1978: That was the year that was… Part 2

by Alden Cole on January 13, 2016 · 0 comments

…continuing where I left off on November 21, 2015 in my ongoing Illustrated Slow-Motion Memoir.

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” – Orson Welles (6 May 1915 – 10 Oct 1985)

MourningBecomesElectraWPMourning Becomes Elektra • acrylics on paper 31″ x 22″ • collection of the artist

The art at left was originally created as a possible advertising piece for a stage production of Elektra, the play by Hugo von Hofmannsthal that inspired Richard Strauss’s opera by the same name. Larry Lash, a New York friend from the Broadmoor, a resident-hotel at 102nd and Broadway, where I spent my last two years in NYC, was staging a small off-off-Broadway production for which he needed an advertising flyer, so I complied. Any excuse to make art. What I ultimately produced is long-gone with no printed copies. The above piece is all that remains from that project, unused. My intent was to evoke/emote some of the horror conveyed in the play that centers around avenging the dramatic death of Agamemnon, the Greek king of Iliad fame, who was knifed to death in his bath by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus; thus requiring Elektra and Orestes, the children of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, to avenge their father’s death with matricide, for which the gods also extracted heavy penalties – a fine old Greek tragedy based on the play by Sophocles. I don’t think the above piece, which was created sometime in the spring of 1979, was ultimately used in any capacity to advertise the show; at some point I adapted the piece to other purposes (see the end of this posting for those results). The bloody art, shocking as it is, became one of my ways of cleansing myself of some of the horror I had experienced several months earlier, when I had been beaten up and left for dead in Riverside Park.

MrMoriah720Mount Moriah • pastels on paper 10″ x 12″ • collection of the artist

Picking up where I left off last November: I returned to NYC from a month in Santa Fe at the end of June 1978, traveling across country from Denver with Sunny Wilson, a virtual gypsy-friend whom I had met at Weiser’s in 1974. She was returning to NYC from Denver with a number of young ferrets to sell to trendy New Yorkers looking for unusual pets. It was an interesting trip, and I’ll say this for ferrets: they really stink. By the time I got home in my apartment at the Broadmoor after several days on the road driving east with those little buggers, I was more than relieved. Home after a month of traveling; what relief! The rest of the summer was pretty unremarkable – working part-time at Weisers, still designing book covers, packing books occasionally, doing page-makeup in preparation for printing new books, etc, whatever; making a living as best I could. ‘Round about September, Sunny Wilson, having settled down again in NYC, encouraged me to travel west again to a place where she had spent some time herself. She even arranged transportation from NYC, all the way to this unusual destination: a commune in the high desert of Nevada; mid-state, just across the Utah border, near the little town of Baker. So in early October I headed west to Home Farm, this tiny commune on the flanks of Mount Wheeler, established by an American mystic who gave himself the name of Vitvan. Across the bleak valley was Mount Moriah, portrayed in the pastel about, one of the very few works of art done while there. Another is below.

MtWheelerWPMount Wheeler, a Fantasy • oil on paper 36″ x 78″ • destroyed. Below, the single detail section salvaged from the lower left corner of the panoramic piece at left • 27″ x 21″ • collection of the artist. This was one of two other pieces done while in Nevada, painted on a roll of white wrapping paper found in a storage room. I received permission to appropriate it for some experimentation, using the most limited palette of oil colors I had worked with to that date: Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Pthalo Blue, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, White and Black; all purchased in a small art-supply store over sixty miles away from the commune, along with a few brushes and some turpentine. I hadn’t thought to bring along art-making supplies along with me from New York for some reason. I probably thought I had more serious issues to think about and deal with, since I was going to a ‘spiritual’ commune in the desert. Delusion runs rampant! particularly when it comes to spiritual matters.

DetailMrWheelerWPSunny provided a ride with her friend, talented sculptor Dan Miner, who was visiting NYC from Santa Fe in his home on wheels: an old delivery truck converted into a traveling studio. The trek across country to Baker, Nevada took several days of nearly constant driving, the two of us trading off every few hours. Details of the journey are non-existent, with the exception of one very clear memory of awakening from a very deep sleep to the sound of a high-pitched constant bell-tone receding into infinity as I very slowly came back to wide-awake consciousness. It was an aural sensation and memory like no other I’ve ever experienced. Lesser memories of my arrival and settling in for the next five weeks are incredibly dim; meeting the handful of people living on the commune who had come to this place to chill out after lives lived unsatisfactorily elsewhere. People in search, trying to regroup. The five-week experience at Home Farm is one of the major chapters of my life, too filled with a melange of fleeting memories to explore in this medium. You’ll have to wait for The Book. When I left Nevada in early November 1978, I convinced myself that I would return to the commune, presumably the sooner the better. I continued to think about going back for quite some time – well over a year – but life circumstances and foreboding dreams helped to dissuade me, keeping me in the east.

GhostDWPGhost Dance Meditation • oil on matboard 40″ x 32″ • collection of Home Farm, Baker, Nevada

The other art painted while there was this meditative piece for which I cut a stencil: the spiraling chain of connected figures in white at the center. Over the next few years, I used this stencil repeatedly, in numerous ways that will be revealed shortly in my daily emails.

I returned to NYC in early November, determined to wrap up my affairs in the city and return to the commune. Similar to my intended plans to move to San Francisco a couple years before, my commitment to moving west once again wavered. Back in New York, I once again got caught up in my usual addiction to cruising, and found myself in a situation that proved a turning point in my life at age thirty-four, giving me a new lease on living, and reminding me that I was not immortal.

Mourning-InsideWPSangre de Christo • An unfinished pencil drawing on the inside of Mourning Becomes Elektra the painting at the top of this posting.

Saturday night, November 18, 1978: I decided to take a midnight walk in Riverside Park, an activity I had pursued a hundred times if I’d pursued it once. Although I wasn’t looking for trouble that night, I found it in spades. And lived to talk about it. Thank you friends Harold Stover and Robert Rosenthal. The full details of this grisly affair will definitely have to wait for The Book however. Suffice to say that I can never forget the date, because Jim Jones and 918 members of his People’s Temple committed mass suicide that afternoon in Jonestown, Guyana. The next day, Sunday, recovering from my own injuries, which although not severe, were nevertheless shattering to my sense of self, I started hearing radio reports of the previous day’s insanity in Guyana. The only antidote to the sadness I felt for myself and those deluded souls whose lives had been cut short a continent away, was supplied by music – the slow movement of Anton Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, which allowed me to shed the tears of Remorse and Thanksgiving pent up from the night before, unshed after my close brush with the Grim Reaper. To be continued…


To those of you who have followed this odyssey so far, and were wondering if I would ever get back to it, thanks for hanging in and sending those vibes my way to stay with it…

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