The Warning

Older people always think they know better and so often they do. Many times they don’t.

"Let Me Tell You"
Let Me Tell You, oil on canvas, 48" x 60", 1980

 

I recall a time many years ago when I had a gallery in Provincetown and was presenting a beautiful show of monotypes by Tony Vevers. Each monotype depicted the three graces, each celebrating in some way. It was a grand opening on a warm summer evening and everything went well – until the next evening.

Some time before 9 pm, the chief of the Provincetown police and his partner swaggered into the gallery eating double headed ice cream cones, chocolate and raspberry flavors. Fully armed with night sticks, guns, badges, handcuffs and the ubiquitous yellow line running down their pants. They walked around the gallery looking at the monotypes while slurping their dual flavored ice cream cones – and snickering.  The chief came over to me and asked what I called this work. I told him that it was a form of printing known as monoprint, which means each was one of a kind. He said no, what I mean is, What is it? I told him it is art. He responded, well, I’ll tell you what I think it is. I think it’s pornographic.

I was a little taken aback and asked what is pornographic about them? Any of the work that shows pubic hair, he answered. Well, there were none that were void of pubic hair. He demanded that I close the show at once. I told him that we were to close at ten.  Now, he said, and left.

It was just around 9 pm at this time. I was perplexed and thought maybe they were having me on, though it seemed they were serious enough. I took a chance and did not start closing until five to ten. The police returned at ten as I was shutting down the lights. They walked right in and said, I told you to close. I am closing, I answered. Well, if this exhibition opens tomorrow, both you AND Tony Vevers will be arrested. On that, they left.

I thought the best thing to do was to find Tony, he was older than me, to find out what we should do.

Now, Tony was at a party at Fritz Bultman’s, a second generation and second rate abstract painter who was second rate in my estimation and I was not fond of his superior attitude towards younger painters. I picked up my wife Irene and proceeded to Bultman’s house, high on a hill with many, many steps up to it. Finally, I found Tony and told him of our plight with the police. This caused big excitement all around and every one had an idea. Fritz said not worry, he would call Anthony Taver, a selectman at the time. I told Fritz I did not feel that was the right thing to do and that it was a bit underhanded. Fritz flew into a rage. With one hand pointed to the sea, he told me to get off his property. Off Irene and I went down the long stairs. I realized how Adam and Eve must have felt being ejected.

Hudson Walker heard about our plight and offered his assistance by providing a lawyer. We met with the lawyer the very next morning, which happened to be a Sunday. Walker suggested we close because it was Sunday and Massachusetts had blue laws. No. I thought that would be capitulating to the police. Finally, with a compromise we would open but with a sheet halfway up the window. I have to say I wasn’t fond of this idea but I gave in to the older and supposedly wiser. After all, Norman Mailer had just had a run in with the police and won his case against them.

That night, we opened. The art community had heard of it and turned out in support. No one came in, everyone sat across the street waiting for the police to show. It was eerie. I felt like a goldfish.

Then, with a great rush of air, in walked Hans Hoffman, the renowned painter who seldom came to town. He walked around and looked at the work. Then he slowly turned to me and asked for paper and pencil. With a great flourish, he wrote a declaration of innocence stating that the nude could be found all through Europe – in the Vatican, the Louvre and in all major museums. He signed it and left. The crowd poured in and signed Hoffman’s manifesto.  Some of those signers were Milton Avery, Myron Stout, Walter P Chrysler, Karl Kanaths, Claes Oldenburg, Chaim Gross, Edith Ziegler. And me.

The show went on.

The Sap Is Rising

 This winter has been a tough one here in Pennsylvania. I believe there were even a few records shattered. It seemed endless. Now it’s almost spring. 

 

"Spring"
Spring,

 As expressed in this painting, the plants and living creatures have all come back to life and the birds are all a twitter.  It is really a grand time of year.

 An old English song celebrates this time of year. It lets you know that spring has arrived and it goes like this.

 Between the acorn and the elm with a hey

 and a ho and hay nonny no,

  true lovers love the spring.

 In the springtime, the one and only spring time

  when birds do a sing

 hey ring a ding a ding

 true lovers love the spring.

 

Yes, we have come out from under the covers as the daffodils and crocuses have come out from under last year’s dead leaves. 

 There is a force that is hard to miss in spring. The fall kind of peters out slowly in all of its blazing glory, but the spring lets you know it has arrived with a bang. It reaches skyward, bursting into color. Insects are suddenly buzzing around. Birds have come back and are busy mating. People have shed their layers of armor against winter’s harsh, dark and cold days. Women are competing with the flowers in their light dresses.

 Painting can capture and hold these precious moments. In the dead of winter I can look at Vincent van Gogh’s painting of Irises and feel the sap rising. I don’t have van Gogh’s Irises, but I do have my own interpretation of spring that I can gaze upon in the dead of winter and think of the sap rising.

Painting the Bond Between Mother and Child

 Painting and family – the keys to life?  Bill Barrell thinks so. 

The Mother and Child
Mother and Child, 36" x 26", 1980

–  … I have two beautiful grandchildren, Ruby and Oliver. 

 One day soon after Ruby had been born, my daughter Liza brought her by the studio for a visit.  They were both exhausted and soon nodded off together. It was as if they were still attached while in their peaceful slumber. Forever tied together, neither letting the other one out of sight or touch even in their sleep. It was a very serene and touching moment that poured itself out later with great ease onto the canvas. 

“Mother and Child” has always been a favorite subject for so many artists. Mary and Jesus were favorites of the Rensaissance artists, but I am sure there are depictions of mother and child long before that.  It is a very touching moment in time to see the mother become ready to defend her newborn to the death and the father who now has to provide for the pair of them. It is a tremendous bonding time and the first step of building a family, a unit that comes together to be one of the many units of which the world is comprised.  

I have always enjoyed family life. I do not hesitate to take a page out of Picasso and Braque’s book to express my telling about the people and things around me. Much of my work has been about my family and everyday objects surrounding us and  I will continue to record their journey through life by painting my family. –

The Wine Cellar of the Mind

  –  Upon entering my studio one night, I sat for a while in the dark. There was no ambient light, I could see very little of anything. 

Flat Studio, oil on canvas, 64" x 70", 1988
Flat Studio, oil on canvas, 64" x 70", 1988

While I sat there in the dark, I had the feeling that there was a presence. It was as if I was being watched, as if I were in a jungle and there was a hidden presence observing me – waiting for me to move. Finally, I switched on the lights and the place sprung to life. Paintings finished and  half finished, the paint table in a disorderly mess, my chairs scattered where I had last used them.  It all recorded in my mind like a flash photo.

Images seen are often salted away for years. it is like laying away a fine wine in the cellars of the mind to be opened at the right time. I believe my wine cellar of the mind is full of observations that are aging and waiting for the right moment to be dusted off and opened.

This painting, “Flat Studio”, was hauled up from my mind cellar and recaptures one of those moments very clearly.  There is a  feeling that I could reach into the painting and turn it off. The light has caught all the shapes in the studio by surprise.  They are halted in space with a feeling that the moment you switch off the light, like naughty children at bedtime, they will spring into action. The boxes, pots and brushes jump from the table into the light. Two dark shapes are parted as if to allow more light into the stage set. Easels, ladders, table legs and corners of paintings appearing from behind one another flatten out and try to ward off any attempt of perspective. 

 It was a fine moment that I caught that night and it was stored away in  my mind cellar for ten years or so before I painted “Flat Studio”.