Provincetown Invasion, acrylic & ink, 48" x 36," $3000
From the Journals, Provincetown, MA, 1986-87
What a beautiful day! How wonderful to be back in P-town and in my own little cottage, so airy, so light, so cozy, so filled with my treasures! I was out at 8:00 in the morning with Mr. Brown on Commercial Street. People passed by, waved, and cried, "Welcome back!" A stroll along the beach where I encountered the familiar sight of Old Man Anthony, deaf, ragged, snot-nosed with his mangy red-eyed dog Charlie, two beachcombers frozen Fellini-like against the P-town skyline. "They've doubled my property taxes this week," screamed Anthony, "It's all that Dukakis's fault! John Adams said in 1776 that taxes were illegal. My roof leaks. The walls sag. Inherited the house from my parents. Where's the justice of it all? I'll fight it in court. Yes Sirrree." Later I examined Anthony's house on Pearl Street. An eyesore. The interior, a junk shop crammed with cartons and debris, probably gave some City Hall bureaucrat the idea of driving Anthony and Charlie out of town by the outrageous tax.
I returned to my cottage and listened to Bach while working on a painting. Then I made a delectable fish soup-- the more veggies the better the taste. Then I headed to the Art Association to attend a four hour workshop on "Building Your Own Theology" with the Rev. Kim Harvie, the Lesbian minister from the Unitarian Church. A farce, a kind of '60s-like encounter group largely spent filling in questions about life in a notebook. Ten bucks with a free notebook thrown in. But Harvie, not yet thirty, very beautiful, glows with an inner luminosity. Three lesbians, a female hetero, a male nurse, and myself. One arresting fact: AIDS victims are flocking in large numbers to P-town to die. Six in Harvie's congregation died this summer. I bumped into Linda Tennyson, my dealer in P-town, who suggested a one-man show very soon in her gallery. "See me, Handsome, in the next few days, she cried upon departure. Night spent finishing the 2nd volume of Malcolm Muggeridge's autobiography. The archetypal Christian reactionary with the stance of de contemptu mundi. A beer at the A-House before retiring.
Bill Evaul, the Director of the Art Association, has the look about him of the aging punk; and when I arrived at his office for a meeting to discuss volunteer work for the archives, his mammoth cigar was not untypical of his mask. Evaul was impatient, even rude. "It's a bad day," he cried when I left to attend a lifedrawing class downstairs. Pat Bruno, the model, never showed up, and one of the artists stripped naked for the two hour session during which time I produced two striking compositions.
En route to my cottage I dropped by Joel's office. Recently I have spent a lot of time with Joel and have gone dining with him and on a trip on a boat out in the harbor, but at this date I still cannot accept at face value his whole story. Forty, a graduate of Columbia, an ex-stock broker on Wall Street, Joel built up a metals commodity business in Ft. Lauderdale and at the time of the Nelson Bunker Hunt silver scam Joel bought $30,000,000 of non-existent silver and went into bankruptcy. That's the official story, but when pressed on details Joel mumbles about justice Department pay-offs and government vendettas. His stash of $250,000 lost in an oil drill venture, Joel then drove cab for three years whereupon he arrived broke in P-town where he unloaded fish from boats at the pier. Now Joel, a burly ex-wrestler of high intelligence and great conviviality, operates a realty but spends his mornings from four to seven as P-town's newspaper delivery boy.
Upon entering Joel's place I encountered two fishermen-- Eric who at 24 needed neither blond beard nor gold earring to embellish his rugged good looks, and his partner John, 54, down from North Conway these last six months for tuna fishing. They were all oohing and ahing at my nudes from life drawing when I commented, "Well, the guy next door caught an 800 pound tuna and there was a Japanese on the pier who actually paid him $10 a pound."
This provoked a storm of words from Eric. "Ten bucks-- that's nothing. The Moonies will pay you $12.50 a pound, and they'll give you a case of beer, a hundred pounds of ice, and tackle. The Moonies have 68 tuna boats out there, not including the mother ship, and every time someone catches a tuna the Moonies are there with their offer. But people resent the Moonies because they are trying to take over the industry. Some fishermen will sell their meat for $8 a pound, the going price at the pier, just because they want nothing to do with the Moonies. They are Moon's slaves. They work for nothing. That's why they can pay $12.50 and then sell the tuna to the Japanese for $50 a pound. And it's not your regular tuna, Albacore. It's big tuna often over a thousand pounds. It's a Japanese delicacy, Sushi, which they eat raw."
I turned to John and asked him how many tuna he had caught and even before he answered, "None," I sensed a look of defeat about him. "We go out every day, " he added, "in my launch, an old hulk I rebuilt myself, every day since April and I've caught nothing. And people all around me are pulling in these thousand pound fish."
"Catching a tuna is like hooking a Volkswagen that's going 45 miles per hour. But Eric here has caught his share."
"How do you go about fishing for tuna? I mean, you don't use a fishing pole for a thousand pound fish."
Eric lit a cigarette and began to explain the ins and outs of tuna fishing. "It's an endurance test between you and the fish Once you've got the fish on the line your aim is to wear him out because the fish is continually trying to get rid of the hook. Sometimes I have fought a fish for hours and he just slipped away. Just like that. You follow the fish, you see. The line is attached to a big rubber ball filled with air so wherever the fish swims you can see him because of the ball." Eric then went outside to fetch a tuna hook which was attached to a roll of plastic-like line. While I inspected it, John said, "Perhaps you'll come out on the boat for a day with us."
"That sounds great! But I've got to get back now to the Duc de Saint-Simon."
"Who's that?" they all cried.
