The Presence of Death

battle_of_gettysburg

The dead of Gettysburg.

I remember when I was a kid my father took all of us on a road trip to American Civil War battlegrounds (yeah). Most of what I remember is the endless driving and the cheap motels we stayed at. But our visit to the battlefield at Gettysburg made a deep and lasting impression on me.

Gettysburg field of Picketts charge

Gettysburg today: a view of the field of Pickett’s Charge – such a beautiful and peaceful landscape harboring such a tragic past.

Perhaps it was because we went into an interpretive center and saw a giant 360 degree painting of Pickett’s Charge (the painting is called The Cyclorama) and it brought the horror of the 3 day battle to life for me.

Or perhaps it was all the memorials for the thousands of lost soldiers that were scattered around the battlefield; presumably close to where they’d fallen. It was a very sad place – and it really felt like it was blood soaked and resonant with death and suffering.

I was just a child and it opened me to the horror of war, and the silent grief of death. It wasn’t until I was much older that I experienced anything close to that feeling again.

Agora headless statue photo by Betty Malyon

Looking out the basement door of the apotheke at the Stoa of Attalus, Athenian Agora. photo by Betty Malyon

As I’ve written in past posts, I worked at archaeological sites and spent a lot of time visiting ruins and tombs all over Greece when I was in my twenties. My first real job was at the Athenian Agora as a pottery profiler and illustrator for Dr. Rotroff. Much of my time was spent down in the apotheke (storeroom) alone among the hundreds of ancient artifacts, sitting next to boxes of ancient bones.

I never sensed anything down there except a great reverence for, and a kind of happy embrace of the past – surrounded by objects and remains from thousands of years ago.

Dr. Rotroff had even “introduced” me to one poor man’s remains: a man who had been a mercenary soldier. There were several mended wounds on his bones, and a final squash of his skull from a horse’s hoof. His skeletal remains lay near me as I worked in the dark to project a to-scale image of the pottery I then had to draw.

Mycenae-Atreus_Tomb

It was thrilling to visit the giant tholos tombs at Mycenae for the first time, but they were so immaculate and full of tourists that they lost a lot of their mystery for me.

In the field people form an intellectual detachment when studying the skeletal remains of ancient grave sites.

For example: during my first season at the Agora in 1981, there was an ongoing excavation at the northern boundary of the Agora that revealed the west end of the Stoa Poikele (The Painted Stoa).

Agora Excavations 1981

Agora Excavations 1981 – you can get a sense of how deep they had to go to get to the Classical Period – it was meters below street level.

To get down to the 5th century level there were many meters of historical matter to remove – and at one point the diggers went through what seemed to be a Medieval burial ground for infants. After the first of these small tombs were uncovered (the bodies were often buried in pots) the diggers became inured to the remains, and would joke about how many they had smashed by accident that day…

All this preamble is to say that I never felt the presence of “spirits” down there in the Agora’s storeroom or at many of the ancient places I went to. But there were several sites in Greece and Turkey that felt alive with death to me…

Site of the Battle of Marathon: Visiting Marathon for the first time was startling to me. Today the beach is full of sun tanning, happy people. Back in 490 BC it was the site of a crucial and bloody battle that was won by the Greeks against the invading Persians.

According to the ancient historian Herodotus, the Persians, sent by King Darius 1, lost 6,400 men in the battle and the Greeks lost 203 men (192 Athenians and 11 Plataeans).

The Athenians buried their dead in a massive mound of earth near the shore.

Tumulus_(tomb)_in_Marathon

The burial mound at Marathon contains the 192 fallen Athenian soldiers who were killed in the Battle of Marathon 490 BC

When I saw the mound I was very moved. It was so physically huge that you couldn’t ignore the weight of the battle there – here were buried the dead – the men who helped save Greece from Persian invasion. And here a huge and horrible battle took place with great loss of life and suffering. The spirit of the place was palpable to me. An inscription reads:

Ἑλλήνων προμαχοῦντες Ἀθηναῖοι Μαραθῶνι χρυσοφόρων Μήδων ἐστόρεσαν δύναμιν (Fighting at the forefront of the Greeks, the Athenians at Marathon laid low the army of the gilded Medes).

300-Rise-of-an-Empire2

300: Rise of an Empire is Hollywood’s version of the Battle of Marathon. That’s the beach I went sunbathing on though I didn’t jump off any cliffs there and it looked a lot different from this poster in real life.

When, a few years later,  I visited the beach for some swimming and sun, it felt odd and uncomfortable to me – knowing that I lay on a spot that had been blood soaked and raw with agony, hundreds of years before. But no one else seemed to feel that way…

Tomb of a young woman buried with two horses – There is an unusual tholos tomb near Marathon that dates to around 1490-1400 BCE. It was the tomb of a young woman buried along with two horses. It is the only tomb of its type and from this period to include a woman with horses – all the other tombs that have horses are of men. The tomb is also unusual because it was dug down into the earth rather than mounded with earth above it, so it has a long descending dromos (entryway) rather than the usual level ones.

The horses were presumably slaughtered in situ during the burial, and lie lengthwise in the dromos facing each other. It has been hypothesized that the horses found in these burials were the horses used to bring the body to the tomb. They could, in my opinion, have been the dead’s favorite mounts.

Tholos tomb marathon

The tholos tomb at Marathon contained a woman’s body, two burial pits containing gold and pottery vessels, and two horses buried in the dromos or entryway of the tomb. The tomb is dated to LHIIB (approximately 1490 – 1400 BCE). (When I visited this site with my class and professors of the American School of Classical Studies in 1985, the tomb was open to the elements. Now it appears to have been given a shelter and the horse skeletons covered with glass.)

I am a horse lover and perhaps that’s why the burial moved me. Perhaps it was because it was a young woman (like me at the time) who’d been buried there.

All I know is that as I stood there looking down the dromos towards the burial chamber, I felt a profound sadness, and a feeling that there was a remnant of grief and a shadow of the young woman’s spirit still lingering there.

Tomb in Turkey: In the Spring of 1986 I traveled with a group of fellow students and professors from the American School to Western Turkey to visit archaeological collections and sites. Many of the sites were stupendous to see – Pergamon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Temple of Apollo at Didyma

Didyma heinz albers

The massive temple of Apollo at Didyma is fascinating to visit. Along the inside walls of the temple were found the inscribed architectural plans for the construction of the building. http://sites.davidson.edu/csa/didyma/ image by heinz albers

– but one of the most intense experiences for me was entering a small tomb on the Anatolian plains. Like most ancient sites, it had been looted a long time ago, so all that remained was the structure.

The way into the lower chamber was through a small dug-out area below ground. Inside it was pitch black and big enough for all of us (about 15 in total) to stand tightly. Our flashlights made golden beams of light that seemed to vanish into the depth of the chamber and served only to intensify the darkness. hands in dark

There was a rough hole in the ceiling just big enough for one person to crawl through, and through this hole we were lifted one by one into the top chamber.

