Sunday, October 3, 2010
AGATHA AND ME
If you've ever been to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale for any other reason than to attend a funeral, you may have seen this huge painting called "The Resurrection," one of three illustrating the life of Jesus. Done by different artists at different times, this last one was the work of Robert Clark and was completed in 1965.
"Bob," as our family knew him, came into our lives shortly after his arrival in Southern California in 1948. He had served in WWII, gone to art school, and in moving to Long Beach just happened to rent a studio space in a building my father owned. He set up his easel and paints and started to work. My father, who had started his own business in 1945, knew how hard it was to make a living at first, and he began buying some of Bob's pictures.
My father was a generous man, but he also was a man seeking status. He saw acquiring art as something to add to his image. He didn't know anything about art, but he didn't let that stop him. In the next 10 years, he purchased lots of paintings by Bob. He gave them to his friends and relatives, and he hung as many of them as my mom would let him in our little house in Long Beach. Later Bob became a staff member of the Long Beach Museum of Art and then a staff artist at the Los Angeles County Museum. As I recall, he won a commission to paint this huge “Resurrection” at Forest Lawn in Glendale, and although by that time he had relocated his studio and my father had moved on to other "investments" we always assumed that his paintings would increase in value and down the road we might be holding some valuable art.
Of the paintings that belonged to our family, some were copies of existing work, usually quite elegant and with traditional themes – still lifes, portraits, etc. However, most of what my father bought were rather gloomy things, lots of dark skies, storms, rocks, cliffs and strange buildings, and it seems like everything was either grey or grey-greenish.
One day, however, daddy came bringing in a most unusual painting that Bob had done. It was the one below, probably called "Woman with Pearls." It was done on wood, not on canvas, and the paints were more like acrylic than oil paints. My dad and I were crazy about it. My mother hated it. First she tried her best to get Dad to take it back to Bob, but that didn’t work. Finally she talked him into putting it in an out-of-the-way place in our den where she didn’t have to look at it.
When I went off to college in the fall of 1953 I asked my dad if I could take that picture, which I had named "Agatha Klingbottom," to hang in my dorm room. Mother couldn’t wait to get it out of the house and luckily my new roommate had no objection. From that time on Agatha has lived with me.
With the passing of my parents the Robert Clark paintings were divided up among us three children. Our family really didn’t know anything about “real” art, but we always assumed that his work would increase in value and at some point we would be holding valuable paintings.
That was not to be. His work was collected but not sold at auction. Many people apparently collected it “on spec,” hoping for the same increase that we did. But at his death, the gallery handling his work received a large inventory of his works back into their gallery “on consignment.” No windfall for us. We kids laughed about our family's naivete' in the art world, but we all still have one or more “Bob Clarks” hanging in our houses. For us, the value is intrinsic.
I am as pleased with Agatha today as I was the day my dad came bringing her into the house. To me, she's not just any old picture but one that reminds me of the various phases of my life – as a young teen, as a college student, as a newlywed hanging it on the wall of our first house in 1959 when we could barely pay for the house, much less decorate it, and now giving it a prominent place in our tiny apartment living room. Agatha would be the first thing I’d grab if I had to evacuate for any reason and the last thing I would ever give away. Yep, Agatha --- my beautiful Woman with Pearls.