Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Through These Eyes


Dean Stockwell

 “His Life in Pieces”
La Fonda Hotel is considered the end of the historic Santa Fe Trail, and for people who love the Southwest like myself, it is a most splendid ending.  It is unequaled in its abundance of history, folklore, authentic cuisine and the overall flavor of the New Mexican way of life.  It is a good place to end.
However, for Robert Dean Stockwell, the so-called “end of the trail” made a sharp turn to the North and then hit the High Road to Taos – where “all great souls eventually come,” or so they say.
Arriving at this destination in 2004 was in no way a terminus for Mr. Stockwell; in actuality it was just a beginning.  Of course, we all know about the real beginning, some 150 films ago.  The Boy with Green Hair would go Down to the Sea in Ships, visit The Secret Garden during The Happy Years and The Careless Years, experience Compulsion, Rapture and Blue Velvet in The Gardens of Stone.  He would be Married to the Mob with Friends and Enemies – Be the Player with The Chasers as well as Mr. Wrong – be in Midnight Blue with the Rain Maker and The Buffalo Soldiers during the Venice Project.  He would find Mr. Wrong or Right in Paris, Texas and experience the Rights of Passage with the Manchurian Candidate and the list goes on and on and on, after all, what should one expect from an actor actually born in Hollywood?
And now, that having been said, let us project ahead to this present moment. 

“Deep is your longing
For the land of your memories
And the dwelling-place
Of your greater desires.”
The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran
Having had a longing to experience the mystical Taos for myself for quite some time, I laid my plans, and so one fine day in May, with a driver, a photographer and a few friends, we too hit the High Road to Taos for our scheduled visit with the elusive and illustrious Mr. Stockwell.
As we arrive at Dean’s house, with Taos Mountain towering in the background, we feel the heavy presence of his beloved Pueblo.  We are greeted on the porch by Dean, with several dogs at his heels.
Knowing of his weakness for three so-called vices; “Guinness, golf and good cigars,” Fernando De La Garza, a part of our group who is an avid golfer and an aficionado himself of a good cigar, comes bearing such.  He speaks appreciatively of Dean’s graciousness while they were acting together in one of my favorite movies – She Came to the Valley – in Texas.  Fernando recalled Dean taking the time to speak to his class of school children about the making of the movie, and how they were in awe of a real life movie star!
While movie roles are by no means declined these days, they are a far cry from what is uppermost in Dean’s life at this period of time.  As we enter his house, we see the art . . . . and we know. 
His good friend, Doug Coffin, says “If you know Dean, then you know he’s been on the inside of the art scene his whole life.  Art and artists are what make his personal world go ‘round.  His passion and commitment are apparent as soon as you enter his home.  It is filled with art. Discovering Dean’s level of expression means uncovering the depth of understanding of a totally mature artist.  His work is both exciting and thought-provoking.”
As we are shown around we understand that our friend Dean has made a “Quantum Leap” of all time.  We see the Collages – everywhere!  We are told that a collage is a composition of cut and pasted pictures and the word Spagyric means to take apart and reassemble – to make new from old.  To paraphrase some of the quotes from the foreword of his fantastic new book – The Spagyric Eye – will help one to grasp the meaning of it all – perhaps.  His book – a huge one – is full of numerous collages.  Dean’s works have been shown at galleries across the country – Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and others.  But as of now, he is content to have his works and his book at the R. B. Ravens Gallery in Taos.
Walter Hopps says, “Dean Stockwell’s collage works are superb.  The compositions are varied, inventive and complex and generally take on a mysterious narrative character.  His collages have a degree of intensity both in composition and color rarely seen in the work of his contemporaries.  In oblique ways, the work addresses contemporary concerns at the same time as it addresses concerns basic to Surrealism – life, death and eroticism.  In and around Stockwell’s social critique, there is a sharp edge of humor.”
My personal favorite, as we are shown around the studio, is the Eye of the Beholder, and I realize that all of this is indeed, just that.   One sees what is within one’s own mind, with no explanations from the artist.
“No man reveal to you ought
But that which already lies half asleep
In the dawning of your knowledge.”

 The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran
Ralph Gibson says, “As an artist, Dean has taken the most basic visual elements of the vernacular and reconfigured them into visual tone poems lingering between the abstract and the real.  This place could be called the echo of memory because once seen, it hovers in one’s thoughts.”
As we stand, admiringly, in front of his so-called “crown jewels,” Dean explains, “Bruce Conner just out of the blue, sent me this most amazing collection of collage materials.  It was the likes of which it would take a lifetime to collect!  And he gave them to me!  So, in 2003, to honor that great friend, I put all my energies into working with these exquisite pieces.”
When I ask Dean if it is some primal urge to divulge all that is in his mind, he replies “I wouldn’t doubt it – it certainly feels primal.  Early on, I felt I might be able to make some interesting pieces, but I refrained until the time was right. That time was in 2003.”
His first collage called "Shot of Life" sold for $12, 500 and he was off and running!  When I inquired as to whether his images were premeditated, Dean replied, “Not really. I go through a process of a kind of discovery of what each one will be and then it takes over and takes on a life of its own.”  He laughingly acknowledges, “It’s news to me too.”
And indeed, it’s news to us and to the general populace.  How do you explain the logic behind The Pope’s Secret Girlfriends, Two Heads Are Better Than One, Mussolini’s Office and Bikeface?
Throughout our tour, we have heard an almost dreamlike, lilting voice singing bits of song from an innermost part of the house and we have wondered.  Eventually, a beautiful young lady bursts softly into the room in a glow of youthful radiance.
“It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness.”

The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran
Photo by Ed Breeding
Her name is Carol and she is his wife and they appear to share a unique love.  Dean explains, “We met several times and I don’t even recall it.  I certainly had no intention nor reason to be looking for love.”
“Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield,
Upon which your reason and judgment
Wage war against your passion and your appetite.
For reason, ruling alone is a force confining:
And passion unattended is a flame
That burns to its own destruction.” 

The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran

Carol, interrupting, says, “Oh, I have been obsessed with him since I was 13 years old!  I saw all his movies, many times, and I loved him!  I arranged to be where he was twice and he didn’t even pay any attention at all!”  Dean tells us, “But on the last time, she had on this cute little uniform, and she caught my eye.  But I still was wary of love with this very young lady.”
Photo by Ed Breeding
“And think not you can direct the course of love,
For love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.” 

The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran

In all actuality, Carol came marching into his life with a well laid out strategy plus a well fitting military uniform.  It certainly paid off!  We romantic ladies everywhere give her a sharp salute!  A well-deserved victory indeed!
We see how Carol has brought, in the last few years, a bright happiness to Dean’s life.  He smiles softly at her and says, “Well, things happened and now here we are.”
“And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy,
But rather a heart inflamed and a soul enchanted,
But rather a garden forever in bloom,
And a flock of angels forever in flight.” 

The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran

Carol is fresh and outgoing and is a great contrast to Dean’s chronic wariness.  His eyes soften when he speaks to her and they seem to need one another.  Carol laughingly says, “I know how he feels even when he doesn’t even know himself.  I know how he feels right now.”  Solemnly, Dean asks, “And how do I feel right now?”  Voicing all our thoughts, collectively, she retorts, “Hungry!”  We all agree, as we had earlier made plans to have lunch together at the historic Doc Martin’s Restaurant, not too far down the road at the historic Taos Inn.
Photo by Ed Breeding
But first, Dean, now ready to share some more outrageous works, leads us from one collage to another, each one more salient than the other, and as we observe, we marvel at his state of mind, admiring him tremendously!
Again we use a quote from his book, The Spagyric Eye.   From Peter Sarkisian:  “These are the private exclamations of a man in touch with the soul of things.  He turns the world on end by mining it for images, and then he hurls those toward us with some of the pieces missing.  Dean’s work embodies the graceful delinquency we exhibit while quietly breaking the law in our dreams; we breathe underwater; we run but go nowhere – always with a freedom that rings true while doing it. Playing on the tension between image and context, he chooses to surf in the turbulence caused by their pairing.  His collages are bright carnivals filled with bits and pieces of dreamlike material, which together tell stories born of imagination.”
Contemplating reflectively on the answer to my question of what comes most into play-color, form or inner meaning – in all his artworks, Dean puffs on his ever-present, and I mean, ever-present cigar.  He answers, “They all apply.  I choose very carefully the color balance. I make decisions about sepia tones or light tones – where each goes and then I make the decision about the inner meaning.”
When I questioned him about his patterns of black and white being often interspersed with blocks of red, he simply replies that, “That really can’t be explained.”  Then, with a quick glance toward Carol, he quietly says, “Carol knows.”  And you begin to understand and appreciate the inner connection between the two.
Likewise, when asked if he ever studied art, his terse answer of “No” makes even more fascinating this observation of his friend, Paul Shapiro:  “What I see in these collage pieces is that Dean is a true saboteur of consensual reality and his creative mind is inhabiting an alchemical territory from which hidden authentic art manifests.  He seems to understand how to push reality through a grinder, blending the resulting mixture into a new confrontive, mythical reality which contains its own rules and metaphors.  This is art that derails the comfort zone.”
Speaking of comfort, Carol says the energies from all the art was overwhelming to her at first, but now, she says, “After about a year or so of it, it is a comfort to pick up on the energies.”
In answer to my question of whether he interprets his works, Dean wryly comments, “No, I don’t interpret them; a sensitive person can see and maybe understand, unless he has a mud puddle mentality, of course.”
“He does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom,
But rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.” 

The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran
As we pass the little kitchen area, we notice all the exotic bottles of seemingly mysterious libations Dean and Carol collect.  We welcome the brief respite for our senses after all we have seen, as Dean boyishly, like a kid with a present, breaks open the bottle of White Dog that we have gifted him with.  Being as close to Kentucky moonshine as we could legally maneuver, it has quite a bite!
As we all enjoy a round of the White Dog, our eyes are drawn magnetically to the items on the wall.  Seeing our interest, Dean points out the gold record inside the Neil Young album that he is famous for – it is a collage entitled American Stars and Bars.  Quite a collaboration between good friends and one to be proud of!
Now Dean and Carol, to our delight, offer to show us the work studio where all the magic takes place!  Lisa Law sums it up wonderfully in her quote from the foreword of his book:  “Time warp; bent mind; glue; x acto knife; sharp scissors; paper Life; digital imaging; electric painting with high end Epson printer; 50 years of mental digestion of visual impact on psyche has spewn forth a plethora of imagery from the agile mind and nimble fingers of Robert Dean Stockwell – images that will delight your mind and imagination like brain food just digested.”  And indeed, we see all these images reflected in front of us on the workbench and the materials used to produce these wonderful works!
So now as we again begin to discuss our sojourn to Doc Martin’s with thoughts of his famous chili rellenos and the giant margaritas, we begin to focus in now on another amazing subject – dice!   Yes, dice – fascinating sizes and shapes!  Is there no end to this man’s surprises?  Now some might surmise that this latest “craze” came about for the lack of another stimuli, but Dean tells us otherwise. “Doug Coffin, just out of the blue, and for no reason whatsoever, sent me six white dice and a hummingbird head.”  Just that – no explanation at all.  Dean says he paid no attention to them for a long time, but one day just started playing around with them.  Then he bought more and it all exploded, as no doubt his friend knew it would.
Dean explains, “When I went from collages to all of a sudden making dice pieces, that was an entirely different thing-it was big-really cool!”  Continuing on, Dean relates, “I got to thinking – What would be the greatest contrast you could do with them? It came to me to make a cross from the dice!  To make a very interesting statement – one is tactile – it’s only function is motion and is the exact opposite of the severity of the cross!  So I made several crosses and I just love them.  When kids come to my house, they gravitate to them. Children – they know how to listen, and they understand.”
“Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear.
For his soul will keep the truth of your heart…..
When the color is forgotten and the vessel is no more.” 

The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran
So finally, after our fabulous dinner, Dean relaxes with yet another huge cigar, and says, with great conviction, “I am so fortunate to be exactly where I want to be at this end portion of my life.”
“But if in your thought, you must measure time into seasons,
Let each season encircle all the other seasons,
And let today embrace the past with remembrance
And the future with longing.”

