Tag Archives: Judith d’Agostino

A Very Different Terrain

Landscape for John Muir, Robert Cocke. Ikebana artist: Elizabeth Lee

East meets west.

Several years ago I attended an opening at the Valley House Gallery in Dallas and was speechless at the splendor of the painting genius of Robert Cocke (pronounced Coke). I remember meeting Mr. Cocke that night and telling him if I could paint like him, I would get rid of my sculpting tools and never do sculpture again! I LOVE his work and wish that I could handle paint like he can. His manipulation of oil paints, his precision with brushes and his understanding of space takes my breath away. Cocke is from the Tucson, Arizona area, and I could have guessed that by the other-worldly landscapes that he paints. His fantastical landscapes combine quirky thunderclouds, blustery autumn leaves, odd, geometric forms and incredibly textured mountains, trees and pasture-like vistas. When I gaze into his paintings, I find myself wanting to live inside them, like in the movie What Dreams May Come  (highly recommended if you have not seen it, btw…).

Sentinels, by Robert Cocke. Ikebana artist: BrianDalton

In the early 1980’s I drove to Tucson with my then-roommate and painting professor, Judith D’Agostino. Judith, also a landscape painter who formerly lived in Tucson, acquainted me with the wacked out sunsets and alien landscapes that I recognize in Cocke’s work. There are many landscape painters in Arizona and no wonder! The unusual Saguaro cacti thrive only in this small portion of the United States which is protected by the Saguaro National Park. When winding through the mountains filled with Saguaros, I felt like I was on another planet!

Cocke’s current exhibition opened on October 6 at Valley House, but I decided to forego the crowds and wait a couple of weeks. I’m sure glad I did, because this past weekend when I went, a special event was going on at the gallery that took me into yet another distant land! The Dallas Chapter of Ikebana International was showcasing the talents of their Ikebana artists throughout the gallery and gardens of this beautiful hideaway in north Dallas. Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement and on this day, the arrangements celebrated the Chrysanthemum. These carefully arranged and uniquely designed living sculptures are designed to draw emphasis toward shape, line and form, three of the elements of art. By studying and gazing at Ikebana arrangements, we are forced to slow down and notice small details, appreciate nature and take a break from the busy nature of our lives.

Ikebana Island With Flying Chrysanthemums. Ikebana artists: P. O’Reilly, with S. Bordelon, P. Brehm, B. Lodge, C. Manouel, S. Milot, D. O’Reilly, M. Shokri, and C. Thornton

On the inside of the gallery, the flower arrangements were nestled next to the Cocke paintings and co-habited the floor space well. The colors and textures of paintings and flowers melded together and each seemed to point to the other. Out in the gardens, the flower sculpture arrangements grew large, some as large as the ceramic and steel sculptures that dot the landscape of the Valley House gardens. The Ikebana creations were lovely and made me long for a trip to Japan! So far, I haven’t seen an art teacher opening in Japan, but if I do, you can sure bet I’ll fill out that application!

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En Plein Air in the Plain Air

Color my world.

I’d been looking forward to this trip for weeks. The first morning I awoke early to watch the mountains turn from lavender-teals to a variety of greens ranging from dark emerald, to soft olive, and then to bright avocado and eventually settling into a spectrum of veridians, cobalt and aquamarine-infused sap greens! I couldn’t help but remember a conversation I had with my mother years ago as we traveled by car through miles and miles of lush pastures and wooded areas in southern Missouri. As she and I were gazing out the window at nature’s beauty, she said something to this effect, “Isn’t that green beautiful?” and I replied, “Which green?” Even at my early elementary age I was visually able to separate the colors of green into different categories as one might distinguish the colors of the rainbow.  After a short flight from Dallas to Vail, I magically entered an environment so different from my own and I couldn’t wait to paint!

The history of plein air painting is connected to the Impressionist artists. You can read about this radical bunch of folks here. For the first time, paint was manufactured and put into tubes enabling artists to actually leave the mixing stations of their studios, stroll into the great outdoors and plop down their easel and set up shop. This type of painting has to be executed quickly as the environments’ colors change in the blink of an eye. For instance, once when I’d set up my easel on the edge of a cliff on the Pacific Ocean, I looked down to mix the perfect color of ocean waves, looked back up to start painting and the entire color scheme had changed because the sun had gone under some clouds! Another time, I quickly looked down to mix the colors of the sky and looked up and the wind had swept all the clouds away!

My good friend and life mentor, Judith D’Agostino, taught me how to take on this challenge during the years she lived in San Diego, California. She’s been a professional painter for years and has taught many students the joys associated with tubes of paint, mineral spirits and an assortment of brushes. Landscape has always fascinated her and her styles have oscillated between realism and abstract. After instructing me on what tools and materials to buy and how to pack it all up for travel, I began a love/hate affair as I resisted the temptation to chase the light. Attempting to capture the colors, form and emotions of a complex landscape on a simple canvas board proves to be arduous, but delightful! Judith lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and paints full time. She’s painted beautiful landscapes from coast to coast and has been a guest painter at the Door County Plein Air Festival in Wisconsin . Working side-by-side her I’ve discovered painting en plein air is very formidable! Not only do you have to paint quickly, but you have to become indifferent to the sun and wind in your face and to ignore the conversations of passersby as they quietly chat about your work to one another within earshot. It is frightening to look up, after squirting out paint, and make the first brushstroke. How do you take in all of nature and attempt to communicate it on a flat canvas, mine no larger than an 8” x 10”?

