To Paint is to Love Again Part 12: Friends and Mentors

“To work alongside another painter, a serious one, is a great privilege”, wrote Henry Miller in To Paint is to Love Again. Having a friend who is a fellow artist means that we have someone who not only understands and appreciates our work, but who helps us learn and grow. A friend who is a good artist will inevitable become a teacher. In the art world, friends and mentors can often become one: friend mentors. There is something so intimate about sharing art that strong friendship bonds can be made between people of different ages, such as students and professors in the academic environment.

I’ve been lucky to work alongside a few talented friends — and become friends with the talented people I worked alongside. In this blog post I’d like to present the ones I most value (in an alphabetical order). All these people have inspired me, taught me and supported me in one way or another, and I treasure that.

Andris Wood

I met Andris in 2012 at an exhibition called Dazed and Refused at the Arch Gallery in London. I often thought that the setting was perfect for the meeting of two rebel souls. The exhibition, organised by Adam Laurence and inspired by the 1863 Salon des Refusés (which celebrated more than 3,000 artworks, including paintings by Manet, Whistler, Cezanne and Pisarro) consisted of portraits turned down by the panel of the (in)famous BP Portrait Award (which has been under attacks not only for its affiliation with the oil industry, but also for favouring soulless photorealism). It was a great event and a start of a lasting and important friendship.

Andris is like no other person I’ve met. Sporting Regency couture (besides his painting outfit, I’ve never seen him wear jeans or a T-shirt), a connoisseur of absinth and a regular member of Jane Austen Festival in Bath, he describes himself as “Romantic sociopolitical contemporary figurative painter, and portraitist”. He completed his BFA in Painting, and MFA in History of Art at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Denver Colorado in 1998. In the course of his 20+ year long professional career he has held exhibitions in Denver, London, and Oxford, and has several pieces in private collections throughout the US, UK, and UAE, including two pieces in the Pembroke College JCR collection, Oxford University. Andris knows everything there is to know about oil painting. His extensive knowledge both of the craft and of art history surpasses anyone’s I know. In Oxford, where he lives, he’s something of a legend — adored by friends, recognised by regulars at the Wheatsheaf and the Gothic night Intrusion, stopped by tourists who want to take a photograph with an originally dressed man. What I love about him is the sincerity and integrity of his actions — he’s 100% genuine in what he does and always follows his heart. In our nearly 10-year long friendship, we’ve had a joint exhibition, gone to see (and critique) shows together, enjoyed pub crawls in the East End, walks in Oxford, and I’ve posed for his studies. What we’ve never done (but promised each other several times) is doing a portrait of each other. I very much look forward to that.

You can see some examples of Andris’s work on his Facebook page and Instagram.

Joaquim S. Marques

I met Joaquim when I came to Lisbon in 2017 and joined Espaço 62, an atelier shared by then five and currently seven artists. Outside of art school, it was my first experience of sharing a working space with other people, and in many ways it was pretty challenging — as it always is when you put people of different personalities, expectations and needs in one space. But the two people who made the experience truly valuable and compensated for the downsides were Joaquim S. Marques and Mónica Mindelis.

Joaquim S. Marques studied Fine Arts at Hochschule für Gestaltung in Offenbach and Städelschule Academy of Fine Arts in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1998 he obtained a DAAD scholarship and moved to Lisbon, where he completed The Individual Painting Project at Ar.Co – Centro de Artes e Comunicações in Lisbon. Between 2013 and 2017 he lived and worked in Brazil and in 2017 he was resident artist at MArt in Lisbon. Last year, he was selected for the Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso Prize and this year he did an artist residency at Viarco in São João da Madeira in Portugal.

To me, Joaquim is a wonderful mix of German (he was born and raised in Frankfurt) and Portuguese: quiet, gentle, organised, and focused, and very open and warm. We’d spend hours at Espaço 62 talking about art, philosophy and politics, often being the only people present at the studio in the afternoon. At the time, Joaquim was painting both watercolour landscapes and oil portraits, and it was very interesting to watch how he approached portrait painting in between sessions of very expressive painting of large scale abstract landscapes which he often executed with a mop-turned-brush. Besides watching him paint, I always enjoyed asking getting his feedback on my work not only because it helped me push it further, but also because I just loved the way he talked about painting. Joaquim and his partner Leticia both teach at Nextart and it’s clear they’re both incredibly gifted when it comes to sharing the knowledge with people.

You can see some examples of Joaquim’s work on his website and below you can see a short video showing Joaquim working his magic with his “mop” brush.

Milena Podloch

I met Milena through a mutual friend during my Masters studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Our friendship took a while to take off but over the course of the years we became closer and closer, spending afternoons talking about anything and everything, and going to see exhibitions whenever we happened to be in the same city. Until 2018, Milena was living in Warsaw and developing her career as a motion designer for a variety of companies. She then moved to Edinburgh, where she works as a graphic designer at the Edinburgh Napier University and has just relocated to Glasgow.

