Buttercup Time aka Down the Intervale #5 • oil on linen 11″ x 14″ • $154 • Painted in May 2010 while I was house-sitting the family farm in Dayton, Maine where I had grown up, for two weeks while my brother Clark and his wife were in California visiting their daughter.

Great Bay of the Piscataqua as seen from Moody Point, Newmarket, NH • oil on wood panel (repurposed drawer front) 7″ x 16″ • $112. • Painted on site while visiting old friends Heinz & Diane Sauk-Schubert who were living at the time on this impressively large body of tidal water which divides southern coastal Maine from New Hampshire.

Vermont Hillside aka My Own Private Mont Sainte-Victoire #1 • oil on repurposed pine board 5″ x 16″ • $80

Vermont Hillside aka My Own Private Mont Sainte-Victoire #2 • oil on cardboard backing from an old picture frame, 10″ x 8″ • $40 • This was one of a series of small paintings devoted to the magnificent hillside that loomed across the valley from where I stayed on Pleasant Street while visiting Springfield, Vermont. The series was named as an homage to French impressionist Paul Cezanne (1839–1906) and his obsession with Mont Sainte-Victoire in Southern France that he immortalized repeatedly.

Vermont Hillside aka My Own Private Mont Sainte-Victoire #4 • oil on masonite panel 10″ x 13″ • #130. Same hillside as the above paintings, from the fall of 2010, a companion piece to a smaller painting of the same scene included among sold pieces of art featured in a posting prior to this one.

Attic View #1 aka My Own Private Mont Sainte-Victoire #5 • oil on plywood panel 24″ x 18″ • $432. • Seen through the green lace of leaves just outside the window opening, the same Vermont hillside featured in the three works above informs yet another painting. One of many pieces that fit into the category, Inside, Looking Out, which figures prominently in my work. There’s something psychologically transformative about a viewpoint expressed from within a contained area looking outward to the suggestion of a larger world that beckons..

Missing Persons #1 aka The Tree & I • oil on pine board 38″ x 14″ • 532 square inches • $266 • The house on Pleasant Street in Springfield, Vermont where I stayed on occasion in the early 2000s was nestled into the side of a steep hill. Downtown Springfield, a small New England factory town, was built on the sides of hills that drop precipitously down to the rapids of the Black River which descends through town via a series of falls, eventually joining the Connecticut River a few miles east dividing Vermont from New Hampshire. Made famous in the early 20th century as a producer of high-quality precision measuring instruments, the town was built on water power, which gives off a constant sound in that part of town, a result of the various dams created by factories claiming their share of energy from the ever-flowing source. The back of the house looks out into a small lawn and garden area that had been cut into the hill, over which presides one of the larger trees – an imposing oak – I’ve ever lived under the shadow of. The title Missing Persons refers to the emptiness of the lawn chairs whose function is to hold people able to sit and relax. Instead I was busy painting – a comment on activity versus inactivity. I enjoyed the thought of two surreal alternative scenarios: possibly the individuals sitting in those chairs had been abducted by aliens, either the terrestrial or extra-terrestrial variety, just before the painting was finished. Or possibly they were ‘raptured’ into outer space, from where they are watching it all happen down here below on earth.

Vermont: Inside, Looking Out #1 • oil on pine board 13″ x 5.5″ • $70. As with the larger artwork above, this small work was painted in situ in the same back room of the house on Pleasant Street. In the larger one above, the dark bars top and bottom plus the blue bar dividing the painting in half are the only indicators that I was painting the scene through a window. For this smaller painting which is quite an anomaly in my work in terms of both size and execution, I was painting rapidly, purposely including the same double-hung window frame to give a different, more confined perspective. I’ve come to understand that these ‘openings to the outside’ are a compositional device that invite the viewer to move beyond the limits of the restricting frame, thus expanding into a larger dimension of awareness. Heady goals admittedly for art that is primarily decorative, but I persist nevertheless…

Center City Philadelphia #2 • oil on plywood panel framed in vintage window sash (from the house in which I grew up) 24″ x 24″• 576 square inches • $288. In the fall of 2010 I painted my first views of Center City Philadelphia from my 3rd floor painting studio. From there, I look out over a roof-line of other three-story houses, to the cluster of skyscrapers about a mile and a half away that showcase Philadelphia’s amazing growth over the thirty-two years I’ve been living here. Much more whimsical is the painting below, than this straight-forward account that is primarily a sky painting.

Center City Philadelphia #1 • oil on found-and-repurposed bread board 20″ x 9″ • 180 square inches • $90. This was my first attempt at a painted city-scape, imaginatively trying to show the transition from day to night using brilliant colors that did not try to imitate reality.

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2010: paintings of Outer Nature that sold

by Alden Cole on June 11, 2018 · 0 comments

There no thrill for an artist quite like selling what one has created. 2010 was a good year for painting a series of works that have sold since their creation. This review reminds me that of my oeuvre, Outer Nature landscape paintings sell ten-to-one over my Inner Nature figure works. Time to refocus for a while…

Down the Intervale #4 aka Inside, Looking Out #? • oil on plywood panel, framed with cut-down window sash 16″ x 31″ • collection of Harriet Kline

Acadia National Park and Mount Desert as seen from across Frenchman’s Bay at Hancock Point, Maine • oil on repurposed door panel 8″ x 38″ • collection of Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow!, Philadelphia

Haying Season at Cole Farm, Summer of 1955 – oil on panel 15″ x 30″ – collection of Land Cole, Deneki Lakes, Alaska

Commenced in the spring of 2010, finished in 2012. Based on a detail from a black & white 3″ x 5″ snapshot by my brother Wallace Cole; the view looking north to our grandparents farm with the surrounding fields, where haying season was in progress, with a pause in the action. Photographed from the back lawn of the farm where I spent my first 18 years. I started converting the photo to a painting in 2010 at a time when I was seriously weighing the pros and cons of selling my house in Philadelphia, returning to Maine and settling down on the land I grew up on. It was a nice delusion while it lasted…

Center City Philadelphia from Bartram’s Garden in West Philadelphia – oils on panel 5″ x 16″ – collection of Robert Stauffer, Philadelphia

Down the Intervale #6 – oil on pine board 10″ x 30″ – collection of Clark & Georgianna Cole, Dayton, Maine

Back Yard at 37 Pleasant Street • oil on panel 12″ x 38″ • collection of Kate Suchmann, Springfield, Vermont

From 2005 to 2013 I spent a number of weeks each year in Springfield Vermont, where this particular painting was done, my first serious attempt (unfinished) at painting the rather complex architecture of an old house, revealing that house portraits are not a particular strength of mine. I got better at it with practice after this initial August experiment.

