dairy farm on a grey morning
oil on gesso panel
Outside my kitchen window this morning, the landscape is so perfect and grey and still and unmoving, it seems as if the world could be a photograph and I the only living thing in it. I sip my coffee.
I will admit I’ve considered not continuing. Last night I wondered why I am writing this and so exposing myself. My brain is pressed for an answer. But a voice whispers tell it, because quite simply it is only a story, another story of the living and the dead to be told. No bigger, no smaller than that.
I wish I could tell you that once I got into college it was as if the heavens burst open and celestial light bathed and secured me and the children, delivering us. ....and they lived happily ever after.
But that wouldn’t be truth and the truth is my point.
So this is the last chapter of this story my life as it pertains to my art, thus far as I have lived it:
studies of a hand from an anatomy book
pencil on illustration board
For everyone, I wish a stretch of time of such joy and success and exploration as I had in college, at NYCCC. I did find daycare and quickly potty trained my youngest (poor little guy) who was confused, quite indignant and resistant to my assault on him and his bowels. Meanwhile, the grants and workstudy came through just in the nick of time.
It was all good and so was I. I had no idea what being exposed to the art world would bring to me in terms of opportunities but I learned there is an entire industry of fine art related employment that I did not know existed: graphic print/ad/packaging design, color correcting, illustration, comp illustration, technical production, to name a few.
first self portrait at Parsons
oil on canvas
a little stiff, but it's from a photo and I didn't know what I was doing.
In my second year my mentor at NYCCC introduced me to the head of the illustration department at Parsons, who was impressed with my pen and ink drawings and pushed me through to a generous partial tuition scholarship. So in my third year of school I attended Parsons School of Design as an Illustration major and by year 4 was allowed to split my major between Illustration and Fine Art.
nude male study
litho pencils on vellum
in life class there are a so many ways to approach the figure. for a long pose you can change locations in the room, or you can do what I did here: take it to the limit for however long the pose is, push the drawing as far as it will go and then go a little further, just for the hell of it.
I took on freelance work in studios doing pasteups and mechanicals and earning a high hourly wage. But I was expected to do demanding precise work, for long hours, often overnight and into the next day. My instructors at Parsons would allow me to miss classes in order to make money but I had to make up my class assignments.
oils, oil sticks on canvas
The money I was earning part time was insufficient to sustain the three of us. So economics as well as all around dysfunction kept my lover and I in this relationship. He worked on the piers in NY as a scaleman, a profession that paid extremely well. When he worked. But now, the work was leaving NY to go to non union ports down south and his employment situation becoming very erratic. He drank more, became entirely addicted to pot and our life turned even more volatile and depressed with bursts of violence.
spankyroo in hell!
oils on canvas
I was painting now. And interacting with other artists, getting a good deal of positive feedback. I desperately desired stability in our lives and I was tired of being torn into so many different pieces. I didn’t want to do paste ups full time but if I had to, I would.
oils on gesso panel
I had decided I wanted be a full time painter. I felt I could and would be successful selling my work. I had already made a number of connections. To be an artist you have to commit to living a very specific life dedicated to the community and the people in it. As I see writers do here, visiting one another, becoming a known and reliable entity, doing crits, meeting with other artists, looking at their work, getting involved in galleries, shows, exhibitions, studios, commissions. I was willing to endure the Feast or Famine existence.
oils on canvas
This painting went on tour to the Soviet Union when it was still the "Soviet Union". But it got lost for a while, trapped in a warehouse in the Ukraine at the political transition period and almost didn't get back home again.
I considered the kids: I needed to move us out, and I wanted to live in the city. I figured I could afford the cheapest of the cheap, the Lower East Side, which at that time was crackhouses, homeless squatters and hookers, the kind of area where artists always cluster. I could get or share a small apartment or a studio. I thought if I could send the boys to live with each of their fathers and their wives, the boys would have a normal environment, which was a lot better than what I thought of our present life. Their fathers appeared to have stable homes and relationships. My first husband was clean and sober and I adored his wife. This plan would allow me to leave a man who was self destructing before our eyes and make a fresh start for us all.
my sad little boy
oils on paper
We gave it a lot of discussion but in the course of talking it through some facts became clear: one of my ex-husband’s wives hated my littlest boy. He wasn’t a bad boy at all, just very smart and not particularly difficult, only young and needing mothering. As I listened to her talk about him as if he were some kind of monster because he was so small, I started to cry. I knew precisely then my dream wasn't going to materialize.
My mother was wrong. I didn’t make my bed. The bed that had been built long before any of us was born made me. And it made and unmade all of us.
