#25 St Andrew Hungary, Berlin Germany

July 26, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs accessible from our website.

Hungary: Szentendre (St. Andrew): Day trip to this one-time fishing village along the Danube just north of Budapest. Now an artist colony, the narrow streets that wind up the hill from the river are filled with small shops and artist’s studios. Woodstock in Hungary! We browse, pick up a few souvenir gifts for family, friends. I purchase a small oil, a farmhouse set amongst trees, by some local artist, which now hangs behind my chair in our living room. 

Germany: Berlin: The first time I met Jacky and Jörg was at Xantener Eck, a typical German “pub” during our first trip to Berlin with Heinz Jarczyk. We learned that it was only a few doors down from where Jacky lived (Number 22 Xantenerstrasse), and when we asked to have a “typical” Berlin dinner, Jörg recommended we all have an ‘eisbein’. Great with me, but when Cornelia discovered that an eisbein was a huge pig hock full of fat, she was a bit taken back (though she made a brave attempt at eating some of it). Since that first meeting, Xantener Eck has been a favorite of mine and I enjoy dropping in with Jörg for an afternoon “Grosser Urquell” when time allows. On our trip in 2007, I was surprised to learn from Jörg that it was a famous SS “hangout” during the Nazi era. This bit of information came out as we were discussing a book that he had lent me during our 10-day stay, Berlin: The Downfall, 1945 by the British author Antony Beevor.
Of course, there were many references in the book to different locations in Berlin that we were seeing during the course of our visit and, although it was enlightening to be seeing those same scenes mentioned some sixty-two years later, it was a bit disconcerting to learn about one of my “favorite” bars, one that I had been visiting for almost every visit we made to Berlin over the past twenty years. Beevor’s book also prompted me to make a day-visit to Dresden, a city I’ve long been curious about. Strange mix of modern and old Saxon (re-built) structures — visited the Frauenkirch (just in time to hear an organ recital — the sounds soared majestically) — the Zwinger to see the old masters — Dürer, Rembrandt, Rafael, Canaletto (who lived in Dresden long enough to make several large-scale paintings of the city), and others — and the “Green Vault” with its many treasures. We closed the day with a final stroll along the Terrace bordering the Elbe.


On Writing “The Mountain” — Before and After

July 22, 2018

IT CAME UP over lunch one day sometime in 2005 while the artist Jack Levine and I were sitting in his favorite restaurant in Greenwich Village, NYC. As usual, our discussion was focused on art, and as we chatted, Emile Zola’s name came up and we began discussing his The Masterpiece, which is purported to be centered on the life of his friend, Paul Cezanne. I asked Jack if he knew of any similar book in America that had traced the evolution of an artist. He said that he had read books that had artists in them as ‘characters’ but never one that had traced the life and development of one.

Thinking about it on my way back home upstate, I reflected on my profiling of artists for local newspapers since the early ‘80s and then full-time when Cornelia and I founded ART TIMES in 1984 (including Jack Levine in our Nov. 1985 Issue) and how much I had absorbed about the struggle of being an artist from them as I spent hours in their studios over the years. As a matter of fact, during that time I was beginning to sympathize and even identify with my ever-growing list of artist friends. I had been writing since my ‘30s, got my MA while majoring in English Lit and Composition at SUNY, New Paltz, then taught grammar and composition at the junior, high school, and college levels. I had just been putting the finishing touches on my writing studio (my “man-cave”), and establishing myself as a published writer by (as I note above) writing profiles and art reviews for local newspapers. Both writing and painting loomed large in my life during those years.

During these early ‘80s (I was in my late ‘50s) I found my writing studio slowly morphing into an artist studio — irrevocably clinched when I bought a large, second-hand easel and set it up next to my (happily located) picture window on the north wall of my study. Although art always interested me — I could draw and reproduce in pencil what I saw while still a pre-schooler and even drew caricatures for my buddies while in the Army and created a comic strip for our Company ‘newspaper’ while stationed in the Arctic, but I had never painted nor received instruction in painting. Hearing the stories of professional artists fascinated me — whetting my appetite to just “try it!” I was even further encouraged to “try it” when almost every artist I respected advised me not to take lessons (and learn someone else’s ‘mistakes’) but to just go out and “play”. Gradually, I became conflicted — did I want to be a painter or a writer? I was still writing, but being pulled more and more to try my hand at painting. Because I am — and have been essentially a “hermit” and a lover of nature — I found that landscape painting was my biggest “draw” to “get out there and try it”. Living on a two-acre plot surrounded by woodland on an isolated dead-end road in a town called “High Woods”, if ideal for a writer, became equally tempting to a would-be painter.

Then, sometime in the late ‘80s, I was asked and commissioned by Director Rosina Florio to write a “history” of the Art Students League of New York. She wanted an “anecdotal” and not a “dry as dust history” and sent out the word to past and present students and teachers to aid me in the task. Consequently, many contacted me, both by letter and by person, and I soon had more than enough to construct an “anecdotal history.” Among the many I heard from or spoke to, was a family of father, mother and daughter who had all attended the League, namely Elijah Silverman, his wife Ruth, and his daughter Susan. We had decided to meet at the home of Elijah’s daughter, Susan Silverman Fink, since Elijah and Ruth lived in Brooklyn and Susan, upstate in Cornwall, NY — a convenient middle-ground for all of us. We spent several hours in Susan’s home and, while there chatting about the League, I noted the walls of the home were covered with paintings, most of them of Susan’s landscapes (with a few of her parents’ scattered around). I was taken by Susan’s plein aire paintings, and a few days after our interview I called Susan to ask her if I could accompany her sometimes when she went out to paint. “I’m not a teacher,” she said, and I replied, “Great!” — telling her about all the artists I appreciated that told me not to take lessons.

Soon, Susan became “Sue” and we could often be found in the mountain-surrounded fields and along the Hudson River banks of Orange (where she lived), Ulster (where I lived), and nearby Greene Counties, Julian easels planted side-by-side. She painted and I watched the magic of mixing oils and making marks on a flat surface…but the most important thing Sue taught me was how to look: to see colors hidden in shades of dark and light and, more importantly, the ultimate illusory quality of nature — so, dip into a blob of paint and schmear. I did and learned how to get out and “play” and follow my instincts. I never really learned how to use brushes very well and leaned heavily on wielding the knife. It allowed me less fussiness and more spontaneity and, since I was squeezing in my ‘painting days’ between writing assignments, made clean-up easy: just wipe the palette knives off with a paper towel, toss them into the handy drawer of my outdoor easel and get back to my writing. Generally, what was on my canvas remained as it was when I wiped my knives.

As Sue deepened and made into tangible reality the stories I was still hearing from my interviews with artists (almost exclusively in their studios because it sharpened my insights into the lives and habits of my Profile subjects — artist’s studios, by the way, ‘speak’ volumes!), the conflict intensified. Writer or Painter? Through which medium could I best express myself? Which ‘spoke” more clearly for me? So, when I was in my late ‘60s, I began putting my dilemma on paper by putting it into ‘story’ form. I titled it In the Beginning and in an attempt to clarify my predicament, first made my setting local and ‘split’ myself into two characters that ‘acted’ out the argument going on in my head— one, an ‘artwriter’ named “Geoff”, the other a budding painter, un-named. In short, I was vaguely rebounding from my conversation with Jack Levine the year before and trying to put the ‘evolution’ of an artist in the form of a fictional tale — my tale. Because the characters were, in essence, both me, the ‘fiction’ I was attempting to create tended to be more ‘biography’ than a simple, narrative tale. Although In the Beginning grew into considerable length, I was beginning to feel that it was becoming too much of a memoir rather than a ‘story’, so I put it aside and went on to other things, pretty much forgetting about it altogether.

I came across the mss. recently and, not even recognizing it (I’ve got several unpublished short stories and even a novel or two hidden away and out of mind in file drawers) began to skim it. After some way in, I began to realize that In the Beginning was actually the forerunner (or rough draft) of my full-length novel The Mountain, published in 2008. I do have two characters in the full-length novel, both having shared characteristics with me, but whose ‘lives’ are unrelated to the actual facts of my own life. “Jake Forscher”, the ‘main’ character — or protagonist — though his father echoes mine, as do shared incidents such as coming from Brooklyn and moving upstate, being a handy-man, working on the river — was ‘built’ out of a number of sources. Although I ‘personalized’ The Mountain it in no way depicts, portrays or traces the course of my life. “Jake” does not go to college and earn degrees, teach at the public school and college levels, co-found an arts journal — all significant high-points of my life.

First, the plot of The Mountain itself, though concocted out of the nascent conversation with Jack Levine, was created in accordance with my university training, to serve as a “bildungsroman” (the literary term for a ‘coming of age’ or character evolution type of novel). “Jake”, in addition to ‘growing out” of my own experiences (else how make it “believable’?), had his ‘conflict’ patterned after a novel I studied extensively — even writing a paper on it while working on my Master’s, which received considerable attention from my Professors — namely Moby Dick by Herman Melville. “Jake”, like “Captain Ahab”, is given an insurmountable task (both expressed symbolically in the respective novels): “Ahab’s” was to capture the whale; “Jake’s” to ‘capture’ (in paint) “Overlook Mountain”. “Jake”, like “Ahab”, fails in the purpose that both Melville and I symbolically present to our protagonists: namely, to discover the purpose and mystery of life. My novel The Mountain is meant to serve as the “why” Jake fails (Nature is constantly in flux, i.e. ‘un-capturable’ in paint or otherwise); Melville attempts the same in his Moby Dick; in the end, the ‘whale’ is still illusive and ‘blank’ (ie. ‘White’, ‘colorless’, ‘empty’). Consequently, I named my protagonist “Jacob (‘Jake’) because he struggles with the angel and “Forscher” Ger. because he is a delver, a seeker. In the unfolding of “Jake’s” life, I drew on the countless stories of the artists who shared their struggles with me — “Jake’s” life, in essence, embodies those similar but disparate struggles. As I note above, there is another character in the novel who ‘echoes’ me, “David Lehrer” (“Lehrer” Ger.) means “teacher”, but he does not “come into” the story ‘til late in the book), an art critic who befriends “Jake” and encourages him in his quest to become a painter — specifically, a landscape painter.

As the “push-pull” of my conflict developed, I was at the same time beginning to define my own concept of what “art” was. I had interviewed many of the early “Woodstock” cadres of traditionalists and, of course, found that although they may have all struggled in their quest for artistic expression, not all seemed to have the same goal in mind. This fact grew even more evident as I expanded my search for subjects beyond the Woodstock area, ranging first to “the City” (New York) and then to neighboring states — and even to countries abroad. I dealt with this ‘new’ dilemma in my novel by opening my protagonist’s story at the “Armory Show” in Manhattan at the groundbreaking “modernist show” and then by his bringing back his impressions to the somewhat closed parameters of the Woodstock Colony. The new European anti-traditional artforms and subjects were not exactly ‘foreign’ to all Woodstock artists, and as I demonstrate in my plot clashes between the “old and the new” were just one more part of Jake Forscher’s experience on the Woodstock scene.

A classicist — and conservative — myself, I began forming my own biases, and when we founded ART TIMES I made it clear to my readers that I intended to take the “long view” (not necessarily a “broad” view) in my editorial scope, leaving the ever-growing trends, “-isms” and “hot” fads to the other arts magazines on the present artscene. I felt — and continue to feel — that “art” has a purpose other than serving as an “investment” commodity, a theme that defines much of The Mountain’s “message” or “moral”. I was strengthened in my point of view as we noted many “what’s hot” publications drop out of business as Art Times continued to flourish. It was evident that what was considered “hot” this week became “old hat” the following week — so the promoters, like the fad, quickly went out of fashion, their “slicks” constantly disappearing from the shelves. My bias still runs strong and deep and I continue to avoid writing about so-called “modernist” artists and their exhibitions until this day. Incidentally, all artists of today, traditional or not, are “moderns” simply by virtue of being alive now. Just because the market changes does not necessarily mean that values must change as well. I tend to agree with Oscar Wilde in his assessment that many do not know the difference between ‘cost’ and ‘value’ and his opinion that “America went from primitivism to barbarism, without ever passing through civilization” not so far off the mark.

Although my bias that art had a greater purpose — that, as Bernard Berenson claimed, it ought to “enhance” life — led my art criticism to focus primarily on the classical tradition at the expense of disregarding much of “modernism”, on a deeper, more psychological level, I discovered that my question of which medium “spoke” more clearly for me — namely, writing or painting — had been somewhat off the mark. The fact is that a simple dichotomy of “writer vs. painter” did not fully encompass my life. Long before I turned to writing (or painting) I had spent a good deal of my life exploring various “spiritual” paths (beginning with Christianity, and then on through Buddhist, Hindu and Judaist ‘disciplines’), developing a habit of deep meditation that began in my ‘30s and continues until this day.

