Is Art Justified?

February 25, 2017

Pot of yellow primroses

Pot of yellow primroses

“There is not a significant artist in the world who is not asking himself whether his art is justified — not on account of the quality of his talent, but on account of the relevance of art to the demands of the time in which he is living.”
— John Berger, from “Revolutionary Undoing,” Landscapes: John Berger on Art

“There is vitality, a life force, energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.  And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.  The world will not have it.  It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable or how it compares with other expressions.  It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.  You do to even have to believe in yourself or your work.  You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you.  Keep the channel open.”
— Martha Graham, from Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham by Agnes de Mille

Quotes like these help me to feel better about making art.  I sometimes feel my paintings are frivolous when each morning the news is full of serious and worrisome threats to a peaceful world.

 

 

Pussy willows

Pussy willows

“One ought never to forget that by actually perfecting one piece, one learns more than beginning or half finishing ten.  Let it rest, let it rest and keep going back to it and working at it over and over again until there is not a note too much or too little, not a bar you could improve upon.  Whether it is beautiful is and entirely different matter, but perfect it must be.”
— Johannes Brahms

I’ve been trying to paint pussy willows, and after several iterations, I still haven’t managed to capture them perfectly.  Not all of my attempts are pleasing.  With watercolors, I find that working it over generally muddies things, and it is better to slow down and make a new beginning.  I’m still not satisfied with my results, so I need to try again (and again).

img_1540

img_1546

img_1548

 

The Primrose Path

February 11, 2017

Primroses are making a late-winter appearance in grocery stores around here.  They are a welcome splash of saturated color and hold the promise of Spring and gardening.

Watercolor sketch of yellow primroses

Watercolor sketch of yellow primroses

Ink sketch of primroses (primula)

Ink sketch of primroses (primula)

Watercolor vignettes from Tasha Tudor's Garden

Watercolor vignettes from Tasha Tudor’s Garden

 

Gratitude Bestows Reverence

November 24, 2016

Succulents, Center for Urban Horticulture gardens

Succulents, Center for Urban Horticulture gardens

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
— John Milton

I am grateful for family and friends, art and nature, books and writers, and for each day.  Happy Thanksgiving!

img_0687

img_0663

img_0664

img_0659

Fading Hydrangeas

September 26, 2016

img_0218

Hydrangeas are maybe my favorite flower.  I love their colors, a changing palette — they age so beautifully.  And I love their round shape.  Even this late in the season, I see hydrangeas as fresh as the one above, which I photographed at the ocean in Bandon, Oregon.  But more common are those that are past their peak, fading, fading.

img_0359

Painting hydrangeas

Painting hydrangeas

Watercolor sketch of hydrangeas

Watercolor sketch of hydrangeas

 

 

The old red barn on the farm where I grew up

The old red barn on the farm where I grew up

As long as it stands, the old red barn will be the anchor on our Minnesota family farm.  My recent visit was the first time I had returned since my father died more than two years ago.  Now the land has been split into two parts, owned by my youngest and oldest brothers.  The old square farmhouse with peeling white paint has been torn down and in its place is a beautiful new home with lots of windows looking out on the land, spiffy modern appliances, and even air conditioning.

IMG_9514

IMG_9602

IMG_9565

I am not a sentimental person, so I had no qualms about seeing the new house, and I looked forward with eager anticipation to the changes and improvements that my brother and his wife made to my old childhood stomping grounds. I was not disappointed.  At first I was just a tiny bit disoriented because the new house — while sited in the same spot as our old one — has a larger footprint and extends farther to the west.  It took me a minute to figure out where the old smokehouse had stood, to identify the stump of what had been the tree with the tire swing,  and to recognize the trees still standing next to the garage.  (The old garage has also been replaced by a new, larger one.)  Other trees have grown even taller than my memory of them.  But once I was reoriented, everything felt familiar and comfortable and welcoming.  I realized that, for me, the farm was not the physical buildings, but rather the land, the landscape and its seasonal changes, family ties and memories, and the rhythm of daily farm life.  Those things endure and I love them just as much now.  My visit was a homecoming.

