I am a determined man. Unlike Henry Miller who arrived in Paris at the age of forty suspecting that he was an artist but needing six months of stimulation-by-poverty to prove it, I have known all my life that I am another one in a long line, both ignored and distinguished, to have the (mis)fortune of that mysterious element "X" inside me. I am forty-six years old, home teaching a twelve-year-old daughter, and retiring every night into a basement studio with my music and paints.
This has been my practice for over twenty years, for I have taught our other daughter (age 23) until high school, working as a line cook to make ends meet, and an artist at every free moment to tame the element "X". I have written and self-published ten books with provocative titles and very few readers, had several self-sponsored shows exhibiting my work, and putting our family in deeper debt year after year. One could say that to the present day my life has painted its own tribute to a persisting in folly that might make a Henry Miller envy another fool.
Professionally I have remained an enthusiastic failure. That is I buy paints, canvas, wood, frames, work feverishly, and have over the past five years, joined the unsaid "show circuit", exhibiting my paintings where ever and whenever possible, always at my own (and wife Rose's) expense, having few if any sales in upstate N.Y., and yet getting up after falling down again, and again, and again.
For years I have painted relatively small and compact, as funds would allow. There's a college next door that sells smooth Bristol paper for two dollars per 30"x 40" sheet and Golden paints for enormous sums. A 2 ounce tube for twelve dollars goes far enough for miserly painters, and I have been very careful to stretch the paints out smooth for economy. But this year I have discovered big. The painting mentioned above is comically rendered, not at all where I want to go with paint.
I foresee brave, broad stokes with wide brushes across eight foot canvas, and palette knives replaced with old record album covers. I have always worked fast, but now desire more of an unharried dance to my painting. Forever confident in application of color and contrast, I now feel the pressing need to let go like the sage. When I daydream this possibility I feel a tingling in my fingertips. That is joy and optimism! It is what I seek for my future as a painter.
And then the reality of living check-by-check becomes all too real, and I find myself fermenting country wines to supplement income to justify expensive paints. I shop at A.C. Moore holding my 40% off coupon to buy inferior pigment that dries as drab as a February day in Oswego. I am always seeking gallery representation and/or rich patrons to free me as an artist, to open up the door of giving myself, expressively, routinely, until it is my turn for the great sleep.
In 1937, Dr. Saunders was hired by Ralph Swetman to help turn the Oswego Normal School into a State Teacher’s College. He retired in 1970 and was instrumental in hiring many inspired art faculty over the years.
In 1957, he chose Roy out of hundreds of applications for the job as assistant professor of art. At that time the department was being stocked with several practicing artists, all serious about their craft, and some even dedicated to teaching.
Not Roy. He was ambitious in ways disconnected from pedagogy. I guess he would have stagnated in Cleveland, carrying on with barbeque and agonizing repetition if the good doctor hadn’t “plucked” him out of suburbia.
In this painting Aulus draws an autumn night at East Park in Oswego the first year he arrived. He was a great inspiration to men and women seeking self-improvement through art and teaching. He must have wanted to punch his new hire in the eye when Roy handed in his resignation.
From a letter sent to students dated October 30, 1957:
“Tomorrow is the Day of the Dead and the streets are filled with candy skulls—little candies, big candies, candies of all shapes and colors, candy animals, skeletons, dolls, and baskets. They are the most lovely candies I have seen. But they all taste like plain sugar.
We went to one cemetery this afternoon and preparations were already being made for the celebration. A cemetery here is a very grim place. The people do not buy the lots:they just rent them, so that when the rent is not paid, the bodies are dug up. As we walked around we saw lots of skulls and human bones. Some of the skulls still have hair on them.
The Indian will have picnics at the graves of the recently deceased on Saturday, and that seems to be the reason for all the elaborate candy for which San Miguel is famous.”
Frances Oler is seated in the 1958 art faculty photo for the yearbook. She was allowed to teach future teachers how to teach art to elementary school children. Cans of safety scissors, crayons, and dream potential squashed because she peed sitting down.
For years, Miss Oler lived kitty korner to our house. She taught our neighbor Helen’s children at the Campus School in Sheldon Hall throughout the 1960’s.
This painting is how Roy and the other boys probably saw her in the flesh.
If David Campbell showed this painting alongside Roy’s piece that year in the faculty exhibition, he would have outclassed his struggling colleague. Roy was confusing himself and others by abandoning his “feel” while making a leap in style from figurative to abstract impressionism. We only know this because Roy went Evel Knievel a couple years later to land somewhere completely new. And new can win in New York if you have the support and backing of a millionaire who knows many millionaires who have nothing better to do than buy a work of art for the price of a house. So Roy got paid a fortune copying comics, and David Campbell got close to zilcho making beautiful paintings.
No one said that life is fair. Certainly not Leo Castelli then, nor Larry Gagosian today.
David Campbell has a website where prints are available. Give his genius a try! Lord knows we could use something new for the rest of us.
