Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Source

Houses were always one of my favorite things to draw. At first I drew brightly colored idealized houses, then slowly I transitioned more into detailed line drawings. During my childhood, there were lots of abandoned and derelict Victorian houses in and around Philadelphia, and I began to be fascinated by their air of mystery and lost potential, their complex shapes and intricate detail. I wondered who lived in them, why they were left to deteriorate, and what might be discovered inside them. I made up stories like this one (illustrated, of course) about two similar houses. Why and how did one house become “haunted,” while the other was “unhaunted?”  

I think this fascination began at a certain point when the innocence of my very young childhood gave way to a gradually expanding awareness of the people around me, and to my distinctness as a human being. My parents and friends had their own lives, and they made decisions that did not always make sense. Because things happened outside my circle of knowledge, there were many mysteries to be solved, and I was a curious and determined person who drew things to understand them. For instance, I drew the same house over and over in great detail and from different angles as if that would help me to figure out what made it spooky, what was at the core of my fascination. I think this is where creative urge comes from—this awareness. You are not just satisfied by looking at something, you want to make your own story or painting or sculpture of it and thereby know it inside and out.

When I was about seven, I learned of an abandoned house up the valley from Miquon, my elementary school. It happened this way: a teacher told us we were going to hike up the stream that ran down the length of the valley to find its source. We hiked right up the stream in the water, past the boundaries of the school into unfamiliar woods--tangled and dense with honeysuckle and wild grape vines that climbed from tree to tree, bending them into unusual shapes, and enveloped the underbrush, weaving tunnels and rooms. The woods became more tangled as we hiked uphill into unknown territory. It seemed to take a long, long time. Finally we came to a stone springhouse that had a crack in the lower part of the wall, out of which water was pouring and flowing downhill between some rocks. This was the source of the Miquon Stream.

In front of us was a shell of a house. It was built on a hill that continued up behind it. The front of the house was supported by a series of thick stone piers. It was very long and straight, with short windows on the top floor. Part of the roof had collapsed and the interior was dark and hollow. The camp counselor told is that it had belonged to the family of two sisters who had taught at Miquon, and that it had burned down.  She took the kids to explore it but I refused to go in because I wasn’t sure it was safe and, besides, I was very sure it was haunted. While they were exploring I sat on a rock, memorized every detail of the house and half wishing I were exploring the ruins with the other kids.

For years after that I had dreams about hiking up the stream, through overgrown woods and, with each consecutive dream, finding the house and springhouse became more significant and more exciting. But I never actually went back to try to find it. I think I preferred the dream.

Years later, my children went to the Miquon School, and I served three years on the Board, During that time a large piece of property up the valley was coming up for sale, and the Board members arranged to see it. We drove up the hill, turned off onto a dirt road--and there was the house of my memory. It had been fixed up but everything else was the same with acres of tangled woods all around.

I was surprised by how well I remembered the house, and I felt a thrill at seeing it again, even though my memory of it had more magic than the reality. I wanted to paint the story of finding the house and the source of the stream. So I went back to the house and studied it carefully from different angles, figuring out how I could make the composition work.  The springhouse has been altered considerably, so I decided that in the painting I would change it back to the way I remembered it. The stream in the painting would be a composite of different sections of the actual stream, combined to show more dramatically how the water emerged from its source and to move the viewer’s eye from the foreground back upstream to the focal point. It would be more a painting of a memory than a literal copy of reality, but I would use the real elements as a basis for re-creating the memory.
The Source, oil on linen, 54" x 44"

As I planned this painting the symbolism became clear. Water is the source of life—literally, “water of life.” The girl is on a journey.  She’s climbing uphill from a tamer place to a more tangled, difficult place. She’s going from where the water is visible to where it’s barely visible to where it actually emerges from the ground into the light, from unconsciousness to consciousness. She is going from innocence to awareness. The house is shrouded in mystery and the girl is drawn to it. She doesn’t want to bring it into the light because that would dispel its mystery; she would rather envelop herself in the mystery and derive inspiration from it.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Solo Show May 2015

I'm so pleased and excited to announce my upcoming solo show at the Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia! The opening reception will be May 8th, 5-7 p.m..

