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!