AN OPEN LETTER TO ARTISTS

August 29, 2017

THE PURPOSE OF this letter is to acknowledge and to thank the many, many artists, both deceased and those still ‘fighting the good fight’ who have helped me over the past 40-45 years to understand and appreciate the process as well as the product.

Your influence began early, back in the late‘40s when I used to work as a handy-man in Woodstock, New York, clearing woodlots, mowing lawns, tending gardens for the summer residents, most of them artists who came up from the city to join the ever-growing number of plein-airistes flocking to the burgeoning art colony who wanted to spend their time painting rather than mowing their lawns. Even after the summer ended, teachers and students at the Art Students League of New York’s summer school a little way out of town, would spend week-ends and off-hours in town, most willing, even eager, to ‘talk art’ to interested listeners — even handymen at Deane’s, the popular diner on Mill Hill Road. Although neither a painter nor a student of the craft, I had from a child been able to draw, to replicate in pencil whatever I attempted to copy, and almost always carried a sketchbook with me — so ‘listening in’ to the conversations of ‘real’ artists was always too tempting to pass up.

When I began free-lance writing for local newspapers, I eventually focused on art and artists, profiling many of the “Woodstock artists”, spending hours at their studios or over the counter having coffee at Deane’s, listening to them presenting their views, art, journey, comments and work-habits eventually sharing them with my publishers.

Eventually, I grew more and more dissatisfied with the way my writing was being handled by copy-editors, layout people, and the ever-present errors (including the misspelling of the artists’ names in more than one instance) that were being presented to the public under my name. This led to my wife Cornelia and I co-founding our own arts journal — Art Times — in 1984. Over the years, I have since profiled over 100 artists both here and abroad. Some of my essays grew into introductions of monographs by various publishers and even into my own books on artists. Soon, I was interviewing artists in NYC and even as far as Europe and China. By being commissioned by Rosina Florio, past Director of the Art Students League of New York, to write a history of the League, the undertaking broadened my knowledge even further as many past and present League members added their stories to my growing warehouse of art-knowledge.

Through my experience with the Art Student’s League, I began hearing about other arts groups, some local, some regional, others national — even affiliating with some — for example the National Art Club in NYC after Will Barnet sponsored me, and especially The Salmagundi Club, a club that is nearly 150 years old and devotes its resources to artists and their art instead of sales and celebrity. Never much of a ‘joiner’, I was fortunate to become a member of the Artist’s Fellowship, which exists solely to give aid to artists in distress (probably the only meetings I enjoyed attending since each session ended in a specific and meaningful act — giving a hand up to deserving artists across the country). My associations with such art organizations expanded my knowledge of art well beyond any college courses I’d taken.

In 2005-6, I wrote a novel entitled The Mountain that attempts to trace the development of an artist (in literary terms, a “bildungsroman”). Set in the NYC and Hudson Valley areas it includes some history and background of Woodstock and its environs to ‘flesh out’ the influences on my protagonist, Jacob (Jake) Forscher (‘Jacob’ because he wrestles with the angel as do all serious artists, and ‘Forscher’ because, again like all artists, he is a delver, a seeker). The book came about after a conversation over lunch with the artist Jack Levine in a small restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village. As usual, the subject of art came up, and specifically Zola’s book The Masterpiece, ostensibly a book about his childhood friend, Paul Cezanne. I asked Jack if he knew of any books in English that traced the life and development of an artist. He could think of none that specifically did so, but several about artists in general. Thus the genesis of The Mountain. I chose the title to reflect Melville’s Moby Dick — in essence, the “Mountain” (Overlook, in the Catskills and visible from Woodstock) is Jake’s ever-illusive ‘white whale’, which he tries to ‘capture’ on canvas. His story, your story, is a fictional re-telling of what you taught me over the years — in fact, I felt very much like a mid-wife rather than an author in ‘creating’ my novel. The Mountain is available as a book on demand or kindle http://amzn.to/2pGX659

So, my artist readers, if it were not for sharing those early encounters, the prolonged studio chats, the stories, the exhibitions, the struggles, the insights, the life-sharings for my profiles and books — if it were not for you, dear artist (whether we met face-to-face or only through your art), the artwriter Raymond J. Steiner would never have come into being.

Therefore this letter and my deepest thanks for all of your contributions to my education and for helping make ART TIMES such a valuable resource for artists around the world for over 30 years.

Raymond J. Steiner

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LET’S MAKE “GREAT” GREAT AGAIN!

February 7, 2017

WELL, HERE WE go again…some “visionary” wants to put his/her name on the world stage, engraving his/her name “in stone” for prosperity. We’ve been digging up such graven stones for some years now— even publicizing them in more modern ways such as “histories” written in print, for example — but the “posterity” business seems to constantly elude both givers and receivers of the message. In other words, the invariability of our having to re-live “history” because we ‘forget’ it. Would that our present-day pundits would read a book or two before declaiming their stupidities to the world at large. Such ‘mouthers’ — at times called “wise men”, or “prophets”, or “soothsayers” – even “oracles” — have plagued mankind for, lo, these many centuries, with their silly utterances. Oh, would that they pick up a book and read. Let alone our present “leader” and his proclamation of ‘greatening’ again (Oy! Another prophet! — Is that the sound of knickers twisting that I hear across the land?). Meanwhile we have to listen to another sooth-saying pundit announce to us that such proclamation sounds “Hitlerian”! Really! Read a book for gawd’s (or, better yet, our) sake! If anything, it simply sounds redundantly and embarrassingly human! Centuries before that dim-witted Austrian yelled “Deutschland uber Alles”ˆ, ancient egoists had been chanting similar absurdities thousands of years ago…and their predictions (“proclamations”, “warnings”, “fantasies” “greatness” claims, even “Divinity” at times ((really bad times))…whatever)…were as valid then as they still prove to be—namely, nothing but bulls—t.

Dreams of former “greatness” will undoubtedly not only plague Putin, but scores of new blowhards as well. You don’t think that Iran ever hearkens back to the Persian worldwide empire? Or Italy to its Roman Empire days? Or Greece (now one of the weakest/poorest members of the E.U.) to “back in the day”? How about France and the hey-day of Napoleon? Spain — when its tentacles reached across the Atlantic? Brits and their colonial “Empire”? And how about Native Americans and their attempts to hold sway over our blasphemous ‘immigrant’ pipelines? Let’s not even talk about the “religions” and their claims of coming “on from High.” Oh yeah! Let’s make America “great” again! As one former would-be ‘leader’ once said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘great’ means” — or something like that.

How about we try this time to make our species “great”? That’s never been tried yet. Instead of trying to make our tribe “great”, how about we begin to make mankind great by learning something about our entire history? How about we take a long, hard look at that word “great” – or maybe even the word “human”?

READ A BOOK!

 


Glimpses #2: Belgium, Germany

October 14, 2016

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.. The introduction and first two “Glimpses” are in the Blog uploaded on October 2, 2016

rjs_at_dais

Belgium: Leuven: Walking off nervousness before I have to deliver a paper at an international conference hosted by KADOC at the Catholic University, I pass through the remnants of a gate in a stone wall on the town’s outskirts. How many walled towns does Europe contain? Was this one raised by the Franks who founded Leuven? Or, as so many seem to be, by the Romans? Why do we still feel we need walls? We’ve only replaced stone with ideologies.

The Dom in Cologne seen from the train

The Dom in Cologne seen from the train

Germany: Paris, to Cologne, Germany: We arrive at the train station at night after leaving Isabelle and Bertrand. Our first view of Cologne: The Dom lit up in bluish lights: an unforgettable, fantastic wedding cake fashioned over the years out of durable stone! And to think that during WWII we nearly bombed it into rubble! (Note: Isabelle and Bertrand Azema, a couple from France that we met in NYS while Bertrand worked at IBM and whom we visited in France).

This is a detail of the Dionysus Mosaic found at the Roman-German Museum in Cologne Germany

This is a detail of the Dionysus Mosaic found at the Roman-German Museum in Cologne Germany

This is a detail of the Dionysus Mosaic found at the Roman-German Museum in Cologne Germany

This is a detail of the Dionysus Mosaic found at the Roman-German Museum in Cologne Germany

Germany: Cologne: I discovered that this city’s name comes from the word ‘colony’ and was the northernmost settlement of the Romans on the Rhine River. A curious note: during WWII when the U.S. bombed this city, most all of it (97%) was razed, though they tried not to destroy its beautiful Dom. After cleaning up after the war, the Germans discovered that the bombs had unearthed long-buried remnants of the Roman presence: an almost wholly preserved mosaic floor, glass artifacts, chariot wheels and parts, etc. All now preserved in a Roman Museum nearby the Dom. What lies beneath Rome? And then?


Glimpses #1: Germany, Italy

October 2, 2016

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.

Ranging across some distance around the globe including Europe, Asia —and closer to “home”—Canada and Barbados, in addition to these ‘hosting’ countries, I’d like to acknowledge the following friends and hosts (as well as countless clerks, guides, porters, fellow travelers—in brief, all those unnamed but not forgotten people in Japan, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Austria whose helpful presence often eased the hassles of travel): Heinrich J., Konstanze and Christian Jarczyk, Jacky Sparkowsky and Jorg Iwan, Gaby and Norman Wittmer (Germany); Piero Augustus Breccia (Italy); Chen Chi and Zu Min, Jason and Crystal ((college students)), Xue Jianhua and Shao Li Ke (China); Ann Mamok, Rick and Jo Canning (England); Isabel and Bertrand Azema (France); Laslo Fesus (Hungary); Barbara and Ronnie Gill (Barbados).

A note to the reader: I have not included dates in separate entries since most of these recollections have been gleaned months — if not years — after their occurrence, not a few popping into my mind during sleepless nights long after I had returned home from my travels.

Included will be some of my paintings & sketches as well as some photographs taken by Cornelia Seckel.

Gardens as seen from the trains in Germany

Gardens as seen from the trains in Germany

Germany: On a train from Cologne to Berlin: small, enclosed garden plots, many with tiny buildings (for the storage of tools?), most with a sitting area containing a bench, followed by open fields and larger farms. Such plots also flashed by my window in China and Japan, each time before and after the environs of large towns or cities. Do city/town dwellers come out here to these tiny, well-tended gardens on evenings and weekends? Does man ever fully divorce himself from the land? Stop putting his hands into the soil? What happens when he does?

Italy: Rome: Waiting at a bus-stop. Having just missed a bus on our way to Piero’s studio (where we were staying), we put down our packages to await the next. How long? We notice a church across the street. Why not? We enter and are astounded to discover that it contains Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St.Theresa”. No signs to give a clue! How many other hidden treasures have I blithely passed by on my way elsewhere? (Note: Pier ((Piero)) Augusto Breccia is an artist I met in NYC and whom I wrote about in ART TIMES).


…and Winter will be cold as — usual.

September 9, 2016

Well, Spring has sprung, Fall has fell…and Winter will be cold as — usual. Fall, or Autumn, or Indian Summer — whatever you choose to call it — is my favorite time of year up here in the Catskills. I can breathe freely, imagine I can see forever in the air’s clarity, and generally find it the Season to “get it together” since Old Man Winter has mostly kept me indoors these latter years — to sit, to read, to mull, to assess, to look back, to sink even lower into my much-loved solitude and get myself prepared for the next phase of this thing called “Life.” My “doings”— especially those related to my editor/artwriter duties for ART TIMES — have been severely curtailed for some time now — so many exhibition receptions I have missed, so many worthy artists still to be profiled, so much…ah, well.

Perhaps I may even get out to try to capture just-one-more autumnal scene of magical color on a small piece of canvas before the cold sets in, the snow covers all, and I plump up the pillows on my easy chair…another pipe dream, I guess, since here I am in my 83rd year and haven’t managed to do a painting that really “gets it” yet. My usual excuse is simply, “I’m a writer — not a painter!” True, but then I haven’t managed to capture the mysteries of Nature — or of those artists who do get it — in words either.

The “human condition”* sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. Anyway, the dénouement can’t be that far off — I’ve already put in for a front-row seat. Hope I’ve earned the privilege of that much-vaunted overview promised by our theologians upon our “phexit” (physical exit)…however, I’ll be happy with that 6th-century Chinese (Han Yu) poet’s observation: “Better a long-dark silence, than a life full of lies.”

