The Influences on an Artist's Work

The Influences on an Artist's Work

As an artist I believe I am formed from many influences from childhood to adulthood. The experiences of the times, in my case beginning in the 50s and 60s a time of modernism followed by abstract expressionism in art; culture and beliefs – Irish Catholic, democrat politics, conservative Boston; family members who were artists – traditionally trained with a love for the genres of impressionism and post-impressionism; environment – Hyde Park, a city of the edge of Boston, not suburbs, not downtown. With some areas a bit gritty and industrial, a small town influenced by Boston politics, with larger homes up on Fairmont hill with its view of the Blue Hills of Milton. 

Hyde Park had images of the leafy natural world of towering oak trees and green lawns adjacent to the constructed world of 19th century homes, post war ranch homes, warehouses, train stations, industrial buildings all interwoven. Horizontals and verticals, patina of surfaces, worn edges, discarded buildings, forgotten in between places. Between the rails, at the edge of train platforms, alleys between buildings. 

Decay created patina, color and unexpected texture. Light and darks were created by the play of painted surfaces. Trees and grass and gardens appeared above on the horizon or peaking around the edges.

Additional influences were in the culture of the 50s, having been born in 1951. Styles of 50s modernism appeared in the graphics of advertising, furniture design, architecture alongside the old Boston influences of antiques and colonial furniture. Surfaces of brick next to laminates. The old and the new in close association. Television, mostly black and white, was new and part of childhood. Cartoons of the 50s were an influence, designed by artists trained in traditional forms and techniques. The quality of drawing and design was high. 

Beat poetry, Jack Kerouac, Jack & Jill, Mad magazine, Flintstones, the Vietnam War, jazz, folk and blues. All influences on my taste, preferences, and beliefs.

When I visited Palm Springs, CA recently, where modernism is a strong part of the city’s identity, the starbursts on melamine dishware in the local shops were not novelties. They were what I grew up eating on at the dinner table. 

There is a direct line of influence from Cubism, Industrialism and Futurism to the mass marketing of products in the 50s. In one word ‘plastic’. A mass culture was born in the post war period when manufacturing exploded and new ideas were fueled by a great energy in the cities. 

But, the Vietnam War introduced a new influence. An anger and edge and anti-authoritarian movement quickly followed the 50s optimism and naïveté. The art world responded with abstract expressionism and pop art. 

The rapid change in favor from the coffee table books I grew up with of impressionism and John Singer Sargent to the styles and freedom of abstract expressionism and Pop art shown at MOMA in NY left me feeling out of step with the times. I have since learned to love and appreciate the incredible output of the 60s but at the time it seemed incomprehensible. 

This environment lead to an affinity with the abstract qualities of shape and line found in the edge of the city spaces combined with the natural world. I have developed a love of Cubism and Modernism as languages of shape, line and color that are not unfamiliar to me. The sense is of recognition not confusion.


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