"He wrote one of the world's great memoirs. I am reading a four volume abridgment of the original eighteen volumes and I can't put it down. Last night I came across a scene of great drama. Louis XIV had three bastard sons who, even though they had official titles and positions at court, were known as the Bastards. In 1711, which is where I am at, four years before Louis XIV died, the King is sitting in his living room at Versailles with the family which consists of his second wife, Madam de Maintenon, the heir the Dauphin known as Monsignor, and his son the Duc de Bourgogne. In other words, the King, his son, and grandson. ( Both son and grandson will soon die which means that the throne is inherited by Louis XIV's great-grandson, a little boy, who becomes Louis XV.) The King suddenly gets up and fetches the three Bastards, and in an unprecedented gesture which stuns everyone present-- the Duc de Saint-Simon has this information from his close friend the King's nephew the Duc d'Orleans-- the King presents the Bastards to Monsignor and the Duc de Bourgogne and asks them to pledge that after his death they will do nothing to divest the Bastards and their children of their titles and inheritances. Whereupon Monsignor and the grandson become incoherent, so flustered are they by this request. The King again asks for a pledge, and once again Monsignor and the grandson are unable to speak coherently. The King then leaves the room with the Bastards. All this is described in only a few pages but is done with incredible literary finesse. Well, good day, Gentlemen. I am returning to the Duc de Saint-Simon. See you hopefully on the tuna boat."
Barbara, my landlady, who lives in Cambridge and stays weekends in P-town, cried from her 3rd story perch, "Who's there?" as I was putting my laundry into the machine in the house adjacent to my cottage. A resident of P-town for twenty years, Barbara rushed down and cried, "Oh, it's you!" I turned to her and said, "I'm going through a crisis. I have to decide in the next six hours whether to accept Linda Tennyson's offer of a one-man show in her gallery for the first two weeks in November.
"When in doubt I always say do."
"Yeah, but who is going to buy anything in November? And it's going to cost me $700 to print cards. It's a real crisis. On the one hand, to arrive here and almost immediately to be placed center-stage in a gallery and on the other hand the financial outlay....."
We separated. I strolled up Commercial Street with its non-stop procession of lesbian couples, tourists with cameras, and solitary butch types, all mostly here for Columbus Day weekend, the next-to-the-last big influx of the year before Halloween when my opening would be. I smiled at the familiar wooden buildings, so human in their smallness. Yesterday at five I had decided not to do it. By seven it was definitely Yes. This morning I had changed my mind because of the impossibility of getting cards printed in time. But, I thought to myself, if I use one of my Shakespeare cards ..... I rushed into the Tennyson Gallery and suggested to Linda printing the invitation on my own card. She beamed assent, agreed to let me use both walls of the gallery, and suggested I go to Shank Painter Printer, which I then did to learn that the cost will be only $70. Back then to the Tennyson Gallery to discuss a few details and afterwards another quick encounter with the landlady.
"The show's going on!" I cried.
"You must be positively in 7th heaven."
"Not really. I wonder if it's a fool's errand."
Tennyson Gallery Exhibition, Provincetown, Halloween, 1986
I saw Maurice, a movie based on E. M. Forster's novel which I read with no lasting impression 15 or so years ago. The movie, perhaps the best ever made on the subject of homosexuality, was exquisite in acting, even more memorable for its cinematography, especially the scenes in Cambridge which evoked from me a frisson of nostalgia. Who will deny today that Gay Liberation had a longevity span of about ten years and that gayness is now little more than a holocaust of the soul? Promiscuity now a form of suicide, the Sexual Revolution is over; and now that gay sex is synonymous with death the Age of Celibacy is the REALITY. Hence Maurice, a period piece from the halcyon days before the First World War, poses problems which in the light of AIDS seem as antiquated as the stylized dialogue of Moliere's Misanthrope.
My memory has begun to rot-- that's for sure. Even though I was a resident of Caius College in 1965, I was unable to recognize in the movie whether the stunning vignettes in chapel and hall took place at Trinity or Kings. I chuckled over the tutorial scene. The students translating the Symposium, smirking in embarrassment over the doctrine of Greek Love sums up the hypocrisy of English culture, so dedicated was it to Greats and yet so opposed to the homosexual message of Greats. "We are Christians!" cried Maurice on a skiff on the Cam, a protestation soon to disintegrate before his passion for Clive, who eventually goes straight, marries, and affirms his political obligations as a country squire. Clive merely passes through a homosexual phase: that's the important distinction. But Maurice- horror of horrors!-- ten years after Oscar Wilde's death this budding stockbroker suffers the torments of the Love That Has No Name and he even undergoes hypnosis to try to rid himself of his sexual obsessions. Maurice's cross is that he cannot go public, he cannot come out, and he must live a life of secrecy and hypocrisy. Starved for sex and intimacy, he falls for Clive's distinctly lower-class game warden, a tough punk with ideas of blackmail. The final scene sums up gay reality in Edwardian England. Clive, silhouetted against all the warmth of bourgeois domesticity, stares out of the window of his estate at the boathouse where Maurice has returned to plight his troth with his punk who lies on the floor amidst squalor. For one a life of social position and happiness, for the other a future of marginality.
Black Monday: a beautiful sunny day and I decided to dress up in a sport jacket and tie and take Mr. Brown for a walk. P-town is accustomed to seeing me in Levi's, boots,, and leather jacket-- the costume of the artist as prole, a clone amidst the macho multitudes on Commercial Street. In my chartreuse jacket and Harvard tie I looked positively professorial. At Joel's he cried, "You look like a business man. You look breezy, cheerful." And at Northern Lights Leather the effect was dramatic. T., leather craftsman turned entrepreneur, shook my hand and suggested we step outside to chat. This week P- town has been invaded for Fantasia Fair by a convention of 300 transvestites who heavily rouged and over-dressed resemble New York hookers. The transvestites strut about in the street in groups whispering amongst themselves. Some of the transvestites are married and have arrived with wives and kids. A trio passed T. and me on the street. T. commented that the transvestites are pathetic. But if P-town is all dressed up, why not me too?
How wonderful to get up every morning to the reality of the beach which is only a block or so away from my cottage, to hear the rhythm of the sea and foghorns, to see the boats and the gulls on the shore. How superior to the cultural stimuli of the city. Who would not trade a night at the opera for clean air, the latest movie for the truth of nature? Here in P-town my life has fallen into a Horatian mode, and I compare my habits to Horace's low profile in the country far from the imperial scene. No wonder I feel reanimated and healthy in P-town. There is such a thing as living correctly, which each culture has defined differently. To the ancient Chinese the norm was adherence to the Tao. To the Indians right living had to do with Dharma. Aristotle spoke of a Golden Mean. But we Americans, dedicated to the elusive goal of happiness, have fallen into the swine pit of excess measured by the Dow Jones Averages. The Goddess Capitalism has enslaved her victims with images of luxury. Let the Stock Market crash even lower! Let the millions who suffer now the burst of the bourse bubble reflect how false values have corrupted America. Here on the beach in P-town I have turned my back on the world. I watch no television. Only seldom do I read newspapers. I listen to the news on the radio only once a day-- and that is too much. I eat healthy food. I exercise by walking my dog along the ocean. I paint. I read only great literature. I listen daily to Mozart and Bach. In this way I keep the world at a distance and preserve my sanity. I am an archaic voice amidst a mad cacophony.
