Richard DeRosset was shipwrecked on the 21st of May 1977 while returning from a commercial fishing trip off the banks of San Nicolas Island. There was a stack fire on the Petrel that night. It quickly engulfed the vessel, an old Coast Guard cutter built in the 1920s. This was just after they had passed Santa Barbara Island, which is between San Nicolas and Catalina. DeRosset and the others onboard were forced into the water about 75 miles out to sea. The gusts of wind were 60 knots. The swells stood 18 feet before they crashed down. DeRosset, along with the captain and a crew member named Charlie, hung on to a hatch cover. The lifeboat had burned in the fire.
“And then,” says DeRosset, “I heard this boom-boom-boom, boom-boom-boom. And I said, ‘I hate to tell you this, guys, but the boat’s underway.’ So we were watching as she headed straight for us. And Charlie said, ‘Looks like we’re goners.’ And then the captain said something that still brings tears to my eyes. He said, ‘No, she’s not coming to get us. She’s just coming back to say good-bye.’ ”
No one died. “The ocean is like religion,” says DeRosset. “If you love the ocean it overpowers the fear. The ones who die first at sea are those who fear it the most.”
DeRosset is a painter now, a marine artist, self-taught. He works in oil, acrylic, and house paint. Twenty years ago, when he was 29 and still working at sea, he went to an art show on Shelter Island; he thought he could do better, and so he began. The artist is also an amateur marine historian, with a savant’s recall for minutiae, and anybody who engages him in conversation had better have plenty of time. A friend of his, when told that I had already spent a day and a half with DeRosset, said to me, “Oh, well, then you already know a lot about Richard — and about everything else in the world.”
DeRosset’s publicity says he is internationally famous. A flyer for a talk he gave at the Foothills Art Association in La Mesa on May 3, 2001, says his commissions and speaking engagements are “booked years in advance.” That isn’t exactly the case. It is true that his paintings hang in some prominent public places in San Diego and elsewhere. The out-of-town venues include the George Bush Gallery of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, and the Port Columbus Civil War Naval Center in Columbus, Georgia. But DeRosset works also can be found in a few pretty inconspicuous places. One is the photocopying room at his church.
The painting at the First Baptist Church in Lemon Grove is the size of a door; it is a door, in fact. DeRosset often uses doors as “canvas.” It shows the Titanic in the Irish Sea on the 3rd of April 1912. That was 11 days before she hit the iceberg and 12 days before she sank. Her sea trials in Belfast had been completed, and she was headed toward Southampton to pick up passengers before proceeding across the English Channel to Cherbourg, where more people would come aboard, including Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor, their three servants, and their pet Airedale, Kitty. Other passengers — lucky ones — would disembark there.
The Titanic is not alone in the horizontal composition. To her left and headed in the opposite direction is the Olympic, one of the Titanic’s sister ships (that is, built of similar design). To the Titanic’s right is a small British fishing smack. The black shadows of its scarlet sails fall perfectly.
“There are surprising placements throughout Richard’s work,” says Helen M. Ofield, executive director of the Lemon Grove Historical Society, where DeRosset had a one-person show of his artwork last fall and winter. “There’s dynamism and movement and action.” She calls his paintings “celebratory” and praises his “sense of pounding waves, the moody changeability of the ocean, the exhilaration of moving between open sky and sea.”
DeRosset doesn’t speak abstractly about his work. He’s a storyteller. “What’s really nice,” he told me before I’d had a chance to see the painting at the church, “is that I’ve got the crew of the smack waving to the crew on the deck of the Titanic. The fishermen are cold, wet, and miserable. It could have been either a good trip or a bad trip for them. In either case, they don’t know when their next trip will be or when they’ll get their next paycheck after this one. And they’re looking at these guys on the Titanic and they’re thinking, ‘They have gainful employment, good lodgings, good food. They’re comfortable. Boy, I sure would like to have one of their jobs.’ And yet, in less than two weeks, the ship will be lost with over 2200 people onboard.”
The Titanic is one of DeRosset’s preoccupations. He has painted her innumerable times. There are two door-sized Titanics for sale at Maidhof Brothers, International Shipware Merchants, on San Diego Avenue in Old Town. One shows her being launched, with various tugs and excursion boats nearby, their crews and passengers looking on. The other shows a different view of the Titanic and the Olympic passing each another. (Because the Titanic’s life was so short, the two passed each other on only one occasion; this painting and the one at the church commemorate the same moment.) Each is priced at $5000. In the office of Maidhof Brothers hangs a DeRosset that isn’t for sale. It shows the Carpathia and the Californian, two liners that heard the Titanic’s call for help and responded in varying ways.
“The Californian came around the left side of the ice field,” DeRosset told me. “She came up, went around the stern of the Carpathia, then made a big loop, and headed away from the scene. That’s because the first rocket the Titanic fired was white, which means they don’t want you to come any closer. ‘There’s something dangerous in front of me.’ So she showed up only after working her way around the ice field. I forget the name of the third officer who was on the deck watch, but he went to wake up the others, because there was a ship that was looking ‘queer,’ according to him. He actually witnessed the Titanic going down from, at most, 16 nautical miles away.” (A nautical mile is about 6076 feet; it takes into consideration the curve of the earth. A land mile is 5280 feet.)
The Carpathia herself barely avoided hitting an iceberg. “Her captain came close to having his own disaster. He wrote a book, and the fact that he didn’t mention too much about the Titanic’s passengers, plus the way he handled the chapters on the general subject, gave me the impression he was deeply traumatized by the whole affair. I mean, you’re looking at a guy who had a reputation for being extremely competent, who really hazarded his ship while trying to get to the rescue at sea. He pushed the ship to 17 knots, when the maximum it had ever done was 14. He doubled and tripled the watches and avoided his own disaster. But when he got there all he found was partially loaded lifeboats.”
