A love affair that’s ended

New York City is no longer the center of the known world for me. How did that happen?
Queensboro Bridge Approach, by Carol L. Douglas

My dream job, when I was young, was to be a cabbie in New York. That had nothing to do with going fast, and everything to do with being aggressive, and in being able to squeeze myself and my car through knot-holes.

I told this to Cornelia Foss one time, as we were scooting north along Madison Avenue. She shuddered. Now I realize that’s because she was older and wiser. (I wish I could take another class from her. At 86, she continues to break new ground as a painter.)
Today I live in a state where the locals, by and large, drive the speed limit and are polite. You’ll never get anywhere here in Maine by driving aggressively. Jump the queue and there will just be another slow-moving vehicle ahead.
Under the Queensboro Bridge, by Carol L. Douglas
This was a strange concept in driving, but I learned to embrace it. Now I roll down my windows and enter that quiet state of pokiness that drives the visitors crazy.
Last time I drove to Queens to meet my pal Brad Marshall, I found myself really irritated with New York drivers. That same exuberance that once goaded me to pass on the right, to joyously sound my horn for no reason, to budge into the box at intersections—it all just annoyed me. We had somewhere to go, and Brad offered to drive. Rare for me, I happily agreed.
In my youth, I said that I would stop going to New York if the vista crossing the George Washington Bridge failed to move me. I saw it a lot in my younger days. I commuted from Rochester to take classes at the Art Students League. I had a crash pad with my friend Peter, on the Upper West Side. We would take classes all day and then I would drive home to Rochester. Rinse and repeat. If I die young, it will be with the consolation that I lived my life very fast.
Underpass, by Carol L. Douglas
I voided that test by moving east. I no longer use the GW to get into the city. Instead, I come down through Massachusetts and Connecticut. There’s no astonishment along that route.
The first sign I was growing cynical about New York came a few years ago, when I met a Southerner for a weekend. She remarked, in passing, at how filthy the city is. That’s one of those things, like your aunt’s fascinating chin hair, that everyone sees but doesn’t mention. But once she commented on it, I began to see detritus everywhere.
I used to love to paint in the city. Now I understand that was the granite calling to me. Much of New York, Washington and Chicago are built of Maine granite. Somehow, I enjoy it more in its natural state.
Staples Street, by Carol L. Douglas
This morning I’m heading back down to Westchester County for Rye’s Painters on Location. Brad’s floating around in the North Atlantic somewhere, but he loaned me his flat. I’m on my own for both painting and driving. Luckily, Painters on Location is always a blast, and I’ll see lots of other friends there.
I still admire New York City, but I’ve met other art scenes that match my personality better. I’ll visit for a blockbuster show, or to see friends. But, as for it being the center of the known world, those days are, sadly, gone for me.

Blown off course

"Shelter," by Carol L. Douglas

“Shelter,” by Carol L. Douglas
When I was younger, my dream job was to be a New York City cabbie. At that time, there was no GPS, so cabbies had to learn the city by heart. Driving in the city was like rolling around in a giant pinball game, and it was fun. Either Maine or old age has softened me up. Coming into Queens on Friday night, I found myself taking the innumerable small rudenesses personally, instead of answering them in the spirit in which they were intended.
In Queens the traffic problem is exacerbated because there’s no way off Long Island except through New York City. There have been Long Island Sound bridges and tunnels proposed since the 1950s, but they never get built. I’m not sure a bridge would do much except allow the metropolis to slop further out of its jar. It sure would change the view.
Brad Marshall and his painting.

Brad Marshall and his painting.
Long Island Sound is an estuary. That makes it an important feeding, breeding and nursery area for migratory fish and birds. It is also among the earliest and most densely settled areas in the United States. Somehow that tension between 400 years of human habitation and nature works to make it a very beautiful place.
I went to Rye intending to paint boats, which are one of my favorite subjects. The American Yacht Club has an anemometer, and on Sunday, winds were gusting up to 45 mph. My canvas would have made a nice little sail that sent my easel flying into the Sound. Instead, Brad Marshall and I hunkered down in the lee of the building, giving us a view of the beach and its riprap breakwater but, sadly, no boats. Still, we both managed to turn out credible compositions.
The American Yacht Club owns this terrific painting of tugs by Jack L. Gray.

