I have been drawing since I was a little kid. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I decided to make art my chosen career. I went to art school and I have made a living as a professional artist — in one capacity or another — for over 40 years.
Unlike a lot of my colleagues and contemporaries, I am not a fan of art museums. And while I admire some other artists, I am not a “student of the arts.” I don’t study the established “old masters” and those who are revered by the art world. Sure, I can run the various “art” categories on Jeopardy!, but that’s only because I remember a lot of what I was forced to learn in an art history class four decades ago.
I worked in the marketing department of a prominent Philadelphia law firm for about ten years. They were pretty well connected to the cultural community in the city. They were the long-time legal representatives of the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. While I was in their employ, I was offered the opportunity to attend a reception at which Claes Oldenburg was the main honoree.
There are just a handful of famous artists whose work I truly admire. Roy Lichtenstein. Edward Hopper. Johannes Vermeer. Seward Johnson. And what do they all have in common? They are all dead, so no chance of meeting them.
Claes Oldenburg, in my opinion, is an incredible artist. I don’t use words like “incredible” often. I reserve using words like that only when I truly mean it. Ever since the installation of the iconic “Clothespin” at 15th and Market Streets in Philadelphia, I have been awed by Claes Oldenburg’s work. His gigantic sculptures of everyday, unremarkable objects are magnificent. They are on display all over the world, from the giant “FREE” Stamp on the front lawn of Cleveland’s City Hall to the Ice Cream Cone atop the Neumarkt Galerie in Cologne, Germany to the Broken Button on the University of Pennsylvania’s Campus right here in Philadelphia, Claes Oldenburg’s art is accessible, while being imposing and slightly chilling. Art should evoke feelings and emotion and Claes Oldenburg knows how to evoke — as the kids say — “all the feels.”
That’s why I turned down the invitation to meet him. I was just too intimated. I have met many, many famous people in my life. Television stars, musicians, Oscar winners, sports figures, politicians — and I was unfazed by all of them. But the thought of coming face to face with the creator of art that I have loved and admired…. that would be too much for me to bear.
Claes Oldenburg passed away in July 2022 at the age of 93. He was an impactful and unique artist.
I have no regrets.