While pretending to attend community college in the early/mid-1980s, I was enrolled in a drawing class in which the teacher described several of my sketches as “de Kooningesque.” At the time, I had very little knowledge of Willem de Kooning’s achievement, and wasn’t familiar with much beyond Woman I (1950-52) and Woman and Bicycle (1952-53), so I took her remark as a cue to investigate his work. I was immediately entranced by his early 1940s Women series – I loved the push/pull dynamic which results from the blurred distinction between the figure and ground. I loved the juxtaposition of the modeled and the flat portions of the fragmented bodies. I loved the geometric shapes which only minimally suggest interior environments. Although de Kooning subsequently painted many other more celebrated series, those early Women continue to be among my favorites in an oeuvre as rich as any ever produced. I soon became a fan of both his paintings and his drawings from all periods of his career, and over the years have been lucky enough to have seen quite a lot of his work, in both group and solo exhibitions.

The first time I visited what was then the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Third Street was in 1995 to see the de Kooning show The Late Paintings, The 1980s. It was the first time a large selection of the titular work had been seen, and there was much talk about de Kooning’s late ’80s Alzheimer’s diagnosis; how much of a hand his assistants had had in producing the work; and whether the paintings were worthy of being considered part of his oeuvre. It has been over twenty-five years since I saw the show, but I do distinctly remember two specific impressions I had – one: that the paintings seemed to change over the course of the day, going from subtle and elegant to stark,1 and two: while a disease was ravaging his mind, de Kooning was still a better painter than anyone else. The 1980s work comprises an evolving yet coherent period which is the most lyrical of his career – although there are similarities between these paintings and those of other earlier periods, the simplified palette and open compositions make them very different from any of his prior work.

In 2002, I saw the de Kooning drawing survey Tracing the Figure, which included work from the late 1930s to the mid-’50s, at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and again at the SFMOMA. De Kooning’s processes of painting and drawing are often indistinguishable – he drew on his paintings and painted on his drawings. In addition to graphite, charcoal, pastel, crayon, and ink, he also used oil and enamel in his works on paper, and in the late ’40s started cutting up drawings to use as collage material. A good portion of the exhibition consisted of work related to his series of Women paintings from the early ’50s, by which time he also sometimes, in a striking Exquisite Corpse2-like manner, fashioned the figure from portions of two or more separate drawings. I was also particularly attracted to the results of the subtractive methods he employed – the smearing and the textured pentimento which remained after he erased sections of the image. Tracing the Figure was not only an extraordinary look at the drawings of a master, but also a comprehensive reference on the techniques of mark-making.

Willem de Kooning put down the tools of his labor for the last time in 1991, about two years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He passed away on March 19, 1997 at the age of ninety-two. If pressed to name my favorite painter, my answer might vary depending on whose work I happen to be fixated at that particular time. However, de Kooning would always be at least in the top two or three, a position he has held since shortly after I was prompted by a compliment to study his body of work. Thank you, Melinda Barbera.

 

1 Did the SFMOMA galleries have skylights prior to the re-model? I hope so, because the only other explanation I can think of for this phenomenon – which I’ve never noticed during any other exhibition – is that it was just my imagination running away with me.

2 Exquisite Corpse, or Cadavre Exquis, is a Surrealist game which generates collaborative compositions. The figure is divided into three or four horizontal sections. The first player draws the head and folds the paper to conceal what has been done. The next participant draws the torso and folds the paper again; the process is repeated until the figure is complete.

Sometime during the summer of 1990 my sister, who was then living in San Francisco, phoned to get my take on Jim Dine – I told her I loved his hearts and his robes and his use of real objects in his paintings. She listened patiently to my cursory knowledge of Dine’s oeuvre, then asked what I thought of his figure drawings, to which I responded I didn’t even know he did them.

“You should really get here right away and see this show,” she said.

My sister isn’t generally given to hyperbole, so the first chance I got, I made the trip to see Jim Dine: Drawings 1973-1987 at the de Young Museum. The show was comprised of figurative work, still lifes, and pieces which don’t fall into such neat categories – Dine’s hearts, robes, tools, et al. are images which, even when convincingly modeled, don’t inhabit space in the same manner as objects in more traditional compositions. Although I was attracted to all his imagery, at the time I was pretty much exclusively doing figurative work, so it was that to which I gravitated.

