schumann vs. techno

Do all of my posts have to be about painting?  I have a quick story.  The other day, I was driving along in my pickup truck with the windows down,  listening to one of my favorite pieces of classical music, composed by Schumann.  Does that sound pretentious?  Well, I'll file a disclaimer- a few minutes before, I was listening to Charlie Daniel's "Uneasy Rider", and my shuffle function went to Schumann afterwards.  So, I was driving along and listening to Isaac Stern climb higher and higher in the melody, his violin weaving in and out of the voices of the viola and cello... what a delicate piece, a delightful diapason, a beautiful melody that is given back and forth between the strings and piano.  As I am wrapped up in this piece, I pull up to a traffic light.  Suddenly, into this soaring, sonorous melody there intrudes the discordant sound of some noise so loud and jolting that it can only be likened to a herd of brontosaurus charging across a field of broken glass.  And two seconds later, a red Nissan Maxima with a spoiler, chrome rims, and lowered tires pulls up next to me- it was a Guido, blasting music with his windows down, some type of techno rap fusion.  The guy sat low in his seat, draped his tattooed arm over his steering wheel (yes, a barbed wire tattoo, with tribal motifs to boot), and his brow was furrowed.  His girlfriend danced to the music as they waited at the light.  I sighed, and went to roll up my window.   But then...

I hit the volume button.

And I hit it again.

I did so until I maxed out my volume.  So there I was, in a big pickup truck, blasting Schumann's piano quartet in E flat major, op. 47, andante cantabile.  It was deafening.  The violin was screaming, the cello made my dashboard vibrate, and I was tickled with glee to find that my sound system was much louder than his.  I slouched in my seat, draped my arm over my steering wheel, and furrowed my brow.  I looked over with detached toughness, as is the manner of a Long Island guido.  When my eyes met their eyes, I was delighted to find that I didn't break character.  I gave a head nod, furrowed brow still intact.  And then, they broke- the girlfriend started laughing convulsively, and the guido turned red.

The light turned green.  I rolled on in my dented chevy, and as the cacaphony faded away, the onlooking pedestrians wondered what on earth had just taken place.



iltocco2internetTwo, 9x 12, oil on panel

This is a figure painting that I did several months ago, and it was painted on a small panel, about 9 x 12 inches or so.  I have to admit, I don't often get attached to any of my paintings- perhaps the reason is that letting go of works gives me a reason to paint more.  This is one of the paintings that sold at the show in Greenwich, and yet, I was sad to let it go.  It just has a spontaneity, a suggestion of form, that I often strive for yet seldom attain.  In addition, there is something cool about seeing one figure nearly finished, and the other just briefly addressed.  Well, I'll stop patting myself on the back, and I'll talk more about the piece.

A few artists friends and I were talking about the difficulty of designing large canvases- it is so difficult to paint life size figures, because it is difficult to see the whole canvas.  You feel like you need a few hundred feet to step back, in order to see the whole thing.  But, my friends and I all simultaneously discovered the usefulness of smaller paintings.  In a smaller, spontaneous sketch, you can capture the entire gesture, skin tone, composition, etc., in just strokes, and then that image can be repeated on a larger scale.  This is an approach that I've only just began, so I'm excited to see where it leads.  And, in the meantime, I am really enjoying doing these smaller works, as they have an aesthetic all unto themselves.


michaeltealowrezMichael, 20x 26, oil on linen

In describing my works, I usually spend a lot of time talking about the making of a painting, and the process of coming to know the individual who is sitting for me.  I can't always share the backgrounds of the individuals, as some people might be uncomfortable sharing their story.  I will say, however, that this fellow, Michael, is one of the most admirable individuals I have ever met.  He was from Manchester, England, and when he posed for this painting he had only been in New York for a few months.  He was a resolute man, someone who was unswerved by circumstances, and yet was still able to enjoy life.  I hope to have him pose for another painting in the near future.

At first, I had Michael reading a newspaper as he posed for this painting.  The newspaper looked fine, but I just wasn't that excited about it.  I suppose that it didn't work because I had intentionally downplayed the emphasis on his face, by casting so much shadow on it.  Having taken some attention away from his face, the newspaper didn't say enough.  And so, the work was lacking.  I experimented with a few different options, all of which did not work.  While on break, we went for coffee to the Starbucks in Islip.  As we sat at the table in the front of the store, the steam was lifting off his cup.  Suddenly, I knew what to paint.

I actually made him a cup of tea in the studio, and had him hold the cup just as you see.  The steam would only last for about thirty seconds, so I had to work fast.  It is fortunate for me that the steam was only short lived, and always in motion, because I had to paint quickly.  Using a lead white mixed with loads of canada balsam medium, I was able to paint the steam in just about a minute.

Union Square

union square low rezUnion Square, New York City, 14 x 10, oil on panel

This painting was really enjoyable to do, as I really was excited by the stark silhouette of Lincoln against the sky, and it was also cool to do a painting in the crowded environment of Union Square.  Greg Kreutz, a great plein air painter from New York City, was heading a group of plein air painters that day, and a mutual friend of ours got me into the group.  Greg had a lot of great advice to offer.  His critiques taught me so much, as he is a really seasoned painter with years of experience painting out of doors.

When the painting started out, it was a stormy summer day, with dark grey clouds hugging the skyscrapers of Manhattan.  The air was heavy, and the figure of Lincoln seemed to be brooding, lost in silent contemplation.

As summer storms will often do, the sky suddenly parted, and the sun came through the branches of the tree, and fell onto the sidewalk in dappled light patterns.  I was initially reluctant to convert to the new color palette, but after seeing the light glisten on the sides of the statue, I gladly started to repaint.

I was glad to see that this painting appealed to such a wide range of people.  At one point, I had twenty or so random city kids watching me paint, all in utter silence.  People really surprise me- one kid says "man, you paint like Sorolla."  I was stunned that he knew who Sorolla was, and flattered by his compliment.  At another point, a few cops came and watched for a while, cracking jokes about all the surrounding people.  The funniest moment had to be this little Irish woman walking up to me and saying “DAAAAAMN, kid, you could sell dat painting for like fifteen bucks or something.  Maybe, if I shot you, you could sell it for thirty.  You know, because only dead artists are worth money.”  I laughed so hard that I couldn’t stop, and then I felt bad because I realized that she was paying me a compliment, and she didn’t mean to say anything funny.  I still couldn’t stop laughing.

I really enjoyed the day, but the only thing I hate about painting in New York City is trying to lug a wet painting and an easel through the subways and onto the Long Island Rail Road.

back in the studio

flatiron in the rain

And so, my two weekends in Greenwich village have come to a close, and after a short hiatus, I  am back in the studio painting.  The show really exceeded my expectations, as I sold a lot of work for prices that I am happy with, and made a number of good contacts.  In addition to all this, I really enjoyed conversations with the people who stopped by my booth.

Well, the reader of this blog will recall my Saturday morning blues, as I waited to pack my sister's Jeep with all of my paintings.  Having packed everything, I set out for the city.  The drive went well enough, except for the occasional driver cutting me off.  This is all expected, but when your vehicle is heavy laden with a year's worth of work, it is difficult to maneuver around thesse types of drivers.

I pulled up to my plot of sidewalk above Washington Square, and began to unload my paintings.  The rain had just subsided, and so I quickly poured out all of my belongings onto the sidewalk.  I had just unloaded five or six paintings, when I suddenly heard someone screaming in another language.  I turned around to see a Chinese woman pointing to my paintings, and screaming something unintelligible.  I couldn't understand what she was saying, but I understood that she was less than happy.  Finally, I discerned that she was another artist, and that my paintings had overlapped her designated sidewalk exhibition plot.  She did not have a tent, and so I didn't realize that she was exhibiting.  As I moved the paintings, I tried to explain that I didn't mean to encroach on the seven inches of space, I was merely unloading the materials, and would set up only in my area.  She kept yelling.

I had enough.  I had enough of leaking trucks, I had enough of darwinian drivers on the Long Island Expressway, and I had enough of this Chinese woman screaming at me.  I was just as nasty back to her, and said things such as "CALM YOURSELF, WITH COUNSELING, YOU WILL GET OVER THIS CRISIS.  I AM MOVING MY PAINTINGS, AND LIFE WILL GO ON.  THEY WERE IN YOUR SPACE FOR THREE MINUTES?  THREEEEEE MIIINUUUUUTES!!!!"  She didn't understand, so I made the hand motions of a person having an asthma attack, and then taking an inhaler to calm down.

She kept yelling, and I just turned my back and continued to set up.  Every time that I passed her, she scowled at me and muttered, and I returned the gesture.  In half an hour, I had my tent up, my paintings hanging, and everything was reinforced with waterproof tarps.

And then, the heavens did burst their bowels asunder- the rain came.

I sat contentedly in my tent, happy to have all of my work safe and dry.  I briefly stepped out of my tent, and then saw this woman, standing in the rain, water dripping off the tip of her nose.  She was staring at her paintings, which she had laid on the sidewalk.  They were all getting soaked, absolutely drenched.  I looked down at my wealth of tarps, with extras to spare.  I said to myself,  "humph, she deserves it."

And my self said to me  "Wow, I am becoming a terrible person."

I grabbed the tarps, and walked over and covered her work.  One was clear plastic, so she could still exhibit her paintings.

She walked up to me, and was quietly saying something.  I had no idea what she was saying, but I knew that it was not confrontational.

An hour later, she came up to me and grabbed my arm, smiled warmly, and said "Thank you."

The next day, she helped me set up my entire tent.  Then, she gave me half of her lunch.  We began to talk, and I found that she was an accomplished classical violinist who performed with a well known orchestra.  I also found that I could communicate with her much better when we were both kind to eachother.  At some point in the day, she got a parking ticket- immediately afterwards, she ran over and warned me to move, so that I would not get the same.  At the end of the day, she kindly insisted that I park my truck in a nearby (legal) parking space that she was leaving.

new york city, in the rain

singing in nyc rain

Second weekend of the New York City, Greenwich Village Outdoor Art Fair.  Well, when I went to load my truck with my paintings last night, I found that the rain had gotten there first.  There was nothing important back there, but everything back there was soaked.  My super duper, pick up truck cap, which I got to protect me from the rain, is as efficient as a colander.  So, what does this mean?

My sister is driving over with her Jeep, a SUV type of Pathfinder thing.  Instead of having the truck packed and being on the road right now, I'm a waitin' for her to roll up.  Then I'll pack the back of the Jeep, and head off to Manhattan.

I would say that I am somewhat inconvenienced by my truck doing this, but to get mad at your good ol' Chevy for letting in water would kind of be like getting mad at your good ol' dog for losing control of his water on the kitchen floor.  And so I smile, pet him, remember the good years we had together, and secretly contemplate what type of van I will replace him with.



For the first week of this painting, Pabla did not really speak to me.  She was a model, like any other in the city of Florence, who was doing this for extra money on the side.  She didn't seem to dislike modeling, she just didn't seem to want to warm up to myself and the other artist.  From the first few strokes, I had such difficulty with her portrait- I couldn't figure out what kind of a person she really was.  How can you paint somebody's portrait if they won't even talk to you?

I kept painting, and on our break I kept asking her if she wanted to go and get a coffee.  She finally gave in, and let me buy her a coffee at the cafe across the street from the Charles Cecil Studio.  My painting was going terribly, but I knew that I had to just plow through it, despite having a slow start.  I pursued a one way conversation with her, and suddenly she said to me "Why do you say coffee that way?  Like 'cawfee'"  I told her that it was because I was from New York.  She let out a really loud laugh, smiled as I had never seen her, then said "OH, that's why I liked you.  I have posed a lot in the past for all of these cold British kids, and I just don't like England- such stoic, stern people, so polite but distant.  And so, I made up my mind to keep my distance.  But, I found you to be so nice, and it frustrated me to find you agreeable."  (My apologies to my British friends for that comment, but it makes me laugh.)  She laughed really hard, and apologized for her profiling.  Right there, we became good friends.  We talked for the next half hour, and in that time I found out that she was from Chile.  She had grown up in a small city in Chile that Margaret and I had visited a year and a half before.

You would expect that following this connection, the painting would have taken a dramatic turn for the better.  It didn't.  It's not that it was bad, it was just... not... good.  I put in a very dark blue background.  Didn't work.  She actually had very long hair, which I painted, though in the portrait it took away from her graceful neck and shoulders.  She often wore a black, sweater turtle neck, because the studio was freezing cold (it gets very cold in Florence in the winter.)

But, the face of Pabla looked very good.  I had captured her eyes, her Native American high cheek bones, her expressive eyebrows.  It was everything else that wasn't clicking.

At four weeks, Pabla and I would talk for hours on end as I worked.  Her life was difficult for her to recount, because it had such an unusual series of events.  At one point, she had shaved her head and moved in with some extremist group in Cuba.  That was short lived, so she continued on in her travels- South America, Europe, other places as well.  She went on to train in a dance school, and found that she was gifted in modern ballet.  She currently taught yoga, and also worked a job as a waitress at a restaurant in Fiesole, a hillside town on the outskirts of Florence.  She was engaged to an Italian man, and would often ask me questions about marriage.  She was a kind person, very sensitive, and I could tell that she was always in the process of figuring things out.  Her home in Chile seemed so restrictive, too traditional, and yet Europe was a progressive place in which it is difficult to take root.  What was more difficult is that she is South American, and this ensured that she would always be the "other"- no hostility implied, just an identity issue.

Five weeks into the painting, I suddenly had glimpses of hope.  The background changed color once more, before I finally decided to paint not what I saw, but what I felt.  I heightened the darkness on her right, so as to accent the light falling on her face.  For the same reason, I lightened the background on her left, to accent the beautiful line of her neck.  I placed a large gas heater beside her, and so the turtleneck was replaced by a lighter v-neck sweater.  There were so many other changes, I can't remember them all.  The painting was just about finished, and then I realized that part of Pabla's charm was that her black hair was always unkempt- she would put it back in a bun, and seconds later the hair would extricate itself.  I hesitantly painted this, as I was unsure if it would look contrived.

I stepped back at six weeks, and was amazed.  It was my greatest portrait.  Charles and my other teachers gave me their hearty approval.  I was amazed, I couldn't believe that I had arrived at such an end.

new york city

ocean pkwyThis past weekend, I participated in the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibition in Greenwich Village, New York City.  I woke up on Saturday morning with only one hour of sleep, as I had stayed up working until five in the morning.  I was building a rack in the back of my pickup, in order to transport all of my paintings back and forth between my home on Long Island and Manhattan.   At six in the morning, as I began to drive, I decided to take a bit of a detour.  Ocean Parkway is a road that runs along Fire Island, the barrier island that runs along the bottom of Long Island.  This parkway runs for fifteen miles, with the ocean about thirty to a hundred feet away to your south, and the bay being the same distance to the north.  It is one of my favorite things about living on Long Island.  It is just amazing to be driving next to white sand beaches, and to be in Manhattan 20 minutes later.  I parked the truck for a while, and just wondered what might come of my first artistic venture into Manhattan.  Being that it was my first year in the show, I had no idea what to expect.

driving nyc 2

Having arrived in Manhattan, my booth took a while to pull together, as I hadn't really done a dry run set up.  But, once it came together, it seemed good enough.  I know that presentation is important, but I just wanted the paintings to speak for themselves.  And so, I opted for a very simple display, with a neutral colored background.

I was really lucky to begin the show with the best of news- my best painting had sold the night before (at eleven at night!) The painting, Anna, was purchased by a wonderful couple to whom I had given a pre-show viewing of my works.  This couple is wonderful, they have already bought eight paintings from me in the past.  They own several of my very best paintings, and I am so touched and flattered by their enthusiasm for my work.  The word "supporter" should be reserved for people who donate 20 dollars to PBS every few years- these people are "enablers" for me, they are extremely generous patrons who have enabled me to travel back and forth between Italy and New York.  Rather than get stuck in insincere, trendy themes, they have enabled me to paint what is genuinely on my heart.

What was even better is that their painting was selected by the jurors of the Salmagundi Club, and I received the award of "Third" in the entire Washington Square Exhibition.  This was such an unbelievable honour, especially since it was my first year in the show.  I can't describe how much this pleased me, because I knew that this award would then be on the painting that I would bring to my collectors.anna's ribbon

The show in Greenwich went so well, I met so many people from such different walks in life.  One man, a linguist, had been in Tienanmen Square with his daughter on June 2nd, 1989, just a dayor so before the police began to charge the students on June 4th.  Another woman had been in the music industry for decades, and had worked alongside some well known musicians.  A hairdresser named Huck was the only hair stylist that was allowed to touch Joey Ramone's hair (from the Ramones).  Azir, a playwright from Brooklyn, will be posing for a portrait at some point in the near future.  I'm going to a concert by a jazz vocalist named Michelle; I'll be painting a fascinating, grey haired man from Barcelona named Andre.

