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Painting Across Time

by Rebecca M. Alvin

High atop a hill, overlooking Pilgrim Lake and the string of beach cottages along Route 6 in North Truro, Paul and Blair Resika spend their summers in a house that seems to have come to the Cape from somewhere else. With stone columns and archways, a babbling fountain, and casts from Michelangelo’s David hung about the veranda, there is an Old World beauty here that is at once out of the ordinary and perfectly suited to an area as known for its wild beauty as for its creative community. With the beauty of June blossoming all around us, Paul Resika sits for a rare interview on the occasion of the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC)’s Annual Summer Awards Celebration, where he will be guest of honor along with playwright Paula Vogel and television writer/producer Ryan Murphy.

“The museum is everything… That’s probably the most important quote you’ll get today,” says the 89-year-old artist. “ A lot of people don’t think that, but it’s true.” And it is a particularly relevant quote, as Resika’s view of art is one that reveres the masters of the past, but not in a stodgy, nostalgic way. Rather, he finds it essential to look back in order to bring the skills and techniques of the past into the present. He elaborates, recalling a time when he taught at the University of Pennsylvania run by a successful landscape painter:  “I asked him, ‘do you go across to the museum in Philadelphia?’ No. He thought they should work and not look at art,” he says incredulously. “I thought he was crazy. I mean, as far as art is concerned. On the other hand, that really is the American idea. The museum is considered something else, not the place where living art is, just old paintings.”

Paul Resika, Red Dunes, Green Sea (2016-2017, oil on canvas, 49×60”)

In fact, he doesn’t actually see art as a progression the way, say, technology and medicine are. “There’s no progress in art. It’s just art,” he says. “And an artist doesn’t get better when he works, he just works. And that goes quite against certain ideas of progress. But art has nothing to do with those ideas of progress.”

Resika’s body of work is strong and varied, taking influences from throughout the history of art. His Provincetown Pier paintings, which he painted on the beach in the 1980s, depict familiar objects—a boat, a wharf house, the ocean—but they stand out for the boldness of the shapes, the colors, the quiet of the scene, even when the water is not entirely still. Work from the 1960s and 70s, also painted en plein air, shows lush landscapes of greens and browns, sometimes with figures in them. These also invite a contemplative experience, albeit in an entirely different way. More recent paintings from the 2000s feature well-defined geometric elements that again depict boats in the harbor, often under the moon.  And then there are the recent florals and buoy paintings, some of which will be featured in an exhibition of his recent works that opens during the awards gala. This wide range of stylistic approaches is not delineated by specific periods in his long career, but rather a fluid set of possibilities that can emerge at any time. It is perhaps a reflection of Resika’s teachers, from his early studies with Sol Wilson to his days in abstract expressionism studying with Hans Hofmann to his time in Italy, learning from the masters, despite how unfashionable that was in the 1950s.

“We’ve never seen any paintings by the ancient Greeks, but I assume they were the best paintings that ever lived,” he says. Asked why, he responds, “As sculptors they were the best sculptors that ever lived, and as architects they were the best architects that ever lived, so one might assume… but we don’t know what those paintings looked like.” Asked if that means painting has gotten worse over time, since it was the best in Ancient Greece, he responds thoughtfully, “That’s a good question.”

Paul Resika, Fish, Moon, Dragonfly (2017, oil on canvas, 64×51

Born in 1928, Resika knew he would be a painter as early as 10 or 11 years old. He says now he never wavered from that, although he had his youthful distractions (jazz and women, he says). His mother, a Russian immigrant, was not an artist, but appreciated fine art, and Resika says he didn’t really doubt his ability to become a professional painter. He says Wilson taught him how to paint, but he is at a loss for words to describe what he learned from Hofmann. “Oh, you can’t say what you learned from him,” he says. Although he already knew how to paint, Resika says Hofmann gave him a feeling for composition and introduced him to the idea of plasticity, “a word no one knows anymore, although young painters often want to know what it means.” In order to understand what plasticity is, he says, you have to know what a picture is: “It’s not an illusion and yet it’s sort of an illusion.”

He’s not all that interested in talking about his own work, preferring to take me on a tour of his home, studio, and garden, to see the work by other artists that he admires and collects, saying “it’s more dignified” than talking about one’s own work. The collection includes works by Sol Wilson, Varujan Boghosian, Rob DuToit, a Robert Motherwell print, work by family members, a number of lesser known artists like sculptor Reuben Kadish, and the late Ray Nolan, whom Resika describes as “a terrifically gifted person.”

Inside his studio, Resika shows me portraits he’s been doing, as well as a number of finished works that will be in the show at FAWC, advising me on where to stand to see them in the best light. He points out a portrait he’s just finished of himself with his wife and one of the several cats that roam freely around his home. “I think it has some expression to it, too, because it looks like I’m fading out and she’s still there all vigorous. It makes me think of age. Although she’s 80, she doesn’t act like she’s 80,” he says with a smile.

After seeing the incredible work all around the property, I ask him, “What makes a good picture?” He raises an eyebrow and just laughs, a sly grin spreading across his face. It is the unspoken answer to a somewhat absurd question.

Paul Resika will be honored at the Fine Arts Work Center Annual Summer Awards Celebration, 24 Pearl St., Provincetown, on Saturday, July 8, beginning at 6 p.m. An exhibition of his work, Resika: Recent Paintings opens at FAWC that night and runs through July 30. For information on the exhibition or tickets ($300 and up) to the event call 508.487.9960 or visit


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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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