Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Pratt Poster Paper Portfolio

This past weekend, while going through a box of memorabilia, I came across a pile of my very first paintings. Some were respectable first efforts, some were pretty bad and one I refer to lovingly as the worst painting ever executed by human kind. I painted these oils on canvas paper for a portfolio review when I was in college. This was to be a truly terrible interview.

While in high school, I decided that I wanted to go to college for film making. While searching for potential programs, I came across the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I loved the idea of studying film at an art school because, being a teenager in the mid-‘90’s, I wanted to make independent films and I figured art school was the best place to do this because I would be free to “spread my creative wings”, or something like that. The only problem was, not only did I have no experience in film, but I had no experience in art at all. My high school did not have a studio art program at the time.

Part of the application process to the Pratt Institute was a portfolio review which took place in Boston. I found out about the review about a week before the actual event, so I needed to put my portfolio together quickly. I went to a local discount store and found a beginner’s oil painting set and paper. Using a piece of plywood leaned against a chair as an easel, I knocked out six paintings over the course of that week. I was unaware at the time of the existence of portfolio cases, so I folded a piece of poster board in half and stapled two edges closed to create a giant envelope. I slid the paintings into this makeshift carrier along with some writing I’d done and got ready for the interview. I’d seen a movie wherein an artist wore a suit with no tie to an art opening, so I assumed that was how artists dressed. So, I got dressed up and made my way into Boston for the portfolio review.

It took place at an upscale hotel in the Back Bay. When I walked in, I saw that every one of the potential students was carrying a real portfolio case rather than a folded piece of poster board and most were displaying the markers of creativity at that time: piercings, dyed hair and clothing representing various 90’s counter cultures. I looked like a stock broker after hours, carrying a giant piece of paper.

When I was called in for the interview, I made my way to a hotel room where I was greeted by two gentlemen from Pratt. We sat down and one of the men, dressed in a well-cut, light colored suit began unpacking the folded poster board. To my horror, when he removed the paintings they were all stuck together in one stack. I didn’t know at the time that oil paint dried slowly and had stacked all the paintings together in my rush to pack up before the interview. There was not much I could have done, since my portfolio consisted solely of these paintings I had made earlier that week and a few writing samples, now paint stained.

The interviewers asked me questions while passing the wet paintings to each other gingerly, wiping their hands off with tissues. I was so distracted that I had a hard time answering them. My mind froze with the embarrassment of what was happening. They asked why I wanted to study film and while I don’t remember my exact response, I think it was likely some string of random phrases. They asked what my favorite movie was and after a few interminable minutes of hemming and hawing, I came up with Terry Gilliam’s TheFisher King.

“Why The Fisher King?” they asked.

“Um…because it’s dark?”

“Uh huh…?”


One of my first paintings, note the missing paint at the center
where it stuck to the other paintings in the folder.
I’m additionally embarrassed because at one point during the interview one of the men, who was an important part of the architecture program asked if I’d be interested in architecture. I told him in no uncertain terms, that I was not and that my dream was to make films and that architecture held no interest for me. When I did eventually attend Emerson College as a film major, I decided to change my major after only one semester. Then, when I went back to college at the University of Arizona, I initially went back for architecture. I could have saved myself some time and money by taking that guy up on his offer.

But, it is unproductive to go through life questioning ones past decisions or embarrassing moments. That being said, would I have discovered painting earlier and received proper training? I definitely would have lived in New York years earlier than I did. But, I would have missed out on the amazing path I’ve been on thus far. And that path has landed me here in New York City on the eve of 2016. Happy New Year, readers. See you next year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

2016 NYC ID Benefits Have Been Announced

For those of you in New York City who haven’t done it yet, I recommend getting an NYC ID. I’ve heard some talk about there being some insidious purpose behind them, but I really don’t see the downside myself aside from the certainty that my mailbox and inbox will be full of promotional material. The benefits are definitely worth the few minutes it takes to sign up. Museums, cultural institutions and zoos across the city have been offering free one year memberships for people signing up for the ID.

 I got mine back in November and Gertrude and I have had a few fun days of racking up memberships at the many cultural institutions that the ID will get you into for a year. We were excited to find Wave Hill, a gorgeous historic estate on the Hudson River in the Bronx, of which neither of us had ever heard. I’m looking forward to having access to museums in almost any neighborhood I’d find myself. I enjoy having museum memberships because I can pop in for as long as I want and as often as I want without worrying about entrance fees or the moral quandary of suggested donations. Now I have over a thousand dollars’ worth of free memberships, which will sadly end at the end of 2016.

I had originally heard that the membership benefits were only going to be extended for the first year that the card was offered, but the city has released a list of benefits, including memberships to MoMA and the NewMuseum for those who sign up in 2016. My advice is to get out there and take advantage of this in the new year.

