Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Brother's Brushes

The reality is death affects the living. My Brother Michael’s death from AIDS turned my life upside down. Like the first mark of an epic painting, I can trace my beginnings to a single significant event. While he was yet living, Michael gave me his paint brushes. Those brushes, Isabey-Specials, 6086, 6087 and 6088 made in France have long since been retired. Though I am still an Isabey patron, I have my own brushes now. Michael’s brushes served their purpose; his death was not in vain.

Lots of ground has been covered on the way to the Director’s chair. On the job training flavored with multiple side dishes of miracles might best describe my diet along the way. If predestination and providence co-exist, know that I have tasted of their fruit. Untrained as a painter, a divine hand has guided me through the darkness out into the light. To many, even to me, it’s a mystery how I’ve come to sit in the Director’s chair of a prominent Philadelphia Art Gallery.

Michael’s art was different than mine. He painted form and figure while I cut my teeth on abstraction. Finding voice apart from my brother’s was paramount to my journey. Yet in this exploration I found comfort knowing we had both trodden a similar path. Over time my “found” voice has been massaged, tempered and flavored with lots of help from others sent across my path. Interestingly, much of that voice was cultured long before I began my tenure as a painter.

Back in Bethel, Connecticut, I grew up around photography. My father did work with Edward Steichen. In the late seventies, in Piscataway, New Jersey, I studied photography under Nathan Farb Spot toning print blemishes in his “Russians” series taught me about attention to detail. And while I was still taking pictures in the mid to late eighties, in Trenton, New Jersey, I met Matt Baumgardner a magnificent painter on his way to the “show” in New York

Unbeknownst to me, my friendship and relationship with Matt was nurturing a definitive painting voice as Michael’s heroic bout with HIV/AIDS was ushering him to the afterlife. Interestingly, Michael, on a final visit from New York to my Trenton home, got to meet Matt in his studio just across the street. Unlimited time in Matt’s studio, watching him paint and talking about his craft would pay multiple dividends. Looking back it becomes clear, by the time Michael’s brushes made it into my hands the underpinnings of a new career path had been set.