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A letter from Richard
When Henry Villierme told me that he was leaving the Bay Area for Southern California – to take a job in a bank? – I was stunned and desperately disappointed. Of all the painting students at the California College of Arts and Crafts who might have abandoned his direction, Henry was one whose defection could hit me the hardest.
In the studio it was always a pleasure to confront him and his painting. He was a hard and intense worker. He was anxious for words from me and I would usually come up with some nonsense, which I would interrupt by saying “Look Henry – just keep painting.” But he usually had some questions and you could feel their extreme need for answers. There were never evasions, apologies or excuses as with some students.
I enjoyed my critiques with Henry. His work was always wet and difficult to handle, would have been through hell but would not be tortured. It would be rich and very solid and just faintly bruised and slightly bloodied – ineffaceable evidence of a desperate fight. Henry would respond. “What fight?”
Beyond this Henry’s painting had, and still has, instinctual understanding of that universal human activity in which colors are applied to the surface. Henry’s capacity to bring a work to a final state of open, nonintrospective resolution is impressive. There is no one whom I would feel better about describing as “a real painter”.
Anyone who can bring to realization a canvas on a hilltop in a high wind as I once observed is to be profoundly respected.
This last sentence in Diebenkorn’s letter was written in regard to a painting session that he and Henry shared in the Oakland hills. During this session, Diebenkorn painted Freeway and Aqueduct (oil on canvas 23 ¼ x 28”, 1957), and Henry painted The Aqueduct (oil on canvas 56 ½ x 56 ½”, 1957, also referred to in the past as Spillway). This was the only time the two artists ever painted together on location.
A letter from Henry
Henry reflected upon his painting session with Diebenkorn in an April 28, 2005 letter:
How fortunate I was to attend California College of Arts and Crafts at that time the school had much energy, good teachers including Harry Krell and Richard Diebenkorn. David Park and Elmer Bischoff taught nearby.
Diebenkorn’s paintings, especially the abstract impressionistic works drew me to take his class. This was the painter I would wish to follow. I appreciate and understand the importance spent on the learning of the basics to bring about a finished work. At some point Diebenkorn saw I was spending too much time on the basics. “Henry”, he said. “Open up the doors and start painting”.
The day came when Richard asked me to go landscape painting. What a complement. On this outing I was at a loss for words but soon Richard put me to ease and I had the most memorable time. It was then I painted The Aqueduct. Happy to have that time with Richard.
The Aqueduct | oil on canvas | 56 ½ x 56 ½”, 1957 | Private Collection
© 2010 Henry Villierme