The Art of Fred Martin
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About my work, 1951-1955

1951, The First Year on College Avenue

Memories gathered over so long a time…
The original objects remain of some of the memories, and where the original object was a painting and I still have it, I have included an image of the painting.  But for most of the memories there remains only the fading image of a color and texture, a space and a cry.  From a few of those images I have made and included a new painting—a color and texture, a space and a cry.  All of the new paintings are acrylic on paper, 44 x 30 in.

 

The place, the events and the things I remember

The Place

1, July 2002,
"Remembering the Cottage on College Avenue"
The front building on College Avenue was a one room cottage with a tiny kitchen and bath.  Later, Jean's mother paid to add a room for the baby.  There was what had once been a barn in back, now it was a two story gray building with a large ground floor divided into one big and two small rooms, and with a second floor consisting of a two bedroom apartment with deck.  To the whole thing had been added a double car garage. The cottage was said to have been the original real estate office for development of the Elmwood district.

We lived in the front cottage during the year and a half before we went to Maxwell and for a time after we came back.

The first Christmas we were in the cottage, a young man from a local church came to the door and gave us a little Christmas tree.  He had noticed we did not have one and assumed it was because we were too poor to buy one.  We decorated it with colored paper chains and squares, circles and triangles.  In memory, the triangles were yellow (after Kandinsky) but I doubt they were.

It rained a lot that winter, and I noticed a leak where the wall met the ceiling above the front door.  Climbing up on the roof, I saw that the roof of the front porch had separated from the front wall of the cottage.  I folded an old window shade, stuffed it in the crack and held it in place with a couple of bricks… To the dismay of my contractor friends, I still “do it myself” by means of  push pins, staples and scotch tape.

The living room with the Murphy bed that came out of the only closet when you opened the door...  That room.  It was painted yellowish white.  The bathroom was a door on the right of the back wall (the wall ahead of you as you came in the front door), the closet door (with the bed inside) was in the middle, and the entrance to the kitchen (no door, only an opening) was on the left.  I do  not remember the bathroom. But I remember the closet and how the door opened and the bed swung out (I don’t remember how the clothes went in, but they were somewhere in the closet with the bed); and I remember the kitchen…

As you entered the kitchen from the living room there was immediately to the left a cabinet with two glass doors, a counter below it and a cabinet with wooden doors below that. The stove was straight ahead of you, the refrigerator somewhere, and on the right a “breakfast nook” with built in table and benches and a window opening beyond the table to an orange (lemon?) tree immediately outside.  And then between the stove and the table the back door opened to a grassy-weedy space where I sat in the sun and typed.

Events I remember that happened in the cottage… Jean in the Murphy bed, getting heavier and bigger all the time as Demian grew inside her, and the bed sagging more and more in the middle, and me rolling down against her...

It was at this time I took the expository writing class that was required of teaching credential candidates with an English minor, and began to write and write, at least six weeks of continual writing without stopping.  Essays for the class (we were due an essay a week), stories that came to mind (beginning with the Three Peaches in the White Bowl), and anything else also… a piece about art and alchemy (for the writing class?), a doggerel rhyming poem about the Assyrians (for the stories?) and I don’t remember what else. 

And among the stories there were at least one or more that I have since let disappear… the one about E. R., a kid I had known in Jr. High, who had for our then early adolescent age a fairly large penis—another student had asked him to let him lift it to see now much it weighed ( I realize now that the student who made the request, T. R. was his name, was clearly very gay at the age of 13-14… he reappeared for five minutes forty years later when I was running the Art Bank in the early 1960’s and he brought in some small paintings… He introduced himself, clearly knew who I was, and explained that though now his name was J., it had been T..  I have thought of him often since that day in the Art Bank… How did he live his path of life, how have I lived mine?  And  for each of us, why?)…

Anyway, the story, hardly more that a few paragraphs about the Navy, that Ernie was in it and had won the ship’s masturbation contest… One day a woman friend of ours was sitting in our living room by the front door; I gave her the stories to read; she read that one and with an amazed (shocked? prurient?) voice said, “Is that true?  Do they really do that?”  I said something evasive and destroyed the story when she left.

So, I wrote and wrote that spring of 1951, sitting in the grassy-weedy yard and typing, typing. Late in Jean’s pregnancy—must have been early March, Demian was born March 24— she lay one night in the Murphy bed and I sat beside her reading the story I had just written of my search in the East and West and North and then my homecoming in the South (Jean herself).  I never typed that story; it has been lost now ever since a few weeks after that night… but I still remember the climax, a bonfire at night on a southern beach, people dancing, and me finding Jean there.
 

#2, January 2002
About Mr. Ivanoff's Vase

Then among the images from the cottage on College Avenue, there is the sight of the shelf below the side window in the living room, the shelf where I put the La Temperanza triptych (see Part 2 below for a discussion of this painting) and Mr. Ivanoff's aesthetic little vase (see below about Mr. Ivanoff) filled with chrysanthemums from our weedy garden...

Then to remember, there was the kitchen which Jean had me paint the walls a kind of muted turquoise blue, and the wall behind the shelves in the glassed-in cabinets an orange-pink "watermelon" (more like cantaloupe)...  What is to remember of the kitchen?  The colors, the colors and how I sat there once in the late afternoon just back from visiting Jean and Demian in the hospital the day after he was born, the day turning to dusk in the turquoise kitchen and the deepening sunset somehow echoed in the orange depths behind the glass doors of the kitchen cabinet…

And to remember the breakfast nook where I once leaned my self portrait with the Greek temple against the table...  I had been reading Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, had become obsessed with the idea of the cleansing of consciousness and vision—had made a painting with the image of a mirror about that cleansing— and also somehow (from Hermann Hesse?) become obsessed with the conflict between Apollo and Dionysus.  I made a portrait of myself, waist up, nude, the body too large and the head too small (how afraid I was then that my body was too small)… and in the upper left, a tiny Greek temple, light pouring down between the columns, streaming toward me (there was not that much light, hardly more than three or four inches in a painting maybe four feet high by three feet wide and me taking up most of it)… I hoped somehow the light would save me from the raging of lust and guilt that was tearing me apart.  I knew I had taken a path—that Henry’s way could now never be mine, but the lust still ran everyday in my veins.  I showed that self portrait to Jean, there in the kitchen, the painting leaning against the table. (See #4, January 2002 for a re-opening of that image.)

