"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards" --Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
If you were actually in the right place at the right time do you think you would realize it? I didn't realize I had been there until many years later so this post is about the importance of being in the right place at the right time.
And I mean it's very important so listen up...
The summer before my first epiphany I spent a great deal of time wandering the streets of NYC. Early mornings on the weekends were my favorites. A warm bialy from Kossar's was reason enough to get up so I'd head out the door for coffee and usually would not return for hours.
Let’s be honest, getting up early on the weekends and hitting the streets isn’t the easiest thing in the world but was on one of these warm summer mornings that I met the man who was to be my greatest influence.
By the way, chickie babes, we're talking like 30 years ago--and he wasn't Lewis Carroll. I'm not that old. Not quite. Very funny, but thank you for asking.
Back in the day (late 70's), I had absolutely no aspiration to be a painter--I honestly did not like being in painting studios or even being around painters--I was filled with total contempt or disdain--yuck!. The attitudes of the "2D" or two dimensional students (painters, print makers, paper people) were so stiff, so lofty, so linearally abstract that I found it difficult to carry on a conversation with them. Sculptors, glassblowers and the rest of the "3D's" are generally more playful, rowdy and you know, fun.
But I was very attracted to one painter's work and would go back to look at his work often. One morning I was surprised to find out that the older gentleman sitting next to me was the artist himself. He, too, was staring at the paintings, because that's what we painters do--kind of like looking in the mirror. Ah-so! Now I could interrogate him...
I remember standing close to the paintings with him, looking closely at his under-painting that was still quite visible and asking him why there was so much pencil showing?! why was the paint so thin? why? why? why?
And he would patiently do his best to elucidate and to get me to stop making up so many rules about art!
I was young, an ingenue!, and loved being in the city--what did I know?--I thought I knew a LOT if not everything. His work was a world apart from what was being shown in the hip galleries--courageously bright, bold work that everyone would emulate in the 80's.
Except him. And because of him, of course, me.
He made certain I kept the questions about painting coming but told me to draw--"forget about the paint for now."
And PS, I didn't paint for at least 10 more years.
So I met with him occasionally throughout the summer. In the warm mornings--before the galleries opened. He was always dressed casually in a dark suit--so unintentionally elegant. I liked that about him. If you want to know the truth I think it made me pay more attention to what he was saying.
At the time I knew I really liked his work and he was really great to be teaching me so much about stuff I had never thought about. But I, with my great plans for changing the world with my architectural designs, didn't exactly realize what an important person I had the good fortune to know. Perhaps he was charmed by my mid-western innocence although I suspect it may have been more that he was shocked at my impertinence on top of my general ignorance of painting!
His name was Will Barnet. Mr. Barnet. THE Will Barnet.
I sense his influence in my work, if not in subject then in mood, and know he is why I paint the way I do. And what my propensity for drawing is all about. And I know how really lucky I really am that somehow I was in the right place at the right time...
...even if it was only because I really like bialys.