Derek Walcott, 2012. Photo: Jorge Mejía Peralta.

DEREK WALCOTT WROTE, “ANSWERING DEATH, EACH WHISPERED, ‘ME?’” He died in March where he was born, in Saint Lucia.

A Nobel laureate, Walcott taught poetry at Boston University. Along with poets including Édouard Glissant, who died in 2011, Walcott bore the legacy of the previous Caribbean generation’s poetic icon, Aimé Césaire: Glissant, through a philosophy grounded in pastoral abstraction; Walcott, through a Shakespearian epicism that measured the region’s history with a “hymn’s metronome” (to use one of his own phrases).

Both writers were animated by the spirit of opacity—a term Glissant defined as the character of that which is irreducibly singular. For the Caribbean, this meant an existence in its own right despite, if never beyond, colonialism. Of that history, Walcott wrote:

I say to the ancestor who sold me, and to the ancestor who bought me, I have no father, I want no such father, although I can understand you, black ghost, white ghost, when you both whisper “history,” for if I attempt to forgive you both I am falling into your idea of history which justifies and explains and expiates, and it is not mine to forgive.

In a commemorative essay on Walcott this spring, the philosopher John E. Drabinski responded to the poet’s refusal of explanation and forgiveness as an affirmation of the Caribbean present’s singularity:

If we imagine life after to be the restoration of a whole, then we cannot but conclude . . . that the Caribbean—and the black Americas more broadly—is only broken, never whole. But . . . an orphan narrative is its own kind of story. It sees a world already made out of fragments.

In the light of these fragments, I have thought lately about a conversation I had with my friend the artist Andrew Ross, who observed in his own life the way that African and Caribbean blackness are elided in the American imaginary—a dynamic that contributes to undermining the possibility of an undivided belonging. It may be in the work of artists in the Americas—those, such as Ross, seeking their own claims to opacity—that Walcott’s orphan narratives of a whole in fragments are finding their next being.

This paradox moves dialectically through Walcott’s work, between singularly Caribbean images under the “benediction of a shark’s shadow” and the persistent grasp of black and white ghosts who reduce beings to their derivations: justifications, explanations, expiations. In his 2007 poem “The Sea Is History,” these figures meet, in one stanza placing the expiating “whisper ‘history’ ” into the mouths of creatures, and another giving voices to the land:

then came the synod of flies,
then came the secretarial heron,
then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote . . .

and in the salt chuckle of rocks
with their sea pools, there was the sound
like a rumour without any echo

of History, really beginning.

Abraham Adams is an artist and the founder of the gallery Time Farm.

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Portrait of Edit DeAk, 1981. Courtesy of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Collection of MOMA and MFA, Houston.

I FIRST MET EDIT DEAK IN 2000, in a place she lovingly dubbed the “salt mines.” The salt mines, to be exact, were the studios of Donald Baechler.

Baechler’s 1980s paintings were a massive influence on me, so after college, when I went to apprentice with him, I was already super excited—but imagine my surprise when this subterranean sphinx rolled out of the wings.

Edit was like a 1920s film starlet. Someone who could use the word darling perfectly. She had a wonderful Cleopatra haircut that was a deep, fiery maroon. She spoke in a “Hungerican” accent in an incredibly deep and brassy vocal range that could scrub the wax out of your ears. Her ideas would quake your mind and finish in laughter. She spoke in riddles, and you would be judged on your responses to her poetic concoctions. If you could play . . . your head was spared.

Words were her playground, her fireworks display. Slangwiches were what Edit served for dinner, lunch, and breakfast. A mixture of observation plus humor melted mundane words and yielded nicknames for all of us, and she renamed the world around us. I was “Fuzzy” not only because of the unruly beard but because I made nonsensical noises all the time. Baechler was, of course, called Maestro: the don of the salt mine’s denizens. She herself was Edito. An assistant who wore ripped shirts and was always on ladders—she called Tarzan. But the best act of naming came to her when she mistakenly opened another assistant’s mail, which contained a dainty slender ladle . . . that’s when James Franklin was quickly nicknamed “Princess Ladle.”

