Monday, September 26, 2011

Nexus: International Henry Miller Journal - Vol. 8

The 2011 edition of the annual Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal is now available. The 281-page, book-sized journal contains ten articles relating to Miller, plus a few pages of additional notes.

Letter From Henry Miller to Alfred Perlès - Henry Miller
A previously unpublished letter from Miller to his friend, Alfred Perlès, circa 1936. Miller announces the completion of some of Black Spring and makes a self-assessment about his place in the American writing scene. Not a modest sentiment to be found!

The Face of Richard Osborn – Eric. D. Lehman
One of Miller’s least-known friends from his golden romp in Paris in the 1930s was Richard Galen Osborn, disguised as ‘Fillmore’ in Tropic Of Cancer. Intrigued by the fact that Miller scholars have never seen a photo of Osborn, nor have they known the details of his death, English professor Eric Lehman set out on a quest to fill in these blanks. The task was made all the more convenient by the fact that Lehman’s current home base, Bridgeport, Connecticut, was also the hometown of Osborn. Lehman brings the reader step-by-step along his logical trail, as he follows leads in old school yearbooks. Not only does the hunt produce photographs, but Yale alumni records (updates on the activities of graduates) contain a wealth of information—including short autobiographies by Osborn himself, in which he references Miller. Finally, Lehman uses the new photographic evidence to make a comparison to an iconic Brassaï picture, which may very well prominently feature an image of Richard Osborn in 1930s Paris.

Nothing But Light—Notes on Henry Miller’s Birthday Gift for Anaïs Nin & The Tranquility of Struggle – Karl Orend
Between 1937 and 1940, Miller created several hand-written books for friends, some of which have been published (i.e. The Waters Reglitterized), and some which have been hidden away in private collections. In 1939, Miller composed a hand-written book as a gift for Anaïs Nin, called The Heaven Beyond Heaven. In the meaty “Nothing But Light,” Orend uses text from this book to illustrate the lives and minds of both Miller and Nin during the period of writing (1939/40), which includes Miller’s Greece and Nin’s New York. Miller’s personal offering for Nin came at a time when she and Miller had reached the end of their relationship; Miller’s critical words in Heaven may have helped seal this fate. Orend draws from numerous sources to explore the divide in philosophies and personalities between the two writers, from Nin’s fears and literary deceptions to Miller’s insensitivities and immense egotism. For good measure, Orend includes some intriguing paragraphs on Miller’s affinity with China and feeling that he was himself somehow Chinese.

The Genius and Mr. Nobody – Joe Kishton
One of things I like about Miller as a research subject is the way his life intersects with so many other fascinating individuals. In the case of Joe Kishton’s contribution to the journal, that person is Salvador Dalí, and his wife Gala. The Dalís and Henry Miller had shared Caresse Crosby’s Virginia mansion for several months in 1940. It was an uneasy time for Miller, who disliked Dalí. An account of this time is pieced together mostly from interview transcripts of Miller, from documentaries he’d done in the late 1960s. This article, in fact, is a documentary script, in script format, for a recently completed film on this very specific subject. Includes a detailed anecdote about the crazy event that drove Miller and the other guests to leave Caresse Croby’s home.

Miller and Seferis: A Mutual Portrait From One Mythologist to the Other – Finn Jensen
In 1963, George Seferis became the first Greek to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. 24 years earlier, Seferis gained the admiration of Henry Miller, who had met the Greek poet in his home country in 1939. Finn Jensen, in this essay, provides a biography of Seferis, and considers the reasons for the personal connection between he and Miller, suggesting that a shared perspective of life through a mythical lens helped form the bond. Includes a couple of Seferis poems, including one dedicated to Miller (“Les Anges Sont Blancs”).

Love, Pain, Big Sur, and Life as a Bedbug – Harry Kiakis
The latest instalment of Kiakis’s diary entries takes us back to a day in May 1970, when Henry was entertaining Harry and other guests, including a beautiful USC student making a short film about Henry. Kiakis captures many quotes from Miller, on the subjects of old movies on TV, Japan, old age, death, a revelation he had in 1933 about failure, visitors at Big Sur, and freedom. Miller’s final anecdote is very interesting, as he goes into detail about the way he freaked-out when he found the note from June (in their basement apartment in Brooklyn in 1927) saying that she and Jean had run off to Europe without him.

