Every Picture Tells A Story

|There’s a little part of the art world not widely traveled offering a nuanced view of an artist’s oeuvre called Ephemera.|

By definition, ephemera are “items designed to be useful or important for only a short time, especially pamphlets, notices, tickets, etc.” So, in the art market, this includes exhibition posters, announcements – usually postcards – of exhibits in private galleries, rough studies, and notebook pages, privately printed artist’s books, autographed catalogs (especially those with sketches) as well as personal correspondence to friends and family.ephemera Sol LeWitt A&V Mummy 2 1

I happen to spend a lot of time traveling in this space, with my collection of Sol Lewitt ephemera now numbering over three hundred items. There’s also ephemera on my shelves relating to Max Beckmann, Ad Reinhardt, Ed Ruscha, Chuck Close, William Wegman, and many others. My friend in the business, Lawrence, is also smitten by the ephemera bug and has helped to grow my Lewitt collection.

An exciting new addition is a pen and ink drawing inscribed to Heiner Friedrich from 1967. I was intimately familiar with this work for several years before adding it to my collection, though exactly what its original intention was had remained elusive. 

ephemera Sol LeWitt sketch

It had an odd version of Lewitt’s signature – which was discovered to have been in use for only three years during the late 1960s. The grid contained eleven columns – highly unusual for an artist known for his serial work formulas like 3-6-9 or 4-8-12. A serendipitous comparison with another bit of ephemera, a poster from an early Lewitt show at Dwan Gallery, revealed the drawing’s connection to the large-scale piece, Serial Project #1 (A, B, C, D). An analysis of the various equations explained the eleven columns – there were only nine. Finally, the recipient of this drawing had both seen the Dwan show in California and visited Lewitt in NYC on the same visit to the U.S. Friedrich was one of the first gallerists to exhibit Lewitt’s work in Europe the following year.

So, here’s my best guess. After visiting Virginia Dwan’s eponymous gallery in Los Angeles and seeing the exhibit that put Lewitt on the art world’s radar, Friedrich visits Lewitt in New York on his way back to Munich. Lewitt gives Friedrich one of his working sketches from the sculpture then on display at Dwan. Their meeting in NYC becomes a catalyst for Friedrich’s gallery to participate in Lewitt’s first series of shows in Europe. 

And then there is the equation on the upper left that was later corrected (appears to use a different pen) on the right side closest to the grid. Turns out if you count the horizontal sides of eleven connected squares (equation on the left) there are, in fact, twelve lines (equation on the right). A possible reason for Lewitt to hire a mathematician while designing the incredibly complex incomplete cube series? Yeah, another bit of ephemera in the collection.

ephemera Sol LeWitt Incomplete cube

Most visitors prefer Lewitt’s bright prints of color bands in squares and rectangles. No one has commented on the goofy sketch hanging in the midst of my Lewitt collection. Yet, like so much of its fellow ephemera, the drawing reveals a fascinating insight into the world of Sol Lewitt.


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A Life of Ideas

|Lary Bloom isn’t in the art business, he was a friend of LeWitt, and as such this biography is more about the man than his art.|

There were several curious aspects to my purchase of an original pen and ink drawing by Sol LeWitt from his incomplete cube series. A work long coveted, when one came onto the market in the middle of the financial mayhem of late 2008, I set aside caution and bought it. After making a deal with a highly regarded gallery in NYC, I was asked to send a personal check directly to the consignor of the work as no commission was being charged, “The sale is being handled as a favor to a long time and very dear customer.” Included with my check was a personal note of thanks, describing my longstanding admiration for LeWitt and a promise that the drawing had found a home where it would be enjoyed and not be resold.

Before the drawing was delivered, I received a phone call from a person who did not immediately identify themselves, and due to age, was somewhat difficult to understand. During a one-sided conversation, I listened to fascinating stories of the New York art scene during the 1970s. Finally, Mimi Wheeler thanked me for my kind note and said she was glad that someone who could appreciate Sol’s drawing now had it. She apologized for not taking better care of it, “…but you know he just had so many of them.”