And so, the weekend drew to a close.  I was glad to be back in New York, back in the city.

greenwich booth

pigeons pooping on my head for all eternity

Well, I've been thinking of writing this blog entry for some time now, and I am squeamish at the thought of being so narcissistic as to mention this story.  But, I am proud of my friend, Jason Arkles, and I am very flattered to be connected to his work, so here it goes.

In the center of the city of Florence, I will have pigeons pooping on my head for all eternity.

My friend, Jason Arkles, is the only living artist, and the only American ever, to have a marble statue installed in the historic center of the city of Florence.  Right in the heart of the city, beside the Arno river, my friend Jason installed a six foot statue of St. Mark.  It is a remarkable sculpture that has brought my friend a lot of attention around the world, from NPR radio interviews, to newspaper articles in major cities.  And, I am flattered to say that he chose me to pose for this work.

Well, you can finish muttering to yourself that I am a self absorbed, narcissistic piece of marble.  Forgive me!


The Apotheosis of St. Mark, La Chiesa Anglicana di San Marco, Jason Arkles

markbustmainBust of Saint Mark, Bronze.

Jason had me pose for the work in the spring of 2007.  I don't think I was the greatest model, as I was often late, and what not.  But, we are good friends, and we enjoyed talking for hours on end, drinking Moretti, eating lampredotto sandwiches.  Jason didn't know it, but I had just found out that my wife Margaret was pregnant.  Being that it was a surprise, I was quite honestly scared out of my mind.  My wife, pregnant, in another country, and I had no established job, no structure...  Jason's friendship and conversation really helped me simmer down.

When Jason finished up the clay study which I had posed for, he moved to the Italian countryside to begin his sculpting. Merely selecting the marble is a long tale in and of itself, so I will just fast forward to his work on the marble.  He retained his teaching job at the Charles Cecil studios, and so would teach in the city center of Florence during the week, and take a train out to the countryside to sculpt every weekend.  He lived in a gypsy caravan type thing (might have been a mobile home, I can't remember exactly.)  Eventually summer rolled around, and Jason moved permanently to the countryside.  He would carve away at the marble for countless hours during the day, and read books by night.

Months later, with a beard down to his knees (might be wrong on that detail), he emerged from the countryside, with the statue on his back.  He carried it on his back all the way to Florence, and heaved it up onto a twelve foot tall niche in the wall of La Chiesa di San Marco.  Okay, maybe he rented a truck, but I prefer the Paul Bunyan-esque imagery of him carrying a statue on his back through the Tuscan countryside, waving to children, crossing a picturesque bridge.

Check out the statue of St. Mark, and more of Jason's work at his website:

le fiddle d'parrhasius

parrhasiusfiddleLe Fiddle d' Parrhasius, oil on linen, 2.5' x 1.75'

The title may sound a bit overblown, but it's meant to be.  It's an art joke, for painter nerds like me to sit around and snicker about.  To fully convey the meaning of the painting, I have to go refer to two stories, one involving a French colloquialism, and the other involving ancient Greece.

The artist Ingres, 1780-1867,  was a brilliant painter of portraits and figurative work, in the French Neoclassical tradition.  But in addition to his career as a painter, Ingres would play the violin in his studio.  Ingres's well-known passion for playing the violin gave to the French language a colloquialism, "violon d'Ingres", meaning a second skill beyond the one by which a person is mainly known. (Wikipedia, Ingres)

And the second story is...

"The history of trompe l’oeil painting begins with Pliny’s Natural History, in which Pliny the Elder recounts the story of a famous rivalry (c. 400 B.C.E.) between the Greek artists Zeuxis and Parrhasius. During a challenge by Parrhasius to ascertain who could produce the most realistic painting, Zeuxis pulled the drapes from in front of his work, and, according to Pliny, birds flew down from the sky to peck at the grapes depicted by the master painter. Zeuxis then turned to Parrhasius in triumph, asking him to draw the curtains from his work and reveal his painting. However, the drapes Zeuxis was referring to were actually part of Parrhasius’ work, and Parrhasius emerged the victor" (quote from Beth Sorenson, Reed College.)

And then, the final, dry joke is that it is an Irish fiddle, complete with beer on the side.  That's it.  That's my joke.  Okay, I agree, it isn't that funny, but somewhere out there is a dorky art historian who is laughing pretty hard.

When I played Irish music with a ceili band here in New York, this was a scene I would often see on break.  In the end, it is just a painting of a violin and beer, on a chair, behind a curtain.