 

 The garden planted by the former tenants –

#3, January 2002,
"Remembering the Garden on College Avenue"

We had bought the place from two women who lived in the back and rented out the cottage in front.  We however planned to rent out the back (more money to pay the mortgage) and live in the front—thus, the tenants in front would have to leave.  They were an elderly electrician and his wife.  He was a European—and was a great friend of Mr. Ivanoff next door (I gather they shared cultural interests… Ivanoff told me afterwards how much he missed the electrician’s company)—and she was US. 

Both husband and wife were small in stature (as befitted the size of the cottage itself); and the wife (a charming woman with very gray hair like her husband’s) had made a garden around the cottage.

There was a lawn in front.  It was about four feet square, and the woman said she mowed it with sewing scissors. At the side of the cottage she had planted  Iceland poppies, so beautiful in so many colors, and a kind of small white with purplish fringe chrysanthemum (the flowers I used to touch the nude chest of the sailor in La Temperanza).  Later, I planted some zinnias because I wanted bright colors in the sun. Between the back of the cottage and the curve of the driveway was a grassy area, not lawn grass like the front but really only weeds... like the rest of the garden became the longer we were there.  I tried watering and mowing the grass in the back, but it was only California summer grass, meant to dry to golden and me to sit there and type...

And to remember the tree (orange, lemon?) that grew outside the kitchen window...  I did not think then about  the tree at all.  But now when I see it in my mind, again like the colors which live for me now as the memory of the kitchen, it is memory of the colors of the fruit and leaves just outside that window and the morning sun shining in, and what I have come to know of the symbolism of immortality in the orange trees in Botticelli’s Primavera… it is that light and color in an orange tree outside our  kitchen window, and  learning long later of the symbolism of the orange (and of the Hesperides and Hesperus) that will always echo and have power in my memories of the cottage on College Avenue.

 

#13, January 2002.
About typing in the weedy garden.
And to remember the back yard of dried summer grass where I sat with my shirt off and wrote my stories and essays with Auntie's old purple portable typewriter in my lap (my first laptop)… 

The purple typewriter… It was an Art Deco relic of the 1930’s (not so long ago then).  Gen had bought a new and properly black Remington portable; and because I was studying and taking courses to get a teaching job to support Jean and baby Demian and me, I got the by then obsolete (it was already hard to get new ribbons) old one.  I think like every instrument we use—even if clumsily (I have never been a good typist… but it is lucky for me that we had to take “Business” in Jr. High and that typing was part of it)—like every instrument we use to express our deepest feelings, we come to love it.  And so that typewriter, and the chair I sat on (a wedding gift from my parents, a light colored bent wood with woven white webbing, late 1940’s utmost modern), and the lawn that no matter how much I watered it was only dried out weeds—foxtails—where I sat and typed… and the sun burning into my torso as I typed (maybe if I were tanned enough, I would be man enough)… images of the beginning.  As the twig is bent?  Who knows?  But I care yet for the me of that time and the images of the me that are among the seeds of what I have since spent my life becoming.

Bouquet of Flowers for a Dead dog, 1951
Pastel on paper, 25 x 19 in.

I remember our first dog, a small black and tan terrier like the one Jean said she had as a child.  We named the dog Aphrodite—my idea, she was the goddess with whom I was obsessed.  We had a cat, too, named Anaximander because I had been reading about him and how—at least this is the way I remember it—all things come from the swerving together of atoms falling from the pleroma, and how afterward the atoms fall apart here in the world (that’s the wear and tear of time) and then go back up into the pleroma to make room for new things to come down.

Aphrodite ran out into the street one day and was killed (College Avenue is a very busy street).  Her death became the source for my Bouquet of Flowers for a Dead Dog -- and  when Erle Loran saw it in the Richmond drawing annual that year, he said to me "pretty good" (I had arrived in Berkeley's eyes). 

Near forty years later (around 1990) when I had only slightly begun to know Stephanie, she wrote to me one night of how a dog of hers had just run into the street and been killed.  I wrote back a letter of sympathy, telling her of Aphrodite and the pastel I had made.  In February 1999 (by then Stephanie and I had been married some eight years), on a late afternoon flight back to California from Montreal, I had seen in the light beyond the western horizon the glow of the light of immortality and had written a piece about “Their villages and huts destroyed...” and the great white light the people see at the moment of death,  and the golden light we see in the far western horizon is the great white light colored by the dust of the dead scattered through the universe…

Anyway, I made a series of paintings* about that death and the great white light and the color of the dust of immortality and made among those paintings a memento of the lost painting of Aphrodite’s funeral bouquet.  The year after, I found the old painting itself, with the Richmond Art Center 1951 Annual Exhibition label still on the back.
      _________________________________
      *Click here for Paintings March 1999, "Their Villages and Huts Destroyed..."

 

The driveway –
The driveway had once been graveled but was now only a dirt road. It led straight back from the street, then curved to the left in front of the barn become apartment on top and studio down below, then curved again in back of the cottage to end in a doorless double car garage. 

I was still in my classical phase and went to a wrecking yard where I found some five foot wooden Doric columns torn from the front porch of an old house.  I made a plinth for them, perhaps two feet high and about eight feet long and placed the whole affair so that it partly masked and gave a classical touch where the drive curved around the barn/house/studio and into the garage.

I remember the columns distinctly because Sam Francis sent Zoe Dusanne (a recently transplanted from Paris to Seattle art dealer) to see me and perhaps arrange a show.  The columns charmed her—and so I guess did my work—and she gave me show.

