20th Century American Writers

When I quit my job at A. J. Wood Marketing Services, I applied for two jobs: one as an art director for an ad agency; the other as a writer for a large company at 401 N. Broad Street. As the creative director at Wood, I had learned how to write. Much as in the way I learned to design, by doing hundreds of CD covers, I learned to write by composing copy for countless numbers of promotional letters, brochures and booklets.

From the time I was in my very early teens I enjoyed writing poems and short stories. Even before I was much of a reader, I wrote. Then as I grew older, and began to read in earnest, I found that I had an ability at composing. As with painting or art, I had little training beyond junior high school in composition, but as I began to read the works of Flaubert, Fitzgerald, Thomas Mann and E. L. Doctorow, I also learned to appreciate the process of writing.

As it should have been, I took the job as an art director over that of a copywriter after leaving Wood, but I held on to my appreciation of writers and the power they had to educate, inform, entertain and stimulate ideas past their own lives to generations and generations of new readers.

William Burroughs - acrylic on canvas - 24' x 24"
There are a great many writers that I truly value, but William Burroughs was never one of them. I knew little about him except that he was part of the "beat" generation, that somehow he had killed his wife, and that he wrote Naked Lunch, one book I never read. But I was reintroduced to him in 2015 by a friend of my daughter, Ross Waterer, who greatly admires this man.

I didn't know this at the time that he volunteered to clean up and organize my art studio, a place where the junk and filth had gotten way out of hand, in trade for a painting. I originally thought Ross wanted a painting I had already done, but he informed me during our negotiation that he’d like a painting of William Borroughs.

"Why William Borroughs?" I asked. As with many things with Ross the actual answer wasn't clear to me. He seemed to admire the freedom of the man to go in many directions, and his influence on both the music and writing of both the beat and punk generations.

As he's talking to me, I am thinking, "Yes, I can do this!"

The reason was apparent since I had been flirting with idea of painting large, semi-abstract portraits for close to a year. The original idea came to me when I met an influential woman in business in Philadelphia, and imagined a series of famous women of business created in bold, flat colors, that included in the portrait hints at that which made them successful.
The original concept for the series featuring (left to right)
Alina Wheeler, William Wharton
and Todd Rundgren (never painted).
I had already created a mock up of Alina Wheeler, a friend and designer who had written
Truman Capote - acrylic on canvas - 24' x 24"
the ultimate book on branding. I sent the portrait to her and told her of my idea, but over time the concept morphed into a series of square cut, photo-illustrative pieces celebrating famous people in Delaware County. The series became part of the Delaware County Tourist Bureau website and included short anecdotes about each person, their successes, and their connection to the County. In all, I created 52 of these portraits, but I had not yet had the opportunity to translate the idea into paint on canvas.

Eudora Welty - acrylic on canvas - 24' x 24"
Painting takes a lot of time, and developing a new style, finding the right subject, and making it worth the effort sometimes daunting.

"Will it sell?"

It seems that that question has to be put away quickly for most challenges. "No it will probably not sell."

But now Ross had given me the opportunity to trade me something I greatly need for painting a painting of Burroughs.

He wasn't concerned about the size of the piece, so I said, “How about 2' x 2'? Square?”

Kurt Vonnegut - acrylic on canvas - 24' x 24"
That was fine with him. As an artist himself, he also let me know that he didn't care about the style. I could paint it the way I wanted to.

"Perfect!"

So I painted Burroughs, and while painting him, I thought of the series that would come from it, “20th Century American Writers.”

Ross liked the finished Burrough's piece, and I quickly chose another writer, one that I admired, who had influenced me. Burroughs, number 13, was not included in the twelve.
“Hemingway.” Over a period of months I completed portraits of twelve writers

As with all of my projects, I have most enjoyed conceiving the idea, and filling it with content, and then bringing the complete project to fruition. Though the paintings are central to every concept, the stories, personal connections and the message is integral to the art itself.

My art.

To view all 13 portraits and the stories behind their creation, visit click here to visit ModernAmericanWriters.com.


Click to Chapter 21: For now and the Near Future