Interestingly, In the Beginning begins in “religion” with a detailed description of the Renaissance-like parochial church (the tallest building in Brooklyn in the ‘30s) I attended as a child and describes my early experience of being indoctrinated into Roman Catholicism. Never having taken art classes (not taught during my schooling) I often thought of where my interest in art came from and wondered if it originated in the surroundings of that renaissance-like church; might it have served as a possible ‘motive’ for the basis of my interest in art later in life? Whereas my writing depended on logic and rationality, my painting of landscape seemed to stem from inner inspirations and promptings. Consequently, I slowly began to realize that both mediums allowed me to express myself — but not in the manner I expected. My writing allowed me to articulate my rational being, while my image-making served as an outlet for my spiritual development. For me, painting landscape became just one more form of “meditation.”

The net result — not reflected in my novel The Mountain — was that I needed to find room in my life for both forms of expression — a state of affairs that continues to guide my life ‘til this day. It’s no longer “writer vs. painter” — I am pretty much resolved that I am first and foremost a writer, and I feel comfortable telling people that I am “a writer who paints.” Leaving aside my feeling of once being “conflicted”, to my surprise, painting in plein aire opened not only an entirely unforeseen means for me to express (and explore) myself, but also served to form my critical approach to the purpose of making or creating of art — definitively hardening my bias against ‘meaningless’ art since I was finding it personally useless and invalid. During this time, the word “inspiration” began to take on a serious quality for me, especially as I delved more deeply into the thinking of Renaissance artists and their use of the term “divine inspiration.” By itself, “inspiration” literally means “breathing into” — “divine” inspiration therefore meant to the Renaissance artist, “inspired by God.” Somehow, my own personal experience of painting from Nature seemed not only to clarify the Renaissance concept of “divine inspiration” but also to confirm it. To this day, although I’ve been painting landscapes for some years now — even participating in exhibitions — what “appears” on my canvas continues to be inexplicable, not something that “comes” from “in here” but from “out there”. Is it really my painting? I cannot say with certainty that it is I who is guiding my hand. I’m still trying to figure out what I am seeing when I “see” Nature. Viewers of my paintings tell me they see “beauty” or “peace” or serenity” and all I can answer is “well all I’m doing is copying what’s in front of me”. Where, then, does credit lie? Simply because a natural phenomenon — a tree, a vista, a mountain — is “inscrutable”, “ineffable”, ‘indefinable’, an ‘illusion’ to a human being, it does not necessarily follow that it is “untrue”. Few indeed, know what “truth” is — in fact, even what “art” is, as is evident in our inability to define it. One prominent art critic, Arthur Danto, even claimed that art was “dead!” Little wonder that bias and opinion reign, when there is nothing ‘scientific’ at hand to ‘prove’ one’s point on the subject.

Since my traveling had been sharply curtailed in recent years, Jack Levine (now deceased) and I never had the opportunity to discuss The Mountain since its publication. Whatever personal avenues of self-knowledge it has opened for me, it is my hope that it still measures up to our expectations that day over lunch.

*The Mountain

#24 Paris, Narita

February 22, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs accessible from our website.

France: Paris: Walked the famous flea market and while at a booth that featured posters, found a small piece of paper stuck to the back of one of the posters I was turning over. Gently peeling it off, I discovered it was a page from a sketchbook that contained three separate pencil drawings: two small portraits with some inscriptions in French beneath each and an oval landscape alongside. The landscape had immediately attracted my eye and I asked the vendor what he wanted for it. He glanced at the drawing and said “Twenty francs.” I knew he did not even know the drawing had been there before I discovered it and thought I might do better. “It isn’t signed. Do you know who did it?” I asked. He pretended to study it and finally said, “No.” “I’ll give you ten for it,” I said. A Gallic shrug and an unspoken acceptance. I still have no idea who did the drawing, but have since been able to decipher the writing by dredging up my old college-day French lessons. I have not figured out who the upper figure is, but the lower one is obviously Dumas (as confirmed by the words below the drawing). One more treasure for my walls back home!

Japan: Narita: Taking advantage of a few hours layover on our way to Beijing, Cornelia and I stroll through the town, a small guide book in our hands. We were looking for a small monastery, unable to decipher signs along the way. Totally lost, we stopped a young woman to ask for directions — language difficulties! We pointed out the place in our brochure, but she looked at us helplessly as she had no words to tell us how or where to go. Suddenly a car pulled up and a large smile appeared as she beckoned us to get into the back seat as she slid next to the woman behind the wheel. A bit taken aback, we got in and, with the driver’s (her mother, it turned out) limited English, were told that it was easier to take us where we wanted to go rather than try to give us directions. How nice to be treated so hospitably by complete strangers!

