Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Winter in San Francisco / Farewell to an Artist

We never get snow. In December the city government trucked-in snow and built an artificial slope in front of City Hall. This image includes scraps of our public objects: the electronic-looking Intercontinental Hotel, set between the Mansard-style roof of the Asian Museum and a monumental three-headed sculpture by Zhang Huan.

Max embraced this olympic challenge. His Mommy looks remarkably like Jacqueline Kennedy here, fit for battle with her sunglasses and ten-gallon purse.  

At the bottom, Max plots his next run.

We ran into old friends and watched little people explore their temporary, inflatable theme park.

The park in front of City Hall looks completely different now than it did in the late 1980s when I walked across it several times a week for my job. At that time, hundreds of homeless people lived in tents there, and the grass was beaten down to dirt. It was not a place you wanted to take small children. 

Our Mayor, Gavin Newsome strolled among us. He's a handsome young man. In this crowded shot, you don't have to guess who the mayor is, even without a tie. His presence is magnetic. I was reminded of Schuyler Chapin's comment about Pat Buckley, "She didn't enter a room; she took possession of it."

We ate a leisurely lunch, then rode the L streetcar home. San Francisco showed its best face that afternoon. 

Matthew McGoff 1961 - 2010

On New Year's Eve, I received news that my Pennsylvania Academy classmate Matthew McGoff died on December 26. I met Matthew in 1980 and we went through four years together at the Academy. We shared an apartment for two years, first on crazy 13th Street, then on quiet Pine Street in Center City.

Matthew races into mind whenever I see or hear the word "uncompromising." He knew exactly how he wanted to live and how he wanted to paint. He never hesitated or entertained divergent views. Socially this attitude could be problematic, but watching him paint was pure joy.  

He painted a huge picture of our shared bathroom, which had brown walls. At this time, Matthew put on paint with a big knife, and the effect was like frosting a cake. He piled on layer after layer. I don't remember if he asked my opinion—probably not—but I volunteered, "Looks like it's raining shit in this picture."

Matthew didn't look at me, he just kept on frosting the canvas with brown paint. He burst into exuberant song: "It's raining shit! Hallelujah, it's raining shit!" 

Matthew was a voracious reader. He introduced me to many great writers, and his favorite in those years was Charles Bukowski. For those unfamiliar with his writing, Bukowski's narrative character is something of a Bart Simpson for adults. He flees in terror from every challenge in life, and especially from other people. These funny stories provided a blessed relief from our artistic struggles. 

In his final years, Charles Bukowski compared life to his cherished sport of horse racing. I use this passage to say good-bye to Matthew, because it expresses an attitude I still share with him.  

I’m not in a contest with anybody, have no thoughts about immortality, don’t give a damn about it. It’s the ACTION while you’re alive. The gate springing open in the sunlight, the horses plunging through the light, all the jocks, brave little devils in their bright silks, going for it, doing it. The glory is in the motion and the dare. Death be damned. It’s today and today and today. Yes. 

—Charles Bukowski, The Captain is Out to Lunch 


MaryEllen Velahos said...

Happy New Year John!
I'm sorry to hear about Matt - I remember his face but don't believe I knew him. I'm sorry for your loss.
I check my RSS feed every now and then and am always happy to see a new entry in "Brown Eyes"
Best wishes to you and your beautiful family.

Gary Lindauer said...

hi john,
during this week of what would have been matt's 50th, friends and family have gathered to celebrate and memorialize his life. doing a search of his name on the internet has brought me to your page again. thank you for your insightful post. you know i've heard millions of stories of your academy years together. also know that his retelling of those stories carried notes of deep appreciation for your time together mixed with regret for his own "matt being matt" hindsight.
i enjoyed our meeting out in sf years ago. glad to have the internet to keep connected.

John Paul Turnage said...

Hi Gary,
Thank you for writing. I appreciated meeting you also; I remember you had to search for us through the Richmond District. I think of Matt every day and would like to stay in touch with you also. You can email me directly when you like: artist [at} jpturnage.com

john paul

Unknown said...

I knew Matt. We worked together at DiLullo's. If he liked you, you felt ok. He commissioned me to Paint Wilma's portrait.