The Conjuring

This year, in December, it will be fifteen years since my father died. His presence feels further and further away as time passes. That’s what happens to the departed – they recede into something sketchy and fragmentary. Spectral-like. Not random loose bits and pieces zig-zagging about, but not whole either. Yes, I can accurately recall the precise tone and timbre of my father’s voice, and his body movements and shape when he walked or sat in a chair. But he’s not here. The full man, ghostly or otherwise, is simply not here. He’s not here to DO anything or SAY anything or exert any action or influence. He’s not here to solve problems, lose his temper, or play his trumpet, or mix a martini … or give me shit about one thing or another.

If we make a conscious, deliberate effort to ‘bring’ the dead to us, we can conjure them in our minds and forcibly make them return. But it’s a temporary sensation … and a strained one. I know there are many people who sincerely believe and swear that they feel the actual, living presence of a departed loved one, and even communicate with them. I heard a lot of that, expressed very earnestly, in my grief counseling group. God bless those folks, truly. But I guess I differ on this subject. To me, the absence is thoroughly overpowering. So much so that all the living memories in the world can’t tamp it down. If anything, all the conjuring and remembering only amplifies the absence. I honestly feel like the dead are perfectly secure in their escape from earthly affairs and having shuffled off their mortal coil. It’s us, the living, who insist that they finish their business and continue their roles in our lives. But really, let’s face it, they’re done with us. And they probably wish we’d stop bothering them. John Kennedy is somewhere in the afterlife thinking, “You fuckers shot me in the head. Leave me alone now, ok? I’m out.”

This photo was taken on my wedding day, September 19, 1998. Dad and I in the limo on our way to church. When we got to the upper east side of Manhattan we unexpectedly hit serious traffic due to the Steuben Day Parade on Fifth Avenue. So yeah, my father and I were late to my wedding! I remember making a crack about it to my Dad, because he and I were habitually the ‘late’ types of our family, while my brother and my mother were always perfectly, and annoyingly, on time. A propensity for lateness was one of many behavioral and character traits he and I shared.

This photo makes me laugh because, on what was supposed to be a joyous day, both my father and I look like we were headed to the guillotine. But I can break down what’s going on here. Dad was just nervous about all the planning and hoping that things would go smoothly, fidgeting with his bow tie as he eyed the Saturday traffic. And I, with my “What the hell am I doing?” expression, was wrestling with uncertainty and apprehension about the whole thing. An apprehension well beyond mere wedding day “cold feet”. It turns out that my instincts were correct, as instincts always are. The marriage was over after four years. And Dad would die of a stroke two years after that. Maybe both of us should have just stayed in that limo and kept on driving.

Given the strife and difficulties I’ve had to endure with my family these past couple of years, I’ve come to resent my father for having stranded me with my mother and my brother. It’s incredibly stupid, I know. My father didn’t have a stroke and die on his bedroom floor on purpose. But my current frustrations and hopelessness have led me to this irrational, inane interpretation. Mom and Chris are profoundly aligned in personality. That makes me outnumbered, unheard, and unable to maneuver effectively without a wingman. Dad abandoned me to deal with them all by myself, and I’m furious at him for it. So when sincere, well-meaning people counsel me to seek guidance from my father’s ‘spirit’ I can’t help but think to myself, “Oh please. That is sooo not helpful”. He’s not here. He did his best and made a great impact when he was here. But he’s not here now. That’s the reality.

Understand that I’m not discounting the significance of memories, and past experiences, or the lasting influence of loved ones. We can and will continue to play the ‘conjuring’ game, in which we mistake echos for present vibrations, transplant a voice from the past into this afternoon, and deceive ourselves into thinking the dead haven’t already fully and completely moved on to the kingdom. We can always do this, and seek solace in such a way. It harms no one to do it. But for this Father’s Day, I will just messily and angrily confront the blinding, handicapping void left by my father’s absence, banging away at the keys on my laptop right now as I gulp down red wine and vent that I’m super pissed off at him for not being here. But also, I’ll conjure up the limo ride on those gridlocked Manhattan streets in pre-911 New York City one more time. My Dad’s tie, my unkempt bridal veil, and a throng of marching German-American New Yorkers waving to us at red lights. Love you Dad, and miss you more than you know. Happy Father’s Day guys …

Studio Spirits

Hellooooo Museworthy friends! It seems that I took the entire month of May as a hiatus, which was totally planned of course! <— not really 😆 But I’m back now and will do my best to not use this blog as a sounding board for my life’s aggravations and distresses. Can’t make any promises though. I’ve been attending counseling fairly regularly, but besides that I haven’t been taking very good care of myself unfortunately. Then last week an aggressive assault of seasonal allergies swooped in which was bizarrely debilitating. It’s just pollen dammit! I estimate that I coughed and sneezed at least 80,000 times in five days 🤧

