Sunday, August 9, 1998

Pat Wall, Modern Art Dealer: 3 Henry Miller and the Avant Guardians (journal)



Amazing to spend the morning reading about the Pat Wall Art Gallery and its wild guests, then to look around Micaela's room and see the very art mentioned in the reviews. The Avant Guardians are watching over me as I sleep.

I'm looking at Henry Miller's self-portrait with its red and green five sided frame, the brushstrokes are deft. Henry, supposedly in his 50s, stared back at me across the years, a young man with sallow skin and Prussian blue ears and nose. 

You painted what you liked, Henry. I hope you died happy. Henry looks a bit like Oleg Atbashian, which puts me off a bit. Self-absorbed men. Was it the talent that made them so self-absorbed, or was it the rank self-absorbtion that allowed them to become so talented?

I recognize so many of the paintings: McClatchy's Door. Several Graham paintings: Lament, and The Beginning of War. Other unnamed pieces. When Graham and Miller became rather famous, things changed. 

In the early 1970s, I remember traveling to someone's house under the Bixby Bridge to see Henry Miller's watercolors. I was not duly impressed. But I dutifully read everything that Miller ever wrote, so I felt compelled to witness the paintings too. I think I was reading Nexus at the time.

I think the owner was rather hoping that we'd buy a painting, but we were as penniless as Miller was when he moved to Big Sur. Micaela has more articles on Henry Miller's watercolors. Wish I had time to read them all.

Henry moved to Big Sur in 1943 and lived in a tent alongside the highway, he was already living the life of Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, it was a cult of sex and anarchy on the coast. He said, "I'm not perverse, but the idea of looking through a keyhole fascinates me."

A keyhole in a tent? I asked myself. And thought of camera obscurae.

April 14, 1947: Henry Miller talked about how his paintings morphed from landscape into fish. I wonder if that's a reference to his Red Fish? 

Said Miller, "When I paint I have a lot of fun but I feel I'm on a tight rope. I'm jittery sometimes when I start out to do a landscape I end up with a fish I worried about this until the other painter said they do the same thing."

I had to laugh, Mike Goldberg's painting, Sardines, came to mind. See, Frank O'Hara's poem Why I Am Not a Painter sums it up nicely.
....I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.
Pat Wall's art gallery became the focal point in a Harpers article on the new west coast cult of "sex and anarchy." A Times reporter descended, to buy a Miller painting, then left for the East Coast, calling it Paris of the West. Miller was a Paris expat, so he had several threads going. The race was on.

About the same time, the restless New Mexico contingencies (Wilfred Lang and Co.), were experiencing hot flashes, the Age of Light was born. (My grandmother's niece was working on the Manhattan project).

And somehow the role of art went from the cultured confines of the City of Light to the Age of Light. Miller detonated a moral code in Big Sur. The world fell apart, the center did not hold.

Henry must've loved exhibiting his thermonuclear watercolors next to the surrealist nudes of Dutch oil painter, Cock van Gent (a she!), and Edward Weston's extreme close-up photos of bell pepper buttocks.

The Grahams, Toni & Ed Ricketts, James Broughton, Virginia Varda, Dr. Rodin, Henry Miller's physician, and someone named Brewsie were among those attending. Everyone signed the register as Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so, as if that slender slice of decorum could contain the avant guardians.

I assume that Micaela's mother, Rosalind Sharpe, a Bixby Canyon girl, was not yet part of the wild art scene at Pat's Monterey gallery on Olivier Street. Where does painter Bright Bonnier fit in? And whatever happened to Sue's daughter Hyale (sp)? Who was her father?

Speaking of brewsies, Pat Wall said that for the openings, he provided a large punchbowl filled with tea with lemons, laced with a bottle of cooking sherry. Guests were expected to provide the booze—it all went into the punchbowl, indiscriminately. That was the price of admission. And well doctored, they all were until dawn.

I remember Miller's Red Fish, one of the paintings in the controversial show at Pat's gallery. Love the price list ranging from $5 to $400 (Graham). One could pick up a Varda from $25 to $175. (Varda had to bolt his paintings to the walls of the Charles van Damme to keep people form stealing them. I loved admiring my ten-year-old fragmented self in his mirrored mosaics painted in cobalt and crimson.)

Of course, Pat sold next to nothing. Nobody who attended had any money to buy art.  He squandered his inheritance on a dream of art. But because of his vision, the art world imploded on itself, and was forever changed. Art dealers looked to the West for inspiration.

rev. 6/17

Part 1 & 2
My mother and Rosalind took an instant dislike to each other. I got along well with Rosalind, but not my own mother. Micaela didn't get on with her mother... In retrospect, we should've just traded mothers. Both were equally crazy artists. It would've saves us a lot of grief. At one point I even helped Rosalind edit her book, I thought it was awful and would never sell, but is now considered a Big Sur classic. Who knew?
and an earlier version published in 1987
When the Coast was Wild and Lonely: Early Settlers of the Sur

Artist Tony Rosenthal lists an exhibition at the Pat Wall Gallery, Monterey, California, 1947 in his resume.

Pat's gallery is also mentioned in the 2017 abstract expressionism exhibit, San Francisco to Taos Edward Corbett, selected one-person exhibition at the Pat Wall Gallery, Monterey, California, 1946




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