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The Sound of Sleat
     

The Sound of Sleat

by Jon Scheuler, Jon Schueler, Magda Salvesen (Editor), Diane Cousineau (Editor)
 

The remarkable autobiography of an American artist's dreams, passions, and work

As an American abstract expressionist painter and early protege of Leo Castelli, Jon Schueler lived and worked among the country's most gifted artists: Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, Jasper Johns, and many others. Schueler was

Overview

The remarkable autobiography of an American artist's dreams, passions, and work

As an American abstract expressionist painter and early protege of Leo Castelli, Jon Schueler lived and worked among the country's most gifted artists: Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, Jasper Johns, and many others. Schueler was mysteriously driven to connect nature with a deeply personal passion. In the late 1950s, he travelled for the first time to Mallaig, a town in western Scotland on the Sound of Sleat, where the dramatic landscape inspired his art and continued to influence him throughout his career.

Over nearly thirty years, as he painted, Schueler worked on this book. In it, he struggled to define what it was that compelled him to paint and wrestled with a conflict that confronts all artists—how to strike a balance between the need to create in solitude and the desire for human intimacy. The Sound of Sleat tells the story of a passionate life and offers a fascinating look at the New York art world in the latter half of this century and an astonishing window on art, hope, despair, and creativity.

Editorial Reviews

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
To read the...book is far less confusing than any description of its structure may convey....with cumulative power the entries explain the remarkable experience Schueler underwent...that allowed him to record on canvas his simultaneous sense of rapture in response to the landscape and his apprehension of death. — The New York Times Book Review
Atlantic Monthly
...[An] extraordinary medley of reminscence, confession, aesthetic theorizing, and journal keeping.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The life of Abstract Expressionist painter Schueler (1917-1992) defies the artistic cliche of divine talent undone by self-destructive passions. This collection of journal entries and correspondence covering more than 20 years of his life presents a hardworking man who made many sacrifices for his art but found only limited success. The book begins with Schueler's first journey in 1957 from his Manhattan home to the Scottish Highlands and ends with his relative obscurity in the late 1970s. In subsequent years, while discovering in the Highland landscape the theme and aesthetic reflected in his paintings for the rest of his career, Schueler struggled to maintain contact with New York City's gallery scene (his first dealer was the influential Leo Castelli), with his American contemporaries (such as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Helen Frankenthaler), with the new wife he'd left in the States and with his children from his first marriage. As the artist moves between New York and Scotland in the years that follow, his loneliness and sexual frustration are a consistent motif, as is his single-minded drive to paint and its destructive effects on all his relationships with a succession of women. Throughout, Schueler has trouble balancing artistic focus and personal happiness. As he grew older, he acknowledged (grudgingly) that fame had passed him by. He had to swallow his pride and lower prices in order to sell his work — but his art lost none of its urgency. Assembled posthumously by the editors (Salvesen is his widow; Cousineau, a professor of literature), this book is particularly apropos in light of the recent critical rediscovery of Schueler, upcoming exhibits and monographs. It offers a refreshing, realistic depiction of an American artist toiling away outside the fashionable heart of the art world. 32 black & white photos; 16 color plates. With a foreword by Russell Banks.
The Atlantic Monthly
...[An] extraordinary medley of reminscence, confession, aesthetic theorizing, and journal keeping.
Kirkus Reviews
As a painter, Abstract Expressionist Schueler fought to translate his vision to canvas; as a writer, he struggled just as hard to describe the difficulty of leading a creative life. A newcomer who quickly found his way into the center of the prevailing art scene in the 1950s, Schueler began his career in the shadow of such artists as Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. Years younger than those first-generation abstract expressionists, however, he had to fight to assert his place in the pantheon. It was a fight that drained him, and as much as he longed to be in the midst of "the glory," he also longed to escape it. This volume, a collection of the artist's letters and journal entries, begins with his decision to leave New York in search of a landscape that would inform his work; under the quick-changing skies of Mallaig, Scotland, he found it. The wild, stormy weather of Scotland's West Coast mirrored his own emotional struggle: insecure and ambitious, driven and desiring, Schueler ricocheted between countries, dealers, and women. Judging by this book, the greatest constant in his life was his devotion to his art, and his book reflects his dedication to it with a loose, engaging fluency. He was a fearless documentarian, and The Sound of Sleat fascinates — not only for its studio-eye view of the epochal New York art scene of the '50s and '60s, but also for its archetypal quality. Schueler was nothing if not self-aware, and in spite of occasional self-aggrandizing, he had a very clear understanding of the cost of leading a creative life. Although he suffered greatly for his art — and put the women who loved him though hell — his storyremains oddly uplifting; he chose to live as close to his dream as possible. An insider's outsider, Schueler had a unique perspective on the raging art world of the '50s and '60s; his book is both a personal testament and a riveting account of American painting at that time.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312200152
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
01/15/1999
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.25(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt


At the time of the opening journal entry Jon Schueler was forty. Considered one of the up-and-coming artists of the younger generation, by 1957 his paintings had been shown in a one-man exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York and in various annuals and a touring group show. The March exhibition at the new Leo Castelli Gallery would enable him to leave New York in the fall and set off for Scotland in search of a landscape that he believed would be crucial to his work. This quest would bring him to the Sound of Sleat — the body of water between the mainland and the island of Skye — and to Mallaig, the small fishing village that overlooks this sound and the other Inner Hebridean islands of Rhum, Eigg, and Muck.

    Schueler grew up in a middle-class family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and completed his undergraduate and graduate studies in English at the University of Wisconsin between 1934 and 1940. His plans to become a writer were interrupted by his decision to join the Air Corps of the United States Army in September of 1941. He married Jane Elton in 1942, just before being sent to Britain, where he served as a B-17 navigator. Discharged in 1944 as a result of combat fatigue, he and his wife soon moved to California. In the confusion of the next few years, their two daughters, Jamie and Joya, were born, and he engaged in schemes of setting up a nightclub and building a house, worked as a radio announcer, completed a few bits of writing, and started teaching English literature at the University of San Francisco in 1947. In 1945, however, he had accompanied his wife to a portrait-painting class, and painting gradually became his dominant activity.

    Schueler enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (on the GI bill) in 1948. Three years later, he moved to New York City, leaving his two daughters with their mother. The artist Philip Guston introduced him to Eleanor Ward, the director of the Stable Gallery, where he had his first one-man exhibition in 1954. However, after a fight with Ward over payment for a painting, he was eased out of the gallery and joined the new — and soon to be renowned — Leo Castelli Gallery.

    The imagery in Schueler's paintings, informed in the early fifties by the large, bold abstractions of his mentor, Clyfford Still, gradually became more explicitly concerned with nature. He fantasized increasingly about Scotland as the place that would provide the climate, skies, and the sense of the north that he craved. This dream is mentioned in early letters, and friends remember his constant and insistent talk of this as-yet-unknown country. However, lack of resources and the complications of his private life delayed the departure.

    In the summer of 1956 on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, he met the artist Joellen ("Jody") Hall, who at that point was married to the Scottish poet Ruthven Todd, and Schueler's two-year relationship with June Lathrop came to an end. Their wedding took place in October of that year, with Tina, Jody's nine-year-old daughter, acting as flower girl.

    Plans were formed to go to Scotland. But growing tensions within the marriage and Jody's reluctance to go to such a northern country resulted in Schueler setting off alone.

    Part one was written between January 1957 and December 1958 in New York; Mallaig, Scotland; and Paris. Each of the parts of this book was culled from much longer versions that had been arranged by Jon Schueler before he died in 1992. Although he had begun writing journals and longer pieces as far back as the war years, it was only after his experience in Mallaig that he committed himself to a complex autobiographical project that would attempt to integrate past and present. A combination of journals, letters, and longer reflections on the creative process, this book began to take shape in January of 1957.


NEW YORK, 16 JANUARY 1957

It's two o'clock in the morning. There is snow on the ground. At the moment I am very happy about the painting I finished tonight. This is Number 2, 1957. I haven't titled it as yet. (I must remember to number the paintings as I finish them, so at least I'll have some semblance of order in my records — when I make some records). Forms revealed. Movements growing stronger. Indications of solidity. Something emerging from the fogged landscape I have been doing. Horizon in the distance. I think I needed the horizon, so that I would know it was there. But now that I know it is there, I want to eliminate it. Perhaps at times it may emerge, or be suggested, but now it is time for it to disappear, and give way to more positive dynamics.

    I am a bad father, a bad stepfather, a bad husband, an indifferent friend, a confused and disloyal lover. Only one thing: I am a good painter. And I had damn well become a far better one to make up for all the rest. Henry Miller: "Balzac, like Beethoven, seemingly gave the maximum that a man can give." I must find my maximum in painting. I can't give directly to people. I am completely incapable. Every time I have tried, I have ended up hurting someone.


VINEYARD HAVEN, MASSACHUSETTS, 26 AUGUST 1957

I'm going to try keeping my journal again — the first entry in a very long time. I have just finished two months of painting at Martha's Vineyard — twenty-one canvases. Jody and Tina went back to New York Saturday. I shall be sailing for Scotland September 5 and from that day on I shall be alone a great deal. This is going to mean a lot for my painting, I know. It's going to be tough in many ways, and I must always remember why I am doing it. It's not just an adventure — going to the Highlands alone — and it's not just for the inspiration I'll find there. I'm putting myself to a test. I've used up energy and time in many wasteful ways during my life, and a good share of it with women. Now I want to put the total energy and the total time and the total feeling into my work. If each day brings a rage, it will be the rage of creation, and not the rage imposed by the outside. I shall make the paint live and the image soar with ecstacy. I have relinquished — I have tried to relinquish, or it has been forced upon me to relinquish — nearly everything which I have wanted at one time or another in my life. Everything except the need to create and to have my works go out into the world and proclaim their life and my life. I wanted to love and to be loved. I wanted a home, cars, houses, respect, a woman, parents. I wanted to get close to someone. I wanted to communicate — so badly. It's impossible. I can't seem to do it with one person, nor, for that matter, can I hear that person's voice. I wanted things to work with June and myself. The very wanting was crazy in terms of my work. Not until I started suffering, feeling the loss of June, did I begin to feel close to my work. I paint in terms of loss and renunciation. Yet my paintings are an affirmation of faith.

    I must continue my journal. If I am going to be alone, I shall need the word — if only my own on paper.


EDINBURGH, 16 SEPTEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

Dear Jody:

    I'm finally coming up for air — but slowly. The crossing was great.... On the last day we passed just to the north of the Scilly Islands, which lie off Land's End — and they were beautiful beyond belief. Rough, craggy, with a grey, sometimes misty sky. Waves beating against the rocks, throwing spray fifty feet into the air. Dimly seen views of sandy inlets and green fields — tantalizing, like a striptease. The light of the sun breaking through silver white, hard on the turbulent water, blinding, hard and powerful. God — this is what I had come three thousand miles to see — and this was the first thing I saw! I could ask for no more. I was certain that the west coast of Scotland would be like that.... We got up at 5:30 Friday morning to leave the ship, which was already at dock in Southampton.... That Friday was sheer insanity. I was sick as a dog — had had a fever the night before. And now I was up and seeing immigration officers. Mine seemed to take a dim view of an artist coming into Britain with only $450 on him to stay for eleven months. I said I had a bank account of $1,000 when he asked, but could furnish no proof. I didn't quite get what he was after at the time, so didn't mention anything about income — just answered questions, and the next thing I knew he had stamped something about "three months" on the passport, and this has to be renewed.... I felt very sentimental all during the train ride through England, remembering the war, and I felt very sentimental here in Scotland because I have been wanting to come here for so long.... It has been very cold, and I haven't been warm since I arrived in Britain. Just like the last time. I probably won't be warm until I leave. The British admit that it is cold, but they just don't seem to care to do anything about it. There is no heat anywhere. I doubt if they'll start lighting fires for another couple of months. When it's at its coldest — perhaps at night — people just leave their coats on.... Get a map from the British Tourist Office so you can refer to places I mention. I have had lots of conversations, and am planning to visit Oban and Ballachulish and Fort William. But then I am going farther north, and am very much interested in Gairloch, Lochinver, and Scourie. Every place sounds wonderful. It's going to be hard to make a choice. Saturday I walked all over Edinburgh — truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's beyond description. I walked up the steep hill and went through the old castle and I looked out over the city to the hills to the north, and everything was as I wanted it to be. I kept marveling at the light and at the color, and something about it struck me personally and I couldn't figure out what it was. The next day when I was riding along on a bus in the country (on an all-day bus tour), I was noticing the same thing again and I was looking at the clouds especially, and then I realized that I was seeing all of the violets and ultramarine reds I have been putting into my paintings for the last few months.

    The food has been uniformly bad, except for one restaurant.... And the women are beyond belief. They seem to be uniformly unattractive — so I never could imagine staying in this country indefinitely. Perhaps it's different in the Highlands — probably worse. The more beautiful the landscape, the less attractive the women.

   ... My main costs are those of getting settled and of stocking up on materials. After that, living will be comparatively inexpensive.

    How is everything with you? Have you started painting? How is Tina? I expect letters are somewhere and I'll be getting them one of these days.... I'll write as regularly as possible, but I'll be on the move, and sometimes it's difficult for me to write at a time like that. I just got my typewriter from the baggage room at the station — it's the only thing that saves me.

   ... Scotland is beautiful, cold, and lonely. About what I expected. I doubt whether it will be any lonelier in Ballachulish than in Edinburgh. And then I'll be working. Please mail watercolor set.... Tell Leo to sell some paintings. Give my best to Dave and Astrid and Bob and Abby and to all those children.

    Love,

    Jon


NEW YORK, 11 SEPTEMBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

    (Out of sequence — this and Schueler's previous letter crossed in the mail.)

    ... I've been concentrating for long hours on little black-and-white wash drawings — landscape ideas about some special feelings I'm trying to recapture. I'm taking great delight in not seeing anyone or wanting to go out anywhere. I'm like a mole dug in for the season! I think of nothing but you and my little drawings. You are always with me, darling....


MALLAIG VAIG, 26 SEPTEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

Dear Jody:

    The wind is howling tonight — I don't know whether there is a storm brewing or just some temporary aberration in the weather. The wind came up this afternoon, then strange clouds forming over the sea, half-obliterating some of the islands. Beautiful, and very real. Fortunately, I had coal delivered today. Tonight I am warm for the first time — warm, that is, on my right side, which is toward the fire. But I think everything is going to work out very well — I think I shall be able to keep the place warm enough to work in.... Yesterday and today I have been busy getting the essentials organized — coal, food, stuff moved, etc. Also, ordered a bunch of stretchers from the joiner. Canvas should be here any day from Edinburgh. Now that I have heat, I can sit down in the evening. Last night, all I could do was pace until I felt that I could get to sleep — which I didn't. But I had had tea and a shot of whiskey with Mrs. MacDonald (a wonderful, mad, toothless woman who owns this place — and who literally cackles), her daughter and son-in-law. They were very hospitable, and we had a good talk. I didn't like the two women at first, but now I'm beginning to enjoy them. They distrust me less, and that helps.

    At American Express in Edinburgh, I received your first three letters, which had been forwarded from Southampton. I'm wondering where you are — can't quite figure out whether you have gone to Florida to see Tina or whether you are going there October 4. If you're going October 4, we have some problem about my Air Force check ... which probably will arrive that day or the 5th. I'm approaching some real difficulty in regard to money. If you have sold the car, I wish that you would send me some money — just so I can get a little ahead.... I shall write checks on the New York account for $50 (Jane), and $8.00 (kids' allowance) and $18.70 (insurance). I'll write these around October 5. Once we're in communication, and once I'm ahead of the time lag, we can handle this differently if you want to. But I thought that this would be best for the present....

    I'm beat after a big day and am going to climb into the cold bed. Wish there were something more there than a hot-water bottle! And how about a good home-cooked meal?

    Love,

    Jon


NEW YORK, 3 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

My darling, darling Jon,

    I feel absolutely frantic you are not getting my letters — even as I write this, I wonder if you will ever receive it.... I worry so about your not being able to cook and trying to handle all those problems by yourself. Not to mention how much I want to be there with you. We could at least generate more heat together than the coal stove. Do you think it would be dreadful of me to come in November? I am torn by loyalties ... yet I can't help but feel I should be with you.... I could plan to break the length of time in Scotland by returning for a few weeks maybe in February or March — I will demand the money from my trust if necessary. I airmailed you $900 yesterday. I finally sold the car but had to take a terrible drop in price ($975).... So all our bills are paid now and we have the car money and our rent. That is something! If things are too rough there, we could pack up and leave — it would take time and money, but if you can't do your work under those conditions, it would be a waste of time to stay! The important thing is for you to be able to function in your work! Baby — I can't sleep at night for thinking of you — it all sounds too terrible....

    I want to come and be with you. I want to cook for you and keep warm with you in bed. It's all very simple — basic needs. Do you understand? I went to Bluhm's opening and talked to Leo — he was very charming and I gave him "glowing accounts" of you — he wants to pick up the paintings next week. A new rack is being constructed in the back room now (they found an apartment), so he will be able to store them....


NEW YORK, 4 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

    ... I just wrote and mailed a letter to you saying I wanted to come over in November instead of being with Tina at Xmas. As soon as I mailed it, it was as though I had committed a terrible sin against Tina. I was very upset — and I know I can't do it to her.... I am beginning for the first time to realize my behavior toward her and, believe me, when it hit me, I knew that never again would I let my own selfish desires keep me from giving her what she needs from a mother. I also feel that way where you are concerned, but as we both chose to do things this way and Tina was more or less there as a result of my choice, I feel she should not be further victimized.... I'm writing all this without knowing what you are thinking or whether you even wanted me to come anyway. I have to untangle my emotions often these days to separate my dependent feelings and my love for you — my own loneliness from my concern over your loneliness.... Please be patient with me....


MALLAIG VAIG, 7 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

Dear, sweet Joellen:

    I just received the two letters written on October 4, when at first you decided to come here in November and then felt blasted by your conscience. Well, my heart goes out to you and I can imagine what you are going through. I must say that suddenly you become more human to me, because, if nothing else, one of the big advantages that can come out of all this for each of us ... is that we're put hard up against some decisions, and we go through all the emotions surrounding them, and maybe if we come out the other side ... we can truly say we've grown — and maybe we'll know something — you about yourself, me about myself, you about Tina and art and men, me about art and women and children (and money).... Part of the thing here for me is to meet something head-on — to figure out what I want to do, and then to overcome everything that comes with it. Now, this part of Scotland is exactly what I wanted — visually. I have everything I could hope for. I had to get through the rest ... such as cold, but more important — emotional difficulties — such as loneliness and all the craziness that can go with it. I think you have to come out the other side of loneliness, or one is forever dependent on other people — and I'm out not to be — it's absolutely necessary for my work.... There's no doubt about it, I was miserable for a while. I was literally held together during that period by the landscape. I went through my low of all lows Sunday, September 30 — and even on that day I took a long walk and was overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounded me.... I think the final blow was that it was Sunday in Scotland and I had heard that they were very rigid in observance — don't work on Sunday, etc. — and I was afraid to call on my new neighbors.... Well, it was totally unnecessary. Now — here are some of the things I have — another eight days later. I have excellent neighbors. John MacPhie is a hell of a nice guy. When he heard I was ordering coal, he was going to carry it across the valley to my place, because he knew I wasn't used to heavy work. He's at least five years older — works terribly hard all day — getting up at five in the morning — and then has all sorts of heavy work to do around his croft. I think he felt that it was totally unnecessary for me to have paid to have the coal carried across — in fact, when I told him and Betty that I had paid ten shillings (less than a dollar and a half) to have half a ton of coal carried across, they were horrified. Betty insists on doing my laundry for me, and sews things, etc., and refuses to take any money for it. She keeps me up on the neighborhood gossip ... and she puts me wise to all sorts of things, so that it's getting easier and easier for me to function here. Ian, their boy, comes over and helps in every possible way. He cleans out my grate — as much as anyone, he showed me how to build a fire — he brings in coal, and has helped with everything and anything. He's fascinated by the whole art bit, and has watched the studio take place with great interest. Heat: For another ten dollars a month, I can throw in plenty of coal, and use the electric heaters when I feel like it — and everything will be quite warm enough. Your sending on the money helped me a lot in that respect. I have a fine studio now — gleaming white — the light comes in great — though it's from the northwest — it doesn't make much difference because the sun is seldom out anyway. I have one of the best easels I have ever had. I have some stretchers designed better than I have ever used. All this thanks to Mr. Grieve, the joiner, who takes quite an interest in me, and lends me tools, etc., and is ready to solve any problems. Another thing about the cable saying you were going to send money: I bought some sensible clothes — designed for these parts — the boots, the sweater, and I've sent for some long underwear, and I have a great raincoat. All of a sudden I'm comfortable — and now it's an adventure for me to go out in all kinds of weather.... More: I'm getting to know everyone in town, and it's sort of fun, because I realize from things I've heard that no one quite figures me out, and they wonder what I'm doing here, etc.... More: I've met Jim Manson, the captain of the fishing boat, an old-timer.... The boat is going into the water at high tide tonight and tomorrow noon we're going to sea. Now, damn it, it will probably be cold and cramped and wet and rough, but it will be as wonderful as it can be — if you get the point. That's why I don't want you to worry about me — part of the wonder here, part of everything that is great, and everything that is making me terribly excited and full of life — part of all that is the rough part — the weather, the primitive conditions, etc. The weather! Without the weather I wouldn't have what I came after. Today I cycled to Morar (a little town along the coast to the south) and I went out of my mind. Every day is a grey day here, and I've noticed more and more the blues and the purples. But from Morar — out to the sea — the cloudy sky and the water and the islands (Eigg and Rhum loom huge in the distance, menacing, sharply defined in outline, but hazy and indistinct in content) everything was a deep, deep blue — the most penetrating, somber, magnificent, symphonic blue I have ever seen. It was a very simple subject — yet immense and about the whole world and the whole universe, and about all the great throbbing tragedy of movement and life ... and, by God, it was about everything I've been thinking about, and I just have to raise myself one way or another to the point where I can truly feel it and express it, and where I get far, far beyond the point of techniques and doesn't this look just like some Impressionist, and whatever anyone might be whispering in my ear — you or critics or buyers or dealers or friends or artists or enemies or what....

    ... I'm dying to paint. I know I'm gaining vision — and perhaps it's helping me that I'm getting more relaxed (the Scots are not in a hurry) and taking time off to go out leisurely and look and look and look, and to go out to sea in a fishing boat so that I can look and feel some more.... About your coming: I want you, too, and could certainly stand those simple basic needs. But now that you're up against some truths, keep at it and see where you come out, and come over here when it's right and proper that you do so. You'll know, and when you want to come, tell me, and I'll be waiting for you.... Don't mind burdening me with the mixed-up crap.... I love you, and I think we'll have a great time when you're here — particularly if you lose the idea that men are helpless and have to be guided by the nose. I love your mothering, but as you are realizing, it's probably needed all the way around.

    Love — Keep warm,

    Jon

I'm sailing on the Margaret Ann at noon tomorrow. Will probably be back on Saturday. So there will be a few days without letters.


NEW YORK, 9 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

... I just came back from Astrid's, where the movers picked up The Wave and Night Sky — Leo phoned and said that Baur was coming tomorrow to have a look at your recent work — he feels Baur is interested in you seriously — so we'll all be excited to see what comes of it all....


NEW YORK, 10 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

... Leo just phoned to report about the pictures I sent over yesterday — Great! He said to tell you More ... and he chose In the Wild Garden for a show at the Whitney in November. It is a survey show of contemporary painters. He said More was enchanted by your paintings — really loved them and said he felt you were one of the best painters around! I feel like shouting for Joy! I then asked Leo how the paintings looked in the gallery.... He said, "Oh, they look really wonderful — they have gained stature here — it was very difficult to see them in the light in your studio." — Aren't you happy! He also said a sale will probably come out of the show — very likely to anyway. So paint on, my love. I was mad as hell you don't want me there anymore now that you don't need me! But I have a couple of months to simmer down over that one — and all the emotion I have put into my decision to come! ...


MALLAIG VAIG, 13 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

... I've been trying to create some kind of a plan in my mind to get you organized before you start traveling back and forth between New York and Scotland in a mania of guilt and sexual desire. In the first place, it will just keep everybody in an uproar — and in the second place we can't afford it. Now, this is what I have figured out — which is about as much as I can: I have this place until May 25. Therefore, a great deal hangs on that date. I have decided that the best thing to do is to put in an intensive work period through the winter. Ship my paintings off. Take a tour — see part of England, then go to the Continent and tour there. After that, see what happens. Tentatively, I'd like to settle in Paris for a year. I think that after eight months here I'll want the city. So — it seems to me, without considering anything else except the fact that you wanted to be with Tina for Xmas — that the best thing for you to do would be to take the first boat that is practical after Xmas and come over here. After we have taken our tour and found a place to settle, you send for Tina.... For God's sake, don't do anything that you're going to construe as a sacrifice for me that will involve Tina. I'll merely have to pay and pay and pay, and I don't want to. If this plan suits you, and you want to do it, fine. If you end up by figuring it out as something that I used to wrench you away from your daughter (I have a hunch you're now thinking that Tina being in Florida is the result of some diabolical scheme of mine), then, for God's sake, stay where you are. I can't stand having tiny tots sacrificed on the altar of my ambition. I'd much rather they would all go and cling to their mothers somewhere....

    I feel so damn sexy, I can hardly stand it — particularly when I read your letters. Makes it hard for me to be sensible about all your plans. Everything will be well prepared when you arrive, cock at rigid attention....


MALLAIG VAIG, 13 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

... Did five drawings — a couple of them good. Light very good in morning and early afternoon. So those will be my painting hours.

    You should have seen me at the wheel of the Margaret Ann on Friday — dusk, heavy sea, turbulent tides and wind, boat pitching and rolling so that you could only stand up by hanging on, spray over the decks and against the windows of the wheelhouse — you would have died a thousand deaths. I loved it loved it loved it. If I ever give up painting, it will be to go to sea. Jim Manson — really fascinating guy, fifty-three, man of quiet courage, singleness of purpose. He loves his work, gets as excited as a kid by a catch. He sails into waters that our companion ship (they sail in twos) stayed safely out of. He knows his business, and knows every tide and rock and ripple in the entire area.... He had me handling the wheel every day from the first day aboard, when we were traveling through a heavy swell. On Friday I took her from South Uist to a loch on the northwest corner of Skye. We fished there unsuccessfully. Then he took her down the coast — notoriously bad tides — heavy sea, churning waters — huge cliffs dropping abruptly into the sea — sailing nearly within touching distance of the cliffs — peering almost straight up to see the guy hanging over the rail in the lighthouse far above.... Then, after we got past the very worst of the passage, he gave the wheel to me. I took her all the way down the coast — it was dusk, then darkness — we fished a loch — then I took her again. You should have seen us tossing! By God, I felt great. Finally we got down to the island of Soay ... and as we were approaching it — in the dark — he went down to have tea in the fo'c'sle and left me in charge of the boat. I took her into the channel before he came back up, and through the channel, and then he took her into Loch Scavaig. When we were going into Loch Scavaig, he said very quietly, "What you did just now — bringing the boat in here — was worth hundreds of pounds. (I don't know exactly what he meant by that). Most men would have been afraid to do it."... I felt terrific.... The loch is sinister — black — and ugly winds whistle into it from the Cuillins — the biggest mountains in the area. They are sharp and ugly compared to all the other mountains in Scotland. You can see them off on the distance from your kitchen. In fact, I was looking out the window there today — I do constantly — the scene is never the same from one minute to the next — I bet I'll hardly be able to get you out of the sink long enough to get you into bed....

