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THE ANXIETY OF SIRON FRANCO

correspondence of

Simon Lane and Marcus Reichert



Subj:   "Without Ice"
Date:   27/05/02 12:03:34 GMT Daylight Time
From:   Simon Lane (Rio de Janeiro)
To:   Marcus Reichert (London)

Marcus Matey,

What's up? Well, me, for a start. Had a fitful night, little sleep here and there; "Night is always a giant," pronounced the insomniac (Nabokov, actually). I have been feeling decidedly transparent lately (did you ever read Nabokov's Transparent Things?), swimming in a great big ocean of unfamiliarity, existential you might call it. I noticed, reading Borges at about four a.m., that Kirkegaard means "churchyard." So, that's it! Staring at one's own epitaph!

Speaking of death, a friend of ours got kidnapped for three hours last Wednesday. In Caracas, of all places. He'd gone up north for his son's wedding and, miraculously, had four thousand dollars in cash on him as a wedding present, which probably saved his life. The taxi that picked him up at the airport then picked up someone else with a gun. They didn't believe he was who he said he was (Siron Franco, famous Brazilian artist) so they asked him to prove it. They also told him they were going to kill him. Well, poor old Siron found himself doing a portrait of a kidnapper in the back of a Venezuelan taxi, his hand shaking like a penalty shoot out. Miraculously, they seemed to approve of the work and decided to let him go. He then took another taxi - brave step - to his hotel, where, according to the newspaper, "he ordered three double Whiskys without ice." I like that. "Without ice." I mean, was he in the mood to wait for Lightning Luis to sort the ice out? Here in Rio, there's a huge gang war going on and, worryingly, the kidnappers are coming up from São Paolo to ply their trade. As for mine - trade, that is - I ain't going nowhere without my complete published works.

Down the hatch,
Simon.


Subj:   Re: "Without Ice"
Date:   28/05/02 09:50:44 GMT Daylight Time
From:   Marcus Reichert (London)
To:   Simon Lane (Rio de Janeiro)

Dear Simon

An interesting situation - Siron Franco with his pockets full of cash but only his gifts as a draughtsman to save him from a rusty bullet in the spleen. Perhaps, as they say of so many modern artists, he doesn't draw so good and the likeness he wrought was an object of such amusement that it brought much-needed release from the tensions robbers are subject to, although they feign indifference. On the other hand, perhaps Siron is nothing so much as a slick portraitist whose efforts only serve to flatter, which can also, I imagine, work as a palliative(?) - placating or mollifying medium. Flattery or amusement? Maybe Siron had to make several attempts at his travelling portrait of the taxi-ing robber. Maybe the taxi-ing robber said, "Siron Franco, your portrait-making doesn't cut the ice." Much worriment for the cack-handed artist, who then decides to take the more amusing route to portraitdom. Much sweaty ogling of the swarthy gunman, much scribbling, and nodding and winking and, finally - "Ha, ha, ha, this is very good, Franco. You are one funny dude!!" This may account for Siron Franco's eschewing the ice. Never again, as long as Siron Franco can remember, will ice touch his whisky.

Love
Marcus


Subj:   Abstract
Date:   28/05/02 12:52:08 GMT Daylight Time
From:   Simon Lane (Rio de Janeiro)
To:   Marcus Reichert (London)

Dear Marcus,

Yes, this had occurred to me, for Siron is an "abstract" artist, doubtless more abstract as a result of his experience in Caracas. Various possibilities invite analysis. For example, did the kidnappers imagine that they would be in receipt of a valuable drawing should Siron convince them of his fame, something to "sell on" to a willing third party (I imagine the scene, Carlito and Hernandes nervously entering the chic Galeria Moderna Marino and proferring the sketch to some nimble secretary with the words, "What d'yer reckon? It's a Franco Siron?") Did they, indeed, have a sense of humour, which you so intelligently intimated? Were they perhaps, amateurs of the fine arts? Had they always wanted to be artists themselves, or, at least, to meet one? Were they just making fun of my poor, rich friend? I do not need to know, although of course, the next time I am in Salvador, Bahia, I will ask him, for I like Siron very much.

Four years ago, when Tunga, myself, Barrio and the late Edison Simons (psychotic, Panamanian poet, worthy of endless alliteration) did a show in Salvador, we were invited to Siron's house for dinner. Upon entering his studio, I commented in favourable terms upon one of his pieces, a collage/assemblage which was a "portrait" of Vincent. He thanked me. We dined. The next morning, the piece was delivered, carefully wrapped, to my hotel room. So why do all the nice people end up in shit street, and not the baddies? Not true, of course. What goes around, comes around, although I can't see what the hapless Siron did to deserve that little nightmare. Was he just the exception which proves the rule?

Love,
Simon.


