David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Education, Food

Education

• Even early in famed portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh’s career, he was well known — in fact, better known than some people thought. Mr. Karsh, a Canadian photographer, took a portrait of Artur Rubinstein, and Mr. Rubinstein was much impressed by the result. Back at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, he wanted to let two of his colleagues, Leopold Mannis and Leopold Godowski, know about his discovery of a great new photographer. He started by saying, “Way in the backwoods of Canada, in Ottawa, I have discovered a fine young photographer.” Mr. Mannis asked, “Could it be Karsh?” Mr. Rubinstein replied, “Hush, please. You are spoiling my story.”

• At a time when no work needed to be done, Ub Iwerks and some other animators played poker; however, Walt Disney did not join the game but instead became engrossed in doing something at a desk. At one point, Mr. Iwerks looked over Mr. Disney’s shoulder and discovered that he was practicing his signature. After seeing that, Mr. Iwerks realized that here was a man whose ego would drive him to become famous and very successful.

• Charles Schultz’ comic strip Peanutswas enormously popular and enormously respected. In fact, Mr. Schultz was given a retrospective at the Louvre, the first living cartoonist to be so honored. A humble man, Mr. Schultz said in an interview with Timemagazine, “I’m no Andrew Wyeth.” Not long after, Mr. Wyeth telephoned him and congratulated him on his work.

• After James McNeill Whistler’s painting of his mother (Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother) became famous, he was asked to visit America. He declined the invitation, writing, “One hates to disappoint a continent.”

Food

• American artist Wayne Thiebaud frequently paints food and especially desserts; in fact, a critic once wrote that Mr. Thiebaud had to be “the hungriest artist in California.” Unfortunately, this subject matter kept his paintings from achieving recognition for a while. In New York, he went from art gallery to art gallery, carrying his paintings and being rejected. Eventually, he made his way to the Allan Stone Gallery, and Mr. Stone told him, “You look like you need to sit down and take it easy. Let’s go out for a hamburger. I know a great place.” The two men talked, and Mr. Stone asked him to leave his paintings behind for him to look at. Mr. Stone frequently lived with works of art for a while before deciding whether to represent an artist. Eventually, he offered Mr. Thiebaud a one-man show. About Mr. Thiebaud’s paintings of desserts, Mr. Stone said, “At first I thought they were kind of silly, but I couldn’t get them out of my mind. The stuff is serious stuff. There are layers beneath the layer cakes.”

• Mexican artist Diego Rivera loved pre-Columbian art, and he spent much money to collect it. Once, one of his wives, Lupe Marin, got angry at him, so she ground up some of his pre-Columbian statues, then added hot sauce and served it to him for supper, arguing that since he had spent their food money on the works of art, he could eat them.

• The father of choreographer/dancer Bella Lewitzky used to paint. He used food in the settings for his still lifes. Sometimes, a guest would take a piece of food, intending to snack on it, but Bella or her sister would take the food from the guest and put it back in the still-life setting because they valued their father’s paintings.

• Louise Nevelson was not much of a cook, although she was a world-class sculptor. She once took her kitchen cooking implements, painted them black, and “planted” them in a garden. Actually, she did find a use for a can opener — she used it as a tool in creating etchings.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN ART

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