Bakers Dozen – a millennial miscellany

by Alden Cole on August 24, 2017 · 0 comments

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 himself” seemed to be the guiding principle more than ever. The spirit of 60s togetherness had hit the skids. The times were getting extraordinarily competitive, as well as weirder. Or perhaps it was only my imagination that the technological times we lived in were a mixed blessing? or should I say a mixed curse with benefits?? Or perhaps it was only the fact that I was finally understanding the truth of Victor Hugo’s maxim: “Forty is the old age of youth; and fifty is the youth of old age.” I was about to experience my Second Saturn Return – a sobering event – and I still didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I was about to figure that out…

2000: Mysterious Mountain #2 • oil on linen, 31″ x 46″ • collection of the artist

One of the things I most passionately wanted to do in the new millennium was to paint a few really beautiful pictures of mystical places with which to surround myself, all dealing with that very broad subject – LOVE – particularly in its tenderer aspects. The painting at the top of this posting – Yin/Yang – was my attempt at The Cosmic Kiss, pared down to a symbolic portrayal of the exchange of essential energies. For Mysterious Mountain, the painting above, I was inspired by an older painting from 1984 that I had left behind in Maine when I moved to Philly, a wedding present to my cousin Steve, and his wife Karen; as well as a wonderful piece of music by Alan Hovhaness (8 Mar 1911 – 21 Jun 2000) with that same name. For the painting left behind in Maine, I had worked on the figures totally from imagination. For this newer painting, I worked from photographs that friends were kind enough to model for. I also worked on a larger canvas than the original version; larger in fact than any I had worked on in quite some time. The Aim: a soothing portrayal of the post-coital embrace; possibly a substitute for the fact that I had no partner to embrace in this manner? The model for a number of my other paintings, including the next, paid me a great compliment when he naively remarked that he wished he could transport himself into this particular picture. Me too…

2000: Rapture, aka Resurrection – oil on canvas, 44″ x 24″ • collection of the artist

Another passionate interest that blossomed in the spring of 2000, shortly before my 56th birthday, was developing a series of paintings devoted to the nude figure, particularly the male, preferably done from life, rather than the imagination. This was enabled by meeting and becoming quite enamored with a guy twenty-five years younger than myself, a Taurus born in 1969, who had turned thirty-one just before we met. He was a waiter at Montserrat, a restaurant in the 700 block of South Street, where a brunch crowd of which I was a regular member met each Sunday. Lo and behold, we flirted with exchanged glances over lunch, then after my brunch group had dispersed, I returned to the restaurant, introducing myself as an artist wondering if he had ever done any modeling? or if he would consider doing so?? “No” to the first; “possibly” to the second. We exchanged phone numbers; he contacted me a couple days into the new week, being willing to model, but was wondering what I paid an hour. I asked if he would be willing to exchange modeling time for massage time, since I’m a talented masseuse. He said he would love to get the massage, but he really needed to work for cash since he was taking classes at Community College; making ends meet was proving to be a challenge. So I thought about it quickly, offered him $35 an hour, with a commitment of two hours, so he could count on $70 per session. He agreed to it, and within a week, he came by for our first session. Thus began a relationship with a man who became a friend, as well as my male muse and chief model for two years, providing the inspiration for many paintings, including the completion of the painting above, which had been in the works since my New York days, going back to the late 70s.

Before & After • oil on linen, 18″ x 18″ each • collection of the artist. Both canvases were started in the early spring of 2001. “After” was finished that same spring; however, it took another nine years to bring “Before”
to completion in time for a show in 2010. Both paintings were based on rough pencil drawings done in 1977 while I was living in NYC; at left, the two pages from a 14″ x 11″ sketch book, expressing my angst at a time when I was obviously more stressed about life than I am now.

“Tight Rope Walking” aka “Balancing Act #1″ • oil on linen, 20″ x 16” • collection of Sharon Ivanov

My new buddy, ostensibly straight, but between girlfriends because of moving to a new town, taking classes to become a teacher, etc, proved to be a bit bi-curious, possibly on account of his being such a handsome metro-sexual, who had grown up just outside NYC on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. He and I formed an interesting relationship that was a bit of a roller-coaster ride emotionally, causing me to act “like an old girlfriend” on occasion. However, the relationship stimulated a number of artworks, including “Before & After” and “Balancing Act” above. In addition there was a lot of emotional growth generated by the relationship that ultimately helped me to transition more smoothly into my sixth decade in 2004. Most of the paintings inspired by my relationship with this friend are more personal than I care to share via the medium of a website and blog. Interested parties are invited to contact me by email to be included in an email series devoted to these erotic works.