Dine started his career in the late 1950s and early ’60s with performances, installations, and paintings with actual bathroom fixtures and bedroom furniture; but in the early ’70s decided to focus his energy on perhaps the least avant-garde course of action an artist could have taken at that time: life drawing. His intensely-observed works of the human form eventually became aggressively-produced and expressionistic – characteristics which instigated the call from my sister. Dine draws, rubs out, builds up, erases, and reworks images with graphite, charcoal, pastel, acrylic, oil, enamel, and other media. This process results in multilayered works with rich, often distressed surfaces which reveal the histories of their creation. Despite the amount of reworking associated with these drawings, they are not labored or heavy-handed; on the contrary, they appear inevitable. Over the course of three years, two continents, and two different models, in The Sitter Progresses from London to Here in Three Years Dine managed to create a coherent, emotionally stirring and evocative figure which is enveloped by the atmospheric ground in a palpably physical way. The complexity, virtuosity, and diversity of the exhibited work was truly dazzling, and proved Dine to be one of the finest draftsmen in contemporary art.

My sister’s advice couldn’t have been better; seeing Drawings 1973-1987 was one of the most affecting and inspiring art experiences I’ve ever had. It wasn’t that I hadn’t seen heavily-worked mixed media drawings before – I was familiar with those by Willem de Kooning and Jasper Johns, both of whom had done pieces I loved which were so layered they could be considered paintings on paper. It was that I related to Dine’s drawings in a way that I was then unable to relate to those by de Kooning or Johns. Dine’s works aligned so perfectly with my aesthetic, I felt as if he had drawn them especially for me. I saw what could be achieved by disregarding the conventional definition of “drawing” and being open to the possibilites in utilizing any process or medium which would serve the work. Although I had never subscribed to the idea that paper is merely a support on which preparatory works for larger, more important pieces are made, and although I had already begun tentatively using paint in my own drawings, the way I thought about art was transformed. Occasionally, one has an experience and afterward never sees the world in quite the same manner – Drawings 1973-1987 was one of those events for me, one that has enriched my life immeasurably.

Jim Dine is still creating, following his muse. Right now, he is somewhere in the world, painting or sculpting or photographing or printmaking or drawing, making art. I love all forms of his work, but nevertheless, I’d kind of like to think he’s drawing.

“I never considered the Stones drug music. They were the drug itself.” – Patti Smith

All the art that has affected me in any meaningful way has been a psychedelic experience. I don’t mean that it was all drug-induced; I don’t even mean it’s all “hallucinatory.” What I mean is, it has all taken me to unexpected and unfamiliar places, expanded my consciousness, allowed me to view things in a broader or more concentrated fashion. Growing up in the suburbs of Sacramento, I was obsessed with finding new sounds and visions which would bend my mind. Citizen Kane; Bob Dylan’s 1965-66 three-album run of Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde; Andy Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” paintings; Animal Farm; the “Penny Lane”/“Strawberry Fields Forever” single; Jasper Johns’ Target with Four Faces; David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” – they have all been milestones in my life.

John Tenniel's drawing of Alice the Red Queen
John Tenniel: “Faster! Faster!” said the Red Queen, from Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872).

Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books certainly belong in this company. I’ve read each probably thirty-five or forty times, and keep coming back to them for any number of reasons, not the least of which is their quotability. It seems one can find an applicable Alice line for almost any situation, an indication of on how many levels the books can work. Alice has been viewed as a socio-political satire, a Freudian study, a hallucinogenic binge, a philosophical treatise. That Carroll himself certainly saw it as simply a children’s story is beside the point. I consider them to be tales of the heroine negotiating her way through anarchic, alarming, ridiculous, lonely, confusing, beautiful environments – in short, as metaphors for life. Contrariwise, they also serve as escapes from the same – they are two of the funniest books I’ve ever read. It was Carroll’s intent not that Alice educate, but that it entertain – this was unheard of in Victorian England, when children’s books were meant only to teach and/or moralize. Carroll succeeded brilliantly in much more than making the books entertaining; what he created 150 years ago was magical, something that even he would manage to equal only once more – when he wrote The Hunting of the Snark.

How Alice has affected my work is difficult to pin down. I’ve done a few pieces which explicitly reference the texts, but the real influence has been much more indirect. Oblique communication is a major theme in Alice; in my work, quotation, reference, and transformation – the subjects of which are generally well-cloaked – play important roles. Many years ago, these books irrevocably altered my thought process – they have contributed to not only the painter I am, but also the person.

