Spain Rodriguez (1940-2012), Untitled

A neighbor, long lost painting and Spain Rodriguez

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Nearly 10 months ago, I was speaking with my neighbor Hope Hoetzer-Cook. Discussions with Hope often wind from stories of the years she lived in China to politics to “tell me what is going on at the Burchfield Penney.” I mentioned that we were organizing an exhibition featuring the work of Spain Rodriguez the following fall. A pause. From inside her house, a veritable museum and library, she extracted a warped oil painting mounted on cardboard. It was a dark city scene with a radiant nude woman made up of thick paint. Her eyes are locked on the viewer and she is walking right at us. In the lower corner it was signed “Rodriguez.”

Hope came to Buffalo to study English at the University at Buffalo. Since then, she has dedicated herself to many organizations, from cause groups to business associations to the Democratic Party to the arts. She currently is on the board of the Lexington Cooperative and Buffalo Re-Use. “Buffalo will always be home because it is one of the most real places” she has ever been. “It is lacking in pretension, a true survivor despite the odds, a surprising mixture of Buffalo Bills, art museums, ethnic diversity and endless festivals that celebrate the fact of being.” She fell in love with the people, the architecture and the city and never left.

This is an interview with my neighbor about her life, Buffalo and a remarkable painting, which will be included in the major retrospective Spain: Rock, Roll, Rumbles, Rebels, & Revolution.

Alana Ryder: Tell me about Buffalo at the time when you arrived. How did you come to know Spain?

Hope Hoetzer-Cook: I was blessed to come to Buffalo in the mid-60s when the University boasted names like Creeley, Fiedler and Barth, and folks like Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti dropped by to talk to their friends. The University was a hotbed of creativity, protest and reform for both students and non-students, and the City’s underground was percolating. There was a lot of cross-pollination between departments, paralleled by social cross-pollination between liberation movements; protest groups; blue, white and collarless collars; peace and revolution advocates; people of all colors – it was exciting. It was a time when you could meet by sharing a joint.

There was a syncretic mood where counterculture hippies hung out in the Tudor with Road Vultures, where Delaware Park became the site for multi-group be-ins and smoke-ins and endless stimulating political talk plus action planning for what could be and should be. We were idealists who thought we were realists.

Spain was one of the figures who stood out. We saw him as a Road Vulture artist. We admired his mural at 1032 Lafayette Street that covered a wall no one painted over for at least 30 years. He drew Buffalo, the streets, the characters, in bold heavy lines, a counterculture that was also Buffalo’s culture…There was always one woman, walking independently with a strong step, who seemed somehow to represent more than the pre-feminist support system that was still so much part of the Left. Spain’s women didn’t make the coffee and paint the signs and then step back for the men to lead the marches. Spain’s women were the march.

AR: How did you acquire this painting by Spain?

HHC: At some point in the late 60s or early 70s I found this piece [Untitled, Main Street Buffalo] that was being discarded, I think from the Lafayette St. house. It was definitely Spain’s work. It was beat up, signed Rodriguez and there was the woman so I rescued it and enjoyed it through my pre-feminist, feminist and post-feminist phases, and I still enjoy it. It shows a Main Street that no longer exists, in a time that no longer exists, with a woman boldly marching up the street stark naked, not giving a damn about the loungers on the sideline, representing a spirit that’s in some ways stronger today than it was then.

AR: You saw Spain more recently, right?

HHC: Not long ago, Spain was invited to lecture at the Erie County Public Library and I thought he might get a kick out of seeing one of his lost works. So I wrapped it up, stuck it in a Lexington Co-op bag and walked to the library, waiting for an opportunity to share my treasure with its creator. I introduced myself by saying, “You won’t remember me, you have no reason to, but I have something you haven’t seen for about 40 years.” His response was all you could hope for. He was amused, somewhat amazed, and told me that he had painted it while he was an art student and before he signed his work Spain. The male figures lounging on Main Street in downtown Buffalo aren’t around anymore and the female figure was an image that he had consistently used. He never solved the mystery of who inspired her, but in some ways, that makes it better.

AR: What is your personal history with comics?

HHC: I owned a counterculture store called Marrakesh in the 70s. It was in Allentown and had three locations, the first at 63 Allen, then Franklin and Allen, which was destroyed by arson, then another on Allen between Franklin and Virginia Place. Amongst other items, I sold underground comics. My personal favorite was The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers; they were funny and gently poked at our own foibles. I was less comfortable with R. Crumb. Underground comics go back to satiric and pornographic cartooning from the 1920s-1950s. They have a longstanding tradition that morphed into more incisive social and political commentary by the 60s and 70s. Superman, the ultimate immigrant who saves America and stands for truth, justice and the American way was stodgy by comparison to the free wheeling, in your face characters of the undergrounds. Ironically, they were both tackling the same three topics. Only in the underground world, truth was defiant of the system, we were reminded that real justice was lacking, and the American way of the time was Vietnam, Nixon and the perception that America was nowhere near what it was supposed to be. Undergrounds were the funnies and unfunnies of the ‘live your own life, pot smoking, war protesting, free loving and free living, critical and creative 60s and early 70s. Their current sophistication of topic and presentation was forged in the cauldron of dissent. They challenged then and they challenge now.

— Alana Ryder

Email Alana at ryderah@buffalostate.edu

 

Alana Ryder
Alana Ryder, Curator for Public & Academic Programs, is part of the education department at the Burchfield Penney. She curates the Community Gallery, leads the museum’s student group, the BPAC Street Team, and has organized a number of M&T Second Friday, music and community programs. Ryder was recognized by the Museum Association of New York for RendezBlue art and music festival and by the NFTA and Grow WNY for the Edible Complex farmers’ market event. She earned her B.A. in the history of art from the University of California, Berkeley and recently completed her M.A. at Buffalo State College. Her thesis was entitled "By My Side: Charles E. Burchfield’s Letters to Bertha K. Burchfield from 1923 to 1963."

 

Comments