Art Lies, Volume 47, Summer 2005 Page: 34
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While I was an art student at San Diego State, something wonderful
happened: a guest artist, Richard Allen Morris, came to school and
gave a talk on painting. For the first time in my life, I understood what was
being said. It was magical, mysterious and all so crystal-clear.
Morris invited the students down to the San Diego Museum of Art
in Balboa Park to "look at paintings." I couldn't wait. I got there early
and was the only student present when Richard arrived. There were
very few visitors, so we had the place almost to ourselves. We looked
at a Rembrandt from across the room and moved in for a closer look.
He showed me the brush marks that made up a cheek; they were gor-
geous! We walked and talked, and I was totally under his spell. This man
showed me more in two days than I had learned in months of school.
Richard had a studio in the Spanish Village, an art ghetto mostly
occupied by Sunday painters in Balboa Park. I, too, rented a studio in
the Spanish Village-actually, a stage and courtyard because no studios
were available at the time. I would go down there to work and drop by
Richard's to see what he was doing. On the afternoons that I visited his
studio, it was mostly dark and filled with racks of finished work. Richard
would sit at his desk reading, with an unfinished canvas on the far wall
with lights on it so he could look up from his book and maintain con-
tact, awaiting further intuitions. He was kind, patient and generous. We
remain friends to this day.
By the early '70s, I was working on hard-edged, psychedelic (read:
black light), fantasy cartoon paintings and showing with Bay Area paint-
ers known as the Visionary School. I was preparing a huge triptych; each
panel was 10-x-6 feet. It took up one wall of my studio. One very strange
night, I realized that lines were ruining painting for me; I would never
again paint on this or that side of another line. I knew Ad Reinhardt's
work from a show at Dwan Gallery, and I knew I didn't want a rigid grid
or to use flat black. I mixed three blacks from red, yellow and blue, and
began marking into an imaginary grid, but I was rocking manic and the
damn paint wouldn't dry fast enough. I began using two-inch house
painting brushes to blend wet paint into the ground so it would dry and
I could continue painting. I rotated the colors so their sequence was ever
changing. I also changed the sequence of horizontals and verticals in
my imaginary grid, allowing for a fairly even yet undetectable system of
I continued, layer after layer, until the entire canvas was black. This
frenzy was the most magical of my life; I painted for three days with-
out stopping. Then, one morning, there was a huge crash in front of my
studio. I opened the front door to see my Dodge pickup crashed into the
front of my neighbor's studio. I didn't understand.
In moments, the police were there. "Whose truck is that?" I told them
it was mine, and they threw the cuffs on me. I was exhausted, filthy,
with a three-day beard and wearing nothing but paint-spattered cover-
alls and flip-flops. I was being led to a police car when a woman ran up
and started screaming at the cops, "No! No! He isn't the one. The guy
ran across the street and through the vacant lot. That truck was parked
across the street."
She led the cops, with me in tow, across the street to three other
crashed cars. Apparently a guy had crashed into a row of parked cars,
hitting them so hard that my pickup, like in a combo pool shot, rico-
cheted across the street and into my neighbor's building.
The cops reluctantly let me loose; I went into the studio, got my
keys, moved the truck, signed some paperwork, took a hot bath
and went to sleep for a very long time. When I awoke, I found every
canvas in my studio was painted black. My life was changed forever
by a kind of punk satori (sudden enlightenment). This was in 1975.
Many realizations that occurred that long night are still part of
my practice. I realized that I didn't want to get bogged down in the
Abstract Expressionist situation of three choices: save it, wipe it out,
work it. I didn't want to do the action/reaction thing or jump back
and forth from being "the artist" to "the critic." No chosen areas. No
figure; no ground. I wanted a totally proletarian marking system-no
heroes or stars. I recalled Robert Motherwell wanting to call Abstract
Expressionism Abstract Automatism, and that sounded closer to
what I had in mind. I wanted a Joycean stream of consciousness
but with marks and color instead of words and pages. I attempted to
avoid visual contact with the surface and simply marked paint into
different portions of an imagined grid. Again I failed because as the
arm moves, the eye will focus-often on the most interesting part of
a quadrant-and smack. The brush would hit the place my eye hit
on, and it was obliterated. It's here that I got real wise/dumb.
I decided to close my eyes and mark without watching/looking/
controlling. It worked, and it continues to work. At first I was almost
embarrassed to tell painter friends of my "breakthrough," but even-
tually I told a few. David Trowbridge turned me onto this "Chinese
poet/artist" who painted while intoxicated, listening to live music
with his eyes closed. This was centuries ago, so I felt a part of a tra-
dition. I was a Drunken Master.
I worked on Automatic Paintings from 1975 through the early
eighties. One day, while walking a path along the ridgeline between
a house and studio at Malibu Lake (my friend Gwynn Murrill had a
Prix de Rome and I was housesitting), I had a strange experience.
A hummingbird flew up, an arm's length in front of me. As I followed
it, a swallow arched across its trajectory; behind it flew a crow, and
a vulture high above. For an instant, the four birds were aligned in a
magical way. At the time, I was busy with work that did not refer out-
side itself; now I became obsessed with sharing this experience.
I began drawing that afternoon; the drawings eventually evolved
into my 1980 painting Four Birds, a 47-x-197 inch painting in acrylic
on linen stretched over four wood panels. (This painting was sup-
posed to be shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1983
as part of their Young Talent Awards 1963-1983 but was damaged by
the installers and removed from the exhibition.)
I continued with the Automatic Paintings, finishing up a series
of red/yellow/blue triptychs. Then, inspired by a winning poker
hand, came the Poker Paintings. With monochrome panels painted
either red or black, these would be the last of my flat works. I painted
them from 1981 through 1983 in Venice, California; Minneapolis,
Minnesota; Kyoto, Japan; and Berkeley, California.
While living in Kyoto, I fell under the spell of the gardens. People
called me Haywardo (peacetime); when introducing me to friends,
they explained that I was the man who painted crows at night.
I came to appreciate gold, silver and copper as "colors," a realization
that would later find form in the Icon Paintings.
34 ARTL!ES Summer 2005
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Bryant, John & Gupta, Anjali. Art Lies, Volume 47, Summer 2005, periodical, 2005; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228012/m1/36/: accessed April 26, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .