Monday, February 9, 2015

Paintings with Photographs

'Pergamon II' painting on photo, 19" x 13", 2015
The 'Pergamon' paintings, shown above and below, include fragments of the stunning 2nd century BC 'Pergamon Alter.' This immense frieze is now housed within the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. When I took these photos - on the 4th of July 1982 - the museum was then called the Berlin State Museum and was located in East Berlin. The Wall was still up. It was torn down seven years later in 1989. 

On that day in '82 we had to cross the underground border at 'Checkpoint Charlie' in order to enter East Berlin. Border guards detained us for half an hour in the grim, under-lit subway station. They emptied all of our pockets and even unwrapped a balled-up chewing gum wrapper to see if it had secrets written on it. They pointedly harassed my friend and German scholar Daisey Davidson until she was in tears. They saw a notation in invisible ink on her passport. 

Her crime was bringing over cans of vegetables and toilet paper to a family she knew on a previous trip. After Daisey burst into tears, the guards were satisfied that they had done their manly work. We were allowed to cross. Emerging out of the station into the sunlight we saw buildings in almost-deserted streets still pockmarked by shrapnel from WWII. 

I'm not even sure if taking photos at the museum was permitted. But there were no guards and no other visitors, so I just went ahead and did it. This is the first time that prints have been made from the negatives. The negatives have been stored in a box for the last 33 years.

Pergamon I

As many readers who follow this blog know, for years I have been making abstract paintings on paper in a very small-sized format, about 15 by 11 inches. But in 2014 I began to combine photographs with paintings. These are a little bigger; 19" x 13". This began with what some of my friends have referred to as the 'Africa Series.' (See the earlier post here called, 'Sierra Leone, West Africa, 1974). They employ mostly black and white negatives that I printed 'full-frame.' That means no editing of the overall image or change in proportion. I also endeavored to interfere minimally with the condition of the negatives or slides. If one had a really bad scratch, as 'City Hotel' in Freetown did, well, it just got left in as part of the work.

City Hotel, Freetown, Sierra Leone
In the newer ones shown here, I've partially abandoned photographic principles formerly held dear. Now they are sometimes not full-frame, color is wantonly employed, sizes are random and they are routinely Photo-shopped at-will to repair gross imperfections. Since all standards seem to have become negotiable, even the most sacred - that they were all taken solely by me during the past 40-plus years - is also history. In this respect I am referring to the image below titled 'Northern Light / Gleam.' This handsome shot of the pre-war, 12 Meter sloops Northern Light (blue hull) and Gleam (foreground) was taken by my friend Lane duPont in the waters off of Newport, RI. (Both sailboats were found sunk. They were raised and restored by my late childhood friend, Bob Tiedemann. In 1977 Bob took showers at my South Stamford sculpture studio when he was otherwise living in his van on City Island while restoring Gleam).

The principle that has not changed is the one central to them all - that every painting remains faithful to its subject.


Northern Light / Gleam

Scott, AR

Attica '71


Köln I

Köln II

A brief note on paintings titled Köln I and Köln II:

In 1982 I was having dinner in Cologne (Köln), Germany with the late, noted architect OM Ungers and his family. He took us to a very traditional local restaurant for dinner. The place was so local that one item on the dessert menu was called, "Cologne Caviar." In fact, it was actually a plate of blutwurst - their beloved blood sausage! 

Over coffee I asked Mr. Ungers if he could think of any architectural treasures that must be seen before leaving town. He immediately began to draw a sketch on a coaster. He talked enthusiastically while he sketched one of the Roman-influenced columns at St Mary's Chapel in the Old Town. These are the columns shown in the above paintings. He especially loved the transition from round to square at the top; the elegance and simplicity. On the following day I found the Chapel and took this photo. OM was right. They are lovely.


