I’m laptopping you from Table 6 in an intimate restaurant in the Carlyle Hotel in New York City’s Upper East Side. We’ve just emerged from the adjoining bar; a genuine period piece if there ever was one. Here are the murals and decorations of Ludwig Bemelmans — the adventures of Madeline — a character from seven of his books written for children. Bemelmans, born in Austria, was a restaurateur and gourmet. He had a compulsion to decorate every bar and restaurant he ever entered. This one, right down to the table lampshades, was a commission executed in 1947. The dark corners of the Bemelmans Bar has become a crossroads for the literary and artistic glitterati. Decades of smokers have not dulled the charm of his decorations.
Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962) took to writing children’s stories rather late in life. The Madeline books, first published in 1939, all began with, “In an old house in Paris, that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls, in two straight lines. The smallest one was Madeline.” Propelled by love and as an entertainment for his daughter, Bemelmans parlayed his passion into green feedback. Plays and movies followed. He became a serious painter and was represented in both public and commercial galleries. The rich and famous sought his childlike fantasies.
Bemelmans was not attached to any of his works. Like food, they were to be enjoyed in the making and eating.
Creative people often build their steam in a private and current world of their own devising. Complexity and difficulty demand focus and attention, modifying personality. Passion is the coal that becomes the greater part of talent. The locomotive is unstoppable when powered by love.
PS: “I don’t keep my books around… they would embarrass me. When I finish writing my books, I kick them in the belly, and have done with them.” (Ludwig Bemelmans)
Esoterica: Woody Allen and his colleagues are swept up in the joy of Dixieland. Living a lifelong passion, Woody is a picture of humility and vulnerability. With charming internal repartee and knowing glances among band members, he toots his clarinet tolerably well. Why is he here? He certainly doesn’t need the money. In a way, it’s a private jam with a few chosen guests. The room feels his love.
For the love of it
Always about love
by Debbie Baer, Hunlock Creek, PA, USA
Painting is always about love. We love a subject, landscape or person and then are driven to try to replicate it on canvas. If we’re lucky, our viewers will pick up on it as well. This piece depicts my husband and his favorite guitar. His playing has become the background music of my life. This was also the last painting that my father saw, half completed, before he passed away in June. He always enjoyed seeing my work and he also enjoyed hearing my husband play. This painting will be sent out into the world just like all the others. And, very much like raising a child, no one will love it as much as I… but hopefully someone will love it enough.
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An artist out of his medium
by Jack Kirkwood, Washington, DC, USA
I have attended Woody Allens sessions myself. As a professional musician, I know what an anguish it must be for him. Passionate for the music, for whatever reason his clarinet is not quite as good as he and others would like it to be. This does not stop him from trying and enjoying. In that sense he is a fortunate man. Your letter is a brilliant invitation to all who might engage in any art form, without fear of appearing to be less than they might wish, simply for the love of it.
Burning to get started
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
That’s what’s missing with many artists today from what I see. Many are looking to paint or draw or create work to either get into a gallery or make a buck and little thought “for the love of it.” I consider myself a professional artist, not because I sell or have work in a gallery, but because it’s who I am. It’s in my blood. Without painting I would shrivel up and die. I think it every day, even the days I’m not painting. I do demo’s whenever I can to pass on the joy of painting. If you don’t enjoy the process, live every day for the journey of discovery, are willing to take risk and fail, you are missing the greatest part of creating art. If you are only painting for the galleries and not for the love of it you are just making pictures and you have missed the point and I believe have little to show for it in quality and output. This may sound like the words of an idealist and maybe I am, but if you don’t get up in the morning burning to get in front of an easel or start another project with relish, you are just doing a job. Quality art will be noticed. Art that is expressive and from the heart will be noticed. Art that moves people will get noticed and payment isn’t always monitory. Do it primarily for the love of it and you will get more out of it.