“Attic View #2” aka “Inside, Looking Out #8″ • oil on panel, framed 19″ x 24” • collection of Lance & Melissa Rothstein, Philadelphia

The device of a frame within a frame within a frame found its most elegant expression in this painting which I began the summer of 2010, but which didn’t receive its finishing touches until 2015. For me the second delight of this painting is the ambiguously abstract scene seen through the windows which prompts more questions than answers.

“Looking West” (from inside the barn at 588 River Road, Dayton, Maine) • pencil and oil on canvas-board 12″ x 16″ • collection of Audrey & Stephen Terry, Federal Way, Washington

Another painting originally sketched in pencil, on canvas-board, in the summer of 2010. Colorization with oil paints didn’t happen until the spring of 2102. Of all the views which I have painted in Dayton, this one is the most personal because I have stood hundreds of time in this open doorway and stared at the setting sun, at passing traffic, at snowstorms and rainstorms and days of exquisite beauty when I was tempted to say “Stay, please don’t change; let it always be like this!”

2010: “Vermont Hillside” aka “My Own Private Mont Sainte-Victoire #3″ – oil on panel 9″ x 10” – collection of Rachel Fichtenbaum, Boston, Massachusetts

“I may be little but I’m loud!” This small painting portrays a Vermont hillside visible from 37 Pleasant Street in Springfield, which I looked to as my own personal mountain of inspiration, a la Cezanne. The seasonal colors practically jump off the surface of the panel. If summer comes, can fall be far behind?

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2010 – even MORE StarLings Under Glass

by Alden Cole on June 5, 2018 · 0 comments

“When you wish upon a star, doesn’t matter who you are…”

StarLings Under Glass #4A • oil painting in reverse on glass, framed in old window sash 21″ x 28″ • $588

I continued on a creative roll in early 2010 with more of those cartoonish creations I was referring to as StarLings. Experimentation revolved primarily around the Under Glass series, which I had started painting late in 2009. The piece above was one of the more ambitious projects, drawing on an updated version of my Leonardo da Vinci-inspired Vitruvian StarLing, which I talked about in my previous posting. Topping off the composition is a Momento Mori skull with wings around a heart, copied from a grave-stone rubbing taken in a small cemetery in historic Portsmouth, New Hampshire years ago. I was still getting over the fact that I was an orphan; both parents had died the year before, so this was one more tribute to the fact that I was on my own as never before. The foreground figures watching the proceedings taking place center stage were copied from a series of life-drawings sketched in the figure workshops at the Plastic Club during the fall of 2009.

StarLings Under Glass #5-9 • Oil on glass 10″ x 8″.

The StarLings Under Glass series which I had started developing in late 2009 got anthropomorphized even more in 2010, inspired directly by Leonardo daVindi’s famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man, reproduced at the bottom of this posting. I had also devoted some time and space to this influence in the previous posting featuring work from last year in this same genre.

Each original painting on glass is framed trumeau-style – a combination of mirror and artwork – in art-deco-type frames 18″ x 10″ made of chrome steel. Consistent with a tendency on my part to stand things on their heads, the artwork and mirror positions have been reversed from their usual positions where the mirror predominates. Above, how the pieces look when hung in a row against a white wall. Below, the series of photos showing the individual pieces of art as seen in a window with light coming through the glass. The figures in numbers 7 and 9 are not painted so the glass is clear.

Each piece is framed as above: 180 square inches. SPECIAL PRICE: $90 each — $350 for the set of 5.

#5: Stand Tall
#6: Step Left
#7: Step Right
#8: Vitruvian Man
#9: Vitruvian Woman

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2009: Momento Mori & Year of the StarLings

by Alden Cole on March 13, 2018 · 0 comments

Memento Mori #1 • markers on illustration board 12″ x 16″ in repurposed vintage-clock oak frame 16″ x 20″

On 5 January 2009, at 1:22 in the afternoon, my mother Lois Marion Crouse Cole (b. 8 Feb 1913) died, a month short of her 96th birthday. As she breathed her last, I sat in a chair beside the hospital bed set up in the living room of the house where she had lived since 1937, holding her hand, counting the seconds between the slow in-breaths, the unhurried exhalations, finally experiencing those timeless seconds waiting for her to take that next inhalation, which never happened. Her animating spirit undramatically took flight. I experienced a sense of relief I had never known before. My mother was beyond pain. She was also beyond shaming; there was nothing I could do now that would bring shame to her name, making her regret being my mother. Yes, that startling thought actually did cross my mind; not at that particular moment, but later that afternoon as I reflected on the fact that my mother was actually deceased. I had just been witness to one of the most profound experiences of my life – watching someone die; that someone being my mother.

Memento Mori #2 • Photoshop-created jpg-graphic incorporating a detail from the marker drawing above, plus skulls copied from my painting “IBU” and a traditional poem about mortality.

I did not witness my father’s death on February 6th, a month and a day after my mother’s. I had returned to Philadelphia in late January, believing there was a good chance he would recover successfully from his bout with pneumonia, and would actually enjoy celebrating his 99th birthday on 22 July. I was wrong; he was basically ready to go the moment she was gone. They were a couple who had lived together for over 74 years, almost three-quarters of a century; a number they would have celebrated June 30th of that year.

