Friday, August 31, 2012

Caryl shares: The Unsolitary Life of An Artist

To some, Rose Burlingham’s first life might seem idyllic . A native of New Jersey and the oldest of six children, she moved to New York City in her 20s looking for a Patti Smith kind of life. A painter and creative free spirit, she eventually married into a distinguished family and had two children—a girl followed by a boy. The family lived in a lower Manhattan loft where contemporary artists Elizabeth Murray and Richard Serra were her neighbors, Even then, she had an aching sense of displacement. “As an artist, I wasn’t happy being alone in my studio. I always thought I should be doing something else,” she recalled recently.

Fast forward to her second life and the new millennium where there are no storybook lives nor storyboarded paths--except those of our own making. There are journals, of course, to chart our progress, and Rose has kept multitudinous notes from her girlhood on. As Joan Didion conceded in the title of her collected non-fiction: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” As an adult, Rose still keeps diaries of her life stories written in longhand in blue or green lined Apita notebooks. She has had much to make sense of, including the stormy conclusion to her marriage and the departure of her two children—the girl, now a photographer in Berlin, and the boy, a college sophomore in Pittsburgh, who both moved away in the same month.

In the past decade, Rose has moved four times in pursuit of a new home and a less expensive rent. Presently, she lives in upper, upper Manhattan, a mostly Dominican neighborhood where her favorite artists Velaquez and Goya are hidden away in the sometimes-overlooked Hispanic Society museum nearby.

There have been internal changes as well. Rose still paints—the sea monsters of the ‘80s gave way to mermaids in the 90s and lately they have surrendered to moody abstracts and water-colored or pencil sketched ladies. (See slideshow below) She has begun redirecting her creativity to new outlets. “I’d say I am a writer now with a small art gallery,” she says of her second life. The writing is part memoir, part family history. You can read excerpt here. The working title is: “Almost a Tiffany”. She hopes to publish the 
manuscript next year.

Her small gallery is an outgrowth of her experience, first as an artist, then as a director of a gallery in New York's meatpacking district. A few years ago, she began showing artists she knew and admired in the tiny living room of a post-marriage apartment dowtown. The intimate setting felt more like a salon than a commercial venture with Rose as its charming proprietress. At one of those shows, she met Joyce Hanly, who collects an artist Rose shows. Joyce offered her the bottom floor of her Harlem Jazz and Gospel Getaway, a unique bed and breakfast in her landmarked town house. (That’s another second life story but you will have to wait for that one.) The Pink Room, named for its wall color, was born—and Rose’s patrons followed her uptown. The Pink Room hosts eight to nine shows a year with artists Rose has discovered in her travels to Barcelona, Paris, and Berlin as well as American talent. She’s content with her new vocation: “There is satisfaction doing for other people what you can’t do for yourself.”

She has more than an eye for art, she also has an eye for fashion, though her look now leans towards Jackie Kennedy Onassis rather than Patti Smith. When she was painting in the 80s, she’d take breaks to rummage in bin stores for vintage finds and other items that she sold to flea market vendors. Some she kept for herself including items from bold face designers as like Pauline Trigere , YSL, Halston and Gaultier. She even found a Cartier tank watch at a fly-by-night barber shop on Fulton Street. These days she likes to mix pieces from Belgium designer Martin Margiela and New York-based, Chilean-born Maria Cornejo with J. Crew and Agnes B. staples. The one item she always wears—even if she is at home by herself—is perfume. Eau D’Hadrian from Annick Goutal is her signature accessory. 
Rose has composed a second life that if not picture-perfect is satisfying and fulfilling. When asked its most important ingredients, she answered without hesitation: work well-done, friends, children. Like all of us, she is not without regret. She would have liked to have kept her family together. “I don’t like to eat alone,” she says. 

1 comment:

  1. is this whole blog am glad I discovered you from a femme d'un certain age.... fabulous!!