My Serendipitous Re-Start

It seems I planted the seeds for my eventual return to drawing more than 30 years ago, when I last seriously applied pencils-to-paper. Then in my mid-twenties, I took a junior college drawing class led by an enthusiastic instructor, Norm Looney. Along with warmly encouraging my efforts, Looney insisted my classmates and I visit galleries and view current artists’ work. He also introduced me to artists from the mid- and late-twentieth-century whose works reflected the more representational style I favored.

Following that brief resumption in activity, I drifted for nearly three decades away from traditional art. Save for occasional museum visits, I rarely paid heed to my earlier artistic “influences.” I’d occasionally spot a familiar painting or style and think, “Oh, that’s by … er (what’s that name?)” But, having subsequently discovered the instant gratification of photography, I lent scant attention to what traditional artists were up to.

As described in my previous post, in the last few years I’ve sensed inviting urges–memories arising at odd moments and even dreams–from my artistic past. About a year ago, a seemingly offhand conversation with my eldest daughter prompted a Google search to retrieve an artist’s name. The information I unearthed triggered in me a serendipitous cascade of realizations and connection-making–and pointed me toward the creative steps I’m again taking.

This sequence of events began simply enough. I attempted to recall the name of a popular artist whose best-known paintings feature cakes, pies and other treats rendered in thick pastel textures. The only name I could think of at the time: “Diebenkorn.” I keyed that search term into Google. And the returned results led me, in turn, to a Wikipedia entry for painter Richard Diebenkorn.

Diebenkorn, I soon recalled from my previous exposure to his work, was an acclaimed abstract-impressionist who came to prominence in the 1950s and ’60s. Based at The University of California, Berkeley (where he was a faculty member), Diebenkorn was a leading member of a mid-century resurgence in representational art known as the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Now as I reviewed examples of Diebenkorn’s work, I remembered some of his better-known paintings. His characteristic style–particularly from the middle of his career–reflects real life scenes and people, but captured in boldly abstract, impressionist form.

Most interesting, I was startled to realize the abstract, somewhat ambiguous appearance Diebenkorn achieved was the look I was going for in much of my landscape photography. I’d had no conscious memory of Diebenkorn’s imagery. But I’d absorbed his influence; and, unconsciously, that continued informing my own artistic work in a wholly different medium.

Diebenkorn, however, wasn’t the painter of pastel pastry compositions I’d originally searched out. But his Wikipedia entry provided a clue. Among its reference to other artists associated with Diebenkorn, I quickly recognized another name, Wayne Thiebaud,  as the pastry artist. Along with being associated with the Bay Area Figurative school, Thiebaud is often considered a so-called “Pop” artist. His sometimes whimsical but critically praised paintings further buoyed my creative enthusiasm and interest in art.

I also noticed a personal connected to a key influence on Diebenkorn’s artistic development, namely, his passion for the realist painter Edward Hopper. I’d first discovered Hopper, an American artist most active in the first half of the twentieth century, when I was still in grade school. He’d become my first serious artistic crush: a modern artist who painted in a realistic, representational style.

Edward Hopper, 1930:  "Early Sunday Morning," (Reproduced under guidelines for public domain artworks)

Edward Hopper, 1930: “Early Sunday Morning,”
(Reproduced under guidelines for public domain artworks)

His paintings’ starkness and moral ambiguity stand in marked contrast to the sentimentality and easy accessibility of my earlier favorite artist, Norman Rockwell. Significantly for my maturing point of view, Hopper’s work echoed more adult themes of ambiguity, cultural decline and social isolation.

Naturally, while enrolled in that drawing class in my early adulthood, I chose Hopper’s iconic Early Sunday Morning when an assignment arose to create a personal variation on a favorite masterwork.

Steve Cox, 1983: "Collage Based On Edward Hopper's 'Early Sunday Morning'" (Graphite pencil on paper, mounted on board stock)

Steve Cox, 1983: “Collage Based On Edward Hopper’s ‘Early Sunday Morning'”
(Graphite pencil on paper, mounted on board stock)

Somewhere amidst this sequence of events (or right after—I’ve forgotten their chronology) I found a September, 2013 Time magazine article, “When Age Produces Beauty.” This story presented a pictorial of artists who remain creatively vital well into their 80s and beyond. Included among these venerable masters’ images was a shot of the now-93-year old Wayne Thiebaud, intently hunched over his easel. He describes his nearly continual devotion to his craft as a “kind of madness.”

Absorbing that “final” (which I’m hesitant to conclude) discovery, I mulled the key “takeaways” seemingly directed my way by some unseen-but-determined fate. I realized anew I love being immersed in the art world and associating with creative people; I miss learning about art and its progression; and, most important, I recognize my latent passion for working with my hands to create my own art. Oh, and apparent from Thiebaud’s example, it’s never too late to get back to it.

After that, it merely took a chance remark to my therapist to bring me to decisive critical mass, and set my creative process back in motion.


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