October 27, 2011

In a continuing effort to escape Mom and Dad’s well-intentioned-but-misguided parenting, I am finally pursuing my heart of hearts. After decades of not daring to trust myself, I will say it now: I think I was born to be an abstract painter.

With my no-nonsense, business-minded parents deceased, we are all in emotionally safe spaces. And I am finally feeling free enough to sign up for Frank O’Cain’s workshops. I just attended one that was held at the Art Students League’s gorgeous suburban campus (Rockland County, N.Y.).

If you happen to think that any three-year-old can do an abstract painting, then you must meet Frank. He took us outdoors to look at nature. Next, he showed us how to deconstruct the view. Forget about depicting actual trees, leaves and clouds. This was about stripping landscape to its essential shapes, colors and energy. Working in this mode is about capturing multi-dimensional movement. Oh man, the process is deep…

Everything’s gotta move. How this works became very clear in watching Frank demo for us.  His brush moved to the beat of action words: Curving. Pushing. Pulling. Diving.

Swooping. Peeking. Leaping. Layering.

Weaving. Smearing. Wiping. Splattering.




Our Saturday and Sunday with Frank ran from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. He started each morning with a talk. The first morning included an outdoor demo in oil paint. The second morning, he demo’d in watercolor. Then, we set up our easels outdoors and went at it. Both afternoons ended with critiques of our pieces.

(Note to painters: Frank said that watercolor paper is made in a way that will allow you to directly oil paint on it. He likes to mess with watercolors, let them dry and then, apply layers of oil over it. Can’t wait to try this.)

After I made a 6″ x 6″ painting, he suggested that I spend the entire workshop doing a whole bunch of similarly small canvasses, switching my palette colors each time. Having them at home would be special, he said. Their collective presence would always be there for me as a series of memories. Sweet.

Here’s one of my favorites from the weekend:

Going abstract has enabled me to embrace a long-lost part of myself that I didn’t even know was missing.

The ability to translate what I see into this new language is sheer, in-the-moment joy. It’s all about pure emotion. No over-thinking, obsessing or hestitating.

This is a world that Mom and Dad couldn’t live in. Actually, I don’t blame them. If they had let themselves really feel, the full weight of their struggling immigrant lives and lousy marriage might’ve crushed them. And even though it’s taken me forever to get out from under their grim cloud, I’m good now.

Well, let’s hear it for unexpected continuations and long-overdue beginnings!

P.S. — Frank can really talk that talk. Check out his Saturday morning lecture-and-painting sessions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

P.P.S. — And I loved this: Frank’s a storyteller. He mentioned that in his younger days on the gritty East Village bar scene, he often ran into W.H. Auden, who is one of my favorite poets. Back then, they just called him “Auden.” No first name for the man who went on to become one of world’s great wordsmiths. Frank said that Auden always had a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Just FYI. :)