Monday, December 19, 2011

Be Prepared

No, this blog is not about the season or about being a boy scout. As for the season, I’m feeling a little ahead of the game. The tree is up, the house is decorated, and there are plenty of lights outside. I’m sure my electric company would like to see more. I am behind on the shopping. Ok, I have not started but I have lots of ideas and know what I’m going to get. This knowing part is the good part. I’m partially prepared. So as I wander through the stores and weave between the shoppers that have no idea what to buy, I do. I am on a mission but always on the look out for an opportunity or some sales.

This is a nice segue into an opportunity for a sale. I was walking across a parking lot with a very large painting in tow. I had just removed it from a gallery that was closing. Hold back the tears; the story has a good ending. As I stepped off the curb with the face of the paining tucked to my side, my wife said, “Why don’t you turn it around so people can see it?”  My thoughts were if I’m bringing it out of a gallery that is closing because they can’t make the rent, what are my chances of selling it. But it was an opportunity for some unsuspecting people to see my art. I stumbled through the parking lot hoping not to ding cars and cause more damage to my ego. Then it happened; I walked past a black Range Rover. The gentlemen on the phone said, “Hey where did you get that painting?” Stunned, I replied, “It’s mine. I’m just picking it up.” And I continued to my car. Then that sound of opportunity hit me hard like a re-gifted fruitcake. I retraced my steps back to his SUV and proceeded to tell him about this fine piece of artwork I was holding. He graciously told the other person on the line he’d call them back because he was about to purchase a painting. Really?

We walked back to the gallery and completed the sale. I was still in disbelief and wondered if I could screw this up. But the sale continued to happen. He said, “All I have is a check.” To make the story better he assured me the check was good because he was the president of the bank. Really? I thought back, retraced my steps and concluded that this was way too good to be true. So I took the check and told him I’d deliver the painting Monday, making the best of an opportunity.

I drove home in amazement of the whole thing, how it all played out. I thought of all the Christmas presents I’d be able to buy, if I could just get to the stores. I was made aware of all the stores around me because of the large billboards on my drive home. One was for holiday shopping at the mall, another for Google luring me to shop online. The next billboard looked way too familiar, it was a friendly face that I had recently met telling me to put my money in his bank.

Moral of the story, be prepared…because not everything comes down the chimney

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Interview with Darcie Goldberg

I sat at the end booth at Teca perusing the extensive wine list wondering if we were going to order a bottle or order by the glass.  “Red or White?” I waited for my interviewee; photographer and CCAA executive director Darcie Goldberg. She enters; her blonde hair framing her blue eyes, and her golden tan interrupted only by her bright smile. She waves to a few acquaintances and makes her way to the end booth. I am greeted with a gracious hello, the excitement of the interview is in the air. There is so much to catch up on, and so many intriguing questions to be answered.

The waitress stops by to fill the need for libations. I ask Darcie “Red or White?” Then it happens, the most dreaded part of the interview.  I thought the world had stopped like in all those new fancy commercials where the camera pans around the actors and everything in the air has come to a stand still… Darcie says, “Oh no thank you, I have to work.” All the surrounding items that have been suspended in mid air come crashing down. The action resumes and I think, “We are artists, I’m actually working right now!”

It was inevitable; it had to happen sooner or later but not to worry. This interview is filled with inspiration, murder, intrigue, and foreign travel to exotic lands. Darcie is just as fascinating as James Bond. She seems to be at the right place at the right time capturing it on a 30 year old Hasselblad camera and the final result is a beautiful 24 x 24 inch photograph captured on a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 negative. 


Can you describe your work in general for the readers?
I think its very traditional … black and white photography from film to the dark room. I have a photojournalist approach to my subjects and I only use available light. I feel those are the keys to my approach.

How did you get started in photography?
I always knew I’d be in the arts. I didn’t know how but I always knew I would. After graduating as a dental hygienist, I worked for a dentist then went back to school for photography and decided that was the route I wanted to go.

Did you receive any formal art training?
I went to the Art Institute in Pittsburgh. I worked as a photographer for UPI. That was my first official job outside of weddings of course. I went back, I wanted to get into art therapy. All along the way I’d been doing photography, but I wanted to just do the arts in a different way. I got into Hanuman and finished my masters with a degree in Creative Arts and a specialty in Art Therapy.

Have you embraced the digital era or are you a “purest”?
I try. I have a digital camera that I travel with and use as a back up. I know it’s the future. I am having more and more trouble getting film. I’m having more and more trouble getting through customs with my equipment. I have a really good printer in New York that prints my photographs. It’s expensive but its sweet.

How do you do choose your subject matter? 
I like people. I watch. Sometimes I just sit and watch for a minute and look for the perfect light.

What are your thoughts on the perfect photograph?
OH, ok. Lighting, composition, subject matter, I think they all go together but when you take that perfect photograph you know it. You take thousands of photographs a year. I was just in Cambodia and Vietnam and I took thousands of photographs. Out of the thousands I think you will get two really good photographs. It has to do with being in the right place at the right time.

How do you focus on a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inch view of the world, with the busyness of it going on around you?
Concentration. That’s when you have to really zone everything out. You have to realize when your taking that photo that that person is allowing you to take that photo and in one click you have to take that photo and in a second its gone.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
Oh gosh. My husband. He’s very good at supporting me.

What inspires you?
An adventure. We do so much traveling.

What was your favorite location to photograph?
Uh, the Himalayas, wait, India.

Where would you like to go next?
I am doing a base camp in Everest in April.

What tip do you have for amateur photographers?
Oh, oh. Always travel with your camera.

What are you eating right now?
Tuna. Italian tuna on lettuce. It’s really good.

What is your favorite food?

What does home mean to you?
Comfort. Family.

Your proudest moment?
 When my daughter graduated from medical school. I cried.

What was your mother right about?
I have to think about that one. That’s a tough one.  I can see where the wine can help. … She said that I have gypsy blood.

Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about.
It’s about family. It’s about happiness and it’s about health. And art, art is in there. The Arts give us a soul.

Where did you grow up?
 Lake Erie.

How did you meet your husband?
I met my husband at a murder trial. I was a photographer for UPI and he was a lawyer.

What is the last book you read?
I read, The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell.

You collect?

Something that is important on your nightstand?
My reading light.

Your strangest possession?
Strangest possession… Maybe I should be drinking. Hm, my African charm bracelet amulets from ancients.

At your best, you are most like this famous person?
 Margaret Bourke White. She was a photojournalist years ago for Life Magazine.

Play - Alice in wonderland

Big Break – UPI

Album – Steppenwolf

Concert - Rolling Stones

Piece of art you sold - A landscape before I even went to school. It was a black and white photograph. 

In between my questions and Darcie’s fascinating stories, our waitress brought us treats from Tuscany. One of the “must haves” at Teca are the Olives Ascolane. These are best described as “little fried salt bombs.” Darcie ordered her favorite, the Insalata Teca: Tonnata, which is a generous helping of salad with a heap of Italian tuna placed on the top. I chose a spicier creation, the Diablo. This is a spicy salamino, capocollo, hot cherry peppers, with scamorza cheese pressed on a warm ciabatta.

I had some insider information on this woman of mystery; during her graduate studies she wrote her case study on a female graffiti artist. Her interview led Darcie on night adventures through the dark, train yards of NYC as her case study worked her trade. This was my opportunity to see if the statute of limitations was up on Darcie and what property she had defaced. What would her “tag” name be… something like “Blonde Razor?” Is she really Banksy? She smiled and said with a little bit of dissatisfaction, “I couldn’t it would have jeopardized my research.” I wanted to dig a little deeper but the conversation was interrupted by our Chocolate Tartufo; three scrumptious balls of gelato with crème filled centers. This Italian dessert would stop any wise guy from squealing in the heat of interrogation.

As with all Italian meals, we finished with an espresso. Darcie drank the rest of her iced tea and I drank the last remnants of my red wine. She got back to work and I meandered my way back to the studio. I’m sure Darcie wasn’t thinking about work and the expansion of CCAA. She was probably thinking of her next photographic adventure at the base Mount Everest scheduled for next year. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Wonderful Death Before Dinner

Every night we gather around the dinner table and enjoy the food our domestic goddess has prepared for us. Whatever the entrée, cheeseburgers with hand cut fries or Milenasa with Ensalada Rosa, we give thanks.  Then out of nowhere death comes. My son grabs his throat and does a wonderful death spin, looks around to make sure his sisters are watching, then takes his last gasp of air and falls lifeless on the kitchen floor. We chuckle and roll our eyes. It is a wonderful little performance. He lies there for a few minutes then we remind him his food is getting cold. After the third death scene, we have to exercise our parental responsibilities and tell him to stay seated and finish his dinner.

The best part of the dramatic play is that there is limited seating and a select audience. The dramatic scene is never played out in public or with guests. This got me thinking. When is it ok to entertain ideas, appease a few and have the freedom to express and do something unusual? I call it studio time. This is where I succeed and live while at other times it is a death spiral into a nasty mess. Nobody is around to see the performance; maybe I’ll invite a select few to the disaster scene. Occasionally a visitor will turn around a painting facing the wall to catch a glimpse of the dying. But mostly they lay around the studio. Every once in a while they get a look and I think I could revive them. This all happens without an audience. The silliness, the entertaining thoughts and freedom are played out in the privacy of my studio.

Maybe my son will be on Broadway. Maybe my paintings will appear in a gallery. The fun happens before dinner and the show. Ok now I have to go put my pants on and start painting. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Little bit of pie before Thanksgiving

This pie I was about to eat was in the works six months ago. I had no idea I was making it but I sure was excited while talking about it and getting ready for it. Little did I know how good it would taste. The recipe started with my wife saying “We should run the half marathon in Philadelphia.” Right off the bat I said we should double the recipe! What is the point of running a half marathon when you can do the whole thing? It’s like making a killer pie-crust and not having a yummy filling for it.

As we all know new recipes require you to read the ingredients and make sure you have everything, then figure out how long it takes. I went down the list of things you’d need for a marathon: two feet; check, two legs; check, health;…well I’m breathing…check, and six months to train. I do have the six months, finding the time to train within those six months was a different story. I gathered my feet and fitted them with a new pair of running shoes, dressed my legs in shorts and set out to train. Running was going well while building up the mileage then came “work.” I was going to Kentucky to install a mural, then travel some of the southern states. Kentucky is home of Bourbon trail and the south is where they fry everything. “This is going to be easy,” I thought.  Then, more work abroad in Switzerland came. Cheese and wine and food smothered with heavy cream sauces. Can you see my weakness here? Anything that has to do with not training for a marathon! Through the months I ran but nothing like the recipe required.

Four days before the big day…Thanksgiving, I was in Philadelphia standing at the starting gate, not convinced I was going to run a marathon. I thought I might but I knew it probably wasn’t going to happen. During my test runs my knee wouldn’t let me go further than nine miles. The correct amount of distance for a marathon is 26.2 miles. I did not have all the ingredients just two good legs. But with a dash of determination, a cup of cheer, and a big gulp of pride, I made a wonderful humble pie and ran a half  marathon. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I want to be a collector too!

The other day I was perusing CaFE, a call for entry site for artists, in the pursuit of gallery exhibitions and request for proposals. I came upon a little gem of a show “2010 Collectors Choice.” For a small fee of $35.00 an artist can send three of their finest works of art to be viewed by 25 unnamed collectors. The collectors choose the art and the artist wins because they get to put their masterpieces in front of the eyes of collectors. Maybe it is a good opportunity for some but I’m not convinced.

I had a great opportunity like this once. My work was being rented at a great venue; the possibilities for me were enormous. The Hollywood crowd, who make millions, would see it. It would have been seen by millions of people. My Gosh! If you do the math, that’s billions of people with a net worth of a gazillion dollars looking at my art. I was beaming, I had the same feeling I get when I buy a lotto ticket and the jackpot is more than the national deficit

To make a long story short, it was seen by the Hollywood elite and millions of  television fans. The publicity was great and maybe even priceless, I later found out how much it was worth…the price of a painting. When all the glamour and usefulness of my work was gone, I received part of the leased art collection back. I later came to learn a prominent “art collector” enjoyed one of my pieces and “kept” it for their art collection. I guess I would collect things too if I didn’t have to pay or return the items.

This got me thinking… I was wondering if I could have plumbers come over, pay me $35.00 and I’d let them put a new toilet in my bathroom. Think of all the times I would use it, plus my friends would use it when they came over. Theoretically it could be used over a million times by thousands of people. If I have an open studio, that alone could attract hundreds of people. Then I started thinking what if I worked my way through the yellow pages; next roofers. Do you know how many people drive by my house? These are good perspective customers looking at all the sculptures I have littered through out my yard. They slow down trying to decide if its art or am I the white trash neighbor that is bringing down the value of homes in the neighborhood. Maybe I should skip all the repairs and call a realtor to have them charge people $35.00 to bid on a house owned by an artist whose art work is owned by a famous people with lots of money. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Interview with Janis Galbraith Fitch

For this lunch and interview I sat down with Janis Galbraith Fitch at the Station Tap Room in Downingtown. When I emailed Janis to set up the lunch she was so excited and told me how she had read the other interviews and was honored. I thought Oh Crap! She knows all the questions and has all the answers rehearsed. Like all interesting people the conversation was all over the place and we shared many stories along with many laughs.

One thing that we shared was that we both had just come back from Cape Cod. I reflected on how quaint and beautiful Martha’s Vineyard was. She had just returned from her third visit to the Cape this summer. Her enthusiasm for the beach, the rocks, the sea glass, and the light could not be contained. Yet, all the pictures were saved on her iPhone that she often shared. I loved her enthusiasm for her passion which is the subject matter expressed in her art. Beaches, beach houses with the blue skies, Cape Cod sun and shadows painted with blues and fuchsias.  That’s just some of her paintings. Now place a cow within the painting on the beach! I know…but really it isn’t that odd. She has been painting this unique combination for over 20 years. I’ll let Janis tell it, hoping that her enthusiasm comes across in words. Make sure you smile and think of that warm summer sun as you read.

Janis Galbraith Fitch
 Interview Questions 

How did you get started making art?
I always drew. I always drew as a kid. I would draw my dolls, my backyard.

Did you receive any formal art training? Where and what did you major in? 
Yes, I went to the University of Delaware. I started as a math major. My dad thought I was going in as a math major. Before I ever had to take a math class I changed to art. My sophomore year there they got a BFA program. So I entered that and there was 16 of us I think and so I got my BFA in drawing and painting. 

Describe your work in general for the readers?
 Cows, and the beach…and sometimes its the cows on the beach, and bright colors.  The cows are not wearing sunglasses, they belong there. I guess its kind of pop. I don’t know how to describe it. 

What is your medium? I use oils because, that's what I was taught in my painting classes at the U of D.  But I also think it's because they blend easily, I can get intense colors with them, and I can get a nice shiny surface with them. And the smell of oils is the best.

When did you start placing cows on beaches? 
When I lived in Texas. I lived in Texas for 2 years. 1984-1986 I think. Right before we lived in Texas I lived in Pennsylvania and I took pictures of all these cows and I really was homesick. So I was looking at all these cows and I was also looking at these pictures of Cape Cod, I also love Cape Cod.  I thought it would be really cool. Wouldn’t it look good if I put a cow at the bottom of this hill on the beach? And there is something about the cows, their black and white; well usually they are black and white and the beach because the colors of Cape Cod are so vivid that they go well together. I’m kind of obsessed with them. I do paint cows that aren’t on the beaches. I get away from the cows and I have to start painting them.

  You really capture the sunlight and warm glow of the Cape Cod sun. What tip do you have for artists to capture that?
Go at the right time of day. I go around and take pictures, I take a lot pictures in the early morning before there are a lot of people on the beach or cars, but my favorite time is in the afternoon when the sun is lower and it just has that warmth. Cape Cod just looks like that. You have to remember there’s a lot of yellow in your white. 

What are your thoughts on perfection?

Perfection? Um… I have no thoughts on perfection. Obviously I haven’t reached perfection yet because I’m still painting so sometimes you get to a point and you think its great but I wouldn’t say it is perfection. 

How do you decide when an artwork is done?

I knew you were going to ask that, I saw it on the blog and I was like CRAP! Well I was thinking about it and I will look at my painting and like analyzing it. Like this one I am working on right now that I have these beach chairs and they are looking over the Provence town line and you can see all the monuments and I really love that I changed the sky, it was awesome! And I went back downstairs after dinner and looked at it and I was like Crap! The monument is crooked! I mean little things like that. I wrote it down because I wasn’t going to get everything out that night, so I make a list. And I say ok, monument bothers me. It’s crooked, and I have to remember to put the bright light on the side of this chair. I have all these things, little tasks that I have to finish with the painting before it will be acceptable. So when I can look at the painting and there’s nothing that screams at me that says this is bad, I think it’s done. There’s always the time limit. 

Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
Gosh, I don’t know. I guess everybody has left a mark. 

What inspires you? 
I never really know, usually Cape Cod and cows and I always have to have my camera with me. We’ll be driving along and I’ll say, “Stop Stop Stop!” And it’s just sunlight on a building and I know I have to paint it, and sometimes we’ll pass something and I’ll think I should have taken a picture of that, so 5 min down the road I’ll say Richie can we turn around there’s something I really want to do.

Do you have any habits or morning routines you do before going to the easel?

Yes, indeed I do. I wake up, I have 2 cups of coffee; I go to the YMCA and work out for 2 hours. Then I come home and I try not to go on the Internet, so I shower and paint. If I go on Facebook I paint much later. 

What are you eating right now?

Well I have a ham and brie Panini and its very very good, very creamy, truffle fries, and it tastes like a little bit of garlic but not too much.

What is your favorite food?

Probably ice cream

Your proudest moment?

It’s not a moment, my 2 daughters I guess, them turning out so good. I’m very proud of them.

  What was your mother right about?
I was hoping you’d ask this one because my mother is totally right about this. She always said I never feel older than 18, like in my mind, I always feel like I am 18.  And I thought yeah right, Well I never feel older than 22.  I never liked 18 because I was too shy, so maybe 24. I can relate to everybody that is young. My body is maybe not cooperating. I look in the mirror sometimes and I’m like oh my God it’s my grandmother. But she was right, you never feel older than a certain age. 

Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about.
What is it about?
 Life is about relationships.

Where did you grow up?

New Jersey

Two words you would use to describe your ideal self?

Happy, Successful

You collect? 

Sea glass and rocks. 

Something that is important on your nightstand? 

My romance novel

Your strangest possession? 
I guess my rocks, I guess that’s kind of weird

An artist whose work you highly respect? 

Edward Hopper.

Two things you did today
Drank a __ beer, exercised.


What was your first word?
I was in Little Abner, the first play I ever saw was Jesus Christ Superstar.




Plane ride 
to France

Piece of art you sold
A picture of the water and some boats, sold it at a little gift shop in Cape Cod.

You think I would have realized by now that these conversations take at least three hours. This one was no different. We had a window seat at the Station Tap Room, like its name it is situated across from Downingtown Train Station. During our conversation many passengers boarded and disembarked (never really got to use that word.) The food here is awesome, simple yet gourmet along with a great rotating beer selection. We chatted over a homemade chorizo and goat cheese sandwich and a ham with a triple crème panini. I insisted on getting the truffle fries.

I looked at my watch feeling bad that we had to end it and get on with the remainder of the day. Her nerves were squelched form the pint of Weizen Beer (if you ever need a good hang man word.) So I took advantage of the opportunity and played a speed round of questions. She thought I was easy on her.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Power of Halloween or Lack of

It started Sunday when I visited the mall. I had been locked up in our house with out of town relatives and the storm hit. Maybe I was a bit unprepared but granted it was October and I was not expecting snow.  Without power, trees down and an unforeseen amount of snow expected, it was like camping! Yet, we had a kitchen with an electric stove, a living room with a plasma TV, a bedroom with an extra thick queen bed, and nothing to do but play monopoly. Shall I teach the kids “Greed is good,” or “play fair?” I gobbled up properties with every move, trying to get three consecutive colors. My kids’ luck seemed to alternate between them as they hoarded every third color of the property I tried to acquire. The game continued for four hours until the sun set and our light was dim. Their bank accounts reflected the fading sun as they landed on my properties and paid their rent.

This is not the point of my story, I digress. We were at the mall, partly because relatives had to shop and partly because we had a bit of cabin fever. As you may have noticed in recent blogs, I do not get out of my studio much, nor do I like to. I did not realize that the mall does not follow the Gregorian calendar and celebrate the established day of Halloween. It was Sunday the 30th of October and the mall was packed with: cute babies dressed as peas, and teenagers in ripped jeans, striped shirts and spiked hair, and  excessive fake piercings. Excuse me, but that is not a costume! That is how we dressed when we rebelled in the 80’s. Maybe it was fashion and sold to us. But it didn’t hang on a hook and come in a sealed bag ready to wear. It originated as an expression of creativity. So I weaved my way through Transformers, Harry Potters, and Bratz Doll look-a-likes while thinking of my first high school dance and hearing Depeche Mode in my head. I wondered if the negotiating and deal making we experienced in Monopoly earlier would resonate with my kids. Maybe they would be creative in making a decent life for themselves. I yearned for the days of 100 Grand Bars and Payday as I watched the mall walkers happily take handfuls of Sweet Tarts.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Talking About Art Is Like A Dog Chasing His Tail.

Every month I gather a few pontificating artists to share their work and thoughts. This group has swelled at times to more than twenty and at the best times has gone down to about a litter of six or eight. The rules are simple: bring your own art and your own bottle if, you like libations. We usually rotate the venue. So every one can compare and learn the inner workings of each studio. In the beginning it was a few hours of sharing work and giving kudos. Once in a while you would get challenged or help in a certain direction if you asked. It was a way to get myself out of the studio and see what was going on with other artists in my area.

When the litter got smaller and the runts left, I wanted more than sharing, I wanted answers. So now the format is: the first half we share, and the second half we converse on a pre-defined subject. Last weeks subject was “production art.” The meat of the topic basically covered how much of the work do you have to make to call it your own. For better or worse Kostabi, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst aren’t on my email list. The conversation goes around with the debating between painters and sculptors. Plein air artists and photo realists. Then the details come out. Do you have to mix your own paints, or smelt your own metals? Oh, that brought up the concept of a craftsman or a designer. Yet, craftsmen have the image of just a trade with no thought while designers are thought to have ideas yet lack the capability to actually make it. Is it the hybrid that creates a true artist? Yikes, what is a true artist? Someone who makes their living on their art? What happens if you paint a pleasant little cottage with their lights on and an inviting path leading to the door? Are you a craftsman with no thought? Or are you a brilliant designer that figured out what a bunch of people wanted? I’m dizzy and its late, the dog has already fallen asleep. Did she realize she couldn’t catch her tail? Wait…she whimpers and her legs are running in place. I think she is dreaming about a squirrel. I think I’ll dream about every room having a sofa and big walls. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's a Swiss Thing

It’s a beautiful fall day, the warm sun dappled the cobblestone road. Shadows of cornices and awnings create angular shapes along the sidewalk as we journey towards the gallery. The sites look familiar and the stores look like they haven’t changed. Each window is carefully decorated modestly to show their wares. All this familiarity and I still can’t figure out what train stop is ours. “There it is.” I quickly press the stop button with my finger. The train passes the gallery with its windows covered to hide the upcoming exhibit. We’ll get off at the next stop.

Here it is, Gallerie I.D., we stand in front of the gallery for my fourth solo show, windows covered, wondering if my artwork made the long voyage. The covering of the windows is a European thing. In the states I would have been freaking out, exclaiming, “What do you mean there are no pre sales?!” but this is routine and I’ve experienced it before so I’m not worried. There are no pre-sales, no political jockeying certain clients selecting that ultimate piece. The windows are covered. The doors are locked. If you want to see the art or, better yet, purchase it, be there at 6:00 when the doors open.

Sure enough like the accuracy of a good Swiss watch, there is a queue outside the door at five minutes to six. Precisely at 6 o’clock the doors open. The windows are unveiled and clients, collectors and the curious work their way into the room. I on the other hand show up twenty minutes after because my stomach is in knots. What if nobody shows up? What if nobody likes my new work? What wine am I going to have with dinner, red or white? Why did I take four years of Spanish in high school instead of French? My fears end as I embark at the right train stop and enter the gallery to see at least thirty people inside. I scan the walls and the labels placed to the bottom right of every painting for red dots. More anxiety fades away as I glance at a few red dots in the main room. I say “ Bon Jour” shake hands and greet people with the traditional three kisses. A little extensive but it’s a nice cultural difference. It goes as follows: place your hand on their shoulder then go cheek-to-cheek, go to the other side cheek-to-cheek, then back to the first cheek, step away and smile.

I can’t put my finger on it but all these things seem to work. Like clock work the doors are closed at 8:00pm. The previous collectors and new collectors head back home. As tradition has it, we go out to dinner; the gallery owner, some clients, my wife, and I. Dinner is ordered and there is wine, luckily I don’t have to make the decision of red or white.  I don’t speak French so it is ordered for me. We eat, we chat, and we laugh. We say good-bye: cheek-to-cheek, other side cheek-to-cheek, back to the start cheek-to-cheek. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Billy Basciani Interview

It was a dark and rainy day, not the kind of day you would expect for the first day of fall. But I promise you that the rest of the article is sprinkled with hints of autumn. I met an artist, Billy Basciani, at Market Street Grill for lunch and shared his enthusiasm for his upcoming show at Sunset Hill Fine Arts Gallery in West Chester. Just as all of these interviews have gone, it was full of surprises.

The first surprise was; that lunchtime at Market Street was busy. But, that is coming from someone who doesn’t usually get out of the studio for lunch much. My ignorance shined through as we stood there chatting away about the art world waiting to be seated only to find out that there you seat yourself. The couple behind us kindly pointed this out when they asked if we were waiting for a “special place” to sit.

Once seated, the conversation quickly went to art. I’m not the pontificating type so it was easy to relate to Billy the struggling artist type, struggling in a good way, struggling to find his voice, his style, something I can relate to. Growing up in Chester County, his protégées and friends, Andrew Wyeth, Bill Ewing, Bo Bartlett, have been the definition of Chadds Ford. He learned by tradition, traditional painting, and by making his own paints, another surprise. To me that’s a little crazy.

The next surprise was that it’s not really a struggle but a journey for Billy. And, to sprinkle the conversation with a bit of autumn, I popped open a bottle of Iron Hill’s “Imperial Pumpkin Ale;” another pleasant surprise in that it had more of a nutmeg flavor than a pumpkin taste.

Let the interview begin…

Billy Basciani

How did you get started making art?
I started at a young age. Actually my mother took me, when I was about 7 or 8 years old, to an art class at Delaware Art Museum. They would teach, you know, pottery and painting. So, I was doing stuff there. My first private lesson was when I was about 9 or 10 at the York Lynn Center for Creative Arts.  There was an oil painter there. He gave me a few private lessons.  I did a few pieces there, some master copies. You know, pick it out of the book and just paint it.  My father was friends with Bill Ewing. So he was like, “My son likes painting so why don’t you come check it out.”  So he came over one day and saw my paintings on the wall and asked, “Who did these?” He was like, “My son did.” “No kidding!” He said he could give me lessons and that’s when I started studying with Bill Ewing. I was about 12 years old at the time.  I started the traditional apprenticeship with him. 

Did you receive any formal art training? Where and what did you major in?   
Yeah I did, from Bill. Then after high school I got accepted to the Academy of Fine Arts. Then I got hooked up with Chadds Ford.

Can you describe your work in general for the readers? 
Lets see, I was classically trained, so my first couple of shows were more traditional paintings with under-paintings and glazes; something Ewing would do. You could definitely see his style coming out. But, I would say for the past year and half I have gone through these changes. More or less getting into more of what’s me. Some people might say that it has a dream like quality. Some may say it’s impressionistic. I say it’s more of a personal impressionism.

Where is your studio?  
[After graduating,] I got a studio up at Chadds Ford [but it’s] not [my studio] any more. I am in the process of building a new studio. But I was there. [That studio] used to be Ewings studio, Jimmy Lynch was in there, [and] Bo Bartlett. So it had a major lineage.

Do you paint from photos or do you paint plein air?  
No, no photos. I figured if I can’t do it from life, or I can’t do it from my imagination, I make myself figure it out. I really don’t want to let the camera decide. Part of what my process is: is going through it, being on sight, [and] getting the vibes from certain things. Certain things come out that you can’t really capture with a camera. 

How do you choose your subject matter?  
I let it choose itself. Wherever it comes to me. If I am away on vacation or somewhere else, I always have my stuff with me in case certain things present it self to me. 

How did Andrew Wyeth inspire you? 
He is a great person, kind and gentle. He would do anything for anybody. Every summer when I went to Maine, he gave me his studio to use. So that was my place to paint for four years. He would come and say a few things but didn’t say much cause he didn’t want to influence it. You know, like I don’t want you to paint like me. I want you to paint like you.  He showed me to be yourself, and what comes out hopefully people will look at and notice.

What are your thoughts on perfection? 
Perfection? There is no perfection. 

What is a favorite technique that you would share with a novice painter? 
I’d ask them which one they want to learn. I’d give them all, any of them. If somebody didn’t know and they were asking me what would be your favorite thing, I would say probably, under-painting. Sculpting it on the canvas, drawing in glazes, and adding in colors. Building up the layers, which is traditional.  

“How do you decide when an artwork is done?" 
I guess it just goes with your gut. When you feel like your doing more damage to it then helping it, you know. 

Who has been the biggest influence in your life? 
I would say… I am a real family guy. My father gave me my work ethic. “Get up in the morning, you’re not sleeping all day. You’re getting up and going to the mushroom house from seven o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock at night.” My senior year when everyone went on senior week, I was in the mushroom house working. I appreciate that, you know. 

What is this Painters Folly…it sounds fun?  
What is Painters Folly? I’m not even really sure what it is. Its pretty much a way for some artists to get together sometimes, show our work and talk about each other’s work. I think we’re trying to really reach people that really care about artwork.  And explain to them what we do, the process of what we do, and show them.  It’s a culmination between teaching people about painting and explaining to them a little about what we do, instead of just throwing a painting up on a gallery wall and telling people what they think it is. 

Artists that influenced you? 
I would have to say my teacher Ewing.  We still get together every once and a while. I used to want to be like them old masters. You know them old old masters. The older I get I’m more into like Gustav Klimt, Dega, Manet, and Monet. It changes all the time. Before, in my prior shows, it looked like maybe three or four artists. It’s more or less focusing down now, it’s more me. It just feels good now. I like the colors, I like the paint, I like to push the paint. You know, I like to just have fun with it. 

Do you have any habits or morning routines you do before going to the easel? 
Mixing up paint. The white that I use is lead, lead powder. Toxic. Work with it in care. I get up, get out there, and mix up a nice big pile for the day. If I have to get my canvases ready, I’ll do that. Get my mediums, my jars, my pallets, and everything I’ve mixed up for what I need to do. 

You have a unique way of signing your paintings that include your initials in a vertical box. Why?
It’s funny in a way. Certain paintings call for it, and other ones don’t. Certain ones call for my full name, now its just Basciani. When I first started I it was Billy Basciani, to William Basciani. It’s almost like a time line. How I have signed it, has changed. Now it’s just like WB with a box around it. But the box thing kinda came. It is almost like an Asian twist, some kind of monogram around it. Like an illustrator thing. Some composition around it is nice. It’s a balancing thing. If it’s heavy on the one side, it balances it out.

What are you eating right now? 
Tex Mex salad. It’s really good too. 

What was your favorite meal? 
I’d say my mum-mums cooking. 

What does home mean to you? 
Home? Family…friends, people I’ve known forever. 

Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about. What is it about? 
I think life’s about finding some peace with yourself. Getting to go out and do this wonderful thing that you love, everyday.
Your best birthday? 
Maybe, my last one. My Thirtieth. I had a nice big surprise party.

All my questions were answered and I finished up my gooey awesome Chipotle BBQ Cheddar Cheese Onion sandwich. Little diced pieces of tomato in the sandwich were a surprising treat. Billy wrapped up his Tex Mex salad because he didn’t have the time to eat between my questions. The scenario plays out like any meal out. The waitress asks, “How is the meal?” just as you take your first bite. I mistakenly asked a question every time he went for the salad. We walked back to Sunset Hill Gallery over the red brick, darkened from the rain, avoiding the puddles. During our walk, Billy shared a story about last year’s pumpkin carving in Chadds Ford and how he strapped a light to his head and captured all the pumpkin action on canvas with his brushes. It is no surprise that this starry night event carved out in oil paints is in the show. 

“Dare to Dream” is the name of Basciani’s show at Sunset Hill Fine Arts Gallery the show is up until November 4th. Opening night is Friday, October 7th during West Chester’s Gallery Walk 5 to 9:00.