Route 44 – A Journey, Chapters 17 & 18

Chapter 17 I started teaching again during the 1991 academic year. That same year the University changed its name to the University of Central Oklahoma. The one area that I felt was my weakness was in computer graphics so, as soon as I learned that I got the teaching position I contacted a friend/designer that I knew was on the forefront of computer technology and he advised me on my first Macintosh computer purchase. I remember vividly he said I would need the computer, of course, a scanner, a color monitor, an external storage system and a printer. The total package came to $12,000.00. A lot of money but in those days an entry-level typesetter cost about $50,000.00 so, this seemed like a bargain. The learning curve was steep for me. I was a person that shied away from technology and really enjoyed the old school methods. I didn’t even know how to type, and still don’t, which is painfully obvious as I hunt and peck my way through this book. My friend helped me hook everything up and showed me how to turn it on, but after that I was on my on. I enrolled in a local computer software class on PageMaker, which helped get me over the initial hump. Luckily, in my first semester I was scheduled to teach all traditional art classes, mostly beginning drawing. Once again, someone was looking out for me. This gave me a semester to get better on the computer. I realized after I was at school that they had two computer graphics classes, one was called Desktop Publishing and featured PageMaker and the other was called Computer Graphics and featured the drawing programs called FreeHand and Illustrator. I had acquired enough knowledge about PageMaker to make me dangerous, but I knew nothing about Freehand or Illustrator. At that time a company called Aldus distributed PageMaker and FreeHand. Illustrator was Adobe’s flagship software. I was scheduled to teach Computer Graphics in the spring semester, so I had a lot of work to do to get ready. I had always heard the old saying “If you want to really learn a subject teach it.” I found this to be true my first year teaching in North Carolina when I had to teach an Art History survey class. I was not particularly interested in art history as a student but when I taught it took on much more meaning for me and I learned far more than I had previously in all my Art History classes as a student. It proved true again in Computer Graphics. By the time the semester was over I felt very comfortable with the computer. Being back in a University setting was really good for my painting. I now had more time to devote to it and a purpose with a few shows like the annual faculty show, as well as the “Painted Photograph” show that Bill Wallo had originally asked me to participate in. I was also teaching at Oklahoma City University as an adjunct. At OCU I taught more fine art courses including painting.  At UCO, my full-time position, I taught graphic design classes. About two or three years into my new teaching duties, I felt completely comfortable with the Mac computer and its uses in the graphic design industry. At UCO, I took over the responsibility of trying to stay on top of the constantly changing world of technology. One of the areas we needed to improve was our printing capability. Advancements had been made to desktop printers and now there were color laser and inkjet printers that allowed the designer to produce pre-print comps that were comparable to finished offset prints. These printers allowed the designer to preview what the design would look like after printing. I saw a great need for this type of printer in the classroom. Graphic Design students rarely had the opportunity to see their projects printed and this fact definitely limited their abilities to produce visually exciting portfolios. I started trying to get one of these printers for our program and at the end of our budget year, the chair of the department, Dr. Hummel, told me that we had enough left in our budget to purchase one but that I had to get the estimate and purchase order complete and submitted that day. I started scrambling and called our local Xerox distributor and got an estimate. I quickly asked our secretary if she would type up the purchase order. I then walked it across campus and got the necessary signatures to complete the order. The model I chose was a Tektronix solid inkjet printer that was capable of printing on almost any paper in full color up to a tabloid (11”x17”) plus bleed making the largest paper size 12”x18”. For that time it was the perfect comp printer. It was a major purchase for us and cost over $9,000.00. It proved to be one of the most valuable purchases we ever made for our Design program. It immediately impacted the students and their ability to produce beautiful color comps of their work. Later that year, I was bragging about this printer to some of my colleagues from OU and OSU and they both said they had the same printer but it rarely got used. I later found out from students who transferred to our program that the reason they rarely used the printer was because it was hidden in a closet and no one showed them how to use it. I realized at that point that it didn’t matter how much technology a program owned, it was useless if the instructors didn’t incorporate it into the program. I committed at that point to stay on top of technology and make it available for student use. I truly think that this simple philosophy is one of the biggest differences in our program and one direct reason for its success. Shortly after we got the printer I started exploring the possibilities of using it for fine art prints. My education and background in fine art printmaking taught me that there were four primary types or methods of printmaking. They were: 1. Intaglio, where the ink was held below the surface of the plate as in etchings and engravings; my old favorite the collagraph fell into this category, 2. Relief, where the ink is held above the surface as in wood cuts, linoleum cuts and commercial letterpress, 3. Planography, where the ink is held on the surface or plane of the plate as in lithography, and 4. Stencil, where a stencil blocks the ink like silkscreen or serigraphy. After using the new printer I quickly realized that a new or fifth method, digital, could also be used. The only real problem was the inks these new printers used were not light fast and faded very quickly. I continued to experiment with this new process trying all sorts of homemade and purchased coatings to inhibit UV rays and retard the fading. The printing manufacturers were also working on a solution to this problem and within a couple of years came up with ink sets that were tested and rated for over 100 years, making them archival, in fact far more archival than traditional photographic prints. This new method of printing and the computer technology fit perfectly with the images and the collage process of my paintings. For the first time ever, I felt a direct connection with what I was doing on a large scale in my paintings and what I was doing on a smaller scale with limited edition printmaking. [caption id="attachment_906" align="aligncenter" width="744"]"Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" Mixed Media on Canvas 48"x66" "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" Mixed Media on Canvas 48"x66"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_907" align="aligncenter" width="560"]"Orchid" Mixed Media on Canvas 54"x65" "Orchid" Mixed Media on Canvas 54"x65"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_908" align="aligncenter" width="570"]"Protea" Mixed Media on Canvas 60"x66" "Protea" Mixed Media on Canvas 60"x66"[/caption] Chapter 18 This brings me to the present, 44 years since I started this journey. After approximately the same number of years teaching as I had worked professionally as a graphic designer, I finally came to the conclusion that I no longer needed to include imagery in my paintings and prints. I had been working with floral images for about 14 years and realized that my abstract paintings from 30 years ago held the same properties of color, light and space as my newest paintings and the images were getting in the way. I was always trying to conform or have my work accepted and I think in a subconscious and even an occasional conscious way, I thought working with images in a more realistic fashion would achieve this. I now think I was wrong and who cares anyway! I am no longer fearful of conformation or being compared to other artists, styles or movements. I am no longer afraid of being cutting edge, traditional or any other label. I am just me and these are my paintings!   [caption id="attachment_909" align="aligncenter" width="576"]"Minions With Pink Ridges" Acrylic on Canvas 66"x90" "Minions With Pink Ridges" Acrylic on Canvas 66"x90"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_910" align="aligncenter" width="576"]"X Marks The Spot" Acrylic on Canvas 66"x66" "X Marks The Spot" Acrylic on Canvas 66"x66"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_911" align="aligncenter" width="656"]"Blue Hearts" Acrylic on Canvas 36"x48" "Blue Hearts" Acrylic on Canvas 36"x48"[/caption]
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Route 44 – A Journey


