2010-11: giving old work a new life, plus…

by Alden Cole on December 4, 2018 · 0 comments

2010-11 saw the useful repurposing of earlier works on various substrates – paper, canvas, and plywood panel – into signage for events connected with both the Dumpster Divers and the DaVinci Art Alliance. The two pieces above – stylized night and day scenes – had been created as reduced-size preliminary comps to show a client ideas for a frieze that I eventually painted on two walls of one of their bedrooms. However, the final design was not based on either of the two pieces shown here; but that’s another story…

The plywood panels which measured 10″ x 48″ became the basis for signage created for the
Dumpster Divers when we occupied a gallery space on South Street in 2010. The night scene was morphed into a sign for Randy Dalton’s Blue Grotto, which was one of the highlights of the gallery. The day scene was transformed into a sign for general gallery use, stating what I considered to be the creative intent of such an eclectic gallery:
“Look Around! Be Amused! Get Inspired!”

In the spring of 2011, the DaVinci Art Alliance put up an exhibit of artworks inspired by William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in collaboration with the Lantern Theater’s production of the play. I got onto a roll with transforming what I considered inferior artworks from my Spin Art
period into signage for the occasion; works on paper that seemingly had no future. I figured “What the heck: recycle ’em or get rid of ’em.” The gallery space for the exhibit was in the rehearsal space in the basement of the theater, in what was sometimes referred to as the Black Box. As you can see from the attached files, I had an interesting time taking some very colorful artworks from the late 70s when I was painting with liquified oil paints, then adding type that was intended to serve as directional guides for the audience to visit the exhibit downstairs during intermission. I have
to admit that this was not terribly effective ultimately. possibly due to lack of clear legibility; possibly due to lack of audience interest. Whatever, I had a great time giving these old pieces a new lease on life, even if only a temporary one. At this point they’re probably bound for an event that friends Michelle Post and Dave Carrow call their annual Bonfire of the Travesties, which is where a lot of artwork that probably shouldn’t have seen the light of day has the opportunity to go up in flames and provide a little warmth at the same time.

For the exhibit of artworks
inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I was able to enter three paintings, one of which was considerably larger than the usual size limitations for DaVinci shows; the exhibition area was spacious and welcomed larger pieces. The first art submitted was the one at left; painted with colorful liquified oils on paper, measuring 26″ x 32″ – another left-over similar to the altered artworks above from the spin art period of the late 70s; a piece that I had a great fondness for which had gone through minor and major revisions with the years, morphing from totally abstract to being populated with numerous figures that were stenciled onto the background. I saw the piece as expressive of the restless motion conjured by the mischievous fairy Puck during the play: ““Up and down, up and down, I will lead them up and down, I am feared in field in town, Goblin, lead them up and down”

“Titiana, Queen of the Fairies” • oils on canvas 26″ x 65 • collection of J.T. Davis. Coincident with the show was a commission from a friend to do a painting of a woman reclining, as a tribute to his wife, based quite literally on a photograph of Betty Page, one of the most famous of the 1950s pin-up girls. Once painted – as a blonde instead of a brunette – I realized that it could double as a tribute to the beauties of Titiana, the consort of Oberon, King of the Fairies – those two contending lovers whose personal squabbles created much of the dynamic of Shakespeare’s play – so I entered it in the show as well, with a NFS indicated. Admittedly a flawed painting, but one which provided a great practical learning experience in the doing.

“Awake and Join the Dance” • oils on linen 16″ x 36″ * a painting first started in either 2008 or ’09 and finally brought to completion in early 2011, especially for this exhibit. Although the initial impulse for the painting was not specifically inspired by A Midsummer NIght’s Dream, the feelings evoked by the play have a very similar resonance to what I was trying to create with this painting.

