Michael Felcher Fine Art

40 Year Retrospective

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Sy Boardman

Seymour Boardman, painter, with the Artist, NYC, 1999.


One doesn't really know where to begin this stuff: So I'll just dive in.  As the story goes, I was conceived in my uncle's sculpture studio.  My uncle was a very talented sculptor when he was young, but he gave it up.  Years later, after it was clear that I was an artist, we talked about it, and he told me he never felt he was a real artist.  He said he lacked the creative part. 

I was eight years old when I made my first work of art.  On a visit to the beach, I took a long walk along the shore and a piece of driftwood caught my eye: It looked exactly like the body of a duck.  I spent the next two hours, looking for its head.  I found it.  No carving was done to either of the two pieces.  My Dad helped me glue the head onto the body, and from then on, he always kept it on the wall above his desk, at home.

crystals 1

crystals 2

About a year later, my first love affair with Beauty began: Mineral crystals.  I had been introduced to rock collecting at summer camp, and what I liked the most were crystals.  At home, I would spend hours looking into tiny pockets of crystals, with a 5x magnifying glass, in search of the perfect cube, octahedron, quartz crystal, garnet dodecahedron: Anything formally perfect.  I didn't know it at the time, but I was attracted to ideal form.  Years later, as a mature painter, I realized that I got my sense of natural color not from flowers, but from mineral crystals.  I still collect perfect crystals, and never tire of their beauty.


At age 10 I started taking classical guitar lessons.  Within a matter of months, I had discovered Beauty again, this time in contrapuntal music.  I began listening to records of Segovia from whom I first really experienced Bach.  For my 11th birthday, my grandfather took me to hear Segovia live, at Town Hall.  I particularly remember the old master, alone on the stage, stopping in the middle of a piece, to tune a string: I think I learned from that that the Artist is supposed to be an uncompromising perfectionist.  Later I found out that Segovia practiced 8 hours a day.

One day, my Dad came home with a record he had bought for me: Carlos Montoya, "Flamenco."  I still have it.  He put it on and the minute I heard the first tune, "Malaguena," that was it for me.  I switched from classical to flamenco, and learned that piece.  A few months later, my Mom took me to a concert of flamenco guitar, with male and female flamenco dancers.  And, once again, my Grandfather took me to Town Hall:  Feb. 1962, for the "Historic," SOLD OUT, Gala New York Performance, "The Incredible Carlos Montoya."  I was 11.  The concert was recorded and released in 1962,  on RCA.  I'm listening to it right now, the record, as I write this.  At age 60, I immediately feel the same thrill that ran through my whole body and soul, at age 11, when Montoya plays his first notes.  My little hands can be heard applauding, one amazing piece of Art after the other, on the recording: I was sitting right next to my Grandfather.  I'm convinced that it was Carlos Montoya who awakened the Artist in me. 



My first real love affair, and my 3rd love affair with Beauty, came in the form of a very beautiful girl.  I was 19, traveling through Scandinavia, when I met her: It was love at first sight, and we spent a month together, in the little town she lived in 45 min. north of Copenhagen.

I started painting right after my 20th birthday.  I was in my junior year of college, in my first apartment off-campus, and I decided that for my birthday I would take a whole week off, and only do exactly what I wanted: No classes, no studying, no homework.  It was Spring in upstate NY, and during the day I went for long walks in nature: Up streams and in woods; I found special places to watch the sunrise and sunset.  Around the second night, I just started painting.  Someone had given me scraps of primed cotton canvas, which I staple-gunned to the wood floor of my bedroom.  I got a small synthetic brush, some tubes of acrylic, and just painted.  I totally fell in love with it and haven't stopped since!


Just after I started painting, on one of my walks up the stream in my backyard, I met a neighbor who was very much involved in art.  She knew much more about art than I did, and I started visiting her whenever I could.  We would sit around her breakfast nook table and talk about art and artists.  From Jan Peretz I first learned about Noguchi, David Smith, Turner, Arp, and so many of the great artists who were to influence my early direction in art.  Jan was the first person who not only encouraged me as an artist, but gave me the distinct sense that an Artist was something one could actually be, in life.  She lives in Boston now, where she is constantly learning about art and deeply involved in music, painting, and poetry.  We lost touch during my 30 years in Santa Barbara, but reestablished contact 5 years ago, when I moved back to where I first started painting, and where I met her, Binghamton, NY.  She was here about a month ago, and we spent 3 glorious days, looking through all the artwork I had done since she first encouraged me.  As she was leaving, she said, “It’s amazing what you've become," which is the greatest compliment anyone has given me. 

