Thursday, December 22, 2016

Happy Christmas

Christmas Eve, 1965

4:58 PM

“Merry Christmas, Happy Harris! Merry Christmas, Mrs. Mongoose!”

Dozens of six-year-old faces, augmented by fuzzy brown ears and painted whiskers, smiled up at the little stage, appearing oblivious to the cameras and lights, just they always did, five days a week, week in, week out…

“And Merry Christmas to you, my Happy Hamsters, and all the kids in New York City,” answered a male falsetto voice from inside a fuzzy brown costume that did look something like an animal.

Standing next to this apparition, a compact man in green plaid suit and black derby hat wore a grin that a Great White would envy.

“And children, don’t forget…”

The tots bleated in unison, “Every day is a Happy day when you greet it with a smile!”

5:15 PM

Hank hung his green suit on the door and set the derby down on the dressing table for the wardrobe lady. In his newsboy cap and black overcoat, he slipped past the clutch of kids waiting to be photographed with the mongoose, and out the back door into the alley.

He saw a boy at the street end of the alley stoop and pick up a coin. Approaching, Hank saw him add it to several in his palm and count. A slight child of 11 or 12, he stood remarkably straight, given the bulky bag slung across his shoulder.

Can’t get away from these kids anywhere, thought Hank. No peace even on Christmas Eve. He sighed. He had always loved Christmas as a child, the lights, the singing, the merry mood, all had infected his soul from an early age. And when he went to the theatre for the first time, he felt just like it was Christmas all over again.

Probably why I chose a life on the stage, he thought. Some stage now, soundstage full of squealing little hamsters, thousands more transfixed in Television Land. He shuddered.

But Hank couldn’t help wondering what the boy was doing there. He started to say something, then thought the better of it. He had enough of kids on the job. He was almost past him …

“Hey mister,” said the boy, “You got the time?”

“Almost twenty after five.” Hank started to walk on, then turned to ask, “You run away from home?”

“Home? Oh, the bag? No, I just…wait, aren’t you Henry Harris? I saw you on Broadway!”

“Not likely. Maybe your parents.”

“Parents? No, I remember, you’re a big star, musicals.”

“Merry Christmas, kid,” said Hank, and started east at a brisk trot. The boy followed, jogging to keep pace.

”Wait up. Walk me to Macy’s?”

“What, you need to shop? Didn’t look like you had much cash, kid. Hey, what’s your name, anyway?”

“Mickey. Money, gee, I don’t think much about that…”

“Lucky you.”

6:30 PM

The store was packed with panicky procrastinators.

“Listen Mickey, we’ve been here an hour and you still don’t know what you want.”

“I don’t see it. Oh, and I guess I can tell you. It’s not Mickey, it’s Ricky.”

“Nice to meet you again,” said Hank. They were riding up on the rickety wooden escalator. “What the heck are you looking for?”

Stepping off the escalator, Ricky pointed to a sign that said “North Pole, 3 levels up”.

“Let’s go there!”

6:50 PM

“C’mon Mr. Harris. Ask Santa for what you want.”

“Kid, you’re old enough to know that the guy in the suit is hired by the store to increase sales. The only present I’m going to get from Macy’s is my ex-wife’s bill. And call me Hank.”

“Do you believe in anything, Hank?”

“Not in Santa Claus.”

A little boy waiting to meet Santa bawled.

“Too bad,” said Ricky.

The crying child was minded by his big sister, who snapped, “I’m bored, and it’s not my fault Santa’s a fake!”

Her little brother really wailed then.

Ricky shrugged, “Gee, I’m sure glad it’s Christmas Eve and everybody’s so happy.”

Hank winced. “No my favorite word. Excuse me a second, I can’t stand this kid screaming blue murder.”

Approaching the little boy, Hank removed his cap, sat on the floor, and grinned. “Hey little hamster, what’s your name?”

“Jeff,” he replied, wiping his tears.”

“Hey Jeff, how would you like to come to the studio next week?”

“Really? Wow!”

His sister made a face. “That corny show.”

“You’re corny too, sister,” Hank told her, “You just don’t know it yet. So Jeff, what is Santa getting you?”

Jeff whispered, “I don’t really believe in that, I just pretend cause it bothers Lisa.”

“Little fellow, you should be glad you have a big sister to look out for you.”

“Oh dear, is something the matter? I just went to use the pay phone.”

Hank suddenly found himself staring up into the most remarkably deep green eyes he had ever seen.

Lisa piped in, “Mommy, Jeffy’s being a brat again.”

“Am not. And I’m going to be on Happy’s show!”

“Happy? You’re Happy Harris! Lisa used to be crazy for you.”


“Thanks. No trouble, really.” He reached into his jacket pocket. “Here’s my card, your husband can call me next week and…”

“My daddy died in Vietnam,” Jeff said.

Lisa looked down. “We don’t say that to people.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Hank.

“We’re doing fine, and thank you so much,” replied their mother with an almost believable smile. “I will call. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas.”


Ricky stood nearby. He held a red thermos in his hand. “This is what I want.”

“That? Why?”

“For coffee. I can’t to eat my cookies with milk. Sometimes a guy just wants a hot cup of Joe. Only…”


“It costs three dollars and I only have 63 cents.”

Hank reached into his pocket and came up with a five.

“Here you go. Hey, want a hot dog or something?”

“Gotta fly. I’ll pay you back though. And listen, when that lady calls next week, her name’s Miriam by the way, make sure you’re real nice to her on the phone. And when she brings Jeff to the studio, buy her a cup of tea and sit a while. She’s a great lady, she thinks you’re handsome, and she’s writing a play that could be a really big hit if she meets the right people.

“Get outta here!”

“In a minute. Lisa is going to go to law school, Jeff wants to sing and dance, just like his…just like you, Hank.”

“Poor kid. Why should I believe you, Ricky?”

“Uh, it’s not Ricky.”

“You see…Dicky?”


“Don’t tell me it's Vicky.”

The boy chuckled. “You’re funny, this should work. Nicky, my name is Nicky. And I’m good for that five. Hey look!”

Hank turned in the direction Nick was pointing. Elves gave candy to children in line.

Behind him, Nicky called out, “Merry Christmas.”

Hank turned, but his young friend was nowhere to be seen.

11:30 PM

Hank washed down an Oreo with the last of his hot milk. The Yule log burned on TV in front of him, while a chorus sang, “You better watch out…” He felt himself nodding and closing the box of cookies on the coffee table, went to bed.

7:46 AM, Christmas Day

Hank prepared coffee in the kitchen. He looked for the cookies. Must have left them out, he thought.

Entering the living room, he reached for the box. Empty.

“Hey,” he said aloud, certain he had not eaten them all. He lifted the box and shook.

Out fell a five-dollar bill.

Copyright 2003 by Linda Di Gusta All Rights Reserved, originally published by Carrie Berry in Gator Springs Gazette and the anthology, Quilted.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Gift Of Flight

When I was a little guy, going on my first Christmas, my dad lifted me high over his head on the escalator down to the main floor at Macy’s. I wasn’t scared for a minute. I smiled and watched the world float by, around and beneath me. I thought I was flying.

And my father laughed, the way he always did, like a rushing stream that would never stop. The way he laughed when we asked him if he was scared of the big fire we saw on the news, the night Mom let us wait up for him. The way he would laugh now, if he saw this lopsided excuse for a Christmas tree in his living room.

Of course, I don’t remember that evening twenty-six years ago. I never even knew about it until tonight, when I came home to help my mother trim our tree for the first time without him. It’s the first story she’s told me about Dad since, well, since September 11th.

We all have our ways of grieving. My sister Kelly writes about him in her journal, and her fourth-graders make a big card for a different firehouse or precinct every week. I visit the empty painful spot in the middle of me several times a day, because I have to go through that to find him and feel safe in the world again. Mom, the extrovert, is quiet now. Her voice will return only when the rage has gone, when she can bear to see him smile at her words again, not before.

I rub my shoulder. This long Saturday, with two performances of “The Nutcracker,” plus schlepping that six-foot spruce through the chilly night and pulling all the boxes down from the attic, finally takes its toll.

There’s Advil in the kitchen, Steve,” Mom says, then adds with a wink, “And beer to wash it down.”

Mom always knew her men.

Coming back into the living room with two bottles, I see that she’s got the lights plugged in and twinkling. And, as always, our favorite childhood toys sit on the white felt skirt about the base of the tree. All but one.

Christmas 1982. The smallest boy in my class, I had proudly announced to everyone that when I grew up, I was going to be a fireman, just like my dad. For once my father had not laughed. On Christmas Eve, he solemnly presented me with a big, shiny red toy fire truck with real lights, bells, and even a siren. I saluted him. When he lifted me in a huge bear hug, I saw tears in his eyes.

I saw the same tears when he shook my hand on the day I received my BFA in Dance from Juilliard. Dad had always been my real-life hero. The look on his face that afternoon told me I was his, as well. It was his greatest gift of all to me, though they had been grand and many over the years.

My mother pretends she is finished and starts to clean up. I remove the yellowed tissue paper from my fire engine, lift it from the box, and place it front and center beneath the tree. Mom looks at it and starts to cry, for the first time since they found his body. I hold her tight.

I close my eyes, and stand again on the stage at City Center, awash in brilliant light. With a grand leap I sail across this incandescent firmament, offering a silent prayer to the angel who is my Dad.

I’m still flying.”

Image (c) the author

© 2002 by Linda DiGusta, All Rights Reserved. Originally published online in Gator Springs Gazette and in print in Christmas anthology, "Quilted."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Parable of the Wave and Rock

The Ocean kissed the beach as it always had thanks to the Tides, who kept their regular schedule in and out to smooth the sands and nurture the little sea creatures because.

One day part of a cliff that had been still forever fell, sending down a giant boulder to the sea edge and many small rocks behind it, covering the beach.

Keyhole Rock (c) courtesy Jacqueline Sferra Rada
The Tides said, bad things happen, we will keep doing what we always do and that will set things right. But a Wave refused, saying “No, I must get rid of the rock that brought this down on us.” And it began to break against the boulder.

The Tides continued to flow around the rock without constraint or complaint while the Wave, over and over again, smashed into the boulder and shattered into a spray that landed in the ocean again like rain, leaving the rock unmoved and undamaged.

“Why not join us?” said the Tides. “Most of the small rocks have already been swept to sea to join the sand. The rest, no matter how large, will soon follow...”

“Because I am doing something about the rock,” replied the Wave. “You are just being you. You don’t care.”

The Tides made no reply and kept about their business as always. Soon their ebb and flow shifted the stones beneath the boulder, it toppled and was buried in the shifting sands and forgotten by the sea creatures.

The Tides keep flowing in and out because that is they way they keep safe that which they love.

The Wave went to find another rock...

Anonymous. Translated from the Florinese by Linda DiGusta 2016 (c) All Rights Reserved

dedicated to all the lifelong peaceful activists for the greater good who will walk the walk and talk the talk as long as we have breath...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fedele Spadafora's Creative Geography

“By blending tradition and modernity, abstract and figurative, I hope to tell the tale of two unique places that have long been considered crossroads of civilization.”
--Fedele Spadafora


What is place?  Is it where we are on a GPS? Is it a location in space-time of which we can barely grasp the nature, or simply what we see around us at the moment?

For each of us, where we are is a spot on a unique continuum. The time line of an individual life travels through each location, and the nature of the place and its position on that line is only perceived, understood, and given character in relation to the rest of the line, by the person engaged in contemplating being there.
In a recent series of paintings, New York artist Fedele Spadafora, already known for intimate portrayals of the inner life of the City, explores and evokes his captured impressions of two faraway places that spurred his interest and imagination.

“In these new paintings I am exploring memory and impressions set in the post-revolutionary societies of Tunisia (2010) and the Czech Republic (1989), where I observed these monumental moments in world history firsthand,” says Spadafora, who lived in Prague for 6 years and now spends time in Tunisia, the homeland of his wife, photographer Aida Ben Hamouda. “Drawing upon these experiences, coupled with imagination, I'm filling my canvases with vivid colors and designs that evoke references to the transformative works of Paul Klee in Tunisia, along with heavier and darker atmospheres calling to mind the graphic works of Bruno Schultz. “

Spadafora approached these works in various ways – some were plein air paintings, others studio paintings created from field studies, photographs and/or memory. The common palette, subtle yet distinctive, is a visual through line clearly stating that these works belong together in a world that is very real, yet not like any we have ever seen. But that is not the first characteristic that strikes the viewer and impels us to find coherence in the group. There is a sense, upon entering the space with these paintings, that you have entered a story because, in fact, you have. 

