WHY I CREATED PROFESSOR KNESTOR

You may or may not be aware that about a year and a half ago I reinvented myself.

I didn’t really set out to reinvent myself, it just happened.

Here’s how it began:

Long ago, when I was a confused and meandering art student at UC Santa Cruz, there was one teacher whose opinions and viewpoint I clung to as a sailor adrift on the sea will cling to a piece of flotsam. His name was Jasper Rose.

He was a Brit, with long white hair and bangs that framed his slightly beefy, always ruddy cheeked face. His black eyebrows arched with almost Spock-like defiance towards opposite sides of the compass, and he always sported a bow tie, a Harris tweed jacket and a cane, for he had a subtle limp.

His passion for teaching was remarkable. His lectures, whether for 200 students or for six, were never canned or by rote as those of other teachers lamentably were; indeed, he had a strong intention and ambition to do something only naive or brilliant teachers do– to have a positive impact on every student within the sound of their voice.

For a time, I MAJORED in Jasper Rose.

I took five courses from him. He helped me navigate the early Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, the Renaissance, and the modern periods, right up to Picasso.

A bibliophile and collector of rare books, he invited several of us students for a special course in book illustration that he held in the mahogony paneled library of his home, a Victorian mansion near a rustic Santa Cruz graveyard.

He gave assignments for us to try and emulate various artists by copying simple drawings by Daumier, Picasso and others, and then had the ability, by dint of his affectionate way, to critique each one without in any way offending the student, helping and never judging.

To say that I absorbed his personality would be an understatement. After a two hour lecture, I would view the redwood forests and lovely seaside vistas of Santa Cruz in a completely fresh way, as I limped back to my student housing, my thoughts continually enunciated in his Oxford accented prose.

So, thirty years or so later, when I was searching around for an entertaining way for me to express certain things about art and culture, I stumbled upon the mental portfolio I had stocked full of the nuances and exclamations of Jasper Rose, and created a tribute to him in my Professor Knestor Jackdaws, (a name that at first glance seems to be a recombination of the letters in “Jasper Rose”, but doesn’t, yet still carries a bit of the flavor of his uniquely evocative monicker.)

I hired a very talented Hollywood makeup man to create the signature teeth that help give Knestor his own sound and look. (Jasper Rose’s teeth were not particularly prominent, especially when overshadowed by his vaulting dark eyebrows.)

The reason why I have continued to develop the character, who now after many live performances and dozens of travelogue YouTube videos, has his very own life, viewpoint and collection of peculiarities, is because I have noticed that audiences continually remark on how much they enjoy seeing a work of art created in mid air as in his Virtual Museum.

It is the amount of audience contribution that is inconspicuously woven into it that makes The Virtual Museum such a hit with people; indeed, they see the painting as clearly as I do at the end. If that isn’t audience participation I don’t know what is.

In any case, I am eternally grateful for professor Jasper Rose, (who I am told is still alive and probably lecturing in England somewhere; if anyone knows how to contact him, please tell me) and not only for the unknowing loan of his persona, distorted as it is by yours truly, but mainly for his passion and interest in artistic expression, and his dedication to passing on that passion to others.

I find inspiring others with art, my own and that of others, is an eternal source of pleasure to me, and I am very happy when I am doing it.  (You can see Knestor as a guest lecturer at my upcoming show, JIMPRESSIONS, March 25th & 26th, 2011 at The Acting Center.)

Who knows? Maybe someone will be imitating me thirty years hence, for a similarly noble and/or silly purpose, and adding to the character their own refinements. As long as it in the service of inspiring others to look at and enjoy art in all its variety, I will be pleased indeed.

photo by Steve Heard

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Published in: on February 14, 2011 at 8:02 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Gosh you are such a talent! The artwork, the characters, the WRITING! Fascinating to hear this very fun and beautiful account of how you evolved Prof. Jackdaws. The thing that struck me first was finding out that you created that character less than 2 years ago! I thought I had only stumbled on it quite late into it’s inception, wondering what I had missed years before. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant and beautiful series of Professor’s adventures on YouTube. Inspiring and encouraging. So simple, yet so rich! Knestor’s inception, his message and persistence in life makes up for all the video games you lend yourself to! 🙂

  2. Thank you, Mister Meskimen. Thank you for the passion and love of great art you have captured of your real life inspiration, Jasper Rose, and brilliantly made your own… Professor Knestor’s own.

    Amazing in what forms and refinements one creates those who most influence their lives, in their own work as Artists. And I am eternally amazed at how Knestor’s innocent genius… your genius… leaves me feeling not only entertained and delighted, but also more myself. Not the least bit confusing, I trust 🙂

    Love this back story! Please keep your prolific work coming!

  3. Here’s a long shot. My father, who died recently, told me I was named after a boy he knew at school, at Cheltenham College in England, named Jasper Rose.

    Any idea if your Jasper Rose attended Cheltenham?

    Jasper Morgan

    • I really have no idea, but maybe someone would know. He is in his late eighties now, I know that. Sorry I can’t be of more help at this instant.

  4. Not sure about Cheltenham. When I was at UCSC, Jasper once told me that to understand him you had to know that he grew up the Jewish son of a professor of German literature at King’s College, Cambridge during World War II.

    • Ah! Didn’t know that! That’s a very unique upbringing… and I am so grateful that I knew him. Just went back to Santa Cruz and UCSC for the first time in 30 years… was a very moving experience.

  5. He’s alive and well in a Georgian mansion on Sidney Place in Bath-maybe number 99 if you want to try to write to him. Today is his 83rd birthday, March 10. 2013. This year he became a grandfather for the first time, to little Jasper Jupiter Algernon Rose. He is still painting away, I don’t know if still every day. He was larger than life in Santa Cruz, I am sure a most memorable character for all who studied with him.

    His birthday horoscope is rather uncannily accurate, “With a quick perception of human nature, you are led by suggestion rather than by force. The love and friendships you inspire are true and lasting, and you have no real enemies. You are observing. Like to travel and will do so extensively. It remains for you to direct your special and sometimes eccentric talents in a positive way.”

    His watercolors are highly collectable and inexpensive.

    One could say of Jasper Rose as Chaucer said of the clerk at Oxenford, “And gladly would he learn and gladly teach”.

    • Thanks very much! Splendid news. I appreciate you writing!


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