by Joanne Kyger
I come back to San Francisco in January of 1964, after four years of living in Kyoto, Japan. It's fantastic, four dimensional, I can understand what is being said, everyone speaks English, the Beatles in the air for the first time, a great colorful buzz.
And there is to be a gallery called Buzz. Run by Paul Alexander, Bill Brodecky (Moore) and Larry Fagin. I have just met Larry Fagin at Gino & Carlo's Bar in North Beach. He says, I heard you were in town, and I planned to welcome you with a black ink-filled water pistol. Very Dada.
There is a new order of my writing friends. The poets have just been given a new magazine: Stan Persky is to publish OPEN SPACE once a month for the next year, actually 15 issues in all come out.
A specific list of writers and artists are invited and anything they submit will be published –Robin Blaser, Robert Duncan, Helen Adam, myself, George Stanley, Ebbe Borregaard, Harold Dull, Lew Ellingham, Jack Spicer. And artists, Bill McNeill, Bill Wheeler, Bill Brodecky, Harry Jacobus, Robert Duncan, Helen Adam, Fran Herndon, Ken Botto, Tom Field, Paul Alexander. These artists, along with Nemi Frost became part of the Buzz Gallery Group.
I have always thought painters have much more glamour in the world than writers. Something more tangible from their creations: self confident and casual. Something beautiful you can see on a wall.
I first meet Paul Alexander and Tom Field in 1958 inside the fascinating pace of North Beach. They have come from the famous Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and were originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they had known each other since grade school.
My first meeting with Paul remains like a snap shot vision. He's in one of the little studios in the famous, and now torn down, Monkey Block near North Beach. Tom Field has taken me to visit—"I want you to meet an old friend of mine." It's fall 1958. I'm wearing a smart walking cast recovering from a broken ankle. They both have beautiful gracious manners, and great humor. Paul has a particular wonderful laugh. He is soft spoken, hospitable, warm. He gives detailed, precisely worded, original twists to his stories. His small abode looks like a tiny palace—like his later places. Books, pottery, plants, tiny treasures, paintings, drawings, sculpture. There is always excellent talk at the slow dinners. The table becomes the world.
When Paul draws, it is with an intimate line, quick, moving, a body, a horizon. There are many beautiful drawings and watercolors, paintings of gleaming, creamy colors.
Tom Field is such a solicitous person, cooking, taking care of his friends. A merchant seaman he is in and out of town. His paintings use big amazing brush strokes. He wins the top award from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Annual in 1962. His drawings quick and whimsical.
Neither Paul or Tom are self promoters in a larger art world. When they reside at Buzz it is always a great social occasion, like visiting the artist 'at home' in a grand drawing room.
Bill McNeill and Ernie Edwards live along the balcony next door to Buzz Gallery.
Bill, originally from North Carolina, also attends Black Mountain College before he comes to San Francisco. Very quick and multi-talented, he is searching for a 'direction'. I first meet him in The Place in North Beach in 1958 where he tells me about his interest in Zen Buddhism and about this teacher he has found who has just come from Japan. His name is Shunryu Suzuki and this is the beginning of the San Francisco Zen Center. I go with Bill to meet Suzuki because I am interested in Japan and Zen too.
After studying for a year and a half with Suzuki, Bill sails to Japan and becomes ordained as a monk. A few months later, feeling isolated, Bill moves to Kyoto, where I run into him again. He is teaching English to Japanese business men and telling tales of covering sliding paper doors with flashy black sumi strokes. He speaks Japanese with a very southern accent. Finally he decides he's had enough of Zen and Japan and returns to San Francisco in late 1961.
After Bill returns from Japan he collaborates with the poet Helen Adam on an experimental movie called DAYDREAM OF DARKNESS. Dramatic, darkly magical, very San Francisco.
Bill is always consumed with his enthusiasm of the moment, and with his charismatic personality 'spreads the word', including those around him in his projects. During the Buzz years Bill works on his second movie. The plot, at least for me, is very confusing. At one point I find myself playing a mini-role down in Monterey Bay, early one Sunday morning. I'm on a cold rocky beach, decked out in a green taffeta tunic welcoming a glistening black rubber clad scuba diver as he emerges from the water. It's all quite uncomfortable. What does it mean, is it mythological? I don't think the film was every completely finished but there were lots of screening parties and often shown 'in progress' at grand social occasions during the Buzz years.
Bill is also great at cultivating group watercolors around his round table—goldfish in a bowl, iris, flowers in season. We were all busy painting away at our versions of what we saw. Bill's line is quick, stylish, sumi-like.
His poppies on a gold leaf Japanese style folding screen was a real tour-de-force and sold for quite a bit of money—which was unusual and refreshing. It only showed for a short time at Buzz, all by itself in the gallery, before the owner picked it up.