| Work

Notebook 1998 to c. 2001

Date: 1998 to c. 2001

Raw Umber

I like the words Raw Umber.
It's the peau de soie of color.

Raw Umber makes shadow. Raw Umber is cool and slightly dusty. It was originally made from ground earth from Umbria in Italy. It remains abundant in Italy. In hardware stores in small towns, especially in Umbria, there are wood cases containing a finely ground brown dust of raw umber. I have lowered my hand into this dust, squeezed it and dug into it, and made it squeak like wheat flower can squeak when squeezed. There are other colors of ground earth available in these Italian hardware stores, such as raw sienna, which is earth of Siena. I don't know why Siena is spelled with two "n's" as it is labelled in oil paint or water color tubes (must be French). The other dry pigments available there are burnt umber, burnt sienna, and a blue dry pigment which is called Ultramarine Blue. All this has been a memorable experience, this seeing and feeling these dry pigments actually made from earth.

I have enjoyed painting only with raw umber and white. A warning: use a very limited amount of white because this dusty color weakens easily and loses its value. I try to use only the raw umber, drawing with a brush to establish the image. Then, when a darker need is necessary, I repeat certain areas over what has been painted. It will obey and the value will increase. Raw umber, if thinned, dries quickly and the repeated application usually doesn't pick up the first strokes, but only heightens the value.

It is necessary to mention Burnt Umber, which is part of the Umber story. Indeed, Burnt Umber is burnt Raw Umber. One of the best ways of my understanding burnt pigment is realizing that in the town of Siena the earth all around is yellow, earth yellow, which is the color Siena Yellow. The town of Siena is a walled town. The brick walls are not yellow, but earth red. These bricks were made from the local yellow earth, but bricks are baked in a kiln, in order to make them solid and permanent, and they turn earth red in the process. Of course this happens to Raw Umber when it's burnt. So dark brown bricks were once Raw Umber. The walls and churches of London are burnt umber, though the source of pigment may not be the earth from Umbria.

To go on with Burnt Umber: this brown is rich and looks as though it could shine. It even resembles chocolate, it looks eatable, it is a warm color -- raw umber being a cool color. Think of London as a city which is visibly warm. Munich has a tint of Burnt Umber. Paris is not Burnt Umber, the earth pigment of Paris and its bricks comes from stone, another source. New York's brownstone is brownish-red stone and not Burnt Umber brick.

Although my reference to Raw Umber is Italian, Raw Umber is a prevalent color used in Dutch painting. Vermeer started his painting using a type of Raw Umber. Caravaggio used Burnt Umber, which makes his paintings warm and passionate while Vermeer's are cool and considerate. Delacroix comes to mind when thinking of Burnt Umber. It's not that all paintings are started with Raw or Burnt Umber, but paintings are started with something that is from the family of browns. Of course, when modern painting enters this subject, it's possible the browns are no longer used to plan a composition.

Sepia is a form of brown which comes from the ink of the squid. In Italian the word for squid is sepia. I have drawn with sepia ink and it has a satisfying hue, transparent, dusty, and a lilt towards black. Sepia-tinted movies have always been enchanting to me. They were once a less expensive filming process and the films in sepia were usually lesser films than those in black and white. Cinecolor is another example of low-budget film, and I enjoy watching both cinecolor and sepia films. They have a closer connection to reality than either black-and-white or full color, which both make an atmosphere that is not common in daily life. Sepia photographs have a closer connection than black-and-white to what happens in daily life. Perhaps it's because of my childhood during the Great Depression when the world was actually sepia. Sepia days, even mornings. The photographs which I saw in those early days of my life were sepia and pressed into the yellow-aging pages of what they called an album. They seemed to have been hidden from the public and personal because whenever I looked through an album of sepia photographs all the adults would put their hands to their mouths and say words which hinted that I should not believe what I saw, they are only photographs, not real life, they would say. So it came to me that black-and-white could be associated with truth, like brown. Brown is more real. Brown is more true to life.


Friday: January 30, 1998

The car ride to the Newark Airport was lovely. It was early enough in the morning for me to realize the houses and buildings which I passed were not yet in their day mode.

