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JEAN SHEPHERD Drawings Part 5 of 5 (18) ARTSY Dee & Twisted

One Shepherd drawing I’m aware of is unlike the rest in media, appearance, and effect.  (It’s not even done with a Rapidograph.) Done on an eight-by-nine inch sheet of gray paper, it depicts overlapping outlines of cartoon heart-faces apparently drawn with a red-violet felt-tip marker, the simple facial features drawn with a pen.  The hearts form a sequence from left to right, starting upright, but a couple leaning a bit, the final one prostrate, as though in a swoon, the entire effect beyond our full understanding.  Yet the words under them, written with a regular pen, say clearly, “I can’t fight it.  I love you. J.”  Obviously not cold and objective, but heartfelt.  It is a valentine to his wife, Lois Nettleton, and thus private, not meant for public scrutiny.  (Shepherd kept his emotions hidden from the public to such an extent that, in his twenty-one years of New York broadcasting, the only emotions of his so far heard, have been when he was performing in the throws of some maniacally comic, musical interlude, when artfully portraying some fictional event or when disparaging someone in the control room. there was obvious emotion behind his commentaries regarding the Kennedy assassination.

As for his personal life, the public at large was not even aware that he and Lois Nettleton knew each other, much less that they were married for over six years.)  Though lacking detail and much context, this valentine is humorous and poignant, but with a full meaning that probably died with the sender and recipient, and which remains for the rest of us a puzzle that can only be seen as another part of the artist’s life that will always be in its essence unknown—enigmatic. Another one of the few instances of a personal connection to Shepherd’s life.

JS to LN valentine

Jean’s Valentine to Lois.

For Shep, so unusual and so unexpectedly expressing a feeling,

this is one of my favorite pieces of Shepherd memorabilia.

Surprisingly, considering Shepherd’s need for acclaim and a more exalted status as a significant creator in his time, he seemed to care little for what happened to his drawings.  True, there were those few used to accompany his Village Voice writing, and those that appeared in two books, but that was about it.  He seemed to only sign a few, including some that are in private hands, and the one framed on Lois Nettleton’s kitchen wall, seen after her death, is also signed.  But of the several dozen that she had stored in a closet in the apartment she had shared with him thirty years before, and that were eventually auctioned, only one bears his name.

END PART 5 of 5



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The following Artsy, inspired by a very good documentary recently watched, is a shorter, revised version of a description previously posted.

A fellow I know casually, Mark Snider, asked me what I do now that I’m retired. I responded that I’ve been obsessed by, and have written about, Jean Shepherd. Mark said that he was a big fan and that his brother, Dee Snider, was also. He said “Dee Snider” as though I should have recognized the name, but I didn’t. “Twisted Sister,” said Mark. “Who’s that?” said I. Mark told me that “Twisted Sister” was a rock band and Dee was the lead singer/song-writer. I said I’d love to talk to him about Jean Shepherd. Mark gave me contact info and I invited Dee to visit me in my Shep Shrine at our house.


Dee Snider in performance.

Twisted Sister is a glam, hair, heavy metal band most visible in the 1980s, though they still occasionally perform.  Their performance style and the content of their lyrics are akin to that of artfully controlled intensity, but remain not nearly as fierce as that of some other groups, because they are organized and carefully crafted by the sensibilities of their lead singer/songwriter, Dee Snider. They’re best-known song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” is more unsettling in its video than in the lyrics themselves.

Dee Snider’s most impressive singing style is a frequently screaming-as-loud-as-he-can while remaining artfully in tune.  As a seemingly manic primitive, he sports outrageously wild and frizzy yellow hair, red lipstick, blue paint on his cheeks, and tattered sartorial outrage calculated to delight rebellious teenagers and whip most parents into a frenzy of disgust.  Dee’s parents had introduced him to Jean Shepherd’s program while he was still a teenager.

He’d listened with his transistor radio hidden under his pillow. Snider is a very big Shepherd cuckoo and he shares some enthusiasms with Shep, including the thrill of motorcycling.

When a black Hummer pulled up outside our house, a tall, thin man dressed all in black like a motorcyclist got out and I greeted him at the door.  It was Dee Snider in mufti.

Dee, with his yellow hair pulled back under a black baseball cap, the peak turned to the back hiding a good part of the protruding ponytail, now in his fifties and still performing with the band, seems neither extravagant nor berserk.  He’s a regular guy offstage—at least for the three hours we spent together—so even his performance persona has its off-duty mufti.

Dee Snider&eb

Dee Snider and me in my Shep Shrine.

Snider said that, “Jean totally affected my storytelling ability. I think it was by osmosis.  We learn from people we listen to.” He’s gotten many accolades for his storytelling on his radio program and, he commented, “I’m known to have a pretty vast vocabulary, using words and phraseology that others don’t use, and I didn’t know exactly where that came from until I realized, upon this reexamination I’m doing now, that Jean has a massive vocabulary.” About word-usage, Snider referred to lyrics in his song “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” including, “Your life is trite and jaded, boring and confiscated.” As he put it, “Not words your average heavy metal rock song would include. I wasn’t very good in English, but I’m taken with Shepherd’s mastery of vocabulary. His mastery of the English weapon.”  Dee stopped himself: “I was going to say ‘using the English language as a weapon.’ Jean used the language as a weapon, and it’s a powerful, powerful tool—offensive and defensive tool, you know–and when it’s working for you, boy, there’s nothing like it!”

I asked Dee how Jean’s attitudes and world view may have influenced him. Dee:  “Well, you know, I’m definitely all about sarcasm [He laughed]. It’s at the core of my sense of humor and my sensibilities and certainly Jean was cynical and sarcastic—to a fault. Here’s Jean as a mentor and as a teacher to us, the misguided youth, and he’s got our ear. And every night here’s someone, a grown man, with very strong political, personal, psychological views filling our heads with his ideology. And the biggest thing to come away with, I guess, besides the storytelling, is his sort of cynical views and his condescending attitude—he looked down on most people, and I dare say that that is a part of my personality I struggle to keep in check. [We both laughed.]  Because it’s not nice! And we want to be nice. [More laughter.] And it’s wrong to think everybody’s ants and you’re Gulliver.

“But I think also, behind the cynicism, hid a love. I can’t believe it wasn’t there. At the same time he seemed to yearn for some of the simplicity that he experienced in his youth and he seemed to be able to step away from it and appreciate the value that these things had. When I’m in the moment I find it very difficult to really appreciate experience that’s happening. Especially the ridiculousness sometimes, of what’s going on around me. But when I step away, when I get on the mic—what I want to call my biography is Just Give Me the Mic—‘cause I love the microphone, whether I’m singing or talking I seem to be ablenow that I’ve stepped back from it—to analyze it and see it for what it was, for better, for worse, the beauty in it, the ugliness in it, the ridiculousness. I don’t know if I got that from Jean, but I think I did.”

I’d saved some of the more difficult subjects for near the end of our talk. I asked what he thought Shepherd would have felt about Twisted Sister and his stage persona and what kind of dialog they might have had. Dee said that Shep “would have had disdain.”  Of course, we knew that already. He did comment, however, that, “The music Shep was passionate about, jazz, was in its own way, for the Beat Generation, what rock and roll is. A music that challenged the norm.  It wasn’t accepted by the mainstream. It was the new jazz, it was against the grain. He didn’t like change.”

Regarding fans, Dee commented: “As a performer—and a successful one—I often have people who come up to me and they’re very excited, but they really don’t know me or my band—they really just grasp the surface of what I’m about, but I appreciate their enthusiasm, their excitement, and I don’t expect them to know better.”  He commented that Twisted Sister plays many kinds of heavy metal rock, yet they had very big success with a couple of very catchy—what he called “anthemic tunes”—such as “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”  As he put it, “That’s what we’re known for, and thank God there was something. That’s what really connected with the masses.  Your true, hardcore fans, like you for Jean or me for Jean, may know there’s a greater depth, but the average person, you have to say, ‘Twisted Sister—you know the song ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ and they go, ‘Oh, that work?  I know ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’ And with Shepherd you have to say A Christmas Story—that’s Jean’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’” Yes, totally the way I introduce Shepherd to the unknowing.

stay hungry

And, with his unexpectedly articulated intelligence during the 1985 U.S. Senate hearings regarding labeling albums of possibly offensive lyrics—especially focusing on rock music–he befuddled the questioners.  Thoughtful and articulate in his arguments against censorship, Dee effectively presented himself and his relatively witty and benign Twisted Sister, against the censorious beliefs of Tipper Gore.  (The record industry labeled the albums anyway, leading, as one would have expected, to increased sales of those albums.)

Regarding other aspects of his personal life, I learned that Dee is the spokesperson for the March of Dimes “Bikers for Babies” program, and he chairs a Long Island ride for the cause.  Bikers for Babies!  I never would have guessed.

Ah, Shep, your influence in the culture is vast and often emerges in unexpected places, even into heavy metal.  I enjoy some Twisted Sister performances on CD and DVDs. Though I suspect that as a neophyte, all I have so far is what Dee would call “a surface grasp,” it’s (gulp!) a beginning.  Without you, Jean Shepherd, we might not have had quite the same driving intensity, intelligence, comic sensibility, and delightful mayhem of a Twisted Sister and the same surprising, thoughtful, many-sided personage of a Dee Snider.


More Than “A Surface Grasp”?

Before we leave Dee and Twisted Sister, let’s think about their loud, slow, insistent melodic line and lyric called “The Price.”  Had Shepherd ever heard it, he might not have been able to get beyond the sound and presentation, as good and appropriate to the song as they are, but the words themselves would surely have resonated with him regarding his ambitions and the arc of his career as he contemplated them toward the end of his life.  It would be difficult to find a song more forcefully and perfectly attuned to the deeper level of the art and enigmatic life of Jean Shepherd.  It is a masterpiece. How inevitable that it’s conceived and performed by one of his most ardent and thoughtful fans.  Here’s the beginning:

The Price

How long I have wanted this dream to come true.
And as it approaches, I can’t believe I’m through.
I’ve tried, oh, how I’ve tried
for a life, yes a life I thought I knew.

Oh, it’s the price we gotta pay, and all the games we gotta play
makes me wonder if it’s worth it to carry on.
‘Cause it’s a game we gotta lose, though it’s a life we gotta choose
And the price is our own life until it’s done.

 “We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!”

Just the other night my wife and I encountered a two-hour documentary about Twisted Sister’s early years. We really like “We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and “The Price,” but we didn’t expect to appreciate the documentary because it only dealt with the group’s formative years. We sat mesmerized. An extraordinary display of the incredible difficulties TS overcame through that first decade! One of the best documentaries we’d ever seen. An internet description of the film:

we are Twisted F.Sister cover

In the mid-1970s, Dee Snider and his Twisted Sister bandmates claimed glitter rock for their own, cross-dressing their way to headlining every club within 100 miles of New York City, from New Jersey bowling alleys to Long Island beach bars. With gigs six nights a week, they were the most successful live bar band of suburban New York, selling out 5,000-seat shows fueled by their no-holds-barred stage presence and aggressive metal set lists. But by the early 80s, they found themselves balancing on a double-edged sword, hugely popular with local audiences but without a national following or a record deal to speak of. When Twisted Sister finally got their big break in 1983, they’d go on to become one of the biggest glam rock bands of the decade, their over-the-top live shows drawing sell-out crowds and their music videos defining an early MTV network.

How had we, New Yorkers—Long Islanders—not known more about them until Dee arrived at my Shep Shrine in black and pony-tailed, his cultured mind and his warm personality all in mufti? What other significant parts of our culture have we been blind to?



JEAN SHEPHERD Drawings Part 4 of 5 & (17) ARTSY “Guernica Colorization Kit” Augmentation Annex

fig ded

In part we create and admire artworks with diverse ways of seeing and diverse attitudes toward the subjects.  Jean Shepherd’s drawings will remain treasures for his admirers, and worthwhile objects for detailed scrutiny.  During that newspaper interview noted earlier, regarding his special ways of observing the world, promoting his own artistic priorities, he was quoted as saying that, “Artists miss the point by spending time on people’s faces,” adding that, “Faces haven’t changed in years!  A telephone reflects 20th century man much more than his face does.”  That may be true, but human forms and faces have been a prime focus of artists throughout history for good reasons—unchanged over the millennia, faces and figures tell us who we are as individuals, they are subtle and complex, and they provide a good gauge of the skill and sensitivity of the artist depicting them.  For all his ability as an observer and all his aptitude as a visual artist, maybe Shepherd lacked the particular skill or empathy required. (And maybe he disparaged depictions of people because he recognized his own deficiency.) Whatever the rationale, it seems rather odd—and enigmatic.

From what’s available to see, he sketched only a couple of people, and those without much detail.  For the most part he didn’t do faces.  Rather odd and seemingly contradictory for a humorist—observer of the human condition— who in words so skillfully depicted the human comedy, but maybe it fit within the parameters of his idiosyncratic and self-contained world.  After all, everyone doesn’t bring the same appetite or skill to the table or to the sketchbook.

To repeat from Part 1: Many additional drawings can be seen on

under “Achievements. Line Drawings.”

To end with another repeat:

leigh in bird book


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“Guernica Colorization Kit” Augmentation Annex

Previously I described my “Guernica Colorization Kit” as a vehicle for commentating negatively on the colorization of movies, and positively on Picasso’s rationale for painting “Guernica” in black, white, and grays.

While pondering my enthusiasm for graphic novels, I encountered in my Facebook inbox (5/8/2016), “Zippy the Pinhead” comic strip creator Bill Griffith’s* newly posted strip. The middle panel shows Zippy in a typically innocent-but-absurdly-realistic mode:

zip to crop

I recognize that “Guernica” is, indeed, a sort of gruesome comic-strip-like image. I knew that Picasso had made, in connection with the large mural, numerous smaller works, and I note that Picasso did an etching–a two page, 18-panel one related to “Guernica.” It’s titled “The Dream and Lie of Franco,” and might be considered a mini, wordless “graphic novel.” Knowing that Franco was the fascist leader who fought against the Republic in the Spanish Civil War, it’s obvious which image represents Franco. But the poem Picasso wrote to accompany the etchings, for me, fails to elucidate its meaning. (Maybe I don’t have a sufficiently surrealistic mind.) I quote a translation of the opening portion of Picasso’s page-long, single-sentence-epic:

fandango of shivering owls souse of swords of evil-omened polyps scouring brush of hairs from priests’ tonsures standing naked in the middle of the frying pan—placed upon the ice cream cone of cod
fish fried in the 
scabs of his lead-ox heart—his mouth full of the cinch-bug jelly of his words…

DreamLieFranco part 2

dream and lie plate 2

There you have it, the whole kit and its caboodle.

(One can see that a couple of the panels in the

second sheet echo parts of “Guernica”):

Picasso’s graphic novel!

* Many will recognize Bill Griffith as the creator of the Zippy comic strip tribute to Jean Shepherd that appeared January 9, 2000 (reproduced in my EYF!).




Another of Shepherd’s drawings shows a restaurant façade, with a window through which we see a self-contained composition of flower vase on a table and a waiter’s hand delivering a drink, showing a personal interaction going on just out of our view. At the corner of the building over the front door, is the establishment’s name, reminding the viewer of Shepherd’s improvised radio work:  “Hutton’s AD LIB.”

Here in a drawing we see one of the few instances

of a personal connection to Shepherd’s life.

shepherds AD LIB

Hutton’s Ad Lib.

I did some research and determined that it was probably

located in New York, about Lex. Ave. and 47th St.

[Collection E. Bergmann]

The drawings by Shepherd so far seen in public have precise and objectively observed details—a strict depiction of what he saw—which is to say, an observation, but seemingly without an intellectual viewpoint and without feeling.  Apparently done with no preliminary pencil lines (Unless he subsequently erased them?), in a straightforward, simple style, only a couple are what one might describe as “sketchy,” but that occasional sketchiness tells us nothing new either.  On the other hand, his spoken and written words, based on the same acute ability for fine-tuned observation, produced humorous forays into humankind’s foibles.  None of the ink drawings I’ve seen seem to have any of the sense of humor or warmth (except for the Ad Lib one) for which his words are considered an equal to those other Midwesterners, Mark Twain and James Thurber.  With pen and ink in hand he saw clearly and depicted accurately, but I see no attempt to incorporate commentary except in the window scene in Hutton’s Ad Lib.



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Saturday mornings are a glorious time at our house, full of wild anticipation. The daily Times arrives on the lawn, encapsulated in its blue, plastic, Times bag including some sections of tomorrow’s Sunday Times. I don’t believe that any other newspaper in the world is so likely to contain such possible subject matter that thrills me so! The Wall Street Journal might approach my high standards. Tabloids are below contempt—even if they do mention some worthwhile artsy subject that entrances me, I know, from long-past experience, that the quality and thoroughness of their coverage will be vastly inadequate.

The Saturday, April 30, 2016 delivery contained major, illustrated articles, on not one, but three of my favorite creators. Kahn, Sunday Art Section; Bosch, Sunday Travel Section; Whitman, Saturday Main Section, page 1. (Understand that I have significant books and stashes of clippings and personal memory-holdings on each of these masters.)


After Frank Lloyd Wright, my favorite architect is Lois Kahn (1901-1974). His buildings exude a richness of materials and a warm and life-affirming feeling for light as a substance nearly on a par with material. It’s glorious to see and be within a building by Kahn. I’ve visited the one shown. Here’s The Times opening page on Kahn:

NYT Kahn l0002


One of my favorites, Bosh’s work is bizarre, it is quirky, it thrills me—especially his “Garden of Earthly Delights.” I’ve been in its presence several times. Here’s The Times opening page on Bosch:

Bosch Garden travel 4.30.16


My favorite poet is Whitman. Some of his words and lines and poems, such as “Song of Myself,” grab me as do few other creative works. Here’s The Times continued page on Whitman that began on the main section’s front page:

W.W food tips0002

I must criticize The Times for its faulty choice of that photo of the poet—but Whitman himself bears much blame, as he promoted himself as the “Good, Gray, Poet.” Thus, he’s usually thought of and depicted as a really old guy with a long white beard. When he wrote and published the first edition of his Leaves of Grass in 1855, photos show him as a vigorous young man (about age 36). Even the Matthew Brady portraits of him taken several years after he wrote this “health” article in 1858, show him to have been much younger and more vigorous than The Times image—shame! They probably grabbed both of their printed images from the originator of the story, without the grabber thinking more knowingly. But even The Times isn’t (always) perfect.

W.W civilwar Brady

Whitman by Brady

during the Civil War (1861-1865)



JEAN SHEPHERD Drawings Part 2 of 5

The basic materials of his art didn’t seem to concern Shepherd much except for his choice of pen.  On one occasion, in what appears to be his most prolific drawing period, the late 1950s and early 1960s, he drew while being interviewed for a newspaper interview, revealing the kind of instrument he used.  The New York Post reporter wrote that, “While Jean Shepherd talks—an activity at which he’s a virtuoso—he draws pictures of a well-worn chair, a stylized Coke bottle, a Village pad, a typewriter,” and he notes that “Shepherd clutches a German-made pen with a tip like a hypodermic needle….”  This seems to be a “technical pen,” quite popular with draftsmen and commercial artists at the time.  Although a couple of brands exist, he probably used the German-made Rapidograph, whose trade name had become so commonly used to describe the type, that it had become the generic term.

Rapidograph image

Rapidograph, still available in art supply stores.

In my design career I frequently used one.

The ink in an internal reservoir is released at the tip through a thin metal tube with a tiny rod inside it.  At least during the 1960s, as the ink would dry up in the tip when the pen hadn’t been used for a while (like for an hour or less), the pens were known for their difficulty getting started, so one can imagine Shepherd, anxious to begin, agitatedly shaking the pen up and down to unstick the tiny rod in the tube to get the ink to flow.  (These days the manufacturer claims to have solved this with an ink that is “specially formulated to be non-clogging in technical pens.”)  Despite the annoying problem back then, in contrast to pens that produce varied thicknesses of line depending on the pressure applied to the point according to the user’s inclination or even emotion, Shepherd probably decided that the consistent width of the Rapidograph stroke better served his more straightforward notions of objectively getting the subject matter down on paper.  Interchangeable Rapidograph tips allow for consistently wider or narrower strokes, but the width he seemed most disposed to was probably a number 2, for a medium-stroke, neither very thin nor very thick.

For paper surface, he must have been happy with whatever came to hand.  His sketchbooks of choice were not of a standard that, for purity and longevity, would better serve posterity. And nothing seemed to significantly affect the quality of his line—in lieu of a pad, with his obsession to get an image down with his pen, he’d draw a tiny sketch on a postcard to send to his wife, draw on a paper napkin, or, in one impressive example, on a length of paper towel.

When Shepherd sketched by himself or planned a sketching excursion with his best friend, cartoonist Shel Silverstein, or with Playboy illustrator of the current scene, LeRoy Neiman, or with watercolorist Don Kingman, usually he seemed to carry spiral-bound sketchpads of sizes from 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 to 14 by 16 3/4.  On sheets from such pads we find drawings of his apartment, one of an artist’s easel in a room, sketches of the dressing room of the Morosco Theater where his wife, Lois, was appearing, of objects on restaurant tables, of an old car, many of building facades, and a couple of churches done while wandering the streets of Manhattan and touring Europe.

shep napkin draw0002

Sketch on a Schrafft’s Restaurant napkin.

I wanted an example of Shep’s work on a napkin!

Collection of E. Bergmann

Several ink drawings stand out.  On a section of paper towel over sixty inches long, he precisely drew objects on a table including fruit on a plate and an artist’s paintbrush, and a few inches away on the towel he did a large, sketchy image of an antique Bugatti Royale limousine.

bugatti, table setting

Table setting on paper towel roll, and a sketch of a Bugatti limo,

the halves now cut apart for framing. 

Collection of E. Bergmann


One of his drawings shows the corner of an old building in Manhattan with a tall vertical sign, EXCELSIOR, obviously chosen because the word was his favorite, friendly battle cry that ironically suggests that idealism without a firmly grounded footing is foolhardy.


END Part 2



Not many people who are aware of Jean Shepherd in the media know of the importance to him of drawing, his mostly private avocation. (Shepherd seemed to do many of his known drawings circa 1960 although some are dated as late as 1962. When I visited the apartment Shep had shared with his third wife, actress Lois Nettleton, several mid-size painting of Shepherd’s were pointed out. They were neat, well-organized abstractions, but, for me, not distinctive or innovative.)

After many years during which the pen and ink drawings of Jean Shepherd had only been known through an occasional reproduction in the Village Voice, some sketched tableware reproduced on the back of a fast food restaurant paper place mat, and two of his own books of stories and articles, more artwork recently appeared. The new and unpublished materials offered on ebay from the estate of Lois Nettleton were snapped up by Shepherd’s fans.  These drawings, mostly black ink on white paper, only a few with a touch of color, now permit a better appreciation of this part of a creator’s wide-ranging interests.

Shepherd prided himself on his close observation of all sorts of major and minor details (which he called “straws in the wind,” or “cracks in the sidewalk”), referring to their significance as often overlooked indicators of worthy concern.  This interest in observed details led him to explore and express in many media, anything and everything that came to his attention.  Shepherd said that, although people in the mass media denied that one could be competent in more than one creative field, in his many activities he proved them wrong. As his friend, Helen Gee, founder of the Limelight Café and photo gallery put it, “The amazing thing about Jean is that whatever he decided to do he did rather well….He decided to draw and he drew very well….He wanted to become an artist.  An artiste.”

010_limelight line drawing by Shep

An early drawing of the Limelight from Helen Gee’s estate

(from before Shep had broadcast there).

John Erdman, of Gee’s estate, sent me a copy of this.

When I asked about Shep’s drawings on napkins that she told me she had,

he said that they had been thrown out.

(Thank you, Jim Clavin, for this copy)


On a radio broadcast, describing his adventures in headhunter country of the Peruvian Amazon, Shepherd commented with an idea relevant to his skills as an observer: “I was there.  I am a trained reporter.  Those of you who listen to me know that.  My life has been devoted to absorbing sights and sounds and listening….I’m appearing as an artist who has seen something and would like to transmit his impressions to you.”  Yes, the self-description, referring to his radio talk, applied as well to his other mass-media creations and also to his lesser-known work as a visual artist with pen and ink.

In his The Natural Way to Draw, Kimon Nicolaides begins the introduction to this important book of drawing exercises on how to observe and how to express what one sees in visual media, with a statement as appropriate to Shepherd’s spoken words as to his pen on paper: “The impulse to draw is as natural as the impulse to talk.”


[In the next part, see more drawings. Many additional ones can be seen on under “Achievements/Line Drawings.”]




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(15) Emotion Outranks Technique Part 2

John Marin 

I discovered John Marin’s work in the 1970s. In the early-to-mid-20th century, he was voted the top living American artist by his peers. He had been one of the Alfred Stieglitz circle, but not as celebrated as Georgia O’Keeffe and some other modernists, in part because he had mostly worked in watercolor. I believe that what most attracted me to his work was the strikingly improvised effect he got, fusing an empathic fervor with a stylized but accurate sense of place—of a real scene in front of him. I visited Maine one summer vacation because that is where he had usually painted in the years before his death in 1953. I visited his home there. His son and his son’s wife invited me to view his work on their walls and in their files. (Their hospitality gives another instance where my struggle to be adventuresome triumphed over my natural timidity.)

I found, at the time, that if I were lucky, I could probably afford a small original Marin at auction. (Prices for his work were not too high yet.) A major New York auction house had one for sale and I asked to see it out of its frame, especially because the dusty glazing somewhat obscured it. The process of removing it by their person caused the frame to come apart, so that, after I’d looked at it, it was placed in its unstable frame horizontally in a glass exhibit cabinet where it could not be adequately viewed. I’d seen it well. I bid and won. I had it re-matted and re-framed as close as I could to the original. It’s been in my view daily for decades. (I saved the old backing—it has what I identify as Alfred Stieglitz’s signature.)

Marin & I (2)

Me and my Marin

Photo by Allison M. Bergmann

Though the painting is smaller than his major watercolors and not a great masterpiece, it’s an early and decent example of his mature style and I revere it. A few years after buying the painting, I saw at auction a low-priced and unsigned (except in the plate) Marin etching I liked and bought it. What I didn’t realize until much later is that the watercolor and etching both have the same dynamic composition of a strong arrow-shape wide at the right, pointing diagonally upward toward the far left. Also, now I can’t look at the etching’s cloud formation without thinking that it also points upward to the left in a shape much like a penis and testicles.

marin paint yes

marin etching yes_resized

Ivan Hitchens

Browsing through a box-full of small publications at The Strand bookstore on Broadway and 12th, I encountered a slim monograph of an English artist I did not know of, Ivan Hitchens. The cover reproduction (shown below) struck me powerfully. It was a landscape scene of a waterfall and pond in oil that, though different from Marin’s work, struck me because of the strikingly improvised effect he got, fusing an empathic fervor with a stylized but accurate sense of place—of a real scene in front of him. I have a framed reproduction of the cover image in my study and several catalogs and a major monograph of his work, but I’ve hardly ever seen an original.