When I was very young, maybe twelve or thirteen, a young couple moved in across the street from us. They were friendly and needed a babysitter so I got to know them and they became friends of our family. They were Max Hendler and Arlene Goldberg, and they were part of a loose group of painters who lived and worked in Venice during the sixties. They were fascinating to me – their lives seemed incredibly romantic and adventurous. I already knew I wanted to do something – music, literature, poetry, art – I didn’t know what. But a piece fell into place when I saw these painters working. The smell of turpentine, and the stretched canvasses, and jars full of brushes. These people didn’t have to stand up in front of people and do it on the fly. They were making things , and didn’t have to show them to anybody until they were ready.
Through Max and Arlene, I met a couple of other members of their group (they all exhibited at the legendary “CeeJe” gallery). Chas Garabedian lived just up the street – his painting was awesome (and not in the tawdry modern sense of the word) , but I found him intimidating, as I did most of the older writers and artists I had met around Venice. Another guy I met through them was Lance Richbourg (yes, the famous baseball painter), who had a tiny studio at the corner of Brooks and Pacific. He was friendly and patient, and willing to answer a star-struck fifteen year old’s dumb questions. Lance lived in his studio, a was very much the young, bohemian artist. He also had great taste in music – turned me on to Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters. Looking back, I realize now that while these people seemed like gods to me at the time, they were hardly more than kids themselves.
But most of the neighborhood mentoring in the arts I got came from Max and Arlene. They lived close, and always seemed to have time. At one point, Arlene even gave me lessons – and they both taught me a lot about art, the thing itself, and what it’s for.
But more importantly, they lived a life I thought only existed in films. They made art. They worked at it every day, like my dad and mom worked at their jobs, and they got paid and bought groceries and raised their kids. I realized that “artist” was a real job description.
Now, all I had to do was figure out how to be one.