Friday, May 31, 2013

THE DILEMA…I am what I am part 4

Many of my jeans no longer fit me.  I have only one pair of slacks – at least 15 years old – that I can wear, and that is because of its elastic, expandable waist- band.  None of my suits fit, and many of my shirts can just about be buttoned around my expanded mid-section.  I cringe at what I see when I look in the mirror, and every night I lie in bed vowing that I can do and I will do, whatever it takes to lose this uncomfortable, and unsightly belly.  And everyday, as lunchtime approaches with the first pangs of hunger, I completely disown that vow.  Did I make a vow?  What vow?  That must have been someone else getting in my head.

I love food and I love eating.  I enjoy the flavors of my favorite foods, and the goal of abolishing hunger is quickly replaced by the desire to maximize the pleasure for my taste buds.  This experience plays out every day, at every meal, whether I’m eating alone, with Patience, or with others.

Food nurtures the soul as well as the body.  Growing up in a family and community of immigrants and first generation Italian-Americans I learned that all social interactions – gatherings of family and/or friends, weddings, funerals, and casual impromptu get-togethers  - all centered around food.  It could be as simple as coffee and pastry or as elegant as a full course meal, but the sharing of food and the kitchen or dinning room table was inexorably linked to the interaction of family and friends. 

So now, in my battle with the expanding waist line, I not only have to overcome the sensual attraction of wonderful flavors, but also a cultural heritage that has stained the fibers of my being.  And that’s not all!

The aromas of the kitchen – garlic sautéing in olive oil, basil, oregano, and Parmigianino cheese – all evoke memories of my mother’s kitchen and her wonderful cooking.  And it is impossible for me to sit before a plate of pasta and not remember my father.   Cooking and eating has become an important link to my past and to my parents.  Whether it is the satisfaction of preparing a simple dish of pasta with olive oil and garlic, or the small fruit glass of red wine at lunch, I am, for that brief moment, with my mother and father.  I am what I am.

My weight…oh yea…well I can deal with that tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Have you heard the one about the butcher who backed into the meat grinder?  He got a little behind in his work.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m not that butcher as I work on this Paducah Portfolio, getting behind in the work.  Actually not “behind” but “behinds”.  I’ve just completed another painting, and like so many others, it depicts the back of a series of buildings on Broadway.  It is not as if I don’t like the fronts of the buildings, but there are so many interesting lines, shapes, and textures in the back that do not conform to any pattern, and I think it this mix of non-conforming lines and shapes that captures my attention.

Behind them all...watercolor with pastel, ink, and acrylid
I won't tell you where this is, but here is a hint...someone very dear to me works in one of these buildings.  (click on the image to see the full painting which is aprox. 19x25")

Just when I think I’m about done I find more places demanding to be included in the portfolio.  If I don’t figure out how to say no I will end up with a totally unwieldy tome that weighs 25 pounds or more!

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Surely you have heard of this expression.  Well today I am presenting a case where my eyes, or in this case, my ambition and enthusiasm, were bigger than my determination and self-discipline.

Weille Buildings

The Weille Buildings on Broadway, current home of the Paducah School of Art and Design, has been calling to me with its elaborate and ornate detail, but a little voice in my head kept saying, “Billy, are you sure you want to do this?  You may be a tiger, but this is a lot of work.”  Of course I didn’t listen; it simply had to be included in my Paducah Portfolio, and I was sure I was up to the task of rendering the building, in watercolor and/or markers.  After all, this is what I do!

work in progress
So I started the laborious task of laying out the building, figuring scale and proportions and size.  I worked on the drawing for about 30 to 40 minutes every day, stopping when I began seeing double or started mumbling things to myself under my breath.  I eventually reached the stage where I could begin adding color to the completed parts…I needed to feel like I was making progress.  A little color, a little drawing, a little more color, a little more drawing, on and on, day after day, after day, when suddenly, out of the blue, it came to me.  I could not spend another minute on this without going nuts, and I knew how to extract myself from the quagmire that it was becoming.

Weille Buildings...markers...14x13

Every artist knows that there are times when we allow the viewers to complete the image using their eyes and their imagination, by leaving a part of the painting or drawing incomplete.  Often the viewer is not even aware of this.

