Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hemingway

"Man is not made for defeat.  A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
--The Old Man and the Sea

In 1954, Ernest Hemingway took his fourth wife Mary Welsh to Africa.  He chartered a sightseeing plane to show her the Belgian Congo and the glorious Murchison Falls.  While flying low over the trees, the plane struck a utility pole and crash landed in heavy brush.  Hemingway suffered a concussion.  His wife broke two ribs.

That night they camped in the bush waiting for a response to their distress call.  A passing plane saw the crash and reported no survivors.  Word spread around the world that Hemingway was dead.  The next day, Hemingway and his wife were found and picked up by a bush pilot.  Amazingly, the second plane caught fire and exploded during takeoff.  Hemingway slammed his upper body and head against the exit door to escape.  He suffered serious burns and a concussion severe enough to cause leaking cerebral fluid.

The injured travelers were taken by road to an Entebbe hospital.  Hemingway joked with journalists and spent weeks recuperating and reading his erroneous obituaries.  Restless and bored, he left the hospital and took Mary and his son Patrick on a fishing trip to Kenya.  A bushfire broke out and Hemingway fell into the fire to help extinguish the flames.  He suffered burns on his legs, torso, lips and arms.  He was ultimately diagnosed with two crushed vertebra, a ruptured liver and spleen and a broken skull.

Hemingway was no stranger to accidents and illness.  In 1918 he enlisted as a World War I ambulance driver on the Italian front.  While bringing chocolate and cigarettes to the front line he was struck by mortar fire.  Despite serious shrapnel wounds to both legs, he carried an Italian soldier to safety earning him the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery.  He underwent an operation and spent six months recuperating.

In 1927 while honeymooning in France with his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer, Hemingway contracted Anthrax.  A few months later in Paris, he pulled a skylight down on his head thinking he was pulling on a toilet chain.  This left him with a permanent scar on his forehead.  In the early 1930's, Hemingway took writer John Dos Passos elk hunting in Montana.  After dropping off Dos Passos at the train station, Hemingway crashed his car and broke his arm.  The surgeon bound the bone with kangaroo tendon.  Hemingway was hospitalized for two months and it took more than a year for the nerves in his writing hand to heal.

In 1933, Hemingway and Pauline went on safari to East Africa.  The trip would inspire Hemingway's short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro and his story collection Green Hills of Africa.  The trip also gave Hemingway a bout of amoebic dysentery causing a prolapsed intestine.  He was evacuated by plane to a Nairobi hospital.

In 1944 while in London to write about World War II, Hemingway was involved in another car accident.  He suffered a concussion and a head wound requiring 50 stitches.  He traveled to Normandy with a head bandage to witness the D-Day landing from an ocean borne craft.  He also found himself under fire at the Battle of the Bulge.  The stress caused him to be hospitalized with pneumonia.

In 1945 he returned to Key West, Florida.  Guilty about his failed marriage to third wife Martha Gellhorn, he began drinking heavily.  One night after too many daiquiris, he had another car accident.  He smashed his knee and suffered the third of many concussions.

Hemingway fell into a deep depression as his literary friends began to die.  He'd lost W.B. Yeats in 1939, Scott Fitzgerald in 1940 and Sherwood Anderson and James Joyce in 1941.  Gertrude Stein died in 1946 and his long-time Scribner's editor Max Perkins died in 1947.  Hemingway began to suffer headaches, weight problems and tinnitus.  He was subsequently diagnosed with diabetes.

From late 1955 to early 1956, Hemingway was bedridden.  His doctors urged him to stop drinking to heal his damaged liver.  He disregarded the advice.  He became ill and was treated for high-blood pressure and arteriosclerosis.

By 1959, Hemingway was having trouble organizing his thoughts.  Always the master of brevity and concise prose, he lost control of his writing.  He was commissioned by Life Magazine to write a 10,000 word article on bullfighting.  He submitted a 40,000 word opus.  He asked writer A.E. Hotchner to help him trim and organize the piece.  Hotchner found Hemingway to be "unusually hesitant, disorganized and confused."  His eyesight was failing him, he'd become anxious about money and he was paranoid that the FBI was monitoring his movements. (J. Edgar Hoover had in fact opened a file on him during WWII.)  He drank more heavily to combat the pain from his lifelong injuries.

In 1960, hearing that Fidel Castro wanted to nationalize property owned by Americans, Hemingway and his wife Mary left their beloved Finca Vigia ranch in Cuba and moved to Ketchum, Idaho.  Hemingway became seriously ill and retreated into silence and despair.  He checked into the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Doctors diagnosed him with a psychiatric illness and treated him with 15 rounds of electroshock therapy.  In early 1961 he was "released in ruins."

Hemingway had always been plagued by suicidal thoughts.  His father Clarence had committed suicide with a gunshot to the head in 1928.  Hemingway commented at the time, "I'll probably go the same way."  Like his father, Hemingway had been diagnosed with the genetic disease hemochromatosis. This caused the inability of the body to metabolize iron resulting in mental and physical deterioration.  Hemingway's sister Ursula and brother Leicester also committed suicide.  Years later, Hemingway's granddaughter Margaux would take her own life.

In the morning hours of June 2, Hemingway awoke early, careful not to wake Mary.  He donned his favorite dressing gown that he called his "emperor's robe" and entered the basement where he kept his guns.  He removed his favorite gun, a double-barrel 12-gauge Boss & Co. shotgun.  He inserted two shells into the gun, walked into the upstairs foyer, put the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.  The story reported to the press was that Hemingway "accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun."  Months later, Mary admitted the death was suicide.

Hemingway had been a swashbuckling, hard-drinking adventurer.  He was a hunter, a pugilist, a war hero and a writer who defined his time and mastered his craft.  In 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.  He opted not to travel to Stockholm.  Instead he sent a speech to be read which defined the writer's existence.  "Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.  Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing.  He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness but often his work deteriorates.  For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day."  (5" x 6", black ink print)


Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Art Dealer

Dina Brown has been a Los Angeles Art Dealer for more than 20 years. She opened Gallery Brown in West Hollywood in 2004 and the list of contemporary artists she's showcased includes Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Edward Ruscha, Julian Schnabel, Jean Michel Basquiat and Shepard Fairey.

A typical day for Dina includes offering new work to collectors, providing feedback to artists, appraising private collections, packaging pieces for shipment and curating new exhibitions.

Dina advises new collectors to saturate themselves in what's going on, to go to museums, galleries, pop-up shows, street exhibitions...anywhere you find art. From there you buy what you love.  "There's nothing like finding a perfect art match for someone, knowing they are bringing home a piece of art they adore."

Part of Dina's job is to educate clients.  A common misconception among collectors, for example, is the belief that a low number in a print series is more valuable.  All numbers of an edition are of equal value unless a particular print is different in some unique way (color combination, pattern, etc.).

Dina works hard to assure the authenticity of a piece of art.  With certain artists, like Miro, a fake can be difficult to detect.  Dina relies on the catalogue raisonne of an artist.  This lists information like title, size, year, medium, markings, publisher and printer.  If details in the catalogue raisonne match the artwork, this increases the likelihood of authenticity though there are other factors involved.  Experience in determining if the paper and signature are correct are vitally important.

Price points for a piece of art are determined by supply and demand and the crucial factor "condition."  Many limited edition prints are fragile and can be easily damaged by mishandling, improper framing and exposure to sunlight.  "When buying art I routinely unframe the piece to check the condition first.  Unfortunately there are a lot of poor framers out there and many pieces are hinged or mounted improperly."

Dina loves working with emerging artists.  "I relish watching someone evolve and grow.  It's extremely inspiring."  In 2008, Dina began working with John Lurie, the noted indie film actor (Stranger Than Paradise) and experimental musician from the Lounge Lizards.  Dina curated an exhibition of Lurie's work called "The Invention Of Animals."  Lurie, who started painting in 2004, combines primitive styling with modern ideas and a sharp sense of humor.  (One of his pieces is called "The Spirits are trying to tell me something but it's really fucking vague.")

During Dina's two decades as an art dealer, the business has seen significant change.  "The ever shrinking middle-class, the housing crisis, the recession, all these things basically wiped out a whole segment of buyers of modestly priced investment grade art.  I used to have a lot of clients who bought work in the $3,000-$5,000 range.  Those clients are fewer now.  It's sad.

"I've watched a generational shift in who the buyer is.  Back in the early 90's I was selling to my parent's generation.  I'm now selling to my peers who are hugely influenced by street art.  This has absolutely influenced what I show.

"I've always loved Rothko and Pollock and Basquiat.  But I also love new artists like Gregory Siff and Alexander Yulish.  I'm fortunate as an art dealer to be exposed to new artists from all walks of life.  The ones that are an aesthetic and energetic match are the ones I move forward with.  Even after 20 years I can tell you my love of art is completely sustained."  (6" x 7", black ink print)
(www.gallerybrown.com)