our return I jumped into a "newer world.'" I had been accepted
into Cooper Union. This meant a full scholarship for the three year
certificate program. Art school in
downtown New York City the center of the ART WORLD.
Since I lived in New Hyde Park, Long Island; I had quite a daily commute. Up at six AM, a wait at the bus station, then a half hour ride to the IND subway and another 45 minutes to West 4th Street the heart of GREENWICH VILLAGE. I'd get off at the end closest to Eighth Street and the East Side.
The school was situated in an intensely juicy area...a mixture of Bowery bums, Ukrainian immigrants, Village people, jazz clubs and 10th Street galleries. At first the travel from Long Island to the most sophisticated spot in the world was frightening and lonely. Suburban life had been SO mundane and all those city students appeared to be SO worldly and knowledgeable. Many came from the High School of Music and Art. A life of museums, films, the ballet, opera, concerts and restaurants since the day they were born! Freudian interiors wrapped in Bohemian exteriors. I was constantly asked how I felt about my mother, father, brother...all i could think of was why couldn't my parents be more neurotic? With introspection I wondered, penis envy? Not me...it was Freud who was crazy. My classmates just looked askance at me.
The art of the moment was abstract expressionism. I took to it with drips and color fields covering my pants and clothes as well as large canvases. It was the West Village's beat that I truly loved. Eighth Street had handmade jewelry and leather sandals made to order. The first pair cut through the space between my big and second toes. The Blue Note was down the street to the south, as was McSorley's and to the west, the Sagamore Cafeteria. One lunch [a cup of coffee] a classmate Jerome Witkin1 and I, shared a table with a white-haired man reading the Daily News, a plate of creamed spinach for his fare. I looked at him with a superior air of disdain as only a cocky student would.
Cooper was an exciting environment. The instructors were exacting in their drive to produce A++ work in everything from poetry to calligraphy. I'd stay up till 3 AM listening to Billie Holiday and striving for the Uncial or Italic hand. This First Collage (1958) was an exciting liberation from the previous academic standards. A class in 2D design3 taught me more about the process of creating art than any of the other courses.
It had been my intention to acquire a degree in Architecture but there was only one other female student and it appeared that drafting would be more likely than not the resulting profession. Fine Art became my second choice, a mind-beating freedom enclosing me in a womb of canvas, turpentine and splattered clothing.
Reading had always been a passion, now the English courses whetted my appetite for e.e. cummings4, Ranier Maria Rilke, Dostoevsky5, Chekov and Sartre. Hand in hand the guts of the painter Klein with Ginsberg. Unfamiliar to my world; Lao Tzu, The Upanishads and Asian philosophies in general, rang true to somewhere inside. Every one a poet, an artist, a genius! Oh to be such a rarefied being, to forego food and lavish lifestyles, all for the love of the inner being.
Third Avenue and its environs had art suppliers (Grand Central and Neti's), pawn shops, book stores (The Strand) and a hardware like no other (Kaminstein's). Further, on Canal Street, Nelson and Whitehead for papers from all over the world.
Teachers were extraordinary. Prof Dowden ran the place, Morris Kantor, Robert Gwathmey, Seong Moy, Bob Blackburn, Nic Marsicano, John Kacere, English and Art Historian professors whose names I've forgotten but whose love and knowledge excited me.
In June of my first year I won a First Prize for poetry and was voted "Queen" of CU by the entire school. Undoubtedly the popularity of my engineering student boyfriend and the votes from his frat brothers garnered that crown. We were semi-engaged until ending it at summer. I wanted to explore the world!
Personal relationships became very important and intense. One evening in the late fall, 1959, I spent my fist overnight with three friends in NYC. Lotte Lenya in "The Three Penny Opera" at the Theatre de Lys, dinner at a former speak easy in the West Village. The streets were devoid of people; remnants from fabric, scrap metal factories spewed out of bales on the semi dark streets. Smells of machine oil, sewage assaulted our nostrils. We felt like we owned the world.
I spent the night in a hammock, in a loft on Wooster Street. The floors were sanded and polished. There were a few pieces of furniture. Otherwise thousands of feet of empty space. Cheap. Illegal? There was little emotion involved with that first sexual encounter; I think the drinking, the city and music carried me into a dense overload - everything a blur of one-thing-following- another!
John Kacere6 taught 3-D design in our second year. He became my mentor and key to an adult artist's world. Jazz clubs were close by, the Bowery and West Village especially addicting in their intimacy. Up close and sweaty.
Summer 1960! Green Camp was a treat for all CU students. We were awarded two weeks in the countryside in New Jersey at the end of our second year. Bunk beds, group meals and painting and drawing by day. Professors would come along and critique. Al Wunderlich7 was my new and most enigmatic love. We talked about art and literature, Rilke and Proust were his current passions. He took me for a motorcycle ride with Tony Cox8 through the winding roads around the camp. I introduced him to my parents as the love of my life. I painted a small, beautiful abstract in shades of blue incorporating the lake, sky and trees. It was the best so far.
That summer a fellow classmate gave me her job as a waitress at an Italian Restaurant , Casa Du Pre, on Greenwich Avenue in the heart of Greenwich Village. Al took off on his motorcycle across the USA. All I did was work and make a lot of money. Saw "The Cranes Are Flying" at the theatre next door. Late for the evening shift, crying from the Russian saga, I walked back into the packed restaurant. Madam Du Pre didn't have the heart to scold me. Time never erased those moments.
She never did forgive me, however, for speaking about her "friend" from the famous Henry's Restaurant to his wife on the phone. "Oh Senora is with him having lunch right now!" What did I know about affairs and adultery. On certain afternoons he'd bring me fresh mozzarella from his place on Sixth Avenue.
One of our regular customers, the son of the disposed Secretary of State from Cuba asked me out. We went to a party, he drank and I learned quickly how to drive his stick shift sports car back to my home. What a gentleman.
Took the same subways, and buses back to New Hyde Park six days a week. No real social life. Did not paint or write.
Fall semester and I'm back at art again.