A personal note regarding today, 9 February 2015:

Since the creation of this art / design blog in 2012, I have had 9,999 'page views' to date from dozens of countries all over the World. Perhaps as I am typing this it will go to 10,000. To me it is nothing short of a miracle that this is possible - that people not just in the USA but also in the Philippines, Ukraine, Turkey, Hong Kong, France, Vietnam and elsewhere can read what a guy at his desk in Sharon, CT is saying and displaying; what he thinks is important 

My grandmother, Bernice Rockwell Peck, was born in 1898 in Olean, NY. Her father had a small, somewhat primitive one-man farm. She left home to study watercolor and painting at Pratt in New York City during WWI. Her first job after finishing school was teaching art at the Port Chester, NY high school between the world wars. If she were alive today I wonder what she would make of what her grandson does and of the 'cyber' communications world that we all now routinely take for granted.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sierra Leone, West Africa, 1974

Freetown in Blue

Tinguilinta in Red


I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 1974. About 200 of us came over on a flight from Philadelphia. We stayed in the capitol, Freetown, to take language lessons and wait for our specific assignments. Sometimes - following in Graham Green's footsteps - we would go to the City Hotel for a beer. He wrote his first novel, The Heart of the Matter, in Freetown during WWII.

Fifteen year old prostitutes from Liberia would sit on the front porch of the City Hotel waiting for customers. Russian sailors stood at the bar having a drink. Uzi machine guns on their backs.

After Freetown we went inland to Bo for further instruction. We met a number of German families also living in a compound nearby. Everybody there kept a pet mongoose to keep the deadly 'two step' snakes (green mambas) at bay. Spitting cobras were common too.

The Abu Construction Company was rebuilding the road system in the entire country. The Chinese were rebuilding the rail lines. The United States provided the Peace Corps Volunteers. I traveled to Kenema by bus as I was supposed to eventually be posted at the Kenema Technical Institute. That town has lately been in the news as a center for Ebola treatment. 

Now, for the first time in forty years, I am printing the black and white negatives of photos taken there . They are the subjects for new paintings on paper. I took these photographs with a Topcon Super-D 35mm film camera. It had a fixed 50mm 1.4 lens. That used to be considered a 'normal' lens; closest to the view you see with your eye. In those days I used Kodak Tri-X 400 ASA film. The film was developed in a lab in Africa. Negatives have been stored in a box ever since.

 19" x 13" paintings:

Boy Under Grapefruit Tree

Bundu Dance

City Hotel


Boy Under Grapefruit Tree


City Hotel

Boys Rolling Tires in Green, Kenema, studio view.

A '60s postcard of Freetown. That's the City Hotel in the middle, behind the Texaco sign.

11" x 8 1/2" Paintings:

City Hotel, Freetown

Woodworking Class, Kenema

Launch to Tinguilinta at Anchor

'Head,' painted wood, H. 15", 2014.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Art with no politics, no hatred.

This morning Bartley and I were talking over coffee about how artists use unpleasant subjects and images in order to get attention; painter Jenny Saville; the new Met Opera performance of 'Death of Klinghoffer,' etc. My answer to her was that sometimes the most powerful, touching and courageous art demonstrates restraint; is not at all bombastic. She replied, "Honey, I wish you would post that." I said OK.
Here are representations of fall colors expressed in two ways. They are photos I took of four Canada Geese landing in a pond at dusk. And an ancient dance in a very poor West African town. Simple statements. With actual and implied references to landscape. Nothing about butchery or killing diseases. No politics, no hatred.
As I'm typing this I just received an e-mail from a friend in London: "...yes, the world is going mad……… p.s. the art world runs on greed."

Canada geese landing in water; bold horizontal landscape elements.
Sharon, CT, 21 October 2014.

A Bundu ceremonial dance in Kenema, Sierra Leone, 1974.
Painting on paper with photo, 19" x 13", 2014

Additional Paintings on Paper

'Brown and Gold Summer Field'

'St. John's, Hong Kong'

'Vermont Landscape'

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

'Distilled,' A Group Show in New York, September, 2014

'Distilled' is open through 25 October 2014

A very high-quality show in New York at 
Bernard Jacobson,17 East 71st Street.
212-879-1100 Open Tues - Sat  10 to 6

Small paintings by: Robert Motherwell, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Bell, Marc Vaux, William Tillyer, Christian de Boschnek, Vicky Colombet, Nicola Ginzel, Eric Holtzman, Kazimira Rachfal, John Scofield

L-R: John Scofield and Diana Erdos, curator and gallery
director at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery, NYC. 

Two small paintings on view at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery to 26 July.

The private viewing room in the rear of the gallery.