“Doing the Warhola” • concept piece involving four trumeau-style artworks to be hung as pairs at 90 degrees to each other, placed in two adjacent corners of a room; combined with a floor piece inspired by Andy Wahhol’s dance-step diagram paintings. These were created at the end of 2011 for an early 2012 show honoring the 25th anniversary of Andy’s death, devoted to celebrating the impact of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, a subject I could go on and on about, for better or worse…


2011: taking a look at my inner nature

by Alden Cole on September 4, 2018 · 0 comments

The Eye: #2 of a slowly evolving series titled These Are a Few of My Favorite… Body Parts • oil on linen 18” x 18” • based on a detail from a photograph taken of Omar Kabir while we were in India in June 2005 for two weeks.

This series was inspired by that captivating tune from The Sound of Music by Richard Rodgers using some altered lyrics based loosely on those by Oscar Hammerstein. The first was The Ear, pointed in 2004. Since then I’ve painted The Mouth, The Feet, and The Buttocks. As I said, it’s a very slowly evolving series, based on a quick 4″ x 6″ sketch made in the mid ’80s while living in Portsmouth, NH. All it will take to complete the series is “Time, Strength, Cash and Patience.”

Face to Face – a triptych measuring 7” x 21” composed of three individually framed oil paintings on linen canvas-board, each 6” x 6”. The individually framed paintings, first created in 2005, were combined into a single artwork especially for a 2011 DaVinci Art Alliance exhibit dealing with the theme Triumph Over Discrimination. All three paintings were seen as single entities originally pointed for a series titled Tenderness where I explored more of my emotional attachments going back to childhood.

Illusions of Artistry …Now & Then • two pencil drawings on 8-1/2” x 11” bond paper. The left-hand image is from 2004, done at age 60, with some self-knowledge under my belt about my particular life as an artist. On the right is a difficult-to-read image because the pencil lines are so light, done in 1962, at age 18. I was a freshman at RISD, my first months away from the farm and living at home, naively contemplating the illusory delights of life in the city as a ‘cool dude’ artiste. I mounted both drawings on black presentation board, making them a single work of art, framed in wood 22” x 28”, for a DaVinci Art Alliance exhibit with the theme “Then & Now” the summer of 2011.

Clownin’ Around: Now (2005) & Then (1952) • a diptych – each framed piece measuring 25” x 19” • on the left, Now, painted in oils on linen canvas-board in 2005. On the right, Then, a crayon drawing done when I was probably around age 8 in grammar school; a drawing which survived the inevitable destruction of “putting away childish things” that happens in adolescence, because my aunt Charlotte had saved it, then returned it to me when I was an adult appreciative of those earliest strivings.

In the summer of 2011 the DaVinci Art Alliance celebrated its 80th anniversary with a show themed Then & Now. Standing the phrase on its head Now & Then to give it a more familiar and poetic twist, I toyed with several variations based literally on old pencil drawings I had created during my junior and senior years of high school, plus a couple racier ones created the next, my freshman year at RISD. The originals in pencil on bond size paper were done for my own pleasure, not to fulfill class projects; nor did I seek the attentions and criticisms of my fellow students for these sentimental meanderings in pencil. These drawings were my therapy at a time of intense personal conflict: recognizing my sexual nature, and negotiating the transition from ‘childhood’ to ‘adulthood’ which I was taking VERY seriously at the time – I could write a book about it, but became an artist instead. Reviewing old drawings in 2011, approximately fifty years after their original creation, provided an entertaining spring, if not a lot of salable work. I used a few as springboards to new work. Illusions of Artistry: Now & Then, featured a few days ago, was an example of this revisioning, and my first choice as one of two possible entries to the DaVinci exhibit. Other spring experiments were often larger and in color; I was having a great time exploring the concept, because I was creating with a sense of humor that was lacking in the originals. However, because I could only put one other piece besides Illusions of Artistry into the DaVinci show, I opted for a diptych combining a painting that was a few years old at at the time, plus a work from childhood that had literally inspired it, Clownin’ Around – Now & Then. Rest assured, paintings of clowns is not a genre I have pursued any further…

Le Jongleur (The Juggler) • oil on canvas 36” x 24”

I started this particular canvas sometime in the mikd-‘70s around the time I was just beginning to paint. Living back in New York after having moved out of the city from June to Octaber 1974, I was cautiously trying to get my feet wet using this new medium of oil painting. that I had no preliminary training for. I’ve totally forgotten what the subject matter of the original first layer was, but it was a disaster. The canvas changed radically over the years, becoming the basis for more experimentation with imagery and medium than most of my other work. It wasn’t until 2011 that I finally said “Basta!” and signed it. I kinda wish I’d maintained a visual history of the many rewordings the painting experienced, so I could see how many different paintings actually exist one on top of the other.

