November 17, 2014
I went to the Goya show at the MFA the other night. Oh my God, what a brilliant, tortured man. On the plus side, as far as my personal ego goes, I got to get up close to most of the paintings for a good look (museum guards hate me), and his handling of clothes and drapery, I’m happy to report, was clumsy at best. I just don’t think he was that interested in it, an attitude I can completely understand. However, on top of all the other superlatives one could care to bestow on his art, I was especially surprised and impressed by his use and depiction of light. Astonishing, modern and even cinematic in its intensity.
Then I went to the Jamie Wyeth show, and I was eaten up with envy. Not at his artwork; I found that rather banal, technically proficient in the Brown Gravy style but not extraordinary (the same criticism I have of Andrew), nor particularly insightful, but of the apparent ease and leisure to do whatever he wants provided by his famous name. Shit, I wish I owned a private island off the coast of Maine. I wish I could afford to buy Rockwell Kent’s house on Monhegan. Then I could paint eight foot canvases of pumpkins too. Small of me, I know, but that’s how I felt.
October 31, 2014
Maria was eating an apple outside the Coop. She was wearing a hoodie and, incongruously, a mink coat. A gentleman with a Duck Dynasty style beard, Indio, was introduced to me as her husband. “You’re her husband?” I asked. “I take care of her,” he said.
Because of the paucity of shelter caused by the closing of the Long Island Shelter, I asked Indio what their plans were for the winter. “Heading down to Raleigh,” he said. Apparently Raleigh, NC has an enlightened attitude towards the homeless. “Maybe out west.”
I didn’t get a chance to talk with Maria, who didn’t seem to be the talkative type anyway, because as soon as I set up a drummer of the plastic bucket and miscellaneous cooking utensils variety set up behind me and starting banging away. He was quite good and some of it reminded me of gamelan music. After I finished painting I chatted with him a little bit and asked him if he’d ever heard of John Cage. “He wrote a lot of music for prepared piano,” I said. “What’s that?” he asked. I said, “He put little bits of metal, forks and washers, things like that, under the piano strings and then played the piano. Your music reminded me of his a bit.” “You’re shittin’ me!” he cried. “What do they call that kind of music?” “I guess it’s classical, but back in the day it was called ‘Avant Garde.’” He found a John Cage video on his smart phone and started to watch. “His most famous piece is called 4’33,” I said. “The performer comes out and sits in front of the piano for exactly four minutes and thirty three seconds without playing a note.” “No way!” he exclaimed.
October 26, 2014
I buy a Spare Change News from Frank almost every week. He was standing in front of my office last Saturday when I came out and eagerly agreed to pose.
Frank is 63. He told me he had been an artist himself but nearly tore his thumb off when he punched a wall in a fit of rage and he could no longer draw. His brother, he told me, is a well known artist, and indeed he is–a successful comic book penciller when I looked up his name on-line.
Frank was in Viet Nam and spent several years as a POW. We discussed his career options–he had been offered a job handing out the free Metro newspaper, but preferred “making my own hours” as the much-less-lucrative Spare Change vendor. “Plus they check up on you. The manager comes around and makes sure you haven’t just ditched your papers.” Like John, he was intensely interested in and (from what I could see) unwelcomely forthcoming with his compliments for passing women. Frank didn’t like his portrait.
October 13, 2014
Nathan is the son of my good friend, Joey. This is two sittings, which allowed me to bring the painting to a more finished state than my usual.
I set up a mirror so he could watch me paint. He was actually a pretty good model.
I also painted what may be my last panhandler painting of 2014–I’ll try and get out this week but it’s getting cold. I am actually very happy with this painting.
This is John. He volunteered to pose after I was turned down by his buddy–my second rejection of the day. John sipped discreetly from a beer can otherwise hidden behind a trash can, alternated with a clear liquid drunk from a soda bottle in his other hand. He said the cops didn’t bother him; he was too good at hiding his liquor.
John was mostly mumbling to himself, but also enthusiastically appreciating the passing examples of female pulchritude. I said, “I used to work in a grocery store and when a pretty girl walked in we had a code over the intercom: Check out the ice. ‘Check out the ice in aisle three!’ You’re checking out the ice.” “I’ll have some ice,” he answered, “and some Pepsi too.”
