Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Speaking of Portraits...

... I happened to be going through our art stacks yesterday (sounds grand, but no: we keep them at the back of the laundry room) when I came across this picture of myself:

(Thanks to Cardozo for the picture of the picture, plus the older version of its subject--the one in the pink t-shirt. Do try clicking on it, just for fun.) The "portrait" was done in 1978 by the artist Richard Mock. If I look somewhat startled, it may have to with the circumstance of my life back then. Here's the story:

I had been hired on by (then) Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County as Dean of the College in 1976. (Before that I was teaching Comparative Literature, but I was getting more interested in art than in literature, and I wasn't qualified to teach it. Hence the mid-career switch to administration.) When I arrived at Otis for my very first day of work, the Director called me into his office to inform me that the Los Angeles County Supervisors, who had footed the school's bill unquestioningly for its entire sixty-year existence, had just voted to cut off all funds as from the end of that year. It was taxpayer revolt time in California, remember. Prop. 13. The director resigned, in protest and frustration, and I, a total greenhorn in administration, was swiftly appointed Acting Director and charged with the task of finding an alternative future for the school. (I did--with considerable help, of course: Otis thrives, though in another part of town, and despite my absence!)

All in all, you won't be surprised to learn that 1978 was a pretty tough year. In the course of it, our gallery director brought in Richard Mock for a special performance/happening/exhibition. At that time, Mock was doing lightning five-minute portraits (I know, it looks like it) for anyone who would take the time to go and sit in front of him--students, faculty, board members... whoever might show up, and the pictures were then hung in the gallery for all to marvel at. Not many of the socialites whom we were courting for their fund-raising potential were much amused by the kind of pictures Mock was making. No wonder I look hounded.

When I checked Mock out online, I was sad to discover that he died a couple of years ago, at a relatively young age, "after a long illness." He evidently had an acerbic sense of humor and a cartoonist's skill--a skill that is also manifest, clearly, in his portrait painting. Pity the poor "Average American Voter" in this woodcut print:

Well, there you go. Another day, another portrait. I can't imagine what might show up tomorrow!


MandT said...

The art post are entertaining, very interesting, informative and enjoyable....more, more!!

hele said...

I really enjoyed this post.

It reminded me that opportunity can lurk in the post unexpected places and that change can happen suddenly taking one's life into an unexpected and sometime eye-boggling new direction :)

And that I can learn a lot from laughter.

Beautiful and inspiring. Thank you