My Park

First drawing done after the park reopened

First drawing done after the park reopened

One of the many wonderful things about where I live is that’s just a block from Washington Square Park — 10 acres of trees and benches and squirrels. It’s where we walk ourt dogs there several times a day. It’s where Jack learned to skateboard. It’s where we read and draw and chill. We’ve written books about it, made films about it. It’s our front yard.

Jack gave this tour of the park in the Spring of 2001. He’d been learning its history in school and gave it a uniquely Jack re-interpretation.

Almost two years ago, we learned that the park was going to be renovated and, in short order, a huge  ugly cyclone fence encircled most of it. Ever since we walked around the perimeter, like kid’s outside of Willy Wonka’s factory. I took to drawing what I could see of the park from my kitchen window, asecond rate substitute. Last summer was the hardest leg of the exile: no fountain, no concerts, no lolling on the lawn.

Last week, I got an excited text message from Patti: the fence was coming down! We’ve flowed into the park and discovered it was (almost) worth the wait.New flagstones,  rich lawns, lovely plantings, new benches and lamps. The fountain has been moved to line up with the Arch and Fifth Avenue and the park seems a lot less ramshackle and scrappy but still like home.

Here’s a collection of drawings done before after and during our years in exile. (Click on a thumbnail to open the gallery)

Drawing on memories

memory-media1

Patti had a birthday last month, the 22nd we’ve celebrated together. When you’ve been together as long as we have, you have to think  a little hard at birthdays and anniversaries and Christmas time to keep things fresh, to make sure that you can still express how much you love each other without falling back on the tried and trite.

Anyway, this year, I decided that one of the ways I would commemorate our history together was to take our ancient home movies and transfer them onto DVDs so we could watch them over and over. We have scads of old video tapes but the cameras that recorded and played them are long defunct. In fact, we have never looked at any of them since we initially shot them – films of our first trips together, of our wedding, of Jack’s early days and so on, all moldering in shoe boxes. Now we have a dozen gleaming DVDs, a box set of our lives up to about 1997 or so.  We have all watched them together over and again, particularly the ones when Jack first learned to use the potty and his first big argument with us on a trip  to Nova Scotia.

One of the more profound DVDs is the one I made when Patti had her accident and I was alone each night at home with the baby. For two months, I made videos of our daily life to take up to the hospital to show Patti that we were okay, that life was going on, that she had something to come back to. These are the hardest tapes to watch because I feel so sorry for the me that was, giving Jack a bath, rocking him to sleep, listening to music (Teddy Bear’s Picnic, The Ugly Bug’s Ball, Let’s Go Fly a KIte…) that was once so sweet and important to us but forevermore will signify the hollowness of those days.

Funnily, the more I got into drawing, the less video tape I shot. As the films peter out, my journals expand, so our whole life is recorded but just in very different media — and with very different effect. I read recently that when you look at old photos, they stir up old memories, facilitating recall. But when you look at old home movies, those images tend to actually replace your memories of the periods being recorded. When you think back on those times, your brain tends to pull up scenes from the films rather than organic (but not necessarily as reliable) memories. My mum had an 8 mm. movie camera when I was a baby and the images from those old reels are the only scenes I can remember from when I was two or three or four. Maybe nobody has much memory from that time, and mine are quite vivid, but I know they are all just scenes from one movie or another.

When I watch these old movies, I sort of vaguely remember the times when they were taken. When I look at these old videos, my experience is often of surprise. I think about how young well look, or weird my hair was, or how I seem to speak out of the side of my mouth. The experience is from outside — I am watching myself but not as myself. In fact I would venture that most of my experience is not radically different from what a total stranger or an acquaintance might think of the same footage.

The drawings in my journals, however, summon up a completely personal and intimate feeling. It’s more like a time machine than watching TV. I am in the moment, I am me now and also the me I was then.The act of drawing, painting and writing rather than just pushing a button on a  machine, forms completely different sorts of memories, When I look back at a page, even one that’ s more than a decade old, I remember so much about what I was doing that day, my mood, the weather, even the smells in the air. The experience itself is deeply embedded in my head and just glancing at the drawing takes me back there.

I am so glad to have both sorts of records of my past (not to mention dozens of photo albums and zillions of digital snapshots). I can travel back to any period of my life now and see my life as a continuum. There are so many lessons to be learned by looking back and seeing where one has come from, who one has known, how one made choices, how one felt.

Creating these records, particularly the ones that consists of just some feeble drawings and a few scratchy notes, is probably one of the most important things I’ve done. That sounds odd perhaps, that recording and observing one’s life could be of the most important things one can do with it, but that is the true purpose of art — at least to me. The value of taking a step back, of putting a frame around a moment so that it can stand for a thousand other moments unrecorded, to learn from one’s mistakes and to cherish one’s blessings, to hold up one’s experience so that others can share it and learn from it,  these things seem like the very purpose of art — and of life as well.

Childhood memories

map.jpg
(click images to magnify)When I was a boy, I travelled a great deal. My family wasn’t in the Armed or Diplomatic services. I guess they were just adventurers, peripatetic wanderers, refugees, gypsies.

These are pages of random memories, without any real conclusions, just snapshots of stuff. I drew them from old family albums with a dip pen and india ink, painted them with watercolors. If you can bothered, click to enlarge the pages and read the captions.

fascist.jpg
My maternal grandparents (Gran and Ninny) were German refugees and were married in Rome. Mussolini threw them out in the mid 1930s.

1940.jpgThen they escaped to the part of India that became Pakistan (after World War II and Partition). My grandparents were doctors and they remained in Lahore for thirty-five years. My great-grandparents had also fled Germany and joined them in India, but later moved to Palestine. My mother (Pipsi from Püppchen or ‘little doll’ in German) and my uncle grew up in Pakistan, then went to boarding school and university in England.

baba.jpgI was born in London and first went to Pakistan when I was two. Of all the places I’d lived till I came to America, I always thought of Pakistan as home.

landing.jpgThe long voyage to Lahore, via plane or ship, was always an event.

wallah.jpgSnake charmers and bear trainers came to our house to perform for me.

tongas.jpgLahore was always bustling.

girls.jpgWe moved to Pittsburgh when I was five, then Canberra, Australia when I was six.

danny.jpgAt nine, I moved back to Pakistan alone and lived with my granparents for a year and a half.

oranges.jpgThen we moved to a kibbutz in Israel.

abatoir.jpgI went to a public school and became fluent in Hebrew. I also got my first job, at a slaughterhouse. When I was thirteen, a week before the Yom Kipur War, we moved to Broooklyn.

Oregon and Back

Outside Joseph

Jack and I just spent a week driving 1,000 miles or so (a crazy distance for New Yorkers) across Oregon and back to visit our pal, d.price. It was the first time Jack has seen the huge scale of things in the West and the first time we’ve done and dad-and-boy epic drawing trip.

My Oregon journal

My journaling skills were a little rusty. I haven’t been doing bona-fied illustrated journaling in awhile; over the past few months, I’ve been drawing various things in various books in various ways. So I decided to take a long two drawing books, one larger for ink and such, the other a smaller one made by Roz Stendahl. It’s 3 and 3/16 inches by 3 and 3/4 with Fabriano Artistico 90 lb. cold press paper, palm-sized and very handy.

OJournal1 Jack's Passport

We began the trip a little spasmodically as you can read above. We had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and then double back to get Jack’s passport (which turned out to be completely unnecessary — kids under 18 don’t need ID to fly).

Fake Lewis & Clark journals

In Portland, we rented an SUV (a very odd vehicle for me, the non-car owner) and headed east. Jack is a very able navigator and we used the Google maps function on my Blackberry. We took our time ( on my last trip to Oregon, I got my first and very expensive speeding ticket; this time, I relied on my cruise control to keep us legal) and stopped at interesting stuff along the way. Looking for lunch, we stumbled into the Bonneville Dam and its sturgeon hatchery. We learned about fish ladders and saw the most enormous fishies ever — critters a dozen feet long placidly floated past the hatchery window like prehistoric aquatic cattle. As its near the end of their trail, replicas of Lewis and Clark’s journals were also on display.

OJournal CharBurger

We found lunch at the politically incorrect CharBurger and then continued east.

OJournal3 Pendelton

The weather had been overcast and intermittently rainy since we’d left Portland but midday things started to heat up.We were pretty knackered from the long day and decided to make camp midway, pulling into Pendleton to find a motel. We decided to look for one where we could swim and ended up at the Travelers’ Inn which boasted a pool with the dimensions and sanitary status of a New York urinal. After paying for the night, we discovered our room was similarly fragrant; clearly the former resident had developed some sort of kidney disorder and was forced to use the thick shag rug as a bedpan.

