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Gut churning or not, the first time I used oil I could see why painting took such a giant leap forward at the time of the Renaissance. The Renaissance was about the same time oil paint came into wide usage. The perfectly smooth blending attainable was unbelievable. But such blending (or lack of it to simulate texture) was also very difficult to control.
Specifically, the fear that I might not be able to physically master the brush terrified me. Everything was at stake. I repeat, I had already decided that my artwork would help me find a publisher and an eventual audience for my book, and salvation for my life.
At first, I painted with both hands, clumsily. Lucky for me, the wet paint can be manipulated after it's on the canvas. My strokes were crude and close-up work actually caused me to feel lightheaded from the intense concentration. But I persisted in my self-training. Because, thank God, I could see I was going uphill at last. Or so I thought.
Slowly, over the course of hundreds, then thousands, of hours of forced usage, my fingers of both hands, then finally my left thumb, started to cooperate to one degree or another. It took about a year for the nausea of insecurity to subside to a tolerable level. And I actually came to feel, rightly or wrongly, that I put the agonizing years of my living experience into each painting at some level of consciousness. Like most people, I refused to believe my miserable past had been endured in vain.
I didn't just need to be good enough to put out potboilers for a few bucks. In my egotistical mind, I needed to be as good as the masters of old - to prove that I was not a liability to society, that I had never been, and that my art and writings (and maybe even myself) had a message that meant something.
At any rate, on one Friday night visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City I pleasantly remembered something quite interesting from almost forty years before - how I had visited the St. Louis Art Museum for the very first time when I was in grade school. How I had stood in awe at the paintings of the Renaissance masters. How I had thought to myself at that impressionable age, "Whoever painted these had to be inspired by God."
Indeed, I never thought that about anything again. Years later, at Cape Canaveral in the spring of 1969, when I saw firsthand the towering Apollo 11 that was about to make possible a giant leap for mankind, I was not as impressed as I had been by the paintings in the art museum in St. Louis.
Back from the moon to the canvas - eventually, during that first year of painting, each 'living oil" (as I quite boldly and irreverently came to call my pieces) would get to a point where I would regularly feel exhilarated. I'd feel a euphoria I hadn't felt even once since I first fixed my bikemotor 35 years before.
For several years of painting I felt that thrill was because of the quality of my work. Now, sadly, I've come to realize that maybe that euphoria was more a thrill at the fantasized prospect of using my art to finally crawl out of the lonely pit I'd lived my life in for so long.
For whatever reason, coincidences between what I was working on now with my artwork and what was going on in the real world contributed additional euphoric fuel to my endeavors.
I knew from working on my book, the more I knew about a subject at any level, the better I was able to deal with it. Even though a baseball pitch is a largely right-brained, subconsciously repetitive act, I theorized that if a baseball pitcher were to educate his left brain with the dynamic physics that govern the ejaculation and the trajectory of the ball and the anatomy which controls his arm, said pitcher would be able to pitch more precisely. Similarly, a baseball slugger so enlightened could easily swat homeruns well in excess of the Babe's 60 (or even MacQwire's 70). This speculated, I scrutinized hundreds of books on Art History and studied several books on every subject whose portrait I rendered.
Continuing to subsist for the most part on Social Security Disability, I did without all luxuries, in order to buy my art supplies. I hadn't been on a date since 1985, but , I repeat, naively hoped my social life would pick up once my artwork and finances were on a secure footing. I was sure that would happen after my first show. In 1995, in only my second year of painting, I naively thought that my one-man, artworld-altering show was just around the corner.
Though I never had another lucid dream such as the one in which Larry told me to become an art student, I became convinced more than ever in the power and insight of our mind. Just as Michelangelo once said that the figures he sculpted were already in the stone and he had simply uncovered them, I came to believe that the finished images I painted already existed in my mind and thus the collective mind of the whole world-before I even primed the canvas.
Seemingly meaningless early strokes showed themselves much later to be essential parts of the finished image, just as seemingly meaningless things I intuitively wrote early in my book fit perfectly profound into what I wrote a couple years later.
