Friday, December 18, 2015


My artist friends rarely ask me to critique their work and I never offer anything more than ”Gee. That’s great! I like what you’re doing!” On the rare occasion when I am directly asked, I hem and haw and mutter platitudes. I just don’t feel I have the right to impose my vision on someone else’s work. I also don’t like other people telling me what to do. The last time I listened to an artist friend, it took six months to undo the damage. The only exception is my friend Elena who can actually take a brush to my canvas and make it better.

Teaching art in general is a treacherous business. You can learn the basic techniques in a couple of hours, but the remaining time you need to become proficient has to be done on your own. When we first moved to Fairfield County, decades ago, there were at least a half dozen hunky older men who taught bored housewives “watercolor.” All their students’ work looked alike, a bag of tricks taught to them by their mentor. Mostly, the guys were serial seducers; while it was amusing to watch them in action, it was  hard to consider them serious artists or art teachers.

The only one I knew who had any idea of what he was doing was a Hungarian emigre painter named Victor Candell. He wasn’t a particularly good artist himself but he was a master teacher, the Sigmund Freud of the suburban art scene. He taught a weekly seminar at the Greenwich Arts Center to a bunch of conservative matrons desperate to find their inner creative souls. I was the oddball in the class; I had actually studied art, but after being a ‘stay-at-home’ mom for several years, needed some help getting back up to speed. Candell taught me what abstraction really meant (I had been painting “Abstracts” for over a decade with no idea of what I was actually doing). I would never be doing the work I’m doing now without his guidance so many decades ago.

Anyhow, what brings this all to mind is an image a friend recently sent me of her latest work, an excellent example of Action Painting. She asked me to critique it, something I rarely, if ever, do. What could I say that would be helpful, not throw her off track the way someone had done to me decades ago?  After pondering a while, I realized what she needed to do and rather than my telling her, she had to get there on her own. The only way for that to happen was for her to work, day in and day out, until her conscious mind no longer controlled her hand and her subconscious, with all the suffering she had been through in her life, came through in her art. I gave her the example of Rothko who managed to infuse abstraction with intense emotion. That was where she needed to go, but I couldn’t tell her how; she had to get there on her own.

By the way, my suggestion that she plumb her emotional depths puts her completely out of step with the current art world.  There are no serious painters of note today. Everything is a gimmick, a spoof, a take off, a marketing ploy. If you want to know where today’s artists learned their craft, I recommend Sarah Thornton’s book of essays, Seven Days in the Art World, published in 2008, The piece de resistance is The Crit which describes a seminar at CalArts in Los Angeles, (one of the top art schools in the country) in which MFA students present their work for collective critique. I’m not going to tell you what happens; you have to read it for yourself, especially if you want to understand the current scene.

Anyhow, the bottom line is, I really hesitate to critique or advise anyone; I have enough trouble managing myself.  Can you imagine Cezanne asking Bonnard whether he should keep on painting apples? Maybe try pears?

Friday, December 11, 2015


I’m a typical Libran and I can’t make up my mind. I keep weighing pros and cons, should I or shouldn’t I? The only reason I ever got married is that a man came along (a Taurus) who took matters into his own hands and made the decision for me. After our third date, he announced that we were going to San Francisco on our honeymoon. No wiggle room there. He was a psychologist, not an astrologer but, without even knowing my “sign”, he knew what needed to be done. If he had left it to me, I’d still be deciding.

What’s so interesting is that for many years most of my women friends were Librans (born September 23 to October 22nd), in fact, two of my best friends had the exact same birthday, September 29th and several others were a week or two apart. We often had a Libra birthday party together and were remarkably similar in personality and interests. Of course, I don’t believe any of this. I didn’t believe in Tarot either, but a year and a half ago, when the Tarot card reader in California suggested I write about art, I started this blog and it was the best advice I ever received!

Most of the Librans I know are nice people; we’re very attractive to men (not to brag) and confident (ahem). The only problem we all have is this damn indecisiveness. Always weighing the pros and cons and having a terrible time making a decision. I need to make two major business decisions in the next few months and am struggling. I even wish I had a man around to make them for me; that’s how desperate I am!

The other problem we Librans have is that we have to keep our lives (scales) balanced and will go to great extremes to avoid conflict or disruption. When my life is in balance, I fly; when the scales are out of kilter, I can’t function. Since this is theoretically an “art” blog, this brings us, obviously, to the Principles of Design, the course every art student takes at the very beginning of his or her training). We are taught that a work of art needs to be “balanced,” however, unlike a math problem or an algorithm, there is no correct answer; it’s all intuitive, not mechanical. But a work of art,  like a seesaw, won’t work properly unless it is balanced, whether symmetrically or asymmetrically, either way, doesn’t matter. It seems to be intuitive, unexplainable, built into our DNA. I can look at a painting or a photograph and “know” immediately whether it is balanced or not. Maybe, all it needs is some more dark paint in the right-hand corner. Ah! Now it’s “right”.

Anyhow, let’s go back to Librans. Perhaps there is some perfectly good scientific explanation why we share personality traits. Maybe it’s as simple as being born a certain time of the year; as the days grow colder and shorter, more time is spent bundled up indoors. There’s a certain amount of hibernation that takes place in the months following our birth and maybe this causes changes in our neurological structure? Someday, science will solve the mystery of astrology and it may turn out to be the weather on earth, not the alignment of the stars. 

