1979: the year of floating…

by Alden Cole on January 21, 2016 · 0 comments

“In my life, I was always floating around the edge of the dark side and saying ‘what if I take it a little bit too far? and who says you have to stop there? and what’s behind the next door?’ Maybe you gain a wisdom from examining those things. But after a while, you get too far down in the quicksand.” – Trent Reznor (17 May 1965 – )

TowardWPToward the One • transparent oil paint on Mylar-surfaced-canvas 78″ x 44″ • collection of Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow!

1979 was one heck of a year, characterized early on by the desire to move body and soul to Home Farm, the commune in the high desert of Nevada where I had spent the month of October ’78. That desire, coupled with the fact that I was finally beginning to recognize the intense struggle between my self-destructive tendencies and a desire to keep living, precipitated my moving out of New York City in June ’79, returning to my roots in Maine. I then floated back and forth between those poles – country and city – until October 1980 when I left NYC behind for the last time. Having hit rock bottom in late ’78 – my own personal encounter with the quicksand referred to in the above quote – the only way out was up! I learned to redirect the energy that had driven me into a life of excessive cruising which had almost proved fatal, into making art with a passion. Part of that winter-into-spring’s intense artistic activity was painting the large piece above, which was originally created as a banner for potential use by a dance company that unfortunately never materialized. But the concept for the piece, suggested by organist Dan Junken, who was going to be the dance company’s musical accompanist, proved the stimulus for creating one of my most enduringly popular paintings. Ultimately I’m grateful the dance company never materialized because if it had this magnificent piece of art would probably have disappeared from my life for a pittance. I would never have had the chance to live with it for a number of years myself, before Betsy Alexander purchased it several years ago for what it was worth.

29.2-19-79JGDenbyWPAnother early winter project was creating an advertising flyer – my 30th – for friend Harold Stover’s ongoing Music at Second Church series. In this case, advertising a solo concert by guitarist James Gabriele Denby, for which the young musician came to Harold’s apartment and sat. Rather self-consciously, if I remember correctly, encouraging me to keep the drawing session brief, allowing JGD to soon be on his way, guitar case in hand. I never did hear what he thought of the drawing. Provenance of the original is unknown, presumably destroyed. Curious to know if young James had made a career with his guitar, I googled his name to discover no further information.

StarmanWPStarman • ball-point pen and colored pencil on paper, ca. 9″ x 7″ • collection of the artist

This drawing, created while under the influence of a mild hallucinogen experienced sometime in the spring of ’79, is quite an anomaly in my work of the time. But it is indicative of work to come, that would appear thirty years later, when the theme of StarPeople and StarLings Under Glass occupied my artistic output for a number of months starting in 2009, the year my parents died. The interest lasted into late 2010. Eventually this Slow Motion Memoir will catch up with these curious 21st century artistic explorations, but for now we’re about to go abstract…

Geode2WPGeode: FireStone • liquified oil paints on paper ca. 20″ x 26″ • provenance unknown

At some point in 1979 I intensified my experiments working with oil paints which I’d liquified with a variety of mediums – turpentine, varnish, linseed oil – then poured these liquid colors together on a flat surface to create colorful, very fluid, abstract paintings. Trying to remember the chronology of works created at that time has proved impossibly challenging; details remain unclear due to the amount of output, the disparity of time between start and finish due to drying time, the stages many of these paintings were subjected to, plus the general intensity of my life which was neglectful of maintaining accurate records. It’s even possible that as few initial experiments started as early as the summer of ’78. The major inspiration for the series of paintings that evolved from 1979 to 1981 were Astronomy magazine’s photographs of Jupiter sent back to earth from space probe Voyager 1, launched 5 September 1977, which made its closest flyby of Jupiter on 5 March 1979. Voyager 1 went on to photograph Saturn in November 1980, sending back remarkable photographs of that awe-inspiring planet, and is still sailing, sending back data from the depths of space. Bon Voyage!…

GeodeWPGeode: In The Pink • liquified oil on recycled canvas ca. 16″ x 26″ • provenance unknown, presumably destroyed.

In June I moved the few earthly belongings I had accumulated in NYC to my dad’s barn in Dayton, Maine; thus vacating the room I had been occupying in Harold Stover’s apartment at the Broadmoor since September of ’77. As it turned out, that vacancy only lasted a few weeks. Just before I left the city in early June, Ehud Sperling of Inner Traditions Ltd., a book publishing friend of Don Weiser, contacted me about a big paste-up job that was coming up in July. He needed a perfectionist, and was hoping that I’d be able to take the job on, even though he knew I was leaving New York.

BuddhainChaosWPBuddha in Chaos • mixed media 14″ x 23″ – started 1979, finished early 80s – collection of the artist

I accepted the job with mixed emotions; grateful, knowing I needed the money, but wishing I didn’t have to return to the city in July to accomplish it, preferring to be in Maine. But money was money, and if I was ever going to get back to Nevada I needed money. Harold was amenable to my reoccupying the room temporarily, so I headed to Maine knowing I was only going to be there a few weeks before returning to the city in the midst of summer.

CrystalCaveReflection#10WPCrystal Cave Reflections #10 aka Jump for the Sky – liquified oil paints on heavy non-corrugated cardboard 25″ x 40″ – collection of the artist

Before the advent of home computers and desk-top publishing, books were prepared for an offset printer by an exacting process that I knew well: after a manuscript had been typeset and proofed at least once, the galleys of running type were cut apart to the desired page size; then pasted, usually with wax, onto sheets of paper usually pre-gridded to the size of the prospective book. Ehud’s prospective job was huge; a profusely illustrated book; there were going to be literally hundreds of individual pices of text-type as well as art that would need positioning, plus captions, using a traditional drawing table with a sliding parallel rule. The plan was to publish this book in time for holiday-giving; and it proved to be a book that put Inner Traditions, Ehud’s publishing house, on the map of specialty publishers: Sexual Secrets: The Alchemy of Ecstasy by Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger.

Jumpin'JackFlash@72dpiCrystal Cave Reflections #6, aka Jumpin’ Jack Flash #2 • liquified oils on foamcore ca. 26″ x 10″ • collection of Susan Adams.

Sexual Secrets provides a compendium of information about Eastern sexual practices; esoteric texts compiled and commented on by Nik Douglas, profusely illustrated with hundreds of drawings by Penny Slinger, based on original pieces of erotic art from India, China, Japan, the entire far east. Pasting-up the book provided an education in itself, gleaned during a process that consumed almost five weeks, from just after the fourth of July 1979, to the second week of August, working an average of eight hours a day which was pretty intensive work, bending over a drawing board for that many hours at a time, with only a brief lunch break. I was never so happy to finish a job, arriving back in Maine after the most intensive paste-up job of my life. It was a situation never to be repeated. Computers changed the pre-press publishing world totally. I could now publish my own autobiography with the knowledge accrued through years of being in the worlds of publishing which gave me the basic understanding of the process, plus my years in advertising which gave me the computer tools. Sweet!

CrystalCaveReflections#10@72dpiCrystal Cave Reflections #12 aka Head Games – liquified oil paints on paper 30″ x 31″ – collection of the artist

The rest of the summer in Maine flew by in a haze. I moved my studio into a farmhouse owned by cousin Emily Cole, just a mile up the road from where my parents lived, and with whom I was once again trying to integrate myself, thinking it was only temporary. Soon I would pull my life together, make some money, pay off my bills, and head west for the rest of my life… Ah delusion, and reality…

BreakingFreeWPCrystal Cave Reflections #3 aka Breaking Free – liquified oil paint on non-corrugated board 12″ x 12″ – collection of Harold & ELizabeth Stover

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