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 Sabrina 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

by Alden Cole on October 24, 2017 · 0 comments

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 town named Dayton, wedged inland between the coastal cities of Biddeford & Saco, in the southernmost county, York. My oldest brother and his wife still live on the farm where I grew up, continuing to make me welcome. While there I even slept in the same bedroom I slept in as a child, though not the same twin bed; enjoying instead the luxury of a full size comfort which conveyed me to dreamland earlier in the evening than my usual late hours in Philadelphia.

I made my way north from Philadelphia to Boston by train on Thursday morning September 28, then caught a bus to Portsmouth, NH where I spent that night, plus Friday & Saturday nights, with my friends Heinz & Diane Sauk-Schubert, whom I’ve known since I lived in this quaint seacoast town which has changed dramatically in the thirty-one years since I’ve been living in Philadelphia. On Saturday Heinz and I refinished a beautiful oak table whose top had been severely stain-damaged years ago. Working together we stripped off the old varnish, carefully sanded through layers of stained wood, then oiled this fine piece of furniture that I was thrilled to help bring back to its golden finish. On Sunday he drove me up to Wells, ME, where friends Nancy & Gary Hegg live on a hill just off US Rounte 1, overlooking Wells Beach with the Atlantic in the distance. On Monday Nancy and I explored the coastal area by car, driving as far north as Gooch’s Beach, aka Kennebunk Beach, to walk her dog Lucy, where the most famous local dog-walker is Barbara Bush. We followed this by driving inland, stopping and taking walks in two different sets of Wells woods; first in search of edible mushrooms in a spot familiar to Nancy (none there) plus a pleasurable walk in a more manicured park-like setting maintained by the town near Cole’s Hill Road, a indicator that my family had moved up the coast over generations. I was reminded of how silent it can be in certain natural places, except for the sounds of birdsong and the wind through the trees, unlike living surrounded by the white noise of the city. The weather was perfect; the companionship of a long-term friend was comforting. On Tuesday we sought out one of my favorite coastal spots: a tree-lined allées leading to one of my favorite sands – Parsons Beach off Route 9, just north of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Sanctuary in Wells, and south of Kennebunkport, where I took lots of photos. After lunch in Wells Harbor, where I had never ventured before, and where I got to enjoy my first lobster roll of the season, then Nancy drove me north to Dayton and ‘home’.

“Charon” aka “Waiting” – before & after – acrylics on found antique-walnut cabinet-door 25.5″ x 11″; artwork measures 18″ x 6.25″.

Last fall I painted the simple monochrome white version at left with just water-thinned white acrylic while in Maine for my annual trip, leaving the unfinished panel there over the winter, in the barn which I use as my studio. When I arrived in Dayton Tuesday afternoon October 3rd, this was the first project I resumed working on. As soon as I had laid in a thin wash of blue in the sky area, I had a momentary regret, wondering if I should have left it as it was, without adding color. But the die was cast; the only turning back would be to scrape/scrub off the tinted area and start anew. Since I had no real interest in pursuing that route I pushed forward with my exploration, bringing it to its present color stage by the next afternoon.

Intervale Moonrise • thin washes of white acrylic on an antique (bread?) board; a single piece of pine measuring 1″ thick by 21″ wide by 36″ long, stabilized at both ends by 1″x1″s which have kept the board perfectly flat all these years.

Excited by the success of my first colorization project, I turned my attentions that same Wednesday afternoon October 4th to an even more ambitious project which I had also commenced the year before, likewise having left it there in Maine unfinished for the winter, with plans to rework it this year. I launched into this latest Aldenization with much more confidence than with the Charon started the day before. Using thin washes of just four different colors – cobalt blue, manganese blue, phthalo green and azo yellow – using acrylics which dry very quickly, some repeated several times to achieve depth of color – I rather quickly transformed this panel from the mysterious ‘before’ version seen at the top to a beautifully colored ‘after’ version just below it, in one afternoon of painting that felt timeless.

Intervale Moonrise #2 • the reverse side of the above 38″ x 21″ panel painting.

Pleased with the remarkable results achieved in the painting above I decided to continue my exploration by starting a similar painting the next day to test my emerging skills. Having created several two-sided paintings on panels over the years, I figured the best place to experiment next was on the reverse side of the panel I had just completed. To be contrary, I decided to orient the panel vertically instead of horizontally, taking advantage of the fact that there is a 1/2″ diameter hole originally drilled in one of the narrow ends of the panel, possibly for hanging on a nail. Because the surface on this side of the panel was even slicker than the other side, I had a frustrating but educational experience using the water-thinned white acrylic. The smooth textureless surface created a natural resist to the watered-down paint which I applied with different sized brushes. The natural resistance of the surface caused the paint to spread and bead up erratically, creating wonderful textures in seconds that I would have had to spend hours creating by hand. All is all, it was a great experience learning more about the tools I use to create illusion. In this case I have decided NOT to colorize the painting because it has a wonderful winter-like sparkle that is pure magic to my eyes, which would be lost if I pressed onward into color. Finito!

Are you hip to the Cornhole Game? When my nephew Mark visited me in my studio space in the back of the barn, to ask if I would be willing to paint a couple boards for his ‘cornhole’ game, I was clueless and had to ask what he meant. My generation has a whole different understanding of that word, so he explained that it’s a new name for an old game; generation X’s (or is it Y’s) appellation for the latest version of the old bean-bag toss-game. He assured me that the paintings didn’t need to be of his passions – motorcycles or cars. I told him it was a good thing, since I have no expertise in drawing such things, nor did I really care to acquire them at this late date. I said I’d give it a try if I were given carte blanche to do whatever I chose; which he agreed to, knowing my work. The next day he arrived with two 5/8″ plywood panels measuring 48″ high by 24″ wide, mounted on a framework of 2x4s, with short legs at one end to raise the panel about 10 degrees above ground level for the game, with a 7″ hole cut out near the top of the board. I was inspired as well as intrigued by the project, and dove into it with gusto. I gave both panels a good sanding, followed by a double coat of priming to create a workable painting surface, leaving them looking like the photo above.

Possibilities for the eventual artwork were already bubbling up in my mind, so the next day I set to work on a couple of ideas seen at left: small wooden panels measuring 19″ x 8″ – not exactly the same proportion as the final 48″ x 24″ panels, but good enough for experimentation – found years ago in the recesses of the barn, saved by my dad, now available for any creative use. First I painted a stylized day-lit landscape, incorporating a small male figure in the posture of adoration, or possibly throwing two bean bags at once? seen at left. Convinced that the figure was too puny, I created a larger female figure in the second version – a night scene with a variation on the landscape in the day scene.

Much as I liked these figurative ideas, I realized that time and circumstances required simplification of the concept. With a certain regret I eliminated the figures, focusing instead on just the landscape, spending a number of hours over the next three days bringing the panels to the stage of completion seen at left. I still think about those figures. Maybe next year I’ll stencil a simple outline of each figure onto the panels, leaving them transparent, as was my original intent. After all, the panels are still unsigned which means I really didn’t see them as finished. Although my nephew let me know he’s thrilled with his new AldenArt Cornhole Boards, early on he had seen my original idea comps with figures, and had like them a lot, so the possibility remains… Maybe I’ll start a trend? Or perhaps this is the beginning of a new career in the decorative arts that will keep me occupied during my ‘golden’ years?? 😉

Down the Intervale of the Saco River, Dayton, Maine – One More Time… • acrylic on wood panels 11″ x 19″ (two repurposed drawer fronts glued together)

The last art project completed while in Maine was creating a familiar scene on a repurposed stacked panel that I had prepared several years earlier by painting each level with a different intensity of blue, starting with a pale version at the top, then working darker with each succeeding layer down. The experiment proved delightfully satisfactory, and opened the door to future experiments. Onward!

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Portraiture: Past Tense/Present Tense

by Alden Cole on September 23, 2017 · 0 comments

“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 eyes, the sensuality of the mouth. I’ve been drawing faces since I was a kid in grammar school, even younger as a child in church. The face fills me with wonder, as well as dismay on occasion. I could write volumes about its power, to heal and to wound. How many poems have been written, inspired by a particular face, a glance, a look from the beloved? Eye to eye. The great mystery is the powerful sensation occasioned by the locking of the eyes between two people that inspires artists to attempt capturing, in whatever medium they choose, that moment when two pairs of eyes meet for the first time. And possibly linger, lost in the depths of the other for a moment of eternity.

Me, Myself & I • oil on linen, 27″ x 36″ • collection of the artist. Started in 2006, not brought to its present stage until late 2012.

PAST TENSE: In my evolving estimation of artistic values, I’ve always considered portraiture to be the ultimate art, the greatest challenge to an artist, requiring at least some level of sympatico between portrayer and portrayed. As well as a spirited cooperation between the heart, head and hand of the artist in attempting the impossible: to distill the essence of a 3-dimensional being onto a 2-dimensional surface. Perhaps sculptors have it easier? My background in portraiture is sketchy, with literally hundreds of pencil drawings, many focused on the face, done in figure workshops. I’ve also drawn a number of self-portraits over the years; and occasionally friends have sat for me. But I’ve only taken the time to paint about a dozen portraits in color over the years – portraits of self or others – including the two rather surreal profile self-portraits above and below. If you take a look at the two previous blog postings, you’ll see that I was heading into an illustrative approach to portraiture in the early 2000s. To date I have primarily used the medium of photography in this work, instead of traditional sitting sessions; but this may change.

Me & My Shadow Walking by the Seashore • oil on linen, 26″ x 36″ • collection of the artist.

A pendant painting paired with the one above, this canvas was also started in 2006, as a further statement about dual nature, but was left incomplete for a decade, reaching the present state of finish in 2016 for a show about Metamorphosis, at the Plastic Club. Both “Me, Myself and I” & “Me and my Shadow” were originally intended to be rendered in full color; in both cases I had stopped working on them in 2006 when the figures in each were flat dark-brown silhouettes with no internal definition. When I returned to them in 2012 and 2016 respectively, I realized that the definition rendered only by the thin washes of white pigment had a power to communicate my intent better than the distraction of full-color, impressive though it might be. If I ever change my mind on that score, they’re still in my possession, which means they’re subject to revision.

2006: RUA Hugger or a Pecker? • a diptych: oil on glazed masonite panels, 31″ x 19″ each * collection of the artist

I’m an artist who uses photography as a means to achieve varying degrees of compositional accuracy. I’ve been fortunate to have the assistance as well as inspiration and encouragement of a number of friends over the years who have modeled for various artworks. You know who you are, my friends. Thanks to WB and BM for making possible the painting above which hangs in a corner of my guest-room on the third floor. Like many experimental paintings done over the years, these two paintings are on panels that are definitely questionable as suitable substrates for oil painting, as their very smooth white-glazed surfaces, now brightly painted, are very susceptible to getting scratched. Treat with care!

PRESENT TENSE: Last spring I befriended JM, a neighbor who lives a few houses west on Federal Street, having met on the sidewalk shoveling snow, after the last storm of the winter, March 14. During one of our evenings of conversation I had the bright idea of painting his portrait, inspired by one of my favorite self-portraits by another great artist, the one at left by Albrecht Durer, painted in 1500, looking very Christ-like. Since my young friend also has very long hair, I asked if he would be willing to model for this project, and he consented.

Our photo session last May resulted in a series of excellent photographic portraits, from which I selected two as the most promising for trying my hand at painting a pair of portraits, using acrylics rather than oils, my first attempt using this particular
medium. It was an interesting process. At left are pencil tracings of the selected photographs, using my computer as the light-box on which to trace.
Next I GRIDDED IT UP, which is drawing a light grid over the original, that is proportionate to an enlarged grid drawn on the canvas. Thus I used the old tried-and-true method of enlargement, before camera lucidas and projected images which are then traced off at full size on the surface selected for painting, which is a more accurate modern method that has been used by illustrators and photo-realists for years.

Above and below are the two portraits, each seen in a series of progressive developments from pencil sketch to full color, plus an individual image of the
results (so far) of this experiment in portraiture, an art-form in which I still consider myself a novice. The close-up version is almost 1-1/3 times actual life size, whereas the more Durer-looking version is life size. These two portraits mark the beginning of a whole new exploration in the plastic arts for me, an artist who has always downplayed my talents. I’m beginning to accept that I’m an exceptional artist in a field that is already exceptional. WOWZA!

