Monday, March 30, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Draw Bambi And Become Famous

The magazine advertisement jumped out at the man, standing out even next to photos of exotic Pacific getaways and high-fashion models. Here at last the chance to realize a dream - to become a famous artist.

“This is it!” he announced.
“Those years of art school are about to pay off!” He reached for a fresh sheet of drawing paper.

All great painters must first acquire a solid foundation in drawing and the young Catalan student had easily mastered form and composition. He would make short work of Bambi.

Taking up a conte crayon, he deftly drew in the two big doe eyes. Continuing on, he exactly captured the young fawn’s winning smile. Finally, in a single bold stroke, the outline of Bambi’s head appeared and the drawing was complete. Stepping back, the young artist admired his expressive work.

“You, deer friend, will be my ticket out of this gauche village.”

That afternoon, on the way to meet friends at a café, he dropped the drawing in a post-box and began the waiting game. Days dragged by and the anxious student pictured art critics in Paris admiring his masterpiece. He imagined himself arriving at La Musee des Beaux Artes to a heroes welcome.

After a month of waiting, he began to worry, and, as often happens, the next day an envelope stamped BAMBI CONTEST arrived. The excited artist stared at the envelope for a long while, then, with trembling hands, tore it open. Quickly scanning the letter, his eyes fell on the words that strike dread into the hearts of artists.

“We are sorry to inform you….”

His dark boyish face blanched white. The letter fell from his slender hands. Suddenly, the man, who would one day paint the Surrealist masterpiece The Persistence of Memory, wept.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Drawing A Blank

There's a scene in the movie Pollock when the artist receives a commission to do a large painting for art dealer Peggy Guggenheim. After stretching the almost twenty foot canvas, Pollock leans it against the wall and steps back to take it all in.

The great expanse of blank white canvas fills the screen completely. He continues staring intently at it, yet, after several days, has done nothing. The greatest action painter of them all can not even make the first mark. It's one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.

What is it about a blank canvas that turns the most resolute master into a bumbling procrastinator. Faced with the daunting task of simply beginning, artists instead clean their studios, or sharpen pencils. Anything except what they're supposed to be doing. Even the mastery of materials and a clear personal vision become useless before such a mental debilitation.

The problem lies in the space between what is known and what is waiting to be born. Confronted by every art piece that has gone before, the artist begins to hear voices; the familiar whine of the inner critic.

"You have absolutely nothing to say, do you?"

The writer James Lord told the story that once while in Paris he went looking for his friend Alberto Giacommeti, the Surrealist sculptor and painter. He found him sitting alone in the rear of a neighborhood bistro. Asked why he wasn't back at his studio working, Giacommeti replied, matter of factly, that he had suddenly realized he was a phony and consequently would never paint again.

Who hasn't experienced this feeling that we will never be up to the task of saying what needs to be said and being able to bring forth form from the void. That is the existential dilemma artists face every time they stand before a blank canvas.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

In Case You Missed, A List

For years, I’ve avoided the country’s popular obsession with lists – The 100 Richest People In The World, The 50 Most Popular Athletes, The 10 Worst Dictators. But a compromised immune system has lately made me vulnerable to this creeping affliction.

Yesterday, in a moment of weakness, I compiled my own list – Twenty-five Things About Me That May Have Absolutely No Interest To You.