The last Indian Summer day. Up early for a walk along the beach with Mr. Brown. Then a little Savitri which produces only yawns. Aurobindo's opus illustrates Poe's dictum about the danger of long poems. Some passages are of great sublimity but most others are either tedious or unintelligible. Finished then A Rebours, Huysman's Bible of decadence, the first rereading in twenty years. Who will deny that in my Harvard years I was a Des Esseintes figure, an overripe precious flower seeking in culture an escape from technocratic ugliness and life itself? Harvard was my ivory tower, and drugs then were my catalyst into the abyss, and from this collision came my art. Beware, said Goethe, of attaining in middle age what you dream of in youth. Such should be my motto these days. But hush. The exhibition still afflicts my spirits. I peeked into the gallery and noticed in the Guest Book that Mary Spenser Nay and Boris Margo visited yesterday. So now I can say that three P-town artists have seen my show. Still P-town's indifference rankles. After a fish soup lunch I strolled to a bench outside City Hall where I was joined by Joel who commented that I am overreacting and feeling too much rejection.
"It's not that I expected to make money!" I cried, "It's that I wanted the artists to see my work. Until this show I have had no negative feelings about P-town; now it's all negative."
Joel was no comfort and mumbled a spiel about a 3% response to unsolicited mail. So back to the cottage to work on a painting. Handel flute sonatas, Gluck's "Don Juan, " and my great discovery, Francoeur's "Wedding Music for the Count d'Artois, " who was later Charles X. The strains of Versailles in P-town, all quite relevant since I finished yesterday Letters from Liselotte, the Princess Palatine and sister-in-law of Louis XIV. A fascinating collection of letters which illuminates aspects of Versailles unknown to Saint-Simon. What will come of all this reading? But there is nothing else to do here at night. Come six o'clock and I'm in bed with the books. Tonight Mallarme. Perhaps I shall start writing symbolist poems about Versailles centered around Monsieur's farting or the scene Liselotte describes of people constantly pissing in the corridors. Thousands of courtiers and they just pissed in the corridors. What did the women do? Where did they go to piss? One thing I will say: after Saint-Simon and Liselotte the central characters of Louis XIV's court have become very real so that I find myself wondering what finally happened to the Duc de Maine and others.
A rainy dreadful day. Morose, I put on my stereo Forqueray's Suites and then there was a knock at my door. It was my brother Allan beaming and shouting, "I found you!" My mother, soon to be 81, looking frail but in excellent health, thrust a bag of apples into my hand and a container of veal stew, sat down, and was looking around when my sister-in-law Phyllis entered. My cottage consists of two medium-sized rooms and contains 900 paintings, 21 sculptures, and 650 books. Unless everything including art supplies is exactly in place the cottage is unmanageable. The three of them stared in almost perfect silence for almost a minute.
"So what do you think?" I asked.
"You could do a lot worse for $275 a month," commented Phyllis.
"And this place sold for $78,000!" cried Allan.
"Look," volunteered my mother, "If you find a house for around $50,000 I'll buy it for you."
"You cannot buy a shack in P-town for $50,000."
We chatted and then decided to go for lunch. Piling into Phyllis' brand-new Sabre, we crept down Commercial Street in the rain.
"This place is really desolate," said Allan, "But look at the water! You are only half a block from the water."
"Yup. I take Mr. Brown for a run on the beach every morning. This is my reality. Everything here depends upon the weather."
"But what do you do here? You don't even have a television."
"At night I read."
Allan whose reading is confined to the newspaper shut up. I suggested that we dine at the Red Inn which sits on the water. We were seated. The view was spectacular I ordered scrod.
"So how did you do on the stock market, Allan?"
Allan cringed. "On Black Monday I was really depressed."
"What's going to happen?"
"We are going to have a recession. That means people aren't going to buy things like your paintings."
"And people aren 't going to pay $1 .50 for coffee," said my mother,"The prices here are ridiculous."
"You're paying, Mother. You said you'd pay for lunch. "
My mother poked at her food. I turned to Phyllis and said, "I've joined Alcoholics Anonymous."
Phyllis turned red and replied, "You know, I didn't want to say anything but every time you come to our house the liquor cabinet gets depleted.
"What! An alcoholic!" cried my mother.
"Look, I paint and I sip and it's gotten out of control."
When did you realize you are an alcoholic?"
"I started to go to AA last week. You wouldn't believe how many people in P-town go to AA. There are three meetings every day. Sunday night In P-town there were a hundred people at the meeting."
Allan sighed, "The view is just marvelous. The water is so soothing. It's worth everything. It's lovely but let's go to your exhibit."
At Whaler's Wharf the four of us breezed into the Tennyson Gallery where I have 63 paintings and sculptures on exhibit. That this, my 17th show in 1987, was almost a complete flop does not disguise the overwhelming impression my things make. Allan, whose interest in art is perhaps even less than mine in the stock market, cried over the immense space of the gallery, "Richard, if you were famous, these would be worth millions." The three of them took an unusually long time examining my creations most of which they had never seen. "And you made those!" whispered my mother in front of the bronzes. "That's just magnificent," cooed Phyllis when Allan joined her, looked at the price, and cried, "Ten grand! Where do you get off charging ten grand for a painting? I mean who decided the prices? And this one is six grand."
Phyllis interrupted, "The one over there for $1500 is just like ours but only larger. How much is it worth now, Richard?"
Allan continued to examine the prices. "You're in the wrong place. What you need is New York, London, Paris, not Provincetown."
Phyllis agreed. "You're definitely too sophisticated for a resort town and in off-season yet! I don't deny that this is a superlative gallery, but you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. You need New York. I will say one thing: no one will deny you are persistent."
After twenty minutes in the gallery we squeezed into the Sabre and whizzed off. It was now pouring and they decided to head back to Boston.
I was out in the morning for a walk on the beach with Mr. Brown and I spied Joel who told me the best kept secret in P-town. If I wanted to make a fortune, I would act upon this secret. Joel has my ear because he knows I am not a businessman and have little interest in money. And yet .....
The secret has no illegality attached to it. There exists the liver of a certain fish caught near here for which the Japanese public pays $100 a pound. The fishermen sell the liver to the Japanese for one dollar a pound. Joel sold a property in September to a man who works in the local fish market. When they got drunk together Joel learned that the local fish magnate DaCosta earns $6000 a week selling the fish liver to the Japanese. Joel now sees his fortune in the fish liver business. So Joel and I spent an hour discussing the secret, his need to call the Japanese Embassy to find out what the fish liver is used for. An aphrodisiac? A food? A medicine? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps the client only spouted a drunken fantasy. I left Joel en route to Boston to do research about the secret.
Lunch time at AA when my turn came to speak I said, "Monday I got up at seven to walk the dog and when I got outside I bumped into a friend, Joel, who invited me in for coffee and after about an hour he asked, 'How would you like to smoke a joint?' I answered, 'Well, you know I am attending AA now.' And he said, 'Yeah, but pot isn't alcohol. ' So we smoked a joint and I got high as a kite and the next thing I knew when I returned home was that I needed a drink. So I went out and bought a bottle of vodka and I drank the entire bottle. So the moral is: one thing leads to another." Bobby, an ex dope smuggler, came up to me afterwards and said, "Just keep coming."
After this incident you'd think I would keep away from Joel, but this afternoon I dropped by to hear the latest about fish livers. Inundated by voluminous official literature, Joel told me the good news. Not only are monk fish livers a popular delicacy in Japan but the fins are a gourmet dish in France.
"Listen," I said, "Your major problem is to keep this quiet from the fishermen. If they hear that the livers are selling for $100 a pound in Japan, they'll up the price. DaCosta has a legitimate operation. He probably has instructed all the fishermen in town to bring him as many of the fish as possible, and then he ships out the rest of the monk fish to Minnesota or some place like that. But as for you, what are you going to tell the fishermen? All you want are the livers and fins. How are you going to process the livers? They have to be fresh prime meat."
Joel smiled. "I called the airplane companies and it costs only $2.50 a pound to ship the livers from Boston to Tokyo. I now have a list of all the monk fish liver importers in Japan. Most of these are probably parts of conglomerates. My kid brother is a buyer of parts for a Japanese computer company and I'm giving him the list so that maybe he can trade off purchases for favors. I'm not thinking just of Provincetown livers. A high school classmate is the harbor master in Portland and I'm giving him a call to see how he can help in getting the livers from Maine fishermen. I'm thinking of a major operation. It's a wide-open market. I'm thinking of selling a processing plant to the Japs right here in P-town. It's only a question of whether the dykes will sell to the Japs."
"What are you talking about?"
"As the gays in town are dying off of Big-A, they are selling off their property to the dykes."
Joel and I continued to chat about fish livers. He rolled a joint, but I soon left.
Linda Tennyson is a tease. Once I said to her I had a secret and the last time I encountered her on the street she said, "All right, what's your secret?" Prepared for my own tease, I opened my wallet and plucked out a Xerox of my CIA letter. "This is only the prelude to the secret," I confided. Linda smirked, laughed, returned the letter, and walked off in a huff.
Today I brought some of the photos from the opening to the Tennyson Gallery where Linda was standing with her assistant Louise.
"Have you met our weirdest artist yet?" she asked. Linda always refers to me as weird and intelligent. Linda then suggested that I make some mobiles out of masonite of fish and kings. I told her that my nephew was getting married next weekend so that I might be busy.
"I asked my sister-in-law not to seat me with any of the relatives and she's putting me with the bride's shrink."
"Is he gay?"
"It's a she."
"Tell me, Richard," asked Linda now for the second time, "Are you gay?"
"Really!" huffed Louise, "In this town who cares?" Prepared for my second tease I replied, "My first wife was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Jerusalem in 1972. My second wife jumped out of a window from the 33rd story of the Sears Tower in Chicago. My third wife rushed off with my best friend. Then I turned to boys, but with the Aids Plague I now enjoy only the company of my dog Mr. Brown. Which reminds me that I have to give him a walk."
The two of them stood with their mouths open unable to decide whether to believe my story or not.
"Truth is stranger than fiction,," commented Louise whereupon Linda shouted, "And he's wearing leather pants!"
I turned around and replied, "If I am as weird as you think then I should be wearing elephant's skin at the very least!"
Visit with Joel. "Well, I've just come from the Harvard Club in Boston for a lunch with classmates. It occurs about six times a year and this was the first time I went. It might have been a disaster, but it was quite pleasant. Twenty-four paid the $12.50 for lunch but only eleven in various stages of disintegration showed up. At the conclusion of the lunch we were each asked to say something and only then did I realize how out of my milieu I was. Most of my classmates spoke of how their "nests" had emptied or the problems of their teen- age kids. I spoke of pacing the Provincetown beach in the morning with Mr. Brown, of how my days are spent painting, reading or writing. Half of them shouted enviously, 'Why don't you write a book about this?' Alas! how little do my classmates know about life on the other side of the poverty line-- they who have seemingly devoted their lives to family and success. And yet riding back from Boston I asked myself, 'What if I won the Megabucks? What if I won ten million dollars? All I really need are some new socks, a new pair of Levis, some sable brushes, and perhaps some dental work.'"
I entered Joel's. Present was Joe, Bill's 20-year-old lover soon to be joined by Bill himself, a 42-year-old house painter. We piled into Bill's jalopy to take Mr. Brown for a walk along the beach on Race Point. We smoked some pot. Finally Joel's homoerotic tendencies revealed themselves-- was there ever any doubt considering the non-stop procession of boys at his place?-- when he confessed that in his younger days he fantasized becoming a painter of svelte young men and setting up shop at a surf board spot. Instead he entered Wall Street and now runs a real estate off ice. The weather was foul and cold and we all returned to my cottage where we smoked some more pot. After they examined the collection they left and I, high as a kite, produced a male nude, a face,, and a stick painting. Nothing particularly momentous, just the beginnings of items that probably would never have seen the day. At 4:00 I arrived at the Art Association to see who was the volunteer at the desk-- I sat last Saturday-- and found Mary Spenser Nay with Barbara Babcock.
Mary Spenser Nay, Provincetown Art Association
"We were just talking about you," said Mary. "saying how brilliant you are."
"Have you done any painting recently?" I asked. "I've been too busy cooking."
"I just finished opus 157 for 1987 last night. I sold 80 this year."
"But I still have so many that I have decided to leave them to Harvard with my diaries, slides, and personal papers."
"Harvard is very lucky."
We parted. I returned to my cottage to work on a new painting. Decided to go dancing at the A-House. I met Joel, Bill and Joe outside. We strolled over to the Crown and Anchor where Joel and I shot a game of pool. I won. We returned to the A-House which was rapidly filling up. The atmosphere always the same, a frenetic sensuality. We danced. Joel left early followed soon by Bill and Joe. I left before midnight, walked Mr. Brown, read 3 pages of Stendhal in French.
A snow storm. Frozen pipes. A wonderful way to start the day without water. "Hey, what's the water situation?" I asked my next door neighbor Jim Peters, an artist my age with whom I have had little to do. Peters had no water problems and broke the ice by entering my place with his daughter's hair dryer.
"I hear you were a physicist before you became a painter," I said.
Strikingly good-looking but now scruffy with a new beard, Peters answered,, "Yeah, I was a physicist. Went to M. I. T. with navy money and then went to work for the navy but they wanted me to do things I didn't want to do. I always wanted to paint. Up until two years ago I was working at odd jobs but then I hit it big. I was one of 8 artists in the annual EXXON Show at the Whitney Museum and then I got into a New York gallery which has been selling my paintings at $20,000. They take half. Up until now I have sold enough to keep going, but now I am running out of money. And my next show is in April. So I may have to go back to house painting."
Peters was helpful about the water but the pipes were still partially frozen when the plumber Keith finally arrived at 4:00. Keith said he would have to crawl on his belly underneath the cottage in the crawl space. The pipes froze because of a hole in the f foundation which he would have to plug. In the freezing weather Keith had to remove his outer garments and drag his way over the dirt to melt the ice with a gadget.
"This is incredible," he cried, "It's the skunks who have done all this. They have burrowed under the foundation and have eaten away or taken away the insulation from the sides of the foundation so that the wind coming through froze the pipes. But they haven't burst. We're lucky about that. You are gonna have to cut me some of the insulation double 14 by 24 and duct tape it around the sides. Can you do it?"
"Sure. No problem." The cottage looked a mess, but I got my water back. Outside the wind howled when Keith finally left. I poured myself a slug of vodka and read Stendhal.
The directions on the invitation card for Ruth Greenblatt's New Year's Day buffet in Truro were quite clear, but I took Route 6 instead of 6A and ended up in Wellfleet, but even after backtracking I got lost so that I had to telephone for directions. Thus instead of arriving early I entered somewhat late an ultra-modern house perched on the Truro dunes and upon entering I made a beeline for the buffet table where stood Emily Farnham, a white-haired sweet old lady whose book, Charles Demuth, I just finished the other night. She was helping herself to some of Ruth Greenblatt's chicken liver when I interrupted her.
"Well,, I just read your book on Demuth and I couldn't put it down it was so well-written."
"Well, I do write well."
"I couldn't believe it was begun as a doctorate dissertation."
"It's actually an abridgment of one third of my dissertation and it was nominated for the National Book Award in 1972."
"I have all kinds of questions and criticisms. You leave the whole question of Demuth's homosexuality up in the air. You mention it comparing him to Leonardo, but you don't make much of it. I suppose you couldn't find out much about the sexual habits of an artist who died in 1935."
"When I did the research in the '50s people who knew Demuth only hinted at this. Even Marcel DuChamp whom I interviewed only hinted obliquely. It was not something to discuss in the '50s. "
"How did you get interested in Demuth?"
"I did my graduate work at Ohio State and in Columbus there was a gallery with 40 Demuths purchased by a local collector."
We took a seat on a couch with Mary Spenser Nay. I wanted to ask Emily about Hans Hoffman with whom she had studied painting but instead the conversation turned to Demuth forgeries.
"Of course there are Demuth forgeries," said Emily, "I had to authenticate one a while back and decided it was a forgery because it was an exact version of a larger watercolor. No artist makes an exact copy of his work."
"It is not possible to do so," chirped Mary swallowing a stuffed egg.
"Rembrandt painted 600 items and 1000 of them are said to be in America. Now an international committee has cut the 600 down to 350. They claim that even "the Polish Rider" is not by Rembrandt."
"That's ridiculous. It's all so arbitrary. They are making a mistake."
"Well," I said, "I wonder if I should get a drink. My New Year's resolution is to stop drinking alcohol and it seems hypocritical that at 3:00 in the afternoon on January 1st I should start drinking again."
"Try a Coca Cola."
I was pouring myself a Coca Cola when I was introduced to all 300 pounds of Towanda deNagy.
"So you are the famous Towanda deNagy. I think you have the most beautiful of names. And I so much admire your paintings and have wanted to meet you for such a long time. I so much enjoyed meeting your aunt Eva this fall at her gallery."
Towanda deNagy pulled herself up to her full massive presence and sniffed, "Aunt Eva!"
"Aunt Eva is obviously very unusual."
"To say the least!"
"I so love her nudes."
"I don't like Aunt Eva's nudes nor her religious paintings. Aunt Eva is a snob. She gets to be more of a snob with age. She is a kind of aristocrat."
"One is either an aristocrat or not an aristocrat. One is either in the Almanach de Gotha or not in the Almanach de Gotha. What do you mean a kind of aristocrat?"
"Aunt Eva has pretensions. In the summer when the boat leaves for Boston she always says, 'The peasants are now leaving.'"
"How wonderful! The peasants! She came to my exhibition at the Tennyson Gallery and signed the book. I am tempted to call her. Do you think I should?"
"By all means call Aunt Eva."
We took our seats and Towanda deNagy balanced a plate of cheese cake on her knee while telling me about her soft sculpture of the P-Town Tower.
