Friday, February 28, 2014


I think I told my readers this before, but my late husband, a Clinical Psychologist, once remarked that the reason I painted people so much was because I was an only child and wanted company. His remark came back to me on a recent snowbound day when I went into my studio and found myself surrounded by a half -dozen colorful characters. Plenty of company, I’m happy to say, all chattering away. Last week I talked about Brueghel’s “Wimmelbilder” paintings, “swarming with people” and couldn’t help but wonder if Brueghel had been an “only child.”

Today is another cold and miserable day and my driveway is covered with ice. My pathetic attempt to put kitty litter on it (no ice-melt to be found anywhere) has resulted in a bigger mess. A slippery, clay-like substance now coats the ice, making matters even worse. I may not get out until April. But that’s ok; I have two rolls of canvas in my studio and plenty of paint. This is as important to me as having milk and bread in the fridge. And as for company, I have all those characters on my studio wall. I put up a large piece of canvas, stain it with umber, take a piece of charcoal, and voila, I’m not alone!.  

Once I can get out, however, I will head straight to Curley’s Diner at Columbus Park for some real-live company. Upon arrival, I will be filled in on all that has happened since my last visit: who is getting divorced, is on drugs, pregnant, in the hospital, arrested. Between the poets who meet on Tuesday nights and the “regulars” who hang out during the day, there is plenty to gossip about. The waitresses alone make for a book; the politicians and lawyers, another. I’ve never been there after midnight, but I understand there’s an entirely different crowd then, even more colorful.

But since this is an artist’s blog, let’s talk about the diner from that point of view. Of course, when I refer to Curley’s, it’s not just that specific place. The world is filled with “Curley’s” and every neighborhood has its own. It is a universal metaphor for a home away from home, and, for an artist or a writer, an endless source of ideas. My theory about famous writers is that one of the reasons they eventually run dry is that they can no longer get material from ordinary hangouts like Curley’s; they become “too special” to take part in real life.

Do I ever sketch when I’m there? (there’s no shortage of material) Or, surreptitiously photograph the interesting crowd? I’ve tried many times, but here’s what happens: No matter how colorful my subjects are in real life, they refuse to be captured; the photos and the sketches turn out flat and boring. I have no idea why. I’ll show you them if you don’t believe me. On the other hand, when I stand in front of a canvas and conjure people up, they come to life. It’s like they need to pass through the filter of my subconscious and the camera and the sketchpad only get in the way.

Of course, if you feel like stopping by, I do enjoy real company. I will be happy to make you a cup of coffee and discuss art and life.  And by the way, many people I know with siblings would prefer to have been an ‘only child.’

Friday, February 21, 2014

POST #27: GEORGE WASHINGTON: Father of His Country?

Early in his career, the famous 16th century Flemish painter, Pieter Brueghel, (aka Peter the Droll) did a series of paintings known as “Wimmelbilder,” paintings teeming with life (peasant style). One of his most famous was called “Proverbs,” where he took over one hundred common sayings and illustrated them literally, i.e. “He pisses at the moon,” (meaning, attempts to do the impossible). When I taught Art History a decade ago, I would try to make the painting more meaningful by having the class take figures of speech they used all the time and illustrate them literally, the way Brueghel did.  It took a while for the class to catch on to the joke, but they quickly got into it and the results were often hilarious. Unless you stop to think, you don’t realize how often we use theses colorful colloquial expressions today: “armed to the teeth,” “the blind leading the blind,” or “throwing money out the window.”

Anyhow, for today’s subject, George Washington, (after all, his birthday is coming up), I decided to do a Brueghel-ian version of “George Washington, Father of his Country.” What if I took the phrase literally? After all, there were rumors during the Revolution that George, despite his reputation as a faithful spouse, might have cut a romantic swath through the female population of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Could honest, incorruptible George actually have been a womanizer? What if George Washington, Father of his Country, had some truth to it? Everyplace you go, you see signs that say “George Washington Slept Here,” but nobody says with whom.