Being lifted up from the blackness of the lower part of the tomb and then scrabbling into the upper chamber was a singular experience. My heart was pounding with uncertainty.

It was possible to see the domed shape of the tomb up there, as there was a faint beam of white light coming in through some hole to the outside. The light illuminated the dust that we were disturbing.

The air was cool and the atmosphere of the tomb was intense – like the intense, oppressive pressure that I have uncomfortably felt inside a deep cave. But I knew that  where I knelt wasn’t that far below the grass outside  – just inches really, considering the beam of light that came in.hands-reaching-up

I felt like I shouldn’t be in there. It felt like there was something more in there than a bunch of students. I was anxious to leave.

Going back down through the hole into the deep darkness below was eerie. You couldn’t see where you were going; you were only aware that some detached hands, seemingly floating in the air, helped you down to the tomb floor. It made me think of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries and I wondered if there might have been some ritual like that… a kind of rebirth – moving out through the darkness of the earth,  back to the world and the light.

The Dance of Zalongo – Cliffs of Northwestern Greece: 

The monument to the dancers of Zalongo

The monument to the Heroines of Zalongo, stands atop a high cliff in North Western Greece. The sculpture is by Georgios Zongolopoulos.

During another trip with the American School, we were visiting historical and archaeological sites in Epirus in North Western Greece. One day we went to view the site of the naval battle of Actium – where Octavius Caesar defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC (causing them to commit suicide in Egypt).

Cleopatra Theda Bara

Theda Bara as Cleopatra with Fritz Leiber as Caesar, 1917

It was amazing to stand there where Marc Antony’s troops had camped and look out over the Ionian Sea and visualize the giant war ships and the battle.

We visited several other sites that day, but one that I found deeply mournful was at the base of a high cliff, from which women and children fleeing the ravages of war had flung themselves to their deaths to escape enslavement or worse.

In 1803 during the Souliote WarAli Pasha the local Ottoman ruler, sent his troops through Epirus to kill and enslave the local population. The story goes that a group of women and children from the village of Souli became surrounded by the Turks near the Zalongo canyon.

There, to build their bravery, they danced and sang together, then threw their children off the cliff before jumping to their deaths – preferring to die with dignity rather than be destroyed by their enemies. A famous folk song and dance commemorates the tragedy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZGAPbzUiqM).

Widowed Village in Northern Greece:  During the Second World War the Nazis invaded Epirus in North Western Greece and over 200 towns and villages were burned or destroyed. (The Nazis eventually invaded the entire country and the Greek people suffered terribly.)Epirus woman 1943

More than 2,000 Epirotes were killed, 5,000 imprisoned and 2,000 sent to concentration camps. 30,000 people were displaced.

nazis in Athens 1944

Nazis in Athens in 1944 in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

We visited one such village high in the mountains where only old widowed women in black remained. It was such a moving sight.

No men of any age

No children

Just old widows.

The brutal remains of war.

Epirote_women_Aug1914

Greece has a very long history of being invaded by outsiders going back thousands of years. Despite this fact or maybe because of it, they are brave and proud people. This photo from 1914 shows Epirote women armed to defend their village.

 

My Titanium Underwear

or How I Exercise With A Bad Back

vintage exerciserThis post is about imagining that you have titanium underwear on when you exercise. (It has nothing to do with the Sia song.)

I have a bad back, which I’ve written about before on this blog. I was immobilized with pain for many years, but with patience and perseverance and the right treatments, I am finally getting to exercise again.

Several years ago I took a Spinercise program, to learn how to isolate and work the special muscles of the pelvic floor and the abdomen and lower spine, so that I could activate my core properly. I had to take the course twice though, because I have a number of atrophied muscles close to my torn discs and I couldn’t quite get them to activate for me.

corsets

Ouch! No wonder visualizing a corset hurt

In the workbook that came with the course, there was a diagram that likened the process of activating your core muscles to that of tightening a corset around your body. You were supposed to visualize this corset as you tightened each successive muscle group – pulling the imaginary corset strings in to support your spine.

I used this image for years when I needed to engage my core to lift groceries or do anything that required that I support my spine.

There was an inherent problem with this image, however, because of my atrophied muscles. Instead of activating all the muscles (including the atrophied ones), the imaginary corset forced the healthy muscles to take on an extra strain and overcompensate for the damaged muscles. This strain caused extra inflammation and muscular tightness in the hip and spine area, and ultimately caused weakness and instability.

So even though there was something racy about wearing an imaginary corset – it wasn’t working for me.

Then I ordered some super duper Wolfgang Puck unbreakable wine goblets from the illustrious Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue that were reinforced with titanium in the glass.

Wonder woman

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman in the 1970s. Note the starry, magnificent and powerful panties – my inspiration

superman

George Reeves as Superman – the epitome of super duper underwear

The idea of titanium being so strong and so light inspired me to think about wrapping my lower spine in titanium.

Then the image of the 1970s Wonder Woman, the 1950’s Superman, and the 1960’s Batman sprang to mind – all of them wore quite spectacular underpants.

Thus the idea of having titanium underwear that fit like the costume Wonder Woman wore, was born. And that image really helps me hold my core in the right place when I am moving, and particularly when I’m exercising.

Batmanadamwest

Adam West as Batman – the best Batman EVER!!

Its not only an image of a nicely muscular and lean tummy and butt, but its an image of strength and power. Yes, I can conquer anything in my titanium underwear!

The power of the mind and using visualization as a tool has been studied and proven for decades, and I’ve gone through phases when I’ve spent a lot of time visualizing myself to be whole and well. Yet, this is the first time that its really helped me in a physical sense.

So I’m sharing my secret to success – when you need to support a damaged spine and build strength, just try visualizing yourself as a super hero with titanium shorts on and maybe you’ll find that with time it will help you like its helped me.

I find that instead of pulling all those muscles too tightly, I visualize engaging the appropriate muscle groups, and then add in my visualization of metal pants. They hold me upright and straight and really help me maintain the correct posture without overdoing it. So when I am weight lifting, doing core work, or on my exercise bike I can hold the right position without straining myself. My atrophied muscles are even starting to work again.

iliotibial_band_1

Rolling, rolling, rolling on my roller

Of course there is still pain from the damaged discs and my muscles are weak and tired, and working out makes them ache. So, I spend a lot of time on my foam roller (which can hurt like Hell), and stretching, and doing a short form of yoga to keep things from seizing up.

The important thing is that there is progress. I’m standing taller again and feeling kinda super hero like.

…Every day in every way I am getting better and better… repeat... every day in every way I am getting better and better…

Good luck.

strong-woman-vintage-exercise

My ultimate goal is to be able to lift someone with one arm over my head.

Molby exercise machine

If you can’t succeed with titanium underwear perhaps this device will help you.

 

 

 

 

Interesting Flights

Gatwick-Airport-Reviews-Airplane-Landing

I’m sure many people have stories to tell about interesting flights they’ve been on – like the time my husband and I were flying home from England, and somewhere over the North Atlantic the stewardesses came around asking for men’s leather belts to tie a man down. That’s all the details we were ever told. We made an emergency landing in Newfoundland and the guy was unceremoniously hauled off the plane in handcuffs. I figured the guy was just drunk and unruly, but my husband was white knuckled the rest of the way thinking the worst possible scenario – we’ll never know. At least we made it home.

When I was in my 20s I was flying a lot due to summer jobs, internships, and family visits.  Most of the time I was traveling alone, and to my happiness found myself sitting next to interesting people. We’d end up sharing a few drinks and have lively conversations. It was a great way to pass the time.

These days, with the way airlines squash you in like sardines, there is a constant dread of being stuck next to someone who snores or who spreads out into your tiny space with arms and legs and loud music in their ear buds. But I can’t recall any such bad experiences back then – funny how that is.

Here are some short accounts of some of my more memorable flights:

I was flying from Toronto to Washington, DC and was in the window seat just behind the First Class partition wall and I found myself sitting next to a senior officer of the US Air Force. I instantly noticed him and his staff when they entered the plane because they looked very serious and were in full uniform carrying briefcases. I didn’t know enough at the time just by looking at his ribbons and stars who he might be, but I knew he was high in rank.

glider pipistrel usa

A glider is a completely silent plane that literally glides on air currents. image from Pipistrel USA

He told me that he had been in Ottawa on official business and was on his way back to the Pentagon. We chatted about my internship at the Smithsonian, and he told me about all the different fighter jets and other aircraft that he’d flown.

Eventually I said that I always thought that it would be wonderful to go gliding.

I told him about how a glider had landed not far from where my parents lived and that I’d seen footage of flights that looked incredibly beautiful. He said that he loved gliding and that he’d love to take me up there sometime. He gave me his card and told me to call him at the Pentagon and he’d take me.       Wow.

I chickened out and never called. I missed a golden opportunity – a lifetime adventure – too afraid of going out with such an impressive and powerful man. (Stooopid me)

 

On a flight from Athens to Toronto I sat next to the editor of a travel magazine.

santorini-sunset-greece. friendlyplanet.com

I went on a great trip to Santorini. image from friendlyplanet.com

We chatted for several hours (its a long flight) and had several glasses of wine and a couple of meals. We  talked about her work and her trip to Greece. I told her about my work on digs, and my travels around the country, and at the end of the flight she offered me a job writing for her magazine.

Just like that!

She gave me her card and told me to call her, and when I was ready, I’d have a job.

Life was too busy for me at that time, and I never followed up. I was in the midst of writing my thesis and finishing my degree and couldn’t fathom adding to my already heavy work load.  And then –  life just moved on.

 

On my first flight to Athens (from Halifax)  I was traveling with a friend and we were very late for boarding our flight on Olympic Air.

Olympic 747 staircase (airliners.net)

Spiral staircase on Olympic Airline’s 747. (image from airliners.net)

We ran all the way to the terminal and by the time we got there, there were no regular seats left, so they took us up the spiral staircase to the top floor of the 747 to First Class.

We were the only passengers up there for the entire flight, and we even had our very own stewardess. From where we sat at the front of the plane, we could look into the cock pit.

This was in the ‘olden’ days when cock pits weren’t locked. The pilots came and went, visited with us and the stewardess, and invited us in to see the view.

We were served champagne and great food. It was amazing.

Two poor University kids on our first big adventure to Greece, going First Class all the way.

 

iconostasis

An example of a modern, carved Iconostasis

On another flight from Athens to Toronto I sat next to a Greek Canadian artist. We talked about art and Greece and our travels. It turned out that he designed and created the massive and intricately carved screens (Iconostasis) for Greek Orthodox churches and that he had commissions all over the world.

It also turned out that his brother was a film director for CBC, and had filmed a documentary on my father – small world!

 

Barbie doll stewardessOn a flight from Toronto to Washington DC I sat next to an off duty American stewardess. She had perfect blonde hair, perfect makeup and perfect clothes and was very pretty. She looked like a Barbie doll stewardess. She was really nice and fun and we talked and talked during the flight.

She told me about her training, and all about the things that she’d seen go wrong on her flights – fires in the galley, medical crises, and on and on. It was fascinating, but it was also unnerving to hear how often emergencies happened on airplanes and the passengers never knew.

 

 

On a flight from Ankara to Athens I didn’t sit next to the dog – the dog had a seat of his his own across the aisle from me. He was a big blonde dog and he had a very elegant, wealthy lady sitting in the window seat next to him.

He didn’t buy me drinks or offer to take me somewhere interesting, but he made quite an impression on me.

The airline was Turkish Air as I recall, and it wasn’t a big airplane. The dog and I and the elegant lady (and whoever sat next to me) were in the front row.

athens airport

image: athens-airport-info

When the plane came in to land at Athens, it took a sudden sharp turn and plunged like a sea eagle does – straight down all at once. The engines were roaring and the entire plane was violently shaking all over. The seats were shifting and sliding around, stuff was falling, and I remember people screaming and praying and crying.

I looked over at the blonde dog across the aisle from me and he had braced himself for landing with great dignity. He had forced all four of his feet into the seat to secure himself during the precipitous descent. His composure during those few terrifying moments kept me from complete panic.

Then the plane suddenly raced to a forceful and abrupt stop. We’d landed. We were alive. People cheered and wept.

The elegant lady was hysterical and shaking as she and Mr. Dog got out of their seats and went down the metal stairs to the tarmac. Then Mr. Dog calmly found an appropriate spot and peeded, and the journey was over.

Best person on a flight ever – Mr. Dog.

saluki deanimalia.com

Mr. Dog was a Saluki – a sight hound, also known as a Persian Hound. It is one of the oldest breeds of hunting dogs. image: deanimalia.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1980 Atlantic Folk Festival – post 3

I found this clipping from 1980 in some old things I was going through recently. Since people seem to be very interested in my previous posts about the 1980 Atlantic Folk Festival I thought you might be interested in reading it – just click on the image to get a full screen version.

1980 Folk Festival article complete

1980 article about the Atlantic Folk Festival and the Outlaw Bikers Convention

my two previous posts about the Festival:

https://myartsyodyssey.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/the-1979-atlantic-folk-festival-and-outlaw-bikers-convention/

https://myartsyodyssey.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/three-snapshots-of-the-1979-atlantic-folk-festival/

Queen and Adam Lambert World Tour

THE CALGARY CONCERT – 2014

Betty 1978

Happy Me in 1978

All I want to listen to these days is Queen, and its all because I went to see Queen and Adam Lambert on their World Tour two years ago in Calgary in 2014. Yup, two years ago and here I am still going on about it…

You see, the sheer energy and brilliance of the music re-lit a fire in me and brought me back to my true self. My happy self. It was life changing.

I know this sounds overly dramatic… but its true – it was a powerful turning point for me.

Like everyone who listened to rock in the 1970s and 80s, Queen was a significant part of the music landscape back then.

And as the years passed, their music became the backdrop of my entire adult life. In a way I took their music for granted because it was ubiquitous; not that I didn’t love their music, but it was just such a familiar part of my life.

All four members of the band were amazing songwriters and musicians. Their blended talents produced some of the most original and memorable music of the Rock Era.

Queen 70s

A great shot of Queen from the 70s – I love how destroyed Roger Taylor looks. From left to right Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon.

When Freddie Mercury died in 1991 it felt like Queen died too.

But Queen is still very much alive – even without Freddie and John Deacon.

Adam Lambert has been touring with them as their new front man, and they rock…

Queen Adam Lambert Idol 2009 finale

Brian May, Adam Lambert and Roger Taylor, 2009 Season 8 of American Idol finale performance. photo Rolling Stone

During Season 8 of American Idol, we watched Adam Lambert dominate the competition with his intense artistry and powerhouse voice. We cheered for him from his first audition to his final performance. And when Brian May and Roger Taylor joined him for a finale performance, it was exciting to see the blending of such great talent. There seemed to be a natural and intuitive bond between them. We knew that if Adam Lambert ever toured with Queen we had to go.

And lo and behold – they joined forces, and as soon as the tour was announced, and the minute the tickets went on sale, we got online and frantically started trying to buy seats.

We lucked out. Our seats were near center stage, only several feet from Brian May and Adam Lambert. We were close enough to see their expressions as they performed, and even close enough to see May’s tears as he spoke of the late Freddie Mercury during one of the more emotional moments of the show.

Queen setlist calgary 2014

Setlist from the Saddledome/Calgary concert 2014, image from Queenonline.com (I’m pretty sure they played I’m In Love With My Car at the concert – one of my many favorites – but it doesn’t appear on this list).

The first song they played got lost in the rotten acoustics of the Calgary Saddledome – it took a few moments for the crowd and the band to find a balance, and then we were off…

Queen and Lambert

Adam Lambert and Brian May – and you can barely see Roger Taylor on drums.

I sang and danced and laughed and cried throughout the entire concert just like everyone in the boisterous crowd. It released a pure joy from the very core of me that I hadn’t felt in decades.

I’ve been to other concerts and seen other famous musicians in person before, but in some cases it felt like they were just phoning it in – bored with having to repeatedly play their big hits, and road tired. But Queen and Lambert took on the show with commitment and energy. Each song built on the next, and one hit after another continued to amp up the crowd. It was clear that everyone onstage were of one mind and heart as they played.

INGLEWOOD, CA - JULY 03: Musician Brian May (L) of Queen and singer Adam Lambert perform at the Forum on July 3, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Brian May of Queen and Adam Lambert  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

And something that’s new to me – the crowd was comprised of all ages – grandparents all the way down to toddlers – which surprised me, though in retrospect its not so surprising given that Queen music is timeless and known to many generations now.

You hear performers say that they feed off the energy of the crowd, and I’d say that it goes both ways. The crowd got louder and more vibrant as the band and the vocalist threw themselves into each song.

Queen has never shied from the campy, and much of their lyrics are rich with humor; these qualities shone through. Lambert sang and performed with his superb voice and vibrant personality.

lambert killer queen

Adam Lambert singing Killer Queen – he’s an incredibly entertaining performer and a killer vocalist (and he has great outfits too).

And though no one can replace Freddie Mercury, Adam gave all the best of himself and he was truly amazing in his own right.

At one point, at the end of a particular favorite, the crowd went wild and Lambert turned back from center stage to walk back to May. You could see May gesturing and telling him that it was for him – to go back – take his bows – and revel in the mad hysteria of admiration that was flowing from the crowd. It was a surprisingly humble moment to witness. To see Lambert, who is such an incredibly talented and experienced performer, be so unassuming in front of the roaring audience. It was also telling evidence of May’s generosity of spirit and comradery.

I know I sound like a fan girl (my kids call me that) but Brian May’s solo Last Horizon, was some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever experienced.

Newcastle_Brian_by_StevieJ_73B7RRUWkCcAA6CH0_600x800

Dr.Brian May performing his solo on the guitar he built with his father when he was a teen – the famous Red Special. Dr May has been busy all these years. After the concert I looked him up online and found out about all his accomplishments including his PHD in Astro Physics; the scores he’s written for films, TV, radio and stage; his passion for stereoscopic images; his dedication to animal rights; and his commitment to social reform. Plus he keeps on rocking and not just with Queen, he’s had a successful solo career and plays with many other bands and solo artists who want to work with the great one.

It felt like it flowed directly from him across the crowd and into my heart, lifting me from myself – freeing me from the present. It was moving, sensitive, powerful and visionary.  I have never heard the guitar played with such mastery.

The images projected on the screen behind him were of the stars and the vastness of space and they helped pull you into the music, but his presence on stage superseded all the lights and special effects.

He played his piece with passion and soul. He was present in the moment and yet seemingly lost in his own world. The guitar was really a part of the man, and the artist was sharing something private from deep inside.

I was rapt…

… that is… until I was interrupted partway through the piece by my daughter who wanted me to go with her to the washroom. It was extremely hard to pull myself away from where I stood.  But May and his music were filling the entire stadium and I found that even as we hiked across the floor and up tiers of stairs to the tiled washroom, his music was just as powerful.

It was that performance more than any of the other numbers that made a lasting impression on me. It was a privilege to be there.

I found out what so many other people already knew – that Brian May is a masterful musician – a true artist.

After the concert, I began in earnest to listen to the recordings of Queen again. It was with a fresh perspective and newfound enjoyment. Being able to look back and understand the eras in which they worked and know who their peer musicians were, their music has taken on a new dimension for me.

queen-band-aid May and Mercury

Freddie Mercury and Brian May performing at Live Aid in 1985. Queen’s performance at Live Aid has been called the greatest rock performance of all time.

I’ve never been a real aficionado of music (I don’t know much about the technical aspects of composing, playing and recording) but I can now, with age and experience, appreciate the creations of this unique group of artists and more deeply feel the music and lyrics and vocals better than I ever could when I was younger.

In the 1970s their music was revolutionary and was part of the British scene that came over to North America. We only ever heard their big hits like We Are the Champions and Bohemian Rhapsody on the radio and at sports venues, even though they have a huge catalog of original music (including 18 number one albums, 18 number one singles, and 10 number one DVDs*).

