Issue 42, Winter-Spring 1968
This morning a man came to my door and asked if I had taken a bath. I told him I was an artist and he left. I called Sinkowiz and asked him what that meant but he didn’t know. I like to know what things mean, their deeper significance.
So then I asked my slum landlord, Solomon Golub, but he only lied and said it was the man from the water department.
Someday I’ll tell you about Golub, king of the slum landlords, but not now. Not with the pain I’ve got.
Funny how a room can turn around. I mean you can stand in one place, with your feet on solid floor, and the room can spin around like a top. Ever watch colors then? Red, green, violet, they all turn into blue. The pain helps and then sometimes when I’m not on my feet the paints will change colors and tubes and those goddam rats are partial to navy blue, they eat right through the tubes, metal, plastic and all and then gorge on the paint.
Stark came over last night and I showed him my new picture. He said it was all right except for the red. He says that just to gall me, Stark does. I say what red and he says there and points to a place which is blue and I say that’s blue and he says red. Stark! What does he know. He can’t even walk on the ground. If you watch him closely you see that he walks on air. Two inches of air. How can anybody who walks on air know anything about painting? Still, I ask him, sucker that I am. Lately I am asking more people like that. Even Golub, who likes art if it can cover up a bad hole in the wall. Next time you see Stark, look at his pants. They come down over his heels, brushing the ground. How can anyone tell he’s walking on air if his pants are too long and touch the ground? He tries to hide it. He’s embarrassed about walking on air.
Stark sews. He has a showing at the Stampfli of old sheets. They’re all stained, his sheets. Also, a showing of laundry tickets at the Almalfi.
Did you ever see Stark and Golub argue? Stark is five feet four and Golub is five feet six. But with Stark two inches off the ground he comes up level to Golub. They stand and shout, mouth to mouth, and Golub puts his hands on Stark’s shoulders and pushes him the remaining two inches down to the ground, but unless he keeps his hands there Stark just pops up again, crew cut to crew cut with Golub. Being artists, they both argue economics. Stark lives below me, a tenant of madman Golub. Golub is trying to put hot water in our lofts so he can raise the rent. Each day the plumbers come, and each night Stark and I are busy with pipe wrenches undoing their work. Once the hot water is in and running the rent goes up.
So far we are even with the plumbers, but Golub is thinking of adding more to keep ahead. That’s Golub. Always thinkingAnother thing about blue. My model has varicose veins which fascinate me. Did you ever see a really good showing? I don’t mean the beginnings, those immature spiderwebs with their picky little microscopic traces. I’m talking about your great over-hanging ropes, your great knotted, clotted masses of bulging misshappen inoperative veins that are congealed like wet cotton. What shades of blue! From dark to light, sea to sky, fire to ice. The picture I’m working on now, with my model bent over so that from the rear I can see her patch, is all varicose vein. Title: Varicose Veins at Sunrise. I keep her standing all day in a tub of cold water. It brings texture, adds depth to the blue tubes. She’s fifty-three, afraid I’ll fire her and get a younger girl. I talk about breasts that stay up and flesh that holds together and she breaks down, blubbering. But I wouldn’t have a younger model. Give me the flesh that shifts, the breasts that sag! Snow is blue, and when you walk on snow that’s blue on blue, but of course Stark doesn’t make any tracks when he walks so he can’t know what I’m talking about. But snow is pale blue really, the color of chipped china or faded blotters. I thought of that yesterday during the heat wave. If I feel up to it, and the pain isn’t so bad, I put snow in my pictures, lots of fat flakes with a footprint or two. If Jenny can shiver when I paint so much the better. She has rheumatism and shivering comes easy to her. I make it simple by keeping her in a bucket of water, her large blistered feet rubbing the sides of the rusty iron tub. Sometimes if I leave a window open in the dead of winter, which I’m liable to do, it looks like a colony of mice is running underneath her skin. Then when I see her shake I get inspired and often do six or seven completed nudes in one day. Titles: Jenny Shivering in a Bucket of Water, Jenny Under Delusions of Cold, Jenny’s Veins, Jenny Without Food For Three Days (and its corollary, Jenny Fainting From Lack of Food and Falling Head First into the Iron Bucket), Blue Jenny, Jenny In Between, and my big one, Jenny Jumps. The last one is the size of my wall. I wanted to do a big picture and nailed canvas to one of the walls, propping chairs and tables and ladders against it so I could hop around on my one good leg and fill the canvas with lines. I had Jenny jumping from one of the ceiling beams in the loft. I wanted to get that look people have on their face when they go through the air. Have you seen that look ? It’s like modeling a face in damp seersucker shorts. The mouth has this absent-minded look about it, the eyes seem to be hurricane centers. Jenny jumped, her blubber trailing behind, adding buoyancy, floating like potato angels.
Jenny is all fluff and old chocolate, and when she jumps, she expands. This is art, that expansion. I’m doing a sequel to Jenny Jumps. Jenny Lands. Setting: Old broken cement, blistered sidewalk all cracks and acne, dry bones for plants and rust-red blood scattered like pandemonium seeds. In the middle, in parts, lies Jenny, full of hope, her mouth bleeding belief and the shock of the real blended miraculously into her limbs. Great stores of curious onlookers and large cities burning in the background, crucifixions and pilgrims walking, bombs exploding and lovers opening letters. The surroundings of Jenny. It will be the greatest thing I, or anybody, has done yet. It’s what I’ve been trying to say for years.