Scarab Mirrors: first version on the left from ca. 1978, acrylics and colored-pencil on paper, 24″ x 18″ – provenance unknown; second version on the right from 2000, oils and colored-pencil on paper, 22″ x 14″ – framed 30″ x 20″ • collection of the artist.

Early in the new millennium I started revisiting some old ideas and updating them, as exemplified by the remake of Mysterious Mountain near the top of this posting. Another idea recycled was when I turned my attentions to creating a replacement for a favorite piece (the left artwork of the two above) that had disappeared in the course of being stored in my dad’s barn in Maine during the 80s. I’ve always assumed that some visitor to the barn saw the artwork there, and decided to claim it as their own; hopefully they’re enjoying it still. I certainly enjoy living with the second version, which I see every day. In both the original as well as the revision, the mask area of the face has been cut out of the paper; the art then placed atop a mirror, followed by a sheet of non-glare glass covering both, thus creating a ghosted mirror-image – a kind of magic mirror; “seeing through a glass darkly.”

2001: YO! (Happy Holidays); a photoshopped adaptation of a linoleum-block print from the early 90s.

In the spring of 2000, in addition to the blossoming of an artistically inspiring relationship, I found myself once again with a full-time job and a regular paycheck for the first time since 1996, when Roberts & Raymond Associates, the advertising agency where I had worked as a pre-press production artist since arriving in Philadelphia in 1986, closed its doors. In the interim I had worked various free-lance gigs, some arranged through MacTemps, an employment agency which sent me out on many a temporary job. Their placing me with Topak Marketing, an agency that specialized in direct mail advertising for insurance companies, was propitious. After two weeks of working as a temp, I was hired full time. The job at Topak was ultimately the best-paying, as well as least-demanding, job I ever experienced. Housed in one of the piers along the Delaware just south of the Ben Franklin bridge, the office was close enough to home that I could walk to and from work, in less than half-an-hour, rather than having to use public transportation, which was a virtual dream come true. The work was banal, but the hours were regular, with very little overtime. During the occasional slow times in the office, I devoted time to experimenting with projects of my own, particularly those which would increase my knowledge of Photoshop, which helped to create the above greeting in time for the 2001 holidays.

2003: “Self @ (almost) 60” aka “Who is that Masked Man?” • oil on canvas-board, 20″ x 16″ • collection of the artist.

In the spring of 2003, I painted my first self-portrait since 1986, the year I moved to Philly. The difference of seventeen years had wrought a number of changes in me, both physically as well as emotionally and intellectually. Spiritually? most likely, but I’ve learned that it is foolish to think that one can be totally self-knowing about ones spiritual growth, since it is bigger than the sum of our animal/emotional/intellectual parts. Like most of my work, the self-portrait became an experiment, not only in terms of medium, but in terms of concept. In my photographic work, I had been taking a number of portraits of friends, then importing them into Photoshop where I cropped them in various ways – closer, closer – until I eventually discovered the awesome power that lay at the center of the face, as indicated by the square mask on the painting that defocuses the rest of the painting to the point of being inessential.

Mamihlapinatapai: “a look exchanged between two people, each hoping the other will initiate what both want, but neither chooses to commence.”

Mamihlapinatapai 1 & 2: Variations on a Repeat Pattern – oil on linen. Top: 12″ x 28″. Bottom: 16″ x 28″ • collection of the artist

I first encountered the word “mamihlapinatapai” in 1987 when I was working part-time at the Garland of Letters bookstore on South Street. Among the tomes stocked was a thin volume that caught my eye; a compendium of odd and interesting terms gleaned from the international world of language, which included this particular term from Tierra del Fuego, which the Guinness book of records lists as “the most succinct word.” I’ve experienced the feeling many times in my life; so in early 2003 I set to work on the first variation, working from photos of friends, which was quickly followed by the second, still unfinished in my estimation, but one which still defies my skill level to enhance to the point of fulfilling my vision.

2003: Christmas Watch • oil and acrylic on linen, 16″ x 12″ • collection of the artist.

I started this small holiday painting in 2003, incorporating into the composition the use of the same iridescent acrylic paints that I had been using on my lamps for a couple years. All areas were painted with them except the figures and the face, which were painted in oils. But the going was slow. I reworked the figures several times, and it wasn’t until the end of 2011 that I added the last painted pointillisms and signed it, especially for a December show that my Dumpster Diva friend Gretchen Altabef had arranged at her non-sectarian church – Pebble Hill, in Doylestown.

2004: ‘Ear Me Out Mate! – oil on linen, 16″ x 12″ • collection of the artist.

This was the first of a projected series entitled “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” (as in body parts), based on a small pencil sketch made while living in Portsmouth NH in the early 80s.

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