We had rented a Ford Taurus in Amsterdam, driven up to Copenhagen and then down through Germany to Austria and into Italy. It was 1968 and I was traveling with my wife and my two young boys through Europe to visit our cowboy/painter/sculptor friend Harry Jackson who was married to my wife’s friend Sarah. As we approached Pietra Santa, we found Harry and Sarah by doing what Harry had told us to do, which was just to ask for the “cowboy”.
They had a nice place with a studio attached and a little paddock with a horse. Inside the house was a fireplace which had been made to Harry’s specifications which were that it had a large enough opening that he was able to sit on his horse inside of it.
Harry had grown up in Chicago and ran away from the care of his two spinster aunts when he was pretty young. He went to Wyoming and became a cowboy. Eventually he came to New York’s “Little Italy” and had a studio on the corner of Mulberry and Broome streets. He was an Abstract Expressionist painter in the 50’s and was close friends with Jackson Pollock (Pollock was married at Harry’s house and owned a car that Harry gave him).
Harry’s first wife was Grace Hartigan, a model that he taught to paint. She became a famous painter with the Abstract Expressionists while Harry left them to become a realist, an event that engendered an article in Life Magazine. When he married Leann’s friend Sarah, he took another floor in his building as living quarters while the loft below was his spacious high-ceilinged studio. He had a hydraulic platform from which he would paint large western murals. Cowboy life became the subject of his realistic paintings and sculptures. When they visited us in Connecticut for weeks at a time, he would literally take over my telephone calling all around the world constantly with the business of galleries and agents and the selling of his sculpture and painting. He was in constant contact with his crew of helpers back in Italy where he also lived. His “foreman” would call and say that there was a little trouble going on with the sky in a mural. The assistant wasn’t quite painting it correctly.
“Stop all work on the sky!” Harry would shout into the phone. When he wasn’t phoning, he had me running around in the yard so he could practice his lasso skills.
Back on Mulberry street, when we would visit, we’d see his painting- in- progress of Bob Dylan (which never got completed because Bob signed with Columbia records and was off to stardom).
Downstairs from the lofts was a bar. Harry painted all the “regulars” by bringing them up to the loft, a few at a time, along with tables and chairs and painted a mural which is there to this day, except that the actual mural was deemed too valuable to stay there so it has now been replaced by a large photo replica. One day while we were sitting in the bar, Harry said, “You see the guy on whose lap Kris is sitting?” Kris is my oldest son. Harry said, “He’s a Mafia hit man.”
Anyway, back to Italy (Harry lived in New York, Italy and Wyoming), we had a wonderful time and got to meet one of the world’s most famous sculptors, Jacques Lipchitz. He was a friend of Harry’s and we all went to an art show at a little monastery with him where Lipchitz was showing some sculpture along with the monks. Afterwards, we all went to Lipchitz’s villa up a long entrance driveway which was lined with pillars, each topped with a marble Roman head. We sat on his big veranda and looked at the most marvelous view of mountains that I ever saw. Jacques said he liked his place on Hastings-on -the- Hudson better.
Sitting there, I asked Lipchitz about Modigliani who he had been very close to. Modigliani had painted many portraits of Lipchitz who told me a story that probably nobody else knows about the famous portrait of Lipchitz and his then wife, Berthe. Lipchitz said that he commissioned the portrait when he was just married as a present for Berthe’s parents. Modigliani made a few quick sketches and then in a few hours painted the portrait, all the while drinking. Lipchitz was disappointed because he didn’t like the way the frail, weak Modigliani was looking and he had hoped to keep him under his care for a while. Modigliani was drinking heavily also. So, Lipchitz made up a story to keep him around awhile. He told the painter that the portrait wouldn’t do because the thin washes, that were Modigliani’s trademark, would not appeal to his wife’s parents because they were unsophisticated common people who thought that a painting should have a lot of paint on it. Modigliani said, “Okay, if you want me to ruin it !” Hence, the famous painting of Lipchitz and wife is the only Modigliani with thick paint on it.
Lipchitz invited me to his studio (which was in a different location) the next day to see a sculpture destined for Lincoln Center, which he was finishing up. Stupidly, I declined because we had other plans.
He had none of his work at the villa. His wife took us around and showed us her art work and a bedspread made entirely of bird feathers that she had bought in Greenwich Village.
Lipchitz really took a shine to my youngest son who had turned eight on that trip. At one point, he called him over and said, “Timateo (his name is Timothy), you will come to live with me. I will pay you ten cents a week and I will make of you, the world’s GREATEST sculptor!” Then, Lipchitz’s wife said that we should make believe that we were leaving him there and drive away. She thought that it would be great fun. Knowing my little boy, I whispered to Tim, “Listen, we’re only playing a little trick. We’re going to pretend to leave you here but we’ll come back.” All the poor kid needed was to see his parents abandon him in Europe. I probably should have said, “You’re not going to like this but we’re going to leave you here with this nice old man and when you grow up you’ll thank us for it!”
After we left Harry and Sarah and started out for Paris, we phoned back at one point to thank them and Sarah told us that we had left one day too soon because the day after, they had a big party with Lipchitz, Henry Moore and Marino Marini, the top three sculptors of the world. They all gather there because it’s where the marble quarries are.
I think of this adventure every time I go to Lincoln Center and see Lipchitz’s sculpture there.
Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories: