Elmer Bischoff: 'I've taught all my life.'

I've taught so much. I've taught all my life, and the number of teaching jobs I've had which I haven't liked have been very few.  
- Elmer Bischoff, Interviewed by Suzanne B. Riess in 1990
Elmer Bischoff (1919-1991): Photo by Mimi Jacobs via WikiArt

Elmer Bischoff, whose work is on view at the George Adams Gallery in New York through August 14th, was a dedicated teacher throughout his life and career. After graduating with an M.A. from UC Berkeley in 1939, Bischoff got his first teaching job at the downtown art center of Sacramento High School, where he taught ceramics, crafts and jewelry making to "mostly housewives" for the next two years. By the time he retired in 1985, Bischoff had spent more than 38 years, with a few interruptions, teaching art, primarily at college level.

After a wartime stint as an Army intelligence officer, Bischoff joined a generation of postwar Bay Area artist/teachers who paid their bills by teaching and who felt very fortunate to have the work. "Without teaching positions, none of the Bay Area Figurative artists could have supported themselves or their families," writes Caroline Jones in her book Bay Area Figurative Art. For Bischoff, who had fathered five children with two different women by the mid-fifties, the income earned from teaching was essential.

In the fall of 1945 his friend Karl Kasten recommended Bischoff for a teaching position at San Francisco's California School of Fine Arts. It was there that he met other teaching artists -- including David Park and Hassel Smith -- and later became acquainted with a talented student named Richard Diebenkorn. It is worth pointing out that if it hadn't been for teaching, the tight circle of friendships that led to the Bay Area Figurative style would have never been formed. As David Park's biographer Nancy Boas comments:
Elmer Bischoff is known as a Bay Area Figurative artist. The three met at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) in the mid-1940s, where they began their close personal and artistic friendship. They could be found weekly visiting each others' studios. Park and Bischoff played in the art school jazz band and Diebenkorn, a lover of classical music, went so far as to buy a trombone at a pawn shop in an effort to join the others.
In 1952 Bischoff resigned from the CSFA to protest the firing of his friend and colleague Hassel Smith and took a job driving a truck for Railway Express to make ends meet. A year later he landed a job teaching art at Yuba College from 1953 to 1956. Teaching work, although it didn't always pay well, was far preferable to most of the other work that was available to artists, especially in the early 1950s when Bischoff's friend David Park briefly worked arranging displays in liquor store windows and artist James Weeks painted billboards.

Bischoff, who in 1976 told Paul Karlstrom: "I'm still supporting myself by teaching," had only two one man shows before his first New York show at Staempfli Gallery in 1960, including a 1955 show at the Paul Kantor Gallery in Los Angeles from which nothing sold. In contrast, leading artists in New York benefitted from a booming art market. For example, Willem de Kooning's 1959 New York show sold out on the first day, bringing in about $150,000 (about $1.2 million dollars today, when adjusted for inflation).

Of course, de Kooning was a sensation, but many other New York artists sold well while California artists struggled. In this situation, decently paying teaching jobs were a rare and precious commodity. When it was rumored in 1955 that David Park had been offered $10,000 per year to teach at UC Berkeley, artist Nathan Oliveira -- who at the time was earning $2.50 per hour teaching art 18 hours per week -- thought that Park had been given "the opportunity of a lifetime." As it turns out, Park's actual starting annual salary was $5,300.00.

In late 1956 Bischoff returned to chair the Graduate Program at the California School of Fine Arts where he taught until 1963 when he joined the faculty of UC Berkeley. He taught at UCB for the next 22 years, winning the Distinguished Teaching Award of the College Art Association in 1983, and the Berkeley Citation by a vote of the Berkeley faculty in 1985. During his long teaching career, Bischoff was also a visiting artist at a number of schools including Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1961) Yale University (1961) UCLA, The University of Notre Dame (1971), The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (1975) and Kent State (1976).

Girl Geting a Haircut, 1962, Oil on Canvas, 63 x 70 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Over the years Bischoff taught and encouraged hundreds, if not thousands of students including prominent artists -- Joan Brown was one -- and a few other notables including Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead who studied painting with him in late 1950s. Across time and situation, his teaching manner changed, but the description that Poet/Art Historian Bill Berkson offers is the most familiar:
Students who took his classes the University of California, Berkeley, recall Bischoff as "a twinkling Buddha" extolling the virtues of "vague" as opposed to a too-clear partiality of image: above the attainable, "stamped-out" product, he favored the more arduous, open-ended personal search.
Bischoff's friend and colleague Sidney Gordin (1918-1996) recalls a dedicated, devoted teacher:
He was a superb teacher--conscientious, responsible, articulate, full of ideas, and completely devoted to art and teaching. The students loved him for it. Although he often lectured to his class about art projects, setting up still-life arrangements, posing models, and discoursing on the basic problems of visual perception, process, composition, color, light, and technique, most of his teaching time and effort was spent giving individual critiques. To this end he set up his office as a viewing room, which he kept mostly bare to avoid distractions, so that only the individual student and his or her work was dealt with. He was a master at analyzing art and, being a great listener, he also encouraged dialogue. His relationship with students was extraordinary for the rapport that he usually achieved. His manner was relaxed and congenial. He was sensitive and gentle, but could also be very tough and critical when he thought it necessary. He always explained the reasoning behind his opinions with great clarity. He verbalized eloquently, and even poetically.
* * *
Figure with White Lake, 1964, Oil on Canvas, 79 1/2 x 79 1/4 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Recollections from Elmer' Bischoff's Students

What follows are a collection of recollections and anecdotes from a small sampling of Elmer Bischoff's students, including one of my own.

Gordon Smith ( A Canadian Artist who studied with Bischoff in 1951)

He told us: "Paint without any pre-conceived ideas."

Adelie Landis Bischoff: Photo by John Seed

Adelie Landis Bischoff

(Adelie Bischoff, who married Elmer in 1962, was one of his students at the California School of Fine Arts, where she also studied with David Park.)

"He was one of best teachers I had. Questions of color and composition would eventually spill into a whole philosophical, ethical look at why you're painting. . . . He was very inspiring. Like wow, there's this world out there for me to discover."

Figure at Window with Boat, 1964, Oil on Canvas, 91 x 79 1/2 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Ellen Singer

I studied painting with Elmer Bischoff at UCB between 1966 and 1969.

He had incredible presence but there was stillness about him: he wouldn't interrupt people as they worked. He had a paternal quality and solidity. His large hands had a squareness and heft to them.

He would come around and quietly look at our work. There wasn't a lot of direct instruction, and his teaching was more about asking questions. He didn't talk to us about technique. He asked us "why" questions including why we wanted to portray something.

One morning he looked at a painting I was working on and simply said: "What did you have for breakfast this morning: cornflakes?" It wasn't unkind and in fact if was kind of funny. I had gotten a little lazy in my painting and that was just his way of saying it. His crits were strong but with kindness. He always found something to say that was true.

