ALTHOUGH THEY ARE displayed now and then —usually tucked inside a vitrine that features memorabilia — at a retrospective of some noted artist, the humble “sketch book” is more often than not overlooked, neglected, passed over as insignificant in an artist’s life and work. True, they are usually dog-eared, travel-worn, and pocket-sized, but, at least for me, sketch books rank very high as offering some of the most revealing insights I can ever get while I sit in some artist’s studio trying to garner enough material for a Profile— and besides, I learn so much about art! Of course I “take in” the artist’s studio surroundings (which tell me a lot) and listen to their words (which tell me a lot less), but when I get the chance to take a peek into a sketch book or two — well it’s something like looking into a diary. So private are many artists’ sketch books, that they often hesitate — even refuse — to allow me a perusal. Some keep them out of sight, hidden in drawers, far away from my ‘prying’ — “close to the chest” like some poker player hiding his pair of aces — and thus I am often deprived of those insights that ‘flesh out’ my finished Profile (not to mention not being able to “flesh out” my knowledge and understanding of art). By now, most artists are familiar with my work and know that I am not ‘in the business’ of publishing “tell-alls” that can mean-spiritedly embarrass people and titillate others. Most now know that I am indeed probing — but only to uncover the source(s) of their creative spirit/output (as I note above, many artists — rightly so —are unable or unwilling to translate their work into words). I say “rightly so” since (I’ve found) the glibber they are, the less are they genuine artists. And, I say “genuine” because there are a great many talented (and untalented) craftspeople that know how to “sell” their work and few “real” artists who are aware that “art” (images) and “language” (words) are two different means of communication. Paul Cadmus, for instance, a most articulate individual on many topics never strayed into discussion of his art — except to point out a drawing he had done as a child while saying, “My de Kooning period”. Anyway…early on in my interviews (I’ve been doing them for over 30 years) it was not always easy for me to get an artist to hand over their “diaries.” Two that stand out in my mind are Robert Angeloch and Françoise Gilot — first, because they were so reluctant (at first) and, second, because (after they gave in) their sketch books were so enlightening, giving obvious clues to their finished work. Gilot’s was particularly interesting in that her tiny books were not only full of drawings, but also poems, and comments in what little margins were available; Angeloch’s less ‘chatty’, but full of annotations as to color and what the finished product might or ought to look like ‘compositionally’ (not sure that’s a word) thus, often side-by-side sketches of the same scene. Another that stands out in my memory was the sketch book / journal of Elizabeth Mowry (PSA) — not for her reluctance to share it (she readily showed it to me) but for its sheer beauty. At the time (1986), I urged her to publish it but do not know if she ever did (it contained notes and drawings of the plants, flowers, and shrubbery around her property made during the time her husband was house-bound and she could not leave him alone ). Nowadays, instead of refusals, I often get a “Why?” or “What for?” before sketch books are slipped out of drawers or nearby cabinets and handed over. And when they are…
YES, HE WAS an artist — an American Master, at that — but, for those who were lucky enough to know him “up front and personal”, they know that Will was much, much more than that soft-spoken, elderly gentleman recently honored by the President in Washington, D.C. I was one of the lucky ones to get “up front” and personal with Will — first, back in early 1987, when I interviewed him at his studio at The National Arts Club (his Profile appeared in our pages in July, 1987), that initial occasion leading to many other one-on-one conversations over the years. In fact, it was only shortly after my first meeting with him at The Arts Club, that he proposed me as a member, an association that had proven to be a boon for many years. It was through Will that I first met fellow members Everett Raymond (“Ray”) Kinstler and Chen Chi, both of whom would also become “Profilees” in ART TIMES (Kinstler in 1988 and Chi in 1989). Yes, being a friend of Will’s was a rich experience for sure. When I was asked by Rosina Florio, late Director of the Art Students League of New York, to write an “anecdotal” history of that famous school (she “absolutely” did not want a “dry as dust” narration), Will was one of the people she directed me to interview for “some great anecdotes”. A teacher at the League for some 50 years (he also did stints at Cooper Union, Yale, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, among others), Will graciously invited me to his daughter’s home up in Maine for an afternoon’s “chat” where he regaled me with one League story after another, and more. We somehow got around to talking about the “artworld” in general, and, in