A commemorative book to give logic and reason to forty-four years of work. 1969 – 2013

Chapter 1 What is Route 44, why is it so significant and why is it connected to an exhibition of paintings? Some people would immediately say it was a very large fountain drink made famous by Sonic, but in Oklahoma it usually refers to Interstate 44 (I-44). Wikipedia states that Interstate 44 (I-44) is a major highway in the central United States. Its western terminus is in Wichita Falls, Texas, at a concurrency with US 277, US 281 and US 287; its eastern terminus is at Interstate 55 in St. Louis, Missouri. I-44 is one of five interstates built to bypass U.S. Route 66; this highway covers the section between St. Louis and Oklahoma City. Virtually the entire length of I-44 east of Springfield, Missouri, was once US 66, which was upgraded from two to four lanes from 1949 to 1955. The section of I-44 west of Springfield was built farther south than US 66 in order to connect Missouri’s section with the already completed Will Rogers Turnpike, which Oklahoma wished to carry their part of I-44. Obviously, this stretch of highway has a colorful and exciting connection to Route 66 and this alone would make it noteworthy, but I am more concerned with about 87 miles of I-44, from Lawton, Oklahoma to Oklahoma City. Lawton is the town I grew up in. It is where all of my secondary education took place. It is where I found my two greatest loves. The first is obvious, my wife, my soul mate and my partner in all things, yes even my second love, Art and Design. Wow, it’s hard to imagine that Lawton, a dirty Army town, could be involved in any way with my Art development but it was, or at least individuals in Lawton had strong influences in my interests in Art.

