Sunday, January 28, 2007

After School Projects

As I approached receiving my BFA there were some decisions that had to be made. There was the question of whether or not to go on for a MFA degree. To get into the MFA program at the SF Art Institute, for me, would’ve been a simple and seamless process. The University of California Berkeley was also very eager to accept Art Institute graduates into their MFA program. It was all very enticing then reality sets in. Did I really want to continue going to school for another 2 years and most importantly, where would the money come from?

Originally, when I took a hiatus from school and worked to save money, I had saved enough to pay for my education. During my last 2 semesters there was a rather steep tuition increase and I found my savings to be inadequate. I was forced to take out a student loan. By today’s standards a $1,000.00 loan is nothing but back in 1970 it was real money. I just couldn’t see getting further into debt especially in a field where I knew I would most likely not be able to earn a living. I was also anxious to set up my own studio and throw myself into the wonderful and magical world of art.

My studio was in a small warehouse in a seedy section of San Francisco called “South of the Slot” or “The Mission District”. A true wonderland that included the bus depot, tattoo parlors, cheap bars, winos, but most importantly spaces with cheap rent. The space was primarily one big room with 15’ high walls. It had 2 toilets but no bath so with the help of a friend I converted one toilet into a shower. There was no heat (the previous tenant caused an explosion so the heater was missing). San Francisco does get cold in the winters but when you’re young you can tolerate little things like no heat. I don’t think that I had my paint freeze more than twice then thaw out and start to run.

Living in a decaying industrial section of a major city can at romantic. It conjures up images of the poor suffering artist. After awhile the bloom of romance fades and what is left is the stark reality of day-to-day living. It begins to seep in through my pores and a subtle change begins to take over my psyche. This part of the city was dark, dirty, and brooding and it slowly began to affect my thinking. Slowly my painting began a transition towards a much more gritty style that reflected my environment. This is not all bad. I was beginning to see beauty in strange places. The color and shapes of manhole covers and sewer grates. The color of oil slicks in puddles after the rain. The multiple layers of posters and handbills pasted up on old walls and sections torn away to reveal the original surface. The sound of church bells, amidst all the traffic sounds, announcing the Angelus, the mid-day prayer of the Catholic Church. This was an ever-changing kinetic sculpture on a grand scale.

The downside was that this was a very depressing area. My OCD makes me prone to depression so living in this area only compounded things for me. Still, there was the romance of the starving artist living a tormented life for the sake of his art. One of my artistic role models at the time was the American painter, Jackson Pollack. A wonderfully creative person but a deeply troubled soul. Perhaps he wasn’t the best of role models for me. But when I was young I figured that I could survive anything so I just forged ahead. At this time I was literally thinking outside of the box. My paintings not only used industrial materials but I abandoned the traditional square and rectangular surfaces and began experimenting with different shapes. The colors were darker and more brooding (just like me) and the sizes and shapes would not fit neatly into most homes. I would apply the paint randomly and then study the chaos and then try to bring a sense of order out of it. An engineer friend of mine, decades later told me it was the law of entropy in reverse. I always did have a notion that the artist was an observer. One who watched the chaos of life swirl about. On occasion the artist reaches out and grabs bits and pieces of the chaos and eventually reassembles these pieces into a whole and calls it art.

These paintings are all from the early 1970’s in San Francisco. They are all done on painter’s drop cloths using a variety of industrial paints, lacquers, and metal powders. The irregular circle and the triangle are both about 72” high. The winged painting is about 72” high with a 96” wingspan. The diamond shaped thing with the tentacles is made from canvas webbing that I got at a sail making shop. I stained it and painted it a little as one whole length, cut it into pieces and wove it together and painted it some more. I am guessing it was about 18” wide.


Blogger said...

I love reading about your experiences when you were young, free and single. And daring, full of ideas and youthful enthusiasm, and energy!

I hope that you look back on it with some pride and sense of achievement .... I think you were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do what you did, and you have some wonderful experimental works to show for it, so you obviously made the most of this time in your life.

I think the works that you show here are marvellous ... huge, bold and extravagant. And hightly experimental too.

I shall look forward to the next instalment.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

I very much echo what Lesly has just written.

I am just coming to the end of a year long period of painting for my next exhibition and I am already beginning to think about my next 'phase'. I am certainly looking to be more experimental and your recent articles are inspiring me to go further down a similar route.

I suppose one of the reasons I admire Jackson Pollock so much is because he allowed himslef total freedom of expression as well as creating the environment in which to do it.

I am not planning any further exhibitions until I have done much more experimental work as I don't want to feel the constraints of 'theming' for a period.

I would have loved to have done this when I was younger but then I felt the need to live a more conventional life in order not to be a starving artist! Now I am lucky to be able to do what I would have liked all those years ago - having the time, the inclination and the resources. The fact that I am in my 50's dosen't matter to me at all as the urge to do this kind of work has never gone away. I still have lots to do and intend to make the most of this period of my life. Reading the work of the philosopher John O'Donohue has made me reappraise my attitude towards growing older and I now see it as an advantage to paint with a great many life experiences behind me.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Similar itch to leave school after my BFA -- I was painfully eager to Get Out and Work and Develop In The Real World and not spend another two years waiting for permission to do so.

But it seems times have changed regarding the value of a Master's degree.

I have a friend who was let go from teaching at a community college here (along with many, many others) because he didn't have a Master's.

He's been a working photographer his whole adult life, and was a highly-rated instructor in photography.

But the college informed him it would lose its accreditation if it retained instructors without advanced degrees, and also need those degrees to be in their field of instruction.

I've heard similar impacts are coming to public schools, due to the No Child Left Behind Act.

Just curious about your thoughts on the role and process of the MFA when you were a student, and what you see now...

6:47 AM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Hi Lesly, hmmm, pride, I think that I look back with a sense of amusement. Youth is wonderful in the sense that we are fearless. Sometimes not knowing any better is an advantage otherwise I might never have done the things that I did.

Hi Philip, I think that it was the experiences of my childhood that kept me from leading a more conventional life. My unhappy childhood made me want to move 180 degrees away from my life. I was led to believe that I would never amount to anything so I really had nothing to lose by being experimental. there is much to be said for a more conventional life. I didn't have any security back then and I don't have any now. But given a choice, I would still do it the same.

Hi Lori, I've got to do some thinking on your question. I am not a big fan of grad degrees. It ignores true knowledge and just focuses on the endurance to jump through the hoops. I've met more idiots with advanced degrees and truly intelligent people who have no degree. More later.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Ed -- since my computer crashed, I've of course lost your email.

Can you drop me a line at

I'd like to take some Q&A off-line if possible...

10:47 AM  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Interesting how you and Lori W. click on a stronger-than-average drive to see beauty in strange places.

Academia is a very dangerous place for an artist, one you navigate in peril without even being fully aware of the risk. It may be right for some, but it's utterly wrong for many.

As I recall, the "twenties" can be a rather painful, tumultuous age. "The toilet shower" summed things up for me.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

How right you are abour academia, Marly. As for finding beauty in strange places, I tend to think of it as finding beauty in the common place while others need to see it in "special and esoteric" places. I am a common man, a working stiff, just trying to look at the world in front of me.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Jeane Nevarez said...

I appreciate reading your reminisces about San Francisco. I recently left that city, after living in many small dark cheap basement apartments in my early post-student days. Your descriptions of the street colors and neighborhood brought it all back to me.

Your comment about the artist being an observer watching life swirl around him really struck a chord with me. I have always felt that I was mainly an observer, taking it all in, but rarely jumping into the fray...

4:26 AM  

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