Chapter Eight. Another Form of Entrapment
Something compelled me to go to the opening. The sixties were crowded with openings and with art prices rising steadily. One had to choose one’s art circles, which was more complicated for women, because the circles were largely boys’ clubs. My few flirtations were with writers and musicians; I avoided liaisons with artists the same way I avoided collectors, keeping my private life strictly private, unlike some people who would leak gossip to keep their names and pictures in the news. I had two lovers who were very different from each other and from me, and, somehow, the relationships were separate and intense but didn’t overlap. One was with a jazz musician who looked like an Egyptian or Buddhist high priest, one of those all-powerful rulers of an ancient empire. He was the only man I ever worshipped from a distance. When he came close, he ruled me. Two was the one who taught me love, a poet infamous for his alcoholism. Neither was playing the game of life according to the rules, and this was even truer in matters of the heart.
Sensuality and art are double entendres in my book of life. Art has to flow from a physical act, an inward journey that is expressed in outward signs. Sensuality and sexuality are generated the same way. They are not conscious or unconscious but both -- the interior cryptograph of two souls, each drawing and receiving different messages from the partner. Every time I made love with a special lover, I could see an afterlight, a clarity that would enlarge my vision as an artist. Likewise, those experiences were so intense and varied that they did not fit any simple category or known language.
Egypt caught me off guard. He was famous, and I was a just-out-of-college artist. I gave him a party only because his backer asked to use my place and gave me a generous check. He was very much the center of attention, with a woman I didn’t know – someone he probably didn’t know either! We got together the next night. First we were at his friend’s house having dinner, and then we were somehow upstairs at both houses. He was nature itself, incredibly physical, a force in his own universe. Nobody knew about us. We’d meet at his concerts in different cities or at my apartment when he had a concert in New York. He also had an apartment there that used to belong to his mother, who had been a cleaning lady. It was on a high floor of a housing project where the elevators were often broken down. My attraction exceeded anything I’d ever experienced. His body was perfect, and because I was naïve, it took my head some time to let go and to become friends. Later, he lost a leg due to diabetes; by then he was living with a concert pianist in a building that had a doorman, an elevator, and an apartment with two grand pianos.
The poet was in the “most-talked-about” category. He seduced me at another party I was giving – I had so much fun giving parties for Baroque musicians from England, for poets who were world famous, for jazzmen – and this only happened twice! He began sending the other guests home, using alchemy and alcohol (I didn’t realize the proportions of his addiction) to draw me into his bloodstream, his crazy life. As we made love over the next three days (my record), I turned from an uptight Manhattan intellectual into a full-blown sex goddess. When I say he taught me to love, I mean I discovered my body, seemingly for the first time, the one I’d taken for granted, the one he described in every particular, every movement, each moment offered like a song flowering between us. He needed every part of me, until finally, he concluded his conquest and moved on, without mentioning he had just married his third wife, Roseanne. We saw each other a few more times. These tricks (he’s on wife number five, I’ve been told) showed me his greatness and his illness all at once, before I realized what it meant. The best thing about being young is the short recovery time. I never missed him when he wasn’t there.
Though I had gone out with successful types, these were the men who turned me on. I did not reveal or play games with my lovers or appear with them in public except for intimate meals together in other cities and countries. This suited my needs as an artist. It never occurred to me to be more conventional or that my behavior was not in line with that of my blood relatives. I was still the girl next door. I had decided, by trial and error, that successful types were too busy to be good lovers and that sexy types were, for various reasons, impossible to live with. I was the type who could paint for sixteen hours or play in bed and fuck for sixteen hours, without repeating myself in either situation, so it took a certain kind of man to appreciate and reciprocate what I had to offer. In some ways, everything that drove me as an artist was subconscious and physical.
I was musing about my secret (past) lives as I walked through the galleries at the opening. I was attracted to the unity and clarity of the images. The drawings were very large, some sketches as abstract and encoded as Wright, others laden with delicate details, ribbings, casements, penciled directions. Skeleton layers of a whole building appeared, superimposed yet perfectly unified. I was drawn to a detail of the leaded glass door of a tall bookcase. How simple, how elegant. The Collector appeared on my left, touching my elbow lightly as he spoke,”These doors protect my collection of treasured art books. Your paintings are on the facing wall.”
“I imagine they are very beautifully reflected in this leaded glass.”
“Yes. To see far, we all need reflections.” He seemed lost in thought as he nodded to me and returned to hosting other guests.
I thought I was dreaming when he called, two weeks later, to invite me to his cabin in the Sierras, where I write now, for an old-fashioned weekend of horseback riding and hiking. “Bring thermal underwear and hiking shoes,” he instructed. “I want to show you some of the grand vistas, Indian trails, and rock formations. By the way, I hope you aren’t afraid of snakes and spiders?”
“You haven’t seen my Snake Series?”
“Eight poisonous snake paintings, from garden green to rattler white-on-mud-black, revisiting the old myths from each snake’s viewpoint, of course. And then my own versions…”
“Well, then I won’t warn you about what’s poisonous. You’ll be right at home.”