Another self portrait painted from the family archives. It’s funny how many details come to me while working on these.
It’s 1961 and my first trip to Disneyland, which has only been open for about 5 years. I have just ridden the new submarine ride, which I loved, and my Dad, a navy man who served on submarines needed to point out that none of it was real. I’m wearing a sailor hat purchased as a bribe to stop crying.
I’m standing at the place where you could best observe the tracks on the bottom and clearly see that the submarines didn’t really submerge.
I’ve really enjoyed painting the recent self portraits, but I get tired of looking at me. A while ago I decided to paint one of Tulsi, but she’s an elusive subject. When I point the camera at her she bombs her own photo.
We were at my mom’s for Thanksgiving. She lives in coastal Connecticut where income inequality can be fully exploited at the local Goodwill. One time I found an Armani suit for $20. Although we’d dragged her there many times before, this was the first time Tulsi wanted to go. She’s always had a unique sense of style, and now wanted a ball gown for her middle school graduation dance.
She found this gorgeous dress, and went into the fitting room to try it on. She opened the door and asked if it looked OK. We saw her transform into a young woman just like that. After I picked my jaw off the floor I snapped a picture with my crappy cell phone, knowing I had a painting then and there.
She’s staring down the camera in a similar fashion as me in my self portraits. I’ve come to realize when an adult points a camera at a child, they can’t help but be a little suspicious of why this is being documented, and a little annoyed their flow has been interrupted.
While painting it I remembered portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, as Tulsi’s coloring and pose are somewhat similar.
In addition the black dress, pale skin, and brownish background also recalled John Singer Sargents “Madame X”.
I didn’t look at these references until the painting was finished. I let memory influence, but I don’t copy. Afterwards I looked up Elizabethan portraits, and have included the one most similar. I hadn’t searched for Madame X, but a couple days ago (January 12) was John Singer Sargent’s birthday and a friend posted her on Facebook.
White girls in black dresses.
click on image for a closer look
I remember this day well. We were on a family vacation. I was in the back of the ’61 Corvair, just learning to read by sounding out the words in Dr. Seuss’s “Hop On Pop”. We stopped for lunch at Lake Tahoe on our way to Donner pass, where we had a motel reservation, and were awestruck by natural beauty of the lake and it’s surroundings. I really wanted to stay there, but my Dad wasn’t one for changing plans.
In this picture I’m so angry we have to go somewhere else that I can’t do anything but scowl. I might as well be standing in front of a firing squad. I’m hating the photographer who ordered me to pose in front of the lake we can’t enjoy because instead we have to go where a bunch of people starved to death and ate each other (I have no idea what kind of spin I got on that, but I remember the explanation being less than compelling). I’m wearing my mom’s old sunglasses. The green lenses fascinated me and I thought they were cool.
It gets worse. The photo was taken between kindergarten and 1st grade. That Fall, my teacher Mrs. B, told me that I couldn’t really read, and suggested I’d just memorized the book, even though I’d just read the title of the book she was holding. So I learned to read again.
She was the first of many teachers I didn’t like too much.
In 1968, when I was 11, we returned to Lake Tahoe.
We found a nice little beach, however the clarity of the water freaked me out.
I’d been on swim teams, and all I knew were pools (“cement pond”, as the Clampett’s would say). Clorinated, sparkling, and virtually no organic material. The lake, however was full of all sorts of things like sticks pretending to be snakes, and rocks hiding unspeakable monsters waiting for swimmers to pass.
My Father dared me to swim around the bouy marking the perimeter of the swimming area. The idea terrified me and I refused. No one else was venturing out there. His verbal abuse became so alarming that if cellphones had existed, he’d have gone to jail. As it was people talked openly, so we could hear, about finding a Ranger to intervene. Below is a picture of the beach, and if you look closely there’s a white speck offshore. That’s the buoy.
To his credit, afterwards we went to a sporting goods store and he bought us masks and snorkels. The next day he took me out in the water and showed me that even the scariest stuff was just twigs and rocks. The day after that I swam around the bouy.
There are more of this series in the works.
click on image for a closer look
Every picture tells a story, don’t it?
Another self portrait taken from the family archives.
I’ve been making “album covers” for cd mixes I post over at my music blog, Now That’s What I Call Bullshit, so when this composition had room for words at the top it just seemed natural to add them.
Of course that changes everything, and the painting takes on other functions. Is it an album cover? poster? magazine illustration?
Whichever words I chose were going to be interpreted in as many ways as there are viewers. Since I’m not always going to be there to explain, I’m willing to let go of that right now. However, here are some clues.