“Well, it’s too late to shame her now.” That silent statement from deep within brought me up short, as it flew through my mind later that afternoon, after the men from the memorial chapel in Biddeford had come and taken away her donated-to-science body. There was to be no funeral; she would not be seen again by family members except as ashes; at some point in the future there would be a memorial. Pacing the barn floor, smoking a cigarette, lost in thought about what I had just experienced, the startling notion about shame and its psychological ramifications darted across my mind like a lightning bolt. I realized immediately and intuitively that the comment had been produced by the internal jester that most of us fortunately bear within us for comic relief during particularly trying times that are worthy of either bitter tears or sad laughter. Nevertheless I was shocked by the idea; despite being a gay man, I did not feel I had lived a particularly shameful life; nothing to feel overly guilty about. As I had learned years before when a caring friend helped to clarify some issues that were haunting me with the following comment: “Alden, you may be bad at times, but you’re not evil; and don’t forget there’s a difference!” The seemingly humorous quip about shame prompted me to take a deeper look at this sense of impropriety that I apparently still carried, instilled into me from day one by my family. “Do not bring shame on your family name.” It was an attitude of unspoken fear that had informed my existence from a very early age, causing me to lead a cautiously covert dual life while I was still a teenager gradually recognizing my passions. Ultimately it caused me to move away from family and the country where my comings and goings were easily noted, to living in the city where I could more easily be anonymous. My family were deeply religious country people who indoctrinated me with attitudes that gave me a sense of shame about a lot of things not worth cataloging here. Nevertheless that Christianized sense of the stain of being human gave me a definite sobriety about self and living habits from which I did not rebel as extremely as others I’ve known who’ve not survived their rebelliousness. I’m still alive thanks to those inhibitions that kept me from experimenting too broadly or wildly with a “life in the fast lane” which looked glamorous at the time to this self-destructive would-be beauty-queen who was really just a scared country boy from Maine with a BFA in Apparel Design (not to be confused with ‘fashion’ design) from RISD, on the loose in NYC looking for fame and a lover, hopeful of becoming a star at something!

Memento Mori #3 – markers on paper 9″ x 12″ – this colored-marker drawing, done in the late winter of 2009, on the heels of the drawing at the top of this posting, became the earliest artwork in an evolving series devoted to what I called “StarLings”, which I explored quite extensively during 2009-10; drawings in either b&w or color on paper plus oil paintings on glass. For this rather bizarre series I anthropomorphized the five-pointed-star shape, an artistic device originally explored when I was commissioned to design a black & white print ad for Weiser’s Bookstore in the 1980s, when the storefront was at 132 E. 24th St. in Manhattan; an ad, seen immediately below, which ran a few times in the Village Voice. Looking at these Star People now, I’m reminded of the work of Fernando Botero (1932) a Colombian figurative artist and sculptor, whose stylized corpulent figures possibly influenced my own unconsciously.

Of all places on the planet New York brings out the desire of just about anyone moving there from outside to be a Star, even if the cost of getting there requires doing some things we were trained in childhood to think of as shameful. I was no exception. As an advertising poster for the School of Visual Arts that I first noticed in the subways cogently put it: “To be good is not enough when you dream of being great!” I never made it big; but I did survive. For better or worse, fame and fortune eluded me in the eleven years I spent in New York. Crucial to my lack of success with a career on 7th Avenue was the fact that I was much more concerned with finding a friend and lover than having a great career. It really did boil down to being a choice between seeking Love or Money. Neither one really won. Between August of 1968 when I arrived in NYC and came out as a ‘gay’ male, and July of 1976, the year our country celebrated its national liberty while I was celebrating my freedom from a bad relationship, I had three relationships with live-in lovers; the first two that lasted two years each (a Mars cycle) were introductions to the disappointingly tawdry nature of much gay life, and a third that lasted only the first six months of 1976. This last experience gave me a taste of relationship hell, which in turn gave me a longing to take a break from searching for love. Instead I turned to a sexually promiscuous lifestyle, living relatively fast and definitely dangerously, as if I were looking for an early death, which I almost got in 1978, but survived to talk about. Leaving NYC in 1979 just as AIDS was coming on the scene, probably saved my life. Am I glad I survived? That’s a good question which I’ve asked myself many times throughout my life. At this point I’d say definitely ‘yes’ despite the disappointment and difficulties of my life choices: feeling like a ‘fish out of water’ much of the time; neither truly gay nor truly straight; living alone in the midst of a crowd. It’s been the story of my life; living in the city where I’m constantly reminded of the amazing diversity of human aliveness. I actually thrive on that knowledge now, particularly as I look out my second floor office window, watching cars pass by, seeing the occasional pedestrian(s) on the sidewalk across the street passing through the neighborhood; my neighbors leaving for work, or returning home; the parade of young and old; the passage of time. I recognize that this is the life I’ve wanted for myself since I was a child. I had grown up in a virtual garden of Eden living in the country, but I was raised to look forward to living in the city of God. And if I’ve learned anything through my life here and there, it’s that every city is ultimately that – a City of God, flawed as it may be in comparison to the ideal we carry in our hearts and minds eye.

Taking a cue from Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing of what has become known as the Vitruvian Man, I came up with a variation that saw a number of incarnations during the spring and summer of 2009 after my parents deaths. Below is the first, the result of awakening from a dream with a vivid image of an androgynous star-shaped being shining in my mind. I got out of bed immediately and drew what I could remember of the vision in pencil on a 9″x12″ sketch pad,
which I later colored with markers, seen at left. The vision of that shimmering being with four hands and four feet inspired by Leonardo’s drawing made its next significant appearance in a reverse oil painting on glass, which I worked on in stages that summer, finally completing it during the fall of 2009. I framed the 8″ x 10″ piece of painted glass in a lovely carved-wood desk-frame, then lived with it in various locations in my home for the next three years. In 2012 I decided to put it into the DaVinci Art Alliance’s annual December Holiday Art Show to see if it would sell. All submitted art had to be priced at $200 or under to encourage holiday buying. I priced mine at the maximum amount allowable, and hoped that someone would recognize what a bargain it was for the price.

StarLing Under Glass #3 • oils on glass, 10″ x 8″ in carved wood frame • collection of James Warhola (1955- ) an American artist who has illustrated more than two dozen children’s books since 1987.

