While at the dump I met Henri Marie-Rose, who worked as the studio manager, making sure the tools were maintained and that the space was kept relatively clean. I had been warned that Henri tended to talk-a lot, and if I asked him to stop he would. At first I was annoyed, wanting to focus on my work, then I began to listen to what it was he was saying. As he spoke I realized that this 84-year-old man had led an amazingly rich life that had intersected with many significant historic events and people.
After fighting in Africa for France in World War II he moved to Paris to study sculpture. There he befriended Matisse and grew to despise Picasso “yes, he was a genius but he was also a bastard.” His stories of Picasso from that era were some of his most entertaining and definitely have tainted my already tarnished image of Picasso.
In the fifties he married a San Francisco native and moved to the Bay Area, where he became involved with the beatnik scene, reciting poems, playing bongos at the Hungry Eye and fraternizing with Ginsberg, Kerouac and Ferlinghetti. Around this time he began to teach at the San Francisco Institute of Art, instructing many renown Bay Area artists.
I would frequently take Henri out to lunch and start throwing out names and if he didn’t know them personally he usually had some obscure story about them.
Duchamp, “I didn’t know him, but I did meet him at a party, very nice man.”
Josephine Baker, “Oh yes, I saw her perform, she was very beautiful.”
Often he would begin to weep as he told his stories as he became overwrought with emotion, particularly when speaking of the war or his childhood in Martinique. He was truly one of the most amazing people I have ever met and I, like many, was devastated when he died.
During my time at the residency I frequently proposed projects to collaborate on to Henri, but either he or the director of the program felt it wouldn’t be appropriate. Then I got the idea of having him read love letters, which sadly, often found their way to the dump. Among Henri’s many talents is acting and he agreed to perform in front of the camera. Using letters found by my studio mate I scripted a story from the cards and letters of one couple over the course of their twenty-five year relationship, a relationship fraught with cheating, breakups and some very passionate reconciliation. My wife and I spent two days filming Henri leaving us with several hours of footage, which we have been struggling to edit together for many years.
At the end of the shoot Henri asked if we knew the work of Pablo Neruda. Not being a poetry person I said no, and he began to recite the poem The Queen by Neruda. We kept the camera rolling and recorded his beautiful recitation.