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One of my favorite films is The Moderns (1988) directed by Alan Rudolf. It’s a parody of the nostalgically revered expatriate “Lost Generation” of the 1920s Parisian cafe society. Keith Carradine plays the role of the stereotypically struggling painter surviving on the fringes, and whose life is one of constant humiliation in a milieu of pretentious high society snobs. To make ends meet, he draws cartoons for the International Herald Tribune (today known as the International New York Times). Meanwhile, his cynical sidekick, who writes a gossip column for the newspaper, repeatedly insists that they take off for Hollywood, where moving pictures are being made and where artists are treated with respect! The equally cynically-aware Beverly Hills cinema audience I was among, chuckled at that line, reminding me of an article by Joel Stein, from TIME magazine (May 13, 2013) describing the syndrome of coming to LA with such dreamy illusions:

LA is a place you go to make your own dreams yourself. People sit alone in coffee shops talking to themselves as they read from a script…at some point, everyone needs a community. You’d think a city of people who get rejected constantly would understand that.

There is a joke about LA: two strangers bump into each other on the street, and one asks the other, “So how’s your screenplay going?” Once, a cartoon was pinned to the wall at my fitness club depicting a restaurant manager introducing a new worker to the kitchen staff. He says, “I want to introduce everyone to our new employee, Bill, who is a screenwriter. Bill, this is Mary, who is an actress; Keith, who is a singer; John, who is a dancer; and Linda, who plays violin.” As Woody Allen succinctly described Hollywood in Crimes and Misdemeanors, “Show business…It’s worse than dog-eat-dog. It’s dog-doesn’t-return-other-dog’s-phone-calls.”

Some of the most fame-driven artists thus became willing to jump through hoops of fire, nail themselves to a cross or piss on one if that was what it took to gain recognition.

Back in the mid-1980s, I frequently attended LA art gallery receptions. In one instance, a pleasant conversation I had with a woman abruptly ended when she asked: “So who collects your work?” When I could not come up with any names she recognized, she told me that I was not an “important” artist and walked away.

Considered a “comer” at the time, I was being encouraged to seek my destiny in the Big Apple and to travel to Europe, where I learned that such effete snobbery was pervasive from LA, to NY, to Paris. When Gertrude Stein asked Carradine in The Moderns how old he was, he proudly replied, “I’m 33!” Stein retorted, “That will never do! The going age in New York today is 26!” After spending two winters in New York’s trendy East Village, I learned firsthand that this was precisely the reality in the 1980s, except that the going age was 22. I was already an over-the-hill artist at 35, as if my brain and hands had already atrophied faster than the physique of a professional athlete. Why, even baseball players often receive lucrative contracts today at that age!

The Moderns served as a satire of the times when the film was made, as a reminder of the mythology that the grass was ever greener in another place and/or time. As this experience taught me, one has to have a very thick skin to face constant rejection that has nothing at all to do with one’s actual work or talent. Far worse, for an artist like myself, who was allergic to fast track publicity stunts during the era of Reaganomics, I was witnessing who and what was being rewarded, when Wall Street transformed the Western art world into a high roller’s investment game. Some of the most fame-driven artists became willing to jump through hoops of fire, nail themselves to a cross or piss on one if that was what it took to gain recognition.


Another avenue to the stars that became commonplace, was to be the beneficiary of a new era of multiculturalism and politically correct gender preference. As, of all people, a male African-American New York painter said to me, “Either one is gay or one lives in obscurity.” Just like another of the many clichés about Hollywood, I learned all I ever wanted to know about male sexual harassment. Thank God I was immune to taking the often proposed bait, when the AIDS epidemic was out of control.

I shall never forget reading an article by a female artist in LA, who said that she beat her head against walls for years trying to get any gallery to show her art, until suddenly it was hip to be Asian. Having been raised in the US, she felt little affinity with her Korean heritage, yet simply due to her appearance, suddenly she was being invited to participate in shows of Asian art.

Another frequently chosen path artists often take to be actually noticed as “important” was proposed to me as an opportunity to exhibit my work on the East Coast. When Warhol did this in the 1960s, it was a novel concept but, just as I evaded the male predators, who happened to be art critics, gallery directors and museum curators, I was never motivated as an artist to profit from what was so obvious.

I had dabbled a bit with making portraits of celebrities, but for the sake of political satire, with an intended twist of iconographic irony. Since deifying human figures in church windows was the original purpose of the medium of stained glass, it was also the original source of my inspiration, as I was exposed to the work of the team of Jeffrey and Inara Speech. It was in their downtown, LA studio where I first learned the traditional skill of creating stained and leaded glass windows. I was mesmerized by their most ambitious artistic collaboration, which also involved celebrities, but what they did has never been approximated before or since creating their greatest work, that was made in 1971. In this case, an enormous stained glass mural depicted famous popular music figures (seen in the background full-screen slide show) of the 1960s: Jagger, Hendrix, Dylan, Elvis, the Beatles during the Maharishi era, Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell.

Ringo, John and George

What separates what the Speeths achieved in a complete vacuum from all previous artists and craftsmen, was not just their subject matter, but their technique. Portraiture found in virtually any church window requires the painting of dark enamel pigments onto colored glass (as I did in the cases of my few portraits seen below), which is then permanently fused into the glass when heated in a kiln to the temperature at which glass begins to melt. What the Speeths ingeniously did was to design the portraits as collages of mainly leafy shapes of colored glass – without any painting involved.

My first such exercise, made in 1976, was a red and black stained glass checkerboard with one checker on the board illustrating a caricature of Richard Nixon. What is known as the famous “Checkers Speech” took place in 1952, when as Vice-President, Nixon was accused of accepting political funds for personal purposes. Nixon became the first politician to use television to appeal to relatable human sentiments, by only admitting that his dog, “Checkers,” was given to him as a gift.

Church & State - California governor, Jerry Brown 1980

 I did not explore further portraiture in stained glass until 1980, when I made a stained glass window of California governor, Jerry Brown (who had been nicknamed “Governor Moonbeam“) dressed as Buddha. The last portrait I chose was the reproduction of a baseball card from 1959. I could have opted for one of the greats of that era such as Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax, all four of them enshrined in major league baseball’s Hall of Fame. Instead, I chose a virtually unknown young pitcher, Danny McDevitt, who was no longer an active member of the team when the Los Angeles Dodgers went on that same year to win the World Series. I chose Danny because, to me, it was far more interesting to focus on the brief story of a player, whose name is now the subject of a trivia question, rather than someone so obvious, where there is no mystery or intrigue. The trivia question is: “What pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers was immortalized on a baseball card the year that they won the World Series, and yet he was not on the team when they won the championship?” This was no small achievement, even given his misfortune. There is no US President who has had this notoriety. 

Danny's Ghost 1980

I composed the portrait in such a way that the face was double-glazed (featuring two layers of glass). The details of the face were painted onto the bottom layer, whereas the top glass layer, which was only semi-transparent, contained no details at all. Hence, only when strong light was transmitted through the glass from behind, could the face be recognized, which is why I named the artwork, “Danny’s Ghost.”

Shortly thereafter, I got as far as making a drawing of Bob Marley before I abandoned the idea of creating a series of stained glass “baseball cards” of famous figures who didn’t play baseball, or for that matter, those who did.

When I read about that 42-year-old artist’s suicide, I made a pact with myself that if I did not gain a serious foothold by age 40, I would drop off of the face of the art world.

I never showed these artworks when I made the rounds of the NY art scene. Many meetings with gallery directors and museum curators made it clear that no one took the time to even find out what my work was about. Appointments were treated like polite ritualistic displays of formality and published reviews of my past shows were never read. Nor did my resume matter

The trend in the East Village at the time had transformed almost every abandoned mom and pop shop into a miniature art gallery. Just down the street from where I lived was one of them, in this case exhibiting small table-top-sized chrome plated sculptures of children’s trains and a bunny rabbit balloon. It was two short blocks from my dingy, cockroach infested railroad apartment, where Jeff Koons began his infamous career as the master of bunny rabbit and doggie balloons. Not long afterward, he made a splash by marrying an Italian porn star, a smart move, I suppose, as an alternative to having to be gay, make vulgar sacrilegious statements, scribble all over subway walls or engage in shocking acts of unadulterated masochism in order to crack into the art scene. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it myself! A review of a recently published book of conversations between Koons and art curator Norman Rosenthal, puts it all succinctly:

