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
The place, the events and the things I
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Remembering the barn in the
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
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).
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.
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
The first camping
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 Life.
We 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.
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
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
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
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
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 paintings—little 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
The large figure
paintings—see 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
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
Hesperian Fruit (1951?)
Bouquet for a Dead Dog
Triumph and Terror of SXE
A City by the Sea
The Mysterious Island
Compote with Fruit by the
Column with Crystal Capital
Mosque by the
The writing that I
remember and still have
from the time on College Avenue, Maxwell and
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 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
landscapes of 1954-5, the
watercolors of 1986, and a perpetual scatter of things over this last
*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.
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".
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
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.
Remembering our house in Maxwell
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.)
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
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
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
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
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.")
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
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
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…
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
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)…
attic room where I wrote Painting on This Western Verge for Sam to
give to the then new Domus magazine…
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.
Triumph and Terror of SXE;
The "Medievals;" and, it must have
Jean and the Wheel of Time…
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…
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.
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
the spring of 1953, it was necessary for me to sign a new contract
with the Maxwell
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
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..
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.