Tuesday, March 15, 2011

St Jerome: Story of a Painting

     One of the more interesting people I met while living in Philadelphia was Tom Kohlman. A graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he was working as a security guard at the Academy auxiliary classroom building at 1301 Cherry Street, just a block from the main building at Broad and Cherry. Tom was very serious about his painting, and was also a devout Catholic. He was close with Al Gury, a painting teacher at the Academy (and at several other schools in town), who was also a devout Catholic, and who often painted religious themes. (For more on Al, see my first blog entry, "Synchronicity.") 

     Tom asked if I would pose privately for him one day, and I agreed. The first project he wanted to try was the beheading of John the Baptist, and I posed for that a session or two at his apartment. I don't think he finished that one. Later he contacted me about another project, a painting of St Jerome's vision of an angel. For the angel, he chose a young African American boy in his parish; we posed separately, never together, and I never met the other model. 

     Tom got permission to set up a studio in St Patrick's Catholic School, not far from Rittenhouse Square, at the time closed and undergoing renovation. This took place in the summer of 1995, during an incredible heat wave. I will never forget one August evening when the temperature out on the street was over 110 degrees at 7 in the evening, when we finished work for the day. 

     The pose was not an easy one for me. As you can see from the "pose" photo, I was kneeling, with one arm on a desk and the other on the back of a chair. For support, I had a concrete block topped with a bit of foam padding for my right buttock. 

     Tom spent a total of 40 hours, as I recall it, working on the painting with me posing. In lieu of cash, I posed a good many of those sessions in exchange for another painting of his, an impressionistic depiction of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. 

     I am not aware of whether Tom ever finished the painting. It was getting close in the photo "painting 2," as you can see, but he was unsatisfied with many aspects of it. During a couple of the posing sessions in the closed school, I took my camera and posed myself (with a timer on the camera) on another floor of the building. The photos from those sessions belong in a larger collection I think of as "Mirrors, Windows and Doors."  The three here are titled, from top to bottom, "Into the Light," "Invitation" and "Window Seat."

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