#23 Shanghai, Lubeck

February 15, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs accessible from our website.

Shirley and her Dad at a Senior Citizens Center

China: Shanghai: Sightseeing with “Shirley” and “Joe”, our guides during our visit to attend the inaugural opening of Chen Chi’s museum at the Jai Tong University, they took us to a senior citizen center where Shirley’s father was spending the day. A beautiful place — more of an oriental mini-palace with flower-filled gardens surrounding each building, so unlike many of our nondescript and impersonal “old-age” residences — we found her father painting in an arts-and-crafts building, putting the final touches to a large rooster emerging from the rice paper spread out on the table before him. “Ah,” I remarked. “My symbol — the year of the cock. I was born in 1933.” Shirley translated for me, whereupon her father smiled broadly and immediately began folding up his still slightly damp painting. When he had completed his folding — transforming the rather large painting into a wallet-sized wad — he handed it to me with a slight bow. “Oh, no!” I protested, but Shirley assured me that her dad would be offended if I did not accept. I bowed in return and gladly accepted the gift (which is now properly framed — the folds still discernible — and hanging in my study). Upon my return to the States, I picked out a small Hudson Valley landscape that I had recently painted and promptly packed it off to Shirley and Joe to give to her father the next time she saw him. I hope that he was as pleased as I.
Another memorable moment with our guides: having dinner at a restaurant with them and their son, “Jack” who, after watching me eating with a fork, tried to do it himself. As adept as me with chopsticks (which is zero), “Jack” was a delight to watch as he struggled to get food off his plate and into his mouth. All of us had a good laugh. (Note: Chen Chi, the reason for our visit, was an artist I had met in NYC and about whom I wrote several books and a profile in ART TIMES.)

Germany: Lubeck: Visited this small city to visit the home of Thomas Mann (it was gone, destroyed during the war) and found instead a small print shop. Browsing through a box of plastic-wrapped prints, I came across a small pencil drawing of a soldier seated at a small café table, his back to the viewer and some lightly-sketched people in the background. It immediately appealed to me so I purchased it. When I got home, I unwrapped it from its protective plastic covering to have it properly framed — only to discover that there was a second drawing hidden from view on the reverse! I had it double-framed and now can enjoy either side at my pleasure — a special “find” for me!

# 22 Wushi China, Valais Switzerland

February 2, 2018

Raymond far right surrounded by school children

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs accessible from our website.

China: Wushi (Wuxi): Visiting Chen Chi’s home town of Wuxi, we (our guides “Shirley” and “Joe”, Cornelia and I) took a short boat ride out to Turtle Island where Chi once did some of his early work. It happened that it was a holiday for school children, and we found ourselves surrounded by kids grouped by different colored outfits and attended by teachers. At one point a young boy touched my arm and, holding out a piece of paper, spoke to me. I turned to Joe and asked him what the boy was saying. “He’s asking you to make your mark for him – to write down your name.” I smiled at the boy and alongside my name drew a self-caricature that I sometimes include at the end of my notes to friends. His eyes lit up and as he passed it around to his friends, eyes lit up all over the boat as what seemed to be hundreds of little hands with scraps of paper in them were thrust at me. And, it didn’t end there! During the day, as we strolled around Turtle Island, the word must have spread as we were constantly being waylaid by new kids in different colored outfits shyly approaching with their papers held out to me. Some tried out their limited English: “Hell-o”, “How are you?” and when I would say “Nee Haw” they would collapse into gales of laughter. What a day! After signing I don’t know how many papers, fans, napkins, and whatever, I felt like a visiting rock star!

Switzerland: Valais: Studio apartment next to our friends Heinz and Christiane, some 3000 feet up in Aminona — outside our window I view the Val d/Anniviers, looking south to Italy, far below to the city of Sienne at our feet. The peaks across the way (the highest, Weisshorn) tease me as I try from day to day to capture them in oil or watercolor sketches (in the apartment next door, Heinz is doing the same, I know) with the light constantly changing the vista, mountain peaks coming in and out of view as clouds reveal or screen them.


On the third day of exasperation, I cross the hallway to see how Heinz is doing, and learn a secret! He has several paintings underway, each started at a different time of the day. As the light changes, he begins a new canvas, setting aside the earlier one until he can resume it the next day — in all, about four canvases, each a work-in-progress. Aha! Immediately one can see the difference between a writer who paints and a painter who paints! In any event, at the end of our week-long stay, I have enough sketches (and photos) to cobble something together when I return to my studio back home. (I hope).