 The Bridge

Seeing in the artist’s studio that these works pulled together visions from across his travels in space-time to bring you to an impossible landscape, I recalled a term from my early studies in film – creative geography. It refers to the practice of editing together footage from more than one location in such a way that they appear to be contiguous, thus making real for the audience a location that only exists in the film. 

In this case, the geography being depicted is real and whole in the mind of the artist. Through his gifts and efforts we are able to actually see and respond to his unique vision of these pivotal places in his life. As the auteur of this body of work, Spadafora composed a visual intertextuality that incorporates these locations into one world. We are invited to leap into this world, to experience his singular memory.

The smaller work serving as the point of entry to this intention, “The Bridge, ” is an abstracted representation of the Charles Bridge in Prague designated by the artist to fill just that need: “In this piece I wanted to show the mark making impulse that I started in the larger pieces in a reduced and simple form. The concept of the bridge is important to me. There are things that need to be connected,” he explains. “The bridge is a kind of self portrait as I, the artist, am what connects these works … they are my experiences. I have had a foot in both civilizations.”

 Phase IV

While bringing together a group of paintings into one seamless, transparent visual narrative, Spadafora stepped slightly out of frame to punctuate the series with 2 small canvases that, while readable as part of the whole also underline and acknowledge the connection between how this series works and filmic paradigms by depicting images from films of the speculative fiction genre – “Phase IV,” from the eponymous 1974 sci-fi film, and “Tusken Raider” from the Star Wars canon of George Lucas. Despite being twice removed from what we call “real” (by virtue of being set in the invented reality of movies, plus, in this case, realities that are unlike our own), they are as concrete and believable as the other works, and perhaps even more so – emphasizing the power of art to suspend disbelief, heighten experience and transform perception.

Falling Star in Djerba Sky (study)

An artist can  transform even his own perception during the exploration of subject.
Another small piece, “Falling Star in Djerba Sky,” was originally imagined as “as an apocalyptic event bringing mass destruction.” In contemplation of Tunisia and the events of the Arab Spring (he depicts a pivotal tragic act, the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor in protest of his brutal treatment by the government, in another canvas), Spadafora came to see it as more of an event that alters the consciousness of the people. “In Muslim tradition, it is said that demons can be found listening at the gates of heaven where they hope to acquire fragments of knowledge of things that are to happen in the future. This knowledge can be used against humanity,” he said. “When seen by angels, these demons are pelted by shooting stars to drive them away.”

Linda DiGusta
New York City, March, 2013

Fedele Spadafora
New Paintings

Slag Contemporary, Bushwick
56 Bogart Street
March 22-April 20, 2013
Opening reception: March 22, 6-9 p.m.

Falling Star in Djerba Sky (triptych)

all images courtesy and (c) Fedele Spadafora, all rights reserved

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mixed Messages

So much importance in the media and gallery settings is placed upon what an artist says about the meaning of their own creations and/or how the anointed writer understands and contextualizes the art -- intelligible mainly to the equally anointed reader. Is this is visual art for the viewer to experience according to his or her own context, or is there only one way to “see” the art?

In June, it will be 3 years since the studio I share with life and work partner Mark Wiener moved to Chelsea, and with that tenure (and alas the life of the 551 Arts “Castle”) slated to end later this year, I am trying to make the most of the here and now, especially my time with the 1 – 100 people who flow in and out of our open door daily. From them, I have learned more about my art, and why I make it, than I have learned about any other artist in decades of reading wall text and criticism.

The predominate subject of my line-based works on paper is definitely a conversation starter, visitors to my studio find themselves face-to-face with pears – walls of pears, tables of pears, books of pears, as well as a few models arranged under a light. The mixed messages here are pear as figure, pear as model, pear as food. 

