Though an artist for a long time, my work cannot be separated from my doubt. I question the value and power of art, not accepting it at face value. This can be poisonous or the work can emerge stronger, victorious.
Art can structure, present or make sense of input which is overwhelming. I’ve always used it to make sense of my world, attempting to connect the worlds of my emotions, experience and imagination with what I saw around me, what I think others may see, know or feel. If I tell a story, I’d like to somehow make that story have meaning for you in your life as well.
My talent in sculpture is “natural” and relatively facile. I started making things with my hands when I was very young, a snow santa unmelted on the windowsill for what seemed like months, serious playdoh with a little neighbor who later became a reknowned architect, lots of real water-based clay in school, as plentiful as the gallon jars of bright poster paints. When I was ten, I got my art-loving but artist-averse/conflicted parents to send me for private classes. Under the Queensborough bridge I made the lions of the public library and the cast of “Tom Sawyer,” Tom, Becky and Huck.
My teacher Gloria Drew said she was inspired by what I’d done and I believed her gladly. But I never got back the last group of figures I’d made, or the NYPL lion bookends. Possibly a bulldog or more. I was told they'd blown up in the kiln. Later, I was also told, they'd simply been lost. I never knew what happened, but it got me angry at the other stuff I did have and as a budding adolescent I dramatically swept a practice elbow over the too-high for a smooth move edge of the fireplace and down tumbled the childhood sculptures that weren't already missing or broken.
Drawing was always a struggle for me. My father is a cartoonist, gifted with a fine, lively and expressive line. It inspired me but I was rarely fluent in that language, except perhaps when I practiced ten hours a day, even so it was relatively academic. I believe as I was taught by Robert Beverly Hale in his wonderful class at the Art Students’ League, that anyone can be taught to draw and every now and then I do my scales and get back in shape. It should be a lifelong habit. It’s like the word which comes in the beginning, the utterance which makes the rest possible.
The “excess” visual environment which nurtured me included American folk art, architecture, social realism and magical realism, ancient greek and roman art, religious art of the Christian Nativity (my parents made greeting cards, including Christmas cards, some very elegant and serious, others funny or joyous), and always the natural city, my hometown, New York, just off Central Park, roving its wilds and lanes, and the grid of the city, sidewalk and pigeon.
Just as painters form a world in two dimensions, treating it as three, I seek to show the environment or two dimensional world around the dimensions of the figure. Figure/ground in painting, (so far) figure/relief in sculpture. Either the figure and environment merge or they separate definitively but the two are are as one.
I grew up tangentially knowing a corner of the New York art world, but never really participating. A friend of my parents is Terry Dintenfass, the gallery art dealer. I remember visiting her gallery in Atlantic City before she moved to New York and now thinking how young they all were on that boardwalk. Later she would come visit us summers on the Jersey shore, sometimes bringing her friend, the artist and painter Bob Gwathmey. He impressed me mightily and I recall sitting as he guided my hand around a drawing. His presence was powerful and frightening at times. Sometimes they’d drink a lot and I’d be frightened.
As I got older and wanted to be an artist, — but somehow never able to really say the word, the notion of living one’s life as an artist was a family shibboleth, — Bob helped me get into college with a well-placed word to the art department at Cornell (though frankly as president of my class and bearer of 1520 college board scores, it didn’t really seem problematic) and he also repeated how the artist’s life is like any other, it’s a nine to five job, best treated as one. Later, my teacher José de Creeft enforced a variation on the theme, saying the artist’s ten hour work day should be 4 hours reading, looking, perceiving and thinking, and 6 hours actually making art (or was it the other way around...). But along with emphases on the “mundane” and “everydayness” which I had absorbed, filtered through the air, were the values of commerce and eventually the struggle through the prosaic yet practical dictum of “time is money.”