And, that is how this piece came into being. I drew George (both on his pedestal and off) holding an American flag (of course) surrounded by a dozen very pregnant women of all sizes, colors shapes and ethnicities. Then I photocopied my drawings, enlarged them, cut them out, glued them onto foam core and created a 20”x30” maquette which I submitted to a show of “Women’s Art” in SOHO. I also blew the drawings up to life size on the architectural copy machine at Kinko’s, but never made them a free –standing installation. So far, they’ve remained rolled up under my worktable for about twenty years and since they are “politically incorrect,” (I’m an “equal opportunity” satirist), they’ll probably remain there until I die and somebody tosses them out.

In the meantime, let’s cut Washington some slack. To the best of our knowledge, all those mix and match babies in America have nothing to do with him,
(But then, one never knows).

Saturday, February 15, 2014


My husband, the psychologist, used to call them “gruesome twosomes,” couples who were so unhappy, you could never understand why they stayed together. And yet, stick together they did – anyone who tried to pry them apart quickly learned that their misery was a form of ‘crazy glue,’ once applied, impossible to remove.

I’ve known lots of “gruesome twosomes” over the years. Their bond survives emotional and physical abuse of the highest order, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt. I’ve known couples who haven’t spoken to one another for decades, or, if they did, it was only to insult or demean the another. I’ve known couples who haven’t touched one another in years (forget actual sex). Amazingly, their bond survives all challenges: infidelity (real and psychological), addiction, indifference and plain old mental cruelty. If one of the pair attempts to change, to make their lives better, the other fights tooth and nail to keep the status quo.
What keeps them together? What makes their relationship work while other, seemingly better relationships fail? And God forbid you suggest they might (after listening to them complain for decades) be happier apart, they will look at you as if you were crazy.  What? Take all the fun out of their lives?

For some strange reason, they make great subject matter for my paintings. George Grosz, my idol, the German Expressionist, drew some of the best ‘gruesome twosomes’ ever.  Although I never deliberately set out to draw them, they keep turning up in my work. Maybe it’s because there are so many of them around.


Saturday, February 8, 2014


I wrote about this subject previously when I discussed my problem finding good brushes. But it applies to everything else an artist uses. In the event you find a material that works for you, buy as much of it as you can afford. Otherwise, when you look for it a couple of months – or years - later, it might not be the same.

Many years ago, I created a series of over-sized linoleum blocks. I figured out a way to carve the linoleum easily (an electric iron on low heat makes it cut like butter.)  I even worked out a way to print the 22”x32” blocks without a press. While the prints were good, the blocks themselves were even better: rich, dark and beautifully textured.  A few months ago, an art dealer I know wanted to purchase the blocks, not the prints; she is looking for a way to cast and reproduce them.

But, back to my problems with linoleum. After about a year of creating some really powerful prints, I discovered I had “lost my touch.” Nothing worked any more. I was frantic. The rhythm, the fluidity of the cuts was gone; the blocks looked forced and brittle. I thought it was my fault. And then I ran into an old friend who taught printmaking at SUNY Purchase.  She explained that the composition of “battleship” linoleum (which was what I had been using) had recently been changed and that other printmakers were running into the same problem. Less linseed oil in the mix, no more Kaori tree gum? Who knew? The material looked the same, but apparently some key ingredient was no longer available or had become too expensive. If I had known this was coming, I would have stowed away a lifetime supply. I never carved another linoleum block again; it would have been a waste of time.

Another material I now have trouble finding is the right charcoal, those special hard sticks I used to use to put my drawings onto canvas. My best paintings begin as charcoal line drawings on a sepia-toned surface. When the drawing is right, I “fix” it and then apply oil glazes. But the drawing has to be perfect or what comes afterward never works. What can you do to spoil charcoal, you ask? Charcoal is charcoal; the cavemen used it. Normally, I work with hard sticks on gesso-covered cotton canvas. The rough texture of the two materials slows my hand down, forces me to compose shapes more carefully, more thoughtfully. Lately, however, I can only find thin sticks of soft charcoal, the kind that slides all over the canvas and the line it produces lacks subtlety. What happened to my hard charcoal? I promise you, if I find some again, I will buy enough to last a lifetime.