Micharl age 20

When I first started painting, my main influence was Paul Klee.  I went to Europe that summer and visited the Paul Klee Foundation in Bern, for a week.  I spent every day at the Museum, looking at the over 300 Paul Klee paintings they then had on permanent exhibit.  The highlight of the week was actually handling the pages, turning each page and looking for as long as I wanted at each drawing in one of the artist's sketchbooks, in the basement of the Museum.  I think from that experience, I got a sense of what it was like to create art every day.

Sy painting

My Dad had grown up with Sy Boardman, they were childhood friends: So when I showed such interest in painting, he took me up to Sy's studio.  This was 1970, and Sy was in his Chelsea studio that I was to see him in often, over the years: The same 4th floor walk up he painted in until he died, in 2005.  Sy was very nice to me, at our first meeting.  He showed me how to stretch canvas, paint in the acrylic "staining" technique he was then using, what kind of Japanese brush was best for it, and he gave me some big jars of acrylic paint.  I didn't realize it at the time, but through Sy, who I continued to visit, I was absorbing the whole New York School approach to art, and creating art. 

Sy was the first Artist I got to know personally.  He told me stories about Rothko, Pollock, Motherwell, the whole crew he used to hang out with at the Cedar, the bar all the NY School Artists frequented.  I used to call him up whenever I had a question about something I was doing in painting.   When I told Sy my LA dealer had just arranged a show for Sam Francis in S. Korea, he asked me to ask Sam, through the dealer, to give him a call.  They had been old friends in NY, but had lost touch for 25 years or so.  Sam called, and they were able to reconnect, about a year before Sam died.  Once I asked him why he wasn't being invited to show in the Whitney Biennial anymore.  "Oh, they probably don't even know I'm still alive."  He had witnessed the whole commercialization of art in NYC, after Rothko started selling paintings for so much money in the 60's.  He told me the inside story of the "Pop Art" scam, and a funny one about a janitor at the Guggenheim who had never painted before but took the short-cut to success by sleeping with an art critic.  "All he painted were white canvases," said Sy, who had studied with Leger and devoted his life to creating art.  Like Beethoven, he hated being a "merchant,"  with his art.  One time he told me, "I get depressed if I don't paint every day."

Spring Ceremony
In 1974 I moved to Santa Barbara, and had a wonderful job as "Special Consultant" in the Curatorial Department of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.  I worked directly under the Director of the museum, Paul Mills, who loved art.  I did exhibits and catalogs, and in 1978 received a NEH grant as Project Director for my work at the Museum.  I was painting all along, but by 1980 I started to feel that my painting wasn't developing properly, and I needed to do it full-time.  I left the Museum, and have been creating art full-time ever since: More than half my life, now.

Looking back on it, Mr. Mills had alot to do with my development as an artist.  He sensed I was an artist first, and a curator only from my love of art: And I think he liked having an artist rattling around the Executive offices, in the midst of all the art historians.  After all, it was an Art Museum. 


He definitely understood me better than I understood myself, at the time.  I was 25 when I started working there.  My first assignment was to redo a permanent exhibit he himself had designed.  We discussed it in his office after I'd finished: His only criticism was I had changed the labels from small pins with tiny numbers, to large black circles with large numbers in white.  He felt it was aesthetically inappropriate.  I countered that I had many times seen older visitors squinting to read the numbers on the tiny pin heads, which were behind a glass case, and corresponded to a description of the pieces in the catalog.  My labels stayed.

About a year later, we were in his office again, discussing a poster I had designed for a Museum event.  It was an abstract painting I had done based on the form of a milkweed pod, back in Binghamton, with some type below:  Two Sensual curves which were surrounded by cobalt blue color field to the borders of the picture frame, defining the form they surrounded, left in white, in negative space.  He had asked me to sign one of the posters for him, had it framed, and put it up next to a framed reproduction he had in his office, one of Matisse’s,"Blue Nude" cutouts.  He loved Matisse, and commented on the similarity, to which I replied that I had always found Matisse's nudes too heavy for my tastes.

I ran into him on the street one day, after I had left the Museum but before he retired.  Annette and I had just come back from a visit to the LA County, to see a Matisse exhibit that featured the famous "Pink Nude."  The exhibit was so crowded, we ducked into the next room, which had an exhibit I think from the Dulwich Collection, a private English collection that included a few Rembrandt portraits.  Immediately, Annette and I had the same reaction: The Rembrandts totally blew away the "Pink Nude."  I told Mr. Mills about our response and he got this strange smile on his face, like I had just confirmed his original intuitions about me. 