I walked into the opening night reception to discover from a friend who greeted me at the door that indeed my new StarLing Under Glass piece had sold; in fact it had been bought just minutes earlier by Jamie Warhola, nephew of Andy Warhol, who was in town to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his famous uncle’s death. I had known Jamie was going to be there that night; Debra Miller, the DaVinci Art Alliance’s president of the board of directors, was a personal friend of his. She had known Andy in NYC when she was a teenager, and as an art historian had become a great admirer of his work, which eventually led her to interview members of the Warhola family including Jamie. Early in 2012 she decided the DaVinci should have a 25th anniversary show in honor of Andy’s influence in the arts to coincide with publication of a book she was planning – “Wahholized: The Silver Show.” The bulk of the book would be devoted to showing full page reproductions of individual works by the alliance’s membership revealing Andy’s diverse influences on the visual arts, plus the members’ verbal reflections on Andy’s personal impact on their work. This would be prefaced with brief introductory essays by Debra, Jamie Warhola, his brother and sister Martin and Madalen, Gerard Malanga who worked with Andy at the Factory, and myself. Titled “I’ve been Warholized!” my essay recounted Andy’s profound influence on my artistic consciousness as a youth; I was 18 years old in the summer of 1962, having just graduated high school and looking forward to my freshman year at RISD. That same summer Andy attained celebrity status as a pop artist with his trend-breaking show “32 Campbell Soup Cans” first shown in LA that July to mixed reviews: establishment shock and youthful adulation. I was a member of the disgusted shock contingent when I finally became aware of Andy’s Soup Cans, which caused me to ask in dismay “This is Art?” Life had just gotten more complex as my illusions suffered the slings and arrows of art market reality. However, as I realized while writing my essay, in a lot of ways life got easier for me as a result of Andy’s ground-breaking explorations expanding our culture’s understanding of “What constitutes Art” as well as Life. Ultimately we’re still reeling from his influence.

So in 2012, fifty years after the initial shock wave and my repulsion to Andy’s art, I was ironically volunteering to design and publish this proposed book about him using Amazon’s self-publishing and distributing arm, CreateSpace. Although the book had been published earlier in the year, Debra used the December holiday show as an apt occasion to promote and sell copies of the book. To that end she enjoined Jamie Warhola with whom she had developed a personal friendship over the years, to travel to Philadelphia to share some reminiscences about his uncle for the opening reception. It also gave Jamie the opportunity to promote his own work as an illustrator, which is impressive. I bought two of his children’s books as gifts for my grand-niece and -nephew in Alaska, as a token thank you to him for buying my StarLings Under Glass, a sale which made my night. As most older artists recognize, one of the last big thrills is selling our work to an appreciative audience.

StarLings Under Glass #4 aka Momento Mori #4 • oils on glass, framed in weathered window sash 22″ x 24″ • another early experiment in learning to paint in reverse on glass, commemorating my parents who died in the winter of 2009, only a month apart. Painted in November 2009

I had returned to my home in Philadelphia the last week
of January to discover that my friends, the Dumpster Divers, had been given use of an empty double-wide storefront at 734-6 South Street which we were welcome to turn into a temporary art gallery until the space was rented again to a paying customer. South Street was in a business
slump, with lots of empty storefronts, so a group of owners started an initiative to make those empty spaces available on a temporary basis to groups connected to the arts in order to keep South Street looking busy and vibrant. This opportunity created a new focus to commit energy to, rather than dwelling on, first, my mother’s death, followed by my father’s in early February. Once both parents were deceased and their bodies were in the hands of science, I had time to reflect on being an orphan without living parents at last, a state a number of my friends had already experienced. At age 65, I was finally on my own in the world. The Last Refuge of Original Home and Hearth in case all else failed was no more. My parents were beyond shaming; but on the other hand, they were also beyond learning about any of my future accomplishments and taking pride.

“And Delicious…” • hobo-style box measuring 16″ x 8″ x 4″ crafted from wooden crates used for shipping fruit – maybe apples or oranges or peaches – to which I applied the two whimsical marker drawings (seen above) done that spring. Add to them a star shape made from sculptor’s wax; Voila! you have one of my more eccentric artworks.

StarLings #3: Shakin’ the Booty in the Blue TV Screen Light • marker drawing on paper 9″ x 12″ • I drew lots of quick StarLing sketches that winter, but only a few made it into vibrant color. Looks like this one might have been done around Valentine’s day as there’s a ‘broken’ heart as part of the drawing.

StarLings #4: “On Parade”, aka “The Hits Keep On A’coming” aka “Dance to the Music” • marker drawing on paper 9″ x 12″ • the sketches kept getting looser and looser that spring, symptoms of a mind adrift, a mind at sea, which I definitely was feeling that year as I contemplated my new unanchored situation.

StarLing #5: “Venus Fly-Trap” • pencil on paper 9″ x 6″ • This drawing was inspired by a DaVinci Art Alliance exhibit on carnivorous plants in collaboration with Bartram’s Garden in West Philadelphia where the show was held that summer. The theme – Little Shop of Horrors – evoked several drawings in preparation for the exhibit, from which I selected two for framing; the one at left, as well as the one below – StarLing #9 – shown here in both its initial black & white version, as well as its later coloring which was the final piece framed. I used the shapes of the purple pitcher plant – Sarracenia Purpurea – to
reiterate the star shape, and to introduce an erotic element as an additional comment on the subject of the predatory nature of the featured plants as well as those human beings driven to Stardom. Having had numerous encounters of varying duration and intensity with predatory individuals over the years, as well as being at least partially aware of my own predatory nature and habits, I know whereof I speak in this regard. Much of my discomfort with my own personal history as a gay male has to do with that predatory nature, dealing with its unconscious drives and emotional pressures, not to mention the complexity of alternating between states of shame over the thoughtlessness of what I’ve done and pride for what I’ve NOT done.

StarLings #7: Dancing with the Stars • pencil on vellum tracing paper 12″ x 9″ in antique frame 21″ x 17″

Along with the sense of shame evoked by taking advantage of others, was the sense of pride at having helped others. Learning to balance these states alternating between times of programmed self-loathing and other times of enlightened self-love has created a complex, rather conflicted life for me. But again, I’ve survived my lower nature by channeling the energy into what I consider higher activity – making ART. Yes. I’ve lived a life fraught with illusions about a lot of things including shame and pride. Waking up to the reality of living in a balanced state of grace that is neither shameful or prideful is my goal. However STAYING awake in that benign state of being is one of the great challenges of having a human nature. I’m working on it…

StarLings #10: Dancing with the Stars #2 • pencil on illustration board 5″ x 7″ in Aldenized frame 6″ x 8″

A miniaturized attempt utilizing the composition of the larger drawing above to answer the challenge of creating a visual showing the blending of two StarLings into a single Star, illlustrative of Aleister Crowley’s statement that “Every Man and Every Woman is a Star” with shades of the daVinci’s Vitruvian Man thrown in as an influence in the composition.

