Unfinished Business

For Fritz (Ultra Blue), acrylic on paper, 18″w by 24″h, 2021 Paul Dodd
For Fritz (Ultra Blue), acrylic on paper, 18″w by 24″h, 2021 Paul Dodd

I have a few things I would to do before I die, projects that have been kicking around for a long time. I imagine I am far from alone on this. And when someone l know dies suddenly, my thoughts run to their unfinished business.

Leo Dodd and Fred Lipp in Advanced Painting class at the Creative Workshop in Rochester, New York
Leo Dodd and Fred Lipp in Advanced Painting class at the Creative Workshop in Rochester, New York

Fred Lipp and my father died just months apart in late 2016. Both discovered they had cancer and both went quickly. I took a painting class with them for twenty years before it crash landed. Fred was a great teacher and even a good teacher’s work is never done. You live with and by the advice. You practice it and you pass it on. It is unfinished by design. This teacher was also an artist, as good an artist as he was a teacher, and his art will also live forever. It is unfinished business.

It took Fred’s family a long time to reallocate his worldly goods. His studio, a retrofitted barn behind his home in Union Hill, was packed with his work. His daughter recently invited Peggi and me to come out and look at the leftovers. We spent the afternoon telling stories about Fred. He loved to laugh and his spirit was there with us.

I spotted a box of Bocour Magna Acrylic Resin artist paint, a brand I had never seen before. The tubes were still pliable so I brought them home. White metal section frames that Fred showed charcoal drawings in over the years were stacked against the wall. I took some of them as well.

I applied some of the paint to paper and found it had a really strong oder. The colors were rich though, purer and denser than any paint I had ever used. “Loaded” as they say. I tried cleaning my brushes with water but it wouldn’t touch it. Neither would walnut oil or turpentine. What was this acrylic resin stuff?

Online I learned Bocour was the first artist’s acrylic paint, used by  Barnett Newman, Morris Louis, and Roy Lichtenstein. I took one of the tubes down to my neighbor’s. A former chemist at Kodak, he suggested thinning the paint with acetone. The smell of the paint stayed in my nose for hours and I wasn’t crazy about using the solvents to thin or clean up. But I was determined to do something in remembrance of Fred with his materials. I made big paint chips from the sixteen colors, each 1/3 of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet, and went to Rochester Art Supply see if I could find modern equivalents to Fred’s colors.

Handmade paint chips of Fred Lipp's Bocour paint
Handmade paint chips of Fred Lipp’s Bocour paint

Mike, the owner, told me he remembered Leonard Bocour “coming in the store with a woman on each arm.” Mike pointed to the shelf where they kept the line of Bocour products. Golden Acrylics, today’s water based artist paint, has been having a hard time getting pigments from various parts of the world during the pandemic so I wasn’t able to get replacements.

I became enamored with the paint chips. How the color bled off three sides and stopped short of the bottom and how they fit the unfinished business concept. With a plastic trowel I covered sixteen large sheets of paper, paper that will fit nicely in the 20″ x 26″ white metal section frames that I brought home from Fred’s.

When Fred was in the army they called him Fred instead of his given name, Fritz. Fred always signed his artwork with the name Fritz. This piece is “For Fritz.” See all sixteen panels here.

For Fritz (Cadmium Red Deep), acrylic on paper, 18″w by 24″h, 2021 Paul Dodd
For Fritz (Cadmium Red Deep), acrylic on paper, 18″w by 24″h, 2021 Paul Dodd
For Fritz (Cadmium Yellow Medium), acrylic on paper, 18″w by 24″h, 2021 Paul Dodd
For Fritz (Cadmium Yellow Medium), acrylic on paper, 18″w by 24″h, 2021 Paul Dodd
For Fritz (Raw Sienna), acrylic on paper, 18″w by 24″h, 2021 Paul Dodd
For Fritz (Raw Sienna), acrylic on paper, 18″w by 24″h, 2021 Paul Dodd

Pete Monacelli is not afraid of these paints and he offered to buy them from me. Fat chance. I will give them to him the next time I see him. No piece is done until it is photographed and this took the better part of a week. Using 4 Lowel Toto lights that Duane gave me, I struggled to evenly light the work. Duane found photo bulbs online to replace my Home Depot bulbs and he helped me get the white balance. Over the phone from Brooklyn he found the ideal settings which I will record here for the record. Shutter speed at 1/125, Aperture at F8, ISO at 640 and a custom white balance (1). Once photographed Peggi, also a student of Fred’s, helped me color correct these online versions. See all sixteen panels here.

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Evaluating

Fritz (Fred) Lipp "Out There" Watercolor 2009a
Fritz (Fred) Lipp “Out There” Watercolor 2009a

We gathered today in our usual painting room at the Creative Workshop of the MAG. Most of us are long-time students of Fred Lipp’s and our week revolves around Tuesday’s class. A good percentage of the day class were there and our night class had a respectable showing but our teacher wasn’t there. He’s quite sick and we were meeting for two reasons: to discuss a tribute show in his honor and secondly, to determine how to carry on. I specifically did not say “carry on without him” because the gifts he gave us are ours to use.

As the group dispersed a few us were standing around taking about Fred’s teaching method. Bill Keyser was telling my father how he would have a list of things he was about to do and Fred would come by and say, “Forget about your plan. Look at your painting right now.” This in fact may be Fred’s most important point. Always stay open to what is on the page right now. “Painting is not a destination. It is an adventure.” Step back and look at the work. “Always address the worst first.” When the “worsts” are gone, your painting may be done.

I’ve searched my past posts and collected some of the lessons I am still learning from him. I find these truisms apply to most disciplines, certainly music.

The class was not about Fred’s work. In fact he rarely showed. The first thing I saw by him was a sculpture/installation in a Finger Lakes show, ripped open pieces of re-tread tires spewing at you from the corner of the gallery. It was sensational and it went on to the statewide exhibit in Albany. His class is called “Advanced Painting” and students work in collage, watercolor, acrylic, oil, drawing or sculpture. His methods are the same for all mediums.

There are no assignments. He rotates around the room addressing individual students as they work and pretty much says the same thing to each. He does not want you to talk first when he gets to you. “Don’t talk it. Show me.”

His stock of grey paper is his primary teaching tool. With this neutral grey he would cover parts of your work to show you what currently works. He’ll sometimes cover three fourths of your painting and tell you, “There’s your painting.

Many of Fred’s students say “he taught me how to see.” More importantly, I think he teaches us to trust our eyes. We already know how to see but we don’t trust it. If you have doubts about something in your painting that would be your eye talking. “If the question comes up, the answer is yes.”

Fred can be brutal. In many sessions the first class was the last we would see of a new student. He was brutal because he was honest and painters who did not want to learn left.

We visited Fred in the hospital last week and I asked him if any of his students had brought their paintings up to his room. He got a good laugh out of that one. A painting was never done until Fred pronounced it “done.” And it was just as often sooner rather than later than you expected.

Learning is a lifelong process. I’ve pulled these thoughts from my posts over the years. This link will take you to a page with all the posts on Fred.

There is no replacing Fred Lipp. He is one of a kind. He has been a mentor in every sense of the word and I am not alone. He packed the lecture hall at the MAG last summer with his presentation on spacial constructs, a comparison of three paintings from the MAG’s collection by Hans Hoffmann, Josef Albers and John Koch.

His daughter wrote that Fred is “the essence of art.” His ideals will live forever.

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Get To The Point

In painting class at the Creative Workshop in Rochester, we go about our business while Fred walks around the room and looks at the work. He stops at each person’s work area and looks at what you have on the easel or table. As a long time student, you know when he is behind you looking at your work and you know not to try to engage him with conversation first or any discourse on what you are working on or trying to do. He wants to look first. “No sales talk”. This is in keeping with his method. Forget about your plan. Let the painting talk to you. Address the worst first and and stop and evaluate it each time you make a move. When you have addressed all the bad, all you have left is good and of course, you are done. Staying open to surprises is part of the creative adventure. Executing a plan is “just busy work”.

Fred’s stops could last a minute or half an hour and the rest of the class can listen in on his critique. Most of what he says applies to all of us regardless of the medium or subject matter we are tackling. Leo does watercolor landscapes and I listened in while Fred was helping him with something last night. Fred was emphasizing the importance of not losing sight of the subject of the painting by putting extraneous elements in here. He used the example of painting a portrait. My ears perked up. Of course you don’t paint every hair on their head. You exclude things to focus on the subject.

The Toronto doctors who were probing around some guy’s brain when they triggered 30 year old memories by hitting a particular spot said some of the biggest scientific discoveries have been made serendipitously.

Francis Bacon said “I think that realism must be reinvented. It has to be continuously reinvented. In one of his letters van Gogh speaks of the necessity of making changes in reality that become lies that are truer than the pure truth. That is the only way a painter can recreate the intensity of the reality he attempts to capture. I think that reality in art is something profoundly artificial and that it has to be created anew, otherwise it would be merely an illustration for some purpose and thus in fact hearsay”.

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If The Question Comes Up

I had this kid’s eye looking good. It captured perfectly the “oh god, what have I done look”, rolling back and not focused on anything but a thought. I stepped back to check it out and wondered if possibly the eye was too low on the face. I tried to talk myself out of it to no avail and so I scrubbed the whole thing out. I was reminded again of one of Fred Lipp’s rules for painting. Of course he has also said “show me a rule and I’ll show you that I can break it” but this rule is one you can almost bank on. “If the question comes up, the answer is almost always yes”.

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