Railroad Bridge, 12 x 14 inch instructional study, oil on canvas, 1980
I was surprised at the extent to which the staff at the Texas Capitol Visitor's Center had leaned on my early works in putting their version of my Ode to East Texas show together. My own use of these works at the show's stop in Shreveport had been a matter of acknowledging my artistic debt to teachers like Don Brown and Willard Cooper. But in Austin they were chosen by others as standing on their own merits. To me that is something of a shock.
Looking back, I can see that I did, as a young artist, produce a good number of very competent paintings. At the time, though, what was easiest for me to see was the number of failures- experiments gone awry on the one hand and times a conventional effort just didn't work on the other- I painted. That creative anxiety haunted my early years.
Friday, as I was explaining the show, a visitor from New York commented on how many works I had produced in my early years. It occurred to me what a debt I owe to Willard Cooper I can never repay. As I transferred into Centenary from Lon Morris College Willard had been leery of my prior artistic education. While I had had an earlier painting class he made me qualify into his painting class with life drawing in my first Centenary semester, And, he said that for my senior show (a large part of my degree program credit) I would have to produce fifty works in a variety of media, all framed and ready to show. My graduating sophomore show at Lon Morris had been fewer than twenty-five works. For the next two years I had no time for insecurities.
My son, a black belt in martial arts, has spoken about competence being a matter of doing a thing "ten thousand times". Despite temptations to paralysis from anxiety over my abilities, Willard Cooper made me do the metaphorical ten thousand repetitions. Thus, despite a large percentage of youthful whiffs, he made sure I would do a lot of solid paintings.