Art Chronicles: Jane Freilicher 1924 – 2014

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I first became aware of Jane Freilicher through her presence in Frank O’Hara’s poetry: Interior (with Jane); Chez Jane; Jane Awake; To Jane, and in Imitation of Coleridge. I didn’t immediately know that she was a painter, one of several whom O’Hara befriended, supported, reviewed and who became poetic muses in his verse. Grace Hartigan – For Grace, after a Party – was another; as was, perhaps most famously, Joan Mitchell, in Poem Read at Joan Mitchell’s.

Painter Among Poets was the title of Freilicher’s last, 2013, show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York; Poet Among Painters, the title of Marjorie Perloff’s  1977 critical biography of O’Hara. New York Poets: New York Painters. The Scene.

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When she was eighteen, Jane Niederhoffer, as she was then, eloped with jazz pianist Jack Freilicher, whom she married and later divorced, having met, through him, the saxophonist Larry Rivers when both men were playing in the same band. Freilicher occupied herself during band rehearsals by sketching and painting and Rivers, interested in both Freilicher and her artistic talents, followed suit. It was the painter Nell Blaine who suggested the pair sign on to study with Hans Hoffmann at the Arts Students League of New York. That would have been in 1947.

During the next couple of years, she met O’Hara and the other leading poets in what came to be termed the New York School – Kenneth Koch and John Ashbery and, a little later, James Schuyler. All four men were familiar with the art scene, all, save for Koch, regularly wrote art criticism and reviews, and O’Hara was actually employed at the Museum of Modern Art. There is some small confusion over to which of them she sold her first painting, Ashbery or O’Hara.

By the early 1950s, she was fully immersed in the New York Scene and had met fellow artists Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan and Helen Frankenthaler, all three of whom were attempting to negotiate a stylistic space for themselves amidst the often aggressively male Abstract Expressionism that was the predominant fashion at the time. Strongly influenced by the Bonnard exhibition at MOMA a few years previously, and aware also of the work of Vuillard and Matisse, Freilicher’s riposte to abstraction was a lyrical, light-diffused and vibrantly coloured series of still lives and landscapes that remained at the heart of her work from her first solo show at Tibor de Nagy in 1952 until her last.

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Keeping out of fashion, she suggested, gave her the chance to have the freedom to fool around.

I’m quite willing to sacrifice fidelity to the subject to the vitality of the image, a sensation of the quick, lively blur of reality as it is apprehended rather than analysed. I like to work on that borderline – opulent beauty in a homespun environment.

She also said …

I suppose I think more in terms of colour than of line …

… a statement I used as an epigraph to my novel In a True Light, which is, in part, about the New York scene and Greenwich Village in the 50s, though the character of the painter in the novel is more like an amalgam of Mitchell and Frankenthaler than Freilicher herself.

And, finally, here are the last lines from a  poem by James Schuyler, Looking Forward to See Jane Real Soon.

Jane, among fresh lilacs in her room, watched
December, in brown with furs, turn on lights
until the city trembled like a tree
in which wind moves. And it was all for her.

Unknown

 

 

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Resnick & Nottingham

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Self-serving it may be, but I’d like to draw attention to a recent piece on Tony Beale’s blog, Home Thoughts,  in which he writes at some length about the pleasures he has derived from reading the Resnick novels, in particular their depiction of the faces and places of a Nottingham that has changed in many ways between the first – Lonely Hearts way back in 1989 – and the most recent, this year’s Darkness, Darkness.

Tony also discusses the novels in comparison with those by Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham and others.

The post can be found here.

