The early 80s: getting figurative again. What goes around comes around 35 years later…

by Alden Cole on March 24, 2016 · 0 comments

“I don’t want petty self-expression. I want the elemental, infinite thing; I want to paint the rhythm of eternity.” – Rockwell Kent (21 Jun 1882 – 13 Mar 1971)

StarChaserFullPageGSWPThe Adventures of Star-Chaser • pencil on watercolor paper 17″ x 14″ • collection of the artist

Just a few days ago, while searching through my files from the late 70s and early 80s for a piece of art that evokes some of the elemental power of Rockwell Kent’s work, I happened across the drawing at left from approximately 1980 – The Adventures of Star-Chaser – which captures some of RK’s flair for bodies transported. The timing was propitious, as my drawing’s
Signagetitle, if not the drawing itself, captures in spirit what might be seen as a kind of prequel to Peter and the Star Catcher – billed as “a grownups prequel to Peter Pan” – the latest production on the main stage at the Walnut Theater here in Philadelphia. It’s a rollicking good time that I’m particularly pleased to promote because Peter is played by 17-year old Brandon O’Rourke, whom I’ve known since he was 8-years old. Virtually born and raised on stage, he’s obviously very comfortable in front of an audience; and now he’s got his first lead role in a delightful, fun extravaganza. So treat yourself to a light-hearted spring fling, either evening or matinee performances available; go see the emergence of a new Star – a Catcher rather than a Chaser – before the show wraps up Sunday afternoon May 1. More show info and tickets online:

SupermanWPArt by Alden Cole? NO indeed, much as I might like to claim it! Superman • ink & brush art at left, plus quote below, both by Rockwell Kent, an extraordinary creative light who has provided great inspiration to my own artistic explorations; from his 1919 book Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska which he both wrote and illustrated.

“…I’ve done little work and dared look at but one picture – that of Superman – and it appears truly
SupermanRGBWPmagnificent. The sky of it is luminous as with northern lights, and the figure lives. After all it is Life which man sees and which he tries to hold and in his Art to recreate. To that end he bends every resource straining at what limits him. If he could only be free, free to rise beyond the limits of expression into being! at his prophetic vision of man’s destiny assuming himself the lineaments of it, in stature grown gigantic, rearing upwards beyond the narrow clouds of earth into the unmeasured space of night, his countenance glowing, his arms outstretched in an embrace of wider worlds! This the spirit and the gesture of Superman. – So I’m not unhappy. Now work begins again…”

It was while perusing a copy of RK’s Wilderness last weekend, which includes a reproduction of the b&w ink & brush Superman above, that I experienced something totally unique: I wept, swept away by the power of a number of the b&w drawings that are interspersed throughout the text. I’ve been moved to tears by music many times throughout my life, but this was the first time I had been so moved by visual art. Not one other painter’s work – and I’ve looked at a LOT of art over the years – has ever brought me to such a point of emotion and clarity which is impossible to describe. Caught up in that exhilaration, I remembered that the provenance of RK’s actual oil painting Superman is unknown, possibly lost or destroyed. The only reproductions of the painting, either in books or online, are in monotone (note the second version above, from Fritjof Johnson’s excellent anthology on RK). Stimulated by an internal ‘seeing’ of the monotone reproduction transformed into vibrant color, I decided that since no color version of Kent’s painting exists in any medium, I’d just to create one for myself. Thus commenced a new spring project, encouraged by Scott Ferris, possibly the foremost expert on RK’s oeuvre who has been compiling a catalogue raisonné of this American master’s work for several years, a Gargantuan task to say the least, and a labor of love.

SupermanTracingWPOptimistic at the time of first inspiration – I can do this! – I felt daunted once I took a closer look at a scanned image. The idea of copying such a masterpiece seemed like more than chutzpah; more like total fool-hardiness – after all, I’m not a copyist; I can’t even copy my own work with any degree of accuracy. So why was I thinking about such a project? Because it’s there! I moved beyond the fear and forged ahead, starting with a relatively-tight tracing of the monotone painting, followed by
SupermanStage2WPa quick color-marker comp to put myself into color mode… Next, to complete a small panel devoted to more accurate color rendition, working in acrylics. Eventually an oil painting, once I’ve selected and prepared a substrate – panel or canvas – which will measure 41-1/2″ x 31″, the assumed size of Kent’s original painting which was paired with North Wind, also painted that winter spent in Alaska with his son Rocky Jr. – from September of 1918 to March 1919. Talk about an intense time of year to take a vacation in the north country! Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska – RK’s reflections on that experience – is a magical book, the first of many that he both wrote and illustrated; a book filled with profound drawing as well as a moving, thoughtful text. Well worth reading…

BraveNewWorldWPAnyway, I’m looking forward to the challenge of painting my own personal Superman; it will be one of the largest figure paintings I’ve focused on in quite some time. I doubt my efforts will mark my entry into the ranks of talented international forgers, but who knows? Anything can happen this spring! Above and below, three other figurative works from the late ’70s/early ’80s that have been featured in recent emails, but have not made it into the blog. Even though they have no direct bearing on this tribute to RK, his influence is so pervasive in my work that I’ll simply say, “thank you Rocky for your inspiration, wherever you are…”



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