Sample - Diverse Universe Chapter 20

When I ended my career at A. J. Wood Marketing Services in 1977, I applied for two jobs: one was for an art director position at an ad agency; the other was as a writer for a large marketing firm located at 401 N. Broad Street in Center City, Philadelphia. As the creative director at Wood, I had learned how to write by composing copy for countless promotional letters, brochures, and booklets, and the tutelage of my former boss and fine writer, Ed Cohen.

From my very early teens, I had enjoyed writing poems and short stories, even before I became much of a reader. 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 composition, but as I began to read the works of Flaubert, Fitzgerald, Thomas Mann, and E. L. Doctorow, I learned to appreciate the process of writing.

I ultimately made the correct choice in choosing a job as an art director over that of a copywriter, but I held on to my appreciation of writers and the power they had to educate, inform, entertain, and share ideas well past their lifetimes with 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, and that somehow, he had killed his wife. 

He also wrote Naked Lunch, a book I never read. However, I was reintroduced to him in 2015 by a friend of my daughter, Ross Waterer, who greatly admired this man. For what reason, I still can’t fathom.

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

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

After talking to him, I decided to do it. 

My decision was clear 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 done in bold, flat colors. My original model for the concept of the series was a friend and designer, Alina Wheeler, who had recently written and published the ultimate book on branding. 

The 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
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. 

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?” “Will people like it, or hate the change?” 

It seems that the questions need to be put away quickly for most challenges.

“No, it will probably not sell, and many people won’t like it.”

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

He wasn’t concerned about the size of the piece, so I said, “How about 24” x 24”? Square?”
That was fine with him. 

Kurt Vonnegut - acrylic on canvas - 24" x 24"
  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 Burroughs piece, and I quickly chose another writer, one that I admired and had influenced me, Hemingway. Over a period of months, I completed portraits of twelve writers.

As with all 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 to the art itself.
 
At this point in time, I have completed 19 portraits of writers, and have a website that contains them all, as well as my reasoning for selecting each writer. 

To view all 19 portraits and the stories behind their creation, visit click here to visit ModernAmericanWriters.com.