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LOVE STORY (Continued from page 51) songs" in unison—was a personal favorite. The sentiments of the poem are also a far cry from the harassed and marginalized position in which he finds himself today. At the beginning, his studio in New York on Fourth Avenue, looking directly into the loft of Willem de Kooning, whom Indiana says he could watch as the older artist painted his great abstract expressionist canvases in the nude. (This was as close to abstract expressionism as Indiana ever wanted to come.) He supported himself by working in as art-supply store on Fifty-seventh Street. One day in 1956 he sold a Matisse postcard to Ellsworth Kelly. Kelly, at age thirty-three a painter of ambiguous abstracts, had returned from Europe two years earlier, where he had studied art under the G.I. Bill, as Indiana had done. The two struck up a special relationship (though they are no longer friends). "Ellsworth was the most important person in my life," Indiana claims. "And by being the most important person in my life, he influenced a little bit of art history." Kelly persuaded Indiana to use bold, primary colors in a hard-edge format, as he did in his own ground-breaking paintings. "When I first knew him," recalls Kelly, "he was painting strange figurative things, with heads like eggs. I would try to influence him to go abstract." Indiana did not go abstract for long, but with Kelly's support, his career did get under way. As soon as they met, Kelly told Indiana about a string of rugged old shipping buildings at Coenties Slip, down at the very tip of Manhattan, where he could find a decent loft for thirty dollars a month, and Indiana moved there. The ancient alley, which overlooked the East River along an underdeveloped edge of Manhattan, had poetry enough for Indiana, having been immortalized by Melville in the opening of Moby-Dick: "There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. . . .Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from hence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentries all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries." (Indiana's loft has since made way for a brown brick skyscraper on Vietnam Veterans Plaza, near the noisy South Street Seaport tourist site.) By 1958, Indiana was painting large, bold geometric motifs, such as a ying-and-yang like ginkgo leaf, on wood. These resembled Kelly's abstract compositions but also hinted at the stylized realistic forms—stars, banners, and road signs—of Indiana's pop works to come. A month or two after Indiana moved to Coenties Slip, Kelly followed, and a little subculture quickly arose that harbored many of the artists who would shape the sixties. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns shared a building around the corner from Indiana, and their close friend and collaborator, the composer John Cage, was on Corlears Hook, a little farther up the waterfront. "It was comfortable there," says Cage. "Even though we were poor, we lived with such a view—from Brooklyn and Queens across to the Statue of Liberty—that life was enjoyable and not oppressive." Kelly also installed Jack Youngerman Agnes Martin in lofts on Coenties Slip. Martin brought her devotion to Gertrude Stein, and Youngerman brought his wife, the actress Delphine Seyrig, who after starring in Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad bestowed an air of post-existentialist French chic on the grubby surroundings. In 1957, Indiana and Youngerman set up a life-drawing studio on the slip, and one of the young painters who later used it was James Rosenquist, whom Kelly settled into the community in 1960. Although there were divisions among the little band of artists, they were all unified in isolation from the swaggering abstract expressionist heroes of Greenwich Village by their softer, more sophisticated sensibilities and from the uptown art scene by their indigence. Only Johns and Rauschenberg had glimpsed success. Cy Twombly, whose scrawly gray paintings are now the toast of the auction houses, was forced to borrow Indiana's studio to paint in while Indiana was away at work. And Indiana, for his part, would often attend art openings uptown because he needed to eat. In addition to their isolation, the hidden homosexuality of the subculture's prime movers prompted cliquish behavior—secrecy and ambiguity on the one hand, exaggerated conformity on the other. Like Whitman, who wrote, "I dare not tell it in words, not even in these songs," more than one artist on the waterfront used code words and symbols to stand in for forbidden subject matter. By depicting the inside of the proverbial Closet, their art epitomized the conflicted gay sensibility of the day. Indiana and Kelly became close, and there are many intimate line drawings by Kelly, a few of which show Indiana asleep. Indiana has framed them and hung them in a votive "Ellsworth Kelly room" on Vinalhaven. After a few years on the slip, however, the inevitable rifts and recriminations set in. Kelly "became very busy," says Indiana. "He just became obsessed with his career and . . . didn't have time for me." Indiana, according to Kelly, "was a difficult guy with a chip on his shoulder. We had fights, terrible fights, and I stopped going to see him." Johns and Rauschenberg kept their distance from almost everybody. To Indiana, the couple seemed like snobs, "very unfriendly." He says, "Jasper feels that I invaded his territory . . . [and] there was an antagonism between Rauschenberg and Kelly because somewhere along the line Rauschenberg did something to Kelly and Kelly never let them into the building." Indiana tells one of his favorite stories about life on the waterfront to illustrate his point: "One night, before my eyes," he says, "a ship collided with a tanker. They burst into flames, and the oil on the river was burning as well. The crews of the ships had to swim underwater to safety. The only person who died was a journalist covering the story who had a heart attack. The fire started under the Brooklyn Bridge, but because the East River is not a river but a tidal basin, the ship floated under the Manhattan Bridge, and that bridge caught on fire. And because of the subway tracks, the electricity was throwing sparks. I ran to tell Ellsworth Kelly, and on the way yelled out to Johns and Rauschenberg that the river was on fire, but they ignored it. They came to their window, 94 CONNOISSEUR
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