On The Road With Vincent

Every morning this week I have found myself in very familiar surroundings. I am back at the Glassell School of Art. Sitting in the auditorium listening to Dr. Anna Tahinci talk about art while she shares a PowerPoint presentation.

The subject this time is the current exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston called Vincent Van Gogh: His Life in Art. I have strolled through the exhibition twice so far, but I knew I wanted to get more in depth with the subject.

Vincent Van Gogh, the person and the artist, has fascinated me for years. I remember the song, Vincent (Starry, starry night) by Don McLean that was popular back in 1971 (Yes, I am old enough to remember this. I was in Junior High School which was just the right time to sit in my room, playing records, and feeling dramatically impassioned in a way only possible for an impressionable teenager.)

I am now learning about the journey that Vincent took through his life and how that was reflected in his art. He started out learning about lines and drawing. Then when he started painting many of his works were similarly monochrome.

Gradually, working with color theory, Vincent’s paintings became more and more colorful. He dabbed some red next to a green background that stands out and continues to communicate to the viewer to this day. He painted a great deal with yellow. He even painted yellow on yellow which is no small trick. In several pictures he showed us his pipe and tobacco, and his hat. He even showed us a letter from his brother Theo. It is as if these still life paintings are a variation of the self portraits he also left for us. We can see what he thought of as important and how he saw himself.

Quite paradoxically, the brighter and more vivid the colors became in his paintings; the more Vincent struggled. It was while he was living in the now famous yellow house that he decorated with bright yellows, blues and oranges. This was the spot where he also quarreled with friends and cut off part of his ear. Still he showed us everything he had inside him by painting a self portrait while his ear was still wrapped in bandages.

Realism, Impressionism, Neo‐Impressionism, Impasto, and Pointillism are just a few words used to describe Vincent’s work. He only spent the last 10 years of his life as a painter, yet he completed approximately 2100 artworks. He was most prolific during the last two years of his life. He had so much to share and to show us in such a small amount of time.

As Don McLean sang in 1971:

Now I understand, what you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free. They would not listen, they did not know how. Perhaps they’ll listen now.

Until next week.….

Bedtime with My Cousin Vinny, Version 2.0

NOTE: Ghost fingers posted a rough draft of this blog post last night. It’s been replaced with this final version. Enjoy! 

Vincent Van Gogh always seemed a nut case.

You don’t chop off an ear if you’re sane.

But I met the artist this week—via his letters, etchings, sketches, and paintings—and realized he’s my long‐lost cousin. What else do you call someone with whom you share three great loves: books, shoes, and colors?

My personal trifecta grants Mr. Van Gogh an irreverent nickname: Vinny.

Isn’t that the gift we give family members?

Coincidence that the moniker matches Joe Pesci’s 1992 movie, My Cousin Vinny.

All this discovery unfolded at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH) and its fantabulous exhibit titled Vincent Van Gogh: His Life in Art. This one‐city show runs through June 27th; attending is beyond worth‐your‐time. From Houston, the exhibit returns to its Amsterdam home.

Since childhood, I’ve visited countless museums and art galleries. All around the globe. This show was different.The day became profound. Art, when married with words, can do that.

My skin actually t‐r‐e‐m‐b‐l‐e‐d when I viewed Vinny’s work. A first.

Around me, I heard tears and sniffles. Another first.

The floor‐to‐nearly‐ceiling sketches stopped me in my shoes.

This image was drawn in the late 1800s. My mind struggled with its how‐to. As in: how do you create something this large—on your hands and knees? Where do you find, in 1888, paper this big? How do you store it?

Questions raced through my mind. Then I saw the clogs.

I gasped. Something about the yellow background and the plain pair of shoes screamed strength, confidence, and power.

How could that be?

Vinny’s strong brushstrokes—around, over, and through the tightly‐shaped shoes—transformed the leather into something more than a simple something you walk in.

Art critics disagree on Vinny’s intent with A Pair of Leather Clogs. They cite specific walks, spiritual wanderings, or life paths.

How much more RoadBroad can you get?

Perhaps Cousin Vinny was a RoadDude. He did live all over Europe.