    One thing serious — don't you really realize that at one time we had everything planned, that you just as well could have been here with Tina — but that you worked very hard to see to it that that couldn't happen? The only thing that scares me is that you act as though none of that ever happened ... but to hell with it. I've lost all family feeling and trying to strive — and maybe it's just as well. I'll start over again with you as a mistress and see what happens.

    ... Delighted to hear about More's reaction.

    Your choice fine. Love you for being concerned in that way....


NEW YORK, 17 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

Darling Jon,

    You know I do love just being a woman. Do I have to prove myself in some other way? Is it so weak of me not to forge ahead in painting and dedicate myself to this life? Could you find it pleasant to just live with me, and not find me boring if I would be such a flop as a person? I ask myself these questions through the day and wonder — I want to be real, a real person — to feel real and be real to you and Tina and the outside world. You know when I'm happiest? Really now — I'm serious — it's when I'm baking a pie — or bread — and puttering around in the kitchen — but not for myself — it has to be for someone I love — and that's not sentiment — I love to dress in the evening and go out with you as your wife. I want to feel free to show my love for Tina.... Are my dreams of what I want to be so far from what I am?

    When I look or think of Joan Mitchell or Grace Hartigan, I see such a different physical type — they are strong, "virile," heavy, and forward, and I am quite the opposite in temperament and build. Just from the outside I wouldn't say I have the equipment to be a real career woman — and my feminine instincts draw me in another direction inwardly.

    I do have a talent that is part of my reality as a person — my paintings are me and are a part of me and I will always want to paint, I believe — but I don't feel like it's necessary any longer for me to prove my worth by being an artist. I am an artist — I know that — good — bad — mediocre — what have you — it isn't the point. But I feel like directing my ego drives in the direction of womanliness and letting the Art follow at whatever speed it must for me. Maybe I have wanted too much for myself and haven't come to grips with anything as a result. I want to "grab hold" — I was thinking of this phrase of yours in the bathtub tonight and it seemed suddenly very much to the point for me right now....


MALLAIG VAIG, 21 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO B. H. FRIEDMAN

... to the north is Loch Nevis.... I tell you, it's exactly what I wanted to find. It's relatively new land, you know, so it really is in the process of birth — it's springing from the sea, and it hasn't had time to get worn down to a pattern of regularity. High in the hills are moors which are constantly bogged, because natural drainage patterns haven't formed. Rock formations are thrust up in every direction imaginable — including straight up. And it's caught in the complicated, primeval, birth-pang hysteria of weather that's really weather, that has everything to it, that never stops changing. That's the big thing to me. I could stand in any one spot, and literally from minute to minute, quite often, the entire thing changes and what was real one minute has become effervescent the next and has formed into something else the following. This is what knocks me out. I've never seen so much damn color, and so much change of color.... I'm sure I've dreamed about it, but I didn't realize how rich it would be — and best of all, all sorts of color in the sky, working into and out of that in the land, because the sky is just as raw and new as the land, and it hasn't formed into regular patterns, either. Just when I think I've seen everything, I look out the window — like tonight before sunset ... and whoosh, a yellowish umber form was spread across the sky and threatening to annihilate the Bungalow at Mallaig Vaig....

    ... Now, as regards to painting, the way it makes me feel is that there is something here that I have been searching for and that I have been thinking about, and maybe I can find out more about how it works. And it also makes me feel, more strongly than any other landscape I've ever been in, that God is creating here so fast and so powerfully and so abundantly and so magnificently that it's going to be one hell of a challenge to try to create something that will equal or (when I'm feeling particularly manic and filled with rage at just seeing all this) outdo such a prodigal, intense, potent, imaginative job.... Incidentally, my canvas finally arrived ... and I've painted my first picture — 79" x 43" (vertical picture) — it's called My Garden Is the Sea and I really like it. I feel great. Probably the best thing that happened to me (in fact, one of the best things that ever happened to me) was my trip in the herring boat, the Margaret Ann. When I got back, I was going to write and tell you all about it, but then the canvas came and one thing and another — and it's probably just as well or I would have told you about every minute of each of the five days, and I doubt if it would have interested anyone else as much as it did me. But — emotion diffused in tranquillity — I'll tell you about a few of the things now. In the first place, I have a hell of an imagination about trips. I don't think it ever comes to consciousness ordinarily — though one way or another, I'm usually made aware that it is working. But when I first flew, and I flew during the war, I'd always have all sorts of premonitions and dreams and one thing or another of disaster. Now, I'd heard a few stories about the boats around here and about the sea, etc., and damn it, the old mind got whirling and somehow I was sure that if I got on that boat, I'd be the albatross around the captain's neck — but let's not try to push that one along — in any case, I figured out we'd probably sink.... Now understand, these guys are just going out to do a job — one the skipper has been doing day in and day out for nearly forty years. But to Schueler, it was a voyage into the jaws of death — every feeling at the time being pure cliche. On the other hand, I was excited as a kid about going — for some reason this has always been a dream of mine — I'm not sure why because I have never been particularly interested in fishing. Well — on Monday ...


DE LAND, 22 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

... I love your letters so — and then sometimes at night or during the day I get a feeling of panic for fear you will be disappointed when you see me and I won't be all you have dreamed about and vice versa — and maybe our sex will be a flop because we have dreamed so intensely about it for so long.... I do love you madly — I love your face — your eyes — your wonderful chin, your potbelly — your bony legs, the back of your head and, last but not least, your smile.... Oh, suddenly I feel great again now that I've given expression to some of my fears about whether I love you or not — it's as though I'm free again to love you....


MALLAIG VAIG, 24 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

My darling: Well — just received your wire this evening — what welcome, very welcome news. I've been wondering which boat you'd be taking and how long it would take to get here, so that I would know how many days to cunt — I mean count. Keep that thing warm, keep it ready. Bring plenty of diaphragms, vaginal jellies, douche bags, and any other complicated female paraphernalia. And bring that warm, sucking mouth of yours — I'm thinking about that tonight and wish it were here right now....

    ... I hope you're having a successful visit with Tina. I'm dying to hear all about it....

   ... I'll meet you, and guide you from then on — straight to the double bed in Mallaig Vaig, where you'll find yourself immediately on your back. Or would you like to see some paintings first? I'm working better than I ever have in my life. Have finished three canvases — have lots to tell you — excited as I can be. Will write about that tomorrow. This country is wonderful — the landscape becoming more thrilling to me every day. You're going to love it. And I feel so damned healthy, I could take off and fly — I've never felt healthier.... Listen, sweet one, we've both had tough, struggling, complicated lives. Now we're going to have a wonderful time — loving, fucking, working, and wandering around this magnificent countryside. Whenever we're cold, we'll just hop in the sack.... Bring your paintbrushes, etc. — I have canvas, stretchers, paints, and everything else. Good night, my love — I'm going to dream of lying on top of you with my cock deep inside....


MALLAIG VAIG, 29 (?) OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

Tuesday morning: Well — I didn't get to finish this letter last night. I had wanted to go through the three letters I got and look for any more practical matters and somehow I forgot all about them. I'll do it now.... Emphatically, don't give Tina or anyone else the idea that she might be coming here in the spring if she just manages to dislike being with her father enough. I'll give you two hints: (1) This is a working studio here — I didn't set it up as a nursery. (2) For Tina's sake, remember that Mel is her father and not just the proprietor of an orphanage. She has been kicked around from man to man — now let her relate to one man for a while — and it's just as well that it's her father. And to relate has to be all the way — it can't just be until she's bored or tired of the children — or she'll never be able to relate to a man as long as she lives....


DE LAND, 1 NOVEMBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

... I am beginning to know what being the wife of a serious painter means and I am willing to go along with you in whatever you need most for fulfillment in your work — it is hard not to want to be with you and share what I can share with you — sometimes I feel I shouldn't invade your painting even to the extent of sharing pleasure with you over accomplishment — but I do love painting so and I genuinely love what you are doing. I no longer feel an identity in that direction — or if I do, I am aware of it and cautious — which is a far step from last summer, and it will make a tremendous difference to you, I know. Having me both there and not there at the same time is what I have in mind to be. If I can accomplish this, it will mean that I can stay in your arms, where I want to be. Anyway, all I want to say is, I am serious about your work and sensitive about your needs — because I want to see all those exciting paintings come into being and go out into the world and be close to the man who made them. I don't feel I am identifying now — I'm just being a woman — quite different from a man and his needs really. Have I said I love you in this letter?

   ... I'm still looking at your picture. I'm especially peering at the lower section all covered over with corduroy! You look great in that beret.

    Your wife, your mistress, your tender, sweet, big-assed Joellen


MALLAIG VAIG, 5 NOVEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

Hello, sweet wench: Did I write a note this morning? I write you so often that I can't quite figure out when I wrote the last letter — and I think of you so much that I'm never sure what I told you in letters and what I told you in fantasy.... Everything is sexy here to me — that's odd, isn't it? — because the Scots certainly don't seem like an unduly sexy people — though maybe hidden behind all their propriety and plainness they are. But the very fact of the bracing air, and the exciting moods of the sea and land, and the wind — tonight blowing from the north — howling — and the north wind is a cold wind — all these things make me feel alive and creative and passionate. I want you in my arms, I want your cunt wet and open and my cock deep inside. And I'd like to inject some of my spirit of adventure into you — I'm sure that it will be catching — so that you get a big wallop out of all the wonders around here. Just to see the shepherds with their crooks and their heavy nail-studded shoes, swinging with the kind of heavy, rocking walk they have, down the street in Mallaig. Or an odd tail end of a rainbow resting on the water across Loch Nevis.

    ... I hope you got through some of my tougher letters okay. I'm still a hard bastard, and I fly off the handle, and I get mad at things out of the past (though not lately — once I got them out, they were out), but I love you and miss you — and I throw it all into one package. I've got that wing out ready for you to nestle under it — and what a wing it is! ...

    God — I'm having the damnedest work problem in the world right now. I'm so full of everything and my hand moves with such certainty and my imagination is so fertile and I feel so good about it that I practically run from my work at times. I can feel it happen — when it all becomes too much for me — yet I know that it is precisely then that I should really plow in....


MALLAIG VAIG, 6 NOVEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

... I realized here that there is a certain purity to working alone, and I'll want to do it once in awhile — but unless one wants to live alone, which I don't, you have to surmount whatever is in you that gets screwed up by having people around....

    — The toughest practical problem, I think, is the bad picture.... Here we are, Jon and big-assed Joellen, in love, people of goodwill, and Jon produces a bad painting.... Let's say I was writing a novel. I'd be zooming along. I'd have a great idea. I'd write it. I'd keep going — paragraph after paragraph. With any sense, a man would never show his wife the novel paragraph by paragraph — but that's what I do when I show you pictures as I complete them (to say nothing of the unfinished ones). Now — in the novel — I go back over it — the great idea is still there — or the germ of it — but the paragraphs concerning it, because it was such a new idea, are badly written — the seed is there, not the plant or the flower.... So I rewrite and rewrite until it becomes real. Now everyone loves it. But I loved it at first — when the idea first bloomed — and it was important that I loved it at that time, or else it wouldn't have bloomed.... This is the way it is with the bad picture. Although at the end of a period of work the picture is ultimately dropped — or changed, or whatever — yet, at the time, it is exceedingly important that I paint it uncritically, sentimentally, or whatever — and that I paint it with full love and enthusiasm, and that I feel that enthusiasm about it until such time as I have made the idea in it become more real and meaningful in another picture — or perhaps have creatively discarded the idea. Now — this is easy in the studio alone.... My enthusiasm over one picture can drive me into the next — so it's the enthusiasm that's important, not the picture.... This is the tough problem in having someone around, and for me it's a realistic problem. I could refuse to show you all my paintings, but this would be ridiculous to me. On the other hand, I can't pick out the bad ones and put them face to the wall, because I don't know at that point that they are bad. On the other hand, if I show them, it's probably too soon for me to know, certainly too soon for me to discuss. Maybe you can figure out some way of coping — I really can't. All I can do is paint the pictures....

    I'll tell you another thing, my sweetheart, now that I'm being so loving and trusting: When you haven't been a lousy, hostile bitch, you've been very good for my work in many ways — you've been an understanding wife and sensitive to my needs — and for this I've always loved you....


DE LAND, 8 NOVEMBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

... I sorted out all your letters today and stacked them in order and I am going to read each one over tonight before I go to sleep and just see how your moods and feeling toward me go each day — I bet they are a lot smoother with an ocean between us! I plan to bring my love letters with me to soothe my wounds when you have been particularly mean to me! Maybe we should just continue to communicate by letter! Maybe I will just write you a letter each day and tell you all my secret evil thoughts against you and present it to you each evening....

    ... You haven't scared me any worse than I've scared myself about being trapped with you in our love nest in Mallaig Vaig! So be on guard — I'm coming with full battle gear, ready for the slaughter! Oh God! With the slightest twist of my imagination I can reduce our love nest to a torture chamber! ...


