Sylvia and Lynda
Last week in the freezing cold I took in exhibitions in Chelsea by two artists that I have known for about 40 years. There was a lovely retrospective show of paintings by Sylvia Sleigh and a recent show of large sculptures by Lynda Benglis. As I said I have know both artists a long time, and there is a long line of history between us. What was so jolting on seeing the Sleigh show was that the portrait she did of John Perreault and me was prominently featured, in fact you could see the two of us in our youth from the street. It was a little strange for me to see myself as a young man in 1972. I first met Sylvia and her late husband Lawrence Alloway at a housewarming party that John and me threw at our new loft back in 1970, and I was immediately taken with this charming British lady. Soon we were going to lovely dinner parties at their real nice brownstone in Chelsea where I met many prominent artists, writers and critics. I was barely 23 and was of course shy around so many celebrated people, drinking way too much to hide that shyness. Since this is a piece about Sylvia and me I will not dote on my relationship with Lawrence but will save that story for some other time. I always found her work to be lovely and charming, but the critics were not always so kind to this dear woman, and now in her 93rd year she is finally getting a nice amount of attention. For years I had a nude portrait of a beautiful male named Nick Tishler that Sylvia had painted and who hung over my bed. My mother once asked if the portrait was of me, never mind that I looked nothing like Nick, who in the painting had his knees drawn up to his chest, so that his sex was hidden. I guess the only way my mother could deal with this beautiful nude young man, was to think that it was me, and not some stranger. In my innocence I was never ashamed or thought twice that I had a painting of a young nude man in my bedroom. Young 2-D Nick watched over me and my many beautiful and not so beautiful young 3-D men who rolled around with me on my queen sized bed in my loft on those many cold winter nights and early mornings with the radiator hissing and clanging, and in those hot New York summers with the air conditioner huffing and puffing. In a way me and my young men were a lot like the radiator and air conditioner, we too hissed and clanged, huffed and puffed through my 20’s 30’s and 40’s. I loved the painting and when I had to move from the loft in 2001 I gave it to John as a gift, I just couldn’t care for it, and was worried about where I would put it, so that was that and I no longer have a nude young man hanging over my bed. But I have the memories of sitting for Sylvia, of the clothes I was wearing, of the late Winter sun falling on all of us, and of me sometimes dozing off from the sheer boredom of just sitting still for such long periods of time.
I have always been taken with Lynda Benglis’s abstract amorphic sculptures, for a number of reasons. I like her use of unusual materials like latex and wax, and the sometimes science fiction quality of her stuff. In this recent show there are some beautiful urethane eggs that are colored in pink and look almost lit from within, along with some large black wall hangings that look like they will jump off the wall and grab you. Back in the early 70’s Lynda was a roaring young artist with a lot of attention. Someone who I can’t now recall told me that she had seen my show at the Fischbach Gallery, maybe it was my 2nd one, and she really liked my work. This meant a lot to me and as it happened I was at a big art world party and Lynda was also there. I got up the nerve to introduce myself to her, and after a short chat, we agreed to exchange studio visits and maybe art. Now this was a big deal for me, to have such a hot shot artist interested in my art was cool for my ego. I of course liked her immediately; she was very good looking with a slight Southern accent, and a very warm and friendly way about her. I can’t remember where she was living and working back then, but I do remember her greeting me at her door with her jeans falling below her knees. It seems that I was a bit early and had interrupted her while she was taking a leak, but she had run to the door to let me in, and then she ran back to the john to finish her business. Neither of us, this young man from Brooklyn or the slightly older young woman from Louisiana were embarrassed by this, (let’s not forget that this was the same Lynda who posed nude with a big dildo for an ad in an art magazine a few years later) and after she came back out we chatted and I looked around. At this time she was doing these beautiful oblong wax pieces that hung on the wall, and she asked me if I would like one in a trade. Did I ever. So I picked out a beauty that was named for her sister Karen, and carried it home with me wrapped in a blanket like a newborn babe on the subway. I can’t believe I carried this delicate sculpture on the subway. I also schlepped the painting that Joe Brainard gave me on the subway and in fact I transported most of my first person show up to 57th street on the subway also. One of the funny coincidences was that I had worked with her ex-husband at the Ted Bates advertising agency in the early 60’s but had not met Lynda at that time, and now some years later here we were this time at my studio where she picked out one of my small brick pieces and like me she took it back with her on the subway. Unfortunately I was having trouble taking care of this delicate work of hers, I mean if you looked at it the wrong way, it would chip, plus it was hard to keep clean. In the 90’s I became friendly with an art restorer and as a big favor to me he agreed to restore it. I decided to try to sell it or donate it to a museum and I wanted to donate it to The Museum of Modern Art, but they turned the gift down, which is really unbelievable to me, so I sold it to her gallery. I was sorry to see it go, but I was at a point in my life where I just couldn’t handle owning other artist’s work, and besides as usual I needed the money. Both Lynda and Sylvia still have my work and I’m delighted that this is so. And now as the year comes to an end I raise an imaginary glass of champagne to these two fine women and artists.
Images used. Sylvia Sleigh today, Self portrait of Sylvia as a young woman, portrait of me and John Perreault, Lynda Benglis as she looked when I first met her, My sculpture that Lynda owns set among stones and ancient Indian temple figures, the notorious Art magazine ad, and one of Lynda's wax sculptures, similar to the one that I owned.