c h r o n o l o g y

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1910 Born London, England. (See “Early Childhood and Before”)
1915 With mother, Hettie (vegetarian cook-housekeeper) run away from mentally troubled and beginning-to-be dangerous father.
1916 Settle in Leicester (Midlands) first in vegetarian santarium, later in own house until I was eighteen.
Education: At first, scattered village schools
1917-24 Proper/snob girls day school.
1924-27 Progressive, co-ed, self-governing, Theosophical, vegetarian boarding school St. Christopher’s, Letchworth, Herts., England.
1927 Last three months of year, stay with French family in Paris, meet first Americans, attend Alliance Française, meet almost every other nationality – a heady experience for someone confined until then to England only and also confined to a background based mainly on vegetarianism. I was nevertheless entranced by Paris although I knew nothing of the special and extraordinary people who made it the place to be in these, the golden years, the ’20s & ’30s.
1928 Move from Leicester to Sutton, Surrey (edge of London).
Secretarial course in London.
1929 Have own car. No need to earn a living. Try this, that and the other. No satisfaction, lonely, bored. During my early twenties, deep depressions started to descend, self-pitying they were, and would hang around for months. I cried a lot, wanted to hibernate like the bears or to be very old or dead. Eventually would come a day when I would zoom up and out of it, like a kite caught by the wind though the outside conditions were exactly the same. So what was this? It must be connected with my father, inherited perhaps. My mother was sympathetic but she had no clear idea, it seemed, though she had lived with someone much worse afflicted for fourteen years. Neither of us knew much about psychiatry.
1936 And so it went on,just one long slow-moving waste of time, until in May ’36, I was with my one and only artist friend on the Spanish island of Teneriffe. We had access to a delectable private garden where she was painting flowers using oils. I watched her closely one day and had a strong and immediate conviction that I could do this, at least I could do what she was doing applying the oil paint neatly with a brush and it stayed where she put it, quietly and obediently. That appealed to me. I did not have to be quick and dexterous as with watercolor and some other skills. Luckily we had a garden at home with some of the subject matter I needed. I painted in my bedroom for the rest of the summer. My mother was somewhat disturbed; I was taking no exercise, neglecting friends, hardly using my car even.

Come September there were three choices open to me. My painter friend had the offer of a house in Tangier, or I could just stay home and paint without tuition, or I could study with the French painter Amédée Ozenfant, who was coming from Paris to open a school in London. Of course I had not heard of him, but the idea of one teacher and a small number of students appealed to me far more than one of the big schools, so I chose this, rather tentatively, for one semester. I now heard that Ozenfant was a friend and colleague of Léger and that they had taught at the Académie Moderne in Paris, that Le Corbusier had built Ozenfant a house, and that together they had started the Purist Movement. The Ozenfant Academy of Fine Art opened in London in mid-September ’36.

By then, I had done six small flower paintings. I took them along and said nothing.Click to see a larger image This apparently was the right thing to have done; teachers like beginners. There was one other student in the nicely spacious studio: she was Leonora Carrington at nineteen, beautiful, her eyes intense and mischievous. What people! I had never met anyone remotely like them. Other students soon joined us. Against the back wall was an immense mural-sized painting on which Ozenfant was still working; I was doubtful if I liked it. The main thing was that I was enthralled by meeting so many people in the arts and to have found for myself a passion at last.

And it was such an absorbing passion; although I was to have depressions for many years to come, I don’t think I was ever bored again. Leonora stayed two or three months, met Max Ernst, went to live with him in France. I went on to study with Ozenfant for three years in London, then for two more years in New York.

1937 I was often shy in the studio as I knew so much less than anybody else. The model took the same pose every day for two weeks, and we drew on double-elephant sized paper meticulously stretched onto a board. We could attempt the whole figure or any detail of our choice. We used well-sharpened charcoal pencils, building slow compositions with small ticks and much thought, no dashing quick sketches allowed. It was probably a unique method not happening elsewhere (in any other school). It suited me. I began to be a favorite student. I think, though I was not conscious of it at the time, that it was this Ozenfant method of working that freed me to boldly decide that I wanted to be a painter more than anything else, regardless of my lack of facility in drawing.

