Portraits & Passages

Chapter 40

linda nude copy 45


Alexander Calder and a New Year’s Message for Peace 1966


Serendipity was at work in many of my meetings with the famous. I never would have seen the full page ad that Louisa and Alexander Calder took out in “The New  York Times” around the new year of 1966 had I not been visiting there in Manhattan. My family didn’t subscribe to it, but my friend’s mother did.

I had gone to see Linda, the model for “The Jewess Accused”. She is seen twice in that painting as she looks down on herself nude. I will paint her again in “Ship of  Fools” that coming July but from a drawing. By then she had moved on.

But when I had painted her in the autumn of 1965 I had thought I had arrived! Linda was the first girlfriend of mine willing to pose for me nude. She would be the only one.

She had told me that seeing my paintings on the top floor senior studios at Carnegie Tech was what incited her interest in me. She was a diehard romantic always  chasing the next rising star over the rainbow. And it was that insatiable thirst for what she perceived as the glamorous of the creative act that propelled her.

Except she became easily disappointed by the monotony of her hero’s daily existence – that not every moment was filled with the excitement of a work  miraculously forming under his command. The fact was that every work was a struggle to find my own enthusiasm for the project and to bring it into focus. Until that happened I would languish in a muddle of doubt. 

That was what bothered the women in my life who had wished for a magistral individual who could outride the cares of the normal routine and be master of his  own world. I was never that except for brief moments. Yes, those flights of mastery were magical. But they never lasted long. Reaching that stage in a painting was  euphoric, and one wanted it to go on and on and on. But poof, it was over. Then one could coast in the satisfaction of something achieved for a day or two or three, and then the down time began. 

And it wasn’t only the once adoring women who were disillusioned by me. Out in the world at large I was unable to disguise my own sense of worthlessness. I might  as well have been a dog to kick. No wonder no one was willing to place their bets on my delivering the goods.

Dealers, like women, are very grounded and want guarantees. They couldn’t be bothered by someone on a roller coaster. No wonder you hear stories of de  Kooning and Pollock drinking themselves into oblivion. For every high there was a heavy price to pay. The higher one went, the deeper one fell into the abyss.

That is why someone like Philip Pearlstein was able to manage a steadiness as well as a steady output. Once he set the theoretical parameters of his figurative  compositions and had the scheduled regularity of paid models he was able to treat painting as a regular job with a set routine. Of course he had excluded the  emotional, psychic dimension and in his own way painted by the numbers. So he was able to produce a reliable product.

Without the strong boundaries setting ones goals that Philip insisted upon, one couldn’t attract support, nor had one the other component necessary for success:  personal stability. Perhaps that is why Philip kept most people at a distance. Perhaps that is why he seemed so ungenerous to someone like myself. Philip just  could not allow himself to be sidetracked into being swayed by sympathy to another point of view. He had to be dogged in his resistance to anything that might disturb his course. I do understand that!



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