Friday, December 4, 2015


 One of the problems (which I fortunately don’t have to face) of being successful in the art world is that you get stuck in a style. The examples are legion of dealers asking artists to stay with the work that sells. Don’t blame the dealer; it’s a business to him. He’s not interested in the artist’s immortal soul; he just wants to pay the rent. There’s nothing worse that being told to do “another” painting like the one you just finished because there’s a customer for it. If that’s okay with you, then you should consider yourself a commercial artist, a perfectly legitimate trade, where you know from the getgo that you are providing a product and the buyer is determining the nature of the product. Most artists I know look upon a painting as a problem to be solved and once having solved it, are reluctant to keep repeating themselves.

On the other hand, most great artists loved variations on a theme. Like Mondrian, Cezanne, Monet; once they got something going, they were perfectly happy to explore it the rest of their lives. There are some artists, however who create problems for their dealers by wanting to stop painting the work the collectors want and move into new territory. Jackson Pollock was the perfect example. It’s sad when a successful artist gets boxed in my his success: mortgages, employees, property in Majorca, wives, ex-wives, disturbed children, all take their toll. Selling is no longer an option; it is a necessity….and that’s the end of any change or growth. They become captives of the market and their work deteriorates. Of course, like Basquiat or Modigliani, some artists solve the problem of repeating themselves by dying young, before boredom sets in.

This is a long-winded way of getting to the subject of today’s blog. If you haven’t been to my studio lately, you are in for a big surprise. The ditzy ladies, the corrupt politicians, the sultry sirens, the greedy developers have all been replaced by a kind of serene surrealism. That’s because I am finally moving away from my “day job” as a preservation consultant. I still plan to write a newsletter, but I am done with the battles. However, it was the battles that gave me subject matter, my “edge” and without them, I don’t feel the need for social criticism. The same thing happened to George Grosz when he fled the Nazis and came to America. He loved it here. He lost his raison d’etre and. I, having lost my “opposition” have retreated from reality into the unconscious. I’m now painting dreamy surrealist streetscapes, the kind of work people actually want to LIVE with. Although this is not my goal (never has been), I have been selling most of my recent work and find myself trying to talk people out of buying so I will have something for future shows. I tell them to tape their names on to the back of the canvases so they can claim the pieces later. My prices are still pathetically low (I’ve never been good at business) but before, I couldn’t give the work away. While people may have admired the old, satirical paintings as “art,” they didn’t want to be reminded in their living rooms the foibles of a corrupt society (which it still is) and that success usually goes to the least worthy among us, not the best.

I like the fact that as my life has changed, my artwork has changed with it. Every once in a while, I find myself going back to satire: pulchritudinous females, corrupt real estate developers and politicians. The results make me smile, but there isn’t the need for “revenge” any more. My head is literally in the clouds, painting imaginary cities that float in space. 

P.S. In bed at night, watching TV, I cut figures out of black kraft paper and in the morning, paste them onto paper plates (“Arte Povera” style) or put them on the overhead projector where they can be enlarged to monumental size. I have nothing to sell, but they are so breathtaking, I don’t care.
I haven’t missed a meal yet. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015


I don’t have to tell my readers, life is full of distractions. When was the last time any one of us had more than ten minutes to think without a text message coming through, a phone call or an e-mail that HAD to be answered AT ONCE!
Creative thinking requires concentration. You need to get into a state (now fashionably referred to as “flow”) where ideas filter through the unconscious mind and come out in new forms. I am often asked what I listen to when I am painting and my questioner is usually surprised to hear “Nothing. I require total silence.” There’s no such thing as “background noise” to me; any noise, especially the human voice, is a distraction.

Do I get lonely? Sure, but not while I’m working. I have to get into a creative zone before anything new and interesting emerges and that requires time and isolation. It might take a couple of hours before my hand relaxes enough to turn out something worthwhile. I have no idea how someone can paint in a communal art studio where you hear other people’s conversation and music. At least, I never could. The best solution I know is the old Paris cafĂ© where artists worked in solitude, (often, like Chagall and Picasso, locking their doors against visitors) and then spent the evening chatting with friends and colleagues. Studio visits (if any) were carefully planned so as not to disrupt “the flow.”

We live in a world of multi-tasking, another way of describing doing many things, not AT once – that is physically impossible - but rapidly switching from one activity to another. In addition, we are subject to endless distractions and become easily addicted to our electronics. You have only to watch people at a party sneakily checking their iPhones while appearing to converse with you. What are they expecting that can’t wait an hour or so? An invitation to be Cinderella at the Ball? It takes enormous discipline (which I don’t have) not to check my e-mail with ever increasing frequency. We start out being “connected” for good reasons: young children alone at home, your spouse needs to be picked up at the train, etc. and before you know it, you are hooked, an electronic junkie!