Near-misses are a favorite theme of DeRosset’s. A door-sized piece in the collection of Scott Chapin of La Mesa shows one that involved the Titanic, the Oceanic, and the American liner New York. It occurred near Pier 38 in Southampton. In the picture there is also a little tugboat. DeRosset’s commentary on the event goes like this:
“The Oceanic is inboard, and the New York had just come in from a transatlantic voyage. So she tied up next to the Oceanic. What happened was that the Titanic got underway from the shipping dock. Then she turned in to the River Test, and in the process, she went all back with her port propeller wheel. Between that and the two-knot outward current from the River Test, the back thrust from the port wheel, plus the displacement of her hull — the Titanic displaced a lot of water — swells came up between the hulls of the Oceanic and the New York, pushed the stern out, and, when the mooring line snapped, she kept on swinging out. The little tug, which was part of the Southampton Red Funnel Fleet, was in the process of starting to take workers out of an access door aft on the port side, and she got underway and was trying to pull back alongside the Oceanic. Meanwhile, the Titanic went straight. And most descriptions say it was one single event, but it was actually two separate events. The Titanic came within 12 feet of smashing the bow of the tug. The near collision proves that the handling characteristics of the vessel were really quite good. The idea that the rudder was too small is total nonsense. I’ve done a number of tugs for the Foss tugboat company for its calendar. Tugs are fun, because they’re in the same category as trash trucks. They’re the type of vessel that people like to make fun of. And yet they’re very romantic.…”
What to make of DeRosset’s obsessions? Such things are not unusual among artists and their psychic kin, collectors. But something else about DeRosset deepens their mystery. “One of two things can happen when you meet him,” I was told by the same friend who commented on his garrulousness. “He’ll either scare you away or take you into his world.” The friend is David Brown, editor and publisher of the Veterans Journal, whose office is in the basement of the Veterans Memorial Center in Balboa Park. “Richard is an outrageously good artist, but he’s also outrageous as a person,” said Brown. “Everybody acquiesces to his knowledge. The paintings are absolutely right, down to the rivets. His eye for detail is annoying, it’s so precise. But people steer clear of him, because of his ‘temperament.’”
Brown asked me if I’d heard about the incident on the Berkeley, the steam ferryboat that is part of the floating San Diego Maritime Museum. DeRosset’s publicity says he is the museum’s “official artist.” Again, that’s not exactly the case. Mark Allen, the museum’s special exhibits curator, wrote me in a letter (sent at DeRosset’s request), “For some years now, Richard had ably performed the services of a sort of ‘house’ maritime artist.” I wondered what “sort of” meant. Joseph Ditler, then director of communications, clarified: “We wanted to make him ‘official painter,’ something he had been wanting us to do for years. When we finally drew up the papers, his agent canned the deal.” At any rate, his paintings hang on the museum’s walls, and reproductions are for sale in the gift shop. And the captions on some greeting cards do refer to him as “official artist.” But one day a few years ago he got insulted. “He was supposed to be given a ceremonial dinner at the museum,” Brown told me. “Instead, it was given to another artist. When Richard found out, he threw some of his paintings into the harbor. They’re still down there.”
Upstairs from Brown’s office at the Veterans Memorial Center, in the former chapel of the old Naval Hospital, DeRosset has painted the first in a series of six planned murals. The finished one is a surrealistic collage of the attack on Pearl Harbor — or, as DeRosset prefers to call it, the Battle of Oahu, since more than Pearl Harbor was bombed. It shows not only exploded battleships and burning oil but Mount Fuji and the Japanese rising sun. “I was amazed at the number of brushes he wore out on that wall,” said Brown. “Pockets full of brushes.” For Brown, waiting for DeRosset to complete the piece was like “watching the calendar, like waiting for spring.” It took three years. During that time, while DeRosset did his research — in order to discover, for example, the exact formations of the dozen B-17s involved in the combat and the exact look of the U.S. Army mobile SCR270 radar antennae, with its 150-mile range — he also managed to alienate many members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. They found DeRosset to be abrasive, abusive, and crass. (“Voting in the last presidential election was like bobbing for turds in the toilet.” — Richard DeRosset.) Since the first mural was completed, the survivors applaud the artist when he enters the room, according to Brown, whose father-in-law is in the survivors’ group. In fact, they have made the artist an honorary member.
“I’ve seen him so gentle and I’ve seen him so angry,” said Brown. “There is a passion in Richard that nobody can explain. I asked him once why he had chosen to paint the HMS Prince of Wales.” The British battleship sank shortly after Pearl Harbor, on December 10, 1941, along with the Repulse, after both were attacked by Japanese bombers off the coast of eastern Malaysia. Eight hundred and forty British sailors were killed. “He said, ‘It never had a chance.’ He really feels sad for ships.”
Joe Ditler told me other stories about DeRosset. “Where do I begin?” he wrote in the first of many e-mails. He described himself as one of DeRosset’s greatest champions, a friend and fan, as well as someone who is often chagrined by the artist’s “tantrums and outbursts of insanity” — “extreme behavior” that has embarrassed the museum and offended its patrons. “I love him and hate him all in the same breath.” In addition to displaying permanent pieces by DeRosset, the museum has hosted two big loan exhibits of his work over the years. “And both were well received.” But Ditler had to develop “a DeRosset protocol.” It dictates that the artist not be allowed to grab the microphone in front of groups. DeRosset loves tasteless jokes and vocabulary, said Ditler. A “special Richard-watcher” ghosts him at public events, keeping him out of trouble. (It has usually been Ditler’s assistant, Barbara Sarda.) Ditler himself has been DeRosset’s occasional “baby-sitter” and “judge advocate.” (“You know: ‘He’s your friend, Ditler. You handle him.’ Despite his rough side, Richard is a big sweetie — one large, talented teddy bear. He’s among the great characters who make our colorful waterfront great. And history will remember him fondly, I think. But I’m always the guy who has to put tape across his mouth.”)
Once, DeRosset wanted to be invited aboard the Star of India, the museum’s sailing ship, for an all-day party. “That’s eight hours at sea, and the ship can be awfully small if someone goes sideways. But then we had the idea of putting Richard in the very visible sail-makers’ cabin, have him paint the Star while we were underway, and then raffle it off at the end of the voyage. It was amazing.” Children and adults gathered around him, utterly charmed, says Ditler. “We finally had discovered a way to allow him out in public — keep him busy doing what he does best.”
Occasionally DeRosset has used his paintbrushes as barbs. “A few years ago, he was mad at us here at the museum. It was while he was working on a beautiful painting of the Titanic. When he finished it, he received rave reviews. Limited-edition lithographs were signed and numbered, and it was a huge success. But much later I discovered he had painted our executive director and development director as victims struggling to leave the sinking liner. He was so mad, it was his way of getting back at them.
“Another time I commissioned him to do a painting of Cabrillo’s ships entering San Diego in 1542. Well, the painting was grand. But I noticed a tiny reflection on Point Loma and asked him what it was. Richard said, ‘It’s an INS truck waiting to nab Cabrillo for illegal entry.’ Sure enough, under the magnifying glass that’s what I saw.”
