" ...THE LONELY SEA AND THE SKY..."
The following night, I got a call
from Kelly inviting me to join the "Tree of Life" for her next trip
to New Bedford, Massachusetts, starting in two days. I swiftly decided to put my life on hold for ten days and to
sail off into the sunset with Kelly and the crew. Catherine and I went over to Alexandria to meet all the crew and
to have a chat with Kelly and that all went very well. But I found it incredibly painful saying
good-bye to my sweetheart. I could
count on one hand the number of days that we had spent apart over the past four
or five years and after our trip around the world, we felt as if we were joined
at the hip. Catherine was very
supportive of my decision to go sailing for I think she realized that I
continued to have a need to have occasional adventures. We both knew that the relationship could
only grow deeper and sweeter for the separation.
So I went on board in the evening
and managed to get a few hours sleep.
We left our mooring in the Port of Alexandria at three thirty the
following morning so that we could pass under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge when it
opened at four am. I spent a euphoric
first day as we used our engines to travel down the Potomac towards the
Chesapeake Bay. I kept watch twice and
soon learned to steer the ship between the red and green lit buoys so as to
stay in the deep channel of the river.
I got to know the other two crewmembers, Paul and Damian, a little
better and made a good connection with Kelly.
He was a pretty interesting fellow, a couple of years younger than I,
who came from a wealthy stockbroking family.
His father had been a major wheeler-dealer in the Financial District of
New York City and had been a major participant in the building of the World
Trade Center Towers. Kelly had had a
rather conventional upbringing in New Jersey, had sailed small boats since he
was a child and had followed in his father's footsteps and gone into finance in
the City. He had married and had two
grown-up daughters. Around the age of
thirty-five, he had reassessed his life and found it both lacking and
meaningless. Perhaps he had
"turned on, tuned in and dropped out" at an age that most men were
digging in for the long haul. The
result was that he divorced his wife, left his job as a stockbroker and had
started a new life as a house builder and as a man about town of sorts. His family had been shocked. His father had cut him right out of his
will when he had died which must have been a crushing experience for
Kelly. When he threatened to take the
issue to court, his three brothers had decided to take care of his interests
rather than deal with a scandal. The
result was that, as long as the Stock Market held up, Kelly would never have to
work again. He had bought and
dramatically renovated a house on the edge of the Old Town. The previous year, he had built this
beautiful boat and had now taken to the water full-time in search of strong
winds and high adventure. He was
currently single and anxious to be mated again. I sensed that he demanded a tremendous amount from his lovers
and that this pressure in his relationships eventually broke them apart. He seemed to me to be an incredibly
talented but fundamentally insecure person whose tendency towards
self-indulgence had so far prevented him from finding his true path in
life. I found him very charismatic and
was surprised for my own slightly insecure part, that he obviously liked me and
enjoyed my company. As two
middle-aged men, I think we each reinforced the other's belief that it was
quite alright to be pushing fifty and still out there looking for whatever it
was we were each looking for.
As soon as we left Norfolk and hit
the open sea, I was suddenly and violently seasick. That wretched and messy
state stayed with me for the next twenty-four hours. I managed to keep my watches somehow and spent the rest of the
time sleeping and making dashes to the head.
But in spite of that miserable affliction, caused by the steady rolling
of the ship and the gentle slosh-slosh of tiny waves, I was already madly in
love with the sea.
By the time we started to head up
the coast of New Jersey on the third day, my stomach had started to subside and
I had started to really enjoy myself.
I began to settle into the rhythm of life on the sea. Regular meals, prepared by everyone in
turn, were mostly fabulous and punctuated somnambulant periods both above and below
deck. The gentle movement of the boat
was incredibly soothing and our watches at the wheel often broke up our regular
sleeping patterns. So it went -a nap,
food, an eagle-eyed, ever-vigilant watch, a conversation on the deck, another
nap, more food, a good book, more sleep, the next watch and so on. The "Tree of Life" was large
enough for one to be able to walk around a bit, gather as a small group to hang
out and even get away by oneself for awhile if you wanted to. She could be sailed by a crew of three or
even two in a pinch but then you'd have to be on duty most of the time. She wasn't the easiest boat to sail. The rigging of the sails was terribly
complicated and that's probably why there aren't many schooners around any
more. I think that Kelly and the crew
were still learning how to sail the boat.
Before this trip, I knew next to
nothing about sailing except which side was starboard, which end was aft and
that the lavatory was called the head.