After he retired, I invited him for dinner, with his wife.  I made Chateaubriand, Annette and I were living together, and my walls were covered with my artwork.  Mr. Mills took a long look at everything, and made one comment, "Simple yet bold."  That still holds true today.

He came over again, for lunch, 5-6 years later.  I was living alone, in a different place: The walls were filled with my latest works.  His wife had died, and we sat drinking Chianti together, listening to a record of Mitsuko Uchida playing Mozart piano Sonatas: Talking about Art.


Looking back on it, the decision to create art full-time was clearly what led to my development as an artist.  The first few years were extremely difficult.  Doing the art was easy: Scraping up money to pay rent was always a challenge.  But I was not alone.  I had fallen in love with another beautiful girl, and this one turned out to be as true as she was beautiful. We fell in love back in 1977, when we were both working at the Art Museum.  By the time I started doing art full-time, we were living together, and Annette really loved art.  At the Rijksmuseum, we both decided that we liked Vermeer better than Rembrandt.  Early one morning, we stood in front of "The Milkmaid" for half an hour, alone in the room.  In Florence, we both liked Andrea del Sarto. Annette bought a Del Sarto catalog, in Italian, and after looking through it, showed me a beautiful little portrait, "Testa di Cristo."  It was in SS. Annunziata so we headed over there to see it.  We couldn't find it anywhere, so we asked a priest. "Yes," he said, "it's here.  But first let me show you what else is here."  He took us to a part of the Church not open to the public, filled with masterpieces.  As we looked at these, he explained, "These great works of art were created here and have never left the Church."  Then he took us back to the public part, where an older priest was performing a Service behind a small altar. There behind the lit candles, and the priest intoning Latin Scripture, was the small, beautiful portrait of Jesus.  Andrea del Sarto had painted it for this Church about 470 years before we were looking at it: And they were still using it in daily Services!  Annette and I went our separate ways in 1988, and we remain very close friends to this day. 

By the 3rd or 4th year of creating art full-time, study started to emerge, as what I now tell young artists the other half of being an artist is: "Art stands on two legs, practice and study."  Study means studying the masters, and I've learned as much about being an artist from reading Beethoven's letters as Delacroix' Journal. Or listening to all of Beethoven's piano sonatas in the order they were created, to experience his development; or following Rembrandt's creative development, or Inness'. 

I never fit into my generation's approach to art.  I had the same conversation countless times with artists my age: Each time it was a different artist, but at some point in the discussion, I would always end up saying, "Look, we all know how fucked-up things are, but how should they be?"  And I'd get this blank look, like I was from outer space.  Years later, my study took me to the Greeks, and I realized I had always had a natural approach to art that coincided exactly with the artists of ancient Greece, with Aeschylus and Sophocles, Apelles and Praxiteles: Not things as they are, but as they should be; not to portray the real, but the ideal.  Then I started talking to artists of the next generation, 20 years younger than me.  I remember repeatedly, talking to an 18 or 20 year old artist, and he or she would say something about art, and I'd reply, "How do you know that?  It took me years to figure that out?" And they'd just say something like, "I don't know, it just seems true."  Suddenly, I fit with all the artists I was meeting, a generation younger than me.


I fell in love with one of them, a Gifted poet.  For 10 years we grew and developed as artists together.  We have complementary Gifts: Hers is Truth, mine Beauty.  We used to say that we illuminated each other's Gifts.  And, we rubbed off on each other.  I had been reading Greek literature in translation for years, convinced that I didn't have time to learn the ancient Greek: Christina dove right in.  She got an unabridged Greek Lexicon, made a big chart for herself of the Greek alphabet, and learned Greek, totally on her own!  One day she came out of her workroom all excited and said to me, "Mikey, Greek's really easy.  It's just some of the letters that are different: But once you transliterate, you know right away what the word is."  I took her word for it and decided to try.  I was reading Aeschylus' "Prometheus Bound" at the time, in the Loeb edition, with the Greek on the left and a literal English translation on the right.  Christina had showed me what the different Greek letters transliterated to.  I got to the word, "ephemeral," in the English, and I was curious what the Greek for it might be.  I looked over to the other side, found what I thought might be the Greek word, and transliterated.  To my amazement, the Greek word was "ephemeroi."  I was reading Greek!  Sappho in English was one of my favorite poets, but reading Sappho in Greek, hearing the sound of her words, is one of the greatest love affairs with Beauty in my life.  If you've ever tasted Louis XIII cognac, Sappho in Greek is like sipping 2,700 year old cognac.

