Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My recollection of Addison Parks will appear in "Provincetown Arts" at the end of this month

Addison Parks


WHEN JOYCE CREIGER paired Addison and me
for our inaugural show in 1998 at the Creiger-
Dane Gallery on Newbury Street, little did we
know that she had initiated our twenty-year-long
friendship. Little did I know that my exhibition
partner had already achieved renown in the ’80s
in New York, not long after graduating from the
Rhode Island School of Design as part of the
neo-Expressionists with shows at the Joan Washburn
and Andrew Crispo galleries. He achieved
parallel success as an art critic at ARTS Magazine
and, when he moved to Boston, at the Christian
Science Monitor.
In 1998, Addison drew on his New York and
Boston connections to mount a show of hybrid
abstraction at Creiger-Dane entitled Severed Ear,
which, in retrospect, could only be considered
postmodern anticipating the Provisionalist
painting that Raphael Rubinstein labeled as
such in 2007. It bespoke his ability to befriend
a diverse group of artists and also a highly intuitive
mind that could sense connections unseen
to most people.
For more than a decade, Addison and his
wife, Stacey Parks, ran the Bow Street Gallery
in Cambridge. On occasion, he would host
luncheons with gallery members and other gallerists
where there were vibrant discussions on
art that one gallery member described as Pinteresque.
These are memories of Addison at his
best, a brilliant conversationalist bringing people
together to discuss the topics of art and life that
defined his existence.
People remember him. One evening, I was
conversing with someone at the Milton Resnick
and Pat Pasloff Foundation, telling him about
the death of Larry Deyab, who had been Resnick’s
studio assistant. Somehow the conversation
turned to Addison’s death, and he said
Addison had reviewed his first show in NYC.
Recently, a Boston artist contacted me out of
the blue to tell me what an impact Severed Ear
had on his life and art. Addison was not a happy
camper in Boston, and justifiably so, since a
certain fussbudget mentality reigns in this town
that was not sympathetic to charismatic types
like him. He was an enthusiast in an art scene
defined by doctors and lawyers.
What is most memorable about Addison is
his unbending resistance to those experts who
wished to define him, whether it was the doctors
who set timelines on his illness, or a stockbroker
who thought he should go all tech stock in 2000.
Sometimes I almost wondered if he possessed
the wisdom of a shaman in the way his insights
seemed to transcend the boundaries of practical
knowledge. For all of these things and more, he
will be greatly missed.
— Martin Mugar

Saturday, June 9, 2018

John Updike and the A&P of the mind *

Last week I found myself again on the same route from Southern NH to Wingaersheek Beach travelled on by my family for more than fifty years. Originally the route we traced followed the Merrimack River between my mother’s childhood home in Sandown NH to our beach house in Gloucester. The route as it passes through Essex and Ipswich is pastoral, full of old New England architecture and plenty of antique shops. With many of the large estates still intact one can imagine that it will never change. In those days it was my mother who drove accompanied by my grandmother. I was often on the floor of the car playing with my cars not considered unusual in the Fifties before seat belts. My younger sister was typically suffering from carsickness as we debated whether to pull over or hope that the nausea would pass and my older sister would be gloating over her ice cream cone that she was still savoring long after I had gobbled down mine.  Now the back and forth which starts from our house in Durham NH to the beach home that we have since inherited has become routine.  It was the requisite visits as we monitored my mother’s aging and then the long process of preparing the house for Summer rental.   As memories are embedded in the scenery I relate a few of them to my daughter who rolls her eyes and reminds me that these recollections are oft repeated. I came up with what I hoped was a fresh memory of seeing John Updike crossing the street in Ipswich. My daughter Eve acknowledged that she had never heard that story before. Not much of a story, just a flash of recognition as the author tried to negotiate the five-corner intersection of downtown Ipswich.