September 27, 2014
No new paintings to show, but an update on some issues that have concerned me. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the panhandlers told me that a dozen homeless had died in 2014. I found that shocking; on top of that I could find no evidence on line about anything: no statistics, no listing or summary of homeless deaths in Cambridge. The other day I spoke to Ken and Frenchie, whom I are more reliable, and they thought the number was closer to half a dozen. One recent death was the murder –murder, actually–of Bob Shea, or he was known,”Jumping” Bob Shea. I asked Bob to pose for me once and he said no. Anyway, I didn’t really know him but it seems he had quite the reputation, living on the streets of Cambridge since 1985. Here are two well-written encomia for Bob:
I also spoke with Justin and Lauren (see April 27th post) yesterday.. They proudly told me they were married, two weeks ago Sunday. Justin filled me in on what they’d been up to. For a while they had been making and trying to sell jewelry, but they’d lost money on the deal and were back to standard cardboard sign panhandling. Both waxed rather indignant on the vagaries of the market, with Justin particularly offended by Etsy’s betrayal of its trust to sell only handmade goods, and then revealed his plan to create a web site to compete with Etsy. I changed the subject and said, “It’s going to be cold soon, I hope you guys are getting a line on some housing.” Justin told me that once Lauren got her Section 8 paperwork, their married status would make finding a place easy. Lauren assured me her sleeping bag was rated to 20 below. I said, “Yeah, you should really start looking for place to stay.” Justin has spent the winter on the streets before but this will be the first time for Lauren.
Here’s the portrait from earlier this year.
September 21, 2014
Here are two recent paintings. I was able to finish the portrait commission of the Norris children a few weeks ago, after three sittings. Here it is:
Dylan, the youngest, was the last to pose. He actually grew a few inches between the start of the painting in early summer and completion in early September.
I also painted another panhandler painting. This is John, or as he prefer to be known, Mars.
Mars took the name Mars because he was, he told me, fascinated by the planet Mars. Mars has a distinct southern accent. He told me he and his brother flipped a coin when it came time to make a decision about where to go after leaving Kentucky, and the decision was Boston. His brother is gone, but Mars loves it here and has spent several years in the Harvard Square homeless community. He left an ex-wife and a daughter down South. Mars had originally gotten work as a tattoo artist, but was told his work was too old-fashioned and not up to Massachusetts standards, and so he ended up on the street.
Gary and Whitney have been hanging out outside my office. They still haven’t found a place, although they seemed to have a few leads. Gary almost gleefully told me about another Harvard Square panhandler who died, a young women I haven’t met who worked mornings at JP Licks. That brings the total of premature deaths I’m aware of to three, although Gary claims there have been at least a dozen. I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of this or statistics on homeless death rates in the Square. It’s been a tough year.
September 6, 2014
August 30, 2014
As has been my wont the past few years, I took the week after Labor Day for my annual painting trip. This year I decided to revisit Acadia National Park; I was last there 15 years ago, when I brought my nephew David along. This year as a bonus, my wife took the kids (and a college friend) to her sister’s summer place in Port Clyde, so I spent two days with my family before they headed south and I headed north. We rented a car Friday evening. Saturday morning, Joanne headed into Boston to pick up Sara, Emalie, and her friend Kate. I hit the road for Maine a little before 8.
I stopped in Wiscasset for an early lunch, then started scanning for the view on Rte 1 I knew I wanted to paint. It even had a parking space in front of it. I had certainly passed it enough times over the years with the thought, “I really have to come back and paint this” and I was determined to do the painting this time. Found it, passed it, drove back and found the view I kept seeing was, alas, not visible from the road side. Headed into Pot Clyde, determined that no one else had arrived yet, and drove down to Drift Inn Beach to paint:
“View from Drift Inn Beach”
August 31, 2014
Joanne thought a painting of the sheep at the farm stand across the street would make a good Christmas present for her sister. I set up and started to paint, at which point the sheep all wandered away. I determinedly went on painting and the sheep came back in dribs and drabs, enabling me to finish the painting. The title is, I believe, self-explanatory.
“Turkey Cove” was another suggestion of Joanne’s. While painting it I had one of the few animal interactions of this trip: a woodchuck ran by almost at my feet. Here is why I am not a successful artist. A guy pulled up in a car and asked, “Do you sell them?”
“That’s my house down there.”
“The teeny-tiny one?”
[In a hurt tone] “I have another house across the road. That’s just my fishing spot.”
“Oh, in that case, fifty bucks off.”
“Turkey Cove, St. George”
Impressive thunderstorms that night, with torrential rain.
September 1, 2014
The next day I left for Acadia. Very foggy day. I drove straight into Acadia, bought a pass, and parked at Sand Beach to paint.
While I was painting I chatted with a woman who turned out to be from Stamford, CT. In fact, she graduated from Stamford High School the year before I did. This was just the first Stamford coincidence of the trip.
A brother and sister wanted to paint too, so I let them add a few dabs of green to the unpainted portion of the painting. Ran into the sister and her mother in the parking lot. The little girl was very indignant that I’d painted over her contribution.
Checked into the camp. My site wasn’t exactly “remote”–it was ten feet from a country road. Oh well. Squirrels very fresh.
