Having Sex with Artists

A couple of weeks ago I dreamed that I had sex with Frank Stella under a boardwalk on Fire Island. We were both young. When I was the age I was in the dream I did this painting — clearly the “love” child of our astral meeting:

Leslie Parke Primary One

Leslie Parke, “Primary One”, oil on canvas, 1979.


Last night I dreamed that Anish Kapoor was courting me. It was all quite elaborate. I can’t wait to see how this will show up in my work. Harold Bloom would call this the “anxiety of influence”, I call it “having sex with artists.”


Sudden Impact! The work of Lori Ellison, Wilma Vissers and Paul Pagk.

Most of my Facebook friends are artists. As I scrolled through their posts this summer, I found that I was most drawn to work of modest means, that I felt had a monumental impact.  Three of these artists are Lori Ellison, Wilma Vissers and Paul Pagk.

Lori Ellison

Lori Ellison, Ink on Notebook Paper

Lori Ellison has been singled out by Roberta Smith, so my observation of this work is in no way unique. What I like in particular is the way Ellison creates her pieces on common paper or school grade notebooks. She is immediately tempting you to compare her work to doodles, and not the doodles of a great artist, but the doodles of a student. The mastery in her work occurs on many levels, not the least of which, is to not fall into any doodling cliches. This is not Zentangle, after all.


And her work echoes eloquently the work of past maters, as in this piece inspired by Matisse — or this one that brings Brice Marden to mind.


The rigor of Ellison’s simplicity, is what I admire. I love how her work engages me in the process.  They almost beg you to try to imitate them — and perhaps it is precisely in this process of putting pen to paper, that you begin to feel her decision making, her clear and precise choices — how the image sits on the page, how it relates to the edge, how it interacts with the lines on the page.

These drawings have an impact that is emotionally complex and visually exciting.




















Lori Ellison in her studio.


Wilma Vissers’ drawing are ones that I come back to over and over. They are often executed in drawing notebooks and I have come to feel that the middle fold of the page is very much a part of the composition.


In fact, before I figured out that they were in notebooks, I thought she was purposefully folding the page to create a line from the fold and something that signaled a reverse side, a second part or a mirror image. She sometimes has a solid shape with a hairy line.


She has built a vocabulary that is strangely compelling.


Vissers drawings are either studies or a separate work from the objects she creates. The objects or wall pieces to me  appear to come from the tradition of Richard Tuttle. Each object made in a unique material. Frequently small, the odd bits have a feeling of rightness, an inevitability that I also see is Tuttle;s work.

Some Wilma Vissers' pieces on the wall of her studio.

Some Wilma Vissers’ pieces on the wall of her studio.






Paul Pagk decided to post a series of drawing and studies from a few years ago. To me these are moments of pleasure. Each piece seemed to celebrate a line, a shape or a color.

Paul Pagk, oil, pastel, ink and silver crayon on paper.

Paul Pagk, oil, pastel, ink and silver crayon on paper.


In this piece, I was taken by his use of blue. It made me think of Matisse’s blue cutouts and Diebenkorn’s use of blue. After scrolling through his drawings my response was, “Damn, I wish I did that.”



Look at the placement of the drawing on this paper.










The Print Project: It’s Decided


Leslie Parke, “Almond Tree – Biot”, oil on linen

Its decided, my first lithograph is going to be of “Almond Tree – Biot”.  There is some method to this madness. Since this is my first attempt at lithography, I want to learn as much as I can from the process.

If I could do anything in lithography,  I would like to do a print of the Almond Tree close to the size of the original painting. The painting is 60 inches by 70 inches. It seems to me that I could do this by putting together nine sheets of paper 22 inches by 30 inches, which is a standard size. It could be printed with the image running off the edge of the paper and then either hung together or in nine separate frames. But it might be a tad ambitious to start with that.