Sold out show in Pendeleton

Eschewing a dip and a nap but still anxious to escape the rain, Jack and I headed to the town cinema. A triplex, it proved to be sparsely attended. In fact, we were the only audience for the 4:40 show of ‘Tropic Thunder’, the sole patrons of all three screens. We returned to the Inn and found our next door neighbors were burning hot dogs on a propane grill outside our door.

We miss her

Early the next morning, we had a hearty breakfast ( we miss Patti!) and finished the last leg of the journey. We pulled into Joseph and met up with D.Price. Dan gave Jack a tour of his meadow, pointing out the various tiny buildings he has built by hand.

d.price's studio

There’s the studio where he writes and prints his magazines.

Sweat lodge

The sweat lodge where we would spend evenings having mystical conversations then plunging into the river.

outside the kiva

The Kiva, Dan’s hobbit house. Inside it’s about seven feet wide in diameter, wooden walls, carpeted, low ceiling with a sky light, snug as a bug.

OJournal Kiva

Here’s my impression of what it looks like inside.

Jack in the shower room

Dan has a little shower room, with a gravity shower. River water is loaded into the cistern by the bucketload and then heated electrically.

Tents in the meadow

Later, we were joined by Ryan White from Portland. He is a soil engineer who also likes to draw and camp. Jack and I spent the first night in tents and then we and Dan sopped places each night so we all had different sleeping experiences.

OJournal 4 Horsies

We drive around Joseph, stopping to draw. Here are pack horses that climb up the mountain trails that surround the town.

OJournal 5 Lake

The lake is lovely and huge, filled with boats but few swimmers. Last week it was over 100 degrees but the rain has arrived and cooled everything dramatically.

OJournal 6 Joseph

Dan’s a master of improvisation and craft. He turns old bikes into fence rails, and recycles driftwood, paving stones, and old wooden signs.

Jack in the outhouse

Jack checks out the gallery walls of the outhouse.

OJournal Trial and Lake2

Dan had some court business with his ex-wife and then we went back to drawing.

Drawn by Jack

Jack’s drawing has been transformed in the past six months, since he fell in love with drawing from life. His summer arts camp helped him develop the most amazing ability to concentrate. While Dan would dash off a drawing in minutes, Jack could sit in full meditation for an hour, until he was forced to abandon his drawing midway and come with the annoying grownups. Here’s a bunch of the drawings he made on our trip.

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

I’m admittedly biased, but I think he’s scary good.

OJournal Teepee

Dan spent years living in a teepee like this, back when dinosaurs roamed Joseph.

Jack on 1948 tractor

One of the wonderful thing about hanging out with a bunch of fellow artists, is the opportunity to compare visions. Here for example are the ways we all approached a bunch of old tractors we found in Enterprise, OR.

Ryan's tractor

Tractor by Ryan White

Dan's tractor

Tractor by Dan Price

Drawn by Jack

Tractor by Jack Tea Gregory

My tractor

Tractor by Danny Gregory

Drunk driving

Personally, if I had to spend more than a couple of days in a small town like Joseph, I would blow my brains our from boredom. However, there are endless lovely things to draw there, as there are in every corner of the world.

OJournal 10 Barn

A tornado whacked this barn a while back. Rather than fix it, the owners are waiting for Ron Paul.

Drawn by Jack

Jack’s version.

Redesigning d.price's website

One of our projects in Oregon was to help d.price to set up an online version of his ‘zine, Moonlight Chronicles. The first few pages are up and I urge you to visit his new site regularly for updates. He will continue to publish on paper but is scaling back to minimize the environmental impact of tree killing. If you like his work as much as I do, consider buying some back issues (or even the first 50 in a lovely hand-painted box).

OJournal 11 Truck

Our drawings of an old train were constantly interrupted by the fact that the crew moved it up and down the rails.

Squished coins

So instead, I put some coins on the rail and the train squished them flat:

OJournal 12 Road Back

At week’s end, we drove back across Oregon. It was a super trip — one we plan to make a regular summer tradition.

Jack & Ryan draw the train

I guess normal men do this sort of thing regularly, except they go fishing or hunting or play golf. We weirdoes prefer to just sit around, pen in hand, seizing the moment.

ImageP.S. For this and probably future posts, I shall be putting my images on flicker where you can see them larger (just click on the blog image you like and it will take you to the flickr page). I have also posted a couple of hundred other pictures up there from our trip.

