The Last Painting Roundup of Everything I Said Before

alohalow
Oswego Used an Indian Summer to Bait and Switch on Roy Lichtenstein 2019. Oil on car mechanic’s drop cloth, 73 x 54″

Roy Lichtenstein was a novice college art professor living in Oswego, New York from Autumn, 1957 to Spring, 1960. He arrived from Cleveland, Ohio a financial failure, and left for New Brunswick, New Jersey, a burgeoning academic. In Oswego, he taught future teachers of the Empire State, and experimented with abstract impressionism for the first time. He also made a couple carbon sketches of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

I do not know where he shopped for groceries, or visited the doctor. He might have gone to the movies with his wife Isabel, and on pleasant evenings walked with the family along the river or Lake Ontario shoreline. We know he shoveled himself out of one enormous lake effect dumping in 1958, and in hopeful May sunshine, judged an annual float parade along Sheldon Avenue. A few articles in the college newspaper mention him, two very short oral stories have been shared from living memory, a published essay breaking the mold, and taking more than one paragraph to recount his Oswego residency… The historical record is always very bleak for past human beings making art, unless one made it big and wished to talk about the past that came to the fame.

Roy didn’t like to talk about Oswego in the interviews.

Now gather this limited information to create 35 paintings, interpret them in prose, and prepare an exhibit to show the public. I know it will be a hit because something cannot come from nothing. But when it can come from practically nothing, then it must be art. Lichtenstein was Pop before Oswego, and Pop after Oswego. The historians need to dig deeper to know the man. If the establishment wishes to carry on the brand Lichtenstein much longer (reselling Pop paintings to billionaires), it had better send its coffee table book army up to Oswego to remain relevant. Roy was a failure here, tragi-comically, like me and millions of artists worldwide, in our own minds. Rags to riches is a great theme. But without the rags, riches is just pathetic yachts and more meaninglessness. The Lichtenstein story is told like Cinderella, beginning in the middle, on the way to the ball, cutting out all adversity, and never leaving even a glass slipper of doubt. Roy was born, went to college, and made Pop paintings. Unknown and then known, poor and then rich, just like that! Poof! Thank you fairy Godfather, Leo Castelli!

That’s the historical record on Roy Lichtenstein and the Pop revolution. That, and a 100,000 pages of poppedy-pop, pop, pop!

Not good enough. A repeated implication that artistic relevance matters only after some rich dude says so.

I hope my effort will spurn more research by better art historians to recount the enormous influence I believe the Oswego experience had on Roy Lichtenstein.

I wish to thank CNYArts for its enthusiasm and steadfast commitment to the artists of Central New York. Thank you Mitch Fields and SUNY Oswego Facilities Services for efforts securing a venue for exhibition. Thank you SUNY Oswego Special Collections, Tyler Art Gallery Director, Michael Flanagan, Dean of the School of Communication, Media, and the Arts, Julie Pretzat, and the memory of Professor Lichtenstein.

Professor Aulus Saunders Receiving Lichtenstein Resignation in Alternate Reality, Spring 1960

ResignationfinalLow
2019. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16″

I think I have formulated a revisionist art history. It’s time to take our PhD’s in other hopeful directions. Enough with the “masters”, who were never more master than any other prolific creators—just richer. Either while living or posthumously, it was millionaires and billionaires (sometimes even the CIA) that made them masters through celebrity and finance. We must get off this track, derail the train if necessary. Because Picasso was a man, not a marker. And Jeff Koons is a monstrosity from a hell made by ignorant billionaires, who are so dirty it hurts my brain so to think about them. Yet both set standards for the multitude of creative geniuses practicing arts not of the celebrity mold. And these standards are anti-art for those seeking master status in a subjective medium, aka: judgemental world.

I suggest a people’s history of art. Art always made by people for people, locally (until the Internet), not for Christies® and Hyperallergic®, which are very unpeople-like, especially in the realm of art making and sharing. They are co-parasites in a “look-at-me-now!” bubble. Like Donald Trumps and Kim Kardashians, show poodles at the poodle show—nothing more, and much less…

Last Saturday I stumbled upon a local antiques shop in a residential neighborhood of my small town. My wife is the driver of such things that I usually avoid, that is, until of late, when I suspect there might be a treasure of a painting to rediscover. Since I am searching locally for paintings made by colleagues of Roy Lichtenstein, I have been frequenting garage and estate sales, and now antiques shops too. By lazy Saturday chance I found the pot of gold to art history, or what needs to become the new art history, if people of substance are to matter ever again.

The usual artifacts—vintage tools, tchotchkes, and roller skates, record albums, post cards, coins, 19th century books, costume jewelry, tables, a chair, and yes, paintings on the walls. Mostly framed prints, a few originals by who knows who—rarely art historians, of course, because they’re not searching for the obscure lessor knowns…

Up in the corner of a far wall was the treasure. I thought I recognized the style. Sure enough, a Dr. Aulus Saunders original, signed and dated, 1981. A painting of a then local restaurant long ago out of business. On the tag was written “Not for sale. For future exhibition”.