Ways and Intersections is literally about “ways”—streets, roads, bridges, train tracks, rivers, creeks, and canals—that connect places, intersect, cross over and under each other, or run parallel to each other. 

The show will include a number of cityscapes of Philadelphia and scenes of areas immediately surrounding Philadelphia. The sizes will range from large aerial paintings to mid-sized studio paintings to smaller plein air studies. There will also be a few figurative paintings in the show.

The landscapes and cityscapes are nearly all from an elevated perspective.  From a high viewpoint, many things are visible that are not visible from ground level, and conversely many things that seem important from ground level fade into the background when viewed from above. From a high vantage point we can get a "different perspective" on things,  both literally and figuratively. 

"Ways and Intersections" is also about relationships between people and the individual paths of each person. In my figurative paintings I continue exploring themes based on my own experience and the  life-changing experiences I see happening to other people.  Our journey through life in all its ramifications is endlessly fascinating to me.

In the next room, the supremely talented Kevin Muente will be having his own one-person show, so come see his work, too. Hope to see you all at the opening!

Monday, March 30, 2015

An exhibition of Contemporary Children's Portraits opens in NYC

Portraits, Inc. has a new gallery and showroom in New York City. It's really more like a gallery, with rotating themed shows curated by Michael Gormley. So if you happen to be walking by 6 East 92nd Street (just east of 5th Avenue) and you see a ground-floor entrance with some portraits displayed in the windows, consider stopping in and seeing some of the extraordinary work by 150 of the nation's best painters of portraits and figures.

Their upcoming special exhibition is Our Great Hope: Contemporary Children's Portraits. Michael Gormley has chosen a variety of paintings to include in the show, and I'm pleased and honored to have my portrait, Ryan, hanging among them.

Please consider joining me and many of my charming and super-talented fellow artists and friends at the opening on April 9th from 6 to 8 p.m. If you can't make the reception, the gallery is open from 11:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Portrait of Alan Cohen, M.D.

Painting a portrait is always a unique adventure. When I get a commission and I first meet the person I'm going to paint, I feel like I'm entering unknown territory. I might know a little about the person from an online biography or things people have told me, but nothing prepares me for the actual face-to-face meeting. When I first met Dr. Cohen we talked about his career, his life and family, and what he wanted in a portrait. As usual I was taking notes in my little black book while trying to really look at him and get a feeling for his personality. Since I'm not a multi-tasker, this can be really difficult because I have to switch between writing, listing, and observing at top speed.

I imagine that the experience of entering unknown territory is similar for the person being painted. Dr Cohen chose me as his artist, but that's just the beginning. He might have decided he liked my work from looking at photos of other portraits, but will he like how I paint him? And what's the process like? Most people only have their portrait painted once. So not only do they not know what to expect, but also they are feeling this is a big deal for them, and as an artist I have to keep those things in mind.

The commission is a partnership between the artist and the client. The client will tell me what he or she wants, and I have to take that into consideration. On the other hand, I am inspired to paint someone a certain way, and I have to follow my own inspiration. So you could say that both the artist and the "subject" have a responsibility to respect themselves and the other person. It's important that they continue to communicate through the entire process if the result is to be a success.

The portrait shows Dr. Cohen in his office with Buddy, the unofficial and beloved therapy dog.  Behind him are several significant objects: a baseball, a photo of his granddaughter, and a globe which is rotated to show the location of his many travels. In his hand is an old VCR tape of "Hemo the Magnificent," the TV show he watched as a kid that inspired him to become a hematologist.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Happy 96th Birthday to Joe Krush!

If you are familiar with the "Golden Age" of children's fiction, the 1950s when books like The Borrowers and Gone Away Lake were written, you might remember the wonderful line drawings   that helped transport you into the worlds within these books.

They (and many, many more) were done by a husband-wife team of illustrators, Beth and Joe Krush. When I was a kid I wanted desperately to meet the Krushes, to see how they worked together and just to know them, because I had a feeling they would be as nice and interesting as their drawings indicated, and I wanted them to teach me how to draw like them. Beth's and Joe's drawings were so good (people and animals and even architecture with cool perspective angles) that it was impossible to imagine these books without their illustrations. It almost seemed as if they had written the books. Joe wishes he and Beth had been able to illustrate Harry Potter and I agree, that would have been amazing.

