Breaking Free From School and Holland
I was living in Holland making art about 14-16 hours a day. The first nine hours were spent figure drawing at the Free Academy Psychopolis. Later, coming home to my fisherman’s house on the North Sea, the last stop on Tram 11, I painted my own projects until I dropped to sleep from exhaustion. I loved it! But there was a point of dissatisfaction: Holland is a small place. Its most notable city, Amsterdam, was only 40 minutes away–a kind of kinky large village with prostitutes dressed in doll outfits selling themselves in window fronts. But it was also conservatively Dutch, with typical Dutch lace curtains in almost every window. Neither end of the spectrum did anything for me. One scared me and the other bored me.
I had already been studying fine art for 3 years in Los Angeles, and 3 years in Holland, and I was ready to move beyond art school. My first impulses are always to go big, so I decided to move to New York, "If you make it there you can make it anywhere." The painful part of the decision to leave Holland was that I would be leaving my dearly and passionately loved partner. But leave I did, "Onward and upward!"
New York, Rand, and Puccini
I didn't know anyone in New York, and I didn't have a mentor to guide me, but I trusted my love of Ayn Rand heros, who are always in situations where the work comes first and romantic relationships are more like rewards. Luckily that turned out to be true for me. And I discovered the Puccini universe with his magnificent integration of passion, beauty, color, drama, and structure.
Me vs. New York Grunge Art
The East Village in the 80's was brutal, dirty, dangerous, and cheap. I literally had no furniture in my apartment, no desk, no chairs, no table. I ate dinner sitting on the floor. Now that is true minimalism. Once my place was broken into but there was nothing to steal other than the art, which they left. My rent was something like $375 a month, but I only had hot water and heat for 3 or 4 hours a day. I continued life drawing sessions at least once a week. The life drawing studio was in a loft building basement, no windows. The artist host was a hoarder of magazines and cats. The magazines were strewn in the thousands on the floor– I don't recall ever stepping on the actual floor. The host did these huge badly painted paintings of mutilated bodies and Hell's Angels cutting people to shreds in urban settings. But there were good models at the studio, it was cheap, it was walking distance, and the sessions were well attended.
All the people in my building were artists, writers, and dancers. The odd thing though was how little art they made. I felt that they prided themselves on the idea of being artists more than actually making art. Not me. I kept up an insane work schedule, painting all day and all night until I collapsed on my foam mattress.
I did the expected thing of going to galleries with my slide portfolio. One notable dealer said I was "too lyrical," another said that "New York is not ready for my kind of art." One dealer asked me to come to her gallery in mid-August, and took one look at me in my shorts and said "You don't look like the type of person that painted this soulful work" as she pointed to a post card of A Writer and an Artist. The contrast between my vision and what New York art had to offer was enormous, and after doing rounds of the galleries I would be paralysed with disgust and unable to paint for days afterward, wondering what the fuck was wrong with them.
In reality all that stuff was awful to experience, but when I was alone in my studio I felt an inner light and such a delight in painting that there was no other place in the universe I would rather be.
NoHo Gallery Exhibition
Taking a "just do it" cue from Ayn Rand and my sister Janet I set a date and paid for a gallery space on LaGuardia Place. It took about a year of planning, and numerous press releases and invitations. Hundreds of people showed up for the opening, some came from Holland and the far corners of the US. The tension before the show was unbearable, but it dissipated as soon as people began to arrive. There was a review in the one of the newspapers and I sold about ⅓ of the works. My Dutch lover came for 3 days. Whoa. That was a dream-like experience of what is meant by bliss.
Now 27 years old, rewarded with love, money, and recognition, I began planning my most ambitious work, Pursuit. It is a life-size nocturnal painting of two people the moment before they come face to face after noticing each other on the street. One pastel color study of the granite side of a building I made for the painting was drawn from between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. on a deserted street in the Wall Street area.
Back in my studio, I did about 100 studies of the nudes, clothes, buildings, reflections, sidewalks, and accessories. The timing was perfect for pulling together the limits of my skill, imagination, and drive. I have always had a unique way of harmonizing colors with pastels and I had always loved the light of Rembrandt, and the anatomical grace of the Renaissance artists; this was my chance to integrate all that in my unique way. A detail view of her facial and neck coloring is a perfect example: violet, magenta, pink, green, peach, yellow and red all combine to give her face a pale porcelain-like look. It's a bit technical but her facial hues played off the colors surrounding her face to give a sense of transparency, hence a pale luminous quality. I also wanted to do an intensely dramatic subject of two strangers, each knowing with certainty that they were in love without having said a word. Her dropped purse implying both that she wasn't afraid and that she dropped it because her hand forgot it was holding something. If I could translate a Puccini-like opera in paint, this was it!
Having used all my savings to paint Pursuit, and with no prospects to sell it, I started another journey by moving back to California where I would eventually paint my next epic work, Denouement.