My First 40 Years
Tom 1985 charcoal on paper 24x12” $1000
Long before grad school, in 1981, I attended a conference on Christianity and the fine arts at Park Street Church. I noticed a lovely, old-looking, beautifully painted portrait of a person on the wall and wondered why no one could paint like that anymore. As I looked around the room, I discovered the person in the portrait sitting a couple rows behind me! I approached him, (It was Dr. Joe Viola, who ended up becoming my primary care physician for the next 20 years.), and he pointed out the person who had done the portrait. That was the painter Paul Ingbretson, and when I approached him and asked him if he could teach me to paint a portrait like that, he told me it would take some years to master the skills needed to do what he’d done there. I was interested. What he proposed was expensive, so I tried to paint a portrait (of myself) that accurately for a couple months. I failed.
After a year of trying, I made a deal with Paul to receive teaching at my studio and then go play basketball with him for a lower fee. He taught me how to do sight-size drawings (a classical training technique), keep a drawing fresh after countless hours of work, and ultimately how to draw really well.
1985-7 was a time of much learning from two very disparate sources of artistic knowledge - two Pauls: Paul Rahilly (and George Nick) at Mass Art and Paul Ingbretson at Fenway Studios, a glorious 1905 northern light studio building inhabited by many classically trained artists. Paul Ingbretson had me doing figure drawings like this one of Tom Chesley, and Paul Rahilly had me doing palette knife painting. People at Fenway Studios maintained that modern art was sloppy, foolish, and devoid of skill; and people from Mass Art maintained that the training I was taking was out of date, misguided, and devoid of creativity. Nevertheless, when I put this drawing up in my studio at Mass Art, I noticed students coming in to look at it. My prayer was that somehow I could make these two philosophically antagonistic approaches towards making art coalesce.