Thursday, April 30, 2020

AT THE ART STUDENTS LEAGUE OF NEW YORK

The Art Students League is a legendary unorthodox art school on West 57th Street in New York City. The reason I enrolled there in 1947 or 48 was because there was no fixed curriculum, you devised your own. The tutors were mostly well-known artists, working in a wide variety of styles. They didn't teach full time but came in on a regular basis to look at your work and give their advice. From a list of those available you chose an artist you wanted as tutor but you could also attend other courses in specific techniques or media. You built your own timetable. Much of the time you worked by yourself in crowded studios.

I was in heaven. A crowded, feverishly busy heaven where everybody loved what they were doing. Love of life and making art was most definitely in the air. It was the time of Roosevelt's G.I. Bill and in the painting and life-drawing classes I attended, studios heaved with ex GIs, many of them older than the average art student and thrilled to be there. I was excited by the vibrant atmosphere of camaraderie and relished the attention I got for my big bold drawings and for being small and cute. Since this is only an abbreviated visual memoir, I'll save details for my ongoing autobio. Here are a few examples of the kind of work I was producing at the ASL
Art Students League of New York
Big Nude. NdA 1949
Frowning Man. NdA 1949
Angry Head. NdA 1949
Colour study. NdA 1949
Sphinx. NdA 1949


ART STUDY IN PARIS

After the summer's intensive painting in Henry Hensche's classes, the next step was Paris. We had not been back since leaving for Paraguay, then America, but my parents decided to temporarily return. I wanted to apply for admission to the Beaux Arts Academy, notoriously difficult to enter. A painter who was also a Professor at the Beaux Arts, agreed to take me on as a private pupil so I could prepare a porfolio.

He met me at the Louvre every morning and put me through the paces of learning to draw in the classic way..."aplomb, proportion!"... he would repeat while I stood freezing (post-war Paris: no heat) drawing from Roman and Greek sculpture on huge sheets of paper. At first Le Prof was quite sarcastic, called me "petite bourgeoise" but on my own I would continue drawing and painting and when eventually I showed him this work, his attitude changed. He said I painted "like a man". Yes yes I know how this sounds nowadays but at the time it made me glow with pride and confidence. We became "copains", friends, and had intense conversations about art and life and everything. Of course I was secretly besotted with the Professeur but things stayed (alas!) above board.

Suddenly my father anounced that we were leaving for Brazil where he was organising a construction project. I desperately wanted to stay but he refused to let me be in Paris alone, even though I had an aunt who would have housed me. But I had no means of support so off I reluctantly went with the family to Rio de Janeiro. There I painted alone, my heart back in Paris but my eyes feasting on the colours and life around me.

Later, back in New York I enrolled at the Art Students' League.

Charcoal drawing from plaster cast in the Louvre. NdA 1948

Musicians. NdA circa 1948. Oil.
Terezopolis, Brazil. NdA circa 1948, Oil on hessian.

GROWING UP SLOWLY

Dipping into the pile of old photos again, I pull out some of my growing up slowly years. Dates and places are not always clear because there were always so many changes. But what's the point of exact chronology anyway?
Somewhere in America. 
In Central Park, New York City
On the steps of New York Public Library.
In Provincetown, Massachusets, aged 17, where I was attending Henry Hensche's summer art school.

OCEAN VOYAGES

Back in the olden days most of you don't remember because you weren't there, if we went to far away countries we usually travellet by boat. The journeys were long but not at all boring. My first trip via ocean liner was on the General Artigas from France to Buenos Aires where my parents, sister and me then took a river boat to reach AsunciĆ²n, Paraguay. Even after the hassle of air travel became the norm, I was a passenger on several other ships over the years.

Aboard the General Artigas on the way from Paris to Paraguay.  In descending order: me, my sister, my mother.

Going to Brazil from New York. When crossing the Equator a party was held in which rituals were performed ,including costumed people throwing you into the pool. I am about 21 and  about to jump, reluctantly..

On that same voyage to Brazil, dressed up for dinner. 
I'm on the bottom left corner, aged about 22, on the SS Ryndam returning to New York from Europe. Among the passengers in this photo is Charlie Bluhdorn. Some amateur dramatics were performed during the trip and Charlie and I did a spoof Antony and Cleopatra. He called me Cleo afer that and we kept in touch for a short while. Charlie later became mega-mogul eccentric billionaire owner of Gulf & Western, Paramount etc.







BLANCHE, MY MOTHER


My mother came from a French working class family. Blanche was outspoken, combative, intuitive, filled with joie de vivre but also very private - "ailleurs" she said of herself, elsewhere. She started work at fourteen making hats. She was leaving work one day aged about nineteen and beautiful when my father happened to pass by. He stopped and invited her to dinner. She brushed him off but he came back every evening at the same time until she agreed. Her life changed totally from then on and they were together until the end.

The penultimate photo is of Blanche at 97 at her first exhibition. She began painting at 94 and was given an exhibition at the Mary Ward Centre in London. The last photo is of one of her paintings The Searcher.. She died in August 2001.
Young Blanche in Paris
Blanche newly arrived in America






PARENTS

Can't have old photos of self without including the two remarkable individuals who brought me into the world. Their influence was branded on my soul from day one and I guess is still there.

I tried at various times to paint my father's portrait from life but I couldn't 'get' him, he was too close and too elusive. He died in 1996 aged 101 and I painted a portrait of him in 2003 (second photo) from the first photo below, of the young Sacha, newly arrived in Paris from Russia. The third photo of him was taken in 1955 by Hungarian photographer George Cserna whom I met in New York.

