Harari’s Demonstration

SOUTINE

Book Two
Chapter 4

 La Cité Falguière

Harari 1

I

888 Seventh Avenue, New York.
The famous “Opera Man”, a semi-homeless
fixture, lifts his can and sets to work

another day, delivering his hopeless
arias. Removed across the Avenue
by uniforms at Carnegie Hall, the heartless

monsters, he resumes his ballyhoo
and de profundis on a sidewalk square
on 57th –just below the studio

of Ernest Crichlow on the second floor
of The Art Students League of New York.
Crichlow taught an open session there

on Thursday nights in ’93. By luck,
I’d landed at an office right across the street,
above the “Brooklyn Diner.”  What the fuck,

I thought—the League! What better place to meet
the likes of Crichlow, Romare Bearden’s partner
in the Cinque Gallery. And what could beat

three-hour sessions with the nude? Nirvana
every Thursday night. I’d cut across
the traffic snarled on 57th on a

blood quest with a bag of oil tubes tossed
and jostling on my back. It was a chance
to fail on par with painting in that most

auspicious gallery uptown. My pants
were caked with color on the night I met
a realist from the Harlem Renaissance!

Harari 3

“Another wild man!” Crichlow laughed. He’d vet
my canvas, shake his head, and say, “All right,
keep moving with the figure while it’s wet.”

When he retired, I switched to Wednesday night,
Harari’s class upstairs. Hananiah,
he was full of love. In Europe at the height

of things, at home a “Socialist pariah”—
the blacklist and the whole shebang—this gentle
man was in his eighties. An American

who figured in the School of Paris! Judgmental
he was not, but all encouragement.
“I love this color,” he would say, and bend to

see it closer in the battlement
of oil across my slab. “Spare no expense!
your métier’s impasto!” There I spent

Harari 4

my Wednesday nights. An intense experience.
The weary model, having posed all day,
conveyed a softness. I would often sense

her weight and form through color in the way
that greens and violets would develop in
the mono-fleshtone I’d naively splay

across my gessoed canvas. I’d begin
to understand what Crichlow told me: “Work
it wet, and keep up with the drama in

the pose.” Harari smiled—“I see a Turk!
An odalisque. Matisse would see the same.”
The man was going blind. Sometimes he’d lurk

behind a student quietly, then—“What’s your name?
You’re Sally, right?” “Um, Robert.” “Yes of course.”
But he could see the paintings! When he came

Harai 5

to mine, I’d watch his eyes. There is a source
of clarity in art, and in the process
of creating. And Harari had a vast resource

of images within. He could assess
a canvas with an acumen and skill
that cut through cataracts. “I’ll tell you this—

you’re learning how to work with white. It’s still
the toughest color on my palette. Agh ..,
that’s right. It’s ‘not a color!He would kill

with his derisive jabs at dilettante
opinions. I looked through catalogs and found
examples of his early work. His avant-

garde Parisian pictures brought to mind
Georges Braque. I came across a painting titled
Soutine’s Studio. Soutine? Remind

me where I heard that name. In fact the wild
landscape that unsettled me at MoMA
was the start of something huge. Beguiled,

I studied Soutine on the train, at home,
at work—it bordered on obsession. So
I asked about it. “That one? My, oh my,

it brings back memories. Did you not know
I took his studio in Cagnes? He left
a week or two before I got there, though.

We never met.” I have to say I loved
Harari all the more for this. “Where’s yours?
He’d lean into my painting. “It’s improved!

Harai 2

Come back next week and give it three more hours.”
And in the morning, there’d be Opera Man.
And I’d think, “You and me pal. Amateurs.”

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One Response to “Harari’s Demonstration”

  1. Michelle in NYC Says:

    What a find Rick. Perfect in the perfect text.

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