We students often spent Saturdays in the museums, for me one continual revelation. At first I was most attracted to Gauguin and to Le Douanier Rousseau. Around this time, I decided to do a painting at home, as I was in no way confident enough to do it with others looking on. It was of a woman, naked, sitting cross-legged on the ground; on either side of her a short distance away sat a cat; stretched across the foreground was a snake; in the background, Rousseau took over: it was all fat, highly-indented leaves. When I brought it to the studio there was a hush at first and then Ozenfant kissed me.

For some time now, I had wanted to get to America. I really wanted to emigrate, as I had the over-exaggerated notion that if the Nazis should win the coming war it would be the end of civilization in Europe. I believed all those in the fields of culture, that is, all kinds of artists, teachers, philosophers, writers, poets, musicians, and scientists, should make for the New World. I talked to the other students, wanted to tell Ozenfant; but who was I to tell him what to do?

1938 Ozenfant invited to give a summer course in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. Henry Moore came to the studio to teach us for a semester; a rewarding period but also disturbing, because of the Munich crisis we were close to war and the possibility that Ozenfant might not return. I was perturbed as it seemed so important to continue studying with him. But return he did, and with the great decision to move the Ozenfant Academy of Fine Arts to New York, just as I hoped he would.
1939 World War II declared in Europe. I leave mother and lover and board ship for New York, taking more books and reproductions of art than clothes. Start work immediately and continue with Ozenfant for another two years.
1940 August my first journey across the U.S. to California. The further west we went, the more exhilarated I was by the bigness of the country, especially the desert-like Southwest, parts of which were still to be explored and mapped! Returned in October to New York. Knowing something of what was behind and beyond N.Y.C. made me feel more at home and content to be in this most stimulating of cities (& this still holds). But the atmosphere in the studio had changed; Ozenfant was less friendly and I was having money troubles; my allowance from my ever-generous mother could not be sent out of England.
1941 Early in the year when funds and hopes were at their lowest came a telephone call from a millionairess, the result of a complicated labyrinth of connections. She invited me to lunch and said she would be glad to lend me money for the rest of the war. Miracle! I could go on working with Ozenfant, though it was not to be for much longer. I left in May, feeling glad, and also capable, to be on my own. At this time, refugees from all over Europe were flooding into America; in particular, many of the Paris Surréalistes came to New York. Even though I was not part of this group and had not done anything consciously surrealist, they were among the artists that interested me most. I went to a few of their parties; at one requiring fanciful dress I wore a handsome tail of greenish-black cock feathers, and one Xmas I hid small bells in my poodle-cut curls. Earlier in the year, Leonora Carrington and I had most surprisingly run into each other on the N. Y. subway just a week after she arrived from Europe. For those several months, we met regularly. In the fall I was to have my first solo show as a painter at a gallery on East 56th Street. On an impulse, knowing Max Ernst was likely to come, I worked days and into the nights to produce a small surrealist painting; there was another painting inspired by the Southwest that Max liked better. Ozenfant also came, bringing his present students, friendly this time and full of praise for this ex-student who had worked with him five years and followed him from England to America! In December, suddenly -- it seemed nobody was prepared for this-- Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. This drove America into the war, thus coming to the help of Britain, the only country in Europe still openly resisting Hitler.
No. 10 Gallery19 E. 56th St.
1942 I now had friends in California, most of them refugees from Middle Europe settled in Hollywood. During the summer I set forth again by bus, my favorite vehicle for long-distance travel, especially in a front seat. I was eager to know more about the Southwest, the interior away from the main roads. We were on the old Route 66 in northern Arizona, on the edge of the Painted Desert and the Navaho reservation. In Holbrook, a tiny town, I got off the bus and went to a small hotel. The woman at the desk told me how to travel in wartime America (gasoline was the only commodity rationed here): Go to the Post office, the woman said, find out when and where the mail truck is going. The driver would likely take me for a couple of dollars or nothing. These men were responsible local people who knew the white traders to the Indians and the country. And they went to remote areas, usually staying one night no hotels, but I could stay with the trader or a school teacher. At this time, these were the first traders to the Navaho and the Hopi, and what trading posts they looked after! Full of the splendid jewellery and rugs the Indians still made. Most of the jewelry they wore themselves, the women in velvet covered with silver buttons and brooches, the men sometimes wearing three huge concho belts at once, silver hat bands on their sombreros, satin shirts in deep, shining colors.

This part of the country was so recently occupied by outsiders; Arizona only became part of the United States in 1912 two years after I was born. Many of the people I was meeting then were the first of their kind in the West. For instance, John Weatherall was the first white man to find the Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural arch in the world. I stayed with him and his wife at Kayenta, just to the south of the now famous Monument Valley where Goulding was its first trader. Lorenzo Hubble, one of the most legendary of them all, had only just died; in fact, the woman in the Holbrook hotel had been his nurse, and I will always be grateful to her, for she guided me to one of the greatest trading posts ever.

Finally, I got back on a Greyhound bus and continued the rest of the journey to Hollywood, and settled down to painting. I was finding my own style; I had a new lover and was full of ideas. Many of the paintings I saw whole just there in front of me. I ignored Hollywood, but I had a Victory garden which I walked to I didn’t have a car. I grew melons, peppers, eggplant and the best green beans I’ve ever eaten. I took a first aid course and thought often of England, even of going back. My mother was more or less safe in a remote vegetarian guest house and did not want me to face the high seas and the U-boats. We wrote to each other every week.

1943 Click to see a larger imagePainting was going well. I took a brief job as a waitress at the hotel on top of Mt. Wilson; I was having a painterly interest in astronomy, and up there was then the largest telescope, the 100-inch, but it was closed to the public during the war. I penetrated a little, met some of the astronomers; seeing the Hercules Cluster through one of the smaller telescopes was breathtaking: I had never felt space so completely. Mt. Wilson was an inspiring place in several ways; if you were lucky you could see the sun set and the moon rise, so big and with a reddish glow, facing each other. The coyotes howled like wolves. I was warned not to wander too far, as there were also mountain lions.
1944 First visit to Mexico. The main idea was to see the newly-erupted volcano, Paracutín. As I was nearly a year late, it was almost dormant, but I stayed on though I did not really like Mexico at first. There was a feeling of evil, and I was appalled by the cruelty embodied in much of the pre-Colombian art. At the same time it was an appealing country, underpopulated as compared with now. I have returned frequently, into the early ’80s.

For some time the British Isles had been filling with American troops and the equipment of war, for the invasion of Nazi-controlled Europe. In far-away California we knew little, as plans were secret until it happened, and that was in June 1944. The end of the war was now predictable, but no one knew when. I returned to NewClick to see a larger image York with many paintings, as the first step towards London, where I would go to see my mother. Although I had been away from New York and other painters for most of two years, my work since 1943 had taken a jump towards fantasy. Animals were represented rather more often than people, e.g. “The Sulky Lion”: hardly more than two-dimensional, the buildings small and quite out of scale. “Tiger in the Sky”: similar, but more three-dimensional; and from then on, distances increased, by ’43 giving the sense of a place where you and the viewer might be. This is one of the characteristics I like about Surrealism. It was also in the early ’40s that certain American Abstract painters were gathering in New York. William Baziotes was the only one whose early work really pleased me, but small suggestions of abstraction mixed with fantasy did creep into my work, especially in some line drawings: “Herb People” & “Drug People” and others (almost doodles, perhaps).


Bonestell Gallery18 E. 57th St

In New York; the war continuing. In February, a solo exhibition at the Bonestell Gallery, 18 E. 57th St. I was pleased with the invitation with “Tiger in the Sky” and my name in bold print on the cover 16 paintings, plus ink drawings. I liked the way the show looked, but nothing sold. I was still not participating enough in the New York art world, I suppose. By now the Western countries had been freed from the Nazis; the Russian Army was converging on Berlin from the east, the Western Allies from the west. In March, Hitler and the other leaders surrendered, died or suicided in the ruins of Berlin. In Asia, Japan was losing ground everywhere but refused to surrender. In August, the atomic bombs were dropped. By early September I was on a liner for England, not a luxury one; it was the New Amsterdam converted to a troop ship, meaning ten to twenty bunks to a stateroom; and, for no understandable reason, since everything was still available in America, no alcohol was served to the passengers, only to the ship’s officers! Returning to what had been home, England, was a difficult experience, sad but heartwarming at the same time. The country had been victorious but was on its knees, bankrupt from the effort of holding out alone for nearly two years. Just about every necessity was to be rationed for years to come. A remarkable amount of London was still there, but there were gaps, big gaps. People were still good-tempered and cheerful, but the stimulus of holding out against no-matter-what had gone, and left another kind of gap. However, absolutely nobody every derided me for leaving; they were gracious and welcoming, and I soon made new friends; several were from introductions in the U. S. some of which were important to me for years to come. One of these was a Viennese art dealer, a refugee who also ran a gallery in Mayfair right through the Blitz. He offered me an exhibition almost right away, so the best thing I could do was to get myself a place where I could work and do more paintings. I must say that I was longing to be back in America, but this was impossible; one could not even pay the fare in pounds, so I painted the floor of my new flat bright pink and acquired two cats.

