For Storms and Hurricanes

“Do the times make the artist or does the artist make the times? Both at different times are correct—I guess. Some times got Shakespeare others got Pope, one period got Lady Murasaki and Sei Shonagon at the same time. What can you say about a period that got stuck with . . . me. I really wanted to be great but the times didn’t need it of me. The times demanded my failure. I wanted a nice apartment to hang my pictures in, a drawing room somewhere above the din, and found the war was going on in my brain. I hitchhiked up Olympus and it turned out to be a volcano. How can I know what’s politically correct? I didn’t have time to stop and think whether what I was doing was right; I had to make my history quick because there would be no future, merely a gossamer world blown about on the zeitgeist, till zeitgeist, the wind of the times, is blasted away by kamikaze, the wind of God.”*

Rene Ricard- Art Forum Nov 1982

Reading a magazine last week, I came across an artist I had never heard of. Probably because he’s most famous as a art critic rather than an artist. Self described as a poet and movie star* Rene Ricard joined Warhol’s factory with small parts in “Chelsea Girls” and “Kitchen”, after pouring over one Warhol’s flower paintings at the ICA in Boston. As he tells it, “To support myself as a kid, I was a model at art schools around Boston. When I stopped working at 2 P.M., I’d walk up Newbury Steet, which is where the art galleries were. One day, I was at a gallery run by a friend and she said, “Rene, there’s something you’ve got to see over at the Institute of Contemporary Art.” I walked in, and there was a painting by Andy Warhol, the flower painting. It was orange, yellow, fuchsia, red, and green, and it looked enormous. Paintings weren’t that big at that time — this was ’64 — and, while looking at it, I evolved a theory about it. Andy had made a painting that was essentially flawless, but it was an actual painting. So he had this green background, and orange, yellow, fuchsia spots which were kind of pushing forward — they looked like they popped. I had never seen anything like it. I was in a trance. The guard tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, but the gallery’s been closed half an hour.” I completely planned out my life looking at that painting. **

As an art critic and essayist he was instrumental in the starting the careers of Julian Schnabel, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.  “As a critic, he only wrote a bare handful of pieces, but they were major events.”****

His life was decadent and self- destructive, happily squandering away a $10,000 gallery advance in a day at the Russian Tea Room and on Jean-Paul Gaultier underwear, which he washed, and left drying in the sun where it was stolen. By nightfall he was penniless and at a homeless shelter. ***

“Just as his life could vacillate between glory and squalor, his poems- which he eventually took to painting over his own or others’ canvases- are all heart-break and defiance, ruined love and declarations of an independence he insisted on even when he sat at the best tables.”****



“I’ve seen beautiful things. I’ve been around so many years; how did I get to be so old. I’m pretty beat, and scarred like a whale from a million harpoons, but I’m still in the swim, y’all, I’m still out there. Oh I’ve seen so many waves. You ride it and when it crests you keep your balance or you get washed up. So I keep in the swim, go with the current, try to keep a sense of where I can land, sometimes swimming against the tide when I feel it’s getting too far out until one day I’ll drown or get stranded on the beach.”*

* from a biography in Art Forum

** From Interview Magazine

*** from the Brooklyn Rail Memoriam by Raymond Foye

**** New York Times Magazine, Dec 28th, by Luc Sante

For more there’s a really great interview/conversation with him here:



About CT

Claire Townsend is a freelance costume designer/maker and theatre practitioner.
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