Kilomètre Zéro: Paris Revisited, through the Palimpsest of George Whitman’s Shakespeare & Company – Karl Orend
Anaïs Nin returned to Paris in 1954, for the first time since fleeing the city in 1939. From this visit, came her Paris Revisited, which would not be published until 1972. Here, Karl Orend compares both the departures from and returns to Paris for both Nin and Henry Miller; success (Miller) or lack thereof (Nin) coloured the experiences of each return visit. Orend also examines factual inaccuracies found in Nin’s account, including some about George Whitman, whose Parisian English-language bookshop, Mistral, would later re-brand as the famous Shakespeare & Company. Includes an interesting overview of the support of Whitman and S&Co on people like Miller and Lawrence Durrell, and the lack of support for Miller's associates by the owner of the original S&Co, Sylvia Beach.

“One sits in the middle of a river called nostalgia”: The Henry Miller Research Collections at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. – James Bantin
While this article is in part exactly as the title implies—a run-down of materials relating to Henry Miller, as found in this university’s Miller archive (which you can review online)—James Bantin also describes each group of papers in an enticing way by including quotes from holograph notations and personal letters from the archive. Bantin talks about the hand-written book, Heaven Beyond Heaven, the correspondence with Caresse Crosby, the Lawrence Durrell Papers, letters from ex-wife Eve McClure, publishing records for New Directions, what sounds like an amazing archive of audio recordings made with Miller by Robert Fink, and much more.

Close Your Beautiful Eyes: The Denigration of Louis-Ferdinand Céline—a Prelude to his Evisceration & Inquiry into the Fate of his “unfortunate plagiarist,” Henry Miller, “The American Céline.” - Karl Orend
“Celine’s anti-Semitism is, like sex in Miller’s writing, the red herring. It is neither the core of his writing and philosophy nor the main thrust of his attacks on civilization or humanity,” writes Karl Orend, in this engaging defense of French author, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, who had been an influence on Miller’s writing style. While not absolving Céline of all charges of anti-Semitism, Orend challenges some of the most-damning, prevalent myths about Céline’s activities and sympathies during WWII. (Orend had done a great job, in The Brotherhood of Fools & Simpletons, of shedding new light and offering defense for Conrad Moricand, whose negative reputation has been biased due to Miller’s unflattering and previously unchallenged portrayal of him in “Devil In Paradise”). This essay is part one of a forthcoming sequel, which will explore Céline’s influence on Miller, and will compare the charges of anti-Semitism launched against both authors.

On an Old Book about Henry Miller – D.A. Pratt
D.A. Pratt takes the reader on an enthusiastic tour of his favourite Miller biography, The Happy Rock. Starting with the story behind its creator/editor/scientist, Bern Porter, Pratt then gives context to Miller’s career and reputation at the time of publication in 1945. Next, the reader is treated to summaries of the major contributions to the book (of the 30 in total) with generous excerpts provided; special attention is given to the in-depth essay by Michael Fraenkel, Miller’s Villa Seurat flatmate and thematic inspiration for Tropic Of Cancer. Finally, Pratt examines the reception of Happy Rock, from a brutal critical thrashing by Lawrence Durrell to its general neglect by the big Miller biographers. 65 years later, however, this book has proven to be a gem for its ability to introduce us to Miller through the immediacy of those who knew him personally.

This volume of the Nexus journal is available for $20 (U.S.) or $24 (International)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is This A Portrait of Henry Miller?

On September 26, 2011, a private art collector in New York State will be auctioning work by artist John Nichols (1899-1963). One such painting will be a portrait that the collector(s) believe is meant to be Henry Miller, or based on Miller.

