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Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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I arrived in America early in the evening of May 4th, 1978. This was my first visit there and I was dressed in the discrete "going through Customs" white shirt and black tie which I kept especially for such occasions. I carried all my possessions in Jeffrey's old black suitcase. I had a return ticket to London and almost $150 in cash.

The official who processed me at Customs quickly spotted the mark that the Immigration Dept. at the U.S. Embassy had surreptitiously made in the back of my passport when my first application for a visa had been denied. She asked what the problem had been in London and I shrugged. When I showed her my return ticket, she wished me a pleasant visit and casually waved me through the Airport entry doors into the vast unknown beyond. I was finally in America !

This was the home of junk food and junk culture, the birthplace of Tricky Dick Nixon, MaCarthyism and the Ku Klux Klan and although I had lots of great American friends, they were all exiles who had chosen to live in Europe. I had always felt that I wanted nothing to do with the States and that I would never go there. But here I was and going out through the doors.

I instantly spotted a grinning Bruce waiting for me. I pushed past the crowds and we hugged each other hard. "It's been a long time, man", he said. So it had been, perhaps two years since we had last seen each another in Ibiza. Although I had known Bruce for a long time, we hadn't seen each other very often. He had come to Ibiza at the end of the Sixties, had found his lovely little house, Can Raphaela, and had gone back to the States to make money to pay for it, leaving Phillip and Ana to live in it.

He generally showed up once every couple of years, spent most of his time running madly around the island until his cash ran out and would then split back to New York with a bag of dirty clothes and an empty wallet. He was a few years younger than I, a charming and attractive under-achiever who had never found out what he wanted to do with his life. He periodically came up with scams to earn a lot of money very quickly which never seemed to exactly work out. I was very fond of him and I often thought of him as a younger brother.

Life in Ibiza had the effect of bonding people closely together and our houses had been side by side in the Valley. A few years before, Bruce had taken a collection of batik to New York to show for me. Unfortunately he had been stopped at the Customs coming in and had had to pay import taxes so that neither of us had made much money out of the whole business. But his parents had bought some of my work and he still considered himself my unofficial agent.

Right now, I was delighted to see him. In the end, I was saved by the Ibiza Old Boy Network. It transpired that Lanny's landlord was one Douglas Durst whose family owned most of Time Square. I had known Douglas a little in Ibiza. He was a very quiet guy who had come there to spend vacations from time to time but I'd never realized that he and his family were one of the main property owners in New York City. Anyway, he found me at Lanny's studio/loft on 45th Street one day and told me that one of his tenants had just vanished without paying the rent for three months.

He asked me if I'd like to stay in the apartment for free until he could re-rent it. Of course, without even looking at the place, I said I would. Such opportunities don't come up every day and it was clearly a time to jump blindly. Besides I was beginning to fear for my life on 21st Street. At the end of June that year, Kristin's lease on her apartment ran out. It wasn't renewable but we were able to take a summer lease on an identical place on the next floor down. Kevin, her son, graduated from his private school in New Hampshire about then and Kristin and I drove up there to go to the graduation ceremony where I took lots of photos of the eighteen year old boy. Then we took him up to Buffalo with us to visit another of Kristin's sisters and where Kevin helped me hang some batiks in a gallery up there. We brought him down to New York and spent a great week together running around town.

Kevin was an avid and expert rock climber and had a summer job teaching rock climbing at a summer camp in Telluride, Colorado. He left to go there for the summer at the start of July. A week later, we were awoken at two in the morning by a call from Walter, Kristin's ex-husband, who broke the news that Kevin had been killed in an accident. He and another boy had been roped together as they made an easy climb one afternoon and a falling boulder had knocked them off the rock, killing them both immediately. I shall never ever forget the little animal cry that Kristin made as she heard the news.

She left for Florida the next morning to pick up Adam, her other son, and then flew to Colorado to scatter Kevin's ashes in the mountains. But it was almost harder to be left behind. That terrible accident changed Kristin forever and she will carry the grief with her all the rest of her life. Kevin's death pretty much finished off our relationship in the end and at the same time has bonded us together for the rest of our lives.

Nothing I could say or do could really help Kristin and we drifted further and further apart as she turned to close women friends for consolation and comfort. But in our last week together, I had taken lots of photos of Kevin, almost as if I'd known that he wouldn't be around for very long and these photos and my presence throughout the tragedy have ensured, I think, that Kristin and I will be inextricably linked for life. She remains one of my very closest friends to this day and I love her deeply.

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