If you want to be an artist and you’re in midnight quarantine, you are required to become acquainted with “Gulley Jimson” and British painter John Bratby. (That is, if you want to become a bunion on the foot of Lazarus.) I highly recommend you watch the delightful 1958 film The Horse’s Mouth, which The RonBlog Flick Pick has given five stars. The screenplay is by Sir Alec Guinness (Obi-wan Kenobi), who also plays Gulley. The paintings in the film are by John Bratby, a wonderful painter from the Kitchen Sink School.
Bratby’s paintings remind me somewhat of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s style. One can only speculate that Jean-Michel may have seen and absorbed John Bratby’s paintings. Arguably, I can see Basquiat as a latter day Kitchen Sink painter. The most concrete similarity between them is their visceral authenticity.
I had seen Basquiat’s first LA show at Larry Gagosian’s first gallery on Melrose Ave., and I’d said to myself, “Oh, shit, this guy can paint.” The only time I met him was at an opening at Asher Faure Gallery just off Melrose in LA. He had two old-fashioned transistor radios with 1980s-version earbuds, one in each ear, tuned to two different stations. He was wandering around the gallery, talking to no one, looking a bit lost. I first heard about Jean-Michel from my Pico Boulevard neighbor, painter and musician Gary Wong, who worked at Cook’s Crating in LA. Gary, a tall, slender Chinese American, was a blues singer, harp player, and founder of The Charlie Chan Blues Band. Gary attended Chouinard, played and sang like John Lee Hooker, and knew how to look at paintings. He was also a studio assistant to Jean-Michel Basquiat during the time Jean-Michel was with Gagosian. Gagosian rented a studio for Jean-Michel and engaged Gary to work for him. Part of the deal was that Gary had plenty of access to “Coca-Cola” in Los Angeles, and part of his job was to dash out to pick up “supplies” for Jean-Michel. (“Coca-Cola” was readily available back then at head shops. No problem!)
Gary’s Charlie Chan Blues Band played at the 1975 opening of my resin Rectangle Series for 3,000 people, poolside, at the old Pasadena Museum of Modern Art (across from the Rose Bowl). The band knew only four songs, but they were so good it didn’t matter; people rocked out and had a great time. The curator at that time was Bill Agee, who later moved to Houston Museum of Fine Arts after a noble but futile attempt to financially save the Pasadena Museum, which famously couldn’t afford to fix the roof or buy toilet paper. Finally, as a last resort, billionaire Norton Simon – who had been teasing to financially help LACMA – said he would help the Pasadena Museum. He paid off the museum’s debts and took it over. A month later, the name, Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, was changed to The Norton Simon Museum. They cleaned it up, patched the roof, maybe even tore out the pool. Simon moved his collection of pre-war 1910 paintings (up to early Picasso) into the space. The modern stuff was moved to the basement, later to be de-acquisitioned. So much for that museum.
Norton’s wife, actress Jennifer Jones Simon, acquired and donated my painting Wyoming Slab to the Museum, shortly after Simon took it over. Wyoming Slab (the first major painting from my Snapline Series) was in storage there for nearly twenty years, until it was included in an exhibition titled “Radical Past: Art & Music in Pasadena, 1960 – 1974.” The snapshot below is from the opening in February 1999. So – if you go there to see the ceiling painting of 12 cupids pissing off of a pink cloud, and you happen to see this large slab on canvas installed on a wall, it’s one of mine.
Anyway, right now I’m searching in Audible™ for an audio book of the original novel, The Horse’s Mouth, by Joyce Carey. The Audible™ introduction describes the book as having more and better social satire than there was room for in the film. I’m looking forward to the listen. Also, being an amateur in comparative literature, I want to compare it to Samuel Beckett.
Half a minute of revelation is worth a million years of knowing nothing. – Gulley Jimson
Nobody has revelations anymore. They already know it all. – Ronald Davis
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. — Samuel Beckett
The more I paint the more I like everything. — Jean-Michel Basquiat
Epilogue: “Gulley Jimson” was a great painter, and takes his place beside Michelangelo, Matisse, Van Gogh, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. — Ron