As if things hadn’t gotten hard enough for me after the death of my father within a year or so I would put into motion the actions that lead to the dissolution and subsequent break up of my long standing, 14 year relationship with Lori Taschler. The woman I had shared so much of my life with and who was always so supportive and good to me. Having gotten wind of this, a friend called with great concern fearing I had done this because of my father’s recent death. He felt that I was somehow not fully aware of what I was doing because of it. That the shock of his death had put me in this state of mind and that I shouldn’t be making these kinds of decisions. He was right of course, but I wasn’t connecting the dots, I couldn’t see it. He felt that I should try to step back, think more clearly and reconsider. I couldn’t. I was pushing her away and at the time felt convinced that I had to go through with it no matter the cost. Part of me felt I was really doing it for her own good as much as mine. In the end it was very unfair and it took her by surprise. At a couples therapy session I let her know how I felt and what I was thinking of doing. To do this I would live for a time at my studio in the East Village and Lori would stay at the West 11th St. apartment we had shared all those years until she could manage to move out. I never considered making her move first. By doing this I realized I put myself in even more of a precarious position than I was leaving behind. The apartment I left at that point was more like her place in many ways already. I was spending so much time on the east side painting or hanging out that 227 had become more Lori’s studio/home than mine. The lease was in my name and that was the only way you would know that I had a stake in it. There had been times that I was living out of E. 6th St. in the past but never for very long. It was not really suited for living in but you could manage. 500 square feet of space with a bathroom in the adjacent hall of the building that you had to go out to to use. A sink in the back, no shower and filled mostly with my work that had accumulated after the selling spree of the 1980’s art boom. This would become my home for what turned out to be the next 3 and a half years. What made it possible also was that I had recently met Jan Sokota. She lived on E. 6th St closer to Ave. A just across the street and had known of my work since the early East Village Art scene. She worked at CBS as an editor on the nightly news with Dan Rather. She was smart and a talented artist in her own right. Beautiful and tall, full of wit and charm. We began seeing each other and I moved in with her. Having fallen in love with her so soon after my breakup made for its own set of problems the least of which was Jan’s avid (and somewhat justified) resentment for my having allowed Lori to still live at my place on W.11th St. It was as if I were taking care of Lori all over again (which in many ways I was) only this time I was even in less of a position to do so. It all sounds so complicated and messed up and it was. It began to slowly sour my relationship with Jan who to her great credit had shown a lot of patience with the situation we were in. The problem was that after all was said and done I remained extremely loyal to Lori. I still loved her very much and I knew that I had caused her great suffering and pain due to our break up which I felt very guilty about. My love for Jan was different, it was new and full of promise. If I had totally rejected Lori, I guess Jan would have felt more sure of my love for her. It is impossible for me to change what happened and I, in the end, learned some hard lessons in the hardest of ways.
The death of my father was truly shocking. He seemed so healthy the last time I saw him, he was only 74. I thought he’d live forever. His passing changed the dynamic within our family and it was for the worse. There was no will and I granted my sister Candela power of attorney. She would handle all the affairs it turned out and deal with all the loose ends. At the time I trusted her with this implicitly. Something which I would come to regret.
My relationship with my Dad had always been difficult and because of this my sister partly justified what she did claiming that “Dad may have loved you more but I was closer to him”. She wanted to control everything. She moved into his home, the home we had grown up in claiming her legal rights and I would never be allowed there again. Except for one Sunday that I would go with Jan Sakota my girlfriend at the time, to pick up the things that had for the most part been picked out for me such as his guitar and all his sheet music (a 14 box archive of all the music he played, taught his students with, and had transcribed and that I would ultimately donate as a gift to his beloved student and teacher, Victor Keremedjiev so he could keep the legacy and music alive in my fathers name). These items and some others were downstairs on the first floor vestibule from the 5 story walk up ready and boxed for me to take. The impression I had was that I would go there and be allowed to go through some things to pick out but I was rudely mistaken. Feeling blindsided I needed to call a van service and had to reason with Candela to let me go upstairs to phone one. She and her husband, Chris wouldn’t let Jan and I go through the apartment. Instead I had to call from Dad’s desk in his studio. It was a sad day indeed.
