In the 21st century the art world is faltering. Very few believe as I do that abstraction embodies a unique religion. Only very few paint with ecstatic fervor and violence. Many consign passion and fervor to history. Do few paint expressionistically because few can? Now living with what to me is the easy and ironic illustration of the younger generation, I understand what Anita Shapolsky meant when she told me that I was the only one of my generation who knows how to paint like the first generation. I too see an utter lacking of conviction and struggle, of seriousness of intent.
In 1995 I expanded my studio so that I had the entire floor. My building partner Bob Smith had moved to England after he remarried and asked the painter on his floor, Kit Sailer, to buy him out. In the process of Kit buying Bob out, I bought Dan Kadish, the abstract painter on my floor, out as he had moved back to the family farm in Vernon NJ after his father Reuben passed away and had no need for a studio in Jersey City. Charles and I took advantage of the expanded space immediately. Monday through Thursday I met Charles outside of the Exchange Place PATH station at six o’clock p.m. and we drove straight to the studio. We cooked on a hot plate and drank wine while looking at works that were installed on the western side of the floor, my new space. I began painting after dinner, around 7:30 pm, and worked for two or more hours. This gave me another eight hours of studio work each week. I yearned to paint thirty hours weekly but probably painted twenty hours at the most. Because I was so disciplined about my schedule I had several good productive years of ambitious, soulful painting. It was a release for me to paint after eight hours of museum work . I loved violently transmitting my will to the work in front of me. The emerging artists of my daily museum life were so engrossed in their arduous uphill climb and struggle to attain a higher stature in the art world that most did not acknowledge me as another equally serious artist, as an artist who worked in a museum rather than teach the craft of their medium. I taught concepts through juxtaposition of artworks, through seeing their similarities and differences. Yet even the more accomplished artists thought of me as someone who should help them reach their goals rather than also reaching out and helping me with my own career. This lack of acknowledgment made my life doubly difficult for I had the struggle of my own painting life as well as the discomforting dismissal of my core being experienced daily in the museum. My self esteem was not great enough to cope easily with this difficult and harsh world of bitter emerging artists striving for stardom and fame, favorable critical reviews and inclusion in important collections, whether museum or private. I organized and interpreted visual culture because of deeply felt religious like beliefs. I was not interested in the promotion of careers. Promotion was not an intent though it may have been a result at times as my exhibitions were always reviewed in The New York Times.
At work I was exposed to many unknown artist members of the American Abstract Artists, from around the country. A group of artists I generally found to differ from my visual philosophy. The late Zoltan Buki, my boss and the curator of fine art, had asked their artist members to donate a work to the collection because the museum had examples of the original members’ work. Some artists donated and I subsequently was exposed to their art that was not organic whatsoever. I couldn’t help wondering what Zoltan really thought about some of the donations. Each day at work seeing this geometric abstraction increased the fervor of my own postmodern vision. I was glad my vision wasn’t geometric. I didn’t see eye to eye with Zoltan’s aesthetic and longed to be in my studio painting and juxtaposing material culture with my oils. I thought highly of my own painting–not only of the works I presented . As I said, Bill, I was striving to be accepted as a serious painter and while I loved the work of arts administration the artists I dealt with were becoming harder to bear with each year. Trenton was one hour and ten minutes by train with the delays which were regular. I had received a ten thousand dollar raise from my position at Rutgers Newark which I considered payment for my arduous commute. But my higher salary wasn’t enough. After ten years of being the assistant curator for contemporary NJ artists, after ten years of working in an environment in which I was disliked by my superiors for being too avant garde for the regional institution, as well as disliked by their loyal support staff, and disliked as well by local artists I had not yet presented in the several exhibitions I had mounted, I was having difficulty being as interested in the museum world as I had been at first. I also felt I was more dedicated to my painting than the majority of those I came in contact with in spite of my part time painting schedule. Yet ultimately my passionate immersion in visual arts proved to be beneficial, despite my difficulties. I learned from the weak as well as the strong artist. I viewed visual art all week long in studios, galleries and museums. I actually was quite fortunate and privileged. I continued to learn how to see and think visually. The visual world delighted and fulfilled me thoroughly. Material culture filled my soul.
Charles read on the western side of the studio when I painted. We couldn’t see each other because the stairwell divided the floor into two spaces. I hadn’t painted in front of anyone since graduate school and was glad that there was a stairwell between us. I don’t think I could paint in front of Charles without losing concentration. Though Charles is also my studio manager. Charles stretched my pre primed linen for five years and still stretches my upholstery, fake fur and vinyl fabric I use for my juxtapositions.
I left my dual identity of being a part-time yet a serious painter myself while also working as a museum professional serving artists after fifteen years of museum and gallery work for the quiet life of being a painter in my studio during the weekdays rather than the weekends of the previous fifteen years. After fifteen years of working in the art world, I knew a small group of serious artists. I still knew Stella Waitzkin and called her often whether at the Chelsea Hotel or at her home on Martha’s Vineyard where she had an outdoor studio where she worked in resin–furiously, she said, painting extremely quickly fighting the speed of the resin’s chemical reactions. I also still knew Miriam Beerman–twenty odd years after first meeting her in 1985. Miriam was about three years younger than Stella and working in a large home in surburban Upper Montclair, NJ, just thirty minutes from Jersey City where I live and work and not far from the college where she had taught. Miriam’s painting was partially rooted in the New York School though she was a figurative artist who had been making interpretations of the Holocaust in large expressionistic oils in recent years. I also knew a few women artists closer to my age–the painter Barbara Klein, the sculptor Nancy Cohen of Jersey City whom I have known since I included her sculpture in a group exhibition at Rutgers twenty two years ago and Jamie Fuller, a sculptor I became friendly with after leaving my job but whom I had known during the course of my ten years of museum work and Cicely Cottingham, a painter as well as the founding art director of Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art, a not for profit exhibition space and educational facility in Newark. While I am a building partner with the painter, Kit Sailer who has the studio beneath mine we rarely see each other. I arrive early in the morning and Kit works during the late afternoon and evenings. Our work is very different from one another yet I am happy to have the company of an artist partner. Kit now teaches part time after about ten years of working full time as an office manager for our architect partner Lee.