Biography: Henry Geldzahler and New York
Blue Sky's encounter with New York City art critic Henry Geldzahler, 1964.
Henry Geldzahler had seen one of my paintings in an armory show and called me on the phone to ask me to meet him. I had to change the spark plugs in my Jaguar so it could make the trip. When I got there, I saw a pudgy man with glasses lying down in the grass and thought, "Can this be the big hot shot New York art critic?" When I walked up, he was playing with an ant hill, sticking a twig up in the air and playing with the ants, and watching them build the ant hill. And he said, "I knew it was you when you pulled up, I said, that's got to be him... While I was waiting on you, I found another piece that might have to share first place with you."

He marched me back through the armory, all the way to the back past the 700 paintings in the show, and there was a poster on the wall of the armory introducing you to the army ranks -- private, lieutenant, captain, and the symbols for each one, so you could identify them if you were new to service. "What do you think if this shares first place with you?" he asked. I said "Okay, if you let this fire extinguisher share first place in sculpture." So, we hit it off right off. We had the same kind of sense of humor.

He had asked me to bring some more of my work with me, so I just scooped up some paintings I was doing at the time. They were paintings of corners, like maybe a crack in the wall in the corner with three very different subtle variations in light. There might be a radiator pipe running along a wall or bending around a corner. He was very intrigued by them and asked me to come to a party at Edisto Beach. I told him I had to have an invitation from the person who owns the house, so he called Jasper Johns on the phone and handed me the phone. Jasper said, "Why don't you come to the beach house for the party."

Henry told me I should move to New York, and since he was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum and I had already been thinking about it, I decided to go on up for a visit first. When I walked into his office in the museum, he had a light set up on the edge of the table shining like a search light. It was like the old movies, where you see people being interrogated. After about a minute or two of this, I said, "Wait a minute, why don't we turn out this light here?" He turned it off, we talked some more, and he said "you want to go to lunch?" I said, "Okay."

That's when he showed me this picture -- it was an etching of a whole bunch of nude men writhing around. He said, "and what do you think about that?" I said "It's well executed, anatomically correct, good composition, nice technique, looks like a good print." Probably not the reaction he was looking for. I think Henry was hoping for a different kind of reply. But, after lunch he took me by a few galleries and introduced me around.

When I returned to live in New York a year later, it all seemed unreal and intimidating. But I went. I had taken my '54 Jaguar back up there at Christmas. But then the winter came and when it set in the snow was so deep that I wasn't even sure if my car was there or not. I would get a stick and poke through the snow to see if it was still there. And I thought, "Boy, I can't wait until spring gets here. I'm gonna take my Jaguar and drive out to the Hamptons and enjoy the beaches."

So I persevered for a year. In April, I took the car out to North Hampton and I drove and drove and it took so long that by the time I got there it was time to head back. About twenty minutes later, traffic came to a dead stop about 20 miles outside of New York City. I thought there must be an accident or something. So I pulled over, because my Jaguar started overheating and boiling over. I asked the gas station attendant what was going on, and he said, "Oh, it happens every Sunday, yeah, about this time of day." And that moment was the last straw. When I realized I could never escape the city.

Well, that was Sunday. Monday morning I got up and went through my same routine of riding on the subway, packed in like sardines, and I really saw the situation. So I walked in to work and said, "I just came to tell you, I quit."

I went back and loaded up my Jaguar with everything I could pack into it and drove back to the south where the trees were green and everything was blooming, and I drove to the beach at Pawleys Island, and it was deserted. The sand was pure and white and pristine, and there was hardly anyone around. The sea oats were waving in the sun. It was like I had returned to heaven. That's why I painted Pawleys Island so much after that.

And that was the end of my New York trip.
- Blue Sky

"Fresh and bold... His work has both the technical ability and the freshness of vision, the feeling that something familiar is being seen for the first time, that has produced some of the best American painting of the past ten years... makes me want to see more of the artist's work."
- Henry Geldzahler