As it turns out, this is old news, but I just found out today.
I attended a lecture by Spero when I was in grad school. And that memory led to another, when I met David Ireland.
It was my first semester of grad school. A couple well-known artists were in town for lectures, Ireland one of them, and had agreed to do studio visits with MFA candidates. There was a sign-up sheet.
At the time I was working the evening shift, full time as a security guard for Helene Curtis, and by the time I made it to my studio on campus, the list was already full for both artists. I was disappointed, yet noticed that another student had signed up for both artists, and sought her out. Would she give up her spot with Ireland?
This woman and I got along fairly well, or so I thought. It must have been the way I asked, subtly patronizing (too subtle for me), for when I did, she let me have it with both barrels. However, a little while later she relinquished the 1/2-hour slot. It was an important 30 minutes.
I had a cursory knowledge of Ireland’s work at the time. Most artists knew of his ‘dumballs,” soft lumps of concrete that he tossed from hand-to-hand until they hardened into spheres. He had a famous house as well, perhaps the largest of “found object” art pieces. I am certain I knew less about him than other students whom had the advantage of a longer time as art students.
David came to my studio. He was a tall man, lanky. We small-talked a bit and then went to look at what I had produced.
Several teachers had looked at my work in the previous months, and, between them and I, we had a hard time conversing about what it was in front of us. I was frustrated, sure of what I was making, but unfamiliar with the artspeak necessary to convey my ideas. Ireland took one look at the pieces and said, “I think they are very literary.” I had no idea what he meant, and I was too unsure of myself to ask. I thought perhaps someone had clued him into my background and, not knowing what to say, he responded with something he thought I might want to hear. Although I have thought about the encounter many times, I still don’t know. Yet, I do know that what he said, he most surely meant.
Some time after that visit, I had an occasion to write Mr. Ireland. I don’t remember exactly why, yet I imagine I was looking for advice on how to navigate the art world. He wrote me a nice letter, and rubber-stamped on the letter was “Nothing Sincere Without This Stamp.” Just an example of his wit that I would come to appreciate as time wore on.
Three years passed. I was working for an art fair on a part time basis and received a phone call at work. It was David Ireland. He was in town because he was exhibiting at The Arts Club of Chicago and wanted me to help him with the installation. I was honored, and grateful to my current employer for giving me time off. The image on the left in this article shows one of the pieces I helped construct.
Another piece in that show was a bit more involved, yet equally simple. Two cords of oak firewood were delivered to the gallery. There were a couple of us assistants and our task was to brand the initials D.I. into one end of each log. The logs were then stacked between two pillars in the gallery. The piece was called “Ego,” (3/4 of the way through the article) which makes sense in the typical roundabout way of D.I. Why would a person feels the need to brand their initials in their firewood? Exactly.
David and I spent a lot of time together during that week of installation. We ate together and I showed him around town. As it turned out, he enjoyed a scotch as much as I did, and we hit some of my haunts. He met DW when she was still DGF. We kept in touch for a while after that (1997?), for after the exhibit above was over, I was the proud owner of twenty or so logs from “Ego,” and I had a plan.
My son and I were due to go on a fishing/camping trip with my brother and a couple of his daughters. We brought along all but three logs. We walked into the woods with four of the logs and lashed them about five feet up onto a small tree and left them for posterity. The others we used in that evening’s fire, placing them one at a time while recording in a notebook how they were placed and how each one burned until we had used all of them. We then sent our “log” to David. He was touched, and offered to send the pages back to us, and we declined; the log was his.
That was the last time I heard from David. I wrote him one more time after moving to Oregon. He had kin in Washington and we wanted him to know he was welcome to stop by anytime. We heard nothing back. When he had an exhibit at Jack Shaiman Gallery in NYC a few years back, we sent a fax to the gallery to congratulate him. Shortly after that, I heard that he was ill and had to move from his house. It did not occur to me that I might find further details on the web.
So, today, when I read the news, I did a little search, and it wasn’t too long before I began to understand how he had touched the lives of others.