Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Heart of Darkness

I've had a bit of a self-realizational breakthrough. Up until now, I always assumed I was Captain Willard, swift-boating it up the river, into the heart of darkness. But now I realize I'm really Col. Kurtz.

I'm not going up the river... I am up the river. I'm the one they are coming for! And this far up, you should see the foliage. The darker it gets, the more vivid the bloom. This far upriver, Man, the flowers all look a lot like Wet Grasso. And honestly, how odd is that?
Kurtz: Did they say why, Willard, why they want to terminate my command?
Willard: I was sent on a classified mission, sir.
Kurtz: It's no longer classified, is it? Did they tell you?
Willard: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.
Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?
Willard: I don't see any method at all, sir.
Kurtz: I expected someone like you. What did you expect? Are you an assassin?
Willard: I'm a soldier.
Kurtz: You're neither. You're an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.
The grocery clerks sending errand boys to collect the bill. From me!

We're going to need golf shoes!

Mr Gorbachev...

Everytime I look at "Wet Grasso" I find the words "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" rolling through my mind.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wet Grasso

Early in the process, but not without its moments. Most notably, perhaps, is the big goober of paint on the left of his chin.

Goober is a technical term.

Monday, November 27, 2006

If You See Agnes Martin

Regarding Agnes Martin: If you see her, say hell0 (she might be in Tangiers). If she thinks that I've forgotten her, don't tell her it isn't so.

More importantly, don't tell her about this canvas:

Agnes Martin is, of course, that truly wonderful artist who's immaculately-arranged colored pencil lines on raw canvas make you think of either the ocean on a gray day or some alternative universe version of venetian blinds.

Which was one of the reasons why I enjoyed the Annie Liebovitz show--her portrait of Agnes sitting in front of a set of closed, over-exposed venetian blinds made me smile.

The idea here is to take another stab at Richard Grasso. One of the interesting aspects of "Big Dick I (Hundred Million)" is that I threw a lot of background color on the untreated canvas while it was wet--approximating the way watercolors flow on wet paper. And though I generally liked the effect, I was less pleased the loss of sharpness in some key areas when I tried to sharpen the line.

Because subsequent layers were put on while the canvas was dry, I could, by and large, achieve as much accuracy as my style typically allows. But I could never get away from the dramatic black lines that formed his eyes and nose. Those initial, defining lines went on while the canvas was wet, and they always seemed to me to be too gross, if that's the right word.

To some extent, the image reminds me of an illustration made with a fine-tip pen, but with the eyes done in magic marker. This is neither good nor bad; but rather just different from my typical effort. Softer, by a wide margin.

Me? I think "Big Dick I" came out pretty well. It makes me think of that line by Quint in Peter Benchley's "Jaws" when he described the dead black eyes of a shark rolling back into its head just before it bites you.

But, because I am (if for no other reason than the personal embarrassment it causes me) widely considered my generation's Warhol, then Grasso is certainly my Chairman Mao, and I've got to keep painting the bastard until I can't do it anymore. And no silkscreens allowed.

Which brings me back to my Agnes Martin canvas.

The idea here, as noted above, is not to cop poor Agnes' style, but rather to set the stage for an all-wet version, entitled, obviously, "Wet Grasso." Between us chickens, I'm glad the guy's name wasn't McGillicutty, as it would lend itself less felicitously to the easy pun.

Anyway, the thought is to exclusively throw the paint on the wet canvas and let the grid (which, under normal circumstances, would be obliterated) continue to inform the image all the way to the end. So I decided to use colored pencils.

There are two ways to "throw" the paint in this situation. First, and typically used as background, is to water the stuff down and pour it onto the canvas from a short distance away. This creates wide swatches of pastel-ly colors. There is always a moment when the just-poured paint sits on top of the canvas, having not yet sunk in (due either to surface tension or some chemical in the canvas itself) and can be manipulated, to a degree, with one's finger. This gives you a bit more authorship over an otherwise helter-skelter strategy and, must tell you, is good, clean fun.

Second, there are the streams and drips of thicker paint that come off my paint stick land on the canvas in the sharp lines you might typically see in my work. But a couple of seconds later, they too begin to bleed into the wet canvas and lose their sharpness. Grasso's eye-lines were done in this manner.

So rather than fight it, I'm joining it. "Come on in," they say. "The water's fine."