Milena is one of the most talented and proficient people I’ve ever met in life. Despite working predominantly with digital media to create graphic and motion design, vector illustration, and infographics, she’s equally proficient in traditional media: drawing, painting, sculpting, and generally making things. I am under the impression that whatever tool or medium she touches, she’s capable of conjuring up something remarkable. She’s created stop-motion animations, hand-made books, posters, videos, dolls, and jewellery. A few years ago, together with another friend, we did a little ebru (paper marbling) workshop in my kitchen, the fruits of which I still keep in a drawer. For the past few years, Milena has been learning ceramics and has already created a number of beautiful plates, one of which takes up an honorary place in my cupboard. She’s someone who doesn’t slide on the surface of anything, but instead digs deep to investigate, analyse and understand. It’s very inspiring.

You can watch Milena’s origami stop-motion video below and see examples of her other work on her website.

Mónica Mindelis

Mónica Mindelis was born in São Paulo, where she studied visual arts at Faculdade Santa Marcelina, followed by graphic design at School of Innovation and Creation Technologies (ETIC) in Lisbon, and painting at Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes in Lisbon.

Like Joaquim, I met Mónica at Espaço 62 and I was instantly drawn to her warmth, charisma and genuineness. While I was at the front, next to the window, trying to squeeze the little sunlight that would seep into our dim studio, Mónica was working at the back of the room. With Erik Satie playing in the background, she’d be painting on large sheets of paper stapled to the walls, squatting over cut-put pieces she was rearranging on the floor, making sculptures and objects, or sitting on a tall stool reading a book and making notes in her notebook. While other people enjoyed engaging in lengthy chats in person or on the phone, Mónica was always incredibly focused. As friendly and open as she was, she wouldn’t let distractions get in the way of her creative flow. She’s also someone not at all concerned with brand, image, social media or any sort of popularity. Her art is pure and genuine, and comes from a place of deep feeling and thought.

Like with Joaquim, I’ve always valued Mónica’s input on whatever I was doing at the studio (which was mostly trail and error, especially the latter). I also very much enjoyed the process of designing the current visual identity of Espaço 62 together, as the two of us went through several ideas of the logo, gradually stripping it down to the basic blue form. I miss talking to Mónica about art, I miss our hopeless hunt for rye bread in Lisbon bakeries, and I miss seeing her immersed in creating her paintings and collages.

You can see examples of Mónica’s work on her website and below is an interview with her, recorded at Espaço 62.

Parastoo Anoushahpour

Parastoo and I met at Central Saint Martins in London, where together we studied Theatre: Design for Performance, as the course was then called. In fact, we got to work together almost from day one, as we were put in groups of four for the very first Collaborative Project, where we had to devise a short performance based on a song (our group got Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around, the lyrics to which have been stuck in my head ever since). We made costumes out of bin bags and Parastoo and I acted out a short metaphorical tale of the life-death cycle. It was fun and exciting, and we got to spend a lot of time together.

As I was getting to know Parastoo, observing her develop ideas and present them to the group, I was more and more drawn to the originality of her thinking. Her creativity, sensitivity and ability to make unexpected connections between things made her work stand out. At the same time, she was always incredibly quiet, modest and focused — a stark contrast to my (then) insatiable thirst for London buzz and wild experiences. I was always curious what people from my year would end up doing after college, and naturally, quite a few of us went to do theatre design, but I had a sense that neither Parastoo nor I would end up becoming pigeon-holed in a discipline that would mean responding to someone’s script as opposed to developing our own.

Parastoo Anoushahpour​ is originally from Tehran and is now based in Toronto working predominantly with video and installation in collaboration with Ryan Ferko and her brother Faraz Anoushahpour. After the BA we did together, she went to do a Postgraduate Diploma at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, and later a Master of Fine Arts, Interdisciplinary Art, Media & Design at the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto.The trio have done numerous residencies and projects around the world and their work has been presented at various festivals, including Punto de Vista Film Festival, Sharjah Film Platform, Viennale, Projections (New York Film Festival), Wavelengths (Toronto International Film Festival), Images Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Media City Festival (Windsor/Detroit), Experimenta (Bangalore), ZK/U Centre for Art & Urbanistics (Berlin), and Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography (Toronto). Their work is experimental, challenging, and escaping any attempts at classification. Exactly how I thought it would be.

You can see some examples of Parastoo’s work here and below is an interview with Parastoo and her two collaborators.

Henry Miller “To Paint is to Love Again”, Part 12: Friends and mentors

To work alongside another painter, a serious one, is a great privilege. I had the opportunity once in New York, of painting with Abe Rattner in his studio. I had some misgivings at first, as to the effect which my presence would have on his work. After a day or two, what would my humming and whistling, my boyish enthusiasm, my hundred and one questions, he was enchanted or professed to be. He even abandoned the huge crucifixion he was working on to do some watercolors himself. The way in which the maestro proceeded to go about it was an eye opener. It was the best instruction I ever received, and nary a word spoken. 

