Monday, July 2, 2012

Inspiration from Iowa

For Laurel of Peace and Wisdom, this is Just Another Day

Around the time Chicks with Balls was secretly flailing itself from side to side inside my cluttered brain, I had the opportunity to attend the Portrait Society of America International Conference in Washington DC. This was in May of 2010. I was invited by my fun, talented and ballsy artist friend Susie Porges (, to whom I shall be eternally grateful for this pivotal point of inspiration. She had heard about the conference from our mutual artist friend, internationally renowned pastel portrait painter, Judith Carducci (

When I look back on certain turning points in my art life, certain pieces of art stand out as jolts of electricity that show me what is possible to me. They show me a light, they change my way, they focus my vision, they push me into the water, they throw me a rope. These art encounters shine because they show me what is possible and that it is possible for me.

The River…by Puvis De Chavannes
According to family legend, when I was three and we lived in NYC (before we moved to Ohio when I was four), I visited the Met with my dad many times and was fixated on the Puvis de Chavannes Nude bathers painting called “The River”. I didn't remember the painting specifically, but those early classical nudes must have gone into my subconscious.

Painting of a Woman by Amadeo Modigliani

As a child, I remember hiding behind the couch reading these mini art books my parents had sprinkled around the house. The one featuring Modigliani was a favorite because he painted ladies like I did, some portraits and some nudes and in my 8 year old mind, I thought, “I can draw better than him and he’s a real artist with a book an everything!” (I’ve never had a problem with personal confidence…it’s selling it to others that trips me up.)

As a middle schooler, I remember my art teacher Mr. Kovacs showing me a drawing by a Hungarian student a few years older than I was. It was a delicately shaded, sensitively drawn, meticulously rendered little pencil drawing of an ordinary hand drill. I thought, “Wow… a kid did this…and a Hungarian kid like me no less. ” That kid was George Kozmon, ( who many years later became my very inspiring figure drawing teacher and friend. That drawing also showed me that art wasn’t just made by dead painters and “professionals” from New York. It could be made right here in Ohio…by people like me…by me. I could be that good…and now I am actually way better than he is. (Hey George, if you actually read this and tell me so, I’ll take it out and tell the truth, but until you see it, it stays…ha!)

Anyway, I won’t belabor the points of inspiration point. I’ll fast forward to the Portrait Society of America 2010 Conference.

Mrs. Zimmerman by Rose Frantzen.

At this conference, I had the privilege of meeting artist Rose Frantzen (, seeing her dynamic demonstrations, listening to her talk candidly about her path as an artist and viewing her show at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. Her show of 180 portraits (!!) was called “Portrait of Maquoketa” and it really touched home.

Rose Frantzen is a crazy good painter of people, she has limitless energy and she comes from a very small town in Iowa. She set up her studio at the Old City Hall on Mainstreet, Maquoketa and invited the citizens to come and pose for her for 5 hour portrait sittings…two a day (!!). She painted a 12 by 12 a la prima portrait of each and every one who signed up. Townspeople would sign up for shifts to come and pose while others would gather and watch the painting process.

This is brilliant on so many levels. First and foremost it is a dream come true for the portrait artist. When you are a painter of people there is no greater luxury than to have willing models of all ages, races and personalities lined up to pose for hours on end and signed up for months to come.

The other idea I loved about it was that she brought great art out from behind the hallowed walls of museums and by-appointment only galleries. She made it fun, friendly and welcoming. And she made the people of the town part of the creation process.

And she was from Iowa…another invisible square vowel state like Ohio. She was from the Midwest, and she was going to stay there. She wasn’t taking her talents to New York to make it, she was bringing the spotlight to Maquoketa by making great art right in her own back yard. And her paintings are good enough where the spotlight does indeed shine on Maquoketa. She hosts sellout workshops with extensive waiting lists. She sells her art nationally right from her gallery on Mainstreet. She creates masterpieces of everyday life, from life, in the tradition of Zorn and Sargent. And she is a star among portrait luminaries internationally.

I saw inspiration and I saw a painter of people making it in the Midwest.

This life changing encounter threw another log on the fire in me that was Chicks with Balls. I could make it happen right here on my mainstreet in my home town.

I was nobody from nowhere…and THAT was the point.