For years, Christina and I had wanted to get an OED: The 2 vol. "compact" edition with the magnifying glass.  We'd see them at Antiquarian bookstores but never could afford one.  Finally we managed to get one, used, and a few days later, Christina was reading one of Jefferson's letters and came to a word she didn't know.  We both loved Jefferson's letters.  She looked the word up in our American Heritage Dictionary but it wasn't in there, so she pulled out the OED and tried that.  I was painting at the time, and we normally didn't interrupt each other, but this was special.  Not only was the word in there, but as she read the chronological quotations of the history of the usage of that word, there, right before her eyes, under the magnifying glass, was the very sentence from the Jefferson letter she had been reading!  She had to tell me, and we both felt something amazing had happened: It was the first time one of us had used our OED.

Gilles and Michael

Around this time, my best friend was a Classical violinist.  Gilles had grown up in France and settled in Santa Barbara.  We met at the first rehearsal for a concert we both performed in, in 1990: Our first conversation was about my favorite cellist, Pablo Casals.  Gilles, me, and Christina would hang out together, at our place or his, talking passionately about art, listening to some old recording one of us had just discovered, developing as artists together.  We went on trips together, visited museums together: In 1998 the three of us were in NYC, at the Noguchi, Frick, Morgan, and Met, studying art; in 2000 we were in Paris, at the Louvre every morning.  Around 1994, Gilles and I had big breakthroughs in our careers, right around the same time.  It had the same effect on both of us: We freaked out, for about a year!  Both of us had always approached our art from a purely creative point of view: Suddenly we had, in my case Dealers, in his, Agents and Recording Companies telling us what to do!  Fortunately, we had each other to work through it with.  We finally realized that our art was really precious to us, and while we liked getting compensated for it, we weren't about to stop being artists, to turn out what business people were telling us would sell.  We both stood up for ourselves, told our dealers that we had no intention of doing what they wanted; that we were the artists and they had it backwards: Either they could sell what we created or we'd find someone else who would.  We've both continued in that direction and never looked back.  Christina was there through all of this, and helped me and Gilles figure it out.

MF writing


The last thing Christina and I did together was turn a cafe in Santa Barbara into an Art School in disguise.  We did that for 2 years, and attracted all the creatives in town.  Now I was 50, she was 30, and we were talking about art all day and night, every day, with Gifted painters, musicians, poets, and dancers: Most of whom were the younger generation, 18-20.  This was an incredible growth experience for everyone involved.  Ten years later, most of those Gifted young artists are practicing professional fine artists.

Christina and I went our separate ways late in 2001: We too remain very close friends to this day.  After she moved, I'd go up to Gilles' by myself.  I'd bring a canvas, paints, and brushes.  Gilles would be up in his loft, working on a piece he was learning for an upcoming concert: I'd be downstairs painting.  Every once in a while, he'd call down, "Hey Mikey, which version sounds better," and he'd play 2 different interpretations of the same phrase.  For his birthday in 2003, I gave him one of the paintings I had created at his place.  It hangs on the wall in the very spot I painted it.  Since I've moved, I have to go see Gilles wherever he's performing.  We spent 3 days together in Boston, in 2008, and he'll be in D.C. this May.

Fred Kasper






My other best friend at the time was also a musician.  But his story is tragic.  Freddy was a genius musician.  He played clarinet through High School, and was one of 2-3 students out of 5-600 accepted in Cleveland Institute during George Szell.  Freddy dropped out after a year.  "I had learned all I could, and didn't want a career in Symphony Orchestra."  I met him after a performance I gave, in Santa Barbara, in 1977.  We started playing improvised music together.  We performed together in the 1978 Summer Solstice Celebration, in SB.  We lost touch with each other for years, until Christina and I ran into him in a record shop in town.  I was just seriously getting into Bach, and asked Freddy some questions about Artist's interpretations of the Well-Tempered Clavier.

About a year later, we ran into him at a Music Academy of the West concert.  Our friend Andy was giving a recital, solo cello, and the Kaspers were there.  After that, we started hanging out together, their house or ours.  We'd talk about art, listen to music, and play music together.  We went on trips together, to San Francisco, Pasadena, LA, and San Diego: Looking at art in all the Museums, and spending hours in music stores, where Freddy always came out with a huge stack of records and CDs.  Freddy never worked.  Their whole living room was the Music Room, wall to wall records, CDs, a clavichord Freddy had built, books on music, state of the art tube stereo, and two modern black leather listening chairs.  Freddy spent, on average, 8 hours a day listening to music.  I used to bring my Professional Musician friends over whenever they had a question about music I couldn't answer.  Freddy knew more about music than anyone I've ever known.  I once asked him, half in jest, what he was doing, and he gave me a very serious answer: "I'm trying to understand Music." 