Another important aspect of the number 44 is the number of years I have been married to my high school sweetheart. Yes, at the tender age of 20, in August of 1969, I made the biggest and best decision of my life. I would love to take all the credit for such a wonderful decision and chalk it up to my superior intellect and my amazing maturity at the time, but the truth is dumb, blind luck that was driven by my heart and had nothing to do with my brain. We were lucky from the beginning. We were best friends that grew together in our love, maturity and goals. There are a lot of similarities in the steady, consistent growth of love number one and love number two, my love affair with Art. My wife and I committed to each other and that same strong commitment is a necessary component in the successful pursuit of a life in Art.

There are a couple of other minor things that happened 44 years ago. One was the first manned moon landing, the other was a little music festival called Woodstock. but my wedding was by far the most important. It’s not a coincidence that this exhibit consists of a time span of 44 years, the same number of years of my marriage. 1969 was a very significant year in my life. I took a serious commitment to honor and grow in two life long loves. I took a big step toward manhood! So, Route 44 is more than a soft drink or even the highway, it’s a journey, it’s my journey!

Prior to this I had been involved with art and painting and had gained some skills but I had no understanding of what Art really was. Like most people I thought it was or at least had something to do with making “pretty pictures.” My concept of pretty pictures was limited to nature and other acceptable subject matter like still lifes and landscapes. I spent most of my time developing skills in traditional watercolor and acrylic. I started early in grade school. At my grade school there was a third grade teacher who had the reputation of an artist. I tried everything to get in her class. I even asked my mother to call the principal but to no avail. I did arrange (or my mother arranged) to have a private lesson, my first private lesson. This only whet my appetite; I couldn’t wait for junior high where they had art classes as electives. I took them all every semester until I graduated from high school. Soaking up everything I could about drawing, painting and all things Art, I became reasonably good, winning a few competitions and even started giving some public demonstrations and private lessons. I started selling some in the local art shows. These sales bolstered my esteem and fed my ego. This was not necessarily a bad thing because ego is an important thing in Art, but it did stunt my growth for a couple of years. I became what I now call a really good $35.00 artist.

[caption id="attachment_755" align="aligncenter" width="708"]Oklahoma Barn / watercolor Oklahoma Barn / watercolor / 1968[/caption]

After high school graduation I made another extremely important decision about College. The two big schools in the state, Oklahoma State and the University of Oklahoma, were at the top of most of my friends’ lists. Prestigious out-of-state schools were out of most of our budgets, and I was too dumb to even know about professional schools like the Art Institute, Pratt or Art Center. So, I chose OU. I went through all the motions; I visited a couple of times; I applied for scholarships; and most importantly (I thought), I went to all the rush parties. Some of the smaller schools had more traditional Art programs that would have been better for what I was doing at the time, but they didn’t have a nationally ranked football team! Looking back on it, I chose the right school for all the wrong reasons, which is typical for most 18-year-old high school graduates. In the fall of 1967, I packed up and moved to Norman, Oklahoma. By the way, I traveled most of the way on I-44. My learning experiences that year were huge. Unfortunately, most of them had nothing to do with Art. I enrolled in all of the basic freshman level art courses, but the teachers were radical and weird -- absolutely no “pretty picture” makers in the lot. I don’t think there were any in the entire school. I found a local frame shop/gallery that liked my “pretty pictures” and they began to sell my work. So, I politely did my assignments in school, knowing the instructors knew nothing about real Art, while I continued to make my “pretty pictures” outside of class. I was slowly becoming a really good $50.00 artist. All was good! Well, all was good with love number two, but love number one was gaining strength and it was 80 miles away. This was a growing problem. Also, my mother became very ill and I really needed to be home. This was not such a bad thing -- remember love number one and I certainly wasn’t learning anything about “real Art” from those radical hippies. My family (older brothers) were elated that I decided to come home for a while, but my Mom and Dad were a little concerned. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but besides my wife, my parents were always my biggest fans. I was so lucky to have understanding parents who never once asked me how I was going to make a living as an artist. So, I packed up my stuff and headed back down I-44. I enrolled at Cameron University for the spring semester in 1969. If you have been paying attention this is important. . . Things are about to get good!

