Well, as you all know I have been busy with my show which is finally in my home town. Seeing a lot of your work together helps you to realize what you are doing and have been doing. I was surprized that the earlier paintings, brushed on intently without the brush showing much, and with less pushed color did fit with the later ones. The color sense continued from the first to the others, in large measure. I was also surprized that I had done a figure painting that I still like in 1973, because I must not have been very secure about it, since I did not start painting narrative paintings until 1986.
I also learned something else. You can get to work with all the best intentions and even be inspired by some things that happen while you are working out the painting and you can still make major errors. Having good intentions and good skills does not armor you so that your work will be successful. Intense introspection and self criticism is always necessary.
I have had very good experiences with younger artists. Many years ago when I was working on my first serial subject matter painting, Barbara Goodstein came to my studio and gave me a crit on the first version of the first panel of "A Crime and Its Consequences." I thought that what she said was apt, and after continuing and completing that painting, which was a horizontal painting, I started over again with a vertical one, which did do much more of what was needed and I finished the series. I no longer remember her specific comments, but I know that they worked.
There is one finished painting in the show where the reactions of another younger artist have set off thoughts in my mind about my handling of the composition. There are things in that composition which do not function as I wanted them to function and I will go back and try that same subject again and hopefully improve on the result. Although I have not done this much, it was basic to Leland's process. He worked over and over on the same composition through a series of paintings. Ultimately solving it in different ways on several finished paintings. It is interesting to note that this process was not borrowed from any of his heroes like Derain, Helion, Renoir,or any other twentieth century figurative painter, but is more closely related to the way some twentieth century abstract painters worked. I think that it may be the reason that his late, large figure paintings seem to me better than any large figure paintings by either Derain or Helion, which I have seen. It was very successful for him over a number of years through to his last work. I should be heartened by his experience since I am going to follow it a bit, now.
There was one curious incident, too. At the symposium when a panel of artists discussed my work, near the end of the question period a young women asked the panel to comment on how and where the paintings showed anything Jewish. It happened that she is the older daughter of my cousin at whose house we spent the second Seder just a few days earlier. It was a curious question because she knows me, and, I think, was surprised to find nothing Jewish in the work. And, of course she was right, their is nothing overtly Jewish about the work. Unlike some of the better American Jewish writers, I do not have an autobiographical need in painting. And I have done no subject matter paintings about a specifically Jewish subject. The closest I get is Freud, in the subject "Family Romance". And that is surely not canonical, but rather the work of an acculturated Jewish scientist.
There is a connection though to Judaism in a family tradition. My father, who was was an inspiration to me, spent 18 years of his life as a believing Orthodox Jew and a Chassid, and had Smicha by the age of 18[smicha is ordination]. He then tried to work a great wonder for all, with no selfish thoughts, through what amounts to religious magic and failed. When he failed he had a break down, both physical and mental, and was hospitalized in the big town, Warsaw, and there read his first secular words in a Jewish newspaper. His mind now refused belief in Judaism, and he was no longer a believing, pious Jew. This radical change affected the lives of his brother and two sisters, especially when he broke off an engagement he had had since he was very young with an equally young girl, because he would not be the scholarly rabbi her parents expected but an unbeliever. Since arranged marriages for the sisters had now become impossible in the small town they lived in, his father ultimately took the four children of his first wife [who had been dead for some years], leaving his second wife at home with her children. When they all eventually reached New York City where the story was not known, his two daughters got married and my father and his younger brother found good jobs [he was in his early twenties by this time], and my grandfather went home. Now that he could not do any good works using religious magic, he became a socialist and rather quickly a union organizer rather than a craft worker in leather [yes, the name is a trade name]. The rest of his life was spent as an idealist working for worker's contracts, integrating by a clever trick, a segregated union in Virginia, and finally spending many years as the representative to the American labor movement of the Histadrut, the Israeli labor movement. He was a hard act to follow. But it was clearly his and my mother's standard that we should all do something useful, not only for ourselves but for other men and women. Originally they had hopes of my becoming a scientist, since as a child I was so interested in natural history[collecting bugs, snakes, salamanders and the like, breeding tropical fish, Etc]. But It was art that excited me and that became the thing I wanted to do. The thing is, that although I am neither very political nor someone who aspires to do Jewish art I do mean to do something useful with my work. I hope that the experience of the works will rub off on the observer and help with his/her psyche by giving it new paths to travel. That is supposed to be true of my landscapes and still lifes as well as my figure paintings. They are about people and their lives. I won't try to specify more, partly because my hopes are not necessarily in the work.Although I am neither a political nor a religious painter. I am soneone who believes that good art can do good.
And that is one of the reasons I am made happy by seeing so much good and striving art among the younger artists.
I will be writing about other things in my next post.