American painter John Nichols spent some time with the artists’ colony at Woodstock, New York, before going to Paris in 1930. There, the 31-year old painter befriended Henry Miller. That year, a bearded Miller (a temporary experiment) sat as a model for Nichols. He may have posed for other paintings, as well. Nichols left Paris in 1932, but his time there would be permanently recorded as the character Mark Swift in Tropic Of Cancer. For an overview of the relationship between Nichols and Miller, see my blog posting from a few years ago, “John Nichols and Miller’s Beard.”

Although a few Nichols paintings are apparently owned by the Woodstock Guild and Art Association, the largest collection of his works (120) are owned by a collector (or collectors) in the Woodstock area, where Nichols used to live in a “shack.” My information comes mostly from the Nichols collector via email. Nichols is said to have been a colourist who experimented with several styles, including abstract expressionism, drips, and primitive minimalism. After leaving the art shack in Woodstock, he went to New York City to teach Art, then was eventually committed to the Bellevue Hospital where he died in 1963, in his sixties.

In my personal opinion, if I were considering a venture with my own money, I would say that I lack the confidence to conclude that the man in this Nichols portrait is in fact Henry Miller. You may come to a different conclusion. What is lacking is a date on the canvas to aid speculation, or a clue-embedded title, or any documentation (that I know of) that suggests that Nichols or his wife Frances had personally identified this as Miller.

It would have also been helpful if there was a more convincing resemblance to Miller in the painting itself. The pale blue eyes, and maybe the lips, are suggestive of Miller, but the hair is a complete fiction. Miller was bald in his 20s (he was around 40 when he had his portrait painted, and his beard had spots of grey). No amount of testosterone-evident beard growth could have sparked the youthful mane that we see in this Nichols' painting.

The name “Henry Miller” has been written on the back of the wooden frame, but only after “Man With Beard – John Nichols” and in different handwriting. I would need to know more about the provenance of this artwork to be able to evaluate who added this identification and when. After 40 years of painting, I imagine that Nichols' had plenty of opportunity to paint any number of bearded men. I will, however, offer some considerations to support the arguement that this could be Miller.

1. Nichols was not obligated to, or didn't necessarily intend to, paint a portrait in the likeness of Henry Miller. Henry may have been posing simply as a human object. As such, Nichols could take liberties, such as adjusting features to achieve a certain dramatic look, or adding hair (a bit more romantic than baldness). The title on the frame backing, “Man With Beard,” also suggests the intent of a general image than a specific individual.

2. Nichols painted Miller more than once, and each a little differently. In March 1931, Miller wrote that Nichols and his wife Frances were working on “more portraits of him.” The collector from Woodstock says that he has a few other portraits from the “Man with a Beard” series, each done in a different style. This one is said to be the most “masterful” (if he has just a single bald one, that would go a long way to suggesting the model was Miller).

3. Nichols was not exactly the king of capturing likenesses. According to the collector, he owns self-portraits of Nichols that are “completely different.” In Miller’s description of Nichols’ portrait of him in Tropic of Cancer, he does mention that his head is “out of proportion” but was still a “man with a beard” (p.221).


John Nichols,
Standing Female Nude
(c. 1930)
Although I reference Cancer in the passage above, the painting therein is not the one under review here, because Miller adds that Swift (Nichols) added a typewriter and Eiffel Tower within the portrait (not seen in this one). The one under review is also not the portrait Nichols made of Miller in February 1931 (possibly the same as the one in Cancer?) which Miller describes as having “a slight element of the caricature, a la Grosz--if that conveys anything to you. The underlip is very prominent and the dome bulges out eloquently, very like the Invalides" [Letters To Emil, p. 71]. The baldness clearly rules this one out.

There is a Nichols portrait of Miller at the UCLA Archives, although I have never seen the image. It would be fascinating to compare. Interestingly, the item mentions that it was signed by "Kate Nichols for Henry Miller.”

Anyhow, there is still an association between Nichols and Miller, and that makes Nichols a significant character in the Miller universe. Do your own research, contact the seller/auction house if you are interested. Sorry for the short notice, but the auction for this particular John Nichols “Man With Beard” painting is September 26, 2011, at Hudson Valley Auctioneers.

I welcome your opinions in the Comments section. What’s your take on this?