We stayed together, all of us struggling and mucking through. Even with scholarships, loans and grants, I could no longer afford to continue school and besides, it was time to get on with life. I didn't think my kids were old enough to be alone so distant from me and where I'd be working and I wouldn't leave them with my lover if I could help it. So I worked from home and eventually as the kids got older, I gradually took on freelance work in studios, making the maximum money for the least amount of hours away from home (paying a professional price for it).
(as a side note: fortunately my kids made it through all this hell in one piece. They struggled and it was touch and go at times, but they made it. And not only don’t they hate me, they forgive and love me, something I am endlessly amazed at the fact of.)
always with hope
oils on canvas
this is a pretty big painting. the studies above are some of the pencil studies, there are oil studies, too. the couple liked the oil studies but I liked the pencil studies better so here they are.
For my lover, life did not go well. His work situation was impossible and he wouldn't look for another job. It was not until he became so toxic, he was no longer recognizable, nearly every word out of his mouth hateful or angry so I made him go for good. We both knew it was over.
On his own finally, he floundered terribly. He had nowhere to go and became practically homeless, I later learned. Union friends let him live in the old “rooms” a storefront they maintained for morning shapes and meetings. But a year or so later he called me. He needed a place to stay, the rooms were shutting down. As it happened, I was moving into the city finally. In fact, I was packing boxes that night. We talked and I told him he had to do something about his life. I said he could take our old apartment I was leaving but he’d have to pay rent and get a steady job.
I know he tried. But real life was beyond him at this point. He couldn’t lift coffee bags anymore. He had been out of work for so long, he couldn’t do the physical work. The jobs were non union, full days in a warehouse on a pier - harder, hotter, more gruesome and difficult. He faded out of the job and gave up, living his life from one day to the next until I assume his cash ran out. But it really happened a long time before, the death of this man. One day I received a call from the police: he had killed himself, as violently as he had so many times promised he would if it came to it. Whatever that it was.
He still had friends close by and afterwards they came to me to offer cassette tapes he had left with them for me, music tapes with dedications he had done over the years, calling DJs and having them play songs for me I had never heard.
I will always mourn him, his life and the sad waste of it.
oil, oil sticks on canvas
For a many years I remained alone. I worked and attended Art Students League at night. I made wonderful friends and learned so much from the brilliant and the not so brilliant. I lived the life I had finally dreamed I could, but I was very lonely. I avoided relationships, entanglements like the plague. I wasn't at all good at them, that much I had figured out.
oils on gesso panel
The business I worked in made a major transition and went to computers. To make an already too long story quite a bit shorter, completely accidentally, rather magically through my home computer I met a man, a smart man, a crazy man, a tall man and above all a good man with a good heart.
But he lived in California. I lived in NY. So I went to California and fell head over heels. Fortunately, so did he. We are impatient people. Neither of us was interested in a long distance relationship, so we took a chance. He came to NY to get me and across the country we drove my many things, my paintings and not leaving behind my craziness, we settled in Salinas, then Watsonville. And for a while we figured whether or not we could make a go of us. We did it!
I tried to paint out there, but I just couldn’t. It didn't gel for me. I felt so alone, even with my husband. Too alone. My children were back home finding themselves and their lives and I was missing that - the payoff. My best friends, all my friends and beloveds (including NYC) were in NY.
Yes I had my suede Salinas mountains that I loved, love to this day. But my children were starting to make babies. Beautiful babys. Boys. Girls. Fat ones. Good ones. Good looking ones! Smart, too. And not crazy. (yet) (hahah)
And as much as I tried to get them to move west, they wouldn’t budge. And they had the numbers. So we came back. For them. For my darlings. And my darlings’ darlings.
I paint now. I’m not as good as where I left off. Some years gone by doesn’t do an artist much good or much bad. You change. The way it works is this (my theory): your style changes without you. So your job is to figure what you’re trying to say and how to say it. That’s my job now. Who the hell am I? Writing is a way for me to answer this in another language. Forgive my indulgence.
where the magic eludes me most of the time
my studio. walls should be grey not yellow but who cares!
self then (hot monkey)
oil on canvas (unfinished)
My neighbor asked me once, “what do you do with all the paintings you make?” and I had to laugh. I’m still laughing at that.
Why hell, you make more, that’s what you do!
self now (wise monkey)
oil on panel (forever unfinished)
Thank you for reading my story. I hope it goes on and on. I intend to never ever die so it may very well. Hopefully I will become a better writer as I tell it.
poppy OCD dog
oil on panel