#21 Quebec, Rügen, Bruges, Bavaria

February 1, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

Canada: Quebec City: “Rue des Artistes” — a North American version of the “Via Margutta” in Rome…odd how two cities from different continents can merge in the mind.

Germany: Rügen: While wandering this small island off the coast of northern Germany, I was delighted to come across the same sharply, pointed rocks along the shore that captured the attention of Caspar David Friedrich, the great German Romanticist painter. Again, that empathic shiver!

Belgium: Bruges: While visiting the Jarczyks in Cologne, we rent a car and take Cornelia’s mother Elsie and my daughter Barbara (Jonason) to Bruges, the “Venice of the North”, for a one-day sight-seeing trip. Boat ride along the canals; Michelangelo’s Madonna in the church. Barbara buys lace as a souvenir of the trip (I wonder if she still has it tucked away someplace?).

Watercolor of Neuschwanstein by Heinrich J. Jarczyk

Watercolor of Neuschwanstein by Heinrich J. Jarczyk

Germany: Neuschwanstein, Bavaria: Rode up in a horse-drawn open carriage to this fairy-tale castle perched on a mountain built by a king whose subjects called him mad. Fitting. Yet, about 100 years later the descendants of those who called him crazy used this castle to house the thousands of works of art stolen by Nazi thugs from France during WWII. Not so fitting. I guess “madness” is a relative term.


January 25, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

Elsie Seckel has what was probably her very first beer. And then she had another.

Elsie Seckel has what was probably her very first beer. And then she had another.

Germany: Cologne (an old tavern): Elsie (my mother-in-law) drinking German beer — something we thought we’d never see. Two glasses!

USA: NYC: I was invited to attend the opening reception of an art show which featured the work of a Ukrainian artist — Natalia Pohrebinska — that I had profiled in ART TIMES a few months before and, upon entering the gallery, was pleasantly surprised to see that the artist had framed my article and had hung it in a prominent place on the wall. A few inches above the framed article was a few words in what I had rightly assumed to be the Ukrainian language, its Cyrillic alphabet beyond my knowledge or ability to figure out. I had supposed it to be a reference to my article, perhaps some words to bring it to the notice of visitors to the show, and felt pleased that the artist had taken the time to frame it and hang it alongside her work. My curiosity grew, however, as I saw people glance up at the strange words, some exchanging a few words amongst themselves from time to time. Unable to curb my curiosity any longer, I drifted towards two women who, after looking up at the article, were speaking in what I supposed was Ukrainian. “Pardon me,” I interrupted. “Could you tell me what that says up there above that article?” I was rewarded with a friendly smile. “Of course,” came the heavily accented voice of the woman nearest me. “It says, ‘Do Not Smoke’.”  Не палити
Instant ego deflation! Don’t let anyone ever tell you that writers are above all that…

Newgrange, Painting by Raymond J. Steiner

Newgrange, Painting by Raymond J. Steiner

Ireland: Boyne Valley: Exploring along the River Boyne one day and unexpectedly came upon one of Ireland’s famous megalithic tombs, “Newgrange”. Located in County Meath, the tomb is uncannily laid out with a stone passage that captures the direct rays of sunlight at the Winter Solstice that lights up the interior cavern. Primitives? I don’t think so!

#19 Berlin, Amsterdam

January 17, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs.

Painting on Silk by Silke

Painting on Silk by Silke

Germany: Berlin: During one of my visits to our friends Jacky and Jörg, Jörg introduced me to his young cousin Silke, an artist who made delicate paintings on silk (an appropriate ground for a woman named Silke!). I spent an afternoon with her at her apartment to watch her at work, snapping photos of her as she applied her brush to the stretched panel of silk, her boyfriend hovering nearby all the while. (Silke is a beautiful young woman, and I could sense how uneasy he was to have a man spending so much time with her in her studio). How delighted I was, when some weeks after our return to the States, I received a small card of thanks from her with one of her original silk paintings enclosed!

