Note from a New Blogger

I’m new to this blogging thing and, truth be told, got into it reluctantly. I was told it was something one has to do if you write a book and want people to know about it. How true that is, I don’t know. I believe the book has merit and would like people to read it; but I am an artist (painter) so I’m not looking for a career as a writer. Maybe that’s a plus these days if you want to write. People have said I need to be on Facebook too, but I’d rather shoot myself.

I tell you this because I got a few likes from a woman in Germany, a lawyer I believe, who also does photography. Her photoshoped images struck me as kitschy and I said so as politely as I could. I checked to see her response a little later and saw that my comment had been deleted. What the fuck! If you’re just interested in adding another follower, a sycophant who constantly strokes you, or wanting to engage in a mutual admiration society, please look elsewhere. I prefer an honest engagement of ideas and would rather have a half a dozen intelligent followers than a million that spout vacuous, meaningless comments. So if you’re just fishing for followers, fish another body of water. But if you have something meaningfull and insightful to say, I’d love to hear it—good or bad. Just be able to back it up!


Kathe Kollwitz


My favorite female artist. An exceptional draftsman (woman). This artist is under appreciated in this country. I can understand it though. Americans today prefer pretty.

On Popular Culture

Here’s a thought! Let’s quit kidding ourselves and put the bar back where it belongs. Not everyone is a genius or brilliant. The words are bandied about way too much. Pop musicians, popular writers and actors are designated geniuses with alarming frequency in our culture. I grew up listening to the rock “legends” and still listen to a lot of the music from that era, but as I matured in age and wisdom, I recognized its true value. It is an art form produced to be popular for a mass audience in and of its time, and I am in and of that time. So yeah, I like a lot of that music; but my grandchildren or great grandchildren? There was a time when Bing Crosby was a sensation and widely listened to, but aside from White Christmas, who listens to him now? The same is true of so many from his era. Even Frank Sinatra, the bobby socks heart throb, has seen his listeners dwindle. And in fifty years?? These entertainers (one could include the Beatles, the Stones etc.) and their music will eventually fade into obscurity when tastes change and generations pass. That’s the nature of popular culture. The electronic age has propped it up beyond its natural shelf life. The Beatles broke up in 1970. If not for radio, cd’s, albums and such, the last time anyone would have heard the Beatles as a band would have been 1970. I don’t know about you, but if I hear another singer covering a Beatles song, I change the station rather than hear them butcher the song. It just ain’t the same! Now compare it to the music of Beethoven, Mozart We don’t need the composer actually playing the piano or conducting to enjoy the music; we just need a good symphony orchestra. It’s about the music, not the personality.

The same is true of writing. The publishing industry has always had a hard-on for detective stories, cheap romances and adventures. And if you enjoy reading it—fine! Just don’t tell me that John Grisham, Dean Koontz, Nicholas Sparks and company are great writers. To quote Don Corleone, “It insults my intelligence.” There work is uneven and formulaic, written for the mass market and movie rights. The same is true of so many artists. Thomas Kincaid, Leroy Neiman, Pino and many others are hacks not even making an honest effort to do something serious.

Our culture is still capable of producing real artists, usually unexpectedly and from unexpected sources. Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, Lucien Freud and Houellebecq come to mind.

So go into a bookstore or a record store or an art gallery and say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to buy this anymore.” Not a big fan of Hollywood movies, but that one was pretty good. Till next time.

Basquiat Painting


This just sold for 110 million and change, the change being half a million. It proves the old adage of P.T. Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” I’m not going to argue the merits or lack thereof of Basquiat’s work; make up your own mind. But I do think the price tag is indicative of the sickness permeating our culture–the obsession with celebrity. The pr machine was up and running before this artist’s death but really got cranked up after his early demise. The son of immigrant parents (hardly poor though), a drug addict who hung out with Warhol and he died young–perfect! Let’s make some real money off this guy. Not that he’s benefiting. I have no problem with artists getting as much as they can for their work, but let’s start judging on the merit of the work, not celebrity status; and that goes for everyone. Kim Kardashian has a big ass and made a sex tape and converts those two accomplishments into a multi-million dollar empire.

I know I said I wouldn’t comment on the merit of the work, but I admit there is a certain visceral quality to this guy’s painting that appeals to me. But then I always thought there should be a certain savagery in an artist’s work, but I prefer a controlled savagery. Otherwise you get a muddle. There’s a kind of savagery in late Rembrandt, Hals, Velasquez, Goya, Delacroix and on and on, all the way through to the abstract expressionists. It’s up to future generations to decide the real merit of Basquait’s work after the fashionable dust settles. But that’s true for anyone. Till next time.

On Art Galleries

If you ever walked into a commercial art gallery and felt intimidated—don’t! Most gallery owners are just glad to have a warm body in the gallery. They also know that only about 5% of the people who come in are seriously interested in buying art. Trust me, I know; I’ve gotten it straight from the horse’s mouth. And don’t think of art galleries as mini-museums. Think of them more as retail stores, because that’s exactly what they are. They sell paintings instead of clothes, shoes, furniture, etc. The most important criteria a gallery owner has when representing an artist is his ability to sell his work, not the merit of the work; that’s secondary. A gallery owner once asked me what I thought of a contemporary artist he represented. I told him the work was competent but a pastiche of impressionist paintings, down to the long dresses and parasols of the women in the paintings. “Yeah, you’re right,” he responded, “it’s not anything I’d want in my house, but he’s a nice guy and he sells well.” Do you think he tells clients or prospective buyers that?

