Ron Throop

Winter Lessons Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein Ron Throop

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Left: Winter Lessons by Oswegonian Ron Throop /Right: Drowning Girl By escaped Oswegonian Roy Lichtenstein

A post from March 2014, to introduce Oswego to those arriving from Hyperallergic:

Wow. Yesterday I read a 2004 article on Roy Lichtenstein, a very famous painter of the late twentieth century. I already knew that he taught for a couple years at the state college in Oswego. I also read in a biography that his wife hated it here. The winters were tough and she began to drink like a fish. My elderly next door neighbor said she caused quite a stir at the faculty wives’ club the night she wore colored stockings. I never knew what a great failure Lichtenstein was the day before he started painting comics. He was an abstract painter who loved Picasso and Cézanne. His paintings amassed unsold in the basement.

Yesterday I read with laughing eyes the early tale of Roy. The parallels are enough of a story to keep me plugging away at my own failure. I quote at length.

“Roy would say, ‘I know any minute someone’s going to come and shake me and say, Mr Lichtenstein, it’s time for your pills, and I’ll be back in Oswego, in a wheelchair.’ There was a touch of Lichtenstein’s characteristic self-deprecating humour about that. But also a sense that he had been, as she says, “very lucky to have been where he was at a given moment”.

Roy knew, like all painters do, that success is a crap shoot with a 1,679,616-sided die. Only a wise, self-deprecating Oswego artist would admit to this.

“But the teaching post he held in Oswego from 1958 to 1960 was a low point of his career, very far from the wealth and art stardom that were his within a couple of years… At the time he got the job in Oswego, Lichtenstein had been working as a painter for nearly 20 years, and achieved almost no success. Bruce Breland, a colleague of the time, remembered that Lichtenstein ‘had shown in New York—with no results. He was showing paintings and they were going stone-nowhere.’”

All my paintings also going cement-nowhere in the basement.

“Lichtenstein did a series of part-time jobs—window dresser, draftsman, furniture designer, painting dials on instruments—while his wife, a successful interior designer, was the main breadwinner. Lee Csuri, sculptor and wife of another old friend, remembered that in the mid-1950s, ‘Roy was very despondent about what he was doing. And feeling he was nowhere. His painting of that time was abstract expressionist, but it was very muddy’”.

Yahoo! My wife is a graphic designer, the bread winner, and my feelings of despondency on a good day have me yank off just enough mustache nose hairs to goad me to the next chore.

“Then in 1958, he got the job in Oswego. But as Avis Berman, a researcher into Lichtenstein’s life, concluded: ‘Living in Oswego was disastrous for the Lichtensteins. The winters were brutal and Isabel lacked fulfilling work, and began drinking in earnest.’ So at 37, Lichtenstein had a dead-end post in the sticks, a wife who was rapidly becoming an alcoholic, and a studio full of paintings no one wanted to look at. Then his luck began to change.”

Oooh, I can only hope.

“As Dorothy Lichtenstein tells the story, ‘Roy was always trying to get back to the New York area, and in 1960 he was able to get a job teaching at Rutgers University in New Jersey. And there was a group of interesting and lively people there, including the artists Alan Kaprow and George Segal. Roy had a feeling that if he’d still had a job teaching out in the boondocks, he might have done his first Pop work, but not carried on. He felt there was something that comes from response and encouragement that fuels you to go further than you might in a vacuum.’”

Response and encouragement. Roy had a feeling. Ron has one from time to time. He expresses it, and in return receives the appreciative song from a cricket stowing away under a stair in an abandoned Oswego factory.

“But there might have been another trigger. As Chuck Csuri, Lee’s husband, recalls, Lichtenstein’s son David came home one day from school and complained: ‘Joey’s father’s a policeman, and Henry’s father’s this, and Virginia’s does that. And you’re an artist and you can’t draw.’ Roy said, ‘Oh, OK.’ So he got out a canvas and drew a comic-book image. The result might have been Look Mickey, with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. In it, Donald is fishing, and says, ‘Look Mickey, I’ve hooked a big one’. And a big, new idea was exactly what Lichtenstein had got hold of himself”.

That is all the parallel I need. Back in 1998 Roy’s spirit must have hightailed it back to Oswego, and flew up my nose.

Now to focus on the work and the big break which is sure to come at fifty, using the logic of arrested development afflicting the middle-aged in the 21st century. I shall keep at work, seek escape, and let my mustache hairs grow into my mouth.

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Beware the Tonometer That Goes “Poof” On Your Eye!

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2015. Acrylic on canvas, 20 X 16″

I checked my stats today, and like several days past, noticed the popularity of this post published back in February. For those who have read it, please read it again. The study of love… It might make us smart. Thanks.

Here is the scary thing I saw right before it spit air onto my unblinking eye!

Don’t waste another February without a Ron Throop book. Also, check out my first paid for website, Ron Throop Painting and Writing. Now how about a love story for Valentine’s Day?

From Leopold Courting Rose:

Why Love Letters?
Who is Leopold?