MALLAIG VAIG, 14 NOVEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

My darling, much-loved Jody:

   ... It's going to be so wonderful having you with me — less than two weeks. I wonder how you are doing? I worry through each step with you, get just as excited about all the errands, all the packing, all the decisions, what to buy and what not to buy! ... I want to see you. I love you. Everything else can wait. So much has happened that will enable our love to flow more freely. You certainly must have learned by now that you can't destroy me — no matter what your fantasies — so this should put you at ease. In fact, I doubt if a woman can destroy a man — a man can destroy himself with a woman, if he wants to.... It's a funny thing about those power fantasies — every creative person has them — it's part of the mania, and, I believe, even part of the drive — yet, unless they are overcome and brought into some kind of realistic focus, they are the things which destroy productivity and therefore destroy art. I'm certain, for example, that it's underneath the kind of thing of a de Kooning taking to drink. Now, I want you to relax and paint for the fun of it, or don't paint for the fun of it, and do whatever you damned please for once in your life — and I'll bet that somewhere along the line you'll add up those paintings and find more than you had before and better ones. And in the meantime you'll have gotten in some loving, and you will have found the joy, rather than the resentment, of having a child, and all sorts of things. I love you, and I'm looking forward so to our being together — and I know what it will be like, and I know how loving you are, and how impossible you can be, and what a goddamned worrywart you are. And I know my failures as a painter, and I know that when I feel them, I look for a patsy, and I know that I'm looking less and less for a patsy, and more and more at the failures — which is giving me lots of strength. So we'll be very human together, and if we can find that ideal you spoke of — of each one feeling free within a marriage, we'll really have something....

    Love you,

    Jon


MALLAIG VAIG, 9 DECEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JAMIE AND JOYA

My darling, sweet little girls:

    How are things? When are you going to write your old man a letter? I'm far far north in the hills and the cold, and would like to have my heart warmed up a bit.

    I'm enclosing your December allowance check, and also the check for Mommy, which you can give to her, thereby saving me one shilling and six pence in postage this month. Also, I want to get this in the mail, and I don't have time to write two letters.... Jody arrived nearly two weeks ago and she's settling in very well and enjoying the place very much. All the neighbors were wondering what she would be like, and as we walk or cycle into town, the women stand at their windows and peer through the curtains....

    ... Did you see my picture in the December 2 issue of Life magazine? I thought it was pretty good, and I decided that it looked much more like me than I do now with my beard, and inasmuch as I sort of get a kick out of looking at myself, I'll probably shave it off one of these days. Jody thinks I look like the Devil right now, but I always think of myself as being rather saintly. The hills and mountains around here are now covered with snow and look very beautiful. The lower hills near us and the land near the sea has no snow — but off in the distance you can see the white mountains, and we take walks up Loch Nevis, and the mountains there are covered. The snow becomes different colors in the changing light. One time I saw it when it was a turquoise green....

    I have a painting in a museum show this fall, and another early next year, and I have sold two paintings this fall — one to a New York collector and one to a German collector, and the painting is already in Germany. It seemed funny to have it come over here, and maybe someday if I'm ever in Germany, I'll go to see it! They were both pictures I did this summer — though I think they were finished after you left.

    Jody is going to Mallaig now, and I'll give her this to mail. She is going to get the messages. That's what the people here say when they talk about shopping. If you're going to get groceries, etc., you're going to get the messages. If the grocer delivers and leaves the box of groceries at the top of the hill, you have to go up and bring down the messages. It's a wonderful term. Of course, a message is a message, too, and that tends to confuse things. Jody has to go from grocery to grocery to shop, because no one store seems to have everything. For example, only one of the groceries carries grapefruit juice. You can only buy milk at the vegetable and fruit store (which also sells candy) or at the bakery. You get ham or bacon at the grocery, but beef or lamb at the meat market. The most fun is the ships' chandler, which is a store to service the needs of the fishing boats and which sells just about everything. That's where I got my raincoat and my fisherman's sweater and my fisherman's barker — a sort of canvas blouse which goes over the sweater. I got my Wellingtons at the shoe-repair shop. And my heavy boot socks at the grocery. So it goes. One thing about the post office, you just get stamps and mail there, though it is run by a guy who owns a little candy shop and magazine and newspaper shop next door — where they have a couple of freezers and you can buy ice cream cones and frozen vegetables and fish. You can't get frozen vegetables at the grocery, but you can at the fish shop.

    Whenever you look out at the hills in the valley of Mallaig Vaig, there are always cows and sheep grazing — and whenever you walk anyplace, you see the sheep. They are everywhere — high on the cliffs — sometimes you wonder how they can keep their balance — but they find things to eat wherever they go. They tell me that the little lambs in the spring are wonderful to see, and I'm certainly looking forward to it. It's hard to take pictures now, because the light is so bad, but I shall in the spring and send you some. End of page. Love, love, and love. I think of you all the time.

    Daddy


MALLAIG VAIG, 28 DECEMBER 1957

... Spent this last week at Dumfries with Alastair Reid and his parents. A fine time — and I enjoyed talking to Alastair — but I was somewhat depressed most of the time. Jody depresses me. Am I still mirroring a woman's emotions? When she feels better — today — I felt better. But a depressed woman — a cold woman — is depressing.

    Shaved off my beard in anger on Xmas day — like a self-castration — I'm not sure why I did it — all of a sudden I didn't like it — but more because of the disapproval of others — particularly Alastair — as though he symbolized the outside world — outside of Mallaig — and outside of my dream. Mallaig is a stage for me in some respects — I live parts I have always wanted to live. Before Jody came, I could be kind.


MALLAIG VAIG, 29 DECEMBER 1957

— Tomorrow I am going to start a series of drawings. Face and figure — Models — Jody, Betty, Ian, John. There is something I must know about people — then next fall, perhaps, I'll start my paintings on Woman — or Women. I am very excited about this — woman emerging from the landscape. I tried one at Martha's Vineyard — it was a failure, but I should have kept it. That was summer of 1956.

    Reading Voss by Patrick White — on p. 46, Voss says, "If I had mastered the art of music, I would set myself the task of creating a composition by which the various instruments would represent the moral characteristics of human beings in conflict with one another." — I have thought about the hard and soft in music — the great, mass sounds and the delicate filigree of sensuousness — I have felt its movement and thought about that meaning in paint. Force — moral force in landscape — in man — in woman? Probably not in woman — definitely not in woman. In Man. In Man painting of woman. Sensual man of moral nature painting of woman.

    Woman: birth, earth, lust, heat, anger, sensual, evil, flesh, beauty, hope, love, comfort (?). I have seldom found comfort in woman. I shall cease to look for it.

    Painting — moral force opposite the sensual materials. I feel morality in the hard sky of winter. Love for me is a softness, a giving up, a retreat. Not always. There were moments when I loved June and she loved me. And then it was a moral love and it was part of the hard fact of my ambition and my need as a man.

    — Today was evil in its hate and in its helpless anger. I do not have love in marriage. I don't know what I do have, but I don't like it.


MALLAIG VAIG, 5 JANUARY 1958

My marriage hangs on a thread. I feel a madness about it — something insubstantial — I can't tell what it is. This morning I said, "I don't know whether I want to go to the country (in Greece) again — after having been here for so long." Jody: "Do you mean you want to spend the summer in the country?" Me: "I don't know yet what I want to do." Jody: "Well, if you go to the city, I'll spend the summer in the country." Me: "Okay, go ahead." A few minutes later, after I have obviously clammed up, she says, "There, I shouldn't have said that (or some such thing), I realize you should be considered, too."

    There's nothing wrong with that. It's just not about my life. I don't understand — I have no communication, no trust, I'm in a never-never land — perhaps of my own making, but I don't think entirely so. Now — finally — I am interested only in art, and am making my life count. I'll never again travel or make any move except in terms of my work. Nor will I argue about it. I'm hung on Jody's constant rebellion and need to dominate by reacting to it. I wish I were alone again. I felt virile an d healthy, and now I feel tired and worn and I'm gathering dark circles under my eyes. My married life is a constant paradox, like life in death — or death in life. There is something terribly, terribly wrong — and I know this, because Jody is always, always right, and always works to convince me that I am mad. If I am mad, I want to be alone. I don't want this terrible pressure. I want out. I cannot use up my energies in this abominable futility. I must think through my paintings. I must stay out of discussions about this with Jody. I must again be alone. I lend myself to this battle, and this is my madness. My only sane course is to put all my energy into my work.

    I'm letting my beard grow again.

    I worked today on my first canvas for 1958 — vertical — 65" x 48" — the thought for it started the other night walking home late from Mallaig in the snow — the storm up near Loch Nevis in the sound — was umber — dirty, dark, foreboding.

    — For some other pictures — remember the etched landscape of Mallaig Vaig — with the frost. Hard lines. Frozen forms. Silver and golden umber — dull. Earth oranges — and earth lavender at the shore.

    I'm no longer loved. I feel threatened, rather than loved. My strength is in my work and only in my work. Nowhere else.


MALLAIG VAIG, JANUARY 1958

(Undated letter from Jody to Mary Anne Peet found on the table, lying faceup, while Jody was out for a walk. It was never mailed.)

    ... I feel on a perpetual seesaw living with Jon — we never have just simple quarrels — how relaxing that would be! For instance, when I arrived, Jon had a hideous little beard stuck on the end of his chin and an enormous mustache drooping down to meet it. (The snapshots glamorize it enormously!) His voice was unnaturally high-pitched (from excitement, I guess) and I was rather thrown off when I saw him — he looked like every cliche of an artist bohemian in rough attire that one could imagine — but my joy at seeing him equaled my disappointment over this rather shaky stab at masculinity — but I couldn't help feeling, Is this the Jon I married? I would be caught staring at him, still uncertain whether it was the beard that was making him seem so foreign to me, or was I seeing him objectively for the first time, as absence from a person for a period can make them seem a new person when you see them not clothed in the wrappings of your subjective superstructure — Well, be that as it may — I was having a hard time relating to that strange bearded man — and he was feeling great — on top of the world — and playfully (or not?) assuming a different character each day — or each hour — God — I can't begin to explain him — how he really is! On top of all this he was convinced somehow before I arrived that I wasn't going to like it here and would try to maneuver him away to France or some such idyllic spot — So in the midst of two weeks of grey wet days when I first arrived, when I couldn't see anything much to exclaim about because of the weather, I realized he was watching me cautiously and if I didn't exclaim profusely each second over the marvels of his chosen haven, I was damned and against him! Actually, as the days became clearer and we took walks around, I began to feel a growing intimacy, with the landscape and truly did love it — but this is even worse because now I am in his picture! Each cloud formation I rejoice over is really a response to his choice of subject in nature — which is the main feature here and is truly exciting and is the material of his painting. I feel I am constantly invading the privacy of his inner world when I go up on the Burma Road and sit quietly on a rock high up and look out over and down to the sea and off to the island of Skye with its dramatic mountainous contours changing each second as clouds and wind and lights blow over them — it is all so Oriental in feeling — imagine a Chinese painting of cliffs and mountains and mists over and around them and that's what it's like here — so naturally it was easy for me to respond — it's everything I ever dreamed of in nature in a way — but I can't paint about it — I feel too guilty if I do — as though I'm trying to outdo Jon or something — so one day I did a small portrait of Jon — oh yes — that reminds me — to continue about the beard: When Life magazine came out, Jon looked at the picture and said, "Now that looks like me" — and he went to the mirror and looked at his beard and decided he was in disguise and maybe it should come off. However — the beard evidently meant a great deal to him, as he decided to grow it after he came back from the herring-boat fishing trip in which he lived for five days on a boat in rough seas with five seasoned fishermen — he said it was the most important experience of his life — so he decided to grow the beard. It was a gesture, and I realize now a very meaningful one to him in many ways. He loved it and was having such fun wearing it until I arrived with my own inner set of manias! I thought I did fairly well, though, because I knew I mustn't say anything against it. On the other hand, I didn't exclaim for joy over it, either — but as the weeks wore away, it became sort of fun in a way — I just didn't think of him as Jon anymore, but a totally new person — sort of evil — it looked evil, I swear — and he began to play an evil role very easily — this was all so subjective in a way — it's hard to describe just what went on — but I used to laugh over it and say I wish I had two of him, one with the beard and one without — for I used to love his chin — bare! However — everything was false in a way — and I swear it was because of that beard — I suddenly began to really feel he was evil — and really I don't know who or what he really was anymore — most peculiar — and I began to grow very distant and cold and blanked out completely on him — this was the day before we left for Durafries — all the time we were in Dumfries (over Xmas)

    (Letter ends here.)


MALLAIG VAIG, 31 JANUARY 1958

Jody drove me to almost maniacal frenzy — I honestly was afraid I was losing my reason. I wish to hell she'd leave and let me alone — but I can't quite find it in me to send her away. Yet her ability to continually, day after day — to destroy — is fantastic. I feel my work going bad — I can't concentrate on it any longer. She is talking of a trip to London. I hope she goes and stays — I'd like her to go on and then send her her stuff — before I hate her so much I can't stand it. She has desecrated my studio, and tried to belittle and defile all of its meanings. I wish I could stop — but I can't stay off it. I've started a large painting — big gashes and splashes of red. I'm feeling the vitality again — the will, the determination — one more month of painting — then packing — then out — someplace new. I don't see anything or feel anything anymore — only rage against that damned woman. When I get her out of here, I never want to lay eyes on her again. Period. She always wants to play at love after she's done her worst. There is no love. I wish my friends would somehow not make something sentimental out of us. There is nothing sentimental about us. It's Jody's insane, phony, gushing world — to cover the mania of quiet destruction which is the only core to her being.

    The wind is howling. I was going to go out on the Margaret Ann, but I don't know — it would probably revitalize me — but would it be better to face up to the terrible predicament I'm in, in regard to my painting?


MALLAIG VAIG, 5 FEBRUARY 1958
LETTER TO JANE, JAMIE, AND JOYA

Dear Jane: And dear Kids:

    I'm enclosing checks for this month, and two bits' worth of news will follow. I'll try to get off a decent letter to you in a week or so. I'm on a sort of a last lap now — finishing up a lot of paintings and have stretched my last canvases. I expect to be finished painting around February 22, and then comes the big job of unstretching, rolling, packing, etc. That will take another month, and then I'll be off, leaving beautiful Mallaig Vaig with its winds and rain and its drama and excitement. I've really loved it here, and it has been a wonderful place to work. Jody has been here for a couple of months, and I'm afraid that it is just no place for a woman — she hasn't liked it at all.

