Left Bank

What makes for a good trip or proper travel is not checking off a list of places to see with their associated objects;

The Louvre, Mona Lisa….

It is absorbing the feel of a place, ambience of scents, sounds..In taking time to do this, one notices how others live their lives & what is important to them. It also allows for a deeper memory retention of the entire experience which then adds to the “you”. It is what is actually meant by “Travel broadens the mind”.

For artists there is even more of a potential benefit.

Every artists works & travels differently. I am always “working” regardless of where I am in the world. The only variation is what equipment I am utilizing. Short trips will find me leaving the paints at home, filling my coat pocket with my trusty pocket pads as I like to travel as light as possible and most likely would not have time anyways.

Any give place should effect an artist. Not in the most obvious way such as “I am in London, I painted Big Ben”.

It is ambient light, the lines of architecture, they become further accoutrements to the palette. It does not mean that one enters artistic phases ala Picasso and Cubism et al. Rather, work done in one place  does not look exactly as it appears back home. The artists voice is ever present but there are different components to the fore, mixed in with some of the more familiar.

If you have never been or only as part of a tour group, then every place in France is lumped in together. Despite some commonalities, each area is distinctive with their own cuisine and habits. It is the same with the ambient light.

Aix-en-Provence is all beautiful yellows punctuated by bursts of trees and the sounds of fountains. Lyon is soft pinks as if the buildings are made or at least coated with the delicate charcuterie which they are the masters of making. Paris in itself is diverse. From arrondissement to arrondissement, from the Left Bank to the Right .

People, myself included, proudly proclaim themselves of their side of the river and which number arrondissement.

I like even some of the seemingly “ugly” streets with their time worn dirty gray and fatigued creams. These areas tend to be where some of my artistic heroes lived, cheap rent and every third door a no nonsense bar having been the draw.

I like working with colored pencils on gray or brown paper. I limit my palette intentionally as a challenge to myself. Getting the effects that I want in this way makes it “easier” when using paints. Although I use mainly pinks, it is realistic in that in the real world there are seemingly limitless colors but go out on street  look at buildings and the street. On encounters a fairly limited palette.

These pinks, urban children of Fauvists, remind me of some parts of Paris. Not that this color is found there but it is same effect, translated in my minds eye. This little corner I continue to pass almost daily. It has been there forever and i do not think it ever had any straight lines about it.

I initially encountered it when staying at my first great apartment. It was en route to my groceries and favorite bars. Four floors, impossibly winding stairs that made you drag your shoulder against the wall as you ascended since the light was always broken. The biggest part of the place was the bathroom, with a large old tub, frosted glass windows which opened up onto a shadowy verdant courtyard with its cracked flagstones. I kept the primitive hi fi in the bathroom doorway since it was connected to the bedroom. Only music with a minimal of voices sounded good as it was a mono player. Mostly Zoot Sims duets and Lester Young trios.The neighbors would lean against their window boxes of geraniums smoking and slowly nodding their heads to the music. Dark silhouettes with one wavering orange eye-dot that would flare with inhalation.

Hard work and I was fortunate to be able to trade up apartments. I remained in my neighborhood just moving a few streets down. The building has become one of the visual shorthand for the deep affection that I hold for the every day in Paris and those first exciting years.

W.Wolfson ’19

Left Bank 9×12 colored paper and pencil

 

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Face Dances

For Sharon Anderson

I had an acquaintance in Toronto who fancies herself a shutterbug. She walks all around the city snapping photos of whatever catches her eye. She does this on her own, with friends and as part of an informal group.

The city has some vibrant graffiti and murals. Someone had done one of Prince, which she snapped a photo of. Prince as he was in the first flush of mega-stardom, decked out in the white ruffles and purple sequenced jacket. The problem was, it looked almost nothing like Prince. The outfit was correct and served as a visual clue:  “you are looking at Prince”.  Had he had no shirt on (or a different outfit) as occurred in some promo photos and videos, then no one would have had any idea who it was.

A lot of stars, especially artists,  have one or two  images  ingrained in the public’s conscious. This is even more so for musicians of the pre Instagram age.  Record companies, Dj etc all had to have the promotional photos/packs. The publicity photo a pre requisite but not too often updated. Jim Morrison is forever fitting into his leather pants, shirtless or with white pirate shirt, starring back at the camera as he wonders whether it is all worth it, forgetting that Rimbaud gave up poetry to become a white slaver. Jimi Hendrix is caught up in a spider’s web of bandannas and clashing colors as he lights Monterrey Pop on fire. And Prince had the ruffles at the throat and purple sequenced jacket different in color but similar to what Pete Townsend, light years away stylistically from the purple one, wore in the sixties.

So much rock was born out of rebellion, which is why every generation still holds it dear. Lazily resorting to visual shorthand of well known outfits reduces them down to a sort of uniform, very anti-rock (rebellion).

The best art tied in to musicians/artists, they should be recognizable in a different outfit or even just the face.

What makes for an even more worthwhile work is not their recognizably but rather does the work radiate an emotion which in turn makes the viewer feel something. The handicap of doing the visual shorthand of obvious outfit is even with some of the better works, you are freeze drying the emotion(s) to what was offered up in the photo. All photos are the souvenir of a dead thing as the moment has come and gone.

Faces, not necessarily of famous people, have always called to me. To conjure up a face on paper is an important part of what I do. Emotion coming through is the most important facet of what I do.

Here are several faces, done on different types paper. The inherent properties of the papers adding themselves to my voice like spice(s) to a stew.

All are 9×12

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Val-de-Grâce

I used to work with pastels before seriously taking up painting. I greatly enjoyed the process but the pieces largely lacked the density, volume & mass that I prefer my work to posses.

Once I had obtained chops with my painting, I saw how I could have achieved the desired effects with the then abandoned pastels.

Like a lot of art things which become part of me/important to me, i fell into using colored pencils by complete happenstance. My painting showed me how to get what I wanted out of them much as it would have with pastels. There is a dichotomy to using colored pencils  in that to get what i want out of them, i need to concentrate while also utilizing a looseness which I avoid with my painting.

For subject matter, rarely do I do portraits with colored paper. I prefer instead landscapes and cityscapes.

I prefer to use colored paper, either gray or brown. I vary the size with the largest being 9×12. I intentionally limit my color palette, each piece only mainly using varying shades of three colors with the tiny splash here or there of  seemingly “wrong” colors. This i equate to the dissonant notes sometimes employed by Prokofiev and Monk.

Technique and conceptualization of colored pencil pieces are very different from my paintings. Having to utilize different approach & technique adds to how I think about painting. Aside from enjoying the process in itself, this gives it great value for me.

 

9×12 Val-de-Grâce

 

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New pencil stroll

I had been to one of my favorite art supply stores. It’s one of three oldest remaining in Paris. It is very small. I always like the ones which are tiny but organized.

There is the perfume which excites, a melange of pencils, cardboard and that scent paint gives off which in itself is a marriage of several things. The close quarters gives the feeling of being in a warren similar, with  variations, to what each artist will return to with their treasures.

I stood behind a woman whose slowness made the wait seem interminable but which was indicative of the personal service offered up to each customer.

While waiting I grabbed randomly, a fistful of pencils by a company that I knew to be good but had yet to try.

My turn, the heat had made me drowsy. When I’m old and shrunken, if it’s not busy, I will ask to curl up and sleep atop one of the taboret like a cat. For now though, I went afterwards to Marc’s to wake up with some ice cold sancerre  and good conversation.

I did not immediately give any of them a try, nor did I even know exactly what I had grabbed. They were all various “B” (soft lead) pencils.

I greatly enjoy Blackwing Palominos, which i would describe as semi soft with a creamy property. I constantly mix it up with what equipment I use but there is always a Blackwing in my kit too.

