Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bill Bomar: Remnants, An Equation (1983)

       Crrraaack! Portentious thunderclap as I open the car door in front of Bill Bomar’s sprawling, old adobe Talpa home. Yapping of dogs at his front door. No answer. Around to the side of the artist’s high-ceilinged studio. “Come in,” calls a voice. Enter. Silver hair and beard, the artist in a blue jump suit wheels up in a motorized wheelchair. Smiles. Classical music loud. One wall full of books, the rest covered with work from all periods of a long and wide-ranging artistic career. Where to begin? He’s returned only the day before from a trip to New York
            How was it?
            “I saw Baryshnikov twice. Marvelous. An extraordinary young man, but he doesn’t have the animal magnetism that Nureyev had.” You’re a ballet aficionado? “When I lived there I would go three or four times a week to see Nureyev and Fontaine. They’d just arrived. They could make the hair on the back of your neck stand up and wiggle.” Smile.
Born in Ft. worth, 12/30/19) with cerebral palsy, and then stricken with a near fatal case of spinal meningitis in ’45, confined, more or less permanently, to a wheelchair since the late ‘70s, Bomar’s eyes are bright with memory, recent and old, of Russian ballet stars. Does physical infirmity create a soul well-attuned to Beauty? A deficiency balanced by intense perception, sensitivity and appreciation?
He lived at the Chelsea Hotel, New York, for two months short of 30 years. The infamous Chelsea? “There was a time when you could get out of the elevator on the fifth or sixth floor and take a deep breath and never have to smoke your own grass.” Laugh. “John Sloan, one of my first teachers, lived at the Chelsea, and I studied with him (early ‘40s). Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a room, then Sloan told me that they were throwing out some poor son of a bitch because he was overdue on a couple of months rent. So I moved into his place. I’m glad I never met the fellow. I spent a week at the Chelsea two years ago. It was terrible. I then realized it had to exis6t in my mind as a memory.”
The long years in New York were made bearable, enjoyable, by his yearly three or four month vacations to Maine, Cape Cod, northern New Mexico. But what about the beginning? Early influences?
“When I was seven my mother had my portrait painted. I was fascinated. So . . . being spoiled, I started with oils. I wouldn’t draw or touch watercolors. Just oils until I was 16.” He finally touched watercolors under the tutelage of Joe Bakos in Santa Fe where his family often vacationed. He attended the Cranbrook Art Academy in Michigan from 1940-41, then New York and Sloan. “For the first six or eight months, working with Sloan was a painful experience. He said to me one time that until you can draw a line that is a thought, and not an imitation, you can’t begin to solve a problem. You have to connect what you see with your head and then to you hand. The connection of vision, head, and hand. Sloan made me aware of that process.” Studies with Sloan were followed by a year of criticism from Ozenfant and further studies with master abstractionist Hans Hoffman. The work from the ‘40s and ‘50s, as that of any young artist searching for himself, is sometimes experimental, derivative, immensely diverse, but always passionate and whole. There is in them a kind of personal history of art. Cubism, Constructivism, Impressionism, all laced with an almost mystical, visionary power. An oil painting of his mother entitled  Modigliani-esque Portrait of Jewel, vibrant watercolor landscapes and still lifes date from this period. His first show, presented at the Weyhe Gallery where he exhibits still, was in 1944. He participated in two Whitney Biennials.
Why so many startling leaps in style?
Laugh. “I don’t know. It just suits my temperament. Maybe I have a multiple personality. I work on a thing for w while, and then move on to something else. It’s a response to a feeling not to remain in one area too long.” Pause. “I have no great theory. If a painter sounds too good on paper you should start to wonder. Barnett Newmann was a fascinating talker. His paintings . . . If what you have to say is not from visual experience it should be written. People who talk too much about art are usually disappointed artists.”
For three years now he’s had an intense and exhaustive concern with collage, the results of which will be shown at Tally Richards Gallery, Taos, beginning June 4. No longer under the influence of the Cubists/Dadaists, Braque, Picasso, Schwitters, but something different – an organic harmony and synthesis, an unerring sense of completion in random design. “I found an old box in my studio one day. It was full of all these trimmings, remnants of past works on paper that I had done. So, I found this box and started gluing.” Smile. “I’ve been doing it now for three years because there is a playful enjoyment in collage that I find in watercolors. The nice thing about collage is that if it doesn’t come out in a day or two, you can always start over again. It’s like solving an equation. I ran out of ready-made remnants about a year ago, so I’ve been making new ones since then.
“You know, it’s the doing of the thing that’s important. It must be something you do because it either relaxes you or enlarges your sense of the world. It’s splendid if other people like it, but it’s . . . A show, too, is nice. But you’re surrounded by all of your mistakes, and nobody knows it better than you do. It’s a bloody bore, and everybody lies to you.” Laugh. “All that socializing, all that talk, it doesn’t have anything to do with it. Great groups of people have never been my interest. So I’ve never found it a great difficulty being along.”
What about Taos?
“It feeds me through my feet.” Silence. “It’s not a ‘joining’ community. It’s not a people-oriented place. Taos is just not arranged that way. It’s a place for doers, not for social butterflies. It’s a place for loners.”
He just returned from New York, New York. He’s steeped in the classic tradition of art and art history, in training and perceptions. What of the new trends?
“I had the most repugnant visual experience at the Whitney! It was insulting. Even Johns was sloppy. Look, once it’s bad, if it’s bigger it’s worse! They’ve rediscovered German Expressionism. The think if you slap on some red, some green, and some purple, it’s saying something. It makes you ill. So negative. Not even that positive-negative thing, you know. If it’s a reflection of the world, if the world is in that state, then we’re further gone that we think. Advertising has become . . . . American culture is ruled by it. Advertising and art have been moving closer and closer together in the last 10, 20 years. You have to have an act to go along with the work . . . Art becomes fashion. Like Castelli – he’s doing the same thing that Duveen did with the Morgans and the Mellons. It’s all social one-upsmanship and competitive. A form of intellectual flattery. I think what they’re going to say in future years is, ‘There was a culture that was told what to think, what to buy.’ The influence of advertising on the creative field has become a major motivational problem.”
What’s next?
“I think I’ll start painting soon, to see what effect all this gluing has had.”
 -- Thom Collins, June, 1983

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