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.
TO KNOW HER was to love her — but then, I might be a bit biased. Over the years, as we got to know each other better, she became my “Puerto Rican Princess” and I, her “”Pseudo Rican Boyfriend”. It was hard not to like Mery — she was open, amiable, accepting, always welcoming as you entered her “Mezzaluna”, displaying a joie d’vivre that was infectious and heart-warming. I don’t remember when it was I first came to her Cafe Bistro Latina, but once was enough to hook me for evermore. After a huge hug, she would always lead me to a corner, out-of-the-way table, where she knew I preferred to be alone, most usually with a book open before me alongside of one of her delicious cappuccinos. Since I rarely varied my routine, people used to whisper about the ‘snob’ off in the corner — enough times for Mery, always the joyful host, named my favorite drink the “snobbucino” — which ever after became a widely known ‘joke’. “Snobbucino?” she would call out from behind the counter and I would invariably answer “Yes, please” from my corner of the Cafe. It didn’t take long for others — mostly friends of mine — to come to Mery’s and ask for a “snobbucino”; “Ah,” she would say, “you know my Boyfriend?” Even more than our cordial friendship, however, to the community at large — especially the creatives (artists, musicians, stand-ups, etc.) — Mery was known as a force for good. Restaurateur, Inn-Keeper, Real Estate Rep — even an erstwhile Wall Street Trader — to many she was a steady friend of the arts, opening her Cafe to open-mic Musicians and performers on the weekends and her spacious walls to artists’ exhibitions from near and far (I attended more than a few Opening Receptions at Mery’s, including two of my own). Her many friends — and the surrounding communities of Saugerties and Woodstock (some even as far as NYC and Pennsylvania) — will sorely miss Mery; I know that I surely will. She was one of a kind and an all-too rare phenomenon in the population of our world.