[caption id="attachment_756" align="aligncenter" width="507"]Colorado House / oil / 1968 Colorado House / oil / 1968[/caption]

Being 19 and having the advantage of knowing everything (those of you who have had teenage children know what I am talking about), starting classes at Cameron after spending three semesters at OU would be a snap. Surprisingly, it turned out just like I had expected. The academic classes were much easier than at the bigger school, which allowed me more time to devote to my two loves. Love number one was really moving along since returning. We were officially engaged and in full planning mode for a late summer wedding. On a side note, even though gasoline was about 30 cents a gallon, I was saving quite a bit and certainly racking up fewer miles on I-44. As for love number two, I had enrolled in a couple of art classes at Cameron, and, of course, I was continuing to pursue my “pretty pictures.” Cameron’s art program was minuscule compared to OU’s. There was only one instructor, no building, just a couple of classrooms and almost no equipment. Jack Bryan was the art program. He was the instructor and Chair of the Department of Art. One of my classes was a beginning painting class. It was really my first class that was not part of art foundations. On the first day of class I met Mr. Bryan. I was surprised to find out he was quite young and very easy going. I bonded almost immediately. I explained with a little pride that I was transferring from OU, and it seemed to me that he also acknowledged (without saying anything) that I was special.  He probably thought, “this kid just got off the short bus and I better be extra nice to him.” Whatever the reason he did make me feel special, and I was immediately pumped about the possibilities. Maybe, just maybe, he could make “pretty pictures.” He gave us a list of supplies, talked briefly about the class and told us to get our supplies and bring them and a stretched canvas to the next class. I don’t remember exactly, but I think he said something about “Come ready to work!” I left very excited and went immediately and checked my supplies to make sure I had everything he wanted and went to a local arts and crafts store (remember this was before Hobby Lobby) to purchase a pre-stretched canvas. I wanted to show how much I already knew, so I got a big one, 36”x48”. I was satisfied this would make a good impression and allow me to make a really, really “pretty picture.” Maybe it would be worthy of a $75.00 or even $100.00 price, and I could make the huge step to a $100.00 artist. The next class came and I lugged all my paint, brushes and my new canvas to class. As soon as class started, Jack (he preferred to be called by his first name, how cool was that? I knew I was going to like this guy) came in said let’s paint. Oh my gosh, what, how - there was this huge white canvas in front of me - so intimidating. Somehow I got the courage and began on a really, really, really “pretty picture.” Well, I quickly realized that Jack was not a maker of “pretty pictures,” but he was so cool, I didn’t have any problem with his suggestions and his critiques. He was able to get me to work and explore like no professor I had previously. I worked on that first painting about two weeks and had it at a state I was satisfied with. It by no means was a “pretty picture,” but it was bold and did I say big? More importantly, I think Jack was satisfied with my progress. He came into class, took a look and said, “I think it’s time to start another painting.” I was so pleased, but I didn’t come prepared, no new canvas. I told him as much and said I would purchase another canvas and start next class period. Jack just looked at me, walked to a corner of the make shift studio and picked up a gallon can of house paint. He brought it over to my easel and simply said, “Paint over it and start again.” What, two weeks of work and I’m going to paint over it! NO WAY, but I did. . .did I tell you how cool he was. BEST LESSON SO FAR! The semester continued with Jack pushing, and me resisting, yet continuing to work and try new things. There was lots of talk about color theory, expression and composition, mostly abstract concepts and very little about making “pretty pictures.” At one point I think I asked him when we were going to keep a painting. His response was, “You will know when!” After about the fourth coat of cover-up paint on the same canvas, I started again. I had been looking at some of Robert Rauschenberg’s work and was inspired to do something with classic American symbols. So, I began with this simple concept and started with bold application of paint in the background, blocking out a composition of organic shapes. A striped pattern started taking shape, then an eagle. It started taking shape. I continued to paint out elements and repaint, trying to keep the application direct and fresh. Finally, I was finished and Jack was right. I knew it immediately; this was the one to keep. This piece is the first one chosen for this exhibit. In many ways it is the most important. It’s not because it is the best, but because it symbolizes a re-birth in my Art and philosophy about Art.

