Friday, April 24, 2015

For Alex Eliot on his Passing - "Oriste!"

“Life is a fatal adventure. It can only have one end. So why not make it as far-ranging and free as possible?” Alexander Eliot


I received the sad news yesterday that my dear friend, art writer and mythologist, Alex Eliot passed away. Born April 28, 1919, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Alex would have turned 97 this week. Alex was the art editor at Time Magazine from 1945 until 1960. During those years Alex crafted numerous articles about the modern art scene. Alex always held us spellbound with tales of meeting the major artists of the period. Alex especially loved to tell the story of meeting Salvador Dali in New York and that Dali became a close friend because Jane Winslow, Eliot’s wife, had lived in Catalonia and spoke Dali’s native Catalan fluently. 

For his 90th birthday, Alex's talented daughter, the writer Winslow Eliot, asked me to craft an appreciation of Alex. I have revamped this essay a bit to reflect on his passing:

In Alex Eliot's marvelous essay in Frederick Franck's book, What Does it Mean to be Human?, Alex recounts his journey to the Greek region of Karoulia and his encounter with the "very holy fellow" Simon. Like many of his fellow Orthodox monks from Mount Athos, Simon retired to a cliff side residence in Karoulia. Perched high above the water, these monks spend their later years in solitude with the meeting of the sea and sky as their constant companion.

Alex was invited by a fisherman from Mount Athos, who spoke of Simon as a holy fellow, to make the journey with him by sea to visit the monk. With the fisherman's boat bobbing in the waves below, Alex climbed a series of steps carved into the rock face with only a series of chains spiked into the cliff to hold onto. The fisherman had said, "If those chains will hold you, it is as God wills" for Alex to meet with Simon. At the end of his climb, Alex explains that he lay drenched in sweat, gasping like a beached fish until he felt a cool shadow break the heat and there was Simon, "sparkling eyed" with his arms spread wide, exclaiming "Oriste!" meaning "Welcome, what can I do for you!"



Forgive me if I break Alex's engaging narrative at this point. As I write these words, I am sitting in my studio surrounded by a series of new paintings inspired by a recent trip with my family to Japan. The siren of these images is calling me. And I can't help but wonder what Alex and Jane Eliot, who also traveled with their family to Japan, will think of this new work. I don't have to risk my life scaling a cliff to reach the Eliots. I just need to make my pilgrimage out my studio door and down Ocean Park Boulevard, Diebenkorn's old haunts, to Venice, California to visit this couple who always greet my friends and family with wide open arms and profound insights. Like Simon's greeting, Alex Eliot's welcoming words nourish and inspire me.
Alex Eliot and Gregg Chadwick at the Getty Museum Malibu

Alex Eliot turned 90 on April 28, 2009. In his fruitful life, Alex met with and wrote about the great artists of his age, including Picasso and Matisse. One might think it would only be natural for a man of such wisdom and experience to be a bit haughty. Instead, Alex shares the old monk Simon's gentle and generous spirit as well as his great wisdom and love for life.

While on that cliff in Karoulia, Simon offered Alex a piece of caramel candy. Alex, graciously accepted the gift and then when the monk was preoccupied, Alex, feeling that the seemingly undernourished monk needed all the calories he could get, slipped it under Simon's plate. Alex then bowed and scooted out to climb down the cliff to the boat waiting below. The sun was setting when Alex reached the fisherman who lay asleep in the boat. The sirens called. Alex disrobed and dove into the sea only to be startled by a basket hurtling down the old monk's supply cable which linked his aerie to the world. In the basket was the caramel. "My candy had come back! I put the caramel straight into my mouth and like a child once more I tasted its burnt sugar elixir right down to my toes."

And then Alex opens up to the mythosphere - "Never before in this life, possibly, had my poor spirit taken nourishment. I stood dripping upon the shore of time and Simon waved to me from eternity."

Like Simon's candy, Alex Eliot's friendship gives my poor spirit nourishment.

Let me break again from my essay to speak directly to Alex:

Alex, I thank you for your wisdom, your profound words and feelings, the inspired love that you show to your wife - Jane - and your talented children. Alex - you are a lifeline, an example, and a challenge. I am proud to be your friend. 



Gregg Chadwick

Study for a Portrait of Alex Eliot 
8"x13" oil on wood 2009

Throughout my years as I stand with my wife, MarySue, and my kid, Cassiel, on the shore of time I will see Alex and Jane Eliot waving to me from eternity and exclaiming, "Oriste!"

Alex and Jane Eliot
photo courtesy Winslow Eliot


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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Wishing JMW Turner a Splendid Birthday

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Google Doodle celebrates 140th birthday of Japanese artist Shoen Uemura

Monday, April 20, 2015

Love Songs to the City

by Gregg Chadwick


Turn the nightly news on today, or scan the latest headlines on your iPhone, and it would seem that the world grows uglier each day. Eleven years ago, I wrote about my search for images of peace. I hearken back to those thoughts prompted by a memory of a time in Perth, Australia reading an art review concerning an exhibition about non-violence. The title of the review was "How do you paint peace?" Prompted by these ongoing concerns, I have been creating a new series of paintings using ideas of New Urbanism - Los Angeles in particular with peace as a subtext. What the amazing writer, actor, and teacher Claudette Sutherland, in my studio yesterday evening, called "Love Songs to the City." 



Gregg Chadwick
Third L.A. (for Christopher Hawthorne)
30"x24" oil on linen 2015


Three books published in the last few years should be on every peacemaker's bookshelf: Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, Michael Shermer's The Moral Arc, and the Dalai Lama's Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World. These three volumes begin with the premise that global violence on an historical timeline is not getting worse and that humanity is generally good. 



Gregg Chadwick
Thursday's Child
8"x6" oil on panel 2015


 Pinker's book successfully argues that the past was a much more brutal time. “The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species,” Pinker writes. As Elizabeth Kolbert notes in The New Yorker,"Another key development in Pinker’s narrative is the rise of cities, which in turn demanded stricter codes of conduct." This thought in Pinker's work connects to my painterly exploration of our new era in Los Angeles.  As the architecture writer for the Los Angeles Times explains - there have been three distinct iterations of modern L.A.:


"The First Los Angeles, stretching roughly from the city’s first population boom in the 1880s through 1940, a city growing at an exponential pace built a major transit network and innovative civic architecture.
In the Second Los Angeles, covering the period from 1940 to the turn of the millennium, we pursued a hugely ambitious experiment in building suburbia –- a privatized, car-dominated landscape –- at a metropolitan scale.
Now we are on the cusp of a new era. In a series of six public events, some on the Occidental College campus and others elsewhere, the Third Los Angeles Project will explore and explain this new city. "



 Shermer argues that because of the Enlightenment, thinkers consciously applied the methods of science to morally solve social struggles and that again, on an historical timeline, humanity is in the most moral period in history. 



The Dalai Lama makes it clear in Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World that an individual does not have to be religious to be ethical. Love and compassion are necessities for living. Compassion expresses deep sensitivity to the sufferings of others and a fierce drive to help alleviate those sufferings. Compassion is also the realization that we - human beings, animals, and the earth itself - are all interconnected.




Again I ask you: 
How would you paint peace? 
How would you create the idea of peace in your music? In your writing? In your life?

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