Orgies mysterious

The posters were all over the campus student center, ‘ORGIES MYSTERIOUS’ 7:00, bring musical instruments. Nobody knew what it was but on a college campus in 1970 we were up for anything. I was there early waiting for my girlfriend. They wheeled in a cart with what looked like large containers of blood. Then what looked like a dead calf , more boxes, a PA system and movie equipment. The doors closed , the preparations began. People began to arrive till there was a crowd around the door. The title was an irresistible lure. No one could have anticipated what we saw. The room had rows of long tables with white tablecloths. Organs were placed on them in neat intervals. Eyes, livers, kidneys, brains, entrails. We were each handed a plastic cup of blood. Some people put theirs down only to be knocked over by the increasing crowds. Others walked around with theirs holding the fragile plastic cup cautiously wondering what to do with it. Still others actually took a hesitant sip . There was kind a of mass dazed bewilderment. Wagner was blasting from the speakers. The people with instruments were herded into a corner. We were all part of an underground film by the controversial German, Herman Neiche. His theory was that primitive man hunted, then ate the meat raw and still warm. He wanted to recreate this experience with modern young students. The University refused to allow him to slaughter a live calf but he brought in a freshly killed one from a local slaughter house. It was nailed to a board at the front of the room like Jesus on the cross. Every once and a while he would call for the musicians to play all at once, not together but each playing to their own tune as loudly as they could. The white tablecloths became increasingly stained with blood. Other started to get sucked into it. The ceremony began. An unwitting young volunteer from the film department was sitting under the calf. Among much loud music and noise Neitze gutted the calf. It’s entrials fell on the girl while buckets of blood were poured over both. The girl, who was becoming hysterical was then dragged on the floor through...

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New clients or the collectors from hell

The other day two women came to my house. One dragged the other to ‘buy a painting ». They are both from Norway. One is a tall blond ex-model, warrior viking. She bites the ear of her monster dog to discipline him. (god knows how she trains her four daughters, three horses, two cats, twelve goldfish and lawyer husband.) The other was a classy, frail, elderly woman with glasses and a channel suit. At least she would have been classy if she wasn’t drunk. It’s the first client I was litterally afraid would fall down. They both were completely out of control and downed another bottle or two while they ransacked my atelier and battered down my prices. They never got too wasted for that. I of course complied; fearing for my ears or worse. I even agreed to do a portrait on commission which I NEVER do. I’m such a good puppy. I would have rolled over for them if they’d only asked. Now all of this was apparently to show independance from the potential buyer’s husband. A way of practicing the modem ritual of revenge by shopping with a cultural twist.. But when it came time to make out a check something went wrong. She chickened out. As they wer too drunk to drive I find myself backing her car, which resembles a large Russian tank up our long steep driveway with the Viking warrior women and painting in tow. I am on my way to meet the somewhat beffuddled and increasingly unbemused husbands. The husband was not the viking chief with helmet and horns that I was expecting but a little old Nordic Knome with a face that looked like it was etched in copper, wisps of white hair flying out in all directions and a thin tight braid going halfway down his back. He was quite affable. It seems he’d been a school chum of Asper Jorn and had an extensive collection of his work which he bought for a song. We had a good talk. I suggested that his wife would have done better to bring him along. He said he would love to see my studio. Of course he wasn’t going to buy the one his wife picked out....

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Canvas

He had a mouth full of tacks and never stopped talking. Miraculously, between each sentence he would bring one out standing straight up on the tip of his tongue. He would adroitly catch it on the end of a small tack hammer and bring it down onto the edge of the taut canvas where it stood up straight, just the tip sunken in the wooden stretcher. He’d flip the hammer over and sink it to the head with one blow, barely losing a beat in the rhythm of his story…. Narozni had started working in a canvas factory when he was about fifteen. In his early years, he stretched about 200 canvases a day, or so he claimed, certainly explaining his unique skills. He had noticed that the gesso, the white ground commonly used to prepare canvas for painting, was not solid, and it would often crack along the edges. Narozni realized that if it cracked so easily, it could crack under the paint, perhaps damaging a great work of art. He dedicated the rest of his life to canvas and its preparation. He explained to me me that the climate in the south of France is perfect for the preparation of canvas, hot and dry. In his traditional Provençal villa on a sunny hillside, he developed his own formula for gesso which would be indestructible. Narozni would wake at dawn to mix his magic formula in giant drums. He loved to demonstrate its properties by folding, crinkling and crushing a sample which would never – even under torture – crack, flake, or break. Two huge 25 meter long rooms, faced in stone to match the local architecture, were built to accomodate the work. The roll of canvas, generally 10 meters by 2.16 meters, must be stretched out on one huge frame. It is then laid out flat. Several workers run up and down the length of it with long squeegees spreading the thick white liquid evenly over the surface. With a crash they flip the frame upright and stack it with a dozen others, and then flip the next one over on the table and begin again. The floor is thick with dried gesso. The workers are white, covered with it. The canvas...

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Eating aligator

We left the highway and headed west until the road ended in a dead end. Before us was 5000 sq miles of everglades. Eager to see birds and alligators the first wildlife we saw were the numerous Harley Davidsons with radios blasting above the motors. Perhaps a new addition since the TV series I’d seen in the early 60’s about the everglades . Your basic police show only it took place in the Everglades with our hero on one of the air boats. I’d wanted to go there since then. The boats were the same. Perhaps he motors have improved, two 500 HP Cadillac engines,. The boat drifted slowly at first. The pilote pointed out the different plants and and in a rambling southern accent began a history of the marsh. Beginning with the army’s early attempts to drain it only to hit a river below it and raising the water level from 4ft to 20 or 30 feet. They later brought trees from Brazil which drink 4 gallons of water a day but that didn’t work. Now they are removing the trees because they are not natural to the region. Alligators are creatures of habit and territorial. They like to hang out in the same places and are easy to find. In extreme heat of the late summer they dive to the bottom where they slow their heartbeat to a minimum and stay for ours to cool off. We go looking for them. He guns the motors and we take off at a surprising speed crashing over the lily pads and swamp grass. The boat then swings around and we are gliding sideways first to one side then the other.. Finally we slow down, and drift to a stop. A large ominous creature swims silently towards us barely making a ripple in the water as if he had an appointment,. The guide warns us they can jump but as it settles down right next to the boat it seems docile, peaceful and prehistoric , oddly used to human beings and boats. He contemplates us as we observe him and listen to more stories. Intimidation ripples through the passengers as the guide bends over as if to kiss it on the mouth but the...

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Eroticism

Jeffrey Hessing is in a group exhibition at the Shun Gallery, titled « Eroticism « . It started on March 1 and has been extended through the first week in April 2014....

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Painting chinese gardens

VIDEO – Five weeks living in a big house on Dianshan lake one hour from Shanghai, chine, Surrounded by tradition chinese gardens and ancient buildings…

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Clip Interview

VIDEO

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In hangzhou

VIDEO – My one month painting trip to Hangzhou, the West Lake, in China

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Another Miracle

With $400 in the bank and no clear plan for the future I quit my job at the restaurant and decided never to work again at anything but my art. I was twenty six years old.  I spent days and weeks working in my crummy apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, dreaming about my stay at Steepletop, and wishing I could go back. I could see myself gallivanting about the fields and rolling hills of the Berkshires.   One day the phone rang. It was the director of the Millay Colony. I hadn’t heard from her in months. “Could you do me a favor? Help me please. Come back to Steepletop for a little while.” I couldn’t believe my ears. The caretakers had left suddenly and Norma, at 86 years old, could not be left alone on the 600 acre property. I could live in the caretakers’ little farmhouse, but would have no other responsibility except to be there. I was to eat with the artists in residence, and was free to work all day. When I told my friends in Boston that I would be gone for a few weeks, many eyebrows raised. They knew how much I loved Steepletop and how elastic time could be for me. They were right. I came back about a year later to put my stuff from Boston in storage. It took about a month to find new caretakers. Norma Millay and I were becoming closer and closer, and so she allowed me to stay on after the search for the caretakers concluded. To top it all off, I had fallen deeply in love with a radical feminist writer sixteen years my senior who was there as a resident. She was finishing her book, « Women Who Kill ».  There was a small cabin close to Norma’s house. It had been an icehouse. Years before, they were about to bulldoze it when Norma’s husband decided to fix it up as his little hideaway. It was just one room with a sink and a fireplace. There was a screened-in porch on the back, just above a little brook. Hummingbirds frequented the reeds and wildflowers which grew there. The front door opened onto Norma’s garden. This was to be my new home.  ...

