12. GRADUATE STUDIES IN PAINTING, PART 2 (odds and ends, and other stuff)


In my first year in graduate school, I and several other graduate painting students were given a large communal space as a studio in an old campus barracks building.  We partitioned the studio into separate little cubicles where we individually each worked and which opened up to a central communal space.  In that common area, there was a huge swivel barber's chair on and around which we would meet and have lively discussions about our current work and the art world in general.

It was the first time in the four years I had been at the university that I developed a close camaraderie with fellow art students and it was a special time.  Among the graduate students that I became close to was a talented painter, Joel Janowitz, and we shared two graduate shows together---one each year of our studies.   Joel included a Van Gogh-like portrait of our communal barber's chair.

In the afternoon a group of us graduate painters would often end up at nearby Petrini's Italian restaurant for a beer and pizza, or a wonderful bell pepper and Italian sausage sandwich---continuing our lively discussions which had begun in the studio.  The restaurant had a casual atmosphere---perfect for our afternoon get-togethers after a day painting---and was located in an old house on a side street in the then little village of Goleta.


I had a number of jobs in the art department when I was a graduate student and my first year I was asked if I could be an assistant to a visiting artist instructor, Edward Corbett.  Ed had lost a leg (he had many stories about that) and I was hired to help him as needed.  The assignment was very pleasant as it mostly consisted of spending much time talking about art and life well into many nights.  He was a gentleman in every meaning of that word, well-read, and wrote poetry as well as painted.

He was a great conversationalist and a friend of a number of artists I admired ...among them Ad Reinhardt and Richard Diebenkorn.  He would keep me entertained with one fascinating life story after another.

Ed particularly liked to talk about the Abstract Expressionist painter Clyfford Still, whom he knew and had taught with at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and whose work and 'fighting spirit' he admired.  They became good friends and Ed would often tell me of his admiration for Still's integrity as well as the ethical underpinning and moral purpose underlying his paintings.

Ed was quiet and modest about his remarkable past.  I found out later that he was part of the revolutionary group of Bay Area painters who were the first to champion abstract painting after the war, and to break away from the European influence and form what would become Abstract Expressionism.  In the late forties, the West Coast was ahead of New York in recognizing and supporting this movement.  Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Hans Hofmann, Mark Rothko, and Ad Reinhardt who were to become influential in the New York School art scene had already made a huge impact on the West Coast.  Had I known what I do now, there are many questions I would have asked him.

Ed and I hit it off from the beginning.  We were both introspective, had a spiritual bent, and loved classical music.  Ed was interested in evoking quiet, contemplative states of mind through his work...and that was also my aim.  And, politically, we both veered far to the left...to proletarian rights and socialism.  Ed was appalled by the materialism of the art market and American culture in general, and his admiration for Clyfford Still often came round to Still's thumbing the commercial art world and the art market game.

I was still young and relatively undeveloped, but It was a good match.  I have no idea how the chairman of the department, an art historian not a painter, selected me to assist Ed; as far as I knew, the chairman had no idea about my inner life or about the painting I was doing at that time.  It seemed an entirely synchronistic, intuitive happening which benefitted both Ed and me, and which was destined to happen.

Ed occasionally would come over to the communal graduate studio to see what I was up to.  He was very supportive of the work I was doing at the time...the Band Modulation series and the dark squares.  He bought one of my abstract paintings to add to his own collection...'Sunset Modulation,' 1968.  That was the best compliment I could have gotten.

Unfortunately, I wasn't familiar with his body of work and never saw his paintings while he was at UCSB.  He had a small easel in his tiny apartment in Isla Vista but there was never any work on it.  As far as I knew, he was just teaching a few students, writing poetry, and drinking in his apartment...alone.  This last activity presented occasional problems.

Early one morning I was awakened by a phone call from the chairman asking me if I had seen Ed the past few days and telling me that he had just received a frantic call from his wife in Washington D.C. who said that she had not heard from Ed in several days and that he was not answering the phone.

The chairman asked if I would go over and check up on him.  I had a key to his apartment.  When I arrived and he did not respond to the doorbell, or my knocks, or my calling his name, I unlocked the door and walked in...fearing what I might find.  No sign of life anywhere.  

Trepidatiously I walked into his bedroom where he was lying with no sign of life.  I once again called his name and finally touched his arm...and, to my great relief, he groggily awakened and wondered why I was there.  He had apparently passed out for some time but he did come to life.

When I eventually saw his work, I was amazed at the similarity in spirit and sensibility...


After becoming familiar with his work, I could see why he responded to what I was doing...I certainly appreciate the spirit of his work.   Tragically, only three years after I had been his assistant, he died in Washington D.C. at 51, after falling into a diabetic coma.  I was shocked...he had appeared and seemed much older than his age.


My fellow graduate painter Joel Janowitz and I shared two exhibits together in the graduate gallery each of the two years we were there.   In our first show in February 1968, I exhibited my dark square paintings and my Band Modulated series.


In our next exhibition the following year in February 1969, moving away from oil on canvas, I showed a series of abstract watercolor paintings which I had been working on through my second graduate year (photos below)...


In my next installment I will be going into greater detail about these watercolors as well as a later series that followed this.

Copyright (c) Donald Archer 2020  All rights reserved.


Popular posts from this blog