End of Year List: The Artists I Admire
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
About this time of year, we start to see lists: The best movies, the best novels and so on. I am going to add my own list: The Artists I admire. Let’s see if I can keep it up until the end of the year. No. 1 on the list is Francis Bacon. I am crazy about his work. He influenced me to do my first triptych and I am now working on my first pentaptych.
No. 2 on list of Artists I Admire. A little girl in Italy sees a painting by Amedeo Modigliani and gets a glimpse of what art is about. Thank you, Modigliani for touching me and affecting the course of my life.
No. 4 on list of Artists I Admire. Usually you would have to go to Florence to see the best of Pontormo but this painting is now in New York at the Morgan Library. I love what I refer to as the Pontormo face. I once saw a guy in the subway that looked like he had come straight out of a Pontormo painting.
Number 5 on list of Artists I Admire. Giuseppe Verdi was not only a great opera composer but also a good man. He founded in 1896 the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti in Milan which is still active. He wanted to help those musicians who in their lifetime had not been as lucky as him. Proud to share my birthday with Maestro Verdi.
No. 6 on list of Artists I Admire: poet Countee Cullen. I will be exhibiting in 2019 at the Countee Cullen Library in Harlem with a show entitled “Dreams in a Silken Cloth”. The title of the show comes from one of Cullen’s superb epitaphs. Part of the programming will be a reading of his poems.
No. 7 on list of Artists I Admire: Giovanni Bellini’s many Madonna and Child paintings. This is a detail of the painting found in a small chapel in San Francesco della Vigna in Venice. When I visit this painting, which is far from the tourist path, I sit there with a Bellini all to myself. No guards, no crushing crowds, no noise.
No. 8 on list of Artists I Admire: Leonard Cohen. It takes great courage to face death and say: ” I am ready, my Lord. "
No. 9 on list of Artists I Admire. Giorgio de Chirico brings to mind shadows and enigma, unexplored horizons and mystery everywhere. These are elements I explore in my own work.
No. 10 on list of Artists I Admire. There are a lot of singers out there but only one Nina Simone. Her music kept me company and warmth when I first moved out of my parents home. Now Starbucks has started to play her music. How thrilling!
No. 11 on list of Artists I Admire: Giorgio Morandi. “ One can travel this world and see nothing. To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see. “
No. 12 on list of Artists I Admire: Roberto Capucci and his sculpted dresses. From art to fashion? Or from fashion to art? There are not always clear demarcations between creative fields.
No. 13 on list of Artists I Admire: Antonio Canova. I didn’t like his sculptures at first. I thought they were too classical. But now, I can’t take my eyes off his work. He was known by his contemporaries as “ the supreme minister of beauty. “ Incidentally, this Canova is at the Getty Museum.
No. 14 on list of Artists I Admire. My favorite author is E. M. Forster. We need a room with a view. The monument to Forster in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, near Rooksnest where Forster grew up.
No. 15 on list of Artists I Admire: Virginia Woolf. We need a room of one’s own.
No. 16 on list of Artists I Admire. I came across this description of Adolfo Wildt’s sculptures: “masks of human pain“ and no other words could better describe his work.
No. 17 on list of Artists I Admire: James Baldwin. Someone is got to tell it on the mountain.
“ In this country … if you’re an artist, you’re guilty of a crime: not that you’re aware, which is bad enough, but that you see things other people don’t admit are there. “
No. 18 on list of Artists I Admire. When soprano Maria Callas sings, you stop whatever you are doing and you listen.
No. 19 list of Artists I Admire. I first came across El Anatsui’s large tapestries made out of bottle tops and other found materials at this show at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice. His work is perfect when displayed in Venice. It brings to mind fading but still vibrant, shimmering beauty.
No. 20 list of Artists I Admire: Giorgio Bassani. See if you can top this description of antisemitism from The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. “One of the most odious forms of anti-Semitism was precisely this: to complain that Jews aren't sufficiently like other people, and then, the opposite, once they've become almost totally assimilated with their surroundings, to complain that they're just like everybody else, not even a fraction distinguished from the average.”
No. 21 on list of Artists I Admire: Johannes Vermeer. Simply art for art’s sake. Vermeer produced only 34 paintings. A small output but a great addition to art.
No. 22 on list of Artists I Admire. 2018 marks the centenary of the birth of Scottish writer Muriel Spark. She is best-known as the author of The Prime of Jean Brody. “Be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur.”
No. 23 on list of Artists I Admire. It’s the 500th anniversary of Tintoretto’s birth. I have always found his work full of movement and immense energy. He is truly a Venetian artist, having left the city only once within his lifetime.
No. 24 on list of Artists I Admire. I still remember how shaken I was by Leontyne Price farewell performance in Aida. And I wasn’t the only one. The audience couldn’t stop applauding when she sang “ O patria mia”. A truly great Verdi soprano.