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Beyond the finish line

Jack just made this beautiful piece by making a squiggle and then drawing portraits in each section.

Last weekend, Jack had his ‘audition’ at the art high school, doing three drawings under supervision and showing the portfolio of work he’s done over the past few months. He reports that he was quite happy with his work: a still life drawn from memory (oranges slices, a box and bowl of cereal), a portrait of a student who posed for them, and a pastel of a rock show, showing at least three people. However, he said the experience was pretty unpleasant. The art supplies were crummy, the sheets of paper was small, about 5×7, and the teacher who looked at his portfolio was rushed and uncommunicative. It was as I had feared, that the school is so big, had so many applicants, that it would be a very different experience from the schools he’s attended so far.

Art teaching can be terrific. But more often, it is either useless or off-putting. It’s not like teaching math or Spanish, and the emphasis on a right way and a wrong way can be chilling. Jack is also pretty averse to art instruction, though I have fantasies about finding a great extra-curricular program for him, a course designed for kids that are talented and motivated, a teacher that will help expand him, guide him, and keep him fired up. If you have any suggestion on how to find such a person, let me know.

Speaking of your input, Patti and I were so pleased to read all of the solid advice readers sent in regarding my last entry. It helped us to solidify our view — that Jack should go to a strong, progressive, general sort of school and we are lucky to have several great options. Jack has had to write application essays for several of them. One asked him to describe a commitment he had made and how it effected him. He decided to write about his love of art and I thought you might enjoy reading it:

Addicted to Art
I push my pencil to the paper once again and I hear a faint buzzing of the model’s timer and papers begin rustling. I look up and see that “Victoria” is up and stretching her legs. I sigh and put down my pencil to look at what I’ve done so far. Yellow teeth, chin hairs, and two green eyes fill the page. While it seems like I’m almost done with her face, I’m really just getting started. I look up and see about 20 people, each at least 15 years older than me. A sign missing a few letters reads, Li_e Dra_ing Classes! Two hours earlier, my friends had asked me if I wanted to head up to Central Park for a game of soccer. I had turned them down without even thinking. Why? Because art is my obsession.

Art has inspired me to do many things. I draw all kinds of stuff, create t-shirts, and even paint skateboards. There’s nothing quite like the rush you get from hopping on a board fresh with the smell of acrylics and oil. I scratch the art off the bottom then repeat the entire process. My t-shirts designs are drawings I am very proud of and want the rest of the world to see. I draw live models, animals, photographs, monsters, cartoons, and superheroes, just about everything. You name it; I’ve drawn it.

My whole family has been a huge influence on me. I write different designs of my name because my grandmother writes poems and designs art with calligraphy. I work with Photoshop and tried different designs on it, inspired by my aunt, a printer. My father and I talk about art at least fifteen times a day because of our shared interests. My mother studied fashion and
textiles, which has led me to want to learn how to create shirts and work with collages.

Part of the reason I love art so much is because I’m surrounded by it. Living in New York and having galleries, museums, and movies to study and go to has really made it grow on me. I also make art so much because of how it makes me feel. The moment my pen or pencil hits the paper and my iPod starts to play, I forget all about any homework or stress I may have and I am sucked into the page. There’s nothing like going out on a brisk morning and studying the streets around me. Capturing the scene on paper is the icing on the cake.

While I love art, I’m only thirteen, so I have no idea whether or not I’ll commit to it as a career. I know a lot of people who do this as well, businessmen and women who are artists at heart and all share a very strong love for art with no need to make it their jobs. We share ideas, visit museums, and go out together on ‘Ssketchcrawls,’ trips to museums and parks for drawing. Sometimes we even make art to raise money for different organizations and people in need of food or shelter.

I love art (as I’m sure you know and I’m sorry for being a bit repetitive) and I hope that as I grow older, I continue to work at it. Over the years art has expanded my view of the world and taught me discipline. It has taught me to become a better student at art and the world as well. I think that if I keep it a major part of my life, I will do it more and more and hopefully, one day, I will have mastered all different aspects and it will stay with me for my entire life, ‘til death do us part.

If you’d like to buy one of Jack’s t-shirt designs. he’s made a little online store here:

http://www.zazzle.com/assets/swf/zp/zp.swf?cn=238860589517453985&st=date_created&tl=My+Zazzle+Panel&skn=default&ch=jacktea

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