W R I T T E N · W OR K

P R O S E

PAINTING VS. SCULPTURE

By Robert Ranieri, 2018

 

 

Proceed into those unknown places. Search.
Is there a view; an open place just out of sight?
Go ahead with open eyes, and a contrite heart.
Battered limbs, damaged tools.
Can childhood dismay be assuaged by signs
of benefaction?
Where is the open door?
Just behind a concealing curtain perhaps.
Would a magnanimous resolve discover the unfolding corridor.
Maybe even a little reward awaits.
A muse will appear, a goddess of still unknown situations.
Turning into view, she floats within choral passages.

But still to face another unknown event.
So you may emerge into a twilight, yet a consoling place.
Why complain? Challenged, a door opens. Luminous
parabolic scrims and scrolls revealed.
Forms progress from limbo into defining character letters
that pose figure-like. A consortium. Poised on a flat surface
they sport among impossible outcomes peeled away.

 

It had become such a new experience. Forms shaped in
three dimensions. A child wanders among lumps of clay, still
tender fingers push and pinch little peaks and hollows. How
have you learned to do this? Did you have any idea how?
            I began to dimly sense that much had to be realized in
order to make plausible art. Such a long way to go.
            Decades later, I am making molds from clay figures
for castings in plaster, and by extension, from plaster to wax
for bronze castings. If I was to learn patience, this would be the
time to achieve it.
            My skill would gain me a government grant, a Fulbright
that carried me to Rome, Italy. So many great moments seeing
art and architecture. And the music.
            One of those Italian blond types, among many, posed
for a sculpted head. The title of a book of her poetry that she
gave me was titled, Con La Boca Piena di Fiori. (With the
Mouth Full of Flowers). A reference to one of the great
masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli, a Renaissance master
of the painting titled Primavera. (Spring). Flowers are seen
issuing from the mouth of a chaste naked nymph in dancing
mode, among  an array of participants. (Poetry by association,
a gift of flowers{spoken}.

            Such a painting as this was to be a subliminal influence
as I moved along during my studio work. Nevertheless I was
still to make sculpture. I made a large figure in clay built upon
a welded armature and wire screening for the large shapes, a
kind of winged female figure. It was never cast. The fate of
other works as well. One pair of abstract symbolic works
ended up outside, alongside the campus of Temple U. in
Philadelphia. They were still there when I drove by years
later. I had worked directly in plaster, from which I made
piece molds, and from them castings where made, multiple
pieces that were delivered to a sand casting foundry, and
when returned to me, I welded these parts together. Some work
done from a ladder. A long and arduous process.
            I am reminded of a dispute between Leonardo Da
Vinci and Michelangelo. The historic account compares the
advantages of painting and sculpture; their expressive
potential, one over the other.
            A large painting was purchased, and also two small
plaster pieces, which were then to be cast into bronze at a
New York foundry, to be part of the permanent collection
of the Danton Art Institute, facilitated by the director Tom
Colt.
            These bronzes were seen there at the foundry by
the great sculptor Jacque Lipchitz.  The foundry owner told
me that the master said this young man is very good.
            Days later, I was introduced to him while he was
finishing one of several very large bronze pieces. He had
left France for the U.S. to escape WWII, and was bent
on devoting his time making sculpture.
            Though rather reticent, I mentioned that I long
admired his great work of bronze, Prometheus Strangling
The Vulture, which I had seen several times on museum
visits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "You don't have
to tell me that," he said. I was stunned and abashed. With
shame and anger. I responded, "I should not have said
anything." He looked me in the eye and said, "work hard
and stay angry."
            Not long afterward, I had a one man show of my
paintings at the Albert Loeb Gallery on 57th street in
Manhattan.
            Jacque Lipchitz came to see my work, expecting
to see sculpture, but saw semi large painting. When I saw
him later at the foundry, he expressed some dismay. "You
have a tick." His description of my work, which showed
a consistent repetition of certain brushstrokes, was commen-
surate with an attitude about painting developed and shared
by certain New York School painters, where the stroke or
the action taken in applying the paint, the gesture itself, is
integral to the image being made. Dubbed, "Action Painting."
            He added, "this is not the Renaissance; you have
to decide between painting or sculpture. I do some work
as drawings with some color on paper, but..."
            I was twice treated to lunch, chauffer driven, at a
Jewish delicatessen nearby. A charming place, full of good 
humor, they greeting the Master with cordiality and respect.
It was a regular stop for him, because he spent a lot of time
there at the foundry, given the numerous number of large
bronze castings of his being made there.
            He confided that he virtually saved the foundry
with his patronage, in part, because sculpture in bronze was
not currently a favored medium, and artists had been switching
to direct fabrication in other mediums, constructions in
wood, plastics, or with gas and arc welding, that I had been
favoring.
             Once I said (trying my French), "suis dispare," I am
desperate. He corrected me, de'sesp'ere'. (He recommended
my sculpture to two collectors; one of whom bought a work
in aluminum; precast elements I had assembled and then
welded together. Bought by a Texas oilman.

            I continued some sculpture work, though done
in more limited time frames. Having taken some photos
of small works in dark wax, I showed them to a dealer
in sculpture. He came to visit my studio on 17th street.
I could see a slice of Union Square from my window.
            The days were getting warmer, and when doing
small works in wax, I first heated chunks to a liquid, and
added some children's color crayons to obtain the right
dark bronze color. Then the liquid wax, I poured onto
a tubful of cold water to make sheets. Several finished
works in wax would be floated in the tub as well. On
several hot days, I had to slither between floating
finished pieces to cool off.
            So the art dealer (Gimpel Fis) came to my
studio. "If you solve your casting problem, I'd be inter-
rested in your work." Bronze casting is very expensive.
            No deal here. A couple of pieces were cast later,
but they have disappeared somewhere out there, bought
by a collector. (One method in bronze casting from wax,
is to cover the wax with a plaster paste mold till set, put
it into a kiln till the wax runs out, then pour liquid bronze
into the empty mold. Break away the shell to expose the
solidbronze casting. This is called the lost wax method, or
cere perdue'.
            Living on the edge. How could I possibly afford
foundry casting costs.
            Change locations. I found an old style place
around the corner, from the Little Church Around
The Corner, where for now, painting only. Later on,
I went to see my uncle. Uncle Vincent (Primavera)
owned a large brick building on 1st Avenue, across
the street from Belleview Hospital. Such a massive
red brick cubic building with arched windows. It had
survived incidental urban changes, around town. Some
traces of the Classical-Romanesque style remained here,
that the important American architect Richardson, had
been able to verify as strong revival, decades before.
            There were even brick arches as partitions,
between one open space and another at my top floor
studio.
            My uncle started modest wrought ironworks
businesses earlier, to now preside over a factory with
showrooms that displayed his original designs within
various indoor and outdoor settings. He had a glass
eye but he continued developing variations on his many
concepts. Originals in wrought iron, most hand made.
            He employed circa twenty workers, most of
whom were old world Italians. Welders, men with
jigs for shaping; assemblers. Key workers were the men
who forged and bent all of the various leaf and curved
elements, to be welded into specific pieces of furniture.
            One of my Uncle's favorite designs was a large
variation on the dome shape requiring hand crafted
skill with wrought iron. Structures to grace outdoor
or indoor sites, perhaps also including a fountain with
a dolphin, or a cherub pouring water from an urn, that
had been made by pouring lead into his heavy molds.
            Decades earlier, he had commissioned an old
time academic sculptor to sculpt smaller than life size
babies and draped small female figures as fountain
center pieces.
            One important attribute of my uncle, is that
he spoke classical Italian, as did my father, the
difference being my father was interested in the literary
and music classics; important written classical works  
in English and Italian.
            Uncle Vincent remained centered on
business and design, plus construction of relevant
furniture systems for elegant domestic housing.
            A major endeavor for him were the designing
of thick molds in aluminum for these poured lead
statues to be installed later within fountain basins.
I learned to make piece mold systems from him.
            It proved essential for the large piece molds
that I needed to make, for several large sculptures
in cast aluminum or bronze. (When the various
cast sections in aluminum or bronze returned from
the foundry, I would weld them back into their
designated place). Welding aluminum can be tricky.
It may collapse quickly if the electric arc is held
too long at one spot.
            It is without doubt that the molds that
I saw and designed contributed to my lexicon
and formal range shown in my painting, and
later, my architectural landscape forms that
are contributing factors within the many results
achieved. This assertion is proven many times
over. Unfortunately a number of sculpture pieces
have been lost. Se la vie.
            After moving to rural Pennsylvania,
I had access to mounds of scrap yard iron. Pipe
and square and round bars and other shapes,
proved invaluable in forming the large scale
concrete shapes as outdoor pieces.
            Working small was not a difficulty. Years
earlier, Uncle Vincent had asked me to make a
small hand in plaster to replace the missing hand
of a one third life size kneeling marble Venus.
Though small, I was able to form the slender
fingers around a thin wire armature. The plan
had been to carry the work wrapped and placed
within my steamer trunk, to accompany me,
on my trip to Europe.
            Once settled in Italy I was to find a
sculptor to copy my hand (model) in marble.
It safely journeyed back to the States to be
 safely attached to the marble statue.
            This trip for the hand was fraught
with challenges. The Roman carver had
trouble since the marble copy was so small.
It had broken twice, only completed on the
third attempt. But it made it back to NY.

            Having spent the summer in NY,
before Rome, this block of time served me well,
in that there would be one more opportunity to
adapt to a new country, and the Italian language,
because in working at the Florentine, I could try
to learn the language, and nearby, to dine at a bar-
restaurant that was owned and run by native
Italians.
            It was a very pleasant setting. Most of the
bar regulars were Friulan, born in the north,
a province near to Venice, named Friuli.
            I spoke little Italian and though the
folks there spoke Friulan, they were more
than willing to talk and were patient with my
attempts at classical Italian. Vigia, a charming
older woman, was a lively presence. She moved
about the men that stood around the bar area,
talking hoarsely and cheerfully, given to pats
on the back and occasional bantering sallies.
            These men were tall and sturdy like
tree trunks. They appeared as rawboned, and
considering that most were masons or tile setters,
these skills showed. Practiced with such work,
you could see it in their hands, worn and clean
like well used shovels.
            Most had the pale blue eyes I had
seen in Venetian paintings, plus angular jaws.
Same with Vigia. I still can see her, swiftly to
dodge among the men, delivering dinner. And
the men, stiff from hard work, would step and
bump around like gondolas as she scurried
between them.
            One of the young nephews of this
enclave, named Romeo (pronounced like
the sports car, not like the Shakespeare lover),
was studying acting. Intelligent and a good person.
We met a few times before my sojourn abroad.
He shared some thoughts about current acting,
in which certain actors were really digging and
earning original interpretations in their work.
            I was to meet a number of aspiring people
in the arts. Informative. Some seemed more well
adjusted, despite the various troubles the artist life
might deliver over time.
            Europe is a story in itself. I have to
leave it for another time.

            It was not too long after returning to
the states, that I realized that I had to engage
myself in some outside-the-studio activity. I
had met a man on the French ocean liner the
Liberte'. Jules Gelernt was intelligent, affable
and cultured. He had settled in the Bronx, and
was soon to marry a lovely woman Curly who
was of a friendly and charitable nature. We
became close friends and on occasion I could
look forward to the subway trip up to the Bronx
for a visit. They where like family.
            He had been raised in the great city
of Paris, and spoke a beautiful French. In fact
we decided on terms, that he would give me
French lessons in exchange for a portrait I
would paint of him. I was not successful, and
instead we decided on a painting I made of the
Cathedral of Notre Dame, one of a group of
works, oil on paper, I had done of churches
in Rome and Paris. I framed it under glass.
            One of his students lent me several
of her 78 type records of two Mozart operas,
The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. I
bought the music scores with libretto for them,
to find that I began to be able to learn the music
by constant repetition, picking up speed singing
the recits, (recitativi), that became more and 
more easy to place in the mask. (The area
around the eyes nose and mouth).
            Of course it's more complex than this,
but a place to start.
            One advantage for me as a student singer
was that Italian is rich in vowel endings, which keeps
each end of a sung phrase, with mouth open, and
projects the voice out, to resonate. These two Mozart
operas were written with Italian librettos, though
Le Nozze Di Figaro is often sung in English. My
debut as an opera soloist was the title role as Figaro.
I had studied this role in Italian, but had to relearn
it in English.
            Meager at first, but strong connections
remain from childhood. Listening to the great
basso, Ezio Pinza, on records singing arias from
Mozart's operas, The Marriage of Figaro and
Don Giovanni, to implant a modus operandi into
my adolescence, serving to guide a boy soprano
into a bass. Over subsequent years, it gave me a
musical footing, that would strengthen my resolve
as demands in adulthood required necessary steps
on my way to artistic and professional maturity.
            I listen with longing for the great music
performances that are columns of excellence.
An audial architecture is a support and shelter,
a latent force within life's arena of challenges.

            Urban renewal struck the area where
my uncle's factory stood. By chance a studio
was found in Soho, lower Manhattan, so I re-
located there. A number of the loft buildings
down there were not yet approved for individual
or family habitation, and often lived in anyway.
During my stay there, many lofts were changed
into elegant living spaces and good galleries.
            My loft had a sturdy floor. An eight foot
plaster over steel sculpture (that the city of NY
moved for me), had to be done by placing it on
top of the freight elevator, and the same when trans-
porting and raising it to my 2nd floor loft.
              Later, a couple of sculpture pieces were
abandoned as a reassessment took place.
            My stay in NY was in due course, coming
to an end. An old friend suggested I look for a place
to relocate in rural Pennsylvania. Thus I came upon
an abandoned slaughter house with a stream
running by.
            Architect friends I had met during our one
large scale national fountain competition, were now free
to assist me during the first structural phase of my house.
Their help, a gift, in redoing the leaking roof, after which
I could throw myself into total reconstruction mode.
            These guys had basic carpentry skills and had
volunteered a couple of times. We also hunted deer.
            Incidentally, our fountain submission had earned
a third prize. I was responsible for the sculpture work
and the other guys, the play of the large jets of water
that were to arc and splash over the large bronze
units. We got little sleep, sprawled on the floor overnight,
and up early to meet the deadline.     
            Decades later, there are still household areas
in need of cosmetic changes. Winter presents tough
choices in itself; namely heating. When I met my wife
Rebecca, she moved in during summer. She has always
been of generous emotional support. But with the birth of
our first of two amazing children, she had to retreat to her
parents house with the baby, that first winter. Our house
was too cold.
            We raised two wonderful children here. And now
can celebrate two happy grandchildren..
            She is still a lovely woman. And few women would
have suffered the degree of discomfort my wife endured
when we shared the first few years, though now we still
have some work to do around the house.
            My father visited me not long after I
moved here. He said "You must have a lot of
courage,"
            Whatever had been required, I tackled
myself. As a sculptor, I had learned to use all
manner of  fabricating techniques. Welding and
cutting steel and carpentry and masonry.
            Some jobs required a team, like siding
the building. I could no longer do the roof. A
team of specialists had to be employed.

            One of the jobs I had during my college days
that I cherished, following my brother Walter's job
when he was in college, was to work as an usher at
the Academy of Music in Philly. Not much in pay,
but a good opportunity to hear great music. Orchestral,
vocal solo concerts, opera and jazz, and modern dance
and ballet. Certainly worthy acclimation for an artist's life.
            Watching and listening to musical instruments
being played, I have envied the relatively clean medium
in which this occurs.
            During diverse historical periods, when physical
labor would be involved, the potentates, ('rulers', kings),
might discount the value of work, the 'manual labor' done
with the hands. On reviewing history, we will realize that
the architect builder, would often be alongside each move
taken by construction teams, to demonstrate the working
of the material and tool handling. They all might get dirty.
            I have seen any number of paintings showing the
artist painting with gloves on; even dressed formally. It
would be more difficult to imagine Michelangelo among
others avoiding the spatter and dust.
            When in my studio, gloves are rarely used, especially
when the hand is executing long arching lines or other areas
requiring great finesse. Of course masonry jobs, stone, mortar
are very hard on the hands.

            In starting a new painting, it is like setting the
table for dinner, and it may cause salivation. Much
anticipation may stimulate a range of ideas, but sometimes
progress is slow. I will also refer to works done earlier.
            Some prodding with scraps of thought blithely struck
on sketching paper, might direct initial action. A dinner scene
may stimulate a good appetite. Favorite previous works though
might provide the imprimatur that makes for current choices or
satisfactory starts.  
            One move is to start with putting an overall tone on the
blank canvas. A commitment that may help induce a general
range of color from the palette. What will this tone be?
            To set the stage. Something we often do as a matter of fact.
Dinner might involve the rearranging of table settings and serving
patterns, or when working outside, we may have to make room
for entirely new groupings of plants and shrubs in the garden.
            I usually paint in thin layers. This maintains a more
uniform buildup of paint on the surface. My tactics will require
subsequent crossing moves. With the loaded brush I will not have
to plow through wet patches. Because usually I paint mostly in
acrylics, which dry fast and permit those crossing patterns, and
the paint will not mix with the under layer unless meant to do so.
            Comments written and placed elsewhere on my website,
will detail other aspects of my painting process. Easy solutions
are not in my playbook. Many hours are spent in just looking
at a work in progress. Certain results can be quite surprising.
Naturally my background will direct me to do certain things.
            Family roots and priorities. Friends and associations.
Experiences gained through time. Some sought after, some
delivered as impromptu occurrences. A priori predilections.
            I know where I'm going with my work. As I see it,
even the early works denote tendencies. Modeling, (rendering).
Rather complex space organization. Dramatic and romantic.
Structural and thematic use of materials, and images. These
imperatives have been relevant for decades.  References to my
work in sculpture has verified my intentions, played out as
seen on a thorough review. So my painting has been dominant.
            Dualities. The great French master (Provence France),
opened up the canvas plane with special insights. Paul Cezanne
must be looking over my shoulder. His optics in brief. That the
eye can perceive objects thought to initially appear as more distant
than its neighbor, may be induced to advance closer to the viewer.
forward, retreat, advance again.
            Consequently, a kind of vibration is ongoing. Gyrations.
Fluctuations. For me a fencing match. Thrusts parries, advance,
retreat. Dodge left, skip to the right. Advance, pause.
            Having fenced up to and through college, the friendly
combat had now become a painter's way of life. (Eagerly). It
is thrilling to see the way events on the picture plane, can be
so captivating. My attention as to how volumes and voids may
be made to behave, or then brusquely revised, is relentless.
            Coherent strategies become familiar to the viewer. But
no single formula is sought for success. With each start of daily
effort, there may be aspects of work done the day before, but  
not yet understood. (Patience).
            Wait yet another day to resume work.
            After momentary delays in cognition, fresh insights
may occur.
            Some viewers have sensed 'mysterious' conditions in my
work. Even landscape architecture work outside, has appeared
to some viewers as mysterious. Which is good to know. When
considering that large forms are omnipresent, their blunt mass,
physicality, impose an unavoidable reality.
            Ideas canceled? Volumetric forms are waiting.
            I would add that our culture generates many levels of
sensibility, and that the artist has a responsibility to strike as
many positive notes as appropriate, even accounting for the
vagaries that often may occur in daily pursuits, and the troubled
world. As with certain persons in the arts, perhaps levels of
negativity around the creative process can defeat one's purpose.
However, aspiring to a higher level of experience in the first
place, is the ultimate desire.
            It is hoped that with prolonged viewing, my work will
reveal itself through patience and meditation. Each person has
reasons to be stimulated, as each sense becomes active.
            My work will be clearer upon review. Certain themes
have been fundamental to my experience, but we may find that
there is a degree of universality offered here, that we may soon
recognize.
            We criss-cross tracks made by others, or perhaps proceed
along a way in a path through a shadowy wood, finding that we
have been traveling some distance not parallel with others, as
we break into the clear.
                                                chorus
            Olive gray tone cannot resist a spread of yellow gold
brusquely   the canvas plane now dry    mostly     just a small triangle   
must respond    insist pink    orange       to expand itself       fiercely
orange pink angst                                squared blues     adjust
   straight sides are flipped      awkward trapezoid     twisted torso   
hardware doubled       more roseate gold      bars of black   suddenly                     
   assert a double sided wedge       a glowing pink yellow     quickly                                    a paint brush attack    deliver another layer           override the field
                        one eye squints     the other stares
fragment lines lurch                                        again    pass this way
                                    shuttered eyes bloom                         
                                    aperture   a grand alle'
 

 

           

             

 

 


 

 

 

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