Sunday, January 30, 2011

HOLD FAST TO DREAMS


Oil pastel on clay print

I enjoy reading magazines featuring a wide range of accomplished fine art (Southwest Art, the Art Collector, American Realism) and seeing how my own work stands up to it. With an occasional exception, I am confronted with a significant gap in levels of technique and overall excellence. It is not that I see my work as bad, but that the other work is so much better. This never bothered or discouraged me, but only served to show me what I had to do to improve and grow as an artist; it encouraged and inspired me to dream of what I could accomplish...until recently.

It occurred gradually over the past 2-3 years. I faced and accepted the growing realization of my place in the world of art. I could be proud of what I’ve accomplished, but would never reach the level of the artists currently being featured in leading galleries here and abroad. I was OK with this, accepting that one of the perks of age is the ability to see the reality of our lives, unclouded by youthful exuberance. Last night that changed.

Lying in bed looking at some very good art in one of my magazines I was once more confronted with my “achievement gap” and remembered how I would dream of my future before reality inserted itself into my life. And as quickly as that I realized I must not abandon my dreams, even at this stage in my life. To do so only undermines what I have worked for all these years as well as faith and trust in myself. I might as well fold my tent and go quietly into the night. Then and there I vowed to reclaim my dreams, to hold fast the ideas of how I can fashion my future and my work, and to trust myself. Of course without the commitment and the will to pursue them, dreams remain nothing but hollow fantasies. That is the challenge that lies ahead.

Will these dreams become reality? I don’t know. But I do know that if I don’t believe in them, they will never happen.


Clay mono type

Thursday, January 27, 2011

SHAKESPEARE IN SOHO a topless art gallery


They were the last thing I expected to see in the art gallery. Patience and I were in New York for the opening of the annual Pastel Society of America’s juried art show; the weekend was our reward for my acceptance into the show. We decided to explore the Soho area and visit as many galleries as time would allow. I was hoping to see some really exciting art that would inspire me to greatness...it was not to be. That notion was dispelled when we approached a gallery with a large fan in the lower half of the entrance door, blowing into the foyer of the gallery. About 4 feet opposite the door and in line with the fan, was a piece of white board with an adhesive surface collecting bits of dust and debris blown in from the sidewalk by the fan. Someone had the unmitigated nerve to call this art. But, I must say, some 12 years later that it is one of the only two pieces of art I remember seeing that day, so...who am I to cast stones...or dust.

The other piece of art I remember not for the work itself, but for what followed. We were standing in the Fulcrum Gallery on Broome St. looking at a piece of distressed metal on the wall with an interesting patina of earth colors. When I asked the cachectic looking young lady dressed in the requisite black about the piece she said I should talk to the Valerie, the gallery owner who was approaching us as we spoke. I followed the young woman’s gaze, not to her left or right, but upwards, over my shoulder. And there I had my first view of Valerie Shakespeare, in her above the knees dress, with her arms and legs wrapped around a shiny brass pole that carried her down from her office in the loft above us. As she approached us with her long blond hair and very short dress I quickly realized that the top she was wearing was completely transparent; she had no bra, and soon was standing directly in front of me. Those of you who are acquainted with me know that in shoes I stand no more than 5’ 5” from the ground, and thus I found myself close to eye level with two rather large breasts. Needless to say, it was with some difficulty that I could engage in conversation with her face.

Patience and I eventually made it out of the gallery, and immediately expressed divergent views on what we had experienced. She was quick to point out to me the Valerie was not in her 30s which I had ventured to say, but in her 50s, and that her breasts were not perky but were supported by the bra she wore beneath them. I swear I never saw the bra. Twelve years later and we still retain different memories.

FYI...Valerie and her husband are artists, and she was known more for the weekly meals she served to 30-35 artists and friends in her gallery than for her....you know.
Sadly the galley closed in 2002, but you can read and see Valerie and her husband on one of several websites that still exist.

http://valeriemonroeshakespeare.web.officelive.com/default.aspx

Apparently the above link is too long to work...so copy and paste in your browser.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MORE PASTELS

Since coming to Paducah I've had fun exploring new techniques and expressions with the pastels. The first thing I did was to try working on a new surface...the blue styrofoam insulation used in home construction...something I had been thinking about for some time. In addition, I tried creating a textured, dimensional foreground by applying an acrylic molding paste with palette knife and/or stiff bristled brush.






Framing became a bit of a problem because of the thickness of the support. On some pieces I used heavy fixative and varnish (I could do this because of the way I applied the pastel,) and left the work uncovered.

