1977: working (& playing) with Raphael Bing

by Alden Cole on September 14, 2015 · 0 comments

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (15 Oct 1844 – 25 Aug 1900)

Jacob&theAngel:72Jacob and the Angel * watercolor and colored pencil on paper 8-1/2″ x 14″ • color photocopy • provenance of original unknown

One warm evening in the summer of 1977 after I turned thirty-three, I was out walking in one of my favorite New York haunts – Riverside Park; looking for someone I liked better than myself, which wasn’t always easy. That fussiness fortunately kept me alive. More often than not I walked home alone. But this one evening as I passed a man sitting by himself on a park bench I glanced right to behold a friendly older face about twice my age – not the pretty younger face I was out hunting for – whose salutations were kind, so I allowed myself to be drawn into friendly conversation with this wily older gent by the name of Raphael Bing. When questioned if he was related to Rudolf Bing the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, he responded that he was – they were distant cousins. His livelihood was selling shoes, primarily in Florida and other parts of the southland – a traveling salesman who loved his work. Beyond that I discovered that he had been married – now divorced – with two children – now grown. He had ‘come out’ after he fulfilling the expectations of his tribe, and was discovering his true self as lover of other men. Thus began an interesting interlude in my otherwise frenetic existence haunted by The Quest that drives all lovers to seek reflections of themselves in the eyes of the Beloved.

1977Aldi@33:72After an hour or more of talking that evening, Mr. B invited me back to his apartment, but being uninterested in physical intimacy, I put him off with excuses. I revealed during our conversation that I was an artist, which piqued his interest; by the time we parted company, he had my phone number in hand. I heard from him a few days later, at which time he invited me to lunch, and asked that I bring along my portfolio with examples of my art.

TrinityUnityWPHoly Trinity • luma dyes and colored pencil on paper 8-1/2″ x 11″ • provenance of original unknown

Thus began a friendship, one of the more poignant relationships of my youthful thirties, an intimation of things to come in my own life. The details of our friendship’s slow development have faded into the mists of time, detritus of a past lived hard and fast in Manhattan. Over lunch I learned that he liked to fancy himself a bit of an artist, who created small works of art combining Hebrew texts with very simple backgrounds lifted from a variety of sources on standard 8-1/2″ x 11″ paper, so the pieces could easily be photo-copied and sold for a few dollars each to his customers. He offered me a small percentage, to which I agreed; then asked if he could borrow the artwork above from my portfolio, which I’ve featured before in these postings.

David&Jonathan2WPDavid and Jonathan • watercolor and colored pencil on paper 8-1/2″ x 14″ • color photocopy • provenance of original unknown

What he didn’t tell me was that he intended to make small revisions/alterations to my original; so that when I saw our first collaborative effort and my ‘precious’ artwork, I was pretty livid. He calmed me down by promising not to alter my originals in future, so we continued to work together on several more projects, where he would make the alterations to a color photocopy, then recopy. Unfortunately for time and posterity I didn’t keep my photocopy of this doctored original, because I was so annoyed with the results.

David&GoliathCorWPDavid and Goliath • watercolor on paper 8-1/2″ x 14″ • color photocopy • provenance of original unknown

Of the four projects we collaborated on, I kept only
David&Goliath:1000one of those revisioned photocopies. The second project was Jacob and the Angel, featured at the top of this posting, before Mr. B’s alterations. David and Jonathan was next, an illustration that, despite its flaws, is one of my favorites, likewise before Mr. B got his hands on it. David and Goliath followed closely on its heels, a much less successful piece. The top photo reveals approximately what the airbrushed original looked like; below that, Mr. B’s doctored version for comparison. Although his changes were relatively minor in this case, I was unhappy with all of them, the reason I discarded those other copies years ago. Although we were friends for my last two years in New York, I have no further record of artistic collaborations. He eventually retired south. Some time after I moved back to New England in 1980, I received a two page letter from him, posted from Florida, which felt like goodbye. In it he synopsized his life; similar to an obituary, but written in the first person. I never heard from again. R.I.P. Raphael

“We love life, not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving.” – another one by Mr. Nietzsche

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