I was wandering around in Fosters Polk and Sutter lonely 3 years ago looking for someone, I didn't know who, with a star on his forehead, as my dreams told me there would be, somewhere that night, perhaps in Polk Gulch, I saw Robert LaVigne looking poor and interesting with a beard, talking to a tableful of what I thought were intimate sweet old friend bohemians, and wanted to get in on a new group, whatever they were, in the promise (always fulfilled where there's hope in the art star & the soul flash) something beautiful would happen, I'd end up that night in some angelic bed, or drunk maybe sad in littered apartment--anyway, embarrassed, went up and talked to him because he had a beard.
Later walking up Polk to his house to see his pictures we talked about art-poetry as a science of a kind, with a history of discoveries and changes (metrics)--and he seemed to talk on that level, with painting. Also I began to see that though I was used to (and didn't too much like, then) the painters I half knew in NY, Rivers, etc.--he alone in SF leading a lone & very personal existence devotion of his own by the hand, was working on somewhat similar lines as they--he was interested in Bonnard (I know little about painting whys but remembered the sophisticated schools in NY around De Kooning then also had a similar taste)--we talked about Cezanne--I had a theory about space ellipse in Cezanne which I manufactured in the Museum of Modern Art hi on T looking at the View of Garonne drawing--he understood all that, or I thought he did--all this to say that we had long interesting theoretical conversation, I was amazed at his seriousness, almost religious, toward his art, & thought him a sure & trustful brother. First picture I saw in his Gough Street house was a huge naked portrait of Peter Orlovsky--I looked in its eyes & was shocked by love.
A few weeks later I moved up into Gough Street and we all got involved in great magical personality hassles & all night portraits & endless friendships. While I was around in SF the next year and a half or longer I watched his work week after week. The thing that most amazed me was the way he developed, by long drawn out intuitive phases--I guess everybody does that, good or bad--but here as in any really good artist, or as in my ideal of how it should work, like in Yeats, I saw him experimenting, phase after phase, all intimately tied up with his own psychic or soulful development, all expressions one after another like a biography--and getting hung up on this or that technical problem, and carrying out minute or anyway numberless variations of the same, spontaneously, one after another--then maybe a period of depression & then sudden new impulse & a new series---I remember several of them, which have been seen and unappreciated around SF while I was there--The Dangerous Garden, which hung in the Place, also a series of abstract box within box perspective sketches which ended (the last of the series) with a crazy fourth dimensional spiral--like the breakup of the piano sonata Beethoven Op. 111 form--this hung at City Lights, mostly unsold (I bought some); also the delicate Iris series--he sat a week or two and sketched successive stages of the bloom and death of an iris in a bottle in his room at the Wentley--a great poetic story, full of suspense and observation---I always liked the delicate observation of his tender drawing, and death was in it too; --all this to say his inner development has a beautiful drama. Toward the end of our stay in SF there was the great idea of a huge historic picture of the Scene in Fosters, with the now dead Natalie Jackson seated naked in a chair perhaps, and all the people we knew, fixed in some sweet & final attitude in eternity on his canvas. It came out of sketches he'd done already, one which I grabbed, and an earlier fine narrow canvas (his landlord alas took for rent)--all sorts of space tricks with mirrors and elliptical spacejumps between huge nearby coffeecups and faraway SFbusinessman-lautrecian-groaner soup eaters--added to this the lovers of Fosters in their Time. Well god knows where this canvas is progressed to by this time, he wrote he had done more & I wish I could see it. Also I hear of a new series with new advanced strange theories brought down to some simplicity called the Battle of Four Lakes--he went to Washington & painted there with family solitude all last year.
Now a new exhibit--I wonder if anyone in SF will pick up on his genius this time. If I were there I'd try to write about it precisely--as I did, composing a long private poem for him to hang on the Place wall with the Dangerous Garden--pointing out exactly the details I see in the pictures--but I'm too far away--so leave it there, having tried to sketch the background and his nature as a person, a painter who wears the golden crown with all its rusty diamonds, some kind of king without a name. I wish with all those drear streets and yelling about art and poetry and beat and renaissance, it will be recognized that this is it-going on right now, still, with all its poverty and having to work with no real hope of reward--unless people give him back the same tender understanding he has given them in his painting. But he's naked, and a great painter, and will be so in any case. I wish I were there to cry at his opening--the years are too short to let them go by without understanding.
Paris May 25 1958