William "Rubak" Vitarelli
I met Rubak in 1975. His remarkable family home on five lush acres in Haiku which first attracted me to him. He invited me to join his regular Wednesday night dinners. Sitting at his handmade table with his family and friends, we enjoyed wonderful meals made from freshly picked food from his organic garden. After-dinner discussions were spirited and often capped off with a game of Pictionary or Scrabble. Rubak was an educator, architect, artist, gardener, Quaker, and pacifist. One of my favorite qualities was his complete acceptance of people. He loved everyone and never spoke ill of anyone. His attitude was relentlessly positive. Every full moon and new moon we gathered to drink coffee and pontificate to whomever joined these gatherings. Often coffee was followed by a stop at Border's bookstore to peruse the latest literary magazines. Rubak made it a point to perpetuate joy. His life motto was "love and no bullshit."
In 1963 I created the Bottega Gallery in Minneapolis. One of the first shows was an exhibition of Ready Made Art. Although I had assumed Marcel Duchamp was dead, when I discovered he was alive and living in New York, I found his address and invited him to participate in this event. What a surprise it was to receive his response telling me he would enter his own art in the show! Coincidentally, he was coming that to the Walker Art Center for the opening of an exhibition of his work that fall, and he would call me when he arrived. When I received his call, I drove my 1951 Daimler to the hotel to pick him up, and proudly escorted Duchamp and his wife, Tenny, to my Bottega Gallery. We spent the day together. He was curious about the show, inquiring if anything sold, and then noticed a stack of my own erotic collages. He went through them commenting that "there sure were a lot of cunts." Then he told me my pieces were the freshest art work he had seen in years and asked if he could have one for himself and one to send to his pal, Max Ernst. He said they reminded him of Max's early work. Marcel invited me to visit him in New York.
I met Goddard when Katharine and I, and my brother Stephen, were selling my art at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. He was the most elegant, urbane, witty, and best dressed person there. He bought a large colection of my erotic body painted post cards and wide neck ties. When he gave us his card we realized he was the president of Columbia Records. We started a friendship that lasted for years. He recommended books and sent us huge stacks of L.P. records. When he came to the west coast to visit Igor Stravinski, he would also come to Venice to play with us. Whenever I had an art exhibition he would call me from his office at CBS in New York and have me send him my favorite piece. Goddard was a giant in the field of music and culture; recording artists from Stravinski to Janis Joplin. He represented an international culture that was both refined and accepting of a crazy hippy like me on the beach in Venice, California.
I am fortunate in having a friend like W.S. Merwin. I appreciate his fine writing and the way he has created a life for himself. His home with its 18 acre palm forest is near where I live on Maui. I love his use of language and the surreal unpredictability of his poetry. His eclectic background in travel, education, and Buddhism add to his appeal for me. Our talks always inspire me and I incorporate his encouragement into my art. William recently encouraged the New York Times to hire me to photograph him when they announced his appointment as Poet Laureate. The New York Times ran two of my photos in their paper and two more photos on their website. Because of this job, the Library of Congress has requested more of my photos of W.S. Merwin. I am currently writing about my father and carefully reading all my dreams at W.S. Merwin's suggestion. I consider myself lucky to have a mentor like W.S. Merwin.
Basil and I first met in the 1960's in Minneapolis when he visited and photographed me in my Bottega Art Gallery. We corresponded from that day on, no matter where in the world we happened to be. Our letters become a postal art form that we called male/mail art. Basil always encouraged me to make art, to love people, to be non-judgmental and to be forgiving. Whenever I struggled with a problem, was depressed, or just a little down, his letters would help me through it. They would give me new ways to look at things. Whenever I had a success or had completed an art project, I would look forward to sharing it with Basil. I could always count on a splendid return letter, usually accompanied by a collage. Receiving letters from Basil was like having a correspondence with the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Man Ray and Duchamp all rolled into one. Basil was a great mentor, friend, brother, and spiritual guide. His humor, compassion, and pacifism inspired me. He was a gentleman, a lover, an actor, an artist, and a scholar. I am grateful for my years of friendship. No one has had a more profound impact on my life. I will always see the world through eyes influenced by Basil.
