Memories of time spent with Doug are flooding back now. I don’t recall exactly when our friendship started—back in the 70’s somewhere I guess—but by the early 80’s it was well along when we discovered that even though our studios were thousands of miles apart we seemed to be tapping into what was in the air at the time and coming up with identical thoughts, discoveries, realizations and coincidental elements in our work. We shared a lot of common ground so naturally decided to try and do something about it.
Douglas Haynes "Good Times" 1980
Douglas Haynes "Good Times" 1980 - a trade
1981 was a special year. Doug arrived in Toronto with his show for Gallery One rolled up, 25 or so pictures which we stretched and framed in one big push. Carpentry skills were so so but we managed and the paintings looked great. Goldie and Sharon came by with a magnum of champagne for the unveiling but somehow when we popped the cork it erupted onto the ceiling then rained back down all over us. We decided it was an act of nature giving us an auspicious sign which we toasted with the few drops left in the bottle. One particularly soggy picture earned the immediate title, “Champagne Rain” and Goldie bought it right there on the spot.
Douglas Haynes, "Champagne Rain", 1981
Douglas Haynes, "Champagne Rain", 1981
After our chores were done we headed out to break in my new little Mazda by driving down to Washington to see the big Gottlieb show at the National Gallery. We stopped for a very pleasant visit with Darryl and Susan in Syracuse where we saw some first rate paintings and were served an enormous breakfast of devilled eggs. I seem to recall Darryl performing an in-depth analysis on the two of us using Numerology I think.
The Gottlieb show puzzled us. There were two late paintings in particular that knocked us out; one of them called “Bullet”. But we couldn’t understand what had taken him so long to arrive at his late style since there were clear precursors all the way back in the 30’s. The burst element seemed to exist fully formed even back then and reappeared in work right along through the years. So we talked about it a fair bit as we continued our drive on up to NYC.
When we hit the city we had trouble finding a hotel. Instead of phoning ahead and booking a place like normal people we just drove from one flea-bag hotel to another, double parking, running in to inquire, running back out to move on and try again. When our luck finally panned out and we went to park in the lot next door the attendant, a great big guy with eyes wide and staring, asked us if everything was ok. Apparently our parking and darting inside routine, now perfected, led him to believe we were a couple of undercover cops. I don’t think we said much to clarify so had the benefit of a kick ass street image for a few days, at least in one person’s eyes. We couldn't decide what to call ourselves though. Starsky and Hutch didn't feel right. We were more like two skinny Roy Scheider’s from French Connection.
At some point we bumped into Ken Moffett and right away told him what we were wondering about Gottlieb’s late awakening. He knew we were going to stop by Clem’s place in Norwich on the way back to Toronto so said we should definitely ask him as he would have a unique take on it. So on we drove talking about everything under the sun and coming back to the puzzle again and again, wondering what Clem might have to say. And we had some theories.
So when we finally saw Clem we came out with it right away. I remember clearly my surprise when he said, “Oh, that guy could be a real bonehead.” This was not the art critical response we expected. He went on to say something about when Gottlieb and Rothko got together “…you never heard a worse couple of pants pressers.” It took us a beat or two. I remember looking at Doug and seeing he had a big smile already. Yes, this was something we could relate to. Now you have to remember that Clem used Gottlieb’s work as a measure of how well people could see painting. He rated his work at the top. Gottlieb and Rothko were giants and here Clem was making two wandering journeymen relate to them in a very human way. We had already discussed at length some of the dumb moves we each had a habit of making. “Bone-head” fit us like matching gloves. Or idiot mittens. And as if to drive it home, in the same conversation Clem gave me a rough straightening out over my misuse of “assume” when I should have said “presume.” Bone-head exhibit A. Doug told me later he loved it.
It was a great visit with Clem, many stories, but the upshot was that we returned home with two new identities, Bonehead West and Bonehead East (BHW/ BHE) which is how we referred to each other officially ever after.
When we got back to the studio we spent the next six weeks painting side by side. We were like two climbers taking turns each hauling the other one up. We tried jam painting and other experiments. We sat up late and talked, drank a little, ate at local cafes. (We looked for places with cabs outside and had a rating system for how well the cooks could orchestrate a complex order.) Soon he began to refer to my place as the Bobby Sands Hotel in honour of the Irish Republican hunger strike that was in the news at the time. So we ate out as much as possible. He thought my staple bag of day old donuts especially worth telling people about. My argument that the Red Cross passed them out at disaster sites for their high nutritional value didn't seem to sway him much.
We even tried painting one the other’s painting. That ended in true Bonehead fashion for as familiar as we were with each other’s work after such an intense period of collaboration we both found it impossible to paint anything even remotely worth looking at. It really did amaze us, the impossibility. Finally we decided the only positive thing we could say was that the worst painting of each ever painted had been painted by somebody else.
Douglas Haynes, "P.T's Choice", 1981
Harold Feist, "Whistler's Sonata" 1981
Painted side by side - click on the image to see full size
We ended that Summer with our two sons joining us. Geoff and Ben seemed to hit it off right away, discovering within an hour that dried paint could be peeled off the containers and sailed like wobbly frisbees out the window into the parking lot--a kind of proof that our bonehead genes had already been passed down both male lines. We organized a kite day for all the kids. It turned out there was no wind to fly them with but the kites looked great and it was the perfect way to end our visit.
So now those days are long ago. Some of the memories are hazy. But these that I've shared must have been important to both of us because we seemed to remind each other of them fairly often. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that our collaboratiion was primarily on visual ground that BHW/BHE summed up in our greetings. Whatever we had said to each other back then was mainly shoulder to shoulder looking at what we were making. The conversation was attached to a focus. BHW/BHE was short-hand for the effort we shared and stood for the inadequacies we felt in the face of the heights others had achieved who worked within the tradition. Our elders.
In the last few days since Doug's passing there have been moving tributes to Doug by those who were lucky enough to have had him touch their life and by many who had studied with him and looked up to him. But he was held in similar esteem by those he looked up to himself. I just found a letter from Clem in which he remarked, "...and I'd sure like to see more of Doug Haynes." I think we all felt that way.
I miss you terribly, BHW. There won't be another like you.
BHE, Toronto, February 2016
By permission of the author.