At what age did you decide to become an artist?
When I was only four-years old, I was hit by a car, and both of my legs were broken. Due to my injuries, I was bedridden for quite some time. While I was recuperating my family would always bring me coloring books and sketch pads to keep me busy. I spent many hours coloring and drawing, and it made me feel so much better. When I was in the first grade, I drew my very first illustration. The teacher read us the poem “Abou ben Adhem” and asked that the students draw a picture based on the poem. I did an illustration of an Arabic tribal leader having a dream of a golden angel. My teacher was so impressed by my illustration that she shared it with the entire class and put it up for display, which made me feel very proud. In short, I never made the conscious decision to become an artist… I believe I was born an artist.
How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?
I never actually told my parents that I wanted to be an artist, though they knew that I always enjoyed painting and drawing. They knew that I was studying at the Art Students League of New York, and they knew I was happy studying there. I honestly never thought that my parents took much interest in the art world or in what I was doing for a living, until many years later when many family members told me how proud my parents were of my accomplishments. I was told that my parents would always tell the family as well as their neighbors and friends of my talents, which was quite heartwarming to hear!
Who are your favorite artists?
I have way too many favorite artists to list.
Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?
There are two. One is Puvis de Chavannes who always made interesting compositions. Another is Frank Brangwyn, probably the greatest colorist of the century.
Art book you cannot live without?
Any art book has something to offer, but I think in all modesty that my painting book The Student’s Guide to Painting and my drawing book Mastering Drawing: The Human Figure From Life, Memory, Imagination offer more information per page than any of the others.
What is the quality you most admire in an artist?
Unity and balance of subject matter.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
No, I don’t, however, I kept one at all times in my classes when I was teaching. I would always sketch something that was interesting or useful to me. I prefer to develop my visual memory and imagination.
What’s your favorite museum in all the world?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
What’s your go-to NY museum?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?
Without question, the John Singer Sargent retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
Most likely a photographer or an author.
What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?
I feel that I learned everything I wanted to learn in class. I had a great teacher, Mr. Frank Reilly, who supplied answers for everything. That’s why I took his class.
What work of art have you looked at most and why?
Adam and Eve by Giulio Romano. This is art in its most complete sense. Not only is the painting as a whole a masterpiece, but the expression in Eve’s eyes as she tries to seduce Adam tells a story.
What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?
Watching beautiful dancers perform.
Do you listen to music in your studio?
Yes and occasionally will paint in time with the music.
What is the last gallery you visited?
The Forum Gallery on 57th Street in NYC.
Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?
What art materials can you not live without?
Oil paint, gouache paints, linseed oil and turpentine, odorless mineral spirits, bristle brushes, Kolinsky sable brushes, palette knives, Damar spray retouch varnish, stretched canvas, and canvas panels.
Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?
I used to. Now there is little time for me to paint every day because, at ninety-one-years old, I am working with a team on a weekly basis to photograph and catalogue all my work. I am also writing my autobiography.
What is the longest time you went without creating art?
I don’t think there was ever a time that passed by when I was not creating art.
What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?
Inspiration is what motivates the artist to do a painting — but one could do a perfectly fine painting without inspiration. I am always working on something. If I get an idea, I jot it down or if I see an image I will save it for future collaboration.
What are the questions that drive your work?
The work must (1) attract, (2) hold one’s interest, and (3) have an air of mystery for me to consider it a success.
What is the most important quality in an artist?
To have a great love for what he or she is doing, and to do what you love at all costs.
What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?
Social media for an artist can be a destructive force as well as a force for good. Destructive in the sense that it is extremely hard to protect your copyrighted material. On the other hand, it brings such great pleasure to meet new people and to connect with thousands all around the world who enjoy art as much as I do.