Closing the door each day

The Studio Workspace 

What is a studio to an artist? It’s a working space, a private place to explore ideas, prepare for art exhibits; a place to read, to work uninterrupted. It’s a place to be alone, away from the rest of life.

Because of the Covid-19 lockdown, I've not been able to get to my studio in LIC. So, I've been back working at home, making smaller works, and experimenting with a few ideas. But one thing I miss besides my space is the ritual I've had all these years, and that is saying out loud, "Good-bye Studio" as I close the door. It can mean a farewell to the space until tomorrow, or to the unfinished work, or in anticipation of fresh eyes seeing it the next time the door is opened.

Far from the studio I often think of my hand on the studio door, the beautiful light that one sees when entering, and my goodbye ritual. Sometimes these days it feels like nothing will ever return to the familiar.  Will I return to this ritual when I do return?

Over the years I’ve been lucky to have wonderful studios, and when I have not had one, I’ve made do - not impossible, but not preferred. I've had little alcoves with just enough room for supplies. One winter in Rome a rearranged room with a tiny table in a cheap hotel, with work pinned to the flowered wallpaper was so special. I could hear the church bells as I awoke, and opened crusty shutters to let in the winter sunshine. 

In Boston my last studio was a magnificent 1,300 SF non-live-in space with a 40' row of windows. But, despite the mystique of a bohemian workspace, it's NOT the space per se that is really important. An artist residency provides in situ space to make work, with seemingly endless time. Quaint multi-purpose houses can at first seem a bit like a getaway, but once there is work in a space, it becomes transformed into a studio.

Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio ca. 1478–82

I moved to New York in the Fall 1996, just a few months after the Metropolitian Museum of Art opened a permanent installation, one that continues to be one of my favorite places to visit. It was built for one of the most widely respected military leaders and humanists of the Renaissance, Federico Da Montefeltro, Duke of Gubbio, 1478-1482. This study, known as The Studiolo, arrived in parts at the Museum in 1939, after being removed in 1874 and sold several times. It took thirty years to restore and put in place.

In building the palaces of Renaissance Italy it was common to include a studiolo. Dukes removed themselves from their stressful responsibilities to educate themselves, to meditate and ponder ideas. Often decorated with paintings, the more elaborate studiolos were also covered in representative scenes constructed of pieced-together wood, in a technique known as intartia. The Met’s studiolo is one of the most refined and beautiful surviving today, exquisite in trompe l'oeil imagery exploring contemporary 15th Century ideas about perspective and geometry.

In January I was fortunate enough to be in Paris, as part of a multi-disciplinary residency/seminar through L'Air Arts, a Paris based organization, where 17 of us came together from different countries, participating in a group discussion of ideas and backgrounds. This particular January focused on the cross-fertilization so prevalent in the Ecole des Paris of the 1920s. Each of us shared presentations about our current work from our various points of view, as well as visiting specific cultural institutions. One private visit at the Giacometti Institute, gave us a good look at his work and lifestyle. His studio of 40 years is tastefully preserved enclosed by glass on two sides, and looks like he just stepped away, spatulas on the paint table, and tools casually placed. In a way it was true. In 1965, when Giacometti was at the height of his fame, he had numerous exhibits and travels, plus the commissions he was finishing. He was exhausted and not well. But he kept on working. He closed the door to his studio in December 1965, and boarded a train for a hospital in Chur, a town southeast of Zurich. He assumed he was coming back, assuming he’d be back at work soon. I wonder, did he have a chance to say good-bye?

Alberto Giacometti's Studio reconstructed at the Fondation Giacometti, Paris

My studio in 2018 before a visit!

Distant Views 20 years ago

Behind the Signs

In 1999 folks in New York anxiously awaited the turn of the Millennium. It was rumored that the internet would fail, our new world of digital dependence would ruin us, and all computers would crash. Escapes were planned, back-ups designed, and New Year's Eve 1999 was a dreaded event. As we know, it did not turn out to be a disaster. 

In my early years in New York, I did not have a proper studio. I made various projects here and there, and one in particular has been unearthed: the Behind the Signs series made in 1999. I'd done some freelance work for a publishing company in what was then known as the Bertelsmann Building (now named 1540 Broadway) in Times Square, and was taken to lunch at the cafeteria on the 8th floor. Out of the tall picture-glass windows I saw the structures that supported the enormous advertising signs that have put Times Square on many a postcard. From the street it was full color, full video: over-sized images of Coca Cola, TV News, Broadway shows, M&Ms, and major companies spending millions on a shot of being recorded by tourists from far and wide. But the view from the cafeteria was a different world. I was amazed and inspired to see behind those enormous signs, struck by how little color there was back there, as opposed to the gaudy colors of the other side. Some structures were old, and others of polished aluminum soared high into the sky past the 8th floor. It was truly a very different Times Square in black and white.

By chance, I also happened to know someone who worked in the building in a different company, and he offered to keep a large portfolio of my in-process drawings behind his desk. I'd ask for him at the sign-in downstairs, go to his desk, grab the portfolio and head for the cafeteria just as it opened about 11 o'clock. I was only able to stay an hour at a time before building patrons crowded the space. Hour by hour, six drawings, 30"x 22" each, emerged. Given the worry over the Y2K event, I also felt a need to finish the series by December '99. 

It's been fun to see these drawings again, for they portray an unusual take on Times Square. They are drawings of the city without people, and at a distance. They show the structures that few see or even imagine.  Being on the street looking up, shielding eyes from the bright colors and garish moving images, one usually does not think of the black and white world behind the signs. Today, with distancing, quiet streets and avenues, and few people, these drawings from 20 years ago resonate in ways I could not conjure up when I made them. 

See all six drawings in Archives.