Zero to One Hundred

August 18, 2016

(Some notes on the Saugerties Artists Studio Tour 2016)



Raymond J. Steiner and a visitor during the Saugerties Artists Tour

Well, for those of you who already put up with my complaints (spoken or written. See, e.g. October 2013 Online “Peeks and Piques!) and frankly tired of it, here I go again. As I’ve done for about the last 10 years (+ or —), I — or more strictly, Cornelia — signed up again for the Annual Saugerties Artists’ Tour, allowing my inner sanctum to be once more invaded by visitors from near and afar over a weekend (this year, Sept 13, 14). An ‘isolatoe’, a hermit, a curmudgeon who cherishes solitude and isolation (why I live on a dead-end road in the middle of nowhere, for God’s sake!), I am never easy with more than one or two visitors at a time — and preferably none. Cornelia tells me there were about 50 people on each day…hence my ‘title’ above. A writer who enjoys daubing landscapes when the dreaded “block” halts my thought process (more and more often, I’m afraid), I am not entirely easy to ‘strut my stuff’ for the curious…my “oeuvre” therefore is merely a personal catalogue of my writer’s block “breakthroughs”, a ‘diary’ of sorts of where my head was at that time. As you’ve all heard ad nauseum, I’m a writer and NOT a painter… so I won’t bore you by droning on and on…again. Rather, I’d like to admit (full disclosure here) that almost every time I succumb to Cornelia’s urging (and threats of no dinner) I often am treated to some ‘upsides’ during the ordeal — collateral boons, you might say. For example, some old friend ‘pops up’, or a niece or nephew — in this case, a brilliant ex-student who himself became a teacher due (he says) to “my” ‘influence’. So, it wasn’t all downhill this time — in spite of the 3-day headache that followed the weekend (including right now as I write this thing). Anyway…a few of my ‘diary entries’ managed to sneak out of my sanctorum. I hope they bring the respite they gave me when I daubed them.

High Woods, NY, 8/17/2016.



Lev Shalem Opening

May 24, 2016

IMG_3841AS A MEMBER of the “Hudson Valley School of Sunday Afternoon Painters” I was pleased to see one of my plein air landscapes accepted and hung alongside so many professional artists when I attended the Opening Reception of “The Art of Summer” this Sunday (May 22) at the Gallery Lev Shalem, Woodstock Jewish Congregation, Woodstock, NY Curated by Kim Borelli Butwell, former owner of The Connoisseur Gallery in Rhinebeck, NY, “The Art of Summer”, featuring a wide array of 40+ paintings, photographs, prints, paper and fiber art, mosaic, ceramic and mixed media, presented an eye-catching panorama of color and shape.

IMG_3842Tastefully spaced and hung by the WJC Art Committee, the potpourri of artwork was more than well-served in their bright, well-lit gallery…inviting to both the art and to the steady stream of viewers that kept the large hall buzzing with gazing, commentary and frequent visits to two large nosh-filled tables that were conveniently placed in the center of the room for easy reach. This was not the first exhibition that I visited at the Lev Shalom Gallery (and, in fact, was represented in a few of these earlier shows), but this was my first Opening Reception (as many know, I tend to avoid crowds) and, as I noted above, I was more than a bit puffed-up by rubbing space and elbows with so many ‘professionals’ — and honored that this old autodidact was so warmly accepted. You might want to stop in at the gallery on 1682 Glasco Tpk. In Woodstock, NY and take a look for yourself — the exhibition will be up until August 22. Gallery Lev Shalem Facebook Page

Writer, Yes; Painter, ?

