THE ARTIST ON HIS WORK
Ever since childhood, drawing and painting have been my obsession and liberation. I would alternate my response to a subject/theme either through observational or interpretive renderings.
In 1952, I received a departmental art scholarship from American University, Washington, DC which opened up a different way of seeing. My work was of a loose, expressionistic manner akin to Kokoshka. In 1954, with a scholarship from the Art Students’ League, NY, I studied with George Grosz, which helped to strengthen my drawing structure. His war drawings stimulated me to pursue narrative themes. Grosz’, Grunewald, Goya, Otto Dix images captivated me. I returned to American University in 1955 where much was absorbed in painting methodology significantly of gestural composition and color exploration. This, eventually, I found depicted only one side of the mirror of art, as my growing desire to assimilate the dualistic nature of classical and expressionistic approaches, alternatively resurging in art history.
My goal was to emulate in a personal form the complexity of structural design that the Renaissance and Baroque masters had forged; the intricacy of their imagery and technical beauty. To achieve something of this quality, the discipline of learning sustained procedures and ‘growing’ into a painting through a longer time commitment had to be engendered. A private stipend for study in Florence, Italy in 1957 gave me an opportunity to work in a sustained manner. In retrospect, this trip strongly influenced my work for the next fifty or so years. The Italian environment, certain Italian and Northern Renaissance masters such as Uccello, Piero della Francesca and Roger Van Der Weyden, their rich imagery, form, and archaic distortions were the stimulus to seek out a more individuated ‘classical’ structure and subject-content, which eventuated into allegorical/symbolic statements. The Venetians and Rembrandt, in their ‘painterly’ approach were also absorbed. I was also much involved with the intricacies of etching, studying at the Academia di Belle Arte in Florence.
I returned to Washington in 1959 and have remained here for these past fifty-five years. The task of evolving and maturation has been labyrinthine in experience, exploring various modes of approach through oil, gouache, acrylic, pastel, intaglio, monotype and other graphic media. The type of medium utilized, combined with a subject stimulus would demand different expressive terms, carrying through gestural and/or sustained responses, and expressionistic statements, alternatively, would be invoked.
During certain interims I found that I was involved with developing sequential themes from diverse sources; the following are exemplary:
1. Literary: Interpretations from Rainier Maria Rilke poetry, Juan Ramon Jimenez’s prose-poem ‘Platero Y Yo’, Curzio Malaparte’s ‘La Pella’, Judaic themes from the ‘Kabbalah’, Jacob and the Angel, the Golem, and ‘Pirke Abot’ ['Sayings of Our Fathers'].
2. Musical: Interpretations of Gustav Mahler’s song-symphony, ‘The Song of the Earth’.
3. Dance: Interpretations of my wife’s modern dance choreography.
4. Other subjects in series: Dead birds, chickens, fish, broken dolls, still life, children and portraiture.
Most important for me, was the realization of formal structure and that ‘narrative’ aspects should be secondary, yet an integral part of the works. As I continue my visualizations, the contemplation and execution of ‘pure’ painting – the way the painting process materializes its speed, tonal and color quality, etc - its abstract sense takes on full consideration. My interests and influences appreciatively pull from different periods and cultures of artistic thought; antithetical, as well as, sources I find a direct affinity to.
For an insightful essay on my work, please read “Figure and Fantasy: the Worlds of Gerald Wartofsky” by Professor Ori Z. Soltes which is accessible here.