Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Pat Johnson Story

I first met Ron Hoover in the early eighties. I had already moved to the country and was trying to keep in touch with what was happening in Houston. So I had volunteered at KPFT during their fundraiser. It was early in the morning and I was sitting at a row of phones when in walks a homeless person. As he got closer I discovered he was a drunk, homeless person. Now that I look back I realize it was Larry Winters who introduced me to the drunk, homeless guy. He told me I should meet this guy, he was a painter. I’m thinking... yea, a house painter. It was Ron Hoover. He sat down, asked me what I did, told me he was just reviewed in Art News. Now I’m thinking not only is he a drunk, homeless person but also delusional. I went home to find the issue of Art News and low and behold he WAS written up. Thus began a long interest in Mr. Hoover’s work. I began to go to his shows and visit Graham Gallery.

We didn’t meet again until a couple of years later. I had been included in Introductions, was starting to hang out in Houston again and hooked up with a young artist named James Orellana. He lived next door to Hoover. What luck. Turned out the whole block was full of artists. Earl Staley owned about a half dozen houses. James Bettison was around the corner, Staley on the corner, James Orellana, Hoover and next door to him were Terry Andrews and Linn Swartz. David Folkman had come and gone. Derek Bosier had a studio in the middle of the block for a period of time. And Keith Hollingsworth ended up living on the next block down. Most everyone else had a day job or was in Hoover was always around when I was in town and he became my usual hangout. I learned a lot about his knowledge of paints, his amazing technique of making small drawings and enlarging them with mathematical precision and the skill to tell the perfect joke.

This is just a short list of Hoover’s resume. It includes 7 solo shows at Graham Gallery, the 38th Biennial Exhibition of American Painting at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., a solo exhibition at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Fresh Paint, Museum of Fine Arts, Fire!, Contemporary Arts Museum, curated by James Surls. Most recently he showed his corporate heads series or “Mr. WTO” at the Art Car Museum in 2000, Paintings and Drawings at Joan Wich and Co., 2002, Crimes and Corruptions, Arlington Museum of Art, 2004 and selected drawings from his Everything’s Included series at the Station Museum in 2005. The list of reviews is four pages long and there, not only is the review in Art News but Art in America, too. He has work in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Menil Collection, and The Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont. He is in the private collections of John Alexander, Patricia Johnson, Nancy Kienholz and Marilyn Oshman. James Harithas bought the first painting Ron ever sold.

At probably what would be called the height of his career he was showing with Bill Graham. Bill’s death was a blow to the Houston art scene but none were more affected by it than Ron Hoover. He lost a friend, gallery dealer, health care provider, banker, driver, grocery delivery boy and advocate. There was never anyone to take Graham’s place but others did see the brilliance of Hoover’s work, Sally Sprout, Joan Wich, Rodney Rogers and the Harithas at the Station Museum. Even as sick as Hoover must have been. He was still painting. Yellow pads everywhere with notes and comments about everything from starving babies in the Sudan, to greedy home builders in our own Houston suburbs, all to be used in future drawings. There are probably over 150 drawings he completed in the past few years. Densely drawn oil pastels and obsessively painted watercolors with acrylic. Titles like “Control Burn at Los Alamos” and “Dr. Aspirin”. I hope someone will see the importance of showing his last works.

When we were packing up Hoover’s studio it was like taking a walking art history tour of Houston.... Catalogs, photos of James Surls with a teenage Charmaine, invitations to MidTown, exhibits with Sharon Kopriva, Assistance league awards, postcards from places he had never been. Sketches on everything. Collages made from scraps of newspaper used to protect splatters from going everywhere when he was painting.....A beautifully rendered sketch of Carolyn Farb on the back of an envelope.

Hoover loved women. He didn’t love the abuse of women or the marketing of them and those were continuing images in his work. He didn't like some of the things women did and his painting of Carolyn Farb is near legend in Houston art history.... He loved his mother. Thought she was a saint. He loved his family, too. He made several trips back to east Texas to visit brothers and sisters but eventually his own bad habits and politics may have kept them apart. He liked to tell the story of the great adventure when he and his brother made the trip to Washington, D.C. for the Biennial. He often spoke of his sister, Kitty and her husband, Paul and had really appreciated their support. He was especially proud of the Boze radio they had given him as a gift.

The radio played a big part in his life. It was at sometimes the most contact he had with the outside world. KPFT was his station of choice and it fueled his fire for commentary on politics and social issues.

Objects and things were not something that Hoover wanted or needed, the Boze radio and his art books being his biggest treasures. By eliminating the need for things, clothing or deodorant, it not only saved Hoover money so he could live in absolute poverty, but it freed him up to devote himself and his time to the pursuit of art.

As he moved farther out west he became more isolated from the art community but a who’s who of friends continued to trek out west for a visit and very often a purchase of art. Friends like Roy Fridge, John Alexander, George Barnstone and Jim and Ann Harithas usually with a collector in tow. I came, too, when in town and I still owe Hoover $50 bucks on a painting.

In the end it was his friend Linn Swartz who stuck by him through late night drunken phone calls, political tirades, several moves, trips to the store and lately to the voting booth. Unfortunately for Linn because of her devotion to Hoover she was the one who found him, literally when he fell ill. But I know what she is going to remember are those wonderful afternoons, anytime of the year, to sit outside with Hoover, enjoy a smoke, rant about the art world, have a cold beer and tell a good joke.

The last few days when Hoover was in the hospital I tried to get to Houston to tell Hoover what he meant to me. I didn’t make it. Tonight everyone should tell a friend or loved one how they feel about them. Don’t wait. So Hoover...Thank you for being my friend.You made me a better person and helped me be a better artist.

by Pat Johnson, February 2009

No comments: