the siren

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So, lately I’ve had a nice string of corporate commissions, and I’ve really been enjoying them.  One commission is for a huge Mediterranean dairy company, though I can’t publish or speak extensively about this painting until it is released publicly.  I’ll be posting it in a few weeks, it’s a really fun painting!

And, this is a could of conceptual drawings for a seven foot wide painting for another corporation, which I can’t speak about until it is legally released.

The non-disclosure, legal restriction on the commissions don’t go well for a loquacious blog writer. But the commissions go incredibly well for a brush wielder who really enjoys painting mythological creatures.

So here you have my beautiful wife, posing as a siren.  She’s been crashing this helpless sailor into the rocks since 2002.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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tricia

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While I teach portraiture on Mondays, I paint alongside my students. I stall a minute or two or ten here and there, and have a little sketch by the end of the class.

Today was day two, working on this panel painting.  The panel is very unusual, the drying rate is uneven, but I’m glad with the flesh tone, for day two of a small painting.

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the fiddle lesson

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The Session, 34″ x 24″, oil on Belgian linen, painting in progress

My wife and I are in contract on a new home, here in Islip.  Our little family is growing into a medium sized family, and we’re not abiding by the Goldfish Rule.  What is the Goldfish Rule, you ask? A goldfish will grow only as large as the bowl into which it is placed.  Not so with Irish Americans.  We’re bursting at the seams in our little home, and so we’re purchasing a slightly larger house.

I have spent the past few days painting the walls of our current home.  I paint, I roll walls, I lift furniture, I scrub, I putty, I paint.  And as always, when have even five minutes free, I play the violin.

I always think to myself that, if I were to play just a little bit every day, in this extraordinarily busy season of life, then I will grow better as a violinist.  And then, I had the great fortune of starting up lessons again, with the all Ireland fiddle champion, Juilliard graduate, Sean Quinn.  He’s a wonderful violinist, and a really warm, kind conversationalist.  I took my first lesson with him, one month ago. Walking into his front door,  my excitement to study music again was mixed with trepidation, as I haven’t taken a lesson in fifteen years.  He asked me to play a tune, at the beginning. I did, and I braced myself, as I was sure that my playing was rife with problems.  He lit up into a smile, and praised my technique and intonation, and exclaimed his excitement to teach me.  He went on to recommend a number of things to better my playing, a number of things I was doing wrong.  By simply placing the bow on the string in a better way, I could get a much richer tone.  It was amazing, my playing was so much richer than I’ve ever heard come from my fingers.  It’s a privilege to study with Sean Quinn, and it’s given me a new love for not just music, but art.

I love the violin.  That is what this painting is about.  I love the rich glow of the wood, the flow of its line, the brownish timbre of its low earthy notes, the elation of its higher register.  Wood from a tree, strings spun from metal quarried from mines, varnish pressed from seeds, nothing more.  From dust it comes, to dust it will return.  And so this I give to you, my audience- my love for the violin, and my love for paint, and the joy that God given to me on a quiet day, while I paint the walls of my house and eke out a few tunes in between.

the fisherman

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Here’s a new painting on the easel, in progress. I’m excited for this one. Robert Frost wrote “A poem starts with a feeling, it begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a home sickness.”

I’m painting this piece both down at the Whitecap commercial fishing docks located here in Islip, and in my studio. I’ve been studying Sorolla extensively, his working techniques, and I’ve found that he developed a similar synthesizing approach. On site painting is vital, absolutely vital- there are things that happen in nature that I could never author. But then, it’s also necessary to return to the studio with the model, and paint from life. Lastly, I’ve been doing more painting alone, no model and not on site, and pulling the whole piece together in my studio, from my imagination.

a flowery band to bind us to the earth

The room was simple, with nothing to indicate that this was the front of the room except a few dozen folding chairs all facing the same direction.  The ceilings were low, not typical of any church sanctuary or auditorium that I was accustomed to, growing up in Christian churches.  There in the front, on a simple folding table, was a Menorah.  On the ground there was a weathered aluminum container, a washtub of sorts, which was filled with piles of shattered glass.  I shook a few hands, said hello, and took my seat.