About eight years ago I finally called them up and arranged to meet Beth and Joe, and I am so happy I did. Here is a portrait I did of them:

Beth passed away several years ago at the age of 90, but Joe is now celebrating his 96th birthday. Today I stopped by at his house for a visit and mini-celebration. While I was there, I brought out my latest plan for a mull-figure composition because Joe is a master at this kind of thing. If there is a flaw in a composition, he will spot it. As I thought, he gave me some excellent advice.

The Krushes' work is so exceptional, and has touched the lives and hearts of so many people, it should be duly recognized. It is my hope that the Krushes' work will be honored in Joe's lifetime with a retrospective exhibit at one of the wonderful art institutions in the Philadelphia area.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What Does "Self-Taught" Mean, Anyway?

I always understood the term self-taught to mean, simply, that you had no formal art education. It does not mean that you've never been inspired or influenced by anyone, or that you didn't learn something from studying the work of another artist.

I don't exactly enjoy saying, “I’m a self-taught artist,” but I don't try to hide it, either. When I went to college there were no schools (at least none that I ever heard of) where an aspiring artist could learn traditional methods, so I had to pick them up myself as best I could. I'm sure many artists of a certain age range were in the same boat as I. When I say that I'm self-taught, it's only in response to the question, "Where did you go to art school?" I don't go around bragging because I don't see it as a bragging point. Someone actually accused me online of bragging about it and/or lying about it after I admitted I was self-taught in a podcast interview.

 I'm thrilled that so many ateliers have been established because now artists can get the kind of training I craved. However, the emphasis that is put on what atelier you went to, who you studied with, etc. today can have its drawbacks. There are galleries who use this as a selling point and don't want anything to do with artists who were not atelier trained because it helps them sell work to say it. There are artists who will snub you, criticize your work, and exclude you from shows of realist art because you are not formally trained, i.e. you are not "one of them." That's a pity because what the “Realist Movement” needs are more inclusive shows and a greater variety of galleries that show representational art.

Obfuscation abounds in the art world. There are artists who will let you believe they work only from life when they actually use photographic references. (I don’t have a problem with that myself and I often use them.) There are artists who say they studied with a long list of people without making a clear distinction between a short-term workshop and long-term intensive instruction. Whatever shortcomings I have, and I’m sure I have quite a few, at least I can say I don’t misrepresent myself. To be a good teacher it is important to reveal your process. To be a good example you need to be truthful. And to be honest with your collectors you need to let them know your background. When all is said and done, the artist’s work transcends the process and has a voice of its own.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Celebrating the Portrait as Art"

Nan Talking, oil on linen, 32" x 26"

When I was in my 20s I was told that portraiture was commercial art and that I could not be taken seriously as an artist if I kept on painting portraits. Having lived through that era, continuing to paint portraits while determinedly showing other work in galleries, it's satisfying to know the portrait is once again appreciated as fine art.

 Gary Haynes of Haynes Galleries takes portraiture and figurative art seriously. He attends the annual conference of the Portrait Society of America, and work by many of its award winning artists are hanging in his gallery. This month, Haynes Galleries will be hosting a group show:

Celebrating the Portrait as Art
April 18-May 24, 2014
Reception Friday, April 18, 5:00-7:30 p.m.
1600 Division Street, Nashville, TN

The show will open first in the Nashville gallery space and travel to Thomaston, Maine this summer. Here is a link to all the pertinent information:

I will have one portrait in the Nashville show. (I don't show in Haynes' Maine location since I show at the Dowling Walsh Gallery up the road.)

With portraits by many outstanding artists including Ellen Cooper, Lea Colie Wight, Aaron Westerberg,  Terry Strickland, Linda Tracey Brandon, Joseph Bolderer, Suchitra Bhosle, Diane Feissel, Alia El-Bermani, Stephen Bauman, Katie O'Hagan,  Lisa Gloria, Linda Lee Nelson, T. J. Cunningham, Cindy Procious, and many others, this will be a show worth seeing!