All but two of my slides of work before 1955 were taken in the back part of the driveway in front of an old redwood plank fence.  Rik Thompson usually held the paintings (he and Haven were living in the apartment then) and I took the slides.  Two slides, however, he took of me.  One is a portrait, the other is of me holding a painting—a nude male crotch and thighs with a left hand that holds an open pomegranate near the penis.  The painting is nearly as tall as I am.

The last thing I remember about the driveway was from before we went to Maxwell and were too poor to buy food or to drive the car.  I threatened to plant carrots between the ruts because we could eat them and Jean’s family’s cars driving in would only brush the carrot tops.

 

The Barn in the Back--

#2, July 2002.
Remembering the barn in the back—
The ground floor was divided into a large room corresponding to the living room, kitchen and bath in the apartment above, and two small rooms (one with a window) corresponding to the two bedrooms above.  I painted in the large room because it had two good sized washtubs where I could wash brushes (Jean’s father pointed out to me that I could also piss in them), and drew in the small room with the window.  The other small room was used for storage of our stuff.  During the first year of College Avenue when we lived in the front cottage and rented out the apartment in the barn, my precious "better quality" movie camera disappeared and Jean's ship for sailing to the stars fell apart.

The small room for drawing—where I painted the Jewels on the Horizon and the Man in the Woods. (I think Beer at the Beach came after our return from Maxwell).  Both the Jewels and the Man series were on the brown Al Mano wrapping paper painted with poster paint applied with brush and palette knife and with pastel highlights.  It must have been when we came back from Maxwell that I would have made in the small room the Beer at the Beach series on the same “Red Cover Pad” paper as the Pelleas series.  What most I remember of that room for drawing was the waist high table I worked on with the brown paper in front of me and pushing poster paint around on it with a palette knife and marking parts of the image with pastel… and the view of the yard next door, like a jungle it seemed to me with a sky… and I made a couple of little oil paintings of Africa.

The big room for painting—where I made the pastel portrait on brown wrapping paper of the young man who had raped and murdered a little girl, and the big Venetian Fountain for which, at the end of the afternoon when I painted it, I felt for the first time after painting, "I have had an experience..."  It would have been in the big room that I painted the other small Venetian oils and the series of large figure paintings (I remember getting David Burke to pose for the one with the cat, and how embarrassed and awkward he felt and looked).  It was also in the big room after we came back from Maxwell that I began the series of small landscapes of city scenes which I continued as my main mode of work in the first year or two when we moved to Harrison Street.

The upper floor—and the living room where we put the writing desk where I wrote my later essays in the alcove made by the tall Victorian bookcase.  There were also the two bedrooms, one for Demian, the other for us where once I woke up dizzy and shaking for several weeks.  (Dr. Patch: “Has anything happened of great importance?”  I knew what it was, I had been elected to the Board of SFAA.)

The foot of the stairs—where standing at the bottom one afternoon just outside the basement door, and remembering the sounds of Schoenberg's Pelleas and Melisande that I had recently purchased and had listened to so much, the idea came of making a series of small (18 x 24 inches?) tempera with pastel paintings of my feelings of those sounds.  I went into the basement studio and did it, establishing a procedure of working from feeling rather than sight that I have followed much of the time since.

The stairs leading up to the apartment the stairs where I hung my Footprint painting in the stairwell.  It was the first painting I made that suggested to me that every painting I had or might ever make would be a footprint on my way...

The kitchen—with the big hand crank coffee grinder screwed to the wall… and the water heater that would have exploded one day but that we came home, turned on the hot water, saw steam come bursting out the faucet, and turned off the water heater… and where in frustration and rage over Jean's family's constant interference in Jean's and thus our life I grabbed breast pocket on the shirt I was wearing and ripped it off (big deal, now Jean had to sew it back on)...

The deck—where I watched the clouds (it was when I was taking Ward Lockwood's graduate seminar on color) and made cloud drawings in sepia wash after Canaletto's etchings, claiming the subtle shifts of density of Windsor Newton warm sepia wash were very subtle shifts of color

And when all is said and done, I can see that place on College Avenue so clearly -- listening to Alan Watts each Sunday night on KPFA, buying our "Sorenson" modern chair at Frazer's on Telegraph Ave (I'm sitting in the chair as I write this), Dick Diebenkorn dropping by to mention that he and Elmer Bischoff had seen my 6 Gallery show and each had bought one of the little landscapes and Dick wanting me to sign his (I think he had a painting of the Giralda Tower at Seville); Rik Thompson luring Paul Mills to come over to talk about the re-creation Paul was planning of the Ruskin/Whistler trial (and Jean entrancing him... that visit led to our first art jobs).

Mr. Ivanofflived in the large house next door on the south side.  He owned the art and gift shop in the next block further south on College.  He was a White Russian, a cultured refugee from the Revolution thirty-five years before.  He thought I should read something beautiful, and lent me Pierre Louys Aphrodite and a translation of Lucretius in the meter of Edward Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyam.  I bought a little vase from him and commented on the large Italian majolica jars in his window.  He replied, "There used to be a lot of interest in Mediterranean things," and I understood these were now the days of decline.  When Jean and I first bought prints from R. E. Lewis, I had the Blake (we had paid $25 for it) framed by Mr. Ivanoff's shop.

#11, January 2001.
Remembering the sailor of the 1951 La Temperanza

I had painted the small triptych mentioned above, to the left the man with his shirt off, to the right a sail disappearing over the horizon, and in the center the female figure with the two jugs of La Temperanza.  I put some little chrysanthemums that grew in the raggedy garden of the cottage into Mr. Ivanoff's small vase, and put the flowers beside the painting.

But most of all, College Avenue is the blue kitchen in the cottage, the basement with the big painting of the Venetian Fountain... the Man in the Forest paintings on brown wrapping paper, the big figure paintings of 1954, the Shoenberg Pelleas paintings, and the deck of the apartment with the sun coming down through the bougainvillea and the clouds passing above -- and the sun flickering through the leaves outside the studio window, flickering on the studio floor -- and me sitting with my shirt off on a chair in the sun in the dry grass behind the cottage, writing on the purple portable typewriter in my lap, writing, writing, writing...