So I started to wonder whether all things past, present, and future, existed simultaneously in the mind of some higher awareness? Was, and is, time only a tool our lower level short-sighted human brain uses to navigate through the window we conveniently call reality? Does anyone really give a shit?
I guess I did at one time. I even came up with a pair of acronyms - HE for Higher Essence and THEE for The Higher Earth Essence.
Back to the mundane and more easily perceivable. For the first time in my life, many people showed an interest in what I was doing. Indeed, the only thing I regretted was that I had not taken up art years before. But, to be candid, I would have never been able to do it all those 20 years when my right-brain was chemically nullified.
When someone would ask how long a painting took and I would tell them that it took a couple hundred hours, they would ask me how I had the patience to spend so much time on one piece. "I spent five years writing the same book," I would tell them as I thought silently to myself, "And I spent a lifetime researching it."
But I knew I didn't have five years, much less a lifetime, to wait for a break, for my proverbial boat to come in. My legs were giving out quickly. The pain of standing while painting was becoming unbearable.
In early 1995, I decided to do a painting of George Bush. In July I decided to try and find an audience as my 50th birthday approached (as if that had some significance). So I sent a letter and photos of all my portraits to the Bush residence in Houston. The package included a nice portrait of the President called "Poppy Bush."
I mailed the portfolio package on a Saturday and on Monday I was shocked to see the Bushes on TV, back in Washington, for, of all things - the unveiling of the official White House portrait (by another artist of course).
Hoping that this seeming coincidence wasn't a sign that I was jinxed, I sent a similar letter and portfolio to the KC Jewish Community Center which had a small gallery. They didn't even bother to respond. And after a commercial gallery or two also rejected me, I was totally dejected.
Had the lucid dream of Larry not come from above, and had I been self-steered wrong? Would I come up empty-handed and ineffective again?
I spent my 50th birthday with my dogs, my only true patrons. Once again I didn't know what to do. Continuing to paint seemed pointless, if not frightening. How much disappointment could my ego take without snapping? Was Divine Providence teasing me for some unknown reason? Rightly or not, I felt at that time that even if I would have approached the modern artworld with the best paintings ever rendered in the history of mankind, I would have still been stifled and rebuffed.
Spending the rest of my very hot fiftieth summer driving my dogs out to Shawnee Mission Lake for a tuna fish lunch, I tried to hide my hopelessness when I exchanged pleasantries with others who had come to be soothed by the endorphines of Mother Nature. But the summer's heat added to my already consuming fatigue.
My work into the fall was limited to assembling several additional small portfolios of my paintings to send to the few really good friends I'd had over the years. No matter what the pundits thought, I was proud of my work like I'd never been proud of anything in my life and was as prepared as possible to leave the good Earth, if need be, with that sense of satisfaction. But my dogs needed me to endure at least as long as they did.
On November 7 (I remember the date because it was a national election day) my phone rang (which it only did a couple times a month at most). A lady asked me, "Is this Richard Krause?"
I figured it was a medical bill collector and answered coolly and unsurely, "Yeahhh??"
But when she announced pleasantly, "I'm Linda Casey, George Bush's private secretary," my tone changed. She apologized for not getting back with me sooner, but explained that my package had gone to the wrong address several months ago and they had just finally received it the day before. "If your offer is still good, we'd love to have your painting for the Bush Library scheduled to open in 1997 at College Station, Texas."
She was a very nice lady, easy to talk to, and went on to praise several of the other paintings in my portfolio. This selfishly seemed like maybe the big break I needed and had been hoping for over the past ten years.
Big break or not, I felt a great sense of pride, a sense of official validation for the first time in my adult life that I was a person who had something worthwhile to contribute to society. I told everybody I knew that the Bush Library wanted my painting. The kudos were so overwhelming, getting phone calls from relatives who had never called me before in my life, that I began to fear that something might go wrong. And it did.