Curse this political world! Last month I signed up for a free online course in social psychology hoping it would sedate my inner anxiety fool, and get me thinking about other stuff besides doom and gloom. Over the past ten years or so I have let the wrong people in. Unknowns, rabble-rousers, political cry-babies. So much in my mind not of the family and clan has focused its attention on strangers and their woeful struggles. I deemed myself the silent Sally Struthers’ spokesperson for civil liberties (of others), individualism (of others again), and freedom without war and atrocity (others again and again).
Silly me. I have always been free to speak, individualistic more so than Henry Thoreau, and anti-war with an internal, red hot passion. Seeking it for others? Why? It already exists. Don’t tick off the King in a super economy, and one will be showered with gifts and glory unbeknownst to the Gods and emperors of yesteryear. I can speak or write any blasphemy under the sun as long as I can prove no child molestation. I can walk out this door and keep walking to Utah, provided I keep myself looking a cut above meth abuser. And war? Don’t need it. Don’t have to join up. There are millions of neglected children jonesing for a chance to be loved by anyone, even a sociopath sergeant or general. I am not one of these millions of fools. So why attempt to be their social pastor? Especially if I’m not getting paid for it? Amazing freedom in the western world. But little wisdom. Even though all religions and philosophies swear the latter leads to happiness. Our freedoms are apparent, and they have made us very sick in the mind. Nero, for all the power he possessed on a diminishing empire’s credit, was just an insane freak of nature like a Rupert Murdock or Barack Obama. Not happy. Never secure in love. Yet it seems all the non-political commoners dress up to be like them, and would become them if they won the lottery. The common men who stop to admire a jet ski on display at the mall, and the women who consider purchasing the latest issue of People magazine with a dead Patrick Swayze on the cover. These folks are certainly not happy in their ignorance, which is never bliss, but rather chimera. Also, wrong acceptance of careerism and its habits of middle age has blown our happiness path to smithereens. No wonder so many are plagued with regret and night sweats of bitterness.
So why did the political world move into my brain and push out the wisdom-to-be that I swear was thriving in my younger years? Maybe this course I am taking in psychology will shed light on the social/anti-social animal I have become. Maybe it will speak about first love or second love, the born again feeling that arises when energy is directed at discovery, and bliss becomes everyday reality through the auspices of blind love for another human being. Probably not. Love is never taken seriously at the college level (although every single university affiliate has fallen to its power). Still, I would think it a doctoral track more necessary to happiness that physics or English literature. What else needs to be discovered in order for the “good life” to be realized? John Donne’s snuff habit? Another dimension of reality that we’re told we can never see (perhaps heaven)? What specialization need we focus upon now that cholera can be defeated? Have we in the western nations not enough potable water, clothing, shelter and fuel? I would argue that all we lack is proper distribution of these necessities. And that can be fixed overnight by determined revolutionaries in love. Sack a congress lobbied to corruption with rotten tomatoes and “We are the World” mantras.
I think that this college course will uncover some awful truth about modern humanity. That is this: We eagerly make efforts to go against the grain of the heaven on earth existing before our very eyes. It will show by experiment that humanity has always been subject to groupthink and group censure, from caveman times to the atomic age, and that this was necessary as far as groups go. Geese form a “V” to fly south. People arrange a militia to fight other people who covet their stuff.
But we moderns have made the blunder of taking social conditioning way too far, and have ignored the wonders of love, art, and beauty, which in older times the royal classes gravitated towards in their grateful acceptance of good fortune. Who in Jacksonian Democracy could foresee an Iphone with every volume entitled “me” in its Library of Congress-sized memory reading room? What Japanese noble of the Kamakura Period would not mutilate his own bowel after realizing he forsook his only son’s wisdom education for a shiny red Ford F350?
Unfortunately my free social psychology course will not lecture me that the above modern condition is abnormal psychology chomping on steroids. It will not instruct me on wisdom, nor on how to find it, nurture it, and use it to achieve happiness in this life. No, it is a social boo-boo to voice a strong opinion against the mountain of crap our society drops on us day after day. Normalcy is to be authenticated after 8 years of intense tunnel vision university study before society even allows an educated guess at what might be wrong with it. And then it won’t have credence without publication, which will only come if approved by an editor, himself overeducated to the point of fearing his own vocal opinion without first undergoing five years of proper research and testing.
But love? No degree necessary. And we think we’re very good at it, yes? We have experienced it, studied it, woke up eager to practice it, mainly during the courting stages, when it was as important to life’s mission as finding a career and establishing oneself an accepted player in society. So what happened? Why no mention of love promotion in the press other than hitting the 50th anniversary mark? Awards are many but private to be sure, credentials boxed up in the basement, photographs nonexistent to present-day visitors to the marital abode. Yet it was one of the three or four most significant moments in the life of every human being. It has been relegated as a social taboo to communally recollect and organize hard copies of examples of falling in love. A kind of embarrassment, almost a mild shame that prevents each and every one of us from “yawping” our love out from the rooftops.
I have a hypothesis to share with the social psychologists. By virtue of the 200,000 year old struggle for survival, modern well-fed human beings, who have no immediate threat to their existence, haven’t the slightest idea how to process the ecstasy of courting after the mate has been won. A species-wide denial of poetic joy that practically everyone has experienced pervades.
I would argue that by covering up real memories of courting happiness to the extent that they exist on par with other childhood rites of passage, like losing teeth or leaving the familial nest, we have denied ourselves and loved ones a published account of what could very well be an example of burgeoning wisdom.
So we forget about early love to make room for the tough, grown-up stuff, (ex., career, child rearing, keeping a clean house, grocery shopping, finding hobbies), and no periodic reference to the good ole days can be used to repair broken dreams. Hence dissatisfaction with our wife or husband, the seven-year-itch, and recycled ideas of how great life would be if we could just “get away”.
Separation in the mind, if not actualized, is all too common. And divorce becomes an option, since all reminders of why this girl or guy moved you in the first place, have been buried and lost to time.
I believe we all possess this poetry of love’s beginning. I think it is a course worth deep study, if only to research why its virtue has been lost to all and sundry. I have brought up these old letters and poems from our musty basement on the eve of my wife’s 40th birthday. Lately I have been feeling the overwhelming strain of practicing a repetition of days toward cliché goals. Security, conservatism, wealth, retirement—all notions I would have smirked at when I was in my twenties looking for answers to “why” and “what for?”. Then I started chasing Rose, and during the process, saw opportunities arise and abilities executed that I thought could never be. Not quite feelings of invincibility, but close. More like insight into the power of dreams to encourage positive action with another human being. That is I dreamed of a day, maybe a picnic and a movie, woke up and arranged it, and then experienced it with her. Success! Tenderness. Lovemaking. Sleep. And the promise of more. I already had a five-year-old daughter, and her well-being was much improved day-to-day as I courted Rose. The creativity, optimism, hope, excitement of new love was carried over to the nurturing of my little girl. There was no neglect, nobody pushed aside so abstracts like “job security” or “personal success” could make room.
So why did those feelings of wellness and “all is right with the world” ever fade away?
Now is when Leopold enters the concert arena.
The other night while doing dishes I made Rose laugh out loud as I explained to her my concept of Leopold. He is Bugs Bunny on the cover of this book, and can be found in action on Youtube or Vimeo. I told her that for once in my life (and hers too) I want the world to shower the praise on us that was given to that “wrascally wrabbit” when he was imitating some maestro of the time, real or imaginary. A necessary feeling to pull us out of the repetitive funk we find ourselves locked in. To spend it all on just one night! A suite booked at the Plaza, reservations at Daniel, a private car with driver, black disco dress with sparkles, tickets to the opera at Lincoln Center, where Rose and I conduct music for the worn and weary.
We had this feeling one time not so long ago. Every letter I sent to her was a promise for a night like this. And Rose was all about reciprocation, even if it was not literary. No doubt, we both believed wholeheartedly in each other and had faith in the future. I do not doubt that you, reader, have felt the same many times not too long ago…
So, what is the theory we can test? How do I institute this landmark study that will get the comfortable masses to recapture romantic love without relinquishing the urge to relieve social pressures in their every day lives? That is, how to find wisdom in love again, and save for retirement? Well, for starters, I wrote and edited this book. My private hope is that Leopold spends it all on one night to reinvigorate dreams which he believes were visionary in their wisdom. Of course none of this effort will matter if Rose is not convinced, and vies for austerity because the pay is never enough, keep working. John Lennon was about forty when “Starting Over” was a popular song on the radio. Those lyrics are poetry of what this book is trying to recapture. Also the following, written when I was feeling a little bit Leopold thirteen years ago:

