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My First Masterpiece

So, this is my story. It's not about everything in my life, which is not so unique in itself. Mostly, it is a brief  look at my art and influences in the context of my life.

It all began in a small American town (Coatesville, Pa.), in a comfortable small American family. It was a conservative family in most every way. We were like "Ozzie and Harriet"; the family on TV, but more Christian. As childhoods go, it was pretty ideal. I had two older brothers and grew up very close to the one nearest to my age, Steve (three years older). We did and learned so much together. As young kids, we both drew a lot; at home, on trips and everywhere. He was a good draftsman for his age and tried to pass on everything he knew.

I would say that my earliest influence was Walt Disney. The most compelling part of his studio work was  "The Night on Bald Mountain" segment in Fantasia. It was on TV from time to time and I relished every chance I got to see it.

 

Then came Dr. Seuss and, in particular, his book, "McElligot's Pool". What a revelation! I think that, even at a young age, I could appreciate how the narrative evolved, building upon itself and taking little twists and turns along the way. I also loved his explosively imaginative artwork and how it too, would grow and evolve. It has clearly had a direct affect on my work. And it all began back then.

Another great inspiration came from Lewis Carroll... A small paperback of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-glass" had sat around my house for some time. I would flip through it and read the poems. I memorized "Jabberwocky" when I was 11 or 12. Then, a few years later, I decided to read the book. OMG! I never expected what I was getting into. Such a strange, unhinged journey with scenes dissolving into other scenes. I didn't know that you could do that! I was ecstatic. I became a budding surrealist at that point.

That probably leads me directly to Salvador Dali. The next big OMG! I didn't know you could paint that, either. So many possibilities - so many directions.

 

At the time (1967-69), I was getting the Time/Life series of books on art and in it came the next revelation and unleashing of conventions: Marcel Duchamp and Dada!

It took everything , every norm and every assumption and challenged it. What defines art? Is visual art decided by the eye or by the mind. It was a wild world with wild players. It was very weird and it made so much sense.

 

The book also followed through to other movements and artists; Dali, who I already knew, and Pop Art, which was another new horizon; another way to turn every assumption about art on its head. Then, to add the icing on the cake, I opened Time magazine one day and saw an article on an exhibit in New York City of Claes Oldenburg; giant fabric hamburgers and all. What fun! What a way to challenge the norms! and it's happening now. Everything in all my Time/Life art books were looking back. Picasso was still alive, but his great innovations happened a long, long (so it seemed) time before my birth. But this was history unfolding now. Well, I had a lot to chew on. 

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High School Surrealism      c. 1968

In the fall of 1969 I headed off to college in Gettysburg, Pa. for a shortened stay and many new influences. The music of the time was a big influence on most of the culture and I jumped into it and all that the world around it had to offer. Outside of all that, I had a great drawing class that taught me a lot about how to see. But inside of all that, I was exploring ways of breaking boundaries.

There were "underground" comics that had popped in the years preceding and they were out to break all norms of acceptability. They were also extremely imaginative and cleverly executed. The outstanding artist in that world was R. Crumb ; an excellent cartoonist and perceptive iconoclast. His target was the "Ozzie and Harriet" culture of my youth. I followed willingly.

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"See the Amazing Other Side"                        1971

Another great influence of my brief college years, was my friend and fellow artist Dick Boak. He was busy  building domes, locking himself in a cage and creating artwork with dots upon a page. He had a spirit and an intelligence about him (and still does) that draws you in and lifts you up. He talked about mandalas and the Golden Mean and, of course, geodesics. This was all new to me. We almost lived in a dome in the woods until the state police found our site. Who knew you had to own or rent the land to live on it? It was a surprise to us.

"Bird in Flight"   by Dick Boak   1970

 After being kicked out of the woods and spending the rest of the summer hanging in Gettysburg, I headed out to visit my brother, Steve, now living in Hollywood, Ca. I ended up staying for three years and then returned several times, adding about two more years, all ending around 1978.

At first I was working strictly in ink (inspired by Dick), filling a few spiral notebooks with endless drawings. Most pages had 4,5,6 or more separate drawings crammed in. The subject built upon the ideas in underground comics: surreal, comical, cryptic and often sexual. Those books are no more; discarded because I felt they served no purpose in my growth. I wish I had saved them. 

I was also still thinking about pop art and played slightly in it... until I went to see an extensive exhibit of Claes Oldenberg at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum). This was 1972.  I was stunned. He was so far beyond anything that I was thinking. So far beyond anything that I would be thinking. He knew what he was doing from every angle, exploring it from every angle, ones that I would have never have found. I must do something else.