Lilik Schatz who inveigled me into doing the nightlife opus with him was another painter who delighted in having me by his side while he worked. Apart from my friend Emil Schnellock, no one has given me as much encouragement as he. Himself, he never made watercolors. The medium was too floo for him, as he used to say. But everything I did excited his interest and curiosity. He never thought it strange or disturbing that I was so lacking in technique, that I had no sense of perspective, that I did everything the wrong way. I always had the impression that he saw and applauded what I intended to do. Yet he was not uncritical. What he deplored was lack of feeling, lack of daring. Do anything you like, he would say, but do it with conviction.

In moments of enthusiasm over the juicy colours he was squeezing onto his palette, he would declare that he loved them, the colors, so much he could eat them right out of the tube. It was he who introduced me to Cadmium Red Light. I never liked the cadmium reds – still don’t – but Cadmium Red Light sends me. I’m crazy about Yellow Ochre too. And Gamboge, and Indian Yellow. Dangerous colors to play with, I’m told. Crimson Alizarin is another dangerous favorite. As for Chromium Oxide and Viridian, they leave me cold. Give me Rose Madder, Scarlet Lake, or Rose Tyrien, and I’m in heaven. It’s impossible to talk of colors without lapsing into Nijinsky’s lingo. Whenever Nijinsky named a certain country which was dear to him, he had to mention all the other countries he also loved. Always full circle.

I make mention of these various colors only by way of saying that it was thus we often passed a wonderful evening, merely reeling off the names of the colors, and expatiating on their qualities. It was a drunken, sentimental kind of talk, thoroughly euphoric. The sort that sometimes takes place over the dinner table when the person opposite you begins extolling the virtues of certain wines. The names of good wines is even more intoxicating, thanks to the associations they call up, than the names of Windsor and Newton tubes. The pity is that colors can’t be eaten or drunk except with the eyes. Of course, there is no color which is good in itself. A good red needs a good blue or a good green to stand next to it. With wines, it’s different. One doesn’t have to taste a poor wine in order to appreciate the excellence of a good one. With colors, as I say, it’s all a question of contiguity. What are the colors they are limitrophe to? Even a Cadmium Red Light won’t show up to advantage beside a Van Dyke Brown or some other dingy companion. Something of the sort might also be said for good wines. One can hardly appreciate the excellence of a Nuits-Saint-Georges, for instance, while putting away a corned beef and cabbage.

Maurice Denis, Homage to Cézanne, 1900, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Maurice Denis, Homage to Cézanne, 1900, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

But to come back to the painters I have known, all lovable souls and some, like Man Ray and Beauford Delaney, possessed of a wisdom altogether uncommon. 

There is one man I must make space for, though he was not a painter. I mean Alfred Stieglitz. It was only toward the end of his life that I got to know Stieglitz at the gallery called An American Place. Naturally, I had heard and read about Stieglitz ever since I had come of age, but not until I met him did I realize what a force he was. Every time I visited An American Place, I came away inspired. No one had ever taught painting to me the way Stieglitz did. It wasn’t his talk alone either, but the look in his eyes, which accompanied it. That he was not a painter amazed me. Perhaps he had been at one time, I never asked. If ever the artist had a friend, a spokesman, a champion defender, it was in the person of Alfred Stieglitz. Coming upon him, fresh from Europe, I was enchanted by his vigorous, youthful spurt, his unique way of looking at things. He was one of the very few Americans I have met whose approach to a work of art inspired reverence for the artist, for his work, for art itself. Lucky for us who came under his spell that he was not a painter, that he had created for himself the role of interpreter and defender. 

At the time we met, it was John Marin whom Stieglitz talked about endlessly. No matter whose work was being exhibited, it was always Marin whom we came back to. And then one day Marin walked in and I was introduced to him. His talk, I remember, left me thoroughly unimpressed. Even a most ordinary French painter could express himself far better than John Marin. It was his personality, his looks, which fascinated me. He was a weirdie, and that Fujita bang he sported only accentuate his bizarre druidic look. He was also very American, an ingrained one. I could easily picture him back at the turn of the century, playing billiards in the rear of the café Trois Mousquetaires on the Avenue du Maine or dining at the Place Deux Têtes with Douanier Rousseau and Max Weber. Finally, he invited me to visit him at his home in some godforsaken place in New Jersey. Here I really got to grips with him. While examining a trunk full of watercolors he had never exhibited, he demonstrated to me how he painted with both hands at once. I would have been happy to acquire the facility of that left hand alone.

These two men are now part of the story of American art. Knowing what they meant to one another, I could not help but see Stieglitz in every watercolor Marin painted. His image was embedded in the paper, like that angel I once wrote of which I could never scrub out. How fortunate was John Marin to have such a lifelong friend? Usually, the artist has two life-long companions, neither of his own choosing. I mean: poverty and loneliness. To have a friend who understands and appreciate your work, one who never lets you down, but who becomes more devoted, more reverent as the years go by, that is a rare experience. It takes only one friend if he is a man of faith to work miracles. How distressing it is to hear young painters talking about dealers, shows, newspaper reviews, rich patrons and so on. All that comes with time or will never come. But first, one must make friends, create them through one’s work.

Click here to read Henry Miller’s “To Paint is to Love Again”, Part 11: The Healing Power of Art

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