The museum had him paint over it before it presented it to the president of Portugal.
Ditler said that when DeRosset was asked to paint another landing for the Cabrillo Festival in 1994, DeRosset put in “pelicans grabbing at Cabrillo’s ass.” The painting was intended for the cover of the flyer produced by the Cabrillo National Monument for the event, which commemorated the 452nd anniversary of the landing. Needless to say, DeRosset was compelled to paint over that prank too.
In my earliest encounters with the artist, on the phone, I noted his odd sense of humor. “I did a ship in a bottle that I absolutely loved,” he told me, “but I almost got fired for it. I was captain of the Pacific Trojan. That was a small tanker out of L.A. Harbor. The only thing we did was to haul the brine water from Starkist canneries out to sea, dump it, go back in, and get another load. And I had a big aspirin bottle on the bridge, and the owner of the ship came onboard, and I said, ‘Hey, Matt, would you like to see the Pacific Trojan in a bottle?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I would love to see my ship in a bottle.’ So I pulled out this aspirin bottle full of rust. And the guy got a real funny look on his face, and he said, ‘You know, captains can get fired for this sort of stuff.’ ”
I also noted that he sometimes displayed insensitivity to the feelings of others. For example, in describing the Veterans Memorial Center as it looked before he began to contribute artworks, he said, “Basically you had a bunch of old cronies from World War II getting together. It was like a good old boys’ club that they conveniently left open to the public. It was like a VFW hall. In other words, cronies would come in with relatively worthless pictures. Or someone would die, and their roomful of crud would either go to the Dumpster or wind up there. Or you’ve got some guy who’s had a stroke and he’s in the rest home and they give him some watercolors, and he does a picture of his old ship. So the first thing he wants is to donate it to the center, so he can brag about what a great artist he is.”
Unfortunately, I could imagine him saying similar things to the veterans.
And yet he also expressed great compassion for the men: “The center’s members have taught me a lot when it comes to human nature. Everyone knows of an old veteran who is extremely bitter and hard to get along with. It’s some guy who used to be a master sergeant and now he’s president of the homeowners’ association, and all he does is give people grief. Well, it finally occurred to me exactly what the situation was. If they were someone who lost their five best buddies, it could have greatly affected their psyche. I had some really bad run-ins with these people initially. But if you come across someone who is totally and unreasonably bitter and angry, there’s usually a reason.”
If you come across someone who is totally and unreasonably bitter and angry, there’s usually a reason. I wondered if this could be an accurate assessment of his own psychology. It made me want to know the details of DeRosset’s personal history.
He was born in Massachusetts on the 28th of April 1953. “We lived in a town that I absolutely loved — Marshfield Hills,” he told me. That’s a community on the south shore of Boston, about 20 miles from the city. “We had a huge house with ten acres of land and a lake, right at the bottom of Prospect Street. I remember the cranberry bogs.” The family moved to San Diego in 1962, when he was nine.
Why did the family move west? And what did his parents do for a living? Helen Ofield told me they owned the Top O’ the Cove in La Jolla for a while, and that detail is in the biographical note Ofield wrote when the Lemon Grove Historical Society mounted its DeRosset exhibit. But it was hard for me to get DeRosset to reconfirm that his parents were restaurateurs. He’d rather talk about the Titanic, the Olympic, the Britannic (the Titanic’s other sister ship), or just about any naval battle. He changes the subject of his progenitors whenever it’s brought up. Once I asked him if his father had been in World War II, hoping to meld the two subjects, war and origins. “Yes, my dad was a lieutenant in the Army. His specialty was artillery, and he was in the Pacific. He saw a little action. I think he was at Guadalcanal and all those wonderful places.” He didn’t go on at his customary length, however; and on another day, in another mood, he told me, “I have no idea who my father was.”
I can confirm that he was graduated from Helix High School in 1972. His education ended there, he says. Was he recognized as an artist by his teachers? “As a matter of fact, I almost got kicked out of high school, because I got into trouble in an art class,” he told me. “I made a comment to a teacher that wasn’t appreciated. She criticized something I did, and I said, ‘Well, what dipsy Dumpster did you get your diploma from?’ Two types of teachers taught me — those who liked me and those who hated my guts and would have been willing to go to prison for killing me, if they’d had the chance. I run into each kind every so often. But after high school I joined the Navy and then spent a lot of time at sea, so I got out of the social circles.”
I wanted to know more about his time in the service; I discovered it was another taboo subject. “I have more nightmares about high school than Vietnam,” he said. It would be his single comment on his war experiences. And the only DeRosset painting of Vietnam War–era ships that I have seen (in a snapshot) was captioned on the verso, “The USS St. Paul (CA-73), shown relieving the battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) off Vietnam” and dated “September 1969,” when he was still at Helix High. Where is the piece now? DeRosset was vague. “I just do them and then they go I don’t know where.” And this artist is not one to have a typed résumé.
After the Navy and his commercial fishing stint, he spent the rest of his sea career on the Pacific Trojan. Where is the Pacific Trojan today? “She’s rusting where she sank. She went down on the 18th of August 1985.”
Were there people onboard? “The entire crew. And the word I got was, she went down at night. And then I found out that she didn’t just sink, she capsized and three days later sank stern first.”
Did they lose anybody? “I’ve heard conflicting reports. Some say she went down with everyone onboard. Someone else said one person was rescued but then got killed in an accident.”
They’re sea stories, maybe. “Yeah, well, the funny thing about sea stories is, they’re always toned down, because, if you tell the truth, no one will believe you. The truth is always so bizarre. They always tone them down so at least there’s a little bit of credibility.”
When I asked David Brown if DeRosset’s “sea stories” were to be believed, he replied: “Well, he did work on a tanker, but it wasn’t a big one. It was a scow, and he was a day tripper. It wasn’t a very glamorous job.” Joe Ditler expressed a series of his own doubts. “Were you able to confirm his military record?” he asked me. “I never was.” I got the most emphatic response to my question from a woman who answered the phone at his house in Lemon Grove one day when he wasn’t home. She described herself as his roommate of five years but his girlfriend never. Her name is Karen Trammel.
“I was here once when you called another time,” she told me, “and he was going on and on. And I said to myself, ‘Well, I hope this lady knows what she’s getting into.’ He exaggerates. He makes up a lot of stuff. Any building that blows up, he claims he had a painting in it.”