Dancing in the dark ’til the tune ends
We’re dancing in the dark and it soon ends
We’re waltzin’ in the wonder of why we’re here
Time hurries by, we’re here and we’re gone

Lookin’ for the light of a new love
To brighten up the night, I have you love
An’ we can face the music together
Dancing in the dark

StarLings Under Glass #1 & 2 • oils on glass, 10″ x 8″ • my earliest simplistic explorations with painting in reverse on glass.

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Looking back to 2008 – Part 2: Outer Nature

by Alden Cole on February 28, 2018 · 0 comments

“Spring Fling” • oils on masonite panel 12″ x 16″ • painted behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art one fine morning in early spring, the year I started painting plein air again after a break of a number of years, drawing on nature observed, refocusing away from “Inner Nature” after painting exclusively from the imagination for quite some time, and returning to the portrayal of “Outer Nature”. It was a whole new creative challenge that ultimately persists to the present, although the focus now has shifted from landscape painting to The Portrait, which I still consider the most challenging of the painterly skills. Some work in that direction is featured in this blog, two postings back, from 5 December.

“Earth Wind & Fire” • oils on masonite panel 12″ x 16″ • my second plein air painting that season, done on friend SA’s deck on the 8th floor of the Park Plaza, a high-rise apartment building turned condo association on Ford Road in Philadelphia, overlooking a section of Fairmont Park – just trees and sky, with a storm blowing through. That was the spring when I was socializing quite a lot with a couple of the more colorful characters in my life who shall remain nameless to protect their innocence. I had met them together in early December 2007 at the opening of my Lighting Show at Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Garden on South Street in Philadephia. When they came up to me to introduce themselves and congratulate me on a beautiful show, I remembered that I had met DB, the male member of the duo, at my POST open house in October, earlier that year. His cohort SA introduced herself as a former New Yorker, as well as one-time couturier, having designed wedding dresses for wealthy patrons for a number of years, which established an immediate connection between us based on shared experiences as New Yorkers working in the fashion industry.

“Raccoon Point: Looking West” • oils on masonite panel 16″ x 15″ • painted Memorial Day weekend while visiting the Maryland shore of the Chesapeake Bay with friend VN. The weather was about as good as it gets that weekend, so we spent much of it sitting comfortably outside, close to the water, painting and talking about life and love and everything in between. “Vissi d’arte; vissi d’amore.”

“Raccoon Point: Looking South” • watercolor on paper 9″ x 12″ • private collection. On Sunday, the second full of the Memorial Day weekend, I turned my attentions to working in a combination of colored pencil and watercolor, mediums which gave a very different look to the landscape and the water from my oil painting of the day before, seen above.

“The Lotus Pond at Bartram’s Garden” • oils on canvas 16″ x 12″ • collection of J. Henning.

Several times late that spring and early summer DB picked me up and drove us over to West Philadelphia to do some plein air painting at Bartram’s Garden, the “oldest surviving botanic garden in North America. Located on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, it covers 46 acres and includes an historic botanical garden and arboretum.” On one of those first forays into the natural environment of the spacious garden, I was drawn to what I thought was the Lily Pond, where I created the painting above. Recently however I discovered that the flower is actually a lotus, not the lily I had been claiming it was, thanks to an old Air Force friend who purchased the painting and questioned whether the depicted was really a lily, or if it indeed was a lotus as its foliage indicated. Always good to learn the difference between two such classic flowers. Particularly nice to know that my portrayal of the plant’s foliage was accurate enough to warrant the query.

“Plein Air Painting at Bartram’s Garden” • oils on repurposed legal-size clip-board, 16″ x 9″ • collection of D. Brewer

On another trip to Bartram’s Garden, DB chose to paint the same lotus pond that I had depicted on the previous visit. So while he set himself up in a spot directly in front of the pond to take advantage of the gloroius view, I decided to move south on the walking path, where I set up my easel in order to paint DB painting – that old tried-and-true device used by many a plein air painter of depicting their friends, other artists, in the act of creating. In my personal estimation, this was one of my finest accomplishments in the genre of landscape painting done that spring or since. There’s something about the incorporation of a figure into a landscape painting that gives it a whole new level of aliveness.

“Center City Philadelphia as seen from Bartram’s Garden” • oils on masonite panel, 10″ x 13″

There are several spots near the top of the hill at Bartram’s Garden where the Philadelphia skyline looms on the horizon, creating an Oz-like vista in the distance. All that is missing is a yellow-brick road, leading to this modern city of concrete, glass, and steel, with skyscrapers reaching for the stars; an appealing, almost magical, look that I tried capturing in paint at least twice.

“Center City Philadelphia from Bartram’s Garden #2″ – oils on canvas 11″ x 14” – purchased anonymously from a gallery in 2009; provenance unknown

With the first painting of the Philadelphia skyline above, I tried to create the feeling of a frame within a frame, a device I’ve used in various guises over the years, in drawing and photography as well as paint. With the second, I took the scene right to the edge of the canvas. Painted from the top of the hill at Bartram’s overlooking that mesmerizing field of gold, with the sparkle of the city in the distance, I can understand why the painting sold from the gallery the Dumpster Divers occupied on South Street for almost a year in 2009.

“New Hampshire Idyll: Scott Pond” • oils on canvas 10″ x 12″ • private collection

While vacationing in Vermont with KS, we were invited to spend a weekend at Scott Pond in the western heart of New Hampshire, where we kayaked and loafed around, eating our fill of good food and imbibing cheer. While my friends were out on the water Saturday afternoon, I found a comfortable spot under the trees to paint. When they returned, my hostess was so effusive with her praise over the artwork I had creted in their absence that I gifted her and her husband with the small painting to her great delight.