Mostly Kelly had me heaving on ropes and then coiling and tying them in
various different ways. I began to understand
a little about the principles and practicalities of sailing. But mostly it seemed as if my expertise lay
in the gallery area and I found myself chopping a lot of vegetables and even
baking some cakes. I was in love with
the sea, its flat border that reached to the sky, its grays, its blues and that
infinite space that stretched in all directions. Sailing was definitely a "womb" experience. The steady slosh-slosh of the waves made
this a time to regress into a form of primal security, a state of mind and body
that every sailor since the beginning of time has known about and loved. Of course, until recently, sailing has
been exclusively a man's experience.
Traditionally, sailing has been jealously and zealously guarded with all
kinds of anti-feminine taboos to keep it private and sacred to men. That has all changed, of course. Nowadays a boat with a small crew of five
people like Kelly's, forms a floating microcosm with complex dynamics and the
possibility of all kinds of relationships.
Fiona, the practical dreamer and a traveler like myself, became a good
friend quickly. I found myself
enjoying the young men's company of Damian and Paul as well as the older
perspectives of Kelly.
Two more days of steady sailing took
us up the coast to New Bedford on the southern coast of Massachusetts. I'll never forget my exhilarating four to
six am wheel watch early that last day.
It was quiet except for the classical music I played softly on the CD
player. The full moon vanished into
the sea west of me while a fuschia sun rose to the east. There were no other ships to be seen and an
unearthly stillness in the air. My
heart soared with joy as the "Tree of Life" cut through the waves and
I saw a first seagull flying across our bows.
We reached port by mid-day and
docked at the end of a short pier. New
Bedford was an old whaling port, once the biggest on the East Coast but now a
sleepy little town full of lovely old wooden houses. We got to explore a bit, ate pizza and I called my girlfriend,
which was very nice. The "Tree of
Life" was to go into dry-dock here so that the hull could be scraped and
repainted. Kelly offered to employ me
for a week to help with the work. We
all moved off the boat and into Kelly's brother Rusty's large summerhouse just
outside of town.
The following day, we watched the
enormous boat being hauled out of the water in a huge sling by an even more
enormous mobile crane. Each of the
wheels of the crane was taller than I was.
Soon the boat was on dry land, the keel resting on blocks of wood and
the hull supported on both sides.
I spent almost a week sanding all
the barnacles and old paint off the hull of the boat and then we gave it all a
fresh coat of paint. It was grueling
and backbreaking work. I found myself
spending eight hours a day holding my right hand high over my head as I used
the little hand sander, my left hand supporting my aching back. But when it was time for me to go home, I
was really sad to leave the boat. She
and her crew were due to spend the rest of the summer on the East coast
attending boat shows and taking part in various races. Kelly was very keen to show off the boat as
much as possible for he saw that one way to avoid an expensive boat's quick
loss in value was to build up its reputation as soon as possible. The following year, the "Tree of
Life" was listed as one of the hundred most beautiful boats in America.
That summer, I took my eight-week
course in Silk-screening at the Corcoran.
What might have been an inspiring and exciting experience turned out to
be a Classroom from Hell. The
instructor and I had a poor rapport from the start and I found her teaching
methods to be uninteresting and unadventurous to say the least. Perhaps because I was a professional artist
already, I felt that I was being continually ignored.
The classes soon started to feel
like an ordeal and I was happy when they were over. Somehow I couldn't let myself drop out early but instead
soldiered on until I had finished my prescribed three pieces. Then I snuck away. But I completed a print based on a
traditional Javanese design, a collage piece and a portrait study of William
Burroughs from an old graffiti photo I had taken in New York years before. I came away from the experience pledging
to make sure that any classes I taught would be a lot more fun. Sadly I realized that my next career wasn't
to be in Silk-screening.
Meanwhile I was in the studio
working steadily away on a new series of batiks, one of which was a large study
of the gorgeous deep brown irises, which were flowering outside in our small
suburban garden. This was in payment
for a dentist's bill. I was also
doing a portrait of my lawyer friend, David with his two children from a photo
he gave me of a family holiday on the beaches of India. It was getting warm in Arlington with
summer already underway.
The Retinal Blowjob performed in
public again at the end of June for the first time since the
"Post-Apocalyptic Circus" Party in Bali. A young group of video
makers calling themselves the Betapunks had taken over an old warehouse in
DC. They were putting on a series of
events under the banner of Ecomedia.
Part of the profits of each event would go to a good ecological cause
and part towards their next video movie.
They asked me to put on a lightshow at their latest happening,
"Concrete Madagascar". The
space was truly massive so we built a scaffold at one end of the space to stand
on and hung a series of sheets about two-thirds down the warehouse. When we focused ten slide projectors onto
the sheet, the multi-layered image could be seen from both sides. I don't remember what the music was but
with help from some friends, I showed slides of our world travels mixed in with
some cyberpunk images, graffiti and all of Patch's collection of surrealist
pictures. It went really well and we
met an interesting group of young people.
