Expansion/Contraction in the Early ’90s

by Alden Cole on July 4, 2017 · 0 comments

AmongTheMythyMountainsWPAmong the Mythty* Mountains • oil on canvas, 36″ x 78″

On 19 April 1991, I moved from the 2-room apartment on South 6th Street at Greenwich, where I had been living for the first five years of my Philadelphia experience, into the first ‘real’ home of my own – a 3-story row house at 717 Federal Street – where I still live to this day. Excited to have such an expansive ‘canvas’ on which to create, I started moving a number of items south – art supplies as well as household furnishings which I had been storing in my dad’s barn in Dayton, Maine – transporting them to my new base of operations in Philadelphia. Always a collector of the beautiful, in whatever form I found it, particularly if it was free, as in being discarded as no longer useful, I had managed to accumulate quite a number of interesting items on the cheap – decorative as well as functional – during my initial eighteen years in Maine, plus my four years of art school in Providence RI, a decade in New York City, then four years in Portsmouth NH, before moving to Philadelphia in 1986. It was the time to expand my creative horizons by incorporating these diverse collections into a single creative entity – my ultimate art project – home of Conscious World Art.

*mythty – a word combining ‘mythic’ and ‘misty’

Buddha-BuddhessWPBuddha/Buddhess • oil on canvas, 36″ x 78″

Among the items that made their way from Maine to Philadelphia were a quartet of stretchers, all measuring 36″ x 78″ originally found at the top level of my grandfather’s barn, back in the mid 70s. They had been covered with muslin, some tattered remains of which were still attached to the stretchers when I found them; their function had been as parts of a cold frame used to protect young plants in the springtime on the southern side of the barn. When I first found them, heavily layered with dust, indicating many years of non-use, my initial thought was “these will be perfect for BIG paintings”. And that is exactly what has happened to three of the four stretchers so far, including the two seen here, which were started sometime in 1993. Like many large pieces here at 717, they are works in progress. I like to think that the stretchers were originally made by my great-grandfather Clark Remich Cole (1841-1915), who was quite a creative individual himself. I’ve often wondered what he would think of how his beautifully crafted stretchers have been repurposed into substrates for art; and art such as I have made. I tend to think he would be proud of my creativity, but it’s possible he might find the work simply curious. After all, beauty IS in the eye of the beholder.

SmallWorldWPSmall Worlds • watercolor on paper, 7″ x 10″ • collection of Betsy Alexander & Burnell Yow!

During the two-year period from 1987-89 when I worked part-time at the Garland of Letters, I made the acquaintanceship of a young woman named Kathy, who became a great admirer of my art. She first became familiar with my black & white posters which were for sale at the Garland, all seven of which she collected. Eventually she approached me with an exciting offer – a commission for a painting. Of what she wasn’t sure, but she was quite sure that I would come up with something extraordinary. Intrigued, I asked how much she was willing to spend on such a project; her response was that she could afford $500. Challenged to come up with an idea that could lead to my first commission in quite sometime, I set to work, coming up with the small watercolor above, plus some other sketches on paper that no longer exist.

BalconyLoverWPBalcony Lover • oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″ • provenance unknown

After an initial consultation to discuss the ideas I had come up with, I painted the oil sketch at left; a concept which Kathy approved, giving me a check for $150 as down-payment. I set to work immediately, procuring canvas and stretchers then preparing my painting surface using traditional methods: stretching raw linen, sizing the surface with rabbit-skin glue, sanding then priming the surface with two coats of white. After a modeling session with Kathy to capture the central figure, I transferred the composition in pencil to the canvas, then proceeded to paint. In relatively short order I had done the underpainting for all the color areas in the composition. Thereafter, progress became fitful. Doubts assailed me; insecurities encouraged me to take long periods between painting sessions; the project dragged on over a two-year period, being finally completed and signed sometime in 1993.