The monitor at the airport not only tells which gate to go to, but it also had the word loading. This meant that upon finding the gate I could continue walking to my seat on the plane as soon as I got the nod from flight attendants.

Spicy tomato juice, when cold, is a stimulating drink during a flight.

February 9, 1998

Strange, uncommon, to realize that the trip is over, and I am now returning to Newark Airport. I remember standing in line to board ship with many people in front and many lined up in back. How easy it was, upon finding our quarters, to unpack, put away, and collect necessary information as to when and where it was scheduled to eat. In time, sitting on the aft deck, of the promenade deck, watching Miami move away in the distance. 


Reading Poetry
can be like looking
through a person's

I start with a song, a melody that is inside my head, a rhythm, a beat that throbs a bit and doesn't quite let go. It's pleasant and has a way of telling me I'm alone. The song comes and goes, but eventually it becomes clear that it is musically familiar. That is when it attaches to me. I will finally know the melody if I leave it alone. It comes back more clear. My mind can continue lengthening it. Without realizing it, the entire song or melody comes forth and I know which piece of music I got interested in recognizing. The process is quite rewarding because I know where I am with myself.

This is how I paint. A piece of visual illusion floats by my mind's eye. This can happen even when I am not alone. The visual image crosses my consciousness, then it's no longer there. This is going to be pictorial. This is not a combination of colors, nor a pattern, it's an object: a sewing basket with spools of thread and a pin cushion can be an example. Where did that come from? Is it in a painting? It usually is.



It takes two years to become a New Yorker. The first thing to do is find somewhere to live. Me being me did not want to share. I had shared enough as a student in Chicago.

This leads to the story of Jenny. When I met her in Chicago she was Jenny Lou, which I found delightful to say. She was from Iowa, where she studied painting at the University. Jenny Lou got to New York a few months earlier than I did. I arrived in September, 1958, and stayed on the Upper West Side with her friends who were also from The University of Iowa. We had met in Chicago, when the Iowa students were visiting and, like students, made a pact to live in New York City. "Come stay at my apartment when you get here" was a message from the girls. I did, staying with Jenny's friends. "Jenny has already found a place," I was told when I arrived at an apartment on 87th Street and Central Park West. I visited Jenny Lou at 6th Street and Second Avenue. When she told me of her boy friend, Jim, and how she spent most of her time with him, I suggested staying at her apartment for a while. I would pay her rent and she could move in with Jim. 

I found this the best occurrence that could happen for me, and cleared out from the 87th Street apartment as soon as I could.

Here alone on 6th Street and Second Avenue I began living in New York City. I had gotten a job collating Christmas cards at the Metropolitan Museum, which would last at least until January.

In those days it was possible to furnish my apartment with objects found on the street. Milk crates were made from wood then. They were strong and handsome articles with many uses. Somehow, I found a piece of marble which had been part of the lining of a hallway entrance. It was leaning against a lamppost along the street, and a workman renovating an entrance to a tenement told me I could take it. This piece of marble and a wooden milk crate made a low elegant table for me. As time went on, I bought Jenny Lou's single bed and found other pieces of simple furniture here and there and from friends. 

The apartment slowly became mine after I re-painted some walls and arranged what I had to my liking. As I settled there, my life began very slowly. Drawing and painting on the floor.

In New York City there is a time when all one has is their work life and their free time. I had a radio and one Friday evening after returning to the apartment on Second Avenue, I took a nap. When I woke up the radio was playing: WNEW Eleven three oh in New York. You're listening to the wonderful sound of music played only for you round the clock on W N E W 1130 in New York.

Jenny Lou and Jim had friends over to their apartment on Horatio Street in the Village. I liked walking there on Eighth Street all the way to Greenwich Street, continually finding new ways to get there. Greenwich Village is a village where there is no logical street plan and, as in any village, there are many ways to get to one's destination. 

This evening Jenny Lou played a recording of Lotte Lenya singing Kurt Weil's "Jenny."  Jenny mimed the song, and all the guests responded to her surprising way of moving and sometimes singing. At the end of the song, the words go: "Jenny found a husband, but he wasn't hers." The look on Jenny's face was serious and pathetic. Jim, indeed, had a wife somewhere in Pennsylvania. That was all I knew. But, from that evening on, Jenny Lou became Jenny.