“Inside, Looking Out” (from Pleasant Street in Springfield Vermont, looking west toward the heart of town) – oil on MDF panel 4″ x 6″ – mounted on repurposed antique leather-bound book cover 11″ x 14″

This was a ‘sort-of’ plein air painting done in situ, but not in the open air; it was painted inside the bedroom of the house where I stayed a good many times in Springfield Vermont. One of the smallest painting I’ve ever attempted, it’s a good reminder that I’m no miniaturist. 😉

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Looking back to 2008 – Part 1: Inner Nature

by Alden Cole on January 23, 2018 · 0 comments

“Piece of my Heart” • oils on linen canvas-board 24″ x 18″, in Aldenized frame 27″ x 21″ • As indicated in my previous posting of over a month ago, 2008 was a watershed year, when I turned that age made famous for my generation by Paul McCartney in his winsomely youthful “Will you still love me when I’m 64?” It was a year that saw my creativity expand into painting ‘plein air’ for the first time in over two decades, trying to capture the landscape around me – Outer Nature – via expeditions to Bartram’s Garden in West Philadelphia and elsewhere. These explorations were in addition to my consistent and abiding interest in illustrating Inner Nature, telling visual stories and thereby learning to laugh at myself through the medium of paint. It was another year of fulfilling my early motto of “Shock them, offend them if you must, but get them to pay attention.” The painting above was an example of ‘tongue-in-cheek’ wearing my heart on my sleeve, trying to express the vicissitudes of a disappointing love life, combined with the understanding developed over several decades of observation, turning heartbreak into poetry, inspired by that classic roll’n’roll lyric “Take Another Little PIece of my Heart Now Baby” by Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns, and made particularly famous for my generation through the rendition of Janis Joplin.

“IBU” (acronym for Inward Bound University) aka “The Tragedy of Othello” • oils on plywood panels, each 12″ x 12″ • mounted on a larger panel measuring 17″ x 69″ • collection of Cassie Vega-Ramirez.

Created in the spring of 2008 for a DaVinci Art Alliance collaboration with the Lantern Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Othello, the composition was based on a detail from an idea first drawn with markers in the early 1990s on thin cardboard measuring 6″ x 21″ seen below.

The idea behind the visuals was this: “I can be angry; I can be blue; I can be blissed out. The choice is my responsibility. Regardless of those choices, I’m gonna be dead someday. GET IT! so what choices shall I make in the interim? It’s up to me.” The interesting story behind it’s creation is that the size restrictions for the art show were 36″ x 36″ maximum, with two pieces allowed. The piece I envisioned was way larger in width than those restrictions; however it was still smaller in terms of square inches used of wall space. With that as the rationale I was able to convince the curators to allow the entry of my artwork, which was in process of evolving at the time, thank you Deb & Dave. The Othello connection was this: Angry Iago, Blue Othello, Blissfully Innocent Desdemona, all three of them wind up dead by the end of the play, pointing up the tragedy of envy and blind jealousy. As far as the Student Lounge reference, IBU is an acronym for Inward Bound University, coined by a friend to describe what my apartment had become – a type of student lounge for several others students who lived in our ‘dorm’ which was right across 6th street from my friend JMH, whom I had moved to Philadelphia to study with in 1986. My world was changing thirty years ago, and I was becoming a much more social guy open to the blessings of the universe.

“Growing Up With Draja Mickaharic” • Original marker drawing on paper ca. 12″ x 9″ • collection of Josh Simon

In the summer of 2008 another student of our teacher asked me to design a book cover for a small volume he was planning to self-publish, describing his own spiritual journey with our friend and teacher JMH. At left, the original artwork; below left, how it was used. This was the last of the many book-covers I designed over the years, starting in 1975. The idea behind the visual was
based on a diagram we had studied revealing simplistically the relationship between the four major aspects of the SELF. Working their way up from the base of the drawing are representations of the Animal Body (the Physical self) becoming the Inner Self (the Emotional self) becoming the Outer Self (the Intellectual self) becoming the Divine Self (the Observer beyond verbal explanation). My fellow student loved the concept I came up with, as well as its execution. Applause to my ears.


“Arcadian Dreams” #2 • oils on linen attached to plywood panel, 8″ x 36″ • This was one of the first painting projects of the new year 2008; based on a small drawing on vellum tracing paper done in pencil with markers, that went back to the early 1980s while living in Portsmouth, NH. This apocalyptically colored version in turn stimulated its antithesis in the version seen below, which became the center-panel of an ambitious furniture piece.

“Arcadian Dreams” #3 • oils on 9″ x 44″ walnut panel. Seen at left as a panel painting; then as part of an
antique walnut headboard 51″ x 56″ that was originally part of a bedroom suite that included the bedstead, a bureau, a commode, and a plant stand which I inherited from my grandmother Edeth Belle Waterhouse Cole when she died a few months short of her 99th birthday in 1979, while I was still living in NYC. I was not able to claim the suite until twelve years later when I moved into my present home in Philadelphia. Although the bedstead was set up for a few years, the bed eventually collapsed under guests who were visiting from New Hampshire, so the bed got retired and became the basis of art instead of sleeping.

“Dancing Green Man” • oils on plywood panel 12″ x 12″ mounted on repurposed cabinet door, 15″ x 15″. Occasionally I turn the tables on the usual way of presenting artwork by painting the piece to hang on the diagonal, such as the artwork at left, one of the few pieces done in that manner. This particular painting is inspired by various sacred iconographies both Western and Eastern, including various aspects of the Hindu mythology surrounding concepts of Shiva, the Destroyer of Life – one of the sacred trinity that includes Brahma the Creator, and Vishnu the Maintainer of Life.

“Great Balls of Fire” • oils on plywood panel 12″ x 12″ mounted on repurposed cabinet door 15″ x 15″ * collection of Anne Ostroff • Although I spend very little time making art to express ‘the dark side’ of my psyche, occasionally it’s good to explore those less-frequently examined areas; a little art therapy for taking a creative look at anger and learning to understand its power and control its manifestations. The painting above was a highly-developed piece which took hours of tedious painting of details, based on a more simplified drawing on paper, dating back to the ’90s.

“Devas” aka “I Sing the Body Electric” (thank you Walt Whitman) • oils on plywood panel 12″ x 12″ mounted on repurposed stretcher bars 15″ x 15″ • This painting from the spring of 2008 was one of the few paintings that emerged directly from my experience of India in 2005. Some ideas percolate more slowly than others before they see the light of day.