1. I cannot put my pants on with the left leg first.
2. Once in college I existed on Nestle’s Crunch candy bars for a week.
3. In 1968 I almost voted for Richard Nixon.
4. I’ve never been inside a Wal-Mart.
5. I missed the Allman Brothers free 1969 performance in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park.
6. I hate visual blandness.
7. I once sold baby food to Lisa Marie Presley
8. I’ve always wanted to own an aluminum-bodied Alfa Romeo Tubolare Zagato.
9. My mother’s hysterectomy kept me out of the War in Viet Nam.
10. As a child, I prayed for the Brooklyn Dodgers every night.
11. I have a pair of shoes older than my next door neighbor.
12. I participated in the last official panty raid at the University of Florida.
13. I’m attracted to women who ride horses to work.
14. I’ve had a stuffed cardboard box marked “miscellaneous” for most of my adult life.
15. I now have a stuffed folder marked “miscellaneous” on my computer hard-drive.
16. Seventh Day Adventists tried to convert me on a sheep farm in the South of France.
17. I sat with 15,000 Buddhists in Madison Square Garden.
18. I cannot bring myself to get rid of vinyl records I haven’t played in twelve years.
19. I once went to a Porsche Club meeting disguised as a German race car driver.
20. I made money for awhile catching and selling gopher turtles for $1.00 each.
21. I have an autograph of baseball pitcher Sal “The Barber” Maglie.
22. In 1980 I rode a bicycle around Stone Mountain, Georgia.
23. I had a stray cat in Atlanta named organ meat.
24. A side of beef once fell on me.
25. I eat well with either hand.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Poseur In Our Midst

Another child prodigy artist has washed ashore in Tampa Bay. This time, it’s the now twenty-three year old Romanian artist, Alexandra Nechita, whose work is being exhibited in a Tampa gallery.

Called a young master when she burst onto the California art scene at the tender age of eight, Nechita’s colorful creations were soon being snapped up by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The media took notice and began calling her the ‘Petite Picasso.’

A close look at her work ( shows what a terrible disservice this is to Picasso and his genius. Garish colors and distorted figures do not make one a masterful artist. Picasso and others like him first mastered the many nuances of realism before feeling accomplished enough to take liberties with form and color. They all started out drawing the right way. Nechita’s early teachers chided her for not drawing the “right way.”

Apparently not content to learn basic technique and composition like most artists, Nechita took advantage, instead, of a hype-based marketing strategy. Blessed by Oprah, Rosie, and others, her art became wildly popular, with original pieces now selling upwards of $95,000.

This makes Miss Nechita a famous and wealthy artist. It does not make her a great one.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Life in the Urbs

Pinellas County, with 910,260 residents packed into 280 square miles, is Florida’s most densely populated urban area. Yet, here among the locals and seasonal snow-birds lives a surprising variety of other wild fauna.

Ospreys, large fish hawks, have made a remarkable comeback in only twenty years. Now there are so many of these spectacular raptors that coastal cities have begun building nesting platforms. I hear their keening cry even now outside my window.

Development near the Everglades pushed hundreds of wood storks northward in search of unpolluted water and isolated nesting sites. Magnificent in flight, storks on land shuffle along, hunched over like old men at the mall.

Alligators have gotten the most press, for there remains something scary primeval about the aquatic reptiles. Having been on the threatened list for much of the 20th Century, gators today are mostly protected and roam Pinellas lakes and back yards.

The latest critter to take up residence here is the coyote, and there is nowhere a more resourceful animal. Western ranchers and the US government tried to eliminate them, so the opportunistic creatures simply moved east. Coyotes get along fine in urban areas, stealing pet-food and garbage from back yards. They prefer those for which the food was intended, and given a chance, will snatch unwary pets.

Kenneth Clark, late eminent historian, would look on all this as Natura naturens – nature being nature, and advise us to enjoy living with such a rich diversity all around. Oh, and don’t let Fido out from 6-8 in the morning.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Revenge of the Beautiful Object

Researching the history of outdoor art shows turns up pages and pages of current shows around the country, but precious little about the actual beginning. More than likely, these events began simultaneously popping up in the early 1950s, with the proliferation of art school graduates and a booming post-war economy that made art affordable to the middle-class.

This democratization of art was looked down on by critics, galleries and academia, most of whom believed real art could only be created, understood and purchased by an elite few. If one needed an example of the dissipation of art, you had only to look at outdoor art festivals, with their masses of people, food and carnival like atmosphere.

Opportunity sweeps all before it and, in spite of criticism, the outdoor shows became wildly successful. That success happened, in part, because savvy civic organizations recognized a gold mine in large outdoor art exhibitions. For a fee they provided artists a ready made venue, and the guarantee of thousands of potential customers.