In these clogs, I saw myself. These weren’t, after all, ordinary shoes. They were clogs, the only type of shoe I paint. See my February 18th post to refresh the hobby details.

No way am I suggesting that I reside in Mr. Van Gogh’s league. Instead, I believe there’s an artistic universality in painting shoes.

Call it magic juju. His painting offers a question, a reflecting point, ahead of any journey. The shoes beg you to ask, in advance: are you ready? 

But how often do we consciously ask? Do we save the preparation for the bigger roads only? How about in the middle of the journey—do we consider our observations? After we leave the road, do we look back to ask: what did I learn? 

Creation resides with the artist. Interpretation belongs to the observer. What freedom, for both!

Shoes, regardless of who paints — or walks in — them, offer preparation, experience, or wisdom. We choose our takeaway(s).

The exhibit ends with a delight‐filled interactive play area.

When I spied Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles, I had to get between the sheets.

Cousin Vinny called me. Or, maybe, I’m half‐crazy after all.

My First Year On The Road

What a year!

Has it been a year already?

Has it only been a year?

A year ago on May 23, 2018, I wrote and published my first blog as a RoadBroad! Actually it was my first blog post ever. Thanks to Melanie for having the wonderful idea to start a blog. I became an official RoadBroad and have been writing about my journey ever since. The first picture I ever included on a blog was a picture of one of my cats. I bought a new suitcase to make a road trip to Boulder, Colorado for one of Max Regan’s writing retreats and Hannah (the cat) was trying to figure out how to pack herself into the trip.

I still hold fond memories of meeting with other writers, having writing meetings at the Dushanbe Tea House and gazing at the Flatiron Mountains. I am including some of my favorite photos from that first road trip in this blog post. This was my first trip to Colorado and can’t wait to return.

May 2018 was also notable because that was when I retired from a 25 year career of being a Social Services Administrator for local government. I had been either working, going to school, being a part‐time adjunct faculty member, going to school some more, etc., since the age of 15. I completed all requirements to secure a pension and health care into my senior years. It was time for a change.

Now my entire life revolves around creativity. Either I am engaging in creative activities or I am appreciating the creative work of others. The Vincent Van Gogh exhibition is still going on at the Museum of Fine Arts. I have to go at least one more time before it ends.

Since May 2018 I have been a full‐time writer. Sometimes I submit a piece of writing and it gets accepted. Sometimes it doesn’t. I keep reminding myself that I am not personally being rejected. I merely wrote a story or essay that was not accepted for a particular journal. I continue to work on a book about Memphis, Tennessee in the 1960s and 1970s.

I am also a visual artist. I’m a photographer and I work with collage. In my spare time I take art classes at the Glassell and this summer I will add a class at the Art League of Houston to my list of visual studies.

There was one not so fun part to this past year; I discovered I had arthritis. Then I had physical therapy, bariatric gastric sleeve surgery, got to where I could walk a lot again and enjoyed many classes in water aerobics at the local YMCA.

I’ve read a lot of books and attended many lectures by other writers and authors. I love hearing other writers talk about how they write and what their creative process looks like. I heard Annie Lamott who was absolutely inspirational. Getting to hear Annie Lebovitz talk about her life as a photographer was fascinating.

My Dear Friend and I have walked many miles through the Museum of Fine Arts, The Museum of Natural Science, Bayou Bend, Rienzi and various other art galleries. We have attended performances at the Alley Theatre, Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony, etc. We have traveled to the beach over the winter holidays and Austin for a sister writer’s book launch.

As a RoadBroad, I have enjoyed my creative journey and love this new phase of my life. I am going to continue my journey as a RoadBroad and look forward to sharing everything I see and learn with you. Here’s to another RoadBroad Year!

Until next week.….

The Road From Form To Matter

Form pre‐exists in matter.

Now that’s a deep philosophical statement to start your day. If it’s too early in the morning then you may roll your eyes and wonder what the wacky blogger is up to now. However, take a moment and a deep cleansing breath.

You remember Michelangelo, don’t you? Renaissance man? Sculpture, Painter, Architect and Poet? The Sistine Chapel dude. Yeah, that’s him.

