Portraits & Passages

Chapter 41

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 Life freezes if it doesn’t get a taste of this almond cake. The stars come up spinning every night, bewildered in love. They’d grow tired with that revolving, if they weren’t.
 Rumi

 

Providence in Motion

From so long ago I can only paraphrase the intent of their new year’s message in which they pleaded for peace. Until then I had paid scant attention to Calder’s mobiles. But that entirely  white page with only a few lines of text centered on it asking us as a nation to forego acts of war struck a very sympathetic chord in me.

Never would I have imagined that I would meet Sandy, let alone become for a few short years a regular guest at the Calder’s place in the Midi in France. But afterwards I began to look more attentively at his work.

Then providence set Jim Morrissey on my path when in the autumn of 1968 I placed a card inquiring for a photographer of paintings on the bulletin board at the American Center for  Students and Artist in Paris. Jim was a war resister to whom the Calders’ and their daughter and son-in-law, Sandra and Jean Davison, gave sanctuary. In a short time Jim became an extended family member.

Jim would photograph my paintings during the next two and a half years and become my best friend in France. I portrayed him as Potiphar in “Joseph Accused” leaving it with him when I  left France in the spring of 1971 along with “Upper and Lower Kingdom”, “Scorpio”, and “Icarus”.

My exchanges with Sandy were almost entirely nonverbal. Moments of sympathy and amusement would come out of thin air and disappear like a handful of sparrows. At seventy  he was already a monument in art history. If my respect for him had a component of reverence, it was for his stand against the Vietnam War. However, soon that was replaced by  the comfort of his and Louisa’s goodwill, and a special, kind amusement that I seemed to bring out in him and from which I felt his silent blessings.

He knew what was in store for me, not the details, but the people in the art world who would demand their portion of flesh. I could see that in his eye, but there was nothing he could do.

Jean Davison explained that for me when he volunteered: “We can’t help you. We can hardly help ourselves.” And he continued with a story about how Meaght, Sandy’s dealer in Paris,  refused to show his gouache works. So Sandy was free to push them on his own until they started to become popular. Then Meaght demanded control along with more output. Imagine,  here was Alexander Calder in his late seventies being whipped to produce masses of a product that once was just a light diversion that he traded for doctors’ services or gave away as presents.

I remember the last Calder vernissage that I attended at Gallery Meaght. Jim Morrissey and I were the last visitors still in the main gallery as people rushed off to a formal banquette. I was  not invited. Just then Sandy came back for one last look as Jim begged: “Sandy, Richard wasn’t invited. Can he come too?”

Sandy looked at me, turned his head to one side in mock appraisal, and then with a grin gestured for the both of us to come along as he gave a full sweep of his arm, swung his bear’s  body round, and rambled back down the corridor from which he came.

When Jim and I arrived at the banquette, what struck my notice was that Sandy did not sit with Meaght at the presiding table.  He sat with his friends!

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I wish I could claim that Sandy knew my work. He never did. He was retreating from the world as much as he could by the time I met him. Paris was dirty and noisy. When they had  to come up from Sache, he and Louisa would meet Jim and myself on St German for hot chocolate and croissants. Louisa would ask if we’d like another. “Oh yes, please.” I was starving.

Down in the Midi at their house called Francois Premiere that was built into ancient limestone caves Sandy at the dinner table doodled on a scrap of paper a monograph of the symmetrical  initials of my name with boots on the R’s each facing outward and a little pointed dagger in the middle where the H is. I must have it somewhere. Does it really matter if he didn’t know my work!

 

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