In the early days, two-dimensional art reigned supreme and most judges’ prizes went to paintings, prints and drawings. For years 3D artists complained about a glaring inequity – the buying public loved and purchased ceramic, jewelry and glass arts, but show judges turned up their noses at this type of work.

Artist grumbling paid off and in the mid-1980s shows began having separate 3D categories and craft judges. Gradually, art show viewers’ tastes and judges’ objective opinions came more in line. Three-dimensional art everywhere began winning major awards. Galleries and critics responded with exhibitions and praise for the exciting new art forms. The results could be called the Rise of The Beautiful Object and there is no denying the fascination of a beautiful art piece nestled in one’s hands.

The culmination of this rise was seen last weekend at the Gasparilla Art Festival in Tampa. The Best of Show Award of $15,000 went to Gulfport artist Nancy Cervenka for a magnificent sculptured dress made of 16mm film. Titled Wearable Art and pictured above, the piece is an object of unusual beauty.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th. The superstition that Friday is unlucky has been around for hundreds of years. Chaucer mentioned it in his Canterbury Tales, and by the 1800s, there was a whole list of things that were unlucky to do on a Friday, including needleworking, writing letters, beginning a sea voyage, moving, getting married, and going to the doctor. As for 13, its status as an unlucky number probably comes from the Bible — Judas Iscariot was said to be the 13th guest to sit at the table at the Last Supper. By the 1700s, it was a common superstition that if 13 people sat down at a table together, one of them would die. Eventually the number 13 became unlucky in any circumstance. Many hotels still skip the 13th floor, labeling it as 14. At some point, these two superstitions were combined into a fear of Friday the 13th. (From The Writer's Almanac)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Happy Birthday Mike

It's the birthday of Michelangelo, born in the village of Caprese, Italy (1475). His first major work of art was the PietĂ , a marble statue of the Madonna holding the dead Christ in her arms. The figures were perfectly balanced and carved from a single block of marble.

The story was that after the statue had been put on display, Michelangelo went to see it and overheard a crowd of people praising its beauty. Someone asked who had made it, and another replied that it was il Gobbo, from Milan.

That night, Michelangelo locked himself in with the statue and carved an inscription on the Madonna's robe that reads "Michelangelo Buonarroti the Florentine made this." It was the only work he ever signed.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Stop Thief!

Several weeks ago art thieves broke into the Florida Craftsmen Gallery in St. Petersburg, stealing two beautiful glass pieces worth thousands of dollars. This is a provocative and unusual event for a gallery and artist. The fact that someone likes an art work enough to steal it must be the ultimate left-handed compliment.

Prolific artists, many years into their careers, experience similar dubious distinctions. I have had my share. My art has been stolen from galleries, night clubs, and outdoor shows. Other works have shown up in garage sales and flea markets.

Years ago, I donated a large painting to a Tampa charity auction. The work was purchased by a doctor, who later went through a contentious divorce. He kept the house; his ex-wife got the contents.

The doctor’s ex needed cash and dumped much of the contents in a Clearwater consignment shop. Two friends, waiting to dine at a restaurant next door, wandered through the shop. They recognized my painting hanging in the back, and, after a bit of haggling, bought it at a considerable savings. The piece now hangs in their dining room.

A Dunedin bistro once bought one of my collage pieces and placed it in their dining room, and later moved it near the exit. Having lunch one day with friends, I looked in vain for the art. I found it on a visit to the men’s room, hanging over the urinal.

No heavy philosophical explanation can be given for this. Simply stated, if you hang in there long enough, your work will hang in some unusual places.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Florida Artist Group

The Florida Artist Group (FLAG) was incorporated as a non-profit organization of practicing artists in 1949. Made up of artists whose work has attained national or state-wide recognition, the purpose of the group is to stimulate attainment of the highest standards of creative art within the State of Florida.

I've recently had the honor of being accepted into FLAG and look forward to participating in exhibitions and meeting a great group of artists. The next exhibition will be at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs, May 3-July 19.