The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran

Here in this spiritual, mystical place is where Dean finds peace.  Having said, “I always knew I would end up here,” he has found his place – “the first house I looked at” and is settled in, with his wife, his dogs, and all his art. The legendary Mabel Louhan, perhaps Carol’s prototype, once said that “Nothing ever happens here in Taos – yet every day is a miracle!” And to quote from their friend, George Herms, “Where one might read the morning news printed on the wings of butterflies – in blood.”
The famous writer, D. H. Lawrence, also a resident of Taos at one time, has been quoted as saying: “One gets something out of the wind here – something wild and untamed – cruel and proud.”
“We wonderers, ever seeking the lonelier way,
Begin no day where we have ended another day;
And no sunrise finds us where sunset left us.
Even while the earth sleeps,
We travel.” 

The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran
For an actor whose first words ever uttered on the Broadway stage in 1943 were, “ I won’t be damned,” inspiration must have come occasionally, if not often.
When asked, from whence comes his inspiration, Dean reflectively lists a few.  He says, “D. H. Lawrence for sure, for various reasons.  His Sons and Lovers without a doubt – probably my favorite movie, and also, Long Day’s Journey into Night – the play by Eugene O’Neil.”  Having just seen his brilliant portrayal of the son and the amazing rapport between he and Katherine Hepburn, I was taken aback by his fantastic soliloquies, but mainly by his, and for want of a better word, for there is no better word – his “beauty” at that time of his Young Manhood!
Further ruminating, in complete harmony with his cigar, Dean says, in an obvious understatement, “Inspiration came for me also from Wallace Berman and Doug Coffin, for sure.”
With the majestic Taos Mountain looming in the distance and the Pueblo in the background, both of which he has portrayed numerous times in all shadows and colors and forms, we question him further as to whether he is a satisfied man.  His reply, “I don’t think I will ever be perfectly satisfied.  I don’t see that as being possible for anyone,” and then softly, “except for children.  But I’m very close. I know that.”
Paradoxically, for a man whose peace at times seems almost tangible, we learn that the condition of our Mother Earth is a major concern.  Dean states emphatically, “My primary interest is the creation and its reflection of man.  I think anyone with a brain has to be an environmentalist.  Evolution is something nature is in control of, but this rape of the planet is something that the egocentric and egotistical race, the human race, is doing.”
“The timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness,
And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory,
And tomorrow is today’s dream.” 

The Spagyric Eye and Kahlil Gibran
Again, a longing indeed for the continuation for this peaceful space – and his place in it is Dean’s desire.  He ends the subject by saying, “We all have this nest; at least we can try to keep it clean.”

Dean, who was called, in his Hollywood days, the King of Quirk, no longer needs such titles.  He now lives, or reigns, if you will, in the realm of the Sacred Mountain – and that in itself is quite sufficient.

Leaving Doc Martin’s, many Irish whiskeys later, we are all ready to bid farewell.   Dean and Carol, huddling close together with their ponchos encircling them, seem to be one entity – complete and needing no one else as they wave good-bye.

As we leave Taos and head down that long road to Santa Fe, we are quiet, lost in our own thoughts.  My conclusion, after much contemplation is that, after reflecting on, but not listing them, the numerous people who have left their mark on Taos:  It is where ordinary people do extraordinary things, under the inspiration of Taos itself.  It is where fireworks explode in one’s mind, but silently and in slow motion, lit not by peyote, but by joy. . . . .

Photo by Ed Breeding

Dean, having been somewhat taciturn and reserved throughout our interview and with his eyes always wary, had nevertheless opened up to me a glorious word picture of a recent occurrence.

One evening, after a very long dry spell, the sky suddenly darkened and threatening winds came up.  Dean and Carol and the dogs burst out of their house, welcoming the ominous clouds and loving the wildness of it all!  And then, just as the storm clouds centered over their house, they stopped and with one paroxysmal ‘dump,’ the ecstatic couple was drenched!

As Dean tells it, they embraced the storm with arms outstretched and with complete abandon, even as the dogs raced for cover under the porch!

Photo by Ed Breeding

What a glorious scene, but after all, and above all, what can one expect from a young lady who trills melodiously in Japanese, and from Dean – aka forevermore as Al Calavicci – the legendary Gent with the SPAGYRIC EYE?!

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