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Connecting with what matters
by Jane Hinrichs, Blunt, SD, USA
I loved seeing you highlight Ludwig Bemelmans’ artwork and comments today in your letter. Bemelmans is one of my favorites, and I have quite a few favorite illustrators because of my six kids. Often, I send a few prayers up and try to inwardly stumble upon a character like Madeline or like Harry Potter, a creation who comes into my mind fully formed like Harry waltzed into J.K. Rowlings mind (this is what she writes anyway). I am more a writer than an artist these days (newspaper writing is the job that brings in regular cash). And because of recent family changes, I had gone for months without even picking up a brush. Recently, I realized how wrong this has been. I painted Sunday, and it wasn’t “real” painting, just painting a pumpkin for a local pumpkin contest. But while painting this silly pumpkin (named Wilma) I lost myself in it and all my crazy emotions left. I wanted to kick myself — I should have been painting regularly through all our troubled times. I love it when people love my work, but more than that, painting is a way to get back into connection with what matters.
Attitude of the hobbyist
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
You are describing the passion of the hobbyist. The hobbyist has a pure attitude. He cares not whether he makes a dime. This is a good attitude to have. It is best to do things that spark a deep interest in you. In the professional arena, there are different external pressures at work. You can bet Woody Allen thinks of these when he is at work on a movie. There is the funding, the marketing, casting, etc. The director must put effort into all these areas whether they are of interest or not. Artists must play the same game. They must apply themselves in areas that do not interest them or they will soon be back in the hobbyist mode. For many, the hobby mode is a good choice. A hobby painter can concentrate completely on what his interests are. This focus can lead to steady improvement to the acquisition of genuine skill. Some professional artists lose their ability to play and to enjoy their work like they did when it was just a fun hobby. Renoir was once criticized as a student by his instructor. “We are not just doing this for fun, the instructor fumed. Renoir responded, If it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t be doing it!”
In the zone
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
I used to shake my head at the talks of the zone, meditation, sleep working and such, and I think that I am starting to understand why. I think that I spend most of my life in the zone. I am an only child and was left alone for the most of the time when I was a kid. I did what I wanted and practically lived inside my head, with my arts and crafts all the time unless someone talked to me and I had to talk back. After the years of early adulthood when this concept went through major disturbances and excursions out of my zone, I feel in the last few years that I am slowly slipping back into it. This means that most of times I am in conversation with myself and in the space and time impenetrable by others. I used to ignore this whole thing since it feels so natural for me, its not really a zone but being left alone and undisturbed by anything external it happens instantly as soon as I can break out from any eyes, ears and expectations, luckily many times in any given day. I can differentiate it by not seeing a point of discussing things that I do in that state, not wanting to explain them and not hanging on to them. Those things move smoothly and joyfully and are of no real importance as objects. I guess, I either figured it out or I am losing it in some more serious way.
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Laptop for the love of it
by Clare, Isle of Man
Great to receive. Very interesting. Windy here on Isle of Man. Just off to Manx Museum Auditorium power point lecture “Rescuing Zeugma from the Floodwaters of the Euphrates.” The Irish sea wearing white cuffs, hurling seaweed and stones onto prom. Lecturer Louise Schofield, B.A. (Hons) Dip Class Arch. (Decorative & Fine Arts Society of Isle of Man, Member Society of NADFAS) a great organization for visiting lecturers, also History of Old Churches recording all the details for archives.
So it will be Roman mosaics and ancient Rome. How about a group trip or at least an aerial view. Google Euphrates mosaics and there is a huge back up biblical. Sending daughter in Sydney Oz cutting re William Morris wallpaper. Sanderson exclusive rights to the Willow Boughs pattern, £38 per roll fabric £37 per metre (gt value..) Nowadays 1,800rolls and 3,00 m. are sold a year. So very keen full on interest today in “pattern” textiles and execution… All those Gods still alive for us in little coloured squares, crafty (pun) for future generations to re-discover. So your interesting (as usual) full package arrived safely. Thanks for the dedication and genuine endeavour… in appreciative regard. Take a towel next time.
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Jamming for the fun of it
by Dave Casey, Las Vegas, NV, USA
How cool is that, seeing Woody on stage like that? Reminds me of the night, here in Vegas, when I went down to the old Continental Hotel for the Monday night jam session with one of the local blues bands. I had been there for about an hour when there was a small commotion at the back of the room and in walked Ray Charles and about six of his entourage. Seems he was friends with the leader of the band onstage and had accepted an invitation to come down and sit in for a few songs. So, for the next thirty minutes or so, the couple dozen of us in the lounge were in heaven as Ray did his thing. Woody is truly an artist at the top of his game and Ray was, well, Ray was the Da Vinci of the R&B world.
