A Miscellany of Then and Now

by Alden Cole on March 26, 2017 · 0 comments

1986-AffirmationWPOne of the most challenging aspects of writing/creating this Slow Motion Memoir – this autobiography of sorts, one posting at a time – is the fact that my verbal and visual records are anything but uniform, or chronological, or in one place easily accessible for evaluation in a truly systematic manner, although I am working more actively now on getting my records to that state. Pieces of my past are all over the place in the files. As I keep working to better organize the various pieces of information chronologically, new surprises keep resurfacing in places that make writing a neat assessment of my past as it happened difficult. This kind of correct sequential in-depth view will obviously have to wait for The Book. Discovering a vital artwork that is out of sequence with the evolving story (presently dealing with the late 80s) is the case with the piece above, a sample of my calligraphy in the form of an affirmation, which I penned shortly after moving to Philadelphia in 1986. It was given to me by JMH, my spiritual counselor, to learn and repeat each morning, which I did, for a number of years with good results. In case you can’t read the calligraphy which is loosely based on a Chancery Italic I had learned at RISD back in the early 60s, here are the words:

“I give thanks that I am well, strong, healthy, free, independent and confident. I am at peace with all those around me. Each and every day that I strive for improvement in my life, I become more effective and better able to function without limitation. I am a warm friendly well-liked person. My success in life is assured and does not require me to take advantage of any other person. Rather, it obliges me to help others, without telling anyone about my good deeds.”

When I first arrived in Philadelphia May 1, 1986, my attitude toward self was anything but healthy. I was in a state of deep self-loathing that few people were aware of, because I had become so adept at pretending that my world was fine, both to myself and to family and friends in New England where I had been living for the last six years. From 1985 onwards, I had been experiencing a downward spiral of self-confidence that was resulting in difficulties at work, as well as compounding difficulties in the few friendships that I had established in Portsmouth NH. Suffice it to say that shortly after arriving in Philly I developed a new set of personal rituals, which included the repetition on a daily basis of this affirmation that I had been given, to be repeated preferably in the morning shortly after arising. With time and persistence I developed an understanding of the power of belief, and the role of affirmations in reprogramming old negative patterns of thought into positive perceptions of the self. I’ll admit that the process takes time and conscious work, but it is efficacious if one is willing to expend the effort. From personal experience I know it’s worth it. What more can I say??

DownTheIntervale#3WPThe landscape you grow up in speaks to you in a way that nowhere else does.” – Molly Parker

Down the Intervale #3 • oil on canvas-board, 9″ x 24″ • collection of the artist

Late ’80s: Although I was living in Philadelphia my heart still had a great big soft spot for Maine, and the farm where I had grown up. On occasion I gave expression to the emotional pull of the landscape I so loved in pieces like the painting above, one of many portraying the rolling hillocks of Dayton landscape behind my dad’s barn leading down to the intervale of the Saco River between the rows of trees in the distance, my primary playground as a child.

An annual spring ritual is taking a reevaluating look at old unfinished work, particularly on paper; work that’s been languishing in the files, incomplete but still showing promise that hasn’t been fully developed. In mid March I was inspired to rework a number of these compositions from various time periods that have come to light. Below, a selection of these recently reworked and finished artworks. Enjoy!

May'14-March'17WPInside, Looking Out – Variation #4 • acrylic on paper-board, 20″ x 16″ • collection of Matt & Judy Fichtenbaum

In 2014 I started a series of works based on a theme first developed in my second oil painting, done in 1973, as I was transitioning out of a career in fashion illustration and into whatever was next. The scene is one looking out the back doors of the barn belonging to my dad on his farm in Dayton, Maine. This fourth variation, portrayed on the left, was where I started (and stopped) on 12 May 2014. The right side however shows how I transformed the painting on 17 March 2017, bringing it to a successful conclusion and immediately packaging it up for shipment to my friends and generous patrons the Fichtenbaums. Thank you Matt & Judy.

Madonna&Child.Muskie&ColeWP1978?: While searching recently for something else in my archives, I came across two old drawings from a 14″ x 11″ sketchbook I maintained while living in NYC during the late ’70s. The two-page spread at left shows a small newspaper photograph of a mother and child that inspired the finished pencil sketch on the opposite page. You can even see where the clipping has left a shadow of pale sepia on the drawing, from years of facing each other in my sketch book. The season was obviously Christmas, as the poem inscribed on the left page with the clipping is ee cummings evocative “from spiraling ecstatically this” which my friend Harold Stover turned me on to years ago. The inspiring photograph is by fellow Maine native Steve Muskie of his wife and child, from the Biddeford Journal, date unknown. Another research project…

WiseAsSerpents-14x11WPThe drawing at left actually preceded the spread above in my sketch book; you can see the same faint sepia shadow from the newspaper clipping that has bled through the paper. Until the Ides of March, this was a blue-pencil sketch almost too light to read as a drawing. I figured it was time for a little transformation: with my trusty H pencil I redrew it, adding new details to arrive at a point where I finally recognized myself. Yes indeed, that’s yours truly at age 34, wearing big ole headphones, with a snake and bird coming out of the top of my head; the inscription off to the right side, still in blue, reads “WISE AS SERPENTS & HARMLESS AS DOVES” – a biblical saying I grew up with. My goal then, as now…

1977-2017-DragonLoreWPDragon Lore – Then & Now, a 17″ x 14″ pencil drawing on paper from 1977 that got inked & colorized in March.

“We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.” – Tom Robbins (22 Jul 1932 – )

DragonTamerWP2002-17: Dragon Tamer • oil, acrylics, and colored pencil on paper, 18″ x 18″ • collection of Jeff Miller

I’ve always been fascinated by images of serpents, and their kin the dragons, and early attempts at portraying them go back to childhood, with a relatively serious attempt at artfulness while I was a student at RISD, which unfortunately no longer exists. Above is a piece I started in 2002, dedicated to my Tai Chi teacher William Bengochea. I finished it two weeks ago after a decade and a half of being distracted with other projects, and almost immediately found a buyer in a new friend who happens to live just down the street. I’m a lucky guy.

SheSpeaks.2stagesWPShe Speaks • pencil and ball-point-pen drawing on paper 12″ x 18″ • collection of the artist

I can’t remember when I started the pencil sketch seen at the top of the image at left, which is so lightly drawn that most of the details are barely perceptible; possibly the late 80s, although something about the style indicates the timing was more probably from the early to mid 90s. Inspired to make it read as a finished drawing, I brought it to completion on Saturday 18 Mar ’17, with no plans to colorize it.

SpringRitualsenBleuWPSpring Rituals aka Aloha from Lake Woe Be Gone Where the Women are Strong and the Men are Good Looking • acrylics on paper-board 19″ x 26″ • started 4 March 2017, signed 14 March 2017 – the first all-new work of art to emerge in quite some time.


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