    I think I told you about the big snow, didn't I? We had heavy snow on the ground for about ten days — and everything was beautiful beyond belief. I took a long hike into the backcountry — a magnificent valley with a number of small lochs — and it was like a fairyland. You had the feeling that no one had ever been there before. In the meanwhile, the coal was running low, and no trucks could get up the big hill leading to the valley, and I was pretty tense wondering whether we'd get by. Well, we did — and the coal came, and I found out that the snowfall was the most severe and the longest-lasting that had been seen here since one could remember. There is something about the weather here — changing all of the time — powerful scenery, powerful skies, powerful winds, powerful rains, everything pitched up that it makes one feel as though one is living on the edge of a volcano. I love it, yet I know that I'll be glad for a rest from the tension, too.

    I think I shall be going to Paris when I leave here. I would like to paint in isolation for another year — perhaps in Greece or Norway, but I feel that I should go to Paris and try to get a gallery there. The only way I can do it is to be there and to get known. And that's a long, slow process, and may or may not work out. Paris is expensive now, and I'll probably have a hell of a time finding a studio. If it turns out to be absolutely impossible, I may go to Rome. Things are easier there, and there is some art market. Jody is leaving for New York around the end of May and she and Tina will probably spend next year there....

    Saturday night I went into town at night for the first time since I've been here. I took Jody to dinner at the West Highland Hotel. Inasmuch as we were the only people eating there, we were served on a little table before the fire (electric) in the "writing room," with the hotel dog lying at our feet, and it was rather fun. I had a good talk with Archie McLellan, son of the owner, and then we went off to our first movie. It was so bad, we had to leave, and walked the mile and a half home and played our game of checkers and that was that!

    Write soon.

    Best love to all,

    Daddy

(Continues...) Excerpt


At the time of the opening journal entry Jon Schueler was forty. Considered one of the up-and-coming artists of the younger generation, by 1957 his paintings had been shown in a one-man exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York and in various annuals and a touring group show. The March exhibition at the new Leo Castelli Gallery would enable him to leave New York in the fall and set off for Scotland in search of a landscape that he believed would be crucial to his work. This quest would bring him to the Sound of Sleat — the body of water between the mainland and the island of Skye — and to Mallaig, the small fishing village that overlooks this sound and the other Inner Hebridean islands of Rhum, Eigg, and Muck.

    Schueler grew up in a middle-class family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and completed his undergraduate and graduate studies in English at the University of Wisconsin between 1934 and 1940. His plans to become a writer were interrupted by his decision to join the Air Corps of the United States Army in September of 1941. He married Jane Elton in 1942, just before being sent to Britain, where he served as a B-17 navigator. Discharged in 1944 as a result of combat fatigue, he and his wife soon moved to California. In the confusion of the next few years, their two daughters, Jamie and Joya, were born, and he engaged in schemes of setting up a nightclub and building a house, worked as a radio announcer, completed a few bits of writing, and started teaching English literature at the University of San Francisco in 1947. In 1945, however, he had accompanied his wife to a portrait-painting class, and painting gradually became his dominant activity.

    Schueler enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (on the GI bill) in 1948. Three years later, he moved to New York City, leaving his two daughters with their mother. The artist Philip Guston introduced him to Eleanor Ward, the director of the Stable Gallery, where he had his first one-man exhibition in 1954. However, after a fight with Ward over payment for a painting, he was eased out of the gallery and joined the new — and soon to be renowned — Leo Castelli Gallery.

    The imagery in Schueler's paintings, informed in the early fifties by the large, bold abstractions of his mentor, Clyfford Still, gradually became more explicitly concerned with nature. He fantasized increasingly about Scotland as the place that would provide the climate, skies, and the sense of the north that he craved. This dream is mentioned in early letters, and friends remember his constant and insistent talk of this as-yet-unknown country. However, lack of resources and the complications of his private life delayed the departure.

    In the summer of 1956 on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, he met the artist Joellen ("Jody") Hall, who at that point was married to the Scottish poet Ruthven Todd, and Schueler's two-year relationship with June Lathrop came to an end. Their wedding took place in October of that year, with Tina, Jody's nine-year-old daughter, acting as flower girl.

    Plans were formed to go to Scotland. But growing tensions within the marriage and Jody's reluctance to go to such a northern country resulted in Schueler setting off alone.

    Part one was written between January 1957 and December 1958 in New York; Mallaig, Scotland; and Paris. Each of the parts of this book was culled from much longer versions that had been arranged by Jon Schueler before he died in 1992. Although he had begun writing journals and longer pieces as far back as the war years, it was only after his experience in Mallaig that he committed himself to a complex autobiographical project that would attempt to integrate past and present. A combination of journals, letters, and longer reflections on the creative process, this book began to take shape in January of 1957.


NEW YORK, 16 JANUARY 1957

It's two o'clock in the morning. There is snow on the ground. At the moment I am very happy about the painting I finished tonight. This is Number 2, 1957. I haven't titled it as yet. (I must remember to number the paintings as I finish them, so at least I'll have some semblance of order in my records — when I make some records). Forms revealed. Movements growing stronger. Indications of solidity. Something emerging from the fogged landscape I have been doing. Horizon in the distance. I think I needed the horizon, so that I would know it was there. But now that I know it is there, I want to eliminate it. Perhaps at times it may emerge, or be suggested, but now it is time for it to disappear, and give way to more positive dynamics.

    I am a bad father, a bad stepfather, a bad husband, an indifferent friend, a confused and disloyal lover. Only one thing: I am a good painter. And I had damn well become a far better one to make up for all the rest. Henry Miller: "Balzac, like Beethoven, seemingly gave the maximum that a man can give." I must find my maximum in painting. I can't give directly to people. I am completely incapable. Every time I have tried, I have ended up hurting someone.


VINEYARD HAVEN, MASSACHUSETTS, 26 AUGUST 1957

I'm going to try keeping my journal again — the first entry in a very long time. I have just finished two months of painting at Martha's Vineyard — twenty-one canvases. Jody and Tina went back to New York Saturday. I shall be sailing for Scotland September 5 and from that day on I shall be alone a great deal. This is going to mean a lot for my painting, I know. It's going to be tough in many ways, and I must always remember why I am doing it. It's not just an adventure — going to the Highlands alone — and it's not just for the inspiration I'll find there. I'm putting myself to a test. I've used up energy and time in many wasteful ways during my life, and a good share of it with women. Now I want to put the total energy and the total time and the total feeling into my work. If each day brings a rage, it will be the rage of creation, and not the rage imposed by the outside. I shall make the paint live and the image soar with ecstacy. I have relinquished — I have tried to relinquish, or it has been forced upon me to relinquish — nearly everything which I have wanted at one time or another in my life. Everything except the need to create and to have my works go out into the world and proclaim their life and my life. I wanted to love and to be loved. I wanted a home, cars, houses, respect, a woman, parents. I wanted to get close to someone. I wanted to communicate — so badly. It's impossible. I can't seem to do it with one person, nor, for that matter, can I hear that person's voice. I wanted things to work with June and myself. The very wanting was crazy in terms of my work. Not until I started suffering, feeling the loss of June, did I begin to feel close to my work. I paint in terms of loss and renunciation. Yet my paintings are an affirmation of faith.

    I must continue my journal. If I am going to be alone, I shall need the word — if only my own on paper.


EDINBURGH, 16 SEPTEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

Dear Jody:

    I'm finally coming up for air — but slowly. The crossing was great.... On the last day we passed just to the north of the Scilly Islands, which lie off Land's End — and they were beautiful beyond belief. Rough, craggy, with a grey, sometimes misty sky. Waves beating against the rocks, throwing spray fifty feet into the air. Dimly seen views of sandy inlets and green fields — tantalizing, like a striptease. The light of the sun breaking through silver white, hard on the turbulent water, blinding, hard and powerful. God — this is what I had come three thousand miles to see — and this was the first thing I saw! I could ask for no more. I was certain that the west coast of Scotland would be like that.... We got up at 5:30 Friday morning to leave the ship, which was already at dock in Southampton.... That Friday was sheer insanity. I was sick as a dog — had had a fever the night before. And now I was up and seeing immigration officers. Mine seemed to take a dim view of an artist coming into Britain with only $450 on him to stay for eleven months. I said I had a bank account of $1,000 when he asked, but could furnish no proof. I didn't quite get what he was after at the time, so didn't mention anything about income — just answered questions, and the next thing I knew he had stamped something about "three months" on the passport, and this has to be renewed.... I felt very sentimental all during the train ride through England, remembering the war, and I felt very sentimental here in Scotland because I have been wanting to come here for so long.... It has been very cold, and I haven't been warm since I arrived in Britain. Just like the last time. I probably won't be warm until I leave. The British admit that it is cold, but they just don't seem to care to do anything about it. There is no heat anywhere. I doubt if they'll start lighting fires for another couple of months. When it's at its coldest — perhaps at night — people just leave their coats on.... Get a map from the British Tourist Office so you can refer to places I mention. I have had lots of conversations, and am planning to visit Oban and Ballachulish and Fort William. But then I am going farther north, and am very much interested in Gairloch, Lochinver, and Scourie. Every place sounds wonderful. It's going to be hard to make a choice. Saturday I walked all over Edinburgh — truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's beyond description. I walked up the steep hill and went through the old castle and I looked out over the city to the hills to the north, and everything was as I wanted it to be. I kept marveling at the light and at the color, and something about it struck me personally and I couldn't figure out what it was. The next day when I was riding along on a bus in the country (on an all-day bus tour), I was noticing the same thing again and I was looking at the clouds especially, and then I realized that I was seeing all of the violets and ultramarine reds I have been putting into my paintings for the last few months.

    The food has been uniformly bad, except for one restaurant.... And the women are beyond belief. They seem to be uniformly unattractive — so I never could imagine staying in this country indefinitely. Perhaps it's different in the Highlands — probably worse. The more beautiful the landscape, the less attractive the women.

   ... My main costs are those of getting settled and of stocking up on materials. After that, living will be comparatively inexpensive.

    How is everything with you? Have you started painting? How is Tina? I expect letters are somewhere and I'll be getting them one of these days.... I'll write as regularly as possible, but I'll be on the move, and sometimes it's difficult for me to write at a time like that. I just got my typewriter from the baggage room at the station — it's the only thing that saves me.

   ... Scotland is beautiful, cold, and lonely. About what I expected. I doubt whether it will be any lonelier in Ballachulish than in Edinburgh. And then I'll be working. Please mail watercolor set.... Tell Leo to sell some paintings. Give my best to Dave and Astrid and Bob and Abby and to all those children.

    Love,

    Jon


NEW YORK, 11 SEPTEMBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

    (Out of sequence — this and Schueler's previous letter crossed in the mail.)

    ... I've been concentrating for long hours on little black-and-white wash drawings — landscape ideas about some special feelings I'm trying to recapture. I'm taking great delight in not seeing anyone or wanting to go out anywhere. I'm like a mole dug in for the season! I think of nothing but you and my little drawings. You are always with me, darling....


MALLAIG VAIG, 26 SEPTEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

Dear Jody:

    The wind is howling tonight — I don't know whether there is a storm brewing or just some temporary aberration in the weather. The wind came up this afternoon, then strange clouds forming over the sea, half-obliterating some of the islands. Beautiful, and very real. Fortunately, I had coal delivered today. Tonight I am warm for the first time — warm, that is, on my right side, which is toward the fire. But I think everything is going to work out very well — I think I shall be able to keep the place warm enough to work in.... Yesterday and today I have been busy getting the essentials organized — coal, food, stuff moved, etc. Also, ordered a bunch of stretchers from the joiner. Canvas should be here any day from Edinburgh. Now that I have heat, I can sit down in the evening. Last night, all I could do was pace until I felt that I could get to sleep — which I didn't. But I had had tea and a shot of whiskey with Mrs. MacDonald (a wonderful, mad, toothless woman who owns this place — and who literally cackles), her daughter and son-in-law. They were very hospitable, and we had a good talk. I didn't like the two women at first, but now I'm beginning to enjoy them. They distrust me less, and that helps.

    At American Express in Edinburgh, I received your first three letters, which had been forwarded from Southampton. I'm wondering where you are — can't quite figure out whether you have gone to Florida to see Tina or whether you are going there October 4. If you're going October 4, we have some problem about my Air Force check ... which probably will arrive that day or the 5th. I'm approaching some real difficulty in regard to money. If you have sold the car, I wish that you would send me some money — just so I can get a little ahead.... I shall write checks on the New York account for $50 (Jane), and $8.00 (kids' allowance) and $18.70 (insurance). I'll write these around October 5. Once we're in communication, and once I'm ahead of the time lag, we can handle this differently if you want to. But I thought that this would be best for the present....

    I'm beat after a big day and am going to climb into the cold bed. Wish there were something more there than a hot-water bottle! And how about a good home-cooked meal?

    Love,

    Jon


NEW YORK, 3 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

My darling, darling Jon,

    I feel absolutely frantic you are not getting my letters — even as I write this, I wonder if you will ever receive it.... I worry so about your not being able to cook and trying to handle all those problems by yourself. Not to mention how much I want to be there with you. We could at least generate more heat together than the coal stove. Do you think it would be dreadful of me to come in November? I am torn by loyalties ... yet I can't help but feel I should be with you.... I could plan to break the length of time in Scotland by returning for a few weeks maybe in February or March — I will demand the money from my trust if necessary. I airmailed you $900 yesterday. I finally sold the car but had to take a terrible drop in price ($975).... So all our bills are paid now and we have the car money and our rent. That is something! If things are too rough there, we could pack up and leave — it would take time and money, but if you can't do your work under those conditions, it would be a waste of time to stay! The important thing is for you to be able to function in your work! Baby — I can't sleep at night for thinking of you — it all sounds too terrible....

    I want to come and be with you. I want to cook for you and keep warm with you in bed. It's all very simple — basic needs. Do you understand? I went to Bluhm's opening and talked to Leo — he was very charming and I gave him "glowing accounts" of you — he wants to pick up the paintings next week. A new rack is being constructed in the back room now (they found an apartment), so he will be able to store them....


