Old Friends. Ibiza 1962

Bob Thompson. Carol Thompson. Bill Barrell. and Irene Barrell.
Bob Thompson. Carol Thompson. Bill Barrell. and Irene Barrell.


Rummaging through old drawing books I came across a gauche I did in Ibiza Spain. It is of Bob Thompson and his wife Carol, my wife Irene and me.

We had many dinners together. One time we arranged to have a succession of dinners between four friends. The idea was to have dinner at each others houses, or Fincas ( farms ), and outdo each other.

Each dinner got more and more exotic as it came about. Frank Swaky and his wife Jean topped our fish dinner with a roast leg of lamb with mint sauce and roasted new potatoes.

There was a funny incident at Bob and Carol’s dinner.  Carol had planned a curried rice and shrimp dish. She had everything arranged and looked around  for the shrimp that she had precooked only to find an empty plate. Bob confessed to eating them earlier in the day while painting not realizing they were for the dinner.  So he said. Nobody quite believed him. So we ended up with just curried rice and vegetables but topped off with a fine caramel flan.

We would sit and discuss art into the wee hours of the morning, comparing the abstract artists in the US such as Kline ,de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and the newer figurative artists like Alex Katz, Red Grooms , Yan Muller , Bob Beauchamp and Tony Vevers, with the European artists such as Appel , Alashinsky, Soulages and of course Picasso, Braque , Miro and all the other great masters were bantered about, often recording the  evenings in our drawing books.

I forget who took the honors, but each dinner was very memorable. None of us had much money but there was no shortage of wine, brandy and hashish.  Fundador brandy. We would say, ” It’s fun to pour with Fundador. ” It would give me a vicious hangover but would leave Bob unfazed. If there was beer around Carol always kept one on the side for Bob in the morning. He would be up painting in the morning while I would be nursing a throbbing head.

” In the Spring time the one and only ring time when birds do sing hey ding a ding a ding true lovers love the Spring”

Orchids, 24 x 29 inches, 2014, oil on canvas, $3800.00

That’s part of an old English ballad.

This year has been an endless winter here in the Northeastern part of the US. Snow that stayed around forever. Parking lots are still full of the stuff that could be here until July.

So here is a work to celebrate Spring.” ” Orchids ” With a hey and a ho and a hey nonie no, true lovers love the Spring” Part of that old ballad by William Shakespeare, I think.

Painters Sometimes Wish They Had Eight Arms

beneith (3)I have a young artist living in my building,”Bullseye Arts” He is a great tenant and a dedicated artist. His name is Joey Gourniak.

Joey Gourniak paints in many different styles. I would have liked very much to have talked about his more abstract and funky work than this one he sent to me. There is one painting of an octopus that makes me think of a painter with eight arms.  I personally appreciate his more abstract work than the one he sent to me shown here, “Changing Limits From Beneath The City”. But, I’ll work with what I have.

Here, we have Joey Gourniak as he saw himself as an innocent young boy, but with budding sexual desires. Scantily dressed young women appear in these works popping up like spring flowers and very pleasing to the eye. Octopus swim around in the city air with their eight arms trailing and reminding me of a Spanish saying, “God made one mistake, he should have given us one finger and five penises” These octopus trail through the air forming huge eyes along with the tail of a whale that form an inquisitive face descending from the sky that is full of planets. These works tend toward design and one wonders if these works were pushed more toward Art Nouveau that they would benefit greatly from the more fluid approach of that movement – Gustav Klimt’s glitter, Alfonse Mucha’s swirling hair and Lautrec’s humor and shadow play.

Joey Gourniak’s abstract work is a much deeper approach and a direction I hope to see him going. Perhaps, like his octopus, he will sprout more arms and be able to cover more bases. Next time I hope he will send me some of the more down to earth paintings, paintings that I feel form the bedrock of his art and show the more humanistic feel for art.


Gerhard Richter’s Father

Gerhart Rickters father . 2014I recently read a short article in the New York Times about the artist, Gerhard Richter. The article mentioned that he is the most famous living artist.  Maybe, so it says.

He and I are both artists. We are the same age, both born in 1932. Yet we come out of very different back grounds. I was born in London, England, he in Dresden, Germany and  I am intrigued by this.

 The English summer in 1939 was said to be one of the most glorious summers England had seen . For me it was . My father had a job on the London Transport as a conductor. Not much of a job but coming out of a depression, it was very secure. We had moved from a drab apartment in Camden Town to North Finchley London, which was paradise, a house with French windows looking out to a small but beautiful garden.