This pattern continued. Only after confronting my sister and her lawyer (an old family friend and student of my father’s) did I discover that she had a joint account with Dad. There was close to $40.000 in it and she used much of the $ on lawyers fees to pay for the fight she was in with the new owners of the building. I was given $2,000. That’s it. For me the amount and all the possessions going to me, my two half sisters Tani, Gizelle and Candela wasn’t the issue that made this all so horrible. It was how Candela treated us. How cruel it was to lose my Dad and then have his estate and our inheritances handled this way. To claim some kind of special place in his heart that enabled her to justify her actions. My Mom went right along with her incidentally. Another awful blow. No matter how much I reasoned with her, that Candela was acting unfairly, Mom would never accept that Candela was capable of any such wrong doing and blamed it instead on her husband. “It was Chris, it was because of him, he wanted it this way”. As if my sister had no mind of her own, as if she was some kind of unwilling partner doing whatever he said. The truth of the matter was anything but. Having first lost my father I now had lost any semblance of a family. The one alliance that stayed strong throughout this ordeal and was strengthened by it was my relationship with Tani. She would experience the same level of cruelty as I did at the hands of Chris, Candela and Mom. We both will never be able to forgive them for what happened. With the death of my father came the death of the Prol family.
My father died June 4th 1999. A few days earlier Lori woke me with a start. My sister had just called telling us that my Dad had suffered a stroke and was at Lenox Hill Hospital. I was in a state of shock. It didn’t seem possible. He wasn’t that old, 74, and he seemed in good health last time I saw him. We had just spoken on the phone a few days earlier and the conversation was strained between us. I had confronted him on some issues that were between he and myself and we were to continue our conversation later but we didn’t get back to one another. For whatever reason I let it go and thought it was too hard to talk right then. Then Lori’s announcement changed all that.
My Dad’s students were notified of his being in the hospital and that it was a life threatening situation. The response they showed was overwhelming and moving. Stephen Northrope was there with the family at the hospital keeping vigil. Steve was one student in particular that had built a strong personal relationship with Julio. They had become very close and in many respects a surrogate son. There had been a whole string of these close, loyal male student/friends of Dad’s through the years. They shared a special bond with him and were there when he needed them for support and companionship. My own difficult relationship with my Dad created a need in Julio I believe for relationships with some of his male students that were very much like a father and son relationship. The kind of relationship that I never was able to fully have with him much to my great sadness and regret. I envied Steve. It didn’t seem fair. Steve and I had never actually met until then. But at that moment all I was thinking of was how much I loved my Dad and that I wanted him to come back to us and be with us. When I saw him on his hospital bed he appeared smaller than I knew him to be and very fragile. He never regained consciousness from his stroke.
All he meant to me, all the memories, all the regrets, all the great times, all the sadness and frustrations, all the calamities and heart ache, all his help and concern, all that he meant to his adoring students and others, all his great talent, his intense passion, his profound insights, his mastery and intelligence, his wit and laughter, his rage and sorrow, his gregariousness and joy, his childishness and self destruction, his love of great foods, wines and music, his bitterness and shame, his pride and perseverance, his pain and frustrations, his accomplishments and failures, his stamina and charm, his contradictions, all that he was, was there before me, and then, he was gone.
In his passing something was given over to me. There were things that were revealed. There were things I had never known about him, never with such clarity. It was as if only then was I able to know what he really meant to me, how much I was indebted to him for so many things. In his passing a kind of peace was made between us. The things we were never able to say to each other while he was alive were now possible. I do not regret a day that came between us, no matter how hard and how difficult things were at times.
