Friday, July 03, 2020


Change of date for the hip op (hip hop). It will now be on 31st of July instead of the 24th. I don't mind the delay at all. More time to creatively procrastinate and get more eyebags to carry ideas in.

What's good for eliminating eyebags apart from teabag compresses or digital trickery? And did you know that age makes your nose grow?

Saturday, June 27, 2020


Our Mato Grosso séjour was never intended to be a long-term commitment. The plan was to stay just long enough to supervise the arrival of equipment and crew essential to my father’s ambitious project and, in doing so, earn enough to finance the start of our new life in San Antonio, Paraguay,

It didn’t take long for reality, including predatory insects, to demonstrate with blinding clarity that neither Reg or I were cut out for such a venture and, in the extremely unlikely prospect that the project would actually materialise, it would demand many years, a huge work force and non-stop injections of cash. By letter and by phone we pointed out the disappointing facts to my father and he agreed that we’d be better off pursuing our Paraguay dream. I say “our” but it was really MY dream, based on vague memories of a carefree childhood in the wild plus a vague desire to escape the dictates of ‘civiization’, a vague desire shared by Reg.

I’ve written in detail about the Paraguay episode (1958 to 1962) online which you may already have seen starting hereFor now, I’ll just add some more photos.

Arroyo Guazu. Ink on paper. NdA, San Antonio, Paraguay.

This was the fast-flowing creek which separated the Quinta Recalde (renamed Quinta San Gabriel) our home, from the village of San Antonio. It was also where the village women did their laundry while their kids played. When it rained the creek became a roaring torrent and was impossible to cross.
Cattle Market, San Antonio. NdA. Acrylic.
Collection Museu del Barro, Asunciòn.

A British meat processing company was the major industry in the small village of San Antonio.

The Grandmother (Abuela). NdA. San Antonio, Paraguay.
Exhibited in the Sao Paulo Biennale 1961.

Collection Museo del Barro, Asunciòn.
Village Bus (Camion de Pasajeros), NdA, San Antonio Paraguay. Acrylic. Exhibited in the Saö Paulo Biennale 1961
Collection Museo del Barro, Asunciòn.

No, people didn't travel naked on the local bus but the crush of bodies, the heat and the down-to-earth atmosphere was what I wanted to get across.

Sabado en Calle Palma. NdA 1962.
(left with Galeria Boheme in Asuncion in 1962, Never returned, never seen again).

Thursday, June 25, 2020


Well, I've been given a date for the hip replacement op: 24 July. Sooner than expected but let's get it over with. The hospital tells me I must self-isolate for 14 days beforehand - not difficult since I hardly see anybody in any case. Kind neighbours will do my food shopping. May the benevolent Force be with us all! I've been lurching around like a (sober) drunken sailor so it's time to straighten me out.

Thursday, June 18, 2020


Statues of historical figures? Let them all be put into a Real History Museum where they can continue to stand or sit on their bronze horses. thrones or whatever and their factual, unvarnished histories will be told in detail with pictures and documents and film. Then everybody, including schoolchildren, will learn who they were, what they did and why they became statues.

This would make sense. Because, let's face it, who apart from pigeons and dogs ever pays attention to these monuments? How many passers by ever give them a second thought or know who they were, unless they're the big household names?

Monday, June 15, 2020


We’re now in 1958. I’ve married Reg Dixon, we’ve left his Vancouver home and I’m staying at my parents’ house in Putney, Vermont, waiting for him to return from Brazil. He’s inspecting the place where we will be headed next and I’m packing all my worldly possessions to travel thousands of miles to a strip of land shaved from the wild rainforest, the Mato Grosso.

A phone call from Reg: his return flight has landed at Miami airport but there is a problem. Passport control is not letting him enter the United States. WHAT?? When shock/horror subsides I find out that my laid-back potter husband is considered to be a danger to the Land of the Free (this is the McCarthy era). How was this verdict arrived at? They have information that many years ago Dixon was a union organiser in a tiny Canadian fishing village - well, obviously, he must be a Commie, right? Our plans are wrecked. We were due to sail trom New York to Brazil, now we must find an alternative. Reg gets on a flight to Montreal and I take a train to meet him there. We talk and talk and decide that if we travel back to Vermont together by train there’s a chance he can get through because passport control at the border may not be so demented.

It’s the middle of the night when the train arrives at the Canada/U.S. border. It feels like we are in a spy movie but our anxiety is real, as if innocence is itself a crime. The inspectors are unsmiling and hurried. They examine our passports (mine is American, Reg’s Canadian) and declare that I can travel on but Mr. Dixon must get off the train right now. I refuse to continue the journey without him so we are both escorted off the train.There are no trains back to Montreal at that hour so we’re taken to the local jail and invited to spend the night in a cell (unlocked). I can’t remember what the cell looked like or if we were given breakfast in the morning. A night not to remember.

Best forgotten too the long, frustrating days spent in a Montreal hotel, organising, then waiting for all our belongings to be shipped from Vancouver and Vermont to Montreal, then to Brazil. By the time we arrive in Mato Grosso, we are doubting the wisdom of this venture.

Assuming you clicked on the link I gave in the previous installment of these autobio fragments, you will have read my account of that insect-populated episode.
Posing in Putney, 1957
String-drawn portrait of Reg. NdA 1958 
Lunch in Putney, Vermont with my parents, my little brother and Reg. 1957
Reg and my father on the beach in Rio de Janeiro, 1960.
Mato Grosso family. Watercolour. NdA 1958
Collection of William P. Moor Museum, Long Island, N.Y.
Cuiaba em Festa. Gouache. NdA 1958

Tuesday, June 02, 2020


The way I approach autobiography is more like an investigation than a narrative. My aim, and my hope, is that when it’s all done and laid out in some as-yet undefined form, I will say AHA, now I get it, I can see clearly now.

I know this is an unrealistic expectation. Can we ever see ourselves and the life we’ve lived as if it were a still-life, an arrangement of objects in specific relation to each other inside a frame called Time? Truly see the elusive creature we address as “me”.

The whole idea of a "Me" both fascinates and baffles me. Yes, I’ve consulted the literature, the philosophies ancient and modern, the psychologies, the esoteric, the orthodox and unorthodox, the spiritual and the scientific views of the Self, whether capital S or lower case. All very interesting. But the only self I have ever had unlimited access to is the Moi that is sitting here typing these words. Isn’t that strange? Doesn’t it seem amazing to you that you are you? That you inhabit and are inhabited by a creature which is in some ways more or less identical to all other humans and in other ways, totally different? Isn’t that absolutely mind-blowing?

More illustrated autobio fragments to come.

NdA. Self-Portrait, Los Angeles 1956.

Saturday, May 30, 2020


After fabulous Florence, where art and life and financial insecurity and the melancholy joy of partially unrequited love mingled together in wobbly operatic harmony, I was back in cut-the-crap New York. Being in America was always a confrontation. The first question most people asked of each other was: what do you do? But the real question behind that was: are you a success? An atmosphere of continual success-measuring, of one’s self and others, hung in the air like smog or like perfume, depending on your reaction. it could be stimulating or angst-making. Or both.

A few years earlier I had spent a lot of time working on another script, a serious comedy. At some stage I asked a friend to collaborate and we produced a finished screenplay illustrated with my cartoons, titled The Peacemaker. It went to agents, studios, producers etc. with some positive feedback but nothing more. Then suddenly a letter from Louis de Rochemont asking for a three month option, after which he’d either buy the screenplay or give it back. Of course this was good news even though the monthly fee was peanuts ($50 for each of us). The option period was extended but The Peacemaker screenplay was not purchased and the film never made.

By now ir was 1956 and my success-measuring angst was acting up. I decided that if I took up mural painting there would always be people who wanted me to create fabulous frescoes on their private or public walls. I was thinking of those I’d seen and loved in Italy - Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca - rather than Diego Rivera, Orozco or Siqueiros. But Mexico was where I chose to go for training and I enrolled in the mural painting course at the renowned Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende.

