I want to apologize to Nicolas Carone. You see, I had never heard of him until his obituary appeared in today's New York Times. He was 93 years old. He rated a big picture in the obituary section, in front of a painting dating from 2007, along with a substantial--and respectful--text. Identified as an Abstract Expressionist, he had a one-person show at the Lohin Geduld Gallery in New York in 2005. It was his first solo show in a New York Gallery since 1962.
(Image: New York Times, Washburn Gallery)
This is what happens so often. An artist sets out on a promising career and finds himself in excellent company. Carone was friends with de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner during the 1950s. He studied with Hans Hoffman. He showed at respectable New York Galleries, at the Venice Bienale. His work was collected by the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, the Whitney. And then Abstract Expressionism went out of style. Pop art came along. Minimalism. Conceptualism, for God's sake. Painting itself went out of style. A handful of the better known AE artists survived, but many of them were sidelined. The art world--since the start of the 20th century, at least--demands the new, demeans what went before.
It's not about art. It's not about the quality of the work. If you check him out online, Carone was perhaps not amongst the strongest of the AE painters, but also not a a negligible one. A man, then, who devoted his life to a powerful passion and a dedication to his vision. Was he ever discouraged by the neglect of the big time art world? I'd like to bet he was. Did he quit? Never. The Times obit suggests that the last two decades of his life produced his strongest work. How wonderful. But not surprising, if you believe, as I do, that talent matures with age, so long as you stick to it.
It's sad to think, on the one hand, of the many thousands of fine painters, poets, musicians--creative people of all kinds--who have never come to my attention. Carone is only one of them. And yet... is it not inspiring, too? If this one man can "persist" until the age of 93 without any of the customary rewards, then so can all the rest of us who have not achieved wealth or fame. It's about the mission, not the recompense; about the process, not the reception of the product. Still, it's important in my view to persist on that other front, too. As I often need to remind myself, the act of creation is an effort to communicate. I don't "do it for myself." No matter how many disappointments or setbacks, I need to take responsibility for my work and do what I can to bring it to the attention of those who might find in it some piece of their own humanity, and say, Yes!
So, along with my apologies for never having known his name, I salute Nicolas Carone for a life lived in the sometimes joyful, often painful struggle with art. May his work continue to find those who look at it with pleasure and who take away from it some further understanding of what art and life are all about.