November 27, 2005
“ONCE APUN A TIME IN THE FAR OFF REACHES OF THE UNIVERSE AND SOMEWHERE THAT IS EVERYWHERE ELSE IT BEGAN, and so it will be told:”
These recollections and stories are from memory mostly, and hopefully they retain the flavor and the substance of the events depicted.
I was born in the Bronx, in the early morning hours of January 9th 1947, in a snowstorm. In the middle of the night my mother Hilda Landfield was rushed to the Bronx Hospital, -- she was very ill, and hemorrhaging blood. My father Nathan Landfield drove us at top speed through the cold and the howling wind and the snow to the hospital. No one could predict the outcome on that dark and scary night. Hilda was a very strong willed young woman and she was determined to have a successful pregnancy (sadly she had a miscarriage in 1940). Thankfully my mother had a successful delivery, and I arrived in the world kicking and screaming in the wee hours of that freezing January morning. To this day I never liked the cold winter weather. If my memory serves me well I would have been content to have just stayed where I was – in the oven -- so to speak -- for at least a few more months
Although she was weakened by the experience and she needed rest and time to recuperate with a lot of help from her three sisters eventually my mother had a full recovery. Her recovery took a considerable amount of time and Hilda told me that for a brief time she wasn’t sure that she was gonna make it through – but she did, and she didn’t have any more kids after me. Hilda always told me these stories about my birth and how difficult those times were whenever I was getting out of line.
The day I arrived was on my brother Barry’s fifth birthday. My brother was born in 1942 and Hilda wanted to have another healthy child to raise and so I completed our family of four. I came with all of my fingers and all of my toes and all of my marbles and a pentient for drawing, a passion for art, jazz, folk music, poetry, pretty girls, an independent streak and especially a loathing of crowds, authority and hypocrisy in general.
We lived in apartment B9 on the second floor of 780 Pelham Parkway South. My parents slept in the living room, on the folding couch. I slept in my crib in the bedroom that I shared with my brother
My parents met in New York City during the early1930’s. They married on October 24th 1937 Hilda’s 23rd birthday. Hilda’s sister Sarah (Sadie) was married to Nate’s brother Bill and Hilda and Nate met as a consequence of Bill’s dating Sadie. “Nate” (as my father was usually called) came to New York City from Ohio in 1930 when he was still just seventeen years old. He hitchhiked from the family home near Cleveland determined to find and stay with his oldest brother Bill who had come to New York City a few years earlier and who Nate had heard was living in a place called Brooklyn.
It seems that each week brings new complications, and new demands on my time and on my career. At a certain point I am going to begin writing about my life now, as a painter in the twenty first century.
As I write this I’m thinking about jumping around from idea to idea or rather from past to present to past as my memory kicks in with certain recollections.
Ronnie Landfield, Artist Chronology
Ronnie Landfield was born (Ronald T. Landfield) coincidently on his brother Barry Sanford Landfield’s fifth birthday) January ninth 1947, in the Bronx New York. He was the second of two children born to Hilda Landfield (October 24, 1914-April 1, 1972) and Nathan Landfield (July 23, 1912-November 16, 2002).
Nathan Landfield was born in Denver Colorado, and he grew up near Cleveland Ohio. He permanently moved to New York in 1930. Saddened by the death of his horse Rusty and interested in adventure, and finding work, he decided to see New York and reunite with his older brother Bill, whom he found living and working in Brooklyn.
Nathan was the fourth of seven children (William, Jack, Ben, David, Bertha and Blanche) born to Samuel and Gussie (nee Morgenstern) Landfield – émigrés from Russia and Sweden. Eventually by the 1940’s the entire family moved to New York. Samuel died in 1956 and Gussie died in 1961.
