Update, July 31, 2010: Mystery solved! Contributor Sara Jones found an article in the June/July issue of Art in America about the Italian artist at whose exhibition I met Alice Neel. His name is Piero Gilardi.
From Joey Skaggs, editor, July 9, 2010:
An Alice Neel retrospective has been organized by White Chapel Gallery in Houston and is currently traveling in Europe. Neel (1900-1984) was a portrait painter. A portrait she painted of me in the mid 60s was recently exhibited at La Louver Gallery in Venice, CA. Peter Frank reviewed the show in Huffington Post on July 7, 2010.
Seeing the portrait again brought back memories of meeting her. It was one of those incredible encounters.
I was having an exhibition of my abstract landscape paintings in mid-town New York and decided to walk up and down 57th street visiting other galleries. I ended up in a gallery whose name I can’t recall featuring an Italian sculptor whose name I also don’t remember. The artist carved elaborate environments from giant rolls of foam and air brushed them to look realistic. They were rolls of artificial reality. One was a giant landscape hanging from the wall and draping onto the floor, simulating a creek bed. There was also a watermelon patch and a tomato garden. I found myself standing next to a little old lady (I being in my twenties and she being in her sixties, she was a little old lady to me). We both were staring at the creek and then looked at each other. She said “Why don’t we take off our shoes and walk on it. I wonder what it feels like.” She kicked off her shoes, I pulled off my cowboy boots and we stood on it together, squishing the foam under our toes. She said “I could just see them rolling this out over Vietnam.” I said, “Yeah, covering the dead bodies.” She said, “What do you do, my dear?” I said, “I’m an artist. As a matter of fact, I’m having an exhibition of my work right now just a few blocks away.” She said, “I’m an artist too! Let’s go see your work.” And we did.
She said she’d like me to pose for her, that she’d like to do a really big painting, 6 feet tall, full figure. I agreed and she asked me to pick up the stretchers and the canvas. She never reimbursed me, but I figured, okay, she’s a little old lady… And that began my friendship with Alice Neel. Although I’ve seen pictures, I haven’t seen the actual painting for decades. Somewhere along the line, not sure if by her or someone else, my last name Skaggs was spelled with a “c” instead of a “k”.
For fun I thought I’d pose with my twenty-something self…