The Dog Run

the dog run

The Dog Run
oil on canvas
8×10

The Dog Run is a pseudo-dive bar in Apache Junction. In the summer months, it is a locals bar with several pool tables, dart boards, karaoke and a decent kitchen that closes early. During snowbird season, their fried cod all-you-can-eat specials crowd out the locals. Continue reading »

Captain’s Lounge

Captain's Lounge, Apache Junction, AZ“Captain’s Lounge”
8″x10″
Oil on canvas

Unfinished – I have to allow the painting to dry down a bit before a little (very little) detail work.

Captain’s is a little dive bar in Apache Junction. I use the term “dive bar” in a definitely non-pejorative sense. A dive bar is a good thing – no pretension, no shallowness, no fancy cocktail menu or uppity bartenders. Continue reading »

Mo Pagano – Artist

RIP Morel "Mo" PaganoMorel Pagano was a very close friend. People ask what I would have in common with an 86-year old man, a person 32 years my senior? No, Mo wasn’t a father figure. He was more of an overgrown juvenile delinquent. As am I.

Mo and I shared a love of jazz. We were both artists. We shared a fondness for female derrieres.

I have never been one that enjoyed funerals or memorial services. I never wanted to mourn the departed, but rather to celebrate their life and remember the good times. “Good TIMES!” Mo always said “Good times” in our conversations over the phone, in our infrequent phone conversations since I moved to Arizona.

I am sorry, however, to have missed Mo’s funeral. Rob Shannon set up a “studio” vignette at the funeral home.  one of Mo’s self portraits, and his palette and brushes. The parlor was a mini gallery with a retrospective of sorts, showcasing many of Mo’s self portraits. A fitting farewell.

There are two people I regularly call on my phone – my mom, and Mo.  Now it is one person. I am not a phone person. To me, phone calls are like getting teeth pulled, necessary, but not necessarily pleasant.

The tie that bound Mo and myself, and Mo and Liz, and Mo and many others was that we were artists. Mo was first and foremost an artist. He was a prolific artist – putting me to shame with his ability to continue producing. And so, it is only appropriate that the final unpublished story/chapter that Mo sent me was titled “Artist”. And so, here is Mo’s final chapter…

ARTIST

My parents could hardly draw a stick-man but their four children were born with draftsmanship talent. We were asked to make posters for school and town. Brother Jules stopped drawing when he entered high school and found out it didn’t attract girls, Leroy drew much longer for himself with pencil and colored pencils, Joy did art work all his life, mostly posters and labels on everything around him. Me, I could never resist the temptation.

There was artwork, prints, hung on our walls mostly American social comment works and Italian satire works by Pietro Longhi, the Carracci brothers, my father’s favorite was Veronese’s “The Marriage at Cana”. Pop and Lee were always showing me fine art but I was in love with comics, wanted to be a cartoonist.

Whatever extra money I made was saved for the first of the month to buy that months comic books. The first ones were a copulation of the Sunday news paper scripts, later they became an identity of their own and exciting super hero’s came on the scene. At first many of the originators did not draw well but as they became popular hired skilled trained artist to do the drawing and some of the art work was magnificent. There was a Sunday supplement in our newspaper,” The Spirit” by the artist, Will Eisner, and in 1942 they had a Spirit coloring contest; I was in the top ten and was awarded a $50.00 war bond. This was my first recognition beyond hometown. Confident, that summer took a mail correspondence cartoon course and did well. Then the first money earned was copying those pornographic small comic books that that my friend Gabe sold for us. Confident that same summer created my own script “Korky and his Kat” brought a dozen examples to our local newspaper. A very nice man took me and showed me the printing process and that they did not hire the cartoonist but got the scripts through a syndicate and they were already on plates for printing. My favorites were Krazy Kat, Li’l Abner, Captain and the Kids, Joe Palooka, Pop-Eye , Dick Tracy and so many others, later it was Peanuts, Beetle, B.C. and especially Calvin and Hobbs. I still believe George Herriman (Krazy Kat) is one of America’s greatest artists. Some of the comic artist were the most skilled draftsmen in the world, people like Lyonel Feininger, Alex Raymond, Harold Foster, Milton Caniff, Will Eisner, Raeburn Van Buren and so many others.

One of the papers we had delivered to our house was the Camden Courier Post; they had a political cartoonist, Jerry Doyle, he drew with a lithograph pencil and could be as caustic as Daumier. He was a master draftsman. The other political artist that was highly respected was the legendary Herb Block of the Washington Post. I still admire skilled, creative draftsmanship in all forms of art.

