Friday, November 14, 2014


"Diner Goddess,"  oil on canvas, 68"x44" 2012
One of the most famous moments in movie history comes when Bogie chucks Bergman under the chin, looks at her lovingly and says: “Here’s lookin’ at ya, kid.” I think about that scene every once in a while when I’m working on a painting. When the figures on the canvas communicate with me (or each other) I know things are going right. I’m a great believer in “eye contact” in general. That’s why I never read notes when I lecture; I need to look my listeners in the eye to see if they understand me.

I’m intrigued with an artist’s ability to create life out of inanimate materials; it’s almost a God-given power, like Michelangelo’s depiction of God touching Adam’s hand on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. You see the beginnings of this kind of contact thousands of years ago in Prehistoric cave paintings, where the realistic depiction of animals was meant to bring them to life for the hunt. In one of my earliest blogs, I related the (apocryphal) story about the Renaissance sculptor, Donatello, who was known to scream at his statues “Talk! Damn you! Talk! It was as if he were performing an act of magic, infusing life into a piece of stone. I often do not regard a painting finished until the moment the figures come alive. They don’t have to talk only to me; I’m not possessive. I’m perfectly happy if, like Bogey and Bergman, they talk to each other.

Detail from Lower East Side
polyptych, oil on canvas, 2014 
What always surprises me however, is how few artists are interested in making contact between the figure on the canvas and the viewer (or creator.) They are denying a gift from the gods. During the late Middle Ages, depictions of Christ show him staring straight ahead or looking down sadly from the Cross. I must say I get a kick out of those modern-day interpretations of Jesus now found in gift shops and dollar stores where the eyes follow you. Talk of communication! Jesus is watching you! For the last 200 years, however, subjects tend to look directly at the viewer, maybe because of competition from photography. “Look at the camera! Smile!”

I love when I am successful at bringing someone to life on canvas: I dance around the room; I sing and talk to my paintings. Many years ago, I did some huge cardboard puppets drawn from local political figures – “Gangsters” I called them. I knew my drawings were complete when the figures spoke to me; unpleasant as they were, I had given them life.

"Restauranteur" from "Gangster Series." acrylic on box cardboard, 6'x3'

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