Arcade GalleryOld Bond St

The show was set for January at Paul Wengraf’s Arcade Gallery, Old Bond Street. It was the largest show I had yet had: nineteen oils, twelve water-colors, eight pen drawings, two charcoal-pencil drawings from student days with Ozenfant (1936-41). Quite well received; a collector immediately bought “Woman with Cats” (1936-37), one of my earliest paintings. Later, this same collector, a Mr. Rose, bought two of my best charcoal-pencil drawings, but, unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to them after he died. ”Women with Cats” was acquired by Lalita Frye. This and another of my paintings, “Rigidity and Mirth” (late ’40s), she gave to an obscure young friend of hers sometime before she died. I managed to trace them to his small house in Fulham, London, on a visit in ’96, rather hidden from the world but loved. I also found that “Woman with Cats” was in a group exhibition on cats at the Louise Hallett Gallery in Bayswater, London (I have the address, but the gallery is not still there).
Louise Hallett
Gallery, 1987
The show was in 1987, which of course is a long time after I stopped painting; but it happens to be the year I started again. I certainly wish I had happened to hear of it then; I could have made myself much less mysterious than I sound in what is written in the catalog: “Stella Snead is a British Surrealist painter of extraordinary quality about whom very little is known. She has been apparently very private and unprolific, and the few works of hers that have come to light in the past years are amongst the most interesting of the strong surrealist movement in this country in the 1930s and 1940s.”

Click to see a larger imageThese months soon after the war were often dreary; grey weather, time-consuming queues to buy the most meagre rations almost prevented painting (solved by paying cleaning lady to stand in line and shop). The one painting I know I did at this time was “Advancing Monuments”; it was something of a breakthrough the figures were two-dimensional shapes, but placed in the spaciousness of distance: a way of working which continued through the rest of the ’40s, with, sometimes, the figures becoming three-dimensional, also. That unexpected gift of seeing the paintings whole had more or less ceased, but ideas were still flowing from other angles and interests: for instance, physical exploration of the planet. In those days I often heard myself saying, “If I weren’t a painter I’d like to go on an expedition.” I was fascinated byClick to see a larger image the earth’s phenomena, the more spectacular the better volcanoes, lava lakes, mudpots, geysers, waterspouts, tornadoes, twisters. A painting called “Tornado” done at this time has a determined-looking twister at its center as well as some quite abstract shapes, one of which is reminiscent of pre-Colombian Mexico.

There was another painting, small, almost square, “The Green Witch.” I know when I sold it (late ’40s, Taos), but not when I did it. It had an arresting shape in the sky, and below this so-called witch are buildings as if made of adobe, some with animal heads. This I might claim as a prophetic touch, as I had no thought of going anywhere other than New York or California when I would finally get back to the States. But shortly before I left London, in late summer, Taos, New Mexico, was to be my destination. In this area of northern New Mexico, adobe has been the usual building material since the Pueblo Indians started their village settlements here, long before the coming of the Spanish Conquistadores, who in turn built their Mission churches of the same mixture of mud and straw. In both Taos and Santa Fe today, there are many splendid houses, even hotels, in the same building-style, though it is often reinforced by more easily maintained materials.

