Chapter 9 During the massive job hunt, I packed up the studio and stopped working on art. There was no one using the studio space during the summer so I moved most of my large paintings to a back room and brought my paint, brushes and materials home. After talking briefly by phone to the Chair of the Art Department at Pembroke I was very excited to accept the invitation to interview for a Printmaking position. He said they would make the arrangements for the interview and be back in touch with the details. He called a few days later with flight and ticket information and it was set. The truth is I was more than excited about this opportunity. The whole interview thing was a little scary. I had never even flown before and I was about to fly over 1200 miles to interview for the one and only job available for me this year. Scary. . .terrifying! By the time I was scheduled to leave I was a wreck and I had a bad head cold. I boarded that plane determined to do my best. The flight was about a three-hour flight to Atlanta where I had to change planes for the final flight to North Carolina. Remember, this was my first flight and I had no idea what to expect or how difficult it would be to change planes in Atlanta. Well, everything went well except for the head cold. I was so congested that my ears never equalized in the ascent from Oklahoma City and again in the descent into Atlanta. Talk about a headache; in addition to my head about to explode, I lost my hearing. I realized that I couldn’t hear when the plane was on the ground and taxiing to the terminal, I looked over and out the window and saw the lady sitting next to me. She was a middle aged black woman and she was obviously talking to me but I couldn’t hear anything she was saying. In a panic I looked away hoping that she didn’t think I was the biggest bigot in the universe. I got off the plane as quickly as I could and made my way into the airport. I didn’t have a clue as to what I should do so, I just avoided all eye contact and wandered around the Atlanta airport afraid to look at anyone, afraid they would speak to me and I wouldn’t be able to hear them. I found my connecting flight and about the time I was to board my ears finally equalized and I could hear. What a relief but now I was afraid this would happen again and I wouldn’t be able to hear when I reached North Carolina and I would never be able to find or communicate with the person who was sent to pick me up. The second part of the flight was shorter and I started trying to swallow hard the minute we took off to keep my ears clear. It was still painful but I was able to get my ears to pop so I was able to hear. There was more turbulence on this flight so I had other things to worry about, maybe that was a blessing. We landed and I was never happier to be on the ground and to have my first plane ride over. I got my luggage and headed to the gate where I quickly found, or maybe he found me, the Chair of the Art Department. Paul VanZandt was his name and he had a knack for making me feel at ease. I found out why on the 30-minute trip from the airport in Fayetteville to Pembroke and Paul’s house. It turned out that Paul was also from Oklahoma and got his undergrad degree from OSU. Another coincidence, again I don’t think so. I quickly realized that Paul was really trying hard to not only make me feel at home but was also trying to make a good impression. This realization was very odd to me -- didn’t he know that this job was the only job in America. Of course, it was not the only job in America but there sure weren’t enough positions to go around for all the recent graduates. The interview was a quick two-day event so there was a tight schedule to follow. As I mentioned earlier I was staying with Paul and his family in their guest bedroom. So I quickly put my things in the room and laid down for a minute to rest. I was informed that we would be having dinner back in Fayetteville with other faculty members and would be leaving for the restaurant in about an hour. Paul’s family was friendly and continued to make me feel welcome. His house was an older two-story house with great southern charm. So far, this interview was going great and not what I expected.
We left to meet the others at the restaurant, again about a thirty-minute trip. I learned that Paul’s art was ceramics and he was very dedicated and passionate about it. That was a good thing and even though I didn’t know much about ceramics, we shared that passion about our art. We got to the restaurant and I met the rest of the faculty. The restaurant was an upscale steakhouse and we were seated a large round table. As the waiter took drink orders he asked why we were dining with them and Paul replied, “We are trying to convince this young man to accept a teaching position with us at Pembroke State University.” OK, now I am really surprised -- he doesn’t know they have the only job available in America. I was so surprised with this statement it was all I thought about the rest of the trip. The evening went well and we got back at Paul’s house late and I was extremely tired so I went straight to bed to try and get ready for a full day of meetings tomorrow. The next day I toured the Art Building and the rest of the campus. It was small but adequate and what they didn’t seem to know was it was the only job in America. We had more meetings with faculty and administrators and at the end of the day they offered me the job. Crazy, this was not what I expected at all. I really was prepared to wow them with my abilities, skills and dedication but I didn’t have to do that at all. Well, I verbally accepted and they told me the official contract would be mailed to me. Done deal, I had my first full-time teaching job. I was a University instructor. I couldn’t wait to tell Jo but I had to wait a while until I was alone so I could call her. The flight back to Oklahoma was much better than the flight to North Carolina. Maybe it was because I was so excited about the outcome of the interview or maybe it was because I knew what to expect but I didn’t suffer with the ear problems like I did in the previous flight. Back at home, Jo and I were excited to start our new adventure. Neither of us had ever lived out of Oklahoma and we were ready to move and experience new things and meet new friends.
We immediately started planning and preparing for the move. We decided to go with a moving company because of family connections at a local moving company in Altus, Oklahoma. This seemed like the best option because we wouldn’t have to rent a U-Haul truck and tow our car. The moving company was located in Altus, about 100 miles from Norman. This meant we would have to pack everything and contact them to pick it up before we left for North Carolina. We didn’t have a lot of furniture, just a few odds and ends pieces, a bed and a lot of big paintings but it still was a lot of packing. I stayed in contact with Paul back in North Carolina and he started looking for places that we could rent that would be convenient to school. Mid-summer, I went out to my former studio for the first time in a couple of months to check on the paintings and start preparing them for the big move. By this time it was very hot and the building the studio was in was not air-conditioned. When I went into the room the paintings were stored in I noticed a bit of an oil paint smell, which I thought was a little odd because it had been almost three months since they were completed and shown. At the time of my senior show they were completely dry with no oil odor. As I walked across the small room to the wall the paintings were leaning against, I noticed amber colored puddles on the floor under the paintings. At first I thought that it was water from rain and a possible leaky roof. On closer inspection I realized it was thick partially dry oil. Remember my deKooning inspired painting medium. Willem deKooning had said the reason he liked it was that it didn’t dry, I didn’t think he meant ever! The oil had separated completely from the paint and run off the canvases onto the floor. So, if any of you think you might want to try this, you might want to think again or at least get real safflower oil and don’t substitute Wesson oil. Amazingly, the paintings didn’t look bad because the pigment stuck to the canvas and the oil is all that ran off. There were a few streaks where it ran down the front surface but even those disappeared over time as you can see by the pieces in this exhibit from that series.
About this time Paul called and said he had found a great house that would be available for rent when we arrived. He said that it was a little pricey but big and very nice. My first thought was about the cost, so I asked him about that first and he said that it would be $135.00 per month. We were paying more than that for a two-bedroom apartment so that shouldn’t be a problem so I asked him about the size and location. He said it was 3000 square feet, in the country about seven miles from school. 3000 squarefeet, that was about 3 times the size of our current apartment. Jo and I talked about it and decided to take it sight unseen. We were very excited about it and a little scared about the size, how would we ever fill it up and would we get lost rambling around in a house that big.
During that summer in 1973, we experienced the nation’s first oil crisis. Even though it wasn’t that bad in Oklahoma, we saw long gas lines and increased prices all over the country. We knew we had a very long trip coming up to North Carolina and uncertainty on the availability and price of gasoline in North Carolina. We were driving a full size pickup truck at the time that got about 9–10 miles per gallon and I wasn’t sure we would be able to get enough gas to get to North Carolina. So, we started looking for a different vehicle that would be more gas efficient. We decided on a new Ford Pinto wagon. Although the Pinto later would get a lot of bad press with exploding gas tanks and other problems, we had really good luck with ours and later would buy another. It was red with the wood grain side panels that made it look like a cute, small version of the “family truckster” featured in Family Vacation. We finished packing all our worldly goods and called our relatives at the moving company and made arrangements for them to pick them up at our apartment in Norman. They would then take them back to Altus and store them until the next full load was heading for North Carolina, then they would put our stuff on the truck with the full load and bring it to us. They assured us it wouldn’t be long, probably not over a week, because Fort Bragg was in Fayetteville and that was a prime transfer location for Army families. We packed our personal stuff into a few boxes and filled what little luggage we had with our clothes and strapped them on our nifty luggage rack. Almost as an after thought, we thought we should cover the luggage rack just in case it rained, so we bought a cheap plastic tarp and strapped it over everything. The back of the new “family truckster” was completely full up to the front seats. We left just enough room for our dog between the two front seats. We both hopped in and took off for our new and exciting adventure. We got about 30 miles until the plastic tarp ripped to shreds and was dangling about two car lengths behind us. The next town down Interstate 40 was Shawnee, Oklahoma. We stopped at the Wal-Mart, bought another tarp and tried to secure it better in the parking lot. As I remember it lasted about another 100 miles. Jo and I have never been real die-hard drivers. Neither of us can last more than about 100 miles before we have to stop, so every 100 miles we would stop and switch drivers. Late that first night we still managed to make it to our first day destination, somewhere around Jackson, Tennessee. Our dog was a really good-natured dog that we found as a puppy in a McDonalds parking lot. She was about 60 pounds full grown when we made this trip, so she was a pretty big animal. She was much too big to be cooped up in a 1 foot by two foot area for 12 hours. She made it pretty well the first day but she kept crowding closer and closer to the front seat. We were all tired and ready to get out and stretch and not have to get right back in for another 100 miles. We got up the next morning, still tired but ready to get back on the road. We should easily get there by early evening, so we loaded up again and headed out. By the first 100 miles, our dog was already practically in our laps but we pushed her bag to her allotted spot and kept going. This got progressively worse the rest of the day, and by the last 100 miles the dog was done. No more pushing her back and for the first and only time that I can remember she growled at us just to let us know she was done with one foot by two foot space, so she rode the rest of the way in our laps in the front seat. We got to the motel in Red Springs, North Carolina, about midnight. By that time we were all done. I was so happy that the trip was over and we could all get out and rest.
We got up the next morning excited that we were finally here and ready to start the next phase of our lives. We drove around a little so we could see everything in the daylight. Then started looking for Paul’s house. Red Springs, North Carolina, was a very small town, so it didn’t take us long to look around. We found Paul’s house pretty quickly and he was expecting us. If you remember, he had found us a house earlier in the summer to rent and had made arrangements with the owners for us to move in when we arrived. We were anxious to see the house so Paul said he could introduce us to the owner, get us a key and show us where it was when we arrived. Over the phone it sounded too good to be true so we were really looking forward to seeing it. The house was half way between Red Springs and Pembroke in the country. It took about 15 minutes to get there and the drive gave us our first view of the area. Coming from Oklahoma, it was new and very pretty. It was flat like Oklahoma, maybe even flatter but there were huge pine trees. This was definitely different than Oklahoma. Outside the small communities of this area of North Carolina the land was primarily used for farming and tobacco was the primary crop. We were used to farming and farm communities but we had never seen tobacco fields. I was very surprised at how small they were. We past several tobacco fields and they were surrounded by tall pines, and then we came to a small drive barely visible between the pines. Paul said this was it and he turned in the drive. We could not see the house from the road because pine trees surrounded it. The drive turned out to be a circle drive and as we started the circle we got our first glimpse of the house. It was a ranch style house, which was a little unusual for the area, with painted wood siding. It looked great with a large grass yard surrounded by tall pines. Paul parked in front of the door and we hopped out anxious to see the inside. Jo and I were amazed, it was twice as big as anything we had lived in and was really nice. It had hardwood floors throughout, two fireplaces, formal dining room, great kitchen with a breakfast nook, den, huge living room, 3 bedrooms and a screened back porch. Paul kept saying he knew it was expensive but . . . we just kept saying it was great! We took the house immediately, went back into town, picked up our car, checked out of the motel and headed back to the house. All we had was what we had packed in to our tiny Pinto but it was great to unload and start planning what we were going to do with the house. Remember, all our furniture, what little we had, all our pots, pans and dishes, everything was being moved by the moving company, so we wandered around this big house and tried to think how would we ever fill it up? We didn’t have a bed so the first thing we did was go into town and buy a couple of cheap air mattresses. These should be fine; it would only be for a few days until our stuff got here. It was a great adventure, kind of like camping indoors. After the first night we realized, maybe we should have spent a little more than 97 cents on our air mattresses. We had to blow them up twice during the night. Oh well, it would be all right, the moving van would probably be here this weekend. Well, the first week went by and no word from the moving company. Not a problem, we’ll just give them a call, they are probably on the road now and would be here any day. Jo called her cousin at the moving company back in Oklahoma, our stuff hadn’t left Oklahoma yet but they were sure it would go out soon. OK, well we will just hang in and explore the surrounding area during the days and maybe get a little better air mattress for the nights. We had heard that there were great deals on furniture in North Carolina because so much furniture was manufactured there. So, after almost two weeks of rambling around in a 3000 square foot house with nothing, we started looking. We knew we couldn’t buy much but maybe we could find something to sit on. We found a beautiful couch and a very comfortable lounge chair. They were a little out of our price range but they were beautiful and. . .we were desperate. We bought them and now we had our first new furniture, a beautiful contemporary couch and a contemporary lounge chair and ottoman. We spent way more on this new furniture than we had planned so we didn’t replace the 97-cent air mattresses, surely our stuff would arrive soon. Well, to make a long and painful story a little shorter, it never did. My Dad rented a U-Haul truck and hired a friend to help load it and drive to North Carolina to deliver our furniture and the rest of our stuff. Lesson learned, beware of those super good family deals. If they sound too good to be true, they probably are.
One of the first things I do when I move to a new place is assess where my studio will be. This was big and I could have used one of the bedrooms. I have done that before but over the last three years at school I had the luxury of water and a sink in the studio. Since I primarily work with water-based paint, this was convenient for mixing and clean up. The bathroom and kitchen location in this house did not allow for a close water source. This house did have a huge screened porch on the back of the house and the weather is really nice most of the year in North Carolina, so I decided to try and set my studio up there. I bought a galvanized wash sink and stand at a local hardware store. I ran a garden hose from the closest outside water hydrant. I lifted one corner of the screen and ran the hose into the porch, then hooked up a faucet. The sink came with an attached piece of garden hose for a drain, so I just ran it outside through the same corner of the screen mesh. It worked perfectly, simple and cheap. Throughout graduate school one of the things I was always concerned with was the light in the area I painted and the display wall where I hung each piece to view its progress and to photograph the final paintings. It was not just me but all my fellow students spent a lot of time and money rigging up elaborate light bars to try and emulate “museum lighting.” As it turned out the natural light on this “porch studio” was fabulous. It did make it a little difficult to work at night but the daylight was great. I was finally set up and ready to paint.
[caption id="attachment_856" align="aligncenter" width="680"] "Viola's" -7"x8" - zink plate etching In North Carolina my primary teaching duties were printmaking. That plus the local styles greatly influenced my work. These are examples of prints done during my first year at Pembroke. The smaller more intimate scale allowed for more recognisable imagery.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_857" align="aligncenter" width="598"] "A Tisket A Tasket" - 10"x12" - zink plate etching[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_858" align="aligncenter" width="570"] "Double Feature" - 12"x15.75" - zink plate etching and collagraph[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_859" align="aligncenter" width="863"] "Monkey See Monkey Do I" - 12"x18" - zinc plate etching and relief[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_860" align="aligncenter" width="817"] "Monkey See Monkey Do II" - 15"x22" - embossed drawing, graphite and airbrush[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_861" align="aligncenter" width="618"] "Monkey See Monkey Do III" - 17"x24" - etching and airbrush[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_862" align="aligncenter" width="546"] "Byzantine Jody" - 30"x38" - acrylic and silk screen on canvas[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_863" align="aligncenter" width="516"] "Artist's Father" - 20.5"x26.5" - oil pastels and graphite[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_864" align="aligncenter" width="516"] "Artist's Father and Friends" - 20.5"x26.5" - oil pastels and graphite[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_865" align="aligncenter" width="420"] "Studio Transition 1" - 66"x66" - acrylic on canvas[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_866" align="aligncenter" width="558"] "Studio Transition 2" - 66"x66" - acrylic on canvas[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_867" align="aligncenter" width="544"] "Studio Transition 3" - 66"x66" - acrylic on canvas[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_868" align="aligncenter" width="660"] "North Carolina Landscape Study" - 20"x24" - acrylic on watercolor paper hand stitched on canvas. As you have noticed, I usually work on a small scale at the same time I am working on the larger paintings. I use these as working studies for the larger works.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_869" align="aligncenter" width="671"] "North Carolina Landscape Study" - 20"x24" - acrylic on watercolor paper hand stitched on canvas[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_870" align="aligncenter" width="646"] "North Carolina Landscape Study" - 20"x24" - acrylic on watercolor paper hand stitched on canvas[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_871" align="aligncenter" width="657"] "North Carolina Landscape Study" - 20"x24" - acrylic on watercolor paper hand stitched on canvas[/caption]
By this time school had started and I was very busy teaching and getting to know my students and my fellow faculty members. If you remember I was hired to teach printmaking so there was a lot of technique I had to brush up on. The instructor that was there before me primarily taught relief printing and that was my weakest area. The school had a single Dickerson combination press that allowed me to teach intaglio, lithography, and relief techniques and I added some screen printing to round out the curriculum. My printmaking classes were going well and the students seemed eager to learn. I started working on some prints to demonstrate techniques in class but I really hadn’t started painting yet. The painting instructor was a very “Southern” man a little older than me from Memphis. His work was nothing like mine, in fact no one here, student or faculty, worked anything like I did. I was definitely unique here. As an undergraduate and graduate student I was strongly influenced by my teachers and the current trends in contemporary art as seen in national publications like Art In America and Art Forum. I naively thought everyone in America that was interested in contemporary art was doing work similar to what I was doing or what I had seen from my fellow students. Boy, I was wrong! The painting instructor at Pembroke worked in a very controlled surreal style, almost a fantasy style, with landscapes as his primary subject. Most of the students also worked in a surrealistic style. I was very surprised, I thought Surrealism had pretty much died as a popular style and was only being used by Salvador Dali and a few fantasy illustrators. Well let me tell you, Surrealism was alive and well in North Carolina and it wasn’t the cool, funny, and clever Magritte Surrealism, it was the crazy, melty clock Dali Surrealism. This definitely had an impact on me. I didn’t particularly like the work I was seeing but I was the new guy looking for approval. It was much easier to adapt images to my prints and drawings so that is where I started, trying to mix my styles with what I was seeing stylistically here in North Carolina. I quickly moved to a larger scale with my paintings. I painted and struggled for a couple of months until I finally lost it on a large painting that just wouldn’t come together. It was stiff, cold, lacked emotion and energy and most importantly, it wasn’t me! In frustration I put the painting on the floor and in anger started pouring paint over everything I had worked so hard and long on. It felt good and I worked at a frantic pace, threw down my brushes and went inside. I went back out the next day and realized everything that was bad with the painting now was better – much better! I learned another important life lesson. You must be true to yourself, you can’t be someone else. Revitalized with the new approach I started a new series of work that I called “Studio Transformations.” They were loosely based on the North Carolina landscape, particularly the view that surrounded me in my porch studio. Jo and I settled into our new “adult” lives in North Carolina. We both worked on campus so we rode together every day. On the weekends we explored the surrounding area. We made some great new friends and really enjoyed our time there. Our new friends were from the area and showed us around on several trips around the state. We bought some nice 10-speed bikes and rode them around our area. It was very flat where we lived which was great for biking. The state was beautiful with the beach and ocean on one side and mountains on the other side. All and all we loved North Carolina, but Jo and I wanted to start a family and the area we lived in was very rural with a pretty bad secondary education system. We really wanted a little better school system for our future children. Jo got pregnant early in the semester of my second year. We had our first baby, Brenan, in May. He was beautiful and perfect and yes, he changed our lives! About this time, I got a call from my friend Dalton Maroney. Dalton was teaching at a small private college in Sioux City, Iowa called Morningside College. He said they had an opening for a painting and printmaking instructor and wanted me to apply. The idea of working with Dalton again was very appealing and also it included teaching painting. That combined with the possibility of a better school system to help raise our little boy was enough for me to apply. They offered me the position with a rank increase to Assistant Professor. I talked it over with Jo and we agreed that it seemed like a good opportunity so I accepted and started planning the move.
I had now completed half of my required 56 hours for my graduate MFA degree and was in the middle of the spring 1972 semester. Because of my anticipated graduation I started preparation for my Senior Exhibit. The first step was contacting my graduate committee advisors and scheduling the show. My committee consisted of Gene Bavinger, troche George Bogart and Pete Bache. My first contact was George Bogart. When I approached him and told him I wanted to talk about my senior show he said “Why, unhealthy you have a whole year left before graduation.” I immediately knew I was in trouble. I explained what I was trying to do and why and he said the program was a minimum 2 year program and that it was not possible to complete it in only one year. I explained that I had talked to the Director, vcialis 40mg Joe Hobbs, and he had told me there were no restrictions on minimum time spent. George was very concerned and sympathetic but was not very optimistic that I would be allowed to graduate in one year. I again stated that after the current semester I would only have 12 hours remaining and that I had already completed 12 hours during the last summer term and was sure I could repeat that performance. He said that he would talk to the Director and get back with me, but not to get my hopes up. I quickly approached the rest of my committee and got the same shock and disbelief. They also said they didn’t think that this would be possible. When Joe Hobbs was confronted about the situation he simply denied ever having said that and said I must have misunderstood. It was obvious that I was not going to win this battle. A new policy was created that specified there was a minimum of a 2-year residency that was required before completing the MFA degree program. At the time I was devastated. This would mean that I would miss my window of opportunity for the teaching position at Cameron (my dream job) and there would be no guarantees of a teaching job anywhere. In addition, I would have to spread my remaining 12 hours over another year. This just seemed unfair and a waste. Looking back on it now, it wasn’t such a bad thing. The truth is I don’t really know if the casual commitment from Jack Bryan was a real job offer. At the very least, I would have had to apply like everyone else and win the job with my credentials, body of work and personal interview. Sure, I had some things going for me but I was also very, very young. As it turned out I told my friend Dwight Pogue about it and he applied and got the job. I hoped that by the next year there might be another position or that Dwight would not like it there and move on, but I knew the chances were pretty slim.
OK, welcome to my new reality. What do I do now? After 5 years in college, 4 undergraduate years and 1 in grad school, what do I do now? I wasn’t going to quit; there was no logic in that. One thing was certain, I could S L O W down. There was no reason to enroll in summer school, I only had 12 hours left and I had to spread those out over the next year. After taking 16 hours each regular semester taking only 6 was going to take some adjustment. So, I decided to take the summer off, try and relax and wrap my head around finishing and the job search that would follow. I was still working with the bag series and was still pretty excited about the potential there so I enrolled in 6 hours of painting for the fall semester. You know the funny thing about it, this exercise in writing has forced me to remember everything possible about past events that relate to my work and I can’t remember anything about that summer. I guess for the first time my thoughts were not consumed with work and love number two. I guess I relaxed and just enjoyed life for a while. I do remember a lot of spring and summer evenings with fellow grad student friends playing Ping-Pong and drinking beer at our little rent house. Most of our friends at that time were fellow grad students and their wives who were a year ahead of me in the program. Most of them had just graduated and were in the process of looking for a University teaching position. This was something that I knew I now would be consumed with in another year, so watching them go through it really helped me prepare. I had a part-time job as a maintenance man for an apartment complex, which eventually led to us moving to a newer complex where we became assistant managers. This job only lasted about a month. The job paid for half of our rent, which was the equivalent of $75.00 a month, and for that huge amount of money we got to be responsible for the entire complex of about 50 apartments. You know Jo and I have never been real good with money or anything that had to do with finances, but in less than a month we both realized that this was not a good financial decision. I only had about 8 months left until I graduated so we decided to stay and just pay the full amount for rent.
