li88y with David Marcus
We met the typewriter before we met the man. Even before we knew the poems, we knew the typewriter. A slick, pastel blue and white, portable thing that weighed a ton and fit in its own special case. It was the prize possession of our friend Chris Kelley, because it had once belonged to Rene Ricard. He kept it on top of his mini fridge, next to his phone. The fridge was buffed and sanded like a David Smith, and stuffed with 40 oz. Buds. The phone rang constantly. Chris would talk to anyone, but usually talked about one person, and that person was Rene Ricard.
Rene was a giant figure in our minds, a poet, a painter, a dilettante, a Warholian super hero in the grandest and most degraded sense (to us those were the same thing). We met Rene at art openings and parties, and he seemed to us to be simultaneously the dirty old man and the belle of the ball, complete with scarf, dismissive stare, and the occasional missing shoe. He was big, and Chris was enamored of him. That they shared the same air was like a miracle to Chris, until suddenly it wasn’t, until they were friends.
The last time we saw Rene was a million years ago, at Chris’ funeral in Philadelphia in 1999. The scene was of general devastation in Chris’ mom’s backyard, where all us NYC art kids had invaded, and smoked, and cried. Rene was a great comfort to a bunch of kids who were basically in shock. We’d lost our friend, our comrade, our brother. We’d lost a great mind, and a the great future that mind promised. Chris was 25 when he died tragically, and Rene, who’d had the experience of the tragic deaths of friends, knew how badly we suffered.
Dave and I heard yesterday that Rene Ricard has died. Now they are both gone, but their words are not. Shortly after Chris’ death, Rene contacted us because he was working on the afterward for Chris’ last book, The Gellert Suite, with painter Donald Baechler. We were all so grateful for Rene’s efforts to ensure Chris’ work had a place in art history.
“Chris formulated a personal criteria for painting that he called ‘sloppy art,’ a complete turn-about from his original Greenbergianism, and the beginning of Chris Kelley as a writer who would establish with original concepts his own generation’s relation to painting.”
–Rene Ricard, The Gellert Suite, Studio D’Arte Raffaelli, Trento, Italy, 1999
After Chris’ funeral, we told Rene the story of the typewriter, and he wanted it back. We asked Chris’ parents if they had it, but they’d thrown it out, thinking it was just a piece of junk, which is, of course, what it looked like. His dad offered to get us a new one, a better one, a self-correcting one, but we declined. Rene was never reunited with his typewriter, but the work he produced on it, and his presence, for decades, in the downtown scene, deeply touched everyone who came in contact with him or his legacy. This is just one story about Rene Ricard, there are many.