3. The Apple and The Tree

Apple’s Origins

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They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but, of course, the apple has no idea what that means. He’s too busy being an apple.

I was an apple once who just happened to grow up in an artsy craftsy family. I didn’t think much about it. Thats just the way it was. My father used a pallet knife to paint with oils and his favorite theme was still life. My mother was a musician.

My parents were German refugees who narrowly escaped Hitler’s horrors. They owned and ran a ladies glove business and commuted to New York City every day, coming home at 7:30 every night. On their free time my mother went straight for her piano to play and sing countless show tunes, as well as arias from operas. My father headed out to the garden or for his paints. The adage: “children are seen, not heard” was one of their favorites.

I visited the Frick Museum, in Manhattan, a while back because I hadn’t been there in a long time. What struck me was that I felt like I was home. It was so familiar. The house I grew up in, while a fraction of the size of the Frick, was jammed with art too. The furniture was all French Provincial and put together with wooden pegs (see above). There were Flemish landscape paintings and porcelain vases. We had a giant stained glass window and all kinds of beautiful antiques.

The primary activity my father and I shared was going to museums to look at art. We began doing that from as early as I can remember. My father would always quiz me: Who painted that? Who made that sculpture? He would hold up a book of paintings at the dinner table and quizz me there too. It was fun and I was an apple. What did I know?

Apple Realizes Tree’s Influence

I had had my still life studio for about six years and for the last few of them I chose to live in the studio. Then I found an apartment which had a lot of empty wall space and needed art. I asked my mother if I could have some of my father’s paintings and she told me to come over and pick out what I wanted. So I went to visit her and took a bunch of dad’s paintings back with me. When I got to my apartment and began to hang them, something felt strange.  I was shocked to realize that the paintings were all still lifes. I had been photographing for years, but it never dawned on me that I might have chosen to shoot still life because that’s what my father painted. It was quite an awakening. Apple realized he was related in more ways than one to Tree.

Apple Pie, or It All Starts to Make Sense

Around that time I had an appointment with an art director at Y&R, the ad agency. It was common for me to show my portfolio to art directors, because that’s how I got new jobs. At that meeting I showed 8×10 transparancies as well as black and white landscapes, which was unusual. Normally I showed only 8×10’s of my still life. It was a lot to look at and afterward the art director and I just chatted.

I asked if he had gone to art school and he said yes. He graduated from The Art Institute of Chicago. I told him that was impressive and he replied that it wasn’t so special. The only good thing about it was that he had a free pass to all the city’s art museums. “That’s where I learned”, he said.

For me it was like a near death experience, in that my life flashed before me. I could never understand the source of my creativity. I had never gone to art school, but now it all made sense. The countless hours I spent in art museums with my father and without him were what taught me to see. Apple finally understood what he learned from Tree.

I shot the still life above. My father, Erich Neumann, painted the still life below. The table is the same.

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