I learned that Jenny's cat, Turnip, got out of the apartment. She returned a few days later, and in time it was realized that Turnip was going to have kittens. Neither Jenny nor Jim liked the situation because it is always a task to get rid of a litter of kittens. Jim especially disliked this new situation, and those who knew Jim and Jenny knew the two of them were not having a child. Jim was not divorcing his Pennsylvania wife, that was over and far away.

Turnip had six kittens and we who visited and enjoyed parties on Horatio Street decided to take some of the kittens when they were old enough. I took a female whom I named Mary Alice O'Neal.

Everyone encouraged Jenny to continue her singing and moving sessions which she always did at any party she went to, and one evening I met her walking from the Cooper Union subway in tears. This was unlike Jenny, so I asked her what was going on. Jenny had decided to take dance classes in order to move with more assurance. Of course I was one of her supporters, told her so, and asked if I could help her. It was then we decided that I would take class with her.

Within my inner self I had an interest in the dance. I had leaped, learned the split, and enjoyed any flying energy I could make up when alone. Mary Anthony was not a Broadway dance coach, but what was called a barefoot modern dancer out from under the wings of Martha Graham and Hanya Holm. Mary Anthony was remarkably able to control twelve to eighteen people in one room, having them do movements that I had thought were private to me. Athletic movement is different because there is a product involved. A ball, even a goal, and how a body gets the ball, hits it, or throws it, is not pure movement. Mary Anthony had everyone moving just for the movement and with many reasons why. She taught me how to start a movement, something an untrained dancer never knows. 

Finally, in dance classes there is a product in the end, when there comes the time to perform. This I wasn't expecting. After Jenny and I had taken a few months of dance class, we were given a special class in choreography which offered some history of dance, such as basic forms like the gigue, the galliard, saraband, and pavane. These basic forms are a key for movement in music. Then came the time for the students of choreography to make a dance using one of these forms. Jenny and I decided to be partners, to create a duet. We chose the galliard which has the quickest rhythm.

Without any experience in this assignment, we began looking for galliard music and prancing around. With the music, which we found on a recording, we began making some kind of plot by working on square floor patterns and arcs, turns, and circles. Out of nowhere, Jenny discovered how to do everything backwards, and with my doing our pattern forward we had a visual conception which worked. To our surprise, the class applauded the time we danced it for the choreography class.

That was the last I saw of Jenny. Like her cat, Turnip, Jenny got pregnant and Jim would not accept it. From what I heard, from what I could put together, Jenny did have an abortion, then returned to Iowa. "Poor Jenny, bright as a penny."


That was the first year in New York. In one year many acquaintances disappeared, returned to their home town, or I just lost them. This is where we who stayed had made that choice. We believed that to make it there we could make it anywhere. We couldn't return to from where we came anymore, and few wanted more schooling.

Mary Alice O'Neal ran away. I always kept a window open for her to go out if she chose to, but she had always returned -- running to me when I returned to my apartment at the end of a workday. I could do nothing about this. One evening, there she was, returning through the window as though she had always been around. She had been gone for a month. As time went on I realized that she wasn't going to have kittens and asked her where she had been, but she just looked at me and purred lovingly, never attempting an explanation. This so impressed me that I began a pattern of not telling anyone where I had been or what I had been doing. Instead I listen to everyone else.

Many changes can occur in one year when I am 29 years old, and by this time I am living in a loft on Fulton Street, near the fish market, in a fifth floor walk-up with very little heat. I am now painting full time and I exhibited a new painting for the first time called "I remember the past with delight."


People and friends come and go in this loft, but I am basically by myself. At first I painted all night and went onto the roof to watch the dawn.

Then came business when I began placing paintings. The first was a Con Edison man who checked the electricity meter in the loft. He asked if he could return with his wife and show her some paintings. They came on the following Saturday and bought a painting. This seemed to be an omen which always has proved to be true. Whenever I'm in dramatic need I sell a painting somehow.


After being discharged from the U.S. Army I dreamed I was still there. Now it's the same story. Now that I no longer have a job at the Metropolitan Museum, I dream that I do.


