Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Art Students League

In the spring of 1970 I heard about a school that has no entrance requirements, where you could just go and work in a studio and all the teachers are artists who look at your work and advise you, but you mainly work on your own.  They had classes all day and evenings.  Well, that seemed kind of sketchy, but my life was kind of sketchy at the moment so I looked into it.
It was The Art Students League of New York.
 I gave them a call and the lady on the phone said, “Just come on in, you can sign up and start today.” Wow. That seemed too easy, but I went to check it out.
215 West Fifty-Seventh Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue.   

  I walked in that beautiful door

and was hit with the smell of art--oil paint and turpentine.  It’s still perfume to me.
At the office, I was handed a catalog and told, “Just walk around, visit all the studios, talk to the monitors, make yourself at home.”  The monitor is the teacher’s assistant who runs the class, sets up the model’s pose or the still life, arranges the easels, answers questions, and settles disputes. 
 I walked through the lobby with its bronze statue of Mercury, the messenger of the gods.

 His toes and the wings on his heels were shiny as if they’d been rubbed for luck by generations of art students.
I felt like an intruder in the studios but people were working so intently they didn’t notice me. I found a class where everyone was drawing from the model on huge pads, using their whole arms to make their marks. This was so different from the tiny detailed drawings I had been doing that I thought it would be good for me.  It was April 22nd, 1970, the very first Earth Day.  
 I joined that class with my pad and my charcoal and got to work. Here I learned the etiquette of the studio.  The model undresses in private and puts on a robe.  She doesn’t remove the robe until she’s on the stand, and only the monitor speaks to her.   She is treated with dignity and respect.
 I got a good lesson here in not being the only person in the world.  It was winter and I complained to the monitor that the studio felt overheated.  He pointed out that I was wearing corduroy pants, a sweater, a turtleneck, and boots while the model was wearing nothing.  Um--never mind.
My first teacher, Marshall Glasier, with scraggly gray hair and beard, heavy black glasses and a big belly, went around the class looking at everyone’s work, making marks when he felt there was something worthwhile.  You knew you were doing pretty well when you could hold his attention, but he’d get so wrapped up in your work that he’d forget where he was and he’d take over your drawing so that it would become a Marshall Glasier drawing.  That was OK; it was just newsprint and we were doing hundreds of drawings every day. Once in looking at my work, he said, “You’ve got an eye like an eagle.” That sent me floating on air for weeks--floating and working.  I spent hours at the easel trying to make my hand do what my eye and my brain told it to.  Of course, it was hard work but it didn’t feel like work at all.  I’ve looked up my records at the League and I put in over 5,000 hours at work there. That time flew by. 
The League became my home, as it has been for generations of artists. Here's a partial list; Thomas Hart Benton, Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, Georgia O'Keeffe, Barnet Newman, Norman Rockwell, Winslow Homer, Man Ray, Jackson Pollack, Lee Krasner, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Louise Nevelson, Reginald Marsh, Romare Beardon Man Ray, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner,  Red Grooms, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko, Ben Shahn Cy Twombly, Ai Weiwei. 
I made this collage of the League's beautiful facade, with some art in the windows.
Can you identify the work?

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Patience and Fortitude

When our beautiful library lions were dubbed Patience and Fortitude it was not meant as a compliment.  Critics thought they lacked regal splendor. Compared with other lions around the world they may seem a little relaxed;

 But I love them just as they are.

My friend, June, reminded me that Fiorello Laguardia, in the midst of the Great Depression, said what was needed to get through that terrible time was

and Fortitude.

What will it take to get through our present terrible time?  Patience and Fortitude, sure.  What else?
We've been through many crises, and each time we come through we think, well, that's over and we learned how to cope  And then something else happens. 
It reminds me of when Jessie was two and I couldn't get her to leave the playground without a battle when it was time to go home for supper. I hit upon a plan. I said, "I'm leaving now,"  and walked away.  She ran after me crying "Don't leave me!" and I thought, "great, I've solved that one."  the next time I tried it she didn't look up from her sandcastle, she just said, "Bye." 

