Paul Resika’s studio in Truro is strewn with clam shells that he uses to mix his paints — orange ones, turquoise ones, mustard yellow ones. They are like little distillations of the vibrant colors that make Resika paintings unmistakably his. When asked about them, he says, “Take some!” On an easel is a newly painted double portrait of him and his wife, Blair, who is holding one of their cats.
“There are not so many artists who live as long as me and who keep painting,” Resika says. “Some artists follow a sort of line, but I was much more chaotic. I’ve been painting so long, since I was 10 years old, but it all looks as if it’s coherent in the book.”
He’s referring to Paul Resika: Eight Decades of Painting, a large new monograph edited by Blair Resika and published by Rizzoli Electa. It contains essays by Karen Wilkin, Avis Berman, John Yau, and Jennifer Samet that trace the artist’s career. In celebration of the book, Resika’s work will be part of an exhibit at the Berta Walker Gallery from Saturday, Aug. 15 — his 92nd birthday — through Sept. 5, alongside paintings by Mike Carroll and Sky Power.
Resika’s first teacher was Sol Wilson, a Provincetown painter of romantic seascapes. While in high school, Resika attended Hans Hofmann’s night classes in New York City. Upon graduation, he became Hofmann’s monitor, a job that required him to arrive early and unlock the door, set up the easels, pose the model, and sweep up afterwards. He also followed Hofmann, a revered and influential teacher, down to Cape Cod one summer.
“Hofmann sometimes had [still life] setups,” Resika says, “but unlike most schools, where there were apples and pots, he made fantastic setups with balloons and cellophane, fantastic stuff. People don’t know about that. It has all been forgotten.”
But not by Resika. “People say they studied with Hofmann, but it doesn’t mean anything,” he says. Hofmann had numerous pupils and taught throughout his life at several different locales. The brightest students rarely got the most attention: “If you really understood, he did almost nothing to you, and I was one of the best in the class,” Resika says.
Following his studies with Hofmann, and wary of a full descent into abstraction, Resika traveled to Europe to study the old masters. He eventually found his way to Venice. “At first, I only loved Giorgione and Bellini, who I could understand,” he says. “Then, I began to see the great Venetian painters who I have loved ever since — Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese.
“When I came back from Italy, I had to make a living,” Resika continues. “Since I had trained myself to paint in the old manner, I figured I could paint portraits. I found people to sit for me, but only people in the theater would accept the portraits.”
Resika painted the actress Tammy Grimes: “I painted a full-length portrait of her, a really classic-looking one, I thought. Later on, she married a famous actor,” he says, referring to Christopher Plummer.
“He didn’t like the portrait, but he liked the head, so he cut it down and made a small picture,” Resika says. “It had a marvelous frame — that’s why he cut it down. He had enough culture to know the frame was better than the picture itself. So he put a mirror in the frame.”
Resika recalls a touching story about seeing Hofmann many years later in Greenwich Village. “I was in a little restaurant where I used to eat. Hofmann was in his late 80s at the time, and his wife had died, and he lived downtown, too,” Resika says. “I remember, vividly, that there was a glass window in the front of this restaurant, and I saw Hofmann look through the window. It was a very cold night, and he was clearly alone, so I ran out to get him, and I brought him in. We sat together — I had never sat alone with Hofmann before. I could ask him all these questions, all the things I’d wondered about, because, you see, I had left his school — I had gone a different way entirely. I had gone to Italy to study the classic painters. I was terribly happy to talk to him, and I think he was happy to be in a warm place.”
Eight Decades of Painting analyzes Resika’s work from a scholarly standpoint. It looks at the events in his life and proposes how they might have influenced his artistic trajectory. Though this is interesting and important, the artist himself has other priorities. “It is better to look at art than to talk about it,” he says, gesturing to the paintings in his studio.
“Do you have any other questions for me?” he asks. His words echo the story he tells about Hofmann at the restaurant in Greenwich Village. It would be possible to go on and on, asking Resika about his travels, the people he knew, his thoughts about art. But he’s right: the work speaks for itself.
The event: Paintings by Paul Resika, an exhibit with Sky Power and Mike Carroll
The time: Saturday, Aug. 15, through Sept. 5; noon to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, appointments at calendly.com/bertawalker
The place: Berta Walker Gallery, 208 Bradford St., Provincetown
The cost: Free; Paul Resika: Eight Decades of Painting, $75