Some doubtful claims of DeRosset’s are less crucial to the story of his art than others. For example, does it matter if he has or hasn’t seen the movie Titanic 70 times? (When I asked him how many times he had really seen it, he repeated, “Seventy.”) I’ve come to the conclusion that whether or not his stories are true, they are his stories. And they obsess him as much as stories of famous wrecks. The sinking of the Petrel, for example, he brings up every chance he gets: “We were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard. It was a 52A helicopter out of LAX. We were hanging on to this hatch cover, and we could see the Petrel burning like a Roman candle, and all of a sudden, the guys in the helicopter shot this real bright light right at us, and the helicopter changed course, circled the boat three times slowly. I consider chopper pilots to be the finest professionals.…”
I met DeRosset in person last December. My choice of meeting place had been his studio, which is in his Lemon Grove house. I wanted to see where the artist worked. Later, I would be invited in to see, among other things, one of his works in progress — a “collage of ships” on a 17- by 5-foot roll of canvas showing the evacuation of Dunkirk. It’s for the Imperial War Museum in London, a commission he got through the British-born David Brown. But for now he said the place was “a total mess”; I could see it another day.
I did not reveal that I had already driven by his bungalow on El Prado Avenue and seen the boarded-up windows, the old appliance on skids in the driveway, the random slaps of sea- and sky-colored paint on the siding. Nor did I mention that Karen Trammel had told me: “He tore it all up. Completely tore up the front room, because he was going to redo it and never did. When I accepted his invitation to come clean up the place, I had to push back the cobwebs. I was scared to go in the kitchen.” It’s a barter situation, she said; she pays no rent. In exchange, she continues to clean what she can. Mostly she keeps to her part of the house and doesn’t venture much into his part. “We’re on two different planets.”
I asked what had happened to the windows. “He smashed them when he got angry one night.” What makes him so angry? “His life, his past life.”
Like David Brown and Joe Ditler, Trammel said she has been frustrated by the antics of the artist. “He has absolutely no common sense. He’s like a little kid.” Why didn’t she move out? It wasn’t solely economic convenience that kept her there. She has income from property and earns money selling Indian war bonnets that she makes out of turkey feathers. What she also seems to have is a fondness for DeRosset. (“I don’t know anyone who hasn’t shared a love/hate relationship with him. Yet, we all love him in the end.” — Joe Ditler.) And like the others, she has learned how to cope with him.
David Brown told me, “I can accept his eccentricities, because we Englishmen know what eccentricity is. And I know how to manage him. The key is this: He’s not a mature adult. He’s a very mature teenager.” Trammel, for her part, said, “I have beaten him on the head with a broom. If I could, I’d kick that guy from here to the moon.…” When I met DeRosset’s agent, Quint Fernald, I would learn about his attempts to manage the artist. (“He and Richard are like a couple of billy goats on the same side of the mountain,” Trammel said.) But that would come after I met the artist himself at his choice of meeting place — in the maritime museum’s gift shop, aboard the Berkeley.
Although I arrived early, he was already waiting, paging through a book from the display. He is well over six feet and burly, but when I introduced myself, I thought I saw him cringe. A German shepherd of mine, whose first owner was neglectful, used to do exactly that when approached by strangers. Either she’d cower or she’d bark viciously, ready to go on the attack. But after she realized you were her friend, she wouldn’t leave your side. My sister dubbed her “Velcro dog.” This was my first impression of Richard DeRosset.
His hair was cut in a sugar-bowl style, his mustache was scraggily, and his big, square glasses were smudged. He wore no jacket, despite the December weather. Wasn’t he cold? “My idea of cold is when you’re soaking wet and there’s a wind blowing,” he said. “My idea of warm is to be dry.” Seeing the golf motif on his short-sleeved polo shirt, I asked if he liked the sport. He said he had never noticed before the golf-club pattern. “I love trinkets,” he said as we left behind the key chains and floaty pens and entered the exhibit area.
He led me to his painting of the Berkeley in the museum’s permanent collection. Another door-sized one, this glossy, intensely colorful Berkeley was commissioned by the museum for the 100th anniversary of the ship’s launch in 1898. For 60 years she operated in the San Francisco Bay area. “It went to Sausalito, Oakland, and elsewhere,” said DeRosset. “Of course, that was before the bridge was built. The bridge didn’t go up until 1936.”
Prominent in the composition is a clock tower. The hands of the clock’s face point to shortly after five o’clock, 12 hours before the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. “The quake was at 5:13 in the morning. These other steamers were there too,” he said of the secondary boats in the picture. “The Oakland was the oldest boat on the ferry round at the time.”
Were any ferries damaged during the quake? “Matter of fact, no. Afterwards, the Berkeley and other ferries carried thousands of survivors to safety. But most of the buildings on the hill were destroyed. This [painting] gives you a good idea of what was lost.”
In 1973, the Berkeley was towed to San Diego to become part of the museum, I read aloud from the signage below the painting. “Oh, yes,” said DeRosset, “this thing would have wound up on the bottom or scrapped or burned or towed out to sea and sunk if the museum hadn’t gotten hold of it.”
We moved on, to a second painting. “I call this In the Way, because they’re in the way of each other,” he said. “They” are the Berkeley and a small launch. “You can see that the Berkeley’s wake is heading straight for the launch, and the launch is zigzagging.”
It’s an unsettling picture, as all his near-misses are. The little white launch is a dinghy compared to the oblivious, impervious Berkeley, with its rows of shiny windows lit from within and its big black stack puffing curlicues of smoky purple.
Joe Ditler, although he praises DeRosset’s seas and skies, complains that the artist can’t draw figures. David Brown echoes the criticism. (“His real work is boats and planes. ‘Stop painting people!’ I told him.”) But as I studied DeRosset’s tiny ferryboat riders, each consisting of a few simple strokes, I realized they weren’t meant to be individuals with life stories and buttonholes in their jackets. Reminiscent of the sled drivers and maple-tree tappers of another self-taught artist, Grandma Moses, they were part of the overall design.
We looked at artifacts in the cases on the Berkeley — sextants, chronometers, pages from ships’ logs. DeRosset commentated on every one. Yes, he is a talker, but unlike an egoist whose favorite topic is himself, he often forgot that his work was the focus of our visit. Either that, or else he identifies so strongly with these items that, in speaking about them, he is speaking about himself.