Harvey Sherman Harris (1915 – 1999) was a painter and teaching colleague of Roy Lichtenstein at Oswego State. I imagine professional jealousy was a persistent worm in the minds of artists in 1958 as it is today. I think that’s because artists in America think individually (at times) that they are great with verve and originality—better than the rest even—when really, what they’re privately pining for is an Elvis Presley fame with a Wayne Newton effort at expression. Truth is, everyone is free to achieve the inner peace and realization that there was only one John Coltrane, and we all should be happy enough with that satori, making things and drinking beer.
But few of us reach this happier place. Hence, university art departments nationwide, born from the seeds of children loving to make art, yet growing twisted and gnarled up, to be professional children chock full of groundless envy and pride.
Recent business news informs the lowly that it’s wrong to compound tariffs on China because it will hurt business and the economy. Some articles on the Internet begin with an image of a cargo ship loaded with colorful shipping containers, docked at port with no place to go. The oceans are rapidly acidifying and I am still being propagandized to think that shipping containers filled with fidget spinners and plastic paper clips will bring contentment to my loved ones—if only those ships are free to cross the sea and filth up our lives and ecology. Personally, I believe 2,000% trade tariffs should be charged on all international goods, except for illicit Chinese items (street heroin) which must be outlawed with brute force. I painted this image on a tablecloth made in China that was flimsy like wet Shanghai kelp, even after after being gessoed and dried twice. China makes crap. And the United States buys the crap. The crappiest kind of people get rich in the process, and buy more crap like yachts. Economically, both China and the U.S. are just crappy states of peasant people terrified of their own governments.
Good people feel guilty for making a carbon footprint in a musty basement painting pictures.
Bad people talk, write, and think about trade while spitting in the hot wind of their own making.
Though I understand that in order to survive socially sane and dignified in the modern age, a marketplace needs to remain open, and all people (good and bad) will partake on some level. When good people make a transaction for slight profit, it should feel like getting a strong urge to stool on a very hot day in an open marketplace without a single toilet nearby.
A good person will take the money, put her head down in shame, and run.
Established New York City galleries have placed enormous 1% tariffs on paintings they acquire and sell. Meaning that only the 1% could ever afford them, and also be the type of loathsome people to even want to.
In my painting, the New York City art market is always the pissant, and back in 1961, Roy was just another painter. The day he dropped off his six pop pieces to Leo Castelli was a great day. He left without a deal, taking a stroll to a nearby coffeehouse to dream. A few weeks later he returned and was offered representation and a path to fame and fortune. Most likely, Roy, like every peasant painter who came before him, got the pressing urge to stool. Unlike the majority of peasant painters, however, a great embarrassment overwhelmed Roy on the spot. He didn’t put his head down in shame and run.
The story is that on Monday, December 8, 1941, Hoyt Sherman arrived on the Ohio State University Campus to find the art department gathered in a meeting to discuss how art and design could help in the fight against the Japanese. Later that day Sherman briefed the Chairman of the Art Department on an idea that came to him several years prior while reading about Rembrandt van Rijn.
One day as a young man Rembrandt was studying the interior of his father’s windmill and while looking out a window, noticed how the revolving windmill blades created strobe-like effects, alternately blocking and letting light into the room. While looking at objects throughout the interior of the windmill, he experienced a unique way of seeing a whole space within a sequence of separate views. According to Sherman, this was a red-letter day for Rembrandt, and instrumental in changing the way he would see and compose future paintings.
Sherman believed he could replicate Rembrandt’s method to teach Navy pilots “how to see”. The U.S. Navy accepted his proposal at first, but a few weeks in, scrapped the deal because Sherman was having students stick clay on ship models that the Navy provided to the university, which apparently made a top naval officer very angry that his little kill toys were being muddied.
A year later while working on another military contract with the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps, Sherman oversaw his experimental course where thirteen male students, (all with no drawing experience), were set in a dark room while a tachistoscope (a rapid fire slide projector) flashed an image on and off the screen in a tenth of a second. Each student had ten seconds to draw the image onto paper in the darkness. This would better equip their eyes to detect enemy aircraft symbols and shapes in a split second.
Sherman called it his “flash lab” where Roy Lichtenstein took classes and entered the war seeing good enough to kill people, yet fortunately for his psychological health, never got the chance to.
All in all, jingo Hoyt Sherman taught Roy Lichtenstein how to see. Roy thought Hoyt was the bee’s knees, and several years later, brought the peace time concept of the flash lab to Oswego. Also, after hundreds of successful World War II sorties bombing the b-jesus out of civilian populations (enabled in part by the practical applications of art used in wartime), the Joint Chief of Staffs of the U.S. military now control money flowing in and out of psychotic bureaucracies such as Ohio State University.
Professor Sherman was an imposter artist carrying a stupid be-a-man-chip on his shoulder. I pity you Roy Lichtenstein for being misled by a charlatan. I pity your innocent future that began with the help of a loser Hoyt Sherman to lead you astray.