Say, What’s Cooking In Oswego?

A plate of truth and a bottle of blood?
No, no numb skull, far from that!
There used to be fishermen here
but baby perch wiggle tougher
than our men do nowadays.
I think they kept chickens
back in the 1800’s
She already had an egg
and a log on the fire
before cock-a-doodle-do.
Whisk the egg with two fingers of sugar
and a dash of salt
Mix with yesterday’s milk,
pour into flour
then a pan on the fire
Eat with your hand and smell
her dirty apron and stinky toes.

There was one poet here in 1936
He went nuts
Walked up to his old Aunt Beasel
raking leaves into a pile,
and punched her square in the eye.
She kicked his ass of course
right in front of Joe and Mickey
and even their pet rabbit seemed to be laughing.
That was all of him
He took a bus to New York
Got a job washing dishes at Delmonico’s
Got rich, lived rich, died super-rich
with nothing at all.

What’s so wonderful about New York
that ain’t happening here in Oswego?
Well, now that everyone’s a sissy
(Joe was a truck driver
Mickey got a restaurant),
Now that even the cock swaggers down the street
terrifying the plump little bib drippers we’ve become
It’s nice once in a while to forget
about manhood, womanhood,
Aunt Beasel’s hairy mole next to her eye…
It’s good to forget about our legs and arms
and things like where water comes from
Now that we’re self-proclaimed half truths
and walking lies
why not enjoy life to its fullest plate of food?
And what’s cooking in Oswego
is only fitting for what Oswego cooks up.

Our restaurants mix powdered demi-glace,
deep fry their hairy ninety-five cent broilers,
Some chefs I know
should just piss on your plate
One place thinks rigatoni in Italian means
“looks and smells like Great Nana’s big toe”
At least in New York we can still pretend
that all life left is imagination
and get a king’s meal at a fair price
and window shop and make ourselves
smell real good for dinner.

“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Throop
May I take your coats?
Chef Beasel saved a perfect egg for you tonight
You look so good, smell so sweet
Mrs. Throop,
your arms are bare and beautiful,
your neck perfeect
Right this way
Right this way
Right this way

Let this book be a reminder of what I believe makes the best humans in a comfortable world. Spend it all, and let the chips fall.

And thank Keith Richards for reading my books.

Christmas In The Time Of The Cultural Revolution

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If I Was Mao, December 25th Would Come Twice A Year. We’d Ransack The Houses Of Millionaires And Call the Day “Mao-mas” 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 24 X 18″

Bad Chinese translation. I blame my own ignorance fueled by Google faux-energy.

