Monday, August 28, 2017

Old friends

A truck on the tracks delivers MTA workers to the Harlem 125th street station. 12:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, August 28, 2017. Beautiful weather right now in New York. Mid-seventies, sunshine, little to no humidity and cool almost balmy evenings. Last night it reached down to the low 60s. It feels like the city is at its quietest. The last of the vacations are occurring through Labor Day. Wherever you go there are people out, of course, but the roads and avenues are quieter, leaving you with a sense of the awesome space that’s Manhattan the island. It’s quite grandly magnificent if your eye is the camera.

Yesterday was the birthday of my friend Schulenberg whose “Page” runs on the NYSD every Thursday. I call him Bob on a one-to-one, but I always refer to him, even in my thoughts, as Schulenberg. We’ve known each other for 51 years. This is always an amazing consideration since all that time was well invested. His intellect and talent have a substantive quality in my mind; He is deeply sensitive but in a way that most of us don’t possess or never get to. You can see it expressed on every page of his sketchbooks. His art, these artist’s journals, are organically an extension of the hand that draws them. He takes it all in almost compulsively.

The thousands of pages of his drawings, his recordings were accompanied by thousands of conversations of subjects narrow and wide, universal, local, gossip, history, ironies, jokes, and news and political opinions. I was reading Jean Strouse’s piece about Sargent’s painting portraits and how he was very verbal, talkative, even loquacious. This amazed many of his sitters that he could paint so brilliantly while at the same time converse with his subjects. All of Schulenberg’s works in those sketchbooks over the years were expanded greatly by conversation going on at the same time. It’s like a learning process.

Long separations and distances change the relationship because the day-to-day has more drama on both sides of it.  We’ve lived on separate coasts for the past 25 years, and we’ve rarely seen each other. I don’t know what his life is like anymore although I know enough to imagine his environment. But like me, he spends his times with people I’ve never met, never heard of. Those are friends. I am an “old” friend which to me means we  know  each other. Although these are things we’d be talking about if we were talking as frequently when we lived in the same towns — New York and Los Angeles.
Some of the many faces Bob has drawn over the last 50+ years.
He’s entirely an individual. It’s been in many ways a solitary life because his life is his art and vice versa. He lives the artist’s life by his nature, just as the child is the father of the man. He’s very perceptive and he also has a vivid imagination; take your pick. He has a loud but lovely guffaw when he laughs.

You may recall I wrote something about Schulenberg sometime ago when we displayed some of his envelopes. Looking it over, both JH and I thought it would be interesting to re-run. The envelopes are pure Schulenberg: if there’s an empty space and especially if it’s going somewhere to someone, he’s compelled to fill it with his own measure — which is often meant to make you laugh. Or think.
January, 2016: My friend Schulenberg’s Page today on the NYSD fascinated me more than usual, as I was reading new information about his life. We are old friends and I’ve always been fascinated by his work and sometimes, most times, even by his words. But today’s reminded me of his essence as an artist and as a friend. It provoked a conversation with JH about my friendship with Bob, which this year extends back fifty years. Gawd.

It began on the first day. We met through a mutual friend, Philip Carlson (who remains a close friend all these years later also). I’d gone to the Neighborhood Playhouse (School of the Theatre) and was preparing to go out in the world of making “rounds” with photos as actor. I needed some “headshots.” Philip knew Bob through his wife Patty Sauers who went to UCLA with him. Philip said only that Bob was a very good photographer.
A photo of the young artist out in the world, taken by his friend Caterine Milinaire, the photographer. On it she inscribed (in orange): "A mon ami Choux Lin Bergue, au souvenir d'une belle journée de printemps sans trop de soileil or caprice/whim/fantasy but just me, Mi Lin air."
I’m not sure of the time of year although it must have been Springtime. He came to our apartment about four in the afternoon. I had never seen him before he showed up at the door. A good looking guy about thirty, with dark, wavy hair, bright eyes behind black framed glasses, and a big smile on greeting. He was carrying a large black sketchbook under one arm, and camera in a case strapped around the opposite shoulder. I did not know, until that evening, that he was an artist and focusing on illustration. He also took photos.  I had no idea then or even until he began publishing his sketchbook-memoir, that he had already begun this odyssey of recording his life on paper in much the same way a filmmaker might record a life on film (or now, video).

No pictures were taken that day or night, but he stayed for dinner. My wife was a newly trained cook and was very good. The conversation continued wandering all over the field, as I would learn it does with Schulenberg.  Throughout, wherever he might be sitting, he also had the sketchbook in front of himself, and was sketching throughout the discussions. His exercise with the sketchbook, he explained, was to train himself to draw what was in front of him without looking (very much) at what he was putting on paper. He began his habit years before he went to UCLA.
The very young would-be (but not for long) actor in a "headshot" taken by his new friend, "Choux Lin Bergue."
He had recently returned from living for several years in Paris (the times we are seeing on his Page now). In his recounting of the people, the places, the situations and what his ever sharp eye could see, we too were seeing it. We had a grand piano in the new apartment, which I played. It turned out Bob did too. I could read music but he really played. He talked about the emotional content of composers’ private personalities, and how he could perceive it through their music.

It must have been about midnight when he took the conversation to the keyboard and demonstrated how Beethoven might play a Chopin piece, and then how Chopin would play Beethoven, or Mendelssohn playing Brahms. Or Tchaikovsky playing Gershwin or vice-versa, demonstrating with “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Concerto in F.” All of this without any music in front of him. Anyone who liked to play the piano would be impressed.

It was close to four in the morning when he got up from the piano and decided he had to get home and get some sleep. So did my wife and I. I don’t believe in all the years since that he and I ever spent another eight hours steeped in conversation. Although no doubt we have spent thousands of hours exploring each others thoughts, memories and experiences. It is often a learning.
Bob in his house on Craig Drive in Los Angeles. Circa 1995. Photograph by Bob Stone.
Several days after that initial visit, he came over again and worked the camera on me for those “headshots.” We finished at a pre-midnight hour. For years after that when we were both living in New York (and even after I was living in Connecticut) we spoke and saw each other frequently, sometimes weekly. Phone conversations with Schulenberg are not unlike that first time in our living room on East 81st Street -- full of variety, interesting perceptions and information.

Bob was born and brought up in Los Angeles, and then in his teens in Fresno where his father had business interests. He went to college at UCLA, worked in costume houses that provided garments to the movie studios, and was generally – as it often is, or was, for young people growing up in what was then a one-industry town – enthralled with the movies. He came to New York after college (as his readers now know), and then accidentally moved to Paris for a few years, returned to New York, and then in the early 1980s, coincidentally after I’d moved my life to LA, he returned West.
Besides our phone conversations, when each is on the other side of the continent, there were letters. His, even his postcards, which is the flip side of that portrait of Bob in purple above, were always with the artist's touch and wit. This message, which was written in November 1997, reflected my becoming the editor-in-chief of Judy Price's Avenue Magazine.
So it has been a great pleasure to have the opportunity to share some of my friend’s talent, memories and his personality that is both very curious and very charming. He is always learning and seeing new things.

Discussing all this with JH over the phone this afternoon, I told him about Bob’s letters. Never was there an envelope containing one of his not infrequent epistles over the years that he hadn’t prepared it as  thoroughly as the message inside. I’ve saved almost all of them and so we’re sharing a few of them with you. They give you the gist of the man’s eye, wit, and observations.
This particular chef d’oeuvre, which I call Schulenberg’s Dog Dinner, was created on the back of an envelope for a letter he sent me eight years ago when the news came out that Leona Helmsley had left her Maltese dog “Trouble” a $12 million trust fund. The sum was later reduced to $2 million after some conscientious lawyers and judges decided a Maltese didn’t need that much.
Schulenberg never lost the need to take a blank page (the back of an envelope addressed to me in this case) and provide a little drama with some American historical context, and maybe a little laugh.
Front of envelope.
Back of envelope.
Front of envelope.
Front of envelope.
Back of envelope.
Another back of an envelope. You can see I was very careful opening the letters to avoid tearing the art work.
You don't want to know what they're thinking ...
More back of envelope. And who sez anybody's thinking? Much.
More envelopes to savor ...
From October 13-19th, the Patrick Parrish Gallery in Tribeca will host Bob Schulenberg: The Secret Cinema, which will display Schulenberg’s original sketchbook drawings and photos he made during the mid-1960s — the period he co-produced with his friend Paul Bartel's short film THE SECRET CINEMA, released in 1968. Readers of his NYSD Diary will be familiar with his captivating portraits of the people in the cast and crew, drawn by Bob as they struggled to make the film, and later when they took it to the London Film Festival to promote it.

Portraits of such friends as Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, Paul Bartel, star Amy Vane and others in Bob's New York/London and Paris orbit — including a young Barbra Streisand — make up this visual diary of Mod-era Manhattan.

The curators of the exhibition, David Savage and Andrea Salvini, are trying to raise $10K on to cover printing costs, exhibition design fees, and paying for Bob's travel and lodging expenses to fly him to NYC for this important show. If you’re a fan of Bob’s work, and there are a lot of us, any donations to their cause would be most gratefully received.

Contact DPC here.