Edit really valued the hangout. She was a historian. She had seen styles come and go. Her job at the salt mines, other than being a muse and court poet, was librarian. Often, a line from a book or piece of ephemera in Donald’s massive collection could launch Edit into telling a story, but soon one story sprouted into two, and on and on, until a shrub of stories got all laced up, and in between our laughter, we’d discover it was time to head home.

Who (and what) were these stories about? Well, Donald Baechler, Rammellzee, Rene Ricard, Peter (her husband), her Wooster Street loft, Ingrid Sischy, Peter Schuyff, “Francisco Clemeta,”* her hairdresser, James Nares, Jack Smith, her favorite uncle from Hungary, “Uncle Mustache,” her Cadillac she couldn’t really drive, Alan Vega, Basquiat, Warhol, as well as Art-Rite, Artforum, Art Random, and Printed Matter, to name a few. 

At the salt mines, Edit’s relationship with Maestro was humorous bordering on the absurd. Well—hell! It was a Beckett play. Edit couldn’t hear and wore a hearing aid that was constantly falling apart and buzzing. Donald mumbles. Edit never heard mumbling, so Donald would have to repeat his previous sentence, sometimes twice, now screaming. Edit would scream back in her bass tone. Seeing Donald and Edit exchanging concepts in this manner was like watching a grammar-school band in slo-mo. Very soothing. Misunderstandings abounded—which was perfect for Edit’s poetic riffing skills: more meanings meant more stories. And what would an employee who couldn’t hear do? Answer the studio phones, of course, screaming loudly, “Hello! I am deaf!” And most of the time she would pronounce it “death” to get a second laugh.

I remember one particular story that made an impression on me was about her friend—the cutting-edge pioneer of Hip-hopisms—Rammellzee. A kindred spirit to Edit, no doubt, because of his own obsessions with language. In his paintings, sculpture, raps, and graffiti, intergalactic battles that stretched back through time and space took place against the standardization of alphabets forced on present society by fourteenth-century monks. Edit wrote a comprehensive article about Rammellzee’s wild style theories and practices in a May 1983 Artforum article, “Train as Book.”

To accompany his performances, Zee created elaborate shogun-style armored outfits made of repurposed hubcaps, children’s toys, and costume jewelry. Edit mentioned that one day he roller-skated into her apartment on Wooster Street wearing one of these outfits with a backpack full of fireworks launchers, and left seven years later.

I was lucky enough to hear Edit’s personal cassette recordings of her and Rammellzee talking about his work. These recordings gave me an entirely enriching view of Rammellzee’s art. You think Peter Halley’s semi-idiotic* texts are jam packed! Zee’s language was as theoretical as it was electrified by 1980s street culture, and armored to take no shit from anyone, anywhere. A funky backbeat lexicon logic that no one else could compete or keep up with—that is, other than Edit deAk.

The librarian knew that I was particularly hooked on the Rammellzee stories. So, one day, while salt-mining* she hit me with this cartoon. She and Rammell were in Italy. It was night, and they had broken into the Colosseum ruins. Oh my God! Zee was at high volume, seething with visions of history of the mighty gladiators who fought and died in this very arena; with his eyes full of tears, he pulled off his ring and whipped it into the center of the dark Colosseum.

“That’s how cool he is! That’s how possessed!” she told me.

In later years, I think it was truly difficult for this purest of punks to navigate the fact that many of the horses she had bet on had now become wealthy New York Institutions. Finding herself becoming frequently allergic to making public appearances, she would stay home and watch La Femme Nikita on TV, or a PBS special on seals. It’s a difficult question: How does a rock star/punk/anarchist keep their edge? Or city for that matter, in the face of money? That’s why I feel deeply lucky to have been a part of the Workfarce* at Donald Baechler’s studio, when I was to meet this amazing figure who chronicled her magical, wild exploits of a New York long gone and whitewashed. Her wildness outlived literally everyone’s. 

That was what drove the psychology behind her regular, over-the-top statement, “I have wanted to die for years.”