Mamihlapinatapai: “a look exchanged between two people, each hoping the other will initiate what both want, but neither chooses to commence.”

Check out a prior blog dated August 24, 2017: “Bakers Dozen: a Millennial Miscellany” for two early portrait experiments illustrating the Tierra del Fuegan term above, which the Guinness Book of Records lists as the “most succinct word.”

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In Search of Togetherness in a new Millennium

by Alden Cole on September 6, 2017 · 0 comments

“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 • oil on linen, 16″ x 20″ in Aldenized frame 25″ x 29″ • collection of the artist

The year 2004 occasioned passage into my 6th decade, marked by a number of choices, challenges, and conflicts of interest that made for rather intense living. The transition pointed out how the search for partnership is never-ending. As I looked at my emotional involvements since moving to Philadelphia in 1986, and particularly since the late 90s, various patterns emerged which made me more aware of who I have become in the course of a lifetime. Considering the various men who have caught my eye, and stolen pieces of my heart over the years, I could write a chapbook of poetic endearments dedicated to those men of my life, starting with my dad, and coming right down to the present.

2004: “Together” aka “Warm-Heartedness” – oil on canvas, 16″ x 12″ – collection of Dan Martin & Michael Biello

At left, my depiction of what I perceive as the Great Desire of gay life; fulfilled in real life for many men in our tolerant culture. For myself, that desire has remained unfulfilled in real terms, realized only on canvas. How much this is a result of strict religious indoctrination in fundamentalist Christianity with its focus on sexual prohibitions, only the Shadow knows…

Interesting coincidences: in 1997 I met the first of four men, all heterosexual, with whom I fell in limerence, and with whom I have formed close friendships in time. They were all born in 1969, the year I turned twenty-five, my first full year living on my own in NYC. By 2004 I met the last of that quartet of younger men – surrogate sons almost – who have played major roles in my life, and continue to do so.

What Can I Do? • oils on masonite panel, 10″ x 13″ • collection of the artist • started 1/27/2005 as a visual-with-text painting. In 2012 I revamped the panel, eliminating text and adding color that made it a totally different painting

The first three men, met in 1997, 2000, and 2002, represented the three earth signs of the zodiac. WB, met in 1997, is a Virgo, the mutable, analytical earth sign, married with children. EC, met in 2000, is the Taurus of the group, the fixed, straight-forward earth sign who was my painting model for two years until 2002; he was temporarily unattached, and we had an interestingly intimate relationship. FB, met in 2002, is the Capricorn, the cardinal, power-oriented earth sign, also married, now with children. In the fall of 2004, I met OK, the Aquarian of the group – the unmarried expansive idealist – who stimulated the most intense periods of self-introspection and painfully-arrived-at understandings of emotional complexities, that I had yet experienced. Archetypal reminders of the vicissitudes of our collective unconscious and trying to relate!

2005: Embrace Me (My Sweet Embraceable You) • oil on plywood panel, 12″ x 12″, mounted on repurposed cabinet door 15″ x 15″ • collection of the artist

In the spring of 2005, when a company went out of business that made scenics for theater and fabricated items for trade shows, I scored a number of items perfect for repurposing, including a stack of over
twenty 12″ x 12″ x 1/4″ thick plywood panels. They had been used as test panels to experiment with colors and motifs. By summer I was already at work transforming a number of those panels into paintings, including the two paintings seen here.

Talk To Me • oil on plywood panel, 12″ x 12″; extensively reworked in 2012 • collection of the artist

Both these arts went through major revisions as you can see by the photo at left showing both paintings before changes. The first was revised by the end of the same year I started it – 2005 – but the second, also stated that summer, didn’t arrive at its present state until seven years later, 2012, when I took what seemed a lack-luster painting and made it sparkle.

Face 2 Face, numbers 1-3 • oil on linen canvas-board, 6″ x 6″ • collection of the artist

2005 was an awesome year. In June, just before turning 61, I flew to India with a talented jazz trumpet player twenty-five years my junior, who had courted my friendship, after visiting my studio open-house during POST weekend (Philadelphia Open Studio Tour) October 2004. Impressed with my
work as an artist, he came back to take a better look. A friendship budded. I wanted his body, but he wasn’t giving; he wanted my art, so I began to let some pieces go for virtually nothing. Hope springs eternal. Actually I wanted more than his body; I wanted to trade places with him. I wanted to be young, handsome, rich, talented, intelligent as well as a Don Juan; which is how I
perceived him to be. We developed an interesting relationship in the two years we saw a lot of each other, before he sold his properties in the USA, and moved permanently to Munich, Germany.

After we had known each other for about nine months, I was invited to accompany him to India, where we spent the better part of the middle two weeks of June in Gopalpur-on-sea, a tiny coastal town on the Bay of Bengal, midway between Chenai (former Madras) in the south where we had landed, and Kolkata (former Calcutta) in the north. Our purpose in being there was to take a look at the ruins of a former grand house, of which my friend had inherited one sixth. Experiencing India is beyond verbal description, so I won’t even try. The paintings directly inspired by the trip abroad to such an exotic land are still scanty, though ideas still persist, calling for eventual realization. Plus I have some spectacular photographs as evidence of this experience that was a turning point in my life.

Tenderness, numbers 1-3 • oil on linen canvas-board, 6″ x 6″ • #1, collection of Omar Kabir * #2 & #3. collection of the artist

During 2005, my primary creative focus was not on painting; it was elsewhere – making and selling lamps, plus spending as much time as I could with my latest infatuation. However, the frustration of an unsatisfied desire did encourage the
sublimation of energy into a few small oil paintings, including two series of three each, shown above and below. The first series was devoted to profiles revealing states of consciousness – imagined and observed. The second was devoted to the theme of tenderness; which was a quality I was seeking, not only in the outside world through relationship with friends, as well as the hopes for a significant other; but
more importantly, working to actualize that quality in myself. I’m finding that to be a life-long work, marked by varying degrees of success. First and foremost, that tenderness of heart has to manifest toward our selves, forgiving ourselves for not being perfect, which was made into an impossible aspiration in my childhood, through that fear-inducing Biblical injunction: “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” It has been very interesting to develop an understanding of the role of personal mythology as engendered by social mythology, in formulating our personalities.