Nathan or Nate as he was called was a man of many talents, something of a Jack of many trades. He was a mechanic, a salesman, a truck driver, a chef, and a proprietor of a delicatessen, a foreman, a cab driver, an exterminator, a siding man, a smoke-enders teacher, and various other jobs. He was well read, well liked by most people, gregarious and friendly by nature, He was beloved by children and he always carried balloons in his pocket with the chance that he might entertain a child, he was beloved by animals too, partially because he was fearless. In later years he kept a large quantity of birdseed in the trunk of his car and fed the birds near his house often. He was also very popular with women.
Nate resembled Clark Gable, although at 5’6” he was probably a little shorter. He always sported a well-trimmed mustache and he kept himself in good physical shape throughout most of his life. Nate spoke with a moderately deep voice; he wore glasses, had an easy smile, he had wavy black hair and pale blue eyes. He loved to read, and in later years was extremely active in community service. Doing volunteer work at Calvary Hospital for more than twenty years. Nathan was also active for many years in the B’nai Brith and the United Jewish Appeals organizations.
Hilda Landfield married Nathan Landfield on her 23rd birthday October 24th 1937. Hilda was the fourth of six children (Rebecca, Bella, Sarah, Al and Max) born to Max and Rosa, émigrés from the Austrian Empire in what is today Krakow, Poland.
Hilda was born and raised in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As a young teenager she and her family moved to the Bronx. She was a very attractive young woman with fair complexion, wavy reddish blond hair and grey-green eyes. Hilda was somewhat petite at around 5’1”, and she usually weighed less then 100 pounds. Hilda was an accomplished bookkeeper and worked at bookkeeping most of her life, for various different company’s in the Bronx and Manhattan. She was proud of her independence. Hilda was devoted and loyal to her family; a lifelong advocate of higher learning and she was very well read.
Hilda’s sister Sarah (Sadie) was married to Nate’s older brother Bill when Hilda decided to marry into the Landfield family. All of her brothers and sisters lived in New York City with the exception of her brother Al who moved with his wife Ethel to Albany, New York, and Sylvia Berke who divorced Hilda’s youngest brother Max and moved with their son Robert to Los Angeles in 1953.
Hilda’s father died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, when he was 34 years old, and her mother Rose died in 1945. Her sister Sarah Landfield died in April of 1960 at the age of 46.
Hilda was very close with her family. Sarah and Hilda were one year apart in age and they were particularly close. They looked alike and they sounded alike and Hilda was profoundly saddened when Sarah died. Hilda enjoyed playing mahjong with her friends, and she was in general a social person, popular and well liked by everyone who knew her. Hilda was also an intensely sensitive person – easily hurt, and she was basically a private person.
Hilda was strong willed, always very aware of her responsibilities, she always went to work, contributing to the financial needs of her family. She instilled a sense of confidence, accomplishment, willfulness, independence and well being in her children. She placed a very high premium on education, loyalty and telling the truth. Throughout her life she was basically a good-hearted, generous, warm, strong-minded and slightly innocent individual who always expected the best from people. Hilda always stood her ground, fiercely protective of her family.
Growing up with a large family in New York on both sides, Ronnie often gathered together with his relatives on family occasions.
Lives with parents, Hilda and Nathan Landfield and brother Barry Sanford Landfield at 780 Pelham Parkway, Bronx New York in apartment B9 - phone number - Talmidge 2-1575; and after 1963, in apartment A5 - phone number Sycamore 2-7699.
Draws, invents imaginary scenarios and games, plays with toy soldiers and cowboys and Indians, spends a lot of time alone playing on the floor, coloring. Collects colorful things like comic books. Likes to compose visual tableaux’s, squints at comic book covers. Likes visual things. Plays ball and other sports with friends at home and in Pelham Parkway. Plays punchball, stickball, skelly, slug, although most kids are older, and he has a very difficult time. He’s very disappointed when his parents get rid of the piano, just almost when he was getting big enough to touch the pedals on the floor. Complains to his mother who tells him being a musician is too hard a life; she suggests his becoming a writer or a lawyer, he doesn’t agree with her, but she gets rid of the piano anyway.
Enters public school, PS 105, Kindergarten in Miss Grazer’s class, is particularly fond of the girls named Joan and June, is hospitalized for tumor on neck, from November 1951 thru February 1952. Learns to read at home. Continues drawing. Miss Grazer visits him in the Bronx hospital.
Meets children his own age at PS 105 and begins to excel at sports. Like older brother Barry becomes a New York Giant baseball fan, particularly likes Willie Mays, Hank Thomson, Davey Williams, Monte Irvin and Sal Maglie. Collects baseball cards and comic books. Attends first grade at PS 105 in September. Teacher Mrs. Lombardo encourages him to draw and teaches him to draw with pastels.
Attends second grade at PS 105. Teacher Miss Gamzon punishes him with exile to the back table for excessive drawing in his writing notebook.
Attends third grade at PS 105. Is hospitalized off and on, for appendicitis and other stomach ailments from September 1954 thru January 1955. Teacher Miss Maute visits in hospital. Class trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sees and studies the work of El Greco and Peter Breughel. Draws copies of El Greco’s The Cardinal.
Attends fourth grade at PS 105 with Mrs. Godfrey. Draws portrait of Henry Hudson discovering Hudson Bay, first drawing that takes many days to complete.
Draws many portraits, family pictures, horses, ships, guns, trees, for his own interest.
Experiments with pastels, tempera, watercolor and pencils.
Collects comics and baseball cards from 1951 thru 1956. Often arranges and stares at the color and designs of the comic book covers and the cards for hours at a time.
Attends seventh grade at JHS 127 in Parkchester.
September 1959 – June 1960
Finishes ninth grade at JHS 127 in Parkchester. Tries for HS of Science, HS of Industrial Arts and HS of Music and Art. Is accepted to attend HS of Industrial Arts, and the HS of Music and Art.
Parents want him to attend Music and Art, so as to go to a college oriented program. Not wanting to study fine art, but wanting to study commercial art he decides to attend Industrial Arts. Becomes HS of Art and Design in September 1960 when it opens a new building at Second Avenue and 57th Street. Promises to take college oriented courses at Art and Design and he wins parents assent. Ironically he becomes a fine artist by 1961.
At thirteen attends the High School of Art and Design as a tenth grade sophomore. Commutes by IRT from Pelham Parkway in the Bronx to 57th Street in Manhattan. Begins to paint at home in the Bronx. Generally works with tempera and watercolor. Draws from life and imagination with pastel, crayon, ink and pencil on paper. First friends at art school classmates Roy Wallace, Lloyd Goldsmith and Harry Roseman, Sylvia Sherwin and Marsha Gold. Becomes friends with classmates Bob Lavaggi and Richie Collins.
Meets Art and Design classmate Michael Steiner on Bleecker Street near Mcdougal Street late one evening in Greenwich Village.
Summer 1956–Summer 1962; Spends every summer at Rubinstein's Hotel in Woodridge, NY. Works as the hotel lifeguard from July 1962 until he leaves in August 1962 for art school at the Art Students League in Woodstock, NY, on the day after Marilyn Monroe died.
I began exhibiting my work in New York City in 1962 at the Rodale Theater on E. 4th Street in the East Village of Manhattan, when I was fifteen years old and a junior at Art & Design. I showed a selection of my abstract paintings in the basement gallery of the theater along with my friend and classmate Michael Steiner. I also painted half of a forty-foot backdrop in a manner similar to the style of Franz Kline, who was one of my favorite painters at that time, to accompany a student production at the Rodale Theater. Many of my closest friends were art students and we’d take life-drawing classes at the Art Students League or the Village Art Center and visit the galleries and museums along 57th Street and Madison Avenue, or on Tenth Street in the East Village and we would paint together on weekends in Central Park and the Bronx Botanical Gardens. I met and befriended Jenny a student at Music & Art in the late summer of 1962.
I studied painting by visiting important museum and gallery exhibitions in New York City during the early 1960s and by taking painting and drawing classes at the Art Students League of New York with Stephen Greene and also in the summer of 1962 I studied painting with Arnold Blanch at the Art Students League in Woodstock, New York. In Woodstock I joined my friend Michael Steiner who was also painting in the League studio; it was where I painted my first stain painting. That summer I met many interesting artists including Gahan Wilson, Herman Cherry, Ed Millman, Eric Kaz, Griselda Lobell, Allen Kaprow, Tom Doyle, Eva Hesse (with whom I became friends) and several others. In the fall of 1962 I re-visited Woodstock with my friend and classmate Bob Lavaggi and Jenny came too. As a student at the High School of Art and Design on 57th Street in Manhattan I visited the galleries and museums almost on a daily basis. I studied composition, illustration and design at Art and Design. I graduated from the High School of Art and Design in June 1963 and was accepted to the Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, and the Kansas City Art Institute where I was given a full scholarship.
I was a good student and I liked school especially the good friends and contacts I was making. I believed that to create consequential art an artist needed to have life experience and to make art, by practicing, and above all - by doing. I was accepted to The Cooper Union, Pratt Institute and I opted to go to the Kansas City Art Institute; where I was given a scholarship and I persuaded the President of the school to give my friend Michael Steiner a scholarship too. In late August 1963 we both attended the Kansas City Art Institute. In Kansas City I made dozens of large abstract expressionist paintings and assemblages on canvas, masonite and paper, using oil, and casein. I also made dozens of smaller watercolors, casein and oil paintings on paper, and many charcoal and cray-pas drawings. I met and befriended many students there including my then girlfriend Margo Adams, and fellow artists Robert Barnes, Ross Coates, Wilbur Niewald, Dan Christensen, Larry Stafford, Carl Ponca, Dave Wagner, Gary Smith among many others and initially we all shared a studio. Larry Stafford, Dan Christensen and Michael and I would often talk about the art world; eventually I managed to find my own painting studio in the basement of a building on campus - that was a huge plus for me. Michael and I urged Dan to forget about figurative painting and think about abstraction. Michael Steiner quit and returned to NYC in October; I quit and returned to New York City in early November 1963, disenchanted with school and the midwest but determined to just paint. I remember saying to Dan and some of my other friends - see you in New York.
At sixteen I rented my first loft at 6 Bleecker Street near the Bowery (sublet from the figurative painter Leland Bell) and sharing it with Michael Steiner. My abstract expressionist oil paintings took on hard-edge's and large painterly shapes. I was determined to develop good work habits, discipline, and become a successful and serious artist. I showed my work to Stephen Greene who was my instructor at the Art Students League and who visited my studio downtown. Stephen Greene was harshly critical of my paintings – he said that I needed to find my own voice. I was determined to take his advice and do something new, and original in painting.
When I was a student at Art & Design on 57th street I visited the Green Gallery at 15 W. 57th Street several dozens of times. I remember Dick Bellamy showing me and my classmate Michael Steiner, Tom Wesselmann's paintings before and after Tom's show - Tom was teaching at Art & Design. I saw several exhibitions there including Donald Judd's first show in 1964 and in the fall of 1963 while I was briefly working for Art Cart, I picked up and helped to install Jim Rosenquists's second show at the Green Gallery that featured Jim's barbed wire sculpture ''Tumbleweed''.
During this period I worked part-time for Art-Cart a trucking firm that specialized in installing artist exhibitions in Manhattan’s leading art galleries. I particularly remember going to James Rosenquist’s studio, moving his work, and then installing his one-person exhibition at the Green Gallery for gallerist Richard Bellamy in either December 1963 or January 1964 when I turned 17.
In February 1964 I traveled to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles I lived with my aunt Sylvia and my cousin Robert Berke for a few weeks. Sylvia felt that I might be a bad influence on Robert because he was still in high school and he admired me and my sense of artistic freedom, but she wanted him to concentrate on his studies. I asked Sylvia to drive me to UCLA and from there I would be ok. Afterwhich I stayed with a friend from New York City, Gary Beckman; I found Gary by looking him up at UCLA. While I was trying to locate Gary (who I knew from Rubinsteins Hotel and who told me in 1961 that when he graduated from High School he wanted to go to UCLA and I believed him) I visited the art department. At the UCLA art department I befriended 3 girls; 2 of them invited me to stay with them until I found my friend Gary. I got into a fight with Billy Al Bengston there about which was better - New York art or LA art. A teacher broke us up and drove me around to the galleries so I could see what was going on. We went to the Dwan Gallery; and then to the Ferus Gallery where I saw a Roy Lichtenstein show of landscapes; at Dwan there was a gallery group show featuring Ken Price, Larry Bell and others. I stayed with the girls for two or three days until I located Gary who had left UCLA but was living in LA with his roommate and his girlfriend. After a week or so I hitchhiked to San Francisco where I visited with my cousin Arthur Faibisch. After visiting the San Francisco Art Institute one night I took the bus to Berkeley to find my cousin Phil Landfield who was a student at the university. I settled in Berkeley, California in March 1964, where I began painting Hard-edge abstractions primarily with acrylic paint. I lived at 2515 Dwight Way in Berkeley with my housemates Richard Bozulich and pianist Hiro Imamura; in my cousin Phil Landfield's place in the house. During the months that I was there I met and made friends with Peter Weinberg a poet; Frank Cook, a musician going to UCLA; Al Schwartz who ultimately became an attorney, Lenny Glazer a campus rabble rouser, Robert Bell a younfg artist/student at Berkeley and many others along Telegraph Avenue on the south side of campus. Lenny Santora from NYC arrived that summer along with my friends Michael Steiner and his girlfriend Griselda Lobell and who all three stayed with me in the house on Dwight Way. Lenny stayed for many months while Michael and Griselda returned to NYC after only about 2 or 3 months and then they got married.
I briefly returned to school that summer when I attended the University of California, Berkeley summer session and in September 1964 as a fulltime scholarship student at the San Francisco Art Institute. The first day at the art institute I befriended another new student Peter Reginato who I had met in Berkeley during the previous few months at the coffeehouse ''The Forum''; although neither of us had spoken to each other until that day. After a couple of months painting at the Art Institute Peter and I shared a studio on Telegraph Avenue in a vacant half of a Lucky Supermarket. A few months later I shared a loft in San Francisco with my classmate Peter Reginato and I painted dozens of large and small hard-edge acrylic paintings on canvas and paper. I met several young and beautiful ladies during those months in Berkeley; and in the fall of 1964 I moved in with my girlfriend Deana Pino into her apartment on Haste Street. I permanently returned to New York City in July 1965 when I was eighteen years old.
When I returned to New York City from California in the summer of 1965, I met Jenny walking on lower Broadway; I met two of my friends from Kansas City: Dan Christensen and Dave Wagner at MoMA and visited Michael Steiner at his new loft at 500 Broadway that he shared with Peter Young. That summer I shared a loft on 29th street and Park Avenue with Jenny sublet from her friends Tom and Bobbi Gormley. Green Gallery had folded. My next loft was on East Broadway near the Manhattan Bridge. One strange morning I ran into Dick Bellamy at a lower eastside cafeteria at around 6am, he was staggering around in a pre-dawn drunk.
When I returned home from California, ''Like a Rolling Stone'' had just replaced ''I Can't Get No Satisfaction'' as number one on the radio, and while I was listening to my new ''Highway 61'' album in my parents home in the Bronx, Michael Steiner called me and he asked me what was I into. I said "Color", Mike said he was into "Gray" and Louis Kahn. We met the next day at Mike's loft that he was sharing with Peter Young at 500 Broadway.
I hadn't met Peter Young before and he showed me his paintings. Peter had been married to Twyla Tharp and he was working fulltime at the Pace Gallery, compared to me at 18, he was an old man at 25. Michael Steiner was 20, Dan Christensen was 23, and we were a precocious group. I'd already made a lot of changes in my art and I had met several other important and serious young artists in New York, the Midwest and the West Coast.
After I left my loft on East Broadway in the fall of 1965 Michael Steiner and I shared a loft at 496 Broadway between Spring and Broome streets. I would paint all night long, listening to my Dylan albums and Rubber Soul by the the Beatles and December's Children (and Everybody's) by the Rolling Stones.
During that period I made several painted hard-edge free standing sculptures, and many hard-edge paintings. I experimented with found objects and painted sculptures on the floor, black and white hard-edge paintings, and hard-edge paintings in primary colors, and some in red and green and I began my 15 painting Series; on paper and on canvas.
In 1964-1966 I experimented with minimal art, sculpture, hard-edge geometric painting, found objects, and finally began a Series of 15, 9’ x 6' mystical, minimalist border paintings. After a serious setback in February 1966 when my loft at 496 Broadway burned down, I briefly moved to an apartment on E. 11th Street in the East Village, that belonged to my girlfriend Jenny; where I drew dozens of plans for new paintings and sculptures.
I began making lots of drawings on Eleventh Street and I spent more and more time there. One night inspired by Seldon Rodman’s book ‘’Conversations with Artists’’ I got the idea to try to contact Philip Johnson for help. In the book Johnson the architect was portrayed in several sections as a rival of Frank Lloyd Wright and as an art collector and I also knew he was an architect of a glass house, and on the board of trustees at the Museum of Modern Art. Peter Weinberg helped me compose a letter to Philip Johnson. After the fire Michael Steiner and Peter Young shared a studio on the ground floor at 94 Bowery. Michael lived with his wife Griselda and their daughter Michelle in an apartment on E. 18th street. Peter Young lived in the loft at 94 Bowery.
Philip Johnson asked to see me and we met at his office atop the Seagrams Building one morning in March 1966, Philip encouraged my work, Philip Johnson was enormously encouraging and inspiring and he suggested that when I made some paintings I show them to him and later that day I got a job in an advertising agency - Diener, Hauser Greenthal in the Fuller Building on 57th streetand Madison Avenue; working as a commercial artist. I returned to painting in April 1966 by sharing a loft with my former classmate and friend Dan Christensen at 4 Great Jones Street and a few months later Philip bought a 108"x72" painting and included it in a group exhibition of Minimal Art that was circulating from museum to museum in the Midwest in 1966. That painting is currently in the permanent collection of the Sheldon Memorial Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. Philip Johnson became my first important patron. Eventually Philip acquired more than a dozen of my paintings and his friend David Whitney became my first dealer. Robert Scull learned of my work through Philip and he asked Dick Bellamy to find me.
The Border Painting Series was completed in July 1966, and soon after architect Philip Johnson acquired a painting: Tan Painting for the permanent collection of The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in Lincoln, Nebraska. Robert Scull asked Dick Bellamy to show him my paintings; and Bellamy called my friend Michael Steiner - hoping to find me. Steiner called me at my loft on Great Jones Street and proposed that if I could get Philip Johnson to buy one of his sculptures he would get Robert Scull to get one of my paintings...I refused the deal; in fact I told Michael that I suggested to Philip that he see Michael's work - and Philip said that he knew his work but was not interested. Michael accompanied Dick Bellamy to mine and Dan's studio in the early fall of '66 to see our paintings - I had finished my 15 Series paintings and several more; and Dan had several of his new Bar paintings finished as well. Michael told Dick Bellamy that I was just a teenager and shouldn't be shown yet but that he should pick up Dan and Peter Young - to whose studio they headed next. I felt betrayed by my oldest friend. Ultimately Robert Scull purchased an important border painting of mine in early 1967.