Subj:   Re: Abstract
Date:   28/05/02 15:19:15 GMT Daylight Time
From:   Marcus Reichert (London)
To:   Simon Lane (Rio de Janeiro)

Dear Simon

My impression is that one cannot make very good abstract art without taking drugs, preferably mescaline or psylicibin. Cheap acid, like they make in Columbia, Georgia, by grinding up empty plastic Windex (blue window-cleaner) spray-bottles then sprinkling the stuff on their Coca-Cola, only leads to more figurative doodling, like any bored person can make. You've seen it, little triangles and things with loops and swirls and ray-lines, but always, always with eyes. Siron may be a born abstract artist, which is very rare. If he is a born abstract artist then he can make a spiritual likeness of a criminal with just a few strokes, be they bold or enduringly delicate. The question I now ask myself is: would Carlito and Hernandes know themselves in the abstract, or, to put it more succinctly, in Siron's heady metaphysical rendition? I take your point that a Siron Franco abstract portrait is more valuable (chic gallery considerations aside) than a Siron Franco aberration figuratif, no matter how amusing. If I may, I will make a stab at answering, based on recent psychic developments and general knowledge, a few of your more pressing questions, although I am certain that, by now, you have come up with perfectly adequate answers of your own.

  1. Most criminals do have a sense of humour, be it oblique or jarringly crude. Like, the difference between an aside, well-timed, and a joke recited from memory, often ill-timed.
  2. Popular and commercially successful actors and singers, not criminals, are most usually amateurs of the fine arts. Criminals are already artists, often with uncanny psychological depths. When a criminal makes a work of fine art, he intends it to mean more than its individual parts. He intends it to speak of passion, lust, caring, tears, avarice, etc. (seldom forgiveness), but as a totality, never as single items strung on the washline of sensibility - always as an integrated whole.
  3. Criminals are often the shyest of fine artists. Yes, they always want to meet a so-called "real" artist. Siron Franco, as far as they knew (from what he told them, then quaveringly confirmed in pencil or ink), qualified.
  4. Of course they were making fun of him, but with a secret admiration, which Siron could smell.

So how is his portrait of Vincent? Is it a spiritual evocation, or am I wrong? Maybe like the fatalistic Vincent, Siron had propelled himself into the glimpsing void. Perhaps Siron gave himself to his own new bride that day in the taxi, gunmen conducting the service.

Love
Marcus


Subj:   O Globo
Date:   29/05/02 12:15:39 GMT Daylight Time
From:   Simon Lane (Rio de Janeiro)
To:   Marcus Reichert (London)

Dear Marcus,

As our gang war rages on, the Commando Vermelho having recently mounted a grenade attack on a Military Police station and the MPs, or PMs, as they are known here (we are, after all, in the Southern Hemisphere) having captured an impressive number of weapons, including rocket launchers (!) I am wondering what has happened to a smaller gang, my favourite, known as Os Amigos dos Amigos, for, however nasty these drug runners are, they are not lacking in a sense of humour. Carioca to the soles of their flip-flops. Friends of friends? Delicious conceit! Last night, PM helicopters flew below us along São Conrado Beach, lights searching for trouble, panning the hillside. Jesus! It was like Blade Runner! Even by Brazilian standards, things are hotting up, the essential threat being "crossfire," the citizens of this great city, and most of the police for that matter, keeping their heads down.

With such a background, it is indeed pertinent that we should address ourselves to the recent plight of Siron Franco. Interestingly enough, I only met the man once, which made his silent gift (his Vincent) even more touching. I aim to unearth this piece when I am in England. It is very good. Had Carlito and Hernandes had assemblage and collage material to hand, Siron could have knocked off something pretty special for them. Perhaps not such a good idea. "Work on Paper" seemed to have been more the order of the day. Yes, criminals are human, after all, which reminds me of my comment to a priest after a recent Memorial Mass, when he had talked of Jesus weeping. "Well, He was only human, wasn't he?" Now there's a conundrum.

What strikes me is that everyone wants to be an artist these days, perhaps even criminals, and, judging by what is going on down here at the moment, everyone wants to be a criminal too. Clearly, all great crimes are works of art. The destruction of the World Trade Centre is, in some manner, a masterpiece, certainly to those fanatics who perpetrated it (would this come under the "Performance" section of Art Forum, I wonder?). But I digress. Perhaps Oscar had it right when he said, "There is nothing original in art (crime), only in the means of expressing fundamental truths (lies)" but maybe I am being too arch by half.

What I must do is translate the article from O Globo for you, for it contains some fascinating details on Siron's sequestration. Once Carlito and Hernandes had realized that Siron was, indeed, an artist, and, deduced that he must have been a famous one, for he had plenty of cash on him and was after all, Brazilian, a man who travels and had an expensive looking case, they realized that they would have to kill him. Poor Siron! He had successfully engineered his own demise! "Now we'll have to kill you," one of them said. "Otherwise it will be all over the papers tomorrow!" Later, when they changed their minds, they said, "This is the first time we have disobeyed our commander and left someone live!" Commander? Now that would have sent shivers down Siron's shivery spine.

