Steve Wacksman
September 2010
Bob Dylan In America or Dylan:The Other Zimm
I've come to really enjoy doing portraits. Like all the things I enjoy the most they present just the right amount of challenge-  difficulty to capture the subject's likeness is usually the crux of the struggle, though essence is often missing even after likeness is nailed down. Sometimes changing a pose of a setting will give the drawing life anew. In portraiture I find that one must stay light on their feet and not fall in love with any mark he makes- it's not there until it's there.

So far I've yet to do a portrait of any of my favorite performers. Dylan is one whose contribution to popular music and culture I fully understand and embrace, but I've never been able to foster an appreciation for his vocal affect. In fact, I find it so singularly grating it's kept me from delving into his canon altogether. Despite my personal feelings about his work I was excited to receive this commission simply because the man has a great face and the comic absurdity of his late-career costumes appeals to my sense of humor. Still, I had no interest in (nor was I hired to produce) a caricature. I wanted my portrayal to be as reverent as I could muster regardless of my own impressions of the man and his music.
I've written before (although I can't remember where) about my fondness for my selection of Childcraft Encyclopedias from the middle 1960's. Once again these were called to mind and used as a point of reference when I went from sketch to final art. The cyan/black combination is deeply lodged in my creative consciousness although I can't begin to suggest why it is so. It is the very essence of nostalgic charm to me and I've never been able to capture it effectively before. In the Dylan piece I think it works satisfactorily.

This portrait for The Christian Science Monitor, a review of BOB DYLAN IN AMERICA by Sean Wilentz.
AD John Kehe and I hoped to evoke a New Orleans streetscape here, a nod to Dylan's fondness for music that is uniquely American.
Living The Dream
The almighty Smaug surveys his kingdom. I was 9 years old at the time. The date leads me to suspect that this was a gift for my father's birthday.

When I was a kid I was completely devoted to sci-fi and fantasy novels and artwork. My idols were Frank Frazetta, Ralph McQuarrie and Ralph Bakshi (all of whom I hold in very high regard to this day). My Hildebrandt Brothers Middle Earth calendars were totems of worship. I spent hours poring over Starlog, Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines and dutifully gave my Sunday afternoons over to Channel 19's Hammer House of Horror Creature Double Features. You get where I'm going with this, right? I was a frothing nimrod. I was graceless and tubby; cursed with minimal athletic ability and a fragile artistic temperament. As a result I spent the majority of my free time with a pencil in hand (and a french bread pizza in the other), trying to unlock the images held captive in my fertile imagination. I dreamt of a day when I could share these images to the world at large- maybe even joining the ranks of my heroes and illustrating book covers or movie posters.
Cut to some 35 years later, and I'm a breathtaking tower of humanity carved in rippling muscle and sprinkled with stardust. My friends and admirers are too numerous to count, and who has the time to count anyhow? I'm too busy jetsetting and hobnobbing. That corn-fed lump of a mouth-breathing fantasy geek is but a speck in my rearview. Except...

I still kinda like drawing science fiction and fantasy stuff. This one art directed with inestimable skill and lightness of touch by SJB for Assets International.
Happy Birthday Dash!
Around a month old.

Watching 'Hang 'Em High' together.

Happy 3rd Birthday, son.
Stormy Weather
This evening I was prepping the lad's dinner and getting the recycling ready to take to the curb, The wind was really picking up; the curtains were flapping wildly in the breeze and the junk mail sailed from it's usual perch on the side table by the front door and scattered all over the floor of the mud room. I stepped outside and was amazed by the vivid green of the sky- the whole streetscape had gone eerily verdant and the thunder had reached a rolling boil. I stepped inside just as the first fat raindrops began to fall.
I reckon we're gonna need a new fence. Add it to the list.

When we bought this house in 2003 one of the most attractive features ( and trust me, there were precious few attractive features) was the 80 year old maple tree that shaded our back yard. Sitting back there in the lacy shade of the tree was one of Summer's highlights; our yard, albeit small, was a perfect oasis.I remeber one night sitting in the darkness, looking up at the moon and listening to the crickets and the gentle trickling of a neighbor's fountain and feeling an almost transcendent calm. Granted, I was drunk, but I like to think the feeling was real.
In recent years, though, the maple had started dripping sap from high up in it's canopy, then it's bark began to peel as if it were molting. Last fall it dropped a 30 foot limb, which took up the majority of our backyard and required me to borrow a chainsaw and cut and bundle everything. Parks Department Employees came by with a woodchipper and (not without a lot of grumbling) ground the remnants up. But the seal had been broken and the old maple started losing sizable limbs whenever the wind picked up. Just last week it dropped yet another branch, this one dangling precariously from the powerlines strung along the outskirts of our property. It was clear that the tree had come to the end of it's lifecycle and woukld likely need to be removed.
The Maple in question is in image left. It is nothing but a trunk with a small tuft of leaves in it's uppermost portion. It will likely be removed before the end of next week The large tree in image right was also badly damaged and is scheduled to be taken down. i am in the kitchen looking out the back window and thinking about the rain and how the maple isn't up to another storm. And even as I stand the wind comes screaming over our house, whipping and churning the backyard into a stormy froth. The house swells with the storm's pressure and the sky, I notice, is a ghostly luminous white. I see the tree surrendering it's limbs to the maelstrom; they're like twigs being carried away on a roaring river. The thunder and the wind in concert form a near-throbbing rumble and I look up into the sky just as a branch- a thick, long and leafy branch, virtually a tree itself, comes violently spiralling toward the house and me. Adrenalized and frightened, I leap back from the door and into the kitchen, hoping Dash has stayed seated in the stairwell where I left him. And just as I realize he's safe, the branch shatters the door; shards of glass explode into the kitchen and litter the floor. The dogs are circiling the entrance to the kitchen, nervous but following their ancient compulsion to ensure that the pack is safe and accounted for.
The rain comes flooding down and soon turns to hail until it finally and without ceremony dies down to an unspectacular light rainfall. We survey the house: the air conditioners have been forced from the windows, their flimsy louvers torn from their stout housings. My studio is littered with dark wet maple leaves and black sticks. A stream of rainwater snakes across the floor.  Dash's window unit fared even worse: a branch punctured it like a spear and destroyed the condensor.
In a stroke of uncharacteristic brilliance I called the local tool rental after putting Dash to bed, even knowing they'd be closed for the night. I left a message- " I'd like to reserve a chainsaw for Friday morning if at all possible".
What a storm. My personal guarantee: at least one (but probably more) of the tabloids will boast the headline 'A Tree Falls In Brooklyn" tomorrow.  Groan. Hope all my fellows in NYC are safe and intact.
Modem Romance

Ah technology, wonder of wonders. Thanks to you, pining for your distant love by ripping at your bodice and staining handwritten letters with your bitter and salty tears is, like, totally passe! I'm talking about Skype, texts, email. These are the means by which distance between lovers is shortened in our modern age!
Our forefathers, when faced with to prospect of separation from their beloved mates, would drink themselves to sleep with Lefty Frizell on the hi-fi and their faithful dogs within scratching distance. But not us! As long as we are armed with our modem-bearing devices we are free to have, face to virtual face, the all-important "How was your day? Fine and how was your day?"conversation that is the cornerstone of all interpersonal communication.
This one for the almighty Greg Klee at the Boston Globe. Ten-plus years and our relationship is still going strong, despite the fact that we've never met face to face.
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