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Shanghai

Most exhibitions are a year or two in the planning. One day in December 2004 I received an email, shortly after a phone call, then a visit. Six weeks later I was on my way to Shanghai for my first exhibition there. This typifies my impression that anything is possible in Shanghai. My first impression was of some futuristic fantasy world. I never imagined modern architecture of daring creativity and variation in such profusion. It is a city that is burgeoning, blossoming, not merely expanding but exploding. At the same time Shanghai reveals itself slowly, like a modest woman who, with only temporary success, hides her beauty. I don’t pretend to know or understand her. I am courting her, discovering her slowly through painting. Enticing and encouraging her to reveal her charms, her inner beauty. Paris is a flamboyant city built to be seductive. Rome has a proud beauty and London is demure. Budapest has a melancholy, bitter sweetness. Each major city has its own personality. Each has a distinctive energy which is imbedded in and expressed through it’s architecture and appearance, but also in it’s history, it’s culture and people; in it’s essence. That is what I see, feel, and paint. I am from New York. Though I’ve spent years painting landscape, virtually living outdoors, in the wilderness or in the finest gardens of France, I have an urban core. When I enter a city I begin to resonate with the place. It comes up through the ground, filters through the air. Shanghai vibrates frenetically. Then there are the small discrete pockets of the old Shanghai. It is astonishing to see the old and new collide with such velocity. So after a few days in Shanghai and my first opening I thought, “I have to paint this”. I went out to buy materials, found a room with a view overlooking the river, and began. There, hour after hour the energy of the city, the boats and barges, buses, cars, carts, bicycles by the hundreds, thousands maybe, rush up at me, into paint and onto canvas. I become like a window, or mirror, an old one which changes, modifies, distorts. That’s what I do. That’s when I’m happiest; with a large canvas in front...

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A Fire in Your Belly

Two weeks before my twentieth birthday I finished the credits for my diploma from the State University of New York at Binghamtom and headed straight for the altar with my high school sweetheart who was also studying art. She majored in welding. My mentor in college, Aubrey Schwartz, had suggested that we contact our most revered living artist and study at his side. Abbey, as we called him, was a full professor at the St University and later became the chairman of the art department despite of his lack of a high school diploma. He was therefore the perfect person to affirm my inherent dislike of formal education. He is also one of the most well read and erodite people I have met. He had been a collegue and friend to Leonard Baskin when they were young struggling artists in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Wth much insistence, persistance, cajoling and bravado I wangled an invitation to Northampton where Lenny was a honorary professor at Smith College. My future child bride and I descended from the bus under the burden of duffle bags filled with our worldly possessions. They knew we meant business. We were driven to the house and led into a room the likes of which we had never imagined. An Alibabas cave of treasures; paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, oriental rugs, roman glass, English porcelain, antique scientific instuments in such a clutter that it was a suprise to discover a white skinned, white haired, wrinkled, ghostlike figure on the 1 8th century canape. So, you’d like to come here and study with me?. Let me see what you’ve brought. Terrified we took out our. He flipped through mine and said, « Why,you cant draw at ail! » and forced me to agree with him. « You will come here to live. We will help you find an apt, a car. You will do everything 1 say. You will learn to draw. » When we returned to live in the region he gave me a murex venus. A rare sea shell with hundreds of thin spines in rows which crossed each other in syncopated rhythms. « Draw this exactly as it is », he ordered. I drew that shell hundreds of times to scale, then enlarged it, then as an etching, then in bas...