Monday, December 14, 2015


The temperature here in New York has been hovering around an inappropriate 60 degrees for the past week or so.  On the one hand I am grateful for each day that I’m not risking frostbite and can walk freely around this amazing city. On the other hand the New Englander in me knows that winter will take revenge for the joy I’m feeling due to the balmy spring like weather. This presents in me an urgency to soak up the good weather in response to the feeling of dread that the winter is seething just out of sight ready to pounce and punish me for my enjoyment.

And so, I ventured into Manhattan to check out a couple Chelsea galleries this weekend intending to walk through one or two and quickly make my way to Hudson River Park for a stroll under the perfectly overcast skies. But I never made it to the river, because the galleries were just too much fun right now.

Peter Saul, The Last Moments on the Raft
of the Medusa, 2015
Photo: Mary Boone Gallery
I stopped into Mary Boone Gallery right at the beginning of my trip and was delighted by the paintings of Peter Saul. His irreverent, candy colored re-interpretations of canonical works of art history are darkly humorous, particularly to anyone who has a basic knowledge of the original paintings, for example Rigaud’s portrait of Louis XIV or Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. Saul’s take on the latter seems to be a bit of a mash up with Copley’s Watson and the Shark. These paintings are like seeing the masterpieces in a parallel dimension.

Stefanie Gutheil, The Home of Mr. Peeps, 2015
Photo: Mike Weiss Gallery
At Mike WeissGallery, German artist Stefanie Gutheil’s show, “The Home of Mr. Peeps” is similarly colorful, but rather than re-imagine the giants of art history, she has created a fantastic world of misfits. Some paintings contain scenes which seem to be of everyday life, but in a fantastic universe of the artist’s imagining. Others are monumental portraits from the imagined world, each sitter with their own personality. Seeing all of these works together gives the viewer a glimpse into a surreal world which I quickly accepted and about which I wanted to learn more.

Finally, Jean Tinguely’s retrospective at Gladstone Gallery displays several of the artist’s kinetic sculptures from throughout his career. The artist took found objects and re-combined them into new objects. These sculptures appear like mechanical creatures in a menagerie. Each may be activated by stepping on a red button, though while I was there, I was the only one playing with them in a gallery full of people whispering and pointing and taking photos with their phone. When the sculptures come to life, each has its own personality, whirring, clanking, grinding. The results can be startlingly loud in a silent gallery setting which makes it even more fun.

There were other gems on my little journey down 24th and 21st Streets. Among these were John Goodyear’s Op-Art objects at Berry-Campbell and Cayce Zavaglia’s photo-realistic embroidered portraits at Lyons Weir Gallery (wow).

All in all it was an unexpectedly successful day. While I went to the west side to enjoy the incredible whether before the horrors of true winter destroy us all, I had an even more

rewarding time letting art take me on a tour of artists’ imaginations before the galleries once again fill with minimalism, generic abstraction and overwrought commentary on the overwhelming nature of the information age. Then again, maybe it will turn out to be a surprisingly enjoyable winter both outside and in the Chelsea blockbuster galleries.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Learning to Love Art I Didn't Like

When I was first becoming interested in art in my late teens, I was drawn to European modernism. Picasso, Matisse, and Munch were among the first artists’ names on my bookshelf. Then I learned to appreciate abstract expressionism, then neo-expressionists of the ‘80’s. But by and large, my 20’s were devoted to 20th century abstraction. Most of my time in museums around the east coast and Europe was spent rushing past hundreds of years of art history towards that which was most familiar to me.

More than a pretty picture:
Thomas Cole's The Oxbow
Image: Wikipedia
Then, when I went back to college after my time in the Army, I chose to get my degree in Art History. It was a bachelor’s program, and I wasn’t required to choose a concentration. I had a smorgasbord of courses from which to choose, and as long as I took the correct number of them, I’d graduate. So, there’s the rub. Do I learn more about the art I’ve visited so often in museums and about which I had already read so much?

Instead, I chose to take a variety of classes on topics with which I was unfamiliar or which I had always found boring. Pre-war American art, early Latin American art, nineteenth century European and the Italian Renaissance. Some of the most famous artwork in the world, and while I could identify a lot of it, I didn’t know the stories behind much of it. I had snobbishly dismissed impressionism as office cubicle décor without knowing about the rebellious quality of the work, both aesthetically and ideologically. I didn’t know that Gustave Courbet was the world’s first hipster. And shamefully, I didn’t know nearly enough of the rich tradition of Latin American art before Frida and the famous muralists. Through these classes and my own research, I learned the historical context, art historical narratives and the intentions of the artists, which made all of these eras of art significantly more interesting. The most valuable experience of my college education was studying art I had never really liked.

The World's First Hipster
Gustave Courbet's The Meeting
Image: Wikipedia

I share this with you to encourage you to find a room that bores you at your local museum and make a point of studying up on it. If it’s not enough that it will broaden your horizons, you’ll also get more bang for your buck for your entrance fee or membership.