Thursday, May 29, 2014


Oil on canvas, 68"x44", 2014
I was going to call this post “The Aging Artist,” but I decided “The Ageless Artist” was more accurate. Picasso was once quoted as saying that an artist remains thirty his entire life. Unfortunately, I can’t find the source of the quote, but it sounds like something he would say. He certainly remained “thirty” his entire life, churning out hundreds of brilliant, powerful paintings well into his nineties…

 Picasso wasn’t alone; Mattisse worked to the bitter end, doing some of his best and freest work while bedridden, crippled by arthritis. He compensated for not being able to hold a brush by having chalk on a stick tied to his hand. Most aging artists manage to work well into old age, compensating for physical limitations and fading eyesight with freer technique. Yes, their work changed, depending on the nature of their infirmities, but the quality of the art they produced did not diminish. Klee, for example, his work became larger, freer, more “primitivistic” to compensate for his loss of motor function. The work was different, because he was no longer the same physically, but brilliant nonetheless.

Cut-out oil on canvas, 66"x28", 2014
Now, as I approach old age (it’s only a number), I find myself tiring more quickly. I stained a large 4’x6’ canvas today, rubbing a thin coat of umber paint over the entire surface; it went well but I had to take a long nap afterward. Eyesight is another problem for “us” aging artists, although recent improvements in eye treatment have made this less troubling than in the past. One has only to compare the tight, detailed work done by the Old Masters when they were young with the looser work of their later years to realize the importance of loss of vision at a time when glasses and surgeries were unavailable. To briefly name a few of the great ones whose work became so loose it was almost abstract toward the end of their lives, you come up with quite a roster (and this is only off the top of my head) Rembrandt,  Turner, Titian, Goya, Hals, Degas, Cezanne.. I used to think that this fluidity in later life was the result of greater proficiency; as an artist got older, he was able to do more with less effort. That’s only partly true; what if it was mainly a matter of not being able to see so well?

Now that I no longer have children at home, a husband to care for, a job at the University that requires my presence, I am free to rush into the studio every morning, eager to see what  a day of painting will bring. Sometimes, nothing worthwhile appears, other times I dance around paintbrush in hand. I feel young and elated - maybe not quite thirty the way Picasso predicted, but close. I’m always looking around for new ideas, new subject matter.

Oil on canvas, 68"x44", 2014
One night, over a year ago, I tuned in on Charlie Rose on Channel 13 at 11 p.m., just as the image of his ‘guest of honor’ flashed onto the tv screen. There, I saw an ancient crone, a woman with artificially dyed red hair in an unbecoming flapper bob, heavy makeup; thick, painted eyebrows; she looked like she had been dug up from the grave. “Who the hell is that ghoul?” I thought. Then Charlie introduced her: Francoise Gilot, a 92 year old French painter who had been Picasso’s mistress for many years.  When she began to speak, everything changed; she became young and beautiful. She flirted with Rose, told wonderful anecdotes in a charming French accent about life with Picasso, described her artwork and her upcoming exhibit at a major gallery in New York City. Within minutes, she had become a thirty-year-old enchantress,  “The only woman,” she stated with a twinkle, “to ever leave Picasso.” (He never forgave her.) I could image her to this day with a trail of adoring men behind her. What a lesson in how a creative spirit never grows old!

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