For me, Dec. 9 was Black Tuesday. The electricity went out in my building during the night, and this morning I awoke in a freezing apartment with no lights, no television, no radio, no fax. … Fortunately, the hot water was on (gas, I suppose), and my heretofore taken-for-granted morning bath became a source of great luxury.
As I write (from outside of my home), I still do not know if the electricity has been restored—I hope so. It was a good thing I had to photograph the living room of my friend, the artist Richard Hennessy, today. Work is certainly the best antidote to my frustrations, even if reaching my destination in the pre-holiday traffic was a challenge. Richard lives in the very upper 90s on the East River. I live on the West Side, in the downtown 20s, close to the Hudson.
Richard lives in a fifth-floor walk-up with a view of the East River. His apartment is a floor-through: bathroom, kitchen/living room, bedroom corridor, and sitting-room/living-room all occupy a single floor. The surroundings Richard has created for himself are incomparable. Once you make it through a rather grim set of stairs, a surprise is in store for you: a universe of such beauty and originality in a bewildering festival of colors that sets your eyes in all directions—on the paintings (all by Richard), on the objects, the furniture, and on the material covering them.”I cannot imagine a good life without painting and without beautiful things made by human hands,” says Richard. “That’s why the place where I live is important. I feel comforted by it. Every time I look at it it inspires me.”The objects and the pieces of furniture are not necessarily expensive or renowned, mind you, but they reveal Richard’s refined eye, as well as his deep and sure knowledge of the different periods of art history. Richard tells me that he discovered his treasures while traveling or walking in the city. Every day he walks for at least for two hours. “It’s my vacation in Central Park,” he says laughingly. Richard found his vocation at age 23 while studying art history at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York City. “I was unprepared,” he says. “It came to me as a surprise and frightened me. Suddenly I lost my social identity. You see, I had no training as an artist. I am self-taught like Wagner and Van Gogh. Picasso and de Kooning were the greatest influences on me, and also the old masters of the Italian High Renaissance (Tintoretto, Titian …).”Today, Richard Hennessy’s works are in the best public collections: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery of Buffalo, N.Y., the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pennsylvania, etc. He has had more than 14 solo exhibitions and has been part of numerous group exhibitions. He has also been a sometime essayist on art with a few controversial essays, like the famous “The Man Who Forgot How To Paint.” Of his works he says, “My paintings are my autobiography.”My husband—the late composer Nicolas Nabokov—and I met Richard at a dinner party at the home of Helen and Elliott Carter in the ‘70s. Of this dinner, Richard remembers all the names of the guests, and that I was sitting next to him and that we hit it off immediately and shared strong opinions on disagreeable people we knew. He also remembers I was wearing pale blue gabardine (color!) elephant trousers, which hit my shoes and looked as if they fell into the rug. These are certainly observations of a mind with an extraordinary memory, a great sense of detail, and a very sharp eye.