“Obviously a drawing of a person is not a real person, but a drawing of a line is a real line.”

Sol LeWitt, Life of Ideas, Lary BloomSo, my surprise was profound while reading in a recent biography of LeWitt, A Life of Ideas, by Lary Bloom from 2019, that Mimi Wheeler (interviewed in the book) was more than a friend of LeWitt, as she had described herself to me. They had an intense romance and having lived with Lewitt from 1969 to 1972, she certainly knew just how many of those drawings he had.

While this may seem a long-winded way of starting a book review, it dovetails nicely with what makes the book so interesting. Bloom isn’t in the art business, he was a friend of LeWitt, and as such this biography is more about the man than his art. As a professional writer as well as a family friend, Bloom is in a unique position to talk about LeWitt, a man who had very little to say about himself publicly. In fact, the artist Lawrence Weiner while emphasizing his respect for LeWitt also makes clear that “…socially, Sol had a lot of warts.” This tension comes through in Bloom’s book where the mixture of praise from those who didn’t know LeWitt well but enjoyed the beneficence of a man who could be amazingly generous contrasts with stories from friends who could find themselves thoroughly frustrated with LeWitt.

Born in 1928, and raised around Hartford, Connecticut, and later attending Syracuse University, LeWitt lived a relatively nomadic life. Joining the army, LeWitt spent time in San Francisco, Japan, and Korea. In 1953 he rented an apartment in New York City to pursue a career as an artist. He later chose to spend many years living in Spoleto, Italy where both his daughters were born. Finally, LeWitt and his family settled in Chester, Connecticut. Overlay a listing of all the exhibitions and shows, and it is striking how much travel LeWitt managed over his lifetime. While he tended to avoid the opening receptions, he enjoyed seeing his work on-site, especially later wall drawings that were mostly executed by others. Artist Jan Dibbets joked that an important lesson he learned from LeWitt was that the gallery or museum should always provide a ticket for the artist to attend the exhibit, “No tickie, no showie.” Just as LeWitt moved from idea to idea, this feels mirrored in his tendency to move from place to place.

Far from a cold, calculating intellectual, as less rigorous writers often describe not just LeWitt but many artists obtusely classified as Minimalist or Conceptual, Bloom shows us that LeWitt was very much human. His was not the life of a rarified Brainiac, but of a man who experienced all of the pain and joy that falls to all of us. In the final analysis, LeWitt simply managed to express our all too human foibles in so many inspiring and beautiful manifestations. That new works have continued to appear since his death in 2007 demonstrates clearly that the ideas can survive beyond life.

After you have read Bloom’s biography, watch Sol LeWitt, a documentary by Chris Teerink from 2012, supposedly the first-ever documentary about his life and work. Here, LeWitt’s artistic output can be placed in a context that follows the narrative of the biography. From drawings to paintings to photographs to sculpture to prints and works built using cement blocks, the breadth of LeWitt’s work is made plain to see. Additionally, the video is filled with scenes from the overwhelming MassMOCA exhibit of LeWitt’s wall drawings located in a three-story building that once housed a textile mill. With 105 of the over 1200 wall drawings LeWitt created on display in North Adams, MA the effect can be dizzying.


LeWitt Picture 1As for my drawing, it arrived – ink on vellum and identified as 10/5 in pencil at the bottom left. LeWitt’s signature was also in pencil, on the bottom right and dated 1974. His artist’s book, Incomplete Open Cubes was printed in 1974 and with the aid of a magnifying glass, it is easy to discern that my drawing was not the one used in his artist book featuring the entire series of 122 drawings and photos of the sculptures. The sheet is not quite square, being clearly cut from a larger piece of vellum. The cube is an isometric rendering that almost touches the edges at the top and bottom. It matches both photos of other drawings from the series, as well as printed descriptions in catalogs, almost perfectly. The drawing is in front of me now, hanging above my desk and will likely remain there until…