Most often people ask why, and if I knew the whole answer myself I would probably not still be doing it (All the more reason my attempt to state “why” for an audience would be clear as mud) so everyone who asks teaches me more. I do know that I  “saw something” in some local Greenmarket Potomac Pears (grown by Samascott Orchards BTW), and photography did not capture my vision, so I started to draw, capturing something, but what that is exactly is and perhaps should be out of my verbal range. If it were expressible in words alone I would not have been exploring it visually since the 2006 harvest (“How long” is the usual follow-up question).

Do I eat the pears? Sometimes, but since gallerist Matther Foster asked my how I could eat the fruit after drawing it like that, much less. Up to that point I had not given it  a thought. Do I draw apples? Rarely, the smooth surface tends to make them look alike. Peaches work. In the 2010 growing season, when local peaches were plentiful , I acquired them by the bagful from the farmers and filled several “Peachbooks” with portraits, small groupings, and even piles of peaches. When summer 2011 began I realized I was totally  “peached out.” But anything, especially from the farm, that catches my eye can wind up on a page or two.

The fact that people have life experience with pears is a bridge between art and life supporting a flow of ideas between the two… All pears are sexy and look like nudes, pears grew in their back yard, the last pear they ate was red…  Recipes abound  -- as I write this I just received a canning recipe for spiced pears -- oh dear, if my models had ears I would have to cover them! Only once did someone try pick up one of my models for a snack. (I gave them a substitute pear but I think they were still put out!) The logic inside my studio is just different from how the world sees pears,  but most people seem to get it. Another artist once caught Mark hungrily (fresh food is tough to find west of 10th Avenue) washing a pear in the slop sink and would not allow him to eat it until Mark explained that he had called me for permission.

Still, even I find it a little weird when I catch myself chatting with the pears as I pose them, let alone looking and saying, “Look at you!” or “Aren’t you cute?” I hope the sentiment comes through my art, and when a collector started saying similar things when leafing through a book, it made me very, very happy. Another collector looking at peaches told me who he related to each piece in terms of how he saw the subjects as characters relating to one another. Two special moments that would never have happened if I had been explaining my content.

Hopefully my flexibility encourages suggestions too – visitors have recommended that I explore sculpture, fashion, accessories, tiles etc. One such prompt led to exploration of printmaking and an ongoing series of unique block prints. If you have every been to the studio and recommended that I  try something out, know that your idea was taken to heart and has influenced the work you see today.

Please join us Thursday, July 26th for one of the last chances to visit the pears as well as all the artists in our storied studio building,  551 West 21st Street, nicknamed  “Cold Castle,” which will be departing this timeline forever come autumn.  Chelsea Art Walk, 5 - 8 PM 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Day one...

A step ahead of most you, dear readers, The Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory has it's public opening tomorrow (tonight's preview gala benefits Henry Street Settlement and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the ADAA). What I saw was a temporally and stylistically eclectic array of works via many of the world's top dealers, some booths naturally in a marketplace vein but also several monographic installations.

Standouts among the latter were Metro Pictures' presentation of Cindy Sherman's virtuosic "Murder Mystery" series (1976), Rudy Burckhardt at Tibor de Nagy, and L&M's striking installation of John Baldessari.

A few museum-worthy collections were of note. Mary-Anne Martin showcased a strong and intriguing group of 20th Century Latin American artists, including works by surrealist Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo , and Diego Rivera. Washburn Gallery celebrated Jackson Pollock's centenary with some unusual and captivating pieces, as well selection by several artists created 50 years ago. Galerie St. Etienne brought nearly 60 pieces to the fair, mainly showcasing their focus on Expressionism - numerous selections by Egon Schiele and Otto Dix were especially impressive.

Finally, if you enjoy as I do some flash and drama at a big New York art fair, James Cohan Gallery, as usual, does not disappoint. To say much more would be a spoiler, but please do give my regards to the gentleman at the front desk...

Note... Mark will be first on scene at tomorrow's Armory Show preview, and we'll be at Scope for the evening's First View. We will stream the highlights for Resolve40's Listings Live, to get them please subscribe to our Twitter on the home page at - ld