I picked “Dead Or Alive” largely to go with the western theme. I’m sleeping with a toy Winchester, the gun that tamed the west.
I used gold lettering for the same reason. I considered “Wanted”, but chose to avoid the implication of “Loved”.
There is nothing in the picture to make it time specific. The furniture is colonial style, but manufactured in the ’50’s, and the red Hudson’s Bay blanket has been available since the 18th century.
The photo I worked from was taken in innocence, as was my sleeping with my rifle like a good little cowboy. Or was it? On the other hand I’m about the same age as the kids gunned down in New Town, and with that, “Dead Or Alive” takes on a different meaning.
There are many ways to look at this. The painting asks a lot of questions but reveals few answers. Or too many.
From here you are on your own.
This began with a desire to paint a night scene, and is from a 1985 Kodachrome slide taken in the area below San Pedro where Long Beach meets Los Angeles harbor. I never knew what it was, but I’m guessing it’s a refinery, although it could be anything. Chemicals, Natural Gas, something needing to be tucked into an obscure corner of industrial wasteland, and surrounded by chain link and razor wire.
Driving up from Huntington Beach to visit my friend Floyd on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, I’d take the 405 and get off at Crenshaw Blvd. Next to the freeway is some kind of refinery, which when lit up at night, evoked for me that first distant glimpse of The Emerald City in “The Wizard Of Oz”.
This isn’t that one, but another Floyd and I found while exploring the harbor environs. Long exposures at night reliably make surreal images, and I had a new tripod I wanted to try. The refinery was plenty surreal by itself. There was an insistent electrical hum, and the yellow mercury vapor lamps made florescent light look natural by comparison. It’s those extraordinary colors I wanted to capture. The eerie green shadows inspired me to call it “The Emerald City”.
While working on it, I thought of Van Gogh’s cafe scene, where artificial light is in contrast with the night sky. I find the mixture of light sources eternally interesting. I looked up Vincent’s after I finished mine. The odd thing is my memory had the image reversed. I’m not delving too deeply into what it might mean I chose a refinery over a cafe scene to depict.
I missed a lot of really nice spring days while working on this in my basement studio. On one of them I said to Mollie,
“Let’s go Plein Air painting!”
I have the classic set-up, an easel and palette that folds into a box with a handle like a briefcase.
I’d never used it, but this seemed like the time. We got our kits together and headed for Liberty State Park, our nearest source for landscapes. We found a place, near the nature center, with a view of The Statue of Liberty, and got to work.
I’m used to working from photos, which are already flat, and in my studio, where I have running water and control of the environment.
Working outdoors is another beast entirely. I have a painter friend, who almost exclusively works outdoors. He calls plein air “heavy lifting”. I’ve only done it a handful of times, decades ago, and coincidentally with Floyd when we weren’t out photographing industrial blight.
Acrylics are water based and dry extremely fast outdoors. Instead of working from a flat picture, I was drawing from life, muscles not worked in some time. It was a great exercise, and Mollie and me agreed we’d like to do it again.
About 4 hours work.
This one was taken in April 1958. It took a little searching to find the car, everyone remembered it as a Chevy, but I could tell the chrome was wrong, and I needed to see other pictures to make sense of it. It’s a 1957 Oldsmobile which belonged to my uncle Bob, who had driven up with his family to visit us on Grand Island and see nearby Niagara Falls.
I haven’t scanned all the slides in the archive, but from what I’ve seen, I was well documented for the first ten years of my life.
After I finish the night scene of a refinery I’m currently working on I’ll pick another.
click on image for a closer view
Art is an old friend. Our group came together in middle school, but began to disperse toward the end of college. He recently contacted me through this site, and we’ve picked up where we left off. Real friends are like that. He reminded me that I got hold of his glasses during 8th grade art class, and painted eyes on the lenses with tempera paint. In spite of this behavior, we remained friends, for which I’m thankful. Most of my older friends have a similar story. At the same time I forgive him for making me listen to Gino Vanelli.
In response to my “bathtub” portrait, Art sent me a childhood picture. We agreed it would make a good portrait, and he commissioned it.
In my “artist statement” I go on about excluding people from my pictures because they don’t hold still. Portraits are different, whether painted or photographed, the subject is trying not to move. Anyway, I hadn’t painted one in several decades, and I really enjoyed the experience.
Feel free to contact me about commissioning a portrait, I’d love to do more of these.
I asked Art to tell me something about how this picture came about, because the insight helps with the interpretation. I really wanted to capture the little boy’s defiance, as if he’s saying, “That’s right, I’m smoking, you got a problem with that?”
