On a day so cold it makes you forget global warming, Trudy Glucksberg’s Princeton home is toasty, from her warm greeting and the steaming coffee she serves to the fire in her hearth. She is surrounded by hand-built ceramic pots, colorful textiles and artwork, including the large canvases of abstract paintings by her late partner, Al Aronson.
I’m here to talk about Aronson. He and Glucksberg were fixtures at art openings, especially at the Arts Council of Princeton, walking distance from her home. Since her retirement Glucksberg volunteers there a day a week.
I expected to someday interview Aronson about his art – he was as colorful as his canvases, and he often talked about how he didn’t like “art speak” — but Aronson’s twinkle went out in October, when lung cancer took his life. Even his memorial service was held in the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts.
In honor of the late artist, Arts Council Executive Director Jeff Nathanson has curated Structure and Flow: An Exploration of Contrasts in Abstraction, on view through March 9. The exhibit also features work by Benjamin Colbert, Nancy Cohen, John Franklin and Alyce Gottesman, as well as outdoor sculpture by Mike Gyampo.
Nathanson began talking to Aronson about an exhibit on abstract art in summer 2012. “I was excited about showing some of his vibrant, expressionist paintings and was interested in the emotional, spiritual and spontaneous flow of his work,” writes Nathanson in the exhibit catalog. “It is with great reverence for his work and the influence he had on our local art scene that this exhibition is dedicated to him.”
While going through Aronson’s work, Nathanson learned that jazz influenced his painting. “Structure and Flow is, in many ways, about jazz and improvisation,” says Nathanson. “It is a visual representation of the contrasts between composed and improvised music, as interpreted by visual artists.”
A graduate of Bronx High School of Science and Syracuse University, Aronson had a career as an electrical engineer at RCA and GE before discovering himself as an artist. His late wife, Yvonne, was also an artist, and it was through Yvonne that Glucksberg first met Al.
During the Vietnam War, Glucksberg ran a gallery with Yvonne that raised money for peace marches in Washington. They sold, among other things, pottery by noted ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu. Then a professor at Princeton, Takaezu would nap between classes at the Aronsons’ home, according to Glucksberg.
Yvonne, a potter, folksinger and teacher, started the Princeton Folk Music Society and Transformations, a group of artists who sold their work first through Gallery 100, and later at the University Store.
Sadly, the Aronsons lost a daughter to lung cancer, and Yvonne succumbed to the disease in 1990. There was no known genetic link, says Glucksberg. Six months after Yvonne’s death, and nearly a decade after Glucksberg’s divorce, Trudy and Al got to know one other. He became more than the man who worked at RCA and read the newspaper; together they were vibrant members of the Princeton-area arts community.
Born in Germany and growing up in Riverdale, Trudy went to the High School of Music and Art and at City College majored in art. She moved to Princeton when she married a Princeton professor, and after her three children were born began a career, in the mid 1970s, as a graphic designer for Princeton University Press (she retired in 2000).
Even during his engineering career, “Al was always an artist,” says Glucksberg, recounting how he’d taken classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
In his 50s, he completed an associate’s degree in art at Mercer County Community College, taking classes with Mel Leipzig and Frank Rivera, and through an RCA program for employees over 55, took art classes at Princeton University. He was given studio space and had the opportunity to interact with distinguished New York artists. When Yvonne became sick, Aronson took early retirement to care for her.
As an abstract expressionist, Aronson earned many awards, including the Mercer County Artists Purchase Award. Glucksberg says Aronson’s greatest asset as an abstract painter was knowing when to stop. “He was good at division of space and use of color,” she says.
And, she confirms, he didn’t like art speak. “He didn’t like critics who told you what you thought. He was very intuitive.”
He also liked to cook, especially sushi, which he taught through Community Without Walls. “He liked to cook like Julia Child, and measured everything like an engineer,” says Glucksberg.
Artist Marsha Levin-Rojer, who chairs the Arts Council exhibition advisory committee, remembers Aronson’s kitchen filled with electronics. He built computers from parts for the Trenton After School Program. Both Glucksberg and Aronson participated in a fundraiser for TASP, in which artists were given chairs to paint, and the chairs were auctioned. Aronson volunteered at TASP for 10 years, teaching math and science and setting up the computer lab. “He loved those kids,” says Glucksberg. “They called him ‘Mr. Al.’”
Structure and Flow: An Exploration of Contrasts in Abstraction is on view through March 9 at the Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon St., Princeton. http://www.artscouncilofprinceton.org