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.
That's a photo of my family. Must be about 1958. Left to right are Jack, Betty, dad, mom, me with my eyes closed and Phillip. My oldest brother Phillip sent the photograph to a woman in Greece. It was some kind of lonely hearts club deal. He was going to bring her over but it never worked out. Written on the other side is "please send this one back. It belongs to my mother. This is my family and myself with the circle around my head."
To be honest, it's my mother's handwriting.
My name is Tom and I am an arts administrator. I am forty-two years old. I've been married for twenty-one years and have two children. I'm a so so arts administrator, but it is one way to make a living in the visual arts. I've done other things besides be an arts administrator.
I live in Rock Hill. But over the past twenty-one years I've lived in Belmont, Concord, and Greensboro; Richmond; Passaic; Columbia; Batesville; Miami; and Salisbury. Seventeen apartments or houses since I left home.
I was born in Fort Hood, Texas on January 19, 1950. My father was in the Army. Jack is the next oldest after Phillip and then Betty my sister. My brothers and sister are really from my mother's first marriage to a man named Floyd. But like we always said, it never made any difference.
Before I was a year old, the family left Fort Hood and moved to Fort Knox, Kentucky. After my brother's accident, my father left the Army and we moved to North Carolina: first Charlotte, then Harrisburg, and finally, Concord. The moves were actually for my mother. She never liked the Army or moving to different places. She always seemed afraid of the unknown, not only for herself, but her children. Phillip's accident reinforced the fear.
My father's family was from New Orleans, a town I wouldn't visit until I was twenty-nine to attend an art conference. I went again three years later to find my grandfather's grave. Wasn’t exactly a grave, but a tomb. His name was Tom. He painted decorative architectural details. He died in a suspected bar room fight when my father was three years old. His body was found in the river. Dad's mom identified him by the cuff links he wore. The obituary read "Painter Drowns." My mother has always been afraid of the water.
I tried to see Uncle Owen, my father's only sibling, on the second trip to New Orleans, but when I called him, he didn't want to see me, it wouldn't be a good idea. So I never met my Uncle Owen.
Mother was born in Monroe and grew up there in Union County. She had ten brothers and sisters who called her "sister" for the first years of her life. She eventually named herself Katherine Olivia. My family was living in California when her mother died back in Union County. I wasn't born yet. She said that she woke straight up in bed the very moment her mother passed away. This was typical of her perception. She was always predicting accidents.
(SLIDE # 2)
Mom and dad bought a house on Daily Street in Concord. At the top of the hill was the fire station. In the woods across the street was supposed to be one of the early Cabarrus County gold mines. Behind our house was an apartment house. Phillip and his wife Marty lived in the apartment house for a while. One of the boarders sucked him off up there. It was at night after the movies. He'd be standing on the third floor back porch looking down at us in the backyard. We'd be having a cookout. He'd be wearing a white undershirt. He was the one sucked Phillip off in his apartment. On the right lived the Beatty's and Miss K-town, Mrs. Beatty's mother. Phillip exposed himself to Miss K-town. He didn't mean to. On the left were Daddy Joe Smith and his wife Mrs. Smith. Daddy Joe was a well-known "rock-hound" and grand leader of the Knights of the Royal Crown. Once when I was very young, I remember seeing Mrs. Smith naked in their living room. I didn't mean to. Daddy Joe also had a large painting of a nude woman over his and Mrs. Smith's bed. You had to get Mrs. Smith's permission to look at it.
The Knights' club house was in Daddy Joe's backyard across from his rare gem house. You knew when he was in the rare gem house because the grinding machine would mess-up the TV. TV was a special thing, especially when Phillip or I went to the fire station to get soft drinks. They had all the flavors including lime.
There was a set of wooden swords in the club house that Daddy Joe's grandson, Little Joe, and I played with even though they were for the Knight's special ceremonies. When Little Joe was changing from a boy into a teenager, he stole my sister's underwear. I remember sitting around our dining room table with Mrs. Smith yelling at Little Joe and he was crying and I was crying and said I would still be his friend. He told me about how your thing would get hard and all of that.
Daddy Joe eventually choked to death on a chicken bone.
Since our house had nine rooms and my father didn't make a lot working in a machine shop, my mother rented the upstairs rooms. She eventually expanded to room and board. Six dollars a week for room and ten dollars a week for room, board and laundry.
There are many feelings that I have about living on Daily Street. I think about it as often as I can. The people who passed through that house colored the perspective of my small town. I never thought of it as a small town, or a big town, or anything, until years later.