*

 The Events that I remember...

The first camping trip—
The first summer after Demian was born, when—remembering the trip with Rik and Haven in the spring of 1948—I insisted we go on a camping trip to Big Sur.  We had the car that Genevieve had gotten for us from her friend Evelyn Brostrom's in-laws who were by then too old to drive.  The car had a rear seat that folded down flat to make a bed so that one could stop and camp anywhere anytime.  We started out I think early in the afternoon, crossing whatever river it is (Salinas River?) south of Watsonville in the sunset.  The sight of the river filled with rose light and leading westward to the sea was the origin of the final story of my 1951 series of  Stories of Bird LifeWe kept on through Carmel and on toward Big Sur.  By then it was dark and windy and foggy.  My usual inability to decide where to stop (surely there is a better place around the next bend) kept us on and on in the night until I finally gave up on some curve out into a "lookout" on a cliff over the ocean -- too much wind and fog to see the surf we could hear crashing below.  We stopped.  I unfolded the back seat bed.  The wind blew the fog across the road.  Jean's milk dried up.  With no other way to feed Demian, we started for home.
 

The second camping trip—The next camping was in the fall.  Demian was a little older, and on a bottle (Jean's milk never came back enough to feed him).  We stayed overnight in a campground on Mt. Tamalpais.  In the morning, when Jean was changing Demian, a young teen age boy came up, saw Demian lying on his back, said "hello, small balls," and walked away.  We had camped on a slight rise above a gentle valley.  There was an old horse trough in the valley, a running faucet fed by a spring emptied into it, and the trough overflowed continually in a gentle stream running down the valley in the dawn.
 

Images—a river to the sea in the rose light of sunset (there were birds running in the surf), and an old wooden tank overflowing into a dawn lit valley –
 

*

The last camping trip—It was when we lived on Harrison and my sister lived with us for a time before she was married...  I wanted to paint the sunrise -- life-size -- from the part of Bolinas ridge on Tamalpais where you can look south beyond Pacifica and east beyond Mt. Diablo.  By now I was in my Lincoln Zephyr phase, and we had a 1939 sedan which I dearly loved. Demian was maybe four, and slept in "sleepers".  We got up to the place I had picked -- I did not bring the "life-size" canvas -- watched a beautiful, clear sunset over the Pacific (and the grass on the rolling hills was golden, the groves of oaks were rounded and dark), and settled down to sleep until what I was sure would be a glorious dawn. However, it was an autumn when the wind came not from the west but from the east.  It was true, no fog; instead a hot wind that was strong and never stopped.  A very strong hot wind.  The Santa Ana that leads to unquenchable fires in the hills.  Fortunately, there was no fire, just a wind as if from a furnace... and Demian got stickers in his sleepers and we could not get them out and the wind blew and blew and he cried and cried and we decided to skip the dawn and go home now.  When I started the car, the lights would not work; but after a while of driving, they did.  On our arrival home, my sister asked what happened.  We said, the wind blew.  But I still remember as if I had seen it, the glorious dawn we never saw.

 

 

Part 2, The art I made and wrote

The paintings I remember:

La Temperanzawas from the earliest times on College Avenue, when we lived in the front cottage and before Demian was born.  It was a tiny triptych (maybe 12 inches high and 14 inches wide including frame) of a half-nude male and a sail disappearing over the horizon.  The medium was egg tempera with pastel on panel, the frame was like a box of black l x 2's.  I wonder now if it was only two panels.  I cannot visualize how the central panel of the woman with the pitcher of wine and the pitcher of water of the La Temperanza Tarot card could get into the middle of the composition between the sailor and the departing sail.

It must have been in early spring 1951 when I made the painting of the sailor, the sail going over the horizon, and the two jugs of La Temperanza somehow at the center.  The painting was based in blue... and I learned that a painting harmonized in blue will be dull under normal incandescent light unless the light is augmented with at least one "daylight blue" lamp.  Nowadays, problem is, I don't think they make daylight blue incandescent lights anymore.  And so I use a mix of 100w incandescents to fill in and warm all the missing wavelengths in "daylight" fluorescents.

The image was of the sailor and his representation to me of maleness (he was nude from the waist up) and of lust... he could fuck anywhere and anytime, always moving on over the horizon to the next lay (that's what the sail passing beyond the horizon was for)... and the image was also of La Temperanza -- that other which was to temper the maleness of the sailor.  But I think now as I try to visualize that long lost painting, La Temperanza was not actually in it. 

One day and without thinking and only because it was pretty, I took the small vase I had bought from our Mr. Ivanoff's art and gift shop, put in it a couple of the little chrysanthemums that grew in the garden made by the people who had lived in the cottage before us, and placed the vase of flowers beside the painting.  It was a little still life.  The flowers brushed across the heavy black wooden frame; the petals touched the chest of the sailor.  La Temperanza had begun her work – in the unconscious. 


The Jewels on the Horizon—were on brown paper.  There was the brown wrapping paper left over from Al Mano, there were the pastels I had bought at Ed Hunolt's Berkeley Book Bin (same time I bought the Paracelsus), and there was the poster paint left over from I don't know what.  The paper was the warm mid-value brown I have mentioned before; the poster paint was black, orange and white (the latter two colors bright against the brown paper); the pastels were nearly any color I wanted from chartreuse to pink to midnight blue; and the image of the sunset clouds was always calling.  I don't remember how many of these "jewels" I made.


The Man in the Woods—was also a series of paintings on the brown wrapping paper left over from Al Mano and using poster paint and pastel and a pallet knife.  The imagery was a male torso in an oval of green with a touch of blue sky at the top.  I don't know what I thought these images were then -- it was in the month or two before we went to Maxwell -- but when I think back to them now, I see Pan in the Forest (what a lame attempt to inflate a series of images I have not seen and never missed for half a century).  Have not seen -- but they are clear in my memory, the knife smear it took to make the body in one strong stroke of a color I cannot find today... ochre is too dull; orange is too bright.  It was my imagination of myself as the virility of the earth just as my imagination of the sailor was my imagination of myself as the virility of the sea.  Yes, I knew then and remember now that I knew it then, the sailor was the fucker sailing and cumming continually in the ocean of the fullness of the senses.  But this man in the woods?  I think he became Joey America, good husbandman he and builder with Venus Genetrix of the homestead (of Green Gates, our house on Monte Vista where we have lived now for more than forty years).


Beer at the Beach—was a series of ink line drawings with watercolor wash.  I am sure this series came after we returned from Maxwell.  The images were of a nude male figure, feet in the sand, knees bent toward the viewer, cock hanging down between the thighs, the body cut off just below the navel by the top of the paper, a condom ring and a beer bottle cap lying on the sand beside the left foot.  The series was the image of my male sensuality.  Now I can pretend that the condom ring symbolized the circle of eternity (and I was so hot for eternity in those days that I decided to spell it "Aeternity" -- but stopped after a month or two); and the crinkles in the brass colored bottle cap symbolized a crown (although now I think the term is "twist off," they used to call them "crown caps”).  Yes, I could make up all that symbolism now for what I painted then, but I knew then and remember now, it was only all about the lust in my loins.


The Jewels on the Horizon, the Man in the Woods and the Beer at the Beach paintings all disappeared because Sam Francis had come back from Paris to make it big in New York, said Martha Jackson -- then the top and only real AE gallery in New York -- was looking for new artists and that if I would send some work, she would set up a one-nighter for cognoscenti.  If it went well, I would be in.  I sent the jewels, the man, and the beer.  I did not hear from her and she did not return the work.


A self-portrait bust—oil on panel, the shoulders much too wide and the head too small, with a Greek temple high left and light streaming down between the columns toward me.


The beginnings of the travel paintingslittle panels of Venice and Rome, a big Venetian Fountain scene on canvas, and then the two smaller Venice scenes on canvas (they were all on cardboard or masonite after we moved to Harrison Street). 


The large figure paintingssee how I got my MA for discussion of these


The Wheel of Time with Jean Standing Beside It—was it from Stinson Beach, or Harrison Street?.  I last remember it in the frame I found -- a dark mahogany I think it was with a thin gold liner; I stained the mahogany a light, almost white dawn/dusk reddish glow, the painting itself glowing with a deeper, richer version of the same. I last remember it left abandoned just inside the door of the garage at Monte Vista early in our years there. 

If I were now to paint a monument to Jean, that painting would be it, the rose light that I saw in the mouth of the Salinas River at sunset, saw in the dawn in the valley with the horse-trough on Tamalpais (see "Events" above for descriptions of these sights).  Why did I not save the painting and its frame that I had stained with such care?  I do not know. The painting was old, I felt I was beyond it, and I let it go like I did the pastels I made in the late 1970's and stacked in the back of the garage where I knew they would be destroyed by damp but did not act upon that knowledge. 

Most of the paintings from the College Avenue time have been lost or destroyed for at least 40 years.  Among the survivors

Homage to Kandinsky (1951?)

Hesperian Fruit (1951?)

Bouquet for a Dead Dog (1951?),

Triumph and Terror of SXE

A City by the Sea

The Mysterious Island

Compote with Fruit by the Sea

Venetian Column with Crystal Capital (1955?)

Mosque by the Sea

 

The writing that I remember and still have
from the time on College Avenue, Maxwell and Stinson Beach

The 1951 Stories and Essays and the Knights of the Western Marches written in Maxwell in the attempt to organize the 1951 College Avenue stories and essays into a coherent text... (The essays are filed too deep to find, click here for the stories)

The text I wrote for my application* for the SFAA travel grant (which I did not get) -- about Venice as the city of the longing of the senses in time, and Rome as the city of eternity...  These were the ideas that led to the landscapes of 1954-5, the watercolors of 1986, and a perpetual scatter of things over this last fifty years.
              _______________________
                  *Note: As of April 2004, I can’t find a copy of this application or text.)

The College Art Journal article Aspects of Value in Contemporary Painting,  and the "Emil Sinclair" Letter to the Editor written in response… (Click here for the  Aspects of Value... text)

The Domus piece, Painting on this Western Verge, written during the summer at Stinson Beach… (Note: As of April 2004 I can’t find this text.)

 

The objects I remember.

 

Books—
The Bibelot—I got it at the old Holmes Used Book Store on 14th near Harrison in Oakland (same place I had bought all my Jules Verne when I was in Jr. High) when we came back from Maxwell and still lived on College -- but now in the apartment in the barn in the back.  It was 21 volumes, a 1925 reprint from the monthly books of "Poetry and Prose for Book Lovers, chosen in part from scarce editions and sources not generally known" printed and published by Thomas Moser from 1895 through 1914. (Moser's farewell was dated February 6, 1915... the end of an age.)  The originals had been a cry for the art of literature and for a printing and binding as aesthetic as the prose.  My reprint was the last echo of the aesthetic/symbolist movement that was already dying when Moser began to publish near the turn of the century, the aesthetical romanticism of the early Rilke before he met Lou Andreas Salome, the romanticism of Romain Rolland's Jean Christophe, of Verlaine's  "fountains sobbing tall into their moonlit marble basins fall" (how absurd it sounds now), of John Singer Sargent's and Vernon Lee's Italy, of  the Rachmaninof  Second Piano Concerto or of his Vocalise.  Long later, in 1990-91, I memorialized in it a "Postcard from Italy".

 

 

Dear Children...

I don't know how long it's been since Franz is gone with his piano from the villa, from his strolls among the old cypresses and the fountains too many and too loud -- fountains now fortunately partly choked with algae and rotting leaves -- gone from this place marked once with the stupendous energy of the Baroque, now touched with the delicate pearling dimming limpid light of late afternoon drifting to twilight, dusk, night.

Violet (you remember, John Sargent's  childhood friend, who now signs herself Vernon Lee because publishers only want the work of men) read us a page from her work in progress on 18th Century Italy; John made a few watercolor notes, not even sketches, of the long level light blazing through the old cypresses around the Rotunda (yes, I know, most of those old trees have died now and been replaced by young ones with two centuries to go before they reach the twisting glorious old age strength of these) and Sergei (our Russian friend whose First Symphony was panned a few years back -- he couldn't write a note after that, but after hypnotherapy, he's beginning to work on a Second Symphony) hummed -- sang wordlessly, he calls it a "Vocalise" -- a tune from something he says he'll compose one day for orchestra and soprano, one day between the wars to come...

And I remembered and knew what would be for me in some far moments the future of the aesthete: the water gleaming, the sky shining, shifting, turning endlessly like our bodies themselves floating and fading in the light of the setting sun.

Yes, that's it.  I was struck too long ago ever to turn back from those arrows painful and martyring as ever were St. Sebastian’s, those arrows that are the beauty of the body's harmonies when touched by the fingers of eternity.

 

Love, from the Timeless

F.

 

 

There was an image from my late 1970's watercolor sketch of the western pool and the old cypresses at the Rotunda, Villa D'Este, Tivoli, at the top of the card.

 

 

 

 

 

The Landscape Annual for 1832 -- also from Holmes.  It was the sights to see in the Italy of those days, with copper (steel?) engravings after Prout.  Those engravings were the source of my Rome and Venice imagery.

And Richter, Goethe, Novalis, DeQuincey, E.T.A.Hoffman, Hermann Hesse, and later Arthur Machen's translation of the Memoirs of Casanova, Edith Wharton and Maxfield Parrish's Italian Villas and Their Gardens, Vernon Lee, and on and on were the sources of my dreams.

 

 

Part 3, The Maxwell years and the Stinson Beach summer

There is no narrative of the Maxwell years fall 1951 -- spring 1953, only images opening, turning and then fading in the mind.

#3, July 2002.
Remembering our house in Maxwell

We lived in a little house painted light yellow.  There was a front room with an oil burning stove (the only heat), a sofa bed, and the very hi-fi radio Jean's mother had given us for a wedding present.  My father had remarked how important the radio would be for us, so far away from any form of entertainment.  We heard the Senator McCarthy trial on it; later, little Demian, trying to hear something closer, pushed the front wheel of his tricycle through the speaker grill.  We also had an "unfinished furniture" pine desk with a fold down front.  I had finished the desk in a dark walnut stain, and our books were on top of the desk, the only ones I remember being an 18th Century twelve volume edition of Gibbon's Decline and Fall.  (The bottoms fell out of the drawers and we threw the desk away sometime during our years on Harrison Street.  I still have the Gibbon.)

The bedroom was Demian's room.  A crib and I suppose a chest of drawers.  When bedtime came for him -- and it was always at the same time and always early so Jean and I could have our own time -- we would put him in the crib with a piece of bread and some paper to play with.  The crib was always a mess of bread crusts and crumpled magazines, and he was always happy.

Then there was the nondescript kitchen and bath.  We had what I thought was the most wonderful machine, a combined clothes washer and dishwasher.  For clothes you put in the clothes tub; for dishes, the dish tub.

And there was the garage, which I used for a studio.  Many nights and weekends, I painted out there while Jean practiced the lute and sang folk songs in the house.  Of the paintings I made in those nights, I think we had them for hardly a year or two before they were gone.  Perhaps half a dozen slides remain, and that's it.  Jean had the lute for quite a few years after we moved back to the Bay area... and then it was lost like the paintings.  (However, it may still be in the back of the space under the roof in the back of the west closet in the south bedroom of Monte Vista, the at one time bedroom that is now Stephanie's studio.)

The garage was unheated.  It gets very cold out there in the Sacramento Valley, and so I had a kerosene stove, the one my parents had used to heat the bathroom when I was a child.  It was very inadequate to the space in the garage, but I remembered how when I was small, the light of the flame inside the heater had made light spots on the ceiling and now in Maxwell I wanted that feeling again.

There is little else to write about our house in Maxwell -- little else to record (why record anything that has no importance to those who come after) -- than to remember Demian's messy happy crib, my painting in the garage with all the will in the world for heroism (those were the years of Sam Francis's imaginary "Ecole du Pacifique"), and Jean singing in the house with all the growing sadness of a very out of place young wife.

"Out of place" -- yes, we were.  It was a very small town in-bred for generations.  Everybody knew everybody else and they knew they did not want to know us... nor, in truth, did we want to know them.  There were two other couples our age and schoolteacher profession.  They were nice and we saw them a few times but neither couple had ever dreamt of the cosmic heroic obsession that was mine and which Jean shared...

Sometimes now that concept of a way of life is called "shamanic."  A special state of being is induced (the "divine afflatus" of painting and poetry); the individual travels far in the other world to seek the treasure (the cure for people and nations), and returns with a gift to the world (which if he is an artist, repays him with the gift of fame).  Well, however deluded we were, and however unconscious and unexamined these beliefs were in the light of the real facts of the art world and of daily life, that was the assumption that lay at the base of our lives.  And so in relation to the people of Maxwell, we were the strangers in a strange land... and as later years showed, we were also strangers in the art world as it is now understood.  (One day in the late 50's when Sam was visiting from Paris and New York, I must have used the word "spiritual" in relation to painting, because I remember Sam saying, "Fred, no one uses that word now.")

I taught English (with a capital E), science and social studies to the sixth grade in the grammar school in the morning; and I taught English, social studies and art in the high school in the afternoon.  Mr. Torgerson, the grammar school principal, taught arithmetic to all grades in the grammar school because he was sure no one else (and certainly not I) would be tough enough on the students.  His wife taught most of the other subjects to most of the other students except mine.  In the high school, Mr. Pederson taught agriculture... he and his wife were one of the two other couples our age.  And Mrs. Harelson was the other -- and senior -- English teacher.  She had taught the parents of all the students.  She was firm, warm, knowledgeable, and had those farm kids doing Shakespeare.

The Pedersons— She was light and smiling, a strawberry blonde, a Stanford graduate (that meant wealthy parents.)  He was stocky (not fat), swarthy, black hair and eyes and dark in mood.  He taught agriculture and I don't know what else. We lived in what for Maxwell passed as the city (a paved road, houses in rows); they lived in the country on a small farm with cattle and sheep (and a pig?).  And he was as obsessed with his vision of the land and a way to live in it, as I was of my cosmic aspiration and the light beyond the horizon.

Although I seldom think of Maxwell and the people there, the Pedersons are among the few to remember and to wonder: she so light and from so other  a world, he so dark (when I see him there is always a shadow), strong and of the earth and set on building his world of dream in this common world where things seldom turn out.

"Building a world of vision..."  After we came back from Maxwell, I bought the Bibelot and came across Thomas Moser's (the publisher) passion for the Celtic Twilight and Fiona McCloud.  I think it was Moser's desperation at the end of the 19th Century for an art -- unique, individual, "wrought"-- that led him to so passionate an embrace of the Celtic Twilight and Fiona McCloud.  Fiona comes up out of the thought of Pederson's (I cannot remember his first name) "building a world of dream in this common world where things seldom turn out"  because for Moser, the extraordinary visionary Fiona McCloud turned out to be the pen name of the very ordinary writer William Sharp.

Pederson was determined to make the farmer's way of life succeed in the 20th Century, and so he taught the Future Farmers of America and 4H in a country high school in order that his dream might be materialized in the future lives of students who would become farmers.  For me, I started and ran the San Francisco Art Institute Exhibition Program (in those days, it was "The Art Bank") for eight years, then led the Institute's art school for most of the next twenty years, and during all that time and since have taught painting, drawing and art history at the Institute so that my vision of art and life might be materialized in the future lives of students who will become artists... a vision which still colors my days and is the motivation for this writing.

Pederson: surely he entered into fatherhood, surely he built the homestead, surely too some tragedy entered his life as it does all lives, and surely for him as for every other person who dreams and builds beyond the common world, forever hail and forever fare thee well.

Anyway, I taught school in the day and painted at night.  Jean took care of little Demian and the house in the day, and sang at night.  And we drifted until the summer of 1952 and Stinson Beach.

 

The Stinson Beach Summer

#6, July 2002.
Remembering Stinson Beachl

The first house, the place we rented for the summer:
The warm light of the "majolica" (really plaster of Paris) lamp on the radio in the living room…

The bedroom, all redwood, the deep brown red of old redwood paneling, and that for a time I painted there the "Medievals," the rest of the time painting on the glassed in porch…

Dinner on the glassed in porch with Auntie, Grandma, Bob Kaess and his girl friend...  Girl friend wiping Bob's mouth to Auntie's dismay/disgust…

My argument with Auntie about how to break spaghetti ("Nana always breaks it into a platter," but Fred insists on breaking it directly into the pot of boiling water in order to save dishwashing)…

The attic room where I wrote Painting on This Western Verge for Sam to give to the then new Domus magazine…

The old woman artist: A few years later when I was Registrar at the Oakland Art Gallery, I found her little 1920's modern watercolor Golden Hills among the never picked up leftovers rejected from some long ago juried show, found it in the dust and heat and stains from the leaky roof of the Gallery's attic storage.

 

The paintings:
Triumph and Terror of SXE;
The "Medievals;"
and, it must have been,
Jean and the Wheel of Time…

 

Events:
Going to buy Tristan, coming back with Meistersinger…
Listening to the Delius North Country Sketches
in a large, warm, dark redwood room with the sound of the sea…
The long drive Maxwell to Stinson Beach and then return...

The second house, the place we rented when summer was over:
It belonged to the old woman artist, who lived in the larger house next door.  It was very small and only $25 a month and we thought we could keep it after the summer so we would have a place to go to get away from Maxwell.  But after a few months we could not afford it and the gas and the time and the effort to go all that way every weekend and had to give it up.

And in the spring of 1953, the almond blossoms all along the road, blossoms in the spring like those Van Gogh painted during his springtime in Arles.  I wrote a piece about them in the form of a dramatic dialog about an older man sacrificing a younger one to the power of beauty.  Sam in Paris kept asking for writing I could send for him to read and to show to the Parisian avant garde.  I sent my only copy and never saw it again.

 

 Part 4, How I got my MA

 In the spring of 1953, it was necessary for me to sign a new contract with the Maxwell Unified School District.  The question of whether to sign was settled by Jean, who said that instead of spending the summer at Stinson Beach as we had in 1952, we should move back to Berkeley for the summer and, further, that she would never live in Maxwell again.  I told the Maxwell people that I had to get my MA, and did not sign a contract for 1953-4.

 While still in Maxwell during the spring of 1953, I had discovered a palette of yellow ochre, red iron oxide, cadmium red medium, pthalo blue, and white.  I found that I could make anything I wanted with these few colors -- and especially because what I wanted then was objects in space—symbolical archetypal still life emblems of my life, and male figures like this Figure #1 that were the portraits of my other selves.  I had left Berkeley in September of 1951 as an abstract expressionist painter -- an important figure in the "School of the Pacific," the entirely fictitious "school" Sam Francis was promoting in Paris (Michele Tapie even came to San Francisco to investigate it, leaving behind in his estate years later a painting on a comic strip that his heirs wondered if was mine -- it wasn't) and came back in June of 1953 as a "realist" painter (though hardly Bay Area Realist; the everyday never moved me unless it was smeared with semen, blood and eternity).

When in the spring of 1950 I had applied for entrance to the fall 1950 MA progam, the entrance exam was to make a charcoal drawing of a nude the faculty had posed.  By 1953 and fortunately for me, the entrance exam had changed to painting a still life the faculty had set up.  We had an afternoon to do it in.  Since I had been using my yellow ochre, etc. palette for still life paintings already, it was natural for me to invent my own “cosmic” still life rather than using the turkey the faculty had prepared.  The faculty liked my imaginary still life and I was accepted into the program.  Afterward, Karl Kasten remarked to me how impressive it was that I had been able to make up a still life instead of using the one the faculty had arranged.  I said nothing but wondered why a normal activity for me was unusual for him.

Karl was the Faculty Advisor for the Graduate Program.  He was also an officer in the San Francisco Art Association.  In those days, the Art Association was a group of artists (the Artist Membership) and art lovers/philanthropists (the General Membership) which sponsored the Annual Exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and was the parent body of the California School of Fine Arts.  The Artist Membership elected I think eight of the twenty four members of the Board of Trustees, and Karl was the Secretary of the Board.  I was an Artist Member by virtue of having been accepted into three Annual Exhibitions (1948, 49 and  I guess 50?)  There had been an election for Trustees and Officers in the spring of 1953, and I thought all the nominees were very “in group” including Karl who was being re-nominated.  I wrote a stinging letter to the Board naming Karl among others as (I don’t remember what bad things); and at the open meeting to count the votes, someone gave the letter to Karl to read (in those days Secretaries read letters to the Board aloud at public meetings), and he found himself reading his own denunciation from me.  A week or two later, there I was, a new grad student.  And he was my advisor.  He mentioned the letter, and went on to what courses I should take.  I was only moderately embarrassed, particularly because I had hung his painting in the dark a few years before at the Alumni show..

During the spring-summer of 1951 before we first went to Maxwell, I had made some small paintings on brown wrapping paper—cartouches of a male torso in the woods or framed in leaves and fruit, and had made some drawings, Beer at the Beach, conjoining sex, sand and alcohol.  Sam was trying to hook me up at that time with Martha Jackson, then the major Abstract Expressionist dealer in New York -- and had arranged that I should send her some work that she would show to influential people.  I sent the wrapping paper series of male torsos and the Beer at the Beach series of line drawings tinted in watercolor—each one a close-up crotch-shot of a squatting nude male, with a used condom and a beer bottle cap on the sand at his feet.  I never heard from Martha and never heard of the paintings again.  I wonder now where they ended up and what they looked like.

After our return from Maxwell in the summer of 1953, I went back to the figure again, and late in the summer painted my first over life-size figure painting (Figure #1, 1953).  I brought it into the Art Department early in the fall semester, and Felix Ruvolo hung it in such a way that it dominated the entire length of the main traffic artery of the Department.  I rather doubt anyone among the students and faculty had ever seen anything so horrendous—and certainly not publicly displayed in the Art Department.  Soon enough that fall I made four more over life-size nude males (Figures 2, 3, 4, 5), followed by a nude head and shoulders portrait of myself and another of Jean (Figures 6 and 7).  I only brought the first nude into the Department; no one ever saw the others.  Only slides of those paintings survive.

My adventures getting the MA were chiefly to continue to be impossible.  First, I took a seminar from Glenn Wessels.  The seminar was to focus on painting a self-portrait; but I had no intention of stopping what I was doing at the moment—I had finished working on the figures and now it was small landscapes on panels.  For the Self Portrait for Glenn’s seminar, I made a life-size stick figure of lath and nailed some of my small landscape paintings to it for hands, feet, crotch, belly, heart and head.  Where the head was, I nailed through from the back so the nails poked out a few inches in front.  The head was a dark blue seascape with the nails that stuck out through it painted bright red.  The head was mine and that was my attitude to the Art Department.

During this time, James McCray had a studio on campus and invited me to look at some paintings he was making.  As we looked at them, he said that with such poor stuff around him (I assumed he meant students... and faculty?) he was losing the challenge necessary to drive his inspiration and ambition.  I did not say how disappointed I was in the work he showed me.

Then I took a seminar from Ward Lockwood.  The theme of the seminar was color, and the students were to study color by using casein paint in the glaze technique Lockwood preferred.  While we were still in Maxwell, I had bought a large book of Guardi drawings in sepia, a book of full-size reproductions of  Canaletto etchings, and a book of Eugene Berman paintings.  By the time Lockwood’s seminar began, I had discovered Windsor and Newton warm sepia watercolor and had begun to make Guardi style sepia drawings of Canaletto style skies.  I brought them to the seminar and insisted they were color studies due to the subtle warm/cool variations that the warm sepia gives depending on the proportion of water to pigment in the washes.  None of these drawings have survived.

I never bothered to use Lockwood’s casein, but continued to work in oil—back to abstraction, no more figures.  And, for abstraction, to follow David Park’s advice: when there’s stuff all over everywhere and you don’t know what to do, pick the part you like best and paint the rest else out.  The result for me was what later came to be called “color field painting.”  Two slides of these, Crisis #1 and Talking of Dawn have survived.  At one point in the semester of Lockwood’s seminar, several students brought in parodies of my “blank” paintings.  The other students were amused, I thought they were stupid.

The third thing I did was make a fresco.  John Haley was my advisor.  I was entranced with the peeling plaster of Venice as I had intuited it from the fantasies of Venetian ruins in Guardi and Canaletto and from the paintings in the Berman book, and decided to make a peeling fresco of Medusa that would recall my childhood memories of Neptune Beach in Alameda.  I went to the Art History slide library to research previous imagery and was thrown out (it turned out that painting students were not allowed).  I made a large (6 x 6 feet) fresco of Medusa in the manner of Eugene Berman.  I scratched into it in the manner of Jackson Pollock while it was wet and then continued to paint on top of that.  I thought it was a breakthrough in fresco technique and a great painting.  Haley never said anything but had it scraped off as soon as the semester was over.  Other stuff stayed there for years.

I got my MA at the end of spring 1954, and by summer was into travel paintings of Venetian landscapes and the domes and minarets of the mosques of a seaside North Africa, soon enough continued by travel pictures copied from old books, and then by "plein air" views of the then ruinous Western Addition of San Francisco -- the dying city as a symbol of my degradation by lust, and the travel paintings as an escape from the hell I had created in my soul.