Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hilaire Hiler Teaches Henry To Paint

Back on August 28th, I first wrote about the artist Hilaire Hiler, in relation to his place on the editorial staff of The Booster. In that posting, I'd made reference to a memoir Hiler wrote about Miller, called What I remember of Henry Miller. Thanks to 'Pierre from Montreal,' I now have that article.

In 1963, the English-language Dutch publication The International Henry Miller Letter asked Hiler, age 65, to reflect on his relationship with Henry Miller [published in the August 1963 issue]. I'll draw from this article now and again. Today, here's a story about Hiler meeting Miller for the first time and attempting to discipline him in the ways of the visual artist.

Hilaire Hiler:
"I don't remember when I met him except that it was a very long time ago. It was probably in the early 1930's. I believe that it was Walter Lowenfels, who lived across the rue de Val-de-Grace, and that Miller made some arrangement with me to give him painting lessons [...] A few nights later he came to my studio to take his first painting lesson and he wrote of this experience in one of his books. If I recall rightly, he took two lessons in all [...] He seems to have become quickly bored with paper, pencils and colors, for in the middle of the second lesson, instead of pretending to continue, he took out a manuscript (I think that it was Black Spring) and began to read it. After a few minutes I said,

"'Mr. Miller, I must warn you. Of course you may read to me if you like but you must pay me the fifty francs we agreed upon for the lesson whether you take it or not. That's because you made the appointment with me and are taking up my evening. If you like you can come some other evening and read to me for nothing.'

"Henry seemed to think that this was very amusing but I can't remember that he ever pretended to take any further painting lessons -- at least as far as I'm concerned. Although he continued to paint [...]

A decade later, Miller made this admission: "Both Hiler and [Hans] Reichel tried to give me instruction with regard to watercolor technique; they failed, naturally, because I am incapable of 'taking lessons.'" [Big Sur And The Oranges Of Hieronymous Bosch (NDP 161), p.89].

"D. H. Lawrence and Miller both painted. They are both known as being preoccupied with sex. To a painter their work seems at times to be excessively expressionistic and there, if anywhere, might be the basis for the accusations of vulgarity which are so frequently leveled at it."

And finally, the entire article is closed off with this summary of Henry Miller's character:

"Henry Miller is scrupulously honest. He's honest in his life, with his friends and in his work. I can think of no one who is more so. Some one said 'It's hard to be clever and honest at the same time.' The cleverness in this case may be left to the prudes, the hacks, and the smart alecks who are his self-appointed critics."

If find it interesting that, in this same word portrait of Miller, Hiler talks glowingly about Miller's great skill at being a listener. Yet this anecdote shows a Miller with a seeming Attention Deficit Disorder. Go figure -- but then again, that is the complex, conflicting personality that was Henry Miller.

The images in the banner are all from works by Hilaire Hiler (except for the fragment of Henry's head), which may be viewed here, here and here. The uncredited picture of Hiler was found along with the article quoted in this post, from the Int'l Henry Miller Letter No. 5, August 1963.

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