If the oil paint didn’t take a week to dry, people would often buy these small canvases on the spot. Many people stop and gaze out into nature and watch me capture the colors and textures. They begin to feel connected to the painting because they share the emotion of looking out into nature’s beauty alongside me. It is similar to taking a photograph of a beautiful landscape, except that they watch the image grow slowly; they watch the rocks form and the water ripple with a few brushstrokes. It seems that they observe nature more closely, by watching a painting grow one brushstroke at a time.

Nature is marvelous. Go explore it. Even if the act of painting is more than you are willing to try, what about taking a pencil and a small sketchbook and doing a 10 minute sketch of a scene? Or what about gazing out at nature and writing a short haiku about the sounds or sensations you are experiencing? Or take a picture. Or just sit and stare and observe the world up close. Meditate. Breath deeply. Listen to the wind and listen to the quiet, still voice inside.

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School’s out for the summer

The crescendo has been building for a couple of weeks.

I typically give my very best ideas away to my students, and usually this makes me happy. They gratefully consume my ideas all year long, digest them, rework them, and pour out the results (which are fabulous!) but now it’s summer and I’m ready to blow up my raft and go float in the pool. I’ve just completed my eleventh year as a full-time middle and high school art teacher at a college preparatory school in the Dallas metroplex. Over the last few weeks, I’ve immersed myself into throngs of contemporary art fairs for the reason of finding inspiring ideas, not only to try for myself, but to tweak into becoming classroom projects. This is primarily how I develop my art curriculum. I go out and experience art in the world around me.

One of the most wonderful, healing things about teaching is that, at the beginning of each year, you get to start a clean slate. It’s brand new. Each new school year is about creating and giving away your best ideas for a specific amount of time. At the end of a year, it’s over and you put the slate away. If there are projects that didn’t turn out so well, you never have to do them again. Years ago, I remember singing at the top of my lungs, Alice Cooper’sSchool’s Out, at the end of May:

No more pencils,

No more books,

No more teacher’s dirty looks.

Admittedly, I’ve probably given my share of dirty looks this year (I assure you I’ve also given truckloads of smiles and hugs too) but now, it’s time to rest. I get to start over with a clean slate full of new possibilities next August. It is a wonderfully refreshing concept. Each day we wake up we should be grateful because, like teaching, we get to start over. We get the opportunity to turn over a new leaf. To listen more. To love more. To forgive more. We can take a walk down a new path and try new approaches to life. Each day we wake up we are given the possibility to be more courageous and more mindful of the earth and others.

I’ve always hoped to make a difference in someone’s life; this adds purpose to my life. I want to have an impact on others to show them their potential and express how much they matter. Teaching allows me to do that. If I can see evidence that I’ve influenced even one child to dream and reach for the stars, I feel that the year has been successful. This year there are many students I feel that way about and I feel grateful and blessed. Still, I am ready to float on my raft.

This summer, when I get off the raft, I will be working on several ebooks for publication. One will be about art careers and one will be about integrating global history and culture into art curriculum. I want to inspire students, artists, art educators, parents, homeschool teachers, administrators and even school districts. Sadly, from my experience I’ve learned that much of the public, including students and parents, do not know about the importance of an art education in the 21st century. In general people don’t understand how lucrative and satisfying a career in the arts can be.

Two years ago, I was invited to become a member of the Nasher Sculpture Center’s Teacher Advisory Board. I gratefully accepted the position and have been honored to share this board membership with a few other teachers who strive to inspire. We have assisted the Nasher Education Department in many ways including the expansion of new activities and workshops for the public, as well as curriculum development and printed material. Through the continued dialogue at our monthly meetings I have expressed the need specifically for art career education. Together we have researched this and I have presented the collected material to administrators, faculty and parents. After learning more through my presentation, everyone is excited and hopeful about college and career prospects for students of all ages. I want to make this research available to more people who can use it and create possibilities for their own lives or the lives of others.

As this school year comes to a close, I want to share an excellent video produced by the Exxon Mobile Corporation. As you watch it, I hope teachers you learned from will come to mind. I want to encourage you to write them an email. Search for them on facebook. Actually go buy a stamp and send them a card. Tell them how important they have been to you. I promise; it will make their day.

(Thank you Mrs. Majors, Mrs. Cuniff, Gloria Ball, Mrs. Simpson, Judith d’Agostino, Dr. Dianne Strickland, Jackie Snyders, Cynthia Bylander, Jeff Johnston, Dr. David Quick, Tanya Synar and all my fellow colleagues. You all poured into me and I really appreciate it and love you for it.)

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