Piano Bar, Syracuse
More info about this painting is available on my webpage "Portraits and Figures, as seen on my site map to the far left.
I also posted my newest portrait there from the Independent Painters session today.
When I was probably in my sophomore year in college, I went to spend a weekend in Syracuse NY with a close friend, Joyce Freeman. She had arranged dates for us for the weekend with two fellows she was friends with. One of the evenings we ended up at this bar,a neighborhood bar, rather than a college hangout. I'd been to the college bars in the town where my own college was, from post highschool and on. My parents were always vehemently opposed to my time spent there with friends, and I assume they didn't get it that it was just a place to hangout and socialize, and thought the worst of the bar scenario. But this Syracuse adventure was different! Real people from the city spent time there imbibing alcoholic drinks. We did that in the college bars, too, but this was a slice of real life. As I recall, the two guys we were with eventually danced with two older women seated at the bar. Characters! Do I mean the guys we were with or the women at the bar? I was astounded by the heavy one with her rear hanging off the barstool on both sides. I think the other one wore a pillbox hat with a veil. I retained an image of a young fellow tending bar, reflected in a coppery mirror, and a supersized bald pianist. I don't recall dancing with our dates at all, ourselves. I would now say they were most likely gay, and we were helping to protect their "upstanding" image by dating them. Didn't know about that then. It was a different period of time than today.
When I was encouraged in painting class to select my own subject, I did some pencil sketches and then moved on to stretching this large canvas and beginning to paint. The painting was about "that evening" and encompassed the characters I had experienced there, seeming rather like a novel I might have read. Of course, although the piece seemed profound, and my instructors in the department heaped praise upon me as a wonderful colorist, and really were not instrumental in the way I painted this at all, I suspect my parents were astounded by my choice of subject and wondered how I had arrived at the kind of insight about life that it proposed. The Secret Life of Karen Halpern.
One of the things the painting reminds me about is about the raw quality that is sometimes evident in early unschooled artwork. Not at all polished, it was able to covey the immediacy of the event or similar scenarios in many places that still prevail today. And the characters? They still exist, only with different names on different streetcorners.