Elsewhere in the article, Siron says, "O nível de adrenalina no sangue era tão alto que esqueci quem eu era." - "I was so hyped up I couldn't remember who I was." Better would be "what I was." Food for thought, which I always thought a very silly expression.

Love,
Simon.

PS Nice touch: Siron couldn't remember the combination on his suitcase. Now that's playing to chance beyond the imagination, surely?


Subj:   OI GABO
Date:   29/05/02 15:14:35 GMT Daylight Time
From:   Marcus Reichert (London)
To:   Simon Lane (Rio de Janeiro)

Dear Simon

I assume the 4,000 was in the snazzy suitcase with the combination locks, and not Siron's drawing materials. Are combination locks in themselves not the damning evidence of respectability, not to say pretension? But these are trivial matters. What really counts is Siron not remembering, first, the combinations and, second, who he was. So, you have confirmed my hunch that he was driven, without conscious forethought, to enter the glimpsing void. But herein, I think, lies the great paradox, because he could remember what he was: a maker of graven (albeit abstract) images - et voila, a criminal himself, especially in terms defined by the Old Testament! "There but for the grace of God go I." Perhaps this is what subliminally, majestically, Sinor communicated to his taxi-ing captors, malevolence only shimmering superficially around their yearning souls. So, when Carlito and Hernandes uttered their fatal conclusion - "Now we'll have to kill you ... " then later "... first time we disobeyed our commander and left someone live!" - they were in the throes of sublime revelation brought on by the sinner Siron, a far greater sinner, in their minds, than themselves. Not that their moment of epiphany makes Siron a less worthy soul, because, as you know by his unselfish gift of the nicely-wrapped and collaged Vincent, he has striven to bring a kind of simple happiness to unassuming souls like yourself - we can talk about this later, if you like - through his art.

How does one go about joining Os Amigos dos Amigos? And would such chaps enjoy rubbing shoulders with a fatalistic soul like myself posing as an artist?

Love
Marcus


Subj:   Still no ice!
Date:   29/05/02 16:33:25 GMT Daylight Time
From:   Simon Lane (Rio de Janeiro)
To:   Marcus Reichert (London)

Dear Marcus,

We are entering dangerous territory, yeah, the catastrophe(s) of success! Siron's career, for want of a better word, brought not to a simple halt, but to a terrifying conclusion, albeit unrealized yet so unequivocally intimated and now, I am sure, unquestionably brought into question! The central dilemma becomes increasingly apparent: to whit, should he (given that he is possessed of the skills so to do) execute (no pun intended) a drawing worthy of his status as a well known, i.e. rich artist, inviting the potential, paradoxical conclusion of either (1) Esteem in the eyes of his captors, confirmation of his being, etc., or (2) Ignorantly invite his own demise, for his captors, strangely, decided that, by kidnapping a "famous" person, they would have to do away with him in order "not to get into the papers," a pretty blind assumption if ever there was one, for, by killing him, the papers would have made more of the story, of course, not page 5 of O Globo, but page 1. Such an assassination would have led to our president, FHC as he is known, reaching for the red one and dialling Chaves, the Venezuelan nutter currently in charge of that odd, oily territory.

So many opposites at work, so many unresolved options! The full stop which awaits us all may become the comma, the semi-colon or the colon perhaps (I am a veteran of the exclamation mark, as those nurses, nimble spirits, sweet distributors of pain and pleasure still extant on the second floor of The London Clinic will tell you). These keyboard signals suggest hidden realities, the only reality not hidden being death, dwarfing Everest yet forever shrouded in mist. Or should I say missed.

I appreciate your suggestion of sin, for, of course, the principal sin was that Siron's captors disobeyed their Commander - capital essential in this context - and may well, themselves, be dead as I write. Such is life, such is death, when cheapened through desperation, odd legacy of childhood violently rampant! It is not life that is cheap, it is death, always (I allow myself here a contradiction). Not two sides of a coin, but two sides of two coins, of differing currency, yes, life and death, inexchangeable, wholly abstract, incompatible, useless in the purchase of things.

As for the combination lock on the suitcase, I recall with pleasure, the story my father told me at his expense - to continue the metaphor - of a case he once bought in London for the housing of whisky and gin. For a man who never bought things for himself, such an act was delightfully inconsistent with his character, for as you say, a pretentious item. He was to go, with my mother, on a holiday, in France, and thought it best to be prepared, Naturally, upon checking into some dismal lodge in Brittany, where nothing was available save for a half opened bottle of Beaujolais, a dire drink made for frustrated farters, he attempted to remember the combination. No joy. My mother considered permutations. As my father located a knife to tear at this appalling object (Swaine and Adeney, torture chamber of thirst, a cool grand or two I imagine), my mother struck upon the "key" - her own birthday. Et voilà! "Would you care for a drink, dear?" Don't imagine he hadn't included a bottle of Lanson, not exactly chilled, but drinkable, for Mum. Jesus! Back to the ice problem!

