Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Expatriate Painter

African Delta 1964

People who have visited our home over the years have witnessed every available wall space filled with artwork.  When questioned, we have to admit that most of it is mine.

I began painting in oils spontaneously as a teenager, and I loved the French Impressionists.  In three trips to Europe beginning in 1958, I was drawn to the art collections of the major museums in Amsterdam, Paris, London, Milan, Vienna, Copenhagen, and Stockholm.

In Sweden and Denmark as a postgraduate Bauhaus Situationiste fellow, I lived in the home of writer and artist Jorgen Nash whose brother, famed Danish abstractionist Asger Jorn, maintained a summer studio.  It was in that studio that I renewed my drive to create visual arts.  My artwork came to the attention of the leading modern art critic in Denmark—Jens Jorgen Thorsen—who encouraged me to work fulltime in oils, inks, and watercolors in preparation for a public gallery exhibition.

Space Place 1964

By 1964, I was getting a lot of media attention, and my paintings were purchased by two museums and by a Swedish Countess.  I found myself in association with some of the most important European fine artists who had founded the historic COBRA and Situationiste Internationale art movements.  These avant-garde movements were protests against the practice of establishment academies dictating what was and was not fine art.  Artists who were non-conformists were thus excluded from the commercial art world.  With no formal academic art degrees, I, too, was assumed to be a protest artist.  My sudden fame in Scandinavia, however, came to an abrupt end when I was drafted into the US Army.

Man Bearing His World 1964

Out of the Army and home in Virginia, I had a one-man exhibition of my abstract paintings in 1967; but married and with a child on the way, I had to devote myself to magazine journalism to make a living.  Then, after a 40-year hiatus, I started painting again.

Woodland Levels 2007

At first, the work resembled my European influences, but soon I was experimenting with new styles and materials.  My Woodhaven Series of 2007, for example, is very naturalistic in its use of construction board and color patterning.  The primary objective in these initial paintings was to see if I could restore a sense of movement and depth to a flat surface, the qualities that had first attracted critics and buyers to my artwork.

Other new works demonstrated a Native American influence by the use of leather, feathers, and beads.

False Faces 2007

The Yellow Circle Series of five paintings took a full year to complete because of their complex geometric designs.

Yellow Circle Series

Yellow Circle Series 2010

Raging Comet 2011

An experiment involving night sky paintings with wooden relief “moon” discs led to another series in 2010-2011.

Oceanic Moon 2011

Boone Moon 2011

My art studio consists of a garage and a covered deck space where I work outdoors weather permitting.  I have also done a few assemblage sculptures that have been positioned in our woods.  Every summer I encourage our grandchildren to come for brief instructions followed by days free to use my paints, brushes, and pallet knives on canvas and wood surfaces.  Their home bedrooms are now decorated by my work as well as their own.  Some pieces we do together.

Although we do not sell the artwork created in the mid-1960s, more than a dozen paintings of the new era have gone to private collectors in the Washington, DC, Chicago, and Knoxville areas.

Passing Planets 2012


Filed under Art

Chance Encounter with a War Memorial

Scene from Book Cliffs View by Rob Kurtzman

During our May 2012 vacation to the Colorado Rockies, my wife Pat and I made an overnight stopover in Fruita, Colorado, a town near Grand Junction on I-70.  We had just completed a day in the awesome Colorado National Monument landscape and needed a rest.

Our motel was within walking distance of the Colorado Welcome Center, and any observer could not miss seeing a UH-1H Huey helicopter suspended in static display over a nearby landscaped granite walled plaza.  I recognized the Huey from my days in the Vietnam War era Army, so I went to investigate.

The Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park is dedicated to the men and women who served in all branches of the armed forces during the Vietnam War circa 1959 to 1975.  The granite wall that surrounds the helicopter pad is etched with the names of veterans who served during that era, and a Walk of Honor has bricks identifying the donors who made the memorial possible.  Many flags fly at the site, and in 2007 three bronze statues of a mother and father welcoming home their son from Vietnam by sculptor Richard Arnold, himself a vet, were added.

The founding initiator of the memorial park is Jim Doody.  Jim and his fellow vets began their efforts to construct the memorial in 2001.  In the process, they secured the site, got the City of Fruita to undertake the maintenance and liability of the park, got the Associated Builders and Contractors of America to make the construction of the park their 2003 Community Project and contribute $400,000 in materials and labor, and secured other funds and support from across the region to make their purpose a reality.  The ground breaking was in March 2002, and the dedication, attended by thousands, was on the 4th of July, 2003.  Jim later served on the Grand Junction City Council and became its mayor.

For me, walking through the memorial park, there was a sobering reminder of the sacrifices that men and women of courage had made in honoring the call of their country to military service.  Passing though airports on this trip, I saw young people in military uniforms that reminded me that I had worn the uniform and walked in the same harm’s way about 48 years earlier.  My feeling was pride mixed with sadness.

On any given day, a visitor to The Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park, a Vietnam era vet, or a family member, will encounter others like themselves with stories to tell and comrades to remember.  The lingering with compassionate strangers is comforting, and even healing, to a degree that remembering pain can be activated by a shared experience.  When the stranger says, “I know what you mean,” or “I know how that feels,” the bell of truth rings clear in the desert mountain air.

Then there are sincere handshakes with direct eye contact and perhaps a parting raised-hand military salute to indicate both respect and honor.  These are the untold legacies of the commitment by a single small community to remember the military service of its sons and daughters during a bitter time of a divided nation.

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Filed under Military