It’s that time of year when the world falls in love with a Ron Throop painting or book. Every song you hear seems to say, “Merry Christmas, may your new year dreams of owning a Ron Throop painting or book come true”

Santa’s on his way. He’s filled his sleigh with things that appear to be mostly Ron Throop paintings and books.

A free story to get the wallet-out-of-your-pocket-ball start rolling. From On Rainy Days the Monk Ryokan Feels Sorry For Himself:

Fruits and vegetables on the tablecloth. On this cool hazy morning I shall execute the perfect dog walk. I know my themes are repeated over and over. If I do this enough times, I might end up with five or six perfectly picked and placed words to explain the entire horror show of modern life. Drive slowly by beauty walking through the leaves. Songbirds sing along with her and the wind in the trees. Coax beauty into your van with a false smile and caring. Then pull the door closed and slap your devil face back on. Proceed to carve her up while she cries out for love and compassion and gentleness.
Today I live for the shes in my life. When their eyes open wide, I will clean, bake, play. I will kick right into gear for love. Yesterday in bed with Marie I let her have it with the angst. I cannot be so selfish to forget about her. She never blames anyone. The child inside… Both imaginary and literal.
But get a load of this…
Further on I promise to write about my chef. I have been wanting to do so for over a year. There is so much meat on his bones. Spoiled meat for the starving to pull from the garbage. Writing about him will not change the world, nor improve one bit the days and nights of the most poor and neglected human being. But it will show my grandchild what I was up against, the blockheads I had to fight just to get my hour a day, maybe two, to do the things I was born to do.
It would also be fun to write about some of the other characters who work with me into the night. The shared pulse of no-life, therefore no poetry or love. The death of life standing upright, propped like an Irishman at his funeral, usually with whiskey and a sham of a good time. Human beings ruined from the top down. Exhausted. Pooped out. Circumstance has nothing to do with their miserable lot in life. They are able to eat and pay rent for less than a forty hour work week. That’s a job. The strike babies of the last century were fooling themselves. This cannot be the hopeful result of the brotherhood of man. These spineless animals? But yes it is! Their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A club on the head for an eight hour work day? If they didn’t strike, they were mere slaves. Who really wanted to stop work at five p.m.? What did those lazy buggers give back for that luxury? More bars. More men-only games. More spousal neglect and abuse. More children ignored and made to wait to grow up miserable like Dad. Nothing has changed today. A thousand revisions of tried and true cover-ups and alibis. No better love. No better devotion. No better humility or caring. Death to compassion. Death to passion. A concave curvature of the spine. Three hundred years later and we’ve developed the freedom dreams of captive horses. My sous chef puts on a heavy flannel coat—wait. Rachelle just woke up. She stands next to me asking if I’ll clean up the dog’s vomit. Time to keep my promises. I will catch up to my reading public later.

October 2

My sous chef puts on a heavy red flannel coat. It’s a cool autumn day. A pumpkin patch in the neighbor’s yard. Crows on the mowed lawn. Crows on the porch. One crow eating grease out of a can hanging from the portable grill. My sous chef bought a pellet gun at Walmart. He’s twenty-two years old. Crows and squirrels eating. It might take three or four close shot pellets to penetrate a layer of crow skin. It stuns the bird. He flaps in the yard crying. Reload and point it a foot from his wide open eye. Fire!
What kind of father made him and kept him?
Sous is a French word.
Of course man is evil.
When I was eight or nine years old I aimed my BB-gun at a fat bumble bee resting on a peony. I pulled the plastic trigger and petals exploded into the air. Last night I picked up a pincher bug and put her in the garbage can. Over the years I have killed a battalion of mosquitoes. Because of malaria in the tropics I pretend that it is war with the mosquitoes. I won’t harm a spider.
Last night I quoted Kenneth Patchen to him after he justified his backyard crow massacre. “They were noisy,” he said, “while eating the grease off my barbecue.”
“There are no proportions in death.” I replied. I should have quoted myself, and followed that line up with, “That means your precious pale hide is covered with crow feathers. Your daddy and mommy are crows. You are pecking at the grease of the world and creating a nuisance unknowingly to a thousand living things a minute. How many pellets to penetrate your thick skull? Do you see why it’s not a tragedy if a hundred crows ate your brother? What the hell is so god-damn human about us? If to be human is to be merciful, caring, or just a little bit careful at least? Romantic love and the slaughter of cows. How do we make love with such bloody hands?
Today is a school day. We have a hundred apples to bake and books to read. Rachelle my sweet baby child, reveal your true cruel heart. There are happy squirrels running to and fro. I intend to teach you how to rip off their hides with boots and your bare hands.
I love my innocent babies. I am a daddy crow.

 

 

More Paintings After I Sing The Mind Desperado

The latest book. Published last week.

Armistice Day is just around the calendical corner. Purchase Last Communion by the eleventh hour of the eleventh day on the eleventh month for a brief discount on my misanthropy.

From the book:

Answer to Agora Gallery’s Twitter Question “Is Art Urgent?”

