Archive for Lloyd Hamrol

Cinders and Silver

Posted in Crooked Mirror, Life and What about It with tags , , , on October 16, 2013 by Louise Steinman


“Cinders drifted over the heads of family and friends—- fire season in Southern California. The rabbi sang so ecstatically from the Song of Songs, some of the wedding guests wondered if he was on acid.” Those are the first lines of my new book, The Crooked Mirror, which I liberated from a manila envelope last week and held in my hands for the first time. It is new with possibility.

Those lines are a description of the day Lloyd and I got married at the Will Geer Theatricum in Topanga Canyon, exactly 25 years ago today, when Rabbi Singer blessed us with his ecstatic song; when all four of our parents were alive and smiling with pleasure. It was so frightfully hot that my mother remarked “there’s a baby parked under every bush.” My Russian cousin Maya was there, and her husband Grisha— both gone too soon. My niece Sarah had just been born; my nephew Matt turned 14 on that day. Tali and Yoni Pressman were our “ring bears,” emerging from Caliban’s cave, which remained on the stage from a performance of “The Tempest.” One of the chupah holders was David Redford, an elegant and talented young man, a casualty of the AIDS epidemic.

We were so happy that day, emerging from the woods together to meet our beaming rabbi. Lloyd so handsome in his brown fedora and white shirt, me shimmering in a silk dress the colors of fall leaves. And after the guests left, while the klezmers played on, Lloyd danced the kind of dance Greek men do, sunk low on their haunches and waving a handkerchief. My father peered through the hedges, saw his new son-in-law, his daughter’s second husband, dancing alone in the garden. This he reported to me proudly.

After the wedding, Lloyd and I drove up to Ojai, for a wedding night with scents of eucalyptus and oranges. And now I’m writing this from Ojai, a few quiet days to prepare author talks for a book tour.

Our marriage is now twenty-five years old, silver they call it. And we still find ourselves dancing around the kitchen together to the Stones, to Mose Allison, Radiohead, laughing and jostling hips. The Crooked Mirror is about to move out into the world on its own in a few weeks.… so let it be full of possibility, as is our marriage and each day of what remains of all our lives.

The Tears, the Falling of Bas Jan Ader

Posted in Art and Culture, Life and What about It, Performance with tags , , , , , , on December 16, 2011 by Louise Steinman

His name wafted through my consciousness long ago, but this was the first I’d encountered the work—actually the face—of the artist Bas Jan Ader. It is an anguished face, framed close on a b/w video monitor in a gallery at the Pomona College Museum of Art . The exhibition is part of “It Happened at Pomona: Art on the Edge of Los Angeles,” and also part of Pacific Standard Time, which looks at So Cal art 1945-1985. Bas Jan Ader taught at Claremont Graduate School in the early seventies; before he disappeared.

Bas Jan Ader is crying. A tear slides down his cheek, leaked from closed eyes. There is no sound. Over the artist’s lean handsome features wash dark private emotions. He makes no attempt to hide them, to hide from us. The title of this 1971 piece is succinct: “I’m Too Sad to Tell You.” His right hand troubles his brow, his lips part to gasp some air. Bared teeth threaten a grin but mutate into a grimace, then a sob. Another tear escapes from eye to cheek, lips, chin. There is a moving purity to his gesture, a moment in this 3 minutes, 34 seconds of tears without explanation.

I first heard about Bas Jan Ader from my husband Lloyd, who took over Ader’s classes in the art department at UC Irvine in the fall of 1975, when the artist failed to show up to teach several weeks into the quarter. It had been two months since Bas Jan had departed Cape Cod for Falmouth, England in a twelve and a half foot sail boat, an endeavor he called “In Search of the Miraculous.”

Though Bas Jan Ader’s boat washed up on the coast of Ireland six months later, it still took several years– according to one source– before it was finally accepted that his disappearance was not a work of art, not a prank, that Bas Jan Ader was in fact, gone. He was thirty-three when he vanished.

I started reading about Bas Jan Ader’s work that night in the thick Pomona College exhibition catalogue, and then on-line. I ordered a documentary about his life; it hasn’t arrived yet. I learned how he was fascinated by gravity, by falling. I learned that his parents were both ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church, that his father was executed by the Nazis in 1942 for harboring refugee Jews. Bas Jan was only two at the time.

Near Ader’s crying video, on the facing wall of the gallery was a large photo diptych featuring Bas Jan as sole performer. In one, he is standing alone in a wooded thicket, his body is dwarfed by the enormous pines. In the second, Bas Jan is barely visible, prostrate at the foot of those huge trees. What happened between the two images? Has he fallen? Did he simply lie down? Is this a call-out to his father’s execution?

On the artist’s posthumous website, you can see most of his small but influential oeuvre. Several pieces explore the artist’s relationship to gravity. Those were the days when artists like Chris Burden wanted to know what would happen if you shot yourself. Bas Jan wanted to know what happened when you fall, often from a great height.

In one video, he dangles from the branches of a tree, his long skinny body suspended in mid-air. He literally wriggles out onto a limb until the inevitable happens, his weight unsupported, he falls into a stream. Another piece, “Fall I,” is more dramatic, opening with Bas Jan seated in an armchair on the peaked roof of his house. He inclines the chair slightly, launching the fall… he rolls down the roof over the eaves and falls a good fifteen feet. In another video, he rides his bicycle right over the edge of an embankment into an Amsterdam canal. He didn’t emerge unscathed from these experiments, but they must have given him some knowledge he was seeking.

As a dancer and theater practitioner, gravity was a focus, a teacher. When I crashed into the stage set in my theater piece, “Lents Passage,” I thought of it as falling into another world.

I remember one night in the studio, I did a spectacular upside-down jump and my friend caught me just before my head hit the ground. I was so elated with this particular move, I tried it again, but neglected to signal my partner. He recalls seeing me jump onto my head, quite without notice. Fully expecting him to catch me, I never stiffened up before I struck the ground. The less you know you’re going to fall, I concluded, the more you know about falling.

There is terror in falling, especially as you get old. There is also hilarity in falling, witness Buster Keaton. There is beauty in falling, like the only time I fainted, on a winter morning in small town in Wales. I relished the exquisite slow spiral down to the cold concrete. Bas Jan knew he was going to fall off the roof of his house, off the tree limb, into the canal. He surrendered to gravity. The director of that documentary about him suggests that Bas Jan Ader’s strategy was to “use gravity as a temporary relief from the everyday world.” There is no virtuality in falling: the body hits the water, bone strikes ground, impact sends shock waves through vessels, muscles and nerves.

Falling is humbling. Crying is humbling. Falling is relief. Crying is relief.

Bas Jan Ader falls with intention and cries without shame.

A Gift

Posted in Crooked Mirror, Life and What about It with tags , on January 2, 2011 by Louise Steinman

My husband’s gift this holiday was an offer to read out loud to me the entire manuscript of “The Crooked Mirror.” He wanted to have an intimate relationship with the work, he said.  I balked. He insisted. About eight days ago, he began reading and I began listening.

It really has been a gift, as it becomes clear what doesn’t fit, what sentences can be shed.   It’s been an opportunity to wrangle with ideas about historical context… how much do you need to know? When do you need to know it? I can hear where the voice shifts, when images resonate and when they’re a burden to the narrative.

I’ve been touched by Lloyd’s gift to read my manuscript aloud. This morning, on my New Year’s day walk, I realized how his desire to connect with my book mirrors my desire to enter into a conversation with his artwork, his sculptures.

For many years Lloyd created large outdoor site works for parks, municipal buildings, a college for the deaf.


"Highground" by Lloyd Hamrol

Now  however, he’s primarily making sculpture on a different scale. Rather than building at epic size with mortared stone or concrete or steel– he’s evolved a daily studio practice using humble materials like paper or wool felt. He disappears into the studio, emerges with a new piece. We look at it, critique it, then he disappears with it again to destroy, re-make, or improve the original effort.

When I draw his pieces, I try to sense his gesture, how the medium conforms to his desires and sometimes, how he yields to the material’s flexibility or its intransigence. He wrestles with the stiff felt, he bends it, sews it, twists it. He also lets his materials surprise him, just as I am often surprised by words that want to be said.


"Basso" by Lloyd Hamrol

"Knotarosa" by Lloyd Hamrol


"Basso" drawing, LS

Only eight more chapters to go.

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