“Thank you all for coming out here, this evening.  We are here this evening to discuss portraiture, the mysterious way in which portraits, drawn or painted, capture the human spirit.  But more importantly, we are here to discuss the Jewish artists who chose to paint these portraits of their fellow Jews, in the Holocaust.  Arthur Ritov was a prisoner at a Nazi vehicle refurbishment facility, and was assigned to be a license plate maker.  He stole paper from the facility, and in remote corners he would risk his life to sketch portraits of fellow Jewish prisoners.  On scrap pieces of paper left over from medical equipment, Ester Lurie secretly sketched the faces of her fellow prisoners at the Stutthoff Concentration Camp, risking death to do so.  Arnold Daghani painted horrific, pained portraits of his fellow prisoners at the Mikhailowka Labor Camp, those forced to construct the roads.  In the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Felix Cytrin was forced into the counterfeiting department, and he would steal art supplies from the engraving studios, and draw the faces of those around him- beautiful faces, warm faces… as if those drawn were beyond the walls of the camp.  Portraits, portraits of people.

Though this is a Jewish temple, and though this is a Jewish event, we are pleased tonight to have friends from outside of Judaism, in particular a Christian portrait painter, who is here to discuss his view on the art of portrait painting.  Kevin is a friend of our member, Saul Rosenstreich.  Kevin, we’re pleased to have you join us tonight.”

The rabbi went around the room, and proceeded to hand out large prints.  As the images made their way down the aisles, I was suddenly confronted with a beautiful charcoal, that of a man with large eyes, pained eyes, his eyebrows furrowed, his lips pursed.  I was astonished by the pairing of such graceful, technical drawing ability, with such pain.  The lips were a single stroke of calligraphy, the confident line of a master artist’s flourish.  But the lips were frozen, agonized.  The eyes were exquisitely rendered, successfully depicting the human dignity of the subject, but in the eyes were also a foreshadowing of death.  Such a pairing of beauty and pain, a pairing like nothing I had never seen in all of my years of portrait painting, except perhaps the eyes of the prisoners that I had once painted.

arthurt ritovArthur Ritov, Portrait of Philip Hershberg, 1944

“And so, Kevin, we would like to ask for you to come to the front of the room, to participate in our discussion.”  A shot of fear ran through me- why did he call me?  What?  Now?  Up there?  I looked around the room, and all eyes were on me.  I stood up, and walked to the front of the room.  “Kevin was asked to come here tonight, not just because he is a portrait painter.  Kevin volunteered to paint portraits of inmates at the Riverhead Maximum Security Jail.  I saw his painting of the inmates, and in thinking of his portraits of the inmates, I could think of no better parallel to the portraits of people facing death during the Holocaust.  We’re pleased to have you hear.  Kevin, why portraiture?  Why portraiture in a concentration camp?  Why portraiture in a jail?  Why realism as the mode?  The floor is yours.”

I was speechless, my throat was dry.  I looked around the room, and I saw the faces of dozens of people.  Wide faces with watery eyes.  Thin, gaunt faces, with kind, ceaseless smiles.  Expressionless faces, leaning forward in silent expectation.  Raised eyebrows hovering motionless above thick, impenetrable glasses, faint beards, hands folded, hands clasped, shoulders hunched, shoulders raised, bald heads, thick white manes of hair atop strong, square heads.  Faces.

“Kurt Vonnegut wrote, in his book Bluebeard, about an artist, a modern master.  An abstract expressive artist who had climbed to the top of the contemporary art world, and was coming to the end of his years in a small home in Southampton, Long Island, not far from here.  When the main character, this artist, was asked what he painted, he replied “Nothing.  I’ve painted nothing.  That’s what we abstract expressionists are trying to paint.  Nothing.”  Forgive my paraphrasing, but as the story progresses, our character finds himself alone, lonely, set apart from the rest of humanity, disconnected.  It seemed as if his success in this art of nothing had cut him off from the human experience…”  The room was absolutely silent.  I paused.  “So in his final act of artistic expression, our character paints a broad, powerful scene of his experience in World War II.  It was realism.  He hung the painting in his barn, and people came.  In droves, they came to see this painting.  The art world did not come, but people came.”  The room was still silent.  “I think what Kurt Vonnegut was trying to say is that art is a “relaying”, a means of shared experience.  Art is life passed through the alembic of me, to you.  This “relaying” is so important, that these artists risked death, if only to overcome the Nazi’s efforts to exterminate their people.  These artists won, because they bottled the souls of those slotted to be erased from the memory of the human race.  They live on forever in an image, and decades later we sit here, and can see the person before us.”  A few people shifted in their seats.  A cough in the back of the room.  “Society has lost, if society believes that life is about nothing.  When these people, your people, were faced with the last few moments of life, just before the candle would be snuffed out, why do you think they chose portraits?  It’s because portrait drawings are a tethering of sorts, a tethering by means of which we retain the soul of the person here on earth.  We grasp at the material substance of the portrait sitter, we mystically bottle it, and the portrait sitter moves on in time.  I’m not here to disparage modern art, tonight.  It means nothing to me, which is perhaps, sometimes, its intent.  I’m here to talk about something, about human worth.  When we are faced with the last moments in life, we recall the things that matter most.  Abstract art was at its climax amongst the vanguard in Europe, but when these artists were faced with death, they chose realism.  There are no atheists in foxholes, and there aren’t any abstract artists either.”

As I paused, the rabbi stood and asked if anybody had any comments.  He could scarcely get the words out, before the room erupted.  A filmmaker spoke about Dante’s inference that immortality was achieved through literature, or storytelling.  An older woman tearfully described the face of a young child in a soft drawing.  A young, well dressed woman expressed shock at the courage displayed by the artists- drawing and painting in the face of death.  An elderly man spoke about the incredible quality, the craftsmanship of the art.

The event went on for an hour more, the room filled with the emotional charge of the portraits.  And as I looked out on all of the faces, all of the people, all of the souls caught up in such lively animation, I lifted up a prayer to God, and thanked him that he had given me the gift of being a portrait painter, that mystical gift of tethering to this earth the firstfruit of all of his creation.

I made my way out into the cold night air, sauntering across the street in front of the temple, and I suddenly recalled the words of my favorite poet, John Keats.  Wishing that I had recalled these words during the night’s discussion, I opened the door of my truck.  And as I drove, I heard the words in my mind

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.”

-John Keats, Endymion

osais hofstatter

arnold daghani

david friedmann, hannelore hanka Wertheimer

eveline caline, portrait of Dago

felix cytrin

ilka gedo, portrait child

jacob barosin, portrait of

jacob lifschitz

jiri valdstyn karlinsky

leo lev haas, emil eisler

miklos rosenberg robert

 Please visit the website of Yad Veshem, the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, to learn more about the exhibition “Last Portrait: Painting for Posterity.”  http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/last_portrait/ritov.asp

library portrait demonstration

A few blogs ago, I posted some information on the upcoming portrait painting demonstration that I will be giving at the Islip Public Library.  A few people have contacted me, and asked me how they might sign up for it.  And so, I just wanted to run that information through this blog again, just to be sure that my readers know how to obtain tickets.

The painting demonstration will be on January 12th, at 1:30 p.m., at the Islip Public Library.  The tickets are free, and you can simply call to reserve your tickets.  The number is 631-581-5933.

I will be exhibiting the “Eight Faces of Islip” in the month of January, at the Islip Public Library.  As well, I’m excited to say that a group of my students will be exhibiting their works in the internal gallery in the library.  It’s exciting to see how these artists, now friends, have grown through the years.  In their latest crop of paintings, I’ve seen their paintings leap beyond the bounds of “class studies,” and take on a whole new ambition and dimension, with their personal vision coming through.  Exciting!

As I paint the portrait over the course of three hours, I will be narrating the methods of portrait painting.  While I paint, the pianist and performer Mitch Kahn will be playing tunes on the grand Steinway piano.  And I’m pretty sure that I will be talking a bit- okay a lot- about some of the adventures in painting.  The library will be announcing the event to the public in one week, so get your reservation in there, if you are interested!

