I found this drawing in my New York storage unit this past November. It depicts the small bedroom I shared with my two older brothers, in fact, my first studio. I vividly recall standing in the hallway back then, intensely concentrating on getting every detail depicted, I somehow felt that it was VERY important. Under the window is the drawing table my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 10 years old or so. Amazingly we each found a way to ‘do our own thing’ in that little bedroom, my middle brother’s snare drum stood in the middle of the room at the moment I was drawing and although out of sight, my eldest brother’s weights and dumbbells were lying under his bed. What strikes me is that this must have been a Saturday morning and I must have been up early as the heads of my brothers are visible as they lie sleeping. Looking back it seems to me that drawing and painting was effortless back then. It fit into my life as naturally as eating, sleeping and using the toilet.
But is that true? Am I romanticizing? To be honest there was definitely a good dose of ambition mixed-in with a strong need for approval but I knew at an early age that I had talent and at least until I began thinking in terms of a serious art education I pretty much created for my own pleasure.
The Church of Impulsive Living
The photo above shows my self-described ‘Church of Impulsive Living’. Located in upstate New York near Woodstock, this huge space was my home and studio for 6 years. In contrast to my current routine my attitude at that time was to live in a state of free association. I would paint or not paint according to how I felt at that moment. But that was also a form of discipline. I was determined to allow my artistic self total freedom, which required constant attention to my desires, needs and inclinations and the courage to follow them to see where they led me. Where it often led was working until deep in the night if the inspiration was there and for days not working at all until the (thankfully) irresistible need to create made itself known again.
My ‘discipline’ was supported by the many visual artists, writers, actors and composers that were my friends and acquaintances who lived in the area. Some of these ‘creatives’ earned their money locally while others commuted frequently to the galleries, theaters and television studios in New York City, a mere 100 miles to the south or a combination of the two. It was a colorful and varied group, one friend was a sculptor in her late 70’s who was a private student of Willem De Kooning when she was just 18. Another a screenwriter for Oscar nominated Hollywood films. But what I found most interesting was their work routine, if I was privy to such information. One writer friend told me he HAD to show up for work every day in front of his word processor (remember those?) at 9 a.m. sharp. Others jogged every morning, meditated or lit up a joint. And of course there were those who were forced to earn their money doing work that was totally divorced from their creative calling.
Now that I’m living and working in the center of Amsterdam, my studio practice has found a new structure. That early rising is a habit I still have today and although it fluctuates, my current routine for the past number of years involves moving from my mattress to my yoga mat for 30-60 minutes before I shower, breakfast (while reading an article in the New Yorker or some poetry) and (if there is still time) making a walking meditation in the center of Amsterdam before getting down to work before 10 a.m. Yes, it sounds disciplined and far removed from my years of ‘impulsive living’ but it is actually quite logical and perhaps just about paying attention. Yoga keeps me mentally and physically fit and flexible, poetry shifts my consciousness into a mode most conducive to painting, and since I have an atelier in my home, the walk through the city gives me the experience of having left my house and 45 minutes later ‘arriving’ at my studio.
If I’ve learned anything it’s that every creative artist has to figure out their studio practice for themselves. Discovering what works and what doesn’t in terms of what you want to achieve. And if there is a constant it is this: that every time you step into the studio it is hopefully a leap into the unknown with the blind faith that your artistic parachute will always open.
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