Well, you finally got your wish, and I return to you. May the farce* be with you, always, Edito!

[Asterisks signify Edit-isms]

Brian Belott is a Brooklyn-based artist whose new theater-based performance piece will appear this fall in Performa.

Liliane Tomasko and Oisin Scully with Michael O. Kewenig in Salzburg in the summer of 2016. Photo: Sean Scully.

HE WAS/IS THE PERFECT PARAGON OF THE IRREPLACEABLE SOUL. Immensely tender, and brightly endowed with an aristocratic sense of relaxed and kind, considerate, loving, allowing entitlement. A man who loved his artists, unconditionally. A perfect Prince, who never considered himself better: better than you, better than me, better than them, or better than she. A perfect Prince.

Sean Scully is a US–based painter and printmaker.

Barkley L. Hendricks, Self-Portrait with Black Hat, 1980/ 2013, digital C-print, 27 3/4 x 18 3/4". Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS changed the course of my life when I cold-called him at his home in New London, Connecticut, in March of 2000. At that time, I was curating my first exhibition, a summer show called “The Magic City” at the New York gallery where I worked, Brent Sikkema (now Sikkema Jenkins & Co.). Barkley’s paintings had been on my mind since I encountered them in books during graduate school in the mid 1990s, so I reached out to a curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem and asked if she would pass along his contact information. She did, with the caveat that I promise not to tell him where I got his number; Barkley had a reputation for being kind of prickly. I assured her that her secret was safe and gave him a call. What I found on the other end of the line was a warm, inquisitive, funny, and generous person. We spoke for over two hours—about his work, music, Nigeria, and the Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. At the end of the conversation Barkley invited me to visit him and his wife, Susan, at their home. I took the train out the next weekend.

Over the next seventeen years, Barkley and I worked together on a number of exhibitions and projects, and along the way we developed a close friendship. In 2002, he painted an iconic portrait of Fela for the exhibition I was curating, “Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.” At that time, Barkley was working in photography, landscape painting, and mixed media, and had not painted a large oil portrait in nineteen years. I also had not yet secured the New Museum of Contemporary Art as the show’s opening venue in 2003, but Barkley dove into his new portrait of Fela just the same. It is hard to describe the magnitude of that gesture. He was inspired by Fela, to be sure, but it was also a tremendous leap of faith. A few years later, I worked with Barkley to organize his painting retrospective “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool,” which opened at the Nasher Museum in 2008 and traveled across the country. Barkley’s work from that exhibition appeared on the cover of Artforum’s April 2009 issue, which also included an incisive review by Huey Copeland that brought broader and long-deserved attention to his painting. Most recently, Barkley and I were working on assembling a selection of portraits for the forthcoming edition of Prospect New Orleans, “Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp,” this fall. It will be a significant presentation of twelve of his portraits from 1970 to 2016 that were not part of “Birth of the Cool.” Long ensconced in private collections, the majority of these works have rarely, if ever, been shown in a public venue; now, together, they will serve as a tribute of sorts to the late artist. But if his portraits are iconic images that inescapably foreground his influence on so many artists to come, it is less known that Barkley was equally dedicated to photography, amassing an extensive archive—film, slides, prints, and digital images—that has yet to be properly explored. The Nasher Museum has three of his photographs in its collection, but those images are only the very tip of the iceberg. So much more has yet to be discovered and shared with the world.

Barkley was a pioneering spirit who defiantly went against the grain and remained true to himself at all times. His unrelenting dedication to his vision and style has deeply inspired younger generations, and he has left behind a powerful legacy. He thankfully didn’t care much about other people’s opinions, and he didn’t suffer fools—but he was also a thoughtful teacher, a keen observer of life, and a loyal and generous friend with a great sense of humor. I am forever grateful for his friendship. That I will miss the most.