In 1937, Aulus Saunders was picked by Ralph Swetman to head the art department at the State Teacher’s College of Oswego. He was instrumental in the hiring of every art faculty member until his retirement in 1978. He hired Roy Lichtenstein in 1957.

Unfortunately, via the uber-influential cult of celebrity, Lichtenstein got fame and fortune because millionaires were conned by other millionaires to buy his trinkets, to be in the know, to have collections in their names, and be spoken of with respect at high parties—the ones just like others, with toilets and sinks, and careful conversations. And the painting practice and pedagogic genius of Dr. Saunders bound to obscurity in an antique shop. The majority of Oswego professors Saunders hired to teach art and art history abandoned the man who gave them license to perpetuate the fraud of modern celebrity art. Thousands of students loaded to confusion with facts, interpretations and style about nothing really—impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, ad nauseism… Future art historians churning out more coffee tables books than a solar system could possibly want, unless necessary for house building during the final throes of the sixth extinction.

And then Steve the proprietor came over to me while gazing at the Saunder’s painting. He bought the entire collection years ago from the professor’s son. 80 paintings, cornered and covered in Steve’s home basement. He thought maybe one day he would have an exhibition, or maybe the college would be interested in acquiring a few for its collection. 80 original paintings by a man dedicated to art practice and pedagogy. Ho boy! And local to boot. An absolute dream to any non-convoluted historian. A radical concept. Art history without art celebrity. Painters who practiced literally what they preached. That is, a dedication to art and art-making. Productivity through creativity, and then shouldering the responsibility to carry on art traditions to a younger generation.

I tried to conceal some of my excitement. I’d take a loan out to secure these 80 paintings safe passage out of Steve’s musty basement. I just think I might.

So should any art historian worth his or her salt. Roy Lichtenstein made pop art a popular name. Aulus Saunders hired Roy Lichtenstein and many other practicing teacher-artists, and himself practiced art until he died. Both have value to the future. However, I shall always argue that one is of lessor substance, even if it happened to purchase a mansion in the Hamptons, and abandon art for commodities’ sake.

Dear art historians of today and tomorrow. Kill the Buddha to see how many million Buddhas are popping up all over the place. If I can find dead collections to come alive, so can you. Start searching estate sales and in your local antique shops. A people’s art for the future, and the little rich dandys can continue their prostituting to Sotheby’s of Dubai. They are so much old news, like Picasso in his underwear and Michelangelo lounging about the Pope’s brothel.

Colleges and Universities Must End Adjuncting Now!

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Any Saturday in 1958, Roy Lichtenstein Took a Walk Along Lake Ontario 2019. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20″

[The following has been edited from my 2014 publication, December, subtracting and adding where necessary for more clarity. There were no adjuncts at Oswego State Teacher’s College in 1957. There were full time instructors hired with a salary between $5,140 to $6,250. Roy was lucky. He was taken on as an Assistant Professor at an annual payout between $5,570 to $8,640. No insurance plan back then. Just equality (white men) and dignity via work ethic and merit.]

