Paul DeLorenzo by Stephen Gjertson and Peter Bougie

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Paul DeLorenzo

by Stephen Gjertson and Peter Bougie

Artist Paul DeLorenzo passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, March 9, 2013, at his home in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1947. He graduated from preparatory school in Massachusetts and then entered art school in Boston. Like other talented students at the time, he was dissatisfied with the modernist indoctrination which had replaced the teaching of drawing and painting in these institutions. Desperate for knowledge, he left art school to copy old masters at the museums in Boston in an attempt to teach himself. While copying a painting by Velásquez in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, he met R. H. Ives Gammell . The following day Gammell invited him to join his studio school. DeLorenzo subsequently continued his studies in Minneapolis with Richard Lack , the first full-time student in Atelier Lack's inaugural group. After four years he returned to Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, and established himself as a noted still life and portrait painter. In 1981 he was awarded a scholarship from the John F. and Anna Lee Stacy Foundation. His other honors include the Newington Award from the American Artists Professional League Grand National Exhibition in 1976. He was also a member of The American Society of Classical Realism's Guild of Artists. DeLorenzo became a respected teacher and moved to Southern Pines, North Carolina, where he taught for a short time with D. Jeffrey Mims at Mims Studios. He also taught painting workshops along the East Coast. He later moved to Greensboro and spent his final years painting works for Ebenezer Lutheran Church.

Paul was a man of keen intellect and insight and a portrait painter of the first rank. His portraits may be found in the permanent collection of the Salmagundi Club in New York, The National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C., the Wright State University School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio, Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, Penobscot County Courthouse in Bangor, Maine, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Paul continued the tradition of artistic excellence that he inherited from his teachers, enriched with his own deep understanding of the great art of the past.

The following interview with DeLorenzo first appeared in the Classical Realism Journal, Volume 5, Issue 2, winter 2000; published by The American Society of Classical Realism.

An Interview with Paul DeLorenzo (by Peter Bougie)

The Classical Realist Journal talked with Paul in his New Jersey studio concerning his life and his art.

[CRJ]

When did you decide to become an artist?

[PD]

That's hard to say. My first experience with the idea was actually quite bizarre. While in nursery school I was sent to the school nurse. She was ancient and spoke with a thick German accent. She went on and on about the shape of my fingers and then pronounced that I would be an artist. I was completely bewildered by her. Actually, there was never a question that I might be something else.

My youthful progression was quite typical for a person interested in representational art. As a child I wanted to draw cartoons. Later I wanted to work for Walt Disney. As time passed I wanted to illustrate magazines and books. During my mid-teens my parents sent me to a local modernist for lessons. I had a brief flirtation with abstraction, but quickly realized that it was all pretense. Then, through the intervention of a neighbor, I met a real illustrator named Harry Schaare. Anyone conversant with '60s and '70s illustration will know about him. I was overwhelmed by his work. When I showed him examples of what I had done with the modernist he gave me one of the best critiques I had ever received. He said, "Don't bring any of that garbage into my studio again! If you want a critique, bring me something worthy of one." Mr. Schaare set me on the road to becoming an artist. I studied with him throughout high school.

[CRJ]

How did he help you?

[PD]

One of his first suggestions was that I visit the Metropolitan Museum in New York. When I saw the work of the masters for the first time, particularly the 17th-century portrait artists, I knew what I wanted to do. No trumpets, no parting of the clouds; I just knew.

Mr. Schaare was a practical illustrator. I remember him telling me, "To the exact measure, you get out of a painting what you put into it." He used to say, "In death we are remembered for our finest things; in life for our worst." When I announced to him that I had been accepted into the Boston Museum School of Fine Art he sat me down and told me the facts of life. He explained that I was unlikely to meet anyone who could teach me anything of value. He told me of his experience at the Art Students League in New York following the Second World War. In his opinion, those were the last years in which any semblance of traditional drawing and painting skills were taught in this country. "Today art school was a waste of both time and money." He said. Prophetically, my only chance was to meet some old timer who had somehow fallen through the cracks.

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Before I left for Boston he gave me this advice: "Make friends with the least talented guy in your class." When I asked him why, he said, "Because someday you will work for him."

[CRJ]

Was art school as bad as Mr. Schaare had predicted?

[PD]

Worse. Even though I had been warned, I was not prepared for how bad things really were. Mind you, I was attending an institution with a well-established reputation. By the standards of the day it was a very conservative place, yet we were under the thumb of professors who did not know how to draw or paint. We were forced to perform ludicrous and degrading exercises. In sculpture class we were expected to play with stickpins and plastic straws instead of working with clay and armatures. It was absurd. As you know, any serious person who has attended art school can fill volumes with recollections of the foolishness that has replaced genuine instruction.

[CRJ]

What was your reaction to this nonsense?

[PD]

The entire experience was an affront to me. I suspect that anyone with talent would have been offended. After the first month or so a classmate and I explored the studios on the top floor of the building. There we found fourth-year students painting from a model. Their work was what one is accustomed to seeing by untalented people who have never been taught anything. This was apparently the level of skill we could hope to achieve after four years of study. My companion struck up a conversation with one of the seniors. He informed us that they were candidates for teaching certificates. We have disgraceful university art programs and art schools taught by instructors ignorant of the art of painting. Would anyone support the teaching of English by instructors who could not speak, read or understand a word of English?

[CRJ]

Did this tragic situation force you to leave art school?

[PD]

Leaving school was potentially lethal. Remember, in those years if one wasn't under the protection of academia one could end up in Vietnam. Nevertheless, before completing my freshman year, I was out. The next day, quite by accident, I met Ives Gammell.

[CRJ]

Describe your introduction to the teaching of Ives Gammell.

[PD]

On my first morning with Gammell I arrived at the studio with a paint box and canvas in hand. I was going to paint from the model and dazzle all. An assistant told me to put my paint box aside because I would be working in charcoal for some time. With no further instruction, I was told to begin a drawing from the model while the other students painted. I sat before her with a sketchpad on my lap, looking up and down from the model to the pad while making marks with a pencil. At mid-morning Gammell returned. He sternly examined what I had done. Then he stated, "You really don't know anything about drawing." Those words were like a fist in my solar plexus. I had become accustomed to criticism on a wide variety of subjects, but not about my drawing. Gammell then showed me how to set up a cast and demonstrated the sight-size method. He explained the principle of light and shadow in nature and how to approximate the effect with light and dark areas of charcoal. He showed me finished cast and figure drawings done by him and the advanced students as examples by which to gauge my progress. When I returned to my room that night I examined my work in progress. I positioned my easel to view it sight-size and was crushed by what I saw. Gammell was right. I did not know anything about drawing. But there was hope. He had shown me a path toward excellence. I had taken a beating that day, but for the first time I felt that I might become a real painter.

[CRJ]

What, in retrospect, gave you the hope of becoming a real painter?

[PD]

The fact that I was finally beginning to see, to use my eyes like a painter.

[CRJ]

So teaching a student to see is the primary goal of a teacher.

[PD]

Absolutely, at least in the beginning. The teacher's primary task is to get the student to use their eyes to truly see relationships in nature. Once a student begins to do that they will progress, albeit with difficulty. Assuming the student has talent, the degree of difficulty depends to a great extent on the student's previous exposure to bad teaching. Gammell was at his best when getting students to use their eyes. He had the ability to cut through any accumulated misinformation in a student's mind and get him to really see nature.

[CRJ]

We have heard that Gammell's criticisms were right on target. Is that true?

[PD]

Not to the same degree as criticisms by Gérôme and other academic teachers according to statements by their pupils. When those men made a correction one could simply not improve upon it. In my opinion this was not always true of Gammell's criticisms. Nevertheless, they were awfully good. It is a crime that almost a century of talented pupils have been denied criticisms such as those received by students of the great 19th-century painters. Our cultural institutions and universities are to blame for this travesty.

[CRJ]

How was Ives Gammell at teaching more mature students?

[PD]

Gammell was less successful in dealing with maturing pupils. He was emotionally unstable and, in fits of pique, threw out many students for outrageous reasons, including me. Other students left Gammell because they couldn't, or wouldn't, put up with his temper.

[CRJ]

You are one of a handful of artists who studied with both Ives Gammell and Richard Lack. How would you compare their teaching?

[PD]

I don't think that Lack was as good with beginners as Gammell, but he managed to get the job done. Unlike Gammell, Lack had more perspective on when to stick with the program and when to let a student fly or fall.

[CRJ]

What, in your opinion as a professional painter, is the essence of a good critique?

[PD]

A good critique is rarely something one wants to hear. Even when they are phrased as gently as possible they can cut to the bone because they point out one's failure. The better the critique, the deeper the cut. There are two sides to good criticism, however. The first is to point out error; the second is to provide a solution. A good teacher does both.

[CRJ]

You were one of Richard Lack's first students. How did you hear about his atelier?

[PD]

Gammell had always spoken highly of Richard Lack. While I was in Boston, Lack had an exhibition in the area and I went with Gammell as part of his entourage to see it. I was knocked over by Lack's work. I couldn't believe that someone who could paint like that was alive and working today. Another frustrated art student and I got his phone number from information. We called Lack and then went out to see him.

[CRJ]

When did you come to Minneapolis?

[PD]

I came out in 1969 and visited Lack at his school. If memory serves me, it was one bare room about sixteen by thirty feet with two frosted, bubble-dome skylights in the roof. It had only a few second-hand necessities.

[CRJ]

Who was there when you arrived?

[PD]

Three students were there, including Tom Mairs. Richard Lack was just starting his school when I arrived. The student who had come with me soon dropped out. A short time later two others left as well. Tom Mairs and I stayed. Eventually Jim Childs and Chuck Cecil were admitted. Then Allan Banks and Gary Hoffmann. Stephen Gjertson finally rounded out our group.