Much of what is exhibited in commercial art galleries is bad, even terrible, but there is some good painting out there. So take a look and make up your own mind. Don’t be dictated to by gallery owners or anyone else, even me. I’m often astounded by the lack of knowledge about painting by people who run art galleries, so don’t be intimidated. Yes you say, but you’re an artist, you know about painting, what’s good. People sometimes ask me, “How do you know if a painting is good or not?” Painting is a language, an abstract language. Get an understanding of that language and you’ll no longer be at the mercy of curators, critics, gallery owners or anyone else. Let the great painters and their works inform you. Get your ass to a museum and when you feel it in your gut, you’ll know you’re on your way.

A quick analogy: Imagine trying to read Germinal by Zola in the original french; problem is–you don’t read french. You  see the printed page, can even mouth the words but you don’t understand it. The same with painting.

Delacroix wrote in his journal back in the 1850’s that he could envision a day when painting would not need a subject. He, like all great painters, understood that painting is an abstract visual language. Hang a painting by Velasquez upside down and I’ll enjoy it almost as much as if it were right side up. I admit a preference for representational painting but only because I enjoy seeing how the artist uses that abstract language to interpret his subject. Still, I’d rather look at good abstract painting than bad representational work.

I feel generous today, so here are three contemporary painters whose work I like: Susan Jane Walp, Amy Weiskopf and Elizabeth Geiger. All different approaches to still-life but intelligent palettes behind their work, and all women—how ‘bout that! Interesting side note: Ms. Geiger’s husband is also a painter and has a bigger reputation, but, for my money, his wife is a better painter; a bit more honest and her paintings have bigger shoulders. Her husband is a poor man’s Fairfield Porter.

Red Socks

Projecting Amateurism

It all started with David Hockney; or more accurately, that stupid book of his. The old masters were a bunch of charlatans! They projected their motifs and traced them. Hockney was never much of a draughtsman, so he couldn’t understand how anyone, including the old masters, could draw so well. They must have been cheating! They were all using a camera obscura or some similar device. How else to explain their mastery?

One only has to look at the drawings of Rembrandt to see how ludicrous Hockney’s supposition is. The spontaneity and fluid character of the line in the Dutch master’s drawings belie Hockney’s assertion. Also, a camera obscura is a very clumsy device, hardly conducive to lugging around the streets of Amsterdam for impromptu drawings. And a dark room is necessary to use it effectively, with mirrors and candles involved. “Excuse me good sir, would you step into my tent while I set up my mirrors and candles. I’d like to do a drawing of you.” Good luck with that, Rembrandt, old boy.

We look at the drawings of these great artists and the line has a more organic character not present in the work of contemporary artists who use projectors. This is true not only for Rembrandt, but for Michelangelo, DaVinci and just about every artist I can think of since the Renaissance. On the other hand, the line in the work of contemporary artists who project and trace appears to have been drawn by a machine. The work is cold, mechanical and reflects the passionless method of execution. Very often, this dead quality carries through to the finished painting. I mention this because artists who rely on projectors always use as their defense: “What difference does it make? It’s how the finished painting looks, not the drawing to start the painting.” Exactly! That’s the problem. It’s not a question of cheating, although one might have a valid point when artists try to pass off traced drawings as original works; but rather it’s the dead quality of the finished painting. Does anyone really believe that you can start the creative process with something as robotic and mechanical as tracing and have it not affect the entire process and the final look of the work? The creative process starts with the first mark on the canvas, not somewhere down the road. The truth, their paintings have nothing to do with the art of painting and everything to do with the art of illustration. That’s exactly what they are—glorified illustrations, illustrations with pretensions. Might as well paint by numbers. I’ve seen a few paintings started this way and they do resemble elaborate paint by numbers kits. The only thing missing—the numbers.

And how does Hockney explain the artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who we know drew freehand from life with masterful skill? Degas comes to mind, among others.

A personal note: In my early twenties, I was drawing directly from life using a quill pen and ink. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I think the drawings damn good. If I could do it, I know damn well, Rembrandt, et al, could. And let’s be honest, most artists who use projectors do so because they can’t draw that well and are lazy to boot. All the rest is so much bull shit.  Yeah, occasionally someone like Chuck Close does something creative with it, but that’s the exception. And don’t give me that, “one has to use modern technology to be relative,” nonsense. Tell that to Lucien Freud, Morandi, Balthus or Porter. Look at their work–just paint on canvas and without any modern technology, unless one wants to include the lamps that Freud used to illuminate his subject before going back to natural light later in his life.

An interesting side note: Hockney is a lot more famous than Freud who is a much greater talent. A hundred years from now, people will still be admiring the genius of Freud while Hockney will be relegated to the dust bin of art history—bank on it!

There’s been an explosion of representational painting done with projectors in the last ten years, almost all of it terrible, and it’s the result of Hockney’s rationalizations and the proliferation of digital cameras and projectors. Now it’s cheap and easy! No more film and expensive slides and clumsy carousel projectors. Worst of all, are the artists who project photo-shopped images.  All these art majors, not to mention the middle aged schmucks “getting in touch with their artistic side” creating their kitschy attempts at surrealism. They buy cameras and projectors and presto! instant genius.  Amateurism run amuck!

One last thing: Photo Realism is much more popular in the US than in Europe. I believe it’s because it’s easier to understand. “Hell, honey, that’s so realistic, it looks like a photograph! It must be good!” But for every Richard Estes or Ralph Goings, there are a thousand hacks churning out inept attempts, one after another, even with the aid of their technology. Yet their work gets bought. People don’t understand the language of painting and therefore grasp at what they do understand when looking at paintings. Too bad. They miss out on so much.