Hey...I did all the hard work!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Workus interuptus, the bane of my existence.  Sara’s show was a great success and our visit with her was even greater.  I settled back into my routine and managed to complete a few more drawings before leaving to visit a dear friend in California.  Unfortunately the trip was cut short by my wife’s illness and hospitalization, which fortunately was quickly abated and she has since been discharged and is now back to work.

Once again I find myself struggling to regain my footing; it is amazing how quickly my work routine can be thrown off kilter, an experience that seems directly related to the years I have accumulated.

I have added the following to the Paducah Portfolio:

Buzzard Bros. BBQ


South side gem...Nehemiah Church

Behind tribeca & Cynthias

Monday, May 20, 2013

CLUTTER...or...I am what I am...part 3

Clutter, no matter how hard I try, it always seems to collect itself around me, in the studio, the kitchen, and my study.  Actually it appears wherever I settle for whatever reason for any length of time.  Of course the content of the clutter varies with the location, but common to all “clutter pods” are pens, pencils, small note pads (except when I want one.), books and/or magazines.


I should acknowledge that I do not mind clutter, and in fact find some degree of comfort in being surrounded by familiar, frequently used “tools” and “doo-dads”.  But, it must be organized, not so much for neatness as for utilitarian purposes.  I do require some sense of order, and organized clutter fills that need.  I am not ashamed of my clutter, and feel no need to put everything away when we have company.  Clutter tells others something about who we are, our interests, and more.

Clutter is not for everyone.  It certainly is not for the OCD inclined individual, or for someone who cannot exercise a degree of self control; un-kept, disorganized clutter quickly become an unsightly mess

From time to time I get some misguided inspiration to clean up, to remove the clutter and expose virgin table, counter, or whatever tops.  This tends to happen after I’ve visited friends or family whose entire home is reflected in clean, glistening surfaces”.  Of course it comes to nil.  I can expose the surfaces for perhaps one or two days, maybe even three days, but eventually the real me takes over, and clutter returns, accompanied by a silent sight of relief.

Then there is the clutter that follows me wherever I may be, affectionately called the "canine clutter".


Sunday, May 19, 2013

WONDERMENT or...did I do that?

This may sound like I am patting myself on the back, and I suppose, in an indirect way I am, but I think other artists will understand what I am trying to say.

I am in the home of a dear friend who has acquired a number of my paintings over the past 10 years.  Prominently displayed in his home is a large – 48x36” – acrylic painting I did in 2007, soon after I began working in that medium.   The use of color and texture in the painting is impressive, and I consider it one of my very best efforts.  Looking at it today I am a little bit in awe, and I wonder if I could ever do something that good again. The work was entirely intuitive; I started with a basic idea about color and mood, and allowed the painting in progress to direct me. 

Big Red

After 7 years of working with acrylics it appears that some of my very best paintings were done in the first 12 to 18 months.  I was at the beginning of the learning curve and approached the work intuitively and with a degree of recklessness that I gradually abandoned as my facility with the medium improved.   So I wonder…can I recapture that early energy and fearless approach, or have I, unknowingly, done my best work?

In the months ahead I hope to find out.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Friday…5 PM mountain time

What is it about the best-laid plans of mice and men?  After an early flight from Paducah on Wednesday, I arrived in San Diego around noon, Pacific Time, looking forward to 6 days with my friends Harvey and Jean.  Late Thursday afternoon Patient calls to tell me she is going to the ER with a fever and severe headaches.  She was promptly admitted with a temperature of 103, looking awful and feeling worse.

I quickly called the airlines and arranged to fly home today (Friday); I left SD at 2 PM Pacific Time, and am currently in the air, half way to Chicago.  If all goes well I will be back in Paducah at or about 10; 30 CT, hoping with everything I have that They will find out what is wrong with P and successfully treat it.

Saturday…9 AM

I arrived as scheduled and reached P’s bedside by 11 PM last night.  Her temperature has been normal for 24 hours, and if it remains so, she can come home later today to an overwhelming greeting by her canine family.

I woke up this morning somewhat confused...Had I really been in San Diego?  It has all happened so quickly.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

I AM WHAT I AM…part 2


Just when you think you’ve turned a corner, and are about to leave behind a habit that has become increasingly burdensome in recent years, something happens to pull you back in.  In my case it was our hot water heater.  Or, more accurately, our broken hot water heater that eventually caused my relapse.  An explanation is in order.