particular, art criticism. I asked him how (and when) he thought art critics managed to get such “clout” in present days, given that image-making predated written language (the ‘stuff’ of today’s critics) by thousands of years (Georgio Vasari ((1511-1574)), incidentally, is usually given credit for being the first bona fide art critic). Will did a little frowning and mind-cudgeling and finally looked up and said: “One word is worth a thousand pictures.” “Wha’?” I managed. It was the first time I’d ever heard that old saw turned on its head like that, but he soon explained (Will was nothing if not erudite and able to hold his own in displaying his considerable knowledge about art and its history). “This country was pretty illiterate back in the day, but after World War II, that all changed — many dischargees, unwilling to go back to farms, factories, and ditch-digging, opted for college when they found out the Government would help, so, almost overnight, America’s literacy rate boomed. Women, of course, followed in their male’s footsteps and, lo and behold, the written word became almost sacrosanct…trouble was, however, that though people learned to read, few ever learned how to read art. So, they depended on the word to clue them in on anything they didn’t understand — including — you might say especially — the arts. They turned to the pundits for guidance — what book should I read, what music should I listen to, what movie should I go see — which artist’s work is worthwhile taking up time to stand around and look at? Enter the critic. So, like I said, ‘One word is worth a thousand pictures’. It doesn’t matter if you have a thousand paintings stacked up in your studio unless some critic gives the ‘word’. So, the public figures that if an artist is being written about, well then, he must be worth seeing. It’s gotten to the point now, that people are more willing to believe what some pundit saysthan what some artist creates. In fact, they don’t trust their own eyes, their own judgment about what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They only trust what they read about an artist. And that’s a shame! Ever go into the Met and see how people ‘look’ at art? They look through their ears and not their eyes.” A shrug and a long sigh. I certainly got the point – for sure, he taught me how to be a better critic, a better artwriter, and to be wary about my judgments. In addition to being a good friend, he was a teacher — and I’ll never forget how much he taught me. Indeed, he went even further to help me along the way, even contributing his thoughts on printmaking for my book on the Cologne-based etcher, Heinrich J. Jarczyk— after having invited me and the artist to his studio where I taped the interview before publication. And, as for his own work, he never slowed down, never stopped learning about his craft (still so obvious when I reviewed his show at the Alexandra Gallery in June of 2002). I’m sure there are a great many “out there” who can contribute their own personal thoughts and memories — the “official” laudatory obituaries have already hit the presses and delivered to the public. Believe me, they only tell part of the story.
ONCE IN awhile there are books that come across my desk which, although not appropriate for our “New Art Books” section of ART TIMES (in this case, both books are printed in German and not readily available from publishers), nevertheless deserve notice and mention – thank goodness for the invention of the ‘blog’. Both books are written and produced by my friend Heinrich J. Jarczyk, whom I first met in 1988 at an exhibition of his etchings at the German Consulate in New York City. The following year, Cornelia and I visited him and his wife, Christiana, at their home just outside Cologne (in Bergisch Gladbach) and, already impressed with his work and now getting to know the “story of his life”, I decided to profile him in ART TIMES, offering an in-depth look at Jarczyk and his work which appeared in our May 1989 Issue. If his “story” was a familiar one to many Europeans, it was new to me and, learning about a young aspiring artist being drafted into the army of the Reich, being wounded twice, constantly carrying with him his skizzenbuch (sketchbook) to capture images while “running from Patton”, having his sketchbook confiscated (never to be returned) while a prisoner of war in Belgium, and, after his release, finding after the war that his country was no place for an artist since no one had any money to buy art and even fewer had walls on which to hang such a luxury, he entered university to become a research scientist. Eventually finding a position with the Bayer Company, he began his travels at conferences around the world while retaining his old habit of always having a skizzenbuch near at hand, jotting down visual memories of people and places in pen, in pencil, in watercolor. Following my Profile of Jarczyk in ART TIMES, I’d written two books about Jarczyk — Heinrich J. Jarczyk: Toward a Vision of Wholeness (Laumann Verlag, 1992)and Heinrich J. Jarczyk: Etchings 1968-1998 (Heider Verlag, 1998 —both books published with text in English, German and French) — our relationship meanwhile growing deeper each