“Face to Face” #4 • oils on plywood panel 12″ x 12″ mounted on repurposed cabinet door 15″ x 15″ • Painted sometime in the fall of 2008, this painting was one more attempt to portray that kiss suggesting an experience of the cosmic which I’ve been enamored of since I was a child, and which has been a recurring refrain throughout my oeuvre from the beginning.

“Face to Face” #2 aka “Peek-a-boo” • oils on plywood panel 12″ x 12″ mounted on repurposed cabinet door. Ultimately this is an homage to some of the more intimate, less-known painting of 20th century artist George Tooker (5 Aug 1920 – 27 Mar 2011) whose art has been a great inspiration to my own over the years since first encountering his work in the 70s while living in NYC.

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As new as yesterday, as old as a decade ago…

by Alden Cole on December 5, 2017 · 1 comment

“Seeing likeness in a portrait is to recognize the craftsman in the artist. Finding soul is to discover the artist in the craftsman.” – Bernard Poulin (4 Jan 1945 – )

2017: Friends • a new series of portraits painted with acrylics on waxed natural-colored plywood-panels measuring 13″ square, using only four colors – white, black, yellow ochre, & red ochre. I have never used such a limited palette of colors to try to express flesh tones, always having used a variety of earth tones such as the siennas and umbers – both raw and burnt – to attempt portraying 3-
dimensional flesh on a 2-dimensional surface. So how did this come about? Suddenly last summer after a number of years of not doing any portraits at all, I painted two of them (featured in my posting of September 23 – Portraiture: Past Tense, Present Tense) working from photographs of a friend who sat for me. Since then my thoughts have increasingly turned to the fascination of the face,
the locking of the eyes that happens between viewer and viewed in certain pieces of art. To explore the antiquity of that artistic device to connect the living with the dead through representation, I recently purchased an inspiring volume entitled “The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Ancient Egypt” written by Euphrosyne Doxiadis. She reproduces a wealth of imagery from that
period plus provides a revealing text about these extraordinary Greek-artisan-created mummy portraits from the Coptic period in Rome-dominated Egypt, dating from the 1st to the 3rd centuries. Among the many things learned from my reading of Doxiadis’ informative and well-researched text was a fact which I found startling: these ancient portraits had been created using only four
colors, the ones described above. Spurred to experiment I’ve been having a great time creating the portraits shown here, all created one after another within the last two weeks. I’m truly amazed at the variety of color I’ve been able to achieve with such a limited palette. I’m learning something new with every portrait worked on. Thanks to my friends for modeling for these portraits: father-and-son William and Will, Charlie, Frank & Warren, for being my first experimental sitters in this new and exciting exploration of a genre that, for too long, I have considered beyond my ken or my skill level. Since beginning this series, two more volumes dealing with portraiture have come into my hands which have challenged and inspired me in my quest. “Van Gogh Face to Face: The Portraits” – the catalog for a traveling exhibition that started at the Detroit Institute of Arts, moved to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, before heading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where I saw this powerful show in the fall of 2000. This book too has been a revelation that has added immensely to my understanding and enjoyment of portraiture in general and van Gogh’s work in particular, stimulated by seeing that mesmerizing movie “Loving Vincent” a few weeks ago, which I touched upon in my most recent blog. The second volume worth mentioning is “Artist’s Self-portraits” with text by Omar Calabrese, a deluxe Abbeville Press production that is an outstanding example of beautifully designed book making. What a treat to immerse myself in some of the most outstanding portraits that have ever been created.

“When you realize the difference between the container and the content, you will have knowledge.” – Idries Shah (16 Jun 1924 – 23 Nov 1996)

The Divine Lorraine Series: Awakened – Observed – Engaged – Transformed • acrylics and oils on MDF panels, framed in salvaged, stripped & refinished
window sashes, measuring 39″ x 30″ each, from the The Divine Lorraine, originally the Lorraine Apartments, at Broad St and Fairmount Ave in North Philadelphia. The renovation of this outstanding late-beaux-arts building is finally nearing completion after numerous years of false starts and delays which have kept this once elegant building from taking its rightful place again as a Philadelphia landmark of distinction.

2008: So what was I up to as a self-employed artist a decade ago with
time on my hands, and lots of ideas in my head? After a period of intense diversionary creativity in the early-to-mid 2000s, during which I focused almost exclusively on my lamps – those over-the-top luminaries that I’m even more noted for in some circles than my paintings – I once again turned to the easel with renewed interest and vigor. One of the first projects of the new year 2008 was painting four panels to fill four empty window sashes which a friend had salvaged from the Divine Lorraine, and from which she only wanted the
pebbled-textured translucent glass for a project of her own. Needless to say, when she offered me the sashes, beat up as they were, I jumped at the opportunity because I loved the arched shape of the sashes so much. I could already envision a series of paintings filling the voids left by the removal of the glass. Thereafter, I spent many an hour in the fall of 2007 stripping all four sashes of their numerous coats of paint, until I eventually got down to natural wood which showed the wear-and-tear aging of the years. The paintings themselves didn’t take nearly
as much time to create, as stripping the sashes in preparation for these colorful images. All are based on the theme of rapture, or exaltation; a theme that would probably be dear to the heart of Father Divine (1876-1965) the charismatic minister and early 20th century preacher who founded the Universal Peace Mission Movement. In 1948 he purchased the property which had originally been built between 1892-94 as the Lorraine Apartments, one of the first high-rise buildings in the city, and one of its most luxurious apartment buildings. This in turn had become the Lorraine Hotel in 1900. Father Divine, who has a very interesting history himself, turned the building into the Divine Lorraine, the first racially integrated hotel in Philadelphia, a landmark which experienced its heyday of fame during the middle decades of the 20th century. With Father Divine’s death in the mid-60s, the Hotel suffered a decline, was finally closed in the late 1990s, suffered the indignities of abandonment and salvage operations which stripped the building of much of its contents (including my window sashes) until 2012 when a developer finally started the last phases of renovation that draw to a close this year.

2007: To Hell in a Hand Basket • iridescent acrylics and oils on panel, approximately 14″ x 24″ • provenance unknown

This piece and the others below, which have been featured in recent daily emails, were all created in
2007, using found surfaces which I repurposed for art – table tops, drawers, miscellaneous plywood panels. Almost all these Big Bang abstractions were painted with the same iridescent acrylics that I have been using for years in my luminary work, on both metal and glass.

