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In high school art classes, Ben was able to appreciate works of Klee, Kandinsky and Miro, but he did not understand them any more than he did the erratic paint droppings of Jackson Pollock. French artists such as Monet, Gauguin and Cezanne did not affect him in any way. He felt Van Gogh's "Starry, Starry Night" was the result of some kind of vision-inducing narcotic available to him by apothecaries of his day. But Hopper's work spoke to him; no, those paintings cried out to him and invited him within, deeper, to explore the moments surrounding whatever actions were depicted by the artist.

He spotted an advertisement for an Edward Hopper exhibition at the Whitney scheduled to begin September 10th. Without benefit of a girlfriend, Ben chose instead to take his 10-year-old cousin into the city for it the next day. She ooh'd and aah'd at the colors and size of Hopper's paintings, but years later, she would be unable to recall a single thing about the event.

He stood in front of Hopper's massive "Railroad Sunset." Steel rails glimmered, unused at that moment in time. To the left was the decrepit signal tower. Ben imagined stepping into the scene to climb the rickety staircase and to speak with the towerman. Throughout the afternoon, he returned to view this painting no fewer than a dozen times.

Before he considered purchasing the souvenir booklet, printed on quality art stock, he ensured "Railroad Sunset" was included. It was, and as stunning in greatly reduced size as the original from which he could not stay away.

Weeks later, he clipped a Sunday newspaper reproduction, but the colors were washed. The one in his booklet was superior by far. Along with several postcards of the man's etchings and oils, he felt as if he had added immeasurably to his worldly treasures, but the hefty price of the Abrams' coffee table tome by Lloyd Goodrich remained far beyond his means. It would have to wait until he had a steady job, and a well-paying one at that.

As a deeply autistic child will perseverate at various repetitive tasks, and always to the point of obsession, so it became with Ben as he inmmediately began devoting two days each month to visit the New York Public Library at 42nd and Fifth, "Crossroads of the World" he had often heard it called. He jotted capsule impressions in his notebook of Hopper's oils and etchings as he studied each from books literally for hours.

Sept. 14: "Chop Suey" (1929) - Reminds me of downtown. Mother's stories when she and father were courting in the '40s told of frequenting inexpensive restaurants such as this. By then, cloche hats for flapper ladies as these two are wearing are no longer in fashion. Is the man in the background with his wife? Or his mistress? He seems so formal and rigid, almost aloof. And the dining room is two or three stories above street level.

Sept. 27: "Rooms for Tourists" (1945) - Deceptive night scene awaiting a scary short story by Ray Bradbury or a creepy "Night Gallery" episode.

Oct. 9: "Approaching a City" (1946) - Sooty residue from the smokestacks of passing steam locomotives is visible on the grime-coated concrete portal overhead. A most dreary view.

Oct. 30: "House by the Railroad" (1925) - No doubt Alfred Hitchcock saw this. How else could he have imagined the Bates mansion? Perfect timing for Halloween.

Nov. 15: "The Circle Theatre" (1935) - Found only in one book so far. Traffic lights were red and green. No middle amber warning. But what movie was showing? Why did Hopper place an old subway entrance kiosk in the center, thereby obscuring the neon-lighted art-deco marquee???

Dec. 20: "Nighthawks" (1942) - Has to be one of the man's masterpieces! I believe I'd enjoy drinking coffee alongside these people and eavesdropping on their secretive conversations.

Regardless of whether Hopper's works were in color or black and white, they seemed to draw Ben to them at first, and then into the actual scenes themselves, populated or not. He gegan to daydream about the various and almost endless possibilities of what had just occurred or would happen shortly thereafter. His Mitty-like imagination was set afame.

After graduation, he had hand-delivered his application to Brooklyn's prestigious Pratt Institute, but was rejected. Years earlier, his pencil and crayon doodlings of houses, trees and dogs from matchbook covers ("Draw me!") didn't garner a sales pitch from or even a patronizing reply from the Famous Artists outfit in Connecticut. He's always assumed the envelopes had been lost in transit and not that his childish attempts were poor and unpromising.

During this time of unabated unemployment, he received a letter of acceptance from a small school devoted to visual arts located in a seedy section of lower Manhattan. He convinced his parents to convert their one-car garage to a studio with a skylight. The price was far more than his parents could comfortably afford, but they acquiesced out of potential hope for any future successes Ben may have. Resigned to move the battered but utilitarian Volkswagen twice a week for the city's alternate-side-of-the-street parking requirements, his father received but one ticket.

Ben's art was abysmal. Nothing he produced remotely ignited trails blazed by Hopper. Not in technique, not in touch. Whether he used pen and ink, pastels, watercolors, or oils on canvas, nothing gelled. And, frustrated, he knew it. There was no hope. No future. He became depressed that his parents had expended so much capital on a doomed-from-the-start venture. Stillborn.

[To be con't.]

Copyright © 2010 James D. Young


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Comments

The following comments are for "LEGACY (2)"
by JamesYoung

poor Ben!
You have me filled with empathy for the untalented artist .. I'm going on in the hopes he finds his niche and there's a happy ending .. wonderful writing ... do you tire of hearing that? Is it too clichéÉ

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: April 13, 2011 )





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