Sunday, March 25, 2018


The hallway was lined so thick with canvases only one person at a time could navigate their way back into Sandra Caplan and Ray Ciarrocchi's studio. The walls were covered with more work and what would have been a bedroom was now a storage room with stacks of additional paintings some stretched and others rolled or slung over the backs of waiting frames. Their output of work was Picasso-esque with so many pieces it was impossible for them to think about cataloguing them . All this was the product of a life spent at pursuing their passion - producing art.
Last Sunday Westbeth Artists' Housing opened its doors for an afternoon with the theme looking at the 60's. Artists, many of whom had been living in Westbeth since its inception in 1970 as an affordable housing complex for people in the arts, allowed the public inside their eclectic homes and active studios.
Like many of the residents that had opened their homes for this 60's themed open house Sandra and Ray were residents in the major age demographic of Westbeth. Over 60% of the current residents are over sixty-years old and many of the participants in this open house were even older and still making art.
I asked Sandra who was representing their art, what gallery must be handling the exhibition and sales of all this art.
Sandra replied as she thumbed through one of Ray's sketchbooks that lay displayed on a small worktable "Right now we don't have anyone representing our work".
"Well who sells your work?"
"Oh Ray hasn't sold a piece in fifteen years but we're painting more than we ever have. Life wouldn't be worth it if we couldn't paint."
Their work consisting of beautiful landscapes from Italy and Upstate New York by Ray and vibrant still life table settings of summer lunches next to the Baltic Sea continued to amass for the artists own pleasure and inability to stop doing what they had to do to continue living.
William Anthony greeted everyone at his door and drew us in like a barker at a carnival. He had curated his small apartment to reflect the lifeline of his artistic journey. The walls were hung with much of his work. Bits of paper written in black marker identified each piece with a title or date. He started his career as a master figure drawing expert but the bulk of his work now distorts his figures in a way making them on first impression seem childlike and amateurish. It's the content that wags his artistic dog.
Anthony, that's how he signs his work, tottered the group of us around his apartment reveling in his titillating and totally politically incorrect discourse.
With a wry smile he pleasured us with an early anecdote: "I remember when I was in Josef Albers drawing class. If a young lady made a drawing that pleased him he'd bring her up in front of the class and joyfully paddle her behind". From there the stories only became more salisious. The satire behind his work was mystifying and engrossing at the same time. I still can't figure out if the woman sitting mute on a lounge chair in the middle of his room with her arm in a cast and a black eye was his wife or a plant.
At the end of his tour he handed out packets fat with copies of his work, reviews, old opening announcements and pages from his books that been published years ago.
Some of the artists seemed still vital and invested in their art. You could see it in their Westbeth homes; in the way they lived and flourished.
There was a bit of senility at play as you moved from apartment to apartment confusing artist colony with assisted living quarters. It manifested itself in the artifacts of their living conditions. Piles decades high of both work and materials almost too daunting to tackle rose in several apartments along with art that would most likely be carted away when these artists were no longer alive.
Ninety-one year old John Peters' room wasn't littered or disorganized. It was neat and dressed in thousands of paper collages. When I first walked in he was sitting in his leather chair, his hands shaking, his concentration sharp as he cut apart magazines with an exacto blade and arranged them on sheets of matboard.
Stacks and stacks of these compositions were arranged by subject on tables around the room as if for sale. There were piles devoted to timepieces, others to body parts and all of them neat and tidy.
I couldn't find his name in any anthology or listing of artists. He didn't possess a resume I could find. He just sat, cut, pasted and piled.
There's a sadness in seeing so much art with no where to go, artists locked into little boxes their lives stretched out on canvas and paper,
but there's also so much hope. The hope of creating and not letting go of a dream if only to please their own passion.

Diane Arbus with Her Mamiya Camera, 1967
Tod Papageorge, photographer
Represented by Pace/MacGill Gallery

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