[CRJ]

Describe the routine at Atelier Lack.

[PD]

We had a figure model in the afternoon five days a week. During the mornings and on weekends we worked on casts, still lifes, portraits or individual projects. It was a wonderful regimen for me because I had no other responsibilities for three and a half years but to go there and work. Everything was done on a shoestring budget. It was a poor man's ivory tower. I was prepared for everything but the cold, and froze and starved through three Minnesota winters. Nevertheless, I have very fond memories of my years in Minneapolis.

[CRJ]

What made Atelier Lack successful?

[PD]

Lack's dedication to excellence. His goal was to train painters. He resisted the temptation to lower his standards. Lack refused to cater to the less gifted in order to increase enrollment to make a profit. That's the catch-22 of art education. One cannot have it both ways.

[CRJ]

What did you do after leaving Atelier Lack?

[PD]

I returned to New York and set out on my career. I joined the American Artist's Professional League and was very well received. Some influential artists brought me into the Salmagundi Club and I was quickly established in that little New York clique. The year after I left Minnesota I submitted my first painting to the AAPL exhibition at the Lever House. It was an average painting but it received first prize in the portrait category. Lack had also sent a painting to the exhibition, a magnificent harvest table still life. It was an excellent painting, a real knockout, but it received no prize, not even an honorable mention. I was floored. Everyone spoke of it in a complimentary way but the jury had ignored it. I learned to pay careful attention to the personnel on an exhibition's jury. Many jurors know little or nothing about painting.

[CRJ]

did this discourage you?

[PD]

Yes, but I continued to look for opportunities. The following year Artist Frank Mason and David Hatfield were on the AAPL jury. They were traditional painters so I did a portrait specifically for the occasion. A friend agreed to pose half-days for one week. Regrettably, the only available light was a tiny north window in a basement that divided her into equal areas of light and shadow. I made the best use of a poor situation by painting her in profile facing the window. Unfortunately, the model was an incessant talker, constantly breaking the pose to look at me. I persevered, however, knowing that this might be my only opportunity to enter an exhibition with a jury composed of traditional painters. My effort paid off and I received first place for the painting. It was the only time that I received top honors in a juried competition.

[CRJ]

Tell us about your method of painting.

[PD]

I don't mean to be facetious, but I just stick the paint on and push it around, burying my mistakes until I have done the best I am able to do.

[CRJ]

So you paint directly?

[PD]

Yes. I'm not a stage-by-stage painter. I don't make an elaborate drawing, then an obvious under painting, middle stage and pull-it-together stage. I wish that I did; it's a much better way of working. I just slap the paint on and then fight with it until I run out of steam.

[CRJ]

Do you ever glaze?

[PD]

Sometimes, although it is not part of my regular procedure. For example, the red robe in the portrait of Jeswald Salacuse was glazed. Harvard robes are pure magenta and much lighter than the one in the painting. I did a color study as true to nature as my pigments would allow and found that the robe completely overpowered the sitter's head. Since my portrait was to not only represent the man, but his official position as well, I had to strike a balance between the actual look of nature and the dignity of the office. I under painted the robe in earth red. The subsequent glaze, which makes the effect, darkened the value and enriched the color without overpowering the head. By doing this I also avoided the inevitable covering and drying problems that would have occurred had I done numerous repainting with crimson.

[CRJ]

What is your palette?

[PD]

For the early stages of a painting, regardless of the final color effect, I use white lead and umber as much as possible. I avoid slow-drying colors. Even when working on colorful subjects I avoid cadmiums and alizarin until my drawing is reasonably correct. When completing a painting, I use whatever colors and resin oils that are necessary to achieve the effect.

I lay in flesh with white lead, raw umber, Indian red and black. As the work progresses I will add yellow ochre and any stronger reds that may be needed. I introduce Mars or English red, but will use cadmium or alizarin if necessary. Though I don-t care for the color of raw umber (I prefer the effect of burnt sienna), I use it as a drier throughout the painting process, adding a little to my black, even in the final painting.

[CRJ]

How would you characterize your work?

[PD]

It's all about light and shadow, Peter.

[CRJ]

Both Ives Gammell and Richard Lack taught the sight-size method. What reaction do you get when explaining this method of working to realist painters who are unfamiliar with it?

[PD]

A few adopt it as a useful tool. Some are doing work that does not lend itself to sight-size. Others are comfortable with the way they are working and do not need it, but most reject it out of hand. I suspect that many reject it because they are not interested in actually comparing their work to nature. A few good painters, such as John Koch and Greta Kempton thought that sight-size was asinine. However, many first-rate painters, including Reynolds , Lawrence and Bonnat , used it.

[CRJ]

There was a debacle raging over the Brooklyn Museum's recent exhibition. The jewel of the exhibition was a Madonna covered with elephant dung. Would you care to comment on this?

[PD]

This is not about what Modernism has sunk to. This is about what Modernism has always been.

Further Reading