I first met Hockney when he came for the London New Scene exhibit at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in the 1960's. He had peroxide bleached, blonde hair and a gold lame suit. Later, I saw him at Stuart Photo in Santa Monica where we both had our photographs printed. In 1986 I donned a fez hat and a fake mustache and flew to San Francisco to crash a party at the Opera when I heard he was dressing in 18th century French clothes. I shot a set of photos at the party which he eventually wanted to buy from me. I'm inspired by Hockney's portraits, his exploration of photography, his theories on optics in painting, his colorful lifestyle and his sense of fashion. I decided to trade him my photos of him in 18th century clothes for a special cover for my Main Magazine. The piece he created became an original four color work that he created on a copy machine which allowed us to produce 16,000 original four color prints
My older brother was first mentor and a splendid example of how to live an artful life. When Don was a student at St. Olaf College in Northfield Minnesota, Eleanor Roosevelt came to give a talk and visit the campus. The administration decided to show her an example of the dorm rooms. Don's room was chosen because of his excellent talent for design and decoration. He developed a successful career as an Interior Designer and home stager, and went on to become famous for his display work in the wall covering industry. Always sartorially impeccable, Don was a combination of Noel Coward and Fred Astaire. Donald taught me about laughter and the art of giving entertaining dinner parties.
My first creative job was as a display man for Dayton's Department Store in Minneapolis. I was 19 years old and just married. Joe was my boss. His office was white. He had a huge bird cage in the shape of the Taj Mahal on his desk, containing a large black talking crow. Salt and pepper hair framed his thick glasses, which accentuated his piercing eyes. Always well-dressed like a European man, he even painted in his suit and tie. Joe's taste was very diverse. He brought in artists from New York like Tommy + Gigi Roland, as well as Europeans, to assist with Christmas windows and other store promotions. My first project was to help with a promotion that turned the entire main floor into a quaint French village. Through Joe I learned about style, color, and fashion, and worked with my first mannequin.
Diplomatic Representing the USA in Morocco, Rome, Berlin, Paris, Geneva; Former VP of John Cabot International College, and director of Aspen Institute in Rome
American Express Departures Magazine calls him "The chic of Marrakech" and refers to him as "devastatingly good looking." 90 years of age and spry and bright as a man half his age, 'Frecky' inspires me. A dinner with him and his fiancee, Sandra, in Rome led to and invitation to his 8 bedroom home in Marrakech Morocco in late 2016. We traveled with his brother Tim and spent two delightful weeks with the Vreeland brothers.
Architect, painter, writer, meditator, quaker
Tim is a great example of what I want to be at 92 (he can often be found at Apple's genius bar learning new techniques for his blog.) He has spent time in prison (Volunteering counseling tough prisoners on how to live non violent lives. He worked for Louis Kahn for 5 years, he also was the head of the department of architecture at UCLA. He is a dedicated painter, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of art. He's the perfect traveling companion and an ideal museum tour guide (the Prado.)
How can it be? A mentor younger than me. But it's true. Tao Ruspoli is one of my mentors and a huge inspiration to me. Artist, photographer, filmmaker, flamenco guitarist, Tao is amazing! He understands media and uses it deftly. Photoshop, final cut pro, lightroom, instagram, and a score of other programs and apps are all tools he uses daily. Son of an Italian prince, Dado Ruspoli, he is a world traveler, continually involved with splendid projects making beautiful art.
Meeting Michael Hernandez was a very inspirational event in my life. I was 25 years old, I had just moved to Venice, and Michael lived next door. He was a valet at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica and taking real estate classes at night. His father was Frank Hernandez, a real estate broker. Michael would do power walks on the beach every morning and listen to motivational tapes. I told him I saw an old house for sale (a probate sale) while doing my rounds as a fuller brush salesman, and he offered to help me buy it. Subsequently, I managed to buy my first house for $16,000. The terms: $1,600 down and $160 per month. Later, he helped my partner Webster and I buy a great commercial building on what is now Abbott Kinney boulevard for $40,000. with Michael's encouragement I have had a lifetime of wonderful success in real estate all based on the power of positive thinking.