Willem de Kooning
In the 21st century do you think 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 art history. Do few paint expressionistically because few can? Now living with what to me is the alien realm of much of the younger generation, I understand what Anita Shapolsky meant when she told me that I knew how to paint like the first generation. I too see an utter lacking of conviction and struggle, of seriousness of intent. Though I must be wrong about their lack of seriousness. Definitions of the serious have changed though. Bill, I am quite old. Please help me. However nonetheless, I'm still working. I'm still working, although I am an under-known, still-emerging artist in the early years of old age. My hair is gray and my chin is no longer firm. I'm not yet a spirit or ghost though I sometimes feel like one. Childless, my art is my biology. My different series of works represent my life phases. My own body of painting is my nuclear family and my extended family, my cousins and aunts, my children and grand children. My early works are ancestors, my great aunt or great-great grandmother. My layers of oil paint are filmic striations of geological time. And they are also human. They are thought made physical. Emotive and also palpitating.
In 1995 because I expanded my studio so that I had the entire floor I became more dedicated to my painting. I was able to hang ten paintings at a time rather than just a few. My building partner Bob Smith had moved to England 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, the sculptor Reuben Kadish, 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 our dinner on a hot plate and drank a glass or two of wine while looking at works that were installed on the western side of the floor, my new space. I began painting after dinner, a bit after 7:00 p.m., 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 odd hours at the most. I was disciplined about my schedule and had several good productive years of ambitious painting. I loved violently transmitting my will to the work in front of me. The emerging artists of my daily museum life, engrossed in their arduous uphill climb and struggle to attain a higher stature in the art world, did not acknowledge me as an equally serious artist, as an artist who worked in a museum rather than teach the craft of their medium. My distress at this fueled my gestures and marks. In the studio I was transforming insecurity about being a serious artist and anger at my lack of recognition into beauty. I taught concepts through juxtaposition of artworks, through seeing their similarities and differences. I felt that even some of the more accomplished artists thought of me mostly as someone who was helping them achieve a small step towards their ambitious and what I imagined to be unrealistic goals rather than also reaching out and becoming involved with my whole self. This lack of acknowledgment made my life doubly difficult for I had the struggle of my own painting life as well as what I perceived as condescending dismissal. My self-esteem was not great enough to cope easily with this difficult and harsh world. I organized and interpreted visual culture because I was a serious artist myself, because of deeply felt religious like beliefs. I was not interested in the promotion of careers. Promotion was not my intent though it may have been a result at times as my exhibitions were always reviewed in The New York Times. I doubt critics like the concept of promotion either. Promotion and deeply held beliefs seem antagonistic with each other and more appropriate to an advertising agency.
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 sensibility. 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. I subsequently was exposed to works not organic whatsoever. I couldn't help wondering what Zoltan really thought about some of the donations. He never confided in me his value judgements. Each day at work seeing this geometric abstraction increased the fervor of my own postmodern yet expressionistic vision. I was glad my vision wasn't geometric. I didn't see eye to eye with the museum's aesthetic. Yet I loved the work of arts administration despite some of the artists I dealt with required that I have a degree in psychology which I did not. Trenton was one hour and ten minutes by train with the delays which were regular. I had received a nice raise from my position at Rutgers Newark which I considered payment for my arduous commute. Yet ultimately my passionate immersion in visual arts proved to be beneficial, despite any difficulties I may have had. 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. I lived immersed in a world of visual culture all seven days of the week.
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 did not want to lose concentration. Though Charles is also my studio manager. Charles stretched my pre-primed linen for five years and stretched my upholstery, fake fur and vinyl fabric I used for my juxtapositions.
In early 1999, I left my dual identity after ten years at the New Jersey State Museum and five years at Rutgers University 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-fifteen or so years after first meeting her in 1984. Miriam was about three years younger than Stella and until recently worked nearby. Miriam was interpreting and responding to the Holocaust, whether tangentially or more closely, during the fulfilling years throughout our relationship.