Old barn and new garage

Old barn and new garage

“The eye for beauty is the eye for love.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Once again I was struck by the beauty of my childhood home ground.

Fields and woods

Fields and woods

“The landscape seemed increasingly to be a succession of lines — the line of hills, the line of trees, the line of reeds, the line of cattails, the line of water  . . .”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

IMG_9601

One view to the east

 

One view to the south, with woods and wildflower patch

One view to the south, with woods and wildflower patch

“Our language does not distinguish green from green.  It is one of the ways in which we have declared ourselves to be apart from nature.  In nature, there is nothing so impoverished of distinction as simply the color green.  There are greens as there are grains of sand, an infinitude of shades and gradations of shades, of intensities and brilliancies.  Even one green is not the same green.  There is the green of dawn, of high noon, of dusk.  There is the green of young life, of maturity, of old age.  There is the green of new rain and of long drought.  There is the green of vigor, the green of sickness, the green of death.  One could devote one’s life to a study of the distinctions in the color green and not yet have learned all there is to know.  There is a language in it, a poetry, a music.  We have not stopped long enough to hear it.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Farm fresh eggs

Farm fresh eggs

My brother and his wife are bringing new life to the farm with animals — chickens, dogs, barn cats, pigs, and they rent the pasture to another farmer for grazing cows.  While the scale is more of a hobby farm, the animal husbandry and stewardship of the land is as hands on as the farming of years past.  Butchering six chickens brought back old memories.  I learned that a farm skill like butchering chickens is like riding a bike — you never forget how to do it!  Farm-to-table meals are not the rare thing they are in the city!

IMG_9540

My brother raises buff orpington chickens for meat, and the few hens lay eggs

My brother raises Buff Orpington chickens for meat, and the few hens lay eggs

 

Watercolor sketch of chickens

Watercolor sketch of chickens

 

Butchering chickens using a chicken plusher to remove the larger feathers.

Butchering chickens using a chicken plucker to remove the larger feathers.

 

Chicken on the spit

Chicken on the spit

 

Cow in the rented pasture. The red ear tags help to repel flies.

Cow in the rented pasture. The red ear tags help to repel flies.

 

Pigs raised for pork

Pigs raised for pork

IMG_9516

IMG_9521

My sister-in-law titled this watercolor sketch "Bacon 2017"

My sister-in-law titled this watercolor sketch “Bacon 2017”

In my Dad’s final years, as he grew frailer, he resisted change.  Many things were falling into decrepitude, but changes were deferred for as long as possible so that my father could be in familiar surroundings.  Now that he is gone, it is rejuvenating to see my brother’s and his wife’s efforts to remake the farm into a dream home for their own lives.  It seems only right to me that they move the farm into modern times.  Time to create new memories in this deeply rooted place!

Watercolor sketch of one of the old oak trees on the farm

Watercolor sketch of one of the old oak trees on the farm

 

Watercolor sketch of zinnias in the from garden bed

Watercolor sketch of zinnias in the front garden bed

 

 

 

IMG_9446-2

The Gitchi Gami State Trail runs through Gooseberry Falls State Park.  When completed, this will be an 89-mile paved recreational trail along the North Shore between Two Harbors and Grand Marais, Minnesota.  We enjoyed the many wildflowers that grew along the trail.

Walking along the Gitchi Gami trail

Walking along the Gitchi Gami trail

Missouri goldenrod

Missouri goldenrod

IMG_9424

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

IMG_9436

IMG_9444

IMG_9432

Tansy

Tansy; this grew everywhere along the roads Up North

Fireweed

Fireweed

Flat-topped asters

Flat-topped asters

Joe pye weed

Joe pye weed

IMG_9448

 

Watercolor sketches in my Minnesota travel journal

Watercolor sketches in my Minnesota travel journal

 

IMG_9734