Trevor Schoonmaker is chief curator and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

Glenn O’Brien, 2010. Photo: Peter Ross

(after Joe Brainard)

1. I REMEMBER THE SWIGGERS, a group of heavy drinkers and bons vivants, who, before the Millennium, met frequently in Bridgehampton to drink one another under the table. Everyone had a pseudonym: Johnny Walker, Lady Chablis, Dee Bauch, Madame Glugg, Dutch Courage, Teeny Martini, Lord and Lady Hangover. Glenn’s nom-d’ivrogne was Haut Brion, and he could hold his wine. Many’s the time he carried me senseless from the summer lawn to a place of safety.

2. I remember how frequently we discussed our ardent, intellectual, yet terribly visceral lust for Patsy Southgate, both in her youth and in her “mature” phase. I’m certain that one reason Glenn bought that exquisite little Mike Goldberg abstraction (unrecognized at a benefit auction) was to move a few degrees closer to her. We even collaborated on a poetic salutation:

Patsy’s face comes drifting up from 1959
I stroke her cheeks and kiss her mouth
before she absconds with Mike,
dazzling in his new Lagonda,
and loud bespoke check suit,
saluting me as he rolls by,
her head already buried in his lap.

4. I remember around 1990, Glenn’s then wife, the fabulous Barbara Egan, created two life-size Greek-caryatid-style sculptures of Glenn and herself, and how difficult it was to ignore Glenn’s massy wedding tackle when confronted by these two imposing statues flanking the couch. Based on this evidence, it may indeed have been Glenn’s ample package inflating those tighty-whities for Warhol’s genius cover of Sticky Fingers. A rumor Glenn did nothing to discourage.

5. I remember thinking Glenn had too many Basquiats.

6. I remember how, at dinner parties, Glenn’s eyelids would flutter rapidly right before he delivered the perfectly crafted mot juste.

7. I remember Glenn gifting me a pair of Timberlands in perfect condition, and only finding out he had used them to research an article about artificially increasing your height when I cracked my head on the lintel of his kitchen door as I was leaving.

8. I remember how we frequently checked the crowns of each others’ heads, like monkeys checking for lice, looking for that telltale crop circle, that hairless patch signaling the advent of Male Pattern Baldness, a curse that some men find more daunting than ED (whatever that is).

9. I remember my surprise while on a Swiggers’ holiday in Jamaica, when Glenn emerged in the morning wearing tube sox with Adidas slippers. I imagined it was some advanced hip-hop styling, even though it looked more like Eric Goode channeling David Attenborough.

10. I remember driving back at night from Chris Blackwell’s estate in Jamaica because Suzanne X. was too high to drive. I followed Glenn in the lead vehicle, passing a cow engulfed in flames and other nocturnal roadside attractions, when suddenly, not one, but two tires blew out. Glenn was furious at Suzanne for being furious at me for wounding her car. But he was very cool in the dark, even sharing a spliff with the two Rastas who had materialized from the woods like ghosts, offering to “help.” We used the spares from both rentals and made it safely back to Goldeneye.

11. I remember Glenn commanding me to “go at once, and stand not on the order of your going” (paraphrasing the Scottish play, always so erudite, even in an emergency) to retrieve the Richard Prince painting I had rented out for a pittance (with option to buy) to an abnormally shrewd collector, in order to pay that month’s rent. I got it back and reluctantly listened to Glenn’s highly sensible lecture on how to succeed in the art world by at least trying a little bit.

12. I remember Glenn and myself dressing up in authentic priestly garments supplied by the photographer Sante d’Orazio for his series on artists as priests, and wandering along Prince and Mott knowing those Italian ladies who kept asking for our blessing might have crucified us had they realized we were two pagans in ecclesiastical drag.

Glenn O’Brien and Max Blagg, date unknown. Photo: Sante d’Orazio

13. I remember editing Bald Ego with Glenn, when he was eating a lot of Vicodin on account of his Irish teeth, and I was tragically becalmed by Meprobamate™, prescribed by a misguided shrink—the horrid pharmaceuticals made for some interesting editorial collisions, Glenn’s high merging with my low to produce a sublime third “thing.”

14. I remember opening the first issue of Bald Ego and turning to Sante’s steamy photos of Pammy Anderson, and the exhilaration both editors felt at having produced the first lit/art mag with an actual wankable centerfold.

