Daytrip, Part 4 (and End): The Art of Two Joes
The last stop of my daytrip to Monmouth County was to my former neighbor, Joe Zagorski, in the River Plaza section of Middletown Township west of and near-in to Red Bank. His wife, Fran, who worked years ago for my brother Alan when he was running a consulting business in industrial psychology, was still at the office for her present job, with a real-estate appraisal firm. Joe, however, was home because he is on Social Security Disability because of neuropathy in his legs due to Guillain-Barré syndrome. He had worked in a local hospital and as a chauffeur for a limo service until trouble with his legs made that impossible.
Their living room has a whole wall of drawings and paintings of varying degrees of sophistication but all apparently what might be termed "American primitive" or "self-taught". Self-taught art has a very long tradition, indeed much longer, of course, than that of formal art education. Some of it is extremely well done. Just think of the Lascaux cave paintings of 16,000 years ago. I asked Joe who did the works on his wall, and he said that many were done by his departed mother's late brother, Joseph Apanasewicz, who lived for many years in Astoria, Queens. Some were portraits, but others were of Midtown Manhattan scenes.
We chatted a bit about what various members of his family were up to. His brother Bill was a year behind me at Middletown Township High School; Joe himself, five years. Curiously, Bill and his wife live only two or three doors from where my family had lived in Leonardo before we moved to River Plaza. So we have Zagorskis within doors of both our former houses, seven miles apart. Bill now works as a host and producer for WWFM Radio, a classical-music station out of Mercer County Community College in Trenton. When we were in high school, he was mad about the violin, and had it under his chin for hours a day. He no longer plays the violin, except perhaps other people's violin performances on the radio. Odd, no?
Decades ago I saw some drawings Joe had done that seemed to me reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh (Vincent van Joe?). So I asked if he was still drawing (not a silly question, given his brother's loss of interest in the violin). He said yes, and he has a couple of looseleaf notebooks with drawings from across the years, which I asked to see. We moved to the kitchen table and I spread the notebooks there. Some drawings by his uncle were also in the notebooks (and there were more paintings on the kitchen wall). One of his uncle's drawings was the plan below for a later drawing or painting, with notes about the colors he wanted to use. I had never seen that kind of planning before. A "cartoon" (full-scale drawing) of a mural, yes. And I know that some painters draw, onto the canvas or board, a rough outline of what they intend to paint. But I hadn't seen a separate drawing with notations like that. Perhaps it's very common. What do I know? I don't draw or paint.
I looked at many of the newer drawings but was more intrigued by the earlier drawings. Joe did line drawings that he fotocopied and then filled in with colors in different moods, often with hiliter, sometimes with paint.
When he was driving a limo, he often had to wait for people to come out of their house or an airplane, or perhaps a theater or dinner event. So he carried a sketch pad and whiled away his time making drawings that captured his perception of the essence of the place. Then he might fotocopy the pencil line drawings and try different color combinations at his leisure, that suited his mood.
Some of those drawings were made as he waited in various places in Newark. When I was working in One Gateway Center several years ago, I went out for lunch across the street at Penn Station, and as I was returning to work, whom should I see but Joe in his chauffeur's uniform and cap standing outside his limo! He was no stranger to Newark when he was driving a limousine, all the way in or back to Monmouth County.
I found it odd that I had to go to Middletown to see drawings of places in Newark, which are in very short supply in Newark arts. As the Apanasewicz drawing above should remind, Manhattan and other parts of NYC are endlessly used as the subject of drawings, paintings, fotografs and the like, and have been for hundreds of years. Newark? (To borrow from former New Jerseyan Jon Stewart:) Not so much.
The drawings were inside plastic sleeves, so I had to take the fotos from an oblique angle to avoid reflections except in a couple of cases, when I asked Joe to take the drawings out of the sleeve. I later learned how to correct the distortion of perspective in my graffics program. Here, for instance, is the original shape of one of the pictures (of the Haynes Avenue overpass near the Airport) taken from a very oblique angle, as the camera saw things.
Here's the version as altered by Jasc Paint Shop Pro's "Perspective Correction Tool", before cropping. Note that everything else in the foto is distorted in order to undistort the central object I first outlined and then asked the program to make rectanglar.
And here is the cropped image of just what I wanted. Magic.
Joe doesn't have a great many drawings or paintings of Newark, but he has more than I see in the typical art show in Newark. He naturally also drew things in his area. This next foto shows the bare and filled-in versions of a view of the dammed end of Shadow Lake, which our old house backed onto.
Below, same drawing, subtly different color scheme. The green curved area is a grass-covered rise to the squared-off, dammed end of the lake (left).
Here is a view, from that end, of the lake itself, which is pretty deep for a body of water little more than a mile long. It's stocked with fish by the State.
And here's the last of the Newark drawings I fotograffed, a blank outline of a view (I think) from the Ramada, showing a sign for "Newark International Airport" partly blocked by a lite stanchion.
Joe has the beginnings of a very imaginative, artistic, Newark coloring book. Perhaps he has other drawings of Newark sights in his more restrained, recent style. (I didn't look thru all his drawings, because I had been out and about for hours at that point and faced an hour's drive home.) I can think of some other artists who could collaborate on creating such a coloring book for kids in the Greater Newark area. And with some of Joe's drawings, it doesn't matter if the kids stay within the lines.