January 12, 1970 Letter To Rockmore From Shirley
It’s been a long time since I wrote you on
a yellow pad paper. Exploring inner space not been my game this year. Where to begin?
Had an impulse to make a bid for the Homage painting, thru Larry; and to offer an additional sum for painting out the rag doll. This would have caused any amount of destructive drama for all of us. PURE dada.
Or is that what it is all about now? And the painting itself simply the focus for the action. Like money. Curious. This isn’t what I intended to write at all. What I planned to say was that you are not a dadaist. You are ‘sui generis’.* (*As Huey Long used to say. About himself.)
Furthermore, by the sheer power of your fantastic output you will be considered a member of THE ESTABLISHMENT (the Last of the Mohicans, perhaps; but Establishment, nevertheless).
And you cannot change your location in time and space, rag dolls notwithstanding.
There comes to mind a line from on of John Ransom’s poems - something about “the images of the invaded mind”.
And I think of ‘Oval Nocturne’ a most powerful statement of our time speaks of the killer of the dream and the corrupter of the seed is ourselves; not me, or you, or Larry alone. All of us.
When I first saw the Homage, after the impact of the whole had subsided, my reaction was of amazement that it had happened at all.
Then I felt shock at the way you had painted Larry (Baudelaire notwithstanding), then awe at the figure of Gypsy. I felt fascination at the condition of the three figures in the lower right -especially the combination of simian and maternal in the image of Sister Gertrude, followed by puzzlement at the treatment of the sky, wonder and uneasiness (?) at the drapery in the upper left
corner. Then there was a delayed reaction to the rag doll in the foreground. (The immediate reaction of the invaded mind is to resist by obliterating what it cannot cope with. Which is why so many people cannot ‘see’ your work.)
The significance of the hands and the feet and even the Trinity did not really hit me till I was driving home. And resulted in the first letter, my initial reaction to the whole. Or the visit. Or both. It still holds.
As you may recall, the first thing I said after looking for a long time was, ‘My God, it works! Fantastic!’
My senses and sensibilities were reeling from the impact.
Then I spoke of arrogance and mastery. And you agreed. Pleased.
And then I said, a bit viciously because I was shook up, ‘but there is no love in it.’
And very patiently you pointed out the figures in the lower right and added, quietly, ‘I think they have a certain charm.’
And I replied (God help me), ‘you could die from such charm.’
And you said nothing at all.
And then I said (really upset now) ‘The Establishment will never forgive you for that foreground.’ Meaning the juxtaposition of the feet, the rag doll and the Trinity.
And you agreed. Happily.
And then I said, ‘It’s like spitting in the face of the Establishment, only I don’t mean spit!’
And you laughed, joyously.
The question that bothers me: is that a good, honest SHIT, or is it the temper tantrum of a hurt child?
The door bell just rang. The book arrived! Fantastic Timing! You may recall what Jimmie Walker said about books and females.
Since I’m not certain that he was wrong I decided to finish the letter before opening the book.
Just occurred to me the answer to the previous question may be both. You genius fellers are really something.
One more point. Larry. He is like Portenoy’s mother in relation to the people he really cares about. And he has an uncanny ability to probe for the soft spots and irritate, irritate. Especially when he has collected what he considers legitimate grievances. And yet I care about him. Very much. And so do you.
As you and I walked over to see the painting, we spoke of The Quarter and how we feel about it. Not only the Quarter, but our whole world is being destroyed and here, at least, in spite of his uncanny ability to irritate everything, Larry is the center of The Resistance/Borenstein Preservation Society. And I am one of Larry’s people, and so are you. And you know exactly what I mean by that. And his feeling for you is the center of Larry.
And this image (although it is only part of the picture, the whole is too subtle for most people) will be used by those who hate Larry to degrade him. All of us, in a way.
If you see fit to change anything I hope it is this.
I really can’t write further.
Regards to Mary May.