In the spring of 1983, I was an eighteen-year-old suburban kid who had acquired a taste for twentieth century avant-garde art. As such, I was excited to learn that the forthcoming Talking Heads album, Speaking in Tongues, would have a Robert Rauschenberg-designed cover that would be available in an edition of 50,000 copies. I quite liked their previous record, Remain in Light, and was already looking forward to the new album, but this news made the release special for me. The record is on clear vinyl and the cover itself is clear plastic. Inside are three clear LP-size discs on which collages are printed in cyan, magenta, and yellow (the three colors which, along with black, are used in four-color printing). The whole package references Rauschenberg’s 1967 Revolver pieces, which feature motor-driven Plexiglas discs, the movements of which can be controlled by the viewer. He didn’t simply design an album jacket, he rethought what it could be.

The first time I saw actual work of Rauschenberg’s was a few years earlier – I was of high school age – during a family vacation. I don’t recall when exactly this was, or even what city we were in, but I do vividly remember wandering into an art gallery and being confronted by his Chow Bags suite of silkscreen/collage prints. I was already a casual fan of his work, which I’d seen only in books – as was the case with most contemporary art with which I was familiar at the time. Seeing the surfaces of these pieces, with the collage elements and plastic twine, was a significant experience and the impetus for me to learn more about his art. By the time Speaking in Tongues was released, I had read extensively about him and had a good knowledge of his career – my admiration was no longer in any way casual. Since then, I’ve seen a lot of his work in exhibitions both large and small, and my esteem for both the artist and the man has only grown.

At the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art during the winter of 2018, I twice saw Erasing the Rules, a comprehensive, career-spanning Rauschenberg retrospective. The exhibition contained work from the early 1950s to 2007, the year before he passed away. His silkscreen paintings, which were executed from 1962-64, were well-represented; they are among my favorite works from an oeuvre which I regard as as important and notable as anyone’s. In these pieces he expanded on ideas he explored in his earlier transfer drawings, but in a medium which could more vividly reproduce the photographs he was using. His juxtaposition of multiple, disparate images, which may have varying personal associations for individuals as well as wider cultural references, creates a poetic evocativeness which I find very engaging. In addition to the screened imagery, Rauschenberg also employed hand-painted gestural marks which hold the flat surface, opposing the three-dimensional illusion of the photographs. Although he is often credited with bringing imagery back into American painting, Rauschenberg was also intent on following the modernist tenet of keeping the picture plane flat. The resulting push/pull dynamic of this juxtaposition was conceptually very important to me while I was developing an aesthetic for my own work.

Rauschenberg continually expanded his artistic horizons, always utilizing new processes and collaborating with different people. This exploratory nature was an abiding aspect of his career, and Erasing the Rules showed his work to be perhaps the most varied and inventive of the twentieth century.

In 1990 I showed my drawings for the first time, at Dito Gallery in Sacramento CA. A few days after the reception, my mother told me about a conversation she had had with a gentleman there regarding one of the pieces, one which depicted an attractive young woman. She also asked if I was familiar with the film Laura; I was not. She told me it was about a police detective who falls in love with a painting of the titular murder victim, and that the way the man spoke about my drawing had reminded her of it.

It wasn’t until several years later, after I was given a used VCR, that I was finally able to see Laura. I’m not really a movie guy; I can be in possession of a DVD I want to watch, and it can sit around for months before I put it in the player. However, there are some movies I like very much and can watch over and over again. Laura, directed by Otto Preminger and based on the novel by Vera Caspary, is one of those.

The conventional but attractive portrait, which is an integral plot device, is actually not a painting at all – a photograph of Gene Tierney was retouched to appear as one. There was a painting done, by original director Rouben Mamoulian’s wife-to-be Azadia Newman, but when Preminger took over the directorial role, he decided it didn’t possess the mystery and allure required, and had Tierney sit for studio photographer Frank Polony. Although I haven’t seen Newman’s Laura painting, I have seen her portraits of Bette Davis and Carole Lombard, which are a bit stilted – it’s obvious why Preminger made the decision he did. In the film, the portrait is the work of Jacoby, one of Laura’s would-be suitors. According to Waldo Lydecker, Laura’s mentor/benefactor, Jacoby is a second-rate artist at best, one who “never captured her vibrance, her warmth.” The painting itself belies this assessment, and calls into question Lydecker’s reliability as a narrator.

