Clyde Eugene Merritt

I was already interested in the work of self-taught artists when I met Clyde Eugene Merritt at Rock Hill’s Watkins Grill in 1992. As time went on, I became a friend and followed his work closely. We often visited several times a week. He called by phone anytime night or day. As early at 5 a.m. his unmistakable voice would let me know that “I’ve got paperwork.” After his move into assisted living fifteen miles away in York, South Carolina, the visits were less frequent unless he was ill and required more attention from a small, faithful group of friends. Beyond the few times we drove to the capitol city Columbia, Gene never traveled outside of York County in the years that I knew him. I took him at his word that when younger he did travel to Dollywood and Tweetsie Railroad in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. For certain he was born November 30, 1936 in Columbia, South Carolina, and lived there until his mother’s untimely death in 1948.

Gene Merritt at Watkins Grill in Rock Hill, photo by Mario Del Curto

Gene Merritt at Watkins Grill in Rock Hill, photo by Mario Del Curto

Other university artists have developed relationships with outsider artists ever since art, academia and authenticity first collided. My thoughts about Gene Merritt have been developing for 23 years. Looking at one of his drawing is special. Looking at his drawings over a longer period of time is very special. As I have seen his work, I have come to realize there is much more to learn about artistic expression.

Clyde Eugene Merritt was the only child of working class parents Clyde Harper Merritt and Irma Johnson Merritt. Though there was no diagnostic evidence, relatives suggested that a serious illness as an infant left Merritt with cognitive disabilities. After his mother’s death, Merritt and his father moved to Fort Mill, South Carolina, where Merritt attended, but never finished high school. He worked a variety of odd jobs including being a shoe shine boy in a pool hall, janitor in a movie theater, and bag boy in a small grocery store. With his father’s death in 1981 he became a ward of the state and lived briefly in a nursing home before entering the state adult foster care program that eventually moved him to nearby Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Gene Merritt possessed a memory and personality that animated his free floating conversations. Gifts like these set him apart from those who were often stereotyped as indigent, or challenged, or citizens of the street. His mild sense of humor and playful way with words opened doors to the kindness of others.

Most people first encountered Gene Merritt drawing at Watkins Grill in downtown Rock Hill. The owner and waitresses at the diner embraced Gene as a regular just as they embraced local business leaders, politicians and breakfast clubs. He would walk to Watkins in the early morning from his trailer home on the other side of town. He would find the same table, sit down and draw until the busy lunch crowd arrived and then he would leave. Watkins was a life saver as it gave him a socializing environment in which to communicate, create and establish an identity. Watkins’ waitresses served Gene coffee, breakfast or a hotdog even if his monthly check from DSS was long gone.

At the original Watkins’ location on Main, and later after the diner’s move across from City Hall, Merritt had a designated space to keep his drawing materials. On the wall nearby his reserved table, his drawings hung in inexpensive frames. Daily before he left the grill he attempted to sell his “paperwork” for as little as a quarter. Often he gave the drawings away. For most of the regular customers, Gene Merritt’s public drawing was what established his sense of place within the diner, but by no means was it considered “art” by accepted standards. It was simply Gene Merritt making his drawings. Regardless, this creative activity was what Merritt considered to be his business. He was a self-proclaimed business man and artist.

For a period of about fifteen years beginning in 1992, Clyde Eugene Merritt produced an extensive body of drawings defined by an uncharacteristic visual language. Done in ball point pen, rolling ball ink, or color pencils on paper, his drawings comprised a range of subjects including automobiles, holiday scenes, animals, and most notably portraits. The portraits featured pop culture icons he recalled from years of television, motion pictures, and magazines.  He drew anonymous figures symbolic of beauty, strength or ideas generated in his rich imagination. And of course he created self-portraits and drawings of friends.