[caption id="attachment_757" align="aligncenter" width="492"]Iris / graphite / 1968 Iris / graphite / 1968[/caption]

I continued to make “pretty pictures” and kept that side of my Art separate. I was still selling work at the frame shop gallery in Norman. So, every few weeks I would get about 5 or 6 pieces ready and take them to Norman. You guessed it, up I-44. After painting these “pretty pictures,” I would try and make them even more pretty by matting and framing. At this time I didn’t cut the mats myself, but used a local frame shop to mat and frame most of the pieces. It was one of those visits to that local frame shop that really had an impact on me and truly changed everything. Up until this time, I still felt like all my professors at OU, and yes, even Jack, really didn’t know what they were talking about. Really, I had seen all of their personal work and it definitely wasn’t my idea of what Art truly was. It wasn’t “pretty pictures” so how could it be real Art. I was at the local frame shop in Lawton picking up one of my BEST “pretty pictures.” I had just come in and the shop owner invited me back to the work area to talk while he finished up my piece. We chatted while he put backing paper on my work and started looking around at the other recently framed pieces in the shop. I was immediately drawn to a beautiful little watercolor. I went closer to take a better look. It was stunning! As I admired it I asked the clerk “who did this piece?” The shop owner quickly said. . . “Jack.” “Jack” I replied, “Jack who?” He looked at me with a puzzled look on his face and said “Jack Bryan.” I was speechless. After a few seconds I asked, “When did he do it?” I thought maybe he had finally seen the light and it was a new piece he had just finished. The clerk replied, “Oh, I think it is a really old piece. He brought it in to frame as a gift for his parents.” By this time he was finished with my work and I took it and left. I could think of nothing else for days. If Jack could do work like that, I mean amazing work like that, better than anything I was doing at the time, then why, oh why, was he choosing to do the work that he was doing? What a perplexing question. The only conclusion that I could come up with was maybe I better start listening and trying to understand! I don’t think this would have been impactful or game changing if it had been anyone else’s work other than Jack’s! Anyone else’s work and I would have been inspired to match the quality, but Jack possessed the skills to make “prettier pictures” than I, yet chose not to.

[caption id="attachment_758" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Leaves / watercolor / 1969 Leaves / watercolor / 1969[/caption]

I had a great semester at home. It was a welcome relief from the pressure of OU. It was good to be surrounded by family, friends and most importantly love number one. Speaking of love number one, things were really cooking, full blown wedding prep, picking churches, picking silver patterns, china, number of guests, colors, bridesmaids, groomsmen, wedding cakes, you name it we were picking it. Luckily, I played the dumb guy card and let her make most of the decisions. It was a busy and exciting time. The semester flew by with a lot of advancement with love number two. Quite frankly, there was a lot of personal confusion mixed with a lot of thought about what Art really was and what was important. It’s the first time I had experienced this problematic aspect of love number two. Prior to this, I gave it very little thought, I just did. The only concept was trying to improve technique so each picture could be “prettier.” Now, I was wondering if pretty was important or even necessary. This question would become an ongoing battle with my process for the next 44 years. I worked on a few more pieces that were inspired by the success of the Rauschenberg inspired painting using American icons and symbols. One elaborate piece consisted of two paintings and two graphite drawings on panels hinged to a central multi-pain Plexiglas center. Toward the end of the semester a local Lawton shopping center sponsored an outdoor art festival. At the time it was the largest art festival in the area. I entered the festival and was awarded the “Best of Show” award for my booth, which consisted primarily of the recently finished Americana paintings. This was my first recognition that wasn’t “pretty pictures.” This obviously added to my confusion but it was a great way to finish the semester.

