By Michele Willens
When my friend Mike Rubin retired, after many years in one profession, he returned to his early love. That would be art: not viewing it, but doing it. His work is excellent. Howard Stern quietly (yes, quietly) has not retired, but has spent nine years learning to paint and by all accounts his work too is very fine. What—or I should say who—connects the two?
That would be Frederick Brosen, a prominent artist in his own right, but also a beloved and inspiring teacher. His many students either come to his studio — inside his apartment on W. 77th Street – or, occasionally, he goes to their homes. Of course, over the last several years, many have been taught via Zoom. “I probably did more that way than ever before,” Brosen says, “but it takes three times as much work and it’s not the same. There’s nothing like being right next to the student. Even Rembrandt used to occasionally take the brush out of your hand.”
Brosen’s own watercolor paintings largely deal with landscape and architecture, old buildings, in particular. He is associated with the Hirschl & Adler gallery, has had more than 20 one-man exhibits, and four of his large paintings will be shown at the Museum of the City of New York in April. (“They cover the seasons,” he says, “my Vivaldi.”)
He knows the stories behind many city structures, but has always been a local, growing up on 78th and Riverside, attending our public schools. (“I’m Internationally famous on the Upper West Side,’ he jokes.) He survived what he calls a “broken” childhood (A mother who took her own life and a father largely in a wheelchair) and eventually studied at the Pratt Institute. He is a talkative, lively, engaging man. Just spending time with him, and perusing his walls, is a history lesson about the neighborhood, the city, and how to hone new or rusty skills.
Skills that folks like Mike Rubin, who had a four-decade career in television news, are developing. He visits Brosen once a week for two-and-half hours. The first thing Brosen told him was that he needed better equipment and to focus on drawing. Rubin, who lives on W. 70th, says Brosen “has some pretty harsh rules, and says the most efficient way to learn is to copy. Rick says you’re doing exactly what they—the established artists—did and you’re trying to achieve their solutions.” On a recent day, Mike was, in fact, copying one of Brosen’s own works, adding, he told me, “a shadow here or a little red here for some warmth. That’s what you call locking it in, there is where the real horizon line is.” He even talks like an artist now.
As for those “harsh rules” Brosen imposes? One is no copying from work done post-photography. “I myself, somewhat unintentionally, studied almost exclusively pre-photography art to train myself,” he says. “Early 19th c. English watercolorists and many artists of the Romantic Period were my mentors. With no photo reference to work from, their methodologies had to be more interpretive and expressive, a language of form. I teach that as the drawing foundation. Once you are steeped in that approach to drawing you can work from photographs in a more personally expressive way.”
Meanwhile, the students keep on coming. Leslee Dart was one of Hollywood’s most successful publicists and when she retired, she started zooming with Brosen, finding her passion with botanicals. Director Darren Aronofsky saw Brosen’s Coney Island paintings and joined up for awhile. Stern’s works have become strong enough for exhibiting, Brosen says, but the talk show host is so far reluctant.
Goldman Sachs executive Arline Mann studies with him and has won prizes. “Plain and simple,” she says, “Rick is responsible for the development of my painting skill. I came to him as a student because he painted in an unusually meticulous, realist style for watercolor, and I liked that style. Over some eight years, I’ve found that unlike many artists, Rick is totally committed to being a good teacher. I can count on him — and so can all his other students — for intelligently focusing on one or two things a student can do to move their work up a notch.”
Boy was that refreshing to read! Thank you for introducing (to those of us who still don’t know of this Upper West Side institution) the world famous artist Frederick Brosen, just before his fame will no doubt start to skyrocket (or should)!
A LOT of fun, and the paintings, especially those old buildings,
The M .GORDON trio in blue; wonderful.
Thanks for writing this article. It helps to reminds us that somewhere and everywhere, behind the scenes & under the radar, a million good things are quietly going on.
We are the happy owners of one of Rick’s New York City works-Courtland Alley-a less than elegant part of lower Manhattan that Rick’s brush renders magical..
WOW, great to know there’s a wonderful artist and teacher on my block! Great article.
Fascinating. Thank you
My best work was done under his tutelage. I studied via Zoom, and miss having not met Rick in person… yet. Glad to see this article.