A Helping Hand • oil on linen canvas-board, 6″ x 6″ • collection of Carla Liguori.

This proved to be the last of the small works inspired by my friendship with OK, that was based on a sculptural group that sits at the corner of Riverside Drive & 113th Street in Manhattan. Started in 2005, like some of the larger square panels above, this one was extensively revised in 2012.

Clownin’ Around • oil on linen canvas-board, 24″ x 18″ • collection of the artist

In 2005, inspired by a crayon drawing done at age eight on 9″ x 12″ construction paper, I decided to try my hand at a popular old genre – Clown Painting – the one and only time I’ve chosen to explore that weird realm as a mature artist. Basing my composition pretty literally on the crayon drawing from childhood, I came up with the following rather bizarre update that would make a great Halloween spook.

I still haven’t gotten around to revealing what I figured out early in the new millennium that I wanted to be when I grew up, but it has something to do with massage being the medium.

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Bakers Dozen – a millennial miscellany

by Alden Cole on August 24, 2017 · 0 comments

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 himself” seemed to be the guiding principle more than ever. The spirit of 60s togetherness had hit the skids. The times were getting extraordinarily competitive, as well as weirder. Or perhaps it was only my imagination that the technological times we lived in were a mixed blessing? or should I say a mixed curse with benefits?? Or perhaps it was only the fact that I was finally understanding the truth of Victor Hugo’s maxim: “Forty is the old age of youth; and fifty is the youth of old age.” I was about to experience my Second Saturn Return – a sobering event – and I still didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I was about to figure that out…

2000: Mysterious Mountain #2 • oil on linen, 31″ x 46″ • collection of the artist

One of the things I most passionately wanted to do in the new millennium was to paint a few really beautiful pictures of mystical places with which to surround myself, all dealing with that very broad subject – LOVE – particularly in its tenderer aspects. The painting at the top of this posting – Yin/Yang – was my attempt at The Cosmic Kiss, pared down to a symbolic portrayal of the exchange of essential energies. For Mysterious Mountain, the painting above, I was inspired by an older painting from 1984 that I had left behind in Maine when I moved to Philly, a wedding present to my cousin Steve, and his wife Karen; as well as a wonderful piece of music by Alan Hovhaness (8 Mar 1911 – 21 Jun 2000) with that same name. For the painting left behind in Maine, I had worked on the figures totally from imagination. For this newer painting, I worked from photographs that friends were kind enough to model for. I also worked on a larger canvas than the original version; larger in fact than any I had worked on in quite some time. The Aim: a soothing portrayal of the post-coital embrace; possibly a substitute for the fact that I had no partner to embrace in this manner? The model for a number of my other paintings, including the next, paid me a great compliment when he naively remarked that he wished he could transport himself into this particular picture. Me too…

2000: Rapture, aka Resurrection – oil on canvas, 44″ x 24″ • collection of the artist

Another passionate interest that blossomed in the spring of 2000, shortly before my 56th birthday, was developing a series of paintings devoted to the nude figure, particularly the male, preferably done from life, rather than the imagination. This was enabled by meeting and becoming quite enamored with a guy twenty-five years younger than myself, a Taurus born in 1969, who had turned thirty-one just before we met. He was a waiter at Montserrat, a restaurant in the 700 block of South Street, where a brunch crowd of which I was a regular member met each Sunday. Lo and behold, we flirted with exchanged glances over lunch, then after my brunch group had dispersed, I returned to the restaurant, introducing myself as an artist wondering if he had ever done any modeling? or if he would consider doing so?? “No” to the first; “possibly” to the second. We exchanged phone numbers; he contacted me a couple days into the new week, being willing to model, but was wondering what I paid an hour. I asked if he would be willing to exchange modeling time for massage time, since I’m a talented masseuse. He said he would love to get the massage, but he really needed to work for cash since he was taking classes at Community College; making ends meet was proving to be a challenge. So I thought about it quickly, offered him $35 an hour, with a commitment of two hours, so he could count on $70 per session. He agreed to it, and within a week, he came by for our first session. Thus began a relationship with a man who became a friend, as well as my male muse and chief model for two years, providing the inspiration for many paintings, including the completion of the painting above, which had been in the works since my New York days, going back to the late 70s.

Before & After • oil on linen, 18″ x 18″ each • collection of the artist. Both canvases were started in the early spring of 2001. “After” was finished that same spring; however, it took another nine years to bring “Before”
to completion in time for a show in 2010. Both paintings were based on rough pencil drawings done in 1977 while I was living in NYC; at left, the two pages from a 14″ x 11″ sketch book, expressing my angst at a time when I was obviously more stressed about life than I am now.

“Tight Rope Walking” aka “Balancing Act #1″ • oil on linen, 20″ x 16” • collection of Sharon Ivanov

My new buddy, ostensibly straight, but between girlfriends because of moving to a new town, taking classes to become a teacher, etc, proved to be a bit bi-curious, possibly on account of his being such a handsome metro-sexual, who had grown up just outside NYC on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. He and I formed an interesting relationship that was a bit of a roller-coaster ride emotionally, causing me to act “like an old girlfriend” on occasion. However, the relationship stimulated a number of artworks, including “Before & After” and “Balancing Act” above. In addition there was a lot of emotional growth generated by the relationship that ultimately helped me to transition more smoothly into my sixth decade in 2004. Most of the paintings inspired by my relationship with this friend are more personal than I care to share via the medium of a website and blog. Interested parties are invited to contact me by email to be included in an email series devoted to these erotic works.

Scarab Mirrors: first version on the left from ca. 1978, acrylics and colored-pencil on paper, 24″ x 18″ – provenance unknown; second version on the right from 2000, oils and colored-pencil on paper, 22″ x 14″ – framed 30″ x 20″ • collection of the artist.

Early in the new millennium I started revisiting some old ideas and updating them, as exemplified by the remake of Mysterious Mountain near the top of this posting. Another idea recycled was when I turned my attentions to creating a replacement for a favorite piece (the left artwork of the two above) that had disappeared in the course of being stored in my dad’s barn in Maine during the 80s. I’ve always assumed that some visitor to the barn saw the artwork there, and decided to claim it as their own; hopefully they’re enjoying it still. I certainly enjoy living with the second version, which I see every day. In both the original as well as the revision, the mask area of the face has been cut out of the paper; the art then placed atop a mirror, followed by a sheet of non-glare glass covering both, thus creating a ghosted mirror-image – a kind of magic mirror; “seeing through a glass darkly.”

2001: YO! (Happy Holidays); a photoshopped adaptation of a linoleum-block print from the early 90s.

In the spring of 2000, in addition to the blossoming of an artistically inspiring relationship, I found myself once again with a full-time job and a regular paycheck for the first time since 1996, when Roberts & Raymond Associates, the advertising agency where I had worked as a pre-press production artist since arriving in Philadelphia in 1986, closed its doors. In the interim I had worked various free-lance gigs, some arranged through MacTemps, an employment agency which sent me out on many a temporary job. Their placing me with Topak Marketing, an agency that specialized in direct mail advertising for insurance companies, was propitious. After two weeks of working as a temp, I was hired full time. The job at Topak was ultimately the best-paying, as well as least-demanding, job I ever experienced. Housed in one of the piers along the Delaware just south of the Ben Franklin bridge, the office was close enough to home that I could walk to and from work, in less than half-an-hour, rather than having to use public transportation, which was a virtual dream come true. The work was banal, but the hours were regular, with very little overtime. During the occasional slow times in the office, I devoted time to experimenting with projects of my own, particularly those which would increase my knowledge of Photoshop, which helped to create the above greeting in time for the 2001 holidays.

2003: “Self @ (almost) 60” aka “Who is that Masked Man?” • oil on canvas-board, 20″ x 16″ • collection of the artist.

In the spring of 2003, I painted my first self-portrait since 1986, the year I moved to Philly. The difference of seventeen years had wrought a number of changes in me, both physically as well as emotionally and intellectually. Spiritually? most likely, but I’ve learned that it is foolish to think that one can be totally self-knowing about ones spiritual growth, since it is bigger than the sum of our animal/emotional/intellectual parts. Like most of my work, the self-portrait became an experiment, not only in terms of medium, but in terms of concept. In my photographic work, I had been taking a number of portraits of friends, then importing them into Photoshop where I cropped them in various ways – closer, closer – until I eventually discovered the awesome power that lay at the center of the face, as indicated by the square mask on the painting that defocuses the rest of the painting to the point of being inessential.

Mamihlapinatapai: “a look exchanged between two people, each hoping the other will initiate what both want, but neither chooses to commence.”

Mamihlapinatapai 1 & 2: Variations on a Repeat Pattern – oil on linen. Top: 12″ x 28″. Bottom: 16″ x 28″ • collection of the artist

I first encountered the word “mamihlapinatapai” in 1987 when I was working part-time at the Garland of Letters bookstore on South Street. Among the tomes stocked was a thin volume that caught my eye; a compendium of odd and interesting terms gleaned from the international world of language, which included this particular term from Tierra del Fuego, which the Guinness book of records lists as “the most succinct word.” I’ve experienced the feeling many times in my life; so in early 2003 I set to work on the first variation, working from photos of friends, which was quickly followed by the second, still unfinished in my estimation, but one which still defies my skill level to enhance to the point of fulfilling my vision.

2003: Christmas Watch • oil and acrylic on linen, 16″ x 12″ • collection of the artist.

I started this small holiday painting in 2003, incorporating into the composition the use of the same iridescent acrylic paints that I had been using on my lamps for a couple years. All areas were painted with them except the figures and the face, which were painted in oils. But the going was slow. I reworked the figures several times, and it wasn’t until the end of 2011 that I added the last painted pointillisms and signed it, especially for a December show that my Dumpster Diva friend Gretchen Altabef had arranged at her non-sectarian church – Pebble Hill, in Doylestown.

2004: ‘Ear Me Out Mate! – oil on linen, 16″ x 12″ • collection of the artist.

This was the first of a projected series entitled “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” (as in body parts), based on a small pencil sketch made while living in Portsmouth NH in the early 80s.

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Transitioning into the new Millennium

by Alden Cole on July 23, 2017 · 0 comments

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 for the past decade, since moving to Philadelphia, closed its doors. Once again, I was out of a job and looking for work. Full-time employment eluded me, but I picked up temporary work through MacTemps for a while, until I found a more regular free-lance situation with Articus, Ltd. – another advertising agency that coincidentally was located on the fourth floor of the same building where I had worked from 1988-90, when Roberts & Raymond rented office space on the ground floor of the renovated four-story atrium building at the corner of 22nd Street and Arch Street, that had once been the Philadelphia Women’s Prison. Deja Vu!

2000: The Choice is Ours #2 • oil on linen, 14″ x 18″ • collection of Lezley Steele

Despite the uncertainty of my daily working situation during this time as a free-lance pre-press production artist, I would continue to sporadically turn my attentions to making art for my own enjoyment; including these three variations seen here, above and below, on the theme of choice, all of which were painted during the millennial change – between’99 and ’01. The concept for the three oils went back to early idea sketches in pencil of which I had first drawn variations in small sketch books and on file cards (which I still have) as early as the 80s.

2001: The Choice is Ours: #3 • oil on linen, 11″ x 14″ • collection of Lou Szyumski.

Finally in the late 90s, in response to more free time on my hands without a full-time job, and occasionally even whole weekdays on my hands, I gave form to the ideas that had been brewing in my mind for quite some time, starting with the one at the top of this posting, which was the loosest, most easily accomplished. With the others, I worked harder at physical definition and a more polished surface, possibly at the expense of vitality as well as ambiguity. THe jury is still out on this one.

1996: Silent City • oil on linen, 13″ x 65″

Unfinished Business: Inspired by the view of Center City Philadelphia from my third floor roof, I decided to dedicate a painting to that skyline, the first of many, using a particularly panoramic canvas for the job. The process was a bit tedious: scanning the original photo I planned to work from, then enlarging sections of it in photoshop, printing those sections, taping them together, then transferring the drawing of the skyline itself to the canvas. Painting the silhouetted city first, I then went on to paint an evening sky. The plan was to eventually fill in the details of the city buildings in a night scene. But as with many projects I’ve started over the years, my enthusiasm flagged knowing all the precision work that was ahead if I stuck to my original plan. I’ve even reached a point where I enjoy the stark silence of the piece; so who knows if the long hours of finishing work will ever be accomplished. Maybe someone else with more talent than myself will rise to the occasion of giving the city what it needs: Light.

1995: Night & Day Bed – head- and foot-boards for a four-poster rope-bed; turned posts are maple, panels with Night & Day oil paintings are pine. Each
measures 44″ high x 54″ wide x 4″ diameter posts. At left are details of the two panoramic paintings.

Truth to tell, I did very little easel painting during the 90s. The blog posting prior to this one shows some of the major pieces done during the early part of the decade. I had a full time job and had moved into my own first house in 1991. In my leisure time, the new focus was on the 3-story row-house I called home, turning it into a work of art. My intent was to create a unique environment that could function as a studio and gallery as well as my base of operations and heart-home. Along the way, it also became my castle, my sanctuary, and my storage unit, all rolled into one. The goal was to furnish this new spacious acquisition inexpensively, elegantly and comfortably. I started bringing old furniture from Maine where it had been in storage, and restoring those pieces. For instance, my aunt Charlotte had first given me all the parts to the old-fashioned rope-bed seen above, including its side-rails, back in the 1970s while I was still living in NYC. At the time, all pieces were painted white, probably lead-based. In the mid-90s as I was settling into 717 Federal Street, I took the time to strip all these pieces down to raw wood which had been originally stained with an old traditional recipe of brick-dust and buttermilk, which gives the wood that lovely ruddy color. The decision to paint panoramas on the pine panels was an afterthought. Unfortunately, the bed has only been roped together and made functional for showing once, when the Dumpster Divers had a store-front on South Street back in 2009.

The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (26 Sep 1872 – 9 Sep 1945)

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become bitter or vain; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in our own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

1994: The Desiderata was the fifth poster printed by Conscious World Art. Unfortunately I was only able to print an initial edition of 500 copies because the copyright holder would not renew my usage contract; by his lights, I was not selling enough copies fast enough to warrant a renewal of the $300 lease. Go figure… Those 500 copies will be collectors items someday folks…

“You, who are with me in this life for my guidance and protection, I light this candle in thanksgiving for your constant help and guidance.”

1993: Guardian Angel poster – printed b&w on cream-colored card stock 14″ x 11″ – $10 each. This was the fourth poster published under the imprint of Conscious World Art, using a photogravure of a painting by German artist Wilhelm von Kaulbach (15 Oct 1805 – 7 Apr 1874) one of the most popular portrayals of the Guardian Angel.

1992: LipBoat #3 – colored pencil on black presentation board, 8.5″ x 14″ – collection of Nellie Burano

The artwork at left was a development of/inspired by LipBoat #2, the first drawing from the “Anatomy of a Love Affair” series of four artworks featured in the posting before this. Inspired by Mary Renault’s passionately and sensitively written novel, The Persian Boy, volume two of her extraordinary tale of the life of Alexander the Great which I read in the late 80s, while on a Mary Renault roll, reading most of her published work at the time dealing with the glory that was Ancient Greece. The Mask of Apollo is one of the Great Novels in my estimation. Makes me want to reread it after all these years…

1990: Creating Your Giant Self – luma dyes and colored pencil on paper, 16.5″ x 10.5″ – original has faded somewhat with time.

In 1990, Jim Wasserman of Studio 31 in Florida, whom I had known since we both worked at Weiser’s in the mid-70s, commissioned me to create cover artwork for a self-help book by Dr. Robert Rose. Of the several ideas submitted, this is the one developed from rough sketch to finished art; my last completed illustration project using an air brush. And I have to add, I haven’t missed working with an air brush since; despite the magic that one can create with an airbrush, they are a pain to work with, and demand incredible patience, especially when they spatter paint, as they sometimes do, over a nearly completed artwork, requiring you to start all over again…

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Expansion/Contraction in the Early ’90s

by Alden Cole on July 4, 2017 · 0 comments

AmongTheMythyMountainsWPAmong 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 717 Federal Street – where I still live to this day. Excited to have such an expansive ‘canvas’ on which to create, I started moving a number of items south – art supplies as well as household furnishings which I had been storing in my dad’s barn in Dayton, Maine – transporting them to my new base of operations in Philadelphia. Always a collector of the beautiful, in whatever form I found it, particularly if it was free, as in being discarded as no longer useful, I had managed to accumulate quite a number of interesting items on the cheap – decorative as well as functional – during my initial eighteen years in Maine, plus my four years of art school in Providence RI, a decade in New York City, then four years in Portsmouth NH, before moving to Philadelphia in 1986. It was the time to expand my creative horizons by incorporating these diverse collections into a single creative entity – my ultimate art project – home of Conscious World Art.

*mythty – a word combining ‘mythic’ and ‘misty’

Buddha-BuddhessWPBuddha/Buddhess • oil on canvas, 36″ x 78″

Among the items that made their way from Maine to Philadelphia were a quartet of stretchers, all measuring 36″ x 78″ originally found at the top level of my grandfather’s barn, back in the mid 70s. They had been covered with muslin, some tattered remains of which were still attached to the stretchers when I found them; their function had been as parts of a cold frame used to protect young plants in the springtime on the southern side of the barn. When I first found them, heavily layered with dust, indicating many years of non-use, my initial thought was “these will be perfect for BIG paintings”. And that is exactly what has happened to three of the four stretchers so far, including the two seen here, which were started sometime in 1993. Like many large pieces here at 717, they are works in progress. I like to think that the stretchers were originally made by my great-grandfather Clark Remich Cole (1841-1915), who was quite a creative individual himself. I’ve often wondered what he would think of how his beautifully crafted stretchers have been repurposed into substrates for art; and art such as I have made. I tend to think he would be proud of my creativity, but it’s possible he might find the work simply curious. After all, beauty IS in the eye of the beholder.

