Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lunch with Albert

By now, most people who read the art magazines have heard that Albert Handell turned 70 this year and has had a very important retrospective at the Butler Institute. He's had three articles on him appear at nearly the same time in the major journals. I've long admired his work, both oil and pastel, and he certainly deserves all the attention he's getting!

I am currently on my way back from the Sedona Plein Air Festival, but spending a few days in Santa Fe. The little casita I'm renting is only a block or so from Ventana Fine Art, where Albert displays his work in town. I didn't know, or perhaps I had forgotten, that Ventana has a large solo show of his work at the moment. Imagine my surprise, when I walked into the gallery yesterday and saw wall after wall of his wonderful work! (I've been back several times during my stay to study them.)

I have to stop a moment and explain my relationship with Albert. I took a workshop once from him several years ago. At one of the evening sessions, where he critiqued slides of our work, one of my pastel paintings suddenly flashed on the screen. My painting was of rocks. "Nice colour," he said, "but, Oy! those rocks!" I suppose that meant my rocks were frighteningly unbelievable. He suggested I go paint rocks for a year.

Since then, I've had a chance to communicate with him about one thing or another with some regularity in my capacity as writer and art instructor. When I saw the show at Ventana, it occurred to me that I might be able to schedule a visit to his studio -- if, that is, he was actually in town, wasn't busy and wouldn't mind a visit from a past student and admirer. That's a huge "if," since Albert has a full workshop schedule and an equally full painting schedule.

As luck would have it -- and Albert said that I was very, very lucky indeed -- he was in town, and although he was frantic before leaving on Thursday, he asked me over. I could tell he was raised in the big city, because when he asked where I was, he gave me extremely detailed directions. "See you in 15 minutes," he said, "maybe sooner!"

Visiting his studio is an inspiration. Albert is a very hard worker. One long shelf has file after file of photos or sketches, all organized by subject matter: "Trees," "Alabama," and so on. Other shelves have half-finished plein air pastel pieces stacked up in an orderly way, still with the masking tape holding the paper on the backing board. In the center of the studio, he has two set-ups, one for pastel, another for oil. I don't remember exactly, but the palette for his oil painting seemed as big as an office desk with little, neat piles of dried colours around the edge. The pastel table had hundreds if not tens of hundreds of pastels, all neat in their boxes. He reminded me how he chooses his medium. "I do oil only in the studio, never outside. I do pastel outside." Around the edge of the room were many oils, framed and ready to go to another show.

Seeing the paintings framed, I asked him how he paints for a show. "I don't paint for a show. I go through my inventory and pick what I like. Are you hungry? Do you want lunch?"

I explained I'd already had lunch. "How about coffee?" Sure, that'd be fine. "Good! We'll take your car."

Off we went, to a local cafe. I knew he was a regular, because the cashier called him "Alberto." He ordered two eggs with a bowl of black beans; I had some black coffee. "Have you tried these beans? They're great! Here, taste." He pushed a spoonful at me, and indeed, they were delicious. We talked about art, painting techniques, books, workshops -- the usual stuff artists may talk about. One thing I remember very clearly. Albert reminded me that he is very, very busy -- "But I am also very, very organized. " Besides his genius, I believe that his skill of organization is the real key to his success.

After lunch, we said our goodbyes, and I left with the good feeling that Albert is a sincere man. Why? At that one workshop I took with him, he explained his philosophy of teaching. He said something like this: "My teachers, who were very generous with their time, said they didn't want me to pay them back. They wanted me to pay them forward. They told me to be generous with my students, too. And that's what I am doing -- paying it forward." And that's exactly what he did by having lunch with me and letting me visit his studio, as busy as he was.

Due to copyright issues, I won't post any of his images here. But, you can see them on his website at www.alberthandell.com and also at the Ventana Fine Art Gallery site, www.ventanafineart.com. For a limited time, you can also view the solo show pieces here: http://www.ventanafineart.com/shows.asp?sid=27

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