I find it interesting that  “mindfulness” and “meditation” classes are so popular nowadays, teaching people how to turn off the babble in the brain and just shut down. When the mind begins its chatter, you are told to “let it go,” empty your consciousness of thoughts and worries. “Breathe,” the teacher says, “Breathe.” It’s amazing how relaxing it is to just sit and breathe in and out; you become aware of how tense and ‘wired up’ you are. In one of the articles I read before writing this blog, the author suggested just letting your tongue hang out for a minute or two. She admitted you would look ridiculous, but said it was a great way to unwind. I may give it a try. If not, I’ll just “breathe.” The world isn’t going to miss me while I’m catching my breath.

P.S. During the hour or so I spent writing this, I received four phone calls, three from telemarketers. I didn’t answer any of them, but it was hard to get back my flow. Next time, I’ll turn everything off (or at least, I’ll try).

Friday, November 13, 2015


One of my sons recently “accused” me of having ADD or ADHD. “I don’t!” I protested, “I’m a creative. I just happen to have a short interest span.” Today, I would probably be medicated. I was fortunate to attend a public school in New York City that was one of five singled out to experiment with the teaching methods of the philosopher, John Dewey, the so called “Activity Schools.”  I was a perfect candidate since their dictum of “Learning by Doing” suited my lack of interest in rote memorization. I hated the highly disciplined teaching style I encountered later on in an all-girls Junior High School that was run like a nunnery. My husband (a clinical psychologist) was fond of saying that, given my hatred of routine and repetition, he had no idea how he lasted as long with me as he did (fifty years).

Anyhow, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to tame my tendency to wander when I have to and can apply my rear to the seat of a chair when it is required. I agree with my husband that my short interest span is not pathological, but simply a different way of doing things. If properly channeled, my creativity is enormously useful, especially if I can partner with someone who likes to fuss with the details. When I write something that needs to be technically perfect like the newsletter I write, I hand it over to my friend Colin who whips it into shape, not a comma out of place. And with artwork, the guy who rakes my leaves has turned out to be a perfect studio assistant; he can stretch canvases like nobody else I have ever seen.

Many years ago, I had a friend who owned a highly successful state-of-the-art engineering company with about thirty employees. He had a theory about hiring that worked very well for him and, now that I think about it, works for me. He hired people whom he designated as “Starters” or “Finishers.” These qualities rarely appeared in one person and by not demanding that his employees be able to do both well, he got the best out of them. The Starters had brilliant, innovative ideas, but got bogged down and unhappy when they had to deal with details and implementation. On the other hand, there were people who were great at follow-through, but couldn’t come up with a creative idea if their life depended on it. By separating the functions and giving them to people who were good at what they did, he came up with some amazing innovations in the field of telecommunications and his company did exceedingly well.

The point is, I’m a Starter. I’m good at coming up with new ideas, but get bored when the creative part is over. I’m happiest when accompanied by a “Finisher,” somebody who likes the details, getting everything right. I have no patience for follow up and, as my parents used to complain, I have no “sitz-fleisch,” meaning, no meat on my behind.

Friday, November 6, 2015


I was originally going to write about the humanist tradition in art. You know. Giotto, Brueghel, the Social Realists of the Thirties, going all the way back to the ancient Greeks. But then, after perusing recent art magazines and going into a bunch of New York art galleries, I don’t know that there’s much humanism around. There’s a lot of minimalist, abstract painting: big, decorative canvasses that look good in loft apartments, as well as some large-scale public environmental art plus a good deal of Pop-ish, cartoon-derived stuff. There’s also a slew of larger-than-life, digitally modified photographs and paintings that look like photographs. Not much that could be defined as humanist but then, why should there be? To parody the old theater cliche: Humanism (especially in the form of social satire,) is what closes on Sunday. There’s no market for it.

When the rare occasions when figurative art does appear and images of people are used, the work is either incredibly angry and distorted or so sentimental and clichĂ©  that I cringe – end up wishing the artist had stuck to colored squares. So, where have all the humanists gone, the ones who genuinely care about people? The same place as everywhere else in our society, replaced by cheap thrills and computer-driven technical tricks. To explain what’s going on, you have to look at the “art market” (and it is nothing more than a market.) Who buys art anyhow? . The “Common Man” spends his hard-earned dollars on 60” flat screen TVs. He doesn’t need ‘pitchas’ on the wall? And, if he does feel a desire for some real art, he can always pick up a giclee print for a coupla bucks at WalMart. Looks just like a genuine Van Gogh, down to the 3D brushstrokes.

Through most of the history of art, work was produced for the aristocracy and the church. They were sophisticated buyers, quite knowledgeable (and self promoting). Except for brief periods in the Netherlands during the 16th and 17th centuries, the activities and feelings of ordinary people were rarely depicted until the mid-1800s, when they appeared as part of broader, socialist- based movements that extolled the Working Class and their everyday life. Humanism showed up in German Expressionism after World War I and during the Great Depression in the thirties. Remnants survived into the 1950s but got knocked out for good during the McCarthy political era where any art that sympathetically depicted  “real” people was suspected of ties to radicalism.