Well, Michelangelo was a neoplatonist. He put forth a philosophy about sculpture where a work of art was already living within a block of marble. It is the calling of the artist to chip away and free the work of art and bring it to life. Through the artistic process of sculpture, art emerges from marble.

What a concept! What if I look upon myself as a big block of marble? I was born with a work of art inside of me. Then as I grew up and continuing into today, my life experiences chipped away at the block of marble that is me. Slowly over the years I have emerged as the person I am today. Each of us is a block of marble with beauty emerging from within.

Sometimes you may see a sculpture that is intentionally left unfinished. The work of art continues to emerge from the stone. A work of beauty already, but still emerging into form.

As any sculptor can tell you, sometimes the block of stone will resist. This can happen even if the artist carefully works with and goes with the grain.

In sculpture, art is forever emerging. Moving towards freedom from the captivity of the stone. Waiting for insight and clarity to merge with life experiences.

Does this only apply to sculpture? Of course not. Whether you are a painter, writer, photographer, scientist or any other type of creative person, there is a beauty that only you can bring out.

Once again, many thanks to Dr. Anna Tahinci, Professor and Art History Chair at the Glassell School of Art, for teaching wonderful classes in Art History where I got the inspiration for this blog. Also, the pictures of sculptures in this blog were taken while on a recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

Until next week.….

Flinging and Swinging into Spring

It is now officially Spring! I hope everyone had a nice Vernal Equinox. Did you run around outside picking flowers and dancing? I didn’t either. Have you planted all of your spring flowers and gardens? Again…me neither.

However, I have been walking. I have walked around my neighborhood, I have walked at Bayou Bend, I have walked around the grounds at Rienzi. I have observed nature and art. Yes, sometimes nature is art and sometimes art is nature. Think about it.……you’ll get it. I may not have planted any spring garden, but the fabulous people who work for the Museum of Fine Arts have put a lot of work into the Gardens at Bayou Bend and the Rienzi. As you can tell I walked among the Goddesses and Muses (great inspiration for writing) and took lots of pictures of flowers and butterflies.

For those of you who are not in the know about Houston culture, Bayou Bend is owned by the MFAH and showcases the home and gardens of the Great Dame of H Town, Miss Ima Hogg. Yes, for anyone who is not knowledgeable about Houston culture, this was a real woman (stop that giggling now!) who had lots of money and spent it on a beautiful home, the Houston Symphony, the Houston Ballet, among other things. I can paraphrase the line from the movie Steel Magnolias and say that Miss Hogg “had more money than God” and I don’t think she wasted a penny. When she died, she left her home full of art works and antiques to the MFAH. The ongoing success of the Houston Symphony and Houston Ballet speak for themselves.

The Rienzi is another such home that is also located in River Oaks. Formerly the home of philanthropists Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III. I don’t know as much about them as I do about Miss Ima Hogg, but they also left a beautiful home full of art and antiques plus acres of beautiful gardens to the MFAH.

The exciting part about all of this walking is that I feel really good! I have successfully survived gastric sleeve surgery, losing weight and can get up and move! I am literally having a Spring Fling! My once upon a time arthritic knee is MUCH better.

I first started going on long walks when I was about 12 years old. You know, that age when just no one understands you and you almost sprain a muscle in your face from your eyes rolling so much at everything everyone tries to tell you? Just gotta love those preteen years. And yes, I was just that kind of preteen. Yes, I have matured much since those days. No…really!

Anyway, I would go for long walks around the neighborhood. There was a shopping center and an 18‐hole golf course. Lots of places to walk around and get lost in the scenery and sort out my pubescent thoughts. Mom and I both had a nice break from each other. My siblings never followed me on these outings. What’s not to love.

Besides, it doesn’t cost anything to walk. Except there is sometimes an admission fee. It is actually good for you. Except for when the refineries in Deer Park are on fire and the air is filled with smoke and benzene. Don’t forget to breathe deep!

So, I hope you have enjoyed all of these pictures of flowers and springtime. Soon enough it will be summer and hurricane season and it will be 100 degrees in the shade.……you get the idea. I am going to walk as much as possible until that time gets here!

Until next week.……