In my online unfinished autobio I’ve already written about that period so I’ll just add some photos of it here and if you want to read that part of my story, here’s the relevant link:

Fresco study at the Instituto Allende. NdA 1956
La Despedida. Plaster bas-relief study at Instituto Allende. 3.25 x 2.25 meters. NdA 1956

Porttrait of Reg Dixon, San Miguel de Allende. NdA 1956. Duco on board. Collection of Valerie Dixon.
Taking a break from painting Reg, the ceramics teacher. He was asked to pose for a painting class once.

Me and Reg Dixon  at the Instituto Allende, summer 1956. 

Leaving San Miguel at the end of summer. Friends seeing me off at the train station. !956
Mexican soldier. Duco on board. NdA San Miguel 1956

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


My memory doesn’t hold on to details for very long but retains moments of intense joy or intense sadness. Alone on the wide terrace of the house in San Antonio on the night before my departure. The wind is making waves on the vast open field leading down to the silver stripe of river. Above my head an unbelievable sky, so filled with stars there is hardly any sky between them. I begin to sing at the top of my lungs. Can’t remember what the song was, probably one of the sentimental Guarani ballads, but my soul, ah my soul! It’s flying, zooming around ecstatically in the cosmos. One of those moments.

Back in New York several unrelated things happen, not in chronological order. I have another fall in and out of love. I write a chidren’s story entitled The Big Stick, change it to The Legend of Weapons. I start illustrating it with cartoons then think it needs a different approach so I ask a friend, successful young Italian artist, and he produces a set of brilliant pen and ink drawings. The problem is that his drawings are sophisticated and cynical whereas my story, an anti-war fable, is naive and feel-good. The two approaches don’t match. I send the illustrated manuscript round to publishers anyway and get the expected pile of rejections. Then, astonishingly, it’s accepted by Barney Rossett, legendary head of the Grove Press. He signs a contract that he’ll publish within eighteen months and pays us an advance. Quite a while later, he decides not to publish the book. That is that.

It’s 1953. My sister Anne,working for a student travel agency in New York, is sent to Italy to organise her plan of introducing American college students to luminaries of Italian culture. One of these is writer and polymath Gerardo Guerrieri. Later that year Annie and Gerardo are married in Florence and all our family are there. Meanwhile my father, whose mind is always in Project-mode, rents a Florentine villa as the setting for his idea: Contrastland. The premise is that Amercan students will  arrive with preconceived ideas, clichés about Italy. They will be invited to the villa to see an audio-visual presentation illustrating these preconceptions in Dantesque images (paradise, purgatory, hell), Afterwards they’ll be asked for their reactions and, hopefully, their understanding will benefit from this experience.

When I arrive in Florence, preparations for Contrastland are in full swing. My father has recruited a  team of volunteers who are thrilled to be involved and lunchtimes  around a huge table outside are wonderfully expressive events. I am delegated to paint the Dantesque scenes onto a long roll of canvas which will be slowly unwound from life-size wooden spools, accompanied by recorded narration. Working on the narration is an American poet and University Professor of English who spends every summer in Florence. The Contrastland presentation has the intended psychological effect on the small groups of students who attend and at the close of summer, everybody goes home.

I have fallen in love with Florence and more than fallen, crash-landed in love with the poet-professor. He reciprocates but, alas, strictly platonically. He goes back to his University and I decide to stay in Florence for a year. I find a cheap studio and the winter goes by fast with painting and almost daily letters flying back and forth between the poet and I. He dedicates a play to me and I start a series of comics, The Gabriel Books, inspired by him. We meet again in Italy and America and remain platonically close friends until his death many years later.

My sister Anne with Gerardo Guerrieri in Rome, 1953.
Cypreses, Florence. NdA 1953, Oil. Collection Andrei Korliakov, Paris.
Natalie and Poet on roof terrace of Villa Ulivi, Florence 1953.

