Wednesday, 17 December 2008

WILLIAM APATOFF

He was born and raised in the slums of Boston, the son of Russian immigrants. When he was still a boy, his father died, leaving Apatoff the sole support for his family. He rode a battered bicycle around town after school seeking odd jobs, and he worked nights as a janitor. His childhood was grim and filled with challenges, but through it all he dreamed of becoming an artist.

He put himself through the Massachusetts College of Art & Design, working nights. Here is his portrait of a cleaning woman he admired.





After graduation, he went to Chicago where he set up an easel in his apartment and taught painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. He married an Iowa farm girl and had children, who he adored. This is his portrait of me when I was three:


Before long, Apatoff found himself with six children to support and a lot of bills to pay. He put aside his fine art aspirations and became an art director in an advertising agency. Politically radical, he ruefully recounted that now his job was to sell "candy to rot teeth, tobacco to rot lungs, televisions to rot minds, and liquor to rot livers."







Every once in a while his fine art yearnings managed to find an outlet in his commercial work, as in this sketch of a bicentennial bottle for the Miller Brewing Company.



When I was young, I loved to accompany him on Sunday trips to the art museum. He would stride into a huge room filled with grand baroque paintings, size up the room in ten seconds and growl, "they should bring a garbage truck around back and throw out every painting in this room except this one and that one." Then he would stride briskly on to the next room as I raced on my little legs to keep up. But driving home, he might stop the car for 10 minutes to revel in the color of paint on an industrial water tower illuminated in the afternoon sun. I never met a man with more anarchistic taste.



Now my father is gone forever. Today would have been his birthday and I miss him terribly. He sacrificed his own potential as an artist so that his kids could have a better life than he did.
He never expected anyone to see these paintings. I post them here to honor what he gave up for me, and to honor all those caught in the tug of war between art and life.