Forward into the Past: 1977

by Alden Cole on August 10, 2015 · 0 comments

“One fails forward toward success.”
– Charles Kettering (29 Aug 1876 – 24 Nov 1958)

1-3-7WPOne / Three / Seven • egg tempera and oil on masonite panel 48″ x 48″ • 1977-1980 • collection of the artist

Unfinished Business #1. Going autobiographically back in time to the spring of 1977, I was living in a small studio apartment on the 9th floor of The Broadmoor at Broadway and 102nd St. in upper Manhattan. Working for Weisers on a rather loosely structured free-lance as well as part-time basis during the day and making art at night and weekends to stay sane. My social life was pretty drab, restricted to hanging out primarily with Linda Gardner, a painter whose work I imitated in a variety of ways; from her pointillist pen&ink drawings, to her egg tempera and oil paintings, to her pastel chalk drawings on the sidewalks of NYC along the southern periphery of Central Park. In that last particular regard, my imitative actions at the southeast corner of the entrance to Central Park were cut short by being arrested for “vandalization of public property,” whereas Linda was able to create and virtually busk undisturbed in her usual spot at Columbus Circle at the southwest entrance to the park. Our relationship was complex, beyond the scope of this medium. Let’s just say I envied a lot of her life experience as a native New Yorker: a pretty, vivacious woman raised in comfortable circumstances, briefly a chorus girl and actress, who sought out painting as an emotional fulfillment after also doing a brief stint as a stewardess, who had studied “mischtechnik” closely with Ernst Fuchs in Vienna in the early 70s. Enamored of the transparency displayed in much of Linda’s work, I started buying her art, hoping the magic would rub off on me. Eventually I begged her to teach me the technique. She told me to buy a 4′ x 8′ sheet of quarter inch masonite, have it cut in half, then prepare each panel’s smooth-sided surface; first with a light sanding, followed by an application of acrylic gesso, after which I painted a thin layer of Venetian Red casein. This was followed by a thin layer of damar varnish which was allowed to dry for a number of days. In the interim I obtained dry white pigment and distilled turpentine from David Davis Art Supplies in Greenwich Village which introduced me to the joys as well as expense of fine brushes, in this amazing store which was a fine arts supplier to the artistic community living in the burgeoning SoHo district of Manhattan, before its commercialization in the 80s. Right around Easter with its revitalization of city life after a long winter, Linda took the subway from Greenwich Village up to my aerie on the Upper West Side. Preparatory to her arrival I had painted the primed surface of the first 4′ x 4′ masonite panel with a thin layer of a medium consisting of stand oil, damar varnish, and distilled turpentine in a 1-2-3 proportion. As well I had prepared an emulsion composed on an egg, traditionally blown through a small pinhole in one end into a container with cover, to which 2 parts water and 1 part damar were added. She had also told me to get a piece of heavy glass to use as a palette. I was ready. She arrived in early afternoon: first she showed me to what consistency to mix the prepared egg emulsion with the dry white pigment to get a nice workable paste. Then she took a #2 round sable brush, dipped it in water, then into the white pigment paste, followed by turning to the panel which sat on an easel she had given me weeks before, and painting the simple outlines of an eye right in the middle of the panel.

#1WPShe took a few seconds to soften the initial harsh edges of the white pigment against the rich reddish-brown background, by thinning the paint with water, thus showing me the variety of colors one can get just painting various thicknesses of white over a toned background. Incroyable! She turned toward me, handed me the brush, smiled and said “Have fun!” leaving me to my own devices after a goodbye hug. I spent the rest of the afternoon developing the panel’s details; many of my conscious compositional choices being mandala-form in nature, starting with the concept of Unity which subdivides into Trinity which again subdivides into Seven. Shades of Alice Bailey and the Arcane Society and my studying their literature over the summer of ’74 which I spent in Maine, trying “to go home again.” At left, a picture of the panel on the easel which gives some idea of how it looked after the first day’s session, which left me in awe of the expressive power of white. TBC…




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