As told to Nick Beason
My family background is a rich and intriguing amalgam of Romanian Gypsy and Sephardic Jew. We always had a love of creativity. My father was a metal sculptor, though having to earn a living (like the vast majority of families then and now), his primary work was in the tool and die industry.
Growing up in various areas in and around the Upper Midwest, Tennessee and Georgia, gave me a broad brush exposure to the conventional American culture of the time. I spent much of my teens on the road – you’ll see roads of some form in many of my paintings. I started traveling at the age of 15. At 17 I joined the Detroit Trans Love Energies Commune. My journey, like that of many of my contemporaries, was a search for a place within which to be at peace and find love – the key that opens the cell door, the release from feeling like a prisoner until you’re loved. Of course, trying to find a place to fit into is a traditional, universal pursuit. For me it was essentially a ‘walkabout’ – a journey of growing and learning, and where “you’ll know the end when you find it”
In 1970 I traveled to the Hog Farm commune near Peñasco, NM. I met Lisa, my future wife, at a Valentine’s Dance held in Santa Fe. Strangely enough we had met very briefly two years previously, on Peachtree and 13th in Atlanta. Lisa was one of the original Atlanta hippies.
We went on the road together, eventually moving to north Georgia where I graduated in cultural anthropology and theology. I’ve always tended to reflect what I see and hear; playing music, writing poetry and painting. An early recollection is that of painting on birch bark in the 60’s when I lived in Vermont.
Painting began to really form a significant part of my consciousness when living in England in the early ‘80s. We moved there for two years on a cross cultural internship. The time spent in the museums of London, Amsterdam, Paris had a profound effect on my perspective of classic and modern artists, and my own outlook and feelings about painting – the whys and hows.
I especially remember visiting the Musée Condé, (one of the finest art galleries in France) housed in the Chateau de Chantilly. While there I effectively had one of Raphael’s Madonnas to myself, a painting which aroused deep feelings that persist to this day. I still assert that 90% of all artists capture what they see, but for me the motivation must be to capture and reflect the emotions evoked by a scene and moment via color and texture.
In London I worked as a tradesman and naturally had to learn a new language and master the different (dare I say bizarre) idioms and terminology, together with the mysteries of British plumbing. In parallel with all this I started painting, endeavoring to capture thoughts and images out of my head. This was a period of nascent style for me, the first medium I used being watercolor. However, I was soon seeking a medium with greater solidity and switched to acrylics, but I didn’t care for the finish, which lacked the overall vibrancy that I was aiming for.
Upon our return to the U.S., I became a pastor in Ohio, based near the Oberlin College which uniquely combines a leading College of Arts and Sciences and a world-renowned Conservatory of Music. I later served a parish in New Jersey and living there enabled me to make many trips to New York City, enjoying hours of reflection at the galleries and museums there, especially the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum.
When I retired in 2000 we moved to Llano in northern New Mexico. I devoted the majority of my remaining time and energy to painting. I continue to be self taught.
I switched to painting in oils, and then, buying a set of oil pastels from the teacher at a UNM Summer Plain Air session, I added another string to my media bow. With the pastels I can also use my fingers (a literal extension of myself) as brushes, and I can work with them in my closed studio during the winter months without aggravating my asthma, as unfortunately happens when using oils.
The artist that has exerted the most influence upon me is Van Gogh. His work is so emotional. He also was once a pastor, and saw poverty so intense that he could not reconcile himself with it. He saw his clergy garments as too fine and chose to dress in sacks, just as the poor amongst whom he lived. The clergy association that sponsored him seemed incapable of understanding. This caused his collapse and he eventually died a broken man. I sense that his broken heart is palpable in every one of his brushstrokes. He painted with a pastor’s heart; “every stroke a sentence.” Over time I arrived at the conclusion (subjective conjecture) that he was trying to evangelize with his paintings, which represent his strongest sermons. He was too Christian to fit into the conventional culture of his time and church – culture superseding faith. There can be no doubt that Van Gogh speaks to me the most. I find Monet beautiful, but lacking intensity of emotion.
The visual arts give you emotional understanding through the eyes (though maybe you can hear Munch’s scream). Art can move you to delight, or tears of sorrow. This is communication that is obviously not on a linear, rational level. The act of painting is primarily an emotional response but you have to come back in with clarity and focus in order to engender your meaning and purpose. This inevitably means development of line and form; a conscious effort, else your result is just a turmoil of passion. You need to be able to travel back and forth between the regular world and just being focused on drawing and painting. Creative people can feel isolated because they see and hear things differently. This is true of almost any form of creative/expressive activity. The nature of creativity is being so absorbed in something that everything else is silence. Van Gogh ate his paint because he wanted to become one with his art. Vincent Van Gogh Gallery
San David’s Studio
112 Llano de La Yegua
PO Box 924, Peñasco, NM 87553