February 19th - June 12th, 2010

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ray in Detroit, 1943

I wrote Arthur Secunda yesterday about the above image, asking whether Ray had been to New York at the time of this image's creation. I had assumed he'd been either there already for a summer art class or was excited about moving there. Here's what Arthur wrote:

Dear Sebastian,

No, Ray had not been to NY yet in 1943.  As far as I can recall, what he knew of NYC was from my teen perspective "correspondance to him", which was mostly about my art school, the HS of Industrial Art, and the differences to art taught at Cass Tech, and the boys and gal characters, jokes and the art teachers approaches, which was much looser in NY and less disciplined, more individually laissez faire than dauntingly difficult Detroit  sketching classes filled with detailed charcoal studies of reflections on the floor of lockers in the hallways followed by serious critiques, etc....great for the talented, a disaster for the lost uninterested unmotivated souls. Our mutual friend, Harry Katchadoorian, was so good at this sort of stuff, we marvelled at and admired his detailed "photographic" renderings. After all, when you are a 15 or 16 year old potential artist mired in the world of self discovery, that's what your life is focused on - friends, accomplishments, extremes, mentors, rebeliousness. An awful lot of our back and forth was about the girls in class. My guess is that Ray had not yet come to terms with his sexual preferences, unless he was disguising it, but why would he, to me? I also believe that some of the people characters in This is New York, are patterned after specific students and teachers at Cass we both ridiculed and liked, the way teens do, otherwise its too embarrassing for them to express actual feelings, seemingly mysterious and out of the blue. Having a creative intelligent 17 year old son now in my house and in my daily life allows me to observe somewhat objectively what it might have been like for me and Ray to comment on the secretive mode of friendships, fears, secrets, unexpressed or chache'd desires, etc. In a way, everything is coded against adults. As far as wanting to be a New Yorker, I never got the idea in 1943 that Ray was envious or imminently wanting to live and work in NY. Remember 1943 was during WWII, there had been no creative explosion of Abstract expressionism or freedom marches or sexual revolution. It was a much more bourgeois world to us. We generally obeyed our parents and towed the line. The fact that Ray went to Black Mountain before settling in NY testifies to me that it was the external influences in NC that convinced and urged him to go to NYC. I can't comment on his personal family life as I didn't know much about it except in a few jokey letters Ray sent, since lost. As far as fame goes, yes we all yearned for it, who doesn't at 16 ? in summation, Ray's correspondence was a cloak, a very clever esthetic discovery of noodling him into the forefront while staying behind a curtain in the wings. It enabled his real life personality to be pure while his art life could be profane and full of wild accepted fantasy. He truly blurred the line between his art and his life, a nun in sheep's clothing, a priest who fornicates on the QT, in this case, Ray's fornication was his correspondance.

Best wishes, Art