I was the kid mascot to Clem Greenberg’s troops. Although I was well treated their assumed trajectory was haughtily self-referential, if not comically oblivious. The odor of money permeated, so there were few, if any, poets in that confident clutch of artists. For nutrition I hung out with downtown poets where, for an unheard-of two-page poem, The New Yorker paid Paul Blackburn enough to buy a few rounds of drinks at McSorley’s. When David Kermani became my Director at The Tibor deNagy Gallery I was introduced to the great John Ashbery, whose work I loved but whose name was quarantined downtown. I had a concurrent love for Cecil Taylor’s interminable music, which was also derided by the be-bop-only adherents, along with the verdict that Rauschenberg's extended work lacked focus. It was that very relentlessness in John’s poetry that attracted me as courageously factual - as content. I had previously made paintings on bolts of canvas that were too long to install anywhere. Torah scrolls. Memorial walls. Reading John’s book-length poems, whose expanse recalled Coleridge and Tennyson and whose last lines didn’t end with a preachy faux-wisdom was a relief. As there is no tether, no indebtedness acknowledged, there is no instruction intended. John’s work invented a reliable present-tense artifact.
Kitaj established that one didn’t have to be Jewish to feel marginalized – that we are all “diasporists”. Well, if you feel that you have been disqualified from nurturing any progeny because the source of your voice has been exiled from the dialog then you have no obligation to curate the reins of a tradition whose aesthetics assure your invisibility. Unremitting observation is the only platform of your existence. Giving constant witness, watching, is the charity that John’s poetry performs, leaving generous evidence of consciousness. John’s work avails a truth of how our minds digest. Oddly, it is the manifest news that Williams warns about. To this we can relate. For all of his humor, the experience of reading John’s poetry is the most adult exercise. The Talmudic tradition joyously offers numerous contradictory conclusions, none of which are prioritized. You’re on your own. Discussants will engage, taste, wander off and return. Similarly John’s achievement is not in the poet’s proclamation – it is in our absorption of stimuli that prompt a welcome recall and trigger identification. For all of John's wryness there isn't a drop of cynicism. It is all love. I know this point can be argued. I stick by my guns on this one. Highways and alleyways of sunlight – of embraces, aromas – all materialize, fade to vanishing and replenish as we continue. Hidden, from the roadside, urchins throw memories at us that we had figured were unrecoverable. Such giving. Such geography. Fearless - and despite the chant of his mingy critics – without stance. Anyone recognizing John’s lead glimpsed some recipe snippets to extricate from a received revolving aesthetic. A kindly revolutionary who freed us from confronting that maze’s entrance into which an unexamined velocity would have cast us, John exposed open spaces into which we could, yes, romp - if only we accepted the liberties for which John’s work signified allowance. Our collaborative works, giddily, lovingly and efficiently engineered by David, remain seamless.
Supportive and funny John was a sweetheart of a man. He also did a spot-on impression of Eric Blore. An Alice, convinced that The Queen of Hearts’ universe was nothing but a pack of cards, his performance, crashing a convoy through roadblocks of smothering axioms - no - ignoring them, helped change me and my work. For that I can never express sufficient gratitude. Thank you John. Thank you David, so much, for being my companion, mentor and enabler on the long, wonderful trip for which you enlisted me so many years ago.
Archie Rand is an artist from Brooklyn, New York. Rand's work as a painter and muralist is held in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Bibliothèquee de France in Paris, and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. His graphic works and books are held by the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, the Museum of Modern A, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute Of Chicago, The Brooklyn Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and The New York Public Library; and are owned by Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, and Johns Hopkins universities.