Gretchen Dow Simpson October 19, 2011

It was Good Friday 1974. I was 35 years old. Turns out it was a very spiritual day for me and I’m not religious. It was the day that the Art Director of The New Yorker Magazine, Lee Lorenz, said to me, after nine years of cover submissions, “ We are going to buy this one”! I was standing next to him looking at the painting and even though I was taller than he I felt he was as big as the room. My neck got tense, my head started to shake a little and I had no idea what to say. It was one of the most meaningful days of my life. (Other than giving birth twice!)

To go back in time, I had been submitting paintings to the magazine for 9 years and continually got polite pink rejection notes saying “keep trying” on my portfolio when I would go to the office on Tuesdays to pick up my work. After nine years I got married, moved out of NYC to Scranton PA, had 2 daughters and began painting in my studio in the barn 3 mornings a week. I was making very large abstract work spotted with details in contrast to large areas of space in closely related semi muted colors. In 1973 I got a call from an old friend who was working at the New Yorker who told me there was a new Art Director at the magazine. His name was Lee Lorenz. I packed up my portfolio with all my old submissions and slides of my new abstract work and left the portfolio with the secretary at the office and returned the next week to pick it up. Of course I was expecting to get another rejection note but instead the pink note said “Please see me, Lee”! I went into the office and he told me that he really liked the abstract paintings and could I make some realistic cover ideas with those paintings in mind. I said “But I don’t know what to paint, to which he replied “Paint what you like, not what you think we would like.” It was the best advice he could have given me. I went to a friend’s apartment, photographed her hallway, went back to Scranton and made a painting based on that photograph and took it to the magazine. That day was good Friday 1974. They bought the painting for my first cover which was the cover art for the August 19, 1974 issue. There were 57 more covers. I worked as a free lance artist for them for 20 years until Tina Brown took over the magazine. Well, she did buy one painting to be used as a cover, but only because it reminded her of her own property in the Hamptons!

I continue to paint always with “paint what you like” in mind . It has kept me on track with my art. My style grew over those 20 years, much to some people’s chagrin but it meant a lot to me that New Yorker supported my changes. To this day I am grateful for finding a meaningful place for my art. My life would have been very different had I not had the New Yorker Cover experience!

Ironically enough my mother, who was a frustrated artist, died in February of 1974 I do believe there is some kind of message there but I won’t venture to say what it is. She said to me many many times...”Do you believe?” I had no answer for her at that time.

So what do I believe? I believe in perserverence. Perserverance in regard to making art, to raising children, dealing with getting older, keeping in touch with old and new friends, finding joy in life and going to my studio everyday to paint.