Miriam told me over lunch one day that her works are inspired by “illness and depression, anxiety and political victimization”. Yet she firmly and quietly says that she has the soul of a poet. Her peaceful home allowed her to concentrate on history of an horrific nature. She had few external tensions in Upper Montclair. Her green house was on a tree lined street with big homes–from the early part of the last century. Bushes with swarming gnats surround the front porch much of the spring. Her spacious kitchen is from the 1970s with avocado green cupboards that remind me of my bedroom in high school. Her home is well worn with stains of oil paint throughout, leading you up the two flights to her painting studio. A bedroom upstairs is reserved for her collages and installations.
I love Miriam’s big questions about history. Her love of color and surface speaks of beauty, intangible and fleeting yet also very physical. Beauty as powerful as her subject of horrific death in the Holocaust. She is surrounded by her large canvases, propped against walls, covering the fireplace mantel of the living room, jamming the entrance to her kitchen. Her imagery of suffering is incongruous to her idyllic and quiet surroundings. Miriam’s portrayed victims are also Miriam herself. Yet I have never been able to see the comic in anguish or the mythological in Miriam’s imagery. I do see the demonic of our wars and the existential grotesque, rooted in the tragedy of human frailty. She has coalesced morality with the sensuous and hedonistic school of Ab Ex. Her works scream and shout. A political and anxious consciousness is present.
I thought I’d continue to tell you about Miriam Beerman and myself. Once, I received a package of Miriam’s slides and reviews in the mail from Miriam’s son, Bill Jaffe. He asked for my commentary on the package. I was surprised to see that the slides were so unorganized and were not even in chronological order. I called Miriam immediately and offered to organize her slides for her in return for one of her artist books. During the weeks of organization, Miriam confided to me that she has never organized her slides and has never kept a slide of each painting in a master notebook as I do. I found her lack of organization to be astounding. I found it relaxing to make stacks of identical slides pulling from an array of slide sheets taken from her table piled high with partially filled slide sheets; boxes of slides, some empty and some never even opened, and loose slides scattered all around her big home, so different from my small apartment in Jersey City. It was peaceful to take a day off weekly and use my mind differently.
During these several weeks of organization, Miriam and I discussed our philosophies about painting and what we were struggling with that week. Being childless, I believe that art provides profound spiritual and psychological nourishment in as important a way as family. Yet we did not only speak of visual philosophy. I also discussed my insecurities about my place in the art world causing Miriam to giggle, something I had never heard her do in the 20 odd years I had known her and I was glad that my own dilemmas about wearing black and looking like a New Yorker provided her with some relief from her own preoccupation with evil.
My paintings are metaphors for biological states and organic impulses and the abutting fabric panels are metaphors for culture and society. My paintings are autobiographical. The sometimes crass, sometimes beautiful juxtapositions are rooted in my daily life of area streets and peoples. Thank you, Soutine, for listening.