Monday, July 27, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
“So what’s with this facebook thing?” My friend Freddy who lives in one of our nation’s secondary cities asked me this question in an email the other week. I wrote back telling him that even though “I’m on Facebook, I’m not so enthralled with it, and only signed on after one of my nephews told me how terrific it was.” “You can put up your art, stay in touch with old and new friends, It‘s really great Uncle Ira. “I still don’t get it“, I told Freddy, “I mean who are all of these people who want to be my friends?” I don’t want to be friends with people I don’t know, and do I really care that X had a cheeseburger yesterday, or that Y is out walking in the woods? And then the scary part is that people from my past are popping up all over the place. Are you the Ira who lived on 12th avenue in Brooklyn, are you the Ira I went to New Utrecht High School with? Old girlfriends and boyfriends I haven’t seen or heard from in 40 or more years email me now. High school classmates who live in Israel, Buffalo and Jersey City are constantly bombarding & bothering me. But as I told Freddy I did get one “be my friend’ request from someone who I was kinda friendly with in the early 80’s that made me sit up and take notice. So take my hand if you like as we walk down memory lane and I tell you the story of Louise Miles my old prostitute friend.
It was in the very early 80’s and I had a job working in a movie memorabilia bookstore in Greenwich Village. It was a fun job, not much money but back then we didn’t need so much. The rent on my loft was $300.00 a month and I had a roommate to boot. I generally worked the stills and posters dept., so when someone came in and asked to see photos of a certain movie star I would pull their file and the customer would peruse it. “Do you have anything new on Judy? Or Lana? Or Doris? Many of the eccentrics would not even use the last names of the stars, and many of the eccentrics were big pains in my ass. Some of them were even downright creepy like the guy in the dirty raincoat who would come in every Saturday and ask to look at all these young starlets from the 50’s and 60’s who were forgotten by most but beloved by the dirty raincoat guy. He would spend at least an hour looking and drooling over the likes of Deborah Walley and Sandra Dee, and maybe just maybe he would pick out one picture for $2.50 to buy and then creep out until next Saturday. One of the areas of collectibles that the store sold were magazine and newspaper clippings on all the major and minor stars of the golden era and beyond. These were huge files brimming over with all sorts of paper items such as articles from movie magazines, ads, and much more that the staff including myself had to file away for a rainy day. I had paper cuts for days. Someone would come in and ask for the clipping file of Lon Chaney Jr. and I would pull out this chunky file filled with good old Lon’s entire career. Every Saturday (that was eccentric day in the store) this middle age small sparrow like blonde woman with a nice thick British accent would come in. Quite pleasant I thought as she pulled up a stool to spend an hour or so looking through clippings. I didn’t mind pulling 20 or so files for her because she was nice and I liked her accent. Her name was Louise and as I later found out she was a high priced call girl. I found this out by accident from one of her homosexual friends, a cartoonist who would usually accompany Louise on her visits to the store. One day Mitchell came in without her and we got to talking. “Is she a lesbian” I asked Mitchell who was deeply absorbed in the Tab Hunter photo file? “Oh God no Ira Joel. Louise is a whore.” Just like that, that’s what he said. I was shocked. So the next week Louise came in, smiled and said “No Ira Joel I’m not a lesbian I like men. For money dear, lots of money. So that’s how I found out about Louise. After my face stopped turning red, we both chuckled. Never ever gossip with a homely pock mocked Jewish homosexual, because the dirt will fly right back to the person you are talking about. This is advice that I learned the hard way. “You know dear, you must come over to my place for a proper meal and I can show you all my scrapbooks.” That would be swell and wonderful, as I would love to see all your books of scraps“. When? “Well doll face how about I give you a call up next week, will that do lovey.” “Oh yes Louise I would love that just plain and fancy.” “Here’s my number“. The next week Louise made good on her promise and invited me to her abode for a light vegetarian dinner. Louise lived in a big pre-war apartment building right off Hudson street in the heart of Greenwich Village where from early spring to early fall, one of the tenants an old lady would lie outside on the sidewalk in front of the building and sun herself from early morning to when the sun finally went down. She was as brown and wrinkled as a Goober chocolate covered Raisinet the kind that I use to love when I was a kid. And sure enough there she was lying on a towel in the dwindling summer sun when I arrived at Louise’s carrying a bottle of Pinot Grigio and the latest tell all movie star autobiography that I thought Louise might like. “So you live in the building with the sunbather” I said as soon as Louise opened the door to me.” “Oh yes dear Ira Joel that’s Mildred, and if she doesn’t get skin cancer no one will.” “Come in come in” and I entered her spacious pre-war apartment. I liked her place right off the bat, and told her so. There were lots of bookcases filled with books of course but also the famous scrapbooks. Movie posters nicely framed filled practically every wall, and there was a nice and comfy couch that I promptly sat down on. “Oh wine how sweet of you, would you like a glass now.” “I’ll say I would.” Louise went into the kitchen and I followed her to take a look around, I love peeking into other people’s kitchen’s, I’ve had this habit ever since I was a little boy growing up in Brooklyn. My mother tried to break me of it, but she failed big time in her endeavor to rid me of this habit that she said was annoying and rude, but I continue with this rude and annoying habit of mine to this day. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that I don’t have too many friends. Louise’s kitchen was not too small, and there was a table set with plates and eating utensils for two. “I hope you like vegetarian Ira Joel” “Oh yes indeed” I said lying through my teeth. “I made lovely cold vegetable soup, and I got some of those marvelous vegetable dumplings from Mama Buddha‘s. “Oh I just love Mama’s I eat there all the time.” “And for desert I picked up a carrot cake from Jon Vie”. “Oh I love that bakery Louise.“ We were busy making slurping noises with the soup, but in between the slurps Louise managed to tell me her story of how she met an American in London in her early twenties and he brought her over to this country to marry her, which he did, but shortly after he fell in love with another man, and left poor Louise in the lurch with only her green card to keep her company. “I didn’t know what to do, I mean I knew no one, had no money and no prospects at all, so I decided to become a whore. At that comment I started to choke on my soup. “Louise I don’t see you nor think of you as a whore, I prefer call girl.“ “Well that’s sweet of you dear boy, but let’s call a spade a spade.“ ‘Getting back to my tale I.J. I liked the money I got as a call girl the hours were good, and I had plenty of free time to pursue my hobbies, going to the movies and of course my dear scrapbooks“. “I have a few good clients and every so often they recommend someone to me, and they join my very exclusive roster. So life is good.” “Would you like to see a few of the books, as the hour is getting late?” “Oh yes, lets do.” And suddenly there were 3 or 4 of these large books laid out in front of me on her faux marble and glass coffee table. “Oh wow” Louise Madeleine Carroll. I loved her in the 39 steps.” There was also one on Blanche Yurka, Vivien Leigh (of course Louise would have one on Viv) and Rita Hayworth among many others. Most of them were devoted to the female stars with maybe a couple devoted to some of her favorite male stars. “Bill Holden I love Bill Holden, any good clips of him young and without a shirt?” This looking and commenting must have gone on for a good 2 or 3 hours, and before I knew it time had flown and it was time for me to go home. I don’t know what happened to Louise after that. She stopped coming into the store, and I never saw Mitchell again either, so I had no idea what had happened to her, until I got the facebook invite from her where she is living in one of our nation’s secondary cities. I hope she has her scrapbooks with her.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Ensor Is Not An Eyesore
I took my self up to the Museum of Modern Art that sprawling center of modern works housed in a not too pleasing mall like building on E. 53rd street to see the large James Ensor retrospective. The first thing I had to do though was renew my artist’s pass which for $25.00 a year allows me to go to the museum as many times as I like. Now that is a delightful bargain and I urge all artists good or bad, short or tall, smart or dumb, handsome or ugly to take advantage of this windfall. I always get a little woozy at this place, the crowds, the whiteness of the interiors, the large unnecessary lobby (why do I always feel like my plane is about to take off). True this Moma is better than the last pile of shit that they torn down to make way for this new pile of shit, but shit is still shit, only this time it’s a much larger pile of shit built to impress all the tourists who expect bigger but not necessarily better of my Metropolis. No doubt in the coming years, this pile will be torn down for an even bigger pile. Its fine though once you enter the galleries which are the best designed spaces in the place (as it should be) and you are immersed in all those great works of art. I was there for Jimmy Ensor one of my adolescent favs, who was in some ways an influence on my art. It was his great painting “Tribulations of Saint Anthony” that I grew up seeing at the old Moma, and I was always drawn to it, returning to it over and over again. What in the world did my adolescent mind make of his crazy little creatures doing things that my twelve-year self could not grasp let alone understand. But I certainly loved it. To me it was like a wonderful weird comic book, or a cartoon both of which I could relate to, so for me his work at that age was cartoonist and comical. Me and my friend Marko would stand in front of it, two young teens from Brooklyn and laugh and giggle until the dirty looks we were getting from the guards would make us move on. You could keep your “Christina’s World” Museum of Modern Art, I was ga-ga over Ensor & Max Ernst’s “Two Children Frightened By a Nightingale” which had a profound effect on me, young brat that I was. Later on I thought that Jimmy was a little nuts, I mean what’s with all those masks and images of death & cartoon like people doing strange & improper things including making doodies surrounded by those beautifully painted backgrounds and spaces. The first room was a bit of a let down, as I was not expecting all those dark gloomy not very interesting landscapes and still lives. How I kept thinking did he go from these boring paintings to death, masks and dark religious images. Did he have an epiphany, fall on his head, start doing drugs or what. The great paintings begin in the 1880‘s. and continued up to his death in 1949, a long life and career. All artists should be so fortunate. It seems that he used the masks from his mother’s novelty shop, that he took upstairs to his little attic studio where he would put himself into many of his works. Cross-dresser at times (only in the paintings as far as I know) he also would do these incredible biblical paintings along with grim images of rotting corpses, skeletal remains and fantastical landscapes. One of my favorite paintings (and I have many) is one called “Fireworks” in which most of the canvas is taken up with a brilliant geyser like display of color that lights up the night sky. It looks so contemporary almost like he painted it yesterday all ready to be hung in one of those big fat lazy Chelsea galleries. There are also in the show many of his carnival paintings comprised of people in marvelous yet scary masks mostly facing front staring at us in their lusciously painted disguises out for an evening of disgust. His paintings are so beautifully painted that I would just linger in front of them taking in his stunning use of pastel colors and his complex brush strokes not to mention his haunting imagery. Has any artist then or now used white paint as well as Mr. Ensor did? When I see great art, I have the urge to rush home and make art or to stop making art altogether. Like why bother I think. This doubt doesn’t last very long so friends, fans and admirers of my art fear not. So for days now everyone on the subway looks to me as if they just stepped out of one of Ensor’s paintings, big noses, bad complexions, scary people. This is a show that should not be missed; in fact I might just go back again since I have my artist’s pass and Jimmy beckons me.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Putting It Together. Piece By Piece. For A.G.
The photos included in this post are of me installing my work for my retrospective at Kent State in 1977 including a photo of how the show finally looked after many hours of work. The work and myself were brought to Kent via a big truck driven by the curator and her helper and sometime later on the road the truck broke down and we were stuck somewhere in Pennsylvania for 12 hours finally arriving in Kent in the early morning hours. Needless to say I was not a happy camper. Tired and cranky I was even more cranky when I saw the ugly catalog that they did without asking my input and suggestions, and even to this day I still hate the damn thing. So after everything the show looked great except on the first day some dumb student wasn't looking where she was going and stepped on my Forest Floor Piece which is shown in the installation photo. I wanted to rip out her heart, I mean it wasn't as if there wasn't enough space around the piece and if I remember correctly the piece had to be removed.
Monday, July 06, 2009
By The Numbers
The other week my close friend Peter came for a visit and for some reason we got to talking about paint by number kits that were very popular in the 1950’s. My mother was always buying them for me, but I quickly got bored with them, all those little jars of smelly oil paints, and all those tiny little numbers. I was always running out of a color or two, and I never finished them. I would get so frustrated by them, that I would just paint what I wanted on the numbered canvas and that was that. Now my brother who was 13 years older than me, would sometimes take over for me, and I remember that he did two paintings of clipper ships that he was very proud of, and got them framed and hung them up over our twin beds in the bedroom that we shared for a short time. Finally my mother got the point that I did not like doing them, and happily for me she stopped buying them “He’s too artistic for paint by numbers” she would announce to the clerks in the neighborhood toy stores we would shop in. So instead she would buy me big sketch pads and crayons and I would happily draw what I wanted to draw.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Today while googling my self I came across this website called Za-Gay org/forum which has a large portfolio of male nudes by a wide range of artists including many contemporary artists. This is where I come in, because a magic marker drawing of a male nude that I did in life drawing class when I was maybe 18 or younger is there. I have no recollection of putting this drawing on the site, and to top it off its all in French. Anyway here is the link, and if you are into male nudes (and who isn't) check it out.