In the painting, a single ocean wave rolls gently towards the shore. It is a murky greenish-blue, as if it arose out of the misty background of a Leonardo. The wave is briny and heavily laden with sand as it swells in the middle, about to break. You can smell it. The calligraphy of the cresting foam is so delicate you feel your heart will break.
The painting was a gift to me from Bud many years ago. It lives right above my dresser, so it is the first thing I see when I wake up and the last before I go to sleep. And it reminds me of what a great friend and mentor Bud has been to me, and to so many other artists of my generation.
Bud taught me all sorts of technical things; like which were the best of the many sanguine pencils on the market, and how to sharpen them properly. He showed me how to use a circular viewfinder, through which he looked at the model and discovered his extraordinary “Body Parts,” which he drew with an unparalleled loveliness and delicacy.
Bud was a man who bestowed many gifts—things, certainly, but most of his gifts were experiential: lessons, advice, example.
Bud taught me mainly by embodiment; he showed me what it meant to live an artist’s life, to dedicate yourself completely to your craft, and to the realization of your personal vision. And when so many artists insisted that the demands of life and of art were irreconcilable, he showed me how I could be completely devoted to my art but also to my family and to a larger sense of ‘a good life’.
Bud loved all things Italian. As a boy, he used to copy Leonardo and Michelangelo drawings out of art books. Becoming aware that his whole understanding of Italian art was through books, his most pressing desire became to go to Italy and look at these works first-hand. In 1975, he took a full-year sabbatical from teaching at Hunter and went with his family to Florence, where he did nothing but draw for an entire year. He went to ‘Il Cabinetto del Disegno’ at the Uffizi, where he copied portfolio after portfolio of drawings. The beauty of Leonardo, especially, came to him like a personal revelation, an epiphany that stayed with him his entire life. This culminated in his magnificent “Leonardo Series,” a project in which he executed red chalk drawings to accompany all of Leonardo’s human anatomical observations, most of which were written down, but not illustrated.
Beauty is a term reviled in our time, said to be utterly pointless in its subjectiveness. And yet, it is the first word that comes to almost anyone’s mind when they look at a Panzera drawing. Fittingly, it embodies one of the most frequently spoken words in the Italian language, “bella.”
Bud taught at Hunter College for forty-six years, as well as at RISD, the New York Academy of Art, and the National Academy of Design, where he became an NA in 1996. And unlike so many artists who often resented their teaching as time away from their real work, Bud embraced teaching with all his heart. He did so because he knew that being an artist also meant being a lifelong student, to being open to new ideas and new knowledge. He fully embodied Chaucer’s memorable description of the Clerk’s in the Canterbury Tales: “and gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.”
Bud’s life’s work had several major, opposing through-lines running throughout, which I would describe as ‘Abundance and Loss’. The Abundance lay in his ecstatic hymn to the grace, beauty, and elegance of the human body. Like Leonardo or Botticelli, Bud never put down a line on a figure that wasn’t filled with these qualities, and that wasn’t fully informed with information and life. But opposing the beauty of the living human form, there was a recognition of the ever presence of Death.
This appeared overtly throughout his work in the many skulls, bones and dead things: birds, withered flowers, a dried fig. But also in a pervasive sense of the ephemeralness of nature, the changing seasons, the fleeting clouds, the ebb and flow of the tides in the Nantucket landscape he so loved.
Looking at a group of drawings of a dead bird pinned-up on Bud’s studio wall, I remembered thinking, how could anything so sad be so beautiful?
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Bud gave to me was the opportunity to see him work on one of the few major contemporary fresco projects in the United States; Ben Long’s fresco cycle in Saint Peter’s Catholic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Long was a student of Pietro Annigoni, and in 1987, he embarked on this ambitious fresco, a 35 by 44 ft. wall behind the main altar. I remember first walking into the church and feeling as if I had been transported in time back to 15th century Florence, seeing this beehive of activity surrounding the master. Bud was one of several assistants to Ben, and I was so impressed by the fact that Bud, a professor and a mature, nationally known artist, would sign on to be an assistant in this project, so he could further enhance his own knowledge of the fresco process. “And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.”