“Greenhouse Interior” circa 1974 oil on canvas, Robert C. Therien
I entered college knowing that I would be in the choir, take classes in theatre and spend as much time as possible performing on stages, musicals, plays and of course… rock n’ roll. Growing up in a household of musicians, it was never a question in my mind that I would do these things. I did hold a fascination for hard science, but felt like I lacked the mathematics to dive into physics or chemistry which were the two areas that I felt the biggest connection.
As an actor, I had to try to please the director. As a director, I struggled to get the actors to impart what I had to say. As a set designer I was in charge of my own domain and that felt right to me for awhile.
Midland Lutheran College Theatre, working on the set design for Enid Bagnold’s “The Chalk Garden” . The theatre company was a very tight group and the work we did was top notch. And, my girlfriend and future wife, Connie, played the role of Miss Madrigal which was even better.
But during a summer stock season at the Ogunquit Playhouse working as assistant to the set designer, I saw first hand how the producer and playhouse owner fired an incredibly talented young artist simply because he wanted a friend of his to take the job. That control over the set designer’s future and work was a signal to me that there was more discovery to do.
And then I saw a painting done by a new art professor at the college, Robert Therien called “Three Bean Salad”.
This large oil on canvas (about 60″ X 60″ if I recall correctly) served as a semaphore, signaling that a place existed that I already knew, where I could do what I needed to without others pushing and pulling to control my efforts. That place was in the studio, making drawings and paintings and out in the world looking through a viewfinder to learn more about how my perceptions of that world were tied to the art I was making.
Robert had attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, working under Hal Lotterman and Victor Kord among others and was instrumental in guiding my exploration into graduate schools. We talked of Yale and the impact of working as a young artist there going for an MFA with the influences of Joseph Albers and those that followed him echoing through the studios there. I asked Robert about his experiences at Madison and came away impressed that the faculty and facilities were first rate, ultimately deciding to attend there and work on a Master of Arts in painting, printmaking and drawing. During my time working in the studio with Robert, I continued to learn techniques that I use today, and still hear his voice when looking through that viewfinder telling me to make all the decisions before tripping the shutter of my Nikkormat FTN.