Friday, May 15, 2020


What’s the English word for ‘mouvementé’? The 1950s were like that. Returning to New York from São Paulo I entered another phase, always searching for what would be truer than the previous phase.
Being a very good artist and being in love, preferably simultaneously, was, I felt sure, the destiny assigned to me. A steady job, diplomas, marriage, children, a house - in my mind, these were not requirements on the road to my particular capital D Destiny.

I worked in downtown Manhattan at Jack Tworkov’s studio for a while, next door to Willem de Kooning. The Abstract Expressionist movement was in full swing and intrigued me though I didn’t think I belonged there. Tworkov, one of the major Ab/Ex painters, had a hands-off approach to teaching. He didn’t try to influence you, only to encourage you to find and develop your own ‘voice’.This suited me very well but I fluctuated impatiently between styles, ways of seeing, media, techniques.

I also had Projects, always one or more Projects demanding much concentration. Writing has always lived alongside visual art in my life. One of my Projects at the time was an illustrated book: The Do-It-Yourself Handbook for Neurotics ( I later changed to: Is Happiness Really Necessary?) I was probably the only one among my friends in New York who wasn’t seeing a shrink, partly because I couldn’t have afforded one and partly because I didn’t give much credence to head-shrinkage. The book was a satire on this theme, black ink drawings and brief text. When ready I sent it round - an agent and a few other people liked it. I got rejections from top American publishers. Not too discouraged, I turned it into a photo-story, got some friends to pose for the parts and photographer George Cserna took terrific shots of the scenes. This project didn’t sell either. Eventually I turned it into a dance-mime play which was performed by students at a school in Putney, Vermont. All the illustrations, rejection letters etc. are sitting in boxes which I’ve been digging into for this memoir.
More to come, watch this space.

1950s Natalie
Spring. NdA 1951
Autumn. NdA 1951 
Illustration from The Do It Yourself Handbook for Neurotics, NdA 1951-55
Part of photo-story version of The Do-It-Yourself Handbook for Neurotics. Photo by George Cserna
Studio Still-Life. NdA 1951


Roderick Robinson said...

Turbulent? For me self-driven activities hinge on a form of internal discipline but I seem to recall you don't find that word congenial. A secondary meaning is "self control"; many regard this as a threat to their free-spirit but they shouldn't. Rules too are thought to be restrictive but if we formulate them ourselves - honestly - any restriction is our own fault. Having no rules is anarchy (which various writers, painters and composers have espoused) but the problem arises when the work is finished and we ask ourselves whether the goals (were there any?) were achieved. By what criteria? Are criteria restrictive? Perspective, for instance, is one criterion. May it be ignored? If it can be ignored then that surely becomes a rule.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Internal discipline and self-formulated rules. Never felt these as uncongenial, on the contrary, they've ben my lifelong companions. Anarchy's never been my modus vivendi. Maybe you're misinterpreting my mini-memoir,Robbie, but that's okay. You're the only person who comments here once in a while and I appreciate it.

I duplicate my Blogger posts to Facebook because I do get some feedback there and in my more or less hermit life this is very welcome.

Turbulent is not really le mot juste for mouvementé. Eventful has also been suggested. But it's more to do with moving, displacements, changes.

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