The Saint Louis
Missouri Art Museum,
situated atop Art Hill in Forest Park
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and one of the great institutions, to this day, of that city is its Art Museum. Children in my family's circles paid homage to the museum by
attending art classes, which I don't remember doing but may have, and hearing talks about art there, which I think I did. The museum to this day remains a veritable shrine.
Besides the medieval Castle rooms they had reconstructed there, and the ancient Egyptian mummies, the two things that fascinated me most, I also could not help having the vast collection of paintings make an impression on me.
Below is a collage I made of 4 pieces that I remember strongly from my childhood visits. On the top left is a print of a BIG painting by Paul Delvaux, a Belgian. It hung in a prominent place, and it seemed to contain some kind of esoteric significance that I could not fathom one bit. I'm not sure I can can even now! However, it made a personal connection between Mysteries and Art.
To the right of the Delvaux is a 1931 Picasso still life "Fruit Bowl and Pitcher," that may have been an influence for one of my own early pieces, in a story below.
Below those two is Monet's "Water Lilies." This is a huge wall-sized piece at the museum, and there has always been a cushioned bench for those who wish to take it in quietly. Sometimes I think, "If only I had spent more time on that bench as a boy!" But I may as well be wishing for no-cal donuts.
On the right side of the collage stands John the Baptist, some 8 feet tall, if I remember correctly, beckoning just as he did in the museum's vast lobby, years ago! I don't think I paid much attention to him until my first museum visit after coming to Meher Baba in 1971. He had always been beckoning me. And I could finally respond.
As a boy, drawing the street scene below was my artistic obsession. It's the only thing I remember ever drawing...this street of bistros, lined with royal palms,
in...or so I imagined...Havana! I don't know how many times I did it, and I don't remember exactly what ages. But I did it a lot! I was in love with palm trees and also tropical fruit. I made my
mom drive me all over St. Louis seeking out the rare store that back in the 1950's, sold papayas or mangos! I must have lived in a tropical environment in the life before, or
something. (Today, my home in California is sort of semi-tropical, and I love it! Living here doesn't solve all my problems...life is still life with all its challenges...duh!...but
I still like it!
Fast forward to, it must have been 8th grade, because I drew the still life below the year my teacher was a nice lady whom my dad would sometimes give a morning ride to when we
saw her walking on our way to drop me off at school.
I did the picture below in a Still Life class session. I can't remember if the objects placed before us looked like the ones I drew, or if I improvised. I'm pretty sure I was influenced by Picasso, without knowing it. Anyway, I felt like quite the artist upon completing this piece.
Imagine my shock when it came back a few days later with a big red F marked on it! My father was shocked too! We both thought that in Art class, you should never get an F if you complete the assignment. (Oy! I still think she was nuts! Either we never gave her rides after that, or my Dad had it out with her...which he would have done...and she just persisted in her attitude, without explaining what was so terrible about my picture.
The way I tell myself "my story," that experience kept me far away from drawing or painting for the next 6 or more years.
I don't have any paintings left from the course I took "just to do something different" at University of Cincinnati in 1973. I'll see if I can think of some
illustration or simulation to add to this part. But it was really a big leap! I'd never been in an art studio! I can't remember any effort I made to
paint or draw after that debacle in 8th grade!
So, I crept into the classroom...the big university Studio...with all the materials that the syllabus had said to buy: priimary color acrylic paints, plus black and white; brushes of several different sizes; a plastic bucket for water; and a pad or Morilla art paper.
Several other students were setting up at the easels they had chosen...tall metal grey easels, of which there may have been 30 in the large room. Having NO idea how to behave, I filled up my water bucket at the big sink, went back to the easel I'd left my other things at...and after standing around feeling uncomfortable for a little while...began to do a realistic painting of the next grey easel, in front of the one I'd put my pad on! At least it gave me some focus.
The room began filling up with students. In awhile, a short, thin elderly man with short white hair and thick glasses, wearing a brown courduroy sport coat and a tie, came in and started walking around to see what his new students, most of whom had started working, were doing.
After ten or fifteen minutes, he came over to me. I could feel him over my shoulder. He observed me silently. I wondered if I would be in for praise...for criticism...I had no idea!
In another minute, he came over beside me. He reached into my supplies and got out a huge brush with white bristles. (I was using a tiny little black brush with black ones.) He handed me that big brush, smiled at me, and said, "Use lots of color and HAVE FUN!" I was off on the first leg of one of the great adventures of my life!
One more anecdote will serve to give you a picture of this seemingly laid-back but colorful man, and his sense of humor! After several weeks of "mixing mud" in our painting classes...the mud started to be ALIVE! I really got going! I "got the fever!" One day I was working on some wild abstract piece. and on a whim pulled a strip that was coming off my shoe the rest of the way off, and glued it into the painting! Mr. Foster happened to be nearby. He came over, and instead of making a verbal comment, plucked out his glass eye (which I hadn't known he had) and stuck that in the painting, too, holding it there for a bit!
Professor Phil Foster, left. Right, n his classroom at U. of Cincinnati.
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Paintings from the '80s and '90s