There’s no trace of humanism in the art world today, except for isolated throwbacks with leftover ideals and an out of date interest in the real (not electronic) world. Conspicuous consumption and meaningless art is expressive of the time we live in and is the order of the day. Even a die-hard humanist (like your blogger) finds herself moving away from reality and into the safety of dreams. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015


I finally got down to the Lower East Side to catch up with the latest art district in New York City. I’ve lived through Greenwich Village (my teens and twenties), Soho (my thirties), Chelsea (my forties), Noho etc. in more recent decades. The area is supposedly the last bastion of affordable gallery and studio space in Manhattan proper although gentrification appears to have won another battle. In addition, an  ever-expanding Chinatown has taken over large chunks of the area and while certainly  clean and respectable, lacks the colorful grunginess I once loved.

Anyhow, I was told to check out the new epicenter of the New York Art world, my old stomping ground, the Lower East Side. I was informed I wouldn’t recognize it. Truthfully, I didn’t, and I didn’t much like what had taken its place. It was as if all the life had been sucked out of the area; the buildings are mostly the same but the old zest isn’t there. Even the art scene is surprisingly lifeless. The once-crowded streets are now largely empty, even of cars (no reasonably-priced places to park) and the jumble of tacky businesses that gave the area its character is gone.  We saw only a few fabric outlets, (a reason for past visits); the antique (junque) stores on Allen Street have disappeared as have the flophouses on the Bowery and their haunted clientele. Only a handful of restaurant equipment stores that once lined the street remain. No more “outlets’ that sell discount bags and name-brand clothing. With few exceptions, gone are the ethnic food stores and restaurants. Even the lively signage that once characterized the area has been cleaned up, with only a few “ghosts” from the past still around. It was obvious, ethnic cleansing of a cultural sort has taken place. I never thought I’d live to say this but the Lower East Side has become “boring” and I still have the photos I took fifty years ago to prove it.

Since the purpose of the trip was not to revisit old haunts but to check out the latest in the New York art scene, I am sad to report that that too was a disappointment. The only reasonably interesting work was at the New Museum on the Bowery. And most of that wasn’t new but done around 25 years ago. The museum featured a multi-floor exhibit by a Chicago/LA eccentric accumulator, Jim Shaw who specializes in collecting amateur art from thrift shops plus some oversized cartoon-y installations of his. On the ground floor was a room full of extremely “anxious” paintings by another Chicago artist (whose name I forget) that dates from the ‘70s. Is this the “New” museum’s idea of cutting edge? Isn’t there anything current they want to show? But, based on what we saw elsewhere in the neighborhood, probably not. The only exciting exhibit we came across was by an Aborigine artist from Australia. Talk of anxious-looking art, these win the prize. Thousands and thousands of tiny dots in radiating patterns, but at least well done and original. We went to a dozen galleries and frankly, I don’t even remember what we saw.

Next we’ll try Brooklyn. Maybe there’s something worthwhile there. One of my sons has an artist friend called Chico MacMurtie who bought an abandoned church in Red Hook where he builds life-size performing robots. They recently played at his wedding.

Now, that sounds interesting!

Friday, October 23, 2015

POST #103: TO TELL OR NOT TO TELL: the artists’ dilemma

I recently (by sheer accident) invented a new printing process. It looks like drypoint but doesn’t need a $5,000 press or special plates and tools or paper. All you need is an inexpensive laser printer, a digital camera and a computer.  Here I was, just playing around with the printer and I got something that knocked my socks off, literally took my breathe away. I feel like such a total fraud but the results look like the moody cityscapes done by WPA printmakers in the 1930s. If I put them in nice frames they look like real prints and are so exquisite anyone who sees them wants to buy one (unlike my paintings that need nerves of steel and 12 foot high walls.) I recently showed a few of them to a well-known printmaker and she ordered me to copyright my process. When I hesitated, saying “I don’t do copyright,” she said, “well, at least write about it. Stake a claim.” So that’s what I’m doing. The process is cheap and simple and when you put a mat over the print and stick it into a faux-fancy frame, it looks like something you just bought at Swann Gallery for a coupla grand.

I have mixed feelings about artists hiding their methods. Secrecy about one’s work is kind of a leftover from the Medieval guilds where techniques and materials were passed down from generation to generation. I truly believe that it’s not the technique but the artistry that ultimately matters. Picasso once did a series of paintings on clear plastic panels so the camera could watch him from behind. I could look at that film forever and still not be Picasso. 

While we’re on the subject of artists hiding their methods, let me tell you about Mark Rothko. I adore Rothko (one of the few of that era I do admire) and was always curious about his methods, his materials. A few years ago, I read a definitive biography of his life, 500 pages. Named everyone he ever slept with but not a word about how he worked. Did he prestretch canvas?  Underpaint? Mix his paints with varnish? Not a single word. I was telling someone who knew Rothko personally and he explained that Rothko was notoriously secretive about his methods, never even allowing his assistants to be in the studio when he worked. I can’t understand why. His work came from a spiritual place inside him, not from how he mixed his paint.

But let’s go back to my original dilemma. Should I stake a claim or let my technique go out into the universe? I have a friend who taught printmaking for many years at a major art school. During that time she came up with a monoprint method that kept the original painting intact while creating a reverse print, something that never happens in a traditional monoprint. She never wrote about her discovery, let alone applied for a copyright, just taught it to hundreds of students who then took it with them to workshops throughout the country. It eventually turned up in a printmaking text as someone else’s idea.