Both my painting of the President and an even better painting I did of Barbara and Millie were received quite rudely by the Bush Library Curator (whose husband happened to be a portrait painter himself). She espoused her husband's loose style and even called my work anal. So I asked for her to go ahead and send both paintings back to me.
I figured, that even if I couldn't find an appreciative public audience for my painting, at least I could do a few paintings for people who had meant something special to me.
So I did a portrait of Dr. Goodman and took it over to his house to hang. Another artist had done a portrait of him 15 or 20 years before, and when we took it down to hang mine in its place, we discovered a dusty old photograph of another painting the same local artist had done - a very youthful portrait of Bob Dole in his Topeka days.
The 1996 Republican presidential primaries were just beginning, and when I went home and was impressed by a television biography on Dole that very night, I decided fate, not to mention good common sense, was telling me to do a painting of him. While the primaries moved on, I worked on his portrait.
Just as Dole resigned the Senate to run for President, my painting, "Dole's Beach," was done. Conveniently, I discovered that a friend from my video days, Doug Tokens, was now an active Johnson County Republican. When I showed the painting and a "Dole Call '96" campaign button to Doug, he took them over to County Commissioner Braun's house.
Further fueling my renewed enthusiasm was the fact that Dole's first campaign stop after resigning the Senate was at an engineering firm less than a mile from the art store where I got all my supplies.
A few days later Doug called and said he was bringing Commissioner Elaine Braun over to see my paintings. I fantasized she was coming over to discuss how best to unveil all my paintings to all the world. So I cleaned my apartment like never before.
Elaine was a very intelligent and likable woman, and she quite voluntarily assured me that my painting of Dole was on its way to his headquarters and I would very shortly receive national recognition. In the meantime, she asked if I could do a painting of her. How could I refuse?
Every day after I heard my painting had been shipped to Dole's Headquarters I went to open my post office box holding my breathe, hoping that if there was any news at all it would be good news.
It just seemed like so many things had steered me in my then-present direction that I became more afraid than ever that things might not work out before my body became completely useless. If things didn't work out this time, I wondered how I could ever trust my instincts or the apparent advice of fate again. How unbelievably mysterious was that photo of Bob Dole we found stuck to the back of Dr. Goodman's portrait.
To try and make some sense of it all, not to pray for my own salvation, I went to weekly services at a Jewish Temple for the first time in my life. Waiting outside that first Sabbath night, I started to feel bad about maybe subconsciously expecting help for my problems when so many millions of others hadn't received it for theirs.
I was about to leave the parking lot when I realized that what I really was looking for was not personal gain, but, like I said, some understanding of the sense of it all - or at least some peace at not being able to understand for a good reason.
Or was I just trying to fool myself? At any rate, I went into the temple at the last minute and was more than pleased to find a relatively altruistic pursuit of truth through worship.
Back to my painting, to make a very long and painful story short, I did a pro-bono painting of Commissioner Elaine which she proudly hung in her office. She very belatedly got my painting of Dole to his people and I received a thank you postcard from him.
But he got defeated, and, far worsely, Elaine killed herself because of a variety of health and family and financial reasons.
Adding to my confusion, it was shortly before her death that I realized I couldn't follow the liberal dogma of the reformed temple I'd joined...and my feet started burning 24 hours a day, from the MS I was told. They didn't burn like a sun burn, they burned like after sticking them in a broiling oven.
Suddenly my biggest challenge was not to paint the White House but to somehow reduce the excruciating burning, at least for a few hours each night so I could get some sleep.
While trying a hundred things to alleviate the pain over the course of the next couple years, I had a couple more very false starts with my work. For instance, I was manipulated into doing a painting of the owner of AMC Theatres, but the lady who got me into it went to jail 3 days after giving the painting to him. I even had an agent for awhile but she was interested only in money, even if it meant begging wealthy people to pay me to do a portrait because of my health problem. Quickly, I got rid of her. Pity was the last thing I ever wanted or ever would or will accept.
Pity aside, the summer of '97 did have a couple light moments amid the nonstop burning in my feet and intermittent churning of frustration in my stomach. I did a painting of Elvis. And "Definitive Elvis" was on display at the Kansas City Museum for the 25th anniversary celebration of his death...and my 52nd birthday. The possibility of escorting my locally acclaimed portrait to Graceland even presented itself.
But my feet were so bad I couldn't travel anywhere, and nobody came to visit me. I came to feel my life was quickly shutting down. Several extremely painful nights, my feet burnt so bad that I screamed and cussed God (for the first time in my life, of course).
On the other hand, during this painful period, something unusual and apparently positive happened. A neighbor befriended me. And it was the first time a neighbor or almost anyone had done so in over a decade. So I went along eagerly..
Larry and his wife Roxy lived in the building right next to mine, and we started going everywhere together-including church. What a pleasant surprise, or so it seemed. Too good to be true it seemed. It just wasn't the sort of thing that ever happened to me, at least not since starting to write my book a dozen years before.
At about this same time I volunteered to do a series of paintings for the Audie Murphy Research Foundation. I'd loved Audie, even as a kid, and now I had an opportunity to do work for his son Terry and a nice lady who directed the Foundation named Larryann.
Back to my selfish side, near the beginning of 1998 I sent a portfolio to Portraits Inc. in NY, but was summarily rejected. Over the course of the year 1998 I tried at least two dozen different kinds of shoes in a seemingly unselfish effort to alleviate the burning...to very little avail.
So I spent most of that year doing 7 paintings of Audie Murphy...and it was the most satisfying experience of my life, if not the least painful.
On the subject of pain, I had sworn to myself back in 1986 that I would die before I would ever return to mind-numbing and soul-robbing drugs. But in 1998 the burning in my feet got so bad I was forced to try the standard fare of MS drugs, several different chemical dampeners, such as Dilantin and Neurontin, etc. The burning was relieved a bit but depression, nausea, and dizziness forced me to abandon any hope of pharmaceutical relief for my pain.
And it was at about the same time that I finished the Murphy Seven paintings that neighbor Larry and his daughter's punk friends started to terrorize me-for some totally unknown reason, adding further to my pain. For half a year I dared only go home to sleep at night, fearing a daylight confrontation with Larry or his punks that might land me in the Kansas State Hospital. Thank God Almighty, I had good friends at the art store, library, photo store, and laundromat that allowed me to visit them during the day.
Finally, I quit painting in March, but not until I completed a totally original painting of Moses holding the Ten Commandments. I just did small drawings after that and vowed not to do any more painting, unless by some great miracle I saw that things indeed were going to work out.
Back to reality, the harassment from my neighbors got so bad in the spring of '99 I was forced to move...and leave my daytime friends behind. Amidst the decision to move and the burning in my feet, my high school in St. Louis graciously put my painting of Lincoln on permanent display.
And that's how I came to return to St. Louis after more than 20 years...and how I came to grieve horribly for my friends in Kansas. I moved to St. Louis, not to pursue the elusive big break, but simply to try and stay alive amid the pain long enough to let my dogs live out their lives...God Bless Them. And I hoped God might have mercy on my soul in Heaven for some of the work I tried to do when I was able.
During a typical day in July, 1999, my feet still burned 24 hours a day, be it a bit less than it was a couple years before. I wore special shoes with special cotton socks washed in a special way. Alot of special things for a very unspecial day during which I stood for only brief periods of time. Standing without walking was when they burned the worse. I washed my feet everyday in distilled water and powdered them with fragrance-free talc. I wore rubber cots on the two smallest toes of my right foot.
I could hobble fairly short distances with my cane, but I always paid for it with increased pain afterward. I had trained myself to work both the accelerator and brake pedal of my aging car with my cane. Like I said, I'd given up painting and did drawings on a clipboard in my lap to help pass the time. I was only able to work for an hour or so at a time before I started feeling dizzy and had to lay down for awhile. I found it cheaper to eat fast food out than buy groceries.
