Friday, November 22, 2013

The Art Set: Understanding What Ithakas Mean

Three-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket, November 25, 1963.
Photo: Stan Stearns.
The Art Set: Understanding What Ithakas Mean
by Charlie Scheips

Fifty years ago today I was a little four-year-old boy who had just moved from Manhattan to Milwaukee. During that autumn, I had been sitting for an oil portrait by American Impressionist painter Richard Earl Thompson (1914-1991) that my mother intended to give to my father as a surprise for his birthday (Christmas Eve) that year. Thompson is now a relatively obscure figure even though a lengthy obituary on him appeared in the Chicago Tribune at the time of his death.

Thompson, born in Oak Park, Illinois, studied art at three of Chicago’s preeminent art schools including the School of the Art Institute. Because of the Depression and rising tide of “modern art” he spent 30 years as a commercial illustrator including drawing many of the famous “Coca-Cola Santa Clauses” while working for Haddon Sundblom studios in Chicago who had the Coca-Cola account. Thompson’s work was also seen frequently in magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post.
By the late 1950s, Thompson realized that the art of illustration was being overwhelmed by photography so, in 1959, he moved to Hayward, Wisconsin and devoted the rest of his life to painting.

For my portrait by Thompson my mother dressed me in a sailor suit from the fashionable children’s clothes designer Florence Eiseman, whose son Lawrence and his wife Judy were close friends of my parents. I vaguely remember, “trying” to sit for him but I was too antsy—indeed, my report card from Junior Kindergarten that year at the Milwaukee University School lists every thing as “Satisfactory” except for “relaxes at rest time” that teacher Alice Gallett felt “needed improvement.”
Scheips boys visiting the Johnson White House in 1967.
So, I was taken to a local photographic studio where a series of portraits were done of me as a visual aid for the artist. On November 22, our beloved Ollie Lenoir, the wife of a distinguished African-American Milwaukee minister, who took care of my newborn brother Teddy and me, started crying suddenly. It had something to do with what was on television. I didn’t know what was happening and soon after Ollie broke into tears my mother came in the door fresh from what was then called the “beauty parlor.”

When Ollie told my mother that the President had just been shot my mother looked as if she were going to faint. It was all very strange—I had never seen adults crying. I still have the “Extra” edition of the Milwaukee Journal that was issued that day.
Ollie Lenoir with Charlie and Teddy Scheips, September, 1963.
Charlie (left) with fellow "musical kindergarten" students in the Milwaukee Journal, November 29, 1963.
My mother, Marguerite, had been a copy-editor at Life magazine for a decade before my birth. I remember sitting with my parents all that weekend in front of our black and white Zenith television set watching the tragic story unfold. In fact when I think back to that time it is all in black and white—the colors of mourning.

A week after the assassination I appeared, again wearing my sailor suit, in a photograph in the Milwaukee Journal as part of the kindergarten music class taught by Emily Silber Herwig at the Wisconsin College of Music. Mrs. Herwig would later become my first (and abusive) piano teacher. I thought it strange for me to be in the newspaper when it was always full of so much sadness—I even look confused in the photograph.

The portrait of me by Thompson was delivered sometime before Christmas that year.
Charlie, Fall 1963 in his Florence Eiseman sailor suit. Charlie's 1963 portrait by Richard Earl Thompson. Although obscure I just learned from his daughter-in-law that commissioned portraits were rare for Thompson and that his more typical landscapes are today worth more than 30 thousand dollars.
Richard Earl Thompson and Hugh Downs.
The cost of the portrait was $400 and when my mother presented it to my father and told him how much it cost he was, to put it lightly, not amused. Needless to say, my parents refrained from commissioning portraits of my three younger brothers.

The portrait is very strange—I am depicted very straightforwardly and resemble the photographs that were taken at the time. But the background is turbulent as if the artist had channeled the collective loss of innocence that the Kennedy killing precipitated from that time forward.

Thompson's daughter-in-law, Joan Thompson, confirmed that indeed the artist was going through a stressful time in his career that the Kennedy assassination only exacerbated.
Richard Earl Thompson's Prairie Winter, painted in 1983.
Just at the same time that Thompson was giving up his commercial career, Andy Warhol (another artist with a fascination with Coca-Cola bottles)—who was one of New York’s most successful commercial artists during the 1950s—was abandoning that lucrative career for life as a “fine artist.”

In 1962 Warhol had had his first solo shows of his “Pop” paintings in Los Angeles and New York. In 1963, he began is now famous “Disaster” paintings including Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) that recently sold for 104.5 million dollars at Sotheby’s in New York.
Warhol's Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1963
I wrote an essay for an exhibition of Andy Warhol: The Bazaar Years for Hearst Corporation in 2009 that documented the artists’ transition from illustration to art. One of his last “commercial art” contributions featured in the June 1963 issue of Harper’s Bazaar was a four-page spread entitled “New Faces, New Forces.” Warhol had recently discovered a novel way to use photo booths as an artistic medium and featured two self-portraits as well as those of artist Larry Poons, curator Henry Geldzahler, dancer Edward Villella and composer La Monte Young, and other up-and-coming personalities of the time.
Andy Warhol: The Bazaar Years.
Andy's last spread in Harper's Bazaar using the photo booth photos.
Before 1962, Warhol had used engraved rubber stamps to create multiple images. But after he discovered the silk screen process that allowed for a photographic image to be transformed into a woven mesh stencil that allowed paint or ink to be applied by a squeegee to transfer the image onto other mediums such as canvas or paper he never looked back.

Andy Warhol's Sixteen Jackies, 1964
Soon after the Kennedy assasination, in February 1964, Warhol made a series of paintings that have come to be known as the “Jackie” paintings although they were always parenthetically titled Portraits of Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy. At the same time Warhol was creating his equally famous “Marilyn” series as tributes to the star (and the Kennedys' “great and good friend”) who had died somewhat mysteriously in 1962.

Some of the earliest of the Marilyns were called “Shot Marilyns” after an eccentric oddball “performance artist” named Dorothy Podber dressed in black leather and white gloves, and accompanied by her Great Dane named Carmen Miranda, walked into Warhol’s first “Factory” on East 47th Street one day and pulled out a pistol and put a bullet through a stack of Warhol’s Marilyn silk screens.

The ominous and morbid Warhol/Kennedy connection became all the more surreal on June 3, 1968 when another crackpot named Valerie Solanas, founder of S.C.U.M (the Society for Cutting Up Men), entered Warhol’s Factory and opened fire on the artist. Warhol’s near fatal shooting made the cover of New York’s Daily News the next day but was then quickly overshadowed by Senator Robert Kennedy’s killing by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles two days later.

During the 1970s, after Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis returned to New York and became a book editor, Warhol and his crowd became social friends of the former first lady and her sister Lee Radziwill.
Warhol died in 1987 at 58; Mrs. Onassis in 1994 at 64. Both too young.
In 2001 I helped organize, with guest curator Hamish Bowles, the enormously successful exhibition Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years that opened at the Metropolitan Museum and then traveled to Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Paris.

The specter of death again intervened during that time as the disaster of 9/11 occurred just days before the exhibition was to open at the Kennedy Library in Boston.

One of the friendships I made during the organizing of the exhibition was with photographer Jacques Lowe who was one of the Kennedy family’s most trusted photographers—a family friend who made dozens of memorable images that we have seen again so often during these past few weeks of commemoration.

One of my responsibilities for the Kennedy show was to find photographs to feature in the exhibition and catalog of Mrs. Kennedy wearing the more than 80 garments from the campaign as well as official White House occasions that she had donated to the Kennedy Library and that were being seen for the very first time by the public.

Jacques had returned to his native France after the shock of Robert Kennedy’s death. When he later returned to America, Lowe bought a wonderful loft downtown on Duane Street. Jacques kept his Kennedy negatives in a bank vault but had brought them out for me to review in hopes of finding images to use in the exhibition.
Jacques Lowe at work (Estate of Jacques Lowe).
I remember a fascinating afternoon with Jacques as I studied hundreds of contact sheets with a loop. One of the sheets I could tell was from Cape Cod and I detected a lone figure walking on a lawn towards the water.

When I asked Jacques about it, without looking, he said “that is Jackie after we knew that Jack had won the presidency.” He went on to tell me that patriarch Joseph Kennedy had commanded all the family members to sit for a group portrait in what is now an iconic image shot by Lowe.

A happier moment for Jackie in the summer of 1960 (© Estate of Jacques Lowe)
Apparently Mrs. Kennedy was nowhere to be found until Jacques let the President-elect know that she had gone for a walk on the beach.

When Mrs. Kennedy returned Lowe could tell that she had been crying. I can never look at that famous group portrait without detecting amidst the sea of Kennedy smiles the look of someone who had been crying as you can see in Mrs. Kennedy’s otherwise “composed” visage. “She knew,” Lowe, said, “that her life was forever changed.”

The last time I saw Jacques was at the dinner for the opening of the Kennedy exhibition at the Met. He was already in a wheel chair, pushed into the dinner as I recall by Robert Kennedy Jr., due to the cancer that would kill him in May of 2001. The Kennedy show was the second most attended show in the world that year—only rivaled by Vermeer in Delft.

In the aftermath of 9/11, I learned that the bank vault where Jacques had carefully kept his Kennedy negatives was in the basement of the World Trade Center! They were all lost in the disaster. I imagine that, other than Jacques, I was probably the last person ever to view them.
Jacques Lowe's famous photo of the Kennedy family in in Hyannis just after JFK won the presidency.
Jacques Lowe's portrait of the presidential family, Caroline became our Ambassador to Japan this week.
The extraordinary artist Françoise Gilot, who turns 92 next Monday, like Mrs. Kennedy, is another famous persona of another turbulent time—World War II. And like Mrs. Kennedy, Gilot survived other personal storms though she was given the gift of a long life unlike Mrs. Kennedy.

Already an accomplished young artist when she met Pablo Picasso in occupied Paris of 1943 she became his lover and muse. And while they never married (Picasso’s first wife Olga Khokhlova was still alive), she is mother to his two children Claude and Paloma. Picasso's other surviving child, from his liaison with Marie-Thérèse Walter, is Maya Widmaier-Picasso.

I first was introduced to Gilot in Los Angeles during the 1980s. She lived in nearby La Jolla with her husband Dr. Jonas Salk.
Françoise Gilot at age 21 in occupied France in 1942 (photo: Harcourt).
Françoise Gilot, Self-Portrait (Figure in the Wind),1944, Oil on Canvas, Collection of Paloma Picasso, London.
Before Picasso, Françoise Gilot, French Window in Blue, 1939, Oil on Canvas,
Private Collection.
Françoise Gilot, In the Garden, 1978, Oil on Canvas.
Françoise Gilot, Delphica, 1965, Oil on Canvas, 1965.
Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot in Antibes, 1946 (photo: Michel Sima). The Chateau Grimaldi where this photo was taken is today the great Musée Picasso-Antibes.
Paloma and Claude Picasso in front of a photo of their father, spring 1967 (photo: David Douglas Duncan). After the publication of Life with Picasso, his two children with Gilot were banished. Paloma became a star jewelry designer. Today, Claude supervises the intellectual property rights of Picasso.
The bestselling book that enraged Picasso. Gilot's Matisse and Picasso is amazing because she has a completely different view as a working artist, unlike most art historians.

For more on Gilot, go to: www.francoisegilot.com
I am such an admirer of her work and fascinated by her long and productive life that I was so pleased to have the good fortune to find myself sitting next to the still strikingly beautiful artist last Friday night at the French Institute Alliance Française’s (FIAF) Trophée des Arts dinner.

I arrived just as the silent auction cocktail hour was getting started. I watched Al-Jazeera’s anchor Ali Velshi placing bids around the room using the digital cards we each were given with our place cards. The first friend I spotted was art dealer Eric Mourlot (whose family published prints by Picasso and all the other stars of School of Paris in the 19th and 20th centuries).
583 Park Avenue, the site of FIAF's Gala.
Eric introduced me to Sophie Matisse—who, like her grandfather, is an artist. Soon after I had a chat with Vranken Pommery champagne’s Mailys and Stanislas Thierry. The great and indomitable FIAF President Marie-Monique Steckel was making her watchful rounds as the sold out dinner’s 500 guests filled the basement space of the Delano and Aldrich-designed Third Church of Christian Scientist on Park Avenue and 63rd Street that doubles as one of the Upper East Side's most popular party venues.

When we were called upstairs, after a quick smoke, I made my way to my table where I found myself next to Gilot and a couple places away from Renault’s Claude Hugot. Gilot's dinner partner was art aficionado Thomas Knapp. Renault-Nissan Alliance Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn was presented with FIAF’s 2013 Pilier d’Or award.
Charlie Scheips, Francoise Gilot, and Eric Mourlot. Gilot is wearing an early bracelet by her daughter Paloma, representing the phases of the moon.
I have to say that I can’t remember a better tasting dinner at a benefit like that night. We started with truly delicious asparagus with lemon crème fraiche and shavings of Grand Padano cheese accompanied by a perfectly chilled 2012 Pouilly-Fussé from Jean-Jacques Vincent et Fils’s called ‘Marie-Antoinette.”

There were towering potted palms spread around the space but once the awards program got started someone must have complained. Gilot and I laughed at the amusing scene of these bouncing palms in the hands of the catering staff dancing out of the room only to be relegated to the basement in front of what had been the VIP red carpet line.
Palm tree VIPs at FIAF's Gala.
The celebrated French actor François Cluzet was this year’s honoree for FIAF’s Trophée des Arts award. I had met him a few nights before at a cocktail that Michele Gerber-Klein threw at her art filled apartment on Park Avenue. Cluzet joins an amazing roster of past Trophée des Arts honorees that include Lauren Bacall, Isabelle Huppert, James Ivory, Quincy Jones, Christian Lacroix, Louis Malle, Philippe de Montebello, Charlie Rose, Robert Wilson, Marc Jacobs, Alain Ducasse, and most recently Angélique Kidjo.
Bob Wilmers, Trophée des Arts honoree Francois Cluzet, FIAF President Marie-Monique Steckel, and Pilier d'Or honoree Carlos Ghosn. (FIAF Photos: Patrick McMullan)
The main course was perfectly cooked roast filet of beef with a chimichurri sauce, potato gratin and a mélange of carrots, mushrooms and kale. Again the wine was fantastic Paul Jaboulet Aîné’s 2009 “Les Jalets” Crozes-Hermitage. All the wines were thanks to Frederick Wildman and Sons.

Bravo! I am glad that for once I didn’t want to stop off for a slice of pizza after a dinner. The evening raised one million dollars for FIAF’s educational and cultural programs. Buy your ticket early next year for the Trophée des Arts gala!
Maya Ghosn, Anthony Ghosn, Carlos Ghosn, and Caroline Ghosn.
Marie-Monique Steckel (center) with Nabil Chartouni and Charles and Clo Cohen.
Jean Reno and Mailys Vranken.
Eric Mourlot and Dovile Drizyte.
Francois Cluzet.
Frederic Fekkai.
Olivia Flatto.
Marie-Monique Steckel and Ali Velshi.
On Monday I traveled over to Town Hall to attend A Tribute to C.P. Cavafy on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the great poet’s birth. I had a little hand in the event as I got David Hockney to agree to allowing Pen American Center’s Lázlo Jakab Orsós to use his 1966 portrait of Cavafy from Hockney’s magical 1966 series of etchings entitled “Illustrations for Fourteen Poems by C.P. Cavafy” to advertise the event.

The 90-minute program, co-organized by Daniel Mendelsohn, featured a cast of scholars and poets celebrating the poet of Alexandria’s work as well as actresses Kathleen Turner and Olympia Dukakis. At one point, the wall behind featured an animation of Hockney’s etching as if it were be magically drawn anew.
Beginning of the Hockney animation at Town Hall.
Hockney animation complete.
The evening began with a recording of Sean Connery reading Cavafy’s great poem Ithaka. The evening was sponsored by the Stavros Niarchos and Onassis foundations. With that odd note of synergy it seems that since Ithaka was the literature loving Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s favorite poem that repeating it here seems a fitting tribute to both President and Mrs. Kennedy on this historic and bittersweet anniversary.

The Pen American Center’s poster featuring David Hockney's etching of the poet C.P. Cavafy.
The front page of the program.
A half century has passed and I am still on a voyage to understand what Ithakas mean.

Aren't we all?

ITHAKA
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)