I remember the Cuban roomers in the sixties; there were two groups of them; Hungarian refugees; gold miners; men recently divorced and separated from sons; old men waiting to die; Mr. James, the marine who went through boot camp at age forty; Sidney Wenoka, the Jew from New York who joined the Knights of the Royal Crown; Luther who broke a window when he had a fit and worked at the Red Pig; and any number of people just passing through or needing a place to stay. There were very few women. Mother thought they would attract too many men.
One of the early memories is that of Dr. John, a Hungarian English professor. He was working in the chicken processing plant while he was being relocated. His wife and children were still in Hungary. One Christmas he left us and went back to see his family. Everybody said it was a dangerous thing to do. I think it was the Christmas that dad got me the army trucks and men. I remember the way the metal felt.
When he finally returned to Concord alone, I recall sitting around the kitchen table after dinner as usual. It was Friday night. I know it was a Friday night, because that's when we said the rosary. I liked Dr. John's accent. As the family was talking around the table, I called him a Russian spy. I knew about Russian spies from the TV. I thought everybody would think it was a funny thing for me to say. I was just a kid. The next thing I knew, he had me above his head, shaking me and carrying me up the stairs to the second floor, and screaming, "No spy, no spy, no spy." I guess I was about in the second grade. He was upset.
About 1960, I got an oil paint set for Christmas. Yes, I know this sounds like a cliché. In fact, this whole script thing must be embarrassing for you. But please, don't give up yet. And keep in mind that no one has heard or seen this except you. At least this version. So this is it, I have no theories about life or art. I just wanted you to know that. My work, good, bad or indifferent, is all that I have to show at this time. And this script is more or less the reason why I do it.
Anyway, I received the oil painting set. My bother Jack had joined the Maryknoll Seminary and left his record collection behind. You can imagine, it was a regular hootenanny. There are several of the records that I still listen to. A couple in particular: Time Out and Time Further Out by Dave Brubeck with Paul Desmond. I included a copy of the painting for you to see. I don't know if it was the album covers or the music or both, but that's my first painting. Not many people have seen it. Anyway my brother came back after a year, got married and had five children. He wanted to be an English professor. I was impressed by his intelligence. He wrote poems. He went to work for IBM in Raleigh, he quit, they all came back home, and he went to work for a trucking company.
My brother Phillip's accident when he was 16 and we lived in Fort Knox left him with a bruise on the brain. So for the remainder of his life, he was frustrated having known what he was before. Still, most of his frustration was for companionship, or sexual relief, or because he wanted to drive a fancy car to get the girls, or because he wanted to be good looking and wear nice clothes to get the girls, or because he wanted plenty of money to buy presents to get the girls. He never got the girls.
One time Phillip broke his leg trying to impress a woman. She had been a roomer upstairs when he put the Aqua Velva in his eyes to make himself cry and he had a butcher knife and said he would kill himself. She moved out. Mom's cousin Ross, who drove City Cab #12and often brought the roomers to our house, liked this woman too even though he had a wife named Jewel who lived in Kannapolis and worked in the mill. One day he and Phillip visited the old roomer at her new place. While Ross was at her door, Phillip slipped behind the wheel of the cab. He was going to get her attention for sure. Before Ross could stop him, Phillip started the cab, knew he couldn't drive, and rolled down an embankment. He was trying to jump out when his foot got hung up in the door. Ross said he was just hanging there when the cab came to a stop and snapped his leg.
Phillip wore a cowboy hat and boots and a yellow London Fog coat. It was kind of a uniform. What he liked best was to make his rounds at night to the fire station, the police station, the Candy Kitchen, the Red Pig, and the What-A-Burger. It wasn't unusual for him to pick up a hot dog, a barbecue, and a Whooper. The movie theater and popcorn were important too. He loved the movies and went as often as he could. Perhaps it was the dark and the big screen.
Everybody downtown knew my brother and he knew everybody and their business. And so for many years he was a source of embarrassment to me.
Eventually, he married Marty, a mildly retarded woman who mom trained to do many of the chores around the house. They lived upstairs. After he was married and by the time I was in junior high, he had gone to Dorothea Dix twice, both times for indecent exposure. He was really a good person though - usher at St. James and eventually they let him be Santa Claus for the church Christmas party.
Over Christmas break in 1970, Phillip, my father and I were all working at the machine shop. Phillip was the janitor, my father was a shipping clerk, and I was just lucky to have a job between semesters at the college. The machine shop was in Charlotte so we had to get up at 5 a.m. We had just bought a new used car and I decided that morning to sit in the front seat for the first time and let Phillip sit in the back. Since it was a new car and my first time ever in the front, I wanted to see where my hand and my head would hit if we had to make a sudden stop. I was very cautious. I did that and then I went to sleep as usual. My father drove. I never saw my brother again.
