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Documenting a period in my development that could become pivotal

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Frederick Heidel's 1991 watercolor, "Two Up and One Down" is a poetic window into his coping with wife F. Saltzman's death?

My interpretation of Fredrick Heidel's watercolor comes from being his student and owning his watercolor painting, "Two Up and One Down" for 16 years. This interpretation is my current best guess of Heidel's intentions.


The accuracy of my interpretation of his biographical life is not the point.  I will see a different scenario tomorrow. Also my recognition of people and animals are not conclusive. Other people can have widely different experiences with it. The point of trying to interpret his painting is to strengthen my own painting vocabulary to express my emotions. His painting could reveal the steps in its resolution and what painting could do for quality of life.

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I studied painting under Heidel my entire undergraduate years in the early 60's at Portland State College, Portland, Oregon. In 1976 I took a watercolor figure painting class and learned more that was relevant to his watercolors like this one.

In 1997  I wanted a  Heidel painting to inspire me in color and imagination.  But didn't know which one to pick.  All of his watercolors had beautiful colors, maybe even more so then this one. I was drawn to "Two Up and One Down" partly because the figure bowing her head towards the bunny looked to me like Heidel's deceased wife, Florence Saltzman. 


Florence is a flower looking downward reminding me of her body gestures. The red scarves she wore over her hair! Her high forehead too!

 Accidentally or giving the appearance of naturally occurring, Florence's little nose and little point of a chin came into being late in the development of the painting as her profile is the edge of the darker layer of green in the background. More difficult to recognize is the negative area above Florences' high forehead. For me the purple and green dark background becomes positive hair pulled back into the red bun.

I realize Heidel may not have seen his deceased wife in the flower he was painting. If he did, he may not have seen it until nearly finished, when painting the background and then did not choose to pop it out any more than it is.

 I did not have Florence as a teacher, but I have special memories of her.  Accidentally we were at Myer and Frank's housewares at the same time. She was buying wedding gifts for graduating students who were getting married, one of them being me. With a knowing gleam of satisfaction in her eyes, she asked for my approval of salad serving spoons in my stainless pattern. 

Clever choice on her part! Every time I use the serving spoons, almost every day for 48 years, I think of Florence.  Often I ask if my painting experience measures up to her wisdom. I usually ask if painting was a part of my every day doings as she had made painting in her life. I ask myself if painting is a language to me too. Every salad I make, I remember Heidel and his vegetable garden paintings and the art of living as they enjoyed.


Another reason for selecting this painting was my fascination with paintings of three figures in general like ones of Supper at Emmaus'.  Or Diego Rivera's painting of Freda just after she died and his other woman! These paintings have visual language symbolism in the placement and the presentation of  the figures.


I felt "Two Up and One Down" would be a painting that I could look at a long time and would keep seeing something new. I wanted to recall Heidel's parting comments when I finished my undergraduate studies. He said he did not prepare students to be successful at selling. He hoped my art journey would be a rich development. He hoped he had not squelched my intuitiveness. He wanted me to always paint what really mattered to me. He believed in keeping work  for a long time to assist in one's development. He wanted my intuitive poetic self to develop and blossom. 

In keeping with his desire for his students to find their own way, he never demonstrated in class his own painting. In my four years as a student, I never went to any of his art openings or even looked at his work. To my knowledge Heidel did not have numerous new painters following his direction in painting. At his memorial exhibit, I expected to meet other former students, but I was alone as far as I know. 

 Some of his students over a 30 year period must have been successful selling. But maybe not many.  Heidel shared with me that right after graduating from the Chicago Art Institute he thought people would not want to buy his paintings. Not caring if he sold, he thought selling art can stunt creativity.  Or maybe when a painter is just starting out finding their voice, the market can divert their efforts from reaching a rewarding painting experience.

In years since his advice, I see examples of artists who thrive in their creativity when they are selling.  But for me, I work in many directions when the market demands more of the same and discourages my exploration between the acceptable genera. Furthermore, he did paint more and more for the market as he grew older.  He kept his earlier work which now surface in galleries after he passed away.

Fresh out of college, despite his advice, I put my work up for sell with some success. The work was object orientated, just the opposite of what I said my interest was when I was a student. As a student I said the subject was only a springboard to being poetic.

His interest in subject as a springboard is evident in his work.  For example, Heidel painted from his garden as a beginning for an internal symbolic journey in "Two Up and One Down". The flowers were not important as flowers. They were symbolic of people and the fragility of life.

 When he painted watercolors like this one, he was also making fused glass windows. The glass interest carried over to painting. Or was it the paintings carried him over to making fused glass?  In "Two Up and One Down"  the entire picture plane is covered by pencil lines forming a shattered glass grid. The shattered glass was symbolic of what his life was shattered by the death of his wife, Florence.

When I painted thick on coarse textured linen, Heidel asked me why I liked the texture. He said he liked smooth surfaces.  True to his earlier likes he selected smooth hot pressed Arches watercolor paper for "Two Up and One Down".  The smooth paper picked up every nuance of his impulsive nervous tapping of a sharp pencil to deliberate, weighted slow marks. If these pencil marks were applied in the same way on rough, wet paper, they would be blurred or broken up. 
 Heidel's whole process is revealed from his early light pencil drawing to later heavier emphatic statements. Struggle was revealed by eraser marks or by lightening areas with white pastel. He erased heavy lines on the tall thin lily I associate as being him. His lily stem became thinner  by making what was his body part of the background. 
His painting, I believe, was a part of his life's indecision and struggles on how to plant his legs and the bunny's feet. He made Florence's skirt smaller erasing a thick line that made a larger area in the background. He left two legs one bigger than the other. Both look like they are solid and ready to stay while the two parts of Florence's upper parts form a red nosed, yawning specter with arms stretched out to leave.


An interesting mystery within grasp of a conclusive solution, is deducing what color went on first and then following each layer upon layer. 

 He started with Florence's face.  He painted the figures first and then the back ground redefining the figures dimensions when painting the negative area around them. His last color was a violet over the bunny's nose, shaking or blotting the color on the margins he used the same brush load for another final layer over layers of darker greens in the background.

Heidel in the figure painting class had us experiment trying different approaches to where we began on our figure paintings. Either the positive areas or the negative.  Either with warm colors or cool. There isn't a right or wrong way.


Another interesting mystery is to follow his emotions as he painted and drew. Lines applied quickly and lightly express a different emotion than lines made bearing down strongly and heavily. There are lines drawn between Heidel, the blushing lily, and Florence's heads or head. The section on top of Florence could be one of the breasts that was removed in a mastectomy. 

The lines are light pencil. The lower one from Heidel's stem travels beneath the bunny's green scarf, traversing Florences' closed eyes to her ear and bun. There are number of "x'' marks along the lower line and an x on Heidel's stem throat. My guess is the "x" cover something that is no longer. They could no longer speak to one another.

A much darker and deliberately executed line made late in development of the painting is a dark line on the right edge of the blushing lily. The line goes up from the heart along the throat clearly defines his direction towards the bunny with a definite arrow on the lily pointing to the right bunny ear.  Heidel said that a line can be made with sensitivity through out its course with the way they begin and end being very important.

The blushing lily and the bunny look as though they will head for the horizon and Florence will exit to the far right leaving the shattered glass life behind.  In life Heidel remarried.
Whether Heidel used a painting method to make life decisions is unknowable.  "Two Up and One Down" is not even likely a life pivotal painting. The date of this painting is 1991 while the date of his life shattering experience is closer to 1966 or 7.
In "Two Up and One Down" Heidel followed the directives of Florence Saltzman to demonstrate that visual painting is a language.  Heidel's "Two Up and One Down" can be read like poetic writing. Heidel's painting brings new possibilities to me on Florence's will to have painting a part of her everyday doings. Everyday doings can include life adjustments through painting?
When I set out to buy a Heidel, I wanted to paint bright colorful happy acrylics like his. Then I bought  a painting that communicates as much through drawing as through color.  Though his painting suggests to me a sad part of the Heidel's lives,  painting sweetened their lives - "Two Up and One Down"  is  a happy to me.
As for the meaning of the painting for my art: I am going to evaluate what my needs are. How much I need it to be happy? If I am still drawn to textured surfaces, I will examine  how I am getting across what I want to express on textured surfaces. The order in which an intuitive painting is made? Are the shapes defined in the positive or defined with the outline of the background?  Allowing the viewer to guess at the order, to muse over the meanings is an enticing way to speak through making marks. Like Heidel did, I will look at art history examples of textured surface to find the range of expressive texture vocabulary that I can bring to my work. I see he employed drawing techniques of twentieth century painters in a book he shared in figure painting class. So will I.