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Bridget Riley

|“Those who understand art only by what it looks like often do not understand very much at all.” -Sol Lewitt|

In 1965 Bridget Riley made a trip to New York City to participate in a show titled, “The Responsive Eye.” Her black and white works were already well known with one having been purchased by a dressmaker who just happened to be on the board of the Museum of Modern Art. He used the painting as the basis for a dress design, other designers quickly followed and suddenly Riley’s work was not only on dresses but lampshades and sofas. She was equally surprised and appalled by this use of her work – and received absolutely no compensation. Returning to her home in England, Riley assumed it would be decades before she would be taken seriously again. Fortunately for us, she was wrong.

Riley was asked about the earliest paintings, “Were you an angry young woman?” She responded, “I don’t think it was so much that.”

Today these early works – mostly synthetic emulsion on board then soon after simply oil on canvas – are too quickly labeled as Op Art. But Riley’s intention has never been about visual tricks to entertain spectators. In fact, Riley has described her early work this way, “I think they were beautifully aggressive.” When one of the grand old men of art criticism, E. H. Gombrich, inquired about her use of ‘the pure physics of the behavior of light’ Riley simply replied, “I haven’t studied the pure physics of the behavior of light.” The paintings are primarily intended to stimulate the brain, not the optical nerves. Her work is instead grounded in the long history of painting. In Riley’s intelligent conversations concerning artists, she has studied and admired we hear the importance of Titian, Poussin, Delacroix, Seurat, and Mondrian, among others. Her observations are quite sophisticated, “Titian takes two blues and an off-white from the colors in the sky – the farthest distance – and moves them down into the foreground as a skirt, a cloak, and a dress.

“… color is wholly relative. Every hue throughout your work is altered by every touch you add in other places…” John Ruskin

Riley also discusses her progression as an artist by reflecting on the decision to move from black-and-white, to gray and then on to the color paintings for which she is now best known. She mentions the shift from black-and-white to gray was far more challenging than that when moving to color. Interestingly, many of the color paintings retain visual forms similar to some of those early black-and-white works. Despite the similarity in design, the color works have a startlingly different impact on this viewer. A trip to Egypt inspired both paintings and prints where the organization of colored stripes would influence later colorwork. Like her observation of how Titian uses colors to create “air” and cohesion in his works, Riley is very thoughtful in how she uses color in hers. Whether simple vertical stripes or wavy horizontal lines, these compare favorably to the later works featuring a mash-up of curves fragmented and interlaced diagonally.

Bridget Riley - Arts-Notes.com - Work Transition

“If you think of a square, or a circle or triangle, no matter what size it may be, you know exactly what form you can expect to see. But if you say red, yellow or blue you do not know at all what shade of colour you will be looking at.” Bridget Riley

The relationship between music and painting is another interesting topic Riley discusses. She said the impact of Stravinski’s lectures from 1939 that she read in book form became a sort of ‘bible’ to her (her word, her quote marks). Kandinsky also played in this space, but on a more esoteric level, “…we see the color green in the Key of D, only less dogmatically”. Again, for Riley color is more than something to stimulate the visual cortex. Like music, color can create feelings and emotions that are physical. Classical music, like classic paintings, can be studied across a spectrum of ideas and concepts.

“To treat them as historical documents or evidence of past concepts is wrong – they are particular solutions to continuing artistic problems…” Bridget Riley

bridget-riley-dialogues-on-artA recent review in the Wall Street Journal (1-7-2020) was effusive in praise for an impressive Riley retrospective at London’s Hayward Gallery at the end of 2019. Yet, there remains a tendency to emphasize the visual over the cerebral. Over the top comments in the review included: “walking into a snail shell and discovering a turbulent seascape”; “the furious waves of Cataract 3” and; “the furious Indian reds” (are we allowed to use the word furious twice in one review?). It was a stunning show, but more because of the ideas and art history her paintings embrace, not just the optical effects. Today Bridget Riley is still making artwork that is more cerebral than visual, more lyrical than literal.

A series of interviews originally recorded in 1992 and reprinted in 1995 have been collected in an excellent new book, Bridget Riley Dialogues on Art, 2019. Most of the quotes here – hers and others – came from that book.

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When Similar Does Not Mean Same As

|“…it’s fascinating to see people converging at similar visual endpoints even when starting from different places, following divergent paths, and all the while thinking about different things.”|


Paul Klee Exhibit 1993For no particular reason, I bought a handsome catalog of Paul Klee works printed in conjunction with an exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum (May 7 to September 19, 1993). Fairly limited in scope, featuring works mostly from the Guggenheim’s own collection, it did manage to convey the breadth of styles that Klee worked through, from adolescence to his early death. Always experimenting, Paul Klee used some unconventional methods to create original works, as well as multiples and prints. From sophisticated uses of color to the more primitive, and childlike imagery that he is widely known by, the guy did some really fine work.

Paul Klee PolyphonyBut the “A-Ha” moment came with two works in particular. The first was a pen and ink drawing from a Bauhaus course catalog (1929), “Five Part, Polyphony.” The second was a later painting (1939), “Rocks at Night.” Both were precursors – whether acknowledged or not – of Sol Lewitt. This suggestion is not to in any way intended to diminish the originality of Lewitt’s work.


“By diverse means, we arrive at the same end.”

-Michel de Montaigne


I was reminded of an essay by Jorge Luis Borges, Kafka and His Precursors. Borges reflected on the phenomenon of similarities of early artistic expressions to later ones that only become obvious in retrospect. In other words, to use Borges’ example, the relationship of writings from the Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea to those of Franz Kafka. The work of Kafka is not intended to reference Zeno, but using ideas discussed by Kafka allows us to see something fresh in Zeno. Or, put another way, reading Zeno through the lens of Kafka allows us to tease new meaning from something old and familiar.

Similarly, Lewitt took some heat in the early 1970s when his “Circles, Grids, Arcs,” series culminated (logically) with a drawing similar to the works of a French artist, Francois Morrellet. Very different sensibilities, both arriving at similar visual expressions, are not proof of plagiarism. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz anyone?

So here in the Paul Klee oeuvre was a drawing, Polyphony, of straight lines in four directions, many converging and overlapping, creating an image reminiscent of ideas explored by Lewitt years later in his many series’ featuring “Lines in Four Directions.” Then the beautiful blue painting, Rocks, which could hardly appear more alike to some of Lewitt’s “Irregular Shapes” images.

Paul Klee, Sol Lewitt
“Polyphony”, “Lines in Four Directions”, “Rocks”, “Irregular Shapes”


Stretching out a bit, some of the most beautiful of the Paul Klee paintings in the Guggenheim catalog look like carbon copies of Australian Aboriginal Dream paintings. The similarities of some Klee drawings to the work of Milton Avery and Ben Shahn is striking. Prints reminiscent of recent work by Jim Nutt seem obvious. Like Lewitt’s intersection with Morrellet, it’s fascinating to see people converging at similar visual endpoints even when starting from different places, following divergent paths, and all the while thinking about different things.


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Chymische Hockziet Enoch

|“Chaos is an azure line that surrounds all the world.”|

From the Sefer Yetsirah|

Chapter One

While reading the Sefer Yetsirah by the light emanating from a painting of Lucas Cranach I was approached by an angel whose wings were covered with blinking eyes. As it hovered above the table where I laid down my book, the angel offered me an envelope. Carefully opening the letter I discovered inside a single sheet of fine papyrus embossed in the lower right-hand corner with a single symbol. Not immediately identifiable, the curious figure reminded me of the Monad of alchemist John Dee, as it had been described by the polymath Athanasius Kircher. The angel hovered above me, the eyes on its wings moving in every direction until I realized the papyrus sheet was an invitation.

I hastily gathered up some bread, beer and the philosopher’s stone placing them in a small package. After donning a hat decorated with five flowers, I followed the angel as it flew out of my library. As the angel finally identified itself as Semyaza I felt an indistinct unease, like that, encountered as one begins a long journey.

Moving into the darkness of night Semyaza led me through a series of gates guarded by: An ancient Oriental man wearing a sky-colored robe; a sphinx made of mercury; the sacred painter of the profane, Father Giotto; and ultimately we passed a virgin named “The Magdalene” who was carefully extinguishing devotional candles resting on a small alter covered with a red cloth.

Semyaza bade me farewell, leaving me before the entrance to a great courtyard. Here a group of angels, whose faces were dirty with soot, bound me tightly with rope and left me alone in the darkness, awaiting dawn. The morning light revealed a gallery on the west side of the courtyard. It slowly filled with 999 sacred falcons, all bred in the gardens of the Temple of Behkdet in Egypt. A priest wearing a gold mask shaped like an ibis declared loudly that the falcons had deemed me to be not entirely unworthy. As such, I would be allowed to witness the terrible spectacle of a Chymische Hockziet. With this proclamation, the priest turned to leave as the sky filled suddenly with shrieking birds flying in every direction and I was reminded of the eyes on Semyaza’s wings. Then the ropes that had held me fell away and again I was alone.

Chapter Two

The angels with dirty faces returned and I was given a handsome pewter goblet filled with a powerful smelling, blood-like liquor and told to drink. Closing my eyes as I slowly sipped from the goblet, a feeling of heat spread throughout my body. A vision of a royal sepulcher in all its sublime glory appeared before me. I was led to a magnificent library like that of Borges imagination and felt bliss.

Upon leaving the library I found myself in a small, enclosed garden. Spying a large three-tiered fountain, I first drank and then bathed. Refreshed, I went down a dark, spiraling stairway furnished with rare tapestries and beautiful paintings, though I was saddened to realize none were by Nicholas Poussin. The stairs ended at a great hall whose walls and high ceilings appeared to be made of flames. In the center of this awful place rested the skull of Adom Kadmon with a serpent crawling in and out of the eye sockets. The name Lilith had been painted on the snake’s back in silver.

A door at the far end of the flaming hall opened to the shore of a raging ocean. A single ship being tossed about on the waves awaited me. Boarding the boat I found no one else there. My only recollection from the voyage was passing an island around which nine muses slept fitfully as they floated upon a green foam that remained undisturbed by the rough seas. Arriving at a place very cold and seemingly without color, I was carried off by four wingless angels, each with an aleph painted in gold on its forehead. They laid me on a blue cushion in the middle of a vast stone floor that had no walls. Sitting there in the numbing cold I gazed at the endless ocean until midnight, when I fell into a troubled sleep.

Chapter Three

It must have been very early the next morning when priests, dressed as gods from Ancient Egypt, woke me up and led me across the vast pavement. Arriving at an undecorated stone building, I was asked for my small package of offerings as well as the five flowers still decorating my hat.  In return, I was given Occam’s Razor, which I carried tentatively into the building. We entered a room, identified in small letters carved above the door as the Nuptial Hall, where I took a seat among mostly empty pews.

A battered wooden alter rested against the east wall and in front of it stood Enoch, whose hat was now decorated with my five flowers. He stared intently at the opposite wall and I turned to see his bride to be, the sweet Shekinah, making her way slowly toward the altar. The room was growing increasingly hot and I realized the sun was now shining brightly through long, thin windows and casting alternating stripes of light and shadow across the room. A priest who reminded me of the Pharaoh Akhenaten rose from the front pew and turning around with his back to the bride and bridegroom began speaking in a sonorous voice of love. As he spoke, cherubs descended carrying a massive crown, made of many precious stones, that was held above the heads of Enoch and his sweet Shekinah.

Suddenly a great cacophony erupted as the angels with dirty faces flew into the room carrying the blue cushion I had slept upon the previous evening. Then just as quickly, the room became completely silent as Semyaza entered with the pewter cup I had brought here the day before. Handing it first to Enoch, and then his sweet Shekinah, the couple took turns partaking of the evil red liquid before smashing the goblet against the stone wall. Semyaza picked up the broken pieces of the pewter cup and placed them on the blue cushion. When his sweet Shekinah kissed Enoch gently on the stomach I sensed the ceremony was over. As if leading a royal procession, Enoch and his bride left the Nuptial Hall at the head of the few attendees.

Only Semyaza and I were left in a now deserted room. The angel pointed at the floor beside the wooden altar where I noticed a large, beautiful painting by Max Beckmann of a woman lovingly embracing a mandolin as she lay asleep. Semyaza asked that I lay down on the painting where I proceeded to again fall into a troubled sleep. As the sweet Shekinah and her groom sailed away aboard the ship that had brought me to this place I dreamed of my long passed youth and wept softly.

Chapter Four

Trumpets sounded as these visions faded from my memory and all that was dark became light.


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The Art of Life and Death

|The bull and its blood symbolize a call to nature at its most brutal, pure and irrational. -Jose Antonio del Moral|

If you are not a fan of bullfighting please move along. My interest in defending this sport is exactly zero.

There is a documentary about bullfighting, The Matador, by Seavey and Higgins, that follows a very young (and now very famous) Spanish bullfighter, David Fandila, over a three-year period as he struggled to complete 100 corridas in a single season. A cursory glance at the reviews found the film to have been well received when it premiered in 2008, and this in spite of the subject. While I found the story of “El Fandi” more engaging than the story-telling, it certainly offered up some great bullfighting video and even better quotes; from Jose Antonio del Moral, “The bull and its blood symbolizes a call to nature at its most brutal, pure and irrational.”

Enrique PonceMany casual comments become quite compelling when scrutinized, including agreement from El Fandi, that he is not an artistic bullfighter. This observation is not without merit, since a comparison to, for example, Enrique Ponce provides a clear contrast in styles. Ponce performs with an elegance of posture and movement that even a first-time viewer would likely define as classical. Whereas El Fandi demonstrates a theatrical, often coarse flair more akin to an entertainer. This difference in approach is not just about technique. It is about the purpose of the spectacle found only in a corrida.

El Fandi states unambiguously his desire to deliver a memorable performance, to “bring the audience to ecstasy.” Being a great bullfighter in the traditional sense appears less interesting than being an inspiring entertainer. del Moral offers another observation to this point, “…but it is a beautiful savagery with an artistic payoff.” By comparison, he refers to ballet, where the movement of the human body is regarded as artistic expression. Yet for El Fandi, it is the David Fandila 3elegance displayed in the face of death that defines the artist. While a whiff of fear will destroy an otherwise masterful performance, El Fandi chooses to exaggerate his bravado, delivering a show that forcefully reminds the viewer of the high stakes being wagered with each corrida. His technique is less about the form (classical) than in the delivery (entertaining).

It is also worth noting that the documentary does an excellent job of reminding the viewer that the bulls can give as good as they get. The remarkable scene of El Fandi being gored, immediately undergoing surgery, then returning to the ring forty-five minutes later to continue fighting is unsettling to the extreme. And a vivid reminder of what separates the truly great from the rest of us mere mortals.

The MatadorFinally, it is worth knowing that a bull only fights once, if it survives it is put to pasture. Speaking about the bulls that survive the corrida, a young David Fandila talks about the “inner calm” he senses when in the presence of these winning champions. Interesting observation from a guy whose death in the ring is the only way for a bull to enjoy an “inner calm.”


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Kipling and the Man Who Would Be Surprised

|The wheel of the world swings through the same phases again and again.| ― Rudyard Kipling, “The Man Who Would Be King”

For no particular reason, I’ve again been reading the collected works of Rudyard Kipling. Rudyard Kiplng jungle book pngMostly he is remembered today (if at all) for two memorable movies based (loosely) on his short stories, The Jungle Book and The Man Who Would Be King. Yet the remaining trove of poems, ballads, mysteries, short stories, and novels are all equally compelling. Luckily, weighing in at around 900 pages, there is much to enjoy.

So imagine my surprise in discovering that the lyrics to the Frank Sinatra classic, On the Road to Mandalay (from 1957’s Come fly with me), are in fact a Kipling poem penned about a century earlier. Equally fascinating has been the number of old chestnuts still in circulation that finds their origins in a Kipling work – “He was a better man than me,” indeed. And I’ll bet many folks of my generation (and their kids) have fond and vivid memories of Walt Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book. Even though the story of Mowgli is but a small part of a larger work.

The Man Who Would Be King

Yet it was the revelations around both the short story and the movie, The Man Who Would Be King, that inspired this note. First, while the movie has long been a favorite, it has now taken on an added luster. After the first viewing, this movie was an inspiration for my long The Man Who Would Be Kingserving friend David and me to pursue Masonic studies, though in the book this theme is not nearly so prominent but remains important. Second, the pairing of Sean Connery and Michael Caine proved to be a stroke of genius. What a great movie.

However, I had been unable to appreciate just what a tremendous job had been done by John Huston (think, The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart, who was originally cast to play Peachy) when preparing the screenplay. I continue to run across lines from other Kipling stories totally unrelated to The Man Who Would Be King that are included as dialogue in the movie, such as the line “Straight as a beggar can spit.” Additionally, the added scenes allowing a short story to fill a feature-length movie were brilliantly conceived, and a couple of them I actually missed when reading the original story. Clearly, Huston was just as interested in recreating the world of Kipling as he was in retelling this one short story.

With the next viewing of The Man Who Would Be King, it will be the first look through a new lens. And what grander adventure is there than to enjoy discovering something so familiar still has mysteries to uncover.



Random Thoughts on Art: Explaining Creativity

|Eric Fischl does a fabulous job explaining not just how he goes about the creative process, but how his creative process came to be what it is.|

Eric Fischl’s 2013 autobiography, Bad Boy, is quite the piece of work – literally. His name was familiar to me, though his paintings were not. One of the New Kids that came of age, and fame, in the early 1980’s by putting figurative back into contemporary art. Julian Schnabel and David Salle being his contemporaries. The book is split pretty evenly between his personal history, professional life, thoughts on art, and making for often-uncomfortable reading. Finding some modicum of peace in this world depends on ensuring your personal demons don’t get the upper hand. Mr. Fischl seems to have fought the hard fight and won.

The reason to read this book, though, is the fabulous job Eric Fischl does in explaining not just how he goes about the creative process, but how his creative process came to be what it is. While it has been argued (mostly, it seems, in reviews of the book) his self-introspection borders on navel-gazing in the worst possible sense. That view is completely wrong-headed.

Eric Fischl - Page 341 - Bad BoyEric Fischl’s conviction of the artist as a storyteller resonates strongly with me. To hear the artist as a young man was motivated by the works of both Mondrian and Max Beckmann is a testament to his longstanding desire to understand art in all its richness, contrast and complexity. Though disagreeing with, for example, his assessment of artists like Sol Lewitt, Fischl still makes a solid case for how the ideas of what really good minimalist artists were trying to say were hijacked by the intellectually lazy.

In contrast, Fischl is adamant to a degree harmful for many of his personal relationships, that the artist must have something to say. More important, the artist must have something to say that someone else actually wants to hear. The failure of Art to retain its place of pride as a shared cultural touchstone is correctly blamed on hubris. On page 341, Fischl makes the following comment, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard artists saying, ‘Fuck the audience.’ But I thought: Why fuck the audience? Why not involve the audience?”

Reflections on The Name of the Rose Eco UmbertoThe many, brilliant passages where Fischl discusses his creative process, for both individual works as well as his overarching philosophies, are illuminating, and oddly familiar. In 1983 the author Umberto Eco published a very small book, Postscript to The Name of the Rose. In the fifth chapter, Eco uses almost identical words to describe almost identical examples of how an author goes about creating an interesting narrative – interesting for both the writer and the audience. A touchstone for the creative process?


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