year. We’ve visited back and forth many times over the years, even painting together in the Alps, sight-seeing both here and throughout Europe, and now, nearly twenty-five years since our first meeting, Jarczyk has published his books, Heinrich J. Jarczyk: Aus meinen Leben Erinnerungen (II) (“Memories from my Life”): Olgemalde (“Oils”) 1963-2007, 189 pp.; 8 1/8 x 10 ½; 95 Colored Illus.; List of Works; Exhibitions (2007) and Heinrich J. Jarczyk: Aus meinen Leben Erinnerungen (III) (“Memories from my Life”): (“Watercolors”) 1943-2011, 276 pp.; 8 1/8 x 10 ½; 404 Colored Illus.; List of Works; Exhibitions (2011). Combined, the books cover not only some sixty-eight years of Jarczyk’s life, but feature his paintings (oils and watercolors) from both his native Germany and from around the world – including to my great delight three watercolors contained in Book III (Nos. 378, 392 & 393) done while at our home in High Woods, New York and two others (Nos. 380 & 390) from along the Hudson River. Although Book II, Oils, is arranged by motif – stilllife, landscape, architecture, etc. – Book III gathers the work by country — e.g., Egypt, Australia, Bahamas, Belgium, China, etc., some 24 countries in total — containing some forty-five watercolors from the U.S.A., from East to West and from North to South. This “visual diary” offers the reader a sort of inside view of Jarczyk’s life-long interest in people and places — something I tried to capture in my book Heinrich J. Jarczyk: Toward a Vision of Wholeness which attempts to capture the scope of Jarczyk’s all-embracing vision of the world into which he was born. Thus, the book includes impressions from his days as a young man in the military service, through his work as a research scientist at the Bayer Company, and on through his sight-seeing days as a “free spirit” trying to improve both his skills as an artist as well as learning how to be a citizen of the world. Enhanced by his own words, Aus meinen Leben Erinnerungen (II) & (III) vastly augments and expands my “outsider” insights into Jarczyk’s “Vision of Wholeness”. As a matter of fact, Jarczyk’s Books II & III, featuring his Oils and Watercolors, was so titled to follow my earlier book on his etchings (thus, Book I) — the “trilogy” serving as a comprehensive overview of Jarczyk’s artistic oeuvre. It was Jarczyk’s masterful draftsmanship so evident in that exhibit of his etchings in NYC that drew me to both the man and his work and to see it now so manifest in his oils and watercolors is extremely gratifying — and, of course, it is due to his fine draftsmanship that these books serve so well as visual documentaries of the world. Browsing Jarczyk’s Books II & III are like leafing through books of carefully selected collections of elegantly crafted fine-art postcards from around the world. Further information about Heinrich J. Jarczyk and his work, especially his Profile and books by me, can be found by emailing us at email@example.com; information about or requests to purchase these latest books on his Oils and Watercolors should be referred to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ONE OF CHEKHOV’S short stories, “Grief”, has long lingered in my mind, a story about a poor cab driver who fails (on three separate occasions) to tell his passengers that his son has just died. (Not one of his passengers is interested in listening to him and he finally ends up having to tell his sad story to his horse as he puts it up in the barn. It was, in fact, this story that instantly turned me into a Chekhov “fan” and, over the years, I find myself often turning to his books on my shelf and, yes, re-reading “Grief”. I was more than pleased, then, to receive an email from Peter Sekirin, a Canadian scholar, author and translator, informing me that he had recently published Memories of Chekhov: Accounts of the Writer from His Family, Friends and Contemporaries*. Since I knew relatively little about Chekhov — other than a scant handful of biographical details — I asked Mr. Sekirin to send me a copy of his book, which he gracefully did. I had no idea what a treat I would be in for!
Separated into Six sections, Memories of Chekhov contains thoughts, insights, recollections, anecdotes, accounts, observations and memories of Chekhov’s childhood, his time in Moscow, in his Melikhovo cottage, his interactions with the theatre, and his last years in Yalta, all interspersed with remembrances from his family, friends and colleagues in day-to-day living. Through Sekirin’s careful and exhaustive garnering of written letters and documents — along with his painstaking translation — we come away with as complete a “picture” of Chekhov the man as we might have gotten had we personally known the writer. No — I’d say a better picture since we would only be depending upon our own abilities to see clearly, and that is something few of us ever accomplish in our daily lives of living with others. In Sekirin’s book we have a kaleidoscopic look from all ages, from all perspectives, from all of his activities — as a child, as a writer, as a doctor, as a playwright, as an admirer of pretty faces, as a “celebrity”, as a quiet thinker buried in his study — in brief, as a man.