I had taken a number of drafting classes in high school. They were the closest thing to art. That and geometry. I thought I was going to be an engineer. That would be a way to keep me in good standing at the machine shop. When I was a young boy I would go there with my father when he worked Saturdays. The machine shop had a smell of burning metal and honey buns. I would file blue prints. After I turned sixteen I always had summer jobs there. And then again, my brother Jack had been an English major at the college after he left the seminary. Maybe I would be an English teacher. Anyway, Phillip "got some" so to speak from the old women who lived across the alley from the machine shop. From her porch she used to taunt the workers with a rubber tied round her neck. She'd hold it up and wave it at us. The boys dared him to do it.
(SLIDE # 4) This is a page from dad's Machinery Handbook.
Drafting was the highlight of my high school career. I even won a state-wide award in the category of "graphic design" (actually, just a two-dimensional drawing with no side or top views). Classmates called me Super-Scale. I was happy to have an identity. I altered the linings of several sports coats with specially designed pockets to carry all of my drafting tools including the erasers, scum-bags, triangles, scales, templates, compass. It was peculiar to see this weighted down coat. I thought it was cool to open it up and expose all the tools.
It wasn't until I was in freshman registration line that I decided to be an artist. I over heard someone say that you could major in art at the sister school. I had no trouble deciding against engineering and English as I stood there in line. I eventually transferred to the sister school in order to avoid math and science requirements altogether.
That freshman year I managed to acquire a second floor studio of my own in the abandoned science building. It was a great place until I broke down the door. A lot of discoveries went on up there. I named it the Attic. It was quite different than Concord. I'm certain that all kinds of things between various folks went on up there. I never saw it though. I'm just sure it happened. In spite of this I maintained rather close ties to home. I would go every so often and every so often they surprised me with a Sunday visit.
I recall bringing friends home on special occasions. I liked to show off my family. It helped give my new friends a perspective from which to view me. Perhaps it was a mistake to bring home Roy Wilson and those two guys from New York. Roy got drunk, pissed out the window, and told my mother he was an atheist.
One Thanksgiving a couple other guys from up north came with me. My father and Phillip picked us up after the machine shop on the highway in front of the college. The three of us got in the back seat. Phillip turned around and smiled a very crocked, half ass grin. My father drove.
When we arrived in Concord, they found a small Japanese man setting the dinner table. My friends told me later it reminded them of Bonanza and the Ponderosa. You remember Hopsing. The small man was actually Hawaiian of Japanese descent. He taught math at Baber-Scotia and lived in Hotel Concord. Phillip had found him at the What-A-Burger and brought him home. He stayed. His name was Clyde.
Clyde now lives in San Francisco, but he still visits my family at least once a year. His last visit was this past Labor Day weekend. It was an unusual visit since my mother was in the rehab hospital recovering from a heart attack and a stroke.
I asked Clyde why he stays in such close contact with my family, especially mother. He said that she was his friend. He liked talking to her. And she like Clyde cause he kept he privates to himself. So she said.
(SLIDE #6) I painted this my freshman year and gave it to Clyde. It’s an abstract crucifixion but I got the hands backwards.
We were deep into Vietnam my second year at college. I couldn't imagine myself being there. Had a low number, 56. Perhaps it was during this time that I began to break some of the hold which my family, or Concord, had on me. I’m not certain if it was fear or the new freedom.
The first few days back at school after summer break, I was sitting on the art house steps waiting for it to open. The art department was in an old house across from the sister school. Anyway, an older, rather threatening looking new guy sat down to wait with me. I was afraid he would sign up for art. And I liked things the way they were. I really didn't know about this guy or how he might rock the boat. It had been comfortable.
Strangely enough as years would go by, he became a real of brother and friend - different than I had ever known. It was a little unsettling because what he did or had to say or didn't say, seemed somehow liberating. I felt like I belonged to something besides Daily Street. That was what was so different.
Some of the best memories would be years later just listening to him talk about the grain of wood or the function of a particular tool or the mechanics of one joint versus another. He worked in wood. These conversations, usually stoned conversations, were very real and concrete and small and mystical, all at the same time. I had never known anyone who seemed to have no strings.
(SLIDE # 7) He did this drawing of me when I was in the hospital. You can see the pointed eyebrow.
Mom did not like him.
(SLIDE # 8) One summer we made this wind sculpture on at the beach. The wind was blowing hard otherwise it wouldn’t work. You see it is almost horizontal.