We went downstairs to a loan exhibit, Masterpieces in Miniature: A Precious Collection of Tiny Yachts. DeRosset was captivated by these models; the tiniest were models of models — just a few inches long. “These things should be national treasures,” he said. “They’re breathtaking. The work here is the most splendid I’ve seen anywhere in the world. These are fine works of art.”
One of the models — a minuscule Waratah — held a special fascination for him. The Lunds Blue Anchor liner disappeared off the coast of South Africa on July 29, 1909. “She was on her way back from Australia to London, a brand-new ship — only her second voyage — when she vanished between Durban and Cape Town. Why it happened is one of the great sea mysteries. The consensus is that she was overwhelmed by weather, but when I look into shipwrecks, I don’t look into the obvious; I look into the way the vessel was built. She was originally laid down as a tourist steamer or trunk steamer. A series of ships were built after the Suez Canal opened, and they had one purpose only. That was to bring large amounts of cargo through the canal at greatly reduced rates, because the way they worked it, generally speaking, is that they would charge a cargo ship by its measurements.…”
DeRosset has painted the Waratah for Clive Cussler, author of the Dirk Pitt action-adventure novels. The image appears on Cussler’s website (www.numa.net). It depicts a confident ship, slicing through sapphire sea foam. Its three decks are striped with the shadows of the ship’s lines on a bright sunny day. But I find her black hull ominous. And the thick black smoke from her single stack blows beyond the picture’s right border, into the unknown. Her row of white lifeboats saved none of the 211 lives aboard.
Cussler has published 17 consecutive New York Times best-sellers, and so he has a little loose change. He has put some of it into a nonprofit foundation, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, that looks for sunken ships and lost aircraft around the world. For nearly 20 years Cussler has been searching for the Waratah. For a while in 1999, he thought he had found her. What he had found instead was a freighter sunk during World War I.
I asked DeRosset how he had come to work with Cussler. “He’s really picky about the people he talks to,” he said. “I got hold of his agent and worked through his agent. Clive Cussler is a real good friend of mine. He’s very generous and very friendly. I get along very well with people that are considered untouchable. I love working with him. He’s one of the wealthiest authors in the world. He’s also a fine gentleman. I don’t judge people by what they do for a living, how much money they have, or who they are. Clive Cussler is simply one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met.”
Has DeRosset actually met the author? He deflected the question. Later, though, he was sure to give me a copy of page 305 from Cussler’s 1997 novel, Flood Tide. This paragraph was underlined: “She rolled over on her side and stared through the doorway into the living room, where shelves on two walls were filled with delicately built ship models of wrecks that Pitt and his crew had discovered and surveyed. The remaining walls held dockyard builders’ half models and four seascape paintings by Richard DeRosset, a contemporary American artist, of nineteenth-century steamships.”
A fan’s dream come true; a sea story, with proof.
It was difficult to tear DeRosset away from the models, but I wanted to see more of his work with him. So from the Berkeley we headed over to the Star of India, where one of his paintings was hanging in another loan exhibit, Treasures of the Manila Galleons.
“The Star of India is rich in history,” DeRoss said as we went aboard. “She has played a number of different roles. Each one by itself would have given her great historical status.” Built in England in 1863, she was first known as the Euterpe, and her earliest voyages were to India. She spent her middle years bringing immigrants to New Zealand. At the turn of the century, she was sold to Americans in the canned salmon trade. It was they who changed her name and began sailing her from Oakland to the Bering Sea each spring. In the 1920s, she was towed to San Diego and sat derelict; in 1976, her restoration was completed and she became part of the museum.
“She’s built out of iron,” said the artist, who has painted her in each incarnation. “It was an experimental material for a sailing ship back then. She’s like a cast-iron skillet, which can get really rusty but doesn’t lose its strength.”
The galleons predate the Star. These were large, three-masted sailing ships that Spain used for transporting gold and treasure from the 1500s through the 1700s. Pirates often marauded them, and the exhibit contained some samples of what they were after. DeRosset’s contribution was a small painting (two feet by three) showing the capture of the galleon Santa Ana by two British ships, Content and Desire. The event took place off the coast of Baja California in 1578. The Santa Ana had left Manila four months earlier; it had nearly reached its home port, Acapulco, when it was taken by the buccaneers.
But the Santa Ana picture was not among his best, DeRosset said, and I silently agreed. It was merely illustrative. The trouble was, he had been rushed; the deadline came too quickly, and he hadn’t been able to do enough research. He had been busy with paid commissions.
Weren’t the museum’s commissions paid ones? DeRosset said no, he donates his work to the museum. (That’s true, although, said Joe Ditler, “For a while we were paying him $500 a painting. We would give them to major donors, with the request that they bequeath them to us later. We wanted them to become part of the permanent collection of Richard’s works that we are slowly amassing.” But, added Ditler, “you should know that he was offering to do the work for free.”)
DeRosset likened his donations to chumming the water. “I look at any business that’s successful in the same way I look at commercial fishing. You have to throw some bait over the side. You know, if I had an aluminum siding company, and I moved into a town, I would do some buildings free, like the church, maybe a school. It would be for goodwill. If you went to sea and came back with a load of tuna, it means you had a successful trip. But in order to get that tuna, you have had to use bait from the bait tanks.”
Tuna are more predictable than people, and DeRosset says he has received few if any paid commissions as a result of the free work he has done for the museum. He admitted that the situation was a source of unhappiness for him. Then he dismissed the subject: “People have told me I would have been dangerous if I’d had money.”
We would go next to the Veterans Memorial Center, but first DeRosset wanted to visit the Berkeley’s engine room, so we returned to the other vessel, where he reveled in the deep chugging — even though it wasn’t real: it’s on tape. “These things are just like tea kettles,” he said, imitating the steamer’s sound perfectly, just as he did the boom-boom-boom of the Petrel. “If I had to do it over again, I’d be an engineer. I’ve always had utmost respect for engineers. Anyone who doesn’t hasn’t a clue as to what goes on below deck.”
Who doesn’t have respect for engineers? The people who think that the captain does all the work? “Yeah, well, the captain has basically the same status as the figurehead,” said DeRosset.
Before we left the Berkeley, DeRosset said he wanted to introduce me to the museum’s executive director, Ray Ashley. “He’s a fine historian,” said the artist. Ashley is not the director DeRosset put into the Titanic lifeboat. However, as we entered the reception area of Ashley’s office, it was apparent to me that his secretary wasn’t happy to see DeRosset. His reputation precedes him.
