Remembering Doug

Memories of time spent with Doug are flooding back now. I don’t recall exactly when our friendship started—back in the 70’s somewhere I guess—but by the early 80’s it was well along when we discovered that even though our studios were thousands of miles apart we seemed to be tapping into what was in the air at the time and coming up with surprisingly similar thoughts, discoveries, realizations and coincidental elements in our work. We shared a lot of common ground so naturally decided to try and do something about it.

Douglas Haynes, Good Times, 1980, a trade

1981 was a special year. Doug arrived in Toronto with his show for Gallery One rolled up, 25 or so pictures which we stretched and framed in one big push. Carpentry skills were so so but we managed and the paintings looked great. Goldie and Sharon came by with a magnum of champagne for the unveiling but somehow when we popped the cork the bottle blasted its contents onto the ceiling then rained back down all over us. We decided it was an act of the gods giving us an auspicious sign which we toasted with the few drops left in the bottle. We dubbed one particularly soggy picture with the title, “Champagne Rain” and Goldie bought it right there on the spot.

Douglas Haynes, Champagne Rain, 1981

After our framing chores were done we headed out to break in my new little Mazda by driving down to Washington to see the big Gottlieb show at the National Gallery. We stopped for a very pleasant visit with Darryl and Susan in Syracuse where we saw some first rate paintings and were served an enormous breakfast of devilled eggs. I seem to recall Darryl performing an in-depth analysis of the two of us using Numerology I think.

The Gottlieb show puzzled us. There were two late paintings in particular that knocked us out; one of them called “Bullet”. But we couldn’t understand what had taken him so long to arrive at his late style since there were clear precursors all the way back in the 30’s. The burst element seemed to exist fully formed even back then and reappeared in work right along through the years. So we talked about it a fair bit as we continued our drive on up to NYC.

When we hit the city we had trouble finding a hotel. Instead of phoning ahead and booking a place like normal people we just drove from one 3rd rate hotel to another, double parking, running in to inquire, running back out and moving on to try again. When our luck finally panned out and we went to park in the lot next door the attendant, a great big guy with eyes wide and staring, asked us if everything was ok. Apparently our hotel checking routine, now perfected, gave him the idea we were a pair of undercover cops. I don’t think we said much to clear things up since it gave us a kick-ass street image for a few days, at least in one mistaken person’s eyes. We couldn't decide what to call ourselves though. Starsky and Hutch didn't feel right. We were more like two skinny Roy Scheider’s from French Connection.

At some point we bumped into Ken Moffett and right away told him what we were wondering about Gottlieb’s late awakening. He knew we were going to stop by Clem’s place in Norwich on the way back to Toronto so suggested we should ask him when we got there as he would have a definite take on it. So on we drove talking about everything under the sun and coming back to the puzzle again and again, wondering what Clem might have to say. We developed quite a few theories on the way.

So when we got to Clem's place we came out with it right away. I remember clearly my surprise when he said, “Oh, that guy could be a real bonehead.” This was not the art critical response we had expected and was nowhere near the ballpark we'd been theorizing in. He went on to say something about whenever Gottlieb and Rothko got together “…you never heard a worse couple of pants-pressers.” It took us a beat or two. I remember looking at Doug and seeing he had a big smile already. Yes,as surprising as this was for us to hear, we instantly recognized it as something we could relate to. Human nature trumping theory. Now you have to remember that Clem used Gottlieb’s work as a measure of how well people could see painting. He rated his work at the very top. Gottlieb and Rothko were giants and here Clem was making two wandering journeymen relate to them in a very down-to-earth way. We had already shared at length some of the dumb moves we each had a habit of making. “Bone-head” fit us like matching gloves. Or idiot mittens. And as if to drive it home, in the same conversation Clem gave me a rough straightening out over my misuse of “assume” when I should have said “presume.” Bone-head exhibit A. Doug told me later he loved the dumb-struck look I had on my face.

It was a great visit with Clem, many stories, but the upshot was that we returned home with two new identities, Bonehead West and Bonehead East (BHW/ BHE) which is how we referred to each other ever after.

When we got back to my studio we spent the next six weeks painting side by side. We were like two climbers taking turns each hauling the other upwards. We tried jam painting (both working on the same picture) and other experiments. We sat up late and talked, drank a little, ate at local cafes. As a critique of my culinary skils he had begun to refer to my place as the Bobby Sands Hotel in honour of the Irish Republican hunger striker who was in the news at the time. He thought my staple bag of day-old donuts especially worth telling people about. My argument that the Red Cross, after all, passed them out at disaster sites, undoubtedly for their high nutritional value. This didn't sway him much. So we ate out as much as possible and looked for places with cabs parked outside and had a rating system for how well the cooks could orchestrate a complex order.

We even tried painting one the other’s painting. That ended in true Bonehead fashion for as familiar as we were with each other’s work by now, after such an intense period of collaboration, we both found it impossible to paint anything even remotely worth looking at. It amazed us, the impossibility. Finally we decided the only positive thing we could say was that the worst painting each of us ever painted had actually been painted by somebody else.

Douglas Haynes, P.T's Choice, 1981, 45 x 32'. Harold Feist, Whistler's Sonata, 1981, 56 x 30"
Painted side by side

We ended that Summer with our two sons joining us. Geoff and Ben seemed to hit it off right away, discovering within the first hour that dried paint could be peeled off mixing containers and sailed like wobbly frisbees out the window into the parking lot--a kind of proof that our bonehead genes had already been passed down both male lines. We organized a kite day for all the kids. Though we were disappointed there was no wind to fly them with they still looked great and it seemed a perfect way to end our visit.

So now those days are long ago. Some of the memories are hazy. But these that I've shared must have been important to both of us because we reminded each other of them fairly often. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that our collaboratiion was in the visual sphere and that BHW/BHE summed up the potential folly of trying to put things into words. Whatever we had said to each other back then was mainly shoulder to shoulder looking at what we were making. Our conversations were attached to a visual focus. BHW/BHE was shorthand for the effort we shared and for the inadequacies we felt in the face of the heights others had achieved who had worked within the same tradition. Our elders.

In the days since Doug's passing there have been moving tributes by those who were lucky enough to have had him touch their lives and by many who had studied with him and looked up to him. But he was also held in similar esteem by those he looked up to himself. I just came across an old letter from Clem in which he remarked, "...and I'd sure like to see more of Doug Haynes." I think we all felt that way.

I miss you terribly, BHW. There won't be another like you.

BHE, Toronto, February 2016


Doug Haynes web site
Douglas Haynes: The Toledo Series
City Hall Paintings, 1992 video