One time, I was improvising with Bach's "Chaconne," when they came for dinner.  Christina let them in, I kept playing, and when I stopped, Freddy, with a straight face, says, "You know, you're adding another voice to Bach."  Another time, the four of us went to hear a violist we knew perform.  She was in an all Women's String Quartet, and they were playing a piece by Fanny Mendelssohn.  After the piece, I asked Freddy what he thought.  "Well," he said, "If her brother had written music like that, we never would have heard of either of them."

Around 1998, Freddy decided that Baroque flute was his calling.  He started practicing every day for hours, to get his embrochure.  After a year of practice, he'd play for us: It was beautiful.  About 6 months after that, he got together with a harpsichordist who had the same approach to music, and they started to work on a repertoire, for a concert tour.  They spent a year preparing for it. "Duo Galant" was the name they chose; they made a PR recording, set up tour dates, and were all set to go.  About a year prior to that, Freddy had asked me to take him to the Doctor's, his wife didn't drive.  He'd had a blister on his heel that wasn't going away, and the doctor wanted to remove it.  The biopsy showed it was melanoma.  They removed lymph nodes in his legs, it hadn't spread, Freddy changed his diet and got tested monthly: Everything was fine.  Then he started feeling bad, and went in for a test: The melanoma had spread throughout his body, was in his brain, and the doctors gave him only a few months to live.  I remember I was in the shower, when the call came, from Freddy's wife: Christina came in and told me.  As I dried off, I thought to myself, "One has to make sure every day that one is doing exactly what one wants."  Freddy died without getting to perform even the first of his concert dates.

During his practice phase, on Baroque flute, he and his wife bought my 2nd oil painting.  I made a cherry wood frame for it, and Freddy put it up in the music room, above his music stand, where he practiced.  After he died, his wife gave it back to me.  She said she couldn't look at it anymore because it reminded her too much of Freddy.

Late in 2001 I had the biggest breakthrough in my painting career: My work was finally accepted in Japonesque Gallery, in San Francisco.  Annette and I had discovered Japonesque in 1986, on a visit to San Francisco.  Christina and I stopped there in 1993, on a 2 month road trip to Seattle; and for the first time, I showed the owner, Koichi Hara, my art.  This resulted in a 2 hour conversation about art, and Mr. Hara telling me my art wasn't good enough for his Gallery.  Japonesque is the most beautiful Art Gallery I have ever seen: Not only is everything in it beautiful, but Koichi walks around arranging everything perfectly, all day.  Every few years, I'd stop in and show Koichi my latest work: "Not good enough."  I stopped in again in 2001, with slides a friend of mine had taken of my latest paintings.  Koichi held them up to the light, looked for a long time, turned to me and said, "What happened?"

He said he'd have to see the actual paintings, so he picked out 5 or 6 from the slides, I drove home and brought the paintings up. 

He chose three and did something with them I'd never thought of: He arranged them as a triptych, very close to each other.  His choice surprised me too, putting a green right next to a red.  Part of it was he felt the size of a single painting, 30x24, was too small.  But a few years later he sold an even smaller one, as a single piece.  As soon as I saw the three together, I knew they looked more powerful that way. 

Koichi has an amazing eye: I never could arrange my own paintings the way he did.  After the first set sold, I'd try arranging 3 at home, before bringing up the next group: I think it was 10 paintings I brought next.  He looked at each painting separately, I think he picked 6 the second time, then effortlessly, he arranged them into triptychs, in ways I hadn't thought of.  He didn't choose them as triptychs: He chose each painting on it's own merits, then grouped them to their mutual benefit.

During all this, we didn't talk.  But afterwards we'd talk, always only about art though.  Once he asked me if I worked on more than one painting at a time.  "No," I replied, "I've never been able to do that."  "That's right," he said.  Without knowing it, I had answered some question he'd had about another artist whose work he was considering.  At our first conversation, back in 1993, he told me it was not just about the work, it's the person who is creating the work that matters.  "You have to be a real artist," he said.  I told him how much work I did each day, on music, painting, and poetry, and he actually moved back in his chair, impressed. Christina was sitting there, she saw Koichi's reaction; and after that, the three of us continued to talk about Art, mainly music and poetry.


studio studio

Throughout my years in Santa Barbara, I always had in the back of my mind that something special had happened in Binghamton, in 1970, when I was 20 and started painting; and that I should go back there and find out what it was.  I finally did that, early in 2006.  Right away, it had a great effect on my painting.  What I found was that the nature here is incredibly stimulating, visually.  After a long winter of bare trees and white snow, Spring arrives, and every time you go out, you see the most beautiful forms and colors, and it's different every day.  It's no coincidence that I started painting here, in Spring.  Also, the natural lighting changes moment to moment, and this too is visually stimulating.  I'm looking out my window now and the sky is blue-grey, overcast.  It's early morning, Halloween, and the lighting outside sets off the bright yellow and orange of Fall leaves.  Behind that is the long curve of a hill, in the distance.  It is the curve of Beauty.