DeRosset didn’t seem to notice her reaction. He introduced me to the woman, who, busying herself with something on her desk, said that Ashley wasn’t there. We left.
As we drove in DeRosset’s white pickup truck to the Veterans Memorial Center, he said he has donated his work there too. But unlike the free work for the museum, this was a genuine gift; he had no thought of receiving any payback from it.
We parked and entered a side door. The first mural of the planned six was just inside it, in a recessed archway. Hawaiian blue and explosion orange are its predominant colors; DeRosset said they were meant to match those in the stained-glass windows. The epic piece overwhelms. Even DeRosset was momentarily silent, looking at it. Here is his commentary on it:
“Starting at the top, I’ve got a Japanese rising sun and part of the Japanese task force heading east towards the Hawaiian Islands. They’re up by the Aleutians. I’ve got the two Japanese battleships and the six Japanese carriers.” He named them all. “I’ve also got an oiler, which is important, because, of course, the excuse for the attack was natural resources.
“Below that, I’ve got the aircraft carrier Enterprise. Aloha Tower. Just above it, 18 STD1s flying in from the southwest. One of the reasons the casualties were so high in Honolulu — and no one’s come up with this information yet — is because I honestly believe that the gunners in Pearl Harbor mistook these aircraft for another incoming flight of Japanese aircraft. So they fired on them.
“Next, I’ve got the scene at the north end of Ford Island. There’s the Detroit, the Utah, the Curtis, the other ships in the yard. That’s dry dock number two with the USS Shaw inside blowing up and the USS Nevada backing down. One thing that’s confusing is that the Nevada actually had a fake bow wave painted on its bow.”
So it would look as if it was moving? “Moving faster — yes. And they were experimenting with different colors and paint schemes in order to see what was most effective against aircraft. This is one of the things they did during maneuvers.
“This is the tugboat Hoga; she played an important role. Right now, she’s in Oakland. But she assisted the Nevada and the Arizona and was able to pull the badly damaged Oglala away from the cruiser Helena that had sustained only moderate damage. Just below that I’ve got two Japanese Zeros and Schofield Barracks. Below that I’ve got the bow of the Pennsylvania burning.
“In the next layer I put in the destroyer USS Ward closing in on one of the five Japanese mini-submarines that were trying to get into the harbor. And then I have mine sweepers, the Crossbill and Condor — those were Pacific tuna boats. I have the USS California as it was rebuilt. That was the most severely damaged battleship — it took months to repair — but she was rebuilt and became quite an asset in the war. Then there is the USS West Virginia. Below that I’ve got the wreck of the Arizona as it looked a couple of days after it was hit. Right after that, I have the USS Pennsylvania. And the last ship is the USS Nevada again. And the reason she’s painted bright orange is because she was the test ship for the Bikini atomic test — Operation Crossroads — after the war. She was actually painted orange in Pearl Harbor, sailed to Bikini, and then was used in the atomic tests.”
The bottom layer repeated the top, in a reverse pattern of planes and ships heading west, along with other symbols. “Mount Fuji and the setting sun represent the end of the Japanese military complex and also the beginning of the nuclear age. I’m showing the conclusion of the war, and the effects of the attack on Pearl Harbor, with the American ships headed towards Japan, whereas on the top you see the Japanese ships headed towards Hawaii.”
After he completed the mural, DeRosset painted a big white life ring in the middle of it. “This was for the sole purpose of giving the veterans a place to sign, with a permanent marker pen. And I asked them to put their name and their duty station or ship. I added a second life ring when the first one got crowded. Until then, I had one individual give me such grief you can’t imagine. After he signed, he apologized to me. And I said, ‘You don’t need to apologize, considering what you’ve been through.’ ”
DeRosset told me about a few of the men whose signatures I saw. “Medal of Honor winner John W. Finn signed here, so afterwards I painted the Medal of Honor around it, and I painted a Japanese Zero with the markings of one that he shot down. Right above him is the signature of James C. Bounds, who was the last person pulled out alive from the overturned Oklahoma; he was trapped 36 hours. They finally cut him out of the bottom. Joseph Novak — he’s a docent here — signed his name and ‘USS Dobbins, Radio Room.’ In the movie Pearl Harbor they showed these modern missile ships getting blasted. That movie was laughable. It was an insult. The best war movie ever made is Das Boot, ‘The Boat.’ But see the director’s cut. In reality the only time a nest of destroyers was attacked at Pearl Harbor was when two bombs were dropped on the stern of the Dobbins. One man was killed, but beyond that there was no damage.”
He pointed to a signature difficult to read on the wall’s bumpy texture; the first name was “Ivan.” “In the National Archives the coxswain of the West Virginia has been identified,” he said. “Well, it turns out, the real coxswain was Ivan, and Ivan mentioned that mistake to me. And I said, ‘Well, we’ve got to do something about it.’ So I took him down to David Brown’s office, and David wrote the Navy, and they’re in the process of fixing the record.”
Other DeRosset works hang in the basement of the building. He was storing them there, he said; he had no other place to put them. We’d see those too, but first, he pointed upward. He had painted a portion of the chapel ceiling with sky and clouds. As an artistic accomplishment it’s minor, in his opinion. “The ceiling needed to be painted anyway, so I said okay, I’d do it.” But it was a physical and technical challenge. “The lighting was horrible. And I couldn’t get a good view of it. Ideally, I like to stand back and see how to make something more effective. Because of the scaffolding, all I could see from the floor was boards. It was a real pain in the neck.” A smile. “But it kept me out of trouble.”
The basement has white walls, a low ceiling, and fluorescent lighting. It’s not a great place to hang art. But even the compromising conditions couldn’t diminish the power of the next group of paintings, perhaps a dozen, most door-sized. Among them were four panels he did for a History Channel program about the sinking of the Indianapolis. (He has also done work for the Discovery Channel, A&E, and the PBS network, he said.)
On July 30, 1945, shortly after midnight, the Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Philippine Sea. It sank in 12 minutes, with 1196 men onboard. About 300 of them went down with the ship; the other 900 or so found themselves in shark-infested waters.