In high school took the college prep course so could not fit art classes in my curriculum but still did some kind of art work; some of my best friends had a print shop course and made personal cards for people I helped them design, many also still made signs and posters for occasions.

I was 2 and1/2 credits short to graduate in 1947 and had go back to school for ½ day, ½ year to make up those credits and graduate. Took art and music appreciation to make up the credits, loved them and got all A’s .The art teacher inspired and motivated me to continue art work.

After graduation, took evening courses with Matilda Phifer, she was the best artist in the area at that time and taught discipline and basic rules, even how to clean one’s brushes properly.

Then drafted into the Army. They too, after basic training let me continue some art work as long as it was on my own time. Drew cartoons of the history of our company and some posters for officers dances and other functions. My company commander asked me in I would paint those cartoons on the walls of the mess hall, they turned out good and the men enjoyed them.

In 1953, the division closed down Camp Polk and we moved to Fort Reilly, Kansas. Later Camp Polk opened again and became a Fort. Anyway Fort Reilly was different, nearby was a college in Manhattan, Kansas, there were many cultural events, art shows, concerts.

Most of our officers were from Louisiana and missed their home State. I was taken from my cooking duties and given a special assignment to paint murals of Louisiana scenes in the Officer’s lounge. Each day a pleasure so I took my time, The painted panels were composites from postal cards, magazine pictures and photographs of Louisiana, jazz bands, southern mansions, river boats, the French quarter, bayous and the Mardi gras. They loved their Nola. The murals turned out good, still have the letter from the officers thanking me.

Honorably discharged as a Sergeant, we went back home to live at my in-laws home until we got settled. We had one room, I set up an easel and continued to paint in my spare time. Went back to bricklaying and in a short time we got our own apartment across the street but I was addicted by the blessing or curse to paint and enrolled as a full time student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on the G.I bill. Hard decision to make, give up “security” to follow a dream?, best move I ever made.

At the Academy I was a hard working, inquisitive student and popular with both students and instructors

In my 2nd year there was a major juried show at the Philadelphia Museum of art with a New York jury, many of my instructors were rejected, I got a painting accepted. Imagine my elation, 26 years old and a painting on the walls of the Philadelphia Museum. Since then I got enough rejection slips to wall paper a room. Back in the day there were National juried shows at the Pennsylvania Academy, the Whitney, National Academy of Design, Corcoran, Cow Palace (San Francisco), Chicago Institute, Dallas museum and an International biennial in Brazil. I was rejected from all except the P.A.F.A. I also got rejected from a Fulbright, Prix de Rome, Guggenheim, Tiffany and Gottlieb grants.

Then my 3rd year, the year for me to compete for the Cresson European scholarship. That was 1958, on February 2nd, blood clots within inches from my heart, in the hospital for more than eight weeks, had to drop out of school. Had a recoup for a month at home. Doctor said I could never lay bricks again, Jules got me a job as a commercial artist in Washington D.C. Worked and lived there for about seven months.

Still had time on my G.I. Bill, that September decided to go back to the Academy and try for the European Scholarship, got it in 1961 and me and Elizabeth spent that summer in Italy and Paris. A fun and memorable time in our lives. With the award is a scholarship for a year more at the Academy. But having no means of support and Elizabeth was pregnant so I could not take advantage of it. Went back to bricklaying, wore protection but still got clots and sometimes had to leave jobs.

There were struggle  ,ups and downs like everyone’s life, painting helped so much, Teaching, lectures, sales, commissions sometimes brought in money and always brought pleasure in so many ways.

I was still working as a union bricklayer but had rainy days and cold winters months off to paint, never kept a record but painted well over 2000 paintings and I ain’t finished yet. I sometimes painted to earn money, commissions and local scenes that pleased people because of the subject matter. At others times painted to create art, these make me proud, hope I did enough of them. When trying to create there is always self analysis, starts with inner compulsions to create our own world, often this becomes difficult, are we one of a kind?  – there are easier ways? Give in to the wider appreciative public they are willing to pay for paintings they like. If I do this am I allowing myself to be seduced by the market place? With all of the great creative artists of the past how can I produce a work that will have durability to have cultural longevity or be aesthetically valid and stand the test of time over generations and cultures.

I left the Academy believing that working with systematic discipline directly from nature with maturity a natural style would evolve, with this belief I gave subject matter a more important place than it deserves in art. After about 10 years painting directly from nature, developed a formula. It was well received, But art must be a growing, creative process. Then I started to explore other things, when back to my early loves and started collages like the comic script’s, movie and travel poster’s for their ability to reveal attitudes and values with their colorful vignettes, collage offers me freedom for me to put out messages, thoughts and feelings, words were often used. After a few years I tired of the literal aspect of this work, but fell in love with the segmented shapes, coarsely painted contours and jarring colors around the drawings, photos and words. This led to the next period – fragmented paintings. These paintings were done from sketches and photos, I felt I was on the brink of Modernity. Often I went back to academic painting, sometimes because they sold when we needed money others times because I loved to draw interesting people, could never resist the beauty of the human face or figure, my favorite artist are those that captured this, Valazquez can bring tears to my eyes.

Spent one year with a 27 year old neighbor as a model, 18 paintings and many drawings, she was a great model.

Then went back to a quasi- abstract style, still at times paint “realistic’ portraits, can’t help it, love drawing in this manner at times

The battle to “understand “art. Having been educated in academic elements and principles of design, worked at teaching myself to “read” contemporary art. Looking at art is by no means passive, requiring a concentration, an active participation on the part of the viewer, ideally the spectator enters into a compact with the artist. Time and study will create a dialogue between the work and the viewer. Basic valves with technology changes them but they remain and can still be used.

The cause of painting is more important than the result, a painting is an attempt at building a progression, each application of paint changes what is already there and also anticipates what the next stroke will be.

Multi-media brings a world of discovery and exploration in art. With today’s technology the assembled components; conjunctions are significant in constantly building the composition. This requires the viewer a considerable amount of work.

Robert Frost made a couple of profound statements one was something like; “If you want a challenge in life, choose to be artist” the other; “When you come to the fork in the road, choose the one less traveled on”.

Rejections are a disappointment, but serve a purpose, it’s an opportunity to evaluate and analyze.

It wasn’t always rejections there were a few National shows, several at the Academy’s Fellowship exhibits, State exhibits and regional shows that excepted my work and there were prizes.

Looking back on the past 60 years, I am not disappointed, but I do feel my accomplishments should have been more, I worked hard but even so there has been time and effort dissipated. There were periods of experimentation, when nothing happens. There are times one feels empty and sterile and everything done must be destroyed.

Spent my life gazing at great work of the venerable masters of the past and they still remain the source of my faith and inspiration.

There have been diversions, the world of rebellion and boundless freedom!!! Collage, expressionism, fragmentation, Cezanneism ( still trying to absorb that), cunning innovations, cerebral cults, aesthetic formula’s.

Perplexity overtakes me when I think about my aims in art.

It is a rewarding journey.

I am a small town person that enjoys living “where everybody knows my name”, meeting old friends at the Post Office or the Diner, mostly have the same conversation over and over, but you can feel the warmth and affection and enjoy distorted stories of the past.

So I settled back in Hometown U.S.A., a peasant son?

The road

Was

Made of paint

Forms

Colors

Shapes

Music

Books

Words

No complaint.

Good Times – and a previously unpublished story

Morel "Mo" Pagano
Morel “Mo” Pagano

I first met Mo Pagano at an exhibition at the Riverfront Renaissance Center for the Arts. I was on the board of directors of the foundling community arts center.   The only thing I knew about Mo at the time is that he was a contemporary of Pat Witt.

Mo’s wife, Elizabeth, had recently passed. She had been very ill, and he had devoted his life to taking care of her. That was a full time occupation. With Elizabeth’s passing, Mo was lost. His entire life had revolved around her, and he had lost contact with old friends, outlived others, and had all but forsaken his first love of painting.

This entry into the exhibition was the first in a long time, but not to be his last. Mo fit in with our eclectic band of misfits – artists and musicians, ages 18 to 80 – and we began to invite him out to our soiree’s. Mo entertained with stories of his life and of the early times at PatWitt’s Barn Studio – much of which he later admitted was apocryphal.  He enjoyed spinning a good yarn.

Mo touched the life of everyone he met – and he relished the role of “dirty old man” which he played up to the hilt. He told me often how much he like being old, because he could get away with saying things that a younger person could not say, and be excused due to his age. Liz ad I called him “Old Man”, and he promised me that one day he would “piss on my grave.”  That probably won’t happen.

Fast forward many years:
I had begun publication of a local underground arts newspaper. I was recruiting a stable of writers and contributors willing to work for the privilege of having their name in print.  mo was a regular with his feature, “Mo Knows”. He wrote abut art, jazz, Greenwich Village in the 50’s, Atlantic City during the heyday of jazz, and whatever he felt like writing about.  That series of articles eventually morphed into a book, “Mo Knows”.

Mo put us all to shame with his work ethic, spending entire nights in his studio, producing a prolific output of paintings. Somehow he found time to continue writing. Short stories, memoirs, and they became two more books. “Everybody has a Book” was his autobiography. The book is written as if he were sitting there, telling you.  I can still hear his cackle when he said something he found humorous.

“Short Stories – some shorter than others” is an amalgam of anecdotes and tales where he really cuts loose.  Many of the themes are adult in nature, and the language less reserved or cautious. All three books are available on Amazon.com.

Two years ago, Mo began work on a third book.  I have three of his stories intended for the new book, a book which unfortunately will not see light of day. I will post his last three stories here in the future. He wrote them to be read and shared. Mo is in the hospital. A recent surgery led to complications, he is on morphine to keep him comfortable. He has had a lot of visitors, and even though they say he is asleep, I sense the old man hears them and appreciates them. And if he had anything to say about his life, he would say “Good times!”

 

 

A Union

sunset-webThis is my latest completed painting – Arizona Sunset. And yes, we do have sunsets that look like this – well, in an impressionistic sort of way. It was my gift to my niece at her wedding.  Well, not really my niece. She was married to Liz’s nephew, and to make things uncomplicated when we meet new people they call me their uncle and I call them my nephew and niece.  Because then we would have to explain that Liz and I are not married, we let people assume what they will. Then we would have to explain that Mike and Tami are divorced for many years, even though until last year they lived together and remain best of friends. Anyway…

20160214_132446Yesterday we attended Tami and Patsy’s wedding. Mike joined the Universal Life Church at the same time as I did, for the sole purpose of performing weddings.  We are in the company of the likes of Bryan Cranston, Richard Branson, Sir Ian McKellen and Conan O’Brien.  Mike joined to marry his ex-wife, but this time without the commitment.   I joined – well simply to be able to tell people I am an ordained minister.

20160214_133300I was disappointed to hear the wedding was going to be dry. I  assume that is due to either persons on probation not being allowed to be at an event at which alcohol is served. There may have been other issues – but at least none of them were Mormons. We found a work-around – red Solo cups!  Mike’s place is right around the corner from the hall they used for the wedding, and he stocked his liquor cabinet with hard liquor. Jameson for me, Bullit bourbon and Coke for Liz, gin and tonic for Mike and his sons.

The ceremony was very traditional – the candle ceremony, the cutting of the cake, and the food fight between the bride and bride, first dance and all that. Mike altered the ceremony to fit the circumstances, the brides exchanged their own written vows – I wasn’t sure what to expect since this was my first gay wedding.

20160214_154804Tami’s brother-in-law Tom and I did severe damage to the fifth of Jameson. Both brides had the support of their families, which was very good to see – Tami’s family has always been supportive of her lifestyle, and it was good to see Patsy had what I hope is the same acceptance.

Everyone retired back to Mike’s place after the wedding – including the brides. We did more damage to the liquor. And best of all, Liz and I were able to make it back home in time for the season premier of The Walking Dead!

Going out in a blaze of glory

Gil Bear's
Gil Bear’s – private collection

Yesterday. a Millville, NJ icon went out in a blaze of glory. Gil passed a year ago. and the bar had been shuttered for several years.  Gil allowed the license to lapse rather than to sell it for less than he thought it was worth. It was sort of a thumbing of his nose to the big chains that were coming into town and buying up the licenses for their sterile corporate boxes, I imagine.

John’s Place went out with one helleva party – I was there – and is now home to the Fraternal Order of Eagles.  Ottos went out with a whimper – and I here the building is soon to be razed. An inglorious end to a Millville original.  I was at Otto’s on the last day, too. Are we noticing a pattern here?

I wasn’t at Gil Bear’s on the final day.  I don’t know if anyone was – he opened and closed when he pleased.

Gil Bear's Afternoon
Gil Bear’s Afternoon – oil on canvas – 16×20 – $500

Yesterday, about 11AM Arizona time, a friend from Millville posted the pics of Gil Bear’s with smoke pouring out between the first and second floor of the wood frame building. I knew from that initial photo that the building would be a total loss.  Three alarm fire, with all of the local fire departments on the scene, another friend, Ed Schwegel,  caught what I believe to be the only video of Gil Bear’s collapsing as the gas main exploded. Hopefully the link below works for you – Facebook can be temperamental.

https://www.facebook.com/edward.schwegel/videos/10201417315990134/?pnref=story

Gil’s was one of those bars that flew under the radar. It was a quiet bar for a shot and a beer on a Saturday afternoon. There were three dart boards for tournaments. Pool tables. And on a slow day Gil Bear would share stories of Millville’s sordid past – naming names and giving background information that otherwise had been forgotten over the years. Stories of Leon behind the Levoy Theater, of a Finch cahaining himself to a tree on an islet on the Maurice River downstream of Kerr Glass, of Carlton the Ice Man breaking into City Liquor, and getting drunk on Boone’s Farm and falling asleep on the floor.

Gil Bear’s didn’t have the notoriety of John’s Place, was not known for the misogyny of Otto’s Bar. It wasn’t Kirby’s with the coke in the men’s room and bar fights in the parking lot. It wasn’t The Pond, nor Larry’s. It was nondescript, a neighborhood bar, a safe haven for a quiet afternoon, for a game of pool, for good conversation. It was a working class blue collar bar. There are fewer and fewer of them in Millville. 

So here is too Gil Bear’s!  RIP Gil, and RIP Gil Bear’s.

 

Desert Detritus Clocks

Desert Detritus Wall ClockIt has been a while since I created a new desert Detritus clock.  I need a good hike to collect more material.

But, I have several still available.  What better gift this holiday season than a hand-crafted original clock? These clocks are hand made, crafted from scavenged items from the Superstition wilderness and environs. Old rusted metal, weathered cholla roots and accurate quartz movements.

Your price is $150 until the end of 2015 only!  I will include shipping in the USA for free! Contact me for more information.

The Gallery in the Sun

Mosaic by Ted DeGraziaWhile in Tucson, AZ for the weekend, we made a point of visiting Ted DeGrazia’s Gallery in the Sun. DeGrazia is an Arizona icon – an artist that mastered every media he attempted, and who left behind a legacy.

The Mission in the Sun
The Mission in the Sun in memory of Padre Kino

DeGrazia made history in 1976 when he rode into the Superstition Mountains on horseback, carrying with him 100 of his paintings which he burned in protest of IRS tax laws that he deemed were unfair to artists and their heirs. DeGrazia died at age 72 of cancer, in 1982.

DeGrazia was born in a mining camp, he spent time in Apache Junction, but he made his home in Tucson. After a chance meeting with Deigo Rivera, he interned with Rivera and Orozco. After returning to Tucson, no gallery was interested in displaying hi art. So he did what any enterprising artist would do, he built his own gallery.

In 1947, DeGrazia and his wife, Marion Sheret purchased 10 acres in the foothills of Tucson, and built his Gallery in the Sun. The site is actually a complex of adobe buildings built by DeGrazia. I didn’t include any photos of the gallery itself because they could not do justice to the artwork or the atmosphere, all of which are interrelated.

DeGrazia's house
One of the rooms in DeGrazia’s house

The first building built on the grounds was the Mission in the Sun, in memory fo Padre Kino, a Jesuit priest.  The mission is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Next to the mission he built his house which also housed the original gallery. All of the buildings were made of adobe, mixed on site, but the straw and soil were hauled up to the site with his Model T.

The gallery is amazing – the entrance is modeled after the gate to a Yuma territorial prison. Inside the gates, it is reminiscent of the entrance to one of the mines that he worked as a young man. once you are through this formidable  passageway, you are in a spacious and airy gallery. All of the galleries are bright with natural light, and in some of the spaces the artificial lights are redundant.

DeGrazia's kitchen
No electrical appliances in this kitchen

The gallery is a network of rooms, each featuring a series of paintings representing a unique southwestern theme. From the plight of the indigenous people to landscapes, to Padre Kino, to Indian legends – DeGrazia captures events with a respect that grew from his upbringing among the various cultures.

I wish we had had more time to explore the grounds. The Studio in the Sun has a very cool vibe, with the spectacular backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains.  Even though the gallery is off the beaten track, there were plenty of visitors, many of them relaxing on the grounds. This is definitely a “must” if you are ever in the Tucson area. I have only tapped the first few ounces of the keg; DeGrazia was a very complex man with a story that cannot be told in a few paragraphs. He was an accomplished trumpeter, playing in a big band. He spent some of his childhood in Italy, before returning to Arizona. He worked not only with oils, but with enamel on copper, sculpture and mosaic. And his buildings are works of art in themselves.

 

 

Back at the easel

desert sunset I have returned to the easel after a prolonged leave of absence.

My absence was due to a number of mitigating factors – working the night shift which was when I traditionally paint; a studio so full of clutter that I get distracted and claustrophobic; a multitude of projects around the house; sheer laziness and ennui.

With construction of the storage shed almost complete – I still have to install a window and shelves along one wall – I was able to de-clutter the studio. It is still a mess, but at least my work area is clean.

I wasn’t in the mood to rush into a complex work – so opted for a local scene. Loose brush strokes, heavy application of paint, and reckless abandonment.

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