When viewing the work of an artist I seek the biography of the man/woman expressed in hard copies. I mark the energy of the joy or angst living in each piece. If there isn’t any, there isn’t art. Easy marker. With that said, allow me to cite a piece of yesterday that I hope will help answer this important question.
Early in the day I shared with my wife a break time video (via e-mail) of Tom Jones and Janis Joplin back in 1969 singing and dancing “Raise your hand”. I wrote to her that this is what gurgles through my veins most days.
Go watch it on YouTube (skip corporate commercial):
Tom and Janis
Did you see it? Got up and danced, yes? Made you almost feel ashamed to live in a land that has warped the meaning of joy and dance (which is often art) into Beyoncé, a phony by-product of Proctor and Gamble, Coca Cola, or AT&T smartphone toothpaste glued to your face:
Phony Faker
Not ever, even in a very weak moment, say solitary confinement in a boy’s prison or island castaway, would I be interested in the choreographed faux-dance of Beyoncé. It is without real desire. I think it hasn’t loved since it was a little girl. It says “Me” like a blazing sun, but not a star. More like a thermonuclear detonation. All in all, I think Beyoncé hates art, and has sent her husband into gallery show rooms to rap about it.
Her dance is not an “outward expression of an inward harmony of the soul.” It is, to me, a kind of death of individuality and its right to expression. Poor Beyoncé. She is just a tool, as were Tom and Janis in their day to a degree. The difference is in their humanity. That unlikely 60’s couple each got to dance like any nerd in the lunch line and feel good about it. Real good. Today the corporations steer us to do the impossible and copy the world’s champions, which sets up stone walls to our dance as expressive creatures. Then this negativity gets revealed in our every day lives: Paint a picture? Not if you can’t out dance both van Gogh in color and Wyeth in boredom. Chisel marble? Are your balls square? There has been only one superstar worthy of that! The world’s champions, (a Kurt Vonnegut idea), existed in 1969 too. Yet from watching the “Raise Your Hand” video (I was 2 years old at the time thinking about becoming a painter), it is so obvious to me that the door was open for humanity (at least for those existing in a healthy economy) to virtually explode with creativity per capita.
Art’s urgent task is to reopen that door. It must go back a generation to Tom and Janis, further back to the Mohawk and Santee Sioux; I say shine light on the first clan even, to notice how Glub the Firestarter turned a rock into a Mastodon with his smoldering magic stick. Hurrah! Let’s party!
And Glub’s brothers and sisters gesticulate the wild human dance while drinking spit beer late into the night.
Beyoncé, Jeff Koons and Rita the corporate-sponsored conceptual artist who uses her feet to throw rocks at spider monkeys, are invaders in our once deeply expressive village. ABC and PBS are working overtime this week getting us to authenticate their celebrity. This will sell more Crest, more Toyota Corollas, and less and less of the truth that each and every one of us is deeply expressive if we dare to dig that deep. The entertainers can be amazing and excite us to our own expressive joys, which is art manifest. I got up and raised my hand with Tom Jones, but I didn’t want to be like him. I writhed and wrinkled and spilled my spit fermented beer on the hide carpet. I woke up and painted a saber-toothed tiger stalking a Super Bowl celebrity into the forest.
Art must coax art out of the box that money and power have stuffed it into. Museum is art history. Instrumental in preserving art’s stories. However, no joy comes from paced, clockwise observation at a respectable five foot distance, whether that be an afternoon at the Louvre or your local, struggling art association. And celebrity is anything but celebratory. Lady Gaga is Cindy Sherman. Mick Jagger is Jasper Johns. Millionaire super jocks with dead style choreographed. I think their art is as much fun to be around as burning plastic. It is urgent that we support the expression of our neighbors Donna, who paints us the real news, (what the fourth estate has abandoned for advertising deals), and Fred, the marble sculptor sweating out angst in the oppressive July heat. His suburban neighbors doze the live long day long in the cool of the swimming pool.
Hey, crank up the music.

Yawn. Just another Beyoncé tune.

Winter Lessons Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein Ron Throop

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Left: Winter Lessons by Oswegonian Ron Throop /Right: Drowning Girl By escaped Oswegonian Roy Lichtenstein

A post from March, to introduce Oswego to those arriving from Hyperallergic:

Wow. Yesterday I read a 2004 article on Roy Lichtenstein, a very famous painter of the late twentieth century. I already knew that he taught for a couple years at the state college in Oswego. I also read in a biography that his wife hated it here. The winters were tough and she began to drink like a fish. My elderly next door neighbor said she caused quite a stir at the faculty wives’ club the night she wore colored stockings. I never knew what a great failure Lichtenstein was the day before he started painting comics. He was an abstract painter who loved Picasso and Cézanne. His paintings amassed unsold in the basement.

Yesterday I read with laughing eyes the early tale of Roy. The parallels are enough of a story to keep me plugging away at my own failure. I quote at length.

“Roy would say, ‘I know any minute someone’s going to come and shake me and say, Mr Lichtenstein, it’s time for your pills, and I’ll be back in Oswego, in a wheelchair.’ There was a touch of Lichtenstein’s characteristic self-deprecating humour about that. But also a sense that he had been, as she says, “very lucky to have been where he was at a given moment”.

Roy knew, like all painters do, that success is a crap shoot with a 1,679,616-sided die. Only a wise, self-deprecating Oswego artist would admit to this.

“But the teaching post he held in Oswego from 1958 to 1960 was a low point of his career, very far from the wealth and art stardom that were his within a couple of years… At the time he got the job in Oswego, Lichtenstein had been working as a painter for nearly 20 years, and achieved almost no success. Bruce Breland, a colleague of the time, remembered that Lichtenstein ‘had shown in New York—with no results. He was showing paintings and they were going stone-nowhere.'”