The American Yacht Club owns this wonderful painting of tugs by Jack L. Gray.
Between painting and the reception, artists mostly want to stay out of the way. Luckily, the yacht club has a great selection of art, including a terrific model of the America and a lovely painting of tugs by Canadian maritime painter Jack L. Gray. We pottered about peering at things and were very happy.
At the reception, a couple told me that my painting reminded them of the Group of Seven. Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven are my artistic ideal; I think and write about them frequently. It turns out that my new friends are Canadian, and know my home town of Buffalo very well. My painting went home with them and I headed back north, grateful to be driving gently once again.

Rye Art Center 10th Annual Painters on Location

Boston Post Road Bridge, Mamaroneck, 24X20, oil on board

The Rye Art Center Painters on Location is my favorite event of the year, a fundraiser for an excellent organization that takes good care of its artists. It includes many excellent New York regional plein air artists, and it’s always wonderful to see my friends and paint in such a lovely location.


This is a site that’s intrigued me for several years. It’s a creek that releases into the harbor. Nothing exotic about it, but I love the sense of mystery about what lies behind that bridge.

Here is my setup, below the Boston Post Road in Mamaroneck, looking back at a bait shop and its boats. I am working very large for an on-site painting—about 24X20, so I have my pochade box and another easel. They are tied together with a bungee cord and on this day I was glad for the weight of that guerrilla box, as the wind threatened to take my painting into the harbor.


Boats in a tidal harbor present a dilemma: either you’re on a floating dock moving up and down with the boats, or you’re on land watching them go up and down (and compensating for the constant changes). I prefer to be on the dock. But it makes for an impressionistic painting, since floating docks are constantly rocking and rolling.

There are about a hundred paintings I could do in this location, including this wonderful stone wall.


This is at the end of my first day, about twelve hours into the painting. Frankly, the lighting scheme was more coherent at this point than in my final painting… something that happens when you paint in the same site for two days.

End of my first day painting.

And here is Bruce Bundock with his fine painting of Rye Nature Center—by a fluke hung right above my painting.

Bruce Bundock with his lovely painting of Rye Nature Center.

10th Annual Painters on Location, Rye NY

Low Bridge ( Erie Canal at Gasport)
30×40 inches – Oil


The Sentinel Tree (Keuka Lake)
30×40 inches – Oil

Here are my two submissions to the silent auction at Rye, NY this month. They can be bid upon long distance: contact Emilia Del Peschio at [email protected] or at (914) 967-0700 x33.

Both are 30X40, framed in gilt hardwood. The first is a sentimental painting for me; that’s where I spent the better part of my childhood and the years after my oldest kids were born, and that’s my (now adult) Julia on her bike in the painting. The vineyard near Keuka is one of those magical places—they grow vines on rock shingle that one can’t imagine supporting anything.

To see other work from this fine show, go here. And if you’re in the Long Island Sound region on September 24 th and 25th, come watch the artists at work.

Rye Painters on Location 2008

Here is my set-up along the shingle.
Well, dang me, I managed to delete my own painting from Rye from my camera. (That’s what I get for photo-editing when overtired.) Hopefully, the Rye Record will have a copy of it.
However, my experience at Rye was (as it seems to be every year) wonderful. I decided to paint at a small rocky promontory at Edith Read Sanctuary behind Playland. A young man was there fishing for porgies and bluefish—he was disappointed that the surf was making his day off so difficult. He gave up fairly quickly, but not before modeling surf casting for me and showing me pictures of his two young sons on his cellphone.

I sketched him a bit thinking I could integrate him into my painting but it seemed too contrived. In retrospect I wish I’d redesigned my composition around him, but he was gone by then, and photo reference violates the spirit, if not the rule, of this paintout.

Rye has changed its format this year to include two days of painting. There are many painters who can put together a polished, credible entry in four hours. I am not one of them. I paint for every hour available, struggle back and forth from overdone to fluid. This was no exception; at 2:45 on the second day, fellow painter Sally Lyon kindly helped me hoist my stuff back off the beach to my car to get it framed and wired by the 3 PM deadline.

Along the coast, the tide goes in and the tide goes out. You can freeze it in a photo, and that makes for simpler painting, but in plein air you work essentially from imagination and memory, substituting the rocks that show for the rocks that are submerged. I love the freedom of this approach, but it can be quite disconcerting the first time you try it.
It has rained all summer in the northeast. This weekend was no exception. By the end of our first day, it was pouring buckets. It killed me to quit, because the light was low, lovely, and moody, but I generally quit when the medium and rain are emulsifying in the cup.


