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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


 3D Photomontage   16"x13"x4"
Way back when I first started this blog (Post #5), I wrote about why I would never marry another artist. Some protective instinct always warned me to stay away from them; the successful ones were generally drunks and womanizers, but at least you got decent alimony when they left. The unsuccessful ones were even worse because you had to work at some job you hated so they’d be free to create.

All of this came to mind the other day when I read the recent NYTimes Magazine feature article about Robert Frank, the photographer (7/5/15.)  Twelve pages extolling his genius and contribution to modern photography, with barely a mention of his artist wives (past and present) and how damn good they had been. Until I read the article, I hadn’t realized that he had been married to two women who were prominent in the 1950s and whose work I greatly admired. They had dropped off the radar screen and I hadn’t seen their names mentioned in decades. Even now they were mentioned only as wife/former wife of Robert Frank, the famous photographer; their importance at the time he married them not relevant.

When I was a young art student, I knew of many artist couples, but in no case was the wife more successful than the husband, regardless of talent. And the longer the marriage went on, the greater the disparity. It seemed to me that to do more than “kitchen” art, you needed to ditch the man (and the children as well.) Louise Nevelson was a case in point; she was smart enough to look for nurturing women to take care of HER.  Alice Neel, one of the few serious women painters I knew, didn’t abandon her children, but required a succession of loser lovers to keep her and her sons housed and fed.

 3D Photomontage   16"x13"x4"
In true feminist fashion, I’d like to claim victim-hood for women artists, oppression by the male-dominated art world, but it’s not that simple. In my experience, this has been a route women usually chose, not have foisted upon them. Rather than a failure of nerve on their part, it’s a tribute to their “human-ness,” their capacity to put the needs of others above self. Sure, it’s great to be considered a GENIUS and have the Times devote twelve pages to you, but is it worth sacrificing your family, or not having a family, to do it? When Robert Frank won the Guggenheim Prize and set off to do the seminal photographs that made his name, he left behind (freezing in the wilds of Nova Scotia) an artist wife and two children (one of whom later became schizophrenic.) Would any of my women artist friends have the “balls” to wander around the country leaving a spouse and children in this condition? No point in carrying excess baggage the geniuses always say. But that’s why you’ve never heard of his wives, Mary Frank or June Leaf, although they are now in their 80s (and still creating).

Is it society’s expectations or something in our genes that makes women nurturers, enablers? We may not be able to answer that question for many generations. I still have the fantasy, however, that at this late stage in my life, I might acquire an “enabler” of my own. I have to say though that I have run across a lot of terrific people who for $15-$20 an hour are willing to (temporarily) fill that role.

Friday, July 17, 2015


I’m a great one for far-out ideas. Fortunately, most of them never happen. But several years ago, I came up with a doozy: a cabaret at Curley’s Diner, just what the city needed. Cabarets are a relatively new phenomenon in urban history, developing first in Paris in the 1880s as a place for artists, writers and musicians to gather and share ideas. It’s hard to imagine French art from Toulouse-Lautrec to Picasso without these hangouts. During World War I, many artists fled to neutral Switzerland and it was at the Café Voltaire in Zurich that the DADA movement (Futurism and Surrealism) began. When cabaret came to Germany, it took on a darker, anti-establishment character and in Weimar days was a venue for social criticism and dissent. 

I (in a moment of madness) decided what Stamford needed was a cabaret and what better place than Curley’s Diner, a funky 24/7 mix of high and low and everything in between. After all, their once a week “poetry night” had become a big success, providing one of the few places in Fairfield County where poets could try out their work in front of a supportive audience. Sure, there were other venues: church basements, bookstores, but none had Curley’s atmosphere (and coffee.) Why not a cabaret? The place was usually empty Friday night (the crowd appears after midnight) and the sisters who owned the place seemed amenable.

Finding performers (for free) turned out to be the easiest part. My lawyer friend Glenn, a former magician and tarot card reader agreed to be M.C. (Joe Grey style), a couple of musicians I knew said they would perform, the owner’s daughter, a wanna-be café singer said she was definitely “in” and I was persuaded to do my Marlene Dietrich imitation (I’m even more off-key than she was.) The top attraction was going to be a “Stella” contest run by a friend from New Orleans. The competitors all call out “Stella” and the one who sounds most like Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire wins.