Each crisis comes with its own challenges. Are patience and fortitude enough for this time?  Some of us are supposed to just stay inside. That doesn't feel like much.  Some of us put themselves at risk to take care of the rest of us.  It's certainly not fair.  What can we do?

I don't have answers but I'm thinking a lot.  In online church Sunday we sang a favorite hymn with these words, that I repeat to myself and share with you;

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

I"m still drawing-I haven't gotten far with the blue stage; my new jar of Winsor Yellow, finally arrived so the sun is coming along--I still don't know what to do with the stage floor.

Taking a break from blue, I started this horizontal stage.  I thought I'd make it all green, but the brown and cream are taking over.  Sometimes it works that way--I lose control for a while.  I'll keep at it and see what happens.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

My friend, Samantha, said,
"I think this quarantine is really Mother Nature telling us,
'Now, go to your room and think about what you've done."

Saturday, April 18, 2020

You got it!

You are all so smart, and kudos to your Civics teachers!  Yes, this is the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, rendered in license plates on display at the Smithsonian Institute. 
Conceptual artist Mike Wilkins created this in 1987 as a celebration of the bicentennial of the Constitution.

The Smithsonian posted this Background Information for Teachers
Preamble is an artful arrangement of personalized “vanity” license plates from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The plates are organized alphabetically by state, beginning with Alabama and ending with Wyoming, and all contain shorthand text phrases. Read collectively, starting at the top left corner, a pattern emerges: artist Mike Wilkins has utilized 51 license plates to phonetically render the 52 words of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. The words of the preamble are some of the most important in our nation’s founding documents, helping us to understand the purpose of our federal government and our relationship to it.
Looking closely at the license plates in Preamble, the names, colors, mottos, and even vignettes depicted upon them highlight the individuality of each state. Their differences lend a unique flavor created by history and the environment. The similarities among them— the standardized size, shape, and bolt pattern— hint at two intertwined concepts. First, and most practically, the license plates are mass­produced, mirroring the mass production of cars. Second, and more abstractly, these standardizations link to the federal system that keeps our states working together. State laws differ, but they function within the larger framework of the Constitution.
Wilkins created this artwork to commemorate the bicenten­nial of the United States Constitution in 1987, interpreting the relationship between the individual and the collective popula­tion embodied in the text of the preamble. The spirit of our nation’s motto, E pluribus unum (Out of many, one), is honored, the license plates reflecting the individuality of their state yet contributing to a cohesive whole United States. Speaking of the inspiration for Preamble, Wilkins explained: “I was trying
to think of some way to salute the 200th anniversary of the 
Constitution. It needed to be something that was all­inclusive but that kept the states separate and also knitted them together.”

This piece in the LA times tells of Wilkin's efforts with the states.  What's the only state to give him a hard time?  Read here,

Thursday, April 16, 2020

What are you Reading?

It's about a month now that we've been staying in.  How are you doing?  Getting a lot of reading done? If you're looking for a new read may I offer some suggestions?
On April 11 the NY Times published
"Plague through the Eyes of Writers", by Dwight Garner.
 Step 1, from Kingsley Amis?  Drink wine in quantity.
Another quote caught my eye:
"The burden of keeping three people in toilet paper seemed to me rather a heavy one."
                                                     Barbara Pym, "Excellent Women"

I went through a Barbara Pym period; in the autumn after we lost Larry I was teaching, I had a two-year-old, and we were renovating the loft that would become our home, in a race to complete the work and move in before my due date to deliver Sam.  I sought refuge in Ms. Pym's novels, where women just carried on and the most important thing was, who will polish the communion plates and who does the young curate prefer?
I went back to her recently and found that I had moved on. I'm sorry to say I found her a little dreary and didn't read past a few pages. In the interest of fairness, I looked her up to get a second opinion and found this piece by  Matthew Schneier in the Times.
He says, "Pym is often compared to Jane Austen, whom she revered. But Pym’s comedy is of a grayer-shaded kind than Austen’s effervescence."  You might give her a try; her titles include, "Excellent Women," "Some Tame Gazelle," Jane and Prudence."  As I said, these books got me through a long tough time and they might help you, too.