All my paintings also going cement-nowhere in the basement.

“Lichtenstein did a series of part-time jobs—window dresser, draftsman, furniture designer, painting dials on instruments—while his wife, a successful interior designer, was the main breadwinner. Lee Csuri, sculptor and wife of another old friend, remembered that in the mid-1950s, ‘Roy was very despondent about what he was doing. And feeling he was nowhere. His painting of that time was abstract expressionist, but it was very muddy'”.

Yahoo! My wife is a graphic designer, the bread winner, and my feelings of despondency on a good day have me yank off just enough mustache nose hairs to goad me to the next chore.

“Then in 1958, he got the job in Oswego. But as Avis Berman, a researcher into Lichtenstein’s life, concluded: ‘Living in Oswego was disastrous for the Lichtensteins. The winters were brutal and Isabel lacked fulfilling work, and began drinking in earnest.’ So at 37, Lichtenstein had a dead-end post in the sticks, a wife who was rapidly becoming an alcoholic, and a studio full of paintings no one wanted to look at. Then his luck began to change.”

Oooh, I can only hope.

“As Dorothy Lichtenstein tells the story, ‘Roy was always trying to get back to the New York area, and in 1960 he was able to get a job teaching at Rutgers University in New Jersey. And there was a group of interesting and lively people there, including the artists Alan Kaprow and George Segal. Roy had a feeling that if he’d still had a job teaching out in the boondocks, he might have done his first Pop work, but not carried on. He felt there was something that comes from response and encouragement that fuels you to go further than you might in a vacuum.'”

Response and encouragement. Roy had a feeling. Ron has one from time to time. He expresses it, and in return receives the appreciative song from a cricket stowing away under a stair in an abandoned Oswego factory.

“But there might have been another trigger. As Chuck Csuri, Lee’s husband, recalls, Lichtenstein’s son David came home one day from school and complained: ‘Joey’s father’s a policeman, and Henry’s father’s this, and Virginia’s does that. And you’re an artist and you can’t draw.’ Roy said, ‘Oh, OK.’ So he got out a canvas and drew a comic-book image. The result might have been Look Mickey, with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. In it, Donald is fishing, and says, ‘Look Mickey, I’ve hooked a big one’. And a big, new idea was exactly what Lichtenstein had got hold of himself”.

That is all the parallel I need. Back in 1998 Roy’s spirit must have hightailed it back to Oswego, and flew up my nose.

Now to focus on the work and the big break which is sure to come at fifty, using the logic of arrested development afflicting the middle-aged in the 21st century. I shall keep at work, seek escape, and let my mustache hairs grow into my mouth.

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Mortality Smortality In 40 Hours Or Less

Mortality Smortality

Mortality Smortality. 2014. Acrylic on panelboard, 64 x 48″

My flyer to be handed out at a show in two weeks:

Art is Work

Actually, in this case, painting is work. I have never considered myself to be an artist, really. I don’t even like “art”, the way my art-lover friend Dan does, one to leap at the chance to visit a gallery or a museum. I love painting though, any kind, and at an art show, I will make a bee line past all other forms of expression to see work of painters, more to learn and compare than to enjoy. Some times professional jealousy creeps in, especially when I see rendering that has a special hair shirt quality, when each stroke of the brush belies both a practical and encyclopedic knowledge of control or constipation—hard to tell which for sure until I meet the painter for beer and oysters. Unfortunately so many are either dead or practically inaccessible, and from my viewpoint in Oswego at least, painting is tolerated as a form of yoga, just another hobby distraction to the despair of the modern age. Thank God for family and friendship, and the blessings of the narcissist Internet. Otherwise by now I’d be eating my toenails at a local mental health spa.

In Providence Rhode Island I looked at my first van Gogh through a painter’s eyes. It was a religious experience. The great and powerful Vincent was a failure. Hurray! Another human being. It was a 14 X 17” landscape entitled View of Auvers-sur-Oise, a day’s work in a village north of Paris in the year he took his life. I read into that painting like any tome of art writing could instruct. The great Vincent van Gogh was nothing much really. Just another proud working man, driven day after day, year after year with an obsession to perfect his limitations. I saw the human hand laying it on thick, always at the right place at the wrong time, a failure at night, hopeful idiot by morning. One life to live, and if he was determined to be a painter, to Hell with the greatest of art critics, Mssrs. Degradation and Poverty.

It worked! A few hours coloring a French village from a field, and he succeeded to live another day pretending to be a painter. It was the billionaires who got rich though. They took the dignity of pride in pretend and made a killing for themselves. Endowments all over the world buy up van Gogh’s paintings to prove unwittingly their dislocation to humanity. They “get” the history, but fear the present moment like a pathogen. I could count all the struggling van Gogh’s living today. But it would take a lifetime and more assistants in my employ than those pretending to be artists at a Jeff Koons factory.

One more point before my plea:

Kurt Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be”.

Last month I checked out from the library a photo book about Picasso. Pictures taken of him at leisure and work in 1956. A mess of canvases and sculptures in every room, painting on the walls, dripped paint on the floor. His mansion had twenty foot ceilings and huge doors at the end of one studio opening out onto a balcony of palm trees. “La Californie” was the name of his hermitage in Southern France.

There is a brief passage in the book referencing his time in Montmartre, when he lived in poverty, painting. Somehow still able to acquire materials without the financial support of credit cards and/or a well-endowed sugar mama. I think poverty in 1905 was a world of difference from what we call it today. He must have made modern starving artists look like rich dandys sacrificing a week of television and a bowl of chocolates for art. Or, God forbid, cell phone service! The photos of him as a rich millionaire painting in a mansion, juxtaposed with my imagination of a poor Parisian painter holed up in some cold January flat over a hundred years ago, instruct and educate like nobody’s business. His wealthy genius in 1956 appears unchanged over 50 years time. He looks just as poor to me, but rich in determination and singleness of purpose. He eats, sleeps, voids excrement, laughs and paints. There is no stopping him. The art crazy old man.

I mention Picasso’s sameness to my wife the other morning over coffee. I asked her how differently would we live if suddenly Jeff Koons got cast inside one of his poodles, and Ron Throop went viral throughout the acquisition dreams of bored billionaires. “Our coffee and climate would get better. Other than that,” she admitted, “nothing”.

A few months ago I helped hang a show at our local art association. One of the helpers, a member my age, asked me what I do for a living. “Paint,” I said. “I am a painter”. It was more difficult for me to get that truism past my lips than if I told him I was an untouchable scouring latrines with my socks.

Picasso’s Picasso. Throop is Throop. We have nothing in common, besides a heightened desire to perfect our limitations. My path for the rest of this life is to pretend like Picasso. It won’t hurt anybody. It won’t even help. Maybe, if I just work harder and dream longer, Rose will taste a better sip of coffee with her next husband, from the Florida room of her beach condo in Boca Raton.

Now, finally, an explanation.

I found out last winter that I am a Stuckist, more or less. Their manifesto is available here at the show. Take a look. The strongest statement, #4, Artists who don’t paint aren’t artists, if not cryptic, is flat out silly wrong. I know nothing about ceramics, but I know a man, a teaching artist who would take his class to Chimney Bluffs along Lake Ontario to gather clay to be used for glazing. Ho boy! Show me a Stuckist in London who longs to extract cadmium from zinc ore. Or, take my friend the marble sculptor, who travels out of state to steal marble from parking lots. He approaches his stone like I do any canvas. As an ignoramus. I wish I had the knowledge (and time) to make my own paint and weave my own canvas. I’d rather paint on a log with berry juice, but the berry juice will never put out like my sweetheart dioxizine purple. And dioxizine sounds like painful chemical death to workers in that industry. So I just hold my breath while I paint.

Anyway, Stuckism. Good medicine. We are painter-workers. We get up in the morning to paint. We are international brothers and sisters in pretend. Yet we all need to get paid. Here is how I dream to be paid. Milton Glaser has the phrase “Art is Work” painted on the transom of his company door. Another tome of knowledge garnered from just three precious words. Art is work. The big painting I finished this week took exactly 40 hours—from surface, image, and finally to frame. At $13 dollars an hour (what I was making at my last job as “cook in the great north woods”, plus materials, and element “x” fee (30%), I value it at $832.00. The following is from my blog posted a couple months ago to shed light on the process of figuring my wages (from another painting pictured below):

It Is Is Is A Doom Alone That Counts

It Is Is Is A Doom Alone That Counts. 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36″

What is the Value of Art?

For this painting? Exactly $188.43. Why? Because I spent 10 hours of my life working on it. And my wife suggests that I charge at least a $10/hour wage. For the canvas (1½” thick generic), I used a 40% off coupon at an A.C. Moore 30 miles away. With gas money and Golden Acrylics added in, plus sales tax, I get to the above figure, which is exact.
That is its monetary value.
Its intangible worth is another story. A long one. A novel in twelve volumes; the fourth where I finally divulge my true intentions with the piece above. I began the morning in a funk, feeling sorry for the painter alive in a nation that boasts an impossible super economy, yet trounces its good fortune with an F350 sensitivity to life. Squash the spider! Swat the fly! Watch an eight-year-old smash a thousand exoskeletons fleeing up the anthill to protect their friends and family.
I spent the early morning spam tweeting a hundred gallerists to make them wake up to the prolific potential I have always hyper-activated in hard copy for my village. Then a wake-up call to my twelve year old daughter whom I raise away from the F350’s—to teach her that diesel is death, yet antibiotics has opened the door to the greatest party that will ever be. We need to live creatively (and quietly) alongside the diesels, so that we can dream this Christmas on earth without interruption.
This thinking cheers me to an idea that ferments throughout the morning and into late afternoon. I prepare a scratch meal while waiting for my wife to come home from work. She arrives. Plops down in the chair and we unload our thoughts for the day.
Dinner and more talk. A trip to the country wine cellar and a blank canvas in the basement.
Go!
I used to rock back and forth in my bed as a boy. I would set three albums on the turntable and let them play through while I rocked myself to sleep. Every single night of my life from age 11 to 18, when college roommates were enough peer pressure to make it a private affair with the door locked.
Now in my basement studio some twenty odd years later, I have gone back to rocking out all of that dreamy energy from my arms and eyes via painting. This night I was going to give my wife a hard copy that would sell. A nature scene at night of our Great Lake Ontario. No more politics. No more cultural critic. Finally a landscape some home decorator would purchase for $188.43. And it started out that way, innocent enough, probably Van Morrison singing “Oh my love when I am away from you…” And all the proposal promises I tacitly made with my lover were kept. We saved for our children’s college. We went to a camp in the summer and cuddled up on the couch to watch TV on stormy nights.
I might have kept to Van for an hour replaying, Summertime in England, and got bold with my love in a red dress, painting soft strokes while slow dancing with her in pacific moonlight. Then suddenly Harvest Moon, and I discover the demon rumors are true. He is rising from the lake! The creature writhes inside every single one of us. No escape. Both rickshaws and diesel trucks. All are accounted for in mortality. Holy Jesus, we’re gonna die!
So the following night I let the born again nihilist Bob Dylan set my text to the painting. It reminds us that doom is impossible to avoid at the onset of middle age.
Even with remarkable advances in metallurgy and sleek rubber linings, the shiny new Ford 350 will rust and leak by the time we are fifty.
It is (is is) a doom alone that counts, and that is the value of art to the living.
This particular piece should remind its buyer that there is no doubt, in a super economy, only a hardened, bitter, and frightened man will buy something he can afford.

