Submitted Date 11/02/2019


In my quest to find another art form that was more tactile and more sensual, my first choice was music. I loved classical music from an early age and had taken piano lessons. But I never found a teacher that I liked and my hands were small so playing the piano was a struggle.

When I was in high school, I became close to a minister who was also a teacher of world religions. He encouraged us to go out and experience life, which he felt would eventually bring us to his religious beliefs. So at this point, I followed his advice and when a new experience presented itself, I would usually join in. I wanted to meet a wide range of people of any age, travel as far as possible, and learn about different cultures and different ways of looking at life.

When I was about sixteen I began to hitchhike since I did not have a car. Hitchhiking is hard to describe but at times there were moments of extreme clarity and insight. When I was hitchhiking my senses were heightened and the fact that I had no idea when I would get a ride and who it would be with was a freeing experience.

Next came politics. In the 1960s the civil rights movement was heating up and I was a part of it. One fall I marched and sang with hundreds of other people as we walked from one end of Chapel Hill, North Carolina to another. Before we went out we were pumped up by speeches from African American preachers who really knew how to fire up a crowd. I realized years later that some of the rhythms and sound of my writing had been inspired by these men. We also learned a full range of movement songs which we sang every time we marched, such as 'We Shall Overcome'. The memory of the camaraderie of the movement was something that stayed with me for a very long time.

After the Civil Rights Bill was passed in the US congress, the movement died down. We had achieved what we had fought for. And because of that, I felt I could explore other experiences.

Then for some unknown reason, I began to look at modern painting. I had always liked painting but it had been one of a number of interests. Now I concentrated on it. I studied Van Gogh, read the book "Lust for Life" about him and also saw the movie of the same name. Aside from Vincent's wonderful paintings, I was attracted to his passion and his total focus on his work.

His paintings then led me to the work of the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists, and later the Cubists, and other modern painters. I really did not know why I had this sudden interest, except that the paintings were speaking to me directly. And I think I got what they were saying.

My mother lived in New York so I went to the Museum of Modern Art every time I was in the city. That museum has a permanent display, so eventually, I memorized those exhibits that were divided into various rooms where works from each art movement or period were displayed together.

Then toward my senior year in college, I took a semester off. In New York, I saw a full Alexander Calder retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. His sculptures known as Mobiles moved delicately in the open spaces of the museum almost as if that display space had been built just to show his work.

A month later I was spending time alone trying to do some writing. But I also kept looking for that allusive other art form I wanted to work with. I thought back to my early days in middle school. Every year each of us had to make a model of something historical. It was a project I looked forward to. I had particularly liked my last project which was a model of the first Wright Brother's airplane, known as the Wright Flyer. I had made it out of strips of balsa wood and then stretched white tissue paper over the wings. I came out quite nicely. And when I was done I had felt a rush -- a sure sign that it was something good for me to do.

So while I was writing on my semester off I began to make balsa-wood and tissue paper mobiles, inspired by the Calder exhibit. Then after a while, I began to simple sketches.

Now you might ask why I did not try drawing, and the answer is quite simple. For some odd reason, which is still true today, I have a terrible time drawing. After many tries, I decided that drawing was not for me.

I did feel, however, that I had a good understanding of spatial relationships. So I took a college design class and to my surprise excelled. One of my compositions was included in the final exhibit of student work that year.

Then suddenly I was studying the abstract paintings of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. I could not get enough of their work. I also became attracted to the Italian Futurists who tried to depict a sense of movement in their paintings and sculptures.

It was strange to discover that I was terrible at one thing visually and quite good at another. This is not what I had been told. But there is was. My experience showed me that.

Because I was good at composition and I really loved working with the arrangement of spaces, I began to make abstract paintings. They were just for fun and I did not expect anyone to take them seriously.

Next, like a bolt out of the blue, I suddenly understood the work of Jackson Pollock. His paintings broke all the rules. The word 'composition' in the traditional sense did not seem to apply.

When the Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of his work I drove from North Carolina, over a weekend to see it. It was astonishing and engulfing. His huge paintings looked very different from far away and then close when they seemed to wrap themselves around the viewer. And all the paintings had a sense of spontaneity, a sense of the moment of creation. I had never seen anything like it.

Finally, another bolt came out of the blue. Unexpectedly I stumbled onto what would become my other art form. And it would happen in the most unusual way. But I will save that for the next article.

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