My father newly arrived in Paris from Russia

Sacha as a young man. NdA 2013. Oil on canvas.
My father in New York 1955. Photo by George Cserna.



THE ARTIST AT NINE


This photo of me at nine in Los Angeles was the basis of two artworks many years later in London.


From Artist's book Mozart, Matisse, Blanche et Moi NdA 1990
Nathalie at Nine. NdA 1981. Oil on wood.



PAST POSES

Apparently it was a thing in Paris in those prehistoric times to have your kids photographed professionally, after their hair had been styled in the latest fashion. Apparently we didn't protest much, not even to the stupid poses, although I look a bit less pleased than my sister Annie. She is four years older.







Sunday, April 26, 2020

MORE PAST MADE PRESENT

Finding one old photo, of course you start finding others and before you know it you're delving deep into your past. I love old family photos. No matter how blurred or scarred by time, they still vibrate with life and memories which may not be memories at all but reconstructions of moments. They're like novels that you want to read, find out what the plot is, who the characters are. I particularly like photos of two or three family characters together -what are they saying? what is the rapport?

Below are a few from the treasure trove of photos I have. Some have served as material for paintings or constructions. Is one's experience of family, from childhood onwards, the most powerful creative raw material?

My mother, my older sister and me in Royan, France


With my father in Paraguay.

9 year-old me in Los Angeles with parents and sister Annie.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

BACKWARD GLANCE

Don't know where the thing started of posting photos of one's self aged 20 but there's a lot of them around. Another distraction from lockdown? Found this one of twenty two year-old moi in New York with my little brother then aged six. Sellotape mars the top of the image but we are cute anyway.




Friday, April 17, 2020

RECREATIONS





There's a fun online thing happening started by the Getty Museum with people re-creating famous artworks with three household items. Today I decided to have a go but with only one household item (me) aided by a black eyeliner pencil then some digital tweaking. I ike the character that emerged and wouldn't mind being him for a while.



Wednesday, April 15, 2020

STEVEN APPLEBY'S NEW GRAPHIC NOVEL

Steven Appleby’s new graphic novel Dragman has been glowing quietly on my table since it was published last month. Glowing quietly are the words I’ve been looking for to sum up the lingering effect this book has. At 336 pages it’s a hefty volume but there’s nothing heavy about it. With a light, airy touch it achieves the tour de force of making a complex subject - being a transvestite - into a surreal, wildly inventive superhero thriller while never losing sight of tenderness, vulnerability and everyday domestic life. The trademark Appleby style of drawing, simultaneously relaxed and nervous, is enhanced by Nicola Sherring’s delightful watercolouring. The story is told in comic-strip frames, interspersed with poetic and humorous prose passages and some fabulous double page spreads. The shy, awkard, troubled August Crimp, married to Mary Mary and Dad to baby Gulliver, is Dragman when he puts on women’s clothes. You must get this book to find out what happens. I trust it will have the serious recognition as well as the popular success it deserves.

It was a happy coincidence that Steven Appleby was one of the judges for the 2019 Laydeez Do Comics awards and I won the Rosalind Penfold award for a graphic novel-in-progress by an artist over fifty. It was at this event that I met Steven and asked if I could paint him. I had always admired his work, very much on my wavelength, and on the several occasions he came to sit for me we talked and became friends.



  
My portrait of Steven Appleby. 2019. Oil on canvas. 50 x 61 cms

Sunday, April 12, 2020

EASTER

Whatever this day means to you, chocolate eggs, trees in bloom, rebirth, reincarnation, Resurrection or just another Sunday in isolation, I wish you everything your heart longs for. To all those who are in pain or mourning I wish you rescue and a warm hand to hold.

The image below is from a magnificent illuminated Apocalypse of Saint John by Beatus de Liebana, an obscure monk in Northern Spain circa11th century. I have a huge, heavy volume with many illustrations from this remarkable work of art which I love for its powerful, innocent joy, dazzling colour and structure. It speaks to me. I hope it resonates with you too.
Selene Guerrier

MASKED

The top mask I bought in a hardware shop. I drew the mouth with lipliner but now it's Planet of the Apes. It's bulky, hot and uncomfortable and I haven't worn it anywhere yet. The bottom one I started making yesterday but I haven't worked out the ties. I stitched the mouth - it moves if I move my mouth. The mask is too small, too tight and wouldn't protect against anything. But it's fun.





Monday, April 06, 2020

SIX THINGS TO NOTICE

When I wake up in the morning-two things often happen simultaneously:
1. My right hand is assailed by pins and needles.
2. My brain spews out ideas like a fax machine.

Those two things may not be related but when they subside I sometimes write and/or draw the ideas. Below is what emerged three mornings ago.The new word OLDERLY was among the ideas and you may use it if you qualify - that is if you’re old but in the prime of life, despite the pinning and needling.






Thursday, April 02, 2020

HELLO FROM SELF-ISOLATION

It seems that self-isolation is spurring many people to post selfie videos to entettain themselves and their isolated friends and families. Maybe this will become a new artform. I had a go at 3am today but I use my laptop, not my phone, as most people do, so the technicalities are somewhat trickier. Hence the minimal audio.




Wednesday, April 01, 2020

TIME'S ODD BEHAVIOUR

For some reason it's always 3pm.
Ten minutes later it's 7pm.
Then it's 3am.
I don't understand time.
Time doesn't understand me.

Is this a poem?


THIS IS ART. NdA 2012. Oil on canvas. 20"x 24" (50 x 60 cms)