September 2, 2014
Another very foggy day. I painted at Bubble Pond and actually had to wait a half an hour for the fog, which had receded as I painted, then come back with a vengeance, to roll out again.Here I will voice my two complaints about Acadia. First, the utter banality of the place names is a little sad: Bubble Pond, Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, Cadillac Mountain. It’s as though the sites were named by the local Chamber of Commerce. Secondly, and I realize this is sacrilege, they need to trim back the trees at some of the more iconic views in the Park. The views are obstructed on some of the scenes I recall painting easily, like the view of French Cove. Sorry, I know it won’t happen, but just sayin’…
“Bubble Pond in the Fog”
Went into Bar Harbor for lunch and then back into the Park for a second painting. Thunder Hole is the most pimped out spot in Acadia, a stepped, ramped and handrailed Natural Wonder™ worthy of Franconia Notch, It was still very foggy, even foggier than before, so I carried my easel onto the rocks and carefully framed my painting to look past Thunder Hole onto the rocks beyond, without even a hint of the tourist trap in front of me.
“Thunder Hole in the Fog”
Back to camp. The radio was predicting heavy rains that night so I set up a tarp over my tent. Here’s a picture or two to show what you can do with a 10′x12′ tarp and an unlimited supply of twine.
It never did rain. Come to think of it, the weather reports were reliably useless.
September 3, 2014
A beautiful sunny day, but very windy. I had scoped out Jordan Pond the day before and went back first thing to paint. I made the mistake of doing a large painting right off the bat–I usually start with a small painting so that I have the energy to paint again in the afternoon. After battling the wind all morning and getting a nice sunburn as well, I was too exhausted to set up and paint in the afternoon. Went back to camp and took it easy.
“The Bubbles from Jordan Pond”
September 4, 2014
These trips all end up having a theme. Last year’s theme was “Getting Lost.” This year’s was “In Search of Breakfast.” I freely admit, I’m only a car camper, and I do like to have a cup of coffee and a nice cholesterol-laden breakfast before I start working. Earlier I had stopped at a diner called “Maine-ly Meat” (yes, I know, a really bad sign and a truly dreadful breakfast) because it was on my way. The next morning I drove past it and had to go eight miles into Bar Harbor before I found a restaurant. Eight miles without so much as a Denny’s or a Dunkin’ Donuts! And it’s not like this was a pristine back country road. There were souvenir shops and lobster roll places (that all opened at noon) a-plenty. Just, no diners.
The next day I headed south in hopes of finding a diner. I went twelve miles before I gave up in despair, turned around and had another (yechh!) meal at Maine-ly Meat (by the way, there are a lot of places up there with “Maine-ly” in the name–Maine-ly Maine Jams n’ Jellies, Maine-ly Music, Maine-ly Maine Gift Shop–it’s the pun that keeps giving). Do you realize what this means? There is a twenty mile stretch of main road in Ellsworth and Bar Harbor where you cannot buy a cup of coffee and a bagel. I passed not one, not two, but three separate places where I could buy hand-made Cupolas and Weathervanes (thankfully none had the word “Maine-ly” in the title), but not a single place for a nosh. It’s an adjunct of Hell, I tell you.
Anyway, I drove a little south to one of the many not-in-the-Park-but-still-incredibly-gorgeous beauty spots I noted in my travels and painted:
Back to camp for lunch and a nap. I chatted with another Stamford-ite, a science teacher at Westhill High School who had just retired and was full of glee when he saw the school buses drive by. His two complaints were about the elimination of vocational education in Stamford–apparently all students are considered college materials, even when they aren’t–and by the scourge of cell phone which has made the last few years a living hell for him.
I got in one more painting in the Park, again overlooking Sand Beach.
Initially I thought the painting was about the big stone monolith in the foreground, but as I painted I soon realized it was really about the scrawny little pine about halfway down on the left.
I couldn’t face the thought of another tuna and cracker dinner back at camp so I splurged and had a huge dinner at a local restaurant. Bad mistake! When I got back to camp, before I even got out of the car there was a knock at my window and another acquaintance from camp had bought too many lobsters, had to cook them all, and was inviting me over for a fresh Maine lobster. I had to decline–I was that stuffed. That’ll teach me.
Everyone in the camp seemed on the move so I put on my headphones and took a stroll around the camp. Danged if they weren’t setting up for a big dog show on the other side of the camp, complete with barrels, ladders and bridges for the dogs to strut their stuff on. I witnessed an encounter between two owners walking their dogs. Each dog kept scrupulously to their side of the path, no sniffing or barking. “What well-mannered dogs,” I said to one of the owners. She laughed and said, “Exactly!”
I could have spent another week there painting, but alas I had responsibilities awaiting me at home. If/when I go back I probably won’t even bother to go into the Park. There’s enough natural beauty on Mt. Desert Island scattered promiscuously over the countryside to justify a dozen painting trips.
Oh well, back to work.