“This is the actual torpedoing,” DeRosset said of a panel showing a fiery burst. “The Japanese fired six torpedoes. The first hit just forward of the number one turret; the second hit just forward of the number two turret. This was painted from eyewitness accounts. I actually changed the location of the moon and intensity of the sky 11 times. Now it’s right where people remember it. I talked to one guy who was on the stern here. I talked to another guy who was standing here. And I talked to three people who were in the water.”
The two middle panels continued the story of the attack and sinking. The fourth panel showed the belated rescue. “What happened was that the ship was never missed. Just by accident, a Ventura bomber saw the oil slick, followed it, and came across the sailors.” The Ventura had been on a routine anti-submarine patrol. “Many men in the water” were the words Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Wilbur C. Gwinn used to call to others for help. Only 316 men survived.
Two other paintings in the basement showed the Titanic’s sister ships during World War I. (“When I do research,” DeRosset told me, “I read every possible thing I can about the particular vessel I’m going to paint and also about other vessels relating to it directly and indirectly.”) When the Great War broke out, some ocean liners were transformed into troop carriers. Here, then, was the Olympic as she looked when she carried troops across the Atlantic. “That’s off the Scilly Islands,” said DeRosset. “Once, she ran over and sank a German U-boat.” Before she went to war, he said, lots of tourists had booked passage on her “in morbid fascination.” After the war, she became a tourist liner again, catering to the Caribbean trade; in 1937, she was scrapped.
The Britannic wasn’t a transport ship; during her wartime service, she became a floating hospital for wounded British soldiers. With red crosses painted on her white hull she flew a flag with the same international protective symbol. It wasn’t protective enough. “She was torpedoed and sunk toward the end,” said DeRosset. “I think it was the 16th of November 1918. She was the largest merchant ship lost in either world war at sea.”
The Britannic’s hull, at this stage in the ship’s life, was rusted around her portholes and elsewhere. DeRosset’s choice of color for the rust was a dried-blood brown. Although it’s strange to say about a symbol of decay, something about the color’s precision brought the whole painting to life. But that’s what the right detail does for a work of art.
We were hungry for lunch now, and DeRosset drove us out to what he called his usual place, an all-you-can-eat buffet at the Sycuan Casino and Resort. He parked in his usual spot, at the far end of the mostly empty lot; the walk was his exercise, he said.
Having noticed earlier that he was limping, I asked about it. He said he had fallen on his boat. What kind of boat was it? He answered obliquely: “I have always owned a boat, although getting out to sea is somewhat of a pain.” I would hear more about his boats the next day.
We didn’t enter by the front door; instead, we walked all the way around the building. This wasn’t just for exercise. DeRosset wanted to avoid the casino, having nothing complimentary to say about gamblers — nor, for that matter, about the casino’s architecture and landscaping. He pointed out its garish peach-and-fuchsia color scheme, its neon-green lawns. “Osama bin Laden lives here,” he said.
The price of the buffet was $7.95. The cashier greeted DeRosset warmly; unlike the museum secretary, she looked happy to see him. He was a good customer, she said, and always had nice things to say about the food and service.
DeRosset loaded his plate with slabs of roast beef, mashed potatoes, hot salads, cold salads, bread. Then he had seconds and dessert. (DeRosset may be impractical about some things, but he has discovered at the casino a way to take in lots of calories cheaply.) On the anniversary of the Petrel’s sinking, he said, he goes to an all-you-can-eat fish place — “to eat all the fish that didn’t eat me.”
Despite the shipwreck, DeRosset said, “I miss the ocean terribly.” Then he thought better: “Commercial fishing is only fun if you’re catching lots of fish. When you’ve got albacore piling up in the hull, then you feel like a food producer. If you’re just sitting and waiting for a bite, then you’re basically killing time.”
With the artist’s help I made a list of other DeRosset work in public places around the city. At the San Diego Aerospace Museum, there is a small one (two feet by three) of the USS Langley, America’s first aircraft carrier, c. 1922. In the lobby of the Holiday Inn on the Bay, on North Harbor Drive, there are several DeRossets. The one behind the concierge’s desk shows a long view of the hotel and three of the maritime museum’s vessels — the Berkeley, the Star, and the steam yacht Medea. (Joe Ditler is in that one. He sometimes rows to work from Coronado, and as a gesture of friendship DeRosset painted him and rowboat into the scene.) On the wall of Hazelwoods, a delicatessen next door to the Holiday Inn, there is a mural of the harbor view. At the University of California San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest there is a Star of India in the mist. It hangs in the waiting room of the Pulmonary Transplant Outpatient Center, third floor, room 13104. The plaque says, “A Memory Lives Forever. Donation by Richard DeRosset on behalf of San Diego Maritime Museum in memory of Dr. Charles A. Stern.” In a semi-public place, inside David Brown’s office, there is a finished Battle of Dunkirk. (“It’s a busy picture, because Dunkirk was a busy place,” DeRosset said, paraphrasing Brown, whose father survived it by swimming out to sea; he was picked up by a Norwegian trawler.)
In the days to come I would see most of these works. I wouldn’t be able to make the trip to see DeRosset’s major out-of-state commissions. For the one in Columbus, Georgia, at the National Civil War Naval Center, the artist worked at home in Lemon Grove. The result was three big panels (each one 17 feet long) showing 50 Union and Confederate ships. For the commission in Texas, he worked on-site for nearly six months, at the National Museum of the Pacific War (formerly the Admiral Nimitz Museum) in Fredericksburg. The finished work is mammoth, perhaps his most significant piece to date: 800 feet of murals (12 feet high) showing the battles of the Pacific theater.
DeRosset loved his time in Texas as the museum’s artist-in-residence: “They gave me a trailer to live in. It was old and decrepit but comfortable, and it was situated in the artifact receptacle yard. That was two blissful acres of burned-out tanks and that sort of thing. They have a real mini-submarine there, which is the only one to be preserved from Pearl Harbor. I was living right next to a shed where they kept a Zeke!” (That’s another name for the Japanese fighter aircraft Zero — or Mitsubishi A6M.)
He said that some people he knew at the Veterans Memorial Center were worried when he announced his Texas trip. “One board member said, ‘Richard, I’ve had a long talk with some of the others, and we don’t think you should go. You can’t keep your mouth shut, and we’re afraid you’re going to be lynched inside of a week.’ And the guy was serious! I do occasionally get myself into trouble here,” he admitted. “But in Texas it all worked out. I loved Fredericksburg. It was a cross between Mayberry RFD and the Twilight Zone. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I could have lived there for ten years, and it would have seemed like a weekend. I liked everything about Texas. I liked the people, the weather. I liked the isolation. Of course, Fredericksburg is something of a tourist trap. It’s an old German town. But the peace of mind is the best thing. You don’t have the same hustle and bustle, the pace.”
