up until now s. was just a fool for art and love. he pondered hard and long during those long winter nights.
with a baby almost due, the reality of the situation slowly dawned on him. "i better do something." was a thought that pestered him often. he tried to make more money. he took commissions. he took the bus to manhattan with twenty five pounds of drawings. that's about six inches deep; all wrapped up in a cardboard bundle strapped with duct tape.
s. pounded the pavement up and down madison, lexington and third avenues. to make matters worse he was shy about this and sensitive to rejection. it was very hard.” it’s a hard life." he told himself and stoically he persevered. most of the gallery managers stopped him before he could show his work. some with a condescending pity would buy one or two for a couple of bucks.
then he found "j. pocker" a frame store on the corner of 63rd street and lexington avenue. there was a gallery on the second floor because mr.pocker was also a dealer in prints and drawings. pocker was a very tall thin gentle man without the condescending attitude which had so irritated s. at the other galleries. pocker forked over $150 for the whole folio. and said, "well, good luck young fellow, come back whenever you can."
a famous pianist of that time lived in white river junction. he wanted a life-size standing portrait of himself. he approached bob anderson who turned him down but recommended s. for the commission. there was another $150 advance.
james newcomb arrived with his wife. he wore a black cape with a red satin lining and a top hat as if he were going to the opera in 1910. oh, and a cane with a gold lion's head. s. had fun with the portrait and after only two sittings and a couple of late nights pushing paint around did proper justice to this slightly effeminate dandy. the portrait was eight feet tall and four feet wide and glowed with whites and blacks and cadmium red medium. well, they both hated it.
s. was very uncomfortable because he kind of liked it. however, he agreed to try again. he cut the panel in half, gessoed the other side and painted mr. newcomb sitting proudly in a reading chair with an antique lamp surrounded by books. they loved it. his work had paid off. it wasn't very true, but it paid the bills. so now s. is a whore. and he didn't like it one little bit.
(this is the only trace of this painting, in it's earliest stage.)
Woodstock was a pretty little town. It was like a toy town. The town you built as a model to elaborate your electric train set. Only there was no railroad, just a river that ran through it twice; there were two picture perfect stone bridges which served the two roads that converged in the center of town. The bank, the corner cupboard and the atlantic and pacific tea co., at the apex where the only stoplight in the town regulated the few cars that came through; The corner of central and elm streets. Also, notable by the long green commons, was a covered bridge. That added a touch of new England charm.
One winter night with the wind howling outside, s. and Julie were sitting up in bed. S. was reading Thomas mann’s three volume novel “joseph and his brothers”. As he read, visualized three scenes, joseph leaving pre-sand Israel, the tossing to his likely death into the well, and as a fully developed man, the steward of Egypt, the dream sayer. He later painted this as a tryptych; the middle painting being six feet tall and arched at the top as the masters of italy or flanders might represent it. The tall panel was “the fall”.
It was late and the kerosene lamp was sputtering. Julie wanted to tell s. about something she had found which was very special for her.
“after I left my husband, I met this man, he was married. we had an affair. He introduced me to a group of people who were studying the ideas of a certain mister g., that’s how ouspensky, the Russian mathematician, described his ‘teacher’…. I got involved with them and found answers to deep metaphysical questions… you know…. Like why we are here… and,”
“I know why we are here.” S. said cutely. “anyway, I’m not interested in the supernatural,” he added, thinking of blavatsky , edgar casey and Rudolf Steiner schools. And Julie clammed up. She remained silent for a long ten minutes until the lamp sputtered out, and died. And in the pitch dark of the windowless back room, they just lay there; s. feeling guilty for his insensitive comment. And Julie just quiet. He became curious. “wow,” he thought, “she really shut up.”
She just dropped it entirely. This interested him; that she hadn’t shoved her belief down his throat the way some people would who, having a need to get others interested in what interests them, just go on and on about it even when their audience has long since stopped listening and busy themselves studying their fingernails or imagining their impending trip to china .
“alright, alright, alright, tell me.” gently he coaxed her. And julie’s report on her experience led him to order a book she recommended. It was “in search of the miraculous, fragments of an unknown teaching” by peter demianovich ouspensky.
mr bland owned the bookstore in town. It was funny because he was just like his name. S. had never met anyone as bland as mr. bland was. anyway, he ordered the book. It came in the mail within a week. After reading the first chapter, s. was totally fascinated. As he read on and kept being shocked by the clear ring of almost remembered truths, he settled in and devoured the whole book in less than a week. It was a ‘page turner’. part of the interest came from the narrative of what happened to ouspensky as he followed g. from russia to germany and finally to the prieure at fontainebleau, in france; a country chateau and lands where g. taught the ‘movements’, dances of a certain esoteric significance; exercises of great complexity and cosmic significance which were said to contain real knowledge of the laws of the universe. They had never seen the light of day for millenniums.
Journalists of those times, the twenties and thirties, referred to g’s school as the “forest philosophers” and referred to g. as a mountebank and a charlatan. Although none of them had ever even met him.
He, gurdjieff, called his system the “fourth way” or ‘the institute for the harmonious development of man’.
Now, the tates reneged on the deal to provide use of their shower and a meal now and then. S. never found out why, but speculated in retrospect that they were scandalized by the living arrangements with Julie and her protuberant belly. At the time they copped out on the agreement s. was adding the finishing touches to the painting called “the cinnamon tree” so he just never gave it back.
Durphy pounded on the door one afternoon. You remember?
the town constable? He hated s. for some unknown reason; probably the instinctive reaction of the conservative to the anarchistic. Anyway, s. stared at him… held him outside the room. The town cop’s rotund figure now generously increased by his winter duds; a navy blue greatcoat gleaming with brass buttons and badges and a Canadian hat with earmuff straps dangling. durphy was too short for all this equipage to appear as gloriously as it might on a taller man.
s. nonchalantly tossed back the shock of hair that usually screened his secretive right eye, confident that he had done no wrong, asked. “what?” durphy’s eagle eye searched the room and spying the “cinnamon tree” painting still on the easel and wet, I might add, pushed past the yielding s; who was taken aback, and now curious.
“in the name of the law,” durphy intoned ceremoniously, “i am seizing this object,”; and he said that contemptuously. Then he whipped out of his greatcoat inner pocket something s. had never heard of and that was a ‘writ of replevin’. It was an antique document stating that an object owned by someone was in the possession of someone else without rights to hold it. The holder of the said document then had the right to take possession. It was signed by a judge. Seemed very strange and unjust. S. expected nothing like this. At worst if tate wanted to fight over it, he should appeal to the civil court to have his claim adjudicated. But to gain possession of the article in dispute struck s. as unjust and he was properly infuriated. he got a lawyer, who charged an arm and a leg and lost the painting due to the lawyers covert and totally devious collusion with mr. Tate.
Divining this betrayal intuitively, s., Neglected to pay mr. Wright, the up and coming and surely to be a dynamic success in the illegal activities of the legal profession.