If you could give your younger-self advice as an artist, what would you say?
I don’t really know except I might try to persuade myself to have been kinder and not to have worried so much. As an older person I wish I had steered clear of a few very self-involved folks with whom I became entangled. However, I doubt I would have heard or heeded the advice because I really had to make my own mistakes and learn, by failing, the importance of failing.
I think it may be because I attended Quaker schools, but throughout my life I have always sought to participate in a cooperative-type of community. I don’t know how long those things really last when there are lots of people involved. If I could, I’d tell the younger me to embrace sadness and never to expect any life experience to heel, sit, stay, or be permanent. I’m naively hopeful which is fine when I am painting, but it’s important to let things flow past me. Late one evening several years ago, for example, I was en route home. As I stood waiting for the light to turn green, I turned and saw a familiar-looking couple standing next to me.
Dressed to the nines they were both drunk. My eyes met the man’s and he proclaimed, “I’ve lived here over thirty years and you’re one of those people I’ve passed on the street almost everyday, but I’ve never said ‘hello.’” I smiled and extended my hand to introduce myself, but my voice turned into a resigned grumble as they turned away and strolled off. I’m still trying to learn to allow myself to walk away when there’s no real reason for me to be somewhere.
Do you feel the same way about the Berthe Morisot quotation about why she paints?
Yes, I love that quotation because, for me, it sums up and articulates how I almost always feel in the present, when looking back, and when looking forward. In painting, I always experience a combined feeling of both pleasure and defeat – for me, both feelings are integral to making a painting.
What part about doing shows like your recent NY exhibition do you like – and not like?
I enjoy having exhibitions, but whenever I see my paintings hanging together I experience that combined feeling of both pleasure and defeat. Other artists’ exhibitions that I most love, for selfish reasons, are those that make me want to run back home to paint. I obviously do not get to choose who will like my paintings, but I hope other artists might feel the same when seeing my exhibitions. Each exhibition, metaphorically, is another chance to get it right; however, were I to ever get it completely right there’d probably be no reason to continue. I’m alone a lot of the time – and I am always alone when I paint. So, having an exhibition can be a way for me to see people if I happen to be at the gallery when they come to see my paintings. Despite my complaints, I like being with people.
In the first fifteen years or so after leaving art school I worked in commercial art galleries. There, among other responsibilities, I worked with a number of artists to organize, install, and act as salesman and publicist for exhibitions of their artworks. When I started art school, the Dean told all the incoming students his prediction that ten years hence only five of us would still be making art. When I started working at the gallery I recalled his words and decided I’d try to prove him wrong. I offered exhibitions to a lot of artists I met in school. It felt purposeful and I enjoyed it. However, I was naïve and quickly learned artists can be very difficult folks with whom to work. They can be extremely self-involved as well as self-destructive. Perhaps the most frustrating thing of all was realizing I did not have the power to make someone else want to paint. I try to be fairly thorough in how I interact with people, but I also realize I procrastinate, can be stubborn, I repeat myselof, and am very easily discouraged, all of which can be a burden for the other person.
I had my first solo exhibition in New York in 1989 when I showed pastels as a guest artist at Prince Street Gallery, a co-op gallery. My friends, Iona Fromboluti and Douglas Wirls, proposed the idea for the show. I was at one of my lowest emotional moments two years later, after my parents had died. Iona and Douglas exhibited their own works at Prince Street and kindly suggested I join the gallery. I am forever grateful to them for many things. At this point, when I really needed it most, they threw me the most creative of lifelines. All together, I had four solo exhibitions at Prince Street and was actively involved there for almost a decade. In hindsight, it was a great experience. I enjoyed meeting the artists who exhibited there and also interacting with the many artists who frequently visited the gallery.
I have exhibited in New York with Hollis Taggart since 2004 when he presented the first of eight solo exhibitions of my paintings. I met everyone at the gallery in the late-1990s when helping them with an Arthur B. Carles exhibition they were organizing. I loved working with them all, but never thought of showing them my own work because, back then, they represented few living artists all of whom where far older than me. However, five or six years later, all the galleries where I exhibited had closed. I was pretty dumbfounded. When he learned about this, Hollis offered me an exhibition. I continue to feel fortunate and am grateful to him. I paint with tremendous faith in the painting process, never really knowing at the start what exactly the painting will become. Exhibitions are the same.
I show my paintings-in-progress to a few trusted friends, but other times painting can be a lonely endeavor. When an actual exhibition is on the horizon, I'm filled with feelings of trepidation, doubt, hope, dread, and resignation. And when the show is about to end I unsuccessfully try to dodge the inevitable sadness. At my craziest, I quizzically wonder why the show can't be left hanging forever. [Facebook]. My ideal response to a show is that I want to come back and paint when it’s done. [My Interview]
Which contemporary painters do you like?
I have never hesitated to try to meet someone whose work I have seen and liked. The majority of the older artists whose works I followed and whose exhibitions I always saw, however, are gone. I love the work of the still life and landscape painter, Ruth Miller Forge. Her paintings have everything I’d hope to achieve in my own work. They are thorough yet only suggestive; and complete without being finished. A list of the artists my age whose work I look at could go on forever. For years I’ve looked at abstractions by Mary Nomecos – she’s able to use differentiated paint applications and a touch that, for me, activates her paintings. Other painters include Mark Green, Sarah McEneaney, and Ying Li. I’m glad whenever I have the opportunity to visit Alex Kanevsky’s studio. I used to sometimes pose for Scott Noel and always enjoyed talking with him and watching him paint.
There are younger painters working now in Philadelphia whose work I admire. Among them are Evan Fugazzi, Aubrey Levinthal, Mickayel Thurin, Ben Passione, Michael Ciervo, Drew Kohler, Leigh Werrell, Matt Colaizzo, and Rebekah Callaghan. There are others who I know I’m forgetting, but can’t remember right now. I am drawn to the way they each depict visual imagery and in how they keep their work visual.
However, whenever people ask me what other artists I like, I sheepishly think of a letter from Berthe Morisot to her sister. Morisot reported how Édouard Manet visited her studio and praised her newest paintings. Then she hesitates and recounts when Fantin-Latour had shared his observation that, “Manet always likes his friend’s paintings.” Of course, that could be me too.
If you could give your younger-self advice as an artist, what would you say?
I might try to persuade myself to have been kinder and not to have worried so much. As an older person I wish I had steered clear of a few very self-involved folks with whom I became entangled. However, I doubt I would have heard or heeded the advice because I really had to make my own mistakes and learn, by failing, the importance of failing.
Interviewer Joseph Glantz is the author of Philadelphia Originals and the creative profile series Original Philadelphians