NEW YORK, 4 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

    ... I just wrote and mailed a letter to you saying I wanted to come over in November instead of being with Tina at Xmas. As soon as I mailed it, it was as though I had committed a terrible sin against Tina. I was very upset — and I know I can't do it to her.... I am beginning for the first time to realize my behavior toward her and, believe me, when it hit me, I knew that never again would I let my own selfish desires keep me from giving her what she needs from a mother. I also feel that way where you are concerned, but as we both chose to do things this way and Tina was more or less there as a result of my choice, I feel she should not be further victimized.... I'm writing all this without knowing what you are thinking or whether you even wanted me to come anyway. I have to untangle my emotions often these days to separate my dependent feelings and my love for you — my own loneliness from my concern over your loneliness.... Please be patient with me....


MALLAIG VAIG, 7 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

Dear, sweet Joellen:

    I just received the two letters written on October 4, when at first you decided to come here in November and then felt blasted by your conscience. Well, my heart goes out to you and I can imagine what you are going through. I must say that suddenly you become more human to me, because, if nothing else, one of the big advantages that can come out of all this for each of us ... is that we're put hard up against some decisions, and we go through all the emotions surrounding them, and maybe if we come out the other side ... we can truly say we've grown — and maybe we'll know something — you about yourself, me about myself, you about Tina and art and men, me about art and women and children (and money).... Part of the thing here for me is to meet something head-on — to figure out what I want to do, and then to overcome everything that comes with it. Now, this part of Scotland is exactly what I wanted — visually. I have everything I could hope for. I had to get through the rest ... such as cold, but more important — emotional difficulties — such as loneliness and all the craziness that can go with it. I think you have to come out the other side of loneliness, or one is forever dependent on other people — and I'm out not to be — it's absolutely necessary for my work.... There's no doubt about it, I was miserable for a while. I was literally held together during that period by the landscape. I went through my low of all lows Sunday, September 30 — and even on that day I took a long walk and was overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounded me.... I think the final blow was that it was Sunday in Scotland and I had heard that they were very rigid in observance — don't work on Sunday, etc. — and I was afraid to call on my new neighbors.... Well, it was totally unnecessary. Now — here are some of the things I have — another eight days later. I have excellent neighbors. John MacPhie is a hell of a nice guy. When he heard I was ordering coal, he was going to carry it across the valley to my place, because he knew I wasn't used to heavy work. He's at least five years older — works terribly hard all day — getting up at five in the morning — and then has all sorts of heavy work to do around his croft. I think he felt that it was totally unnecessary for me to have paid to have the coal carried across — in fact, when I told him and Betty that I had paid ten shillings (less than a dollar and a half) to have half a ton of coal carried across, they were horrified. Betty insists on doing my laundry for me, and sews things, etc., and refuses to take any money for it. She keeps me up on the neighborhood gossip ... and she puts me wise to all sorts of things, so that it's getting easier and easier for me to function here. Ian, their boy, comes over and helps in every possible way. He cleans out my grate — as much as anyone, he showed me how to build a fire — he brings in coal, and has helped with everything and anything. He's fascinated by the whole art bit, and has watched the studio take place with great interest. Heat: For another ten dollars a month, I can throw in plenty of coal, and use the electric heaters when I feel like it — and everything will be quite warm enough. Your sending on the money helped me a lot in that respect. I have a fine studio now — gleaming white — the light comes in great — though it's from the northwest — it doesn't make much difference because the sun is seldom out anyway. I have one of the best easels I have ever had. I have some stretchers designed better than I have ever used. All this thanks to Mr. Grieve, the joiner, who takes quite an interest in me, and lends me tools, etc., and is ready to solve any problems. Another thing about the cable saying you were going to send money: I bought some sensible clothes — designed for these parts — the boots, the sweater, and I've sent for some long underwear, and I have a great raincoat. All of a sudden I'm comfortable — and now it's an adventure for me to go out in all kinds of weather.... More: I'm getting to know everyone in town, and it's sort of fun, because I realize from things I've heard that no one quite figures me out, and they wonder what I'm doing here, etc.... More: I've met Jim Manson, the captain of the fishing boat, an old-timer.... The boat is going into the water at high tide tonight and tomorrow noon we're going to sea. Now, damn it, it will probably be cold and cramped and wet and rough, but it will be as wonderful as it can be — if you get the point. That's why I don't want you to worry about me — part of the wonder here, part of everything that is great, and everything that is making me terribly excited and full of life — part of all that is the rough part — the weather, the primitive conditions, etc. The weather! Without the weather I wouldn't have what I came after. Today I cycled to Morar (a little town along the coast to the south) and I went out of my mind. Every day is a grey day here, and I've noticed more and more the blues and the purples. But from Morar — out to the sea — the cloudy sky and the water and the islands (Eigg and Rhum loom huge in the distance, menacing, sharply defined in outline, but hazy and indistinct in content) everything was a deep, deep blue — the most penetrating, somber, magnificent, symphonic blue I have ever seen. It was a very simple subject — yet immense and about the whole world and the whole universe, and about all the great throbbing tragedy of movement and life ... and, by God, it was about everything I've been thinking about, and I just have to raise myself one way or another to the point where I can truly feel it and express it, and where I get far, far beyond the point of techniques and doesn't this look just like some Impressionist, and whatever anyone might be whispering in my ear — you or critics or buyers or dealers or friends or artists or enemies or what....

    ... I'm dying to paint. I know I'm gaining vision — and perhaps it's helping me that I'm getting more relaxed (the Scots are not in a hurry) and taking time off to go out leisurely and look and look and look, and to go out to sea in a fishing boat so that I can look and feel some more.... About your coming: I want you, too, and could certainly stand those simple basic needs. But now that you're up against some truths, keep at it and see where you come out, and come over here when it's right and proper that you do so. You'll know, and when you want to come, tell me, and I'll be waiting for you.... Don't mind burdening me with the mixed-up crap.... I love you, and I think we'll have a great time when you're here — particularly if you lose the idea that men are helpless and have to be guided by the nose. I love your mothering, but as you are realizing, it's probably needed all the way around.

    Love — Keep warm,

    Jon

I'm sailing on the Margaret Ann at noon tomorrow. Will probably be back on Saturday. So there will be a few days without letters.


NEW YORK, 9 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

... I just came back from Astrid's, where the movers picked up The Wave and Night Sky — Leo phoned and said that Baur was coming tomorrow to have a look at your recent work — he feels Baur is interested in you seriously — so we'll all be excited to see what comes of it all....


NEW YORK, 10 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

... Leo just phoned to report about the pictures I sent over yesterday — Great! He said to tell you More ... and he chose In the Wild Garden for a show at the Whitney in November. It is a survey show of contemporary painters. He said More was enchanted by your paintings — really loved them and said he felt you were one of the best painters around! I feel like shouting for Joy! I then asked Leo how the paintings looked in the gallery.... He said, "Oh, they look really wonderful — they have gained stature here — it was very difficult to see them in the light in your studio." — Aren't you happy! He also said a sale will probably come out of the show — very likely to anyway. So paint on, my love. I was mad as hell you don't want me there anymore now that you don't need me! But I have a couple of months to simmer down over that one — and all the emotion I have put into my decision to come! ...


MALLAIG VAIG, 13 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

... I've been trying to create some kind of a plan in my mind to get you organized before you start traveling back and forth between New York and Scotland in a mania of guilt and sexual desire. In the first place, it will just keep everybody in an uproar — and in the second place we can't afford it. Now, this is what I have figured out — which is about as much as I can: I have this place until May 25. Therefore, a great deal hangs on that date. I have decided that the best thing to do is to put in an intensive work period through the winter. Ship my paintings off. Take a tour — see part of England, then go to the Continent and tour there. After that, see what happens. Tentatively, I'd like to settle in Paris for a year. I think that after eight months here I'll want the city. So — it seems to me, without considering anything else except the fact that you wanted to be with Tina for Xmas — that the best thing for you to do would be to take the first boat that is practical after Xmas and come over here. After we have taken our tour and found a place to settle, you send for Tina.... For God's sake, don't do anything that you're going to construe as a sacrifice for me that will involve Tina. I'll merely have to pay and pay and pay, and I don't want to. If this plan suits you, and you want to do it, fine. If you end up by figuring it out as something that I used to wrench you away from your daughter (I have a hunch you're now thinking that Tina being in Florida is the result of some diabolical scheme of mine), then, for God's sake, stay where you are. I can't stand having tiny tots sacrificed on the altar of my ambition. I'd much rather they would all go and cling to their mothers somewhere....

    I feel so damn sexy, I can hardly stand it — particularly when I read your letters. Makes it hard for me to be sensible about all your plans. Everything will be well prepared when you arrive, cock at rigid attention....


MALLAIG VAIG, 13 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

... Did five drawings — a couple of them good. Light very good in morning and early afternoon. So those will be my painting hours.

    You should have seen me at the wheel of the Margaret Ann on Friday — dusk, heavy sea, turbulent tides and wind, boat pitching and rolling so that you could only stand up by hanging on, spray over the decks and against the windows of the wheelhouse — you would have died a thousand deaths. I loved it loved it loved it. If I ever give up painting, it will be to go to sea. Jim Manson — really fascinating guy, fifty-three, man of quiet courage, singleness of purpose. He loves his work, gets as excited as a kid by a catch. He sails into waters that our companion ship (they sail in twos) stayed safely out of. He knows his business, and knows every tide and rock and ripple in the entire area.... He had me handling the wheel every day from the first day aboard, when we were traveling through a heavy swell. On Friday I took her from South Uist to a loch on the northwest corner of Skye. We fished there unsuccessfully. Then he took her down the coast — notoriously bad tides — heavy sea, churning waters — huge cliffs dropping abruptly into the sea — sailing nearly within touching distance of the cliffs — peering almost straight up to see the guy hanging over the rail in the lighthouse far above.... Then, after we got past the very worst of the passage, he gave the wheel to me. I took her all the way down the coast — it was dusk, then darkness — we fished a loch — then I took her again. You should have seen us tossing! By God, I felt great. Finally we got down to the island of Soay ... and as we were approaching it — in the dark — he went down to have tea in the fo'c'sle and left me in charge of the boat. I took her into the channel before he came back up, and through the channel, and then he took her into Loch Scavaig. When we were going into Loch Scavaig, he said very quietly, "What you did just now — bringing the boat in here — was worth hundreds of pounds. (I don't know exactly what he meant by that). Most men would have been afraid to do it."... I felt terrific.... The loch is sinister — black — and ugly winds whistle into it from the Cuillins — the biggest mountains in the area. They are sharp and ugly compared to all the other mountains in Scotland. You can see them off on the distance from your kitchen. In fact, I was looking out the window there today — I do constantly — the scene is never the same from one minute to the next — I bet I'll hardly be able to get you out of the sink long enough to get you into bed....

    One thing serious — don't you really realize that at one time we had everything planned, that you just as well could have been here with Tina — but that you worked very hard to see to it that that couldn't happen? The only thing that scares me is that you act as though none of that ever happened ... but to hell with it. I've lost all family feeling and trying to strive — and maybe it's just as well. I'll start over again with you as a mistress and see what happens.

    ... Delighted to hear about More's reaction.

    Your choice fine. Love you for being concerned in that way....


NEW YORK, 17 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

Darling Jon,

    You know I do love just being a woman. Do I have to prove myself in some other way? Is it so weak of me not to forge ahead in painting and dedicate myself to this life? Could you find it pleasant to just live with me, and not find me boring if I would be such a flop as a person? I ask myself these questions through the day and wonder — I want to be real, a real person — to feel real and be real to you and Tina and the outside world. You know when I'm happiest? Really now — I'm serious — it's when I'm baking a pie — or bread — and puttering around in the kitchen — but not for myself — it has to be for someone I love — and that's not sentiment — I love to dress in the evening and go out with you as your wife. I want to feel free to show my love for Tina.... Are my dreams of what I want to be so far from what I am?

    When I look or think of Joan Mitchell or Grace Hartigan, I see such a different physical type — they are strong, "virile," heavy, and forward, and I am quite the opposite in temperament and build. Just from the outside I wouldn't say I have the equipment to be a real career woman — and my feminine instincts draw me in another direction inwardly.

    I do have a talent that is part of my reality as a person — my paintings are me and are a part of me and I will always want to paint, I believe — but I don't feel like it's necessary any longer for me to prove my worth by being an artist. I am an artist — I know that — good — bad — mediocre — what have you — it isn't the point. But I feel like directing my ego drives in the direction of womanliness and letting the Art follow at whatever speed it must for me. Maybe I have wanted too much for myself and haven't come to grips with anything as a result. I want to "grab hold" — I was thinking of this phrase of yours in the bathtub tonight and it seemed suddenly very much to the point for me right now....


MALLAIG VAIG, 21 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO B. H. FRIEDMAN

... to the north is Loch Nevis.... I tell you, it's exactly what I wanted to find. It's relatively new land, you know, so it really is in the process of birth — it's springing from the sea, and it hasn't had time to get worn down to a pattern of regularity. High in the hills are moors which are constantly bogged, because natural drainage patterns haven't formed. Rock formations are thrust up in every direction imaginable — including straight up. And it's caught in the complicated, primeval, birth-pang hysteria of weather that's really weather, that has everything to it, that never stops changing. That's the big thing to me. I could stand in any one spot, and literally from minute to minute, quite often, the entire thing changes and what was real one minute has become effervescent the next and has formed into something else the following. This is what knocks me out. I've never seen so much damn color, and so much change of color.... I'm sure I've dreamed about it, but I didn't realize how rich it would be — and best of all, all sorts of color in the sky, working into and out of that in the land, because the sky is just as raw and new as the land, and it hasn't formed into regular patterns, either. Just when I think I've seen everything, I look out the window — like tonight before sunset ... and whoosh, a yellowish umber form was spread across the sky and threatening to annihilate the Bungalow at Mallaig Vaig....

