Larry Bell

Article excerpt

MY FIRST MEETING WITH JOHN WAS IN 1962.1 was at the Ferus Gallery when Walter Hopps introduced John to a few artists who were hanging around the gallery. I was sitting behind the desk, and Walter introduced him to me; he came over, and when I put my hand out to shake his, he grabbed me by the shirt and gave me a big mouth kiss with his tongue down my throat.

He was with Neil Williams, and they were looking for a studio to make some work for a show he wanted to do here in LA. I helped him find a place on Marine Street near my place. At that time, Venice and Ocean Park were called Desolation Row. It was Appalachia-by-the-Sea and it suited all of us just fine. Cheap spaces were abundant and good fun was the order of the day.

John went to work on his sculptures, and Neil set up a wall to do some painting. I had never met anyone like either of those two bozos. I was twenty-two. When I went to New York for my first show at the Pace Gallery in '65, both Neil and John were my guides and protectors in the big city. Most of the people I came to know were through them.

Over the years, John proved himself to be one of the most human creatures I have ever met His ability to be improvisational with his materials astounded me; I had a totally different concept of studio activities.

At the end of the '60s, John came back to LA and stayed with me while I applied color to some acrylic boxes that he had melted down into sculptures. I kept telling him we had to make considerations for the proper handling of the acrylic before we coated it, but John would have none of it. His act depended on total spontaneity. So each of the works has plenty of John's fingerprints on the surface and under the coatings. Conservators should find it easy to ensure these works are John's, as they are printed everywhere with his hands.

Around then, John also did an edition of resin works based on a twisted paper bag. This coincided with a breakup with his love at the time, a gal named Muffy who was a chef somewhere. He was devastated and walked the beach for days, drunk, with snot running out his nose. I have some pictures of him during that episode, in a rumpled thrift-store dark suit and flip-flops.

When he came into the studio, the first thing he would do was remove his clothes, everything except a tank top, and stand around my place like a tour guide. His schlong was quite prominent I would have guests come over, and John would just stand there looking at us. …