I’m Not Schizoid. I’m an Artist.

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Over a 20-year period I’ve gone from doing a sculpture titled The Egg Came First, to writing a book titled The Chicken Came First.

After my book was published, one of my friends said to me in the most definitive way, and with a smile on his face: “Make up your mind.”

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01 The Egg Came First
“The Egg Came First”

When trying to interpret my art, you might think that I possess a streak of schizophrenia. But you are looking at the evolution of a guy who loves the myriad of human expressions manifested in the great art forms from all over the world.

My inclination for being involved in architecture, writing, painting, sculpting, music, and film – being an extension of theater – has grown over the years. These art forms have become a big part of my life.

astichickenI have gone from being totally enamored with the brilliance of artists in my youth, where I wanted to copy what they did, to a more contemplative understanding of the meaning, purpose, and complexity of human endeavor; thanks to Picasso, Warhol, and the inevitable phase of life called maturation. It also helped that at the age of about 26 a dear friend and patron of the arts suggested that I read Rollo May’s The Courage to Create.

You may have noticed that I left out dance: an art form that takes strength, discipline and perseverance. There are things in this world that I can appreciate but don’t want to do or can’t do. Things that are tough and scary: like wing walking, platform diving and dance.

Making a Living as an Artist

I paint and sculpt while making a living as an architect and an economist; which is a much different animal than making a living solely as a fine artist. Artists who have to constantly perform to survive tend to develop a greater level of competence in manipulating their medium; a competence that can readily be seen in their art. The upside is that this never-ending uphill struggle can make artists extremely competent and tuned-in to what consumers want. That is one major reason why in a democracy, where free expression is a virtue, art and architecture are considered brilliant time-stamps (expressions) as to who we are as a civilization.

Influences

Like countless others, I have been influenced by many of the world’s great artists. But most of all, I have been influenced by three brilliant artists who happened to be women in my life, all from that “Greatest Generation.”

One woman who had an effect on my art was Grace Krog. Grace didn’t have much. Actually, she had very little. Her husband died when they were young. That was in the early 1950s. She never had any children nor did she remarry.

03 Grace Krog Painting
Grace Krog – British West Indies

Born in Honduras and raised in Grand Cayman, she worked extremely hard as a nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami for her entire adult life, trying to survive. Considering her difficulties and circumstances she had every reason to be cynical about the world. And if you think her art would have expressed the difficulties she experienced, you would be wrong. She was possessed to paint, raise orchids, and create jewelry; all endeavors to surround herself with the beauty of life. Her paintings were of her fondest remembrances and her desire to express how beautiful life could be.

Her art, and our discussions, helped me to understand how to tell others who we are through what we do and what we paint.

The next influential person on my art was my mom. She was another individual who was possessed to paint but didn’t do it for a living. In between raising four boys, each born a year apart, my mom would paint. She didn’t have a lot of time to paint, but she would leave a canvas up on the back porch so she could paint when she could steal a few minutes here or there.

On our “guy” fishing trips, she many times would take an easel on-board. It must have been quite the site, seeing 2 adults and 4 little kids in boats on the Withlacoochee River or Lake Okeechobee in the late ’50s and early ’60s; one boat with an easel and canvas. I suppose that one of my brothers has the wonderful painting that mom did that captured the dignity of the great Cyprus bordering the old Withlacoochee; done in a boat on a river while trying to bait the hooks of a bunch of little boys.

04 Helen Asti Painting
Helen Asti painting

As a child I thought it was so cool how people could paint something they could see; capturing the image like a photograph. Mom wanted me to better understand what art had become after the invention of photography.

I was very young when she painted this piece. I asked why she didn’t make it look exactly like the tree that it was. Instead of trying to explain the intricacies of art, she continued to paint for the next couple of weeks; I found out later to make a point.

It took her a while to get it just right in her eyes, but she relished the squiggly reddish thing that you see in the painting. It drove me nuts when she made that red thing on the canvas. Well, maybe not nuts, but as a kid I didn’t understand the rationale for doing such. She explained to me that it needed to be there. It felt right.

