Thursday, June 18, 2009

En Plein Air
48 x 48 Oil on Linen

Not long after I wrote the previous post I received word that Frank Mason had died. It's hard to believe that the 53 year old powerhouse that I studied with at the League is gone. Yes, he was 88 years old, but I had seen him survive lead poisoning and heart and lung problems that would have taken down any normal man. I thought he was indestructible. He was a great, great artist and had enormous influence over the next generation. He shaped my artistic vision and that of countless others. Of course I have many memories of wonderful demonstrations, critiques and lessons. Many of his students share those memories, but from time to time I remind myself to make mental snapshots knowing that the moment I am in is important to me and one that I will want to remember. Those snapshots are not always of painting, but of Frank playing baseball with us after a landscape crit, or Frank playing the piano at one of the parties in his studio, of the time we were adjusting the lights in his studio at 2am because he was having an open studio show the next day, of the two of us having lunch during a break as I framed and crated his paintings for an exhibition. One day Elizabeth and I were at his house in Vermont helping him prepare canvas. We worked all day until suddenly Frank began to panic. "The sun is almost down and we haven't painted yet. Drop everything" he said. So we did and quickly set up and started painting. We only had about 20 or 30 minutes before the light was gone but in that time I did a small study on paper of Frank as he stood painting the last light of the day. It is the only time I ever painted him and is one of my sentimental favorites. Many years later I made En Plein Air from that sketch. The world has lost a great artist and a great man, and I have lost my teacher and my friend.....

Friday, June 12, 2009

I know my painting lineage better than my own family tree. Frank Vincent DuMond started painting with Sartain and Beckwith at the Art Students League in New York in the 1880's and then went to Paris, as was customary at the time, where he studied with Lefebvre, Constant and Boulanger at the Academie Julian. Shortly after returning to America he began teaching at the League, at the age of 27, and continued as an instructor there for most of the next 59 years. Frank Herbert Mason enrolled in DuMond's class at the age of 16 and continued to study with him for the next dozen years or so. One day while they were sitting together in the League's cafeteria DuMond asked Mason when he was going to start teaching. Mason replied that he wanted to paint and had not thought about teaching. DuMond let Mason know that he didn't expect him to keep everything he had been taught to himself. When DuMond died in 1951 Mason took over the class. He was, like his mentor, a young man when he began to teach and would have a long tenure as a League instructor. Frank had been teaching for over 20 years when I arrived at the League in 1974 and, after a few months of studying anatomy and drawing with Robert Beverly Hale, I became a Mason student. As Frank began his 57th season at the League he realized his health was not up to the challenge. I had substituted for him for a day or two over the past few years but this time he asked me to teach the class for a few months while he recovered his strength. So I returned to my old classroom, this time as the instructor. As the weeks wore on it became clear that he would not be going back and he informed the League's director that he was retiring. I was soon asked to stay on and became the 3rd instructor to teach the afternoon class in Studio 7 at the Art Students League in the last 116 years. I'd had over 20 years to work on my painting but now it was my turn to pass on what I'd been taught. I suppose 50 some years from now an artist will write a blog post about how they studied with someone who studied with Torak, who studied with Mason, who studied with DuMond.....

Monday, June 1, 2009


Low Tide, Cape Cod
Oil on Panel
Image 10 x 12 - Framed 15 x 17

Once, as a young boy, I was idly thumbing through a book on the lives of the saints and came across St. Therese of Lisieux. As a young Carmelite nun she was ordered by her superior to write an autobiography. At first she protested that she was a simple person and had nothing to write about. She was not a big fancy rose, she said, with large showy petals, a rich fragrance or intense color, but rather a delicate little wildflower which is easily overlooked. In accordance with her vow of obedience she began writing and her work was published two years after her death at the age of 24. Her simplicity and devotion inspired many to follow the example of the little flower, as she came to be known. Her story came back to me many years later. As I set up to paint Low Tide, Cape Cod I thought to myself "There is nothing here to paint." Where are the waves, the sailboats, the big puffy clouds, anything? But artists too have taken a vow, a vow to paint no matter what, and I proceeded to paint the scene before me. As I worked I began to understand my subject. It was never going to be the sketch for a big impressive painting showing off the grandeur of nature. It was forever going to be a lovely, delicate, humble little painting. The kind of painting that could be easily overlooked... or greatly enjoyed by those who are sensitive enough to stop and appreciate it......

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month Low Tide, Cape Cod, which retails for $1600, is being made available for $900 (includes shipping, VT residents add 6% sales tax). To purchase this piece contact me at Payment is by check only please, no credit cards. If you prefer you may make 3 monthly payments. This offer is available for 30 days from the date of this post.