A: In the mid-1980s I was a thirty-three-year-old Navy lieutenant, working a soul-crushing job as a computer analyst on the midnight shift in a Pentagon basement. We were open 24/7 and supported the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Remembering the joyful Saturdays of my youth in New Jersey when I had studied with a local painter, I enrolled in a drawing class at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia. I loved it! I took more classes and became a highly motivated, full-time art student who worked nights at the Pentagon. After two years and as my skills improved, I discovered my preferred medium – soft pastel on sandpaper.
I knew I had found my calling, submitted my resignation, and left the active duty Navy. On October 1, 1989 I became a professional artist. However, I remained in the Navy Reserve for another fourteen years, working at the Pentagon one weekend a month. On November 1, 2003, I retired as a Navy Commander.
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A: If I had to select one factor, I would say, profound unhappiness with my professional life. In 1986 I was a 33-year-old Navy Lieutenant working as a computer analyst at the Pentagon. I hated my job, was utterly miserable, and moreover, I was trapped because unlike many jobs, it’s not possible to resign a Naval commission with two weeks notice.
My bachelor’s degree had been in psychology. When I was in my 20s and before I joined the Navy, I had spent two years and my own money training to become a licensed commercial pilot and Boeing-727 Flight Engineer. I had planned to become an airline pilot, but due to bad timing (airlines were not hiring pilots when I was looking for a job), that did not come to pass.
So there I was with absolutely no interest, nor any training in computers, working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and completely bored. I knew I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and resolved to make a significant change. Searching around, I discovered a local art school, the Art League School in Alexandria, VA, and began taking drawing classes.
One drawing class lead to more. Within a couple of years, due to being highly motivated to change my life, my technical skills rapidly improved. Even then, I believe, it was obvious to anyone who knew me that I had found my calling. I resigned my active duty Naval commission and have been a fulltime professional artist since October 1989. (Note: For fourteen more years I remained in the Naval Reserve working, mostly at the Pentagon, one weekend a month and two weeks each year, and retired as a Navy Commander in 2003).
Life as a self-employed professional artist is endlessly varied, fulfilling, and interesting. I have never once regretted my decision to pursue art fulltime!
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A: There are many reasons to continue to make art. First, I am fascinated by my months- if not years-long creative process. It begins with travel to remote destinations and ends in framed pastel paintings in my studio, hanging in galleries, at art fairs, in collectors’ homes, etc. Each new pastel painting is another thread in an expanding tapestry that is my entire body of work. It’s fascinating to never know where the process, or the paintings, will end up nor who will be touched by the work.
My pastel paintings continue to garner appreciation among a growing list of collectors. Here’s a recent email from a couple that has been collecting my work from the beginning.
we are thrilled and thrilled and thrilled for your good news from miami and naples.
. . . “tense peace, a tumultuous stillness” . . .
we know we love you and we love your work.
how lucky are we to live with your work in our home, in our lives.
we love to read how others describe it.
thanks for sharing.
happy us to have you and your art in our lives,
love to you,
john & cheryll
your work stopped me in my tracks decades ago.
the sight of your work never left me.
i knew that i had to have it near me at some time, no matter what the cost.
i began immediately to negotiate with john.
you know the story . . .
i promised that i would not buy a single thing for five years if i could have one piece of your art.
i held true for the five years and beyond, adding three more pieces of your work.
if we had the wherewithal, your work would be on every floor.
there is never a day that goes by without thinking how brilliant that work is and how it has enriched our deepest sense of visual joy.
we see the rain pouring down, the snow falling, the clouds scudding by, in false friends.
i admit, we don’t allow the sun to shine on them. i couldn’t bear for her to be damaged.
your thoughtful, brilliant words kept us from changing the highly-reflective plexi to something that would have dulled the drama of us walking in front of and being a part of the work.
we still have those words.
it took about one-half of one second for my thinking to change.
and, man, are we grateful.
it never occurred to us that your work wouldn’t be sought after.
always, we walk into a museum and see your work on the walls.
on the walls of the hemi-cycle at the corcoran.
on the walls of the whitney.
on the walls of the met breurer.
on any large white space that would allow each piece to breathe.
we have always known, deep in our marrow that your work is singular.
you have always had our hearts . . . since the second i walked into the torpedo factory, a first-grade teacher with a first-grade teacher’s salary, and knew that i’d sell my honda civic and walk rather than not have in reality, the frogs thought they were men (i know that the title of the piece is something like that . . . the decades have blurred the words).
so, we waited and then . . .
sigh . . .
all the best to you.
we are excited out of our ever-loving minds for you.
but . . . we’ve always known . . .
c & j
Comments are welcome!
Q: In light of the realities you discussed last week (see blog post of Aug. 24), what keeps you motivated to make art?
A: In essence it’s that I have always worked much harder for love than for money. I absolutely love my work, my creative process, and my chosen life. I have experienced much tragedy – no doubt there is more to come – but through it all, my journey as an artist is a continual adventure that gives me the ultimate freedom to spend my time on this earth as I want. In my work I make the rules, set my own tasks, and resolve them on my own timetable. What could be better than that?
Furthermore, I know that I have a gift and with that comes a profound responsibility, an obligation to develop and use it to the best of my ability, regardless of what it may cost. And when I say “cost,” I do not mean only money. Art is a calling and all self-respecting artists do whatever is necessary to use and express our gifts.
In “The Gift” Lewis Hyde says, “A gift is a thing we do not get by our own efforts. We cannot buy it, we cannot acquire it through an act of will. It is bestowed upon us. Thus we rightly speak of “talent” as a “gift” for although a talent can be perfected through an act of will, no effort in the world can cause its initial appearance. Mozart, composing on the harpsichord at the age of four, had a gift.”
Comments are welcome!