My father had an allotment which is a small plot of land rented for a small fee to cultivate. We had fresh fruit and vegetables all year. I learned so much from that allotment. I was in my formative years and the images from that allotment I feel have influenced my work. That bucolic paradise was brought to an abrupt halt in 1939 by Adolf Hitler.

I wonder what Gerhard Richter was doing at this point.

War broke out. Dad went into the army, my mother was left with four kids and we had to move into a drab council house. It was a shock. So much changed. We went from playing on what we called Rocking Horse Hill where blackberries grew to playing on pavements where nothing grew but a few weeds. There was a cemetery across the street and we learned to sing “Touch your collar never swallow never catch the Fever ” as the hearses passed, pulled by shiny black horses.

Outside our building, called Willow House, a makeshift shed was built for testing gas masks.  We had been issued these gas masks in cheap cardboard boxes. We could look through the shed windows and watch people take off their masks to get a hit of gas. They and we came out with tearing eyes.

What was Richter doing at this point, I wonder.

We went on to suffer through the Blitz.  Like the glorious summer of 1939,  the winter of 1939 -40  was the coldest winter on record. My mother ended up in hospital with pleurisy and us kids, two girls two boys, ended up in Dr. Barnardo’s Home. We were prepared to be shipped to Canada  – hair cuts, new suits, tags and ready to go. But my mother would not sign the papers needed for us to go. She signed herself out of hospital and took us home. That ship we were slated to be on was sunk off of southern Ireland by a U Boat. It was a Red Cross ship. Few survived. We have been forever grateful to our Mum’s intuition.

Meanwhile, people in Germany were living quite well, or at least not being uprooted as we were. Rationing was hard on the British people and did not completely end until 1953. The Germans did not experience rationing till late in the war, then after that were helped out by the Marshall Plan, from which Britain got scant help.

Since the tough times we suffered due to the war, I have had a hard time understanding or warming to Germans. I try but something always wells up and I think of the child hood they disrupted, not just mine but millions of others. I even spent one year  in Germany in the RAF in 1950. It was in the small town of Buckeburg in the British sector. We where stationed in a barracks that had been a Gestapo headquarters, a four story brick building well appointed with heat and hot showers and no more than four to a room. I often wondered what it must have been like with the likes of Richter’s dad, who was in the SS, strutting around.

One of my jobs was running a garbage truck that picked up garbage from officers off camp housing. The three men who worked the detail seemed old to me, I was 19 , they where around mid thirties. They would criticize me and the English for not joining them against the Russians. At the same time, we would be driving by the death camp Belsen where these guys told me the gullies around the camp ran red with blood. They still did not understand why we did not join them. There was no arguing with them, they had a mind set.

I could go on about the way life was changed due to WW2 . How did it change Richter?

I counted eight schools and three evacuations and was out of school at age fourteen. Was Richter out of school at fourteen? We played cowboys and Indians with  bows and arrows and twigs for pistols. Richter talks of playing soldiers with real guns and wanting to march off with soldiers to war. 

Richter has a picture of his dad in uniform on his web site. It makes me sick to look at it and is the reason I did this painting of him. The gestapo where just plain evil. If you look closely he actually is grinning but he looks like the skull, the symbol they wore on their hats.

It is hard to forget what they did and I am not sure we should . Like the Jewish people, we must keep reminding ourselves that these situations could come about again. The sins of the father cannot be blamed on his children but the children must understand what havoc their fathers  caused and be forever reminded never to repeat it.

This painting is disturbing , but it is the job of art to remind us of these terrible times , as Goya did Picasso did and many other artists have done .

My work is not anywhere near like Gerhard Richter’s . He did a happening but that was years after we did happenings in New York City and Provincetown. He makes gigantic heroic paintings which seem to fit with the idea that the bigger the art work the bigger the price and the bigger the price, the bigger the fame.

But one must remember a painting is only as big as the emotion it emits .Too large can leave one wondering why. The painting by Michelangelo is huge in the Sistine Chapel. It is awe inspiring but does it evoke as much emotion and feeling as say van Gogh’s “Potato Eaters”  which is very small by comparison but in my estimation evokes more feeling. The Sistine Chapel was commissioned by the Pope to impress the masses on the importance of the church. The Potato Eaters by van Gogh was painted to show the condition the poor lived in.

I wish Gerhard Richter well as he is not responsible for his dad’s sins but he does have to live with the knowledge. I am glad to say I am happy not to have such a  burden to carry.

With all of his success, I am sure he suffers with doubts at times, as most artists do. We are both painting on a daily basis and still searching for that elusive truth at 81 years of age.