Thus "Wet Grasso."

p.s.--For those interested, the passage from "Jaws" (courtesy of Wikipedia) reads (with the really gruesome parts highlighted, as a public service) as follows:
Hooper: "You were on the Indianapolis?"
Brody: "What happened?"
Quint: "Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. Just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail. Well, what we didn't know 'cause our bomb mission had been so secret: No distress signal had been sent. Huh-huh. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief, the sharks come cruisin'. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it's...kinda like 'ol squares in a battle like a, you see on a calendar, like the Battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark would go for nearest man and then we'd start poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got...lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya. And those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah, then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin' and the ocean turns red and in spite of all the poundin' and the hollerin' they all come in and rip you to pieces. Y'know by the end of that first dawn, we'd lost 100 men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I don't know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin', chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, bo'sun's mate. I thought he was asleep. Reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well...he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He's a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big, fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a life jacket again. So, 1,100 men went in the water, 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb."
Me? I'm waiting for the PBY.

Friday, November 24, 2006


I'm giving thanks for many things, not the least of which is the shape of Richard Grasso's head--the rock, if you will, upon which I will build my church, if you will.

Further To Walton Ford

I love The New York Times. My grandfather was a prominent reporter and, subsequently, a bureau chief. He covered the arrival of Ameila Earhardt in Ireland after her historic transatlantic flight.

So I feel a perverse sense of pride when I say only The Times could write a review like this of the Walton Ford show I mentioned two days ago. Ergo:

With his prodigious skills as an illustrator, the naturalist artist Walton Ford has, over a relatively short time, produced a remarkable, at times repetitious but deeply reflective group of works on themes like colonialism, the tradition of naturalist illustration and the existence of animal species.

The present show assembles more than 50 of his large-scale watercolors of birds, animals, snakes and lushly exotic flora, all produced since the early 1990s. Combining pathos and wit, artifice and honesty, they frequently depict moments in which a wild animal encounters human culture, often to its detriment.

Sometimes the threat is overt, as in pictures of animals and birds roped or wounded; in other images you merely sense that some horrible violence has occurred, or is about to happen. In “Thanh Hoang” (1997), a tiger has burst his bonds of captivity and is seen fleeing away into the forest, his tail flesh grazed and exposed and surrounded by buzzing flies. In “November 1864” (2005), an immense, angry-looking wild boar roars as its habitat burns.

Though wonderfully lucid and dramatic, the moralizing of these images can become a little tedious, as in “Dirty Dick Burton’s Aide de Camp” (2002), in which a monkey represents Richard Burton, the 19th-century explorer, who apparently kept primates in his house in an effort to learn their language. The illustrator John James Audubon also comes in for some censure, for his practice of trapping and killing animals to study them; in one image he lies fallen in the snow as a golden eagle flies away, a trap still attached to its leg.

But bashing old-school naturalists and scientists is not the only — or chief — preoccupation of this popular, prolific artist. He also imparts an environmental message, couched in terms of a lament for the irreversible loss when a sense of morality does not govern the treatment of animals.
Reviews like this are why you should just go see the shows and forget what they say in the newspapers. In this case, I think the reviewer missed the boat completely. How he missed it is a topic for another day, for I am celebrating Black Friday by going to see "Copying Beethoven", which I hear is wonderful.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Walton Ford

Every once in a while it's fun to just go to a show, stand back and say wow.

Thus, I would urge you to go to the Brooklyn Museum (the 2 and 3 trains let you out at the front door. Literally!) and see the Walton Ford show. If you are so inclined, you can then go upstairs and see the Annie Liebovitz show (which I liked better than some of my friends) and the guy from England who does the huge naked people.

Walton Ford is like Audobon on acid. You do the math.

Here's another one, in case you're math-challenged.

Visually communicating the majesty of the stuff defies the meager parameters of this blog, but I can tell you this: If I could paint like this guy, you think I'd be sitting here, talking to you guys?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Big Dick I (Hundred Million)

Herewith...the first take on Big Dick I (Hundred Million)

I offer this for your viewing pleasure. There will be no apologies.

I am amused at the mouth and the otherworldly shape of the head. Is this the mouth of a man who some people say absconded with a hundred million bucks? I'm saying yes.

The eyes are just where they should be (by which I am suggesting they are at an appropriate point of development, not that they are on either side of the bridge of the nose, under the eyebrows).

The tie needs work.

It's fun to compare it with the black and white original...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Portraiture Takes a Hit

Troubling news re. the relative wisdom of portrait painting.

That being: the sale of this picture...

... an unusual vertical composition by Jackson Pollock, previously owned by David Geffen and sold to a currently unknown second party in a private sale for about $140 mill, has knocked poor Adele Bloch-Bauer down to second on the all-time most expensive paintings list.

I take some comfort in that the Pollock is painted in portrait format rather than landscape--to use MS Word terminology. Scant comfort, but still...

Restaurant Workers of 7th Avenue

I thought it might be nice to see some of the recent portraits from the 7th Avenue restaurant workers. These are, in part, they:

Lilah S. (Ash Wednesday)

Lawrence J. (Spikus Aurelius)

Howie L.

Michelle A.

And, of course, my favorite: The Girl With the Pearl Earring (2005).

It should be noted that, except for the Pearl Girl (which is 42" round), all canvases are either 4'X5' or 5'X6'. Plenty big to fill a room nicely.

One Eater Quibble

One quibble about my Eater experience. I wish they had used the headline from my press release, which read:

Local Painter Embraces Waitresses; Announces Portrait Sale For Restaurant Workers Only

Embraces waitresses! I loved that.

A Friend Writes...

Regarding my intention to immortalize Dick Grasso, a friend writes, in part:
Now, about Richard Grasso . . . without doubt one of the most egregious
offenders in the pantheon of recent white collar sleaze meisters. He
single handedly distorted (and almost destroyed) one of the most
already-manipulated tools in the world of executive compensation - - the
peer group comparison. By insisting that his pay be based on
comparisons to the captains of mega-industies completely different in
scale, mission and output than his own employer, he succeeded in [establishing] a
hideous and in hindsight, ridiculous peer group [comparison] that hopefully he will
now be required to renounce and base his restitution on.

I would like to state, for the record, that I'm not making judgments about the guy--I'm just painting him. And that I use the word "immortalize" in a non-prejudicial manner.

It does delight me, however, that my pending subject arouses so much passion. I suppose should explain that the idea behind painting Grasso has been bubbling around in my head for some time. Another friend has said to me on a number of occasions that I need to find my Greenspan.

This is a reference to painter Erin Crowe's now famous renditions of former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. This would be one of them:

So I've been chewing on this a bit, and finally, when I ran across the picture of Grasso shown in the previous post, I said "Ah--this bad boy is my Greenspan."

The use of the phrase "bad boy" here is apparently both literal and metaphorical. Certainly painting Grasso appeals to my dark and twisty nature.

Plus, I also can't stop thinking about those eyes. If you double click the black and white image from the previous post, look closely at the elegant wave shape that defines both the top of his left eye and the wrinkle that then swoops triumphantly toward his temple.

Is this the eye of a criminal?

I'll know better when I paint it, but let's not ignore one of the fundamental concepts of our judicial system--that business about being innocent until something bad happens.

I should also add that Ms. Crowe is a University of Virginia graduate (as am I). You can visit what I take to be a site devoted to her Greenspan paintings by clicking here. My understanding is that the paintings themselves are long gone, but I do see a place to click through to buy prints.

Tell her the Mad Portrait Artist of 7th Avenue sent you.

As a Public Service...

As a public service I have cut and pasted the story below. It reads:

Who Is: The Mad Portrait Artist of 7th Ave.?

Friday, November 10, 2006

2006_11_painting.jpgBecause it's Friday afternoon, let's dig deep in the inbox...

Dear Eater--

I'm a portrait painter. My specialty happens to be painting waitresses, hostesses and bartenders who work on 7th Avenue between 19th and 20th streets. I've painted six so far, with a seventh underway.

I'd like to extend things a bit--maybe get over to 8th Ave or down to the Meatpacking district--so I'm holding a portrait sale. Anyone who works at (or owns) a restaurant in Manhattan gets his or her portrait painted for $2,500 (plus several rounds for me and a guest at their establishment).

Intrigued? Of course you are. More ahead.
My portraits are typically four feet by five (this is the "sale" size) or five feet by six. My style is like Jackson Pollock painting like Chuck Close--big heads; paint thrown onto the canvas with a stick.

I've attached an example. Look how lovely she is! I love that faraway look in her eyes.

You can see more of my work on my blog. My mission is to become the leading American portraitist of the 21st century, and a blog seemed like a good way to chronicle the trip. If you scrounge around, you can also read a little bit about my two visits to L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Perhaps your readers would be interested.

If so, email me here [] or call 917 693 9936.

Best regards,

Geoff Raymond

Monday, November 13, 2006

On Deck...

On deck--Dick Grasso.

For those of you not in the financial uproar loop, Dick Grasso (former head of the New York Stock Exchange) has recently been asked by Now-Gov-Formerly-Attorney-General Elliot Spitzer to give back 100 million bucks from his retirement package.

Grasso resists.

Hi-jinks will, no doubt, ensue.

Depending on which side of the ethical fence you stand, Grasso's either a crook of the first magnitude (actually I take that back--let's call it 2nd magnitude and reserve first class status for people like Kenneth Lay or George W. Bush) or a folk hero.

Either way...look at that face and tell me he won't make an interesting picture.

Here he is in black and white--the image from which I will actually make the painting.

I mean, really! Double click on this image and look at the lines around those eyes; the downturn of the mouth; the way his whole head seems to emerge organically from the point right above the knot in his tie, expanding, filling with air, reminding one, surely, of those balloons in the Macy's Day Parade.

I could paint this same imaqe at least five different ways. Maybe ten.

I'm all fired up. Crikeys...I'm turning into Andy Warhol!

Blue Stephanie Needs to Lay off the Potatoes

Blue Stephanie is almost done. I'm just leaving her be for now while I figure out how to make her face seem a little slimmer.

She currently looks like this:

Having previously looked like this:

Truth to tell, I'm pleased with the outcome--I mean, you look at the painting and you very much see the spark that makes you say: "Look...that's Stephanie!" All the more reason to be loathe to make changes.

My thinking is to slice a bit off the side of her jaw, and trim the left side of the painting, where her face is in the shadows. The left side is clearly the problem.

Nonetheless, she looks lovely in a Bette Midler-ish way.

Look Ma...I'm Famous

Am pleased to see no less august a blog than Eater has seen fit to publicize my restaurant sale. Click directly to the story itself and see how nice my picture of Michelle looks!

Just to clarify: in recognition of my restaurant roots, I'm holding a portrait sale--anybody who works in or owns a Manhattan restaurant gets a steep discount between now and the beginning of winter.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Zoe the Wonder Dog

I took time out from my busy schedule to paint a portrait of my daughter's recently deceased beagle, Zoe. Tomorrow, my other daughter and I will journey to Washington, DC to present it in person, and maybe drink a toast in Zoe's memory.

This is only possible because she (the one getting the painting) has just turned 21.

By and large, it's a dog's life.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I'm Retracting the Previous Post

I decided not to shoot myself. Instead, I picked up a paint stick and pushed ahead on Blue Stephanie. But to give you a sense of the depth of my perceived inadequacy, if that's even how you spell it, I stopped by Friedman--the art supply store on 18th--and bought some glitter and some gel medium. I had thought perhaps some glitter--just a smidge--might liven up the proceedings.

Glitter! How the mighty have fallen. What could I have been thinking?

In my defense, I must say I saw not one but two different paintings that used glitter to interesting effect during my trip on Saturday. So I thought the whole thing was a sign from God.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. A voice inside my head said, "Put the glitter down, you fucking idiot!" After that, things went well. And I didn't shoot myself, so at least now I can say At least I have my health!

In fact, Blue Stephanie is done. Finished. I'll post the final set of images tomorrow so you can see how the sequence finally panned out. I must say, it turned out nicely, and quite a bit different from what you can see below.

To paraphrase Teri Hatcher: "She's spectacular! And she's real."

This Is My Last Post...Ever

This is my last post. When I'm done, I'm going to go to the crappiest neighborhood I can find, buy an inexpensive gun, and shoot myself.

Why? Why, you ask?

Well I spent Saturday crawling around the Chelsea galleries and came away mighty depressed. Most of the time I emerge from my Chelsea crawls saying that my work is more than competitive with what's hanging on the walls.

If it's a competition, that is--which it's not supposed to be, but actually is.

This weekend I came away thinking I'm falling behind. I'm running out of steam. The competition is putting some distance into me.

I bet the crack dealer on the 4th floor of my building has a gun I can borrow.