brushes & paints

Artist’s Statement

I grew up in the beautiful Finger Lakes district in central New York State and started painting in high school, though my first real painting was an oil on paper of Gloucester Harbor when I was about ten. I had thought I wanted to be a doctor, like my dad, but on a trip into New York City to see Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly” and “The Fantastics” in Greenwich Village, we passed some studios open to the street with artists drawing portraits. I convinced my parents to let me sit for one. Hours later the portrait was good, the likeness was great, and the slightly sad, serious look the artist caught on my face still haunts me today when I see it at my grown daughter’s house. I believe I was in the agony of envy.

I started doing portraits and figurative paintings and drawings. My art teacher, Frank Verarro brought in live models and set them up on tables in differing lighting effects in our classroom. He brought in a one armed civic worker and a black woman with a wrapped head, who posed leaning way back in a rocking chair. When we had no model, we drew or painted one of us. I got good likenesses and was mesmerized by the process. A few lines on paper and a watercolor wash evolved into a spacial miracle. I was able to play with the look of the model, catch a mood of weariness or wariness, and quickly lift my hand and not touch the thing again. I had intended to go to medical school, but given just the slightest suggestion from my father, I put together a portfolio of work and drove to Syracuse and enrolled in art. I have discovered over the years that there is an uncommon number of families in which a doctor spawns a painter or a painter spawns a doctor. I was told recently that there are even several universities in this country which focus solely on medicine and art. One of those probably would have been good for me, as I am still a closet medical student.

I began university at a time (1968) when everything taught, bought and sold seemed to be abstract. I studied at Syracuse University’s “Visual and Performing Arts” school, and then transferred to Temple University in Philadelphia so that I could travel to Rome, Italy to study at Tyler School of Art. My painting teachers were invariably abstract painters, but my drawing and figure drawing professors worked with live models so I spent countless hours in the challenging bliss of drawing from life. I got to see the ancient work in Greece, Tunisia and the miraculous paintings in Museums all over Europe. But Rome had Caravaggio and Bernini. I lived one block from Piazza del Popolo and visited Caravaggio’s “The Conversion of St Paul” in the Santa Maria del Popolo nearly daily on my way to school. It was not the subject matter that fascinated me, but the style of painting, the power, the beautiful brushwork and the strong chiaroscuro in the work. Rembrandt is my favorite painter for all of those reasons, plus heart and sensitivity, but Carravagio got me on my way.

I was unaware that there were a few places where you could learn from accomplished traditional painters with permanent, enduring techniques and materials. I stumbled onto one of those teachers a few years later and began working with him. Sid Willis, master painter trained in the Boston School tradition became my mentor. I realize people think that “The Boston School” is a place. Not so. It is a “school of thought and training” that melds traditional techniques of drawing and painting with Impressionist color and light. This came about in several different places at the same time, say from 1880 to 1920. Painters from Boston, New York and Philadelphia went to Europe to study in Paris and Munich and became aware of, and sometimes met and worked with Monet and the Impressionists. Impressionism is not defined by the often thought slash and blob brush work. It is the study of the prismatic effects of light on a subject, or the study of color and light. Those turn of the century painters incorporated Monet’s brilliant use of vibrating complimentary color with classical drawing and permanent painting techniques. The result was groups of painters creating this new style in different cities, one of which was Boston. Sid had trained with Robert Douglas Hunter, who had worked with Ives Gammel, and this lineage, so to speak, goes back to Bouguereau in France, with an eye on Monet. Sid was a brilliant, generous teacher who sent me away on missions to study works by Paxton, Tarbell, Enniking, Hassam, Bunker, Lilian Wescott Hale – the list is endless. He worked directly on my canvas correcting mistakes in value, color notes or composition. I watched him paint for hours and listened to his animated stories about painters and their trials and successes. His information was voluminous. When I left his studio, I sat in his driveway in my car and wrote down as much of what I had seen and heard as I could remember.

With this foundation and my love of depth, shadow and chiaroscuro, I have tried to capture the emotion I feel when I look at my subject. If I can translate the beauty I see and the excitement I feel, I have a chance of stirring a similar emotion in the viewer. And, of course that is the third portion of this whole; painter, painting and viewer.

In between hiring models and painting still life I had been painting my little girls since they were four and six. I have continued to paint them every three or four years since, the result being a precious history in color and light. I taught myself to paint in pastels, which I no longer use, and I studied charcoal drawing at night once a week in Boston with master painter and draftsman, Robert Cormier, for two years. Charcoal drawings – nudes and portraits – are one of my very favorite endeavors. I have yet to find anything more beautiful in nature than the curvilinear line in the human body, though in my mind the lines of horses and cats certainly come close.

People always ask me why I paint. My best answer is discovery. I think if I lost the ability to see each new project as a unique mystery, I would stop painting. I continue to be amazed as my excitement for something beautiful that I am gazing at emerges from the canvas. I am taken, as we all are, with a beautiful face with heavy eyelids, a combination of achingly beautiful lines or colors in an object, the mystery of fog, the cozy holiday feel of snowfall, and I have to try to put it there and share it.