LivingOnTheEarthWPLiving on the Earth • oil on linen, 27″ x 41″

At left is the finished product. The project had taken so long that by the time I was ready to deliver the painting, Kathy had moved from Philadelphia to Gloucester Massachusetts. I delivered the painting on one of my annual vacations back to Maine. Kathy was thrilled with the finished painting; however, she indicated that her financial status was uncertain. She wrote out a check for the $350 owed, asking me not to deposit the check for a few days, as she was expecting another check any day now which would cover mine. By the time I was back in Philadelphia, Kathy called me to let me know that she was unable to cover my check; she apologized profusely for her changed circumstances, then asked if I would be willing to take the painting back if she was unable to come up with the money owed before my the next trip to New England. I agreed, and that is exactly what happened. For a number of months Kathy got to live with this masterpiece which she had challenged me to create. And then my alter-ego – this Lady on the Balcony about to take flight – became mine again, and has lived with me ever since, except for those occasions when I’ve placed her in shows to be seen yet again by the general populace.

4MoreDavidoffCoversWPAnother creative upshot of my working at the Garland of Letters bookstore, Philadelphia’s New Age emporium on South Street where I worked part-time from February 1987 to June 1989, then again from February 1997 to the spring of 1999, was being commissioned to design covers for a series of CDs (as well as 8-track cassettes initially) featuring the music
4DavidoffCoversWPof New Age composer PC Davidoff, at the time one of the Garland’s principals. At left are the eight covers I created for Philip over a decade. Calm Body Calm Mind, the cover at right in the second row, even features a detail – chosen by Mr. Davidoff himself – from Living on the Earth, the commissioned painting featured above, which also has its Garland of Letters connection as described. Just a coincidence?
YabYumWPOther note-worthy tidbits. Bamboo (bottom left) was my first cover created entirely on computer, using Abode Illustrator; the one and only time I did so. Buddha (bottom right) uses one of the few photographs I’ve taken that’s been reproduced as part of a cover design. And the artwork for Secrets of the Jade seen at left – my updating of the traditional Tantric Yab Yum position – was the last time I used an airbrush to create artwork.

1980-90;TantricasWPTantrikas • oil on mylar-coated canvas, 18″ x 36″ • Another variation on the traditional Tantric Yab Yum position is this free-form interpretation that I started sometime in the 80s, then brought to its present state
1.DividedBannerCRWPin the early 90s. This painting is a prime example of how a substrate used for one purpose can easily become the basis for another. Originally it was part of the banner seen at left created around 1980 for a Christmas pageant at the Alexander Robertson school in NYC, where my friend Harold Stover was the music teacher. When I got the banners back the bottom section was looking pretty wrinkly, so I took ’em apart, got creative, recycling what I could, eventually attaching the top section of canvas to stretchers, then adding intense color to create the vibrant composition that I live with daily in my office.

LoveAffair1LipBoatWPAnatomy of a Love Affair – Part 1: Passion on the LipBoat • colored pencil on black presentation board, 8″ x 10″ • collection of Eric German

In the fall of 1991, the same year I moved into my home at 717 Federal Street, I had an affair with a physically
LoveAffair2RaptureWPbeautiful young man that only lasted for a few months, until I realized that I was already playing second fiddle to someone else. Yet again I experienced the dashing of hopes that ‘this time it will be different”. As I’ve learned repeatedly over the years, it’s rarely different because our hopes, aka expectations, never really change substantially. “Without expectation there can be no disappointment.” Being Here Now with no expectations is challenging to say the least.

LoveAffair3HeartEaterWPPart of moving beyond the disappointments is turning those heart-rending experiences into art. These four pieces as a suite attempt to convey some of the highs and lows produced by falling in love with love, which as the old standard says, “is falling for make believe”. Let’s face it, it ain’t easy being a realist.

LoveAffair4SolaceWPThe other three are:

Part 2 – Rapture, a complex tapestry of internal imagery evoked by the experience of intense attraction;

Part 3 – The Eaters of Heart are Abroad – my warning to others that the object of my affections is really just a knave of hearts, collecting as many tokens as his ego demands;

Part 4 – Solace, which speaks for itself about where the strength to keep moving comes from – inside!

YinYang3WP1992: The Marriage of Night and Day • colored pencil on black presentation board 7″ x 24″

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