Today Bill Barrell reflects on time spent in Provincetown in the late fifties and his friendships with the artists Myron Stout and Tony Vevers.
– During my early years, from 1957 to 1960, I lived year-round in Provincetown and was very dependent on other artists. Two of those artists were Myron Stout and Tony Vevers. These two artists (and Tony’s family) were very supportive in those long dark winters on the Cape.
I was not only influenced by Tony Vever’s and Myron Stout’s paintings, but I was also influenced by their lifestyles. Tony loved to cook and Myron talked about cooking in an expert way, like a real gourmet. I was young, fresh from London – used to meat and potato type food. We would all eat in Tony’s tiny kitchen in his small apartment/studio with dormer windows. It was a bohemian garret style.
When Tony’s kids were put to bed, we would sit and discuss the pros and cons of quahogs and piss clams and drink Tavola, a cheap California wine, from a gallon jug. I was not used to the kind of discussions that took place. Tony would get out his poetry books – Dylan Thomas, Keats and ee cummings. Both Stout and Vevers were university graduates, so I did a lot more listening than talking. Having finished school at age fourteen, which was as far as the school year went in 1945, I was no match for their university debating abilities. I made up for it with my street smarts and my cockney humor. We would read and drink into the night. On leaving, I would walk with Myron Stout to his studio, bid him good night and stagger on home.
One funny and memorable occasion came about on a picnic trip. It was a beautiful spring day in 1959. Tony, Elspeth and the kids Stephanie and Tabitha, Myron and I all went to a meadow that had a brook meandering through it. Spreading out our picnic, we lounged around sipping wine and enjoying the bucolic surroundings. At one point, I took the kids down to the brook. It was not deep, about three feet wide with meadow flowers growing along the banks. As I looked, I suddenly realized that there were hundreds of trout swimming in it!
Now having lived in Scotland as a child, I had experience with trout and had tried to catch them by tickling them under the belly! I hollered up to Tony, “We have dinner here!” He ran down and we jumped in the water -chasing fish all over the place. We ended up with a dozen and returned to the picnic. Myron, who was laying by the picnic like a figure out of Manet’s Luncheon in the Park, told us that he happened to have a wonderful recipe for trout. That night at Tony’s, we put Myron’s recipe to work. It was a grand meal. The next day, after being told of our grand trout feast, a local said to us, “You silly buggers. You had a herring feast. That was a herring run and it’s illegal to take fish from a herring run!”
Myron once had Tony and I do some carpentry in his studio. It was there in his studio where I was first exposed to Myron Stout’s work. It was a bit odd to me but I was drawn to it. The paintings were not too large, maybe 40×42. He was painting very simple shapes that sat somewhat in the center of the canvas. The color was black and white, the two colorless colors. The shape would be a bit like an Arp sculpture, only flat. A “u” shape would hold a ball shape not touching the sides of the U. It would float in there. I thought of a ball just before being caught in a game of baseball. He was meticulous. Tony and I had once joked about how Myron would use a one-hair paintbrush. He took forever to finish a piece. Those paintings stay with me to this day. When I need to explain plasticity, I use Myron Stout and Mondrian. There is a feeling about the surface of the paint that puts it right up front. The colors touch, but do not interfere with one another. They stay flat.
In this painting ” Painter”, I had Myron Stout in mind. I wanted to combine my exuberance with his calm shapes. The shapes and forms do not resemble Stout’s, but I was thinking of how he put black and white together and made it interesting and alive. I could not resist the figurative image that surfaced, but I was happy with the black and white of a figure pitted against the artist who is not in contrast and in shadows. –