Back then, albums were often conceived as fully realized works of art. From the cover to the careful planning of the progression of sounds and songs, the albums deeply reflected what the musicians wanted to express with their music.

queen Brian and Freddie

Freddie Mercury is consistently voted one of the top Rock vocalists of all time and Brian May is regularly voted one of the top Rock guitarists of all time. May and Mercury wrote many of the group’s biggest hits.

Nowadays with the downloading of music you can choose which hits you want on your personal playlist – which has its merits. But the unique flavor and vision of the artist somehow seems more watered down without the almost operatic rise and fall of the plot of a fully realized collection of works.

Within Queen’s oeuvre you can find a full range of styles and themes – hard rocking pieces like Tie Your Mother Down and Hitman; soft ballads like ’39; tender love songs like Love of My Life and Bijou; comical songs; songs about life and death – love and loss (Who Wants to Live Forever); humanity. These aren’t superficial pop songs – they’re far more intelligent and complex than most of the rock music out there (and yes, Fat Bottomed Girls is a smarter rock tune than most of the junk on the radio today).

Freddie and Daffodils

1,001 yellow daffodils and Freddie Mercury. A still from the video of I’m Going Slightly Mad, from the album Innuendo.

It has been a remarkable reawakening for me – to rediscover this band after so many years – its like they are brand new to me again.

Lately I’ve been listening to Innuendo, the last album that Queen recorded with Freddie Mercury. Knowing that Mercury was suffering with the last stages of HIV/Aids at the time of the recording only adds more depth to many of the lyrics and music. His voice can bring tears to my eyes in The Show Must Go On and These Are The Days of Our Lives. While the song Don’t Try So Hard seems to come from a man who wants to share what he’s learned about life.

Queen_Innuendo Headlong, Ride the Wild Wind and Hitman from Innuendo are my favorite driving songs now – they’re great for speeding along the highway and singing out loud, (and also great for dancing in the kitchen).

And the song I’m Going Slightly Mad sums up my general state of mind at this stage of my life.

I’m grateful that these artists shared themselves with the world. It takes a real bravado to do so – to create something completely new and gift it to everyone out there.

And it takes a real commitment to their art to continue working and performing and honing their mastery.

Like many great artists Queen has suffered blistering reviews from critics, but they weren’t making their music to suit the critics or go with what was the next in-thing – they followed their own path, making music that was true to themselves – never getting into a rut, never just making the same old sound over and over again to sell records.

queen adam lambert adamlamberttv blogspot

Roger Taylor is also a prolific and incredibly talented musician. In addition to being a song writer, vocalist and drummer for Queen, he has released several albums of his own. Like Brian May he is a multi-instrumentalist and performs with many major artists. Image from: adamlamberttv.com

And like all real art, Queen’s music stands the test of time.

There have been multitudes of rock bands over the years but in my opinion few have the same breadth of talent, breadth of material, and incredible musicianship of Queen. I guess I really am a fan girl after all.

Queen AL and crew hollywood treatment com

The entire band on their World Tour: left to right: Neil Fairclough on bass, Rufus Taylor on percussion and drums, Adam Lambert lead vocals, Roger Taylor drums, Brian May guitar, Spike Edney keyboard

Note: You can still catch the tour in Europe this year if you’re lucky – everywhere they play they get rave reviews and perform to sell out crowds (wish I could go again!). For a full listing of venues check out Queen online at http://www.queenonline.com/en/the-band/live/queen-adam-lambert/2016/

To finish, I’m including some quotes that speak to Brian May’s unique and brilliant musicianship: 

“May delivers the magic dust that makes the music insanely interesting and provides an everlasting durability.”

“Brian May plays very dynamic solos. His riffs are often just running scales, but he does it with incredible variances in timing and attack. Other guitarists can attempt to copy his style, but they fall short of his abilities. He injects such emotion into his work that the listener not only hears his solos, but feels them, as well – often with lightening bolt intensity. He rises above most all other rock guitarists and certainly deserves a spot in the top ten.”

“…the greatest guitar-god fans say Brian May is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, guitarist of all time…”

“Even other guitar greats admit they cannot replicate what BM does. His sound is unique, his solos so intricate and clever, his playing is precise. He dips under the radar because he operates in his own incomparable universe.”

(the quotes are from the following website:   http://www.thetoptens.com/guitarists/brian-may-3358.asp)

* statistics from wikipedia.org

Dress Ups

I had a recent revelation about a favorite painting of mine called Dress Ups by my father, the late artist Bernard Safran. I think its because I’ve been examining my parents’ lives more critically in the last few years while working on this blog, and I see things from a different perspective than I did when I was caught up in earlier family mythologies.

For years I’ve looked at the painting as a beautiful and poetic work – which it is. But now the painting also says something different to me. I don’t normally read meaning into an artist’s work (especially my own father’s), and yet I can’t help but see sorrow in this painting when I look at it.

My sister and I are featured in the almost life-size painting. I am 7 years old and she is 12. We are wearing beautiful old dresses that my mother bought at the Salvation Army. The hat I am wearing was made by my paternal grandmother for my mother.

Dress Ups by Bernard Safran 1967

Dress Ups by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite, 1967. The horizontal lines you see in the paint are ridges of damage caused by someone packing the painting in corrugated cardboard when it traveled across Canada for the 1976 Olympics show.

In the painting, I stand facing the viewer holding an old baby doll. The doll’s name was Billy and he belonged to my mother (and her sisters) back in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Its head and hands were made of a composite of saw dust and glue and were finely crafted to look real.  I particularly liked his little hands because they were the little chubby fists of a young baby. The body and arms and legs and feet were made of cotton and stuffed with something heavy (probably sawdust or sand), and when you held the doll it felt weighted like a real baby. Billy felt solid and warm.

Dress Ups by Bernard Safran detail of baby doll

Dress Ups, detail of baby doll

I remember that my mother found Billy in the attic to give to me because I’d been whining and complaining that I wanted an antique doll. Both my sister and older cousin had inherited beautiful bisque dolls with long ringlets and silky dresses, and I was jealous.

So my mother found Billy and gave him to me to play with, and even though the doll had some awful cracks in its head I loved him and played with him far more than I did with my own little baby doll that I’d had for years.

I suppose that my father saw me with the doll and saw something more in it than I did.

The doll, in retrospect, was very grim and looked like something you might see in a horror movie today. The head had deep fissures with curled edges; some of his fingers were broken off; the surface was peeling; the back of his head had a hole in it; and only one eye still opened and shut.

Dress Ups by Bernard Safran, detail 7 yr old

Dress Ups, detail 7 yr old

I see now that the broken and damaged baby doll could be viewed as a kind of Memento Mori – a brutal reminder of death set in stark contrast to the clear beauty and innocence of childhood.

I see that the children are dressing up to pretend to be adults; longing to be older and yet not understanding the consequences of age.

And I see that the darkness of the background surrounds and isolates the girls and emphasizes their vulnerability.

Even my own face is more meaningful  to me now – the gaze of this 7 year old is direct and unflinching; the expression somber. I look less like a child and more like a sad, world weary grown up.

Dress Ups by Bernard Safran detail 12 yr old

Dress Ups, detail 12 yr old

And why does my sister stand apart from me and look off to the side? Is it that at 12 she is ready to leave childhood behind?

Something even more troubling to me is the knowledge that my parents lost their third baby when I was small – it was full term and was born dead. Does this painting somehow echo that grief that I know my mother never recovered from…

My father painted Dress Ups in 1967 not long after his first solo show in New York City failed, and not long after leaving the safety of Time Magazine with all its perks and prestige. It was well into his years of depression and paranoia.

I don’t think its a stretch to say that Dress Ups reveals a deeper, darker meditation on life and death than I ever wanted to see before.

 

My Career in New York – Bernard Safran

Introduction:

My father Bernard Safran had a long career as a fine artist from the early 1960s til his death in 1995. He created unparalleled paintings of city life, rural life, and portraits of family and patrons, but he was always asked about his years in New York City working as an illustrator, and later as a portrait artist for Time Magazine. I guess New York City seemed more glamorous to people than picturing him sitting in his home studio, quietly painting what he wanted to paint. In this talk given at Holland College on Prince Edward Island, he was asked to speak about those years.

 

 … It was very hard work for me. It had to be good, and I was always very tired when finished, and needed a few days rest as do baseball pitchers – or operatic tenors

Holland College – September 11, 1980

Bernie Safran in park 1950

Bernie Safran c 1950

I’d like to talk to you today about my career in New York. After going to a special high school, the High School of Music and Art where I majored in art, I realized that I wanted to be a professional artist.

I decided to study illustration at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, which was, and is one of the leading art schools in the United States. I picked illustration because I had to be able to earn my living, and illustration would allow me to do it by painting and drawing. Illustrators at that time were held in great esteem, and earned at the top, a lot of money; the business was quite large and there was a good deal of opportunity. It has all changed in the last number of years with the explosive growth of TV, which eliminated many of the markets by absorbing their advertising dollars. The illustration business now bears no resemblance to what it was then.

The course at Pratt had been set up by a graduate of the famous German Bauhaus. This was an experimental art school formed at the end of the first World War when what is now called Modern Art was already reaching its maturity. The Bauhaus and it’s ideas have exercised a tremendous influence on all our lives since.

Vassily_Kandinsky,_1913_Composition STate Hermitage Museum

1913 Composition by Wassily Kandinsky, State Hermitage Museum

It is responsible for a great deal of contemporary architecture through the work of Gropius and Mies Van der Roh; it invented industrial design (so that the design of our cars, toasters and everything else resulted); it created the current use of layout and typography in advertising; revived such crafts as weaving and ceramics; strongly influenced stage design, and also the development of modern painting through Paul Klee and Kandinsky. It was destroyed by Hitler when he came to power. Many of its people came to the United States, others perished.

Bauhaus Eva Zeisel 1929

Bauhaus ceramic design by Eva Zeisel 1929. Eva Zeisel taught at Pratt when my father was a student there.

So at Pratt this legacy was continued, and permeated the school. We had many experimental classes in both 2 and 3 dimensional design, using varieties of materials and methods. In the illustrative course we also studied figure drawing, painting and illustrative design and color. In the final year we were brought into contact through the Society of Illustrators with some of the leading personalities in the field, were able to see their work and discuss it with them. All in all, I think it was a well balanced, and well rounded program, and it was supplemented by the many museums and galleries in New York.

Bernie Safran army tent Burma 1945

Bernie Safran, Burma 1945

Just before I finished, I went into the Army for three years, and served in the US Army Corps of Engineers in China, Burma and India.

At the end of the War, I returned to Pratt for six months. After the Army I found going to school less than exciting, and though I could have continued further study, I decided to try to be a free lance illustrator. This I might add, was the ambition of us all.

How do you start? First I had to have a portfolio of samples of my work. I made some, and used some of the the things that I had done at school. Then I got the yellow pages out of the Manhattan phone book, and began to go see people. There were three main categories of places that bought illustrations; the advertising agencies; the art studios that did most of the work of the agencies; and the publishers of magazines and books. There were literally hundreds in the yellow pages.

Illustration and ink fawn

Fawn, pen and ink sample illustration by Bernie Safran

I was able to make appointments with art directors at some places, others would see me if I came in. Many were a waste of time, as they handled the kind of thing that I didn’t do. It took a long time, and a lot of shoe leather before I found out where to go, and where not to go; and I soon found out that what I thought was finished work was not, and that I didn’t know anything about the business. I didn’t know anything about production which is the mechanical means of producing a magazine page, or ad; or even what constituted a professional sketch or how to present it.

scale for photos

Back in the old days before computers, you had to figure out proportional sizing of photographs and reproductions for print with a scale like this.

So, I tried to get a job as an apprentice in an art studio to learn how things were done. I did get one in an art studio that did sales presentations. It was fairly small with an art director, and five or six people working on mechanicals (which are preparations of pages for reproduction by scaling photos to fit, pasting in type in place and so on). There was one fellow there that did layouts for these pages, and any finished art and lettering that was required. We became friends and he advised me to re-do my portfolio in black and white line and halftone which is cheap to reproduce. He also suggested that I do it in dyes which look like watercolors, reproduce well, and can be worked over and over without losing the look of freshness, as watercolor does. I then left the studio, did another portfolio, and set out again.

Love Starved Woman Bernard Safran

A pulp cover by Safran. He would have hired a model for the main figure of the woman with the cigarette, and then photographed himself and probably his wife (my mother) for the figures at the piano.

I was soon able to enter an illustration studio run by Gail Phillips who was at that time an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post. It was an ideal working set up. I was taken on as all of the people there were, on a free lance basis. The studio provided working space, and all art materials. For any work done for the studio, they received a 50% commission, but you were free to have any accounts of your own without commission. The studio occupied a three story brownstone house on 50th Street and 3rd Avenue, a central location. There was a complete photographic studio with a full time photographer who took pictures for you and processed them. There was even a room full of costumes. That is where I learned to be a professional illustrator. I was able to see work being done of all kinds, and learn the methods. All work of whatever kind, by the way, was done from black and white photographs. To meet deadlines and because of the expense of models this is necessary. If, for example, you are doing an illustration of a boy and girl, you must hire models, and at that time their fee would be about $20 an hour each. Obviously if the job paid $200 dollars as some paper back books did in 1947, you couldn’t hire them for long. So you would pose them, and photograph them and the photos would cost something too. Why is it necessary to hire models? Well an illustrator can’t compete if he doesn’t. Pretty girls had to look like the current types, and the models had the proper clothes, make up and look. You couldn’t fake it, or make it up, and expect to get the work. Also there were conventions on how these things were done. The paper back books at that time interestingly enough had a self-imposed censor. Some of the things that were banned were: that men and women couldn’t be portrayed lying down; if a woman was partially clothed there could be no physical contact between her and a man, and despite the allowance of all kinds of suggestive situations for some reason known only to the censor, bare feet were banned.

