I often joke that the only thing I ever learned from an instructor about technique was how to draw with an eraser from Franklin White. There are plenty of things I picked up on regarding how to be an artist whether from direct interaction or through the way instructors approached their own work. In preparing a bio, I thought about some teachers that did affect my work in different ways.
At about 15 years old, I began taking classes with Robin Clair (Partin) at Kempsville High School in Va Beach. In a way, I think she appeared to be a “real” artist. She definitely seemed nuts. She was always running to the cafeteria to refill her gigantic coffee mug- this was long before Starbucks would offer more coffee than one person should drink. By chance (or perhaps by design) the women’s faculty restroom was right outside the art studio door. She seemed to visit frequently and tended to smell of cigarettes upon returning.
Ok, she may have been crazy but the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk had purchased a large painting from her and it hung near the old entry. She told me that she had to use a standard corn broom as a brush because it was so large. Sensing my interest in art history and appreciation for the New York School, she would constantly go in the back room and pull out materials and tell me to do something with them. By my senior year, I was making 6’ paintings with plaster gauze intended for use in making casts affixed to canvas which was then covered in casting stone to create a wonderful mixture of textures. From there I would cover the surface with chalk marks and then, at various consistencies, apply gloss medium to the chalk to create color fields. Did I mention that her work was somewhere between second generation Ab Ex and Minimalist? She also turned me on to art journals, sending me home with copies of Artforum, which given the amount of nudity in those pages, would get a teacher in serious trouble today. Through Art in America and Artforum, I discovered the Neo Ex painters and until recently I had given up abstraction.
She would frequently “quit” her job, disappearing for a few days only to return, so when she pulled out a work on paper by her friend Michael Goldberg (yes, that Michael Goldberg) and gave it to me because she wasn’t coming back and she had nowhere to keep it on the boat she was living on- well I knew it was temporary. It was a work on paper with various metal leafing and powders that had definitely been compromised being rolled up so long. I did some things to gently try to get its shape back but I knew my “ownership” would be short lived. After less than a week she returned and said she really should not have given it away. I knew she’d be back and the piece should be returned but it was nice having for a short period of time. For some bizarre reason, she traded me one of her pieces for the Goldberg, which I still have and cherish today, though I need to clean a small bug out of the frame.
The last time I saw her was at the Chrysler Museum. I had taken a year off from school to paint and figure out what I was going to do with my life. At that point, I was riding high. I had just received a Fellowship Grant from the Va Museum in Richmond and was getting ready to head off to the Corcoran School of Art in DC. I had a piece in the Irene Leach Memorial Exhibition at the Chrysler and being the young punk that I was, it was somewhat sloppy with a frayed string of canvas hanging from the corner of the piece. After congratulating me on the exhibition and the rest she literally started hopping around the gallery in front of my piece yelling, “Pride in Craftsmanship, Pride in Craftsmanship!”
It’s hard to quantify what I took from my experiences with Ms Partin (as we called her then) but it definitely shaped the artist, and perhaps, the person I would become.