June, 1972: I was really looking forward to the weekends when I could escape from the city and its chaos for the calm of the farm in New Jersey on the Delaware River. And since it was June it was time to garden and we’d planted a dozen tomato plants not even beginning to know how many tomatoes just one plant produced!
We went into Phillipsberg to Falk’s, the all-purpose store that was our sole contact with the outside world! Shopping was always fun there; the store was so large with such a variety of merchandise we would always return with something unexpected.
And it was interesting to see local people that were just different from the local people in my Yorkville neighborhood!
My friend, Lyn Untermeyer-Stewart, was there for the weekend as well — and just as fascinated by the choices as I was.
But the weekend always seemed to pass so quickly and back in the city my life went on as usual.
I visited Lynette and Harry Logan again as they continued to pack up everything for their move to France. They were so organized and there were containers like I’d never seen before — specially designed for delicate art objects and even extra delicate glassware. I remembered how things were loaded onto the ship when I returned from Paris sailing on the SS France! I wondered if they were sufficiently insured against breakage!
I took the crosstown bus from the West Side back to my neighborhood and my drawing board.
This was an arrangement in my apartment across the hall from my work area apartment. I had a lot of mirrored 1930’s furniture which I felt made the small apartment seem a bit larger. Unfortunately, as the winter cold arrived and the steam heat kicked in, a lot of the old glue holding the mirrors gave way and I found myself continuing to re-glue or replace a lot of the mirrors.
I had two plaster early 20th century haberdashery figures that I’d found in Fandango, a shop owned by Kenny Kneitel, a member of the Fleischer family, the filmmakers who gave the world Betty Boop and the Popeye the Sailor animated films! I loved to add accessories to them — they’d come with derby bowler hats but I added glasses with the fake nose and mustache and a 1930’s leather flyer’s helmet (under the hat) and on the other one, just a 1960’s-style wig! I still have one, but, sadly, the other was broken during a residential move!
I was also fascinated with early 20th-century decorative depictions of the moon.
There was something very different and specific about the lunar depiction. It seemed somehow of a piece with late Art Nouveau and early ArtDeco modernism. It also seemed to echo Coney Island imagery and other early show business exploitation art!
One day I was walking in Greenwich Village and passing a shop, saw that there was a box outside near the entrance filled with a lot of small objects. Something told me to stop and check it out, that there was something there in the box that I would like. I reached in and immediately found a little figure of a moon with that same WWI-style shape. It had a figure of a cherub holding a dove and was painted gold but obviously wasn’t originally painted. And it was for sale for a dollar! $1.00!
I bought it, of course and when I got home, removed the awful gold paint to find the moon a pale grey bisque and the cherub-plus-dove was white bisque! Years after, I saw one, a moon exactly like mine but without the cherub and dove. It was priced at $175.
There’s a selection of 1920’s perfume bottles that I gave to Mary Milton and a 1920’s bronze figure of a young woman, probably a flapper, wearing pajamas with green and gold enameled flowers on a marble base. The framed photo is of me at around five years old! The framed picture on the wall behind is a Japanese-style illustration I did for New York Magazine.
That’s the civilized apartment, the one for guests to see or stay in while my work apartment. While across the hall where I actually also lived and slept, it was pure chaos filled with books and period magazines going back to the 1860s! My actual work area was in what was laughingly called the kitchen and I’d had it painted a black coffee color!
Ironically, it made the walls and ceiling recede whereas originally, when it was white, I was painfully reminded how small a space it actually was! Working at night, all night I’d lose myself in my work while WBAI-fm described the anti-war riots in the streets or played as yet unreleased LPs.
I first heard Jesus Christ Superstar in its original pre-release London production LP on Bob Fass’ revolutionary “Radio Unnameable” and impressed with the performance of Pontius Pilate crying out “Die if you must — you misguided martyr!” I was later surprised to learn that it was my very close friend, Barre (Barry) Dennen who was that very same Pontius Pilate! He’d created the role and later repeated it on Broadway and in the filmed version!
Parenthetically, he was the one who told his young 18-year-old friend Barbra about the talent show that she eventually won starting her on a cabaret, then Broadway, then film, then legendary career! He worked with her developing material for her audition and subsequent nightclub act which became her breakthrough first Columbia Record!
He also introduced her to me!
He really was a theatrical genius but coming from a family in Beverly Hills appeared to have not had the desperate need to improve his life through an ambitious career and it led to his being known mainly to her fans as Streisand’s first mentor and boyfriend!
He was also the MC in the London production of Cabaret opposite Judy Dench for which he won an award!
But I digress.
The following day, David Chimay invited me to come with him to meet Denise Bouché, the widow of the very celebrated fashion illustrator/artist René Bouché whose work I’d idolized since the first time I’d seen it on the cover of Vogue.
Bouché showed us a world of perfect, elegant, worldly people — but people so perfect that we could never hope to emulate them or even come close! I think that the appeal of the Kennedy “Camelot” was that it appeared that we were included, although vicariously, because the President and his family represented (in principal) all Americans!
Technically for me, his work had an ease of technique so immediate and unlabored that it seemed the most natural thing in the world.
And his work appeared in situations that weren’t actually fashion but were style!
And here I was meeting his widow Denise and her sister Genevieve St. George in the apartment where he’d lived and worked!
Denise was showing us his painting, Night Window Over the Park. The apartment was on Fifth Avenue with a beautiful view of Central Park.
Looking at this painting I wondered whether Bouché felt that his fashion work was trivial but that he had more profound thoughts outside of fashion and the fashionable, stylish world. In actuality, his fashion work is timeless in its depiction of an exact moment in history whereas the painting that he may have thought was more serious was just a bit banal; because after Monet and Pissarro et al. what more needs to be said about painting a landscape?
One of my favorite 1920’s Art Deco artists is one who signed his pictures “Benito.” His full name was Edwardo Garcia Benito. And for me, he personified so much that characterized the graphic feelings of the 1920s.
Like Bouché he worked for Vogue and also for the original (old) Vanity Fair.
He had a very strong sense of design and two dimensional composition.
One of my all-time graphic favorites from the period is this Vogue cover.
I appropriated (the now art world term for “copied”!) his ocean waves idea for my design for Dames at Sea!
While his graphic works are so memorable I’ve seen some of his “serious” paintings and they’re pretty forgettable! In fact, I’ve tried to find some online but was unsuccessful whereas there are a lot of his stylish works for Condé Nast publications that are easily available.
A bit closer to our own time, Richard Avedon has been called the greatest fashion photographer ever. He has had many who have been influenced by him and according to a recent biography was quite annoyed by people copying or attempting to copy his work.
Later in his life, Avedon was commissioned to shoot a series portraying real people in the American West. According to the same biography (by a very close associate/friend) he felt that this would in fact show him as more than a mere fashion photographer!
As a photographer myself, I was also influenced by Avedon.
But I was very disappointed by his Western photographs. It seems to me that by using his regular method of shooting against a white blank background he negates any of the emotions that, judging by the subjects’ appearance, must be there. These might just as well be fashion photographs but with less fashionable people!
If we compare Dorothea Lange’s poignant photo of the migrant woman in her environment, a viewer can understand at least a part of the distress and lack of hope that was the mood of the Great Depression.
Avedon’s Western photos for me are just a kind of vaguely elitist freak show of less fortunate people. They could be wardrobe, hair/makeup tests for an exploitative movie!
I guess it may show that art or some form of graphic representation of the current time, the zeitgeist, might have more lasting relevance than so-called higher less specific personal artistic aims!