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A Lifetime of Lunches

It was my first exhibition in Vence at the Chapel des Penitant Blancs in the spring of 1981. In walked a tall man, about 55 years old, dressed ail in black with a black Borsalino, a neatly trimmed white beard and white pony tail. He walked around slowly, carefully examining each of the miniature landscapes. They averaged about three by five inches and cost a mere 700frs, which was a little under two hundred dollars at the time. He finally approached me and said, « I like that one very much. l’ll give you half price and a lifetime of lunches. » I looked at him quizzically. I didn’t quite get it. My name is Jim Ritchie. I’m a sculptor and I eat at the same cafe in the square every day. l’ll buy you lunch anytime. Little did he know that I would take him quite literally. He bought me lunch every day for about ten years, as well as become friend, spiritual father, collector, agent and godfather to my two daughters. A couple of days later I had for my first lunch. He was there as he said he would be. He didn’t mention that he also sits at the same table everyday therefore turning himself into a veritable Vence landmark long before he installed a 3 meter high bronze in front of the City Hall. He was sitting with a beautiful girl and arguing. This was the way it would be. Often sourrounded by beautiful girls. He could be as charming as he could be or didactic and ornery. After lunch he asked if we’d like to go to his house for a glass of champagne. He lived at the top of a ornamented Italian style vila with a tower at the top, colored flowers tumbling down around it. We could see it clearly from our table in the square. We walked up four flights of marble steps with frescoed walls. The apartment was full of antiques, sculptures and photographs of young girls, nude. The atelier was in the tower. Everything was covered in marble dust. There was a small balcony covered with flowers and a view of the square, the mountains, and the sea. I spent many hours and days over...

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Tornadoes

H.M., Hisayo, and their two daughters lived in a little ramshackle bouse on the top of a hill in upstate New York. They’d gone through a lot of changes since H.M. had organised my exhibition in Japan three years before when I’d stayed in their lovely, traditional bouse in Yokohama. This evening they had planned an extraordinary dinner for me to meet the gallery owner who had held our exhibition in Toronto. A leg of venison was in the oven, a bottle of 1988 Medoc was uncorked, to be followed by a 1982 Puillac and a 1980 Sirrah from California, which were breathing, almost audibly, on the buffet. As we were seated the wind began to pick up. The blinds shook, and the windows rattled in their casings. There were tornado warnings out. H.M. had a little transistor radio , the kind we used to take to Coney Island and that I heven’t seen since the sixties. By the main course we turned it on. There were, in fact, several tornados whirling about the area. We ate our sumptuous meal and drank our fine vines while we listened nervously to the course of the storms. In between the crackling old Elvis songs, the announcer traced the path and speed of each one – toward which towns it was headed and how fast it was moving. The news was clear: at least one was headed directly toward us. The gallerist and her husband had two young boys with them, so there were four children at the table. The bouse began to shake with violently. Fear was starting to mount in each one of us at different rates, yet there was a strong desire to finish the meal. The radio told us to go into the cellar. It became an unstated contest to see who would be the first to leave the table and who would be the last to remain, pleasure dominating fear and risk. We started the second bottle of wine and finished the main course. The shutters and blinds were making so much noise that it became difficult to hear the radio. The women rose from the table to take the children down,. We lingered a little longer over our venison and even...