So, any takers? I’ll have to add $45.00 for shipping.

There you have it! The first Oswego Stuckist to admit the truth. Art is work. So is toenail chewing if one can pretend really hard. I promise to play this game out to the end. My dreams tell me that buying up my work now, will secure some legacy to leave your children. Buy a signed book. Put it in the attic. Buy a painting to hang in the parlor. Its story will not die.

I apologize about the lack of framing for many of these paintings. The truth is I have another show going on at the Dyer Arts Center at R.I.T. in Rochester. Unlike Zinks, I would be banished from furthering that avenue of pretend if I didn’t deliver framed work. We’re out of money now, and I blame myself for scheduling two shows in the same month. The gallerists at the Rochester venue must keep up appearances. R.I.T. needs to pretend too. And I need to pretend that I have a chance to break into a world that will provide me a line cook’s salary to paint. Please, if you find my art not practical enough for your tastes, patronize Zink Shirts in any way you can. Glenn has offered this space to local color. Come here for holiday shopping. His work is sublime and corporate killing at the same time. Wear one of his shirts and flip a tall bird at the bottom-line world of men who care not a bean about your day to day. Glenn and I do. Look, we invited you all here. Open your wallets and pick out a record album to play. But first, open your wallets!

 

 

 

Okay. I have the proof. Buy away!

Last Communion

Eager to get out and buy a book today? Look no further than your computer keyboard. Last Communion has been hailed by the critics. Literally crunched up and set into huge ice balls, and launched from atop angry thunderheads.

Here is the link where I can make the most for my work: Last Communion

Here is where I make some in Seattle, but not as much: Last Communion

Finally, here is where I make nothing: The Rest of Earth

I promised a teaser for visitors. Enjoy!

  David Hockney is Talented and Rich

Went to a painter’s site last night and remembered why I should be glad to have been a history major in college. He is a living old man who has six decades of work to view. David Hockney. Never heard of the guy until my cousin, the more knowledgeable painter in the family, referred him to me. I am a man who is rarely interested in the work of others. However, their personal stories thrill me. We all start at the sound shot of the same gun. Some, like David Hockney, end up well known and loved, having strangers from everywhere on earth watch his mid-morning interview live on YouTube.
Others, channeling what appears to be my fate as well, get neither an interview nor a living, no matter how sober (or drunk!), dedicated, and possibly interesting they and their work happen to be. The art market of unartists has no idea how to appraise art until long after all coins have been flipped, landed, and marked on the ledger.
Don’t get me wrong. This Hockney is good, having made beautiful paintings that I admire more than anything I have ever done. Color, wow. Form, complete. Skill? Enough to say almost too much. But what is he? What is his story? As a young man inventing style, was he a Wright brother, or more like a Henry Ford? That’s where history and biography make their way into the whole art story. It is the birth of creation, the labor pains, growing pains, old age pains that interest me. Never the output, which is arbitrary, subjective, boring really, without the struggle and fire of personality. Hockney painted a chair in the 1970’s. So did a multitude of college students at the time. Probably seventy million chairs painted that decade. Was his truly in the top ten? Who says so? History tells me that he got a break. That he was in the right place at the right time. That all artists of good fortune are like colorful pebbles picked from a heavenly (or Hades) stream by a God-child. They have been made at an early age, and by virtue of authentication from these “higher beings” are able to study, hone, magnify their art unto themselves, for self pride is the artist’s best life weapon.
So I document my story. And if I live to be 76 years old, your children and mine will be able to access on the Internet several decade’s worth of Ron Throop work. Poor buggers won’t be able to decide for themselves if the paint was worth the mixing. That is the fate of the unknown. The reality of history. Last year some guy bought a house full of art from the sister of a dead local yokel painter. He paid a couple thousand bucks, and the following months had the work appraised by a gaggle of college degrees. A fast three million. But the artist willed that they be tossed in a dumpster. Great irony. Super story. A better one than Hockney could ever be on roller skates.
Although no one ever asks me for it, I shall give advice now to fellow artists of the dung heap. Keep at it for posterity. Find strength in the grave silence of galleries and museums. Believe, even if in pretend, that they ignore you because there is only so much time to make money by feeding us some more bland crackers of what has already been digested by the industrial art market. David Hockney maintains two residences in the high end real estate of Los Angeles and its environs. A man who feels would abdicate at least one of these thrones to make room for the life-giving ones. But his sage advice? Keep on drawing.
Bootstraps, bootstraps, bootstraps! He’s a Henry Ford for sure.

I Sip Rose Water and Usli Ghee in Old Delhi