While I continued to paint the barns and landscapes I also had some fun with other ideas. The 2 paintings below were done on heavy cold press illustration board.



Once again...out of time and space so the topless art gallery will have to come later.

Monday, January 24, 2011

EXPLORING PASTEL


I ended yesterday's post mentioning the topless art gallery we visited. But before getting into that I have more to share about my pastel experience.

Like every artist does, once I began working with the new medium I gradually began pushing the boundaries of my expectations for each new painting. I continued to work on illustration board using the pastel dust technique, and architecture remained my main focus, but the paintings gradually became more sophisticated and nuanced, more painterly and less graphic.




I continued to enter the Pastel Society of America's (PSA) annual show and had 4 paintings accepted over the next 5 years. I stopped entering the show when my interest began to shift to other mediums, but have continued to work with pastels on a more occasional time frame.

Shortly after moving to Paducah I was accepted as a signature member into the PSA.

In keeping with my intention to avoid lengthy posts, the topless gallery will have to wait until next time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

FROM CLAY TO PASTELS

In my last post I wrote that working with clay printing moved me into the world of pastels. After years of painting with watercolor, with a special interest in architecture, I was confronted with the problem of not having very good control of the new medium; I could not render some of the details and the hard edges that I wanted. To overcome this, I began enhancing the clay prints with pastels, using pieces of paper to serve as a mask or as stencils for obtaining hard edges.

It was then that I began working with pastel dust. With a stencil in place I scrapped the pastel in small kitchen strainer held over the stencil and covered the area with one or more layers of the pastel, using my fingers or wads of tissue paper to rub it into the print. Following are 3 of these early pastel enhanced clay prints.




The obvious next step was to try working with the pastel only, and because of my experience enhancing the clay prints I chose to continue using the pastel dusting technique. Working on cold press illustration board lying flat and covered with a thin monochromatic wash I applied layers of dust followed by manual blending and occasional applications of workable fixative until I achieved the desired results.
Because of the fixative, I was now able to use paper stencils without disturbing the background. The earliest paintings were...no surprise here...BARNS.




I don’t recall just how much time passed before I worked up enough courage to submit one of my pieces to the Pastel Society of America’s annual juried show. This was the painting...



To my total disbelief it was accepted into the show, won an award for best pastel with mixed media (black india ink was used in the building), and was sold! My feet did not touch ground for weeks. Patience and I went to the opening in NYC for the weekend and ended up in a topless art gallery, but that’s another story.

Friday, January 21, 2011

DARK, FOREBODING, AND GRIMY,

so is there any wonder why these paintings aren't flying of the walls of the gallery? For some reason I am attracted to the idea of these imaginative "industrial skylines", aka, industrial art.

It started in Mitch Lyon's (the artist who developed the process of clay printing) kitchen one afternoon in the late 90's. I was in a bit of a burn-out with my watercolors and staring at me from a wall was a thin, horizontal, abstract clay print of Mitch's. I don't know what it was about, but all I could see was some distant factories and smokestacks in the distance, and I knew immediately what I wanted to do. Shortly after that I set up my own clay slab and began exploring the world of clay printing.

This is the very first industrial skyline, and an early clay mono type.

Of course I had to do more, and I did, and actually sold several of them. I quickly discovered that I could not control the medium like I could with watercolor, and that eventually led me to begin enhancing the clay prints with pastel. One thing led to another, and it wasn't long before I was working with pastels as the primary medium, but that is for another post. Today we are still on the industrial skylines.



Next up...industrial pastels..

Thursday, January 20, 2011

LESS WORDS & MORE IMAGES

is the order of the day. Taking a break from the current work in progress I found myself rummaging through the file drawer holding the large clay mono types, most of them created 6 or 7 years ago. I kept them for a reason...I like them...and decided I would photograph selected prints (they were previously photographed on slides and I wanted better quality images) so I could begin to get them seen by a wider audience.

Galaxy II 15x32"


Railroads 25x22"

Southwest 40x35"


Landscape 32x25"

Sprinkles 32x15"



Golden crown 20x34"




A touch of green 18x34" (the paper woven into the body of the print was done by my good friend Harvey Tilker.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

ART & MEDICINE

This is the fourth and final post in the series on Art & Medicine at this time. I expect there will be more later.

I am frequently asked about the relationship between art and medicine and how they affect one another. To answer this it is necessary to go back to the late 1970s when I was engaged in the full time practice of internal medicine.