Paul Wengraf had offered me a second show in September ’46, but I did not stay to see it. It was mainly of the large charcoal-pencil drawings I had done as a student of Ozenfant. So Taos was where I found myself in the Fall of ’46, in superb weather and amid the most magnificent scenery up the Rio Grande gorge, some 80 miles north of Santa Fe. The road, the only paved one in those days, brings you to what is surprisingly known as Taos Valley, an extensive plain open to the west but contained on its other three sides by higher mountains going up to 13,000 ft. Both Santa Fe and Taos are around 7,000 ft., on this tail of the Rockies which dwindles to semi-desert flatness soon after Albuquerque, to the south. I was enchanted, and particularly, by the arrangement of the land in the Taos area; it was quite simply so satisfyingly right, it brought both serenity and excitement. Furthermore, it was the first small, dominated-by-its-scenery place I had ever lived. My house had just two adobe rooms, one with a corner fireplace made by an Indian woman; not only was it good-looking, with its built-in adobe seat to one side, but it was of the kind that never smoked. The wood we burned was piñon or cedar, and there was room for it to be stored in my outhouse, assuring it of being continually sweet-smelling. For water there was a tap in the yard (baths were taken when invited for dinner with friends). I loved it all that is, except for the gossip, everyone liking to know what everyone else was doing.

I soon started doing some work and, during these nearly four years, did many of my better paintings. Christmas, my first in Taos, was like no other, as our celebrations included gong out to Taos Pueblo on Xmas Eve, where the two processions, one Indian, one Christian, would meet and follow one another, bonfires blazing all around. The next day, in snow or sun, the Indians would perform one of their mass dances in the wide space opposite their five-storey village.

1947 My tiny adobe house was between five and ten minutes’ walk from the Taos Plaza,Click to see a larger image according to the weather the winters could be severe, the temperature dropping sometimes to 20 below zero, when walking in either snow or slippery mud could be difficult. It was worth it; the surroundings were so beautiful and the summers, ideal. I was content without a car, the long days of work uninterrupted except when a friend would drive me to some viewpoint, or to a hidden village where most people only spoke Spanish. I was fascinated again to feel how close to the past these places were. If I had my own car it would have been impossible not to wander too far too often, to go on and on into the inviting magic of this part of the country. I had already found some very special places with the help of the mail-trucks in 1942, and was, in the not-so-distant future, to do much more exploring under quite different circumstances, and in countries of whose existence I was then only vaguely conscious.

For the present, in this Spring of ’47 I was most content to be stationary in this tiny town, feeling little or no nostalgia for the big cities. Except for those moments of doubt and hesitation, painting was an absorbing and satisfying occupation. I thrived on it, was never bored. And there was variety here the weather; new phenomena, such as complete double rainbows; clouds imitating the flat-topped mesas; shooting stars, sometimes showers of them; a moonbow; black skies heralding storms; but more sun than anywhere else I had lived, together with refreshingly cool mornings and evenings, due to the altitude. And new people: our population of 2,000 rose in summer to 3,000. There was a small upheaval ahead of me, as I had promised my mother I would return to London for a couple of months in the summer. I streaked cheerfully through New York, languished a little in London, was soon back to the sun and sagebrush. Exhibits were getting set up; I believe I did most of them myself but cannot clearly remember how or when. Of course, showing in Taos or Santa Fe was easy; Taos had almost as many galleries as there were artists.

Santa Barbara;
San Diego; U.
Of N. Mexico;
Los Angeles
As well, during the next two years, I had solo exhibitions in the Santa Barbara and San Diego Museums, at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and at a gallery in Los Angeles.
1948 Another year, for me, happily similar to the last, weathering the winter, forever putting on and taking off boots, welcoming the return of my two male cats from their nights out (they longed to melt the icicles hanging from their tummies on my bed but had to be diverted to the rug by the fire). We artists dined at each others’ houses; I accommodated up to six, even without a table, cooking on kerosene, with a small Dutch oven. The tap in the yard would sometimes freeze, but how rewarding it was to wrap its foot-high stem in newspaper soaked in kerosene, light it and see the water flow again. This wee house cost me all of $15 a month.

The summer slowly and gracefully enveloped us; and this year, I stayed in Taos. On the edge of town there was a swimming pool with no facilities, except that it was warmed by a hot spring; we could swim by night (as well as by day) lit by the headlights of a car or the moon. In the town there were several places to dance; in those days, we still danced with partners. One dance was the vasaviana, left behind by the Spanish a rose in the teeth, why not?