A writer I never tire of is Robertson Davies, 1913 –  1995,
a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist, and professor. He was one of Canada's best known and most popular authors, best known for his three trilogies.  Deptford, Salterton, and Cornish.
I used to pray for him to keep on writing, and w
henever I find myself in a second-hand book store I look for copies of these books so I can share them.

My friend, Betty Van Zandt, Trinity's librarian, handed me "What's Bred in the Bone", and I couldn't put it down. The second in the Cornish Trilogy, it's the life of artist Francis Cornish and his development from his first pencil drawings, he becomes an art restorer and forger, a spy during World War II, with mystery and intrigue and romance.  The sense of place, the characters, the visual delights-I've read it several times and it never disappoints. It stands alone beautifully but it's followed by "The Lyre of Orpheus" the story of producing an opera. Parts of this one are laugh out loud funny.

"A Mixture of Frailties", from the Salterton Trilogy, is the story of an innocent Canadian girl who goes to Europe to learn to sing. Again, I laugh out loud even on the third reading.
I recommend Robertson Davies wholeheartedly. He'll make you happy to have so much time on your hands.

Here's an update on my latest work.  It's almost done, but I can't decide what to do with the stage floor. I can't leave it all white. I ran out of Winsor Yellow for the sun but I ordered some and it should come on Monday.  
I may put this away for a while and let it percolate in my brain.  In the meantime, I've begun a new stage, this time in Green.

Here's something that tickles me.

Can you read this?  If you can, and you're the first to write to me with a translation and explanation, I'll send you a present.  Then we can talk about the feat of organization, cooperation, and patriotism required to complete this work of art.

Here's something else that tickles me.  

Did you know that Norman Rockwell used Michelangelo's figure of the prophet Isaiah as a model for Rosie the Riveter?  He was following that cardinal rule for all artists; "Only steal from the best."

Friday, April 10, 2020

Working in a Fallow Period

For some reason, my post didn't go out as planned this morning and that gave me a chance to read the New York Times. the headline says, "It's terrifying"
More than 16 million people have lost their jobs and New York's death toll from the Corona virus is higher than in any country. This quiet time is a luxury for me; I'm thinking of everyone who can't say that.

My friend, Leigh Behnke, painter and instructor at School of Visual Arts, is wrangling 65 students scattered over India, Indonesia, China and the US, keeping them focused, encouraged, and working.  Here's Leigh at her neighborhood's evening celebration and thanksgiving for all the workers on the front lines.

                                                                               photo by Renee Monrose, from across the street

And here's one piece she shared with me, to share with you.

 Falling Fury

See more, and read about Leigh at Leigh Behnke 

Last week I showed you some work in progress --here's the next phase. You may remember that I'm illustrating a Christmas Carol--People Look East.  This is the verse that says;

Furrows be glad that earth is bare,
one more seed is planted there
Give up your strength the seed to nourish
That in course the flower may flourish.

Winsor Newton Yellow Ocher may be my very favorite color--it has so many variations.  I use it for the first tentative lines of a drawing because it's pale and neutral and it dries quickly so I can erase the pencil sketch.  It can look like dark brown with a fuller pen, and when diluted it has many different hues.  My phone camera didn't capture the color perfectly here; it actually looks kind of like butterscotch.  There will be a seed in center stage.

Then I started the next verse,

Stars keep the watch though night is dim,
One more light the bowl shall brim
Beyond the clear and frosty weather
Bright as sun and moon together

I took the arch from Leigh's window, so, thank you, Leigh.  This is not difficult or challenging work, it's just time-consuming.  Well, these days I have a lot of time.   I propped this where I could see it as I fixed dinner this evening and, I have to say, it's very satisfying to see its progress.
You may say this is a fallow period, while I think of the next big thing. I do have a new project in mind and I'm thinking about it all the time. This is a good time to let it germinate.

"People Look East" has been my earworm for these weeks; in my thoughts as I draw and when I wake in the middle of the night. It's an advent hymn, heralding great things to come, exhorting all people and all nature to make ready; for a guest, a rose, a bird, a star and finally, the Lord.