This photo, taken the Mill Pond as I left, shows the rain and failing light. A few minutes later, when I saw cygnets following a swan beside Manursing Way, it was impossible to even take a photo.

The second day, back at the beach, the surf was down and the light was flat. I attempted to recreate the prior day’s darkness and moodiness, but I should have followed new conditions (one never knows).

That morning, I saw a seal potting along the shore. Shorebirds such as gulls, cormorants, and herons are numerous beyond mention. What a lovely place it is!

New York Social Realism

A Pool With A View (Cunningham Rd) by Bruce Bundock
32″ x 20″, Acrylic

Today I’d like to write about an artist who also did the Rye Painters on Location this weekend: Bruce Bundock.

It takes an extraordinary mind to see the beauty of Tyvek, T11 siding and an above-ground pool set serenely in Eden. This is a legitimate extension of the social realism of Millet or Hopper, but we are so blind to working-class, rural New York that we don’t immediately recognize it. (New York has the highest and fastest growing income disparity in the nation*.) What interests me is that Bruce seems genuinely fascinated by these modest houses; there isn’t a shred of sentimentality in his work.

His subtle social commentary wouldn’t work without impeccable technique. I am personally fond of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, and I see intimations of it in Bruce’s work, particularly in the discrete steps used instead of gradation to indicate tonal range. The best of his paintings remind me of old-fashioned commercial lithography, particularly in the wonderful flat greens of the trees. None of this, of course, would work without his superlative drafting.

Botanical by Bruce Bundock
11.5″ x 8.25″, Acrylic

This weekend, I acquired Bruce’s “Botanical”, above. I presume by the title that Bruce thinks it’s about the flowers, but once more I see a modest but proud house set in Paradise. As I’m sure I’ll see him someday in a major national gallery, I am thrilled to have such an archetypal example of his work.

Rye Beach Pavilion, by Bruce Bundock, September 13, 2008, acrylic

His Rye painting, of an old Spanish-style building at Playland, included that motif, appropriately muted. A painting which might have been postcard-sentimental was elevated by the inclusion of construction equipment in the foreground, which was perfectly integrated into the composition by skillful balancing of form and color.

To see more of Bruce’s paintings, go to http://artid.com/members/bundock

Where the movie “Big” was filmed

I just returned from a week downstate. The culmination of this was the seventh annual “Painters on Location” of the Rye Arts Center in Rye, NY. Last year I was overwhelmed by the landscape, the parking, the driving and the event, yet I had a wonderful time. This year, Daisy dePuthod (see her work here) took me under her wing and with the logistics more manageable, I was able to relax and paint.

The artists’ boards were stamped at 3 PM on Friday, since rain was threatening on Saturday morning. Daisy and I gathered our boards and lunches and headed to the Playland boardwalk. Playland was built in 1927 and is the only Art Deco amusement park left in the United States; it’s a National Historic Landmark. The part on which we painted is a public beach. (To learn more about Playland, see here.)

Many people pointed out that the section I chose to paint was
used in a scene in Tom Hanks’
Big. Does this look familiar?

The boardwalk and bathhouse are set on a long curve, which makes for some intriguing arcs. I stood within a stucco arch and focused on the long curving sweep of the roof. Even though the subject of the painting was the bathhouse with its two towers I knew the picture depended on the sweep of the blue roof.


By the time I committed my drawing to canvas, the light was gone. It was a beautiful evening, with lights twinkling along the boardwalk, but useless for painting.

The next morning I arrived in Rye shortly after 6 AM.

No box easel! I can never find anything in them.

My set-up under an arch was a good idea, for it was rainy, cold and dark.

My first task was to refine my drawing in charcoal. Normally, I don’t do much charcoal drawing, but the buildings are complex and I was working fast.


Daisy scoping out the scene…

And Daisy painting the scene…

It was hard to choose among the architectural gems in this place…


I concentrated on painting the orange beams first because I needed them to be believable.


Note that I got rid of the man peering into the Museum windows. I think that was a mistake—he lent good foreground interest. I replaced him with a couple walking a dog—ubiquitous on the boardwalk, but too far away to lend any depth to the scene.


The finished painting:

“Where Big was Filmed”
16X20, oil on Ray-Mar canvas board, sold, Rye, September 15, 2007