Wednesday, May 16, 2007


   Through the new New York Academy and an anatomy professor with the ominous name Elliot Goldfinger  I got to go to a dissection. I was immersed in anatomy then -­ every day in the Michael Burban anatomy and drawing class up at the Art Students League, and in other studio classes at Parsons and Visual Arts and Cooper Union, and the National Academy and with the hard-core anatomists at the new New York Academy, and in the studio of a highly skilled and friendly sculptor named David Klass, where at an armature I recreated all the main bones of the body's skeleton and then put on all the important muscles, with emphasis on those that show in surface form.  

I did not quite realize how hard I would be hit by seeing actual human bodies carved up. When the doors to the dissection room opened, there waiting for us was Elliot Goldfinger, whose face always had a fiendish grin on it, in the same manner as the Dick Cheney face always has a nasty lop-sided scowl -­ there was Elliot grinning in a white coat that I don't think was really streaked with blood but certainly seemed that way, and beside him ­ as in a horror movie in which the good people turn out to be monsters too -­ there beside him in a similar white coat was nice David Klass, whose sister had once been married to Elliot. They had all been arrested once for boiling the flesh off a horse in a Brooklyn backyard.

And I followed them in now and there were the two blackened cadavers ­ homeless men who had been found dead on a street and whom nobody had claimed, one of them laid out on a gurney, the other hanging form the ceiling by a chain bolted to the top of his head. And there were the bones and muscles and ligaments just like in the anatomy books though blacker and not at all like the anatomy books because these had been actual people who had actually been carved up for the sake of education.

Late that night I stopped into a pizza place, which was up a few steps on Eighth Avenue around the corner from my bright Chelsea apartment whose walls were covered with my new life drawings. At the counter I realized it would be some time before I would eat meat again. But I had a slice with onions and peppers and was feeling better as I started down the steps. It was raining now. An Eighth Avenue bus was about to pull away from the curb in front of the pizza place. In a rear, rain-streaked window, looking right at me, eyes wide, was a very gray, mousy, agitated woman named Mildred whom I had not seen for a couple of weeks who but who had been stalking me. It was because of an entirely imaginary romance. I kept getting calls on my machine, and notes in my mail box about how by not loving her I was taking away her life. With the implication she could retaliate. I hardly knew the woman, had met her only in a group of people. And I really had thought my life was in danger. And somehow it seemed fitting that I should go from these disrespected cadavers to the agitated face in the rain in a back bus window.

And it was a kind of a punctuation point to this time when I, starting late, was totally immersed in art ­ the schools, the private drawing sessions, night and day looking at skeletons and charts but drawing flesh and blood people, most of them women, who reminded me of women I had known in real life, none of them reminding me of Mildred, though Mildred in the bus window reminded me that there was flesh and bone behind the diagrams, and behind the mostly pretty girls who modeled at the Art Students League and the Salmagundi Club and the basement place in Soho where there was life drawing practically around the clock ­ the women in these and all the other studios I frequented, and also the women and men in the paintings and sculptures I stared at in the museums, and men and women behind even the abstractions that I liked too even as I spent my days in the traditional artistic formation phase of drawing with exactitude from life ­ behind the art works and the models there were also the Mildreds, and there were also the blackened peeled-back skin and insides of vagrant homeless men.

It was not just because I wanted to do pretty pictures of pretty girls that in this time 20 years ago I had stopped my writing - which had come to seem all too predictable -­ in favor of visual images. And now I was learning again, as if young and unformed again, learning again crucial things for which I did not yet have worlds.

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