15. I remember chasing the dragon a few times with Glenn, and how harmless it seemed, languidly conversing with the shades of Cocteau and Coleridge.

16. I remember being so jealous that Glenn was doing a book about sex with Madonna and allegedly test-driving certain chapters with her for “research.”

17. I remember walking hung over into Glenn’s house on Narrow Lane one morning in high summer and the stereo was playing Bob Dylan’s new album (Time out of Mind) really loud and there was a pitcher of Bloody Marys and a pile of fresh croissants on the kitchen table and four kinds of homemade jam and Glenn was typing away and quoting himself out loud as he wrote, and life at that moment seemed as full as we were full of our self-regarding selves.

18. I remember when I heard, on a Friday morning last spring, that Glenn had moved on to the next level. I took down Robert Graves’s White Goddess (a mutual favorite) from the bookshelf, lit a white candle, and read aloud the soaring, roaring eleventh-century poem “Battle of the Trees” to Glenn’s hovering spirit. All our petty squabbles and resentments just melted away, and there was nothing left between us but love and art and poetry.

Max Blagg is a New York–based poet, artist, and author whose most recent book, Slow Dazzle (2017) documents his collaborations with artists including Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, and Richard Prince.

Högna Sigurđardóttir Anspach, 2009. Photo: Arnór Kári

“I AM NOT LIGHT, I am heavy” were the illuminating words of the Icelandic architect Högna Sigurđardóttir Anspach, whose petite and fragile figure only emphasized her bold and uncompromising character, which was manifest in the raw, in situ cast-concrete architecture that she created. When I first met Högna in person, I had the idea of doing an exhibition on her work at the Reykjavík Art Museum for her eightieth birthday, and to my surprise, next to no written research or documentation existed on her houses. I soon realized that for my research I would need to gain her trust so that she would allow me access to the thoughts, drawings, and pioneering efforts that she had materialized for her buildings, which were limited in number but of unusually high quality and insight.

Högna was born into the small and tight-knit community of a fishing village in the volcanic island cluster of Vestmannaeyjar, just off the southern coast of Iceland, and she took the leap from the black and barren landscapes to the sophisticated culture of Europe to study architecture in the renowned École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She established her practice in France but managed to design a small handful of unique single-family houses in Iceland, mainly constructed between 1960 and 1970. The Bakkaflöt house (1965–68), which has been praised as one of the hundred most remarkable buildings of the twentieth century in World Architecture: a Critical Mosaic, is a fine example of Högna’s approach, where landscape, form, and space are merged into an enveloping whole, with reference to ancient Icelandic building heritage as well as to contemporary use of concrete and other Brutalist features of modernism. Bakkaflöt is situated on a small plot in the dormant municipality of Garđabćr, and the form of the house is almost dissolved: It is thrust into a manmade grass-covered hill with only the brimmed edge of its flat roof rendered visible. The interior layout revolves around a central living room with a massive fireplace beneath a skylight, which provides the seemingly closed building with generous light inside. The organic molding of the space is both horizontal—as the sleeping rooms, reading nooks, and other intimate spaces sprout from the center with floor-to-ceiling gliding doors—and vertical, as the levels of the floors and ceilings are deliberately raised or lowered to define smaller rooms within the open space. Materials are restricted to untreated raw concrete, elegantly crafted hardwood, and a bit of leather, with most of the furniture (sofas, benches, tables, bathtubs, and even the beds) cast in concrete, making them part of a coherent whole with the visible main structure of the house. This provides the dwelling’s inhabitants with an overwhelming spatial and textural experience, best described as embracing, comfortable, and warm, like an animal must feel in its shelter.

Even though the stark form and careful shaping of space seem like natural fits for a harsh, unruly environment of rough wind and varied light conditions, it is not until recently that Högna’s architecture has gained the attention that it deserves, rightfully welcomed into today’s discourse as a site-specific, poetic way of building, with precious consideration for people’s well-being.

With gratitude to a genuine architect departed.

Guja Dögg Hauksdóttir is an architect and writer based in Reykjavík, Iceland.