What should I do?

Friday, October 9, 2015


Many years ago, I had a professor, Hans Richter, who had been a famous German avant-garde filmmaker, one of the founders of the Dada movement during World War I. He had just finished a surrealist movie called “Dreams That Money Can Buy” featuring all his New York refugee buddies including Max Ernst and Piet Mondrian. I saw it again recently and it was no where near as interesting as the first time around, mainly because his techniques were subsequently copied by everybody from TV advertisers to Madonna, and are now ‘old hat.’

But the topic of Dreams has intrigued me and I’ve gone back to a little notebook I once kept near my bed where I wrote down dreams. Like everyone else I know, I find it almost impossible to recall them, even the exciting ones that leave you shaking. I once asked my husband, a Clinical Psychologist, how I could remember them and he suggested the notebook. Unfortunately, by the time I managed to get awake enough to locate the book and find a pencil, the dream had evaporated, never to be remembered. I did, however, manage to write a few dreams down, but re-reading them today was not a pleasant experience. Some of the dreams I wrote down were unintelligible but most of them dealt with the ghosts of the past and the loss of people I loved: my husband, my parents, my closest friend. They all seem to take place in a gray zone, ostensibly that time between sunset and darkness in a time of year I hate: cold, late fall, before the snow arrives

In most of the dreams, I’m usually in a familiar place, either downtown Stamford or in New York City where I grew up. In the first dream I recorded, I am on a street corner on West Main Street in Stamford, a run-down part of town, I am searching for my husband, worried about him, trying to bring him home. (He was actually very sick at the time). I find him standing alone at a bus stop in the darkness, waiting for a bus (a metaphor for the ship that takes us out of this life?) and I try to persuade him to come home. “I have to go” he protests but I pull him into a nearby bar, one of those grim, dimly-lit places where shadowy figures hang out. That’s all I remember. The dream took place perhaps forty years ago but reading about it now, even after all this time, makes me cry.

What’s interesting at this point is the impact dreams are having on my latest paintings. I’ve always been able to dig into my subconscious and “abstract” the visual world, but the latest pieces are more surreal. They are based mainly on drawings I did in NYC many years ago from my daughter’s 11th floor window. While everything looks familiar, it’s familiar the way it is in a dream: gray and moody, re-arranged, transformed from life into art. I think Professor Richter would have liked them.

Friday, September 18, 2015


My genius neighbor, Fred, belongs to a group called the “Humanists and Free Thinkers of Fairfield County” (an oxymoron?) He has been trying to get me to one of their monthly meetings at the Silver Star Diner in Norwalk for many years and I finally agreed to join him. He said the speaker was going to be Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist from Yale. I had never heard of him but Fred assured me he was highly respected as an outstanding debunker of medical mythology and author of a blog called:  Science-based Medicine. Dr. Novella turned out to be a fascinating speaker with a huge range of knowledge. He spoke about GMOs and the anti GMO movement, challenging the pseudo-science that has grown up against their use. I knew nothing about GMOs when I went in, and not much more going out, but I think I did learned something about the way pseudo-science works. …and I did some good drawings.

There were at least sixty people in the room: academics, scientists, teachers, writers, artists, ex-hippies, all ages, levels of accomplishments. The questions were intelligent and I found the evening much more enjoyable than I expected. Dr. Novella debunked the so-called “scientific” opposition to GMOs, showing how unscientific it was and, much to my surprise, the traditionally distrustful of the establishment audience agreed with him.  When the “establishment” (i.e. Monsanto) is doing good – even if their motive is the bottom line, you have to give them credit.

As I always do at meetings, I sat and drew; this time on paper plates the kitchen thoughtfully gave me.  I drew the speaker, the audience. Nobody noticed or cared. As is always the case, always always, the first couple of drawings were awful, stiff, overworked. I crumpled them up and threw them away. Then, I got on a roll: four good sketches in a row, but then, the bottom of the bell curve; I was tired. Nothing worked. These last ones also got discarded. It’s like it takes a while to warm up, then the drawings just flow,  but after a while, I’m tired, run out of steam and they become stiff or overworked. Time to quit. While the images are theoretically portraits, they really aren’t. I’m not trying to get a likeness of an individual; I’m trying to create a human being that talks to you. Remember my story of the Renaissance sculptor, Donatello, who was said to have screamed at one of his incredibly lifelike pieces, “Talk! Damn you! Talk!”

Well, that’s what I do with my paper plates. I tell them: “Talk to me or I’ll throw you out!”

Friday, September 11, 2015


A few days ago, I attended a Labor Day party at the home of a new friend, a theatrical agent who over the years has represented some ‘big-name’ clients including Mickey Rooney and Dorothy Lamour. She was showing me her wall of photographs, past and current clients, and one of them was her “dear friend”, Misty Rowe. Who could forget a name like Misty Rowe?

About 20 years ago when I was teaching art history at the new Stamford campus of the University of Connecticut, the person in charge of Student Affairs was concerned about the lack of cultural activities on campus. She put out a request for faculty to come up with events to keep them around after class. I, although I can’t for the life of me remember why, volunteered to put on a cabaret in the main atrium at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, hopefully catching the commuting students before they left for home. I enlisted my lawyer friend, Glenn, to be Master of Ceremonies and perform his magic act. He had once owned a cabaret in the West Thirties in Manhattan and had started out as a street magician. Perfect! I put out the word that I wanted “acts” for my cabaret and a number of interested parties immediately contacted me: a puppeteer, a modern dance troupe and a TV actress named Misty Rowe, a gorgeous-looking former “Hee Haw Honey” who wanted to try out her new stand-up comedy act.  I made up a flyer and sent it out.

On the day of the cabaret, Glenn (in a proper MC tuxedo) and I set out chairs and put out snacks for the students, few of whom appeared. Just as we were about to give up hope for an audience, twenty or so Russian immigrants from a nearby Senior Housing project came in, led by their English instructor who saw the cabaret as a perfect way for her class to improve their non-existent command of the English language. “Vere’s da food?” their spokesman (the one who spoke English) inquired immediately upon entering the hall. Not a good sign.

Glenn, I must say, did his best. The puppeteer turned out to be a schizophrenic who was working out her split personality issues with the puppets; the dance troupe was having a terrible time with the space, totally unsuited to their work, and our “Ace in the Hole,” the extravagantly named Misty Rowe was totally unintelligible to her non-English speaking audience.

I have to say, Glenn and I thought she was wonderful. Her claim to fame was as a “Hee Haw Honey” on an extremely popular TV comedy in the late 1960s, early seventies, Hee Haw, a spoof of rural life populated by well known country stereotypes featured scantily clad beauties in “farmer’s daughter” cut-offs and short skirts. The show was bawdy and stupid but lasted on local television for almost 20 years. Misty’s stand-up act consisted mostly of her hilarious adventures as a Hee Haw Honey. There was one particularly funny shtick that has stuck with me about how when she went to bed with a man and took off the padded corselets the Honeys' wore, the poor guy didn’t know whether to go after the “bustier” or her. Needless to say, the Russians didn’t understand a word, didn’t laugh at any of her jokes and sat in stony silence waiting for “da food”.

She apparently was devastated, quit trying to be a stand-up comic and is now touring (happily) in a musical comedy about the life of country singer, Patsy Kline that my friend manages. Her defeat at the hands of the Russians (she didn’t know that was why they didn’t laugh) still rankles, although I recently received a note from her thanking me for explaining after all these years that it was audience failure, not hers.

Friday, September 4, 2015

POST #99: HOW TO TRAIN AN ARTIST (or are we “untrainable”)

It’s ironic that as I close in on my 100th post, I finally get around to the subject of art training. Maybe because there is no one way to do it given today’s hodge-podge higgledy-piggeldy art world. There’s so much hype that it’s hard to tell what’s good any more, or what’s real talent or innovation, or even who is or isn’t and artist. And with the advent of Photoshop, it’s a whole new ballgame! All you need is an idea and a computer.

I sifted through your replies, and as expected, they were all over the place. Some of you had conventional training (more or less as I did) others took a few courses along the way or had workshops with mentors.  Despite what many in the ‘art business’ would have you believe, there’s not a hell of a lot anyone can teach you. A neighbor of mine who studied art in college recently remarked that she wanted to learn how to paint in oil and I told her to come on over, I would teach her everything she needed to know in an hour.

The principles are few and easy, but then, it’s Malcolm Gladwell’s “ten thousand hours”. I can show her how to tone her canvas, how to under-paint, go from dark to light, thin to thick, glaze, scumble; but then she’s on her own. If you want to do work that’s realistic, you need to draw, learn shading, anatomical observation, perspective. If you want to be an abstractionist, you still need to learn to draw because that’s what abstraction is, a distillation of reality. After the first few sessions of learning the basics, you don’t need an art teacher other than for encouragement, trust me; you just need to put in the time.

But in the long run, it’s not the “how” but the “why” that matters and here’s where things get tough. Do you have anything original to say or does your work look like thousands of others, or, worse yet, your teacher’s? Technique is easy; originality is hard. For originality you need to be a fully developed human being, not just a craftsperson. You need to be familiar with history, politics, science, philosophy, literature. You need ideas of your own and out of that will grow art that is distinctively yours with a voice of its own. Otherwise you’re just a craftsperson which is ok so long as all you want to be is a craftsperson. My favorite artists, people like Picasso, Rothko, Max Ernst, Calder, Beckmann, Schwitters were all extremely cultured. If you read their writings you’ll amazed at their intelligence and the depth of their general knowledge.

But here’s what I do think you must study: Art History. It sharpens your critical eye, teaches you what is good. Hours spent looking at masterpieces; although you might never remember artists’ names or titles of their work; just looking at 1,000s of great works develops your eye, teaches you composition. I would often get my art history classes to break down a painting into the relationship of shapes, movement of the eye around the canvas, balance, focal point, etc. No matter what kind of art you produce or technique you use, this is basic information. I would often project a slide of a well-known masterpiece on the blackboard and demonstrate how the piece expressed the principles of design.