Didnt believe it
by Mary Susan Vaughn, Charlotte, NC, USA
Serious fun you are having there, Robert. I’d have to say you are having a grand ol’ time out on the town. When I read that Woody Allen was tooting his clarinet, I have to admit I shook my head and thought, “You’re kidding, right? Woody Allen in a bar on the Upper East Side jammin’ on a clarinet? Sure enough, your pictures proved he was there. What fun! I enjoyed the story about Bemelmans as well. Madeline is our daughter’s favorite childhood story.
Abuse by Woody Allen
by Susan Burns, Douglasville, GA, USA
At one time I enjoyed the music and art of Woody Allen, but he crossed that line, you know, where you have sex with your own child, and then you marry them. Your letter is a slap in the face to any woman or man that has ever been sexually or physically abused by an adult. So much for the theory of evolution! I can only imagine that you mention him and his “humble” way and your “intimate” evening because you hold some belief about him or his past. Well, please just say it then. I think you are naive here about the amounts of people that have been abused at the hands of guardians. Woody Allen is the poster child for the very common abuse that we call sexual. In order to change our awareness, we must speak plainly and openly.
(RG note) Thanks, Susan. A significant number of subscribers wrote to protest my inclusion of Woody Allen in these letters. I apologize if I have offended people.
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For the love of it
by Camille Ver, The Philippines
I’ve been reading your letters for I think more than 4 years now. The last time I wrote you was when I was about to have an exhibit with a friend and asked your opinion which was two years ago (yikes!). I do abstracts and it was my first time to show my figurative paintings. I never got to thank you for giving me encouragement. Well, thank you so much. I’ve actually shown more after that and people seemed to appreciate them as well.
Your letters keep me updated with the art world and give me inspiration to continue my passion to make art… to just keep on making studies and painting. Unfortunately, my hometown was one of the places that got flooded here in the Philippines last September 26. Most of the houses in our neighborhood were underwater and a few of the houses that have 2nd floors were just lucky that some of them were saved. We were one of them. At least we didn’t have to lose our clothes and we still have our beds unlike our neighbors. It’s been almost a month now and we still haven’t recovered yet. We’re still cleaning and repairing our homes. Actually, there are still a lot of places in Manila and other provinces that are still suffering. We’re just thankful that we’re still alive.
I’m also writing to share that my studio which is on the ground floor of our second house (an old beside the main house where we have boarders staying) was destroyed, too, sadly. I haven’t even had the time yet to check it out because we’re still busy cleaning our main house. We tried to open the door of my studio but my big shelf and paintings are blocking the door. I’ve lost my books which I bought through the years and Art in America magazines that I’ve been subscribing for the past two years plus other magazines that I use for reference. I know I lost my paints and brushes, too, but the books are what I’m worried about. I can’t afford to buy all the books I like so all the ones I have are my treasures. What hurts, too, are my paintings, especially the ones on paper. I just have to check what I can still save.
One of these days we will be able to open my studio and assess the damage. I just want to help my family with our house since we don’t have that much manpower. I guess I just have to be patient and be grateful that I still have my hands and brain… my knowledge and imagination… my passion… to create ART! Please keep the letters coming. You are a blessing not only to me but all our fellow artists as well. For the love of it.
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Orchid and Turquoise from New Paintings
oil painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Natalie Italiano of Philadelphia, PA, USA, who wrote, I have marks on my bedroom ceiling from a leaky roof that remind me of a rabbit… like Madeline.
And also Judy in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, who wrote, There you go, you did it again, right on target, and how come I keep opening your letters I am leaving so many queries behind thoughts that used to buzz through my head you have to live the answers to things and I am doing that and the buzzing departs.
And also Beth Mahy of Dallas, TX, USA, who wrote, Love — not the money thing — is clearly the answer to valid work… and guess what? I hate knowing that. It’s such a conundrum!
And also Ray Masterson who wrote, I am a stained glass artist and have been receiving your letters for several years and find them inspiring even in my field.
And also Frank Gordon of Giggleswick, UK, who wrote, I can’t believe you were tapping away on your laptop while a group of musicians were doing their damndest to play well and entertain you all just a few feet away. How rude! Robert, I’m surprised at you!
(RG note) Thanks, Frank. Not only that, but we were all eating as well.
Enjoy the past comments below for For the love of it…