Fall semester started and I continued to work with bags of colored liquid. Each piece became more elaborate in construction and the development of each component. They also became more and more dimensional. The final couple of pieces were free standing structures made with a complex redwood 1”x2” frame that supported the bags. They were large massive pieces and even I would have a difficult time justifying them as paintings. The largest was a grid construction that was 8’ x 8’ x 1’. This piece had 144 bags that were 12” square hanging in each open 12” space of the grid. The weight was unbelievable. I assembled this piece in my studio at the time, which if you remember, was an old bathhouse. My space was the shower area so there were drains in the floor and the floor slanted toward the drains. This slant made the piece lean slightly. People were afraid to come into the room because they were afraid the structure would fall on them. In reality there was no way it could fall because the weight stabilized the piece. In retrospect, I think the reason I continued to build and highly craft these elaborate pieces had to do with me wanting to give or make these pieces more permanent, more like traditional paintings, more like pretty pictures.
Toward the end of the semester I started doing some drawings of the colored bags. They were a little smaller and more personal than the large major pieces. They were still big, particularly for drawings, they were 18”x24” up to 22”x30” in size. I used a variety of media to produce these drawings including graphite pencils, colored pencils, oil pastels and acrylic paint. The paint was primarily used for the backgrounds and was applied with a spray gun and traditional brushes. These were important transitional pieces because they bridged the gap between two distinctively different bodies of work. I had been working with bags and the arranged process for about a year. This is not a particularly long time but it resulted in a large body of work that explored a lot of related but different concepts. I found myself really missing the physical aspects of making more traditional art, “pretty pictures.” These drawings were a way to use my hand skills and produce more traditional art that had a relationship to the current “bag” series. The interest in these drawings led me back to an interest in printmaking, my original undergraduate degree. I decided to enroll in a lithography class my final semester. This was an area of printmaking that I had not explored. At OU at that time graduates did not actually have specific classes. They enrolled in hours under a specific instructor and worked independently. I enrolled in 3 hours under one of the printmaking instructors. As it turned out, Ralph Steeds, the other graduate student that was admitted with me was a printmaker. The graduate studio for printmaking was back on the main campus. Ralph and I were the only students working in this space so we got to know each other pretty well. Ralph was a very disciplined technician and taught me a lot about stone lithography. During this period of time I worked on perfecting my skills in printmaking, particularly in lithography. This skill set eventually proved to be very beneficial and I’ll talk more about that in a future chapter of this book. I produced several small editions of lithographs primarily to learn more about the craft of lithography. The subject matter for these prints came from the drawings of bags I mentioned earlier in this chapter.
[caption id="attachment_839" align="aligncenter" width="728"] "Projection Bags" - plastic bags, wood, food color & fluorescent light[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_840" align="aligncenter" width="481"] "Zip Lock I" - limited edition stone lithograph[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_841" align="aligncenter" width="487"] "Zip Lock II" - airbrush, graphite & stone lithograph[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_842" align="aligncenter" width="636"] "Twelve Baggies on a Bed of Acrylic" - graphite, acrylic, oil pastels on paper[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_843" align="aligncenter" width="554"] "Zip Lock III" - limited edition stone lithograph[/caption]
During the final semester at OU, I split my time working on prints and painting. As I mentioned the concepts and subject matter for the prints came directly from the “bag series” but the paintings were becoming harder to generate new ideas and quite frankly I was becoming less interested in pursuing the visual avant garde direction of the bag series. It had been over a year since I had stretched a canvas and applied paint in a traditional fashion. I missed the craftsmanship. I missed the act of painting. I consistently read about contemporary art and artists in books and magazines. I started this practice as an undergrad student in an effort to learn about and keep up with art trends. In most reference books and magazines like “Art in America” and “Art Forum,” I learned about the conceptual thinking of individual artists but rarely did I learn anything about their techniques or personal methods of painting. Occasionally I would learn what media was used but that was about it. I was particularly fond of the Abstract Expressionists. I often thought how exciting it would be to have lived in New York City in the early ‘50’s with the explosion of Abstract Expressionism and Cool Jazz. Watching artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell mixing with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz as they developed their unique and new styles of art and music.
On rare occasions I would come across some information about an artist and their experimentation with different non-traditional materials. I was always very interested in the process, something I definitely picked up from Gene Bavinger. While reading about Willem de Kooning, I learned that he experimented with several different types of oil medium. He first departed from the traditional linseed and stand oil and tried poppy-seed oil that gave him a more fluid mixture. He then abandoned the poppy-seed oil for safflower cooking oil. He bragged that he had found a salad oil that he could use in lieu of expensive artists’ oils. This sounded great to me. I had never painted much with oils and I really wanted to try it. I had become very dependent on acrylic paint and polymer additives to produce large volumes of paint inexpensively for my large paintings. This new “salad dressing” formula sounded like a great way to approach large-scale oil paintings. So, I headed to the grocery store to purchase art supplies. At my local Safeway (pre Homeland) store they didn’t have any safflower oil, so, regular old Wesson oil would have to do. I bought a gallon and headed back to the studio. I stretched up a large canvas, primed it with house paint gesso and set it aside to dry. That night I continued to read and research about de Kooning’s techniques. I read that he really like this new medium because of its liquid state. He stated that it “stays wet a long time, it doesn’t dry like linseed oil, I can work longer.” He was definitely right about that. I found out that his brand of choice was Saff-o-life safflower oil. That must have been a New York only brand; I couldn’t find that brand or any other brand of safflower oil in local grocery stores. I also read he often mixed the oil paint, safflower oil, solvent and water together, whipping it into a fluffy consistency. Wow, mixing it with water, I had never heard of such a thing, but it gave me a lot of ideas. The next morning I headed to the studio with a few new tubes of oil paint and a lot of ideas. I took the canvas and placed it on the floor. I took my oil paint and mixed a specific color then added a large amount of the Wesson oil and started mixing it with a 1” brush. Amazing, this stuff was great. Beautiful rich color with that famous buttery smooth consistency. I added a little thinner until I got a very fluid mixture. I went to the canvas and started pouring, spattering, slinging, brushing, all with my newly found energy and passion. I loved what I was accomplishing so this added to the energy and it all showed. I quickly went back to my paint and mixed another color and rushed back to the canvas. Then I got really crazy. I mixed up another color with acrylic paint; let’s break all the rules! Unlike de Kooning, I didn’t whip the oil and water mixture together; I let them repel each other. This rule of opposites is the fundamental reason lithography works as a printing method and I wanted to see what would happen with paint. It created a beautiful marbling effect on the canvas. I continued the entire day barely stopping to eat. I left the painting on the floor and headed home very satisfied with my new approach and very excited to continue this new series. When I returned the next day I was pleasantly surprised to find the painting rich in color and very energetic. The oil paint was dry to touch so the de Kooning / Hefner formula (my part was the substitution of Wesson oil) seemed to work. My semester work-load was very light so I decided to continue this new direction with the possible goal of showing these new pieces in my senior show, which was scheduled at the end of the semester. I started building more stretcher frames immediately. As the paintings progressed, it looked like I was going to have enough to show, so I started asking for more space in the gallery area to accommodate a good selection of the bag paintings and the new oil paintings. The show was scheduled in the new Art building in the light well gallery. The light well gallery was really only one long wall and I felt that it would be adequate for the bag paintings, but would not be well suited for the oils. The honest truth was the two series were so visually different, they did not show well together. The basic concepts had not changed much but the process and application was so different they really didn’t look like the same person produced them. I asked the Chair of the Department if I could have more space and he allowed me to have an entire adjoining room. This room was designed to be an independent classroom, but it worked well as an overflow room for the gallery. I liked it because I could physically separate the work. This room did not have gallery lighting but it was a good space with open walls. I hung the bag pieces in the light well. I hung the oil paintings in the overflow room along with the three-dimensional bag pieces. I was pleased with the show even though it looked like two completely different artists. I decided earlier to focus on painting in my final thesis show rather than mixing in prints and drawings even though I was producing new work in both categories. Now I was ready to defend my work before my committee before receiving my MFA and I was expecting to have quite a debate because of the visual diversity.
It was finally here, the end was in sight, my graduate degree was just days away. The required two years had been finished, the thesis show hung and reviewed and my defense was scheduled. As I mentioned, I was a little concerned about that last step but determined to finish strong. Well, as it turned out, it was no big thing. My committee and I met in the overflow room. After they took one last look at the entire show, we all sat down. They asked a few questions about technique on the most recent oil paintings and then asked if I had any teaching job leads. That was it, all the preparation on concept, rationale and philosophy, all the physical work, all the pain and joy – over in 5 minutes. To this day, I don’t really know how they felt about the work. It was obviously good enough or maybe they felt they had given me all they could and it was just time for me to go. The one thing I do know is I was extremely relieved. Now, for the rest of the story. . .remember I mentioned how important that last semester and the printmaking course was, well as it turned out, I entered every print and drawing show that I could find that semester and was accepted in several. One of the most prestigious was a national competition at Davidson, North Carolina. I didn’t realize at the time how prestigious this show was or how competitive, but it was one of the top print and drawing competitions in the Country at that time. Later, during the summer, in the middle of the massive job hunt, I got a positive response from a small school in North Carolina, Pembroke State University in Pembroke, North Carolina. As it turned out, I sent out over 600 letters of inquires to Colleges and Universities all over the United States and got one interview. That interview turned out to be that small school in North Carolina 30 minutes down the road from Davidson, North Carolina – the same Davidson that hosted the national print and drawing competition where I had recently been accepted. A coincidence, maybe but I doubt it.
[caption id="attachment_845" align="aligncenter" width="733"] After the bag series, I missed the traditional aspect of applying paint to canvas, so I experimented with mixing oil and acrylic in a small but significant group of work. This series of work was inspired by Willem de Kooning. "Under the Big Top" - oil and acrylic on canvas[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_846" align="aligncenter" width="963"] "Thesis Color Study" - oil, acrylic on watercolor paper[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_847" align="aligncenter" width="525"] "New Growth" - oil & acrylic on canvas[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_850" align="aligncenter" width="430"] "Untitled" - oil & acrylic on canvas[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_851" align="aligncenter" width="531"] Thesis Show - Light Well Gallery, University of Oklahoma[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_852" align="aligncenter" width="3080"] Thesis Show - Light Well Gallery, University of Oklahoma[/caption]
The Mid-Way Show was a success and the museum retained one piece for their permanent collection. This was an honor or at least I thought it was at the time. I often wonder what became of that piece or if it was ever shown again. The influence from my fellow grad students was really beginning to affect my thought process and I was slowly starting to experiment with different materials. The entire time I was working with the wrinkle technique I was obviously working with an illusion of depth or space and I was trying to enhance or destroy this illusion with color and texture. I slowly started to play with this deconstruction using alternate materials like Plexiglas suspended in front of the wrinkle to visually prove the flatness. Then I started playing with making the wrinkle permanent with the use of polyester resin to stiffen the canvas. This led to combining the Plexiglas with the resin, then using the resin on lighter weight material i.e. muslin, then tinting the resin with dyes and paint, then casting separate elements of paint to apply or arrange on top of the other materials. Yea, you got it, lots of crazy experimentation but that is what graduate school is for or at least at OU (total freedom.) Now that I look back on it, what a wonderful time and place! All this experimentation and Otis’s influence eventually led to some arranged pieces. These pieces were similar in size and style to Otis’s work but I changed the materials slightly. Honestly, they weren’t very good and certainly lacked the passion and commitment that Otis and Dalton had with their work. It never happened but I think if almost anyone would have come in and told me that my work sucked and I was full of crap for even trying it, I would have agreed with them, stopped immediately and started something else. I truly was not committed to this type of work! I think of this work and this time period as a transitional period but even with my lack of commitment the effort and the exploration led to new developments in concept as well as process. I became acutely aware of the individual materials that I was choosing and their visual impact on the finished pieces. In traditional painting processes the materials are combined together to create a work where the individuality of each element was hidden in the totality of the whole. In these arranged pieces all the elements remained visible and uniquely separate from the whole. Each element had a distinctive visual effect on the finished piece. This was a new concept for me and I started working with this concept and its relationship with traditional painting materials. In particular I became intrigued with the idea of separating the materials completely yet still having them combine visually. This idea led to separating the paint from the canvas and the canvas from the stretcher frames and bringing them back together in a new presentation. About this time I found an old heat seal machine at the government surplus that I mentioned earlier. This machine was a bulky set of steel bars that were configured into a clamp that was hydraulically operated by compressed air. The bars of the clamp were coated with Teflon and heated to a high temperature so you could put two pieces of polyethylene plastic in and clamp it for about 30 seconds and it would melt the two together. I started using this machine to seal 12”x12” clear pieces of polyethylene plastic on three sides, then fill the bag with colored water then close or seal the remaining side. The end result was a clear plastic bag with colored liquid inside. These bags became my solution to separating the paint from the other elements. This led to an entire series of pieces that were visually a little more structured than the arranged work. This work definitely pushed the boundaries of sculpture and painting. I always thought of them as paintings even though some of the pieces were freestanding, floor structures. I thought of them as paintings because conceptually they were conceived from painting concepts. There was an interesting occurrence dealing with this controversial aspect of these pieces. During the fall semester of 1972, the Museum sponsored a painting competition for students. The competition was open to all art students including graduates. It was a juried competition and the juror was not from OU. I entered one of my bag pieces in the competition and installed it early on the deadline date. These pieces were separate components that I had to set up or arrange. The deadline for entries was 5:00 pm and about 4:00 pm the Director of the Museum, Sam Olkinetzky, contacted me and told me my submission was unacceptable. I asked him why and he said that the competition was for painting and my entry was not a painting. I tried briefly to argue with him using the logic that I created it and the concepts were all painting concepts, but I could see that I was getting nowhere so, I left angry. I went directly back to the art building and ran into George Bogart. He could see that I was distraught and asked me what was going on. I told him the whole scenario, he thought for a moment and told me that I should go back over and talk to him again. My immediate reaction was “Why, what’s the point.” George just looked at me and very calmly said, “If you don’t, he wins.” I certainly didn’t want that and I suddenly realized that George was right. I talked with George a little more to plan my strategy. He suggested that I calmly ask Sam what constitutes a painting and what distinguishes a painting from sculpture. I waited a few minutes and went back to the Museum. I found Sam and engaged him in the planned discussion. I asked him what his definition of painting was. At first he was combative, but I worked calmly and tried to convince him that I was trying to understand. He replied that a painting was all about color and that it could not be dimensional. I then asked him if shaped canvases and work like Frank Stella applied. He replied of course not because Stella was a recognized national painter. I then asked if the fame or notoriety of the artist had anything to do with determining weather a work was sculpture or painting. He replied that it did not. He continued to tell me that the work could not be dimensional. We discussed other dimensional painting techniques and other recognized artists and finally I asked him how far from the wall could a work project before it became sculpture. He was hesitant but finally said that a painting could not project from the wall more than 12 inches before it became sculpture. I then asked if I rearranged my work so that it did not project more than 12 inches, would it be acceptable. I had him; he reluctantly said, “I guess so.” I quickly went to where my piece was hanging and rearranged it by shoving all the ladder forms up against the wall so they did not extend more than 12 inches. It looked terrible but at least it was shown to the juror. A temporary victory! The true irony came after the juror reviewed all the work and awarded my piece the best in show award. He did comment that he thought the piece would be even better if the ladders projected further onto the floor. I renamed the piece “Sam’s Grief.” This event taught me a lot about the art of negotiation and how a cool head and rational discussion could be a strong asset. Later in life this lesson became extremely valuable in dealing with Design clients, distraught students and the dreaded “helicopter parent.”
[caption id="attachment_827" align="aligncenter" width="728"] Stacked Arrangement 80"x120"x36"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_828" align="aligncenter" width="741"] Freezer Bags 80"x120"x24"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_829" align="aligncenter" width="739"] Three Stall Holding Station 48"x80"x16"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_830" align="aligncenter" width="492"] Formal Bags 88"x60"x24"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_831" align="aligncenter" width="737"] Artist with bag[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_832" align="aligncenter" width="739"] Wrinkle Bags 72"x96"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_833" align="aligncenter" width="741"] Glad Bags 72"x132"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_834" align="aligncenter" width="739"] Painting on Painting 60"x90"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_835" align="aligncenter" width="586"] Sam's Grief 60"x90"x72"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_836" align="aligncenter" width="411"] Construction Bags 96"x96"x12"[/caption]
Since I thought it would be possible for me to get a MFA degree in one year from OU and was pretty sure I would be accepted into the program, drugs I didn’t bother to apply anywhere else. Both assumptions were very naïve. As it turned out I did get admitted, online barely, into the program. I found out later that the faculty tried a new method of selecting their new graduate students. In previous years each faculty member chose the students for their area, i.e. the painting faculty chose the painting students, sculpture faculty chose sculpture students, etc. This year the entire faculty unanimously voted to accept or deny each student. This proved to be almost disastrous for the program, there were only two graduates accepted for the fall 1972 enrollment. Normally, 12 to 15 students would be accepted. So, I began that summer, enrolling in 12 graduate hours. Armed with my new “wrinkle technique” I started working with a goal of 15 – 20 new pieces during the summer. At that time the graduate curriculum was very loose at OU. They had several graduate level studio classes that you could take multiple times with a maximum of 12 total hours in each class. I enrolled in 4 of the classes for 3 hours each with a different professor for each class. You met with each of your professors once a week for critique and just worked. There were no set assignments or projects unless one of your professors asked you to work on something specific. The idea was that you were a working professional and you would work to produce and improve your craft. A simple process that many students had great difficulty adapting to but I loved it. I started doing smaller color studies on paper. These works were full watercolor paper size (22”x30”) and I primarily worked on color and different paper folds. They were quick and I could easily do one or more a day. I was using an airbrush to apply the paint so I was using a variety of airbrush media. I experimented with colored inks and dyes as well as watercolor and acrylic. Tube paints needed to be thinned to a very thin consistency so even the opaque paints became somewhat transparent. This transparency aided in the color palette by multiplying the color with each application. These paper studies were important in the development of the larger works on canvas. It was a great way to perfect and work out problems with spraying and the application of paint. They also quickly led me to push beyond the natural phenomenon of the wrinkle. I started trying all kinds of fold and wrinkle patterns. Everything from ridged grid patterns to deep complex wrinkles and everything in between. Then I experimented with masked areas and over-painting hard edged elements, this led to pouring thick paint over the flat wrinkle illusion to drastically juxtapose the two textures. That summer was very productive, I finished with about 30 watercolors and about 6 large-scale canvases. It was the first time that I had the time and freedom to just work. It was exciting! That summer the school allowed me to set up a temporary studio in the brand new Fred Jones Memorial Art Center. Even though it was temporary it was great because it was a new state of the art facility with plenty of space and all the necessary technology (compressed air) to explore this new technique of painting. All in all it was a very successful summer and I assumed my professors felt the same way because I received all A’s. The first hurdle of my one-year marathon had been successfully completed.
[caption id="attachment_808" align="aligncenter" width="802"] "Wrinkle, Pour and Magenta Grid" / Acrylic / 57"x84"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_809" align="aligncenter" width="604"] "Yellow Window" / Acrylic / 66"x90"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_810" align="aligncenter" width="415"] "Here It Comes" / Acrylic / 66"x84"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_811" align="aligncenter" width="493"] "Thin Gold Line" / Acrylic / 60"x72"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_812" align="aligncenter" width="602"] "Looking In" / Acrylic / 66"x96"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_816" align="aligncenter" width="450"] "Looking Out" / Acrylic / 72"x72"[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_814" align="aligncenter" width="462"] "Arc Wrinkle" / Acrylic / 72"x72"[/caption]
In the fall I had to move my studio. The University had several old buildings on what was called North Base. North Base was an old Naval facility that dated back to the WWII time period. I know what you are wondering, a Naval Base in the middle of land locked Oklahoma? Well, it’s true; the story I was told was that the Navy used it as artillery training for the big guns on ships during the war. The buildings were mostly old frame barracks but there was one concrete building that was the bathhouse for the base swimming pool. There was space available in this building so that is where I moved. The sculptors seemed to be in the old barracks and the painters were in the bathhouse. I had met several of the graduate students a year earlier when I was a senior. I had become friends with a graduate printmaker named Dwight Pogue. He was working with commercial printing techniques and trying to use them in a fine art approach. I became very interested in these techniques and I helped him build a process camera out of found parts that we scrounged from the Government surplus that we had access to in Oklahoma City. We installed this camera in one of the barracks and eventually used it to shoot large-scale negatives and positives for screen-printing. We eventually wrote a book and printed it at Dwight’s dad’s printing company in Missouri but that is another story. Through these efforts I met many of Dwight’s fellow graduate students and friends. One of Dwight’s friends was a painter by the name of Otis Jones. Otis and Dwight had been friends as undergrad students at a small University in Pittsburg, Kansas. Otis also had a studio in the bathhouse and we became friends. Otis was very progressive in his painting. His paintings at the time were large arrangements of a wide variety of materials including thinly painted cheesecloth, natural muslin and raw and painted wood. These materials were assembled in a variety of arrangements on a long wall with some of the wooden elements giving dimensional support to the draped and flowing cloth elements. This visual style was almost radical for me at the time but was very interesting. The better I got to know Otis and the more I watched him work the more I realized how dedicated he was to this new art form. There were a lot of advantages to this method of working. One was cost of materials; one set of materials could be used over and over and over with almost unlimited variation possibilities. Another advantage was storage. Another close graduate friend, Dalton Maroney, recently told me of a time during this period when he helped Otis transport and install an entire show in Otis’s Volkswagen Beetle. The biggest disadvantage was this type of work had no real permanence. Almost none of this type work exists today; it lives by its photographic record. Otis, Dalton, Dwight and all of my graduate friends would become very important in my personal art development. I continued to work with the “wrinkle technique” but watching my fellow grad students work with arranged work in painting and sculpture accelerated my growth and my desire to go beyond the natural beauty of the wrinkle illusion. I worked with the wrinkle technique through my Mid-Way Show. For most of the graduates this show occurred after the first year when the student had finished approximately half of the required 56 hours. Since I was working on the accelerated plan, I scheduled mine after my first fall semester. I had successfully completed 28 hours at this point. The show was at the new Fred Jones Memorial Museum and consisted of eight large stretched canvases.
[caption id="attachment_818" align="aligncenter" width="739"] Grad School Midway Show / 1971 / Fred Jones Jr. Memorial Art Center[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_819" align="aligncenter" width="739"] Grad School Midway Show / 1971 / Fred Jones Jr. Memorial Art Center[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_820" align="aligncenter" width="727"] Grad School Midway Show / 1971 / Fred Jones Jr. Memorial Art Center[/caption]