Friday, August 26, 2016

Sol LeWitt: A Story

It was in the fall of 1970 that Sol LeWitt visited California Institute of the Arts. The day I met him, he was sitting in a chair at the edge of a cluster of a dozen or so forty-inch square tables in the cafeteria. Students were gathered round, sitting and standing behind him and to his side.

On that day, Sol was picking out students to help him install his exhibit at the, then, Pasadena Art Museum. My memory of exactly how he chose people is vague. But the next image that pops into my mind in telling this story is of Sol, surrounded by gallery walls explaining how to approach his wall drawing installation, his arms waving, his fingers pointing. The walls we were to draw on must have been at least thirty feet high; they were opposite each other. LeWitt’s words on the first page of the small catalog described how they were to be used:

"Wall Drawing, 1970  
 Left wall, pencil, four colors
 Right wall, pencil, black only
The draftsman and the wall enter a dialogue. The draftsman becomes bored but later through this meaningless activity finds peace or misery. The lines on the wall are the residue of this process. Each line is as important as each other line. All the lines become one thing. The viewer of the lines can see only lines on a wall. They are meaningless. That is art."

Courtesy of Lyn Horton

I worked on both the right wall and the left wall, within the areas that I could reach. The remaining lines above me were drawn by the male draftsman who worked off scaffolding.

Sol continually guided us. Even though the straight lines of varying length were to be drawn “randomly,” they were drawn according to Sol’s idea of “random.” He would interrupt any one of us when he saw that the lines were being drawn incorrectly. We had to use the pencils given to us in a specific way: our hands needed to be relaxed and the pencils were supposed to float between our fingers. The lines had to be drawn with an even pressure so that the overall surface created had no dark or light areas, showing only moderate density. The walls were meant to have a delicate texture: my interpretation in hindsight.

Into the large gallery in which we worked was integrated a small gallery that bore the same architectural shape as the large one. In the almost elevator-sized space, Sol drew what I consider to be the most gorgeous wall drawing of those early years. It was its first installation. Or so I remember. He had created it for Eva Hesse, who had just died of a brain tumor. The drawing contained parallel vertical lines, not straight, not touching, not long, drawn with black pencil. The impression it gave me was of rain. To this day, I can see in my mind’s eye Sol beginning the drawing on the left side of the space. He could reach the ceiling. The drawing transmitted an unsurpassed intimacy. Probably a description he would not have assigned to it at the time.

We took lunch breaks during the installation process. I remember that I was the only person to go with Sol to lunch, particularly to the luncheon in the museum dining room. We were joined by, then, curator Barbara Haskell and artist David Hockney. It was quite wonderful. Maybe other draftsmen did come, but I was so awestruck by the situation that I can only remember Sol, Hockney and Barbara Haskell.

It took us a full seven-day week to complete the installation. There were only two draftspersons working by the end of that week. I cannot remember the name of the other fellow. Sol asked us both to join him at dinner with Doug Christmas of Ace Gallery in Los Angeles. I have no idea what kind of food we ate or where. I remember that the booth was tight. Doug and Sol sat on one side and the guy whose name I can’t recall and I sat on the other. Sol said to us that he would like to “take” us to dinner. I thought that he meant at another time as well. I said, “Why, thank you, Sol.” Then I realized he meant that he would pay for our dinners that evening.

On another day when we were not in Pasadena, Sol came to my little rented cottage in North Hollywood to see some of my work. He sat in a brown director’s chair and I sat on the floor. I passed one drawing after another in front of where he was sitting. He was mostly silent. At the end of the “showing,” he said: “I like these better than those.” And that was it. I said, “Really?” He nodded his head. I forget which drawings I showed to him.

After his visit, Sol wanted to go to critic Helene Winer’s house in the Hollywood Hills. I drove him and I got lost. Here I was with Sol way across the country from his home in New York City and he directed me out of my lost-ness. Funny. He kept saying, “I don’t remember this area.” I actually argued with him. He won. And I delivered him safely to his destination.

When Sol had returned to New York, he sent drawings to those artists who had helped him. Mine is small: lines of differing lengths, straight, parallel in ink. It was to be the first in my collection of Sol LeWitt pieces of art for which I gave him works of my own. This note, written on a thin piece of rag board, accompanied the drawing:

Courtesy of Lyn Horton

Sol and I corresponded over the years for the rest of his life.  In 1988, I worked on the team to install the ink wash wall drawing at the Williams College Museum of Art. On the first day of the installation of the drawing, he came to view the space chosen for his drawing. When he saw me in a group of people huddled around the staircase where his drawing would go, he said, “What are you doing here?” I replied, “I have come to help install your work.” He said, “Oh, great” and then quietly smiled.

Anthony Sansotta, Sol’s longtime foreman for installation of the Wall Drawings, came to Sol’s side. Both looked at the wall for a moment or two. Sol turned to Anthony and said: “Arcs, twelve inches, starting with yellow, then red and blue.” This is Wall Drawing #559. After lunch at the faculty club that day, Sol and his wife disappeared. I went to work with the crew. It was a blast, all five days of doing ink wash, for which there is also a definite LeWitt technique.

I received an invitation to Sol’s retrospective opening at the Whitney in 2001. I was not going to miss that. This was also the year hell had broken loose for me. After my Mother died in 1999, my husband, now ex, decided to leave and we were in the process of getting a divorce. When I found Sol midst the throngs of people who were attending the opening, I threw my arms around him in a big hug. With sweetness spreading throughout his face, he asked, unexcitedly, “How are you?” Somehow he knew everything that was happening in my life. I certainly had not written him about it. Astonished, I said “I am ok.” Sol said, “One day at a time.” With tears in my eyes, I said good-bye, looking back at him longingly as I walked away to leave the museum.

That was the last time I saw Sol.  But my heart is full with him. He left that much of an impact, I can only imagine, with everyone with whom he associated.

Copyright 2014-16 Lyn Horton
First displayed with my drawing: 70" Square Black & Gold, 2014, exhibited in the show "In The Studio: Artist's Dialogs," California Center for the Arts, Escondido, CA, 2014

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