"The Town Crier asked me to make it for the Queen of England's 25th anniversary. But when the Town Crier finally got to the airport with my sculpture, they wouldn't let him on the plane. So it never got to the Queen. And now every year it circulates around town at official functions."
I strolled over to Mary Spenser Nay.
"Well, you certainly look sharp in that green sport jacket and white tie," she said.
"My dear Mary, just because I am an artist does not mean that I must always look like a slob. But I must get back to P-Town. Let me say good-bye to Ruth."
I entered Joel's at 9:00 A:M:. Present was his pet punk from Quincey. I slumped into a chair and announced that I almost landed in jail last night.
"It's alcohol. I cannot handle alcohol. I don't know when to stop. My New Year's resolution was not to drink. I had a little vodka left in the bottle yesterday which I wolfed down before taking Mr. Brown for his afternoon walk. I was passing Northern Lights Leather when T Gandolfo called out, 'Richard, bring over Mr. Brown.' Gandolfo asked me if I had been to the Beechcombers recently ( a local club for artists founded in 1910 by Charles Hawthorne ) and I replied that he was the only person ever to invite me and he replied, 'Why don't you come along as my guest tonight?' Feeling great about this I rushed over to Bryant's Market to buy a big bottle of vodka which I then mixed half and half with grapefruit juice and brought to the club where I got massively soused. I played a miserable game of pool, but don't remember much of what was said at the meeting after the excellent Chinese dinner. At some point Richter the New Yorker cartoonist came over to me and perhaps to see if I really had been a professor asked me what Russian writer in this century is famous for short stories about Odessa. 'Isaac Babel,' I immediately replied. Up in the billiard room I overheard Gandolfo say to Conrad Malincourt, the sculptor, that I should be made a member. When I finally left the club I was so drunk that driving down Commercial Street I smashed a car's side mirror. The guy came after me. I got out and confronted an enraged driver. I calmed him down and gave him $20. Had I crashed into the car and a cop called it would have been my second offense under the influence and certain jail."
Provincetown Art Association, Aquarium Installation, 1987
For ten minutes, cold, I sat shivering in my van near the Art Association building. I arrived early so as to find a parking spot for the opening of the Aquarium Installation and exhibition to which I had submitted three paintings. Inside I encountered the Babcocks, she the artist in her late 50s, he a retired engineer, both clutching glasses of wine. "So how is Mr. Brown these days?"
"I left him in the cottage."
"Mr. Brown is more famous than you, I think. At least I have brought my coat this time." Barbara Babcock claims that her fur coat resembles Mr. Brown's, a slight similarity that she has worked to death too many times. "Why don't you have a drink?"
"Stopped drinking. Drank on my birthday but that was about it for January."
"You must be bored. And look at you now-- no beard, a short haircut, wearing a tie. You used to look like an old salt. Now you look like a .......
"An Anglican cleric."
"Exactly. Well, if we stopped drinking-- and we don't drink weekdays-- I insist upon that, only on weekends-- we start Fridays and by Sunday night we are bombed out of our minds-- but weekdays only soda water. I just returned 82 bottles of soda water to the Stop 'n Shop."
"What do you drink?"
"Oh, that can't get you drunk."
"You want to bet! When you drink as much as us you do."
"Before you retired what did you do?" I asked Bill Babcock, a mild-looking man in his 60s.
"I was a chemical engineer for 34 years with Borden's and for 8 years with the Manhattan Project."
"How many people were involved in the Manhattan Project?"
"And you all had your little projects?"
"Exactly. There were two bomb projects, one uranium and one plutonium. I regret nothing. Lots of people today have a guilt complex, but we saved a million men by dropping the bomb. The Japanese simply surrendered. Nope. I regret nothing."
Mary Spenser Nay suddenly passed me by without saying hello. I followed her into the installation.
"Mary, don't you say hello anymore?"
"Why, it's you! I didn't recognize you. You have put on so much weight in the past three weeks."
"On the contrary, it's not that I have put on weight but that my face now appears so round because there is no beard. Come outside to the exhibition and let me take a picture of you next to your painting."
Mary was not exhibiting one of her better pieces, and we both giggled taking pictures of each other with our cameras. I then approached Emily Farnham.
"I can't believe it's you," she cried.
"So what do you think of the exhibition?"
Emily Farnham pulled herself up to her full height and replied, "I am writing a book on the geometrical formations of great paintings. I have been doing this for years. All the great masters have behind their paintings a logical structure which they themselves knew about."
"I see this especially in Poussin. I made a copy of a Poussin drawing last week. Go on."
"For years when I was teaching art history-- and I taught for forty years--whenever I put on slides I would see these geometric structures. Even when I studied with Hans Hoffmann he spoke about this."
"How long did you study with Hoffmann?"
"About 3 months. Here and in the Village. At that time he was in his 80s and, you know, even though a student paid him handsomely, if he didn't like a student's work, he would say nothing."
"He had some very famous students. I can't think of their names offhand."
"De Kooning is the most famous. I think De Kooning is America's greatest painter."
"Late De Kooning I don't care for, but his ladies I like."
"I saw the exhibition of them in the 50s. He hates women."
"You really think so?"
"Oh, yes. He did most of them during a period of depression."
"You were speaking about geometric formations. What do you think of the exhibition?"
"No one here has geometrical structure."
By this time the main exhibition hall of the Art Association was filled up. All the familiar faces were present. I strolled over to Towanda deNagy who held court in a corner."
"Well, I must congratulate you on your wood carvings."
"They are the first I have ever done."
Peter Macara stared at my tie. "Harvard. class of 60. Gee. "
"My 25th reunion tie." I walked away glancing at the paintings. The younger crowd was arriving. I decided to leave.
I arrived at the Art Association to sit for the afternoon. The 55 MPH speed limit syndrome has hit the Art Association too. Of the 16 people who entered to see the exhibition only one paid attention to the sign: SUGGESTED CONTRIBUTION: $1 .00. Examining the brochures and catalogues in the cabinets behind the desk I sighed at the metamorphosis P-Town has undergone. Once artistically this must have been an exciting place when the Klines, De Koonings, and Demuths drifted here as to a Mecca, but the town has seen its day as an art colony and with a handful of notable exceptions lives off its glorious past. Nothing is going on here. No one cares. There are no issues or controversies. Most of the artistes act as if the great masters of Paris and New York and Vienna of this century never existed. They cultivate their pallid gardens sublimely indifferent even to the presence here of Gorky or Rothko or Rivers, and they suffer accordingly. I notice amidst the crowd a few worthy of a glance, notably Tabitha Vevers, Nancy Worth, Peter Shulman, Mary Nay, Blossom Newman, Ray Keaton, Ron Fowler--and that's about it. Mary Nay has virtually stopped painting Boris Margo is 86 and suffers from a stroke. Romanos Risz produces flashy things at ridiculous prices. Except for life drawing I am singularly unstimulated here. Provincetown has been for me a transition period marked by the introduction of metallic foils and female nudes into my work, but there have been no great breakthroughs such as in Matala, Jerusalem, or Miami. I have seen Provincetown for what it is and shall leave in three months with few regrets.
I was walking across the Art Association lawn to a life drawing class when I bumped into Ruth Greenblatt.
"Nina is the model today," she announced. "She is so beautiful. When she models you can cut the sexual tension with a knife. it's really funny."
"You know she's lesbian."
Ruth and I separated and I entered for the session. Ruth's news that Nina is gay left me less infatuated by her gorgeous presence and my compositions suffered. What a freak show this town is! Opposite me sat Ann, a trans-sexual, and next to me a really handsome guy whom I saw kissing another guy in the street earlier this week. Only the animals are normal in this town. Ann, an engineer in her late fifties and looking very phony in a wig, all her life wanted to be a woman, live in P- Town and paint. Now she sat with her drawing board before Nina and complimented her on her arms. There's no doubt about it. Nina assumes the most provocative poses. All in all, I produced seven items and at the end of the session Ruth materialized to ask me to help her with some clerical work out front in the gallery. So after giving Mr. Brown a short run of the beach I entered the Art Association to find Ruth and Ray, an artist I knew, folding fliers. I entertained Ruth with an account of Nina's poses.
"I'll have to attend next week," she commented, "if Nina is there. After years of drawing Pat Bruno I am so tired of her. She doesn't give off any more electricity. But with Nina it might be different."
"How do you know Nina is gay?"
"Listen, I'm in her African dance group and I'm the only straight person there."
While folding a batch of fliers I commented, "Ann was there too."
"Ann! Oh, I know her well. She had me over her house recently, a condo in the West End decorated with old varnished portraits of her grandparents. She is really happy now that she has had her sex change."
Somewhat self-conscious I asked, "A man can become a woman,but can a woman become a man?"
Ruth laughed, "Of course. They put it outside. That s all. "
Emily Farnham, Provincetown Art Association
"Oh," I cried upon entering Emily Farnham's, "How nice it is to see books. People who read books are rapidly becoming fossils."
Soon the bell rang and the other guests were admitted. These consisted of Nancy and a young artist couple. We took our places around the tea things. Everything at Emily Farnham's attested to taste and cultivation. If conversation was at first perfectly attuned to the idea of tea as a ritual, as soon as Emily began to show us some of her framed paintings the atmosphere became electric and tea was soon supplanted by matters of greater import. Of Emily Farnham's work I knew nothing. The paintings which ranged from a delicate realism of the 40s to geometric abstraction to recent collages all had in common a highly finished surface. How many fine artists languish in obscurity while charlatans and frauds are celebrated, trumpeted and rich as a result of the Schlochmeisters of New York! How many Emily Farnhams sit quietly cultivating their enameled gardens while outside strident Schnabels mesmerize the nouveau- riche with papier-mache prestidigitations!
But Emily Farnham, now in the eve of her incarnation, is concentrating less on her art than on her theory. This theory is quite simple to state: all great paintings have behind them an abstract geometrical formulation. The four of us, munching our goodies and sipping the last of our tea, sat enchanted while Emily Farnham displayed her diagrams of Monet's "Water Lilies" and Rembrandt's "Homer," covered with lines and ovals purporting to be the skeletons behind the meat of these masterpieces.
"Why, Emily," I cried, "You're a Platonist, a Pythagorean. Do you really mean to say that Rembrandt actually had a diagram in mind when he painted this portrait?"
"Exactly. It is because most painters no longer think in these terms that there is so little good painting. Picasso, Balthus, Van Gogh all saw in terms of an abstract diagram, but today...."
"Now wait a minute. Every night I study Rembrandt's drawings in a two volume edition I own. In 1984 I copied 96 of these drawings which gave me great insight into Rembrandt's style-- how he draws hands and faces, how he fills up space, which sometimes he does with squiggles or random lines, and do you mean to say that Rembrandt's drawings, even those done on the street, contain this geometrical formulation? I mean I can see how the biblical subjects might, those he created from an idea, but drawings done from life, the Woman Holding a Baby, the Lion Series, the Woman on a Gibbet-- surely these are too spontaneous to have such premeditated formulations."
I crossed the room to sit with Emily and she defended her thesis further. I brought up Renaissance perspective as an idea analogous to her own, but she quickly dismissed quattrocento grid patterns as based on a false view of nature.
"False!" I cried almost indignant.
"Yes," she replied, "The eye doesn't see nature in that way. It's all an artificial construct."
"Well, tonight I shall have to look at my Rembrandts differently and search for geometry, but I remain skeptical."
"Oh," she sighed, "And I have so much work ahead of me, and then there is the problem of finding the right publisher."
"And artists today-- you say they do not paint with a geometrical idea. Motherwell .......
"Motherwell!" she snapped as if I had stepped on a raw nerve, "He lives across the street and won't even condescend to speak to me."
"The idea of Provincetown as some sort of artist community is a myth There are artists, but there is no cross-fertilization. Great artists have always believed in communication. Picasso lived next door to Braque and they created Cubism."
From across the room Nancy said, "People here are uptight. They have drawn barriers around themselves. The artists don't have much to do with one another."
"And recently," interjected Emily, "two of our best artists died, Fritz Bultman and Jack Tworkow. But Motherwell ...... "
"Motherwell repels me. The daubs he produces sometimes on smudged paper no self-respecting artist would display, but because he has a name and fetches such preposterous prices he has prostituted himself."
"Who today would wait for an exhibition of recent Motherwells?" asked Nancy rhetorically.
While the others huddled across the room Emily asked me, "Have you read the Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead?"
"By Lucien Price? Around 1956. It's a great book."
"He was from my home town Kent. When he used to visit he would sit on the floor."
"Whitehead had a student, Raphael Demos, who was my philosophy professor at Harvard. Once a week he would have tea for his students and he would sit on the floor too. Perhaps Whitehead who held teas sat on the floor also."
"Sitting on the floor must be a Harvard custom. Ah, I often wish I had gone to a school like Vassar."
"Why is that?"
"My life would have been so much easier. I would have been able to get a job in the East."
"But now you are living in the East across the street from Motherwell. Why did you come to Provincetown when you retired?"
"I was here in the 50s studying with Hoffmann and I wanted to be near the water. Ah, there is Ivan my cat. He is so timid."
As we stood around discussing the cat I realized it was time to leave. Time to leave Emily Farnham's and soon time to leave Provincetown itself-- Provincetown where it has been so cold and frigid, where for stimuli I have had only my books and life drawing at the Art Association, where I have begun to hunger for libraries and museums and movies and lectures, where the sight of the same people silhouetted in the street and the same buildings has begun to weary me, Provincetown which except for the sea has been this time so barren, so disillusioning.
Tonight the last show of the season at the Art Association to which I submitted two pieces. I entered at 8:30 to see a large crowd, a Who's Who of the art scene, packed along the walls. Emily Farnham, stooped and white-haired, became my first interlocutor.
"Well, Emily, how did you like my communiqué?" ( I had sent her by mail a carbon of my diary report of her tea. )
"I liked it but I objected to one thing you said. I am not a sweet old lady. I am definitely not sweet."
Almost in anger Emily Farnham turned away and alone I made a tour of the exhibition. The miniatures, unjuried, were largely of high school quality, but the Invitational held some interest, notably the work of Jim Peters, whose female nudes I had seen only one small example of before. Joined by Emily Farnham and Mary Nay I stared at his multiple canvas construction.
"So what do you think, ladies?" I asked.
"I object to his eroticism," volunteered Emily Farnham, "as well as to the top panel leaning over, but it's well-balanced, certainly interesting."
"It's slick," I replied, "And its colors remind me of Anselm Kiefer."
"The smaller piece just doesn't work."
Jim Peters' large nude, all chartreuse and black, had the type of New York slickness that partially explains his success in a fancy New York gallery. The two ladies and I continued on to a large canvas by Ronald Fowler, an allegory about AIDS. I found it tantalizing whereas Emily Farnham was crushing in her criticism.
"It's just an illustration. And it's badly done. I would never have allowed my students to do that. How I do miss classroom critiques!"
"You obviously miss being a professor, Emily."
In front of a Tony Vevers collage containing about twenty soles of shoes Mary Nay commented that Vevers once had an exhibition of dead seagulls picked up from the beach which he mounted on canvases.
"Didn't they stink?" I asked
"No. No. They were already dried out."
"Dead seagulls are not items I would ever have contemplated picking up from the beach."
The critique continued. Emily Farnham complimented me on my Baudelaire, a small watercolor done in Jerusalem. The show was curated by Tabitha Vevers, a young painter whose early Renaissance pastiches on cement have always interested me. I asked Emily Farnham what she thought of them.
"She's obviously fixated on the past. They are well done but she'll eventually grow out of them."
"Still, even if they are pre-Raphaelitish, they are so much more interesting than most others here."
The ladies and I separated. I sat on a bench munching cauliflower and sipping a Becks. The crowd had thinned out. I chatted with Polly Burnham whose paintings I effusively praised and then ambled over to chat with Blossom Newman who stood behind the bar. I yawned from boredom. Alas! the art world provides so little satisfaction. Who was there really to communicate with here?
Boris Margo in memoriam
At 9:15, fifteen minutes late, Linda Tennyson, looking glamorous, arrived at Cafe Edwige for breakfast. She explained that while driving she spied Boris Margo, the painter, on his morning walk, and she stopped to give him a lift. At 87 Boris, she confided, is planning to commit suicide after his Art Association retrospective in June. Having sold his house in Florida to finance the catalogue for the exhibition, which features his surrealist paintings from 1931-1941, Boris Margo intends to shoot himself in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has even decided which room in the Met it will be.
The atmosphere at Cafe Edwige became hushed as people in nearby tables listened to Linda's monologue. I told Linda that I knew a fair amount about Boris Margo because of my friendship with Mary Nay, who was his student, that as recently as three weeks ago Mary showed me four of Boris's sepia monoprints when I visited her house, that, indeed, this revelation about Boris's planned suicide was a bombshell thrown into my lap, and that I now felt obliged to telephone Mary Nay about this news.
After Linda and I separated I telephoned Mary Nay, but she scoffed that Boris had it in him to kill himself. Since this was my last day in P-Town, she invited me for supper. Boris, recently arrived from Florida, was to be present; and when I arrived the table was set for three in Mary Nay's museum- like house. While Mary prepared the meal I sat with Boris.
Despite Boris's stroke of 12 years ago which destroyed his creative faculties and turned him into a quasi-vegetable, I had no difficulty communicating with him. He commented on my beardless state and praised as enjoyable examples of surrealism my exhibition at the Tennyson Gallery. But conversation at the dinner table was painful. Obviously in an encroaching condition of senility, Boris repeatedly confused dates and places and Mary petulantly and impatiently corrected him so that conversation became impossibly strained and I felt obliged to save the encounter by telling some of my better stories. "You are a great raconteur," cried Boris and Mary added, "And funny. You tell stories so well. But then you are a writer as well as a painter." After the meal we retired to the living room to watch TV. When I noticed two of Mary's latest canvases the lights went on. I looked around the room crammed with canvases leaning against the walls. That all the canvases were executed with knives rather than with brushes made her accomplishment the more singular. The hour was growing late. Boris decided to leave for his place next door. Mary and I followed in her car which provided him with light as he ambled awkwardly along the earthen path. "No, he is not going to kill himself," insisted Mary, "Don't be absurd. He was just depressed when he spoke to Linda. He doesn't have the guts to do it. I know him too well. I've known him for forty years. Tell Linda not to worry. I'll drive you back to Carver Street. Have a successful summer in Ann Arbor."