1982: the year of paradox — back to Nature & back to the City

by Alden Cole on April 27, 2016 · 0 comments

NewcastleView-Aug82WPWentworth-by-the-Sea as seen from a Newcastle, NH Cemetery • oil on canvas 16″ x 20″ painted August 1982 • collection of Diane Kirkup

Thus it was that in May of 1982, when the cozy little cabin I’d been living in for the winter was about to triple in rent for the upcoming summer tourist season, I started perusing the local papers for rentals in the area: York, Ogunquit, Eliot, the Berwicks. Eventually I narrowed my search down to Portsmouth NH, just a few miles south on Interstate 95, across the broad Piscataqua River that separates Maine “Vacationland” from the “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire.

HanoverStAptMuralWPLand of Citadels and Chimeras • detail of a pencil mural that was never colorized, on the wall of my first apartment in Portsmouth, NH – approximately 7′ x 5′

By the first of June I had signed a one-year lease and moved into a tiny two-room second-floor apartment on Hanover Street on Portsmouth’s south side, close to the trendy heart of the increasingly-popular but likewise-expensive New England coastal town. Just across the Piscataqua River from the Kittery Naval Base, Portsmouth had become a major tourist stop on the coastal route north into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, or on to Maine and beyond to the Canadian provinces down east. As summer approached, downtown Portsmouth’s quaint Market Square began humming with the usual activities evoked by tourist season anywhere. Instead of returning to my roots in Dayton that June, I kissed Maine goodbye as my home of choice, and moved into a city again – a small city compared to the original City of my Dreams – Manhattan – which I had left only three years before; but a city that had its charms nevertheless. By the time I moved into Portsmouth, the ‘new’ Interstate 95 high bridge over the Piscataqua was complete; I remember many an evening driving south across that ‘bridge over troubled waters’ on my way home from an intense work-day at Weisers in Cape Neddick, glancing left down-river to the tiny town nestled on the river’s banks, lighting up in the dusk, and thinking to myself “Oh Portsmouth, City of My Dreams, I’ve found you at last!” Little did I know it wouldn’t.

TheChessGameWPUnfinished Business: The Chess Game #3 • pencil on canvas 22″ x 36″ • collection of the artist. Started in 1983 in Portsmouth NH; last reworked here in Philadelphia in 1986.

Working a full-time job that often entailed hours beyond the usual 9 to 5 was a shock to a system spoiled by years of free-lancing in NYC, years when I had been used to making my own schedule, although I was always on call: 24/7/365 ultimately. By May I had been working the 9-5 for over a year and a half, so I had adjusted to the new pace, at least on the surface. On the job I was wearing a variety of hats: invoice data entry, designing book covers, pasting up new books from type galleys, drawing chart illustrations for certain volumes, writing a monthly newsletter promoting Weiser publications and distribution titles, producing sales catalogs. I wasn’t a great team-player, never having learned the sport, but I slogged along experiencing the Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and being difficult to work with more than not. Deeper down there were still issues surrounding the making of art for myself, improving my craft as a painter, fitting into a community of artists which the seacoast area provided in abundance, dealing with the fact that I was still very much a solitary. The torrent of memories filling my four brief years in Portsmouth – from May 1982 to April 1986 – are such a jumble at this point in my life: a myriad of new faces met, particular passions unsatisfied, occasional friendships developed; memories that defy an accurate chronological timeline. So much happened there, and memory is so selective, getting more-so as we ‘mature’ – as I’ve noticed. I was still living in Cape Neddick in early spring ’82 when I first got involved with a drawing group that met at the Portsmouth Community Center to draw the figure; there were several young women in the area whose services as artists models helped to hone my skills as a figure drawer that spring, a discipline I had not pursued since 1974/5 when I was drawing both Saturday morning and afternoon at the Art Students League in NYC. At the Portsmouth Community Center I met Lincoln Perry, a fine draftsman who went on to create a successful career as a Post-Modernist painter and marrying the writer Ann Beattie. Lincoln and I became good friends for a few seasons while he lived in the area; through him I met the talented but self-destructive painter Bruno Civitico, and his wife, sculptor Kate Suchmann, who was a major personality in my life for a number of years. I have hundreds of figure drawings and portrait sketches on paper from those sessions, now taking up room in the files, a minor but substantial portion of my oeuvre. Through Lincoln I also started drawing/painting with a group of artists in North Berwick, including talented watercolorists Dewitt Hardy and his wife Pat, plus painters George and Dadee Burke; the 3-hour sessions featured a single pose, so we had the opportunity to really focus on a single artwork if we chose; it was during those weekly sessions that I acquired even more skills in my painting quest, moving from paper to canvas as my primary working surface.

to be continued…

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