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

by Alden Cole on January 23, 2018 · 0 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Alden Cole on December 5, 2017 · 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ 1 comment }

Loving Vincent

by Alden Cole on November 19, 2017 · 0 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!


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.”


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.


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 […]

Read the full article →

Transitioning into the new Millennium

July 23, 2017

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

Read the full article →

Expansion/Contraction in the Early ’90s

July 4, 2017

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

Read the full article →

“My Fabulous Career” as a Scenic Designer

June 11, 2017

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

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →