Art is the Heart of my Soul's Desire

These pages are about my memories from my past as well as stories of my present journey as I travel the path of a professional fine artist.

America’s Giverny

A Memory --- (My story, which took place in Oct 2004, was published in the January 2005 issue of Plein Air Magazine. Here it is below.)

During the 18th Annual Plein-Air Painters of America Workshop and Exhibition in the turn-of-the-century impressionist art colony of Old Lyme CT, 100 eager students embraced the seaside wind chill and intermittent rain and sunshine to paint among a few of the most recognized plein air painters in the nation. The instructors were Kenn Backhaus, Gay Faulkenberry, Louise Demore, Joseph Mendez, Ralph Oberg, Joseph Paquet, Ron Rencher, Brian Stewart, George Strickland, Linda Tippetts and Skip Whitcomb.

We're in a land of patterns and contrasts, with trees of saffron, terra cotta, and gold dust. With deep tones of copper and canary yellow against lapis lazuli skies, the cool October light and warm shadows reinterpreted the blues of the Connecticut River. This was the second consecutive year that PAPA visited Old Lyme. This year our group decided to come a month later to experience the fall foliage. We were deep in America's own Giverny at the most beautiful time of year, participating in a workshop with the highest caliber of plein air painting instruction.

Each instructor- with 10-15 students- had a designated painting spot for the week. The designations sent students to local homeowners' properties, to farms, marinas and nearby towns of Noank, Essex, East Haddam, Mystic, Guilford, and Clinton.

The workshop's opening day brought a westerly breeze that dropped the early-morning temperature to somewhere around forty degrees. A handful of other students and I set up our easels behind the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.

Our instructor for the day, Ray Roberts- a plein air painter with an obsessive passion for finding the beautiful shapes in nature, assembled simple shapes like mosaics while demonstrating and lecturing about the fundamental truths of composing and executing a great painting. "When approaching the scene, it's all about patterns, light and dark patterns," Roberts explained. "There are infinite patterns in any given scene."

The following day, a whole new group of students worked at Lobster Landing in Clinton. George Strickland, our instructor and the current president of PAPA, explained to us that he focuses on what compels him to paint a particular scene. "I feel it's important for all of us to find that out." Strickland also stresses the importance of finding our own voices.

One day, the entire group visited historic Mystic Seaport. The instructors painted for three hours; then the students participated in a mass paint-out as the instructors offered critiques and advice. It was a perfect sunny afternoon of painting among the old sailing vessels and the nostalgic setting of the seaport museum.

Ralph Oberg spent a day at Griswold Point on the distinguished Connecticut Griswold family compound. The rains had come, but the wet weather was intermittent, so we toughed it out. Oberg quoted the late Russian impressionist, Sergei Bongard, "Paint the trees before the leaves and the dog before the fleas" and stressed that a good composition must be simple and strong.

Our rain soaked day was rewarded by a private preview showing of Plein Air Color & Light, an exhibition and sale of paintings by signature members of PAPA and dinner at the Hideaway Restaurant &Pub, the designated nightly hot spot among many of us for good conversation and drink with a few new friends.

On a cool crisp morning on Tiffany Farm, Kenn Backhaus demonstrated painting a cluster of barns receding into the fog. Backhaus explained, "When physics and poetry are combined in a painting, it makes a great work of art." By physics, he meant drawing, perspective, and value sense. Poetry he defined as the ethereal quality that occurs from being “in the zone” while painting. It quickly became another challenging day as the rain began to pour after lunch, but we stayed to work on our afternoon studies.

A raffle mixer followed the workshop at the Florence Griswold Museum. Our paintings were set up for viewing by the rest of the group, and we enjoyed wine, hors d'oeuvres and banter. As George Strickland called random names drawn from a hat, students roared with cheers as lucky winners received an assortment of gifts.

Saturday night, we were reunited again for the grand opening of Plein Air Color & Light. It was a fine evening at the Lyme Art Association. as wine flowed and paintings sold. Smiles and laughter prevailed in "America's Giverny".

Pumpkin to Pumpkin Pie

A Memory --- The colors are here now; frequently I observe the transformation and imagine you with your easel and palette mixing the vast array of shades from green to brown, red to orange, cinnamon to wheat, blood red to eggplant purple, pumpkin to pumpkin pie, rust to brick. As I crunched through the leaves on the ground this morning, kicking them to stir them up, I imagined walking with you in the crisp cool air, as we did in France. I know that our friendship is something far and away more special, more significant, more far-reaching and consequential than most people ever are privileged to experience.

The Orchestra

A Memory --- (My story, which took place in June 2004, was published in the July 2004 issue of Plein Air Magazine. Below is the unedited version.)

The dramatic views of the Sierra Nevadas reprised at Caesars Tahoe in an exhibition and sale of over 200 exquisite plein air paintings set in early twentieth century style frames. While the string quartet lent a decidedly classical air, the paintings were the orchestra, strategically encircling the red carpeted ballroom. Each artist’s display of varying discipline and style seamlessly segued into one another. And as classical music evokes certain moods, these paintings captured some of the High Sierra’s most spectacular moods: exquisite predawn moments along the rocky coastline of Lake Tahoe and lavender mists of purple blossoms scattered in the valleys. Some paintings emulated the dizzying eddies of blue and wavelets of teal from the many waterfalls pooling into the pristine lakes, much like translucent fluorite stones reflecting every fluid indigo vein, every tint of blue and yellow and strata of deep rich color. This was an exhibit of drama and depth.

At Lake Tahoe Nevada, on June 18, 2004, the air was warm and yet the mountains looming beyond the cityscape still had patches of snow catching every flirty wink of light. Singer and avid watercolorist, Tony Bennett, arrived at the hotel shortly before the air began to cool and the setting sun shimmered to a velvety red. As Mr. Bennett was escorted past the plein air painter’s hospitality suite, his escort began to explain about the visiting artists, but Bennett stopped her because he knew exactly who they were.

It was a performance by Mr. Bennett that kicked off the 19th Annual Plein Air Painters of America Exhibition & Sale, hosted by Caesers Tahoe. "In the room tonight are the top painters in America,” Bennett said while pausing in the middle of his concert, “Unlike those who paint from photographs, these painters are the most honest painters in America ...because they paint outdoors on location, thus capturing the subtle colors and light that you cannot see in a photograph. I painted with them and have made many new friends." Among those he painted with, was Kevin Macpherson of Taos New Mexico. Bennett and Macpherson exchanged portraits they painted of one another.

 Mr. Bennett also visited many of the artists’ suites to view their paintings. “It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” explained John Cosby, a guest artist with the Plein Air Painters of America, who sold a painting to Bennett.

Unlike Catalina Island, where the PAPA Exhibition & Sale had taken place over the previous 18 years, the Lake Tahoe region, where the plein air painters converged to paint for two weeks prior to the show, is an expansive 22 miles long and 12 miles wide of dramatic snow-capped mountain views, waterfalls and of course, the beautiful and pristine lake. Denise Burns, founder of the Plein Air Painters of America, with Roy Rose, art collector and grand nephew of California Impressionist, Guy Rose, brought together twenty artists to participate in the first Annual Plein Air Painters Festival on Catalina Island in 1986. With a similar vision and passion, Mark Rittorno, president of Caesars Tahoe and an avid plein air painter, had a mission: to bring the Plein Air Painters of America to the Sierra Nevada. “One day I'd love to see our community become a center of fine art and a destination for art lovers,” said Mark Rittorno, “This is the first step in that direction. Maybe this will also help our local residents and others understand that Caesars Tahoe is something more than a casino and has the greater good of the community at heart.”

Joining the PAPA Signature members this year were guest artists: John Cosby, Glenna Hartmann, Peggi Kroll-Roberts, Chris Blossom, Lorenzo Chavez, Gerald Fritzler, and Don Demers. New signature members are Ray Roberts and Skip Whitcomb. The morning of June 19, 2004, a paint-out with all 35 painters, took place at Zephyr Cove. It was here that the public was able to witness them painting the fathomless cobalt blue and shimmering turquoise green waters, the dramatic mountain rising beyond the lake, sun drenched models on the beach and near by cabins in the woods. It was the second scheduled event after Tony Bennett’s Live Concert. The elegant Gala Dinner & Sale was the third event.

Later that day, from 6 to10 pm, collectors and guests enjoyed an elegant sit-down dinner and complimentary wine with the artists in the ballroom of Caesars Tahoe. At 9 pm the doors opened to the public. Paintings were sold off the easels with ease.

The final event was the Champagne Sale from 10:30 am to 1 pm the following morning, where a new show opened in the ballroom. Some easels were nearly bare, while others displayed a few new pieces to cover the empty spaces. The champagne flowed freely, gourmet coffee and pastries were served and there were smiles and laughter all around. This event emphatically proved the point: music and art co-exist beautifully.