Monday, March 11, 2013

an excerpt

Many nights Meneeley suffered from the same haunting dream:

“I am at the YMCA swimming pool and everybody is naked. In those days [1950s] everyone swam naked, so it wasn't a big deal…in my dream, a circle of men wearing military uniforms parade around the edge of the pool and occasionally some grab each other and fall in. Once in the pool, they begin romping around, frolicking and having a good time, and I would fill in the gap in the line and keep walking. Eventually, I’m the only person too afraid to jump in.”

“Thinking maybe this could be treated, on my first appointment I carried in a painting, laid it on the floor in front of my therapist and said, 'Do what you want with this (pointing to my head) but leave this (pointing to the painting) alone.”

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Ed Meneeley
When I first met the artist, I wasn’t sure if I could take him seriously.

In an age before google, his stories about befriending the likes of Franz Kline, Frank O’Hara, and Lee Krasner while also influencing Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol seemed far-fetched. I was equally skeptical of his resume boasting The Tate London, The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a long list of solo and group exhibitions in the United States, England, Ireland, and Greece.

Meneeley was an artist, of that I was sure. The massive abstract and color field paintings in his studio were proof enough. Pounding his fist on the table, he would go on for hours about “the essential role of culture” before spinning off with a giggle about knock-off sculptures hidden under the floorboards on the Greek Island of Lefkada, the humbling sensation of standing before ancient cave drawings, or how to properly steam an artichoke.
Intrigued, I listened.

About the time I was finishing my undergraduate degree, Ed asked me to write an introduction for the catalog of the drawings. Unbeknownst to me, my short essay attracted the attention of Wayne Adams, a longtime Meneeley friend/collaborator.
Douglas Albert, Ed Meneeley & Wayne Adams 

Years passed and I moved away. One morning I received a call. I had never spoken to Wayne before, but our mutual friend was in trouble. In his early 80s, Ed suffered a mild stroke. A documentary film crew from London, where Meneeley lectured at the Central School of Art, had just finished filming an interview with him about the trans-Atlantic art scene in the 1960s onward. Wayne and I wondered, where was the recognition on this side of the Atlantic? With a renewed sense of urgency, we hatched a plan.

Sainte Chapelle, Paris
I always enjoyed Ed's tales about his time as a Navy medic during WWII when Marlon Brando lived on his ward in Riverside California while filming his first feature role in The Men. Or about how Ed and Franz Kline hit if off after meeting at the Cedar Tavern in New York, calling out Native American place names like Tamaqua or Mauch Chunk as though they spoke a secret language after discovering they had common roots in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Another of his favorites was brunch with Lee Krasner the morning after his Electro-Static Prints were reviewed in the New York Times, how a bottle of Vouvray helped get his car out of a ditch, and how his life forever changed as he bathed in color at Sainte Chapelle.

By the end of the night, I often thought: is he for real?

Now I had my chance to find out if the old man was telling the truth. After five years sorting through massive boxes of papers and flying around the world to interview his friends, family and former students; I am left with a simple truth: too often the venerable among us have hugely inspiring stories to tell if only we would be patient enough to listen.

What follows is Ed's story, the culmination of a drunken promise made nearly a decade ago. How, from his own mouth, he ended up alone and penniless, nearly forgotten about after a rich lifetime of love and adventure...all the while producing magnificent works of art. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"The Human Condition is Best Studied Naked"

There was this artist who lived in a convalescent tower near the bar I tended in coal country PA who claimed he had works in many of the major museums in the world, including MoMA and The Tate Modern, but was now forced to survive off subsidies from the PA Lottery (“Benefitting Older Pennsylvanians”). 

He drank a bottle of red wine most nights, chipping away at his long-standing tab against the huge abstract high up on the wall. When he moved on to Campari and gin, he’d slam his fist on the bar, cursing city council for failing us, for not understanding “the importance of culture” and would throw his read copies of The New Yorker at me, challenging me to educate myself out of this town. 

He commissioned my first piece of paid prose, an introduction to a catalogue of nude charcoal drawings, and over the next decade, while writing his biography, I realized most of his stories were true.  