In 1995 I curated a group show at my studio/gallery titled “Doggie Style”. The show consisted of many new names and some more familiar ones as well. It was fun making all the studio visits meeting the artists, seeing work and getting it all together. Amanda Church the painter I visited at her studio on west 14th St., Jennifer Sirey the sculptor in Brooklyn. Robert Melee an artist I met through Paul Evans, another painter, both were in the show as well. Ellen Berkenblit, Mike Bidlo, Crash, Daze, Lori Taschler and others all contributed small scale pieces due to the fact that the “gallery” in my studio was not that big. Half the space was being used as storage. The exhibit garnered a lot of positive word of mouth and good press. Time Out Magazine ran a small piece on the show before it opened. A year later my best friend Todd Hignite (working for Pace Gallery at the time) and I were to follow it up with a joint curatorial effort titled “Rip Torn” in the fall of ’96. This show had three artists in it: Richard Kern the underground film maker and photographer, Joey Kotting, and Jeff Burch. I knew Richard from back in the day but Joey and Jeff were new to me. It was a tricky situation, having to virtually give up my studio for the duration of these shows but it was well worth it. Putting them together reminded me of the days when I was doing all those cutatorial projects at the East 7th St. Gallery with Michael Markos and then with Caren Scarpulla at the B-Side Gallery. My one regret is not having done more of them.
The experiments with the “white pieces” continued apace but I was starting to have trouble with them to a degree. There was a very large one, approx. 7×9 feet, made up of different panels of found wood, cabinet doors, and populated by hundreds of small collage images I affixed to the surfaces. Timing is everything as they say and just at that moment the art dealer Leo Koenig came by to check out my work. He saw this unresolved piece and commented that it had a Christian Schumann quality but was quick to add that it was still my own. The painter Erik Parker whom I had recently befriended and one of Leo’s artists, had put my name in a couple of his “compilation list paintings” (my quotes) and had expressed to me and others how much he liked my work. But that’s not why Leo came by. Andrew Kreps had called him and said he should check out my work. Andrew did this because he felt bad for how it turned out with us? Regardless, that was very nice of Andrew to make this gesture but unfortunately nothing ultimately came of it. I really wanted to show with Leo. He had a great stable of artists and was/is well respected in the art biz. I thought it would be a perfect fit. Why he didn’t go for it I don’t know and I didn’t ask being too let down about the whole thing. Maybe I was in too much of a transitional phase, maybe I was too unsure myself about where the work was going, the timing could just have been off, who knows. One thing I do know for certain: Rule # 1, never show work in progress during a studio visit. There are so many facets to how these things can go in one way or the other with these things.
All those small ghost-like images that comprised the large piece that was giving me so much trouble resolving were later obliterated, a large single image painted over them. Only the slightest hint remains of the drawings underneath. In there place a more familiar image of the sleeping, dreaming, cat/guy. The work for me is a testament to the struggle I had with it. In trying to resolve issues of large to small scale overlapping figures and symbols, the two dimensional picture plane and depth, I simply gave up on it. Maybe frustrations with my current gallery affiliations and lack there of got in the way. The work and it’s connections to me got lost in the shuffle.
A new direction consisting of “white-washed” collages on found bits of wood made up the exhibit. The images put together were like random notes in ballpoint pen and pencil on small scraps of paper. They were mostly drawn on the paper that I had on hand at the library. A kind of stream of conscience poetry developed of a whole litany of images culled from observation and different sources along with the more familiar signature motifs of mine that had been there from the start. After affixing them onto the supports I would then partially obscure them by painting over them with white and gray acrylics that allowed the inks to bleed through and a kind of ghost like image would reappear. They were humble, rough looking, and generally small in scale. Not what one would have expected from my work. They were more like whispers, intimate and seemingly offhand. Once again I was looking for a way to expand the parameters of my paintings scope and language and in attempting this I went down a road which looked promising and full of possibilities. Andrew told me how he liked this shift and felt it was a “fresh” direction. Many younger artists I had recently come into contact with responded well also. Artists Josh Smith and Erik Parker among them gave me some positive feedback which was very encouraging. To top it all off Richard Vine wrote a favorable review in Art in America that really got the spirit of the show perfectly. Sadly, even with all this positive feed back Andrew soon dropped me from the gallery roster. Andrew gave me the feeling that he had shown my work primarily to help launch his gallery. Once that had been achieved it was over. Andrew had decided that he wanted to show work of a very different aesthetic than mine I guess. But there are ways to do things and then there are ways not to to do them and Andrew chose the latter. Subsequently there would not be the much needed follow ups, no subsequent sales, no consistency in terms of exposure again, and less positive word of mouth for the time being. To his credit Andrew went on to be a terrific dealer and has launched the careers of some very fine artists like Robert Melee, Ricci Albenda, Roe Ethridge, Jonah Freeman to name but a few. I have to say I admire him for it, just wish he had been more decent to me in how he went about things. Some lessons were learned that were important and one of them for me was: never underestimate anyone. If Andrew had just let me in on it more, his agenda, it could have helped take the sting out of it.
At times I really do feel as though I paint and create images just to see how much I can take, how far can I go, when is enough, enough? Is it all too obvious and not sufficiently mysterious or esoteric. I know the work is highly accessible and that can be both good and bad I guess. The right balance needs to be struck. To have the images come up from the subconscious is all well and good but then one needs to develop them further so to speak and in so doing their initial meaning can change and morph into new structures for future use. One thing leads to another with, ideally, as little interference on my part as possible. Some of the work is too ahead of me and I lose it or it’s too familiar and I lose it in a different way.
These images also speak of loneliness and isolation. Though Lori Taschler and I were together and I still loved her very much, our day to day living was becoming more distant. This no doubt was reflected in the work I was doing.
No one tradition really held sway in the pluralistic 70’s zeitgeist while I was at Cooper Union. That doesn’t mean just anything went either. Many important things were happening and many more were just about to as the 1980’s drew near. Art making is an organic process like any other. Out of a need comes the work and to put it a little simplistically: painters paint. Fashion, trends, perseverance, ambition and timing does the rest, or doesn’t, in the short term.
When I was an assistant to the painter Wolf Kahn my senior year I was fortunate to see, first hand, an artist of integrity with a strong work ethic. Maybe I felt his paintings to be a bit stodgy in spite of there somewhat conservative all American Impressionist landscape beauty. One of the things I came away with after having worked for him was a sense of what it really means to be a painter full time, and the sacrifices involved (of course my father as a musician was similar but this was different). He told me once how he had been invited to a rich collector’s place out on some island somewhere and went snorkeling along with other fun leisurely activities. He envied the collector’s life style saying he can’t really afford to live like that. Toiling away instead in his Broadway studio seemingly nonstop, cranking out work. He was at the same time very appreciative I’m sure that he had a market and demand for his paintings and pastels. He was also feeling a little down because he had been let go as a teacher at Cooper. Not enough students were taking his class. I overheard Emily Mason, his wife who is also a painter, consoling him tenderly saying that it was a bunch of crumby students’ faults not his. His way of painting in that rather soft Bonnard like way even had an influence on me. I liked his sense of edge control that was very different from what I had been used to. It found its way into my work for awhile and helped loosen me up.
My four years of study at Cooper Union were coming to a close. The class of 1980. Ellen Berkenblit, Teo Mieczkowski and I would have our senior year three person show in the gallery of the main building on the second floor where these events were held. Teo had some beautiful large scale abstract paintings while Ellen showed her customary small scale, quirky, personal works. As for myself I exhibited three large figurative/abstract paintings which owed a great debt to DeKooning and Pollock but with my own subject matter. So here we were, about to graduate and go out into the real world.
It’s hard to put into words how I feel about what those years at Cooper meant to me now. Suffice it to say I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to study with so many fine teachers, to have met so many talented students, to have made so many great and lasting friendships there. It was the opportunity of a life time to say the least.