Everyone I mentioned the cabaret to was eager to come. “Please don’t forget us.” Friends from New Jersey and Long Island said they’d be there. It soon became obvious that success was going to ruin my idea. There simply wasn’t space enough in the back room (the only place you could hold it) for both a stage and an audience. Curley’s would have to add a wing in back which of course they weren’t about to do. My brilliant idea never got off the ground.

People still ask me about it and I apologize and explain. I’ve thought about other venues: church halls etc, but they won’t do. If we still had the old Yale & Towne factory buildings with their illegal resident artists, it could have gone there.

By the way, speaking of cabaret at Yale & Towne reminds me of an event that took place there around 25 years ago. A friend, the photographer Bob Baldridge, had a great loft on the sixth floor of one of the old industrial buildings….real BOHO style. He had a girlfriend at the time who wanted to open a restaurant and he offered to let her try out her skills at a spaghetti dinner in his loft. I said I’d help out. I designed some great invitations and asked all my friends. But we made one fatal error: we didn’t take reservations. and the night of the dinner, (for which we asked for a donation, wine included) more than a hundred people showed up. They were lined up outside the door. Our wannabe chef had only one spaghetti pot and despite her frantic efforts to get it to boil, no one got fed till almost midnight. It was a spectacular disaster but the wine flowed, performers performed and everyone had a great time. We never had the nerve to do it again.

Friday, July 3, 2015

POST #92: ROUNDHEELS: or, Putting Out in Public Life

In the slang of my youth,  “roundheels” was a picturesque way of describing a woman of easy virtue, “a broad that at the slightest provocation falls backwards into a face-up horizontal position.” The term, a sexualized version of “pushover,” meant that the heels of her shoes have become rounded from being pushed over backwards so many times. I absolutely loved the term. It reminded me of the rubber BOBO clown my children used to play with; you knocked it down and it popped right back up. “Roundheels,” aren’t so quick to get back on their feet, that’s not the idea.

Since the Sexual Revolution of the sixties, you don’t hear the expression any more; it’s obsolete. It’s the poor men who keep getting knocked down by a new class of aggressive women, not victims any more. There’s even a Garage Band called “Roundheels” but from what I’ve heard on You Tube, they’d be better off on their backs than in front of an audience.

I find the term applicable today, not to acquiescent women, but to local politics. I was once asked what it took to get nominated to one of the city’s Land Use Boards. I replied (with bitterness) that you either had to be “bought,” i.e. were in it for some personal gain, or, too stupid to know what was going on and just voted the way you were told. Anyone who asks probing questions in city government quickly becomes marginalized and eventually eliminated. This to me is a far worse example of moral turpitude that some poor girl who just wants to be liked. As a long-time observer of (and participant in) local politics, I am appalled at the prevalence of “Roundheels” in civic life.

A couple of nights ago I attended a public hearing regarding a new city contract. For at least a half dozen reasons, it was a terrible deal for the city, would cost the taxpayers close to a million dollars more than the alternative and even worse, rob the city of a landmark building on its original site. Out of a large audience that filled the room, only one person spoke in favor of the contract; everyone else knew that the city was going to be the significant loser. Several members of the review board recognized what a bad deal it was and refused to fall in line, but it was evident that city’s political leadership was behind the new contract and let it be known that they wanted it passed. Roundheels, remember? Just a push from the Mayor’s office and all judgment vanishes. Despite its flaws, the contract will probably be approved.

Just a week earlier, another city board reviewed the “Sweetheart” deal someone who claimed to be “on speed dial” with a top State official had received from the local Board of Education. It made no sense for this contract to be renewed, but, much to everyone’s surprise, the measure to rewrite the contract with better terms for the city miraculously disappeared and the old buddy contract remained in place.

My hometown is not the only place guilty of nepotism, corruption and the prevalence of Roundheels. When I googled the term, aside from the expected sexual innuendoes, I came across a blog from someplace called McHenry County (no idea where it is) that went:
“Summing Up the Round Heels of Legislatures Past and Present”

The title tells it all. I could write it myself.