    ... Now, as regards to painting, the way it makes me feel is that there is something here that I have been searching for and that I have been thinking about, and maybe I can find out more about how it works. And it also makes me feel, more strongly than any other landscape I've ever been in, that God is creating here so fast and so powerfully and so abundantly and so magnificently that it's going to be one hell of a challenge to try to create something that will equal or (when I'm feeling particularly manic and filled with rage at just seeing all this) outdo such a prodigal, intense, potent, imaginative job.... Incidentally, my canvas finally arrived ... and I've painted my first picture — 79" x 43" (vertical picture) — it's called My Garden Is the Sea and I really like it. I feel great. Probably the best thing that happened to me (in fact, one of the best things that ever happened to me) was my trip in the herring boat, the Margaret Ann. When I got back, I was going to write and tell you all about it, but then the canvas came and one thing and another — and it's probably just as well or I would have told you about every minute of each of the five days, and I doubt if it would have interested anyone else as much as it did me. But — emotion diffused in tranquillity — I'll tell you about a few of the things now. In the first place, I have a hell of an imagination about trips. I don't think it ever comes to consciousness ordinarily — though one way or another, I'm usually made aware that it is working. But when I first flew, and I flew during the war, I'd always have all sorts of premonitions and dreams and one thing or another of disaster. Now, I'd heard a few stories about the boats around here and about the sea, etc., and damn it, the old mind got whirling and somehow I was sure that if I got on that boat, I'd be the albatross around the captain's neck — but let's not try to push that one along — in any case, I figured out we'd probably sink.... Now understand, these guys are just going out to do a job — one the skipper has been doing day in and day out for nearly forty years. But to Schueler, it was a voyage into the jaws of death — every feeling at the time being pure cliche. On the other hand, I was excited as a kid about going — for some reason this has always been a dream of mine — I'm not sure why because I have never been particularly interested in fishing. Well — on Monday ...


DE LAND, 22 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

... I love your letters so — and then sometimes at night or during the day I get a feeling of panic for fear you will be disappointed when you see me and I won't be all you have dreamed about and vice versa — and maybe our sex will be a flop because we have dreamed so intensely about it for so long.... I do love you madly — I love your face — your eyes — your wonderful chin, your potbelly — your bony legs, the back of your head and, last but not least, your smile.... Oh, suddenly I feel great again now that I've given expression to some of my fears about whether I love you or not — it's as though I'm free again to love you....


MALLAIG VAIG, 24 OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

My darling: Well — just received your wire this evening — what welcome, very welcome news. I've been wondering which boat you'd be taking and how long it would take to get here, so that I would know how many days to cunt — I mean count. Keep that thing warm, keep it ready. Bring plenty of diaphragms, vaginal jellies, douche bags, and any other complicated female paraphernalia. And bring that warm, sucking mouth of yours — I'm thinking about that tonight and wish it were here right now....

    ... I hope you're having a successful visit with Tina. I'm dying to hear all about it....

   ... I'll meet you, and guide you from then on — straight to the double bed in Mallaig Vaig, where you'll find yourself immediately on your back. Or would you like to see some paintings first? I'm working better than I ever have in my life. Have finished three canvases — have lots to tell you — excited as I can be. Will write about that tomorrow. This country is wonderful — the landscape becoming more thrilling to me every day. You're going to love it. And I feel so damned healthy, I could take off and fly — I've never felt healthier.... Listen, sweet one, we've both had tough, struggling, complicated lives. Now we're going to have a wonderful time — loving, fucking, working, and wandering around this magnificent countryside. Whenever we're cold, we'll just hop in the sack.... Bring your paintbrushes, etc. — I have canvas, stretchers, paints, and everything else. Good night, my love — I'm going to dream of lying on top of you with my cock deep inside....


MALLAIG VAIG, 29 (?) OCTOBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

Tuesday morning: Well — I didn't get to finish this letter last night. I had wanted to go through the three letters I got and look for any more practical matters and somehow I forgot all about them. I'll do it now.... Emphatically, don't give Tina or anyone else the idea that she might be coming here in the spring if she just manages to dislike being with her father enough. I'll give you two hints: (1) This is a working studio here — I didn't set it up as a nursery. (2) For Tina's sake, remember that Mel is her father and not just the proprietor of an orphanage. She has been kicked around from man to man — now let her relate to one man for a while — and it's just as well that it's her father. And to relate has to be all the way — it can't just be until she's bored or tired of the children — or she'll never be able to relate to a man as long as she lives....


DE LAND, 1 NOVEMBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

... I am beginning to know what being the wife of a serious painter means and I am willing to go along with you in whatever you need most for fulfillment in your work — it is hard not to want to be with you and share what I can share with you — sometimes I feel I shouldn't invade your painting even to the extent of sharing pleasure with you over accomplishment — but I do love painting so and I genuinely love what you are doing. I no longer feel an identity in that direction — or if I do, I am aware of it and cautious — which is a far step from last summer, and it will make a tremendous difference to you, I know. Having me both there and not there at the same time is what I have in mind to be. If I can accomplish this, it will mean that I can stay in your arms, where I want to be. Anyway, all I want to say is, I am serious about your work and sensitive about your needs — because I want to see all those exciting paintings come into being and go out into the world and be close to the man who made them. I don't feel I am identifying now — I'm just being a woman — quite different from a man and his needs really. Have I said I love you in this letter?

   ... I'm still looking at your picture. I'm especially peering at the lower section all covered over with corduroy! You look great in that beret.

    Your wife, your mistress, your tender, sweet, big-assed Joellen


MALLAIG VAIG, 5 NOVEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

Hello, sweet wench: Did I write a note this morning? I write you so often that I can't quite figure out when I wrote the last letter — and I think of you so much that I'm never sure what I told you in letters and what I told you in fantasy.... Everything is sexy here to me — that's odd, isn't it? — because the Scots certainly don't seem like an unduly sexy people — though maybe hidden behind all their propriety and plainness they are. But the very fact of the bracing air, and the exciting moods of the sea and land, and the wind — tonight blowing from the north — howling — and the north wind is a cold wind — all these things make me feel alive and creative and passionate. I want you in my arms, I want your cunt wet and open and my cock deep inside. And I'd like to inject some of my spirit of adventure into you — I'm sure that it will be catching — so that you get a big wallop out of all the wonders around here. Just to see the shepherds with their crooks and their heavy nail-studded shoes, swinging with the kind of heavy, rocking walk they have, down the street in Mallaig. Or an odd tail end of a rainbow resting on the water across Loch Nevis.

    ... I hope you got through some of my tougher letters okay. I'm still a hard bastard, and I fly off the handle, and I get mad at things out of the past (though not lately — once I got them out, they were out), but I love you and miss you — and I throw it all into one package. I've got that wing out ready for you to nestle under it — and what a wing it is! ...

    God — I'm having the damnedest work problem in the world right now. I'm so full of everything and my hand moves with such certainty and my imagination is so fertile and I feel so good about it that I practically run from my work at times. I can feel it happen — when it all becomes too much for me — yet I know that it is precisely then that I should really plow in....


MALLAIG VAIG, 6 NOVEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

... I realized here that there is a certain purity to working alone, and I'll want to do it once in awhile — but unless one wants to live alone, which I don't, you have to surmount whatever is in you that gets screwed up by having people around....

    — The toughest practical problem, I think, is the bad picture.... Here we are, Jon and big-assed Joellen, in love, people of goodwill, and Jon produces a bad painting.... Let's say I was writing a novel. I'd be zooming along. I'd have a great idea. I'd write it. I'd keep going — paragraph after paragraph. With any sense, a man would never show his wife the novel paragraph by paragraph — but that's what I do when I show you pictures as I complete them (to say nothing of the unfinished ones). Now — in the novel — I go back over it — the great idea is still there — or the germ of it — but the paragraphs concerning it, because it was such a new idea, are badly written — the seed is there, not the plant or the flower.... So I rewrite and rewrite until it becomes real. Now everyone loves it. But I loved it at first — when the idea first bloomed — and it was important that I loved it at that time, or else it wouldn't have bloomed.... This is the way it is with the bad picture. Although at the end of a period of work the picture is ultimately dropped — or changed, or whatever — yet, at the time, it is exceedingly important that I paint it uncritically, sentimentally, or whatever — and that I paint it with full love and enthusiasm, and that I feel that enthusiasm about it until such time as I have made the idea in it become more real and meaningful in another picture — or perhaps have creatively discarded the idea. Now — this is easy in the studio alone.... My enthusiasm over one picture can drive me into the next — so it's the enthusiasm that's important, not the picture.... This is the tough problem in having someone around, and for me it's a realistic problem. I could refuse to show you all my paintings, but this would be ridiculous to me. On the other hand, I can't pick out the bad ones and put them face to the wall, because I don't know at that point that they are bad. On the other hand, if I show them, it's probably too soon for me to know, certainly too soon for me to discuss. Maybe you can figure out some way of coping — I really can't. All I can do is paint the pictures....

    I'll tell you another thing, my sweetheart, now that I'm being so loving and trusting: When you haven't been a lousy, hostile bitch, you've been very good for my work in many ways — you've been an understanding wife and sensitive to my needs — and for this I've always loved you....


DE LAND, 8 NOVEMBER 1957
LETTER FROM JODY

... I sorted out all your letters today and stacked them in order and I am going to read each one over tonight before I go to sleep and just see how your moods and feeling toward me go each day — I bet they are a lot smoother wit h an ocean between us! I plan to bring my love letters with me to soothe my wounds when you have been particularly mean to me! Maybe we should just continue to communicate by letter! Maybe I will just write you a letter each day and tell you all my secret evil thoughts against you and present it to you each evening....

    ... You haven't scared me any worse than I've scared myself about being trapped with you in our love nest in Mallaig Vaig! So be on guard — I'm coming with full battle gear, ready for the slaughter! Oh God! With the slightest twist of my imagination I can reduce our love nest to a torture chamber! ...


MALLAIG VAIG, 14 NOVEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JODY

My darling, much-loved Jody:

   ... It's going to be so wonderful having you with me — less than two weeks. I wonder how you are doing? I worry through each step with you, get just as excited about all the errands, all the packing, all the decisions, what to buy and what not to buy! ... I want to see you. I love you. Everything else can wait. So much has happened that will enable our love to flow more freely. You certainly must have learned by now that you can't destroy me — no matter what your fantasies — so this should put you at ease. In fact, I doubt if a woman can destroy a man — a man can destroy himself with a woman, if he wants to.... It's a funny thing about those power fantasies — every creative person has them — it's part of the mania, and, I believe, even part of the drive — yet, unless they are overcome and brought into some kind of realistic focus, they are the things which destroy productivity and therefore destroy art. I'm certain, for example, that it's underneath the kind of thing of a de Kooning taking to drink. Now, I want you to relax and paint for the fun of it, or don't paint for the fun of it, and do whatever you damned please for once in your life — and I'll bet that somewhere along the line you'll add up those paintings and find more than you had before and better ones. And in the meantime you'll have gotten in some loving, and you will have found the joy, rather than the resentment, of having a child, and all sorts of things. I love you, and I'm looking forward so to our being together — and I know what it will be like, and I know how loving you are, and how impossible you can be, and what a goddamned worrywart you are. And I know my failures as a painter, and I know that when I feel them, I look for a patsy, and I know that I'm looking less and less for a patsy, and more and more at the failures — which is giving me lots of strength. So we'll be very human together, and if we can find that ideal you spoke of — of each one feeling free within a marriage, we'll really have something....

    Love you,

    Jon


MALLAIG VAIG, 9 DECEMBER 1957
LETTER TO JAMIE AND JOYA

My darling, sweet little girls:

    How are things? When are you going to write your old man a letter? I'm far far north in the hills and the cold, and would like to have my heart warmed up a bit.

    I'm enclosing your December allowance check, and also the check for Mommy, which you can give to her, thereby saving me one shilling and six pence in postage this month. Also, I want to get this in the mail, and I don't have time to write two letters.... Jody arrived nearly two weeks ago and she's settling in very well and enjoying the place very much. All the neighbors were wondering what she would be like, and as we walk or cycle into town, the women stand at their windows and peer through the curtains....

    ... Did you see my picture in the December 2 issue of Life magazine? I thought it was pretty good, and I decided that it looked much more like me than I do now with my beard, and inasmuch as I sort of get a kick out of looking at myself, I'll probably shave it off one of these days. Jody thinks I look like the Devil right now, but I always think of myself as being rather saintly. The hills and mountains around here are now covered with snow and look very beautiful. The lower hills near us and the land near the sea has no snow — but off in the distance you can see the white mountains, and we take walks up Loch Nevis, and the mountains there are covered. The snow becomes different colors in the changing light. One time I saw it when it was a turquoise green....

    I have a painting in a museum show this fall, and another early next year, and I have sold two paintings this fall — one to a New York collector and one to a German collector, and the painting is already in Germany. It seemed funny to have it come over here, and maybe someday if I'm ever in Germany, I'll go to see it! They were both pictures I did this summer — though I think they were finished after you left.

    Jody is going to Mallaig now, and I'll give her this to mail. She is going to get the messages. That's what the people here say when they talk about shopping. If you're going to get groceries, etc., you're going to get the messages. If the grocer delivers and leaves the box of groceries at the top of the hill, you have to go up and bring down the messages. It's a wonderful term. Of course, a message is a message, too, and that tends to confuse things. Jody has to go from grocery to grocery to shop, because no one store seems to have everything. For example, only one of the groceries carries grapefruit juice. You can only buy milk at the vegetable and fruit store (which also sells candy) or at the bakery. You get ham or bacon at the grocery, but beef or lamb at the meat market. The most fun is the ships' chandler, which is a store to service the needs of the fishing boats and which sells just about everything. That's where I got my raincoat and my fisherman's sweater and my fisherman's barker — a sort of canvas blouse which goes over the sweater. I got my Wellingtons at the shoe-repair shop. And my heavy boot socks at the grocery. So it goes. One thing about the post office, you just get stamps and mail there, though it is run by a guy who owns a little candy shop and magazine and newspaper shop next door — where they have a couple of freezers and you can buy ice cream cones and frozen vegetables and fish. You can't get frozen vegetables at the grocery, but you can at the fish shop.

