In 1985, Lee Krasner, the wife of Jackson Pollock, passed away, and in her will she asked that the home she and Jackson had shared for all those years be preserved as some kind of study center, or a center for the kind of abstract expressionist painting she and Jackson had done there.
The house was located in Springs, only a couple blocks from my house. It was a fairly common house, with a wraparound porch and a backyard that overlooked a beautiful view of a big harbor. The East Hampton town supervisor at the time, Judy Hope, asked me to chair a committee to see if the town could arrange to buy the property and make it into some kind of study center. I took it.
I had been publishing Dan’s Papers by that time for about 25 years, and Judy knew that I knew some of the local artists. Anyway, I guess she thought this would be a good job for me. I had met Lee Krasner, and a couple years before I had talked to her about her life with Jackson and the house itself. The interior had been kept up to almost exactly the way it had been since the mid-1940s, when they had moved in and his great paintings were done in the studio out back.
So I decided we would hold meetings in this historic house around this big dining room table, and I invited many people from the art world and interviewed them and asked what they thought we should do. I also invited farmers and fishermen and merchants and other people in the community to give their ideas.
I presented a report to Judy after six months of this. I was very struck by not only the enthusiasm of the art community but the jealousies that I didn’t know about, and all kinds of interesting things that had come up. In the end, the bankers who were handling the estate of Lee Krasner chose to have Stony Brook University take over the study house at the home on Springs Fireplace Road. I went to the party that was held there when they bought the place and spoke with the people who were going to be running it instead of us.
Turns out they wanted to do just about exactly the same thing that we had come to the conclusion to do, which was to celebrate the abstract expressionist movement and the many painters who would come to live in Springs beginning around 1945.
That defeat had stuck in my mind. I’d thought everything I had done had been for nothing. But it had gotten me much more intimate contact with the art community as it was at that time, with some of the old abstract expressionists who had become quite famous—some still working, others not, while some of them had passed away—and new artists who would come in, hoping to match what had been done before and take things in a new direction.
One day in 1987 I was having dinner at the home of Johanna Vanderbeek, the widow of a great filmmaker who lived in the area, and around the table were a bunch of the artists and their husbands or wives. It was a raucous evening with lots of wine, and it occurred to me at that moment, being the publisher of Dan’s Papers, that I should be doing something. I should help this art community in any way that I could, and one way I thought to do it would be to have beautiful covers of Dan’s Papers—which up until that time had just newsprint articles on the front page—that were painted by these artists, so I could showcase their work. And I wanted to do it every week. At that point, we were publishing 50 issues a year. Every week we could have a new painter, or some of them would repeat. It was obvious to me.
I brought it up to the people sitting around the table at that dinner, and a number of them said it was a good idea, but a couple of them also said you can’t do this, you’re going to have to pay these people, they’re not just going to allow you to put their paintings up on a cover. I said, you know what, I think you’re wrong. I think that they will be happy to be showcased on the cover, they’ll lend us their paintings for this effort.
I decided at that point that the first artist I was going to approach was Elaine de Kooning. By that time she had become a fine painter in her own right, and although I had not met her husband, Willem de Kooning, I knew her because she and I had met on the beach in Sagaponack during the Kite Fly that Dan’s Papers ran once every year. We had four judges at the kite fly, going around and giving out awards. They did their job well, went out with clipboards on the beach and chose the highest-flying and the 22 other categories.
One year all had the name of Dan, but this particular year they all had the name Elaine. It was Elaine Benson, who had an art gallery, and Elaine Steinbeck, who was the widow of John Steinbeck, and Elaine Danhouser and Elaine de Kooning. I came to know her, and I called her up and said, ‘If I’m going to do this, I wanted to ask if you would be the first one on my cover,’ and she invited me over to her studio so we could pick out something.
Elaine de Kooning’s studio in 1987 was in a condominium, which I thought was very strange. She was at that time living separately from her husband—she had a stormy marriage with him, and sometimes they were together, sometimes not—and Willem was still up in a studio in Springs, while Elaine had this studio at this place called Good Friend Park, which was a series of condominiums on the turnpike leading to Sag Harbor. She suggested this painting she was doing.
Her more recent works involved doing her version of cave paintings from 10,000 years ago that were found in France and had become well known. She felt these were very mystical, and they certainly were, and this painting—which as you see was very moody and almost angelic in some strange animalistic way—was the first of the covers I did for anyone.