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Loving Vincent

by Alden Cole on November 19, 2017 · 0 comments

“I would like to show by my work what this nobody has in his heart.
Your loving Vincent.” – Vincent van Gogh (30 Mar 1853 – 29 Jul 1890) in a letter to his brother Theo.

Like Vincent, I too would like to show through my work what is dearest to my heart. “Inside, Looking Out – Theme and Variations.” At left in the photo is my second oil painting done in the late summer of 1973. The accompanying three variations were created over forty years later, in the springs of 2014 and 2017. All four paintings are now hanging on consignment in the law offices of Charleson, Braber, McCabe & Denmark, Center City Philadelphia. Thank you Liam!!! An interesting coincidence: both Vincent and I started painting in our late 20s, a result of our first Saturn Return, an astrological transit that is always life altering.

On Tuesday November 7th, I saw the movie “Loving Vincent” – one of the most extraordinary cinematic experiences I have had the good fortunate to see on the big screen and feel to the depths of my soul. Did Vincent commit suicide as he was reputed to have done? or was it a tragic accident?? This probing drama which brings Vincent’s paintings to life through the combined medium of animation and special effects, questions the official record, opening up a debate about what really happened, providing a variety of possible options to an ultimately unanswerable question.

“Inside, Looking Out #19” aka “Intervale Moonrise” – acrylics of plywood panel, framed in antique window sash 28″ x 34″ – collection of Selena Starbard.

This work painted in Maine during the late summer of 2013 is probably the one painting in my own personal oeuvre to date that is most profoundly influenced by Vincent’s extraordinary work. At the top, I’ve featured it without a frame; just above is how the painting is actually displayed and enjoyed. This is one of a series of paintings that utilize old window sashes found in Maine and elsewhere, two more of which are featured below.

2012: Down the Intervale #9 – aka Intervale Moonrise #1 – aka Inside, Looking Out #11 – now renamed Starry Starry Night #1 in honor of Vincent whose creative explorations have increasingly inspired my own. Oil on plywood panel, framed in antique window sash 21″ x 25″ – collection of Carley Dunn.

My connection to Vincent goes back to my teens when I first saw Starry Night – one of Vincent’s most famous images – in a volume of John Canaday’s Seminars in Art published between 1958 and 1960 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This mid-twentieth-century series promoting culture for the millions had a profound effect on my creative tastes as a teenager, and my subsequent artistic development.

2013: Intervale Moonrise #2 aka Moonrise and Windrows – acrylics on plywood panel framed in antique window sash 27″ x 32″ – collection of Liam & Missy Braber.

When I first encountered Vincent’s outrageous painting style noted for his use of impasto – the thick layering of pigment – I was not impressed. To my eyes, it looked like the sloppy work of a child. My early tastes had been defined by the illustrative rather than the painterly, having been raised on the likes of Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth instead of Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. What impressed me about the making of art was the creation of illusion: achieving a realistic 3-dimensional effect on a flat 2-dimensional surface. To my eye, Vincent’s style was too raw, unrealistic, fantastical even.

2012: Under the Ash Tree – oil on plywood panel, framed with antique wood sash 20″ x 25″

But in time, Vincent’s work grew on me; an acquired taste, like caviar and brussels sprouts, fine champagne and truffles. As my own art has matured and developed, so has my respect for the extraordinary artistry that Vincent explored in less than a decade between the time when he started painting at age 28, and his untimely death at age 37. In that brief span of time Vincent created over 800 paintings, numerous works on paper, as well as a treasure trove of correspondence written to his brother Theo, who died within six months of Vincent’s death. Soul Mates? Their connection was remarkable.

2012: Down the Intervale #14 aka Haying Season – oil on plywood panel 9″ x 19″.

Vincent reputedly sold only one painting during his lifetime, out of the hundreds that he created. Whenever I get discouraged questioning my own life as an artist, I remind myself that I’ve been fortunate to have sold a number of my paintings over the years to friends and admirers; a reminder that there are many people in my life who truly wish me the best. As one California friend put it recently: “Please feel as good about yourself as I feel about you.” Thank you Jerry!

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Back to New England & the Maine woods

October 24, 2017

The October Harvest Moon seen rising (virtually full) in a series of close and closer shots, Tuesday 3 October 2017 while I was vacationing in Maine; coming up just beyond the corner of the old family barn. Each autumn I make an annual trip to Maine to check in on my roots, specifically a small […]

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Portraiture: Past Tense/Present Tense

September 23, 2017

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” – Oscar Wilde (16 Oct 1854 – 30 Nov 1900) There’s something about a face! Like most artists, I am strongly drawn to that mask through which we earthlings view the world, particularly to the sparkle of the […]

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In Search of Togetherness in a new Millennium

September 6, 2017

“Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books, build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day.” – John Wooden (14 Oct 1910 – 4 Jun 2010) It’s All About Choices #4 • […]

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Bakers Dozen – a millennial miscellany

August 24, 2017

2000: Yin/Yang #2 • oil on linen, 28″ x 36″ • collection of Gwen Friend-Martin By June of 2000 when I turned fifty-six, the dooms-day hype surrounding the millennial change had subsided into the lengthy history of apocalypses unfulfilled. The tenor of the times had shifted however; selfishness was in the air. “Every man for […]

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Transitioning into the new Millennium

July 23, 2017

1999: The Choice is Ours #1 • oil on canvas, 12″ x 16″ • collection of Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow! The end of the 90s and the transition into the new millennium was marked by radical changes in my life. In 1996, Roberts & Raymond Associates, the advertising agency where I had been working […]

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Expansion/Contraction in the Early ’90s

July 4, 2017

Among the Mythty* Mountains • oil on canvas, 36″ x 78″ On 19 April 1991, I moved from the 2-room apartment on South 6th Street at Greenwich, where I had been living for the first five years of my Philadelphia experience, into the first ‘real’ home of my own – a 3-story row house at […]

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“My Fabulous Career” as a Scenic Designer

June 11, 2017

1984/5: Truth to tell, my experiences as a scenic designer would hardly qualify as a career; instead it was delightfully avocational, a chance to explore some new creative territory, make some new friends. I was living in a sweet little apartment in Portsmouth NH, working in Cape Neddick ME for Samuel Weiser Inc. as art […]

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