In retrospect I now recognize that my heart was aware of my desire to pursue a career in art at least a year before my head did. I wanted to do it professionally and not as a hobby or pastime. At the risk of appearing totally lacking in humility or modesty I have to say a word about my experience in private practice. I was a good physician. My strength was my ability to reach out to patients on a personal level, to listen and to befriend them. My goal was to make patients feel better, physically, emotionally, and mentally. I took the time to educate and to make them know that I cared for them and their families. The practice of medicine provided an opportunity to be present to people and serve them in times of need, a remarkable privilege which brought with it considerable responsibility which I gladly embraced. Their needs always came before any financial “bottom line”. I am not boasting; I am being realistic because this leads to one of the more powerful influences that medicine has had on my art, or more accurately, the influence that leaving medicine has had.

When I left my practice I was ending relationships with people who had come to trust me and count on me. In some cases the bonds were very close and I considered many of these individuals as friends. It was not without some guilt and remorse that I left this work, and I felt that I owed it to my patients and my profession to make the same commitment to art as I made to medicine. They deserved nothing less than that. . From the very beginning it was of utmost importance to me that my art be “serious”, even though I could not then, and cannot now, clearly describe what serious art is. My biggest fear was that artists, galleries, and others, would see me as a doctor with idle time dabbling in art. (I have never completely outgrown this fear.) From the outset I have been committed to creating the best art I am capable of doing and presenting my art and myself as professionally as possible. Thirty years later I still strive to remain true to that commitment.



I would include this painting...acrylic...36x36"...in my 'best work" catagory.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MISTER IN BETWEEN...

Mr. in between, kinda makes a fellow mean...Mr. in between. The only words I remember from a drinking song I heard one night at a party of interns and residents many years ago...Appropriate words to introduce this third post on the transition from medicine to art.

The journey from physician to artist was painfully slow and costly, but in the end, worth all of the turmoil and distress. One aspect of the transition that I did not anticipate was feeling lost between two worlds, medicine and art.

For me the practice of medicine was all about the primary care physician, the general internist or the family doctor. This is how I identified myself, and this is the world I left behind when I left my practice in 1981 for part time work in the emergency room. Although I was still in contact with most of my medical colleagues, I felt estranged from medicine. I was no longer active in our local and state medical societies and in the teaching programs in our t hospital; my priorities had taken me out of that world. Others may not have noticed, but I felt I no longer belonged.

The problem was, I did not feel I belonged to any community of artists. I was a novice at the very bottom of a steep self learning curve. There were no artist friends and colleagues to replace those I left, and to even call myself an artist was almost unthinkable and impossible to do. I had no studio and my art was simple and limited. I was haunted by the fear that galleries and other art professionals would not take me seriously, thinking of me as a physician who was “dabbling” in art. Probably the most difficult aspect of this time in my journey was the absence of any role model. Although several of my medical colleagues were accomplished Sunday painters, I knew no one who was attempting to work two careers simultaneously.





Some artwork from the early 1980s

For the first few years into this new life I was lost between two worlds, and it was my unshakable belief and trust in what I was doing that allowed me to continue. In the years since, there have been moments of crisis and self doubt, but I’ve never lost that basic trust in my dream.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

BECOMING AN ARTIST

This is the second of several posts on my experience of transitioning from medicine to art. This mini essay was first published here three years ago.

What am I doing sitting on this pile of trash in an empty city lot?


It was a Thursday morning around 9 AM, sometime in the spring-summer of the mid 1970s, a time when I should have been attending Medical Grand Rounds at the hospital. This was a weekly presentation by the medical residents of interesting case reports to the rest of the house staff and attending physicians. It was, and perhaps still is, a weekly ritual, one that I had been attending faithfully for the past 6 years.

So what was I doing sitting on a stack of old mattresses in the middle of an empty city lot? I was drawing the back of a row of dilapidated houses, entranced by the texture and shapes of the scene before me, not knowing I was in the process of discovering the artist that had been tucked away somewhere deep within, a process that would take about 4-5 years. To say it was pure pleasure would be less than true; guilt and insecurity were sitting right beside me that morning. My lines of thought went something like this; “what am I doing sitting out here when I should be at Grand Rounds? This is ridiculous, thinking that I am an artist, or could become one. All I can do is draw small sketches with this Parker 45 fountain pen, shit, I can’t even paint!” And on and on, you get the point.