If you come by my studio, you’ll see that I’ve become a neoclassical potter, turning cheap paper plates into red and black-figure Kylixes. I can’t begin to tell you what fun I am having and THOSE NEGATIVE SPACES! Nobody used them like the Ancient Greeks and I have a lot to learn!

Friday, August 21, 2015


I recently re-joined a local health club designed for “seniors.” I had belonged to it in the past for many years but used it so infrequently that I quit when I figured out that each lap around the track actually cost me $34, a bit pricey for minimal benefit. Anyhow, the center recently converted its large swimming pool to salt water and a friend convinced me to give it a try; it would make a new woman of me. Dubious. Anyhow, I’m there on a one-month trial basis and, given the recent heat wave, I’ve been using the pool almost every day. I still do my basic set of yoga exercises at home plus the up and down movement of painting large canvases. That seems enough exercise to keep me in reasonable shape (for my age.)

If you are familiar with my work, you know that I’m an incurable social satirist, the George Grosz of Stamford. And what better place to find subjects than a health club, especially one that doesn’t cater to babes in bikinis. Unfortunately, as we get older, we all look better with our clothes on.

Which reminds me of a story: 
A few years ago, during my prior membership in the health club, my ever-present “advisor”, my Cousin Adele, ordered me to go to the Hot Tub and find a suitor. Before she died, two years ago, my housebound relative spent her free time worrying about and advising me. I tried to explain that the whirlpool bath was the worst place to find a man, but she insisted and to get her off my back, I decided to give it a try.  Now, I’m no Playboy model, but I’m reasonably well put together (for my age). As ordered,  I put on my new spotted leopard bathing suit with its foam-enhanced breasts and went to check out the contents of the pool. As Adele had predicted, it contained two men of suitable age, deep in conversation. Hot prospects? Not quite. More like a pair of prehistoric wooly mammoths. While they might at one time been passable, they were now obese, sagging flesh hanging over their bellies, bodies covered with masses of grizzly hair (except for the tops of their heads.) Not a pretty sight. I fled. I’d have to find romance somewhere else.

While the men won’t win any beauty contests, the women don’t come off much better. Obesity is so common in our society as to be the rule rather than the exception. But, as any art historian or painter will tell you, fat women make wonderful models. Remember the Venus of Willendorf we all studied in art history? Rubens, Titian? The women I encounter are contemporary Venuses with small heads, permed hair, huge, pendulous breasts and enormous bellies. Feminine pulchritude and prosperity personified and not a penny needed for silicone enhancements. I’m in artist heaven! The women at the pool float on the water like air-filled balloons. One monumental figure I frequently encounter “water walks” for an hour every day. It’s hard to imagine what she would look like if she didn’t! There’s a price to pay for living in a society of plenty, but I’m not complaining. It suits me fine.

Friday, August 14, 2015


The study of Art History is basically a survey of Golden Ages, how they arose, flourished and eventually declined. First, there’s a lively Archaic Period, crude and experimental but full of vitality, then comes perfection, the so-called “Golden Age,” refined and technically flawless. And then comes a period of decay marked by excessive emotionality combined with a lack of structural cohesiveness. It looks like I’ve recently been going through a similar cycle, only mine is taking weeks instead of centuries.

In my last post, I showed you my paper plate interpretations of Greek Black Figure vases (the Archaic Period.) They’re strong and expressive and I like them a lot, the way I’m crazy about Greek Black Figure pots. The next phase, which I worked on all last week is my “Red Figure” ware, the so-called peak period (except my red is tan wrapping paper, not red clay), more refined but (to me) not as strong or interesting as the shapes in black. Unfortunately, for the past few days, I’ve gone into my Hellenistic phase, a period of decline; my plates have become overly detailed and fussy. My Golden Age of paper plate collage appears to be over. With the Greeks, (as in other cultures that lost their Golden Ages), you could lay the blame on social conditions, foreign conquests, internal upheaval. Sometimes it’s as basic as running out of a key material and not being able to replace it. With me, it’s my short interest span (my artistic ADD).
Oh well, nothing lasts forever, even well-designed paper plates.

Which brings me to my next topic: how my long and sometimes illustrious career  as an artist, appears to follow the same pattern: exploration, culmination,  decline. What set me thinking about this was a DVD my friend, Brian O’Neill recently sent me of an interview he had taped at a retrospective exhibit I was having at the Loft Artist’s Gallery on Canal Street many years ago. Brian and I walked around the gallery and he questioned me about the work. The show had been curated by two artist friends,  Lina Morielli and  Sandy Garnett, whose opinion I valued.; they had gone up to my attic, sifted through stacks of paintings and came up with about twenty pieces. I didn’t like everything they chose, but they were in charge and I wisely went along with their decisions.

Which brings me back to my Golden Age theory. Whenever I start a new body of work, there’s a period of experimentation with a lot of trial and error; not everything succeeds. Then there’s the peak period when my style and message come together and the work just flows. Unfortunately, my Golden Ages never last: they get cut off by one of life’s unavoidable catastrophes or I simply get bored; the boredom shows and it’s time to move on. That’s one of the problems successful artists have (not me); they get locked into a marketable style and even if they want to move on, their dealers won’t let them. The work my two friends chose was (to me) all over the lot: experimental, peak period and “late” (my Hellenistic phase). Fortunately, I  don’t think anyone viewing the show knew the difference.