July 31, 2015

ALTHOUGH I’VE BEEN almost always able to draw, easily reproducing in simple line what I saw in life and/or the comics since early childhood, I had never taken a formal painting class, depending almost entirely on my pencils and pens to serve me. “Art” was not a subject taught in my Parochial school in Brooklyn, New York, and, not being encouraged by anyone during my upbringing, I simply remained a “sketcher” long into adulthood. While in the US Army, I sort of made a “business” drawing caricatures of my buddies on their T-shirts with a magic marker, picking up three to five bucks a pop that considerably supplemented my $85-a-month paycheck. This, incidentally, led to my drawing a comic-strip for our company “newspaper”, a job for which I received no money but some local — very local — acclaim from my comrades. Along the way, I got in the habit of sketching scenes from nature, almost always carrying a small sketchbook with me wherever I went. It was while serving in the arctic up on the Hudson Bay (we were a handful of American soldiers that were “guests” of the Canadian Air Force stationed at Fort Churchill, Canada, where our mission was to test weaponry under arctic conditions) that I “produced” my comic strip, “The Arctic Trooper”. Also while there, I tried my hand at pastels, drawing a rather large nude on a widow shade I had found somewhere. When I finished, I learned that the “painting” should be sprayed with a fixative, and sent for a can of the stuff from the States. When I sprayed my nude, however, the window shade, though it had “tooth”, absorbed the liquid spray unevenly, leaving a blotchy effect that, for me, ruined the picture. Not so for a Canadian officer who immediately “fell in love” with it. “Wow!” he said, “How’d you get that effect?” Anyway, not being art-business savvy at the time, I gave it to him — and was cured from using color for a long time. It was not until about twenty or so years ago that I “got into” painting with oils, putting myself under the wing of Susan Silverman who introduced me to plein air painting — something I’ve been doing ever since (along with my continued sketching). I never really graduated to the brush, relying almost solely on palette knives, and any serious painter who looks at my “schmears” knows what I mean when I say that I am not a painter. I am, first and foremost, a writer and it is through the “art” of the written word that I express myself to my fellow man. For me, my “picture-making” is sort of a personal journal, a visual reminder of a certain place, a certain time, on a certain day. My paintings are meant to “speak” to me and any overflow into the consciousness of another, purely accidental. Consequently, I am reluctant to claim that I am a “painter”. Again, most professionals know what I mean. In any event, some of my work ­has ­been seen by others, many of them “moved” by my inadvertent “messages” to them. Back in early 2004, Heinrich J. Jarczyk, a painter/etcher friend from Cologne, Germany, once told my partner, Cornelia Seckel, that my “work is good” and ought to be shown, advising her to “make a show for Raymond on his seventieth birthday”. She did — a solo exhibition at The National Arts Club in NYC where, to my astonishment, she sold 16 of my landscapes — an event, incidentally, that I am still trying to mentally absorb. More recently, Rebecca Monroe, writer and subscriber to ART TIMES, wrote to tell me that my landscape paintings “capture where the heart wants to rest.” OK. So I manage to make “nice” pictures now and then, but does that mean I am an “artist”? Twenty years later with more shows and sales along the way — and now being a part of the Saugerties Artists Studio Tours (latest one coming up on 15th-16th of this month ((August)) — my astonishment still lingers; but even more important, after my more than thirty years of writing about professional artists and their work, I continue to find my “title” as a “painter” a bit of a stretch.

Steiner greeting visitors to his studio during the Saugerties Artist TourSteiner greeting visitors to his studio during the Saugerties Artist Tour 2013

Chi’s Traveling Easel

June 19, 2013

I DON’T REMEMBER when it was, but one day while visiting Chen Chi at his studio in the National Arts Club, Chi passed along his traveling easel to me. It was probably not long after I began painting again after a forty-year hiatus, during which time I wrote about but did no painting of my own. (I had been discouraged from ‘creating’ by a professor at SUNY New Paltz who, after a cursory riffling through my portfolio, declared firmly that what I was showing him “Was not art!” It was my first year; I had just been discharged from the military, and, at that time, knew nothing about ‘abstraction’ ((he was a Mondrian aficionado)) and so I drifted from an ‘art major’ to a ‘lit major’ after this one and only class.) More than a dozen years ago, with the help of my friend Susan Silverman, I picked up the brush again (but mainly the palette knife) and learned through her to concentrate on ­plein air landscape painting. Anyway, Chi had explained that he was “too old” to paint outdoors anymore — he also confided to me that he was also a bit afraid to be out painting alone in Central Park — and gave me the box. Similar in construction to the well-known “Julian Easel”, it had all the necessary fixtures that characterize the usual ‘traveling easel” — in fact, in spite of few differences here and there, almost a twin to the Julian I purchased from Pearl Paints at Susan’s suggestion shortly after she took me under her wing except that Chi’s box had no manufacturer’s name on it — only a small, black, printed “459” stamped inside and a few of his paint smudges outside. Over the years, I’ve alternated using them on my outdoor excursions, sometimes feeling that when I used his, that he was hovering nearby sharing ancient wisdoms with me or guiding my palette knife to go here or there … or sometimes to “stop”. I still have both sitting in my studio, side by side, each “loaded” for my next attempt at capturing “light and time” in my landscapes. But, back to Chi’s gift. The easel is only one of many gifts Chi gave me, the most important being his wisdom, his company and his friendship over the years — yet, there stands the box in my study, which since his death, I’ve stopped using. Not sure why. I have several paintings of his — a recent addition, an early watercolor probably done in the 30’s or 40’s (it is undated, but signed) generously passed along to me by the family of the artist W.H. deFontaine — and several of his books which periodically attract me, most recently his small Two or Three Lines from Sketch Books of Chen Chi (my favorite) which he inscribed to me back in 1994. Two or Three Lines is a treasure trove of drawings, thoughts and observations made by this most extraordinary man that I sometimes linger over and re-read. I feel Chi walking alongside me on our NYC jaunts as I turn those pages — but something else happens when I see that traveling easel waiting for me to sling over my shoulder. Doesn’t make any real sense — and I am far from being superstitious — but I simply cannot open that box. And though I often ‘feel’ his presence when I study his paintings or read his words, it’s something lurking in there that is so much more profound — and which I have been so far unwilling to let free. Silly, I know, but so compelling that I’ve not been able to use that box again. It sits, still fully “loaded” and now with some of my paint smudges mixing with his … waiting in my study with no place to go.