James Garner by Gene Merritt

James Garner by Gene Merritt

Merritt’s portraits were represented as either profiles of the head, or frontal views of the face floating in the middle of the picture plane. Occasionally full body images existed within a background drawn to represent, for example, a farm, boxing gym, jungle, or mountain scene. Graphic line quality was consistent in all of his work. A characteristic style featured puzzle-like facial constructions suggesting multiple perspectives or points of view.  Merritt would also rely on clean, linear representations that possessed a more fluid line.  Some of these resembled contour drawings. 

The variations in his drawing styles were indicative of the ways in which Merritt saw his subject matter. Simply put, more complicated compositions with fragmented features relied on Merritt’s imagination and memory, while the simpler contour-like drawings were often created as he looked at photographs in glamour and celebrity magazines. Regardless, Merritt’s use of line reflected careful and conscious decisions.  His eye, hand and pen moved in an off-beat, but deliberate rhythm from one part of the drawing to the next. While visual formulas existed in his work, his relationship to the drawn surface was unpredictable. Though he had no artistic training, his drawings possessed an intellectual and aesthetic purpose.

One formula in Merritt’s drawing was what he called his “autograph.” Much more than a singular signature, his autograph was a complex series of descriptive words and phrases including his name or the name of his business; the name or description of the subject; a date or series of dates; and occasionally, extended text or text fragments. These written elements were visually reinforced by grammatical signs and symbols including brackets, underlines, apostrophes, dashes, and quotation marks. They tied one drawing to the next and helped create another level of interest and attention to detail.

Self-Portrait by Gene Merritt

Self-Portrait by Gene Merritt

Being a hard-working man was a large part of Merritt’s persona. He expressed the ideas of business and hard-work in a number of drawings. For example, the text in a self-portrait might read, “Gene hard at work at home.” An often repeated subject was a “hard working hand” holding a pen poised to create more paperwork.

His daily walk to Watkins Grill and return walk home was punctuated by regular stops along the way where other hard working people had jobs. The stops included a fast food restaurant, a barber shop, a loan company, a foreign car dealership, a scuba diving business, a pawn shop, the arts council, and an artist studio. He not only befriended the individuals at his regular stops, but he collected their business cards at every opportunity. On the back of the cards, he would write his underlined and bracketed name because he identified each as a business partner. In a similar fashion, the autographs that appeared on his drawings essentially transformed them into business cards and art works all at the same time. [“Gene,’s – Art,’s – Inc,’s”] or [“Gene,’s – Art,’s – Muzieam’,s – Inc,’s”] was typical of this concept.

Identification as a business man was related to a desire to achieve a level of importance. In conversations with Department of Social Services (DSS) social workers, it was acknowledged that Gene had lived a hard life that included few resources, too much alcohol, and occasional physical abuse. Merritt himself described frustrating instances of ridicule or being taken advantage of by others. For sure his life was not comfortable but his drawing provided creative and imagined opportunities. It was certainly true that a number of people were interested in him through his drawing. His admiration for other hard working people, and his desire to depict successful icons of popular culture, suggest that he wanted more than the reality afforded a venerable adult.

In 1992 he lived in a small trailer in the backyard of his foster care providers. It was dark and seldom cleaned, but it did have a television with an old movie channel. It had a telephone that allowed Merritt to communicate with the world outside. It also had a table and chair where he could draw as he did at Watkins Grill. Even though there is no record of where most of his work might now exist, Gene Merritt was unquestionably a prolific and focused artist.

Telephone conversations from his trailer home required urgent and immediate attention.  Communicating on electronic equipment was important to Merritt and signified a kind of discussion not possible face to face. He had been influenced by exposure to two-way radios and electronics at this aunt’s home in Columbia where he stayed during adolescent summers. As an adult in Rock Hill, he owned a citizens band radio that allowed him to listen to the voices of people that he never met. He owned a collection of walkie-talkies purchased from the pawn shop that he tried to repair in an attempt to make them send and receive once again. He was fascinated by personal communications equipment and this interest is depicted in a number of the drawings.

Any understanding of Gene Merritt’s work is not complete without realizing that in 1996 his drawings were recognized by a curator from the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland. Appointed by Jean Dubuffet as one of the key administrators at the Collection, Genevieve Roulin (1947-2001) became a strong advocate of Merritt’s work. She was instrumental in sharing it with a small but dedicated audience in Europe and beyond. Gene Merritt’s drawings fit Dubuffet’s definition of a raw art. They lacked direct influence from mainstream art and its related institutions. His work represented a singular vision. Roulin believed that Merritt’s work possessed a unique cerebral quality. His work responded to an idea and timeframe within American culture.

Bruce Willis by Gene Merritt

Bruce Willis by Gene Merritt

The drawings’ perspective on mass media and popular culture during the second half of the 20th Century deserved attention. They were at once self-promoting and commercial, while at the same time examples of rare authenticity. Merritt’s images drawn from the silver screen, television and magazines, represented a graphic tradition that includes representational drawing, political cartoons and 19th Century prints. If Merritt had been connected to digital technology or social media, it is hard to speculate where his work would have gone.

Another marker in Gene Merritt’s artistic life was his 1998 move from adult foster care to Pilgrim’s Inn Transitional Housing in Rock Hill, a community-based non-profit organization serving the homeless. Merritt was one of the first residents and his move was facilitated by Pilgrim’s Inn founder, Tricia Kuhlkin, who had known Merritt since 1981 when he frequented the soup kitchen where she worked.

For one of the first times in memory, Merritt lived in a comfortable environment. The staff of Pilgrim’s Inn became a group of friends who cared about him, helped maintain his health, and encouraged him to stop drinking and smoking. From Gene Merritt’s perspective, they were hard working people who he admired. Though the mission of the facility was to help women and their children for a transitional period of 24 months, Merritt lived there for nearly nine years.

With his move to Pilgrim’s Inn however, Merritt’s routines began to change as he walked less to familiar stops and eventually walked little at all. For a while he would venture to the Friendly Grill located just behind Pilgrim’s Inn. He also frequented the main office of Pilgrim’s Inn where he visited and talked with the staff. In many respects his time was more focused.  It was less stressful and uncertain. He had a new kitchen table where he could draw. There were fewer distractions and he was not in the public eye.  

A memory for movie stars, entertainers, and the rich and famous continued to provide source material for his drawings. With his move to Pilgrim’s Inn, Gene Merritt now had his own mailbox outside the door of the new duplex where he received a weekly television-based celebrity magazine addressed to “Occupant.” The weekly publication together with glamour magazines donated to Pilgrim’s Inn provided new models for his work. Though he continued to draw from memory, or as he suggested, “from my head,” he began to look at the photographic reproductions in the magazines in order to create drawings from observation. This was evident in stylistic differences. It was probably not the first time he relied upon observed images, but it was certainly more prevalent in his new work.

Gina at Work by Gene Merritt

Gina at Work by Gene Merritt

His fascination with make-up as medium and subject was revealed in the new drawings as well. Though color pencil had appeared in earlier work, it was not typical and often used to merely fill in an area. After settling in at Pilgrim’s Inn, Merritt began a limited but intentional use of color in the portraits of women drawn from published photographic images. Influenced by advertisements and celebrities pictured in magazines, his drawings of women included accents of color depicting eye shadow and finger nail polish. In a sense Merritt used color pencils or markers to actually “make up” the women depicted in his drawings.

What makes this development all the more relevant was Merritt’s parallel interest in purchasing make-up at nearby drug stores, usually finger nail polish in a variety of colors. The make-up and finger nail polish became gifts of choice to individuals he considered to be his girlfriends. Merritt’s playful demeanor made it easy for people to connect and embrace his personality. He in turn developed imagined relationships with a number of women who had shown him kindness. Often times they were care providers. As innocent as this was, he demonstrated his affection through the gifts that he purchased with his monthly check or money earned from drawings.

Collected drawings from a day’s work, or from the same sketchbook, often exhibited similar themes or approaches to drawing. Yet it was not uncommon for different styles of a variety of subjects to be completed one right after the other. Merritt’s drawing easily shifted gears. The observed and imaginative styles merged in the same drawing. One classic 14x11 sketchbook from 1998 included subjects and styles that demonstrated his expressive range. The titles in this group included a diverse assemblage of portraits, animals, and themes. Below are examples of text, or portions of autographs, from the 14x11 drawings.

[“Easter – Williams“]              [“(L) – Zarro – Sordsman“]     [“Sanford – And – Sons“]

[“The – Atomic – Bom“]         [“John – (F.) – Kennedy“]        [“Pepno   – the – Wander – Dog“]

[“Progress – Farmer“]            [“Fast – Delvery – Man“]        [“St. – Louis – Cardinal’s“]

Though Merritt’s time at Pilgrim’s Inn was productive and a welcome change from earlier living environments, health began to be a factor in his quality of life. While living at Pilgrim’s Inn, he underwent open heart surgery and began to experience problems with his feet, legs and digestive system. This was another reason why daily walking became less of a ritual. As time went by he required more medications and care. Years of hard living and bad habits had taken a toll.

Wild Man by Gene Merritt

Wild Man by Gene Merritt

In 2007 Gene Merritt was transferred from Pilgrim’s Inn to an assisted living facility in York, South Carolina. Though the facility changed ownership during Merritt’s stay, he would live there until his death May 16, 2015. One exception was a period of illness in the summer of 2013 when he was in an acute care unit back in Rock Hill.

Though he continued to draw for a while after his move to York, eventually he would draw little at all. Perhaps it was a change of environment, or his health, or both. Much of his work became repetitive memories of cartoon figures. He was tired. Drawings lacked his imaginative spark.  He said that drawing “hurt his head.” And drawing from his head was where the work had originally emerged.

The problem is I’ve run out of ideas to draw things.  So I’ve been going into magazines and drawing pictures of dogs, cats and what I’d like to find in a magazine or two.  All my drawings are not the original people, they’re just the substitute. I done one from a photograph of John Wayne and a preacher over at the church. I gave that to a lady up there in the office. And when I’m deceased and gone what I want you to do when I’m not here and I’m destroyed, and my ashes is gone, destroyed, I want you to get this system with my picture in it and when I’m gone and I’m cremated.  See when I’m cremated, the devil don’t know it but he’ll be destroyed too.  And this world will be destroyed by an asteroid.  It’s a hot rock you know in outer space.  That’s my premonition over this system that’s it going to happen.  I not trying to be over God, but it’s just a thought that pops in my head.

This was not an artistic set-back nor a creative block, but rather nature taking its course. Still, Gene Merritt was more than an artist who produced remarkable drawings. He continued compelling conversations and developing meaningful friendships. The friendships helped sustain him during the latter years of his life. Many of his conversations revolved around earlier times, or his new life in assisted living, or his imagined ideas. Many of the stories had been heard years earlier, and were now memories of memories. Prior to moving to York, his hearing was already failing, so our conversations in his new home began with words written on a simple index card with a sharpie. He read the card and responded as he wandered from idea to idea. He recalled days as an amateur musician in a country band; the time he met Author Smith and the Cracker Jacks; the time when he was a Carolina Clown; his trip to Dollywood; how his sex life was all but gone; days of drinking and smoking and how he had quit all of that; and there was his obsession with the idea of walking that he expressed with mixed feelings. The conversations were like his drawings and the text that accompanied them – all possessing a singular voice, an image like no other.  - Tom Stanley, 2016


Notes on Memory and Observation in the Drawings of Gene Merritt

Since his first known drawings completed at a Rock Hill luncheon diner in the early 1990s, Gene Merritt (born 1936 in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.A.) has periodically developed subtle yet significant variations in his large body of work.   Certainly, consistent graphic line quality, subject matter and the manner in which he symbolizes reoccurring imagery generally distinguish his drawing.  For example, birds appearing in the distant sky of his picture plane continue to be represented as a variation of the letter "m" suggesting a bird's body and wings.  Clouds and distant mountains also assume formal and compositional notations that repeat themselves when they appear.  In like fashion, a few of his celebrity subjects such as his drawing of George Jetson, the popular futuristic cartoon figure from the 1970s, surfaces almost monthly from Merritt's memory as it appeared the month before in his preferred medium of ball-point pen on paper.  And though his cubist-like self-portraits have a visual reference based in memory rather than direct observation, they bear a striking affinity each time they are drawn.

While there are many more reoccurring features in his work than not, Merritt's alterations are often times the more critical components within his work.  The manner in which Merritt signs his drawings has been one of the most visible identifying elements.    Perhaps because of his continued interest in celebrities,  "autograph" is the term Merritt uses to describe his name and descriptive text as it appears on his drawings. Since "Clyde E. Merritt” is the manner in which he signs official documents, his autograph may have little to do with the traditional idea of the artist's signature.   His bracketing; underlining; and inclusion of strategically placed quotation marks and punctuation throughout his autograph and text evoke a sense of the visual as much as a desire to communicate his thinking behind the drawing.

Merritt's first drawings, which he called "cartoons," did not possess his distinctive autograph or text. They were simple line drawings of figures he recalled from comics, motion pictures or early television.   His eventual autograph was partly influenced by his interest in professional business cards and the recognition that his drawings were his livelihood. For Merritt, drawing has more to do with "paper work" and identifying himself as a productive individual rather than art making.   Over the years his autograph has evolved from"Gene's Art's" to "Gene's Art's Inc." and, after his meeting the late Geneviève Roulin and his subsequent exhibition at the Collection de l'Art Brut, to "Gene's Art's Muzeiam's Inc."  In the past year his autograph returned to "Gene's Art's" and now to "Gene's Art's Colections" (sic).

One of the more intriguing shifts in his work was both sudden and rather stark, and deserves preliminary explanation. During the first half of Merritt's artistic career he lived in very difficult circumstances.  To what extent his environment played a role in his work is debatable, but it is important to mention here.  Most of his drawings at that time emerged from very clear and detailed memories of childhood; motion pictures from his youth; reruns of television sitcoms; and the stars of country music and rock and roll. Merritt’s distinctive profile portraits represented his drawings from memory in symbolical and stylistic ways.  Though the frontal perspective was occasionally used in his portraiture, the profile provided the major vehicle to depict many of Merritt's favorite celebrity characters.

Merritt's drawings from this period were typified by his linear segmentation of the face or body that represented his idea of muscular definition.  Merritt suggests that this drawing technique was like assembling a puzzle with lines and forms from his imagination - or to paraphrase the artist, from his head.  His process was very deliberate and time consuming as he carefully went from one section, or puzzle detail of the face, to the next.   Part of the genius of Merritt's process was how fluid his drawings were in their execution while complex in their composition and descriptive line variations.  Geneviève Roulin (1947-2001, former curator at the Collection de l’Art Brut) described them as wonderfully simple.  Her eye was surely tempered by the works that surrounded her in Lausanne.  In that context, perhaps Merritt's work was simple.  At the same time, these drawings "from his head," which had inspired the interest of the Art Brut world, would be temporarily replaced by an even simpler form.

In the late 1990s Merritt had the good fortune to be one of the first residents in a newly constructed transitional housing program called Pilgrim's Inn.  The care and kindness that Merritt received since moving to his furnished apartment marked a positive shift in his life.  Here again, to what extent the new environment influenced his work can be argued.  Yet with a new postal address, Merritt began receiving free weekly entertainment magazines in the mail.  Distributed as advertisements for American television, the publications were illustrated with photographic images of personalities from popular culture, Merritt's preferred subject matter.  In an effort to "rest his brain" from the exhausting work of creating detailed drawings from his imaginative memory, Merritt began to produce drawings by using the magazine images as models. 

Though his work today is an amalgam of so many of his drawing variations, the specific period in question marked a distinct turn.  While clearly looking at the photographic imagery as observational models for his drawing, Merritt's work lost the puzzle-like intricacy of line and composition.  It was replaced by singular contour lines that defined the forms almost like a coloring book.  His point of view represented the perspective illustrated in the magazine image and, in a sense, forfeited the symbolic or abstract quality found in his earlier work.  And though the photographic images were reproduced only in back and white, Merritt used color pencil within the lined forms of his drawings. His images of female celebrities were especially intriguing as he used color almost like make-up on the lips and around the eyes of his subject matter.   It is antidotal, if not informative to note that for years Merritt had bought inexpensive cosmetics including lipstick, eyeliner and figure nail polish as gifts for women he admired.   For sure, Merritt had also used women's fashion magazines with full-color images as references.  But here, he transformed what he observed in black and white to drawings unlike any he had produced before.  The psychological edge that held his works of memory together had given way to an economy of rendering that illustrated a new facet in Merritt’s vocabulary.  An overall quality of design and Merritt’s desire to extend his voice in a new direction help define these drawings as a significant series in Merritt's career of paper work. 

Tom Stanley, 2005, Musée de la Création Franche, Bègles, France.

Scratching the Surface Installation at Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art

To learn more about the exhibition at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, go to Tom Stanley: Scratching the Surface.  The exhibition opens May 19 and continues through July 8. 2017.  Tom Stanley is represented by The George Gallery in Charleston.  Go to the George Gallery Website to learn more.  Tom Stanley will present an exhibition walk-through Saturday, June 17 at 2 p.m. at the Halsey 161 Calhoun Street, Charleston, S.C., 843.953.4422.  Photo courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, photo by Rick Rhodes Photography.

Our trip to NYC, March 2017

I had not been to NYC since perhaps January 2001.  So on my way back from a recent trip with Kathe, I promised myself I would attempt to recall some of what happened during our brief stay in NYC.  Kathe attended the Art Education Conference and I mainly looked around the city and visited MoMA and the Armory Art Fair, while we both did take the opportunity to see a play, and a concert at Carnegie Hall, and then visit the Whitney.   The overall visit seemed to evolve into some sort of marker in between the past 27years and actually leaving Winthrop later this summer.

After checking into our hotel, the Moderne on 55th Street we ventured out looking for a restaurant.  I suspect we were a little overwhelmed by the lights of Times Square but eventually we found a small Indian take-out with seating where we had dinner. It was nothing fancy but it was inexpensive and OK.  From there we found our way to the Roundabout Theatre with tickets for Arthur Miller’s The Price. The 4-person cast included Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht and Danny DeVito.

The following day on my own I visited MoMA and there encountered the exhibition Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction. His eclectic work makes sense to me.

I thoroughly enjoyed time by myself with the work.  The museum was not overly crowded so it provided time to see and think.  Beyond the great collections in general there was also the exhibition A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde. I had wanted to find the new Museum of American Folk Art but it was not totally open.  So I did return to our hotel, the Moderne on 55th Street.  It was a small but quiet space in a great location with quite an arrangement of “wall accessories” and furnishings intended to highlight the modern décor of the lobby, hallways and rooms.  Though the Moderne had its own distinct function and charm, the hotel’s furnishing reminded me of my job from 1975-77 in Passaic, N.Y. and New York at Greg Copeland, Inc., a designer and manufacturer of wall accessories. That is where I learned a little about mass producing frames, chi chi décor and navigating NYC.  Our major client was Bloomingdale's, so I got to hang our showroom on 59th Street.  There was another design showroom at 26 Madison Avenue that I also hung.  And then I remember hanging the Thayer Coggin showroom at the furniture market. 

That evening Kathe and I had a lovely dinner in a Greek restaurant near 3rd and 93rd with our dear friends, and Kathe’s childhood friend from Alexandria Barbara Adinaro (professionally Adrian) and her husband Richard Sabel. Here is the connection.  Barbara came to New York when I still worked at Greg Copeland to begin her acting career. She lived with us until she found a place to live.  I think she still lives in the same place.  That must have been back in 1976-77 at least.

The next day Kathe continues at the Art Ed Conference and I figure out that the Armory Art Show, the big art fair in NYC is not far from the hotel March 2-6 at Piers 92 and 94.  On top of that, Robert Walden, Jerry Walden’s son (Jerry is the art chair prior to me at Winthrop) who operates Robert Henry Contemporary Gallery in Brooklyn, has left tickets for me at the door of the Volta Art Fair at Pier 90 just down the street from the Armory Show. 

So I figure that will occupy my day until I meet Kathe later that afternoon back at the Moderne.  Well the Amory is overwhelming with art work and art dealers, art buyers and curious people like me.  I wander through and I try to focus on this or that.  I take a few photographs of things I want to recall. However, the most important event of that day was running right into John Moore.

I was introduced to John by artist Benny Andrews of New York and Georgia.  Must have been about 1986 or 87. I was then director of the Waterworks Visual Arts Center in Salisbury, N.C..  Benny had asked John to be a panelist on a public art selection committee I was organizing for Livingstone College in Salisbury.  John would also curate an exhibition for the Waterworks titled  Contemporary Landscapes: Five Views with artists Frances Barth, Susanna Heller, Michi Itami, Tobi Kahn and Cari Rosmarin.  I would later ask John to be part of the inaugural exhibition at Winthrop Galleries and later still to do a talk and studio visits in the Department of Fine Arts.  I recall that the artists selected as finalists for the Livingstone project included Mel Edwards, then at Rutgers University; Curtis Patterson then from Atlanta; and Boaz Vaadia from NYC.

OK, so I run into John at the Armory Show.  We briefly talk. When I return to the Hotel Moderne, I check the email on my cell phone and a list serve informs me that Boaz Vaadia, one of the Livingstone finalist, has died.  Ok, I think that is a coincidence. It was part of this marker that was this trip. That night we ate at a Thai restaurant on the corner of 55th and 8th and then walk up to Carnegie Hall as Kathe found tickets to a one-night only concert titled Django A Gogo, A Celebration of Guitar through the Music of Django Reinhardt.  Musicians included guitarists Stephane Wrembel, Al Di Meola, Stochelo Rosenberg, Larry Keel, Thor Jensen, David Gastine, Ryan Montbleau, saxophone Nick Driscoll, bass Ari Folman-Cohen, and drums Nick Anderson.  So when Al Di Meola introduces himself, he reminds the audience that he has not performed at Carnegie Hall for 40 years when he played in a very new group with Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke called Return to Forever.  Kathe and I look at each other and realized we saw Return to Forever 40 years ago at Montclair State when we lived in New Jersey and I worked for Greg Copeland’s wall accessory company.  This is a reunion of the mind so to speak.

The next day is our last in New York and we decide before we catch the bus back to the Newark Liberty International Airport from Grand Central Station, we will work our way down to visit the new Whitney Museum of American of American Art and walk along the High Line Park.  As the Whitney Biennial is in the process of being installed, only the 7th and 8th floors are open.  That’s fine. On the 8th Floor is the exhibition Fast Forward: Paintings from the 1980s; and on the 7th Floor is Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection. When we elevator to the 7th floor, the elevator doors opens and immediately in front of me is Alice Neel’s 1978 lithograph of Benny Andrews.

So NYC still sounds and smells like NYC and for the most part looks the same with the addition of the LED light show in Times Square.  I suspect we arrived back at the Charlotte airport around 8 p.m. We drive home and settle in to watch SNL from NYC.

Benny Andrews, 1978, Lithograph by Alice Neel

Benny Andrews, 1978, Lithograph by Alice Neel