Friday, August 7, 2015

POST#96: ODE TO A GRECIAN VASE….. or, Stealing from the best

Several months ago, I attended the opening of a show by a reasonably competent group of artists I knew. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an original idea anywhere. I’m sure nobody was aware they were “stealing” (they never are) but all the work looked like something I’d seen before, many times. Originality is hard to come by; you have to be an authentic non-conformist yourself and unfortunately, few of us aspire to or achieve that level of rebellion. Most artists are so far removed from the source of their inspiration they don’t know where their ideas came from and get to think they invented them themselves. The moral of today’s blog is that if you are going to steal, know who you are stealing from and steal only from the best.

This is a long-winded introduction to my latest work. Fortunately, the guys I’m copying have been dead for over 2,500 years and couldn’t care less. I didn’t do it deliberately; it just happened. As many of you know, I’ve been cutting figures (people) out of black craft paper and projecting them as giant shadows on my studio wall. The pile of little cutouts I was using got out of hand and I got the “brilliant” idea of turning them into tondo (circular) compositions and pasting them on paper plates, plain supermarket plates: black figures on a white plate with a fluted border. Grecian vases? Kylixes (drinking cups) from 600 B.C.? Yes!!  When I taught Art History (for 22 years at the University of Connecticut) that was my favorite period. My subconscious had obviously remembered.

We don’t have any examples left of paintings from Ancient Greece; they all seem to have rotted away. But lots of ceramic pots have survived. First, the “black-figure” period, images with details scratched into the clay followed about a century later by the supposedly superior red-figured vases, clay-colored figures with exquisite, brush-painted details, I personally prefer the archaic, black-figure style. It’s the perfection of forms and the way they relate to one another, even the negative spaces between shapes that makes both periods so incredible. The work I was doing on paper plates was obviously reproducing (in an inferior way) the circular interior of a drinking cup, a kylix. All I needed was a pair of handles and I could hang them on the wall, Greek style. Even the “fluted” rims of the paper plate echoed one of the more popular borders of the period. A kylix (kye’licks) was supposed to have raunchy images (like my work) since you only saw the picture after you drank the cup of wine. Check the vases out the next time you go to the Met; you will be in the presence of art in its most superior form. Every shape, every line, the, the anatomy is perfect; nothing is superfluous or out of place.

So far, I’ve finished about a dozen paper kylixes and I’d like to share a few with you. They’ll never show up in Helen Gardner or Janson as high points in the History of Art or get a glass case at the Met, but I’m having great fun with them, (as you can probably tell!).  I’ll exhibit and sell them in a ‘pop-up’ show next winter so, if you want, you can have your own Grecian vase painting at a price you can afford.  I’ll let you know where and when.

Just remember, don’t put them in the dishwasher!

Thursday, July 30, 2015


I’m not much of a reader any more; not the way I was when I was young when I could devour three or four books a week. Now, if I have free time, I want to do artwork. Reading seems such an indulgence. But I still have my favorite authors and I keep returning to their work, finding something new in them all the time.  At the top of my list of “serious” writers is Italo Calvino, an Italian writer of magic realist short stories, usually not my favorite literary form. Unfortunately he died about ten years ago and it’s hard for me to accept that there won’t be a new book every year or so for me to devour.

My favorite book by Calvino is probably the most unreadable of his work, “Invisible Cities,” an imaginary conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in which Polo describes the incredible (imaginary) cities he encountered on his journey from Venice to China in the 14th century. It’s not “light” reading and two or three “cities” at a time are about all I can absorb (there are about a hundred of them in the book.) For example, he describes cities made of cobwebs; cities of dust, thin cities, cities of the dead. What appeals to me most about these phantoms is the visual images they invoke. The artist in me responds to the surrealism in Calvino’s work, allows my imagination to take over and create paintings in my head.

In Post #19, I described the drawings I did many years ago from my daughter’s 11th story window on West End Avenue in New York City. Oddly enough, the view was actually quite interesting, full of fanciful rooftop structures: water towers on spindly legs, pergola -like arched elevator shafts, stepped facades and so on. When I went back to the drawings a few months ago, I saw them as surrealist, dream states, more like the work of DeChirico or Magritte than copies of actual buildings. I turned out around eight oil paintings based on these drawings and lately, I’ve been pushing the images even further away from visual reality, much like Calvino’s “Invisible Cities.”

I wish I could say that this was deliberate on my part, but it wasn’t. I start with a piece of charcoal and an empty, brown-stained canvas. Out of my subconscious come all these buildings; often just empty, stage-set facades. The perspective is off; nothing goes to a proper vanishing point, but somehow, there’s a visual reality to them. When I finish, I put human beings in the paintings, although I rarely saw them when I did my original drawings. What are they doing, you ask?  I don’t actually know. They are like DeChirico’s mysterious figures, only without the elongated shadows he loved to use. When I’m finished painting the buildings and the sky, I cut little figures out of black craft paper and move them around until I’m satisfied with the composition, Then I re-create them in paint. Let the viewer decide what they’re doing up there, all alone on the rooftops. Art needs mystery; it shouldn’t give up its secrets easily.