Autobiogaphy 2008

            I started my art career drawing caricatures on the Ocean City boardwalk when I was 16, here in Maryland.  All my life I’ve loved to draw.  I’m 52 now, though of course I feel infinitely younger, and certainly much luckier than I deserve to be.  My mom was my first teacher and is a gifted artist - in addition to oils she drew meticulous pen and ink drawings of racoons, birds, mice and cats.Face Place  She used to buy me Walter Foster “How to Draw” books at Sherwin Williams - in the early days it was mostly books on cartooning which I loved.  She also took  me to art classes with “Miss Mary”,  Mary Cover in Baltimore, who taught in her finished clubroom/basement. 
            I graduated from High School a year early and started working on the O.C. boardwalk that summer.  My Dad paid for half of my college tuition (Thank you!) and I was able to make up the other half with just my summer earnings drawing caricatures - hard to believe now-a-days.  I did this for my entire time at the Maryland Institute College of Art (we used to call it “The Institute” back then, which was befitting it‘s inhabitants at the time, though it’s now more genteelly referred to as MICA). I drew at Irv Finifter’s Face Place II, between Pollock Johnny‘s and an ice cream stand which famously featured chocolate covered bananas.  I was one of four caricature artists, and the place also had numerous portrait artists - it was a  fantastic training ground for young art students at the time.  Notable artists/cartoonists from whom I learned much include, Tom Williamson, B.W. Norris, Sam Thongmonkolchai, and Dave Thompson - and most of all the big man himself - Irv Finifter. 
            Not long after graduating from the Maryland Institute in 1976 I met Cedric Egeli, a prominent national portrait artist, while sketching with a local figure drawing group.  His skill amazed me - none of my teachers at the Institute were anywhere near this good.  I began training with him at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, Maryland.  His wife, Joanette, was an important component of his instruction - much more pragmatic, and down to earth - she helped interpret  his often cryptic critiques.  Later,  Cedric had his father, Bjorn, an important national portrait painter himself, come out of retirement at 90 and teach the classes at MD Hall.  An inspiring presence, he had a Norwegian accent as thick as his brilliant white hair, and had an old-world appreciation of beauty that he patiently sought to transmit to the students.
            Cedric persuaded several of his students at the time to travel northward to study with Henry Hensche at the Cape School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts (This was in 1982).  Hensche had served as Charles Hawthorne’s teaching assistant in the 1920s and had an unmistakable mastery of impressionist color.   My first impression was that he looked like a guy that worked on boats - a wiry old fisherman.  When I first heard him talk about art, standing out in front of the little cedar-shingled studio building at the top of Pearl St., my first thought was that here was the “real deal”.   I had never heard anyone speak with such honesty and conviction about the deep, raw beauty of the world and his desire to understand it, paint it, and teach other painters so that they might work in that realm.  I was used to self-important grandiose statements from my teachers at the ‘tute, or contrarily,  advice on how to “make a living” at art from just about everyone else - “you‘ve gotta paint ducks if you want survive“ was the wisdom my father relentlessly dispensed. 
             By this time my enthusiasm for drawing caricatures to make a living was beginning to wear a little thin.   I was drawing at shopping malls during the Christmas season, and then hiring myself out as entertainment at bar mitzvahs, company picnics, McDonalds openings, cologne promotions at the Hecht Co. - you name it.  For a couple of summers I drew in the window of a storefront on Main Street in Annapolis.  
            In 1984 Cindy McBride invited me to begin showing my impressionist landscapes in her gallery at the bottom of Main Street.  Bill Schmidt and I were the first oil painters in the gallery.  Mostly back then it was watercolors and prints, and the imagery was ducks, boats and local tourist landmarks.  The gallery boasted a large display window and you could see the art in the window as you drove up Main St.  Business was great! The percentage at the time was 60/40, and I even got my frame cost back off the top.  Wow, you really could make a living at this!
            Nowadays McBride Gallery is at the top of Main St. and I’m just one of a gazillion “impressionist” oil painters.  The only way I’d stand out now is if I painted in umbers and grays and finally heeded my fathers directive to paint ducks.  If you throw a brick out a window in Annapolis you’re bound to hit a plein air painter.
            Well that’s just the cynical side of me speaking -  I’m pleased that such a vibrant art communityhas sprung up in Annapolis, and I’m happy that my classes are well attended and many students of mine have really been getting good by working diligently.  And some of them are teaching now with large followings of their own. 
            We are blessed, and I mean from “on high”, by the confluence in Annapolis of the art instruction of Cedric Egeli and Henry Hensche.  Hensche himself taught two workshops at Maryland Hall back in the 80s, but mostly his influence is felt by the instructors that studied with him, and then passed on that knowledge through their classes at Maryland Hall - Bonnie Roth Anderson, Lee Boynton, Josephine Beebe, and  Cedric  and Joanette Egeli (and me too!).  
            In Cedric you have one of the finest practitioners of classical figure and portrait work in the country today - realistic painting born out of an analysis of the living world and an aesthetical sense sprung from a true love of beauty.  At a time when modern art held sway, Cedric was busy learning all he could from talented illustrators and painters, among the last of their kind, that still taught at the Art Students League in New York City - especially Frank Reilly, and Frank Mason - two teachers he referenced often. 
            In Hensche you have one of the finest colorists the world has ever known (I can prove it toyou if you have a moment to sit through a slide show).   These twin streams of  artistic discipline have profoundly influenced and benefited the Annapolis visual art community.  They say you stand on the shoulders of giants, and I personally couldn’t imagine a better leg-up in the world of painting than these two men.
            Well, that brings us up to now.  I paint, I teach classes and workshops, and I draw occasional cartoons for the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association’s newsletter featuring “Plein Air Kitty”, which is actually my cat, Ruby, anthropomorphized into a painting artist cat. I’ll be posting those cartoons on the “Assorted Paintings and Studies” link.  Updated news and current painting projects will be listed on the “News” link.  Anyone interested in purchasing a painting or taking a class,  please feel free to drop me an e-mail.  
            Thanks for reading! - John

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