"As a child." Growing up, half a century ago, in Atlantic City, when a last few, horse drawn huckster carts, still vended their summer fruits and vegetables from local farms; and at a time when the, 'Ice Man,' still made deliveries. Hauling huge chunks of frozen crystal balanced on his water soaked, burlap-shrouded shoulder, with what appeared to my young eyes as, treacherous iron tongs, that he used to wrestle the blocks of ice. Blocks, selected by size, from within the vault of his massive truck, then hauled up steps, through the front doors, to kitchen ice boxes that were still around a neighborhood where few could afford electric refrigerators. He was a fearsome giant of a man, with his stogie cigar, emitting a foul stench of smoke, bitten between his gritting teeth. A knit wool cap on his head, no matter the season, and striped suspenders were his signature look. His permanently, forward-canted shoulder, that had stooped him from years of his work, made him look menacingly like a hunchback. Never a word, other than his announcing himself at the front door as, "Ice Man!" In, he would go, through the always unlocked, open door. He delivered, whether you were home, or not! The Ice Man waited for no one. How he knew, precisely when his last delivery had melted away, was all part of his mystique. Always the same routine, just right to his task, all business. I don't think I ever heard him speaking other than, "Ice Man!" His ice truck was, as mysterious to me, as its driver. The rusted, rear end of the truck dripped telltale water tracing the route he'd followed up and down the cobbled streets. Oh, I longed to get a good look into that icy vault; but so quick was he, to open and extract the ice blocks, then just as quickly, slam and latch the thick, freezer door, that only a glimpse of stacked, icy diamonds was all he ever afforded. In his effort to keep the cold fog of moist air inside the dark vault he'd whet my curiosity; and fostered my fascination with matters' changes of state. My observation of transformation rom liquid water, to solid ice, and the wispy, vapors of sublimation, from solid to gas, led me to conduct many homemade experiments and perhaps help steer me to my career as a science teacher?
The Ice Man was a much appreciated neighborhood fixture who made his rounds along with: The Coal Man, and the Milk Man, and Mr. Zeke our Egg Man, the Soda Man who collected empty Tru-Ade bottles and replaced them with wooden crates of glass bottles, refilled with grape, my personal favorite, or orange soda sealed with metal bottle caps, "Ahh, grape Tru-Ade!" Surely, my youthful, 'teeth staining purple,' nectar of the Gods.
"The Bleach Man," was especially fascinating to me. Selling and refilling each housewives', scoured clean, empty, glass, one gallon wine jugs with bleach was magical me. A mysterious chemical concoction, neighbors called it, 'Javelle Water,' with an Italian accent on the end that made me think I was hearing, "Javel-'la' "water, that he mixed himself and dispensed from a spigot at the back of his horse drawn cart's fifty gallon cask. Turns out, Javel, the name of a French village where bleach was first made, eau de Javel (not what I thought was an Italian nonsense word) was the village name with a little Italian twist on the end. And, Yes, Im still fascinated by words, accents and it all translates into my polyglot jumbled artwork of collisions, spiced accented colors and the sensational notion of sounds, and feelings, some nuanced, and others, bluntly concrete all transformed into my images!
Well, I hung around the Bleach Man's cart as much as I could. I was following him on his rounds, on foot, so often, and apparently made such a nuisance of myself, that he finally relented. He gave me an opportunity to become his assistant. Finally, I could ride up on the bench seat of his cart next to him. Up high, behind the horse who seemed to know the route on his own; I was in heaven. If this was work then I was sure to love working! Sometimes I was allowed to hold the reins and holler out his message, him in Italian, and me in English to bring the, 'crazy-clean,' housewives out to their front porch with empty jugs to be refilled. No labels required, one whiff and you knew it was bleach. I retrieved the empties, Mr. Saracinni refilled the jugs, then: I delivered the full gallon, collected the quarter and repeated, as instructed, Mr. Saracinni's, "grazie."
Becoming my first chemistry teacher, as well as, my first, of many local, employers, one of my jobs, as Mr. Saracinni's helper, was to mix the white, 'bleach powder,' what I learned many years later in Inorganic Chemistry 101 to be super corrosive, Sodium Hypochlorite, by the measured scoopfuls, while counting, in synch with, 'my maestro,' in Italian, 'uno, due tre, quattro...' into the big vat of water. To my first chemistry teacher, "thank you" for what may have sparked my youthful interest in the chemistry and the alchemy of transformation. I'm still chasing that alchemy in my artwork.
Gallon jugs that once held wine were recycled as bleach bottles. The wine, that everyone in my neighborhood drank, was what the Irish neighbors, I know now, but didn't know then, all pejoratively called, 'Dago Red!' Who knew it was Gallo Red Table Wine or Chianti; and anyway, what did, 'Dago,' mean? I was half Irish and half Italian so twice the insults were probably in order for me, but I don't remember being called anything except, 'a kid?'
Reusing, or repurposing, those glass jugs may have been where, in my art, my love of repurposing things and reusing things originated? I still am fascinated by all things made of glass and have even tried my hand at glassblowing. Solid liquid at room temperature...Oh, the allure of that molten paste that defies physics and taunts materials science.
"Rattling trolley cars," still rode the metal tracks, cobblestoned neighborhoods were marked by ethereal, bakery smells, and numerous, tiny mom'n pop grocery stores. Storefront shops, each offering its unique merchandise; they were, what today we might call, 'boutique,' shops, that existed way before the term was coined. Specializing in some, sought after, ethnic commodity was generally how they were distinguished one from the other. Be it a German butcher shop, proffering mountains of sausages, or a Jewish deli offering blocks of sweet Halavah, towering stacks of knishes, some filled with warm, parsley mashed potato and caramelized onion, or with hardboiled egg-flecked, chopped liver. Kosher pickles, bobbing in a brine-filled wooden barrel afloat with fragrant mustard seed and herbs, awaited being self-selected with aluminum tongs and sleeved into a wax paper bag.
These shops were magical emporiums to me. Italian markets crowded my neighborhood with summer's lemon water ice, convex brown shelled chestnuts in the fall, winter Perugia, nougat candy that reminded me of the communion host with its brittle, paper thin wrapper. Dried, salted cod fish, 'baccala,' was piled, stiff as boards, alongside the luscious, seasonal, fresh fruits and vegetables displayed on tiered, wooden sidewalk stands that fronted each shop.
The jangle of a strap, fitted with ringing bells, greeted and announced your arrival through their door; bringing their proprietor, or a member of their extended family, out from the back to their station behind the counter. The Italian family name of the owner, all of which ended in a vowel, was proudly stenciled, in golden, serif script on the glass transom above the door. Inside, these shops were festooned with hanging, cured meats suspended like cloaked silhouettes of entire animal legs and shanks, each tagged with seals, and tricolor medallions signifying, 'imported,' authenticity. Elongated, teardrop shaped, wax coated cheeses, as aromatic as they were intriguing looking, each an oblong, or chubby orb, strung into bulging, supporting string nets swayed above clay jars filled with olives and, stacks of fresh-baked, Italian loaves in their paper sleeves. A fish market that had live carp, as big as a man's arm, swimming lazily in a raised, filtered, tiled pool awaiting their Shabbat fate, come Friday night, at sundown. Catholic churches and their parish precincts encompassing: rectory, convent, parochial school, and school yard marked each neighborhood with their steepled, ringing bells that were the chiming, tolling clocks of my enchanted childhood.
"My collections."In nostalgic reflection upon what I once collected as a boy; I fondly recall my catalogue of found treasures. I remember my returning home daily, just in time for dinner, with pockets full of interesting finds: stones, cats' eye marbles, curving, turreted, bulls-eyed, moon snail shells, and ridged, flaring-lipped scallop shells, lustrous and frosted beach glass shards deemed, 'done,' ready to be collected from the abrading sand and waves, and tide tossed seed pods that I imagined had floated leagues across the sea to me. Bits and pieces of my world: beach, boardwalk and small city concrete - 'treasures,' all.
My treasured possessions safely stashed in empty cigar boxes that had the most ornate and beautiful art inscribed onto their lids and sides. Fabulous images, that as a printmaker I have since learned, were complex polychrome lithographs. Each color, sometimes as many as twenty, printed from inked, hand-drawn imagery on individual, slabs of limestone. In my exploration of various printmaking art forms, I have used some of these same lithographic techniques and equipment to create some of my own contemporary, abstract art and digital photolithographic polymer prints, that were used by these pioneering, master lithographers.
I particularly remember a fancy, brass skeleton key that was a favorite among my finds. I imagined my mysterious shaped, ancient key had been discarded, or lost; its lock long ago having probably been replaced. A shiny, metallic gift from the earth god to me. My stewardship was promised upon my possessing something so, 'precious and magical,' that had been freely offered to me. My curiosity, marvel, and appreciation for its magical shape, and equally appealing, archaic symbolism of it being a conduit of connectivity, from the past, to me. It has inspired me to retain my fascination with doors, gateways, and portals.
My steadfast fascination with entering, via an imagined portal; unlocking imagery, and lingering in my imagination to create through my artwork: otherworldly realms, expressions of the mystical, and the heretofore, 'unseen.'
"Where shall I search? "Potential venues where I might encounter photographic opportunities, awaiting my discovery, are sometimes as close as my home's doorstep, or in my rain-garden, sloping toward the tidelands of Jims Creek, a small tributary on the Shrewsbury River. In my searching for images that will become subjects for my prints; I often seek landscapes deemed - 'waste-spaces:'
parking lots of cracked, pocked, weed-carpeted asphalt, and their sagging, chain link fences;
or rusting, long ago decommissioned, abandoned, freight train tracks,
vaulted, clotted with graffiti, cement wall underpasses; where debris-clogged, steel grated culverts' sieve-clotted, their slotted teeth uselessly blocked with the gleanings, and tares of a society in-a-hurry.
Discarded, lost, or disposed of objects are present everywhere in our modern environment. Found littering and inhabiting a similarly, disused landscape; they are offered to me, as seemingly, endless fodder for my camera. These images become the unusual, visual juxtapositions that populate my printmaking work.Opportunities, heightened by their unscripted, serendipitous occurrence, easily present themselves. I marvel how objects, released out of their utility context, into the natural environment, become ameliorated into their alien, organic surroundings. Thereby, becoming commonplace, expected, ignored by unseeing eyes that would rather not have to acknowledge their presence. This, 'out-of-place,' status of objects within the natural world contributes to nature's being choked by their littering presence, and their biodegradable defiance. The ubiquitous, black rubber tire, that has no, easy, disposal protocol, is a prime example. Unwanted, tread-bare, steel belted tires that wind up stacked, floating, or become rain filled, mosquito hatcheries. These found discards, and environments, become my images. Vignettes of: contemporary dissonance between man - the user, the manipulator of his domain; and his sometimes callous abuse of his own environment.
"What I see." Scenes, and places, that are alarming, yet tempting, to my visual interest; frequently they solicit my returning to explore them more closely, on foot. Many are spotted locations, that are briefly glimpsed while speeding on, the NJT-North Jersey Coastline train, en route to, New York City, and slotted for further exploration.
"Yes, I trespass and - discover!" Locations, first glimpsed only through a grimy, scrim of train window, are along this stretch of railway that funnels through the decaying, New Jersey industrial corridor. Heading east, toward NYC, I am regaled by: crumbling infrastructure, and the rusted, neglected glory of The Garden State. I am impressed, and fascinated, by the diverse, patchwork of varied terrain that hugs the tracks. The resisting, renewal-strained, natural areas are resplendent with plant life. Bending with the wind, stately, top heavy, seed-tasseled phragmites create swaying vistas stretching across, 'at-sea-level,' salt marshes. Wetlands, intersected by serpentine, watery cuts that carve narrow, but navigable to small craft, creeks threading through the sea oats, reeds, square-stemmed sedges, and resilient creek grasses that blanket these shrinking, coastal tidelands. Tides, sluiced by the lunar-stoked ebb and flow, wash nutrient rich, salt water inland. Flowing water, mixing with the fresh water; bathing and exposing the mud flats, flooding the estuaries and salt marshes, bringing the life giving water with its brackish salinity and delivering its many inhabitants their food and aqueous shelter. Such a unique bio-niche, exploited by landfill, and expansion; or ignored as useless because of disastrous, potential sea level rise and catastrophic flooding. A lonely atmosphere prevails across these salt marsh wetlands punctuated by a deserted, 'other-worldliness.' The marshes persist against a backdrop, along their perimeter, of now defunct, manufacturing warehouses, and factories that stand empty. Abandoned. artifacts of brick, cement, and steel; stand soldier-like; ruined sentinels of the failed, eroding neglect of NJ's, not so distant, industrial past. Nineteenth, and early twentieth century, industrial and commercial architecture subsists check-to-jowl alongside the suburban sprawl mixture of pre, and post WW II housing. Homes that once housed a manufacturing workforce have now become dwellings for a service industry workforce and commuters. Apartment buildings, turned condominiums, are strung like beads in a necklace of gentrified, vertical housing; offering short, ril commuting to NYC.
Our contemporary world of disposable, 'one-time-use' objects, are casually discarded, disregarded, and ignored. Regrettably, for our overburdened planet, they are in great supply.
"In our mutual transit..."
They - by their having been: washed ashore, deposited, or discarded are found trapped against toothed fences, others knotted in the trailing tentacles of untethered monofilament nylon fishing line still sporting its barbed hooks and hideous, neon-tinted lures. Fragments of textiles, remnants, faded beach chair canvas, all tangled in tightly knotted ribbons trailing on escaped, deflated, mylar-silvered balloons, that have become sun-bleached flotsam and jetsam.
Me - traveling, through our shared moment in time and space.
We - become collaborators.
I - become the active, prime mover; my role in this partnership, to frame and photograph the image.
The passivity of these objects compels me to regard them as serendipitous models; momentarily, posing for my camera. Captured in their suspended travel through the same space that I am passaging with them; my images become the record of my ephemeral link to our shared journey.