Jeff Koons is, by measures understood in Wall Street, the most successful living artist. But he’s a slick brand manager rather than a tormented creative soul…There’s no point in criticising him for his cynical exploitation of the credulous art market, since that is exactly his intention. Futile to damn him as vacuous; he’d be flattered…The great Robert Hughes said that, so far as a sculptor’s skills were concerned, Koons would have difficulty carving his name on a tree…Koons’s vast influence and huge wealth have a poisonous effect on a younger generation of ambitious artists equipped merely with skill. (click here for the full review)

As if Koons has had no impact on mature artists equipped merely with skill? One day while reading The New York Times in an East Village cafe, I came across a short article buried on one of its inside pages, about a sculptor. At age 42, he was so despondent about being unable to exhibit more than a piece of artwork here or there in a group show, that he committed suicide. Not long afterward, one of New York City’s top art museums presented a retrospective of his work, declaring him “the greatest sculptor of our times.”

When I read that in the luxurious cockroach infested East Village apartment I had swapped with a musician friend, who stayed in mine by the Venice Beach, I made a pact with myself, that if I did not gain a serious foothold by age 40, I would drop off of the face of the art world. I had gained this remarkable wisdom from Mick Jagger, who once said that he couldn’t imagine still playing rock music at age 40. This gave me several years of fudge time to spare before slitting my throat at age 42, in order to become the next hottest thing in the art world.

Marcel Duchamp, the first well-known modern fine artist to have worked with glass, rebelled against all of the traditions, as well as fashions, that boxed an artist into following accepted rules. In the early 20th century, he dropped out of the art world and became a chess player, while continuing to work in secrecy. This was after he found himself on the outside looking in, as the Futurists in Italy, and the Cubists of France and Spain were gaining recognition. Duchamp had already seen the commercial path that art was taking and wanted nothing to do with becoming a cog in a machine – which became the theme of his most ambitious artwork, “The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).” 

Duchamp once said that in his time one could become a pariah and be respected for it. I never even considered such matters when I began my professional training by restoring antique stained glass windows for an auction house. Once I had the craft down pat, I designed and produced windows, light boxes, lampshades, doors and ceilings, usually for luxury residences, bars and restaurants. At first, they were derivative of traditional motifs from Gothic to Art Nouveau and Deco, which was just a point of departure into the realm of all being possible.

Examples of my early work can be found by clicking here

As I continued exploring on my own, no subject or style was taboo, but this was fine only until I entered into the commercial art world. I also taught the craft in the same free spirit to both children and adults, always insisting that they drop all previously held conceptions of what a stained glass window should look like. My aim was not just to teach my students a technical skill, but to also give them the confidence and license to express themselves freely.

Student stained glass artworks

By definition, stained glass is inherently impossible to mass produce as an art medium. The most ambitious work of my life (which is seen with details by clicking here), took an entire year to produce, with an assistant’s regular help.

At age 35, my first solo exhibition in 1986, in Santa Monica, California, juxtaposed laboriously created one-of-a-kind stained glass artworks with my first reproducible artworks made with the aid of an architectural computer system (CAD). Enthusiastic critical response to the exhibition gave me the faith that I was on the right path. However, if cracking the art world with uncompromising compositions created in an ancient craft medium was a stretch, in those times computer-generated art was then so cutting-edge, that it was perceived as a gimmick. Those artworks made back then would be impossible to reproduce today, for the technology used to print them is no longer in existence.


In New York, I saw the writing on the wall of what Reaganomics, Wall Street and the corporatization of the US had in store for the nation. In the Old World I hoped to encounter a more sophisticated sense of cultural values and an appreciation of my Old World skills that were combined with contemporary insights. Instead, like the film The Moderns, I discovered why romanticizing greener grass in faraway places is an illusion. The only answer to this dilemma, that almost all artists face, has to come from within.