Although considered a film noir classic, Laura doesn’t employ many of the genre’s usual trappings – there is a lot of cigarette smoking and some nighttime rain, but very little in the way of skewed camera angles or stark shadows. Most of the scenes take place in lavish, well-lit apartments, not seedy residential hotels; the detective isn’t crooked or cynical, he’s amiable and often plays with a children’s puzzle; Laura wasn’t a femme fatale, at least not in any traditional sense – she was, as Bessie, her domestic, describes her, “a real fine lady.” Her charm and kindness engendered an obsessive dedication in the people who knew her, and her portrait has a similar effect on Detective McPherson.

Some portraits do seem to hold this power: based on Ingres’s stunning 1845 painting of her, I have no doubt that Comtesse Louise Albertine d’Haussonville was a woman I would have wanted to know. It’s one of my favorite portraits – one of my favorite paintings – ever done. I’m not sure exactly what effect my drawing had on the gentleman with whom my mother spoke, but according to her, he was overcome by a certain ardor regarding the woman in the piece. While I don’t think of the drawing as a portrait, per se, it is of a specific person, a captivating young woman with whom I was quite smitten. It was a good likeness, but more importantly, it felt like her; it captured some of “her vibrance, her warmth.” I haven’t seen her in well over twenty-five years, but nobody was rubbed out with a shotgun loaded with buckshot, so I’m one up on Jacoby.

When I was maybe ten or twelve years old, an uncle gave me the book The Art Treasures of Europe by Charles Wentinck,1 which was my introduction to a lot of artists, some of whom would become favorites of mine. At the time, Rembrandt was my art hero2 – there are two of his pieces in Wentinck’s book: The Night Watch and Portrait of Jan Six, but as I was familiar with both, I turned my attention to the rest of the tome, which covers prehistory all the way up to the 1960s.

Although I liked many of the paintings illustrated,3 I had very visceral reactions, which I can still feel today, to five of them. These pieces played a large part in the development of my personal aesthetic.

Parmigianino: The Madonna with the Long Neck (1534-40).                                                                                                        I I know next to nothing about Parmigianino, only what I read in this book and that he also painted the lovely Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, but this piece continues to captivate me. I was fascinated by the Mannerist proportions – I loved the Madonna’s neck and hands. I loved her gesture and the whole attitude of her posture. I loved the infant Jesus, who appears to be about six years old. I loved everything about this painting except the small figure in the background at the bottom right of the piece. He bothers me now as he did then. I’m not very knowledgeable about religious iconography, but I’m sure he’s a specific person, probably a saint, with a reason for being there – nonetheless, I find he distracts from the breathtaking delicacy and beauty of the Madonna, child, and attendant angels.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Ecce Ancilla Domini: The Annunciation (1850).                                                                                This is an early painting of Rossetti’s, and although I prefer his later work, it was a fine introduction. I had seen enough Renaissance “Annunciations” to know this was different; I’ve forgotten all the others, but this one has stayed with me. I found the color scheme striking – the painting is predominately white with splashes of the three primaries, which was very unusual for the time. The tight composition and vivid palette are indicative of Rossetti’s sensibility – much more modern, I think, than that of the Impressionists, who worked more-or-less contemporaneously.

Gustav Klimt: Salomé (1909).                                                                                                                                                          When I received the book, I had no idea who Salomé was, but I loved the tall thin undulating composition Klimt utilized, which I later learned was related to the “Dance of the Seven Veils” – studies for the painting indicate he arrived at the dynamic pose via sketching a dancing figure. Klimt’s use of ornamentation was also very attractive to me; the integration of the figurative and the decorative in this piece is particularly arresting. In the book, the Klimt segment appears in a chapter titled “Art as Experiment,” and by this time I was ready for the more modern work which would eventually inform my own. Klimt’s evocative imagery did so perhaps as much as anyone’s.

Otto Dix: Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden  (1926).                                                                                              This painting intrigued me to no end. Had it not been for the title, I wouldn’t have known if it were of a man or a woman. Her whole appearance – the mode of dress, the Bryan Ferry hair, the monocle, the positioning of her hands – drew me in. I don’t know that any other portrait, before or since, has made me so curious about its subject. Who was she? What was her life like? Although she sits in a bar or club, she is the only visible figure, alone in a corner with no window. There’s a feeling of liberation in the face of bleakness and desperation, which I would later learn was part of the bohemian culture of Weimar-era Germany, that I found very compelling. 

