1978: That was the year that was! Part 1

by Alden Cole on November 21, 2015 · 0 comments

“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” —Frederic Chopin (1 Mar 1810 – 17 Oct 1849)

StarGrasper720Reach for the Sky aka StarGrasper • oil on canvas mounted on wood 24″ x 18″ • collection of the artist.

1978 was a mind-expanding year of travel and artistic experimentation. Many details of my trial-and-error efforts, in life as well as art, are lost to memory; the specific times and circumstances of creation displaced in the shuffle of living, loving, losing, and starting all over again. Unfortunately an accurate history of my creativity doesn’t exist; I was never an artist who maintained well written records, or even a complete photographic overview of my experiments. I was on a creative roll trying a number of approaches to the process of ‘making art’ while still holding down a part-time job with Samuel Weiser, the book publisher with whom I had been associated since 1974, when I turned my back on fashion illustration and decided to become a ‘painter’ instead.

InTheBlueTVScreenLightWPIn the Blue TV Screen Light • oil on canvas 36″ x 36″ • collection of Kate Suchmann. Early in 1978 inspired by the amazing photographs of the planet Jupiter being sent back to earth from Voyager 1 on its flyby mission (that later included photographing Saturn, on its way to explore the boundaries of the outer heliosphere, from whence it still sends back data from interstellar space, according to Wikipedia), I went abstract. I started experimenting with liquifying oil paints with a variety of mediums – turpentine, linseed oil, varnish, combinations of them – in small jars, then pouring the liquified paints onto the surface to be painted laying flat on a table, then moving the paint around by a variety of means: tilting the surface in different directions, blowing air onto it, even finger painting, all basically a variation on Spin Art – letting the paint virtually paint itself. Lots of fun! Once happy with the abstract shapes created, I allowed the surface to dry, laying flat. Early in that period of experimentation I created the chaotic centerpiece to the painting above; after drying I painted the surrounding indications of a television screen. The title is drawn from a lyric in Joni Mitchell’s classic A Case of You; the painting expresses poetically how I felt about television at that juncture in my life – a chaos in which tragedy morphed into a twisted kind of entertainment and comedy was often turned into propaganda. Thus I turned my back on such mindlessness, never to return for any duration.

TriptychCenterWPTree of Life and Death aka Tribute to Pablo Picasso • mischtechnik and oil paint on canvas 36″ x 36″ • collection of the artist, with wings later added to form a triptych. More on this enlarged painting in a future posting. Originally this painting and In the Blue TV Screen Light above were back-to-back on the same set of 36″ x 36″ stretchers. In order to enter the two paintings into a 1978 summer show to benefit Harkness House, home of the Harkness ballet, I bought another set of stretchers and remounted one of the paintings. Neither sold at the benefit. Oh, to remember what price I attached to those two paintings at the time when I was habitually underselling myself, on one level or another…

SantaFePorch720Santa Fe Porch • oil on canvasboard 14″ x 18″ • collection of the artist

Sometime early in 1978 through friend Harold Stover with whom I was living at the time, I meet Pat Martin Hill who visited NYC with her teenage daughters Karin and Margot,
SantaFeSkies#1WPfrom western Pennsylvania, close to where Stover had grown up. With them was friend Amelia Hartzel, who like Pat was a weaver. At the
SantaFeSkies#2WPtime, the four women were in the middle of formulating plans to move from western Pennsylvania to Santa Fe, NM. Relocated there by spring, Pat, soon to be renamed Pasha, who was
ColoradoMountains1WPalready a fan of my art, invited me to visit their new home in New Mexico. To facilitate such a trip Amelia made some timely arrangements; a couple of her students – Bruce and Corky, surnames no longer
ColoradoMountains2WPremembered – from the boarding school where she had formerly taught, were driving from Western Massachusetts to California via Santa Fe in early June. All I needed to do was get myself from NYC to Utica NY, where I could hook up with the two guys, thus making the trip west for relatively little cash – helping with gas and eating on the road. Knowing that one of my favorite paintings by 19th century painter Thomas Cole, from his four-part series The Voyage of Life was at the Munson-Proctor-Williams Institute in Utica, I arranged my bus schedule to allow a few hours to visit the museum before meeting the boys at a prearranged time and location. What a thrill to see these amazing works by a master artist – an Englishman who moved to America in his youth in the early 1800s and became the premier painter of the Hudson River school, an artist who also happens to carry my surname. While there I also saw one of the only Jackson Pollack paintings that I actually like. The trip west is a blur; even the three weeks plus spent in Santa Fe with side trips to Abiquiu and Taos, and up into the Sangre de Christo mountains looming over Santa Fe are a blur. The only solid memories are seemingly stored in the few paintings done there that have survived, including four small panoramic scenes painted on a miscellany of toned matboard pieces left over from a school project of either Karin or Margot. The first two cloud paintings, done from the flat roof of the house where we were staying, are in the collection of Amelia Hartzel. The second pair of more scenic paintings were done in the mountains of southern Colorado when Amelia and I visited a friend of her family who had moved there. Both paintings measuring 10″ x 24″ are still in my possession. These were some of the first paintings done as nature studies – a relative anomaly in my work to that time, except for my first two oil paintings done in 1973 as landscape studies in Maine.

NewMexicoResurrectionWPDesert Resurrection • oil on canvasboard 18″ x 14″ • collection of the artist

While in Santa Fe I also put my mind to the creation of the two imaginary pieces seen at left and below. Left, a painting done after an afternoon visit to a secluded monastery in the beautifully scenic high desert surrounding Georgia O’Keefe’s sanctuary in Abiquiu, New Mexico, where the subtle colors of the land formations are truly astounding.

NewMexicoWPNew Mexico Sungold • oil on canvasboard 24″ x 18″ • collection of Michelle Dionetti

The painting at left was quite simple in its first incarnation, not receiving its chains of spiraling colorful figures until a few years later. Unfortunately no photos exist of the painting in its initial stages before those additions. The sunburst motif was based on a memory of New Mexico tourism advertising in National Geographic magazine from the 50s.

to be continued…





{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: