Tuesday, October 16, 2012


"I come before you to defend influence."
~Andre Gide, Concerning Influence In Literature

Over the course of several years interviewing artists and other people for my blog, articles and columns, I've noticed that I frequently ask variations of some of the same questions. One of these is regarding influence. Who have been your biggest influences? Who were your early influences?  There's a sense in which I am essentially asking, "How did you come to be doing this kind of work? How did you become who you are?"

I decided to put myself in the interviewees shoes to see how I would respond to this question. Who or what have been the influences in my life, especially my early years?

Certainly our homes play a role in our early development. I grew up in a home where I felt encouraged to express myself. There was an endless supply of paper for coloring or drawing on. I recall being fascinated by tracing things, though I do not know if that is because paper was thinner then or we had tracing paper in the house. We had magazines in the house and I would trace faces or animals.

Our house had a television set when we lived in Maple Heights outside of Cleveland. I was two or three when we moved there and I remember early cartoons like Tom Terrific and Clutch Cargo. Children's programming like Captain Kangaroo and Barnaby helped stimulate imagination. At age four I was one of the kids on the Barnaby show, an experience made more memorable by the fact that my younger brother Ron cried and was scared to go on the show with the other kids and leave Mom off-stage. 

At age five I was enrolled in an art class at the Cleveland Institute of Art, one of the formative experiences of my taking an interest in art. Each week the class would visit different parts of the museum and then we'd draw or make art in one of the various designated spaces. I vividly remember the one exercise in which we were in an area with Medieval paintings and suits of armor. We had been instructed to observe the manner in which the letters were decorated by ivy and vines. Perhaps this was the beginning of learning how to "see" like an artist?

The Jon Gnagy television show in the late 1950's or somewhere around 1960 was a strong influence on me. Gnagy taught tricks of the trade, how to create the impression of three dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface. He showed how to place a house into a landscape and have the angles nd perspective lines properly formed so that it was seen in a "normal" fashion and how telephone poles or fence posts shrink in size the further away they are. These little techniques were fascinating to me. I'd sometimes try to understand why this was so. It was a period of asking questions.

My elementary school art teacher must have been an influence. It was a class I perpetually looked forward to. I had a large portfolio envelope with my art in it which my mother saved for me. There was a cowboy I did in second grade that I thought was really cool. I liked the colors of the various papers I used, grey-blues and the like. He had a vest, a pistol, boots and a big cowboy hat.

Our culture influences us. Westerns were ever popular on the television. And I would be remiss not to mention my parents who encouraged me as well as a grandmother who wrote poetry, read voraciously and dabbled in painting.

To be continued 

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