The memory instigated by our slow traversal of the center of Ipswich was suddenly interrupted by the telltale crunch of being rear-ended. I looked behind me and caught the gestures of the driver who acknowledged the incident. We signaled to each other to turn into the next side street to appraise the damage. The accident took place in front of the fire station. Before long several of the firemen walked over to see what was going on, presumably to make sure there were no gasoline leaks. They lingered awhile but one of them remained. While I was looking for a pen to take down driver license #s and insurance information, he took out his cell phone and in the most efficient modern way photographed everything, the damage to the car, my license and insurance card. My daughter, equally at ease with the powers of the cell phone did the same of his documentation. I thanked him for his consideration and attention to the accident. He introduced himself as the father of the young man who just plowed into me. Someone in the back seat of a passing car haled us and asked if we needed any help. The fireman chuckled that it was the local tower looking for an opportunity to make a buck. The accident had thrust me into the middle of a small community of Ipswich “locals”.

As we awaited the arrival of the Police to document the accident, I thought I would pick up where I left off before the accident and ask them if they had known their famous Ipswich resident John Updike. Yes! they knew of him and saw him around town. The fireman asked me if I knew that the Rite Aid down the street had once been the A&P, that was the local of one his best known short stories. I recalled having read it, vaguely remembering that the narrator was a store clerk.

Since the recent death of Philip Roth, there has been a lot of chatter about Updike: Their friendship and their falling out. Who was the greater author? Both had their territory: Roth, the chronicler of New Jersey and in particular the Jewish immigrant’s move  from the city to the suburbs and the middle class. Updike’s territory was Pennsylvania and Massachusetts and in particular that of the Protestant America. Today, Updike is typified as a narcissistic white male by David Foster Wallace, who would have not survived unscathed the #metoo era. Roth in his later years was somewhat reclusive but socialized on the  phone with with the guardian of the Western Canon Harold Bloom.

Once home, I decided to read the short story “A&P”. Online there were a few copies most transcribed with misspellings. A neat version was a PDF from the Littleton NH library. The setting was undoubtedly Ipswich and the Rite Aid down the street had the emblematic A&P cupola on it. It was about the right size for an A&P .The company  went out of business before the era of the megastores.

It was a good read.  The first time around I found the conformity/non-conformity take a little stale. The corporate versus sexual dichotomy may have been part of the early percolation of the sexual revolution and carried more psychic impact when the work was first published. A split that was less pronounced in the story but indelibly there was that the girls were upper class and Sammy, the nineteen old towny, was aware of it in the way they moved and talked and in the choice of hors d’oeuvres that they were picking up for their parent’s cocktail party. Just the nonchalance of the girls walking into a supermarket in their bathing suits implies that they didn’t feel compelled to follow the priggish rules of the middle class.  These girls probably lived in those beautiful estates that are protected by conservation easements that make the ride through Essex and Ipswich so scenic. I once wrote a blog about the insider/outsider phenomenon experienced by the Armenians.  As a member of youth sailing at the Annisquam Yacht Club, coming from the then decidedly middle class Wingaersheek Beach I experienced first hand the self-assuredness of the well-to-do descendants of the Mayflower in contrast to my adolescent insecurity. They lived in the large shingle style estates that probably had been in their families since the 19thc. Clearly Updike was impressed by their demeanor that radiated self confidence. In the end the narrator tries to insert himself into the story by making an attempt to resolve all the moral quandaries he has set up within the writing. He quits his job in protest of the boss’s embarrassing the girls for walking in to his store half-naked. Sammy may have hoped they would have noticed but like the rich in "The Great Gatsby" they move on unaware of the effect they have had on others.

Like so much literature the story is about the nature of writing itself: the artist as observer, always looking from the outside in. Updike keeps trying to pin down the meaning of the sensory experiences; what do they mean in terms of larger societal constructs:  corporate/sexual or rich and poor. So much of the writing is just raw data: e.g. the movements of the actors through the store being like a pinball game and the detailed description of the cloth and color of the girl’s bathing suits. He has created a world for himself held up by incisive description and cultural insights but in the last lines of the story it forbodes a life time that is described as going to be hard. Could it be because he will always be on the outside looking in, never fully owning or identifying with the setting in which his description takes place. For the corporation the world is a site for the display of its brands. The artist, is a competitor in this realm but his power only comes from the fertility and staying power of his imagination not his bank account. However, we can say Updike has had the last word: his A&P of the mind* still exists whereas the original is long gone.

*a play on Henry Miller's comment about Coney Island as a state of mind that was used as a title of  Ferlinghetti's "Coney Island of the Mind"