Not long after the art house, my junior year - over a year really - I got married. It seemed like a good idea and perhaps a way of discovering something even newer. To make a long story short, the marriage thing did worked out. It hasn't always been easy, but I've gotten to know her more and more as years have gone by. She taught me how to ride a bicycle and swim; she took me to Europe; she encouraged me to go to graduate school. I promised not to use her name as this is not her slide script and her family is like father’s knows best. No really, I didn't know how to swim or ride a bike. It was too dangerous to do when I lived on Daily Street.
(SLIDE #9) I did this the semester we got married. It's titled Woman. Made from Masonite. I imagine you can see the suggestion of cleavage there?
After we were just married, we lived in Concord for the summer between college semesters.
I agreed to let mother find us a place to live since we were in college finishing up the school year and preparing for the big wedding day. She found us an apartment for $40 a month on Cabarrus Avenue. Years later we learned it was the first apartment she and Floyd lived in.
Mom would pop in every so often announcing from the back door, "Are you in the bed." She'd tell us that you lost a pint of blood every time you did it. Understand that she was also under stress at this time since she was trying to marry off Phillip's widow and get his money back. Cousin George who was in the air force had found a boy named Roscoe who fit Marty just fine because he was a little like Phillip. The thing about it was, Marty couldn't write, so mother wrote her love letters. Roscoe's parents had the handwriting analyzed and determined that Marty was a hardworking and strong woman. They were wed, but not before the incident with Juan.
Juan was the last roomer on Daily Street. He drove a cab and called mom "mom." An orphan. He lived there off and on between girl friends for six years. Of course, I already knew that Juan and Marty had been doing it. I heard them one night when I was home on Christmas break. But as I already mentioned, as long as you kept your privates to yourself, these things were tolerated. Juan and Roscoe had to be separated on several occasions once Roscoe realized everything and Juan realized he would be alone upstairs. I don't know what happened to Juan. The last time I saw him he was working at the S &W Cafeteria behind the food counter sweating and spooning out peas. He said to mom, “Hi mom.”
Mom would say, "You know Phillip died for that money." My parents had put it in a trust fund with one of mom's nephews, David, who worked at the local savings and loan and consequently was highly regarded in her family for his financial success and good looks. Not long after he set up the trust fund with Phillip's $10,000 life insurance policy, Cousin David left his wife, children and town with the money that Phillip died for. Everybody was upset for years.
I don't mean to drag on with this, but this is my slide script. And I really have to do it this way. Don't you ever regret not doing something that your instincts just told you to do? I do and that's why I've got to do it this way. After I finished my CO at Guilford College and UNC-G, we moved to Richmond for no other reason than just to get out of North Carolina - and away from my mother who continued to arrive unannounced. She'd bring groceries all the time. Lots processed stuff in boxes. And so I took a painting class at VCU just to keep in touch with the art thing. It was final critique. Some of it was food we just wouldn't eat, but you could never say anything to her that wouldn't hurt her feelings and make her cry. I was waiting to be called upon in the critique because I wanted to do something that would be just damn spontaneous. I mean surprise everybody. You know, play the harmonica like a wild man instead of talking about painting. Don't you just get tired of talking about painting like it was some kind of thing you could talk about? The teacher never called on me and I never volunteered. I got an incomplete. We lived in the Fan. Mom and dad came to Richmond on a bus.
Let's look at the work now. I haven't looked at many of these slides in years, so this is an exercise for me as well. I can only imagine what it is for you. (SLIDE # 10) is entitled Geneva sweet pea, (mixed media, Greensboro, 1972). As I mentioned before, I was completing two years’ service in lieu of induction into the military as a CO, or conscientious objector. I worked initially at Guilford College on the maintenance crew and then at UNC-G in residence halls as a housekeeping assistant, or janitor. Geneva was one of my co-workers. I stuck out like a sore thumb when we all lined up to punch in and out at the clock. But it seemed like we got along.
The CO thing. Well I didn't have a lawyer. I did it myself. I always let the draft board know where I was when I traveled out of state. When I visited the American Museum on 8th and G Streets in D.C., I wrote them let them know that I was in a room full of Winslow Homer's and liked it very much. They wrote back and wanted to know what I meant. I mean I wasn't in battle or anything, but we had casualties. We did drugs too. One guy committed suicide outside the maintenance department the night I was on boiler duty. Another guy, who I gave a leather basketball to, killed himself in his VW bug. It's not that I don't cry when I visit the Vietnam Memorial. I do. My father wrote a letter of support to the draft board.
I was on the quad and had four dorms. There were two women in each dorm, one kitchen in each dorm, one room with two beds for the women in each dorm basement, and I had a closet in Geneva's dorm. I would spend a lot of time in my closet. Occasionally, I'd get stoned or go have a beer in somebody's room. But mainly it was the closet. In fact, I found something the other day I wrote in my closet. I know I'm not a poet, but this is important to the script. It's a closet poem.
closet no window
(SLIDE #11) This landscape from those same closet days sort of mimics the poem.
We are skipping over Richmond because I don't recall taking any slides up there. I just worked as a picture framer. So (SLIDE #12) is from the Meadowlands series. Yes, we lived in New Jersey for two years. To make a long story somewhat short, I had worked as a picture framer for an art gallery in Charlotte my senior year at the college and we did a lot of work for the art buyer of a big bank in town. I took the bus in. A few years later in Richmond, I got a call from this same art buyer wanting me to interview for a job in New Jersey at a place called Greg Copeland Inc. (a wall accessory company). I was impressed, and why not, what was happening in Richmond. So we did New Jersey for two years. My job was mainly to figure out how to frame pictures for all the help on the assembly line. They had green cards.
(SLIDE #13) I did this in New Jersey too. Dylan Thomas. Got the idea from the New York Times Book Review.
As time became real in New Jersey, I was more impressed by the Meadowlands and the idea of the Passaic River and Patterson and the Erie Lackawanna Railroad Station across the street from the American Bar in Hoboken. We went into the City almost every weekend. Sometimes I had to work there. During this time I discovered Joseph Cornell (SLIDES 14 & 15) and James Hampton (SLIDES 16 & 17). The affection for these artists continued with my journey back down south the year Elvis died. I wanted to get a MFA. Thought it would open doors.
(SLIDE # 18) This is some my first work in graduate school.
In Grad School, I began to expand my interests from the chic world of Greg Copeland's major buyer, Bloomingdales, to classes I taught at Central Corrections Institute: 2-D design and printmaking (SLIDES #19 AND #20). Since it was maximum security, I couldn't wear blue jeans and had to bring in the art tools for each class and collect them when we were finished. I carried them in and out of the prison inside a brown wooden box with a handle. It was my grandfather's painter box. The guards called me the medicine man; they thought I was bringing in drugs. That wasn't really true though I did forget once that I had a joint in my pocket. Usually, most of my students and I were all stoned anyway. They already had their own cutting tools too. They seemed like nice guys. They liked looking at the slides.
Central Corrections suited my real obsession in graduate school and South Carolina: you know finding so-called non-academic artists. I hate the word academic even when it is a non-word. They're now called outsider artists. Once I made the mistake of calling them "contemporary folk artists" at a conference on language and culture organized by the anthropology department. Definitions, that's another story. Anyway, I was so captivated by the artists, and why, and how, and what they made. In a way, they were the grandparents that I never met. They were part of my passage to something else. The MFA thing really wasn't. Not only did it become secondary, it became transparent. I shouldn’t say that should I now that I am at the University?
(SLIDES #21 - #33)
Some of the artists were Jolly Joshua Samuel, Mike Aun, James Bright Bailey, Annie Hooper, L.C. Carson, Dan Robert Miller, Marion Hamilton, and John Schwarz. Their work was vital, honest, unpretentious, rooted, surprising, and resourceful.
What was essential to their work was something I tried to strive for, but I was really only kidding myself. I could never have the exact same feelings or understandings of a black maid, or a Hoboken night, or a man in for life, or Phillip, or someone who discovered an art out of his or her depression era experience in the south. It has taken a long time to realize that.
Still, my work was very reflective of these interests and these people with whom I was spending my extra time. (SLIDE #34) Arrangements in Gray was part of my thesis project. I also had a dog named Thesis. (SLIDE # 35) She went with us to Arkansas and was eaten by a pig.
I got a teaching job out of grad school at Arkansas College as Assistant Professor of Art and Historic Preservation. Along with the MFA I had gotten a MA in Applied Art History, so I was qualified to do anything.
As you can see, this Memory Series (SLIDES #36) painting from Arkansas is related to the thesis thing. I was still intimidated by the idea that I must maintain some sort of clear logical concept in my "pieces." That's what I learned in graduate school: pieces – pieces of this and pieces of that. A real good piece.
Even this River Works sculpture (SLIDE #37) for the Arkansas College campus is similar. I think they tore it down when I left.
These notions were of course influenced by Cornell and Hampton- object, stage, sort of surreal - asin this other Memory Series (SLIDE #38), or this small painting which is actually from Miami (SLIDE #39).
The place where I began to leave some of the graduate school stuff behind was in a group of paintings from Arkansas called Closet Paintings (SLIDE #40 & 41, acrylic on canvas, 56 x 68). Sure there were still some geometric shapes - remember high school and drafting class, well I have never gotten it out of my head - but something else was beginning to return which I liked. I didn't know what it was yet. It was all so difficult.
My daughter was born in Batesville, Arkansas.
I took the Closet canvases with me when we moved to Miami and another teaching job at another college. The change of location changed the paintings. The same works from Arkansas continued to be painted and became White Room Series (SLIDES #42, 43 & 44). They had as much to do with an old Cream album as the white room I used as my studio. I felt them in Miami.
I stopped painting when I herniated my disc in Miami. I began a series of small drawings shortly after which I continued even with our move back to North Carolina. These first drawings (SLIDES 45, 46 & 47, Table Series, 7 x 8 1/2, graphite on paper) were not only about tables, but inside and outside and an old friend who had a herniated disc too. These small drawings re-initiated the use of my drafting tools. The care and control which gave life to these drawings were part of the same process that produced works by Super-Scale twenty years earlier.
Eventually the free-hand lines that made-up the grain on the table tops changed from being purely decorative to being more expressive and symbolic (SLIDES #48 & #49). Sexual imagery began to evolve on the imagined surfaces. These drawings were indeed part of the healing process for my disc. I was on my back for a couple of months and I found that instead of being frustrated, the best thing to do was just relax and give in to the body. I enjoyed this time so much.
As the series continued, tables gave way to more fanciful interiors and old interests began to emerge in a new way (SLIDES #50 & #51). I even saw a little of Calder in some of the work (SLIDE #52). Another hero, I guess because he not only turned his engineering into an art that appeared so American, but his approach seemed uninhibited by the art world that was taking shape around him. I don't know where (SLIDE #53) came from.
The last of these small drawings I did were memories of the rooms upstairs on Daily Street. I don't have slides of them. One was water damaged when Jack's house burnt down.
My wife and I both gave notice at our jobs in Miami even before we knew where we were moving. We knew we wanted to get back to somewhere. So the job in Salisbury came along and one idea that stuck in my head was the notion of place. I really wanted to have a home. Be part of somewhere for more than two years. I guess that's why I tried so hard in Salisbury to make it work. But by my fifth year, I just burned out.
Being close to Concord again was not as difficult as one might think. I had learned how to distance myself when I wanted to. Besides my parents didn't drive anymore. Not that my mother ever did. But for sure my father didn't drive outside of Concord. Soon he wouldn't drive anymore at all.
In the 70's he retired early from the machine shop. They built a bedroom, kitchen/dining room, and living room onto my sister's house at the end of Service Lane, a dead end dirt road off Highway 29 at the Winston Cup Souvenir Shop across from the BIG-A-LO. He sat down in his chair then and became attached to it.
Betty had married when I was in high school. She went from living on Daily Street to living in the house on Service Lane, the same house where her husband Ralph grew-up. His mother moved into a trailer next door. Mrs. Jones' trailer looks like a regular house from the front because of all the add-ons over the years. But you can still see the trailer if you go round back. And then of course, mom and dad completed the set at the end of the road.
Ralph retired on disability several years ago and mostly stays at home. You could go a year or two and never see him. He stays in the bedroom working his CB and HAM radios. It's wall to wall equipment. He used to be involved in cameras. And telescopes before that.
When we still lived on Daily Street, mom would make chicken gumbo in her semi-NewOrleans style. We were all expected to be there for the big deal. One year Ralph brought a tape recording of a clucking chicken for everyone to listen to during the meal. It was supposed to be symbolic. Ralph is deep.
Meanwhile, years later back in Salisbury, I turned an old wooden garage out back into a studio. Mr. King, the home owner before us, hung himself from the garage rafters in the 60's. His wife continued to live there until a year or so before we bought the place. I am certain that Mr. King meant well even though he was obsessed with making and fixing things. I could tell by the way he made repairs around the house using multiple nuts and bolts welded tight instead of just nails. At least he seemed to give good vibrations to the garage that he had actually built and died in.
In this space I began painting again. I found an old record player and bought some car speakers which I hung on the walls. I decorated the garage with all sorts of objects from years of keeping and saving: photographs, old art work, old tools, special pieces of wood. Not unlike the Attic. A friend had given me his record collection from the sixties - not unlike my brother's records from his seminary days. The garage became a very special place. I'm not certain that anyone ever knew about this. Or at least how important it was.
(SLIDE #54) is It don't mean a thing (acrylic and crayon on canvas, 36 x 66). It, like the rest of the paintings during Salisbury, was painted at night with music as a part of the medium:
SLIDE #55 Ev'ry time we say goodbye acrylic and crayon on canvas 48 x 60
SLIDE #56 No where to run to acrylic on canvas 48 x 6
SLIDE #57 Full moon, drowning painter acrylic on canvas 48 x 72
SLIDE #58 A love supreme acrylic on canvas 48 x 60
SLIDE #59 Otis live acrylic on canvas 49 x 72
SLIDE #60 Time of innocence acrylic on canvas 60 x 60
SLIDE #61 Jammin' Rahsaan my father drifting off the coast of Afro blue acrylic on canvas 48 x 60
Each painting required a long time to complete - at least it seemed. I would work, rework; there was no clear plan or idea when the painting began. When I was working on Jammin' Rahsaan, I was listening to the same album, same side of Roland Kirk's VOLUNTEERED SLAVERY. It was his tribute to John Coltrane (thus Afro Blue). But during these weeks into months one thought reoccurred: my father's heart felt accomplishment, or at least, his fondest memories are of the 757th Tank Battalion in northern Africa and Italy during World War II. I recall a story. Once, when he and some friends were on leave they took to the beach in Africa and set out on a small raft - all hanging onto the side and drinking a bottle of whisky. As time went by, they had drifted out to sea and land was quickly disappearing. Fortunately a friendly plane spotted them and they were picked up. As I worked on this painting I began to see the triangle shaped insignia of the battalion emerge. I listened to Roland Kirk and thought about by father from New Orleans now in Africa. I wondered what it would have been like if my father had been Roland Kirk instead of Johnny; I wondered if my father had ever had the desire to let all his bull shit blow out of his body through the sound of a horn or a paint brush; I wondered about this and actually cried about it in the garage.
My son was born in Salisbury.
In the living room in Concord at Service Lane, in the corner across from the television is my father's chair that goes up and down automatically to help him get in and out. Around the chair are tables with drawers and files and scissors and staplers and tape and the TV Guide and rosaries and holy cards and letters from the VA and candy and cookies and the channel changer and his world. The last time I was there, he handed me the reunion book from the battalion's last get together. He just handed it to me with this look like he just woke up. He never made one of these reunions because of money or health or mother. The triangle shaped insignia was on the cover.
The next works were done a year before we left Salisbury. In other words, as the capital campaign began. I don't know what these are about. (SLIDES #62 - #67) are very quick paint sketches on paper. Screaming faces. (SLIDES #68 - #70) The larger paintings are now underneath some newer work. I don't think I have left this totally behind. In fact, it is somehow part of the work I am doing now. I don't know what I will do next.
As soon as I took the job at the University, my sister was diagnosed with a serious illness. I know, this must seem too personal for a slide script, but please, stick with me for a little while longer. This is my script, and I think there is an ending in here somewhere and if youSo she was away two months at Duke undergoing experimental bone marrow therapy. This was the longest Betty had been separated from mother with the exception of a period when she was about 3 or 4 years. She had gone to stay with Aunt Lena in California.
Just a word about Lena. She was dad's aunt on his mother's side. She raised my father. She ran a neighborhood store in New Orleans until she was about age 50 when she married Harry and they moved to California. I never had much contact with Uncle Harry though I did find a used rubber in some of his belongings. Aunt Lena was the nearest thing to a matriarch in our family. I think that is why she and mother did not always get along. Mother tolerated Aunt Lena because when she died, mom thought we might get the money. The money ended up barely paying for Lena's nursing home in New Orleans.
So as soon as Betty was getting back on her feet, mother went into the hospital, had her own illness, a heart attack and had a stroke. I spent more time than usual going to see her, and, in fact sort of enjoyed visiting with her. She was determined to make it back and displayed her usual will and perseverance I had been thinking about how I sometimes don't know who these people, my family, really are. So spending time with her alone during these little visits was somehow important to me.
The whole crisis brought my brother, sister and I together. We mainly asked a number of questions for the first time: like why were Johnny and Kay so strange about so many things, why did we never go on vacations or to the circus, why was food the focus, and why had Jack and Betty never met their father Floyd even after Floyd tried to see them, or, at least he tried to see Jack. Floyd called mother a few years ago to ask if he could see him. She didn't want him to and she never gave Jack the option. Floyd went back to Florida and died.
As mom's weeks in the hospital continued, our questioning came to a head, albeit an unresolved one. Uncle Jesse, mother's brother who lives in his trailer in his woods that he had hoped to turn into his trailer park and lives with his wife's sister Joann who always lived with June Bug, his wife, and him ever since they were first married but now June Bug lives alone on Girly Street and mother said that Jesse used to be real mean and drink; well Jesse had confided in Jack when Jack was taking him to see mother in the hospital that Jackwas really the only living child of Floyd but that Jack better not ever tell anyone that he had told him until both he (Jesse) and mom were dead.
So after 47 years. Surviving experimental treatment at Duke. After being a good daughter. Betty found out that she wasn't the daughter of Floyd. Jack and Betty and I would sit around and try to figure out the whole thing out. Who was Betty's father? What was the secret?
One Sunday mom was scheduled to visit Concord for a few hours just to see how things would go and what adjustments would have to be made before she came home for good from the re-hab hospital. It was a big event. Dad had been crying just thinking about it. For almost two months it had been just him, a day-care worker, and the TV. Dad cries at the drop of hat. He never got over the Kennedy assassination. He had not been to see mom since it would be so hard for him to get out of the car or up to her room. The last time he had been in a car for a trip out of town was when I took him to the VA in Winston. He was trying to get more benefits and he had to take a series of medical tests. I remember him having to walk naked from room to room as I tried to support him.
Early that morning before mom arrived for her trial visit, Betty went down to dad and mom's part of the house. She told dad she had come across some papers that made her wonder. This wasn't really true; she was only trying to get some clue about the truth. He started crying in his chair and he said, "You don't know do you?" Know What?
Dad was stationed in Monroe before he was shipped out to North Africa and then on to Italy. He was still married Myrtle. Mom was still married to Floyd who had already shipped out or who was somewhere else besides Concord. Their marriages weren't going all that well.
Betty was born while dad was in Italy. He showed her picture to his buddies and they said she looked just like him.
All these years Betty was supposed to have been Floyd's child and Jack's full blood sister and my half-sister because dad was a New Orleans Catholic, maybe mom didn't want to lie to her mother, and I guess they didn't want us to think they had sinned. And who knows why else. But now Betty was the daughter of Johnny; she was the daughter of my father and not Floyd; and Jack was really the only living child of Floyd.
Mom came home from the hospital a couple of weeks ago. She now directs her kitchen from a wheel chair and falls down in the night when she tries to go to the bathroom. She confided in me that she had fallen about 2 a.m. one night and that dad tried to call up to Betty's part of the house on the phone for help. Of course dad can't hear any more so he yells, especially when he talks on the phone. No one came, so he had to call up there again, shouting even louder into the receiver, "Your mother needs help." Betty still didn't come. Dad never knew it was the wrong number.
These are my latest paintings
SLIDE #71 Maria acrylic on canvas 60 x 16\
SLIDE #72 Singing winds acrylic on canvas 85 across (60 x 60)
SLIDE #73 Crying beast I acrylic on canvas 78 x 60
SLIDE #74 Crying beast II acrylic on canvas 78 x 60
SLIDE #75 Sleeping beast acrylic on canvas 80 x 5\
SLIDE #76 Rising beast acrylic on canvas 80 x 2
SLIDE #77 Wandering beast acrylic on canvas 85 across (60 x 60)
SLIDE #78 Green Beast acrylic on canvas 80 x 53
SLIDE #79 Mother's daughter acrylic on canvas 60 x 53 (dyptich)
Of course you realize I don't paint like this anymore. Everything has changed. I might do something different again tomorrow. I don't know. Maybe I don't have a mature style. You know the thing is that I just don't want to get locked in. Like I said before, definitions are another story. You know the other thing is this; most people don't have a clue what I think. I'm an arts administrator. But did you look at my first painting? Besides directing an art gallery and teaching, I've worked in the machine shop. My brother Jack worked in the machine shop too when he was younger. He recently left his family and moved to a trailer park. He said the Vietnamese were all over the place. Mom is worried that none of his children will take care of him when he gets old. And the thing about art is that it's just too rigid. But I'm not totally sure if I've made my point. And this is my slide script. And I don't really care if you like it or not. You know I couldn't tell my co-workers that I was a CO. So many of their sons were over there. Some had died. Sometimes I think we want to be too safe with the art thing. You know they collected $125 for me when I left my job in the dorms. And the art thing isn't getting through at all is it? Anyway, I caught a bus to Richmond and met my wife with their money in my pocket. I got a job on Broad Street at the Art Market as a picture framer and she worked in a day-care center. I don't have any slides from Richmond. And you know this is the truth when all is said and done, sometimes I just really want to blow this harmonica like a wild man.
Lights. Any questions?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston. Tom Stanley: Scratching the Surface, May 19 - July 8, 2017. Opening Reception, May 19, 6:30 - 8:00 P.M. Artist Lecture, Saturday, June 17, 2:00 P.M. For Preview of Exhibition, go to http://halsey.cofc.edu/exhibitions/tom-stanley-scratching-the-surface/
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.