Portraits & Passages

Chapter 12

Installation, Downing Street, New York City, 1982

 

When a boy you look to the Renaissance; as a young man to the Primitives and Moderns; then you find you mostly have yourself.     - RR
 

 John Bennett - "29 Downing Street"

John Bennett could be one of Somerset Maugham’s characters. A waspishly handsome man whose privilege bought him the idea that he was meant for great  things. To some he looked like a successful artist returning from Europe to claim his place. It worked as long as his painting had flirted with conceptual art. When it turned toward actual painting he forfeited his pretensions.

John just wanted to be what he wasn’t born to be. He didn’t have the gift. Had he followed in his grandfather’s profession as architect he might have found the  satisfaction and success that eluded him. For there is a vast divide between most of the applied arts and that spiritual vehicle called art. Like so many others, John  misjudged his ability to touch such an ephemeral dimension. He didn’t get the call or the understanding that nurtures over time the person and his pursuit. That just never happened.    

Harsh words you might say spoken by one friend of another, and you would be right to see them as cruel. But we are all to be judged if we stand to be counted.  There's no room for equivocation. You must understand that I knew people who wished me dead, blind or gone. I was grateful for the friendship.

John, like so many others thought knowing famous people was automatic proof of his standing. His close ties too Joan Mitchell, like Barbara Schwarz to Elaine de  Kooning, is an example of how artists of reputation found charmingly compliant youngsters more agreeable for their entourage than someone like me. Joan never  took her guard down when I was there, perhaps fearing an attack. And Joan, like Elaine de Kooning, would never allow me near enough to her to make the kind of appraisal I've been doing on these pages.

It reminds me of an incident that Pam Newhouse told me around 1981. Mel Bochner was a dinner guest of her father's who had just bought one of Mel's  paintings. Pam in her mischievous way told Mel: "I think we know a mutual acquaintance, Richard Rappaport."

Mel replied: "Richard has a very biting sense of humor." They all laughed. I suppose out of relief that I wasn't there. I considered holding back my words, but  the story would not be complete considering how much of it circles John's carriage house on Downing Street.

 

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