Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fifteen Minutes

Katherine (Woman of the Year), Powdered Graphite on paper, 32" x 40" (1980) On loan from a private collection.

I met Andy Warhol at the reception for his show at the Philadelphia College of Art back in the dark ages.* During his brief conversation with several of us students I remember thinking, “he’s a space cadet.” Of course, it was an act and we ate it up as though it were pabulum for babies. Years later Andy would make the now ubiquitous statement that “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” and, during the late 1970’s to early 80’s I had mine. The brief span of success on a large scale was based on the creation of a series of Photorealist graphite portraits of iconic personalities. Many were motion picture stars like Katherine Hepburn, Christopher Reeves, and Marlin Brando. Others were various music, literary and historical figures like Leopold Stokowski, Jack Kerouac, Robert Oppenheimer, and Abraham Lincoln.*2 I started these drawings in the mid 1970’s by making marks with pencils on paper. Over time I discovered a plethora of techniques that allowed me to gradually move away from using the pencil alone. Instead, I began to grind the graphite into powder and applied it to archival paper using paper stumps, various kinds of cloth, and a variety of erasers. I also learned to use erasers to make marks of their own in the fields of layered graphite by removing and/or smearing some of the graphite from the surface. *3

I had a show of these drawings at The Walnuts Gallery, Philadelphia in 1979. After that show I camped out in telephone booths in New York City with my 3 x 5 card file and called hundreds of galleries with my little questionnaire, asking first, “are you interested in new and unknown artists?” I practically lived in one booth at the Hotel Carlyle, the concierge making change for me as I continued through the card file, X’ing out gallery after gallery. A close friend gave me the nick name "Clark Klomp."*4 However, after a long summer of telephoning and visiting galleries in person, I found a gallery that was willing to look at my portfolio. The owners of Good Company Gallery at 69th and Columbus loved the drawings and for several years the drawings hung in the gallery and sold on a regular basis to motion picture and theater personalities, writers, and entrepreneurs.

The story of how those 15 minutes came to an end in 1983 isn’t important. They were over, and I stopped making the iconic personality graphite drawings. I have since done a few graphite portraits on commission, and I still love to work with the powdered graphite technique. This past year our Goddaughter, a world-class chef, bought a restaurant in Lancaster Pennsylvania named Characters. She asked if she could use the drawings of motion picture stars. So, once again the remaining drawings have been resurrected from their plastic wrap and cardboard box tombs to hang in the light of day.*5


* The Philadelphia College of Art has become the University of the Arts after a merger with the Philadelphia School of Performing Arts.

*2 Many master artists had been and were working in a Photoreal, later Superreal/Hyperreal style at the time, and they include Chuck Close, Ralph Goings, Richard Estes, Audrey Flack, and others.

*3 Additive and Subtractive techniques with powdered graphite were pioneered by the French during the mid nineteenth century then largely forgotten.

*4 The "mild mannered" Clark Kent character in Superman comics and TV shows (1952-58) ran into telephone booths to shed his bland reporter persona and become the super hero.

*5 see entry this journal, “Marilyn Monroe Sighting at Character’s Pub, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


Sumit Tuli said...

Hey I just loved your blog, it has given me beautiful insights on so many things. Keep writing such good stuff.

Dr. John Bittinger Klomp said...

Thanks for your comment. I am intrigued by the fact that you are from India. I will be sure to read through your journal. Perhaps we might do a reciprocal link...

Betsy Grant said...

What an amazing experience. I appreciate your dedication in getting people to show your work. Imagining you in a phone booth calling art galleries is quite something. I wanted to let you know I am making and posting new music videos almost every week on my blogs which you might enjoy.

Dr. John Bittinger Klomp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. John Bittinger Klomp said...

It was the experience of a much younger man. I don't know if I would have the energy for it today. How times change - there are very few phone booths left. Instead Clark Klomp would have to sit on a bench in Central Park with his trusty cell phone and card catalogue. I will definitely visit your blogs to hear more of your music.

Betsy Grant said...

Ah yes...times have changed. We wouldn't be having this enjoyable online dialogue back in the "phone booth" days