Below is Art in his own words (lightly edited).
“We lived in the left half of a duplex on the east side of 9th street in Santa Monica, between Wilshire Blvd and California Street. The picture is 6 year old me sitting on the front porch. We had a fairly large (by today’s standards) front lawn. All the houses on the street were replaced by rent controlled apartments around 1968. 9th street had a row of very tall palm trees in the grass strip between the side walk and the street. I crashed into a few of them learning to ride a bike. The door behind me was the front entry which put you directly into the living room. Both my parents were pack-a-day smokers at the time. I think they had already figured out that smoking wasn’t a good idea (remember this was about 1962 and it was just around that time that doctors figured out the link to lung cancer) which is why my mom didn’t like the picture too much. I thought it was cool at the time, but shortly after that my dad bought his first new car, and we used to go on long Sunday drives with both of them smoking and insisting the windows stay shut. It wasn’t very pleasant. That’s probably why I never picked up the habit.
I don’t think there was any specific reason my dad took the picture. He was just playing with his camera and took a few pictures of his son. I do remember that it was my idea to take the cigarette not his. I did think smoking was cool at the time. Almost every adult I came into contact with was a smoker (most of my parents friends where from Europe where smoking was even more popular that in the US). Notice that the way I’m holding the cig is more typical of how Europeans hold their smokes than how Americans do (thumb and index fingers vs. index and middle fingers).”
To see a video of “The Art Of Smoking” click here.
I had 10 paintings included in ProArts “See How We Are”. This exhibition was held in the TenMarc building, which hosted the kickoff party for the weekend’s festivities.
The Smoove Sailor’s, of which I’m a founding member, also performed live soundtracks to a series of videos, one of which was mine.
It was a great party, and even the mayor stopped by to say a few words.
I’m not sure how long the link will be good, but if you go here, you can see several of my paintings featured on NJ.Com, under the headline, “Jersey City Artists Studio Tour continues to be talk of the town”.
My better half, Mollie, was also in the show.
The energy created by being involved in two shows in turn became creative energy. I was on a roll and rolled with it.
I finished three paintings in a seven day period.
I was working on “Behind The Scenes” before the Salmagundi show. In fact I interupted it’s progress to frame that picture, and two more for cWOW @ Seton Hall. This hallway is located at 24 West 57th Street, in a building full of Art Galleries, some well known, hence the title.
What I find interesting is all the different light sources. Florescent, Daylight, the EXIT sign, and the various mixtures that occur on the walls and floor.
as always, click on image for a closer view
I recently took possession of the family slide archives. My father took a lot of pictures with the Yashica A my uncle Al gave him to document my progress. There are over a thousand slides taken between 1957 and 1973, when he abruptly stopped. I was sixteen and the problems that led to the disintegration of the family were well on their way to fruition.
I’ve scanned about 200 so far, and among them were these two images, which I was compelled to paint. It’s a collaboration between me and my dad, but on my terms for once. Anyway, judging from the slides, things at least got off to a good start.
We appear to have been a happy family and I’m sticking with that. Interesting painting my portrait, as I recognize that person looking back at me. The images jog my memory and brief fragmentary videos of the events appear in my mind.
On my “About” page I write about why I don’t paint people, and that I’m more interested in painting experiences than moments.
I’m sure I’ll get back to that, but for now I need to follow this thread a little longer.
I painted this one first;
While I was working on it I realized I had a pair of overalls and a very similar bathtub.
In the original I’m clutching a toy submarine. When I was born, my father had just left the Navy, having been a submariner.
In the new version I’m clutching a Sigmund Freud action figure.
as always, click on image for a closer view
While I was painting this, the owner, concerned that the car was going to damage the tree, had it removed, much to the joy of his neighbors, who apparently didn’t get the joke.
This view of Newark is not from the top of a country road, but a Landfill still in operation. Seton Hall Law School is on the extreme left side of the skyline.
One of my older paintings made the cut.
Another painting from 1992. This was really an architectural salvage yard between little Italy and The Lower East Side.
From the cWOW website:
Urban Legends, a cWOW exhibition in the Atrium Gallery of Seton Hall University School of Law, One Newark Center, Newark, NJ, was curated by Mollie Thonneson and works of art by artists Peter C. Emerick, M. Benjamin Herndon, Kirsten Nash, Scott Sjobakken, Charlie Steiner, Leona Strassberg Steiner, Mollie Thonneson and Alan Walker (emphasis mine). Free and open to the public daily 10am-5pm.
We will be having an informal reception as part of Newark’s 11th Annual Open Doors Studio Tour. Details forthcoming.