Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Feline Redemption of Louis Sullivan

Many a great artist has died in obscurity or, perhaps even worse, found a glorious peak early in life only to face horrific ruin in the final years of life.

Few have embodied this as dramatically and sadly as the great Louis Sullivan. In 1890 when, at the age of 34, he unveiled the Auditorium Building, he was introducing to the world the most tremendous man-made structure on earth up to that time. At 17-stories, it was the world's tallest building. At 110,000 tons, it was the heaviest building in the world and had over eight million cubic feet of space.

When Sullivan died on April 14, 1924, died penniless, his friends coming up with $600 for his funeral and the six months past rent due the Hotel Warner where he whiled away his final days in a small, pathetic room of no architectural distinction. Those who don't believe in a resurrection or an after life need only look at the sudden returning praise of his work after years of being out of fashion and his surviving buildings for which there is a tactile afterlife for his vision and imagination. There may not be a heaven where the dead may go, but Sullivan left behind bits of heaven for those living after he died.

The pathetic last days of his life belie the fact that he did not find ways out of the hell of his final quarter of a century. What is not widely known that cats watch over fallen artists and taken them out of their quandary both in life and afterward. Though suspicious of the international style, Sullivan was no fuddy duddy. He was particularly fond of the work of Jim Flora, who was ten years old when Sullivan died and did not come into his full stride until the 1940s. He had a reputation of drawing hepcats that were cute -- and deadly.

But some nights in the teens and twenties -- and even some nights today when the spirit of Sullivan is feeling blue and in search of inspiration -- the cats come to him and transport him into paintings and rooms filled with the work of Flora. This commercial modernist came to greatest note designing covers of RCA and Columbia record albums primarily after the Second World War, a conflict Sullivan did not have to live to endure.

Though he died at the dawn of the Jazz Age, Sullivan was no square to swing and cool, and many nights he can be found swinging with the cats in some room designed by Flora. The creative spirit may come to mold a tower or sculpture or play or "So What", but more often it is still swinging out there beyond the lifetime of the creator, sometimes capturing the imagination of someone today who has no idea of its source.

Just before he died, Sullivan felt compelled to write a third book, The Autobiography of an Idea in which Louis Sullivan writes of Louis Sullivan in the third person while the idea tells his story in the first person:

"That IDEA which had its mystical beginning in so small a thing as a child's heart, grew and nurtured itself upon that child's varied consistently continuing and metamorphosing experiences in time and place, as has been most solicitously laid bare to view in detail, in the course of this recital. For it needs a long, long time, and a rich soil of life-experience to enable a simple, single idea to grow to maturity and solid strength. A French prover has it that 'Time will not consecrate that in which it has been ignored,' while the deep insight of Whitman is set forth in the line, 'Nature neither hastens nor delays.'

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At 5:53 AM, Blogger willow said...

I saw your fabulous avatar over at Gary's blog this morning and had to pay you a visit. I was not surprised to find a fabulous blog, as well!

At 8:57 AM, Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

cute and deadly hepcats....wrapping my mind around that.

thanks for the introduction to the great louis ...tragic and sad tale to tell

At 8:58 AM, Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

ohhhh I love the link to flora's work....

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Willow - Thanks for dropping in and the kind words.

Mouse - I'm not sure who I love more -- Flora or Sullivan. Sullivan's sad final days are redeemed by his gorgeous work that lives on.


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