Friday, August 10, 2012

Robert Hughes

I worked with Robert Hughes in the mid 1960s on several stories for The Telegraph Magazine in London. We became friends. He used to come to dinner, or in the summer, lunch in the garden, always carrying an armful of good Italian wine. He dressed at that time in Cossack style silk shirts from Turnbull and Asser, either in white or purple. 

He had not begun to write about art then, but accepted assignments of general interest from The Telegraph and other publications. We went together to Guernsey in The Channel Isles to feature a couple recently retired from British colonial life, and rather than coming home they had plumped for a tax haven. Bob took up the opening paragraph in the piece describing how we had been shown into the boot room and been kept waiting there for 20 minutes. 

Later, when he was snapped up by Time Magazine to be their art critic, the world became riveted by his prose. And his guts. Who dared to say what they felt about Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquiat, unless it was praise? Only Bob Hughes.

I saw him once again in London, by chance, at Langan's, the brasserie owned by Michael Langan and Michael Caine. Bob was eating alone and I wondered why. He probably chose to, I thought, as he had recently arrived from New York to fulfill some obligation for the BBC the next day and then return to New York.

Then in the late 1970s I went to New York for a job and rang Bob. "Take the N and the R train to Prince and walk four blocks west to West Broadway. My loft is on the north east corner of Prince and West Broadway, top floor." I got out at Prince and climbed the stairs to the street and saw that I was on Broadway and got in a muddle, both with the name Broadway and not being sure which was east and west. I called Bob from the pay phone. He told me to face the setting sun. "Give me two minutes and you will see me standing, waving on my street corner." I waited and there his was, waving, almost the only person on the street. Can you imagine today, thirty five years later, being able to single out a person waving at you from five blocks away, as you stood on Broadway and Prince at seven in the evening?

The south window of his loft looked slap at the Twin Towers. Bob had done most of the work himself including the plumbing. The claw feet bathtub stood alone at the end of the main room. "I may keep it like that."

We walked to Mulberry Street in Little Italy to a slit of a place where we were seated at once and waited on with attention. "Is this a Mafia place?" I asked?

"Oh, yes", Bob replied.

I have missed Bob for twenty-five years because our paths did not cross much when I came to live in the United States—chance meetings in the street or at Dean and Deluca where we would have a coffee together. I always came away chuckling at something he had said. And there was and always will be his writing.   
My favourite clip from Bob's multitude of TV appearances is his part in the documentary about R. Crumb.

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