Gumshoe illustration fishing in canoe pt2198

The right page of a two page spread for Outdoor Life magazine by Safran, June 1950

I wasn’t earning much at this place, and I went from there to another studio, and then another on similar arrangements. By this time, I had several accounts of my own. I also had some of my work with 2 or 3 agents. Illustration agents would cover specific areas and accounts. Agents were concerned primarily with making money, and they would operate on the idea that they did all right, if they had a large number of artists work, and were just able to produce one or two jobs for each one. I never knew an illustrator that didn’t have to look for work on his own to keep busy, though he may have been represented in one way or another by numerous agents.

I found after a while that I was taking more and more work home with me, and finally decided that I’d get more done if I gave up the coffee breaks, and paper airplane fights, and worked at home. I was married at this time, and my wife worked in the art department of a trade magazine publisher. They published such magazines as Aviation Maintenance, Purchasing, and Liquor Store and Dispenser. she didn’t like her job, contrived to be fired, and began to look for another job.

Adele glamorous 1950

My mother Adele worked as my father’s agent in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

She did a series of spot drawings (which are small pen and ink fillers, used when type does not quite fill the space on a magazine page). I added some of my own to her portfolio, and she set out. On the first day she sold three to Women’s Day for $25 apiece. As a result of this, we got the idea that she would act as my agent. This would allow me to concentrate on my work entirely.

It was necessary for an illustrator to continually change his portfolio by adding new samples. Trends and styles changed fairly quickly. In addition any work done must have accurate research so things are correct. The New York Public Library has a massive clipping collection for this purpose, but I also tried to build up a file of my own for research. My wife went out daily and saw people with my work. I stayed home, did my work, painted samples, and worked on the file. We also had arrangements with various agents from time to time. We slowly became known in the business, and were at the point where we had a number of steady accounts, and I did a great variety of work.

The bulk of my work was for book publishers. I did many paper back book covers, and a lot of book jackets for the major publishers. I also worked in magazines such as Outdoor Life, Boys Life and numerous lesser ones; and did an occasional ad. There were times when there was no work, and it always seemed to arrive in bunches. So there would be a lot at once, and great pressure to meet deadlines. I might add that it was a sudden death business. One job not quite up to snuff, and you lost the account.

Golden Treasury of Bible Stories Bernard Safran

The Bible illustrated by Safran

In one six week period that I remember, I did six paper back book covers, 40 pen drawings for an illustrated Bible, two two color halftone paintings, and a line drawing for the first installment of a Boy’s Life serial, and two book condensations for Outdoor Life consisting of about 8 large pen drawings each; one of which was Farley Mowat’s People of the Deer. As I look back on this sort of thing, I find it hard to believe that I did it. The subject matter was very diverse; the research had to be accurate; there were sketches to be made and then approved, models to be hired and photographed, and the finished work done. My wife did the research, got the sketches approved with the inevitable changes, and hired the models. I did the sketches and the finished work. During a spell like this, I was literally chained to the drawing board.

After a number of years at this, we were going to have a baby, so my wife retired, and I returned to selling my work. I found it very difficult to keep it all going. I was in the middle area of the business, and earning a reasonably good living. I decided after a good deal of thought to take a rest, and think the whole thing over. We had saved some money, and I thought I’d just quit for six months. I stopped working, went to the beach, and read a lot. An interesting thing happened. The work began to come in itself, and I found that by the end of the year that I had lost $200. At that rate, I could continue in this way indefinitely.

Father oil sketch 1956 Bernard Safran

Quick 3 hour oil portrait of Bernie’s father, Harry Safran 1956

I got the idea that perhaps I could be a portrait painter. So I let it be known to whoever I met that I would paint oil portraits for $25 apiece. I had not painted portraits since art school and wanted the practice. I did them from life in three hours, and did 40. I then felt that I could paint portraits.

Through all the 10 years that I had been illustrating, I had experimented with all kinds of painting media, and had not been satisfied. Painting had always been a struggle with the paint itself, and I was looking for something that would allow me freedom from this. I slowly came to the conclusion that I must study more. I read as much of the technical material I could find on the Old Master methods, and tried many formulas without success.

I finally came across a book by Jacques Maroger, “The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Masters”. Maroger had been director of the Louvre’s laboratory, and had spent his life trying to reconstitute the formulas of the masters. Years later I was fortunate in spending a day with him at his home in Baltimore. He was dying of cancer, and had written to me to come if I wanted to see him. When I read his book, it sounded to me like just what I  had been looking for. And so to put it to the test, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to try to copy a Rubens. My idea was to reconstruct the picture. I found that as far as I could see by the striations the brush made, and by the look of the paint, that I had something very similar. I continued doing this, studying the work of Rubens, Velasquez, Rembrandt, and Holbein mostly. This is a time honored way of study, and has been done by almost every artist of note in the history of painting. I found that aside from learning the methods of the painters, the close proximity with the great helped me immeasurably in every way. It improved my taste, improved my drawing and conception of form, and the way that I used color. Of course it is impossible to reproduce these paintings exactly, and I didn’t try. You may just as well attempt to imitate a wild dance.

Safran's study of Ruben's The Holy Family

Safran’s study of Ruben’s The Holy Family, oil on illustration board, 1958

After doing this at every opportunity, and for many months, I noticed that Time Magazine was occasionally using fine artists on their covers. I thought that I would paint a portrait with a non objective background using my newly found knowledge, and take it up there. I chose a fine old photograph of General Grant, and suggested an army behind him.

I was extremely lucky. I had been going to Time which was then at the height of its power and prestige, on and off for years, and had always been told by the art director that they were bought up for 2 or 3 years. This time I was, by accident, connected with the man who was buying covers at that time. He was a senior editor, and temporarily sitting in for the Assistant Managing Editor whose job it was. He was quite busy, but agreed to look at my work if I left it at his office. When I returned a week later, I could see he that he hadn’t. So I asked the secretary who was also temporary if I could just show him one picture, and she said “Sure”. He asked me in and suggested that I leave it with him for a few days. He then called me and asked me to do an unscheduled cover. Needless to say I was elated and worked very hard on the sketches. I had no idea how Time operated then, and was quite amazed when the cover researcher asked whether the man, the Sultan of Morocco, wore the same colored hat as robe. The photos showed it both ways. The editor picked up the phone and said, “Get me Paris,” then said “Send a man over to Rabat, and find out whether the Sultan wears the same colored robe as hat. I got a cable shortly which said that he did.