In late 1966 through 1968 I began exhibiting my paintings and works on paper in important galleries and museums. I moved into my loft at 94 Bowery in July 1967 where I experimented with rollers, staining, hard-edge borders, and painting unstretched on the floor for the first time. On the Bowery I moved away from Minimalism and Hard-edge painting to Lyrical Abstraction. . In 1966 and 1967 my minimal works that were related to my Border painting Series were included in group exhibitions at the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, the Park Place Gallery, and the Bianchini Gallery. My painting The Howl of Terror was included in the 1967 Whitney Museum of American Art's Annual exhibition and that represented my public break with Minimal Art, and my move toward Lyrical Abstraction.
Briefly in 1967-1968`I worked part-time for Dick Higgins and the Something Else Press. In early 1968 I showed my painting Heaven and Earth at the Bykert Gallery, which was my first abstract landscape painting . During 1968 and 1969 I was included in the inaugural exhibition of the Studio Museum in Harlem,and group exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Stanford University Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1969 Annual Exhibition amongst other places. In 1967-1968 two drawings were reproduced in S.M.S. III by the Letter Edged in Black Press, (a series of portfolios assembled in protest of the Vietnam War), and I was included in New York 10 1969, a portfolio of prints published by Tanglewood Press, and an important article in Newsweek magazine about the new generation of artists, which featured a color reproduction of my painting Cheat River. In early 1969 I was awarded a Copley Foundation (Cassandra) Grant for Painting and In October 1969 I had my first one-man exhibition at the David Whitney Gallery in NYC. My works in that exhibition and from that period are partially inspired by Sung Dynasty Chinese Landscape painting. My painting Diamond Lake 1969, 108 x 168 inches, was acquired from Philip Johnson by the Museum of Modern Art in 1972 and was installed in the lobby of MoMA for several months. My painting Elijah 1969, 108 x 55 inches was exhibited in Beijing, China for a few years in the early nineties. These abstract landscapes of 1968 -1969 and what followed constitute my most original and my most important contributions to the history of contemporary painting. During the late 1960s through the early 1970s, I was included in important exhibitions all over the country including at the Museum of Modern Art and the first Whitney Biennial in 1973.
Where It All Began (written 2012)
In September 1960 I was among the very first students to attend The High School of Art and Design in its new building on Second Avenue and 57th Street. I was 13 years old, entering the 10th grade as a sophomore. I always loved to draw, and as a kid in the Bronx during the 1950s I was inspired to pursue my artistic talents, although I wasn’t sure how. I took the test for the High School of Industrial Arts on West 79th Street in Manhattan during the early winter of 1960 and I was accepted as a student. I was surprised to learn that during that year the school changed its name and moved into a brand new building on Second Avenue between 57th and 56 streets. That September we entered a new building equipped with escalators and a terrace; as well as state of the art spacious classrooms.
After a few months I befriended several young and hopeful students, and the friends that I made formed a tight circle centered around the idea of becoming successful students and for some of us - serious artists. As the months passed I learned that my interest in art had expanded to include the fine arts. Initially my interest leaned toward drawing, and illustration and I became a cartooning major. However by the time I entered my Junior year I was painting full time.
Although most of the other students were 1 or 2 years older than me I soon became a part of a small circle of friends from the Bronx and Manhattan and I soon discovered that the location of the school was in close proximity to the most sophisticated and advanced contemporary art galleries and museums in the world. Almost daily after three o’clock my friends and I would meet at the Bodley Gallery on 60th street between Second and Third Avenues across the street from ‘’Serendipity 3’’. Sometimes we’d just talk with the owner and David Mann the gallery director before leaving for home in separate directions; sometimes we’d make plans to visit the galleries along 57th street or we’d go to the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art that were inter-connected between 53rd and 54th streets. Sometimes we’d go to Central Park to paint and we would often visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well.