'A Murder of Crows'   John Scofield

'Landscape in Mars Yellow'    John Scofield

Bernard Jacobson Gallery

17 East 71st Street
New York, NY 10021

diana (at)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Furniture: 40 Years of Designing and Building

The first juried show I was ever in was titled, "Things," 1972. It was at the Brockton Art Center in MA. Jack Lenor Larsen was the juror. There are two tables shown that I designed and made (see arrows). The one on the plinth in maple and rosewood is called 'On Point.' On the floor is a cherry table with a lamp in a carved 'landscape' underneath.

My first juried group exhibition."Things," Brockton Art Center, MA 1972.

This is my 'Colored Chair' in Robert Motherwell's Greenwich, CT living room. He had an apartment above the painting, collage and printmaking studios. That's the couch on which we watched Jimmy Carter win the election in '76. This chair is now in the Lewis collection, Richmond, VA. Photo taken in 1985.
My mahogany and pear-wood 'Chest of Drawer' end-table with a Joseph Cornell 'box' on top. That's one of Bob Motherwell's abstract paintings hung on the rear wall in ocher and black. Two African masks are on the upper-right.
A detail of the chest / table shown above.

'Black Mesa Clock'    Height: 2M
This clock contains a classic American hand-made bell-strike movement. The bell was made in a small British factory that has been making the same bells for hundreds of years. The dial was made of bisque-fired porcelain especially for this piece.

Rear of clock showing Jack Lenor Larsen stretched fabric.
When the bell chimes the hour, it will continue to ring for a full minute after it is struck. Most tall case clocks muffle the tone. The rear fabric panel allows the sound to be more easily transmitted into the room. Jack Larsen personally helped me select this fabric design from his extensive line.

Detail of clock with key for doors.
To wind the movement or inspect the lower weights, the key is turned to open the upper or lower front doors.

'Greek Mountain Table'
A small end table that has four small 'bird cage' columns supporting the top. The base was stuccoed by hand with a tinted mix.

'Lysistrata Table'
A small writing table named after the principal character in a comedy written by Aristophanes. Carved and painted maple legs are connected by means of an iron apron. The top is in figured 'birds's eye' maple.

'Flag Back Chair'
A painted wood and metal chair prototype. It is intended to have a formed leather seat and back. A hidden spring mechanism in the back allows it to recline.

'Landscape Chest'
This chest has twenty drawers and over one hundred dovetail joints.

'I Miss You' table, twin towers street side.
A few days after 9/11 a gold Mylar balloon landed in the David Austen rose bush outside of my Amenia, NY studio. I picked it out of the thorns and examined it. It bore the hand written legend, "I Miss You." Some time soon afterward a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Mary Lanning, said to me, "Oh yes, we released hundreds of those balloons in Harlem." I decided to make a commemorative table in honor of Sister Lanning's efforts to promote healing and reconciliation.

'I Miss You' table, river side.

'3 Sided Glass Top Table with 4 Legs'
Carved and painted maple, forged iron, glass.

'Carved Mahogany Bench'    Shown in Robert Motherwell's collage studio 1970s.
This bench has a cabinet with colored glass and a small drawer built into it.

'Thalassia Coat Rack'
Painted oak with a metal pan on the base to collect water from dripping coats and boots.

'My Wooden Herculaneum'
Another small table based on the double bird cage theme.

'My Wooden Herculaneum'

'Night Sky Table'
A dining table that seats eight. Hundreds of stars are painted on the top in the manner of the Milky Way.

'Night Sky Table'

'Exhibition with Paintings Studies'
The 'Equestrian Bench' and '3 Sided Glass Top Table..' were exhibited in NYC at the Franklin Parrasch Gallery in 1990. I often use very large paintings on paper to finalize these designs as shown above. L-R: 'Her Moods' (after a poem by W.H. Auden), the 'Bruno Chair' (my son's middle name).

'S. Maria Novella Humidor'
A humidor with a cast bronze base and painted mahogany box. S. Maria Novella is my favorite building in Florence. The Gothic arches with alternating green and white are taken from the facade of the church.

'S. Maria Novella Humidor'
Shown with the top open.

'3 Shadows Table'
Carved and painted maple, forged iron, glass.

'Ribbon Table'
Forged iron and glass.

'Folding Music Stand'
Designed in 1971. This stand is often used as an easel to display framed art. The Folding Music Stand design is in the permanent collections at MoMA and at The Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.

Forged iron picnic table with free-edge spruce board top.