Sunday, August 2, 2009

Leaving the Fenway studios

I am fighting the technology again tonight. Those of you who follow the blog closely know I have replaced mu old, dead laptop, with an HP unit, it lasted about two weeks before the keyboard stopped working. I took it back to Best Buy, they didn't have another like it, so they gave me a new Toshiba. It is running really badly too. I must take it back on Monday. I have been going around and around with this for about three weeks. How it matters tonight is that I can't load photoshop. So instead of a crit I will do another installment of my personal history. That has been pretty colorful, and there are several installments that precede tonight's. They are here in the archives headed not autobiography,that includes a lot of things, but my chronological history.
When I left off the story I was living in the old Fenway studios and studying with R. H. Ives Gammell.

Studying in the Fenway studios was endless work, not much social life and no amenities, bathroom down the hall and no heat at night. After about two years, it really started to get old. But I was learning a lot from Gammell and it seemed worth the trade off. We students drew lots of figures copied drawings at the Fogg museum and paintings at the Boston museum. We painted along the Charles river and in the Fenway, a large city park.
I sublet my studio from an artist who had long since moved out of the building but still kept his studio. He rented it to me and I never saw him. I just sent him a check every month. The studio was sparsely furnished with a foldout sofa on which I slept, a dresser and a small table and a couple of chairs. One day I came home from painting and all of the furniture was gone. My clothes were on the floor where the dresser had been, and my sheets were on the floor where the foldout sofa had been. After a period of puzzlement and distress, I called the artist landlord, and sure enough, he had come into the studio with no notice and taken all of the furniture for some friend of his. Although I had rented the studio furnished, he felt that it was OK to take the furniture. Without leaving a note. I know its not polite to speak ill of the dead (which he now is) so I will only say that evidentally he was a decent fellow if you caught him sober, and I simply had the misfortune of never having done so.

I no longer felt like I wanted to sublet the studio and I was real tired of living that hard. So a friend of mine, a student of another painter named Robert Cormier, and I rented an apartment a few blocks away on Commonwealth ave. It is a tony address now, but then it was the student ghetto. The building into which we moved was full of music students from Berkleee school of music which was nearby. Now we had a refrigerator and a bathroom and all the comforts of modern life except maybe an elevator. It was a 5th floor walkup. Since the building had high ceilings it was more like a 7th floor walkup. It kept you in good shape anyways.

I was mostly painting landscape by this point, which must have been about 1975. David, my roommate, and I copied paintings at the Boston museum, he was copying Jan Van Goyen and I was copying a head of Isabella Brandt by Rubens. We talked a lot about art theories as art students that age do, and we had both developed a love for painting of the Dutch and of Rubens. As we admired those paintings it gradually became obvious to us that something was missing from the training we were receiving . We were being told that we should paint as much as we could like nature, and we already made paintings that looked more like nature than the baroque art we were admiring so much. That was a real philosophical problem. If the point of art was to paint like nature and we painted, or at least had friends who painted more like nature than the old masters, weren't we better artists than the old masters. We knew that wasn't so........

That realization started me on a road that diverged from the Boston school and to a different destination. It was during this period that Robert Douglas Hunter, who I guess could be called the dean of the contemporary Boston school, spent so much time mentoring me. He would come out to where I was working around the city of Boston and critique my efforts. There didn't seem to be a lot of conflict between what I was doing outside and his teaching, but the link between me and the Boston school method was weakening.

I was driving cabs several nights a week and now had friends who were musicians, mostly guitar players. I began to have a little more of a social life and I was emerging from the cloistered life of the Fenway milieu. I was working one day a week at the Guild of Boston Artists, an organization of which I am now a member. That was also bringing me into contact with older professional landscape painters like Bernard Corey and Paul Strisik. At that point neither of those guys knew I was alive, but I was admiring their work and would later know them both much better. Working at the Guilds classy Newbury street gallery was a real education for me. I am sure I walked away with far more than I gave them in my work there.

One day Robert Douglas Hunter asked if I would meet him there on a Sunday and help him out for an afternoon. At the appointed time I met Hunter,(driving a nice Mercury Bobcat wagon) in front of the Guild. He had one of the Vose brothers in the car with him. We drove across the BU bridge to Cambridge and there, across the street from MIT was an old brick warehouse. It was the sort that they used to letter FIREPROOF on the side in big block letters. We went up the elevator and down the hallway, through an arched brick doorway into a room filled with paintings. It was the estate of William Paxton, the American impressionist. Although he had died long before, his widow had lived on for many years. She had been close to Hunter and in her last years,and when she died, entrusted the estate to him. This was the first time anyone had gone through these paintings in many years. There must have been a hundred of them there. My job was to hold up the paintings one by one, so Hunter and Vose could examine each of them, and know the quality of what was there. Many of the great Paxtons in the museums and books were in that room on that day. Paxton was forgotten then. I had the good fortune to be a fly on the wall for a tiny bit of art history. It wasn't to be the last time either.
more another time...........

Remember to sign up for the September workshop in Jaffrey New Hampshire here.


Ramon said...

A room full of Paxtons!?! I'm glad you made it out alive, I think I would have had a heart attack and died with a smile on my face.

Your uneasiness with the Boston school philosophy/approach of recording nature from the optical copying point of view is really interesting. I come from the other end, in that we are discouraged from copying and our end goal is good designed, dimensional art; regardless of whether it matches the model perfectly. However, when I work on my own, I try to follow nature more closely, for the sake of learning to do it.

My goal for now is to paint with enough verisimilitude that the audience buys into the illusion, but not enough for it to get in the way of design and my personal vision. I guess I want to be convincing, not "literally accurate". I think of nature as a home depot , it has all the supplies for my project and "closeness to nature" is in aisle 3, between composition and the screwdrivers.

Look forward to tomorrow's post!


Philip Koch said...

Stapleton, that was a fabulous post. The image of you in the room full of Paxtons blows my mind. Today it seems almost impossible that they could have been so neglected only a relatively few short years ago. But then that's often how the world works.

Bet you didn't wash your hands for a week after handling those paintings.

willek said...

That photo! It is all about big. Bit hair. Big glasses. Big bottle of turps. Big jacket. Big painting and a big, big bamboo mahl stick.

I often wondered about those old studio photos of the artists dressed up in their Sunday best. Now here we see it yet again. I always thought it was probably really Sunday and they did the photography after church. But here you are working away with a wonderful Saville Row tweed jacket on. What gives with that? Did Gammell require proper dress? When I attended Pharmacy School in the Sixties, they made us wear jackets and ties to get us used to being "professional".

Also, your story about painting nature and liking stuff that is not EXACTLY from nature is an experience I have alla the time and that I am identifying with... and am having some difficulty resolving. Your blogs have got me rethinking the way I approach things. I guess that is why I have been fooling around with different pallets.

Copying is also something I have never done. If you were to copy someone else's work today, whose would it be?
Fumyedne= The goddess Ariadne's sister, the Goddess of Smoke and fire.
Sophacks=Two year old taxis

willek said...

Also... reading Ramon's comment... I guess we should all have some kind of formalized statement of purpose as individual artists, just like the big institutions and corporations, for better or worse. So I guess, after looking at Ramon's, mine would be to have enough verisimilitude that the viewer connects with my message which often has a lot to do with what is going on in the moment. Design and Composition at all times needing to not be in the way of the message.

armandcabrera said...


Great story, I would have asked for a sketch or two for helping out.

Unknown said...

I'm guessing a macbook is looking pretty tempting right now. Maybe you should wait 'till Microsoft machines migrate away from Vista.

By the way, you mention that by this point in your life you were mostly painting landscapes. Did you always want to do landscapes, or was there a point in your training that you decided to move in that direction? What was that point?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I like that Home Depot analogy a lot.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will tell the rest of that story tomorrow.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I don't remember Gammell requiring formal dress. It was shot by a photographer who did a photoshoot of me for a portfolio. I had the coat on for a number of different locations and didn't take it off at the easel. I did routinely wear it all the time though.. I wish I still had it. I have looked for another, it was from the 30's I think.

Stapleton Kearns said...

more Willek:

sophacks = sockhops for public employees.

I would like to copy Seago, of all people or maybe Sargent.

Stapleton Kearns said...

More tonight on that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I wrote a post some time ago about the first outdoor landscape and the subsequent decisions it was called an inauspicious beginning.
I am happy with a working windows machine. I got a certificate that allows me to upgrade to windows 7 in a few months and I guess I will.The current computer freezes all the time when I am writing the blog or on the . It is damaging my mental health.

Unknown said...

Arrgh! Been so busy lately I am having to catch up quick on posts! Great stuff as always.
I accidentally posted this to yesterday's post, so am posting it again here.
On the post re: books,
here is a link to Metcalf's book at greatly less expensive prices than Amazon, but still not cheap.,+the+art+of+willard+metcalf&x=72&y=15

I have another of Foster Caddell's books on Landscape painting, and find it equally as basic, yet informative as your book on color.

I bought Richard Schmid's book, and left it at Putney for him to autograph, which he was very kind to do. However, the intermediary who gave him the book to sign, couldn't quite remember my name.
"It's a three-letter name.. I think it was Kim", he told Richard. So I got a nicely autographed book to "Kim". Upon learning of the error,
Richard took the book back, scratched out "Kim", and put in "Deb", and "sorry for the mistake. Who is Kim?" and scribbled a little caricature of himself.
NOW my book is priceless. I'm so glad they got the name wrong.

"sladdle" application somewhere in between "slather" and "ladle".

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are other less expensive books on Metcalf that while not as good are affordable.

sladdle = from Wilson Pickets only cowboy song," black in the sladdle again"

Phillip St. John said...

I sell a Robert Douglas Hunter print based on a vintage 1973 painting, and a dvd about Henry Hensche I produced originally on 16mm film in 1975.
You can see about the dvd at:, and the print

   This is my first foray into print distribution, if you know how to
do it, or know anyone that does, please let them know about me.
Thanks, I need all the help I can get.
Phillip St. John
Hazard KY