Liebestod • colored pencils on matte-black card-stock 24” x 20” framed in antique Victorian-era frame 30” x 26” • $390

This is another work with a long history from inception to signing: first sketched out loosely on black paper with colored pencils in the late 70s while I was still living in NYC. The inspiration was music, the final scene from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde which had seduced me with its magic years before, a piece of music that had inspired earlier artworks. The drawing was left in a very unfinished state until the fall of 2011 when I was recognized its inherent beauty, even in such an unfinished state, and was challenged to bring the piece to completion for a fall exhibit at the DaVinci Art Alliance themed Triumph Over Discrimination, although I can’t remember now my rationale for the connecting this piece to the show’s theme. Artistic License apparently.

Blue Serenade • oil on linen 20″ x 48″

Another painting begun in the early 2000s that was part of a series of erotic works that were my major focus at that time. In 2012 I reworked certain passages, but like many other paintings still in my possession, it feels like there is so much more that could be done to bring it to a state of satisfactory completion.

Christmas Watch • oils and acrylics on linen 16″ x 12″

And yet another painting years in the making. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started this particular canvas in the early 2000s, but it didn’t get its finishing touches until November 2011, just in time for a December showing of work – my first solo show in quite some time – at the Pebble Hill non-sectarian church in Doylestown, PA, curated by fellow Dumpster Diver Gretchen Altabef.


2011: Painting what the outer eye sees

by Alden Cole on August 23, 2018 · 0 comments

“But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the Saco.”

Down the Intervale #3 • oil on linen canvas-board 9” x 24” • collection of Audrey & Stephen Terry

quote by Herman Melville (1819 – 1891) from chapter 1 – Loomings – of Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick. When I read that descriptive passage in late August 2012 while visiting my brother Wallace and his family in Alaska, I intuitively felt that Melville had presciently described some of my future artistic aspirations, a century before I was born. I grew up less than a quarter mile from the river he refers to, which makes me curious as to which part “in all the valley of the Saco” he was familiar with, and how he came to know it, considering that he grew up in NYC and Albany, NY. Despite how many miles long the valley of the Saco is as it comes out of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, crosses the border into Maine and snakes its way to the Atlantic Ocean through York County, the southernmost of Maine’s counties, I like to think that Melville just might have known someone in the area whom he visited, and coincidentally trod some of the same intervale ground that I trod as a child. Admittedly, there’s little chance of that being true, but I still enjoy thinking about the possibility.

*intervale: a regional term defining a tract of low-lying land, especially along a river.

Down the Intervale #8 & #10 • free-hand pencil drawings on either side of a single pine board 12” x 48”. An attempt to capture the same view of the Saco River Intervale, from the exact same spot at the back of my family’s barn. Since the two drawings are on either side of the same board, I was unable to compare how different their proportions were until I was back in Philadelphia, able to download photos then compare them by using photoshop. It was an interesting reminder of how inaccurately the eye interprets the scene in front of it when attempting to duplicate it through drawing or painting. A year or two later I colorized the top version, which I’ll feature when we get to it in chronological sequence.

