On the 22nd of May I went to the Memorial service of Rene Ricard-poet, artist, actor, art critic, humorist, philosopher and agent provocateur.
The event took place in a beautiful synagogue on Eldridge Street in Chinatown. All the luminaries of the art world from the eighties were in attendance and twenty-five friends talked about their memories of him. An era died this evening. Everyone felt it.
At Sixteen, Rene had left forever a truly horrendous childhood in Boston. Like a radar he quickly found his real family in New York City. He hanged out with Andy, Lou, Gerard, Viva, Nico, spending his nights at Max’s Kansas City. “Rene! Rene!” called out the waitresses and the customers who loved his antics and sharp hilarious remarks and wanted more…He waved, smiled with a rose in his hand, like a diva responding to his adoring fans. In spite of his François Villon approach to life (hating conventional ways of subsistence), he somehow, along the years, stayed alive and well, until cancer knocked at his door.
Rene knew me enough to ring my bell at a late hour and spend the night in my place after having raided my refrigerator and my wallet. I didn’t mind. I liked him. I understood his soul. I admired his luminous intelligence his sharp wit and, frankly, his terrific courage. I felt inadequate next to him, but, we had the same taste when it came to art.
Any chance encounter with Rene turned into a story to tell. His home had burnt, a friend stole some of his art, he wasn’t speaking with the Mardens anymore, Jacqueline (Schnabel) had gone to the Hamptons without telling him…a constant drama knitted his days and nights adorned with the sugar and the vinegar of a thousand personalities. He could be demanding, irreverent, angry, hilarious, ferocious, or simply charming and adorable. He had the uncanny talent of jostling your attention and making you rethink who you were on the spot, you could not hide. He was tough. It didn’t matter if you had to reach out for sword and shield in order to stand your ground because he was the true prince of complicated and essential feelings, both hot and cold.
And Rene never left you empty handed, a word, a thought which mattered, lingered in your memory after his disappearance (he had the ability to come and go like a wizard, so ephemeral he was difficult to pin down).
A few days after he died, I was looking for a work on paper done by a dear friend and shuffling through a forgotten portfolio I found a print signed by Rene. He had dedicated it to me with very sweet words. I was moved.
Recently, I read an article about the island of Hydra in a special issue of the NY Times. The journalist who wrote the article described Rene getting off the boat on a visit to the island. “A small explosive fellow tumbled down the gangplank and dragged us into a waterfront cafe…”
It was the last boat of the evening and dark outside, obviously, because there was nothing small about Rene Ricard.