Holland: Amsterdam On the suggestion of the artist Françoise Gilot whom I had met and wrote about in ART TIMES, I sought out the gallery that represented her in that country. The gallery, located on the main canal, was a handsome building, the owner welcoming and pleased that I had taken the trouble to visit. Her English was excellent, and I commented on that fact. “Oh, I lived in America for awhile — mostly in New York State. Both in Manhattan and in a small upstate town.” “Oh,” I said. “Where upstate?” “Woodstock,” she said. “I visited and stayed with some friends there.” “It wouldn’t have been the van Hamels, by any chance?” I asked. “You know them?” she asked. “Oh yes. Manette and Dick have been friends for some time. I know her as an artist,” I added. “I’ll have to tell her that I met you.” “Please do,” she said. “Will you be visiting their son while you are here?” “I didn’t know they had a son,” I said. “I only know her daughter, the prima ballerina, Martine van Hamel.” “Oh, but you must stop in and say hello to him. He lives on a barge just down the canal from here.”

Meeting up with Cornelia who had been visiting the Anne Frank House while I was at the gallery, I told her about my visit and we decided to look up the van Hamel son. We did not find him at his barge but at a nearby gallery where he was setting up a show. When we knocked, he opened the door and we said, “Your mother says hello!” Surprise, and then amusement as we shared our story with him. Another pleasure when we returned to share the whole story with Dick and Manette back in Woodstock.

#18 Arles, Florence

January 9, 2018

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

France: Arles: Getting off the train at the little station in January 1989 and then walking toward town, both of us pulling our wheeled suitcases behind us and seeking a place to stay, made me flash back to that day when Gauguin pulled into the same train station just over 100 years ago in October of 1888 — although he had arrived in the pre-dawn hours — and walked the same way — through the Medieval Gates — into town in search of the “Yellow House” where Vincent van Gogh anxiously awaited his arrival. The Yellow House is no more; though the old Roman arena is still there — only a short walk from our room — and one of those old drawbridges crossing a tributary to the Rhone that van Gogh had made famous (I walked across it, though I doubt if this particular one was yet built during his stay). I’d heard about a local dish made of ox that I was anxious to try, but when we went in search of a restaurant all but two were closed — and they were Vietnamese. So, on that first night, we ate “Chinese” though it was an adventure to hear Orientals speaking French. At the time, they were celebrating an “Arles 31éme Salon International des Santonniers” (Dec 88-Apr 89) — I still have a souvenir t-shirt with “Vincent” emblazoned on the front from the event, though it is slowly becoming more tattered as I often wear it when I paint. For inspiration? Who knows?

Italy: Florence: On the way from the train station to our pensione, bags in tow and unsure of where we were going, I happened to look down and saw a wallet lying in the street. I stopped to pick it up and, glancing inside, found no money but what were obviously the press documents of some journalist. Feeling a sense of kinship, I resolved to find a police station after we checked in to our rooms in order to officially declare my “find”. The police station — in fact right in the train station itself — was easy to find and I entered to discover several smartly-dressed policeman standing about. My Italian is extremely poor, and I immediately found myself in difficulty in trying to explain why I was there. At first, they seemed to think I was telling them that I had lost my wallet and did not seem overly interested in the problem. Finally, through laying the wallet on the floor and pantomiming my walking along and discovering it, they understood. Immediate change in attitude. Smiles and amiability as I handed over the wallet. “There is no money”, the policeman said in fairly good English. I shook my head and held my palms up. Again: “No money?” I shook my head ‘no’ more firmly and pointed out the papers of the wallet’s owner, them my credentials, and tried to explain my reasons for being such a Good Samaritan. They still seemed doubtful about the lack of money, but after almost 45 minutes of mis-communication and suspicion, eventually they took my card along with the wallet and hailed me with a round of “grazias”. Greatly relieved, I returned to our hotel where Cornelia was beginning to wonder what had happened to me and I told her that the next time I saw what might be a wallet laying in the street that I would look the other way. The ordeal had left me more than a little disenchanted with my first experience of Florence, but things got considerably better the next several days. And even better some months later, when I received a letter from Italy in my home mail. I immediately recognized the name of the sender — the name I had said and heard over and over in the Florence police station. My neighbor, a native of Italy, had to read the letter to me, but it was gratifying to know that the gentleman was “molto” appreciative of my gesture and happy to get back his papers. So, I guess my good deed finally did bear some fruit!


There is Still Hope

January 7, 2018

In spite of the severe downward turn in our culture — especially evident in our “modern” tastes in art — it is still my privilege to continue meeting artists who refuse to follow the latest trend in ‘isms’ and carry on the struggle with those elusive and inscrutable Muses that guide the hand in producing, not commodities, but genuine “art” that enhances life. (What an idea! Buying and/or collecting ’’art” for enhancement rather than investment!)