The Human Condition is best studied naked. Beneath the outer-garments of social convention, within the vested shields of worry and self-doubt, underneath all the layers of pretense is an epidermal layer of truth apparent to keen students of humanity. 

As Allen Ginsberg howls of seeing the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked, searching the Negro streets at dawn searching for an angry fix, Edward Meneeley sketches them.

Meneeley shows us hunger in the eyes, the mouth and the loins; madness in the menacing lines emitted from the model's consciousness; hysteria within the chaotic contrast of emotion and analysis, erections and deflations of ego. 

It takes the discerning eye of an artist such as Meneeley to reflect the mirror image of our naked selves unmasked by the cosmetic backdrop of society. Herein rests the sensuality and the vulnerability of true feeling. 

For more than 50 years, Meneeley has been compiling a case study of desperate subjects ranging from those wanted by the law to ambitious, career-driven American role models. Some drawings represent single session explosions of character while others represent an evolving relationship over years of expressive scrutiny.  

Special thanks to Wayne Adams for serving as Executive Producer of this project.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Proof of Art’s Redemptive Power

Although many people speak of the redemptive power of art, world-renowned artist Ed Meneeley is living proof that the creative spirit can renew, restore and return a person from the brink of destruction back to life.  At 82, Meneeley experienced the unthinkable: he was robbed, raped and left blind in one eye on the floor of his apartment by a young man he found shivering in the rain the night before.  Meneeley had simply offered the man a warm place to shower and dry his clothes; for his kindness, he was brutalized and left for dead.

While Meneeley lay recuperating in the hospital, memories of his extraordinary life flooded his mind – for his life had been filled with the people, the places and the events that had shaped the 20th century.  He had cared for paraplegics as a Navy medic during WWII, photographing amputees before and after surgery when their broken bodies were brought home from Korea.  He had been given his own set of keys to the Museum of Modern Art when hired to photograph the entire permanent collection.  His first solo show of paintings at the Parma Gallery in 1962 occurred the day after the funeral of his close friend, the painter Franz Kline  He had been married, but later came to terms with his homosexuality.  His electro-static prints had been purchased for the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, The Whitney and other prominent museums,  He had been a lover of Robert Rauschenberg, had worked in special projects with Jasper Johns.  He had traveled abroad to photograph Robert Motherwell’s exhibition in London and while there had studied all that Eurpoe had to offer:  from contemplating Stonehenge and the ancient cave drawings in Spain, to bathing in color under the stained-glass windows of Saints Chapel in France.  He lectured throughout Europe, and spent years dedicating himself to promoting the arts by curating and exhibiting until his life came full circle and he moved to a small town near his childhood home in Pennsylvania to nurse an old friend dying of AIDS.  And all this living had brought him here : to a hospital in a nowhere coal-mining town where he had extended his hand to a predator masked as a shivering young man who looked like he just needed a place to escape the cold, wet, buffeting winds.

Once released from the hospital, Meneeley consoled himself with cheap vodka, chugging it straight from a plastic water bottle, and his life began to spin out of control.  On one occasion, his biographer drove him into Manhattan to appear in a documentary where he made a drunken spectacle of himself.  On another, he fell and broke his hip.  He could now barely lift his painting arm above the shoulder, and became dependent on a walker.  His drinking had eroded his health to the point that he could no longer make the short commute to his studio across the street from his home.  One day, Meneeley received old friend/collaborator who gave him an ultimatum, “If you’re not going to care about your own life, if you want to die, then I can no longer put my time and energy into this.”

Ed decided to live. He spent his whole life expressing himself passionately with color and sculpture. From his weakened state, just thinking about his work gave him strength. He knew he could handle the worse life could throw at him. Art would heal him. It always did.

Weeks later, his studio was closed and his materials were set up in his bedroom.  As had always been his process, the artist went to work releasing his emotions as vivid portrayals of color on canvas and hand-made paper.  Within a few days, the first three works in a series of abstract Stations of the Cross, symbols of his own salvation, were complete. Over the next few weeks he would produce thirteen more.

This shift led to relentless productivity, including the production of over 100 new works including 47 homages to passed friends and heroes, along with the completed Stations of the Cross series.  So moving and beautiful are these paintings the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York exhibited them in 2011.