It came back like a flash when I ran across this drawing. The lumbering giant of a man, Jack Beal , his back to me, on the phone. He’s looking at the Hudson River seven floors below- you don’t know that but I know precisely. I was the wide-eyed apprentice in a semester-long arts program in New York in 1978. His wife Sondra Freckleton was every bit his equal working in intricate water colors of complex still lives. Typically his apprentices got to work on his large canvases, blocking figures for him to complete, but his paintings were too far along and I didn’t get to paint on his work. (At that time, he was preparing 8 large paintings for Virtues and Vices).
What a time it was! He took his role as teacher seriously, and taught me to analyze master work. He showed me how to break down one master piece in six studies: One study for line and one for shifts in movement, one study on shape and volume, another for color, then value, then texture. We worked on masters from Caravaggio and Rubens to Hiroshige to Matisse. It was a lot of work! But I could see through practice I was grasping it. And throughout history, artists used these same principles to move the eye through a painting. I particularly remember a lesson on how the twisting bodies of two figures in a Hiroshige print masterfully moved the eye around the painting. It was a revelation: flat shapes, yet through overlapping lines, and where the eyes of a figure look,my own eye moved through the print.
I had always wished I had a picture of me and this New York power couple together- but actually no. To sit in their studio and draw them is much more intimate a memory.