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First Trip to Europe

In late summer the Baskins returned from thier sabatical in Devonshire, England. I had been house-sitting for about six months. Working in Leonard’s studio, plowing through his art collection. They were quite shocked to find that it never occurred to me to mow the lawn and the grass was waist high. We didn’ t have lawns in my neighborhood in Brooklyn and I was much too consumed with my new discoveries to notice what was between the library and the studio in the carrage house. They were also confounded to learn that I’d made absolutely no plans for myself after thier return. Again too preoccupied. They owned a fourteen room 18th century Inn which was a historical monument in Hadley Massachusetts and they moved me there until they could figure out what to do with me. Where would you like to go? They asked . Well I did always dream of studying the great museums and Cathedrals of Europe. He immediately got on the phone to a well know national foundation for the arts and explained that he knew a talented young artist who was destitute and without a home (neglecting to mention that he’d just put me out of his own home). A few days later a check came. They have an emergency fund for artists and were careful to state that this was not an official grant and I was not to put it on my resume. Fine. Another miracle and another dream come true. It was just enough to buy tickets on Icelandic Airlines to Luxemborg. I was twenty one and when I got off the plane I had’ t the faintest idea of the geography of Europe. But I had a map, a napsack and some names and addresses. One of them was in Florence and after a few stops and a few adventures I found Massimo at his lace tablecloth stand in the market. He had a small apartment to rent and I took it without hesitation. It was a few steps from the Medicci Chapel and there began a daily exploration of Italian Art. At the American Embassy and I obtained permission to study at the print and drawing room in the Uffici Gallery. It was open three...

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My First Student

A friend who runs a small art school in Nice called one day to ask if I would give one of his students lessons in landscape painting. « You know I dont teach » I told him. I never taught, never was taught, painting. He said, I think you really should meet this guy. He is someone important. I didnt really know what he meant by that but I needed money so I said I’d consider it. My prospective student called. I explained that I was unable to offer him any kind of formal lessons but he could come along and paint with me, watch how I work, and ask questions. We set up an appointment. He pulled up to my house in a convenable Rolls Royce. A sky blue Corniche. He looked around critically at my work as it was totally outside his realm of experience and expectations. We talked for a bit. I answered pointed questions about my work and art in general. We decided to give it a try. Yves had been an apprentice jeweler at the age of fourteen. At thirty five he owned five shops and bought an abandonded chateaux in Medoc. He went to school to study the art of making wine. He renovated the chateaux, planted new vines and created a new wine. He never put it on the market but sold the chateau with several vintages entact in the caves. Then bought a bigger one and did the same. He was forty seven when we met and the last chateau was on the market. He was about to retire and become a painter. His other passion was food and he would spend much of his time planning exotic meals, seeking out the best ingredients and cooking. He was ambitious, dynamic, inquisitive, critical, adept and used to mastering one thing and then moving on to the next. He thought he could become a successful painter in a year or two. He paid me a fair amount of money to disillusion him. Painting is one of the few things in life that gets harder as you go further along. I took him out painting in the mountains or in one of the beautiful Gardens on the Cote D’Azur...

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Sweetbriar

It was the last ride of the Southern Crescent. Trains were no longer making a decent profit, and this particular old fashioned one, with its run between Boston and New Orleans, was to be discontinued. They loaded my black streamer trunk filled with paint, canvas, and supplies on to the train. I was settling in as it moved slowly out of the station. I worked my way to the dining car. Black waiters in white jackets with large metal trays emerged from a steaming kitchen as if from some yet unwritten Canto. I was seated next to a croupier from Atlanta and we discussed his art as we rumbled along eating our dinners. The train rumbled, the plates rumbled; everything – the cutlery, the glasses, my teeth – was shaking. I was twenty seven, couldn’t believe any of this still existed and thought what a shame it was to lose it. Bill Smart, the director, met me at the Station in Sweetbriar and drove me to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. He showed me around the large southern-style mansion where a dozen artists and writers were housed, then out to the stables which had been converted into painting studios and writers’ rooms. I was to stay for two months on a work scholarship, which meant an hour or two a day of painting walls or cleaning up the kitchen at the side of a few of my poor painter-poet colleagues. There was one familiar face among them. Carl Woods was a hard working, grey haired poet We met previously at the Millay Colony for the Arts. He methodically kept hundreds of rejection and acceptance notices from various magazines in two wooden boxes. He was as poor as a church mouse and lived in the attic of the Center as a sort of permanent ward of Bill Smart. Though young enough to be Carl’s son, Bill was like a father to him. In many artists colonies the fellows work alone all day in and meet in the evening for dinner and an affable exchange of creative and inspired thinking…in theory. At dinner the first evening I discovered a dozen middle aged, middle class, alcoholic female writers. By the first course they had picked...

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