I don’t think the other resident artists were much interested in my painting; most were moving headlong into abstraction, so, again, I was not part of a group. This seemed to be a repeating pattern for me; I wondered, was it good or bad? Perhaps I had more talent for remaining an outsider than for anything else. Should I worry? I hardly could, with the urge to go my own way pushing so firmly and spontaneously; but I noticed that I made a few sales, and also, that peoples’ comments on my work, mainly from visitors or strangers, were often wildly contradictory, ranging from “highly spiritual” to “brazenly pagan”: a little disconcerting and puzzling, as I was not inclined to interpret my paintings in either of these ways, thinking of myself as very much a visual person. I was and am still enormously pleased and stimulated, or repelled, by the look of things, be they real and tangible, in the outside world, or arrangements of form and color. My paintings are not telling a story, nor are they making a statement; yet, they are not truly abstract. They are showing a place, nearly always three-dimensionally real, yet a fantasy.

One of the Taos galleries, run by a woman and friend of mine, had arranged to take a large group of Taos artists to Palm Springs, a well-known resort and a center for earthquakes. I and several of my pictures were greeted by just that: an earthquake, a smallish one but with repeated after-shocks. We were invited for cocktails by an elderly British expatriate couple, the kind who would know how to behave in whatever circumstance. The whole house shook. The wife, glancing at the ceiling, remarked to the husband, “I think that’s a new crack dear, don’t you?” All we did was sip and make agreeable conversation. The shocks continued into the night, but my friend and I had acclimatized quickly; we slept and awakened next morning to a still and steady day. That evening, at the opening of the exhibition, the martini glasses could be filled to the brim. There were film stars; it seemed a success, but I don’t know how many sales: none for me; I didn’t mind. Selling did not interest me very much; I fact, I liked having my paintings, and the important thing was always to do a satisfactory job on each one.


The London Gallery, 23 Brook St

Another visit to England during the summer, and a firm arrangement withThe London Gallery, 23 Brook Street, for a solo show there in May 1950. It was the leading gallery in London, at that time, devoted to Surrealism, directed by E.L. T. Mesens, poet, long closely connected with André Breton and the Paris Surréalistes. In this exhibition much of my work done in New Mexico would be shown internationally for the first time. In the next room was to be a Homage exhibit to the well-known collageist Kurt Schwitters, who died in ’47.
Carnegie Int’l Exbt, Pittsburgh This year, 1949, my painting “Advancing Monuments,” was chosen to be shown in the Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

These were encouraging signs. Back in Taos that Autumn, life took on a fresh bloom with a new relationship, one that seemed to promise permanence; and, after the show in London, an extended sojourn in Europe.

1950 There was much packing to leave Taos, and much to be left behind. We left in theClick to see a larger image early months of 1950, for New York, and planned to be in London by March. Then came the signs of break-up. I couldn’t understand it, nor could I stand it. This lover was leaving me; and for the first time I realized that I had always done the leaving. I had never been left before. I cracked up. I was in smithereens, could hardly speak. I remembered my mother telling me that, after they put my father in a home for the deranged, he did not speak for a year; just as my father had not been able to organize himself to be a barrister, which he had worked for and planned to be, I could not even face my exhibition. Some friends wrote, offering sanctuary. They lived on the slopes of Mt. Palomar in California.

My work was well on its way to London, while I went west, in the opposite direction. A friend from Taos was in New York, and she accompanied me as far as El Paso, I being, I am ashamed to say, the most dreary of travelling companions. Mt. Palomar was a special place; again I was near the world’s largest telescope, this time the 200-in., now on its summit. My friends were painters, owned a vast amount of land and had four cats who took walks with us in this wild area. I began to be soothed, and tried to get back to painting smallish, modest, stilted, sad they were, their centers often blank, with awkward, angular, spiky shapes around the edges. Where had the exuberance gone?

Fortunately, perhaps, it was decided we would drive to New Orleans and see something of the Caribbean by taking small boats. We were out of date, there were no such boats. We took a banana boat to Cuba, then managed to get to Jamaica, which then was like smooth velvet after the noisy brashness of Cuba. It was out-of-season August, and rather pleasant. I think we may have flown back to Miami, where we parted, my friends going to pick up their car in New Orleans, I taking a bus to New York. I had nothing else to do but go to London and find out about my show. The news was not good; more precisely, there was no news: perhaps this was my least-noticed show. But here and now, emptiness surrounding me, I found the most attractive flat, so why not try living in London again and pay more attention to my mother she was overjoyed. I even acquired a pregnant poodle. The flat had a 14-year lease, which I signed. The mistakes were piling up. My longest depression established itself, with only the briefest up-spells; it lasted two-and-a-half years. Being in England was difficult; perhaps I could do better in America. I got back probably at the end of 1950; my ever-loving and patient mother coped successfully with the 14-year lease.