I fell in love with his art and still to this day I would rush to see the works of Diebenkorn, Park and Bischoff. An attachment was formed that made me a loyal fan of his work. His work really reflected who he was and how he lived. He was only who he was: he wasn't going to be anybody else.

Bay, 1971-72, Oil on Canvas, 80 x 92 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Jack E. McWhorter

I met Elmer Bischoff at Kent State University's Blossom Festival School in 1976. The Blossom art program provided for infusion of new ideas and attitudes through a concentration in studio experiences with major visiting artists. Students were encouraged to explore the interrelationship of the visual arts through informal contacts and lectures by visiting artists. Individual work was also critically evaluated.

The question of influences, especially in the formative stages of an artist's career is fairly an easy matter to sort out when you have an opportunity to meet artists such as Elmer Bischoff. Quite simply, listening to Mr. Bischoff's talks and critiques on painting and seeing his work blew my mind and changed my preconceptions about painting. He helped me to discover my own sensibility.

All the visiting artists had several paintings on exhibition. His paintings were not only interesting and affecting works to experience, they were aesthetically lovely, because Bischoff was enraptured with the beauty of his materials. His surfaces seemed so casual at first, but hearing his words and looking more carefully at his works I discovered his gorgeous juxtapositions of push-pull pigments and eye-popping textures and effects.

David Newman

I studied with Bischoff in the late 1970s and remember one thing he said very clearly. He said that we should "create work that we would be proud of five years from now." Note: Links to two recordings of 1978 Bischoff lectures taped by David Newman can be found at the end of this blog.

Bruce Klein

Like many others, I came to UC Berkeley in the seventies to study with Joan Brown and Elmer Bischoff. In the courses I took with him, Bischoff's emphasis was on keeping your painterly process open, on finding your painting's subject matter through the act of painting and on letting the painting lead. These ideas continue to characterize my practice.

Once during a portfolio review in his office, he picked out a painting I thought of little value. "That," he said, "was a gift. Put it up in your studio and look at it until you can see why I think it is beautiful." I was interested in painting the figure. He had picked an abstract piece that I hadn't even brought in for review, but had used to wrap some figure studies.

So I put it up. Looking at it every day for months, I finally began to see the piece's beauty and realize it had a certain kind of presence that I couldn't make happen, or force to happen. That experience ultimately led me to understand that, for me, my highest aesthetic level was reached not through conscious, meticulous control of media and of the creative processes but through simply starting out with a blank canvas and seeing what happens.

In my studio I've tacked up this Bischoff quote: "What is most desired in the final outcome is a condition of form which dissolves all tangible facts into intangibles of feeling." This serves as both a goal and reminder.

Girl Leaning Against Chair, c. 1965, Ink and charcoal on paper, 18 x 15 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Pia Stern

I first studied with Bischoff in 1975 as an undergraduate during my senior year at UCB. At that time, I was designing an independent major in city planning, and intended to go to law school to become a trial attorney.

The year before I had attended a private university in Aix-en-Provence, France (Cézanne's home). Up until then, I had always avoided art classes. However, a painting class was the only thing that fit into my schedule. The teachers of the class were American expatriates - their mentor was Leo Marchutz, originally a German Jew who had hidden in those very mountains around Aix during the Hitler years. These artists were all devotees of Cézanne. More than the act of painting, I just got completely hooked on their philosophical approach - their way of looking at art and life in general. Also, they seemed to think I "had something" as an artist, which certainly left an impact on me.

I went back to UCB and enrolled in an art class as a trial - just to make sure that I still wanted to go forward with my original academic plan. Elmer's was one of the first art classes I had. I took Life Drawing with him and realized that I knew nothing. He didn't say a lot; but people hung on his every word. At times he could be sharp and sarcastic, and his critiques could be painful - and deadly silent. We were all very intimidated, and very few students felt comfortable speaking during these critiques.

We would put all our drawings up on the wall, and he would work his way down the line, finding something to say about everyone's work but mine. It was pretty devastating. Elmer was not particularly patient and didn't take pains to explain things - it felt very much like a 'sink or swim' situation for me. Finally, one day I asked a student for their permission to watch them draw - a student whose work he consistently praised. It was then that the light finally turned on - it wasn't so much about drawing - it was about seeing! And in that moment, I saw in a completely new light; realizing that every object in the picture plane related to every other object - all the elements made up the 'whole'. I now understood what he was talking about - and from that day on, he began to not only comment on my work, but to praise my work. All of a sudden I existed.

The way Elmer talked about art was never in cosmetic terms, which was very unusual. He was able to tune into something deeper than just the "look" of a painting. He spoke more metaphorically, often using musical references, which somehow I totally got. We had a shared love of music - and I wonder if he didn't even have a bit of synesthesia - he was so incredibly attuned to visual rhythms. But his wasn't a language that worked for everyone, and when he spoke to some others about their works, they would often come up to me for a 'translation'. After I got my BA he became my mentor throughout graduate school, and I served as his Teaching Assistant.

He was very reserved as a teacher - and I think he held back a lot of his energy for his own work and his personal life. One never felt a surge of joyful energy when he entered the room - more like a surge of nervous energy. Students were a bit in awe of Elmer and held him in high esteem, though I don't think he was aware of this. He wasn't the perfect teacher for all - but he certainly was for me - and I feel very lucky to have worked with him. Ultimately, because he saw something about my potential as an artist, his influence became life and path-changing.

John Seed

 I took a seminar from Bischoff in 1981 during my graduate work at UCB. Once I showed him a figure drawing of a nude female model that I was very proud of. He looked it over soberly and said to me "What about all of the blank paper? It's not a good drawing until you have given the figure an environment that she can live in." I remember realizing then that Bischoff wasn't interested in isolated forms: he was interested in how everything worked together to form a whole.

Kyung Sun Cho

I worked with Elmer Bischoff between 1982-1985, before he retired in 1985. I was an undergraduate then, I enrolled in his figure painting/drawing courses. He conducted studio work sessions during the week, but the critiques were scheduled for Saturdays, they were joint critiques with graduates and undergraduates together: nobody missed them. I enjoyed his critiques enormously; he was honest but gentle. I have fond memories of him walking in the classroom holding his coffee mug and wearing his apron, ready to go!

In addition to Saturday critiques, I really appreciated the one to one time with him. He would conduct individual discussions with each student regarding his/her making. He took the time to examine topics concerning each student's work and level; he thoughtfully recommended readings and artists accordingly. He often brought his own books to share them with me, very thoughtful. He was kind and generous man. He was a dedicated teacher.

Casey Chalem

 When I was a student at UC Berkeley in the mid-1980s I showed him a small still life of an apple and he told me "It looks like your grandmother did that." The comment made me cry, but he was probably right.

Steve Sas Schwartz

My memories of Elmer include his kindness, keen visual perceptions and a chronic curiosity.