About the only familiar face in STL I ever saw (except for a couple people at the fast food places) was my cousin Joel. I had dinner with him about every two weeks. I kept in touch with my friends in Kansas via email and phoned them occasionally. I planned on driving to KC to visit them once a month, my 140,000 mile car willing. In the meantime, my entertainment was pretty much limited to occasional visits to the St. Louis Art Museum. I never watched television or listened to the radio, because my feet burned terrible when I would.
My only medication was a sleeping pill I took at about 9pm. After taking it, I would turn out the lights and sit on my couch. I couldn't lay down, lift my feet up, or take my shoes off. I had to sit there with my shoes on or my feet would start burning too much. With my dogs at my side, I'd sit there in silent reflection, looking out the full length window at the apartment parking lot for the next couple hours. It wasn't as bad as it might sound, for on the far side of the parking lot were a couple very picturesque groupings of oak trees. As the medicine would begin to take effect and my feet would start to feel better over the course of the next couple hours, I'd enjoy watching the occasional car pull up and park or drive by. Every night, I'd remind myself how fortunate I was that I was no longer peering out a grated window at Farmington willing to do anything if I could only be in one of the staff's or visitor's cars on its way to freedom. I was very lucky to be able to come and go as I pleased.
In all honesty, this period of relaxation, as my feet started to feel better, was the most pleasurable part of the day. And finally they'd feel better enough so that I was able to lay down on the couch and sleep for almost 3 hours without my shoes or socks on. Then I'd sleep for a couple more hours with my socks and shoes back on. Then another insecure day would start. And so on and so on.
But I had to be careful as the year 2000 rapidly approached. My friend at the art store had encouraged me to try and get my novel "In The Winds Of Time" published, so I seriously submitted it to a non-religious publisher for the first time since being politely turned away by the JPS seven years before. And I hoped that the probable rejection this time around wouldn't overwhelm me once and for all.
Also, a nice friend of my cousin Joel wanted me to do a painting of her and said she could arrange for a big public show of my work in the fall of '99-an all too familiar promise. I had to be careful not to get my hopes up like I had so many countless times before; I had to keep reminding myself I really only moved back to St. Louis to let my dogs live out their life and then graduate from my own life's apprenticeship.
I needed to remember anything beyond that was a very gracious gift from the Almighty...for, indeed, I had never dreamt ten years before that I would live to have the opportunity of doing work for a cause as worthy as the Audie Murphy Foundation, much less have the honor of my painting of Lincoln being hung at my high school. At least I must have passed my high school's apprenticeship test.
On the other hand, because of increasingly mysterious coincidences, I came to believe that I was only beating my head against the wall in any personal pursuit of financial independence and social companionship - that indeed my belabored resolution was in the hands of someone or something else.
I couldn't help but recall an all too typical example of a stifled effort, the time I read an outrageous article on the subject of abortion and sent a dissenting letter on the subject to the Lenexa News. I had been thrilled when notified that it would be published in about two weeks. It was my first public writing and maybe it would make sense to at least some misguided souls. But the Lenexa News, which had never missed printing an issue in 75 years, suddenly and permanently went out of business. Taken alone, this sort of thing happens to many people over the years. But these head-knocking things happened to me all the time.
Back to the less mysterious. Approaching conclusion, indeed I certainly may be too easily bored, very unassertive, and an eternal, if not senseless and unrealistic, optimist. But, if you're reading this and I'm still alive, unincarcerated, and self-supportive with any hint of satisfaction in my demeanor, maybe I'm not a total deficit to society afterall.
On the other hand, if I'm not still around, what's the big deal in the chosen course of human events? But one of about five billion frustrated souls on Earth, my life is, or was, definitely just another apprenticeship.
However, most definitely still alive and awaiting personal resolution at the conclusion of this writing, I need to repeatedly remind myself at this time that I had never dreamt ten years ago that I would live to have the opportunity of doing work for a cause as worthy as the Audie Murphy Foundation, much less have the honor of my painting of Lincoln being on permanent display at my high school. I think I must have passed the Foundation's and the High School's apprenticeship test.
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