Reflections by another painter, Michael Lawrence
(Ed.’s note: Several weeks ago, we received an email from Michael Lawrence, an artist who contributed to the 1966 Artists’ Protest Tower. It was in regard to our article on that protest. We snipped a bit out for a comment but, as there was so much more info, we took the unusual step of continuing it onto its own page – the link to that is right there in the post.
Now Michael has again written to us… and this time we thought that we might as well just swap out our post for his, as he has a better perspective on the actual subject of the article. What we’ve retained for you of ours (now at the tail-end of his view) is our expertise… the ‘why’ behind the article… and the historical references that many have either forgotten, or never knew about at all.)
As a painter and watercolorist, I am naturally curious about other practitioners of this medium. In his essay, The Angel is my Watermark, Henry Miller walks you through this experience. As I do, he improvises his adventure, beginning with an idea but open to dealing with what happens. That is the joy of seeing a work unfold in a spontaneous fashion. So, Miller starts with a horse. But the drawing lacks the conviction needed to satisfy his illusion. As the work progresses, the horse disappears and eventually an angel appears. The Angel was his watermark.
At a later date, Capra Press published Paint as You Like and Die Happy. It is, basically, a collection of watercolors painted over the years. In Paris, he explored its artists as freely as he discovered its streets and rhythms. Hans Reichel, a watercolorist who worked from his imagination much in the same delicate manner as Paul Klee, invites Miller into his studio and in viewing how Henry organizes and explores his instincts, he reassures Miller that whatever he lacks in verisimilitude is more than compensated for by his imaginative combinations. This was enough encouragement to cut Miller loose from any conventional strategies.
Miller, who is a great admirer of the arts, all the arts, is as unique a creator of the word as he is of the painted image. Throughout his life, he enjoyed several periods of working as a visual artist. In Big Sur, he painted watercolors to supplement his income. He collaborated with his brother in-law, Bazalel Schatz, in creating a fantastic silkscreen book of images and words, Into the Night. Later, while married to Hoki, Miller would complete a similar project during his sleepless nights alone in the Palisades, where he spent his later years.
My father, Marc Lawrence, gifted me an original watercolor he had acquired from Henry, who my father admired as a thinker and a man. The watercolor is a portrait of the universe, a sumi brush drawing, lines dancing in space.
Many of Miller’s watercolors are fantastic cities constructed from what I imagine were his dream impressions of the places he wanted to visit, Timbuktu or China, locales whose name stimulated his imagination and allowed him to play. For me, this is the quintessential value of his creative genius, letting go, being in the moment, letting the subconscious celebrate life.
As we look at these curious cityscapes, we enter a surreal world where beauty grows in some unique other worldly fashion. A world apart where cultural fragments come together to form new corridors for our imaginations to delight in. Miro thought a painter should have the knowledge from experience, but the courage to paint as a child might. Indeed, one can see the depth of concentration and delight that Miller took in making his visual worlds.
While the watercolors of Henry Miller have been collected for several decades they are still less celebrated than they might be. Perhaps this is an advantage for his growing public. The pleasures of their company are still affordable, which would, I believe, suit Mr. Miller’s desire to share his freedom of expression.
(Ed.’s 2nd Note: Here are 2 photos of Michael Lawrence’s own watercolors to ‘illustrate’ his credentials.
Additionally, here’s a link to his most recent book, Loaded Brush… 400+ pages of his relationships with numerous artists from various disciplines (Andy Warhol, Jim Morrison, et. al.) plus about 150 images of his work. All from, as he says, “a lifetime devoted to art, optimism, peace and transformation through creative effort.”
And what do we have to say that the article doesn’t?