During the mid-sixties, it was sometimes difficult to buy heavy weight cotton canvas. One of the night school painting students owned a dry cleaning place near Richmond Professional Institute and he sold me cover canvas to paint on. Used as a clean cloth on pressing machines, cover canvas was very light weight.
The first time that I applied rabbit skin glue to this light weight cotton, it pulled up so tightly that the 6 ft x 6 ft frame of 1x2 pine cracked apart! Afterwards, I purchased heavier duty stretchers from one of the students, who made them for larger size paintings.
We were encouraged from the start to work 6 x 6 by our painting teacher, Bernard Martin. This was a rectangle with human proportions - the width of one's arms and the height of one's standing. As figurative painters, we enjoyed the significance.
It became the standard for my friends, who also worked with Bernard: Eric Bowman, Joann Falbo (1943 – 2012), and Bill Slater (1939 – 2007).
Lowering my paintings with ropes ( the stairwell was too narrow ) from my second floor studio on Harrison Street was a trial in high winds. Thankfully, most classroom critiques ended for advanced students, who were privileged to have new work viewed in their individual studios.
During studio visits, Bernard's guidance was more visual than theoretical. As a painter, he practiced and promoted a firm belief in work: "Just keep putting paint on canvas," he would say. When I arrived at something that stood alone, he would recommend that I look at it until I could see why it worked. Gradually, my eyes were confirmed as the first and foremost arbiter of success or failure.
How to move my paintings beyond the monumental figure that had engaged me so thoroughly in life drawing class? At first, I looked at Francis Bacon. A mistake. During a group critique in the classroom, one of my big figures, formed with opposing tensions in what I intended to be the image of an existential crisis, was seen by the other students as a hard luck hitch-hiker. Not good. How to maintain the tension within the figure without the histrionics? I emulated the figurative styles of others, including my friend, Bill Slater, a lyrical painter, who had followed Bernard's path and was now in graduate school at Hunter College. More importantly, Bernard, who was working on a series of immaculate, double images of well known Americans, showed me a way to go. Toward the end of 1965, I made a group of 6 x 6 iconic portraits in black and white, one of which had a graphic, geometric clarity, that pointed toward the future.
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