For the 4th of July Independence Day
Celebrations that year, Catherine and I drove up to Manasquan in New Jersey
where we met up with the "Tree of Lifers" at a family gathering. We then joined the boat for a sail up to
New York the next day. This trip, we
got the luxurious aft cabin for a night and then moved back to my old cabin in
the foc'sle. We were joined for the
trip by a group of Kelly's friends from the old days. I think that Kelly felt torn between two worlds that entire
trip and very uncomfortable. He and
Catherine had become great friends and I think that we were all starting to feel
very familiar to one another. We
sailed up to Sandy Hook Bay on the 3rd at the mouth of the Hudson and anchored
amongst the other Tall Ships waiting there for the Parade the following day. This trip, the boat was rather more
laid-back than usual with some beer drinking and a lot of people congregating
out on the deck all day. Like a true
sailor, I slept a lot. But I woke up
long enough to enjoy Kelly's showing-off around the larger boats. He sailed wildly all around the fleet,
passing several boats close enough to be able to touch their stern flags. Early in the morning of the 4th, I steered
the boat up the river under the Verrezano Bridge to the tip of Manhattan Island
where we anchored off Ellis Island, just below the Statue of Liberty.
We spent the day watching the
stately procession of Tall Ships sailing up river past us. There were some magnificent boats, three
and even four-masted clippers, some new and some old. All were silhouetted for a surreal moment against the backdrop
of the modern buildings of New York's Financial District before turning and
continuing up the Hudson and out of our sight. Eventually we sailed across the river and tied up alongside
the "City of Baltimore" on Pier Six in Brooklyn. We spent an evening of mad marine
socializing, going from boat to boat where different shows were put on all
night. We watched the fireworks that
were set off upriver from us and danced on the deck of the "Tree of
Life". The following morning we
took a taxi down to New Jersey and drove home to Arlington by the afternoon.
My batik work continued slowly and
unspectacularly with several new pieces in progress, a Japanesy piece called
"Tea Party for One" and a Balinese cockfight piece with two swirling,
fighting birds. I'd been working on
the latter piece since Bali and had done several pieces, none of which I was
happy with. This was probably my third
version of the drawing and I was keeping my fingers crossed this time. On Catherine's birthday, late in July, I
finished my "Balinese Terraces" piece as well as a fishing boat
drawing that I'd been working on for weeks.
The batiks were coming out fairly well but I was working without much
pleasure. I felt that I was going
through the motions as it were because I was a batik artist and therefore made
batiks. I'd been batiking for well
over twenty years and knew that I needed a change, a new medium, one, which was
more in synch with the late Twentieth Century. I was very conscious of the fact that Batik was an ancient art
that had been practiced without much change in technique for over two thousand
years. Certainly I had tried and had
succeeded to some extent in bringing a new approach to the art form. I had turned my back on the purely
decorative use of the art and had treated it like a traditional medium for
painting. But I had never managed to
escape the uncertainties, the impermanence of a textile medium and the
excruciating slowness of such exacting work in this technique. Perhaps it was because I'd had a lot of
failures recently in my paintings. The
newer pieces required incredibly complicated processes to realize. My heart just wasn't in my work as it
always had been for so many years.
This general dissatisfaction with my
work -and through that- with myself, carried over into our long-planned summer
vacation with Dick and Mary at their condo in Duck down on the Outer Banks of
North Carolina. We drove down there
for a week at the start of August but I soon wished that I hadn't. I didn't much like the condo, for Catherine
and I had to sleep out in the living room and had no privacy. I generally found the beach and the scene
around it rather claustrophobic. I retreated
to the Health Club and Spa where I spent hours exercising and swimming. That, coupled with a Spartan diet, soon got
me into good physical shape again.
Perhaps life in suburbia had begun to take its toll.
From North Carolina, we made a long
drive north through Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to be in New York for
Bruce's wedding in Larchmont. Bruce
-finally married! He had been living
with Hilda -or more accurately, living between the Den at his mother's house
and Hilda's little apartment in Queens- for a couple of years now. The two of them decided to legalese the
arrangement that summer. The wedding
was a curious affair for most of the guests were complete strangers to us, old
Larchmont friends of Bruce and Hilda's Philippine family for the most part. But my old Ibiza friend and neighbour Pat
was there, as was another old friend, Catherine and her husband Jeffrey. It was a great opportunity to spend some
good time with Bruce's sister Lynne and her family who had flown in from
Crested Butte in Colorado for the occasion.
The wedding was held in the garden of Lorna's house on a lovely sunny
afternoon and Hilda looked virginal in a full wedding dress. Bruce looked a little more weathered but
nonetheless handsome in a dark blue suit.