The Lyra 669 5 B is made in Germany. It had an easy glide across the paper. I noticed that the first portrait I used it for on 9×12 70lb paper, it had a very graphic look.

I have a thing for pencils which have their own distinctive voice.  It’s great fun to learn when  its specific  properties will best suit collaborating with me on a piece in the same way a musician uses specific instruments for certain type of song.

9×12 quick sketch portrait

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Pre-Trip Errata

Getting on plane tomorrow so here are some quick sketches and thoughts in between closing up stateside studio:

I just finished the biography on Alexander Calder by Jed Perl. I had not been into Calder beforehand but developed a new appreciation for him after finishing. I have shelves of books on biographies/histories of Paris during different eras which include all the artists that where then on the scene.

For modern art eras, Calder was often featured. He was portrayed in a sort of often parroted shorthand, as an impish figure who artists in all the various movements liked (surrealists, futurists, cubists et al) even though he was never formally a member of anything.

Marcel Duchamp too was embraced by key figures in many movements which he purposely never joined. Duchamp had the glamour of enigma and an obvious influence to varying degrees on many artists who came after him for generations.

After reading this wonderful book the two had more in common than would be apparent from other books. Duchamp’s mien was always sphinx like which lent a sort of gravitas to whatever he was doing.  Calder was serious about his work but had a joyous disposition. If he did not get along with somebody, then he just did not bother with them. He had artistic theories & philosophy but he was reticent and never pontificated about  them. This lent a sort of playful veneer to all that he did to casual gallery & museum goers. There was a joy to what he did, but a serious joy.

This is the second book I have read by Perl on an artist to whom I was initially indifferent. It underscores that no matter how much one knows about art or how well formed their aesthetic sense, there is always room for more exploration and to pull new things into oneself.  And as I have often said, with certain non-fiction authors, it is well worth reading anything that they put out. Jed Perl definitely falls into this category.

 

9×12 quick sketch Calder

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It was just Duke Ellington’s birthday.  To people not well versed in jazz Duke Ellington is “Take the  A Train” or that sort of sludge of sound behind really old cartoons which utilized swing music before Carl Stalling came on the scene with his innovative sonic madness.

There was always forward thinking elements to what Duke & his orchestra were doing. He was constantly evolving and adding to his vision and sonic palette.

He composed in so many forms that it’s bittersweet to think of the years where he was lumped in with other, mere entertainers. Publicly, he never seemed to complain about this. In his final decade or so when he was starting to truly get his due,  in performance he still would often include medleys of the hits as to please the crowd. Remnants of when  this  American Mozart, despite his skill land ambition had to set toes to tapping.

For beginners to his oeuvre the best place to start are his later recordings. These works are more easily acceptable to someone  used to post bop jazz (used to be called “Modern” ). In his final years, Duke seemed to be allowed to record whatever he wanted. It runs the gambit in diversity. From Tone poems to suites, to soundtracks to trios and sacred concerts to teaming up with musicians young and old that he admired but had not worked with in small ensembles (John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong)

I first got into his work by delving into the later stuff. I enjoyed that so much i started looking backwards. Years ago I would not have been open to it, but now i treasure all Duke.

There is probably at least one of his albums to fit no matter where you are in the world and what you are doing. All around the globe, my pencil in hand and the rich coloration as envisioned by Duke wafting up out of the speakers.

Sir Duke Quick Sketch 9×12

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50th Anniversary AEC

I had the great honor2019 of my first portrait of composer/musician Roscoe Mitchell being used for the official tee shirts for the world wide tour marking the 50th Anniversary of The Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Regardless of the nature of the ensemble he is playing in or composing for, he has been a prime inspiration to me for years.

 

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Turtles

The turtles keep surfacing when someones shadow fell across the surface of the fountain. They are looking for a snack or just to let everyone know that they are still around. They rise and fall with the rhythm of merry go round horses.

Kay found this hilarious.

9×12 Pencil & Paper

 

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