Portraits & Passages

Chapter 20

Artist at Ocean Avenue, New York City, 1982

Like a lake the heart must be calm and quiet
having great depth beneath it.   - Tao

The Prodigal Son, Pittsburgh, 1980 – 1982

I was still living in Brooklyn in the same two room apartment on Ocean Avenue that two years before I had moved to like a fugitive on the run. I was still the  desperado and miserly in my frugal ways when I started to spend tens of thousands of dollars on pages in “Art in America”. Some people decided that I purposefully squandered my father’s hard earned money to get even with him.

They had liked the idea that I came from a family of losers. I had endured hardship long enough that they were comfortable seeing me there. I think they were annoyed  about my change of circumstance. Now they thought that I had been pretending, or that I must be very angry with my father’s leaving me to struggle on my own. It was neither!

I had been planning something like this forever. I like ritual and presented a ceremonial unveiling of images. If there was anger, it was addressed to the art world. And besides, my father gave me his blessing!

It all started with my Thanksgiving visit to Pittsburgh to find my father stricken and lying in a coma in intensive care. Earlier, I was told, he had been all excited that I  was coming home. I whispered to him softly: “Pop, if you want to come back, come back. They want to pull the plug. So if you want to come back, come back.”

He did, though as a ghost of himself and relinquished the reins of the family’s affairs to my mother. When I visited again in July we sat together outside as I spoke about  my setbacks and obstacles. And he said: “Well, then do something.” That’s all, and I’m sure he never imagined my doing what I did.

On another visit my father apologized: “I’m sorry I didn’t understand what you were painting before. I could not see what you were doing. I understand it now. I see what you are doing now.” 

I wonder what my father thought when he took my hand in his to look at it as one does with a new born infant – to make sure all the fingers are there. I said  somewhat embarrassed by this parental act as he turned my hand over: “They’re workman’s hands.” He said: “No.” Perhaps he was thinking back to when he held  my hand in his thirty-eight years before and wondering what this child of his would do with those hands. Now he knew. I don’t think he was too disappointed.

When all five issues of “Art in America” were published, my mother to my surprise handed him the copies that I had brought her. I had never imagined her doing that. I  was aghast! I immediately imagined a torrent of outrage, but instead he looked at them quietly from where he was seated and then looked up to me saying softly:  “Are you satisfied now?” That was all. I suppose that was enough. It summed up all he could advise for me that in reality must have been: “Try to be at peace.” Later  during that visit he said: “It all went so fast.” That was the last time I saw him.

He must have realized that it was futile to direct or protect me, and that now I was on my own. Many years later, my mother told me that right before my father died  he had said to her: “Mabel, I love the boys. But most of all I love Ricky.”


Self Portrait on Scratchboard, 1962

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