Higher education in the arts. An oxymoron, but only because I am educated and think I know what that word means. So, English adjuncts (the writers) too, they join the fray, struggling with private demons day after day.
I have much to write on this subject, but I will try my best to keep it short and personal. Brevity is the new black, ever since our Internet gods have outlawed groupings of words taking up more than a page space to have us think on something that does not add to the bottom line. So here goes…
Number one: Any provost of a college or university who partakes in the adjunct system of hiring experts at a pittance needs a light tar and heavy feathering. This gang mentality of tenure-track professorship vs. under-insured, never-tenured, low-pay adjunct teaching is a paradigm replete with local collegiate classism. In a word it is disgusting. In a phrase—vile, petty, and incomprehensibly unfair weasel games. A nearby college where a friend of mine teaches will not afford him a private office on the hill. A room must be shared by all the lowly “unmade” adjuncts. Of course among the hapless professors in that room there may be a great teacher worthy of a private phone line, if not a club-issued award. The majority of students might sign up for his class because he is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and talented beyond his official rank in the art of pedagogy. But the provost and her good ole girls/boys club does not inquire about actual teaching experience or ability when interviewing for the private office. The credentials can be equal, but one of those lucky 40 or 50 applicants gets the prize of being able to support a family and leave his day-old travel mug on the desk. The rest painstakingly struggle with a used car payment and harbor serious reservations about extra sprinkles on their kid’s ice cream cones.
It just makes for a vile, petty, unfair, even childish system of higher education. It puts fear into all players, nourishes elitism, tacit bullyism, gives men and women of the same age and caliber a false measuring stick to guide their lives by. It fosters competition toward the wrong ends (status and avarice), and of course the student body suffers. Heck, the latter have no idea about the immense gulf in pay, benefits and respect between the made and the unmade. They assume (their parents too) that the enormous sums spent on tuition is equally divided among the campus faculty, with slight variations in senior and junior pay. In fact, knowing the truth about below poverty income for their kid’s mentors, might make a significant number of parents rethink their plan to invest money in a school that is practically starving its local intelligentsia.
So, no more multimillion dollar buildings please, while good people are getting paid bad wages. Don’t believe administration, my adjunct professor friends, when it declares that your pay is equivalent to a dishwasher’s salary because the money for the big building comes from a special fund allotted to construction projects. They are lying to you. Their line is called “management confidential”. Confidential means “lie” on a college level entrance exam. Don’t let them lie to you anymore. Tell your students what you get paid, and what Ms. Cheese, the senior professor, gets paid. Show the gap to close the gap. Ms. Cheese teaches like a wet cardboard box. Some of you, I am sure articulate more meaningfully on relevant subjects than Ms. Cheese could with the help of a marching band. The kids don’t need to know what past credentials their teacher has layered thick upon her super smart sandwich. They want public and self respect, knowledge, and the ability to prove what they are capable of. Similar to the needs of an adjunct professor struggling to make ends meet on a line weighted down by mismanaged multimillion dollar colleges and universities.
Number two: Art faculty work everyday to silence their own art. What a conflict of interest! The more immersed and dependent on the university one is, the less her creativity can explore. The art teacher must be careful of how she is regarded among peers and powerful administrators. The problem builds over time to complete an endless circle. Careful teachers teaching careful art to students to become careful teachers themselves one day. Institutional art. In a hyphenated word, anti-art.
Yesterday, the Agora Gallery, a well-respected vanity show place in New York, linked an article for its Twitter followers. It was about the possible culture boom wrought by the fracking gush in North Dakota. The Agora hires people who have art degrees. Art in North Dakota. An oxymoron like “mountain man of the Bowery”. Men and women well drillers out to make some damn good art. They come home with twisted spines and chemical lung, and rush through dinner to express their dreams with pen or paint. I see it now, culture in North Dakota. Gay Paris. Painters in three-egg diners guzzling vanadium water instead of absinthe. Children being taught by well drillers who have aspired to art. Young adults graduating from the University of North Dakota with art degrees interviewed to adjunct at my local college. “Are you kidding us? We can get paid ten times that licking boots at the Marcellus Shale fields. Up yours with this insult to my climb out of poverty.”
So to art professors I say, Good for art, bad for oyster-fed artists, but truly, all art teachers must be made adjuncts, and live on rice and beans, and sometimes beer, or else!
That, for the artists. The rest of university adjuncts need to mob up, and storm the Bastille of administration to publicly shame the politicos who dangle their lives on a money string.

The Pissant and the Painter

PissantandRoyLow
2019. Oil on tablecloth made in China, 70 x 47″

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.

He stood there and pooped his pants unabashedly.

 

Breland and Lichtenstein Judge the Float Parade. Saturday Afternoon, May 10, 1958

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2019. Oil on canvas, 72 x 55″

Associate professor, Bruce Breland, and assistant professor Roy Lichtenstein were yearlings in the art department when they were asked to judge the Spring Weekend float parade. Sigma Tau Chi won fraternity honors with “Air Power”. Roy did a painting a few years before entitled “The Aviator”. I repainted it on the float pulled by the 1957 Chevy Bel Air.

In 1958 Lichtenstein was scrambling as an artist, adapting to trends, justifying “career”. By this time the abstract expression/impressionist painting style had spread to colleges and universities across the planet, and Roy was just another full-time teacher joining the trend, hoping to stay relevant while steadying a new life in obscurity. “The Aviator” (1954) was an original style he could have taken further with expressive freedom while working and helping to raise a family after uprooting Isabel (his wife) from a life she was good at back in Cleveland.

Yet even in Oswego obscurity, with plenty of time and few excuses not to be productive (as an artist), Roy produced very few paintings. And what he did make must have made him feel like a copycat imposter. Several attempts at abstract impressionism come up forced and flat, to my eye and feeling anyway. Roy must have hated them! His painting colleagues David Campbell, Harvey Harris, and Bruce Breland were no slouches. All seemed ambitious in practice. Certainly a tacit (un) healthy competition was present. None of them were buddhas, and each probably thought himself a Pope in his own mind. Not then (or now) was there an artist counseling center to assist creatives in combating the ego. And yet artistically (then and now), each was poised to become greater than their dreams. A paycheck earned while teaching practices they practiced. Time galore for contemplation. A tremendous fresh water lake, green hills in summer, the cold, dreadful, wonderful winds of winter… No struggle necessary to please the eyes of others… To perfect oneself impossibly as a person, to learn to love the world… Oops! I’m  projecting again…

Nothing has changed. Lichtenstein had no peace then like the ego-artist of today. The only difference between Roy, his contemporary colleagues, and myself is that Roy was to realize his Faustian collapse, while the super majority of artists (then or now) aren’t even granted an interview with crafty Mephistopheles.

The sorority winner at the parade was “Music Around the World” created by the Arethusa Eta members. It was too much for me to include it in the painting. I already achieved a personal record in hours spent cursing the oils.

Forty-two, for those who are counting.