Francis Bacon: Two Figures (1953).                                                                                                                                                      What made Two Figures so captivating were its dualities. It looked like a photograph, and yet, with its bravura expressionist brushwork, was obviously not one; the bodies were convincingly fleshy, despite the grisaille palette; the private act seemed to take place in an artificial space, as if it were a performance. I loved the blurriness of the faces and how it was offset by the bold strokes demarcating the bed. I was also fascinated by the “space frame,” which I initially thought delineated the edges of the room; upon closer inspection, I found that to be only partially true, while at points it is superimposed on top of the image. 

I don’t know what it was about me that I was so powerfully drawn to these five particular paintings – I do remember I found them all slightly disturbing and strangely alluring, which in retrospect seems like a pretty good combination. I don’t think I analyzed the formal qualities of the work until a little later, but by the time I started painting, I had studied Rossetti, Klimt, and Bacon, and they had become profoundly important to me. All three continue to be among my favorite painters. Had I never been given Wentinck’s book, I’m sure I would have discovered all this work eventually, but seeing it when I did was pivotal in my growth in viewing art, and eventually making it. Thanks, Tom.

1 Simon & Schuster (1974).

2 An aunt had given me the Time-Life Library of Art book of his work. I don’t remember if I was already aware of him, but I loved that book, much more so than the Titian and Van Gogh volumes she also gave me.

3 A list of which includes Velasquez: The Royal Family (c. 1656), Ingres: The Turkish Bath (1863), Degas: The Blue Dancers (1890), Gerhard Richter: Ema, Nude on a Staircase (1966), and Richard Hamilton: Swingeing London 67 (1968).

Last issue, we heard about Corey’s love of work by Jack Kirby, Jim Mooney, and Ross Andru; and his eventual falling out with the superhero genre itself! Now: Corey once again ventures forth into the Marvel Universe, only to find…

From the late 1970s until the early 2000s, almost none of the comics I saw interested me. During those drought years, the only book I collected was John Byrne’s run on Sensational She-Hulk (1989, 1991-93). I find Byrne a competent artist, and his drawing had the right amount of goofy charm, but his writing was the real attraction of the book, the reason I became a fan of the character. In 2004, when I discovered a new She-Hulk book, it was my fond memories of Byrne’s version which enticed me to pick it up. The new book was clever and well-written, and the art compelling – definitely not the typical hypersexualized female superhero fare. Juan Bobillo’s elegant line is the antithesis of the boldness in Jack Kirby’s work. The meticulous craftsmanship he brings to his work is evident in his inventive layouts and striking character design. His idiosyncratic, cartoony style was a completely different approach to depicting a superhero, and it dovetailed perfectly with the savvy humor of the book.

In the early 2010s, I was given a collection called Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, a retelling of Spider-Man’s early days from Mary Jane Watson’s point of view. I was unfamiliar with the book, which was then almost ten years old. Spider-Man’s heroics played only a peripheral role, the focus being the social lives of Mary Jane and her friends. Takeshi Miyazawa’s wonderful manga-influenced art captured the teenage experience in a way I’d never before seen. The facial expression and body language of that age are there with all the dramatic glory that they entail – the emotion in his work is visceral and affecting. More recently, Miyazawa worked on Ghost-Spider, a more traditional superhero book, albeit one with a young female lead – an alternate-universe Gwen Stacy being the one who gets bitten by a radioactive spider. In this context, Miyazawa shows his aptitude with action sequences, which he didn’t get much opportunity to do in SMLMJ. He does so with aplomb; he can effectively produce more than teen drama, although that is present – Gwen is college-aged, but still a teenager. Miyazawa also displays his versatility by changing the drawing style a bit from that in SMLMJ – though the work is still unmistakably his – it is more adult, appropriate for the tone of the book.

These days, when I stop by a comic store, I may pick something up because the character interests me, but even if the story is engaging, I usually find the artwork to be not very good to merely servicable. In a 2004 interview, writer/editor Len Wein (Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Batman, Superman) expressed what he perceived as a problem with comics at that time – most younger writers and artists didn’t bring outside influences to the medium; they were just second, third, or fourth generation clones of older comics creators. However, Bobillo and Miyazawa prove that there are still creative people in the field who are doing interesting work. I hope to see more of that adventuresome spirit from other writers and artists in the future.

Excelsior!

 

All artwork © MARVEL

When I was very young, even before I was able to read, my father would bring home comic books for my older brother and me. I was captivated not only by the stories, but also the drawings. My favorite artists were Jack Kirby (with whom I share a birthday) and Jim Mooney. Later, in the mid-1970s, when I would spend my own hard-earned quarters on Marvel titles at the neighborhood corner store, I really liked Ross Andru. I’ve been thinking about why my young self was so attracted to the work of these pencillers.

Kirby’s appeal is obvious – he was the de Kooning of the comic book world. Stan Lee even nicknamed him “King,” although I don’t think he had Willem in mind when he did so. Kirby’s work on Fantastic Four was so dynamic and so much more sophisticated than most comics of the time. He knew when to go big, which was often – the FF didn’t have much down time. This epic approach aligned perfectly with the near-operatic nature of the stories. His heroic portrayal of both men and women exuded power, and his depiction of otherworldly phenomena was mysterious and electrifying.

The main reason I liked Mooney’s Amazing Spider-Man work so much may have simply been the way he drew Gwen Stacy. I should note that during Mooney’s run, John Romita and John Buscema also worked on the book – sometimes all three would contribute to a single issue. Nevertheless, it was Mooney’s work which left the biggest impression on me. He surpassed even Romita in making both Gwen and Mary Jane Watson so glamorous and captivating, but approachable. MJ was an outgoing, sexy, flamboyant party girl, but my heart belonged to Gwen, a subdued, attractive, thoughtful young woman – a sort of Grace Kelly-type. Mooney not only made her look beautiful, but strong, as well. She was sensitive, but no pushover. This was important to me as someone who, even as a child, found Olive Oyl offensive. (By the way, don’t get me started on Mr. Magoo, either.) On the other end of the spectrum, Mooney also drew a great J. Jonah Jameson, who is no beauty by any conceivable measure.

When one hears talk of great Spider-Man pencillers, Andru is usually left out of the conversation, but I think he ranks among the best. He portrayed one aspect of the stories – New York City – better than any previous Spider-Man artist. He gave the books the feel of being in a specific setting – they didn’t take place in a generic big city. Besides depicting landmarks, Andru also drew the canyonesque city from every imaginable angle, from street level to dizzying heights – NYC itself became a character in the book. In addition to excelling at capturing the face of the city, Andru was also notable for his faculty with human facial expression; one could even see emotion on Spider-Man’s mask. Another of his strengths was conveying movement, so important in a superhero comic. He sometimes did so by having multiple versions of the same figure in a single panel. At the time, I didn’t know the term “Futurism,” and may have been only vaguely familiar with Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, but nonetheless I knew it was compelling.

Each of these artists also had an impeccable sense of visual clarity, as well as a strong compositional eye. I don’t think I thought much about any of this until I was a young teenager – I just knew what I liked. However, I do believe that seeing this work at such a young age did instill in me the importance of those aspects of drawing.

By the 1980s, although I would occasionally wander into a comic shop, which was then a new thing, what I saw didn’t interest me. The time when superhero comics spoke to me had seemingly passed.

Next Issue: The Thrilling Conclusion!

 

All artwork © MARVEL

As the 1970s were coming to a close, David Bowie hosted a radio show on which he played eleven pieces of the decade’s music which he considered important. Among them was “Trial/Prison,” from an opera called Einstein on the Beach. The artist/composer was Philip Glass – I had never heard of him, but was immediately transfixed. Although conceptually, the music wasn’t so alien to me – I’d read Paul McCartney’s thoughts on Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Pete Townshend’s on Terry Riley – it really was unlike anything I’d heard before. This was not a rock song, it was something quite outside the realm of my experience, and I wanted more.

I went to Sidewinder, the local used record shop I’d been frequenting since before I was a teenager, and purchased my first Philip Glass record, North Star. I was hooked. It was a few years later when I finally found a copy of Einstein, the whole of which was a revelation to me. The music was mesmerizing, hypnotic, and not “operatic” in any sense that I understood. The idea one could make a “portrait opera” with no plot or character development to speak of, yet that was evocative and compelling, informed my thinking of a figurative art with no use of narrative which was nonetheless emotionally engaging. Of course, this concept was far from new, but as a young painter, one must often come to ideas via one’s own avenues of thought. Glass’ music helped open those avenues for me.

At the close of Einstein’s first run of performances in 1976 – 35 sold-out shows, two in NYC, the rest across Europe – Glass and dramatist Robert Wilson were $100,000 in the red. Staging an opera is not a money-making proposition; what Einstein did make for them both were careers. Two years later – not long before I heard “Trial/Prison” for the first time – Glass was able to quit his cab driver gig and write and perform music full time.

Philip Glass/Robert Wilson: Einstein on the Beach tickets. Zellerbach Hall; Berkeley CA (2012).

The first time I saw Philip Glass live was in 1986 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco; he and his ensemble played the Songs from Liquid Days song cycle in its entirety and A Descent into the Maelström. Over the years, I’ve seen him many times, including performances of Satyagraha, La Belle et la Bête, and Koyaanisqatsi. Perhaps most notably, in 2012, I saw Einstein on the Beach in its West Coast premiere run, which was one of the most affecting musical experiences of my life. At almost five hours long, Einstein immerses the audience in its aesthetic – not only the music, but Wilson’s imagery and the choreography of Lucinda Childs, plus the contributions of the rest of the creative team. Einstein is not the vision of one person, but Glass’ music is the unifying component which gives it the power which has not diminished with time. Experiencing it was as startling as hearing “Trial/Prison” for the first time, thirty-three years before. I had never seen anything like it, and I don’t imagine I ever will again – I feel fortunate to have been there.

Philip Glass is no longer seen as an avant-garde madman as he was in the 1970s; having composed the music for many mainstream films, he is now firmly in the popular culture. Although he still gets more than his share of abusive press, he is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential composers of the last half century. He turns eighty-four years old today.

In 1982, a young woman I was dating gave me a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was, and continues to be, one of my favorite books. It was a newly-published edition, illustrated and designed by Barry Moser, with whom I was not familiar. I’d seen many versions of Alice, but John Tenniel was not only the tale’s first illustrator, but also, as far as I was concerned, the preeminent one. A lot of illustrators apparently feel similarly, as so many other versions are strangely adherent to his vision, not only in terms of look and feel, but even in composition. Moser’s work, however, was different – it was strange and it was off-kilter and it complemented the anarchic text in a manner completely unlike that of any other illustrations I’d seen. His is also the only version, as far as I know, in which all the images are from Alice’s point of view – it is her dream, after all. Moser’s eye for the bizarre yet humorous made him an ideal illustrator for Alice. I became a fan at first glance, and the next year, when his Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There was published, I immediately bought it for myself (the gal was out of the picture by that time). These two volumes also sparked my interest in the art of book design, which was something I’d never really given thought to, prior.

Several years later, there was an exhibition of Moser’s work at the Museum of Ancient and Modern Art, which was then in Nevada City CA. Sadly, I was unable to attend the reception, although I was fortunate enough to see the show, which was comprised of wood engravings from both Alice books. I haven’t done a lot of printmaking, but I do know a little about it and find it fascinating. Wood engraving is a relief process done on the end grain of the wood, so much finer detail is possible, as compared to a woodcut. Moser’s prints were technically exquisite and beautifully pulled, and his richly detailed and inventive imagery was aesthetically awe-inspiring. It turned out this was not only true of of his work on Alice.

Barry Moser show catalogue (1987). MAMA.

The museum shop had some of Moser’s books for sale, and I purchased his Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, and was told a story which he had related at the reception regarding his images of the monster. Apparently, he constructed his model by covering a human skull with raw chicken, sewing it together, then leaving it outside to rot. That his depiction bears no resemblance whatsoever to the ubiquitous Boris Karloff image again attests to the singularity of his vision.

Since then, I have assembled a small collection of Moser-illustrated books; his work – drawings and watercolors as well as the engravings – is consistently captivating. This is especially noteworthy considering the broad spectrum of books on which he has worked: The Divine Comedy, The Three Little Pigs, Moby Dick, Just So Stories, The Scarlet Letter, The Holy Bible, the list goes on. To date, he has illustrated and/or designed over three hundred books – I would feel comfortable recommending any of them; such is my regard for him and my confidence in his work.

Thank you, Marie, wherever you may be, for the introduction.