    Whenever you look out at the hills in the valley of Mallaig Vaig, there are always cows and sheep grazing — and whenever you walk anyplace, you see the sheep. They are everywhere — high on the cliffs — sometimes you wonder how they can keep their balance — but they find things to eat wherever they go. They tell me that the little lambs in the spring are wonderful to see, and I'm certainly looking forward to it. It's hard to take pictures now, because the light is so bad, but I shall in the spring and send you some. End of page. Love, love, and love. I think of you all the time.

    Daddy


MALLAIG VAIG, 28 DECEMBER 1957

... Spent this last week at Dumfries with Alastair Reid and his parents. A fine time — and I enjoyed talking to Alastair — but I was somewhat depressed most of the time. Jody depresses me. Am I still mirroring a woman's emotions? When she feels better — today — I felt better. But a depressed woman — a cold woman — is depressing.

    Shaved off my beard in anger on Xmas day — like a self-castration — I'm not sure why I did it — all of a sudden I didn't like it — but more because of the disapproval of others — particularly Alastair — as though he symbolized the outside world — outside of Mallaig — and outside of my dream. Mallaig is a stage for me in some respects — I live parts I have always wanted to live. Before Jody came, I could be kind.


MALLAIG VAIG, 29 DECEMBER 1957

— Tomorrow I am going to start a series of drawings. Face and figure — Models — Jody, Betty, Ian, John. There is something I must know about people — then next fall, perhaps, I'll start my paintings on Woman — or Women. I am very excited about this — woman emerging from the landscape. I tried one at Martha's Vineyard — it was a failure, but I should have kept it. That was summer of 1956.

    Reading Voss by Patrick White — on p. 46, Voss says, "If I had mastered the art of music, I would set myself the task of creating a composition by which the various instruments would represent the moral characteristics of human beings in conflict with one another." — I have thought about the hard and soft in music — the great, mass sounds and the delicate filigree of sensuousness — I have felt its movement and thought about that meaning in paint. Force — moral force in landscape — in man — in woman? Probably not in woman — definitely not in woman. In Man. In Man painting of woman. Sensual man of moral nature painting of woman.

    Woman: birth, earth, lust, heat, anger, sensual, evil, flesh, beauty, hope, love, comfort (?). I have seldom found comfort in woman. I shall cease to look for it.

    Painting — moral force opposite the sensual materials. I feel morality in the hard sky of winter. Love for me is a softness, a giving up, a retreat. Not always. There were moments when I loved June and she loved me. And then it was a moral love and it was part of the hard fact of my ambition and my need as a man.

    — Today was evil in its hate and in its helpless anger. I do not have love in marriage. I don't know what I do have, but I don't like it.


MALLAIG VAIG, 5 JANUARY 1958

My marriage hangs on a thread. I feel a madness about it — something insubstantial — I can't tell what it is. This morning I said, "I don't know whether I want to go to the country (in Greece) again — after having been here for so long." Jody: "Do you mean you want to spend the summer in the country?" Me: "I don't know yet what I want to do." Jody: "Well, if you go to the city, I'll spend the summer in the country." Me: "Okay, go ahead." A few minutes later, after I have obviously clammed up, she says, "There, I shouldn't have said that (or some such thing), I realize you should be considered, too."

    There's nothing wrong with that. It's just not about my life. I don't understand — I have no communication, no trust, I'm in a never-never land — perhaps of my own making, but I don't think entirely so. Now — finally — I am interested only in art, and am making my life count. I'll never again travel or make any move except in terms of my work. Nor will I argue about it. I'm hung on Jody's constant rebellion and need to dominate by reacting to it. I wish I were alone again. I felt virile and healthy, and now I feel tired and worn and I'm gathering dark circles under my eyes. My married life is a constant paradox, like life in death — or death in life. There is something terribly, terribly wrong — and I know this, because Jody is always, always right, and always works to convince me that I am mad. If I am mad, I want to be alone. I don't want this terrible pressure. I want out. I cannot use up my energies in this abominable futility. I must think through my paintings. I must stay out of discussions about this with Jody. I must again be alone. I lend myself to this battle, and this is my madness. My only sane course is to put all my energy into my work.

    I'm letting my beard grow again.

    I worked today on my first canvas for 1958 — vertical — 65" x 48" — the thought for it started the other night walking home late from Mallaig in the snow — the storm up near Loch Nevis in the sound — was umber — dirty, dark, foreboding.

    — For some other pictures — remember the etched landscape of Mallaig Vaig — with the frost. Hard lines. Frozen forms. Silver and golden umber — dull. Earth oranges — and earth lavender at the shore.

    I'm no longer loved. I feel threatened, rather than loved. My strength is in my work and only in my work. Nowhere else.


MALLAIG VAIG, JANUARY 1958

(Undated letter from Jody to Mary Anne Peet found on the table, lying faceup, while Jody was out for a walk. It was never mailed.)

    ... I feel on a perpetual seesaw living with Jon — we never have just simple quarrels — how relaxing that would be! For instance, when I arrived, Jon had a hideous little beard stuck on the end of his chin and an enormous mustache drooping down to meet it. (The snapshots glamorize it enormously!) His voice was unnaturally high-pitched (from excitement, I guess) and I was rather thrown off when I saw him — he looked like every cliche of an artist bohemian in rough attire that one could imagine — but my joy at seeing him equaled my disappointment over this rather shaky stab at masculinity — but I couldn't help feeling, Is this the Jon I married? I would be caught staring at him, still uncertain whether it was the beard that was making him seem so foreign to me, or was I seeing him objectively for the first time, as absence from a person for a period can make them seem a new person when you see them not clothed in the wrappings of your subjective superstructure — Well, be that as it may — I was having a hard time relating to that strange bearded man — and he was feeling great — on top of the world — and playfully (or not?) assuming a different character each day — or each hour — God — I can't begin to explain him — how he really is! On top of all this he was convinced somehow before I arrived that I wasn't going to like it here and would try to maneuver him away to France or some such idyllic spot — So in the midst of two weeks of grey wet days when I first arrived, when I couldn't see anything much to exclaim about because of the weather, I realized he was watching me cautiously and if I didn't exclaim profusely each second over the marvels of his chosen haven, I was damned and against him! Actually, as the days became clearer and we took walks around, I began to feel a growing intimacy, with the landscape and truly did love it — but this is even worse because now I am in his picture! Each cloud formation I rejoice over is really a response to his choice of subject in nature — which is the main feature here and is truly exciting and is the material of his painting. I feel I am constantly invading the privacy of his inner world when I go up on the Burma Road and sit quietly on a rock high up and look out over and down to the sea and off to the island of Skye with its dramatic mountainous contours changing each second as clouds and wind and lights blow over them — it is all so Oriental in feeling — imagine a Chinese painting of cliffs and mountains and mists over and around them and that's what it's like here — so naturally it was easy for me to respond — it's everything I ever dreamed of in nature in a way — but I can't paint about it — I feel too guilty if I do — as though I'm trying to outdo Jon or something — so one day I did a small portrait of Jon — oh yes — that reminds me — to continue about the beard: When Life magazine came out, Jon looked at the picture and said, "Now that looks like me" — and he went to the mirror and looked at his beard and decided he was in disguise and maybe it should come off. However — the beard evidently meant a great deal to him, as he decided to grow it after he came back from the herring-boat fishing trip in which he lived for five days on a boat in rough seas with five seasoned fishermen — he said it was the most important experience of his life — so he decided to grow the beard. It was a gesture, and I realize now a very meaningful one to him in many ways. He loved it and was having such fun wearing it until I arrived with my own inner set of manias! I thought I did fairly well, though, because I knew I mustn't say anything against it. On the other hand, I didn't exclaim for joy over it, either — but as the weeks wore away, it became sort of fun in a way — I just didn't think of him as Jon anymore, but a totally new person — sort of evil — it looked evil, I swear — and he began to play an evil role very easily — this was all so subjective in a way — it's hard to describe just what went on — but I used to laugh over it and say I wish I had two of him, one with the beard and one without — for I used to love his chin — bare! However — everything was false in a way — and I swear it was because of that beard — I suddenly began to really feel he was evil — and really I don't know who or what he really was anymore — most peculiar — and I began to grow very distant and cold and blanked out completely on him — this was the day before we left for Durafries — all the time we were in Dumfries (over Xmas)

    (Letter ends here.)


MALLAIG VAIG, 31 JANUARY 1958

Jody drove me to almost maniacal frenzy — I honestly was afraid I was losing my reason. I wish to hell she'd leave and let me alone — but I can't quite find it in me to send her away. Yet her ability to continually, day after day — to destroy — is fantastic. I feel my work going bad — I can't concentrate on it any longer. She is talking of a trip to London. I hope she goes and stays — I'd like her to go on and then send her her stuff — before I hate her so much I can't stand it. She has desecrated my studio, and tried to belittle and defile all of its meanings. I wish I could stop — but I can't stay off it. I've started a large painting — big gashes and splashes of red. I'm feeling the vitality again — the will, the determination — one more month of painting — then packing — then out — someplace new. I don't see anything or feel anything anymore — only rage against that damned woman. When I get her out of here, I never want to lay eyes on her again. Period. She always wants to play at love after she's done her worst. There is no love. I wish my friends would somehow not make something sentimental out of us. There is nothing sentimental about us. It's Jody's insane, phony, gushing world — to cover the mania of quiet destruction which is the only core to her being.

    The wind is howling. I was going to go out on the Margaret Ann, but I don't know — it would probably revitalize me — but would it be better to face up to the terrible predicament I'm in, in regard to my painting?


MALLAIG VAIG, 5 FEBRUARY 1958
LETTER TO JANE, JAMIE, AND JOYA

Dear Jane: And dear Kids:

    I'm enclosing checks for this month, and two bits' worth of news will follow. I'll try to get off a decent letter to you in a week or so. I'm on a sort of a last lap now — finishing up a lot of paintings and have stretched my last canvases. I expect to be finished painting around February 22, and then comes the big job of unstretching, rolling, packing, etc. That will take another month, and then I'll be off, leaving beautiful Mallaig Vaig with its winds and rain and its drama and excitement. I've really loved it here, and it has been a wonderful place to work. Jody has been here for a couple of months, and I'm afraid that it is just no place for a woman — she hasn't liked it at all.

    I think I told you about the big snow, didn't I? We had heavy snow on the ground for about ten days — and everything was beautiful beyond belief. I took a long hike into the backcountry — a magnificent valley with a number of small lochs — and it was like a fairyland. You had the feeling that no one had ever been there before. In the meanwhile, the coal was running low, and no trucks could get up the big hill leading to the valley, and I was pretty tense wondering whether we'd get by. Well, we did — and the coal came, and I found out that the snowfall was the most severe and the longest-lasting that had been seen here since one could remember. There is something about the weather here — changing all of the time — powerful scenery, powerful skies, powerful winds, powerful rains, everything pitched up that it makes one feel as though one is living on the edge of a volcano. I love it, yet I know that I'll be glad for a rest from the tension, too.

    I think I shall be going to Paris when I leave here. I would like to paint in isolation for another year — perhaps in Greece or Norway, but I feel that I should go to Paris and try to get a gallery there. The only way I can do it is to be there and to get known. And that's a long, slow process, and may or may not work out. Paris is expensive now, and I'll probably have a hell of a time finding a studio. If it turns out to be absolutely impossible, I may go to Rome. Things are easier there, and there is some art market. Jody is leaving for New York around the end of May and she and Tina will probably spend next year there....

    Saturday night I went into town at night for the first time since I've been here. I took Jody to dinner at the West Highland Hotel. Inasmuch as we were the only people eating there, we were served on a little table before the fire (electric) in the "writing room," with the hotel dog lying at our feet, and it was rather fun. I had a good talk with Archie McLellan, son of the owner, and then we went off to our first movie. It was so bad, we had to leave, and walked the mile and a half home and played our game of checkers and that was that!

    Write soon.

    Best love to all,

    Daddy

(Continues...)

What People are Saying About This

"A self-reflexive memoir, [The Sound of Sleat] is one of those rare books that is necessarily greater than the sum of its parts. Despite that, and rarer still, the individual parts themselves are full of event and drama, are wonderfully revealing, are often very beautiful and sometimes darkly humorous. They're even at times downright sexy. In fact, one might say that The Sound of Sleat has almost too many aspects, too many parts: it is alternately obsessive, self-conscious, ruminative, and proud; it is lyrical, funny, poignant, and modest. It offers all these faces and more." --from the introduction by Russell Banks

"As in van Gogh's letters, here is a search for reality in life and art. But, beyond torment, Schueler's writings are also close in spirit to Delacroix's worldly and romantic journals. This self-portrait is of a remarkably complex, multitalented artist." --B.H. Friedman, author of Polygamist

"In a beautifully written memoir, Jon Schueler tells how it was to have been an avant-garde painter after World War II, how he felt and thought. The Sound of Sleat is a telling account of one artist's inner life, as well as a window on the world of Pollack, Still, Rothko, Kline, de Kooning, and others whose work still resonates today." --Irvin Sandler, author of The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism and Art of the Postmodern Era: From the Late 1960s to the Early 1990s.

Meet the Author

Jon Schueler grew up in Milwaukee and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War Two. Several years after being discharged from the military, he began to paint. In 1951 he moved to New York, and from his base there sojourned in Scotland, Paris, Italy, and at several U.S. universities. His widow, Magda Salvesen, edited his manuscript into this book.

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