My Life in Art
My mother claimed that I drew pictures on the carpet with my baby shoe. Many years later I have switched to pens and brushes. The recent DeKooning exhibit at MOMA showed his later years consumed by large paintings with simple sweeping brush strokes. Older artists often turn to abstraction or simpler approaches. My later years have taken a different direction. For reasons unbeknown to me each painting seems to get more intricate and my number 2 brush needs to often be replaced. It has not always been that way.
The first drawing lesson I can remember happened in a back pew of the First Presbyterian Church in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania. I was young, pre-school, and the sermon was boring. To keep me occupied my father took a pencil and paper and showed me how to draw the profile of an automobile. I then proceeded to copy it. This was the last interest my father ever showed in my art career that I can remember. My parents never asked at any time what I was doing with my art that I can think of. I was pretty much a self-starter.
My next interest in art came with the inception of the comic book. When Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Submariner first appeared, I was in junior high-school and just the right age to latch on to them. They were a dime apiece, and I had a paper route that supplied me with the income I needed to purchase a few each month. Once again I would copy them with little pencil drawings. By doing this I got to know the different styles of drawing. My favorite was a character named Black Hawk. He led a band of heroes who each had a weird little airplane styled to the personality of the pilot. Of course month by month one of the heroes was killed by our Axis enemies.
At this time we lived in Steubenville Ohio. We seemed to live in communities that fostered singers. Canonsburg was the home of Perry Como, and Steubenville of Dean Martin. I never met either of them but I believe Perry’s father cut my hair, being one of the local barbers. If I had had the insight to save those early comic books I would be a multi-millionaire today.
The first serious interest in art came when I was in high-school, if you can consider cartooning a serious art. I read all the weekly magazines; Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, and Life. They were filled with wonderful story illustrations and cartoons. I became a student of the different cartoonists and decided I would like to be one of them. I began to submit ideas by mail to these unknown cartoon editors and acquired a large pile of rejection slips. Of course my style of drawing was primitive since I had no training. It is interesting to me that the present cartoon editor of the New Yorker seems to have reincarnated my style of the time. This, I fear, is a comment on the quality of drawing of the cartoons in that magazine now.
Which brings me to my discovery of that publication. I heard somehow that there was a magazine that had the best cartoons called the New Yorker and I became the only student in my ghetto high-school who read The New Yorker from cover to cover each week. And the cartoons were glorious. Peter Arno, Charles Addams, Mary Petty, Whitney Darrow Jr., and many many others inspired me. The ideas were sophisticated and the drawings were exquisite. I still remember Mr. Darrow’s cartoon of a nanny reading to her young wards, “Coked to the gills, Rodney lunged toward the supine figure on the red plush couch.”
I also submitted to the New Yorker my ideas with the same results. I never sold one, but became more educated by that magazine than by my feeble high-school curriculum.
I just became aware that Woody Allen was supporting his family by selling jokes when a sophomore in high-school. I’m afraid I didn’t have that same success, but art was now part of me and I had begun.