounted on a horse, with a stone pedestal.
     
     More "bang for the buck," a contemporary welded steel
     "sculpto-mural," ten feet high, would be more visible and 
    cost much less. No walkway, or pedestal necessary. The steel
    could be powder-coated or just allowed to rust. Very little up-keep.

As for now the research and development begins… a vulnerable time for the sculptor as a great deal of time and energy is required to create a vision of a monument which will find consensus among the committee and the community. Only then does the commission actually begin.

In the meantime I want to thank Reggie Brown for connecting me with Sandra Price and Tammie Terrell, the two devoted visionaries who will make this happen. And they can because they are bathing this dream in prayer, and depending on God, the Creator of the Universe, who brings all good things together.


You can follow the progress on this exciting project right here; Mission Control. So as the old buckaroos used to holler, “Let 'er rip!”

 Of course, a painted steel mural would be very effective,
 but would require maintenance over the years... But what a wonderful 
icon to greet travelers to the 
Greatest Cowboy Town in America!

So join  us prayer... and if you have ideas or money you want to contribute, contact Sandra Price at (713) 906-6401,