Looking over what I’ve written, so many influences have been left out.  Artists I talked with, at length, over time, have each and every one, influenced me.  It’s like the proverbial story of the 5 blind men describing an elephant: Each one has a different perspective because one’s touching only the tail, another the trunk, the next a tusk.... So to all of us, thank-you: Misha, Nina, Ingrid, Aaron, both Nates, Jen, both Johns, Nalini, Hallie, Damon, Joaquin, Ash, Girish, Laura, Mike, April, Phil, Poppy, Lex, Melissa, Alan, Pat, Sarah, Richard, Brett, Heather, Lindsey, Josh, and Brittainy... I’m sure I’m leaving out just as many, but you know who you are.

The Artists I never knew personally, throughout history, have every time I got to know one, through their works, letters, notebooks, or journals, had a profound effect on my development.  Just off the top of my head, chronologically, some I didn’t mention: Homer, Anacreon, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Propertius, Tacitus, Petrarch, Fra Angelico, Brueghel, Weyden, Leonardo, Giorgione, Michaelangelo, Titian, Wyatt, Holbein, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Bacon, Donne, Rubens, Milton, Browne, Mozart, Jefferson, Cowper, Blake, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Mendelssohn, De Quincey, Poe, Schopenhauer, Tennyson, Dickinson, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Modigliani, St. Vincent Millay, Enescu, Kreisler, cummings, Housman, Louie, Billie, Fats, Lester, Tatum, Bud Powell, Monk, Bird, Mingus, Clifford, Shostakovich, Bartok, Menuhin, Oistrakh, du Pre, Tatiana, ...Again, I’m sure I’m leaving out as many as I’ve mentioned. 

Perhaps the biggest single influence upon my development as an artist is John Coltrane.  From the time I first heard Coltrane, on record, right around when I started painting, he has been my constant companion, guide, and spiritual mentor, on the path to being and becoming an artist.  For over 25 years, improvising with Coltrane on one of the 20 or so versions of “My Favorite Things,” has been, along with Sandor Vegh’s version of Bach’s “Chaconne,” and anything Casals plays, my standard practice pieces.  From Coltrane I learned dedication to Purpose: Always going beyond what you can do, in the moment of creation; and the Truth van Gogh expressed in one of his letters to his brother, “One is not alone in believing things that are true.”  And the real purpose of Art, “Good will come of good,” long before I heard it from the Greeks.  As Bach always signed his manuscripts, “S.D.G.”

I have to say here that none of this happened in a vacuum.  I had unconditional love and support, until they died, from both parents; my Mom’s parents; my Dad’s Mother; and my Mom’s brother, who is still alive at 93.  My paternal grandfather I never knew: He had died before I was born. 

There’s way too much to try to sort through and choose anecdotes: I’ll just mention a few.  In 2003 I put everything in storage and moved to S. Florida, to take care of my Mom.  She was 80, living alone, and had more medical problems than she could handle.  This lasted 2 years, until she died.  A few years later, I realized that my Mom and I had shared a strange reciprocal relationship.  As her first born, My Mom and I spent the first 2 years of my life, just the two of us, together all the time: My Dad was at work.  She took care of me.  Then my brother was born.  And in the end, my Mom and I spent the last 2 years of her life in exactly the same relationship: Just the two of us.  But I took care of her.

Cecelia young

My Mom was brilliant.  She skipped 3 grades in high school, and entered Cornell at age 15, in 1938.  When I was taking care of her, she revealed something to me I never knew: Since childhood, every time she heard a piece of Classical music, she immediately “saw,” in her imagination, the Ballet choreography for it.  I couldn’t believe she’d never done anything with that Gift.  I was driving us in her car, when she told me this.  I put on a CD of Solomon playing a late Beethoven Sonata, and asked my Mom to describe the Ballet.  She closed her eyes, and effortlessly described every move the dancers were making, note for note!

Her Father had taken her to hear Caruso sing, and Toscanini conduct: The same Grandfather who took me to hear Segovia when I was 11.  She told me that every day, growing up, when her Father was leaving for work, he would say to her, “What are you reading?”  My Mom was a 2nd generation liberated woman: She spoke Truth at the dinner table.  There’s a famous story about my Mom’s Mom, Mama Lizzie, who died when I was six.  My uncle, who’s alot like me, had brought another girl up from the city, to spend the weekend at my Grandparents’ country house.  No sooner do they arrive than the phone rings.  My Grandmother answers it, and it’s the girl’s Mother, outraged.  “I had no idea my daughter was going away with your son for the weekend.  I want you to guarantee that nothing improper will happen.”  My uncle was in high school at the time.  It was 1932 in America.  “Look lady,” says my Grandmother, “If your daughter wants to fuck my son, she’s gonna do it in the city just as likely as she’s gonna do it up here.” And she hung up the phone! And in that house, they all laughed.

All through elementary school, on a school holiday that wasn’t a business holiday, my Dad would take me on the train to the city, and we’d walk over to my Mom’s Father’s office, where he’d drop me off.  Papa Sol was a civil engineer.  I’d hang out in his office until lunch hour, and then, every time, we’d hop on the subway and go up to the Met. This must've started around age 5.  We’d wander through a few galleries, stopping to look at the art, on our way to the cafeteria, which at the time had the large sculptural fountains in it’s central court.  That was Papa Sol’s idea of taking his grandson out to lunch! I'm certain that from all those experiences at the Met, with Papa Sol,  I learned at a very early age what real Art is, no matter when it's created: Food for the Soul.  I never fell for all the "gimmicks," as Sy used to call them: Then or now.  Years later I had that confirmed in Longinus, "On The Sublime;" and years after that I wrote the epigram, "Art is not concerned with the times/But the timeless."

When I was 10, Papa Sol gave me his college algebra book: I did every problem in it and couldn’t wait to get home after school, to do the next.  Right around that time, my Dad gave me Edgar Allan Poe’s “Purloined Letter,” to read, which had a huge influence on me; and continues to, to this day.  I just reread it, a few months ago.  Looking back on it, the adults must have noticed that I was Gifted: And while I was asleep, they all sat around and conspired together, how to cultivate it.  Well, they did a good job.

Papa Sol

My Dad had grown up in Brooklyn, a poor kid from immigrant parents.  In the tradition human beings willingly assented to for thousands of years, his parents had met at their wedding.  They were from two different villages, and their parents had arranged it. They came here before WWI, to escape the Tsar. They were Ukrainian peasants.  My last name, in Ukrainian, is still a word: It means a village “doctor,” roughly equivalent to our nurse practitioner.  They were prohibited from going to Medical School because of class/religion, and came over here for a better life for their children.  They raised 7 children through the Depression, all of whom were decent people.  I was very close with my Dad’s Mom, Mama Jenny.  She had worked hard every day, cleaning people’s houses, anything, to put food on the table for her family.  The famous story about her took place when my parents were well off, and Mama Jenny was spending a few days at our house.  My parents had a huge circle of friends, and were always entertaining.  So there’s maybe 30 people at my parents’, eating and drinking, and this one old lady, from the Old World.  Some wise guy at the party says to her, “Jenny, if you found a million dollars, in a bag, on the bus one day, what would you do with it?”  I was there, still in high school.  My Grandmother was silent for a long time, while she thought about what she would do.  Finally, she says, “If it belonged to a poor person, I would return it.”  Well, they all laughed at the logical contradiction: But they missed the point.  I didn’t miss the point.


Back when I was 10 and the adults were conspiring to cultivate my Gift, my Mom’s contribution was her favorite short story from college.  My Mom was an English Lit. major in college.  The story was, “A Sum in Addition,” and I believe the author was Fredrick March.  It disappeared from my Mom’s library back in the early ‘90’s, and I haven’t read it since. The plot centered around a note, found in a cheap hotel room, itemizing a man’s cash on hand and expenses.  It was terribly tragic: starts out with meds for his wife, hospital expenses, finally funeral bill.  He had lost his job in the midst of all this, so the final “sum in addition” was way in the red.  The note had been given to the house detective, who showed it to a drinking buddy of his at the bar after work: The author’s punchline was the comment of the drinking buddy after looking at the note.  “Oh look, he made a mistake in the addition.”

My Dad was so smart, it had transcended into wisdom, long before I was born.  He and all his friends dropped out of high school at age 17 and enlisted in the fight against Hitler.  Alot of them didn’t come back.  My Dad spent age 17-24 in the United States Army, WWII.  He rose to Staff Sergeant, and was in Field Artillery: They went over there and cleaned up the Nazis village by village. 

He came back, got married, I was born, he went to college on the GI Bill, and his first job as a civil engineer was back in the city, for Combustion Engineering.  Doc Feld was his boss, and the first project Doc gave my Dad was for the Air Force.  This was 1954 and we had bases all around the world.  The Air Force had come to Doc for an engineering solution to the aggregate material they were using in the landing strips for our fighter jets.  What they were using wore out too fast: They wanted a new material.  My Dad was given the problem of studying all the factors and coming up with a more durable material.  The Brass arrive, and before the meeting Doc calls my Dad into his office and says to him, “So Jerry, what did you figure out?”  My Dad was 32.  “Well,” my Dad tells him, “Our bases are scattered all around the world, many in such remote areas, that the costs of transporting materials more durable, in the quantity necessary for constructing a landing strip, are way out of the range of allocated funding.”   Doc thought about it and then asked my Dad if there was anything he'd thought of. “There is,” says my Dad, "They'll have to land the jets differently.”   Our fighters used to land nose up, at about a 45 degree angle, and the direct heat of the exhaust from the jet engines was what was burning out the strips.  Doc told the brass and they liked the idea too.  Before long, they started training our fighter pilots to land horizontal to the strip.


My Dad asked me what I wanted for my 20th birthday.  I had just started painting and asked for an art book on Paul Klee.  He got me the most complete one available at the time, and wrote in it, “Welcome to the world of Creation and Reflection.”  In 1985, he had a heart attack in Florence.  They didn’t think he would make it, so I flew over there to help out.  My Mom was a wreck.  He made it, but we had to rent an apartment for a month, because the doctors wouldn’t let him fly right away.  As he gained strength, we’d take walks around the city: One day we went to Bottega Veneta together.  We both liked not only the same style of men’s slippers, but the same color.  We wore the same size, and there was only one pair in our size.  My Dad said, “You get it.”  He had been so close to death, he didn’t see the point of getting anything nice for himself anymore.  When we got outside I handed him the bag,  “Here,” I said, “this is a present for you.”  Well, my Dad appreciated it but he made a strange remark about it, something I had heard him say for years.  “You know,” he said, “I still can’t figure out where I got my Taste from.”  My Dad had exquisite taste in everything.  I was in a good mood, so I joked with him.  “You got it from me. You know the old saying, ‘The tree doesn’t fall far from the apple.’”

Buddy studio

I'm really not sure what I learned from my Mom's brother, Uncle Buddy.  He certainly was a big part of my life, growing up.  Until I moved to Santa Barbara, at age 24, going over to Buddy and Marion's was a regular part of my life, and had been since childhood.  Buddy was always in his shop, making something.  And I'd go there when I needed help, making something.  Back when I was 10, and the adults were cultivating my Gift, Buddy's contribution was to design and help me make a beautiful shelf, to display my rock collection: It hung on the wall in my bedroom, and that's where I'd be looking into pockets of crystals with the magnifying glass.  He'd show me how to do whatever I didn't know how to do, then he'd go back to work on what he was making; and I'd finish what I was making.  I just thought of this now, but I guess I learned at an early age, how two people can be in the same place, each working on their own thing, without disturbing each other: Something which characterized my relationships with Annette and Christina, and Gilles and I used to do. 

But Buddy and I always had long conversations about things, also.  Buddy and Marion loved art, and like me, travelled all over Europe mainly to spend time in the Museums.  I once called up to arrange a time for me to visit them: It was right after my Mom had died, and I was in the city, visiting old friends and family who hadn't been able to make it to Florida for the memorial.  Marion answered, and we ended up having a half hour conversation about the paintings in the Frick, which both of us had just visited: During that conversation, we both realized that the Frick was our favorite Museum in New York City.  That's always what it was like around the dinner table, at their house.

Buddy recommended books for me to read, too: Ben Franklin's "Autobiography" and Leonardo's "Notebooks" came into my life, through him: Two books I value to this day; constantly reread; and have recommended to many young artists.  Perhaps another thing I learned from Buddy was a habit of work.  Buddy would come home from work, eat dinner, and go into his shop to work: Both of us work all the time, and it's always our own work we're working on. 

I think we always sensed that we were alot alike.  And it wasn't just genetic, because my brother's nothing like us.  Now that I think about it, I never saw Buddy watching tv: I haven't had a tv since I started painting, in 1970.  Of all the important early influences in my life, Buddy and Marion are the only ones still alive: Still in the same house I visited them in so often.  Buddy is still, at age 93, working in his shop all the time.

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