Whether or not you are a Chekhov “fan”, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in peering into the “mind” of a creative personality. At last, for me, Chekhov is a human being — a man I’d liked to have known and shared a vodka with. Thank you Peter Sekirin for making him a real person.
* Memories of Chekhov: Accounts of the Writer from His Family, Friends and Contemporaries Edited and translated by Peter Sekirin: 215 pp.; 6 x 9; B/W Photographs; Appendix; Annotated Bibliography; Index. $45.00 Softcover. McFarland & Company, Inc. 2011.
For more information: www.memoriesofchekhov.com
High Woods: February 2012
RECEIVED A NEW book a few days ago and wanted to share a few thoughts about it with my readers. The book, i sold Andy Warhol. (too soon)* is written by Richard Polsky, also author of I Bought Andy Warhol, written some years back. Polsky founded Acme Art in 1984, an art gallery in the Bay Area of California — the same year I co-founded ART TIMES with Cornelia Seckel. He had begun his career in the art world a couple of years earlier; I had been writing artist’s profiles about the same time, writing for various publications since about 1980. So — generally speaking, then, our “art world” careers are commensurate in duration — but that is where any similarity between our experiences abruptly comes to an end. Oh, we both traveled the world a bit in our “art world” careers — I’ve been to Germany, Italy, England, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Spain, France, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and China for exhibitions, art studio visits or for giving lectures — Polsky to probably many of the same countries — but, again, not at all to the same places or to visit the same “art world” denizens. For one thing — and it’s important — is the term “art world”. I’ve kept it in quotes purposely, since — although there are plenty of ‘definitions’ — there is no clear or consensual agreement of what this “world” consists of. Even more troublesome is the word “art” — something that no one today seems to agree on. In regards to Polsky and I, there seems to be absolutely a glaring gap between what he considers “art” to mean and what I mean by the term. And as far as our “worlds” are concerned, we may well be referring to different planets. Polsky is dealing in the “world” of — what he calls — “high-end” art — a term he seems to like since he uses it often in his book to describe “high-end” dealers, “high-end” collectors, “high-end” buyers — in brief, “high-end” movers and shakers in his “world” of “high-end”, if not “art”, then surely of money transactions. To my mind, Polsky seems to only consider “art” as “art” when it translates into “high-end” prices. This “world” is far indeed from the one I’ve inhabited for the past thirty-or so years — especially since my “world” is heavily influenced by Oscar Wilde’s astute observation between “cost” and “value”. I have had some brushes with Polsky’s world — a visit to Sotheby’s (where I felt like an alien — and was, I suppose), a visit to my home by a dealer in “high-end” art who blandly stated that I had “shit” on my walls (“shit”, I suppose, was his way of saying “low-end”) but these, as I say, were merely brushes with a “world” I had no desire to inhabit. The artists I know, have written about (and have hanging on my walls) are, I suppose “low-end” since none (as far as I know) have brought in millions of dollars. Polsky, incidentally, tosses around millions much like our government tosses around trillions — most certainly an alien planet to me. So, I guess I’ll just have to plod along in my “low-end” benighted world with artists who can only dream about millions. Still, you might like to pick up and read Polsky’s book — it certainly engaged me — even if, at times, it made my hair stand on end and my teeth grind. One thing’s for sure — I could not have survived as many years in his “world” as I’ve done in mine.
*Other Press LLC, NYC, 2009. 269 pp.; 5 ½ x 8 ½; Where to See Artists; Sources. $15.95 Softcover.
By RAYMOND J. STEINER
The recent death of artist Bruce Currie closes yet one more door on Woodstock’s illustrious past as America’s “go-to” art colony. The ending of World War II breathed new life into New York City’s Art Student League as it languished under a dearth of students during the war years. Almost overnight — with the help of a movie made by the League under the auspices of the U.S. Government (starring, incidentally, another Woodstocker and colleague of Currie’s, Robert Angeloch) that urged homecoming soldiers to seek a career in art — both their New York City and Woodstock summer school facilities suddenly burgeoned with budding artists. Already enjoying an international reputation as “the world’s best landscape school” before the devastating war years, the League’s summer sessions once again drew applicants from across the expanse of the United States, among the many who crowded Woodstock’s two main rural thoroughfares being Bruce Currie — a genuine decorated war hero from Iowa who quickly translated his dedication as a soldier to that of a dedicated artist. I profiled Bruce for a local newspaper — one month, in fact, before we founded ART TIMES in August of 1984. A gentle, soft-spoken man, as I sat in his studio on Boggs Hill Road, I quickly learned why he more than held his own in a competitive art colony of would-be ‘famous’ artists — and, make no mistake, Woodstock had many such, attracting back in those days reporters from NYC publications (including the Times) to cover shows at the Woodstock Artists Association on Tinker Street. No longer just a “landscape school”, the mixed bag of artists that had descended on Woodstock from across America and beyond assured the League of a variety of “new” ideas — abstraction, one among many. Currie soon developed his own unique vision, a subtle blend of realism and abstraction that soon made others take notice — including New York City galleries that eagerly sought to represent him. This, in turn, brought him more solo shows, more recognition, more awards, until he was a force in his own right. Currie, along with many of his Woodstock contemporaries, served as exemplars for the main character in my novel The Mountain. I had profiled most of Woodstock’s “second wave” over the past 35 years and almost without exception each contributed to the amalgamation that would become “Jake” in his coming-of-age in my novel on the Woodstock artscene. Bruce, as well as being an artist to know, was also a man to know. I, along with much of Woodstock, will miss his quiet presence.
By RAYMOND J. STEINER
AS WHOEVER READS these random musings knows, I’ve been silent for several months now — illness, inanition and inertia has taken its toll, leaving me with an empty reservoir of creative energy (if you can really call venting such as this ‘creative’). Anyway, here I’ve been, mired in the Sunshine State for a bit over a month — a state that I’ve pretty much avoided since I dwelt and toiled here back in my early 20’s — and pretty much driven to DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING! to fend off the curse of ennui. There’s no other way to say it — Florida simply bores me. If I thought my creative juices had dried up while fighting my slowly disintegrating body up North, they are simply non-existent in this flatland of idleness. I am nothing but a lump in a beach chair — although ‘chair’ is far from describing this metal and plastic contraption that has no position (and there are several) that my body can tolerate for more than a half hour. And as I sit and squirm (as far from the beach as I can get where a constant parade of sloggers and joggers pass this blogger’s line of vision), I constantly hear the ocean calling as each wave hits the sand murmuring, “Raaaymond, Raaaymond, Raaaymond…we want you baaack, we want you baaack, we want you baaack.” As if I need be reminded of my one-time, one-celled existence as I slowly deteriorate into that very primal state, my mind seeping from my ears. I should point out that I am here under protest, first cajoled and then enjoined by my wife and partner to accompany her on her annual “Florida Escape” to ‘enjoy’ some R&R (Reclining and Ruminating) for fear that my body may decompose at a faster rate if I remain in the frozen fastnesses of my High Woods home and haven facing Overlook Mountain. Ergo, this blog — set before you in sheer desperation. A fisherwoman of some experience, she “meets up” with her Floridian cohorts to fish, to revel, to dance — and whatever else they have in store for her — looking forward to her well-earned fun-in-the-sun each January. This time, she would not take my well-rehearsed speech about staying home seriously. So here I am — avoiding the usual fare of dancing, and jogging, and bar-hopping, and fishing, and the early-birding of the senior snowbirds, the constant land-trolling for the tons of faux culture that infest innumerable centers all over the state and dipping my feet in the shark-infested waters, and whatever else tourists do to forget that they someday have to go back to frigid zones — avoiding all and vegetating in my ill-designed beach chair, wishing I were home and gazing at my mountains. Florida is simply not for what Emerson once called the “Delian Diver” — sun, salt air, warm breezes and art-deco everything simply combine and block all efforts of going beneath instinctual needs. In the famous words of that ancient Floridian: “I sunbathe, therefore I am!” All else is epilogue.