By 1961 I became interested in painting. After an initial period of landscape and figurative painting my work was influenced by abstract expressionism. Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Hans Hofmann quickly became my favorite painters – along with Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and El Greco. I painted my abstract oil paintings at home in the Bronx sometimes to the chagrin of my parents. I also began taking life drawing classes at the Art Students League on 57th street – drawing the figure. I became an avid gallery visitor, often going to the Sidney Janis, Betty Parsons, Tibor de Nagy, Fischbach, Green, Pace, Knoedler, and other art galleries along 57th street as well as the Sam Kootz Gallery just north on 5th Avenue and the Poindexter Gallery on 56th street. I also began to travel afield uptown to visit the Stable, Martha Jackson, Leo Castelli, Staempfli, and other galleries and downtown to visit the galleries on East 10th Street and the East Village.
By 1962 I was becoming committed to creating my paintings and more and more I became interested in becoming an artist. In addition to visiting the galleries in mid-town Manhattan I’d often visit the Four Seasons Restaurant to see the Picasso Tapestry and the few other works of art there. In the summer of ’62 I spent August at the Art Students League in Woodstock where besides creating my paintings I participated in an Allen Kaprow happening with artists that had come up from New York City and I met dozens of new serious artists, including a young painter named Eva Hesse and her husband the sculptor Tom Doyle among many others. When I returned to the city in the fall I helped create a large theater set as a backdrop to a show several dance and theater students mostly from Art and Design put together at the Rodale Theatre on East Fourth Street in the East Village. I had my first exhibition of paintings in the basement of that theater during the run of the show. I was 15 years old.
I saw some powerful exhibitions in New York City that season including Arshile Gorky: 1904-1948 at the Museum of Modern Art; Willem de Kooning and Barnett Newman at the Allen Stone Gallery and one of the most memorable events of my time at Art and Design occurred in October 1962 when I saw an exhibition that blew my mind and blew the art world apart at the Sidney Janis Gallery called ‘’New Realism’’. That exhibition showcased what became Pop Art featuring artists like Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, George Segal and others – that forever changed the direction of the art world in its wake. As the New Realists became more widely known and new geometric artists like Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Al Held and others appeared on the scene the New York artworld began to change right in front of my eyes. For a 15 year-old kid from the Bronx, a junior at the High School of Art and Design I was getting an education in the Fine arts better than anywhere else in the world.
My teachers at Art and Design included Tom Wesselmann who was showing at the Green Gallery where I would visit often and where I first met Richard Bellamy the gallery director. My other teachers including Marge Trauerman, Roz Schomer, Frank Eliscu and Alvin Hollingsworth would often discuss these great and world changing exhibitions a few blocks away from Art and Design along 57th street. In 1963 when I turned 16 my English teacher the poet Daisy Alden introduced us to the New York School of Poetry and our class was visited by her friend, the writer Anaïs Nin. I had some profound encounters during my gallery visits including a conversation with Hans Hofmann at the Samuel Kootz Gallery during an exhibition of his paintings in 1963. That year I saw major Robert Motherwell and Adolph Gottlieb shows at Sidney Janis and later in 1963 I met Man Ray at the Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery at 980 Madison Avenue. The Marlborough Gallery opened a branch on 57th street in 1962 or 1963 and in the wake of the New Realism show at Janis, Marlborough began picking up artists who left the Janis gallery. By the mid-60s the Marlborough Gallery represented Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Larry Rivers, and Mark Rothko among others.
By June 1963 when I graduated from Art and Design I needed to make a choice as to where to go to college. I was accepted to The Cooper Union, The Pratt Institute and the Kansas City Art Institute as well. I was accepted by virtually all the schools to which I applied thanks to the tremendous experience afforded me from the High School of Art and Design.
All of my best wishes go to the new students and to the old ones of the NEW High School of Art & Design into the 21st century. Be the best artists that you can be.
Ronnie Landfield, NYC, September, 2012