How can we get ready for what is to come?
I get a daily quote in my email from Happiness guru, Gretchen Rubin.  Today's is from Virgil,
"Endure, and keep yourselves for days of happiness."

How can I help the ones who work to keep us safe and fed?
I'm trying to think of something besides very big tips for deliverers, and sending all the money we're saving on dining out to organizations like City Harvest. Many restaurants are creating funds for their laid-off workers.
This will not be the Passover celebration or Good Friday commemoration we expected but let us celebrate and remember as we can.  As we practice social distancing, let's keep in mind what binds us together.  Here's a repeat of the prayer I posted last month;
Hope remains.  Make your hope contagious. Inspire courage in one another.  Be polite to each other, it makes life easier.  If you despair, act courageously. If you are scared, stand up straight and march forward. Allow yourself rest. Maintain your health, we have lots of work to do."
My Christmas Amaryllis bloomed this week--how hopeful is that?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Trying to Work in the New World

I've started work on a new project but I've made a few false starts.  Maybe you'd enjoy a peek at the process.  It's not exactly sausage making but it's not pretty.
As a follow up to my book of Christmas Carols I'm illustrating just one carol--People Look East.  this is the one that inspired the whole project but it's copyright protected so I didn't include it.  For forty bucks I was entitled to make 200 copies to share with friends. that was too much of a limit on the book.  --so I'll just make it into a Christmas card.

So here's how I started.
Verse two says
"Birds tho you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled."

 I like the birds but not the composition; everything's squished into the lower right corner.
 A teacher once told me, "IF you make a mistake, don't erase it, let it show you where you want to go."  However, there's no fixing this composition.

Do over.

Better, and I like the projection of 1, 2, 3--one nest, two birds, three trees.  I didn't plan that, it just happened. A happy accident. Mrs. Cardinal's eye is a little sloppy but I can fix that with either white ink or photoshop.

Then I made the sky gray for some contrast.  I thought about putting in white dots for snow but I haven't decided.

Onward to verse 3;
"Furrows be glad tho Earth is bare
one more seed is planted there
give up your strength the seed to nourish
that in time the flower may flourish"

I imagined an underground scene with seed in a starring role,

but the tree took over and looks much too solid--the roots should start branching closer to the surface.

Do over.

The roots are better but I'm finding this image boring and I don't like the border.  I thought I'd fill the underground with ants and beetles but, no, I decided not.  I really like ants and beetles but I'm imagining my friends finding them in a Christmas card.  So no bugs.

Then I thought of the stage etchings I made a long time ago and used in collages.  An old friend, the wonderful painter, Francis Cunningham, said, "When you're having trouble, feeling uninspired, go back to something you felt comfortable with."
So I made a new stage. I'll float the seed right in the middle. It'll be surrealistic.  Great!

I worked like a demon on Tuesday and had a great time.

Now the work is going more slowly because I like it too much and I'm afraid of doing it harm. I heard that the secret of getting great art from children is knowing when to take it away from them and it may be true for me, too. But this is not finished.

So that's how I do it.  I hope that's not too much information.  I'll keep at it and let you know how it goes.

New Subject;
I have been posting on Instagram an image of PINK every day in March, partly in honor of International Women's month, partly inspired by my friend, Eileen Hoffman.  Here she is with her project for Art in Odd Places, 2019.

You can read what she says about pink and see her amazing work at Eileen Hoffman.

I'm also inspired by this quote from Audrey Hepburn which I found printed on a make-up case in the gift shop of the Museum of Folk Art.

It says, "I believe in PINK. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot.  I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong.  I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls.  I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles." Audrey Hepburn

Here she is in a sidewalk stencil on Washington Street, right where I get my morning coffee.  

Thank you, Eileen, Thank you, Audrey.  
Dear Friends, I hope you're staying safe, taking care and feeling in the Pink.

Christmas in July

I've been feeling a little uninspired and overwhelmed by papers and stuff, torn by needing to clear the decks and get rid of everything ...