He was incredibly supportive of me while studying with him as both an undergrad and a graduate student and seemed fascinated by my deep immersion in my work and how I would be cranking out these substantive abstracts like channeling some greater force. He once asked: "How do you keep up this intensity, don't you ever stumble?" and I said "No!" but then "Yes of course, but I just put my head down and plow right through." Elmer just cracked up.

Once when i was renting Bob Yarber's studio in this really dark zone by the Oakland industrial train station Elmer came riding up to my door on a giant Harley wearing a black leather jacket, boots, the whole deal. That was funny and surprising as I had never that aspect of his personality. From then on I always called him Elvis and he would always laugh his hearty chuckle.

Seated Nude, 1965, Oil crayon and ink on paper, 15 x 18 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Eve Aschheim

I studied with Elmer through 1984. He had unstinting energy and devotion to his classes, most of all to painting. Elmer just lit up when he saw painting; he lived in painting. He spent hours making setups for the model. He was always calm and engaged. During class critiques he would stare at a work for what seemed to be a long time, perhaps four minutes, and then offer insightful observations and thoughts, incisive critique, never predictable.

Elmer said things like: "It seems that the edges of the page are imposing themselves on the space inside of it, and determining too much of what happens within it." He talked a lot about the relationship of the figure to its environment, one of his chief preoccupations. He thought that the figure should be painted in as loose and intuitive way as the rest of the painting. He had a very fluid and subtle understanding of the relationship between drawing, painting, printmaking and cartooning.

On the last day of the semester of his drawing classes, Elmer would always give a slide show, with a surprising range of works, including prints! He showed Max Beckman's drypoint Self-Portrait (1914) and commented on the razor-sharp jagged strokes giving it a sense of tension. He showed Rembrandt's "unfinished" print The Artist Drawing from the Model (1648 or later), which he mused over, but considered to be essentially finished, a radical view. He also loved Krazy Kat!

When I was working in school independently of his classes, I would knock on his office door, and he always made time to critique my work, as if it were a welcome interruption. He was generous, but reserved and formal. One never had the feeling that teaching was a chore for him or that he wanted to be somewhere else, rather that through teaching he could communicate something of his inner life. 

Years later, I ran into Bischoff at the at the Anselm Kiefer exhibition (1988) at MOCA, Los Angeles. He was happy to see me and extremely enthusiastic about the show: he gestured at the brushstrokes and the thick paint application, as we discussed individual works. I think he commented favorably about the incorporation of large woodblock printing. He was impressed by the massiveness and sheer energy of the work. I remember bring impressed at how open he was to the work, not polemical or defensive. We talked about the work, and then as soon as we stopped looking Elmer just said: "Bye, see you again soon!" He didn't want to talk beyond that.


Recorded critique session by Elmer Bischoff: January 21, 1978

Elmer Bischoff: Slide Talk on his Work, March 9, 1978

Elmer Bischoff Remembers "The Breakfast Club" (video)

Elmer Bischoff: Working from Life and Figurative Paintings (concurrent exhibitions)
Through August 14, 2015
The George Adams Gallery
525-531 West 26th Street First Floor
New York, NY 10001

Ruth Weisberg: The Adventure of Living In Between

If you look over the biography of artist Ruth Weisberg you will note that she was born and raised in Chicago. After earning a BA and an MA in Michigan, where she also taught, Ruth moved to Southern California in 1969 where she has lived since. Ruth has also spent time overseas, including three formative years in Italy between the ages of 17 and 21, as a student at the Academia di Belle Arti in Perugia.

Ruth Weisberg at Judson Studios, Los Angeles: Photo by Eric Minh Swenson

Of course, the physical locations where an artist literally "lives" may have only slight connection to the life of their mind. In Ruth Weisberg's case it has to be said that she has lived--as an artist--in the margins between reality, history and art, constantly inter-weaving them in an effort to reconcile her own identity and experience with universal forces and concerns. To put it another way, Ruth has a feeling for culture as adventure. Making art is her personal way of obliterating the boundaries of time and place and of using imagination and empathy to suggest parallel realities that are zones of the "in between."

"My main pre-occupations have been time and memory," Ruth recently explained to me; "I'm very interested in the artist's ability to travel through time." While growing up in Chicago--her father was an architect and her politically active mother was "the president of everything"--Ruth was exposed to artistic culture by the Art Institute of Chicago, where she also took her first ten years of art classes. She grew up with the knowledge that her family was part of a diaspora. The sweetness of her early life was both deeply connected to her family's Jewish heritage and also tempered by her growing awareness of the previous generation's tragic losses.

By her fourth class at the Art Institute Ruth had made up her mind to become an artist. It helped that her parents approved of her choice, and also that she was able to study as a teenager with a brilliant drawing instructor: Emmanuel Jacobson. To this day drawing remains central to Ruth's work in all media including printmaking and painting and is an important aspect of her teaching at the USC Roski School of Art and Design.

Because of her attachment to drawing and earlier engagement with Italian Renaissance art, Ruth found herself "out of synch" during her art studies at the University of Michigan. "The choices were Abstract Expressionism or Pop," she recalls. "I was interested in surface and tactility but couldn't have been more remote from Pop." As a woman artist Ruth also became increasingly aware of her relative "invisibility" in the male-dominated art world. After graduate school she held a teaching job at Eastern Michigan University and also received a Ford Foundation grant to research and illustrate a Holocaust-themed book: The Shtetl, a Journey and a Memorial.

For Weisberg, who as a young woman saw and was emotionally devastated by her grandmother's "Memorial Book," filled with images of Polish Jews who had perished in the Holocaust, this project was a watershed. It established her "voice" as an artist, and confirmed her feeling that as an artist she could be a "witness to history" across time and memory. Like writer/critic Susan Sontag, who in 1945 saw photos of Nazi concentration camps in a book and later wrote that "When I looked at those photos something broke," Ruth is a Post-Holocaust intellectual. Her art is driven by her sense of empathy towards a profound quest for life's redemptive meanings as the antidote for her glimpse of incomprehensible evil.

Looking across time is both an imaginative act for her and a moral imperative. As Ruth once wrote: "My work demonstrates intense interest in the cycle of life, the continuity of generations, and issues of survival and impermanence."

* * *
Weisberg's current exhibition--Ruth Weisberg: Reflections Through Time--offers the opportunity to view and consider a selection of her key works. Most are drawings and prints, along with a single mixed media painting on canvas. "I see painting and drawing as tremendously inter-related," Weisberg comments, "and printmaking has always been very important to me." The show has been hung to forefront pairings of works and relationships between themes, and works that might have been made decades apart are often seen in close proximity.

The color lithograph Waterborne, created in 1973, is one very personal and revelatory image that suggests myriad themes and possibilities of meaning.

Waterbourne, 1973, Color Lithograph, 30 1/4 x 42 1/4 inches

While pregnant with her first child, Weisberg floated nude in the pool of her great friends the art patrons Elyse and Stanley Grinstein. In some respects, the lithograph she created from this event could be said to be a record of a performance that deals with emergence, motherhood and birth. In fact, Weisberg had been around performance and dance during her time in Ann Arbor Michigan, and after coming to LA had taken part in a performance workshop with the late Rachel Rosenthal.

Printed at Cirrus Editions, Waterbourne is a rich masterful print that demonstrates Weisberg's confident drawing and interest in texture. It presents a distinctly feminist consciousness, in which the artist presents herself as having a heightened awareness and sense of control over her own progress towards giving birth while also accepting the fluidity and risk of her situation.

La Comedia é Finita, 1977, Lithograph, 29 1/4 x 37 1/2 inches, Edition of 30

In a black and white lithograph made four years later-- La Comedia é Finita--themes of transition are again apparent, but in a much darker context. Weisberg has always taken an interest in cinematic and theatrical settings, and in this case both are at work. A figure of Pierrot, a Commedia Del'Arte character who also appears in the paintings of Watteau, draws back a curtain to reveal the climactic scene of Marcel Carne's Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) which was made during the Nazi occupation of Paris. A close examination of the figure of Pierrot, a character who often serves to suggest an honest witness or interloper, will tell you that "he" was modeled by a "she:" a friend and filmmaker named Laura Vazquez who often took care of Weisberg's children.

Among the faces in the crowd are those of some of the nearly 1,800 extras hired for the film--including members of the Resistance--many of whom were youthful and starving. Weisberg, who responds intuitively to her source material, is clearly dealing with the collisions between art and life that occurred during the making of the film, and with the idea that art can create an imaginative space in which one can make sense of life's potent mixture of pain and joy. For Weisberg, who was an infant in the relative safety of the United States during the years when this film was made, the print also explores the theme of where she was versus who she might have been.

 Although Weisberg's ability to work on an intimate scale in making drawings and prints is one of the strengths of her oeuvre, Reflections Through Time also features a monumental, mixed media drawing, Island, that is just over four feet tall and seven feet and one half feet wide. Made for Weisberg's 2008 exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum--Ruth Weisberg: Guido Cagnacci and the Resonant Image--it is one of a series of works created to respond intuitively to a painting in the Simon's collection: Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity. Emanating from her conviction that contemporary art is not separate from art of earlier periods, Weisberg conceived Island as a dialogue with a work of art that was very much receptive and alive to her imagination.

Guido Cagnacci, Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity, c.1660, 90.2 x 104.7 inches
The Norton Simon Museum

Island, 2007 Mixed Media Drawing on Paper, 51 1/2 x 90 inches

"I think it's a great painting," Weisberg says of the Cagnacci. "It has a theatrical sense of ensemble and presentation." Weisberg's drawing isolates two characters from the original canvas--the reclining semi-nude figure of Mary Magdalen and her kneeling sister Martha--and recasts them with herself and her daughter-in-law Laura Darlington. It is a re-enactment, something that is present of many of Weisberg's recent works. In regards to the Cagnacci image, Weisberg explains: "At its core, the original painting is about the relationship between two women." Weisberg's re-enacted and re-focused variation softens the sense of "rebuke" and transmutes the relationship between the two women into something more affectionate: perhaps a blessing. In fact, another major work in this series is titled The Blessing.

Paolo Veronese, The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, ca. 1565
Oil on canvas, 86 1/4 x 66 3/4 inches
The Frick Collection, New York

Another of Weisberg's re-enacted works is based on a work by Veronese that Weisberg views as "a very great and troubling painting." Titled The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, which is described by the Frick Collection's website in this way:
At a crossroads, Hercules encountered Vice, who offered a path of ease and pleasure, and Virtue, who indicated a rugged ascent leading to true happiness -- a moral lesson underlined by the motto on the entablature at upper left: [HO]NOR ET VIRTUS/[P]OST MORTE FLORET (Honor and Virtue Flourish after Death). The long talons of Vice have ripped the hero's stocking. A jagged knife leans against the breast of the sphinx supporting her throne.
Questioning Veronese, 2011, Oil and Pastel on Gessoed Paper, 37 x 25 1/2 inches

Weisberg's painting removes the figure of Evil, and replaces it with a self-portrait that glances toward the viewer. "It's significant when someone in a painting is looking at YOU," Weisberg observes. "When characters don't look down or away, it reveals that the artist knows that they are going to have a direct communication with the work's viewers." As to just what her glance means, Weisberg is hesitant to comment: "My glance has many interpretations, and I like people to come to their own conclusions."

"While so many artists want to make history by being contemporary through stylistic gyration," explains art dealer Jack Rutberg, "Ruth Weisberg makes history contemporary. Art history is her source of inspiration as it converges with her own history." Looking through Weisberg's show it is very clear that not only is she deeply interested in finding the life and meanings of culture over time, while seeking to involve others in her sense of connection.

 "A combination of intellectual and emotional is what I want" says Weisberg. As her show demonstrates, she balances those two aspects with considerable confidence and grace.

Ruth Weisberg: Reflections Through Time
June 13 - August 29th, 2015
Jack Rutberg Fine Arts Inc. 
357 North La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Edith Beaucage: 'Chill Bivouac Rhymes' at CB1 Gallery

Edith Beaucage

Artist Edith Beaucage recently invited to meet me at CB1 Gallery's new downtown space to walk me around her exhibition Chill Bivouac Rhymes. The show, which features both paintings and free-standing elements, has a rough storyline about a group of teenagers at a rave concert. By the way, if you don't know what a bivouac is -- as I didn't prior to the show -- it is a temporary encampment. Keeping mind in Roland Barthe's idea that the best stories are those which are open to widely varying interpretations, Beaucage's sweet and sweepingly painted characters meet, flirt and wander in a loosely brushed Rococo paradise that opens up myriad narrative possibilities. "It's in California in a way," Edith explained to me as we entered the gallery, "there are woods, there is water, there is swimming: actually it's kind of a mix of Quebec and California."

Installation View: Edith Beaucage, Chill Bivouac Rhymes

The addition of a central implied narrative is something new for Beaucage, whose 2011 show hurluberlu show consisted of idiosyncratic figures in abstracted settings. To prepare for Chill Bivouac Rhymes Beaucage made a maquette of the gallery space -- complete with tiny paintings and models -- and also generated a sequence of studies on paper. In the back room of CB1 Edith showed me a selection of these works, which have the bold immediacy of unfiltered ideas. They "rhyme" with each other in the sense that they present clusters of themes within a consistent range of feeling, as do the larger works on view.

One of Edith's studies on paper

As Edith leafed through the story, she reflected on how her narrative had unfolded: "As I made these sketches the story became evident to me in the relationship between this young woman and this young man. They are in the woods -- But what are they talking about? Why are they there? -- but I could tell that they were falling in love."

Rave Prose, 2015, Oil on canvas, 135-1/2" x 115"

Rave Prose, 2015 (Detail) Oil on canvas, 135-1/2" x 115"

So there is a love story at the heart of Edith's rave, which the press release for the show describes enticingly: "A young Bolshoi ballerina, Ekaterina becomes a rave bunny and escapes her Russian lover to venture in cutting shapes with a young surfer from Bora Bora." From that kernel of a storyline Edith conceived locations -- Yellow Boa Canyon is one -- and an entourage of sweet, technicolor hipsters including Josephine, Happy Hardcore Sebastian, and some Scottish Gypsies.

Happy Hardcore Sebastian an American Poet, 2015, Fired enamel on iron, 6" x 4"

Edith has tendency to see the best in people, and as we looked over the show we talked about a side of raves and the Burning Man Festival that is easy to overlook: people need places to unwind and experience love and friendship away from the world's insistent pressures. In the way she paints, she leaves angst behind at the studio door and let's pleasure and innocence take over. Beaucage's canvases, even the large ones, have almost no evidence of editing, scraping or revision. They are what they are: unadulterated marzipan pleasures that unfold in a looseleaf Eden.

By Morning We Jumped Into the Crisp Water, 2015, Oil on canvas, 60″ x 48″

Chill Bivouac Rhymes is a an easy show to like as long as your recipe for art doesn't necessitate a social reality or tragedy as thematic ingredients. In the gallery opposite Beaucage's show is Jaime Scholnick's bracing exhibition Gaza: Mowing the Lawn which includes graphic imagery of war, grief and loss. Paradoxically, the two shows compliment each other through their profound sense of difference. Beaucage's show offers escape and release, and the reminder that love is always the answer, even to life's toughest, most pressing questions.

Edith Beaucage: Chill Bivouac Rhymes
June 6 - July 18, 2015 CB1 Gallery
1923 S. Santa Fe Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90021

Now on my Huffpost blog: David Ligare

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David Ligare at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento

At the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, the works of David Ligare (b. 1945), a contemporary Classicist and a maker of "literate pictures" are currently on view. Ligare, who endows his images with strong Conceptual underpinnings, seeks out ancient ideas that are relevant to the modern world and paints them in a refined, elegant and luminous style.

I recently interviewed David Ligare, and asked him about his artistic development and his ideas.

David Ligare

John Seed Interviews David Ligare David, tell me a bit about your beginnings as an artist. 

As a student, I went to Art Center in Pasadena: this was from 1963 through 1965. I was in the illustration program but I left that program because I wanted to be a fine artist. I began working outside, working directly from nature, mostly in watercolor. The earliest works in the Crocker show date back to when I lived in Big Sur and when I was experimenting and looking at all manner of approaches to art making. I was very aware of New York and Los Angeles artists and what they were doing at the time, but back then I was looking for my own voice amid all the various styles and concepts.

How did your work develop in the first decade of your career? 

In the 1970s I did a series of paintings of draperies floating over the sea, named after Greek Islands. The forms reminded me of classical sculpture, of broken and fragmented Hellenistic art from which only the drapery remains. I exhibited these works in New York in 1978 and after the show I asked myself: "What else can I do with this?"

Serifos, Thrown Drapery, 2010 oil on canvas, 60 x 40 in. | Private Collection

I had a lot of questions, for example: should my work, which was very photorealistic, be more expressionistic? I went through the whole menu of things that other artists were doing and I found that there were thousands of artists doing each type of work. There are thousands of Abstract Expressionists, thousands of Conceptualists, thousands of Pop artists, but NOBODY was doing anything with Classical narrative. "This is an interesting challenge," I decided.

Still Life with Burning Flowers, (Offering), 2015 | oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in.

Weren't there at least a few Europeans--for example Carlo Maria Mariani--who were working with Classical imagery in painting? 

There were, but at the time I didn't know about the others. By the early 80s I became aware that there were others using classical imagery in one manner or another, I also became acquainted with Postmodern architects like Leon Krier who gave me a greater sense of how Neo-historicism can affect city planning and social organizations. There were also a number of exhibitions that had some kind of classical theme, Modern Myths was one, but most of the contemporary classicism was connected to Postmodern architecture.

Of course since then Postmodernism has become something else entirely. At any rate, the type of work that I was doing, and which interested me, was rarely covered in art magazines and the shows weren't reviewed. There were so few people doing what I was doing: it felt wonderfully illegal. I liked that part about it. It seemed like the truly "modern" thing to do, to go against all the art laws of the time.

I did get a very good review from William Wilson in the Los Angeles Times in 1983. That was encouraging. I got a very bad review from another critic in the LA Times in 1986 but he didn't really know his art history so it was easy to dismiss. I also felt pretty confident in my direction by then. Things began to change in 1988 when William Wilson of the LA Times profiled me along with Jon Swihart, Randall Lavendar and John Nava in a major feature article titled "The Shock of the Old." That had an impact.

Arete (Black Figure on a White Horse), 2000 | oil on canvas, 96 x 116 in. Collection: The San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA

What motivates you to work with Classical ideas and imagery? 

I have said over and over: 'As a society, we are in need of a renewed desire for knowledge.' Art can answer that need by inspiring us to look at history and the foundational elements of our culture. There were amazing thinkers in ancient times. That rich wisdom seems so radical to me, and it is often totally applicable to contemporary situations. Also, I think I am first and foremost a conceptual artist, and as a result I am interested in theory. Ancient art is very much wrapped up in the idea. An historian like Winkelman concentrated on ancient aesthetics, I'm more interested in the concepts and ideas - followed up, of course, by the reverence of representation. My work is also about scholarship, and learning. I see serious study as a radical act.

Chi Soffre Speri, 2003 | oil on canvas, 40 x 48 in. | Private Collection, London

What was it like to see your work from past years brought together at the Crocker? 

To walk in and see all those paintings, including many I haven't seen in many, many years was extraordinary. One of the things that surprised me was the scale: these are big museum-sized paintings. But they look so right to me, as if someone else had painted them. I'm very happy with how the show looks. The curator Scott Shields and his team did a wonderful job with the installation and with the book.

What do you hope viewers will take away from the show? I want people to know that there are quite specific ideas connected with the paintings in the show: the labels are great and will help explain them. Each work has a philosophical or historical idea attached to it.

Can you tell me about a few of the images and ideas?

Hercules Protecting the Balance Between Pleasure and Virtue, 1993 | oil on canvas, 60 x 56 in. | Private Collection, Santa Barbara, CA

The essence of Classicism is balance between opposing forces. My painting of Hercules is about the balance between pleasure and virtue, about living our lives with the right balance between the difficult things and the enjoyment of life's pleasures. There is a common misconception that Classicism is authoritarian but it actually isn't. If you look at Greek pots, they illustrate every aspect of ancient life from worshiping the gods to war to sex - even vomiting and defecating. Classicism is filled with all the joys and sorrows of life - of seeing and perceiving and thinking the deepest thoughts.

Et in Arcadia Ego, 1987 8 1/2 x 12 in. | Private Collection

The most interesting thing for me is to deal with big ideas like Death, as I did in my painting Et in Arcadia Ego. Even though we may be living in a beautiful place (and we do) there is always that potential awareness of mortality. The late afternoon light in my paintings is another representation of the melancholic passage of time.

What do you tell people who find your art and interest in Classicism conservative? 

Well, first of all, although I enjoy looking at lots of Contemporary art, I also feel that despite it's extreme diversity, it follows pretty strict conventions. It is now literally the academic in that it is taught in almost all the schools and is eagerly welcomed into all the museums. I have often said that I wanted to make paintings that are as difficult for a contemporary curator or critic to see as a Richard Serra sculpture is for a farmer. Art that is absurdist, irrational or trangressional might be amusing and expensive but it is no longer either radical or useful. It is now the conventional and conservative. The true liberal is a Humanist with all that implies.

Sapere Aude, 2015 | oil on canvas, 20 x 14 in.

The inscription appearing on a branch in my painting Sapere Aude means "Dare to be wise." It's a quote from Emmanuel Kant from the period of the Enlightment and it is something that I think is now a radical idea. As I said before, I strongly believe that we are in need of renewed desire for knowledge. If students have no passion for learning, then even the best-funded schools can't help. The culture is the key.


David Ligare: California Classicist The Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento June 7, 2015 - September 20, 2015


On July 18th the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento will present an all day Symposium on the art of David Ligare and Armin Hansen. For information and registration contact the Crocker Museum at: https://www.crockerartmuseum.org/calendar-event/310

Squeak Carmwath (detail) go see her show at the Lux Art Institute in #Encinitas #Feminism

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A Visit With Squeak Carnwath at the Lux Art Institute

Squeak Carnwath
If you live in Southern California and you have never dropped by the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas, you are missing a great opportunity to see contemporary artists at work. At the Institute's hilltop pavilion noted contemporary artists develop new works in front of visitor's eyes, making their studio practices public. On a recent afternoon I took some of my summer school art appreciation students to the Lux where Squeak Carnwath, a former UC Berkeley art professor wearing a paint-smudged white lab coat, greeted us warmly, ready to show us what she has been up to during her residency.

Talking with students
At the north end of the pavilion, next to recently finished paintings, we got a feeling for how she sets up her working space. Carnwath had left what she calls her "crazy" notes pinned to the wall. In both pencil and oil paint they displayed both practical working notes, lists of names and song titles, and some ruminations. As she visited with my students Carnwath talked about her painting methods, showing us samples of some her colors while discussing their qualities, and also offering some wise observations. She told us that "Art is the last frontier of getting to do what you want to do the way you want to do it."

Carnwath also explained to us that her works are not exactly diaristic, although they do often contain notes, quotes and reflections. At the Lux she has been working on "Song" paintings that contain song titles wedged into vibrant strips of color laid on each other like bricks. One large painting titled "Ray" is dedicated to the late Ray Charles. A smaller lyric-filled 30 x 30 inch canvas is titled "Little Girls."

Some of Carnwath's "Crazy Notes" for a recent painting.
Carnwath's paintings have some the feeling of hand-painted signs, jammed together into a dazzling array. Interestingly, Carnwath told me that she does not write poetry, even though the words in her paintings often have a poetic effect. Her "Song" paintings have impasto surfaces and the directness and physicality of Carnwath's paint application is part of the work's appeal.

A detail of Squeak Carnwath's painting "Ray"
When I noticed a group of maybe ten painted cigar boxes on a table Carnwath opened one up for me, revealing a gloppy symphony of paint. She explained that this was a way of recycling some of her paint scrapings, and that the boxes made nice gifts.

Squeak Carnwath holds one of her paint-filled cigar boxes
For my students, who so often come back from gallery or museum trips feeling intimidated by the presence of solemn museum guards or snobby gallery attendants, the trip to the Lux was refreshing. There really is nothing like walking into a working artist's studio and getting a personal tour, and that is exactly what Squeak Carnwath and the Lux offered all of us. It was a warm, welcoming and inspiring experience.
Squeak Carnwath at the Lux Art Institute
The artist will be in residence through July 12, 2015
Squeak Carnwath's exhibit continues through August 8, 2015
For more information: The Lux Art Institute

Artists (and Others) Talk About Art and Destruction

Digital collage by Photofunia.com based on a photo by David Michael Slonim
"Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." ― Pablo Picasso During my last year of graduate school one of my art professors came by my studio one evening to lead a group critique session. "Someday," he told me, "you will have a storage problem." Those were wise words. I took most of my graduate school work to the dump two years later.

The author's post grad school dump run
Being an artist means making things, and those things can pile up fast. Only lucky works of art survive -- or deserve to survive -- while numerous other works are slashed, smashed, burned or trucked to the dump. When I recently asked artist friends on my Facebook page to tell me stories about art and destruction I found that I had opened up a nerve-hitting topic. Artists destroy works both during and after their making, and they both savor and sometimes later regret their destructive impulses. Here, in edited form, are some of the many anecdotes, comments and bits of wisdom that artists and others had to offer on the topic of art and destruction.

‪Stacy Rosende Bykuc

"Every piece has several destroyed compositions beneath. I call it 'process.' If a piece sucks, it's just not done.‬‬‬"

April Zanne Johnson‬‬‪ 

If, as an artist, you love everything you make all the time and are never self-critical, it is impossible to grow and evolve‬‬‬.

Maria Teicher‬

"Shredded by hand with a razor (or ripped if paper)... the sound is intoxicating and freeing. Never had a single regret. I took photos before so I had it archived but have never looked back. I do a purge of work every 3-4 years and it's great. Not everything goes but those I am not proud of or works that have lost their meaning in my life.‬‬‬"

Kate Shepherd

Just today. Etchings.


Nathan Lewis 

"I destroyed a 52 ft. wide painting. Tired of storing. Tired of hanging onto it. Some things are better in memory."

Lauren Levato Coyne 

"In an essay I just posted I detail throwing a six foot drawing out the window. No regrets."

Joe Fay‬‬‪ 

"When I left LA I threw out a few really old paintings in the dumpster at my studio. Before I left I saw a homeless person had made a shelter out of them. I was happy. More recently I've been cutting up and recycling old paper pieces and using them on my painted wall reliefs."

Kenn Raaf‬‬‪ 

"75% of the finished work I do is deconstructed. Cut, torn, burned, sanded and then reassembled and recomposed into something radically different. As for paper used in sketch work I oftentimes cut into strips and weave to use as texture in my abstract work, and filler in my sculpture.‬‬‬"

Eric Armusik 

"I did a fire sale in 2010 and actually sold all 19 paintings. Some people wanted to crucify me for posting this video, in which I said I would set all the unsold work on fire, but it worked."

Carol M Dupre‬‬‪ 

"A large, favorite, painting -- leading work in a series -- slashed with a razor blade because of a comment (from an intimate). The act still generates feelings of triumph following anguish, after many years (and a relatively easy divorce). Another 'purge' of some twenty canvases stacked in a city alley: sweet thanks that someone came with a trolley to carry them off with grace."

Mimi Jensen 

"To me, the perfect answer to 'What's your best painting?" is 'The next one.' That answer, which is not original to me, speaks to the realization that rarely does a finished work live up to the original vision in the artist's mind's eye. A few times I've finished a painting that was so off the mark that destroying it was my eventual response, one time even vigorously slashing a failed painting with my x-acto knife, providing high drama and great relief. That was years ago and I never regretted it."

Leslie Brown 

"While working on one large piece, I tore several of my own prints to collage into it. Throughout the process I kept saying to myself 'Nothing's sacred. Nothing's sacred'. Oddly enough it was a sort of homage to De la Tour's Mary Magdalens. When the piece was finished I spray painted across the top the word Sanctified! My mentor Herb Olds used to say that in order to feel the true breadth of the artmaking process you must both create and destroy simultaneously. I think my best works employ this."

Jason McPhillips 

"A few days after meeting the woman who was to become my wife, I asked her to sit for a portrait drawing. I was focused on landscape at the time and a little rusty, but was still able to convey a lot of feeling in the drawing. A few years later, in gathering work together for a show of portrait drawings, I decided to rework (shakes head ruefully) one of the eyes from memory, as I just wasn't happy with it. Six hours later, though a symmetry issue was improved, the drawing had lost something vital. The 'corrected' eye now looked glued on, and that mysterious feeling of young love initially present in this time piece from our first few days together had left. I trashed it, painfully, and it didn't make the final cut for the show. Though I regret lacking the foresight to allow a piece it's integral imperfections, taking the piece to the point of collapse was still valuable. It taught me an invaluable lesson about how to rework things, which is to once again to readdress the whole."

Walt Morton‬‬‪ 

"I have two strategies, the most common one is to just paint over the older work and make a new painting. But if the work is 'too good" to paint over', I have been leaving my work at thrift stores, the good will, or the Salvation Army since 1990. Often with cryptic messages inscribed on the back of the canvas. This is more fun because I have gotten phone calls and emails decades later from new owners asking for explanations. Bizarrely, some of these 'collectors' later bought work from me directly.‬‬‬"

  Domenic Cretara 

"About a year after I got my MFA I was teaching painting at a private art school in Boston. I had just finished a painting of a seated petite female model holding on to a hobby horse. I thought it was pretty good so I invited one of my colleagues, a respected painter and teacher to visit my studio and look at the painting. He took one look at it and started in on one of the most devastating critiques I had ever received. He must have talked for 30 minutes dissecting every fault real and imagined he could find. Not only was the color bad but the image was sentimental and the composition awkward. I was so devastated that after he left I took my palette knife and slashed the painting to ribbons in a fit of rage. About two months later the same colleague and I were talking at school and he said, "Hey, Domenic, where's that beautiful painting of the girl with the hobby horse you did recently?"

Heidi Wastweet‬‬‪ 

"Some things don't stand the test of time. No regrets for anything I've destroyed (purged). There are a few remaining that I would like to destroy but don't have the strength to yet because I have so much invested in them. A body of work is like evolution in that one leads to the next and the next. Sometimes that evolution branches out in multiple directions. To destroy a piece takes it out of the gene pool and alters the direction moving forward.‬‬‬"

Steven DaLuz‬‬‪ 

"I was working on a medium-large commission, about 4' x 5'. I really was ambivalent about taking this commission...my heart was never fully in it. No matter what I did, I felt like I was engaged in battle with the piece. I turned it upside down, painted over it, altered the composition...but could not change the color scheme (client had specific requirements on that aspect). I let it "simmer" for a while, thinking I could get some kind of epiphany to help me salvage the work. I took it home and lived with it for about a week. Feeling particularly frustrated, I realized there was no hope for the work, so I tossed it into my backyard, stomped on it, squirted lighter fluid on it and torched it. (This piece had to die). Man, that felt good! I started fresh, changed my direction and produced a piece that was only marginally better and shipped it off to my gallery. The client was pleased, but I still felt I had delivered something I would not have hung in a gallery. That was the moment I reevaluated how I would accept commissions in the future. I take precious few to this day.‬‬‬"

Britta Erickson‬‬‪ 

"A very important Chinese art group, Xiamen Dada, held an exhibition in the mid-80s and then burned the works.‬‬‬"

Danielle Fafchamps

"I rushed to fire a 26" figure (interpretation of a Modigliani drawing) and it blew up in the kiln. But I loved it so decided to redo it even though the initial spark was gone. It took me forever to finish it. The second version (bottom right) was not quite right, the torsion at the waist was weak without the energy of the first one. The face seemed heavy. The hallali sounded when a friend said the right hand seemed to uncork the head. Off to the dumpster it went. That was a mistake I could have kept in in my backyard."


Lauri Lynnxe Murphy‬‬‪ 

"I usually destroy my work by accident or carelessness when I do, rarely deliberately, although sometimes I repurpose things. However, when I was recently going through a divorce and cleaning out my house of fifteen years I found a painting I had done about a tragedy in my life, as catharsis -- I forgot all about it. Since I didn't really want it to be seen and I didn't want to take it with me, I burned it in the back yard, which was it's own cathartic moment. Even though I'd forgotten about the painting (and honestly, it wasn't very good), it was completely freeing to have that smoke bathe over me and be released to the sky.‬‬‬"

Joseph Bravo

"Artists may destroy works because they are depressed or are in a creative slump, or simply because their tastes and aesthetic priorities have changed. I have spent the last few weeks mounting several retrospective exhibits of the artworks of the late Mel Casas. The curator of these exhibits has been frustrated by the fact that the artist destroyed many of the most important works from the beginning of his Humanscape series. These paintings were powerful pieces that demonstrated the formative ideas for a body of work that was to include over two hundred paintings produced over three decades. Yet for personal/sentimental reasons, he kept several of the lesser early works intact.

Now his posthumous retrospective exhibit tells a perplexing and incomplete story in which from a few relatively unimpressive works another body of exceptional works seem to arise ex nihilo. Historians and ordinary viewers have been denied the evolutionary context for this important body of work. Sometimes it takes decades for the significance of a group of paintings to become evident. Oft times, the artist is the poorest and least reliable judge of which of their artworks deserves to be recognized by history. This is why it is not generally desirable for artists to curate exhibits of their own work, they are too close to it, too subjective, too psychologically engaged with it to perceive it objectively. But we are not the best judge of what constitutes our failures or our successes and the totalities of our legacies are legitimately as much the product of our failures as our proudest achievements, perhaps even more so."

Farrell Brickhouse 

"Sometimes one has to let go of the old to truly make room for the new. Like shedding skin. Sometimes a dumpster is needed."


Virginia Bryant‬‬‪ 

"I left the first van full of my art (at least 500 paintings) with coke addicts when I left San Francisco in the late 80's‬‬‬."

Kurt Kauper‬‬‪ 

"I've destroyed a few of my own paintings. I really wish I could destroy several that are out there, but I don't have easy access to. Might be worth a shot.‬‬‬"

Colin Darke‬‬‪ 

"I've painted over a lot of work because I thought I could create something better. About 17 years ago someone in one of my art classes stopped me from painting over a large painting, and now that painting is still hanging in my living room and gets probably the most compliments of all my work‬‬‬."

Cesar Santander‬‬‪ 

"A legendary Canadian art dealer named Walter Moos told me a story about visiting George Roualt. As Walter drove up to his house, Roualt was burning some of his paintings in his yard. I commented that I never liked Roualt's work and Walter replied that Roualt obviously didn't like his own work either.‬‬‬"

Michelle Waldele-Dick‬‬‪ 

"I was once given the advice 'Save your kids the heartache of trashing the bad paintings after you die. Do it yourself now!' So I do!‬‬‬"

F Scott Hess‬‬‪ 

"I burned all the erotic drawings I did as a kid. From the age of seven through high school I did thousands of drawings, and kept them in a padlocked foot-locker in my bedroom. I lived in a small Wisconsin town, where such things were considered a little odd! Before going to college I went into the backyard woods and burned them all. I was going to turn over a new leaf as I embarked on my university adventure, and not a single image survived my thorough cleansing. I regret deeply not having even a lone sample of these twisted little drawings that taught me to be an artist.‬‬‬"

Ron Anteroinen‬‬‪ 

"I've had 5 years worth of my art destroyed by fraudulent storage providers who threw it out in an alley in freezing rain after letting a rock band play in the space and vandalize it. A few years ago, I had to destroy all the stretchers for my paintings because I couldn't afford storage space anymore and had to put the work on rolls. So most of my work that was destroyed was destroyed because of circumstances beyond my control. I'm curious how often this is the reason for artists losing work more than self-editing and such.‬‬‬"

Elin Pendleton‬‬‪ 

"I destroyed 323 paintings in a bonfire over two days after realizing that the works held no merit for me other than being a learning moment (as in, 'I'll never make THAT mistake again.'). It was prefaced by the destruction of my marriage, and many of those marginal (to me) works represented that relationship and the connection through the art to it. It was freeing. My remaining works are of intrinsic value to me and fully represent my growth and artistic journey. 'Cleaning house' carries more meaning to artists, I think.‬‬‬"

Vincent Desiderio‬‬‪

"I once spent 6 months on a large triptych. It was a totally depressing experience and the painting looked it. Nonetheless, I sent it to the gallery. ‬‬‬‪It bothered me that people would see such an overworked, muddled piece of shit so I asked for it back. I intended to salvage it. Work on it some more but never got around to it. ‬‬‬ ‪

One day, I got a call from Marlbough. A collector was interested in purchasing the painting and asked 'Did I still have it? Was it finished?' ‬‬‬ ‪I told them that I still had a few more things to do with it. ‬‬‬‪I unwrapped the painting and immediately took a knife to it. Quality control. I was out $50,000 but I never felt better in my life!‬‬‬"

Jim Wilsterman 

"When I was an undergraduate student in the 1970's, most of my instructors were from UC Berkeley and were there during the golden era of the1950's and 1960's. As a student, I made it a point to try to work for most of them in their studios because I saw my education as an artist as two tracks for my training. One was academic and in the classroom, but the second was based upon gaining as much real world art world experience as possible. After working for several other artists in the department, I was approached by the department chair Marjorie Hyde, who said that she had heard that I was becoming quite a good studio assistant among her colleagues. She asked if I was available to assist her on an ongoing basis. I was very pleased because she was a legendary artist and a very influential educator.She asked me to her home studio where I was to do various tasks to support her production. 

The very first job I was assigned was to cut up and destroy just under a hundred paintings representing 5 years of her work. I was visibly shaken and upset by this as I loved and respected her paintings. When she saw my discomfort, she gently explained that a lot of these works were primarily experimental, and she considered them as exercises resulting from her working out her ideas and compositional direction. She wanted them destroyed as they were not up to her personal standards, and she did not want them out in the world representing her incomplete and unresolved ideas. Apparently she held herself to the same standards she demanded from her students. Since she was due to retire for our school soon, and was clearing out the older work for the big push for her upcoming retirement exhibition.

As painful as it was for me -- I cut up all of the paintings, saved the frames and stretcher bars and burned the canvases in her backyard fire pit. As I prepared to head home, she told me that in addition to my pay -- I could select any painting from her retrospective and take it home! That was an amazing and inspiring gift considering she completely sold-out the show in less than an hour after the gallery opened. It taught me a lesion about professional practices in my own work, and set me on my path as an instructor as well as an art collector. That painting is a painting I still own, and I treasure to this day!"

Regina Jacobson‬‬‪ 

"I asked an elderly man if he would consider modeling for me; his face seemed to express an interesting history. He agreed, we did the photo shoot and he brought a selection of coats, hats and even a pipe that he wanted me to paint. I worked on the painting, a large scale portrait, for several months. I saw this person at the gym a couple of times a week and I would give him updates on the progress. One day he approached me with a letter from an attorney demanding that I destroy the painting. This person came to my studio, watched me cut the painting into little pieces and then I put it in a trash bag for him to take with him. I had to destroy all my photos that I had taken as well. I never saw him again; he never came to the gym again and I understood that he moved from the area.‬‬‬"

‪Evan Woodruffe‬‬‪ 

"The sound of tightly stretched canvas popping under the knife is delightful but terrifies anyone else witnessing it there's enough art out there without adding mediocre attempts to it and sometimes it must be done. Preferably in front of an unsuspecting audience, just for effect!‬‬‬"

Gord MacDonald‬‬‪ 

"Art Students League 1985/86 = 8100 drawings. I kept 40.‬‬‬"

‪Aron Kylene Rook‬‬‪ 

"Ahhh! John . ... art + whiskey -- Smear, drip, wipe, glob ... And then comes morning ..... 'Ohhh Faaaahhhhk' .....‬‬‬"

Mark Mellon‬‬‪ 

"I destroyed every piece i created from the years 1998 - 2002. Certain things ended. Certain things began. I decided the work i was doing was not work, but just nonsense. It was a method of starting over. i did not paint again until 2006. Then again, a few pieces stay with me even now, but for the most part I destroyed them, until 2011, when I finally began what i consider my real work now.‬‬‬"

Julyan Davis‬‪ 

"A piece of advice I have given over the years is this: when you reach that point where a painting is clearly unremarkable, and that no effort will raise it past that, do not lose your temper. Do not punch the canvas -- canvas will chafe your knuckles. Do not kick it across the room. Canvases do not fly well -- it might strike something of value in its trajectory. Kicking it will also destroy a reusable stretcher. Be calm. Reverse the brush in your hand. In a Sicilian fashion, lean into the work and whisper the point of the handle through the center of your canvas. Set aside to dry. Re-stretch at leisure to some cheery music..."