Last evening, while enjoying the cheese tray. Josh’s black bean and cheddar bread and Kirchhoff’s dipping oil, along with the delightful company of our dinner guests, I heard water running in the dog room (just off the kitchen).  Thinking that Patience forgot to turn off the faucet after washing the dog dishes I went in to do just that, and nearly fell on my ass slipping on the water covered floor.  To by great consternation – that is a wonderful word, consternation, love the way it sounds- I saw the water gushing out of the hot water heater from a crack about waist high.  Mumbling “oh shucks”, or something like that, I quickly figured out how to turn off the water, and then cut the circuit breaker.  Being an accomplished homeowner I can say things like “cut the circuit breaker” and “turn off the water”.  Patience just reminded me that she pointed out to me where the cutoff valve was, and later suggested that the electric power also be cut off.  I went to the circuit breaker and saw HW heater and turned to my wife with a questioning look…she said yes dear, ”that is the one”.  

What does this have to do with my burdensome habit?  I’m getting there; I’m getting there.  It is important to set the stage, so to speak.

Undeterred by the wetness, we went on to enjoy a wonderful evening sharing food and wine with friends, piled all the dishes and stuff in the sink, and went to bed, confident that it would all be there, waiting for us in the morning.  And it was.  After breakfast using paper plates and cups, the tiger in me took over.  I carried everything that needed to be washed across the breezeway into the studio, to be washed in the studio sink (a different hot water heater).  Now we get to the heart of this narrative.

I’m a pack rat.  One look around my studio will confirm that.  Several years ago I stopped using a desktop file rack to display greeting cards, but simply could not discard the well-designed and perfectly functional rack.  Last year we replaced our kitchen sink dish and silverware drain, and once again, I could not throw out the well-constructed silverware basket; surely it would be useful somewhere, sometime.

Last night was the time…for both accessories.  Could I have washed the dishes without using these remarkable aids?  Of course, but it would not have given me the same degree of satisfaction and affirmation.  Just look at these photos.

How will I ever be able to throw something away after this?  I am what I am.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


I’m not sure that means anything, but I like the way it sounds, and the different meanings the words can inspire.  For the purposes of this post, it means that the backs of so many urban buildings often stand in stark contrast to their fronts, and are frequently far more interesting to me because of the nitty gritty texture and disarray

I’ve been rendering the back side of buildings and streets for as long as I have been painting urban architecture…some 40 years now.

Wilmington backyards...watercolr...circa 1980

Where Am I?  Early Paducah watercolor...circa 2005

Included in the Paducah Portfolia - a work very much in progress - are these two new paintings.

Behing Market Sq. East...markers

Behind Jerfferson St....markers

I can't help myself.  When I see stuff like this I simply have to draw/paint it.  Or this...

Sidewalk Sentinels...watercolor and ink...circa 1980

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

SUNDAY PASTA…or…what happened to moderation”

I was falling under the spell of Michael Pollan and his cohort of food writers who have, with an almost religious zeal, been exposing the sins of the processed food industry, and the darker sides of America’s agribusiness.  It is hard to dismiss their messages about the potential hazards of our un-informed eating habits, and the benefits of eating the healthy “plant based diet”, forgoing the convenient processed foods, and curtailing our unabated apatite for meats and sweets. 

Add to the mix elevated cholesterol numbers for Patience and I, and my dear, sweet Mediterranean diet never had a chance.  Like rats leaving a sinking ship I left it behind, determined to find the bliss, and self satisfaction, along with low cholesterol numbers, of ‘eating healthy”.  I would shop around the periphery of the grocery market looking for all things plant based and “organic”, and cast disapproving eyes at those unfortunate uninformed or disinterested shoppers going through the cases of prepared, frozen food, their shopping carts filled with all things processed.  I was prepared to commit my remaining years to beans, greens, nuts, fruits, grains, and berries, so I could die healthy.

Kale - Barley - mushrooms

                                                       Feeding the body 

Pasta?  Only if it is whole wheat.  Sausage?  Don’t even think about it.  Pork loin, steak, chicken, meatballs?  No Way!  For me it was going to be beans, and Kale, and grains, and Kale, and vegetables, and Kale, and fruit, and Kale, and….well, you get the picture.  I have eaten more Kale in the past 3 months than in the previous 73 years!   OK, I know, I am exaggerating, but not a real lot.  Substituted for Kale has been a lot of Broccoli Rabe, which, thanks to Midtown Market, is now readily available.