* The best description of which I found in Gaius Plinias Secundus’ (more commonly referred to as “Pliny the Elder”) Chapter 7 of Natural History.

(High Woods, NY. September 2016)


“SIDE BY SIDE”

August 8, 2016

The past several years have brought on enough ailments (hand surgery, etc.) to hold me back from much of my duties as Editor/Artwriter for ART TIMES but also interfered with a good deal of my “play” time. Often, when I ran into writer/word-blocks, I would gaze out my study window and suddenly be entranced by a mesmerizing view — the sun glinting off a rock, a bush, Indian Summer colors — whatever — which made me grab a canvas, some colors, brushes and stuff and dash outside to “capture” whatever I was (or thought I was) seeing. I live in High Woods, NY which is indeed a place of “high” woods and I am surrounded by Mom Nature in all her untrammeled beauty — and so my forays outdoors usually end up as a “landscape”. Click here for RJS DMB show Brochure.

Since I schmear outside I am therefore sometimes referred to as a plein air landscape painter…. a pretty lofty title for a writer who finds daubing in oils a respite from over-thinking. Consequently, and to make a short story long, my outside excursions have also been curtailed by uncooperative body parts (BTW: if we are supposed to be earth’s animal #1, how come our Creator gave all our body parts different expiration dates? Annoying!).

On the upside of all this complaining, for the past couple of years I’ve had my sister’s eldest daughter periodically “dropping in” to urge me to give a few painting “tips”…. A late starter (as was I) she has been bitten by the “schmear bug” and wants to play in oils. Enter “Unka Ray”. For the past 2 years, she has managed to put a fire under my tush to go outside and paint! So we have been; and do from time to time. We’ve managed (or she managed) to do it enough times to “amass” enough of an “oeuvre” for her to get the idea of a joint showing at a local bank, The Mid-Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, in Woodstock, NY.

Hence, “Side by Side”, a taste of which is here shared with you. On the really up side is the fact that she has gotten me off my easy chair enough times now, that I find I can even go out alone again to shut off the mind-machine and go out and play. Brava Diane Baker!


Glimpses #3: China, Germany, Hungary

January 8, 2016

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.. The introduction and first two “Glimpses” are in the Blog uploaded on October 2, 2016

 

View from the Great Wall painting by Raymond J. Steiner

View from the Great Wall painting by Raymond J. Steiner

China: Badaling (outside Beijing): We walk the Great Wall, making the effort to traverse its (restored) length. Each stone put in place by human hands — and I complain of the quivering in my calves as I descend the uneven steps! To what ends might man be pushed? How far can his spirit be broken — and how many must be so broken — to appease the Great Spirit in the Sky?

 

Germany: Regensburg: Traveling from eastern Germany (Bogen in upper Bavaria) to Vienna and Budapest, I catch fleeting glimpses of the Danube along the way, a river that has long touched my imagination. Finally, from the steps of Valhalla, I get my first real sight of this majestic stream! I’m not sure why this so affected me. Some days later, while in …

View of the Danube from Pest in Hungary

View of the Danube from Buda in Hungary

Hungary: Budapest, I’m shown a certain section of the “Blue” Danube that once ran red with the blood of slaughtered Jews — my romantic notions of that sung-about river now forever tainted. Also visited the Great Synagogue while in Budapest and was told by our Hungarian guide that it had been recently refurbished by the son of the man (a Mister Schwartz) who helped renovate Temple Emanu-El, the Reform Temple, on Park Avenue in NYC. Wanting to reconnect with his roots, the young Schwartz donated large sums of money in an effort to bring the Budapest

The Great Synagogue in Dohány Street (also known as Dohány Street Synagogue) in Budapest, Hungary

The Great Synagogue in Dohány Street (also known as Dohány Street Synagogue) in Budapest, Hungary

Synagogue back to its former glory. A “hero” to the Hungarian Jews, we are shown pictures of Schwartz junior who turns out to be none other than the actor Tony Curtis — Bernie Schwartz being his actual name! — and the rebuilding of the Budapest Synagogue just one of his many charitable undertakings.

This blog will continue each week with a new “glimpse”