Florentine. NdA, Florence 1953. Oil on board.
Poet. NdA Florence 1953. Oil on board.
Winter, Florence 1954

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


San Antonio, Paraguay, where my happiest childhood days were spent, remained in imagination as my own private garden of Eden, the only place which ever felt like home. My father still owned the property and a German-Latvian refugee couple had been living there ever since we left, looking after the Quinta as well as running their delicatessen in Asunciòn. While in the throes of my latest bout of self-dissatisfaction in New York, the remedy seemed obvious: I should go back to my Eden and just paint, paint. paint.

In the summer of 1952 I was back at the Quinta Recalde, waiting for my art materials to be released from Paraguayan Customs. The house I had loved so much looked completely different, not just because fifteen years had passed, but because the current residents had, naturally enough, adapted the place to suit themselves..Did I really think I’d find my old bedroom intact, with its curved wall and shelves filled with my beloved books? Never mind, I was there to paint, not to wallow in nostalgia. When my materials arrived, I set to work on the goal of producing at least one painting a day. I painted the landscape and I painted the local Guaranis who remembered my family from the old days, and I painted an ancient Russian émigré with watery blue eyes forever fixed on his past as Colonel Kermanoff.

I have slides of most paintings of that period but snapshots are not sharp or true to the actual colours. To give a flavour of the place and time, here are a few of them anyway.

The house my father built in San Antonio, Paraguay around 1937 as it looked then.

Standing on the terrace, painting my reflection as I see it in a glass door. NdA 1952. Oil.

Cows in the field, San Antonio. NdA 1952, Oil.
Colonel Kermanoff. NdA, San Anonio 1952. Oil.
Tres Meninas. NdA 1952 San Antonio. Oil.
Don Joaquim. NdA, San Antonio 1952. Oil. (The original is in colour)

Annuncia and borrowed child. NdA, San Antonio 1952. Oil.
Stormy Sky, San Antonio. NdA 1952. Oil .The original is in colour. This painting was stolen in New York.

Monday, May 18, 2020


A job as salesgirl at the ribbon counter - ribbons for heaven’s sake! - in a posh department store on Fifth Avenue was never going to be anything but temporary. Then my wonderful uncle Jacques Grinieff, a film producer (and a whole other story) offered me a job. He had an offce in New York but was always travelling. The task he gave me was to read stories by Conan Doyle  (not the Sherlock Holmes ones) to see if some might be adapted as film scripts.

I got on well with Jacques and in his idiosyncratic way, he had faith in me. I’d been working on a film script myself, a surreal kind of parable about America, tentatively titled Portrait of America. Jacques liked it but thought, rightly, that it needed bringing down to earth. He decided that I should meet Norman Mailer and see if he’d collaborate with me. Jacques arranged for Mailer to meet me for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. The Naked and the Dead was published in 1948 and Mailer was still reeling from its huge success. Our lunch meeting was fun, Mailer was hyperactive, articulate, with an incisive, quick intelligence that made our conversation stimulating. But when he invited me to come and help him “paint his new apartment” I declined, aware that it would involve more exercise than wielding a paintbrush and I wasn’t attracted to him at all. But Norman kept his promise to read my script, all versions of it, and wrote me an honest, detailed, helpful analysis of it. Eventually I gave up on the film project. There is a post script however: 

in the mid-1960s, in London during one of my many impecunious stages, I took Norman Mailer’s letters and my illustrated script to Sothebys and asked if they could sell the lot. They said yes. It went into an auction and sold for £500 to a dealer who then sold it to a collector of memorabilia of famous American writers. Thereby hangs that tale.

Thanks to my job for Uncle Jacques, I was able to rent a small flat downtown in Seventh Avenue South and continued to paint, sometimes exhibiting in local galleries. But I wasn’t satisfied with my work or my life. Another move was imminent.

Self-Portrait. NdA circa 1952. Oil on board.
Natalie with strange haircut circa 1955, with earlier self-portrait.
Qui Sommes Nous, Ou Allons Nous? NdA, New York 1952. Oil.

Portrait of T. Skilford.  NdA, New York 1952. Oil.
Uncle Jacques Grinieff (second from the right, hand in pocket), Paris in the 1920s at signature of contract for production of Abel Gance's legendary film Napoleon. Abel Gance is first on the left. A photo of Gance given to my uncle said Jacques was the only one who understood him.