1951 Being in trouble in America means going to a psychiatrist. A Dutch Jungian was found and highly recommended. He had an interest in the arts, was a collector a Feininger hung over the fireplace; he was kind, supportive and interesting, even though I wept much of the time at the beginning. Later, I started selling textiles as a free-lance agent; they were mostly those of other people. Occasionally I made a sale, and once it was of one of my own designs. I felt less than half a person. After nearly a year, and countless sessions with the doctor, I started thinking how vacuums are likely to be filled, so let’s stop trying, relax, and see what was going to fill my vacuum. I stopped the psychiatry perhaps it was early 1952.
1952 And along came an invitation to go to India, a place to which I had never thought of going. A new idea. I was stirred. It came from a young woman, Didi, I had met while living in Taos, who had gone to college, met and married one of the [Asian] Indian students. In 1951, with one child already, they returned to India, to live joint-family in a small town, Nasik, 115 miles northeast of Bombay. My mood was already rising during the summer of ’52. It was not a zooming-up, but rather a quiet creeping from under the long, stifling depression.

We, Didi’s mother and I, left England for India by ship in November ’52. Before I had even set foot in India, while the ship was waiting “in the stream,” as they say, for a place to dock, and we could see the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal hotel, I became enormously excited to be there. On landing we were driving almost at once up to Nasik, the country somehow resembling New Mexico, only greener and more cultivated, the heights flat-topped like the mesas. For two weeks I hardly slept, just kept on saying to myself, with amazement, “I’m in India!” I was not even thinking of my vacuum, that space left by not being a painter. It was some weeks before I realized it was being filled by India itself, its sights, its people, its ways of being, its un-selfconscious beauty, even its ugliness. It no longer mattered that I was not a painter; there were other ways of filling a life.

1953 At this point, I had no clear idea of what exactly I was going to do. I was simply absorbing with gusto. The plan had been to stay six months. In mid-year, I decided I couldn’t leave. I had been doing much lone traveling on the grand old British trains then still in general use, nights in the bungalows built for the British civil servants, or in station waiting-rooms. After one such night, with the addition of bedbugs, I wrote to my mother that I could not bear to leave. I stayed on for all of 15 months. From time to time I came back for rest and the feeling of belonging to the most-hospitable Nasik family; sometimes I wrote small pieces on this or that happening. I was learning the ropes of India. And I was very, very happy.
1954 In February, I returned via England to the States. Lived in sublets in New York, slowing planning a return to India, this time overland, on the surmise that if there were roads there must, or at least might be, busses. It seemed to me a most intriguing project. It was important not to hurry, to move unpredictably, certainly in a leisurely fashion, making detours; no deadlines. I’ve always liked the idea of travelling without reservations. No companion was found who had this amount of time say, three or four months and, furthermore, I felt quite capable of doing it alone. I hardly spoke of it to my mother, at first, but got down to reading books by earlier travellers to the Middle East, Persia, Afghanistan.
1955 My mother had turned eighty, and she had never been to New York. I suggested a visit and got a big, enthusiastic yes. We had been getting on much better since my India sojourn. She came in June. All prejudices dropped away: she loved teabags, the skyscrapers, finned cars in pastel colors. Among my friends, her favorite was a black film maker, with car, who drove her over the bridges and through the tunnels; a Chinese who made animated films; a Russian woman mad about black traditional dancers. The New England-types she liked less. All together, it was a happy visit. We returned to England first-class on a French liner (she would never fly), I being vegetarian all the way, as I had never dared tell her I now ate everything.
1956 January— mother less well. She was brought to my flat, as she refused to go to a hospital, as she distrusted conventional medicine. After two weeks she died of a blood clot. It seemed an easy death. By April, I was free to leave. I flew to Istanbul, and from there, one of the most wonderful journeys I ever made started, via Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and into the arms of the Nasik joint family. I was suitably tired, and perhaps more acceptable? Anyway, glad to stay still and start writing the book [probably GO WITH GOOD LUCK] on the trip. I did not realize at the time that I had had two releases my mother’s death, and the release from painting into travel. By seeing black and white darkroom work for the first time, a new passion had seized me: to be a photographer and do my own printing.

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