What was I doing?  Did I want to add 3 years to my life so I could eat even more Kale, nuts, and berries, 3 more years of missing sausage and Sunday pasta with its thick, meat-based sauce?  What happened to that old axiom, “everything in moderation”?  It occurred to me that the quality of life is as important as the quantity of life, and for me, certain foods are much more than a source of nutrients.  They are a part of my history, a link to my past and the people who shared it with me, They play an important role in defining who I am, and there simply is no way I can give them up.

Pasta with sausage and chicken
                                                          Feeding the soul

Like so many aspects of life, it is not a matter of either –or.  Common sense tells me that it is possible to enjoy the health benefits of one, and the spiritual benefits of the other.  Moderation…it trumps everything.

Monday, May 6, 2013


Sitting in this recliner I can see at least 16 books sitting in plies on the desk, the table, and the small stand beside my chair.  Included in this haphazard collection are assorted books on religion, psychology, biographies, and art, most of which I read or looked at in the immediate and/or distant past.  I pulled them off the shelves of the bookcase several months ago because I wanted to ….I really don’t know what my intentions were now that I think about it.  It had something to do with re-visiting my “journey” and recapturing the excitement and wonder of those tumultuous years.  I guess I thought looking at those books, some of which played such a critical role at the time, would make that happen.  Of course it didn’t, and I soon abandoned all efforts to do so.  But the books remain out, and for some reason I am reluctant to gather them up and put them back on the top shelves of the bookcase where they have been sitting, out of sight, for so many years.  Perhaps doing so would be a painful reminder to me that there are chapters in our lives that must remain where they are, in the past, and cannot be relived.  They can be remembered, relished or reviled, and can serve as a guide as we navigate the future.  But always they remain part of what was, and what was to be.

My study and studio are endanger of being overrun by books, they are everywhere, and most of them have been read, sometimes more than once, and the remainder have been read “selectively”...another way of saying they have been browsed.  Of course I expect to read them all once more, at some abstract time in the distant future.  Although I know I won’t, it is a fantasy that I hold on to.
Their presence gives me great comfort, a visual reminder of how I have defined myself, assuring me of who I am, accurately or inaccurately, as the case my be.

It sounds good…now it’s time to put the damn things away or they will go from soul food to clutter.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


“I don’t remember when…” seems to be the default opening line in way too many of my posts, and I have given up trying to avoid it.  So…

I don’t remember when I first acknowledged my fondness for fountain pens.  There were always one or more on my desktop from the time I first started having desktops, nothing very fancy, just a simple leaky, scratchy, student grade pen.  During college, medical school, and residency I relied on the ubiquitous ballpoint pen for daily, non-stop use, and the fountain pen was reserved for writing letters and notes.  Some of us still remember when we literally “wrote” letters on pastel tinted stationary, folded them, stuffed them in an envelope with a stamp and return address and put them in the mail.  We could expect a possible reply in several weeks or more, depending on where and to whom it was sent.

In the early 1970’s I purchased a Parker 45 fountain pen that would serve as my workhorse for many years to come.  I used it extensively for all of my early “on the spot” drawings and sketches, and even in some of the studio work.  I eventually replaced it with a felt tip pen for my drawings.  I don’t know what happened to that pen, and in the years that followed I didn’t give much thought to fountain pens… until I did.

The Beloved Parker 45

Most likely it was one of those colorful, enticing catalogs that flooded mailboxes back in the ‘80s and ‘90s that uncovered my latent enthusiasm for these writing instruments.    Once again my memory is woefully inadequate, but I think the next pen was a Mont Blanc, and from that point the collection slowly evolved, some pens I purchased, and others were gifts.  I never spent more than $100.00 for a pen, but my dear wife has given me several pens that I believe exceeded that self-imposed limit.  In addition to the Mont Blanc, my very modest collection includes several Sheaffers, 2 Parkers, including a new Parker 45, a Wearever, a Bexley, a Cross, an Aurora, a Voyager by Fujiyama, and several off the wall makes. 