After the newly weds had taken off for a honeymoon at the family farm, I
hung out till late and talked with Lynne by a friend's pool. Some day, Lynne, I swear I'll get out to
visit you all in Colorado!
Catherine started her course in
Conflict Analysis and Resolution at the end of August and I wasn't to see too
much of her for the next few months.
But we had reckoned on this being the case and started to schedule
regular dates to spend quality time together, which generally worked out
well. Catherine loved her course from
the first and felt that she'd discovered what she really wanted to be
doing. And that's probably about the
most important discovery that one could make in life. She had to leave her job publicizing the changes in the benefits
due to children for they only wanted her in a full-time capacity. She felt a little bad about that for she
liked to finish projects that she started.
But she managed to walk straight into a part-time job working as
assistant to a Tibetan Buddhist tax lawyer.
The work wasn't very interesting but she liked the lawyer, Jason, a lot
and found him to be an excellent boss and a very good friend. It was quite well paid and gave her freedom
to work on her course studies.
I wished that I could have felt as
clear about what I was doing and where I was going as she did. I had finished off the last series of
batiks and had made a drawing of the "Tree of Life" that I was going
to paint in acrylic paint. I had
worked in that medium in California years before during my self-imposed
hermitage in the chicken shack. I had
chosen to paint in acrylics because it was so much faster and more immediate
than Batik. The work went well and
although I ran into some technical problems that I didn't really manage to
resolve in that piece, I finished my boat quite quickly and was able to move
onto another painting. Of course, one
of the things that I was enjoying so much about painting in acrylics was that I
could go back and rework parts of the piece that I wasn't happy with. That was something that I could never do in
my batik paintings. The flip side to
that was that I didn't always know when to stop. But I was enjoying the freedom presented by this new medium.
My second acrylic was a nude
portrait of Catherine lying in bed. I
found myself strengthening the lines of the picture by outlining parts of it
much as I might have done in a batik.
I thought that it came out rather well. Others thought that it looked like a batik and I realized that if
I pursued acrylic painting, I had a lot to unlearn.
In mid-September, we made another
weekend trip in the "Tree of Life".
This was definitely more of a "party weekend" than a voyage of
exploration. A group of us picked up
the boat in Annapolis and sailed across the Chesapeake Bay and up the Choptank
River. It was a relaxed weekend with a
minimum of sailing and seamanship and a lot of lying around in the sun,
socializing and sleeping. Catherine
and I slept in our regular cabin, which secretly I thought of as mine by now. When we got back to Arlington, Kelly asked
us if we'd like to stay in his house in Alexandria the following year while he
continued his life aboard the boat. We
would pay a low rent and would have to accommodate Kelly's daughters and the
crew whenever they were in town. But
it was a small price to pay for such a wonderful space. We knew that it was time to move on from
the Gesundheit Institute for the house was about to go onto the market for
sale. Gareth and Pammy were planning
on getting their own house and we would have to make our own arrangements
pretty soon. So we said yes to Kelly
who was heading North up the East coast with the boat for the rest of the
summer and fall.
I got a call from the Fifth Column
Club at the end of September asking me to do my Lightshow at a Wednesday night
party. This was the biggest and best
club in DC. and I was to perform with an "Acid Jazz" group from New
York. My friends Rebecca and Fiona
came along to help me work the projectors and we mounted a huge bank of them on
top of massive speaker stacks at one end of the room. Then we built a screen of sheets at one end of the room so that
we could project over the heads of the dancers. It was an exciting night with a lot of dancing, loud music and
syncopated slides. At the end of the
night I felt that the Retinal Blowjob was truly reborn. That night, the Lightshow was offered a
regular Wednesday nightspot at the Fifth Column for the rest of the year.
My old friend Rudolf, the owner of
the batik gallery in Koln, Germany where I had showed my work several times,
came to Washington with his wife for an opening at the Textile Museum in
October. Rudolf had been very kind and
helpful when I had gone to Koln in 1978 on the run from Ibiza. I had last seen him in New York when he
had come to visit me there. That time,
he had arrived on the day after Kristin had returned from her son's
funeral. It had been a melancholic
meeting and we hadn't been able to talk much.
This time, we all went to an opening of an exhibition of South East
Asian Textiles and I had him come back to Gesundheit to eat one night. It all went a bit slowly until Patch, in
his inimitable way, came to my rescue and managed to stir things up a bit.
Meanwhile, I had started on my next
acrylic painting, a landscape with Corot-like trees. I was still working on a couple of new batiks but the painting
helped to keep me energized. The
weekly Retinal Blowjob shows were very exciting although they tended to break
the week in half for me and I took a couple of days to really recover after