|M E M O
N O ! a r t
STANLEY FISHER (1926—1980)
Mysterious to the End
By BORIS LURIE
|Published in: Boris Lurie/Seymour Krim (eds), NO!art, Cologne 1988|
It was 1960 or 1961 when Comrade Stanley blew in on a sand cloud out of the wind-swept Brooklyn Sinai Desert onto the 10th Street Coop-gallery scene. The Jew-Beduin had been wandering the wilderness almost the full prescribed forty years, his icy blue eyes pointed towards the Promised Land of Manhattan; not only to conquer it, but like David to extend the righteous domain to all the heathen America.
Such a quaint and contradictory desert bird I had never seen before. The Brooklyn lower middle-class schoolteacher and devoted family man seemed hardly the type to wrap himself in the Prophet's mantle to arouse, accuse and smite. But he had been to Normandy in the War, with the Medics. He must have seen much of injured bodies, for his later NO!art collages were based on the grafting of photo faces onto faces and bodies onto bodies.
I met him as a poet. He was then about to publish the anthology, "Beat Coast East", and wished to reproduce my NO!art work. A book of Beat poetry including his own, with lots of his own drawings. Good drawings, mind you ... but Stanley was not a bona-fide registered and approved artist. Stanley didn't care about such fine distinctions. And Stanley was right!
As a schoolteacher he was conscientious, he took his work very seriously. When going to work he was dressed up prim-proper and neat. In class he demanded work, obedience and good manners.
But his cultural revolutionary work was wild and unstructured and based in equal parts on proselytizing the righteous life and the conquest of women. The teacher needed constant feminine approval. There was no conflict - the two aspects were exactly, equally important to him. In order to feel the breadth of truth within him, he required approval of the feminine regenerating principle first. He was not possessive about the women he devoured and could easily let go - of importance to him was not the individual, but the whole female gender. He had been through Reichian analysis. Lenin would have smirked at this sex-anarchic nonsense. But then Lenin was not around in these days, only Stanley, and that is very likely why we are now where we are now.
To Sam Goodman and I who had just started the NO!art March Gallery on Tenth Street, the Prophet was a veritable Godsend or so it seemed. He was the natural propagandist for our "cause". Totally liberated from limitations of human modesty, he knew not the meaning of the words "fear" or "shame" . Time was short - we felt time was very short - and giving it "all the way" and in immoderate doses was the only way. Stanley bombarded his audience with repetitiveness and persistence. But Stanley believed! Repeating and repeating meant no lack of subtlety to him but the expression of the essence in its most distilled form. And when proselytizing the females he chased, he never employed ruses or factual tricks - he wanted their bodies only if they would admire or accept his ideas straight on.
A very greedy, but totally honest approach. His sex-drive was one with his cause. Within his mind at least there reigned perfect unity. Of course others didn't quite see it that way.
We accepted Stanley as a poet, but not quite at first as a visual artist. Snobbery? That depends on the point of view. Individual styles had been developed with much travail over the years. We still believed in such idols. A bourgeois throwback? More likely it was market-conditioning.
But to Stanley borrowing styles meant nothing: if he made it his own it belonged to him. He likewise would not have minded if someone pinched his style. But the situation was pretty much the other way around - Stanley did the taking. He had been lucky not to have been contaminated with all that art-history and so-called ethics of the trade. He worked with unbelievable ease and speed and nonchalance and left the "originator" gaping with his ventriloquistic talent. Left him also very soured. In the end his 1962 Punk style became his own.
But then Stanley had other things in mind, not just "art". His idea was to revamp society on a tribal basis, as I perceive it. So what then is "art" if one breathes the social flow of populations, of recreation of the whole world? Of what importance is then an "originator" or a hardworking "organizer"? When God's hot sandstorm blows out of the Sinai Desert it is only His Prophet who counts. We had to exclude him from the group.
I ran into Stanley only a few times, casually, since the rout of NO!art in 1964. He was inevitably accompanied by members of his "family", who eagerly hung on to every word that spilled from the Master's lips. Conversation was very difficult.
About 1970 I visited him at his home on King Street in the Village. I was happy to be able to salvage something of his excellent work for this book on NO!art I was then editing. He operated nicely, no problems.
He sat in an impressive looking large armchair decked out in colorful cloth, reposed, at peace, and glad to show off to me his successful achievement, his "family". The room was neat, well kept and its walls decorated with colorful abstractions of oriental symbols in extra bright colors. A far cry from his NO!art full of satire, violence and castigation.
Seated around a pail in the kitchen were about four of his "family" girls peeling potatoes. They talked in hushed tones while Stanley and I carried on our conversation. The Rabbi weighed and tasted with enjoyment every word he uttered. It seemed I was visiting my mother's old white-bearded Chassidic uncle in Riga, Russia. Uncle Moyshe had only one wife, Aunt Mina, slightly deaf, a fantastic cook of Jewish sweets, she was always puttering around the kitchen, hardly entered the dining room except to serve visitors. Stanley must have come around full circle. In the end the Rabbi lived contentedly.
I saw Stanley for the last time at Catholic St. Vincent's Hospital in the Village two months ago. He had been there, I found out, for a whole six months, the victim of what appeared to be a mysterious brain disease. One of the girls was always at his bedside, there was always one to answer the phone when I called. It was OK for me to be admitted, one of the girls motioned from the doorway of his room when I came in. She then told me that Stanley wished me to hold his hand. He had a way of communicating with the girls without speaking. I held his hand and kept on shaking it up and own, a handshake and at the same time a playful movement, like children dancing in a circle and moving hands and arms in tune with a melody.
Stanley seemed to like it fine at the start. But he looked intensely at me all the while, pierced me with his water-blue, non-Jewish, frightening upsetting stare. God knows what went through his mind! Was he angry I stayed behind in this world while he had to leave? Or was he giving me a message, directions towards my future conduct? Or was he referring to something that happened between us in the past? Or was he reprimanding me for something? A stare from a man about to die can never be taken too seriously.
He then mumbled and the girl said he wanted me to leave. Had I done anything wrong? Did he find the handshaking inappropriate to the situation? Did he mind I had been talking to the girl while shaking hands with him? It was most unpleasant having to leave like this.
A few days later I sent him a bunch of flowers with a note, "Get well soon Stanley". Then he miraculously recovered, but only temporarily. He assured me on the phone, he insisted he would get well. It sounded like a promise and like defiance.
I forgot about Stanley for a few weeks, what with problems and other people dying, an old Russian friend, and my last uncle in Leningrad. A waitress in a Second Avenue luncheonette told me just the other day that Stanley had indeed died. I called up his house to verify it, - one of the girls told me, yes, it was correct, he had died on March 7th 1980, and the girls kept his ashes in the apartment.
And I am going off tonight to see a strip-show, a gyrating behind might convince me we are still alive.