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Charles Stokes, Innovative Artist and Instructor, Dies

In Art on May 15, 2008 at 10:15 pm

Charles Stokes, one of my instructors at Cornish School, has passed away in Manhattan. He had bladder cancer in 1975, and survived. I thought it was from working with cadmium red oil paint. No wonder his work was mostly in acrylics, gouache, and watercolor. Charles Stokes produced and edited the hilarious Cornish Game Hen, our school newspaper. From those days, I remember a very dynamic and colorful painting of a jazz scene by Charles Stokes. It was called Deep Flimsy. I love that title. The great painting must now have a place of honor in someone’s collection. Charles Stokes the art instructor at Cornish School was upset by the management of Cornish Gallery during the 1970s, because there were elements in and about it which showed less-than-respect for the art within it. He was an activist and a leader by nature. Stokes was forthright and witty; a perfect influence on students who were there to learn technique, taste, and standards. Our illustrious instructor even planned a crazy school parade, and named it, “A Cornish Concatenation”–again, it was screamingly funny, with Charles in the lead, wearing a Cyrano de Bergerac-style nose that he had fashioned. Stokes gave us all plastic baggies with autumn leaves in them, to commemorate the event. I still have mine, thirty-three years later. Stokes was an effective instructor, and like all geniuses, had a great sense of humor, but he was very serious about the quality of art. Those were the good old days at Cornish School, when Dale Owen, Fran Murphy, Ron Wigginton, Marni Nixon, Karen Irwin and the controversial administrator Melvin Strauss were there (Cornish School of Allied Arts was on the brink of an upheaval then– several instructors were planning on leaving–my painting teacher, Fran Murphy, told me to go to New York and just paint. Not long after, I went, and worked in the art world. ) Those days at Cornish School of Allied Arts are refreshing to recall, when one ponders the gimmickry and mimicry that contemporary art now constitutes; when all one has to do to make it big in the art world is to deface Central Park, paint a flat blue field, or carve meatballs out of one’s own belly-fat. Shortly after the seventies, to do well as an artist, it depended not upon what one could do, but who one knew (I have another rhyming word which applies, but in the interest of good taste, shall refrain…). I looked several times for Charles Stokes’ work since the inception of the internet, because I missed his fantastic paintings and wanted to see where he had gone. I wish I had known he was in Manhattan while I was living very close to Juilliard School, where his wife teaches. Apparently, Stokes had no truck with internet technology, and remained rather esoteric, but his influence lives on in his students. Charles Stokes’ artwork will ever shine in private and public collections, with great luminosity. A bright star is said to go out too soon, and that describes Charles Stokes perfectly. I was upset by his obituary, but pleased to find that it included a portrait of Stokes by the great Northwest photographer Mary Randlett, which appears above my copy, and shows part of a masterful composition by Charles Stokes. I wish I could see the whole thing. Maybe the drawing is in the Museum of Northwest Art. No one who knew Charles Stokes the artist will ever forget his bright persona nor his mystical works. Versatile and original, dynamic and colorful, Charles Stokes was a brilliant artist and musician. I send my condolences to his wife, Juilliard School instructor Irene Dowd, and children.

Charles Stokes’ Obituary

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