At The Frick Collection

The Frick Collection is in its very own building with so few steps needed to enter.

I suggest walking west after arriving, and going directly to the end of that hall until you spot the Boucher seasons paintings. This will give you an example of what the Frick Collection is.

The Upper East Side starts here.


Upon stepping into the Frick, I saw your car, and looked again while on the way to the Fragonard Room. There it was, parked. I stand with my back towards the windows of the Fragonard Room, taking in the shady atmosphere of the wall paintings, admiring the details, and the given plots.

Of course your car was on my mind.

Anytime I'm at the Frick, I am dazzled by the Ingres Comtesse.Her dress is the color of your car at times. Then there is the Gilbert Stuart George Washington, which I always visit.

One can't miss seeing the Holbein Portrait of Sir Thomas More.It's so well placed and makes one realize that green is best when painted on wood. It's called the West Gallery where the imposing Veroneses are. They seem lonely and out of context with themselves, as though Veronese doesn't travel well, like some wines.

The two small Vermeers have been looked at too much.

It's most certainly your license plate. There is the comfort of seeing Bellini's Saint Francis and there is the mightiest Goya, the Rembrandts, and the Georges de La Tour's The Education of the Virgin.

Trompe l'oeil is opposed to painting as the anagram is opposed to literature.  -- Jean Baudrillard.

My Madeleine Is a Doorknob

There is a time in everyone's life when the first big moment occurs. Big moments occur often, but at a certain young age they are not and cannot be noticed because we are not yet ready. My first big moment occurred to me before I learned to ride a bicycle, which is a big moment to anyone.

So I don't know my age when I first realized a moment big enough to remember.

The door was painted an earth yellow. The other side of the door was white enamel and it was the kitchen side of the door. The earth yellow side of the door was the bedroom side which was closed during the winter and open in the summer to allow a breeze to carry throughout the house. From the bedroom, when the door was open, I could see through the kitchen on through to the next room where there was a piano.

I can stand on the throw rug in the bedroom and see how the rug touched the linoleum on the kitchen floor. The door opened into the bedroom, and as it opened and closed it was mounted high enough that it didn't touch, not even scrape, the throw rug.

There was such a difference in my life when it was warm enough to allow this door to be open because I could walk through the bedroom door onto the linoleum, through the kitchen into the room with the piano, and not stop for any door to open or close.

In winter, the bedrooms were never heated and I was allowed to put my pillow near the coal range in the kitchen and warm it. Then I would push the door to the bedroom open and run to my bed and lie on my warm pillow until I felt the warmth come round, then slowly move to cold spots and warm them with my leg or arm. Lying on the warm pillow, I usually fell asleep before all this warming-up was noticed.

This door that closed off the bedroom from the kitchen in winter had a doorknob but no mechanical workings to cause the door to latch.  It merely scooted into its place, making a muffled scraping sound. If the door wasn't completely pulled to, it only touched the door jamb. Everyone who lived in this house knew to push the door to its final place so when the door was closed it was closed all the way. Only visitors did not know to push or pull the door to its final position, and that was always noticed. Who has been here? It was a question anyone living here would ask.

The white enamel paint on the kitchen side of the door did not turn the corner to the thickness of the door. Nor did the earth yellow paint on the bedroom side of the door. So the thickness side of the door was not really painted. It was a gray-white, with some white enamel, and some earth yellow. This made me begin to think about what I was seeing.

I began seeing the doorknob that did not work because the mechanics of a latching door had never been installed. The doorknob was not tightly installed, either, so that the doorknob slipped back and forth according to if it were pushed or pulled, and I began thinking about that too.

This was the first time that I saw what was there. A throw rug touching a linoleum, a door that didn't close nor open like the usual door, and the slipping door knob. It had all been there as long as I had lived in this house, and on this day I noticed it.

I knew that this was not something to talk to anyone about, and this was also the first time I knew it was only me observing this door, there was nothing wrong, there was nothing to fix. It was the way it was, and I saw and understood it all by myself.

From that time everything was different. I began seeing things in another way. Checked all the doorknobs in the house just to see them for the first time with my new way of seeing and understanding what things were. I knew that this was the biggest moment of my life and it caused me to watch everything in my way.