Magically, he knew my size in everything. Silk dresses, pearls, large gifts and little gifts, each with a note making it simple for me to receive them, to turn into his swan, his beloved. My gifts would be amazing things I would buy from street vendors: Japanese netsuke, a Buddhist marble head with a beatific smile, lovely, lovely things that had a spiritual dimension.
Although David’s usual entourage contributed to our jocular meals and excursions, our world together was private, sealed off from others. David charmed me into believing that I was everything to him as he introduced me to a vast world of artists and art, starting with his personal collection housed in its own townhouse on Fifth Avenue. I tried to be nonchalant when he showed me the many prints and drawing dedicated to him by Picasso, Miro, Pissaro, Frieda Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and a few newer artists, including Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly and Roy Lichtenstein. Thanks to me, he also started collecting Asian art. His passion for art extended to all cultures and countries. During our time together, we often traveled to other countries, including New Zealand, where we stayed with a Maori family of artisans. Soon the cabin had a welcome lintel carved by a Maori artist.
After five years of unaccustomed splendor, just as I was developing a sense of well-being and expectation, my conscience told me to wake up. I harshly examined my recent paintings. Yes, sentimentality, luxury, and other falsehoods were seeping in. My flowers, instead of becoming more sensuous and radiant, seemed more brittle. I was furious with myself. I didn’t want to hurt David; in fact, I was beginning to love him. It didn’t matter to me that he was fifty-five and I was twenty-four when we met. He was a true man, gentle yet firey and surprising as a lover, my David. I liked that he was older; the way he touched me inside opened so many doors. Intimacy had possibilities that I had not imagined such as that night with the strand of pearls and the night that changed everything.
My career, begun during those wild years at Cornell when bad boys like LeRoi Jones and Allan Kaprow and the ghosts of Nabakov and Wittgenstein roamed the gorges, seemed to have reached an all-time high. My dealer, now Robert Ambrose instead of Tina Popper, had a gallery on East 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. His clients were great collectors like David, and, of course, each painting of mine went up in value. The word on the street was that my prices would soon be equal to the male artists of my day. This was supposed to be a compliment.
These memories are very painful. I’m trying to get something said. Connections, meanings are simpler on canvas. I can use equivalents, correlatives, images, lines. I love drawing and the sweeping way that lines communicate emotions in elegant and hard ways. Maybe I can visualize the right words. The act of admitting, as though I am a doctor examining my own gaping wounds, of saying plainly what happened, what happens, hurts. Just as a canvas ripens into an exquisite plum loaded with pigment, something happens and I surprise myself, creating more than I intended. Is that to be desired?
Since we met, there have been other shifts and meanings. The artist has to create a canvas that will continue to breathe without her. If she’s as good as Rembrandt, she will even give it an eye that can look out to take in the world around the canvas. This is the secret of great art: it’s reflexive. I’m older now, yet the painting, if it’s good, has an advantage over Dorian Gray. If the vitality is built in, it doesn’t have to sell its soul to remain young and fresh. True, meanings may shift since we’re not using the same eyes – our eyes keep changing at the molecular level and sometimes slow us down or become confused because there is too much to see.
People say I look better than I did five years ago. My body is firmer, yet I feel much older. Perhaps that’s from being in the public eye. I have learned to laugh when a critic panders to my beauty and when others take aim with pens, knives, and sharp objects. David says – only when I am accused of being too sensuous, too delicious, too hot -- that he will protect me from the bruises and hurts.
The mountain here has a mauve sheen as the last rays of the sun tint the peak. I’m wondering if I’ll see any more hummingbirds. I saw two yesterday. There is Stellar’s Jay, a black-headed, blue-bodied pest (I read that his feathers aren’t blue at all) that annoys me by scuzzing back and forth on the roof chasing dragonflies. Perched on the sundeck fence, wings and bodies drip from his overstuffed mouth.
I’m typing slowly, one finger at a time, key by key, along the soft grey pads of old memories -- trying to get something said, trying to penetrate the images – stripping them of their cardboard containers, plastic wrappers, lens caps. I’m hoping I can bear the truth. I’m sure I’ll slip. Okay, for starters, I hate superficial women who buy my work because of my immaculate, perfect and pure surfaces. They become beautiful only because there is something underneath that is hot and violent and unsure. My first confession is that I’ve never been entirely honest, even to myself.