Back in 2009, I reinvented myself.
Here’s how it began:
Long ago, when I was a confused and rudderless art student at UC Santa Cruz, I took classes from a professor whose opinions I clung to as a shipwrecked sailor clings to a life preserver. His name was Jasper Rose.
A towering Brit, whose long grey hair and bangs framed a ruddy cheeked face, topped by dark eyebrows arched with Spock-like defiance, Jasper Rose could always be found sporting a bow tie, a tweed jacket, and a cane with which he would punctuate his statements with enthusiasm.
His passion for teaching was remarkable. His lectures, whether for 200 students or for half a dozen, were never canned recitations like those of some of my other professors. He had a strong intention to do something only that naive or brilliant teachers aspire to– to have a positive impact on every student within the sound of his voice.
And of course, he was a character. He was passionate, he was Dickensian, he limped, (one fancied, from “The Blitz”) he was all 19th Century Oxford and old school tradition, but that cultured sophistication ended at his waistline; he sported American blue jeans under his paunch, and instead of wing-tips, he was often shod in Birkenstocks.
I took five University courses from him. He helped me navigate the early Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, the Renaissance, and the modern periods, right up to Picasso.
I would say that for a significant time, I majored in Jasper Rose.
A collector of rare books, Professor Rose included me in a small study group in book illustration that was held in the mahogany-paneled library of his Victorian house, which was located beside a rustic graveyard in Santa Cruz.
His assignments were to copy drawings by masters like Daumier and Picasso, which he would then critique. He had the ability to comment on our efforts without offending, or being evaluative, which is hard to do.
He also shared with us the valuable illustrations in his rare collection of books, which were amazing to view in person.
To say that I absorbed his persona would be an understatement. After any given Jasper Rose lecture, I would view the redwood forests and lovely seaside vista of Santa Cruz in a completely fresh way, as I limped back to my student housing, my thoughts echoing in his Oxford accented prose, and craving tea and scones.
Not surprisingly, thirty years or so later when I was searching around for a way to give voice to certain opinions I had about art and culture, I stumbled over the overladen mental portfolio I possessed that was full of the nuances and exclamations of Jasper Rose, and crafted a tribute to him in a professor character I named Knestor Jackdaws.
I hired Ed French, a Hollywood makeup artist to create the signature teeth that give Knestor his own sound and look. (Jasper Rose’s teeth were not so prominent, but his vaulting dark eyebrows were.)
Professor Knestor evolved into the curator of “The Virtual Museum”, where any painting or sculpture in history could be presented to an audience “in a nano-second”, based upon titles suggested by the audience. He describes the invisible work of art in detail, and it is almost always completely ridiculous.
Audiences frequently remark on how much they enjoy seeing paintings created in mid air as in “The Virtual Museum”. I think It is the amount of audience contribution inconspicuously woven into it that makes “The Virtual Museum” such a hit with. People can “see” the painting by the end. If that isn’t audience participation I don’t know what is.
I have continued to develop Knestor, who now after many live performances and quite a few YouTube videos, has his very own life and collection of peculiarities, not to mention his own Facebook page.
I will be eternally grateful for professor Jasper Rose, who I am told is still alive and painting in Bath, England, not only for the appropriation of his style, but for his passion, his inspiration, and his dedication to artistic expression and to passing that on to others.
Inspiring others has been a great source of pleasure to me as well, and I am quite happy performing as Knestor Jackdaws, and cooking up a new painting from “The Virtual Museum.”
Who knows? Perhaps some upstart will be imitating me thirty years hence, for a similarly silly purpose, and adding to my character their own “refinements.”
It will serve me right.