Maxine Farkas shares some thoughts from Western Ave in Lowell:
For some reason I have been thinking of John Greenwald a lot lately. Perhaps it is because we have grown so much in the past year and a half; there are more artists here now who never knew John than those who did and they don’t know what we lost when we lost John. So I am writing not only for this blog, but for all of those who never had the opportunity to know him.
At one time John was the Sunday editor of the Lowell Sun, then he headed down to DC to what had to have been a dream job . . . but it was in DC that he was hit with the first of a series of physical set backs that would eventually take him from us. Meningitis felled him first, and he woke from a three week coma physically devastated . . . that is when John and his wife Rita Lipman came back to Lowell. Kidney failure led to dialysis and during the last 12 years of his life leukemia was a constant companion. Through out it all he never let illness interfere with his passion for art, for film, for the artists of Lowell or his love for his wife.
John was a big guy, with a presence that could not be ignored. I first met him when he was a volunteer at the Brush, he would plant himself at the desk with his lunch and a stack of New York newspapers, happy to chat with whomever came through the door . . . and around 3 pm one of us would go and gently prod him awake from his sub induced snooze. During figure drawing sessions he loved to do quick gestural drawings demanding fast poses that were the despair of those who couldn’t work with quite the speed that was his regular pace.
His studio was across the hall from mine the first year we were at Western Ave. I wish now that someone had recorded the conversations he had with his models during drawing sessions . . . they were wide ranging and often fascinating to eavesdrop on . . . art, music, film, politics . . . his curiosity was voracious, his reading wide and deep.
One year I got to curate an artist book exhibit at the 119 Gallery. John used to order these small accordion fold books, I think a place in Montreal would send them down for him. They would open 6 to 10 feet and John would gradually fill them, doing a sketch here and one there until when opened the drawings danced along the pages in a continuous reel.
John was a tireless, if less than tactful, advocate for the artists of Lowell. For a while he wrote art criticism for the Lowell Sun. He was a founding member of the Arts League of Lowell and one of the first artists to rent studio space at Western Ave. His support made the creation of the Loading Dock Gallery at Western Ave. possible and he was the anonymous donor that made First Saturday Open Studios advertising a regular feature in the Lowell Sun.
The year before he died I got to curate a solo exhibit of his work, he called the show Nudes of the World, a private joke shared by many. It was wonderful to be able to watch John interact with everyone at the opening, to see him surprised by positive commentary and to enjoy the pleasure he took in the evening.
John lost his battle with leukemia in July of 2010. When the call came that he was gone, no one quite believed it. It seemed incomprehensible that we would never hear his laugh again, never get sucked into an argument or listen to him expound on the state of the world.
Anne Cavanaugh and I spent a chunk of time that year helping Rita close his studio by documenting and packing all of the artwork, hundreds of drawings on paper, dozens of paintings on panel, new accordion books I had never seen . . . much of which had been done at Western Ave.
When John’s studio was still up on the 5th floor he painted his door with a larger than life rather abstract nude and when he negotiated for a larger studio space on the soon to be built out 2nd floor he brought the door with him. After he died we moved the door to a room on the 2nd floor of the A Mill, it is there now, with a portrait of John by Ashlee Welz Smith and a self portrait that he did.
If you come to Western Ave., do walk the 2nd floor hallway in the A Mill and pay your regards to John!