Wayne Thiebaud – Painter

It is a commonplace that theoretical physicists do their groundbreaking work, their let’s-prove-Thomas Kuhn-right work, when they are young. They often continue to do important work later, but it isn’t the kind of thing that shakes things up. It’s more like extending the vision, tying up loose ends. Among artists, things are often different. Breakthroughs in vision and strength can come late in a career. Think Matisse, Serra, Diebenkorn, Lichtenstein, Thiebaud. The Aquavella Gallery on 79th Street in New York recently had a select retrospective of Wayne Thiebaud’s work that vividly demonstrated this.

Ten or twelve years ago I saw a retrospective of Thiebaud’s work at the Whitney. The early galleries had pictures of cakes and pies and gumball machines that were familiar, but nothing grabbed me until I got to some later pictures of San Francisco. It turns out that you won’t find Thiebaud out on the street with his palette and easel painting landscapes. He grasps the essence of a place and then goes home and constructs that essence, in the case of San Francisco, tall buildings and streets that seem vertical, a result of foreshortening but not just that. The point is that you could not find any place in San Francisco that would correspond, even roughly, to any of his paintings. And yet they are clearly paintings of San Francisco. Continue reading

A Good Day in New York

Last Saturday was the official twentieth anniversary of Rosamond’s and my marriage (we celebrated it earlier in August with all the children and grandchildren). Our life together is as full of wonder (or more) than it was twenty years ago, but I won’t go mushy here.

She was downtown so I picked her up and we went to the Aquavella Gallery to see a retrospective show of Wayne Thiebaud’s work (more on that later). Suffice it to say that it was hard to leave the gallery. I had to wander through the rooms several times to make sure it was OK to leave.

We then went to lunch at Serafina’s. Rosamond had spinach crepes and I had a pasta with peas and mushrooms and a subtle sauce. A glass of pinot grigio slipped down nicely.

Then we walked over to the Metropolitan Museum. I had wanted to see the George Bellows  exhibit, and still do since we went downstairs instead to see the exhibit of Bernini’s clay sculptures. He made them quickly as models for his monumental marble statues. I am not normally a fan of the Baroque (except in music), but the dynamism and expressiveness of Bernini’s statues is extraordinary. A year ago we were in Rome seeing the usual sights when someone suggested that a good way to finish off the day would be to go to the Piazza Navona for a drink at one of the bordering cafes. And there was the Four Rivers Fountain. I could have told you that Bernini was a seventeenth century sculptor but little more, so it came as a surprise, something new and unexpected that I felt I should have known about long before. But it was good that it was new. I had to walk around and around and around again to absorb it all, the almost distorted figures representing the different rivers, the water gushing and flowing, and the crouching lion slaking her thirst. At the show at the Met the clay version of the lion crouched, waiting to come to life in the Piazza Navona.

The Rock Is

The rock is

smooth and cool

to the touch; it

is just there

and will not

change though I

step up and

pull on it, jam

my hands and

feet into its

cracks, rest on

small ledges, say

I have conquered

it or at least

come to terms.


I feel my

body move in

unlikely ways over

improbable places,

hang and stretch

on the edge of

balance, but I

do not even

conquer myself or

come to terms with

my fear. Is it

the act or

the intention, the

climbing or

the conception that

moves up steep

walls on small



previously published in: “Ascent”, 1968; “The Fell and Rock Journal”, 1976; Speak to the Hills, 1985.



Oakdale Climbers Festival

Ancient history now. Last month’s news cycle. For those climbers who might still be interested, you can log on to Super Topo and then search for the above. Lots of pictures and comments. Quite lively.

The weekend was focused on John Salathé, and Allen Steck, who climbed with John, spoke. Also present but not speaking was Wayne Merry who came down from Canada for the event. Wayne was Warren Harding’s doughty belayer through Warren’s long night of drilling holes on the last pitch of the Nose. At the other end of the scale was Hans Florine who I believe still holds the speed record on the Nose, as well as on the Salathé Wall. All in all, good to see old and new friends.

Apart from such news, I was struck by the apparent lack of ego among all the well-known climbers who were there. It is possible, I suppose, that they were able to prepare a face of Continue reading

Who are you? (Who am I?)

Some tribes in West Australia have a complex kinship system and insist on an identifying procedure for admitting a stranger into camp. The stranger stays at some distance from the camp until a few of the older men approach him. Then they question him as to his family connections until they find a link with their own family (everyone in the camp is related to each other in some way or another). Then the stranger can be admitted to the camp. If not, he is regarded as an enemy, and it would be best for him to wander further.

My wife, Rosamond, (a second marriage for both of us) is Jewish and a member of an extensive tribe within the Tribe. I am reminded of this at every wedding, bar or bat mitzvah, Continue reading


Time was when Sandy just went “Arf.” Not this time. I was in California attending the Oakdale Climbers Festival (more on that another time) when the storm moved into the New York/New Jersey area. We were lucky. Our house had electricity (the only one in our neighborhood), and, although one land line was out, the other one worked, the one that carried our internet connection. Another boon—no TV for a while, although more pictures of the damage would have been interesting based on what I saw when I was in California.

More than interesting. The devastation in the Rockaways and down the Jersey Shore is frightening. Estimates are of between 20,000 and 40,000 homeless. Streets have been Continue reading