This was all during the time I was living with Steve and his first wife, Susan. She began creating large dolls. Perhaps Oldenburg had a part to play. She filled the large living room with her wild creations. I began working in watercolors, first making portraits of her dolls.

 

One day, she bought a Maxfield Parrish print, "The Dinky Bird", at a thrift store. It was my first exposure to him. He was a master of every aspect of his painting; every line, every color, every tone. It was rich; it was delightful. My watercolors now had higher aspirations. Most of my paintings from this time were given away or lost. A few remain.

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 Pig Doll Portrait      c. 1973
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"Mark the Mechanic"            c.1975

I eventually headed back East settling in and around Philadelphia. Watercolor remained my main medium for about 15 years. My style was a combination of surrealism, fantasy with a growing children's art flavor.  I felt comfortable with this expression and kept with it as it slowly evolved.

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"Dancing Horse"                  c.1978
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"Giant Tree Elf "        c.1980

In 1983, I got together with my first wife, Eleanor [we were together 15 years until she passed]. Her father, Sam Freid,  was an artist and taught at several art schools in Philadelphia. He died soon after we got together, but his art has lived with me ever since. He had been a member of a group of abstract expressionists in Philadelphia in the 1950's into  the 1960's . In the 60's he also experimented with large constructions in a pop art manner.

He had a couple of smaller paper works  with imaginative swirling lines that particularly grabbed  me [see image at right]. These elements began creeping into my art.

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"Strutting Clown"   by Sam Fried
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"Metamorphosis"                     1991
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"Jabberwocky"                     1993  

I kept experimenting and expanding and playing around with my watercolor imagination. This continued through the 1980's and into the 90's. I got to the point that I felt that I knew where I was heading. I could have kept going, but I thought, "why?". I didn't know how to market my art and I couldn't see just doing more for myself and those around me. I'm not sure if it was clear thinking, but it was time for a change.

Murals had been in the back of my mind for years and now that I doubted the purpose of what I was doing (once again), I decided to take a diversion: stop my own ideas and take the tools that I had gathered and try to build a mural business. My art would now serve someone else's purpose and my pocket. I had some success and had the opportunity to create about 50 or 60 murals. They were mostly in homes; a lot of children's rooms, a lot of powder rooms. I enjoyed getting to meet and work with people and bring my art (and my whimsy) into their world. It was an interesting time. I started at the end of 1994 and continued  focusing on murals until the spring of 2001. After that,  I continued making murals, but their focus to diminish... I had a new direction.

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A series of events happened in early 2001(an unexpected gallery and two unexpected exhibits) that reignited my desire to explore my own world of art. Two exhibitions; one of which I took part in and an unexpected gallery. I wrote a somewhat detailed account of these events which I'll post in some format at some time. But, simply said, there is a world of art out there and other people love it as I do. It felt like my world. Let's go for that! I got back in, this time in oils. 

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"Bartholomew and the Beach Bum"
    25"x44"                         2002 
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    "Leda on the Beach"
28"x40"                2004,05
     "Woman at Half-mask"   25"x20"                        2001

The next ten years proceeded and more paintings were produced. Though I wanted to break new grounds I wasn't sure of my path. I began focusing more on writing. I spent a big chunk of time working on a children's book of science and then sat it aside.  I continued to work on other stories and kept painting.  At the end of this period, I moved to Asheville, NC for a year; returning to Pa. in 2011. 

Upon my return I started my life, ever so gratefully, with my wife, Teresa. It also started a new body of art. I felt like I was really tapping into my potential  or certainly reaching for it. The paintings got bigger as well. I also retired from my job of house painting. That, along with Teresa's encouragement, gave me the time to focus more fully on my creative side.  This is also the period when I returned to the science book and finished it. That involved reading about and exploring Einstein among others. And those influences, joined in with all my past influences, and  spilled into the paintings that I began to create. 

 

 

 

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Cog of Creation           26"x68"          2021
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"I Am the Eggmen"      36"x48"      2015
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"Genesis: Birth of a New World"
     96"x66"                    2014
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Clown Flower    32"x32"       2013
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"Clown of Creation"        28"x48"      2013

That has continued up to this day in its various forms. Most of this year (2020)has been focused on my book, "The Shadows We Share". That is finally wrapping up and will soon be published (today being Nov. 22). I have waited patiently for my return to painting and have more books to think about and maybe new directions to be found. But for now, let's leave it at that. The baked squash is ready.

II'm back and it's now into 2021. I have completed several paintings begun early last year and set aside as I focused on "The Shadows We Share". I have also started and completed a few new works. Check out the  'Paintings " page under " Telling stories in Picture" for more of these works.

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"Pictograph"                                 2021