SmallWorldWPSmall Worlds • watercolor on paper, 7″ x 10″ • collection of Betsy Alexander & Burnell Yow!

During the two-year period from 1987-89 when I worked part-time at the Garland of Letters, I made the acquaintanceship of a young woman named Kathy, who became a great admirer of my art. She first became familiar with my black & white posters which were for sale at the Garland, all seven of which she collected. Eventually she approached me with an exciting offer – a commission for a painting. Of what she wasn’t sure, but she was quite sure that I would come up with something extraordinary. Intrigued, I asked how much she was willing to spend on such a project; her response was that she could afford $500. Challenged to come up with an idea that could lead to my first commission in quite sometime, I set to work, coming up with the small watercolor above, plus some other sketches on paper that no longer exist.

BalconyLoverWPBalcony Lover • oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″ • provenance unknown

After an initial consultation to discuss the ideas I had come up with, I painted the oil sketch at left; a concept which Kathy approved, giving me a check for $150 as down-payment. I set to work immediately, procuring canvas and stretchers then preparing my painting surface using traditional methods: stretching raw linen, sizing the surface with rabbit-skin glue, sanding then priming the surface with two coats of white. After a modeling session with Kathy to capture the central figure, I transferred the composition in pencil to the canvas, then proceeded to paint. In relatively short order I had done the underpainting for all the color areas in the composition. Thereafter, progress became fitful. Doubts assailed me; insecurities encouraged me to take long periods between painting sessions; the project dragged on over a two-year period, being finally completed and signed sometime in 1993.

LivingOnTheEarthWPLiving on the Earth • oil on linen, 27″ x 41″

At left is the finished product. The project had taken so long that by the time I was ready to deliver the painting, Kathy had moved from Philadelphia to Gloucester Massachusetts. I delivered the painting on one of my annual vacations back to Maine. Kathy was thrilled with the finished painting; however, she indicated that her financial status was uncertain. She wrote out a check for the $350 owed, asking me not to deposit the check for a few days, as she was expecting another check any day now which would cover mine. By the time I was back in Philadelphia, Kathy called me to let me know that she was unable to cover my check; she apologized profusely for her changed circumstances, then asked if I would be willing to take the painting back if she was unable to come up with the money owed before my the next trip to New England. I agreed, and that is exactly what happened. For a number of months Kathy got to live with this masterpiece which she had challenged me to create. And then my alter-ego – this Lady on the Balcony about to take flight – became mine again, and has lived with me ever since, except for those occasions when I’ve placed her in shows to be seen yet again by the general populace.

4MoreDavidoffCoversWPAnother creative upshot of my working at the Garland of Letters bookstore, Philadelphia’s New Age emporium on South Street where I worked part-time from February 1987 to June 1989, then again from February 1997 to the spring of 1999, was being commissioned to design covers for a series of CDs (as well as 8-track cassettes initially) featuring the music
4DavidoffCoversWPof New Age composer PC Davidoff, at the time one of the Garland’s principals. At left are the eight covers I created for Philip over a decade. Calm Body Calm Mind, the cover at right in the second row, even features a detail – chosen by Mr. Davidoff himself – from Living on the Earth, the commissioned painting featured above, which also has its Garland of Letters connection as described. Just a coincidence?
YabYumWPOther note-worthy tidbits. Bamboo (bottom left) was my first cover created entirely on computer, using Abode Illustrator; the one and only time I did so. Buddha (bottom right) uses one of the few photographs I’ve taken that’s been reproduced as part of a cover design. And the artwork for Secrets of the Jade seen at left – my updating of the traditional Tantric Yab Yum position – was the last time I used an airbrush to create artwork.

1980-90;TantricasWPTantrikas • oil on mylar-coated canvas, 18″ x 36″ • Another variation on the traditional Tantric Yab Yum position is this free-form interpretation that I started sometime in the 80s, then brought to its present state
1.DividedBannerCRWPin the early 90s. This painting is a prime example of how a substrate used for one purpose can easily become the basis for another. Originally it was part of the banner seen at left created around 1980 for a Christmas pageant at the Alexander Robertson school in NYC, where my friend Harold Stover was the music teacher. When I got the banners back the bottom section was looking pretty wrinkly, so I took ’em apart, got creative, recycling what I could, eventually attaching the top section of canvas to stretchers, then adding intense color to create the vibrant composition that I live with daily in my office.

LoveAffair1LipBoatWPAnatomy of a Love Affair – Part 1: Passion on the LipBoat • colored pencil on black presentation board, 8″ x 10″ • collection of Eric German

In the fall of 1991, the same year I moved into my home at 717 Federal Street, I had an affair with a physically
LoveAffair2RaptureWPbeautiful young man that only lasted for a few months, until I realized that I was already playing second fiddle to someone else. Yet again I experienced the dashing of hopes that ‘this time it will be different”. As I’ve learned repeatedly over the years, it’s rarely different because our hopes, aka expectations, never really change substantially. “Without expectation there can be no disappointment.” Being Here Now with no expectations is challenging to say the least.

LoveAffair3HeartEaterWPPart of moving beyond the disappointments is turning those heart-rending experiences into art. These four pieces as a suite attempt to convey some of the highs and lows produced by falling in love with love, which as the old standard says, “is falling for make believe”. Let’s face it, it ain’t easy being a realist.

LoveAffair4SolaceWPThe other three are:

Part 2 – Rapture, a complex tapestry of internal imagery evoked by the experience of intense attraction;

Part 3 – The Eaters of Heart are Abroad – my warning to others that the object of my affections is really just a knave of hearts, collecting as many tokens as his ego demands;

Part 4 – Solace, which speaks for itself about where the strength to keep moving comes from – inside!

YinYang3WP1992: The Marriage of Night and Day • colored pencil on black presentation board 7″ x 24″

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“My Fabulous Career” as a Scenic Designer

by Alden Cole on June 11, 2017 · 1 comment

NutcrackerIgloo#1WP1984/5: 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
NutcrackerIgloo#2WPPortsmouth NH, working in Cape Neddick ME for Samuel Weiser Inc. as art director. In my off hours I was foot-loose and fancy free. So when the opportunity first came along in the early fall of 1984 through Betty Lundsted Weiser (there’s that Weiser connection again) to do some volunteer
NutcrackerIgloo#3WPwork as a scenic designer for the Portsmouth Ballet, a small regional company, I jumped at the chance. The challenge: designing & painting scenic drops for the
NutcrackerIgloo#4WPcompany’s upcoming production of a seasonal favorite – The Nutcracker. However, for this production the locale of the first scene was changed; from the house of the heroine Clara where the opening
NutcrackerIgloo#5WPChristmas party is usually held, to a scene portraying Santa’s Workshop instead. Rationale for this change? I’m totally clueless at this point. Regardless, I had a great time coming up with the six sketches of varying sizes seen at left and above,
NutcrackerIgloo#5VersoWPfor this imaginative change of scene, where I turned the workshop from a more traditional image into an igloo-like structure appropriate for the North Pole. The sketches reveal an illustrative interest in detail that I had forgotten about,
1984PalaceoSweets.7x13WPand which was fascinating to review when I resurrected these drawings from the files about a month ago, after not having perused them in over a decade. The fifth drawing down, the last
1984LandoSweets2-22x28WP in color, was the one selected for enlarging onto a scenic drop measuring approximately 12″ high x 30″ wide, one of the largest surfaces I ever worked on. The sixth drawing is a pencil sketch on the verso of the fifth – the final color version – indicating a much more detailed selection of toys displayed on shelves in the igloo, including a surprising
1984PalaceoSweets.7x12WPcollection of small elves doing various tasks for the season at hand. For the second act in the “Land – or the Palace – of the Sweets” I came up with the set of five drawings seen at left, based on the themes of lollypops and ice cream cones, the
1984PalaceoSweets4.14x30WPlast of which was developed into the actual drop for the production, same size as the igloo scenic. Memories of painting these pieces is exceptionally dim; however I do remember that I painted them in the gym of a local
1984PalaceoSweets5.17x30WPhigh school, working flat on the floor, which created interesting challenges of perspective while plotting out the design on such a large scale. Unfortunately, no photographs exist (to my knowledge) of the finished scenics to prove I even painted them; just vague memories of the process sparked by these sketches done in both watercolor and acrylic.

1985.CandyLandWPFor the Portsmouth Ballet’s 1985 production of The Nutcracker I again volunteered my services as scenic designer to Nana McCarthy, the company’s creative director. I first came up with the whimsical design at left, but then turned my energies to designing a much more
1985PalaceoSweetsWPcomplex, multi-layered concept inspired by a set design from one of my favorite Art Nouveau geniuses, Alphonse Mucha. For painting this scenic, Nana had secured the use of the University of NH’s theater department, which allowed me to work
1985Sketch&PhotoWPprofessionally: vertically, raising and lowering the canvas as needed through the traditional gap in the floor, made specifically for the purpose of painting drops. Compared to the year before working flat on the floor, painting this scenic was a dream; and with the help of Portsmouth friends Robert Boardman and Drew Chicester, the task flew by. Although I didn’t capture any photographs of the entire drop once finished and in place, I did capture a few photographs of young dancers in repose during breaks in rehearsal, standing in front of the central detail of the piece, revealing a recurring motif in my work – the citadel on the hill in the distance.

An anecdote: as a result of painting the last scenic – I discovered that paint can go ‘sour’ – a fact I hadn’t known before. Unknowingly I painted a fairly large section – the floor of the Palace of the Sweets – with a black paint that had gone quite sour. I had noticed the smell after opening the paint can, but naively thought the smell would dissipate upon exposure to air. It didn’t – at least not entirely; you could smell it onstage, but fortunately that rank odor didn’t drift out into the audience, so the production went on anyway – a performance that definitely stunk for the dancers on stage…

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Honoring Betty Lundsted Weiser (1941-2001)

June 4, 2017

1988 photo of Don Weiser & Betty Lundsted Weiser hosting the annual Holiday Party in Weiser’s Bookstore, at the East 24th Street address, NYC. A virtual continuation of my April 23rd posting honoring Donald Weiser (1928-2017) On Wednesday evening, May 31st, I attended a memorial honoring Donald Weiser at the Open Center, 22 E. 30th […]

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Remembering Donald Weiser (1928 – 2017)

April 23, 2017

Memorializing Donald Weiser (9 Jan 1928 – 12 Apr 2017), a friend who saved my life on numerous levels, numerous times, starting in 1974. Below a photo of Don taken in 1988 at Weiser Bookstore’s annual Christmas holiday party, held at the 24th Street location, the last of the three storefronts I was familiar with […]

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Painting by the Phases of the Moon – Part 1

April 16, 2017

2008: Lily Pond at Bartram’s Garden • oil on linen, 16″ x 12″ • collection of the artist • $100 plus shipping and handling Years ago a knowing friend suggested that I consider making art by the phases of the Moon; starting new projects after the new moon, and completing older projects after the full […]

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A Miscellany of Then and Now

March 26, 2017

One of the most challenging aspects of writing/creating this Slow Motion Memoir – this autobiography of sorts, one posting at a time – is the fact that my verbal and visual records are anything but uniform, or chronological, or in one place easily accessible for evaluation in a truly systematic manner, although I am working […]

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Philadelphia Flower Show 2017

March 20, 2017

Holland Flowers the World was the theme of this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show, which I attended last week; the first show of this nature that I’ve been to in many a year. First stop was Booth 324 in the vendor section, where I was able to thank Won Kyoung Lee (seen at left) and husband […]

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a late ’80s miscellany of artworks

March 13, 2017

The World Is Not Interested In The Storms You Encountered, But Did You Bring In The Ship? • gouache and acrylic on paper, 24″ x 18″ • collection of Bonnie Schorske, Philadelphia 1988: After I had been working for Roberts & Raymond Advertising Agency for a couple years, company president Bob Sulpizio approached me one […]

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Late ’80s: leisure time illustrations

February 28, 2017

“You cannot escape the results of your thoughts. Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain or rise with your thoughts, your vision, your ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.” – James Lane Allen (21 Dec 1849 – 18 Feb 1925) Distance Lends […]

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