But, guilt and insecurity were not enough to pull me away, and I found myself spending more Thursday mornings in the city streets with my sketchbook. I carried a small canvas shoulder bag holding my sketchbook, papers, pencils, and always, my faithful Parker 45 fountain pen. Within a few years of that experience I began cutting back on my office hours to create more time for my art.


This is the scene that held so much attraction for me:






and another...



And here is a later watercolor of the complete scene...one of several I painted...could not resist the colors and the textures...especially the texture.

Friday, January 14, 2011

WHY MEDICINE?


I have tried to recall the thought processes that led me to decide to become a doctor and can only come up with a rather embarrassing few. I was an 18 year old freshman at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy & Science when, at some point during the spring semester I remember deciding that I would rather be writing prescriptions than filling them. Acting in a manner that would come to be rather common place for me, I very quickly notified the proper people of my decision (my parents, the Dean of the college, and my best friends, Carmen and Desi) and the following fall I found myself at Lebanon Valley College with a pre-med major.

And that’s it! No dreams about serving others or saving lives, no aspirations to be on the forefront of the medical frontier, either in research or teaching. In fact I cannot remember ever having any concrete ideas about what my life's work would entail. All I knew was that I was going to be a physician...that it was the right thing for me to do, and that was all I needed to know at that time.

Why did I do that? How did I know it was right for me? What information did I sift through, consciously or unconsciously to arrive at that decision? When I think about it now I am amazed. At that time in my life I was totally unconscious of what might be considered my aptitude, gifts, or of anything remotely resembling an awareness of my inner life, drives, needs, etc. And yet that choice...to practice medicine...was to tap into what I have since recognized as a deeply seated gift, as well as a need, to care, and to be present to others. This has been one of the defining characteristics of my life.

Was there more...has time blunted my memory of the events of that defining time? If so, maybe in my terminal years, when we somehow find old memories, in place of the short term ones, I’ll have the answer.

I made that choice, and in spite of another calling years later, I have zero regrets. Medicine helped me define who and what I am, and has given me the unbelievable privilege of serving others. I am forever grateful for that opportunity.

(from my journal...2002)

Note...the image at the beginning of this post has nothing to do with anything. I felt that any post would not be complete without at least one painting...in this case, an oil pastel.

And further more...I hope to be posting a series of these journal entries over the next few weeks focusing on the interplay between medicine and art.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

WHAT WAS I THINKING





when I drew these pictures, sometime back in the late 60's and early 70's? It was years before I ever seriously considered art as a second career. Drawing was a hobby, copying pictures from magazines, and my primary interest was faces and people. Somewhere along the way this interest gradually shifted to architecture and urban landscapes, and later still to the rural landscape. This is true for my studio work, however my sketch book continues to remain a repository for figurative work.

I am still in the inventory taking mode in the studio, but am almost finished. Yesterday I photographed a portfolio of early sketches, drawings, and paintings. Here are a few more early "Renzullis".





So many things to be drawn and painted...and so little time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

FRIENDSHIP CHURCH & CEMETERY

One of the many wonderful benefits of growing up on a farm in the late 40s and 50s was the absence of boundaries, as a boy my friends and I were free to roam and explore our town and the farmlands around us. Less than a mile from our farm were the Donato brother’s orchards with the most delicious apples and peaches hanging from the trees just waiting for us to come along on bikes or ponies. At the very northern edge of the orchards was Friendship church and cemetery, a white clapboard one-room church nestled under the umbrellas of a stand old Oak Trees. The old time worn head stones adjacent to the church dated back to the early 1800’s. Somewhat later came the stones with names familiar to me, including my grandmother and her young children that did not survive infancy, and my uncle Marx of whom I had only vague memories.

Along the edge of the cemetery was a pump that with a little effort would produce the coolest, sweetest water to quench the thirst that came with the bike rides on hot summer days. I don’t know if it was the cool water, the shade from the Oak trees, the sweet fruits just a stone throw away, or the white Jersey sand beneath our feet, but that small spot in the midst of the south Jersey woods and truck farms was like an oasis for me, an impression that has withstood time and distance. Over the years other members of our family would join my grandmother…my grandfather, an uncle, 2 aunts, 2 cousins, and most recently, my mother and father, next to whom my own place is reserved.

Since moving to Kentucky I don’t get back to Friendship as often as I used to, but when I do, I still feel the magic of that special place, and my entire life feels compressed into one moment in time.



FRIENDSHIP CHURCH...watercolor by the gifted artist Julio Rodriguez