Down the Intervale #7 aka It’s Buttercup and Daffodil Season • oil on masonite panel, framed with antique window sash 30” x 25”

Painted in May of 2011 while house-sitting for two weeks in Dayton, Maine at the family farm where I had grown up. My oldest brother Clark, who had inherited the property, was in California with his wife visiting their daughter. It was the first time in a long time that I had the run of the place all to myself, which was totally enchanting as well as creatively inspiring. The season was spring, that wonderful time of annual transformation when the landscape trades its gown of subdued colors – the perennial deep-greens of the conifers, plus the browns and muted purples of fallow earth plus deciduous tree trunks and bare branches – for the emerging bud colors of spring. It’s like fall in miniature – tiny reds, oranges and yellows – that precede the all-transforming myriad of various greens in the trees, as well as the fields, by May mid-month. This particular view of landscape, which has seen many variations in my painted oeuvre over the years, is an artistically-condensed view seen from the back of the barn looking east toward the Saco River, hidden behind trees in the distance. The daffodils picked from the spring-flower gardens at the front of the barn were a complementary addition to the composition as a loosely-defined bouquet in a cobalt blue bottle that originally contained medicine, probably Pepto-Bismol. The fields themselves were profusely carpeted with fresh buttercups. What a delight! truly my favorite time of year in the country; or just about anywhere for that matter…

Down the Intervale #12 • oil on illustration board, framed in half of an antique case that originally included a cover and held an early portrait photograph on glass of an unidentified individual, ca. 3” x 4”. The antique frame is mounted on an antique gold-stamped leather book-cover 9” x 12″ that was possibly part of a Bible at one point. You can see the outlines of where a clasp once was, the gold-stamping being much more vivid there • collection of Arthur Ostroff

Dooryard – Looking West • oil on plywood panel 22.5” x 32” This is the view from the front of the barn at 588 River Road in Dayton, Maine where I grew up. The barn was like a second home to me as a child; one of my major playgrounds and places of learning as I explored every nook and cranny of its expanse. The structure is about seventy-two feet long by forty feet wide, and over thirty feel tall at its peak. It truly was a place of magic for me growing up. Over the years when I’ve been questioned “So did you grow up in a barn, or what?” I truthfully have to answer “Yes, I did! and proud of it, for the sense of stability and reality it gave me”

Center City Philadelphia #3 • oil on wood panel, the bottom of a found-and-repurposed antique-bureau drawer measuring 17” x 12” x 2”

This is only the third of a series of paintings started in 2010 depicting the view as seen from my 3rd floor studio looking north to the skyscrapers of Center City about two miles away. The view continues to evolve, as new high rises are added to the skyline. At the time of this series, there were only four major ‘scrapers on the horizon – the ones I refer to as the Obelisk, the Needles, and the Monolith. But the buildings are secondary; the sky is the focus of this painting which is my tribute to one of the greatest of the cloud-scape painters, Jacob van Ruisdael (1628 – 1682) the great Dutch landscapist.

Center City Philadelphia #4 & #6: Night & Day • oil on unprimed wood panels. Painted on the bottoms of matching drawers 17” x 7” x 6” deep, which were originally part of the same street-found antique bureau that provided the wider, shallow drawer used as the basis for the above cloud-scape over the city. Totally missing from the trashed street-find were its four large bottom drawers, plus a matching companion to the shallow drawer of the above piece. All three surviving drawers were from the top section of a late 19th century mahogany-veneered bureau that must been very elegant in its day. Only the bureau’s frame, plus these three repurposed drawers, were salvageable. As usable furniture, the bureau was definitely questionable, since it was in bad, sad, beaten-up shape. But it proved utilitarian anyway; down in the basement as a divider/organizer, lying on its side, useful even without its drawers.

2011: Center City Philadelphia #5: Sunrise • oil on found piece of wood 14.5” x 5.5” • collection of Heinz & Diane Sauk-Schubert

I purposely left unpainted a magnificent Eye in the Skye – a bore or knot where a major limb had grown out from the central trunk. To make that natural beauty disappear under paint seemed a virtual sacrilege, so I didn’t. I was on a roll that year painting directly onto natural wood, unprimed, using the natural color of the wood as an element in the emerging coloration, as well as the overall composition.


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.


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?


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


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.


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. 😉


Looking back to 2008 – Part 1: Inner Nature

January 23, 2018

“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 […]

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

December 5, 2017

“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, […]

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Loving Vincent

November 19, 2017

“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 […]

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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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