With that, a pause,
With love,
Simon.


Subj:   PS & PPS
Date:   29/05/02 16:46:26 GMT Daylight Time
From:   Simon Lane (Rio de Janeiro)
To:   Marcus Reichert (London)

PS One does not join Os Amigos dos Amigos, one is born to be one, or born to be a friend, or enemy, of one, or others. Thankfully, we two friends, you and me, were born to be neither friends of Friends of Friends, nor enemies of the same, rather are we permitted to watch, through the thick end of the glass, their sad battling under whose crossfire the head remains bowed, the better to reach the bar.

PPS They didn't kill him, so as to avoid publicity. Yet they are dead, I am sure of it. Fine ransom, meagre exchange within the bullet-proofless glass of Siron's slumber!


Subj:   Re: Still no ice!
Date:   30/05/02 07:15:14 GMT Daylight Time
From:   Marcus Reichert (London)
To:   Simon Lane (Rio de Janeiro)

Dear Simon

I wonder if Siron Franco will now re-evaluate his success, whether he will step off into the rocky brook of figurative art, or, perhaps, give up his art altogether and disappear into Rio's grubby suburbs to counsel the dispossessed. A "famous" person, to my understanding, is no longer in danger of mutilation or death if he gives up his celebrity and lives with the flies. Yes, death is cheap. A life for a drawing, but how many lives for how many drawings? Happiness is a warm portrait. But for whom? Always for the rich and famous, for monarchs and ballplayers. If Carlito and Hernandes are now dead, as you imagine, slain upon the Commander's orders at the sight of their exploits as depicted in O Globo, then portraiture is a very mixed-bag for the criminal. But it is a mixed-bag anyway. If the artist can come up with a true likeness, it most often is not flattering. If it is flattering, the work is sneered at behind the powdered hands and scented hankies. By employing collage in his portrait of Vincent, Siron Franco cleverly avoided the usual pitfalls. I have done the same, most often with the self-portrait, which is not a flattering enterprise, in my case, at best. Will Siron now see himself walking through the rancid rain of the ghetto, the cuffs of his poplin trousers in tatters, silk shirt clinging to his salty back, weary arms bearing gifts to elevate the stick and starving from their grimy mats? One never knows what the glimpsing void delivers up to he who finds himself, even momentarily, balanced on that precipice, as Siron Franco has.

Your father must have loved your mother very much to use her birthdate for the combination lock on his portable drinks cabinet. And she, obviously, gloried in that love, knowing that the miracle of her birth was also the miracle of his thirst. This reminds me of a marvellous photograph by Bill Brandt in which Kenneth Clark (Baron Clark) is standing by the mantel gazing lovingly down at his wife sat on the settee of their very still and very gloomy drawing-room, only the light of their love bringing warmth to the scene. A picture brimming with contentment, if you can find it.

Love
Marcus

PS I shall think no more of joining Os Amigos dos Amigos, but only of the joys of spectating. Yes, like Cocteau and Picasso at the bullfights!






ABOUT THE AUTHORS


Marcus Reichert, born in 1948, is an artist of various disciplines, including painting and film-making. His works are held in many important collections throughout the world and have been written about extensively. Reichert was given his first solo exhibition at the age of twenty-one at the legendary Gotham Book Mart and Art Gallery, New York, home to the Surrealists during WWII. In 1990 he was honoured with a retrospective organised by the Hatton Gallery of the University of Newcastle which toured in various forms to Glasgow, London, Paris, and the United States. His Crucifixion paintings have been described by Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, as being among the most disturbing painted this century, while the American critic Donald Kuspit has written that both Picasso's and Bacon's pale in comparison. The first neo-noir, Reichert's film UNION CITY was selected for the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes in 1980, and was hailed by Lawrence O'Toole, film critic for Time Magazine, as "an unqualified masterpiece." Now considered a classic, the film was the centre-piece of the neo-noir festival held in 1997 by the American Museum of the Moving Image. Reichert's film works are held in the Archive of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His writing and a selection of books on his work are available from Art Books International, London.

Simon Lane, born in England, divides his time between Paris and Rio de Janeiro. He is the author of three novels, Fear, Still Life With Books, and Le Veilleur. His writing has been widely acclaimed for its elegance, provocativeness, and wit. He is presently making a film on Ireland, where he spent his childhood, and the spirit of the wandering Irish writer.






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