So, how do I get there from here.  There are several questions I need to answer to go forward.  One of the main ones has to do with the method I would use to create the colors.  Should I use what printers call “process color”: cyan, magenta, yellow and black; or should I use “index colors” — colors selected from the painting itself, such as beige, pink, yellow, and black.  The only way I can know for sure would be to do a print of the same image using these two approaches and see which one I prefer.  Once I know that, I would know which version to use on the 9-part print.

Since this image is so complex I couldn’t draw out the different color layers just by looking at it.  So I asked artist Chelsea Nye, who has lots of experience with photoshop to work with me to separate out the different layers for both color versions.  Here is a sample of one of those layers:

Almond Tree Index Beige

In order to make the two versions of this print,  I will be creating ten different plates that look something like the above. Each of these plates will be about 22 inches by 24 inches. I bought a magnifying glass with a light and look forward to drawing these plates. Could I have made this any more difficult?  I hope that I will be able to show you the proofs sometime before the next millennium.  I will be interested to find out which version you prefer.  This piece is so complex I feel as though I am heading full speed toward black ice.  I think that this project will either be great or it won’t work at all. Fingers crossed.

Monet and Camille and their not-so-secret life

Claude Monet, "Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe"

Claude Monet, “Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe”

Camille Doncieux was Monet’s model, mistress, wife and mother of his two children — or should I say, mother of two of his children, as I will explain in a later post. But their relationship is far more complex than that would indicate.

Both Camille and Monet had illegitimate half siblings. Monet’s mother died January 28th,  1857, when Monet was 16 years old. On January 3rd, 1860 Monet’s father at age 60 had an illegitimate child with his 24 year old servant. Camille’s mother worked and her father was either retired or unemployed. The circumstances around her half-sibling are not clear. But her situation was sufficiently inhospitable that she left home early to make her way in Paris. She worked first as a seamstress, but later became Monet’s model and, as so often happened, his mistress.

Monet kept his relationship with Camille secret from his family, as he knew that to reveal it would have put his income in jeopardy. His father and aunt were willing to support him, but only as long as he was seriously pursuing his studies as an artist. This relationship would have been unacceptable to them.

I believe that artists often reveal themselves in their work, especially when it is not possible to express things by other means. Monet’s “Dejeuner sur L’Herbe” is particularly interesting in that regard. In this painting, Camille has assumed the role of each of the women in the painting. She stands next to Bazille, who also poses for several parts, as his equal. In this sense Monet has raised her status and reveals to us that he considers her his social equal and someone he is happy to show off to his artist friends. His relationship to her is further indicated by the heart carved into the tree.

Heart Carved into the Tree

Heart Carved into the Tree

You might also notice, that to the right there is a man hiding out behind a tree. As often as I have looked at this painting, I had not noticed him until Mary Mathews Gedo  pointed him out in her book, “Monet and his Muse”. While this man is probably meant to be a servant in the painting, Gedo believes he may be a stand in for Monet’s father lurking somewhere in the background about to find Monet out.

Man Behind the Tree

Man Behind the Tree

Monet had ambitious plans for this painting and wanted to submit it to the Salon as a piece to rival both Manet and Courbet (who, by the way, is posing as the man sitting on the left).



But he was not able to finish it in time. Courbet suggested to him that he do something a little less grand that he could finish in time. Monet painted “Camille: Woman in a Green Dress”.

Claude Monet, "Camille: Woman in Green Dress"

Claude Monet, “Camille: Woman in Green Dress”

At first glance, this could be a painting of any society woman just entering the house from a turn in the garden where she has picked a flower. Flower, you say? What flower?

Violet Flower in Camille's Hand

Violet Flower in Camille’s Hand

Camille carries in her hand a violet. Yes, once again [see Manet’s Secret Love] an artist is revealing his secret love with the language of flowers. The meaning was not lost on the critics, one of whom, who wrote for the Journal du Harve, the hometown paper of Pere Monet, not only revealed that Camille was Monet’s mistress, but implied that she was a prostitute. Despite his own odious behavior toward his servant girl,  Pere Monet condemned Camille and stopped any further support of Monet.

Books of Interest:

Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org

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