How things unfolded
My initial impulse to do art came from various sources. Van Gogh, Gauguin, the colorful expressionists, some Russian realists, later Rembrandt, and Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. All filled my mind. Then there were always art postcards and small art books from my mom. Some Faulkner black and white photographs affected me. Development was scattered and all over the place. For me there was not one consistent evolving direction. Around the age of nineteen, I was influenced by a man who emulated the Dutch masters and their love of light and dark and depth. It was good to see and understand their painting achievements and for a while I adopted and conformed to his agenda. However, while it was his passion, his training in reality was rooted in 19th century principles. As a result there were gaps in his methods. His drawing was not sound and his color and value formulas had limitations. He jumped to the 16th century Dutch masters, but skipping centuries doesn't always work.
Later, seeking a firmer foundation, I studied with an end of the line student of a lineage dating back to the 19th century French Academy. It was a watered down tradition. One drew optically, as one sees, that is, as light and shade hit the retina. In a sense you were a slave to visual phenomena. Knowledge of structure, proportion, and anatomy were underplayed and hence there was a loss of freedom of expression. Some good was there, as with long poses and consistent lighting, but the training I felt violated my senses.
Years later after many defeats and some victories, I discovered a younger man who became quite accomplished in the art of painting in the manner of the Dutch masters. His thinking was clear, and his painting had beauty. Within the confines of what I would have wanted to achieve within this agenda of the old masters, he had accomplished a lot. As much as is possible and more than anyone I knew or had run across or heard of, he had pulled it off. He became a painter's painter.
Previously I attributed my stumbling to New York where I grew up. Too hard, too jagged, too much. My parents were also partly responsible, too unstable, not enough backing and tranquility. And responsibility goes also to the schools, the early one where you were just a number, the junior and high school that was progressive, modern, and scoffed at technique and tradition. The school was liberal but basically worshiped success. It was elitist in its own way. Perhaps I envied Andrew Wyeth, brought up in a country setting, removed from canned education, allowed to evolve and be nurtured in a tranquil setting.
The younger man grew up in the same city I did and had to deal with it, went to Columbia so had some academic pressure, went against the grain and achieved impressive skills through hard well directed efforts. He asked the right questions. He had a good background, encouraging parents, a heritage to lean on, money, good appearance and he wasn't broken. He didn't rebel or conform, but followed his interest.
Earlier I had studied with the teacher of someone who influenced this artist, who had wrestled with the same historical issues, but did not complete the journey. This young artist did all that and I admire him. He came from the same background as me but with different ingredients pulled something off. I was an early scout who never finished the journey.
Later, in all honesty, I realized the Dutch painting agenda, or the classical realism agenda, influenced me, but was not my essence. My essence came earlier. While having many influences, it never evolved into one way of working. Instead, it consisted of surges in various directions, each pure in intent but only semi related.
Much later, I picked up all these pieces and created a body of work with a different focus. There is promise in what I do even though it's still a battle. As an artist I'll probably never reach my full potential (too many gaps in time missing) but a statement with meaning is within my grasp.