2012… a memorable Baker’s Dozen

by Alden Cole on February 20, 2019 · 0 comments

2012: first project of the new year – “Center City Philadelphia #7” aka “Eyes on the Skies” aka “Waiting” • oil on plywood panel, in a 24” x17” frame, hand-crafted by another artist. This frame originally held a mirror for an entry way (thus the wooden drawer knobs at the bottom). I found the frame with its mirror broken – a store casualty – in the basement of SOTA, my friend Frank’s crafts gallery on Pine Street years ago, and begged if off him with plans to create a painting to fill the void, which is exactly what I did. Now in the collection of Frank Burkhauser.

2012 was one heck of a year – easily one of the most productive years of my life. The 12.21.12 buzz was in the air, another ‘end of the world’ prediction that had become a virtual cottage industry based on cultural paranoias. Apparently I was not totally free of feeling the tenor of the times, since I decided early in the year that IF this was going to be IT – the last one – then I was going to try to make the most of it creatively. And try I did. Whether it worked or not, you’re about to see, as ! review what was for me a significant year to remember.

Center City Philadelphia #6 • oil on wood panel that is the bottom of a bureau drawer measuring 17″ x 7″ x 6″. This small piece had been started in 2011, but didn’t get its final brush strokes until shortly after I had finished the other Center City painting above, which apparently inspired me to complete this one.

In this first posting in over two months I’ll start dealing with this incredibly productive year of 2012 by focusing on a baker’s dozen of paintings that occupied much of my time during the first few months of the new year – ultimately it was a winter of great content as I turned creative dreams into realities, surprising even myself with some of the results. My attention was divided between several interests, the first being my immediate environment – thus the Center City paintings depicting the view looking Northwest towards Philadelphia’s skyscraper skyline from my studio on the third floor of my South Philadelphia row-house, part of a series of paintings begun the year before.

“Yearning” aka “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou?” • oil on linen 20” x 16” • collection of Ed & Sophie Bronstein

Second was a plan to turn a small selection of photographs I had taken of people into paintings, starting with the composition at left, based on a lucky photograph taken with a zoom lens, one afternoon around 2008. I was shooting the skyline, my usual fascination, from my third floor studio, when I noticed a young neighbor whom I had not met, who lived in a house on Annin Street, a block north, whose back yard was two houses east of being back-to-back to my own backyard. From the distance dividing us I had seen her on occasion looking out her third floor window, but this time she had lowered the top sash and was leaning over its top edge, checking out the gardens. I shifted focus and took several photos of her. She never looked my way. After about ten photos I became self-conscious; not wanting her to feel self-conscious about being photographed, I shifted my own focus back to Center City. When I glanced back a few seconds later, she was gone. Once I looked at the photos on computer I knew I had captured a very fine composition, crying out to be painted. Only took a few years from original inspiration to completion on the easel, but well worth the effort. Incidentally, it was one of those paintings that happened quickly and almost effortlessly in three relatively brief sessions, without being overworked, the bane of much art. And it even won me a third place ribbon in a DaVinci Art Alliance-sponsored show of work inspired by the bard’s Romeo and Juliet the following year at the Lantern Theater. Now in the collection of one of Philadelphia’s finest painters, Ed Bronstein.

“Sea Gazer” aka “Omar Kabir – Wound Down” • oil on linen 24” x 18”

Here we have three paintings dealing with my interesting obsession with talented jazz trumpet player Omar Kabir, whom I had met in 2004, then traveled to India with in June 2005 to see a property he had inherited a portion of through his father. We were there for about two weeks in Gopalpur-on-Sea, a small community on the Bay of Bengal midway between Chennai (Madras) in the south and Kolkata (Calcutta) in the north of that amazing subcontinent. What a humbling education in how varied and yet how similar is our world. In early 2012 I started developing three different photos of Omar into paintings. The one above was based on a photograph taken while we were in India. Some time after finishing this first painting, I found out from Omar that the stretch of beach he is overlooking from the empty window was the same beach where his Indian father had drowned two years earlier. Memento Mori…

“Hot Stuff” aka “Omar Kabir – Wound Up” • oil on linen 10” x 28” • collection of Omar Kabir

When I first met Omar Kabir in 2004 he owned a house on Passyunk Ave just north of Catharine Street, so we were virtual neighbors in town. As we became friends I started going to jazz clubs with him on occasion – a totally new exploration for me – where I realized what an electric performer he was. The painting above is based on a photo taken at a Summer Solstice celebration somewhere on the campus of Drexel University in 2005, shortly after we returned from India. A professional musician may notice that things about the trumpet seem slightly askew; that’s because I flip-flopped the photograph I was working from for compositional reasons, so the trumpet valves have been reversed.

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things” aka “These are a Few of My Favorite Body Parts” – #3: The Mouth • oil on linen 12” x 16”

Omar had some of the most perfect teeth I had ever seen, possibly the result of early dental work. He had a stunning smile which seduced not only myself, but many another on occasion. The detail that became a painting was cropped from a full photographic portrait, and became the third addition to a slowly evolving series inspired by that classic tune from The Sound of Music by Richard Rodgers, with a little alteration to Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics… The idea for the series goes back to a 4” x 6” recipe card sketched out in the early 80s while still living in Portsmouth NH. The first of the series was the Ear, followed by the Eye.

“Summer of ’55” • oil on panel 15″ x 30″ • collection of Land Cole

My third area of interest that winter-into-spring was in crafting a few paintings of the Dayton, Maine farming environment in which I had grown up. In some instances I used old snapshots by family members, or by myself, as a springboard to creativity. The inspiration for the painting above was a small black & white snapshot taken by my brother Wallace in the summer of 1955, focused on the activity of summer haying that was taking place on our grandfather’s farm, a short distance from our back yard. Commenced in 2011; brought to completion and sold in the spring of 2012.

“Moonrise” aka “Down the Intervale #9″ • oil on panel, framed with antique window sash, 21″ x 25” • collection of Carley Dunn

This painting had been started in situ while vacationing in Dayton in the fall of 2011, but didn’t get its finishing touches until the spring of 2012, back home in Philadelphia. A certain amount of imagination went into painting this, as my aim was to create a night scene, even though I was actually working on it during the day; an exercise in creative inspiration and visualization that paid off. This was one of the first of several paintings that incorporated old window sashes (sans glass) that had once been glazed windows on the south side of the barn where I had grown up. My passion: putting found objects destined for the land fill to another use. Sold that same year to an Alaskan admirer while I was there in August.

“Last Load” • oil on linen canvas 18″ x 36″ • collection of Liam and Missy Braber

At the time of my parents memorial in 2009, a cousin gifted me with a number of b&w snapshots, including one that became the basis and inspiration for this painting. The b&w snapshot was taken in the summer of 1942 at a time before the advent of hay-baling machines which changed the whole business of haying. As you can see, there’s just one big pile of loose hay that had been collected using the old traditional method of loading the haywain with long-handled pitch forks. The original photo, taken a couple years before I was born, shows the last load of hay for the day coming into the door-yard at Cole Farm, with various family members as part of the tableau – two first cousins, brothers Gordon and Bob Cole, who are the youngsters duking it out on the lawn; a great uncle – Winfield Lee Cole – leisurely smoking his pipe close by; on the right, my aunt Charlotte standing at the rear of the hay wagon; and my dad sitting atop the load of hay. Presumably my uncle Robert was driving the tractor. The painting has an interesting history of revisions; although started in 2012, and sold to friends in 2013, I continued to revise (improve?) rework the painting until last year when it was time to say Basta!

“Fall Storm’s a Brewin’ “ aka “Down the Intervale #13” • oil on mdf panel 6” x 36” framed in antique oak • collection of Victoria Nevins

Possibly the most panoramic of the many paintings I’ve done of the Saco River Intervale that lies a mere quarter-mile behind the farm where I grew up. Over the years I’ve revisited this view in paint numerous times, as it is one of my favorite haunts of memory and the imagination, a world apart from where I live now.

Cole Farm #2 • oil on linen 18” x 24” • collection of Marge Cole Thompson

There’s no place like home, and for me the house portrayed in the painting above was HOME almost as much as the house in the valley just a few hundred feet away where I grew up. There a grandmother and two aunts showered me with love and affection that kept me coming back for more. In addition, the farm was the locus of lots of activity, because of its being an active dairy farm, with milk-trucks coming and going, a dairy factory packaging milk products that made a fair amount of noise, and cows in the fields where the horses now roam.

Purple Mountain Majesty • oil on linen 18” x 24” • collection of Pasha Buck

Alaska was on my mind that spring, as a result of my older brother Wallace, who has lived most of his adult life in Alaska as a successful entrepreneur, contacting me with an invitation to visit him and his family for the last two weeks of August. Destination: Camp Denali, their tourist facility nestled in the heart of Alaska, an impressive site which has been featured as one of PBS’s Great Lodges. The camp has one of the more spectacular views of Denali, North America’s tallest mountain, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, which has a summit elevation of 20,310 feet (6.190 meters) above sea level. According to Wikipedia, Denali is the third most prominent and third most isolated peak on Earth, after Everest in the Himalayas and Aconcagua in the Andes. Inspired by the prospect of such a journey which I had last made in the summer of 1984, I pulled out photos from the earlier visit and created two paintings that spring: the one above which shows a view along the park road from Camp Denali back to the park entrance about 90 miles away; the other painting below focuses on that amazing land mass known as Denali – the Great One – with Wonder Lake a mere speck in the distance.

Denali as seen from Nugget Pond, Camp Denali, Alaska • oil on linen 18” x 30” • collection of Robin Lowry

This trip coincidentally introduced me to the work of writer Herman Melville (1819-1891) for the first time, with my initial reading of Moby Dick; and re-introduced me to the work of artist Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) whose influence on my own art goes back to my teens. It was also a year that saw the establishment of a series of daily emails, set in motion via a December review that challenged me to write an email every day for 37 days in a row, from 1 December to 6 January 2013. I repeated the challenge the following December, after which it became a daily creative meditation. Thus the Slow-Motion Memoir was set in motion…

Of the baker’s dozen paintings above, I sold nine to family and friends, which is an encouraging statistic, telling me what I could focus on if I want to sell more paintings…

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