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copyright 2011 Jessica Accardi
Jessica; wordsmith! I just thought I’d let you know that I’ve nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award! See here:
That is very kind of you M. mofman.
Jessica: I have greatly appreciated your reviews and reflections and creations here. Thank you for making them.
Thanks so much, your comments are always appreciated. Good luck to you, your blog has been very enriching to me, I will miss it.
An interesting blog I must say! Thank you for hitting the follow button my mine. If you get time, please also check this other blog http://www.acuriousarmywife.wordpress.com, where I write about my adventures as an Army wife in India. Cheers!
I will! Thank you so much for your comments.
Although you were probably too young to remember, we met several times briefly following your father’s death in December 1971. First at Colgate, April 15th and 16th, 1972 when my wife Sheila and I, newly married, traveled back to Hamilton for Eric’s retrospective at the Picker Gallery and later at Ivoryton, CT. Because many of your father’s newer works incorporated light from interior sources, they required electricity, something the Picker Gallery was ill-equipped to supply. Knowing nothing of Ohm’s Law, Edward Bryant, then Director of the Gallery, was in the process of blowing every circuit in the building as he attempted to hang your father’s show as we arrived.
Having just completed a Masters in film at Northwestern (an opportunity made possible by your father’s constant support and letter of recommendation), I happened to possess a practical working knowledge of electricity gained from lighting film locations all over Chicago. Having driven straight through to Hamilton, my wife and I were climbing the steps of the Picker when I ran into David Sellin, who had been your father’s friend and my instructor at Colgate as well. Explaining the dilemma, David was seriously concerned that Eric’s electric paintings might not be able to be properly hung. The minute he walked me through the gallery I realized that they were overloading some of the circuits while bypassing others completely. Quickly making a list of what we would need to effectively “rewire” the hall and split the circuits, we sent someone downtown to the local hardware store to buy zip cord and the necessary plugs and receptacles. Then David and I set to work. With a wine and cheese reception looking a few hours off, we had to work fast. But as each of your father’s “electric signs” came to life with light, I can remember the sense of exhilaration I felt. We finished with minutes to spare. I have never been prouder than I was at that moment having been able to contribute in some small way to that remarkable show. It was the very least I could do considering all your father had done for me. I had brought a Nikon with a 105mm lens and took photos of the entire show.
The following day, your mother, Joyce, invited us out to your house just outside Hamilton where I took more photos as well — a total of two rolls of 36 exposures each. When we returned to Chicago, I immediately set to work on a diptych — a kind of tribute to your father embodying all he had taught me. Incorporating oil on canvas and wood and metal as well as integrated lighting, I attempted to capture the essence of those significant forms I found in his work. Using themes that so inspired him from the sea and flight — even employing an imprint of my own hand to make the viewer aware of the surface of the painting, just as he once shown me how to do. At the heart of each half of the diptych were three circles of florescent light that not only illuminated each painting from within but also provided a light source for the photographs I had taken and spliced together so that they now encircled the central core of each painting. Having been accepted to Northwestern’s PhD program in cinema studies starting that fall, I knew I had to finish by summer. Meanwhile, your mother had moved with you and your brother and sisters to Ivoryton. So in midsummer, Sheila and I took a last look at the diptychs hanging side by side and loaded one of them into our beat-up ’66 Corvair and headed east where I gave it to your mother (the other half still hangs in our home which is now in California). Given the passage time and difficulty maintaining Eric’s own legacy — his incredible paintings and sculptures that truly deserve a place in American art of the 20th century — it is quite possible that half of the diptych no longer exists except in my own mind. But that in and of itself is enough. For few men have had such a profound impact as your father did on my life so long ago. My apologies for this long ramble. But I am in the process of writing a tribute to your father for the 50th Reunion of my class (Colgate ’65) and happened upon your website. Thank you for the photos of him at work as well as the paintings themselves. It immediately took me back. To be honest, there’s not been a day of my life since leaving Colgate that I have not thought of him and the gift he gave me. Please give my best to your mother, Joyce, as well as your brother and sisters.
With warmest regards,
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
What kind words to receive. I will contact you privately. But thank you for such wonderful memories…he died when I was two, as you seem aware, so it means so much to me to get a glimpse of what kind of a man he was. Thank you.
What a pleasure to read. Mr. Simmons, you are so good to share your memories and to give life to the man you knew so well.
As promised, below is the piece I’ve written for inclusion in the Colgate Class of ’65’s 50th Reunion Yearbook to be published next year. Hopefully it conveys some sense of Eric Ryan, the artist and the man.
All the best,
Attempting to capture Eric Ryan in words is like trying to grab lightning as it streaks across the sky – brilliant, illuminating, and gone in an instant. I first met him in Core 21, Colgate’s required Fine Arts course that focused on art, music and architecture. I was a sophomore, and his enthusiasm for life and art was infectious. Although I was an English major, he inspired me to take his courses in studio painting. Having worked as an underwater archeologist in Greece and Turkey, his course in Ancient Art of the Middle East helped open my eyes to the past. His insights and instincts were remarkable. He was also extremely demanding – nothing could be done halfway. It was all or nothing. He taught me that every painting begins as a pristine white shape. And from the moment your first brush stroke touches the canvas, you had an obligation to keep painting until you left it better than you found it. Nothing less was acceptable.
Eric also could be wryly funny. Finding me struggling in the studio late one evening, he came in and stood behind me for a long time studying the canvas. Then with a frown, he stepped forward and turned it upside down. “What do you think?” he asked at last. Trapped, I shook my head: “It’s shit,” I replied. “Well…” he said, “that’s a start. At least you know what you’ve got. If you’re here in the morning, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee. Meanwhile, try not to fall on your pallet knife.” That black Irish humor – “try not to fall on your pallet knife” — was classic Eric Ryan. Another time, when I was complaining that I’d never be able to afford a Picasso, he grinned, “An artist is a collector so poor he can’t afford what he likes, so he goes home and paints one for himself.” The truth of that observation hangs on the walls of our home today.
As graduation approached, I turned to him again. Having come to painting late, I had a very limited portfolio and wondered if I even had a chance of being accepted. Luckily for me, Eric saw some promise in my work and contacted the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. After reviewing my work and based on Eric’s recommendation, I was accepted with the proviso I spend a year strictly painting at New York’s New School. Accepted for the fall of 1965, things might have worked out had Vietnam and the draft not gotten in the way.
Despite that temporary setback, Eric and I remained in touch. Recently I reread a letter he sent me from Kyoto, Japan, where he went on a Ford Foundation grant in 1966. It was filled with wonder at all he’d found there. And in 1970, he was literally on his way to the Yucatan on another grant when he stopped long enough to write a letter of recommendation for me to Northwestern University film school. Once again, his faith in me carried the day.
I had just finished my Masters and been accepted to work towards a PhD when I picked up the Colgate Scene to read of his death from complications of pneumonia. It seemed impossible. He was only 41. Still in shock four months later, I returned to Hamilton to help David Sellin hang Eric’s final retrospective in the Picker Gallery. A partial downpayment on a debt I can never fully repay. For not a day passes that I don’t think about him and the ways in which his sensibilities still shape my life. — Garner Simmons ’65
That and much more. Thank you. Truely.
Hi there Jessica,
Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the blogosphere and for the follow. Your support is much appreciated, 🙂
You’re most welcome. I look forward to future sallies to your little corner.
It’s been awhile – how are you doing? Miss your offerings…
Thanks. Lots of changes. But I’ll come back soon….I think.
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