Beautiful Brenner Pass. Most awestruck travellers do not know its sad history as the path on which the Jews were taken out of Italy to concentration camps and the meeting place of Hitler and Mussolini.
The painting evokes the beauty with haunting echoes of the dark purpose the place had in our recent past. Simultaneous day and night reveal a collage of then and now. Transport trains departing the Ghetto of Venice are on the same tracks as the historic Brennerbahn and a modern Italian FS passenger train climbing the pass above golden fields that become a Nazi Swastika. Flags of Poland, Italy, Austria and contemporary Germany fly over the mountains of the far reaching landscape. The charming houses of Brennero morph into Auschwitz as they pass thru the chimney smoke. Faces of the Jews appear in the smoke of the Brennerbahn. Onion domes cap the churches as you journey northward and impressive highway bridges and tunnels dominate the valley but mimic in form the horrible ovens.
The legacy of the Holocaust still influences our world. In America, it seems irrelevant and distant to our lives, but infact it affects us in so many ways we often don't stop to imagine. It was a profound event full of countless stories, Knowing them, sad though they are, enriches my life in the same way that the arts and education do.
I think that 'Everything’s Comin’ up Roses but Ethel’s Pushin’ up Daisies' has the same basic message about creating your own reality as the Yma Sumac piece. It is about a woman who knew what she wanted to be, chased her own dream and became Broadway’s most famous singer despite having an unconventional voice and delivery. She did not imitate success to succeed, but invented a new style that suited her best. You are going to be dead a long time so live life to the fullest, do with this life what you want to while you can. The painting is full of references to stenographer Ethel Agnes Zimmerman’s glorious show business career as Ethel Merman.
The horribly untalented classical singer Florence Foster Jenkins once eloquently said, "some may say that I couldn't sing, but no one can say that I didn't sing." That instantly resonated with me, in fact, it has been my philosophy behind so many of my adventures. Living life to the fullest by following one's own dream born out of passion or want and without the paralizing fear of peers or criticism takes a lot of courage and the rewards so far have outweighed any embarrassment or consequences. There will be painters who can technically paint better, draw better, create more beauty, and convey more profound content than me. There will be men more handsome, clever, successful and funny than me. Yet, I don't let them stop me from trying. And I have no regrets. That is what this painting is really about. Ethel is just the metaphor.
Click on painting to enlarge.
Since the beginning I have combined fictional and historical characters to tell stories or rather fables of my own. 'Miss Taken for Evil' honors wrongly vilified women such as the Witch of the West, Lizzie Borden, Lear’s daughters Goneril and Regan, women of heroic nature and deeds yet misunderstood because of gender.
For example, I see Dorothy as the real villain. Upon her arrival in Oz she kills the Witch of the East. True, it is an accident, but the inheritance, namely the Ruby Slippers, in any just world would be left to the next of kin, not the careless killer. The Witch of the West has a right to be mad, her sister having just been killed and the killer possessing the witch’s rightful inheritance. Dorothy asks the Wizard to send herhome. The Wizard agrees on the condition that Dorothy and friends bring him the broomstick of the Witch of the West. “But to do that, we will have to kill her to get it,” they reply. “Bring me the broomstick and I’ll grant your request,” the Wizard insists. So Dorothy marches off with her friends to WILLFULLY rob from and kill the woman whose sister she has already done in and then whose beloved slippers she has kept. Who is the bad person here, the independent homely woman living alone without a man or the pretty little thing who murders to get what she wants? What twisted values we must have to admire Dorothy!
Even in Kansas Dorothy is spoiled and selfish. She comes home complaining that Miss Gulch is going to get the sheriff, “just because she says, ‘Toto gets in her garden and chases her nasty old cat everyday ‘ - but he doesn’t do it EVERY day - just once or twice a week.” As if only a few times a week makes it okay. The farm hand even suggests “when you come home don’t go by Miss Gulch’s place then Toto won’t get in her garden and you won’t get in no trouble, see.” But Dorothy doesn’t see. As a gardener myself I hate it when the neighbor dogs get in my yard and trample my garden. Poor Miss Gulch asks Dorothy time and again to keep Toto away, but Dorothy doesn’t and on this day Toto actually bites the woman on the leg leaving her “all but lame.” That would be too much for me too. I think the witch is totally misunderstood and mistaken for evil. But that awful Dorothy, what bad faults we overlook in the beautiful.
Silver Nantucket Fog
'Icarus ' Falling Series #1. Icarus has flown to close to the sun and his wings fashioned after a butterfly have begun to melt and tear. He reaches to secure them, the background is in motion as he begins to tumble. He is red with heat and lit by the intense light. This painting is a collaboration with my self. The pose is from a series of one minute gesture drawings made of me that I recued from the bin of a studio and then flipped to create the illusion of the fall.
Oil on canvas, 36" x 36"
Coffin House, Nantucket
Oil on Canvas 48" x 56"
View from my deck in Colorado. Olde Stage Road and Buckingham Park below.
Lefthand Canyon Palisades are the cliff formations at the left.
The 2013 floods severly impacted the area.
Memi Sofar mulitasks in Haifa.
The photo does not do this painting justice. One of my best.
Site specific work.
From the Daily Camera 8/17/03: "While the ostensible "stories" of these paintings might veer toward the unpleasant (and, in the case of "Bar Scene," even the grotesque), the paint itself is luxuriously applied, a seductive dance of color and texture on the canvas. This is particularly evident in "Coppertone," an oil that depicts a white woman rubbing suntan lotion on a black man's back. It's easy enough to read a sexual tension into the relationship between these two characters, but what's more satisfying is how Alpern renders the scene. The rich and variable blues of the water shimmer and collide, the flesh tones mingle and merge with the sand, and Matisse-like patterns blossom throughout the composition."
Oil on Canvas, 48" x 44"
Better Things. Mapleton Hill in Boulder. The famous Flatirons rock formation is in the distance. There is a true story here... It illustrates what Marilyn Monroe meant when she said, "Sometimes good things fall apart so that better things can fall together." Another painting that does not photograph well.
Click image to enlarge
The painting recalls my encounter with famous "beard" Kitty Carlisle Hart, hers with Judy Garland, explores changing mainstream values, the intersection of cultural appropriation and our common humanity. It's all about some heavy things in the guise of something much more light and fun. I’ll admit it, using a privileged, overdressed society matron, talk show panelist and patron of the arts seems an unconventional choice as a muse for a protest piece advocating for the right to speak up against racism and intolerance. It is a plea for understanding and thoughtful consideration of historical context when looking back at an artist’s body of work, and everyone's right to own our collective human experience.
To really understand all that I mean, click here for a detailed and impassioned explanation of this work in progress.