Monday, May 30, 2011

Ivan Albright!

I loved the macabre as a youngster, and for at least a couple years, never missed an issue of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine. That's where I first saw Ivan Albrights work used to illustrate an article about "The Picture of Dorian Gray". Ivan had famously painted the decaying horrific and ghastly "After" portrait used in the 1943 MGM movie, and even reproduced in grainy b&w on pulp paper the vision was still psychedelically powerful. I was instantly mesmerized. Turns out we also had a copy of a 1964 exhibition catalog of his work that I started to pour over. The titles were just as riveting as the art and I committed them all to memory. To give you a taste- "Heavy the oar to him that is tired, heavy the coat, heavy the sea", "That which I should have done I did not do" and "There is no time, no end, no today, no yesterday, no tomorrow, only the forever, and forever and forever without end". Now, THAT'S how to name your paintings! My dad, seeing my adulation, sent Mr. Albright a note about his son the fan and seeing if we could visit (can't hurt to ask!). This hand written response came back in the enclosed sase...
"Dear Mr. O'Connell,
Thank you for your kind letter regarding your sons interest in art. Also for the Xeroxes of his work- The main thing is for him to keep it up, work & work hard- cycles & phases of art will consistently occur, but a solid foundation comes in good stead.
No matter which way his talent lies, I expect to be here this summer. Let me know in advance of your arrival.
Yours Sincerely,
Ivan Albright"
So the 3 of us (including sister Annie) made a roadtrip to the Albright's Woodstock, Vermont home in the summer of '74 . The night before at the Ramada was spent making a small clay bust of Mr. Albright as a gift. As soon as we walked in the front door, he and his wife Josephine were beyond gracious and made a big show of how wonderful my ceramic Ivan was and he pushed aside an actual Michelangelo sculpture to make room for it on the shelf. After a round of lemonade, Mrs. Albright and Annie went to bake cookies while Ivan gave me a tour of his basement studio. It was dimly lit being that the widows were painted black and only opened slightly. A light was on illuminating a painting on his easel that he had been working on for 8 years titled "The Vermonter". His model had passed away so he had purchased his clothes from the widow which were now on a posed mannequin for reference. The easel could swivel around in any direction and angle making it easier to work on any spot he choose. And when you can spend a decade on one piece, you might as well be comfortable. Amid a vast array of squeezed paint tubes and used brushes was , what seemed like, a 2 foot stack of 11 by 17" sheets, each crammed with extensive notes 'n doodles analyzing every square centimeter of the art. He explained to me that one of his goals (among many) was to have your conscious battle with your subconscious while viewing. For example, he pointed out a chain that looked functional, yet on closer inspection didn't really link, or a pipe that seemed to fit snuggly in a pocket, yet in reality physically couldn't. Also, something I still don't quite get, (but who can understand artists anyhow?) little spots of floating color circles around the figure were visualized by placing color wands (handles with attached color samples on top) in front of his eye, then move, and paint the resulting floating spots of color he saw. There was nothing in the art that wasn't thought through eight ways to Sunday. He'd dig so deep that he'd find every wrinkle, sag and stain that the model had, would ever have in their future and for the first few years in the grave. I just bugged my eyes out and took it all in. We were just supposed to stop by for a few minutes, but apparently since he enjoyed how fascinated and intrigued I was, (I'm charming and adorable don't you know) we ended up staying for a few hours.
As the afternoon wound down I made sure I got my copy of his book signed. He inscribed it, "To Mitchell, You can be as great as you wish to make yourself, Ivan Albright".

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