I am not a serious collector…I simply enjoy writing with fountain pens.  I love the feel and sound of the nib moving across the paper, and my handwriting, which needs all the help it can get, is much better with a fountain pen.  Sadly, there is little call for hand written anything today, so the pleasures from my fountain pens are limited to my journal entries.  Every morning I settle into a recliner in my study with a lap top desk, my journal and a small wooden cup holding the pens I will use.  Without regular use a fountain pen nib will dry out and function poorly, replacing pleasure with frustration, and even outright anger.  I learned this lesson the hard way, and now I keep 5 of my favorite pens available and use each of them in every journal entry.  I know…it’s a little weird, maybe even bordering on obsessive, but hey, it works for me. 

 on the spot drawings using the Parker 45 (1973)

Friday, May 3, 2013


One of life’s greatest assets is to be comfortable with who we are, and for the most part, I am.  I like being me.  But still I struggle, because there is something I am not very comfortable with…and this is the time of year when it haunts me the most.  I enjoy a sedentary life, finding pleasure in sitting quietly, engaged in some of the many activities that are possible while remaining physically inert.  I can do this without remorse on cold winter days, or on any gray, wet, stormy day.  But in the spring, when classic southern California weather descends upon western Kentucky, and I am sitting in the comfort of our front porch with a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio, my peaceful repose is continually affronted by people passing by on their bikes, people walking briskly with or without dogs, and worst of all, those people we refer to as runners or joggers.  They often smile and wave or nod a greeting, but I know what they are really thinking, “hey pudge, why don’t you get up and move your ass, it’s good for you”.  I wonder, does it delight them to make me feel guilty?

And they are not alone.  It seems I’m always reading something extolling the benefits of exercise; it helps prevent heart disease, it promotes weight loss, it makes you feel better, and on and on, ad nauseum.  I am surrounded by admonitions to get up and move, to walk, or run, or exercise.  These physical activity gurus are almost as bad as the food crazies, who want me to eat plants, nuts, and berries.

Now it may sound like I am wallowing in guilt because of all this, but I am not!  A lesser man than me might be. But being the tiger that I am, I have made peace with my sedentary proclivities.  We cannot be or do everything that others advise us to do.  If we all ran, or rode our bikes the streets would be cluttered with runners and bikers, and someone would surely get hurt, not to mention the epidemic of stress fractures that would follow.  Drivers would be leaning on their car horns, frustrated and angry, and road rage would ensue, with even more injuries.

I choose to take the high road, or my case, the high porch, sitting above the fray and congratulating myself for not contributing to potential civil carnage in the streets of our town.

I cannot end this brief narrative without making one confession.  Although I am an honest and standup kind of guy, I can, on occasion, be rather devious.   In regards to this jogging/running thing, I have, from time to time, splashed water on my head and face, wrapped a damp towel around my neck, and wearing running shoes and shorts, stood at the steps to our porch stretching my legs like the runners do.  To anyone who sees me, I have just completed my run.

I am not very proud of this charade, but hey, I am what I am.

Resting with Delia

Wednesday, May 1, 2013



The coffee mug was a Christmas gift for my father, purchased in 1962 at a small pottery shop on south 10th street, across from a side entrance to Jefferson Medical College.  I spotted the mug when Gene, my roommate during our second year at Jeff, and I stopped in to browse during mid-day break in our schedule.  Shopping for my dad more often than not meant a book or some wine related accessory, and this mug caught my eye; it would make the perfect gift to a man who drank as much coffee as he did.

Stoneware (fireware) mug made by Utestar in Austria

The truth is, I don’t remember how he responded to the gift, because of all that was happening in our lives at that time.  While I was up to my eyebrows with schoolwork, my father had the first of what would be a series of crippling heart attacks; so much of that period is a medical school dominated haze and the mug soon became distant history.  As the years passed by, the mug was proving itself to be indestructible, surviving frequent use and three household moves.  Eventually a cup and saucer replaced the mug as my father’s “go to” vessel for his daily coffee, and the mug was passed back to me.  Again, I don’t remember when this happened; I think I’ve been using it for at least 15 years, and maybe as long as 20 years.

The replacement

It has become important to me – a reminder of so many periods in my life, but more importantly, it provides an enduring and humble link to my father.  I have a lot of “stuff” in my possession, but very little that has survived over 50 years of constant use.

The lesson here?  I gotta improve my memory!