No. 25 on list of Artists I Admire. Italian sculptor Marino Marini is a fellow Viareggino. I was born in Viareggio and Marini died there. His innumerable variations of a figure on a horse are all superb.
No. 26 on list of Artists I Admire: Alberto Giacometti. As I see it, to be an artist, not only must you observe and have a vision but you must also be true to your own vision.
No. 27 on list of Artists I Admire: Oskar Kokoschka for his intense portraits, an intensity which is carried through every single inch of the canvas.
No. 28 on list of Artists I Admire: Antonio Vivaldi. Every time a trip to Venice is approaching, Vivaldi’s music pops up into my head.
No. 29 on list of Artists I Admire: If we are going to talk about performance art, then Alexander McQueen’s catwalks were artistic events in their own right. In the photo, the model spins around as one of two robots squirts paint on her dress.
No. 30 on list of Artists I Admire. Bronzino’s young men have attitude. They look at you and say: “Too bad you don’t like what you see because this is whom I am.” This Bronzino is in New York at the Met.
No. 31 on list of Artists I Admire. Go ahead and criticize Pavarotti’s technical capacity but Luciano Pavarotti is, and rightly so, one of the greatest tenors of all time. I was lucky enough to hear him sing many times at the Met.
No. 32 on list of Artists I Admire: Mexican artist Francisco Zuñiga. I create art. I don’t usually buy art but we have a signed Zuñiga lithograph which hangs over the couch (not the one shown here).
No. 33 on the list of Artists I Admire: Heath Ledger. If you think one cannot accomplish much in just 28 years of life, how about posthumously winning an Oscar.
No. 34 on list of Artists I Admire: Judi Dench. At what age should an artist stop working? How about never.
No. 35 on list of Artists I Admire: Slovene painter Zoran Music. What does it mean to say a person survived a Nazi concentration camp? Zoran Music survived. Take a look at his work. The people in his paintings are shadows of themselves.
No. 36 on list of Artists I Admire: Russian born poet Joseph Brodsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972. With the help of friends, he was able to come to the US. I have two things in common with Brodsky: love for Venice and residence in the West Village. Apparently like me, he was also a cat person. I visited his grave at San Michele, the Venice cemetery.
No. 37 on list of Artists I Admire. Is it a contradiction in terms to say I don’t like art nouveau but I do like Gustav Klimt’s work? From an historical point of view, the Vienna society he painted doesn’t exist anymore as it came to an end with World War II.
No. 38 on list of Artists I Admire: Author Stefan Zweig. I was shocked to find a stenciled warning at the beginning of a couple of his books borrowed from the library: “The author of this book committed suicide” The implication being what, exactly? A librarian actually did that to a book?
No. 39 on list of Artists I Admire: Filmmaker Wes Anderson. He made The Grand Budapest Hotel which is based on Stefan Zweig’s work. When a filmmaker truly understands an author, the result is monumental.
No. 40 on list of Artists I Admire: Giacomo Puccini. If I had to write an epitaph for myself, it would be “Vissi d’arte” (I lived for art). In Puccini’s Tosca, the protagonist of the opera says these words before jumping to her death. Puccini lived in Torre del Lago near Viareggio where I was born.
No. 41 on list of Artists I Admire: authors John Berendt and Muriel Barnett. If I had to recommend a book about Venice, it would be Berendt’s City of Fallen Angels. If I had to recommend a book I love, it would be The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barnett.
No. 42 on list of Artists I Admire: Louise Bourgeois. In an art world dominated by white men, I admire any woman who makes it to the top.
No. 43 on list of Artists I Admire: Filmmaker Jem Cohen. Sometimes an artist needs encouragement. Is it worth to continue with this madness called art? Then you see Jem Cohen’s film, Museum Hours and the answer is yes, yes and yes.
No. 44 on list of Artists I Admire. If there is an artist that is forever being underappreciated, but not by me, is novelist Barbara Pym. When you find someone else who likes her work, you feel like you are part of a secret literary society.
No. 45 on list of Artists I Admire: Egon Schiele. If you think art is about making pretty pictures, you are in for a great shock.
No. 46 on list of Artists I Admire: Richard Avedon’s portrait photography is extremely timely. Here is a portrait of George Wallace. Even if you didn’t know this man was a white supremacist, his facial expression would give him away. See how Avedon captures the paranoia by having a black man stand in back of him.
No. 48 in list of Artists I Admire: Freddy Mercury was the absolute performer. He successfully remade himself a few times within his career.
No 49 on list of Artists I Admire: Author Amara Lakhous. He is from Algeria but lives in Rome. He writes about immigrants as they try to adapt to living in an Italian city but the details don’t matter. Anyone who is an immigrant, including myself, can relate to his books.
No. 50 on list of Artists I Admire. When you can’t take anymore the fast pace of everyday life, then it’s time to take Henry James off the shelves. James, like me, was a Venice lover.
As long as there is art and artists who inspire my own creativity, I will be able to face the challenges the New Year brings. Shown here the center panel of the pentaptych (5 panels) I am working on now.