hilip Lamantia and his companion Mimi Margaux are on Columbus Avenue walking, like me, in a beautiful sunny summer Sunday afternoon flan. We join up and move across Russian Hill to my flat on outer Washington Street. The air of the day was deep as poetry on the lungs, infused with the pleasure all such walks had on quiet windless days, so rare to San Francisco. We spend an afternoon of brightenings and an evening of illuminations. Philip writes part one of Blue Grace. This is the first time I smell Patchouli.
That fall began pre-production work on Shakespeare's King Lear. Conception continued into January, with early construction beginning in February for an April opening of the biggest show Actors Workshop had yet done. Somewhere, in a copy of the play that to this day I can't find, was "Place: Prehistoric Britain". Reality on stage is made from the same found objects as those used to make assemblage. Such objects, from whose traded meaning reality is made onstage, became the center of what interested me at the time: one thing masquerading as another. Sometimes the real thing pretending to be faking itself, with very hip actors inside it all, animating its richness and occasionally, revealing the mask to brighten blood flow in the audience brain. Western narrative theatre, unfolds events with words, spoken by people whose actions are given subtler meaning by their detailiing; an actor's use of an object gives it a meaning by assigning it a name based on its use in the action. This meaning lasts for the duration of the play. A regular rectangular solid is called 'cube'; an irregular cube is a 'rock'. The audience eye perceives only the two designations. What is the line drawn between 'cube' and 'rock'? The line of demarcation between the actual object and its accepted being onstage is in that summation of all the actors' actions, The Action of the play, mirror of that summation of all the folks watching, The Audience. Audiences subtitle the stage pictures before them. Indian dancers convert vast landscapes to stage settings with the turn of a finger as an outdoor Greek theater frames a landscape for actors to enter from great distances. Whatever the universe established onstage in the opening minutes, an audience enters that reality with its collective mind. It influences all interpretive decisions. The play's basis in the material world is established in that opening moment by the work of the viewer's mind to establish understanding of Where he is. There are poetic and amusing realities to this phenomenon, such as found objects peeking out around their resemblance to something else.
King Lear was put together from Prehistoric looking leftovers: hides, bones, tusks, feathers to create fearsome appearance, to display massive armed power in single personages by their costume. Abstracting the process of combining found objects into wearables, it was possible to make a setting out of rags put together by the same method, a unit set able to become architectural confines or large and open vistas, and with smaller details backing smaller scenes of action with pictorial interest. Herb, directed the actors blocking in architectural patterns which suggested buildings, colonnades, hillocks, so that actors became solely instrumental to belief in a staged reality.
by William Shakespeare
Marines Memorial Theater
San Francisco, 1961
This process was so rich with possibility, it demanded exploration of its own method, beyond service to another artist, great as Shakespeare is. I made more assembled works, most of them larger because Leo had given over a balcony studio at the Enigma for me to use to make him a show. The result was 'The Black Art of Robert La Vigne', an exhibition of collage and assemblage.
THE BLACK ART OF ROBERT LA VIGNE
San Francisco, 1961