I’d like to pay tribute to a local artist who was among the regular loyal attendees at Minerva’s Drawing Studio for years. Walter Lynn Mosley passed away a few months ago after a valiant battle with cancer. A most lovely gentleman, Walter is sorely missed at the studio. His gentle, polite, kind-hearted demeanor was a welcome presence, and his respect for the models made him a particularly beloved studio regular among us models. Walter lived and breathed art of all subject matter – whether figure drawings and portraits, plein-air and landscape, or still lifes. He continued to create art throughout his final weeks, making sketches of staff and visitors at the hospice. Here  is just a sampling of Walter’s portrait drawings of the studio models. His sensitivity and thoughtfulness clearly shines through.

This is me, by Walter Lynn Mosley:

Donna:

Freddy:

Kuan:

Our tribute to dear, departed artists continues with the recent passing of an art world giant. Renowned portrait painter Everett Raymond Kinstler died on May 26th at the age of 92. Back when I was still a fairly new artist’s model, I was booked for my first ever painting workshop, instructed by Ray Kinstler! It took place over a Saturday-Sunday at the National Academy of Design. I had no modeling-for-a-workshop experience at the time, but it turned out to be a wonderful weekend. Kinstler was not just a charismatic teacher but also a great storyteller and raconteur. Very entertaining and funny man. A dyed-in-the-wool native New Yorker with an engaging personality. I remember taking a seated pose, wearing a colorful kimono, and just before we set the timer Ray approached me to adjust my hand placement. He said he wanted it to look “more natural”. See, I told you I was inexperienced! It bothers me to think that I was once, way back when, a little ‘stiff’ in my posing. But there was Ray Kinstler to set me straight.

Tony Bennett, who was an art student before he became a successful singer, posted this tribute to Raymond Kinstler on Twitter that I thought was worth sharing:

Two artists have passed; one venerable and illustrious, the other of more modest renown and local esteem. And I am privileged to have posed for both of them. This long art modeling career of mine has blessed me with such a glorious scope of experiences, and I’m astounded at times when I think of the multitudes of crossed paths, remembered details, demos and easels, the sounds and sights and settings, the voices and faces and paint-splattered smocks, the artists known, lesser-known, and even the unknowns. And with the recent graduation of the New York Academy of Art’s class of 2019, the soon-to-be “knowns” are embarking on their post-art school journeys. We art models truly are witnesses to the careers and dreams of others. It’s a profession like no other.

Since today is Monday and we haven’t had a Music Monday in ages, I’d like to share a recording by a vocalist I only recently became aware of. I heard this on the jazz radio station WBGO and it absolutely blew me away. She goes by the name Yebba, and she’s an Arkansas native. Stylistically, if you like Adele you’ll like Yebba. Here she accompanies the brilliant pianist James Francies in the unique and expressive “My Day Will Come”. It really got under my skin, and will maybe get under yours as well. Love you all, and I’ll see you soon 🙂

Giving and Receiving

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I take better care of my cat Jessie than I do of myself. She eats better than I do, sleeps better than I do, looks better than I do, gets better medical care than I do, and has more leisure time than I do. Her life is one of unfettered individual liberty. She commits violent crimes by killing birds and mice and answers to no one, and can roam freely outdoors and trespass on my neighbors’ property with impunity. Why can’t I trespass on my neighbors’ property? 😆 The other day I purchased for Jessie a brand new cat bed – soft, cushiony, and a bit more expensive than I can really afford on my shoestring budget. But like I said, she is the beneficiary of my limited largesse. And I’m not alone. In 2017, it was estimated that Americans spent almost $70 billion on their pets. Billion. 

So I presented the cat bed to Jessie, and for six whole days this is how she responded to it. “Eh? What is this thing? I’ll stick with the floor”. Dammit! The cat bed was a bust.

Yes, it’s funny. And at least Jessie blends in beautifully with the colors and pattern of my rug, doesn’t she? So then I was modeling for Kamilla Talbot‘s watercolor class and showed the picture to everyone. After a few laughs, one of the students suggested that, since cats are somewhat turned off by unfamiliar things, I should put an article of my clothing on the bed so she can smell me. Seemed worth a try. I placed my folded sweatpants on the cat bed and, lo and behold, here’s my sweet girl. Cat bed: Take Two. Mission accomplished! Never thought my purple sweatpants had such magical powers.

There is, of course, much more to give in this life than overpriced cat beds. Our time for one thing. So after tending to my pampered feline, I turned to my fellow humans and had the privilege of volunteering with my favorite local outreach organization, NYC Relief. Their primary service is the Relief Bus, a mobile soup kitchen that serves at various locations throughout the city. I blogged about it in 2017. On this day, I helped out at the Relief Co-op in lower Manhattan where we distributed clothing and other items to New Yorkers in need while they awaited Life Care consultations with staff members. Our clothing closet was fantastically well-stocked, and the volunteer team worked attentively as “personal shoppers” for each client. It was a great day.

For those of who you are on Instagram, I recommend following NYC Relief there. They post wonderful photographs and stories: @nyc_relief

Matthew 25:35-40

Children of the Arts

When my father died in December 2004, my mother, my brother, and I managed to organize the funeral arrangements as we not only processed our heartbreak, but also while in a collective state of shell-shock. Numbing, bewildering shock. Dad died suddenly, you see. He collapsed onto his bedroom floor, brought down by a catastrophic stroke. He was dead in an instant. As the three of us spent the next couple of days making phone calls, sorting through old photos and mementos, writing our eulogies, and comforting each other in our grief, we agreed to let family and friends know that in lieu of flowers they should make a donation to the Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving music education in public schools. For those of you who may not know, my father was a musician – a trumpet player who once contemplated a career trading stocks on Wall Street but opted for one in music instead. He supported his family, paid the bills, and put food on the table for over forty years by playing his trumpet.

Arts education in schools in an issue near and dear to my heart, and to my family’s heart. I was reminded of this subject with the recent passing of Roy Hargrove, jazz trumpet player and Grammy award winner, who burst onto the scene during the 1980s. I distinctly remember overhearing my Dad ask a fellow musician, “Have you heard this kid Hargrove?”. To say there was a ‘buzz’ surrounding him in jazz circles would be an understatement.

Born in Waco, Texas, Roy Hargrove attended the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. It was there that the 16 year old Hargrove was discovered by Wynton Marsalis who was blown away by the young trumpeter’s skills and took him under his wing. The Booker T Washington School was originally founded in 1892 as a school for African-American students. During the 1970s it was transformed into an “arts magnet”; a public school with specialized curricula devoted to arts study.

Here in New York City, magnet schools of all kinds, both arts and academic, have been an integral part of our public school system for decades. (When I was growing up we didn’t call them magnets, we called them “specialized schools”). From the Bronx High School of Science, to Art and Design in midtown, to the old High School of Music and Art which resided adjacent to the City College campus in Harlem, to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, magnets have provided the young people of NYC with priceless opportunities for enrichment, to grow, thrive, and explore their innate talents. I know many, many people – native New Yorkers all – who are alumni of our city’s arts magnet schools, and every one of them will attest to the significance of their high school experience and speak with tremendous fondness for that period in their life. It far surpasses their feelings about college.

Innate talent was something Roy Hargrove had in spades. Would he have found success had he not attended an arts magnet? It’s impossible to know. But we do know that his future mentor, Wynton Marsalis, found him there. Marsalis wrote a magnificent, deeply touching tribute to his protégé on his Facebook page. The news of Hargrove’s death was quite shocking, as he was only 49 years old. The NPR obituary for him is worth reading. This descriptive passage stands out:

“A briskly assertive soloist with a tone that could evoke either burnished steel or a soft, golden glow, Hargrove was a galvanizing presence in jazz over the last 30 years. Dapper and slight of build, he exuded a sly, sparkling charisma onstage, whether he was holding court at a late-night jam session or performing in the grandest concert hall. His capacity for combustion and bravura was equaled by his commitment to lyricism, especially when finessing a ballad on flugelhorn.”

For our Music Monday, we pay tribute to both Roy Hargrove and all the young creatives encouraged and celebrated at arts magnets throughout the country. While we all go about our days living our busy lives, remember that in a school somewhere in America, a teenager is sitting in a music room practicing on her violin, or gathering with classmates after lunch to jam some jazz riffs, or choreographing an original dance number. Those young people need us. More importantly, we need them. And props to Booker T Washington School for the Arts in Dallas. Keep up the great work! Here’s Roy and his band killing it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2001. RIP.

Model Musings

Greetings from a recently baked and broiled New York City! The hellish heat wave has now passed, thank God. Still, summer is in full swing, and for nude art models working during this season it means no need for studio space heaters 😆

Speaking of art modeling, Museworthy reader and model Dave kindly sent me an article that I thought was well written and enjoyable. “The naked truth about nude art modeling” by Robin Eileen Bernstein. One of the models quoted in the article, Alan, is a good friend of mine. The piece has lots of good insights throughout. Folks interested in the subject as either artist or model might want to give it a read. Thanks for sharing, Dave!

And since we’re talking about posing nude, here is a work-in-progress of my torso from an ongoing summer gig, Sculpting the Figure at the New York Academy of Art. By Matt White:

Heavenly Bodies

Every spring the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute puts on a themed exhibition. It is launched with the star-studded, red carpet Costume Gala – a fundraiser chaired by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. While previous themes have been hit or miss, this year’s theme, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, is enigmatic and quite spellbinding. Now I’m no fashionista by any means. The lone black Calvin Klein party dress in my closet is my one go-to garment for special occasions. And I bought it on sale! 😆 But it can’t be denied that couture designers are true artists. They are full of creative expression, vision, and virtuosity, doing things with silk, satin, tulle, chiffon, beading, draping, and accessorizing that I couldn’t imagine ever doing myself. Pairing these designers with the Catholicism theme would naturally produce an exhibition that is theatrical, intense, mystical, and visually dazzling.

The Catholic faith practice utilizes a treasure trove of accoutrements and adornments. It is rich and elaborate, beautiful in its devotion and layered depths and textures, with saints, statues, and icons, incense and chalices, veils and intricate vestments, Madonnas and Virgin Marys, angels and archangels, holy water and rosary beads, Latin mass and “in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti”. Put these inspirational elements in the hands of fashion creatives and you have quite a show. But as one would expect, this year’s theme also brought its share of controversy. While New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan was completely supportive and even attended the gala, other Catholic voices and clergy were not so approving, calling the display sacrilegious and profane. They were particularly offended when pop star Rihanna showed up wearing a miter – the headdress that is worn only by bishops.

I recently attended the exhibition with my dear friend Janet Cook and we really enjoyed experiencing it together. So much fun! I want to share some of my photos here. “Heavenly Bodies” is on display in three locations: there are papal robes and accessories on loan from the Vatican in the Anna Wintour Costume Center. No photos were allowed there, but they’re definitely worth seeing. Then there are the fashions displayed throughout the Byzantine and medieval wing of the Met. And third are more garments and objects uptown at the Met Cloisters. My photos are just from the medieval wing. “Heavenly Bodies” is on view until October 8, so if you’re visiting New York this summer, check it out!

Angel wings by Alexander McQueen:

Christian Lacroix:

Thierry Mugler:

Valentino:

Dolce and Gabbana:

Riccardo Tisci:

Yves Saint Laurent:

Various designers in the ‘Celestial Hierarchy’ gallery:

A row of glittery Versace:

John Galliano:

This Jean Paul Gaultier was one of mine and Janet’s favorites:

And this is the one that got us in trouble. The description said the fabric was jersey, and Janet and I wanted to touch it. So Janet, for what seemed like only a millisecond, touched the fabric between her fingers. Sure enough, a hawk-eyed Met guard came right over to us and said, “Ma’am, ma’am, please, you can’t do that!”. Busted. We apologized, then laughed and cowered away in shame 😆

Alphabet City with Fred

Today is the birthday of my very dear friend Fred Hatt. Happy Birthday Fred!!!! 🙂 Fred and I are both celebrating significant birthdays this year: 60 for him, 50 for me (July). So to commemorate our milestone decades we plan to prolong the party through the summer and deal with aging in the best possible way; by having fun, appreciating each other, and enjoying the big city we both call home.

Last Thursday night Fred and I attended an event in the East Village; “I Ching Alchemy” sculptures and video projection show by our mutual friend Lili White. It was held outdoors in Le Petit Versailles Garden between Avenue A and B – the section of downtown Manhattan known as ‘Alphabet City’. Nobody is better at converting dumpy urban lots into community gardens than East Villagers. They have a gift for it. The space of the Petit Versailles garden was, decades ago, an auto chop shop. Now it’s flower beds, trees, little rock-lined paths, pottery shards, empty picture frames, glass balls, mirrors, ribbons, strings of skull head lights, Tibetan figurines, loose tiles, and any quirky found object that occupies a spot. A busted ceramic urn? Stick it in there. It’s a garden folks, East Village style. The residents down there are fiercely civic-minded, and they will take care of things themselves if the city ignores them. Actually, they prefer it that way. And if raising rents force some thrift shop or vinyl record store out of business they have a collective meltdown 😆

Hanging out with Fred means seeing him suddenly whip out his camera to snap a photo. Nothing escapes this man’s eye! He spotted the shadow shapes that formed on the brick face of the building, just around dusk. With the warm glow of the light strings it created an interesting vision. So I took a photo myself:

The 1958 baby and the 1968 baby 🙂 Fred and I, selfie in the garden. My brilliant, beautiful best buddy whose friendship I value beyond words. The very first friend I made as an artist’s model.

Drawing of me by Fred from 2015. Created at Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn:

It’s not a Music Monday but we’ll have a Music Tuesday instead! As Lili’s video installation projected onto the side of the building, a fantastic old song accompanied her images. A great choice that truly reflected the spirit of the evening. Please enjoy “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, a classic R&B song from 1975. Buoyant, catchy, uplifting, meaningful. So good. You’ll be up and dancing by the end. 🙂