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Reu’ven Gayle

I’m basically a self-taught artist; these days also referred to as an “Outside Artist”. I’ve had a lifelong passion to create with my hands even before I knew what art was all about. I learned by doing and observing with an occasional epiphany from other artists in history. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1953, I began drawing as soon as I could pick up a pencil, always encouraged by both my parents who were also very creative. My mother did some oil painting, sewing and knitting, while my father was a draftsman for an aerospace company. He liked doing woodworking projects like custom furniture and lamps as well as hand lettering signs for local events. I watched and learned from it all.

At 7, someone gave me a “Paint-by-Number” kit for my birthday. I hated following the lines, so I flipped over the little canvas panel and did my first oil painting en plein air of evergreens with a bushel of apples in my parents back yard. The more I painted and drew, the more I liked it. I drew everywhere, even in the margins of my school books. I even drew “cartoon tattoos” on my classmate’s arms with ballpoint pens so they could be “cool.” At 13 or 14, I discovered acrylic paints. It dried so much faster than oils and it didn’t smell. I could paint in the afternoon and it would be dry before I got it home. I’d also discovered my first art book about Leonardo DaVinci. Like Leonardo, I drew everything. Influenced by the book, I spent the summer trying to paint like Leonardo, even making some crude copies of a few of his paintings.

Then another life changing moment occurred. At 15, I saw a movie on TV called “The Agony and the Ecstasy” about a sculptor called Michelangelo. In the opening scenes of the movie, you see Michelangelo with hammer and chisel chipping away at huge blocks of white marble figures he’d carved in stone all around him. Something in my head clicked on. I looked around the house and couldn’t find a huge block of white marble. However I did find a little piece of white chalk in my mother’s kitchen blackboard. In place of a hammer and chisel I found a large hat pin in the sewing desk. By the time the movie was over, I had carved my first figure in that stick of chalk. That was way back in 1968. Over that weekend I made 3 more figures each getting better and more detailed than the one before.

The following week, I brought the figures to high school to show the sculpture teacher. He was amazed because he had never seen anything like them. He asked me to come by and see him after school that day. I was surprised when he handed me a heavy hammer and a couple of chisels along with a 30 pound chunk of red sandstone about the size of a head. He told me to take it home and carve something. It was a tough time getting on the school bus with all that. It was all new to me. I sat on my front steps with that rock between my legs and chipped away. I surprised the teacher when I returned in only two days with a rough copy of Michelangelo’s Head of Moses.

While my friends spent their summer days playing baseball or war games, I now spent my time reading about other artists, practicing painting or carving chalk or stone. About

that same time my parents introduced me to one of their friends: an old German woman named Gerta who was an expert at repairing broken pieces of rare china for museums all around the world. She allowed me to work with her a couple of summers between school, teaching me her special techniques for working with porcelain and other ceramics.

In 1972, there was a massive 5 alarm fire in a furniture store in Smithtown near where I lived. I saw the smoke from my apartment window and jumped into my car and headed for the smoke taking many photos and sketching. Over the next few days I created a 4 foot X 4 foot painting of the scene full of billowing black smoke with a dozen firemen holding hoses and on ladders trying to control the blaze. My landlord was a friend of the store owner and told him about the painting. A short while later, the store owner came to my apartment and purchased the painting for almost $2000 which was quite a lot for me in the 70’s.

With cash in hand, I decided to take my first trip abroad. I booked a flight to Israel and signed up on a Kibbutz for six months. After four months of learning Hebrew and finding out that a farmer’s life wasn’t for me, I left the Kibbutz and spent the next couple of months backpacking around the country, drawing landscapes and selling portrait sketches to people everywhere I went. After being home a few years in a mundane job, my feet were getting itchy.

This time I headed to Holland to visit some Dutch friends I made while visiting Israel. While in Holland, I was asked to participate in a street decorating contest. The neighbors set up a large 1-meter x 6-meter panel to paint. The subject was a Dutch farm scene which I sketched out. While my friend Diny and I were painting the mural which included a Dutch farmhouse and barn, the neighbors built a farmyard fence in front like it was coming out of the mural. They then filled it with bales of hay and a few goats and sheep. A few days later while traveling around, I was surprised to see the contest on TV and found out the mural was a winner.

Once home again, and looking for work, I spotted a “want ad” for “Someone that likes to work with plaster.” I tucked one of my chalk figures in my pocket and went for the interview. It was an orthopedic company looking for a new technician to take casts of patients’ feet, arms and legs and manufacture plastic braces and prosthetics for them. Even though I had no experience, when the manager saw my miniature carving, he knew I had the skills. I was hired on the spot. It turned out to be the perfect job for me. It lasted for 40 years. By using my natural creative skills, I was able to help hundreds of people to live a more normal life.

It was sheer coincidence and nothing to do with my job that in the late 1980’s I met a woman named Patricia who was in a wheelchair from birth. She was a talented poet. We fell in love and spent the next 25 years together. We bought a house together on Long Island with an extra bedroom which I used as a studio for a short time. Between working during the day and going home to take care of Patricia in the evening, I still had time to continue. I had a 20 X 40 garage built in the yard behind the house for my new studio with an intercom between the buildings so I was just a button away in case Patricia needed me.

In November, 2011, Patricia was diagnosed with late stage bone cancer. She was admitted to the Palliative Care Wing at Peconic Bay Medical Center. Suddenly after 25 years of caring for Patricia there was nothing I could do but watch over the next 3 months as she withered away. During this time we met Denise D’Ambrosia, the head of Palliative Care. She did her best to alleviate as much of Patricia’s suffering as possible. Afterwards, I was inspired by Denise’s unwavering compassion and friendship towards Patricia and myself to create a portrait as my thanks. Sometime later Denise showed the portrait to Emilie Roy Corey whom I later learned was involved with the hospital’s Foundation. Emilie’s reaction to my work was very positive and she offered to help me promote it. When the Foundation moved into the Entenmann Building, she suggested a show of the work in the lobby where my works is currently on display.

 

GroovyReuvey@gmail.com

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