It was finally here, the summer of 1969. “Summer Of ‘69” I got my first real six-string Bought it at the five-and-dime Played it ‘til my fingers bled It was the summer of ‘69 Me and some guys from school Had a band and we tried real hard Jimmy quit and Jody got married I shoulda known we’d never get far Oh when I look back now That summer seemed to last forever And if I had the choice Ya - I’d always wanna be there Those were the best days of my life Ain’t no use in complainin’ When you got a job to do Spent my evenin’s down at the drive-in And that’s when I met you yeah Standin’ on your mama’s porch You told me that you’d wait forever Oh and when you held my hand I knew that it was now or never Those were the best days of my life Back in the summer of ‘69 Man we were killin’ time We were young and restless We needed to unwind I guess nothin’ can last forever, forever, no And now the times are changin’ Look at everything that’s come and gone Sometimes when I play that old six-string I think about you, wonder what went wrong Standin’ on your mama’s porch You told me it would last forever Oh and when you held my hand I knew that it was now or never Those were the best days of my life Back in the summer of ‘69 Everything in the lyrics of this song by Bryan Adams didn’t happen to me. I got my first six-string in ‘65 not ‘69 and I never played it till my fingers bled, maybe that’s why I’m not very good. In fact not much of this song reflects “my summer of 69” except “Those were the best days of my life.” Jo (love number one) and I spent most of the summer getting ready for the big event. It was a big and beautiful event with lots of friends, even more family and a few memorable twists. You know when you look back on important milestones in your life, some of them stick out and almost become family legends. Our wedding was one of those. The church was Jo’s childhood church and we booked it earlier in the year. We didn’t think about the August heat being a problem because the wedding was inside. What we didn’t know was the church had a policy of not turning the air conditioning on until two hours prior to the event. Jo’s Step-Dad had a custom homemade wedding cake made for us as a gift. It was an elaborate four tiered classic wedding cake with butter icing. It was a thing of beauty. I had only seen cakes like this in the movies. It was delivered shortly after noon to the reception hall at the church. The Hot Church! At about 3:00, the heat started melting the butter icing. The tiers started shifting. . .Well, you guessed it; the cake fell in the floor! Later that afternoon, just as I was about to leave to go to the church, I got a very frantic call from Jo. She was sobbing and I barely could understand her. I finally made out “The cake fell in the floor.” I tried to console her but it was hopeless. I told her I would be right down and try to do something about it. By the time I got there her Mom and Step-Dad had already sprung into action. He had called the lady that made the cake and she immediately came down. When she arrived and after she stopped crying she got busy and sent every available person at the church to all the bakeries and grocery stores in town to purchase every plain white cake that was available. They found only one! She carefully pulled the second tier out of the middle of tier number one where it had fallen. Tiers three and four were in the floor, so there was nothing to do but clean those up. She carefully re-shaped tier number two and patched it with more icing then took the one small new cake, iced and decorated it and placed it on top and we amazingly now had a three layer classic cake. Wheeew! Disaster diverted. By the way we had cake left over and still had the top tier to freeze and keep for our first anniversary. . .and we built a legendary memory! [caption id="attachment_762" align="aligncenter" width="728"]God Bless America #1 / acrylic / 1969 God Bless America #1 / acrylic / 1969[/caption]

We went on a short honeymoon and when we got back we moved, yep you guessed it, up I-44 to Oklahoma City. Jo already had a job and I was about to re-enroll at the University of Oklahoma to continue my pursuit of love number two.

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