I know I use terms that several of my readers deem pompous and I must admit that many of my ideas come from extensive traveling and reading; I’m the product of lower-class, poverty-threatened folks from Brooklyn and my “culture” was largely gleaned from the streets of our neighborhood and, later (at the age of 12) on a dead-end road in the woodlands of the Catskills. Trips to museums, libraries, etc. were never on my parent’s calendar, nor were books a part of our lifestyle. Art was not on the curriculum of any of the schools I attended, so I had a great deal to learn. My first “awakening” occurred when I was drafted into the US Military and discovered that not all people were raised as I was raised or learned what I learned. Stationed a full year in Germany, and all I ever visited were popular beer halls! Later, and still in the Service, I discovered a library on the Canadian base up in the arctic (Fort Churchill) that I was assigned to for one year. As we were “guests” of the Canadian Air Force, we were closely monitored — so no alcohol (or women) — ergo, plenty of time for the well-stocked library available to all of us on “isolated duty.” Never having been much of a library-goer, it took me some time to learn my way around. Previously an occasional “Mickey Spillane” follower (when and if I picked up a book), I had no idea what treasures awaited me once I got used to turning pages. Having 365 “isolated duty” days on the tundra sans alcohol and women looking me in my oft frost-bitten face left me literally little choice — but once started, I voraciously ‘ate’ my way through, first the art history section, quickly followed by ancient history, world literature and philosophy.

Although rather haphazardly read at the time (I thought that Plato and Dostoevsky were contemporaries), all would be organized, expanded and clarified when I finally started college in my early 30s, concentrating on those very fields of study and finally receiving my B.A and M.A. in Liberal Arts. I taught English in Public School and a short stint at College over a period of about 14 years, then co-founded ART TIMES with my partner, Cornelia Seckel, putting my full concentration on art — writing Artist Profiles, and either reviews or critiques of art exhibitions. Although I never ‘took’ an art class, I was drawn to the subject since the only “talent” that survived my Brooklyn upbringing was being able to draw, sketching on the living-room floor long before I started school. So, already familiar with pen and pencil, after absorbing some art history I was drawn to learning about other mediums and the creators behind the work; hence ART TIMES and my profiling of artists. Living near Woodstock, New York, I had a veritable plethora of artists nearby to visit and started writing about artists some years before we founded ART TIMES in 1984, freelancing my work to various local newspapers and eventually, with ART TIMES as a base, broadening my scope to profile over 200 artists from the U.S. as well as from abroad — Germany, Italy, China, and so on. Supplemented by my critiques, reviews, traveling, lecturing and further reading, yes it is probably true that I sometimes come across as “pompous.” And yes, I am “set in my ways” — or passé, to many “modernists” — still quoting Bernard Berenson (as above) and his theory of “life enhancing” art, still inclined to agree with Oscar Wilde and his claim that America went from Primitivism to Barbarism without having passed through “Civilization.”

Yet, the real truth is that in spite of my last 40 years dabbling in “art”, the only inconvertible ‘truth’ I have discovered is that opinion rules and that no one has yet discovered an authoritative definition of “art” — me included since my “knowledge” is only based on endless page-turning and tramping around the world. Some, in fact, have even declared that “art” is dead! Not even my picking up of brush and palette knife some 20 years ago to paint landscapes, all I am “sure” of is that I try to “reproduce” three-dimensional Nature on a two-dimensional flat surface. So the “pomposity” is probably nothing more than a smoke-screen trying to obscure my ignorance. All that said, however, does not nullify my opening remarks, namely that I still have the privilege of meeting “artists” — who, more often than not, are struggling to come up with their own definition of what it is that they are doing — (I try to avoid the glib ones, who sound too much like salesmen and bloviating agents. Art, already a communicative language in and of itself, is largely un-translatable and meant to ‘speak’ for itself (humans were making pictures on walls long before they made words and sentences). In the opinion of Edgar Degas, literature ((i.e. words)) only did “harm” to art, and readily agreed with his friend, the writer Jules Renard, who wrote, “When I am in front of a picture, it speaks better than I do.”* So, to all of you still fighting the good fight, I urge you to continue ignoring all the gobbledygook. I wish you warm and pleasant Holidays and a continuing success in your struggle — you have certainly enriched (and enhanced) my life for a long, long time.

 *Cf. Julian Barnes “Humph, He, Ha”, London Review of Times, Vol. 40, No. 1., Jan 4 2018.