This is how I remember Alan Bermowitz (aka Alan Vega). We first met on the steps of Boylan Hall in Brooklyn College. He was in deep conversation with my friends Nicole, Evelyn and Mike. Mike was Italian and they were French. I came from Belgium ten years before with my father who had survived the horrors of WWII.
I was immediately smitten by the intensity of his presence, his good looks, his soulful eyes, the way he held his cigarette, and especially that radiating warmth that swept into me when we were introduced.
He had recently changed his major from astrophysics to art. It was in the Art Department that he met Kurt Seligman, the Swiss surrealist artist who left Europe to escape the upheaval of the Nazi regime. Seligman immediately recognized Alan’s talent and sensibilities, hovering over his development, considering him a prodigy.
Not having children of his own, Seligman was very protective of Alan, sharing his knowledge of not only art and artists he knew in Europe but also in his esoteric vision of existence. He invited him to his studio in upstate New York where they were able to spend hours discussing and unveiling all that Seligman knew and felt about art, music, mysticism and the occult.
Perhaps it was during those visits and discussions that Alan acquired his extensive awareness of surrealism, alternative music and movements that had captivated European artists, poets and musicians. When Seligman died in a tragic gun accident, Alan felt he had lost a father. But the ideas and influence of this great man were imbedded into his young prodigy who would take those ideas into another realm.
We were married and I became privy to a level of knowledge not readily available to someone who had just turned twenty- two. I came to know an intense yet mysterious young man who very early on was obsessed by man’s inhumanity to man. We had the Vietnam war to contend with and “times a changing” and Woodstock , all captivated by the mind and artistic soul of my husband.
He made me discover the works of Antonin Artaud, the creativity of Marcel Duchamp, and the eccentric 19th century writer Isidore Ducasse, known as Le Comte de Lautréamont.
We listened to music, sounds as diverse as Arnold Schoenberg, Varèse, Prokofiev, Nadia Boulanger, Bill Monroe, Waylon Jennings, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, and eventually Bob Dylan, the Stones and a cornucopia of sounds that established a time and a place. But what we agreed on was Elvis Presley who became the one who energized Alan in his musical quest for a sound he felt in his heart and soul.
He loved the art of the Renaissance, the colors, the subject matter and especially depictions of crucifixions, which eventually became a recurrent theme in his later drawings. The paintings of Rembrandt captivated him, not only the mastery of his renderings, but especially his connection with the every day life of people.
He loved Ghirlandaio’s “An Old Man and his Grandson” where he saw not the external appearance of the old man but his gentle expression and love. But the Isenheim altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald we saw on a trip to Colmar, France, had a definitive influence on his later work . It is “an unforgettable vision of hell on earth with distorted figures and other worldly landscape surrounding a horrific crucifixion scene. You can see a distorted Christ splayed at the cross, his hands writhing in agony”. It is an image that remains imbedded in one’s mind.
I saw it in Alan’s performances, out on stage, open to the demonic tendencies of the crowd. I understood him connecting with a kind of suffering expressed in those paintings of Christ on the cross or St. Sebastian, an early Christian martyr, displaying his wounds. I understood the music and the figure of the artist absorbing the negative stuff of those out there who came to be entertained by the wounding, the blood, the anger.
I later understood the breakthrough. How it all came together, the colors of the Renaissance disguised in his early sculpture installations; bright neon lights lying on the floor, in a sort of random arrangement of chaos, objects trailing the smell of dumpsters rotting in some forgotten railroad yards. Yet in his drawings, there always is a self-portrait somewhere in the work, perhaps the artist, perhaps Christ, onlookers to the unfolding of madness.
In retrospect I believe that when we married he was marrying my pain, my surviving the Holocaust, and the tragedy of WWII. On our trip to Europe he sought out places and people who would relate their ordeals. He then spent days recording his images in a series of black and white drawings he called Opus Anus.
Whatever he expressed with his art, I felt he was expressing for me too.
We divorced at the end of the sixties. My world crashed in. But I rose from the ashes, burnished and more complete knowing that I had shared a moment of eternity with a special being. Thank you Alan Bermowitz. You are among the elected ones.