Sultan of Morocco April 1957

Safran’s first cover portrait for Time Magazine, April 1957

When I delivered the painting I had a few anxious moments as it was taken out of the office and shown to the various editors; but as he came down the hall with it he shouted, “Sold”. I was told by this man that he wouldn’t be doing the job again til summer, and that he might have another for me then. It was months before it appeared, and I wondered if it ever would; but it reproduced well, and they were so happy with it, that they presented it to the Sultan, after first exhibiting it at the US Information Library in Rabat.

I dropped into the office in August eight months later, and the same man gave me my second assignment which was Sukarno. Fortunately he had an excellent head, and the photos for the background were by a great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. I did a number of layouts, and this job was handled by the Assistant Managing Editor. He was very happy with the result. He asked me how quickly I could paint a head, and I said three days. He thereupon gave me a cover to do in three days. When I had delivered it, I was asked, “How often would you like to do them?”, and I said “As often as I can get them.” After that I was one of the regular Time cover artists, and was kept busy.

The Time cover begins at the weekly cover conference presided over by the Assistant Managing Editor. All the senior editors who head the various sections of the book are there along with their researchers, the Art Director and the production man. The cover for the coming week is decided on, but this can be changed at the last moment before the magazine goes to press late on Saturday night. There is a backlog of covers ready, and this is called the bank. Some of these are kept active for some time, but mostly where a prominent personality is concerned, they will have one done that is up to date, because people’s faces change. The covers in the bank are there because of things that may be coming up in the news, such as an economic conference at a specific date, or an election where the candidates are known well in advance. It gives the magazine some versatility as to what covers are readily available. For example, when John Kennedy was elected President, I did a cover of Lyndon Johnson the Vice-President as President. When Kennedy was assassinated, Time was able to put the new President on the cover immediately, to everyone’s great surprise.

At the cover conference, know as the College of Cardinals, each senior editor makes a presentation for future covers for his section. He may give a talk on a personality, say in the field of medicine who he feels will become prominent shortly. This is complete with background analysis, and is followed by a general discussion, and a decision on whether to commission a cover, or wait. Once a decision is taken, the cover researcher will search out all background material in the files. Queries will be sent to the appropriate correspondents for descriptive material on the person; a photographer will be assigned to photograph the subject in color and black and white, for the cover. After this has been assembled and many blow ups in black and white made from the photos, the artist who has been chosen in the cover conference or by the Assistant Managing Editor is called in.

In my case, the Assistant Managing Editor would call. Sometimes he’d tell me who it was, and other times he didn’t. I’d go to his office, and the photos would be laid out, both slides and black and white enlargements. The cover researcher would then bring in the background material which in most cases was dozens of pictures. Then we would have a talk about when the cover would appear, what the occasion was, and the general situation that the person was in at the time. We would then go over the “mug shots” of the person, and in the light of the talk pick one as the key photo. Sometimes there would be a subtler or better expression in one of the color slides than in the black and white, and that would then be made into a black and white enlargement. I generally wanted a series. I got a 4 x5, and 8×10 and an 11×14. This was so that in painting the portrait I could look from one to the other; and I found it easier to see the form that way. Where there was an obscure shadow that hid some detail, the lab would make me a light print, so I could see it… All this was ordinarily done while I was in the office. If not, the prints were delivered to me by messenger as soon as possible.

Unpublished cover portrait by Bernard Safran of the Aga Khan, 1952

Unpublished cover portrait by Bernard Safran of His Highness Aga Khan IV, 1957

When we had settled that, we’d discuss the background. The editor sometimes had suggestions, but most often I had to think up an idea on the spot. My background as an illustrator was invaluable for this since I was accustomed to being met by all manner of unexpected situations. We’d go through the background material, and sometimes it would suggest something. For instance, the editor said of DeGaulle, “The So and So thinks he’s a living monument.” I then said, “Well, how about doing him that way.” I suggested that he be done as a statue of a Roman emperor, and the researcher went off and got lots of pictures of Roman busts. Sometimes after a long discussion, and the elimination of one thing after another, for one reason or another, we’d end up with something that I wasn’t happy with. I’d go home and try to come up with another idea, and if it was a good one, they were very quick to change it. It was a very good working relationship. As they came to trust my judgement, the sketches were eliminated. After we talked about it, I’d simply tell him what I would do, and on one or more occasions the material was just sent out to me, and left to me.

Whenever it was possible, I tried to see the person, because the photographs never give you the right impression. President Eisenhower for example looked very pale in his photographs and on TV. I went to the White House to meet him and was very surprised to find that he had a very ruddy face, and exuded a great deal of what I can only describe as magnetism. I went to have breakfast with Richard Nixon when he ran for President in 1960. The pictures of him, and his TV appearances showed him to be pasty faced with a heavy black beard, shaven though he was. In person, he was entirely different, looking very healthy with a normal shaven look. All of the color pictures of Henry Cabot Lodge showed his hair to be brownish with some gray in it. When I saw him in his office, I said “Why, Mr. Lodge, your hair is entirely gray” and he said, “Well — there’s some gray in it.” These are just some examples. I met many of the people after I had painted them, and wished in most cases that I had seen them before the event.

Painting by Bernard Safran. Buddha, 1964. Oil on Masonite, 61cm x 44.5cm (24" x 17 1/2"). Gift of Time magazine

Time Cover painting by Bernard Safran. Buddha, 1964. Oil on Masonite, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

I painted the covers on an average of ten days to two weeks. It was very hard work for me. It had to be good, and I was always very tired when finished, and needed a few days rest as do baseball pitchers – or operatic tenors.

I decided very early to make myself entirely available to Time, and I turned down all other work. This enabled me to continue to study painting, and there were a lot of things that I had to learn.

In 1962, I, my wife and our two girls went to Europe for two months, and we went to go to museums in France, Italy, and Germany, so that I could look at paintings. I thought that this trip was very valuable to me, and my future.

By 1965 I had been working for Time for almost nine years. They were having discussions about a major change in cover policy, which had been in effect since the magazine had been founded. They did in fact change the policy a couple of years later. I thought then that it was a good time for me to leave, and try to be a painter full time. I was 41 years old and felt it was rather late to start, and that if I didn’t do it, I never would. So my family and I went to Europe again for two months to look at paintings. By the time that we had returned, I had definitely made up my mind to leave Time, and I did. It is a decision I have not regretted, and I have been working on my painting ever since.

self portrait Dec 1960

Bernie Safran self portrait December 1960