Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Uncle Nick’s World -- Happy Holidays

My wife's uncle, Nicholas Herrnkind, was a remarkable man. He never graduated from high school, yet he grew to head the pay roll department of a major American corporation in New York City. On the way, he struggled through the great depression, unemployment and the loss of a young child. Throughout his entire life Uncle Nick drew and painted in whatever spare time he had. As a financial watch dog, Nick was a man of precision. He was equally exact with his art. His style was photo-realistic. In the era of Abstract Expressionism centered in the New York City area, Nick's work was out of sync. His sketches and paintings, mostly rustic landscapes, remained housed and much loved by Nick's friends and family. He died in December, 1970.

In 2010, my wife's sister Diane was downsizing for a move. In the process, she uncovered a bunch of Uncle Nick's old unused canvases. In the pile, there was an unfinished painting of an old farm house and barn, a winter scene. Nobody knows when he started the work, or why he never completed it. Diane gave me the canvases, including the unfinished piece, for me to use. At first, I just planned to paint over his incipient oil painting -- but I couldn't. Something in the detail and feeling in those two buildings demanded preservation.

I decided to attempt to frame Uncle Nick's precise images within one of my stylized and rustic relief paintings, using modeling paste and tarnished metals. I started by repairing a gash in the background sky. Nick had started to sketch in a tree to the left of the barn, so I developed my component of the painting there. On the right side of the farm house, the canvas had been damaged. I covered that space with an additional tree. In the fore ground, Nick had penciled in some details. I didn't attempt to develop them. Rather, I just piled up snow and ice to further strand the little farm in winter's grasp -- focusing the eye on my glimpse into Uncle Nick's world.