Old School Fashion Man

So there I was, striking what someone called my Old School Fashion Man pose down in the South of France at Villeneuve Lez Avignon (see here) …

… and here are some of the results, from the lens of Icelandic photographer, Nanna Dis …

France 2014 © Nanna Dis 2014

France 2014 © Nanna Dis 2014

 

France 2014 © Nanna Dis 2014

France 2014 © Nanna Dis 2014

Considering what she had to work with, pretty impressive you might agree. Please take the time to check out Nanna’s web site

Reading Matters: Rocking Hemingway’s Boat

Ever since I started writing with any degree of seriousness, or even a little before, I’ve been fascinated by interviews with writers about their work – hence the pile of Paris Review single issues and anthologies ever-growing on the shelf. In a few cases, not many, this has spilled over into an interest in their wider lives – biographies, collections of letters, diaries – F. Scott Fitzgerald, D. H. Lawrence, Arnold Bennett, Virginia Woolf. But, although Hemingway was one of those writers I began reading in my late teens and have continued to do so ever since, I had read very little – A Moveable Feast, his account of the years in Paris, aside – about his life. Not that I was totally lacking in interest, rather I’d presumed the life – the most interesting parts, at least – were there in the work, barely disguised. And, of course, the myth of the man – the macho big game hunter who ended his own life at the end of a shotgun – loomed so large it seemed to rule out the necessity for anything else.

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But then I began to hear good things about a book called Hemingway’s Boat by a former journalist, Paul Hendrickson, who had spent twenty years or more with the Washington Post. Friends whose judgement I trusted – and who were no neophytes when it came to Hemingway – told me what a terrific book it was. And yet … and yet I still hesitated. Some 500-plus pages about a boat?

Except, as I discovered when I finally got around to reading it on a recent holiday in Cornwall, it isn’t really about the boat at all. The sub-title tells it more accurately – Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961. And, in truth, he loved a great deal, often in ways that must have been difficult to withstand, and lost almost everything, including, desperately, agonisingly, his true talent as a writer, the thing that had kept him most afloat.

What Hendrickson does brilliantly – it is a beautifully written, brilliantly crafted book – is to use Hemingway’s undoubted passion for the Pilar – the boat’s name – as a structuring device on which to thread the story – the stories – of Hemingway’s relationships – powerful and all too often powerfully destructive – with those close to him, his wives and sons – especially the sons –  but also those whose contact with him was of a different order: Arnold Samuelson, the aspiring writer who hitched hundreds of miles to present himself at Hemingway’s door and found himself, surprisingly, taken under his wing, and Walter Houk, whose own story is one of the saddest yet most admirable of all.

I hope I’ve made it clear how much I loved this book, from grudgingly setting it aside at night, to the prospect of reopening it with my first cup of coffee the following morning.  It’s led me to begin reading other accounts of Hemingway’s life – currently How it Was, by Mary Welsh Hemingway, the last of his wives – and to order second-hand copies of Hendrickson’s earlier books, including one about the life and work of New Deal photographer, Marion Post Wolcott.

Finally, let me draw your attention to a fine review of Hemingway’s Boat, by Peter Messent, formerly of the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham.

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Reading Matters: The Good Soldiers

I want to say a word to our troops and civilians in Iraq. You’ve performed with incredible skill under demanding circumstances. The turnaround you have made possible in Iraq is a brilliant achievement in American history. And while this war is difficult, it is not endless. And we expect that as conditions on the ground continue to improve, they will permit us to continue the policy of return on success. The day will come when Iraq is a capable partner of the United States. The day will come when Iraq is a stable democracy that helps fight our common enemies and promote our common interests in the Middle East. And when that day arrives, you’ll come home with pride in your success and the gratitude of your whole nation. God bless you.

– George W. Bush, April 10, 2008

Each of the chapters in David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers, the account of the fifteen months he spent in Iraq with the 2 – 16 battalion on the outskirts of Baghdad, begins with a quote from the then President of the United States; and, without editorial comment, Finkel shows us, in each chapter,  the changing attitudes and growing incomprehension of the officers and men, their fraying hopes and dogged aspirations, as what is happening on the ground increasingly contrasts with the President’s words. And it only takes a glance in the direction of the evening news to set those remarks into a wider context.

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Geoff Dyer said recently that it was non-fiction books that had made the strongest impression upon him of late, rather than fiction. And it’s the case that many of the qualities we expect from fiction – characterisation, narrative development, tension, surprise – the opening up of a world that is both familiar and strange – are here, but with the added knowledge that what we are reading in these pages does not have its wellspring in the writer’s imagination – though there are times when we might wish that were the case – but from his observation. All right, he has made choices, as any writer does, what to report, what to omit, which conversations to include, which to set aside, but the bedrock here is fact rather than fiction and as such, to my reading at least, it hits all the harder.

And what shines through all of Finkel’s writing, alongside a growing bewilderment of the task these men have been set, is his respect for them, no matter what they say or do – no matter how far their views might stray from what we might presume to be his own – and the respect, the love, they have for one another. So, as you read on, each injury becomes an injury shared; each death, lingering or sudden, a loss that is strongly felt.

I can’t recommend this book strongly enough.

A US Humvee in Iraq. Photo: Jewel Samad

A US Humvee in Iraq. Photo: Jewel Samad

Harvey & Billingham x 2

Those who were at Harrogate recently for the Theakstons’ International Crime Festival and lucky enough (?) to have been in the audience for the final session of the weekend, in which I was interviewed by Mark Billingham about my crime writing career and why I’m bringing it towards an end, seem to reckon, most of them anyway, that it was a pretty okay occasion.

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For those who missed it, I can offer up, via YouTube,  an earlier interview – conversation, really – with Mark, conducted in the old New Cross police station …

And for those who prefer the written word, here’s an interview conducted with Graham Smith of The Crime Squad earlier on that Sunday morning at Harrogate …

Just a word of warning about the latter – it was early in the morning and I probably had enjoyed one (or two) too many Jameson the night before, so my usual off-the-cuff coherence is not always in evidence.

 

Memoir: Back to Schooldays …

… as Graham Parker used to sing, back in ’76, around about the time I exchanged chalk and a metaphorical mortar board for an electronic typewriter and an equally metaphorical Colt .45. A decade earlier, it was late night listening to John Peel, the Beatles and Otis Blue, and I was living in the centre of Nottingham – Castle Boulevard – and driving out each day across the Erewash to teach in Heanor. To be more precise, Langley Mill. The post in which  I describe meeting up again with two former pupils from that school and that time has aroused more interest than most.

Since that meeting, one of the pair, Mel Cox, has written about his memories of those days and, with his permission, I’d like to quote from his letter here:

Although lots of us in 216 were ordinary young adolescent kids at the time, just becoming aware of the opposite sex, pop culture, and the swinging 60’s we were undoubtedly still products of the austere 1950’s.

But then along comes this brilliant teacher, whose class is a safe place to be, and who listens to our opinions. He gives us a confidence and self-esteem. He introduces us to modern poems and stories in understandable language. He gets us to want to act in class dramas, and puts on ‘Androcles and the Lion’ and ‘The Business of Good Government’ as whole school plays. He publishes school magazines with our creative work in them. He organises poetry evenings, and sends off for us for copies of the class bible ‘The Mersey Sound’. He takes us on trips to the theatre, and marks our folders in enviable green-ink calligraphy.

Not only that, he plays us ’Lovely Rita’ ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, ‘A day in the Life’ and ‘Silence is Golden’ in form time. To parochial working class Derbyshire kids, whose parents all shopped at the Co-op, here was someone who looked like something out of Carnaby Street (or the Bird Cage at least). Corduroy Jacket, PVC mac, flowered shirt, knitted tie and Chelsea boots. We sort of revered him, though we’d never have admitted it. And he was ours you see, and that was really the coolest thing.

I still remember the day almost all of the class left Aldercar in July’67 to go to Heanor Grammar School, and I know that he was leaving that day too. The very last night of term a busload of us went to see ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Nottingham Playhouse. Back at school everyone was saying their goodbyes, some for the summer, some for good. I was choked. The whole 216 adventure had ended, and as form captain he gave me this bitter-sweet memento, ‘Paroles’, by Jacques Prévert.

I felt that the clocks should have been stopped, and that school would never be any fun again.