And as if there is not reason enough to come already, there may be a guest appearance by the famed, internationally renowned artist extraordinaire, Liam.  Here is a photo that I recently came across, showing him hard at work in my studio.  It’s so funny, when he arrives at my studio to draw or paint with me, his demeanor takes on a whole new tone, and he becomes very studious, very serious.  Life is good.

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painting from drawings

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Two years ago, I was invited by the captain of a commercial fishing boat down to the docks, to watch the “packout” of his boat. The dock hands and fishermen unloaded scores of huge fish, and then came the final moment-one five hundred pound tuna. All eyes were on the gaping hole that led to the hull. And as the crane lowered into the hull, the massive tuna slowly emerged. Once on land, it was loaded onto a forklift, cut up, packed on ice, and shipped off to various sushi restaurants across the eastern seaboard..

I hope that I’m not being critical, or fatalistic, to say that in America, there seems to be so little that people are proud of these days. Peter Thiel, the creator of PayPal, said that the downfall of America doesn’t consist of our students lagging behind in science or math, nor is it the lack of higher education. In fact, he said that higher education and universities have stymied and crushed the innovative human spirit, and robbed the workforce of young, talented entrepreneurs that will work hard and proceed in spite of risk. Thiel says that the current downward trend in America comes from our inability to dream, and tied to the loss of dreaming is our loss of pride in our product, perhaps because of our fear of risk. Thiel went on to lament the passing of the pride in bygone eras, times in which Americans prided themselves in well made wooden clocks, Ford motors, races to the moon.

I suppose I’m so taken by commercial fishermen, because they are one of the few workers that still retain this sense of pride; to see the way that they glowed with satisfaction when the crane hoisted the giant, hulking tuna out of their boat.

I am taking a new approach to painting, for my larger compositions. I was taught to only paint from life, but after extensive studies after my heroes in painting, I can see that they worked up elaborate charcoal, chalk, or sanguine drawings, and then pieced together the painting, between the studio and real life. Sorolla, Sargent, and Vojtěch Hynais are superb examples of artists that worked in this drawing-to-painting manner, for large paintings.

And so, pardon the crudeness of the first moments in this painting, as I’m showing you a work in progress. As I paint from drawings, join me on my new venture, the new approach that I’m taking for large canvases. Here is the first couple hours of my first painting, executed not from life, but from sanguine drawing.

autumn

pumpkin, fullThe Pumpkins, Graphite on handmade Twinrocker paper, 14″ x 16″

I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn tired
Lord knows all the color and form of leaves I have trodden on and mired
Perhaps I have put forth too much strength or been too fierce from fear…
I have safely trodden underfoot the leaves of another year

-Robert Frost, The Leaf Treader

pumpkin, close up

 If you are interested in purchasing this drawing, click here for more information

egad! blue violin!

Woo hoo!  My painting, Blue Violin, won “Best in Show” at the Huntington Art Council Annual Still Life Show!  The honor of receiving this award means I’ll also be able to participate in their Masters Show in June, with a number of pieces.  If you haven’t been by the Huntington Arts Council’s gallery, take a trip there.  “The Main Street Petite Gallery” is in a beautiful spot, at the top of the hill on Main Street in Huntington.

blue violin, finalBlue Violin, 30″ x 18″, oil on linen, available for sale

Enough about me, I’m honored to be represented among a couple dozen accomplished artists in this show, and I’d like to include them by name: Shain Bard, Phyllis Buchner, Elsie Callahan, Caryn Coville, Anne Gunthner, Lori Hochberg, Shelly Holtzman, Frances Ianarella, Leslie Laguardia, Eleanor Tyndall Meier, Carolyn Melillo, Denis Ponsot, Joan Rockwell, Brenda Rothschild, Marie Sheehy-Walker, Eileen Sleckman, Gunter Stern, Angela Stratton and Robert Stuhmner.

For those interested in owning this piece, please click the following link for more information.

Blue Violin