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She eventually went on to explain that a major part of life and art was about thinking and planning and doing, but also about feeling. She went on to say that it was important to allow yourself to feel confident enough to freely express yourself. That, to her, was the essence of art. That being said, before she got too far she also explained that with the freedom to allow yourself to explore there may also be consequences from the exploration; consequences which may not be to your liking. So be careful what you wish for. She not only taught me where the accelerator was, but she taught me where the brake was, and how to steer.

The next great influence on my art was Edna Glaubman, one of the great artists of the 20th Century. She was one of the giants of the South Florida art scene who made quite a living at it. She painted while caring for her husband, a son who was severely handicapped from an auto accident, and another son with whom I grew up.

05 Edna Glaubman Painting
Edna Glaubman painting

I was lucky enough to be around this brilliant New Yorker Pratt graduate during the pinnacle of her career. I loved hanging out with her in her studio. Yet there was one thing about Edna that transcended her art, and that was her understanding of the purpose of art.

She knew I loved her work and that I wanted to paint like her. I was allowed to be with her in her studio, study her work, and watch her make her own canvases; but not when she painted. She said it was natural for young artists to emulate art they liked, but her concern was for me to explore the medium for myself so as to find my own voice. She didn’t want me to speak with her voice, but to discover for myself a technique that could help me express my thoughts for my day and time.

Some of My Thoughts – My Art

This early ’80s painting of mine was accepted into the Delta Art Exhibit those many years ago. It was titled Human Architecture; The Autocratic Mechanism of Capitalism. OR The Creation of Life as We Have Come to Know It.

06 Human Architecture
W.H. Asti painting

This oil, acrylic, and paper collage on canvas is about human endeavor; epitomized by two guys with iguanas on their heads. They are surrounded by a landscape of consumable items, from sweaters to cars to blenders and more.

The two guys symbolize the one thing that makes us tick: the intrinsic part within us as humans to do things, just because. They represent the inventiveness of humans: the part that defies logic and the part that has advanced civil societies. Watch “Shark Tank” sometime and tell me it doesn’t exist.

This painting isn’t about making money, but about accomplishing tasks and doing deals. The human attribute that flourishes within free people and free markets and the fun of engaging with others: the beauty and fun of “Life on Earth.”

This second painting of mine is titled, Evolution of the Soul of Civilization. The Fire is lit in the Picture Tube OR Thank You Andy Warhol.

07 Evolution of the Soul
W.H. Asti painting

After Picasso and others explored the freedoms which sprang from the philosophical foundations of modernity, Andy Warhol explained that for art to exist it had to be “political.” He didn’t mean political in the hyper-political environment of today, but that it had to say something about the world in which we live. If it didn’t say anything, then why do it; it’s merely a picture.

The medium is modern acrylics painted as if a 17th Century Dutch Baroque oil in the “tenebroso” style. It is a juxtaposition of modernity to the 17th Century Dutch. It has as its light source a blue tint from a cathode ray television rather than the red, yellow, or white hues of a fire or candle. It is a dissertation about the timeless nature of goodness and purity symbolized by the innocence and virtue of a little girl.

This painting represents where the past, the present, and the future are linked by the wholesomeness of the “soul of civilization”; a soul that hasn’t changed from the beginning of human history and will endure to the end of human civilization. It represents the innate struggle against those who want to destroy the great beauty that exists all over the world; those who want to destroy not just the works of art from our common human souls, but the purity and innocence that binds our future. The likes of ISIS today.

With this painting I can only hope that the unblemished Soul of Civilization will last forever.

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Bill Asti
Bill Asti (www.AstiArchitect.com) is an architect and an economist in private practice since 1981, as well as author, artist, sculptor, and in younger years, a musician. A member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), he studied under Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Fay Jones, and received his degree in economics from the J. William Fulbright College at the University of Arkansas. Bill created the first U.S. private foundation dedicated to educating about post-industrial, communications-based sustainable communities. Over 30 years ago, he designed the first "Third Wave City of the Future," recognized by the White House. You can read about this in his book, The Chicken Came First.
  • Art is “hope that the unblemished Soul of Civilization will last forever.”