“If I had my life to live over…”
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, by immigrant parents who couldn’t speak English; my mom was Italian and my pop was an unemployed shoemaker.
With my eighth grade art teacher’s encouragement, I went to an art school in New York For four years I got up an hour earlier to take the subway to Lexington Avenue, but I kept telling myself that to be a great artist, one had to suffer. In my senior year (1955), a classmate dared me to take the test to Cooper Union. I asked, what’s that? He said it was one of the greatest art colleges in the U.S. When I said I couldn’t afford college, he said it was a scholarship, but you’d lose it if you didn’t maintain at least a C minus.
I got into Cooper. But to pay for paints, brushes, canvases, food, etc., I worked two part time jobs totaling 20 hours a week, at a buck an hour. Half way through my first term, I knew I was going to either lose my scholarship or starve to death–whichever came first. So I switched to night classes (which took two years longer) and got an entry-level day job at a N.Y. ad agency, making double what I was making part time. Of course I worked double the hours–but hey, it worked out better for me.
When I graduated in 1960, I was an art director at a big N.Y. ad agency. In those days, we did our layouts in pastels, which made me feel like an artist. I might have found fame doing Van Camp cans, but some other artist painting Campbell Soup cans beat me to it.
A couple of decades later, I swapped my layout pad for a keyboard – yep, I had become a copywriter. I was out of the art field. It wasn’t much later that I began to rue the day I had chosen advertising over art. I can sum up my feelings in a sentence: if I had my life to live over, I’d live over a New York delicatessen, and paint full time.
In 1997 I decided to give art a shot. My wife Mary and I retired to Maine and I have been painting ever since. But on occasion, I miss the ad biz, and I’ll squeeze in some freelance, via the computer.
When my paintings started to sell, I gained confidence as an artist. I enjoyed painting landscapes and still lifes in a variety of mediums, but I began feeling that I needed something more challenging, whatever that might be. When I did a watercolor of a house wren making a nest in an L.L. Bean boot, it hit a soft spot in me: I realized that in order to survive, most birds have to adapt to their ever changing environments, caused by our overpowering intrusions. I thought maybe I could tell of their plight on canvas.
Maybe I have found my purpose in art.