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A quiet catalyst

Jim Harithas came in the early 70s. He came in and said, “No—you guys are good, too. You guys are doing quality work here. There’s great work being done and you should step up to the plate and do it.” He was a tremendous catalyst. Particularly for myself, and then Surls and John Alexander. He made sure people saw the work and was always there hanging out with us and supportive. He was a great man. Whatever his faults were, God bless him, he did it.

He was such a great influence on all the arts in Houston, and he had his friends coming in. He’d bring in Norman Bluhm and younger artists. I was never a member of his posse; I was standoffish, too aloof for that. But these were great influences that he brought in.


Bob Camblin and I were sharing a studio together off of Montrose near Richmond. We had a studio together, then Joe Tate [my replacement at Rice] showed up and he had a part of the studio. Then we rented a big place down the street from St. Thomas on Sul Ross, and we took it over as a collaborative studio. We were hanging out there and conversing and talking constantly. We taught ourselves. Camblin actually taught me how to paint. He taught me the rules by watching him, and he and Joe and I worked together on projects and ideas and shows at St. Thomas, and whatever happened there.

Of course, our marriages broke up within a few years and I had to leave that group for survival. So I moved out into my own studio—I rented the bottom floor of a building and eventually in the next couple of years while I was getting a divorce I had the whole building. It was there I began to do my myths, my story-making, about my life. I said to myself I wasn’t going to do art anymore, I was simply going to tell stories in the most dramatic or outrageous way. Then I started just letting it go on canvas, and I had a lot of anguish to deal with at that time that all came out on these very large canvases.

A woman [from the Whitney Museum] named Heidi Solomon showed up in Houston and somehow she had heard about me either through Fredericka Hunter or Jim Harithas. She came to the studio and saw the works I was doing, then she took the word back to the Whitney. That’s when the Whitney chose me to be in the 1974 Biennial. I remember the day I heard about it…it was very exciting and I had nobody to tell. I had lost my wife and I had left Camblin and Tate, and I couldn’t tell them. I was just like, “I’m in the Whitney. Whoa.” Now, the Whitney is a career-maker. It wasn’t the big deal then that it is now. I know the Whitney showed up at my door about the year I was getting a divorce, the lowest period. Harithas showed up. All of this showed up.

Rice Art Department, 1955. Left to right: Sandy Haven, David Parsons, Katherine Brown, John O'Neill, Early Staley, and James H. Chillman, Jr. Courtesy of The Menil Collection.

Advice to the next generation

If you have to do [art], if you absolutely have to do it—do it. But my idea is that you shouldn’t get involved in it because you will only be discouraged constantly. I’ve been teaching more or less 40 years. I did have a ten-year span of time when I wasn’t teaching full-time, but I’ve been back at it now for 15 years at a community college. For anybody who is an art major, 99.9% will not go on past school, either undergraduate or graduate school, because you can’t make a living at it. I say artists should be discouraged at all costs because the consequences are that you will end up at 50 [without]anything to fall back on. Of all the students I have had, I only know of four or five or six that are still practicing artists.

I was told to be a success in this you have to be very good, but you also have to be very lucky and very crafty. You have to know how to work the crowd. You have to go out and hustle your work. So if you’re not a good hustler, if you’re not a people person [who can] sell what you do, it’s not going to happen. But if there’s a spark in you that demands that you pick up a brush, if that’s you, stay in it. Do it. I do this to amuse myself. If it doesn’t amuse me, I ain’t going to do it. I’ll amuse myself so long with this, and then I’ll do something else.

I remember when I was in graduate school in Arkansas I was up there in my studio, painting away, and I knew there were four or five other graduate students, but they weren’t in there with me painting. So about the second week of school I walked over and there they were, in the faculty lounge having coffee. They were hanging out. What am I doing? I’m painting pictures. Crazy. I’m so tickled to death to be here just to be able to paint a picture…and they were over there having coffee.

So I never did like to schmooze or hang out. I’d rather be in the studio painting because that’s who I am. Consequently, here I am.

Earl Staley was interviewed on October 6, 2006. You can listen to the interview here .

Questions & Answers

Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
sciencedirect big data base
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Houston reflections: art in the city, 1950s, 60s and 70s. OpenStax CNX. May 06, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10526/1.2
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