He dislikes San Diego, he said. “I see San Diego as a suburb of Los Angeles. I have never really liked it here.” If he moved, though, he would want to take along his girlfriend.
Like his roommate, she is named Karen. To distinguish between the two, he referred to her as “the New Karen” and his roommate as “the Old Karen.” The New Karen’s house is a couple of blocks away from his in Lemon Grove. Both Old Karen and New Karen belong to his church. In fact, that’s why he belongs to it, he said. He also joined because he likes Pastor Jeff, whom he described as young — and yet he loves World War II. He and Pastor Jeff had enjoyed many long talks about that era, said DeRosset.
Speaking of Lemon Grove, I told him I still wanted to see his studio. How about if I met him at his house tomorrow morning?
He countered that we could meet in the parking lot of the Lemon Grove Historical Society. Then he could show me the work hanging there.
Yes, but afterward I wanted to see the studio.
Finally he said okay.
On our way back to the city, we stopped at the Art World Western Heritage Gallery in El Cajon, where DeRosset had a painting for sale. I quickly spotted it, even though it was decorative, not documentary — a coral-and-golden-hued seascape. The price was $6000.
DeRosset said that the gallery’s owner, Floyd Jones, had asked him to paint a picture without a ship in it. “Ships don’t match furniture,” said DeRosset.
It’s a little more complicated than that. In the marine art category, sinking ships are generally a hard sell. No disaster scenes, please, not even the Titanic. Beyond that, the common gallery wisdom is that buyers want bright pictures, not dark paintings. This DeRosset attempt at being more commercial certainly glowed.
He approached a woman who worked there. Was Floyd around? No, Floyd wasn’t there, she said. And now I did see, for the second time, the same reaction that the museum secretary had — pursed-lipped displeasure. Again, though, DeRosset seemed not to notice.
As we drove down the freeway, DeRosset said, “Floyd is interesting. He has a new gallery in Rancho Santa Fe. After I did the seascape, he made some suggestions, like a little more blue in the sky to the right. For just that reason I didn’t varnish it until he’d had a chance to see it again. I took it back and he absolutely loved it. So that opens up a whole new avenue.”
It began to rain. DeRosset was ecstatic, looking at the roiling clouds and their colors. “Things like that just stay in my mind. I memorize them, then use them in the paintings.”
The next morning, I arrived at the Lemon Grove Historical Society on Church Street, not far from the First Baptist Church. It’s in a small clapboard house painted lemon yellow. I went inside and waited for DeRosset. Helen Ofield was in her office; otherwise, I had the place to myself.
DeRosset’s exhibit consisted of a wide sampling of historic ships on seas of all kinds. The Winston Churchill. The Queen Elizabeth. Several Star of Indias. Warships, schooners, steamers. Closely hung, they still took up one whole north-facing room. Marine art experts say, “Look to see that the rigging is right.” But the show made me think that DeRosset might be misplaced in the category of marine art. His rigging, when he had rigged ships as his subject, was beside the point. I wondered if he might be better described as an outsider artist. Also known as naïve or primitive artists, they are so named because they work “outside” the mainstream art world, just as DeRosset does. And they are invariably as obsessive as he, choosing subjects that are either “visionary” or documentary — religion, politics, and history commonly. The work is often highly detailed; “found” materials are typically employed. DeRosset’s doors would qualify. In the end, though, I dropped this idea. It’s unfair and unproductive to put any artist in a box. Categories are for convenience and commerce, not true comprehension. DeRosset simply called himself “self-taught.” I’d leave it at that.
Soon enough, he arrived. Together we looked at the picture showing the near-collision of the Titanic, the Olympic, and the New York. “A lot of mail was sent from the Titanic when it docked in Cherbourg,” said DeRosset. “It has the ‘Steamship Titanic’ cancel on it. These ships didn’t make their money from first class. They made it from steerage, third class, and also from mail contracts.”
He talked on about the lore of the Titanic. “From Cherbourg, she went to Queenstown, Ireland. Some people got off, and a lot of people got onboard. From there she started the North Atlantic trip. And the fact that there was a huge ice field was common knowledge. And Fleet and Lee, the two men who were up in the crow’s nest, actually discovered the ice field ahead of them at 11:10. And on the horizon you could see this real thin layer of white, which was the ice field’s haze that was reflecting light from the stars. That was reported to the bridge. Now this business of the Titanic coming up to an iceberg and somebody shouting, ‘Iceberg! Iceberg!’ is wrong. [First Officer] Murdock knew there was an ice field there, and he took out his binoculars and scanned the horizon until he saw what he thought was a safe and clear passage. The problem was, it wasn’t that at all; it was an optical illusion. And soon enough they realized they were actually heading for a giant berg.”
As DeRosset explained Murdock’s maneuverings, two other people walked in. They were a wholesome-looking couple, under 40, in office clothes. DeRosset introduced them as Pastor Jeff and his wife, Crystal.
I understood from DeRosset’s pleased look that he had summoned them. They seemed happy enough to be here, but I also sensed that theirs was a mission of mercy — to put in a good word with the reporter.
Pastor Jeff Lettow said neither he nor Crystal had seen the show yet. They’d been busy with their other parishioners.
How long had he been employed by the church? “For 18 years. First I was youth pastor, and then the senior pastor retired, and they asked me to take his place. Youth pastor means I worked primarily with the youth; now I oversee the whole thing. I can’t do all-nighters like I once did. When you get older, you hire younger people for that.”
How long had DeRosset been a church member? “Almost two years. We’d had a little conference, and I was calling [Old] Karen to thank her for coming, and this guy picked up the phone and we started a friendship. We enjoy each other. We try to encourage each other, and he paints paintings I like.”
DeRosset said of Pastor Jeff, “He tests people’s faith. He’s got this huge old radio, with the vacuum tubes and everything, and that’s set on the edge of the tub of water. His problem is keeping the piranha fish fed. For me he had a special thing: boiling gasoline.”
Pastor Jeff and Crystal shook their heads.
When were you baptized? I asked.
“I made a deal with him. If the day of the shipwreck, the 21st of May, fell on a Sunday, then I’d go and get baptized.”
Two years ago, it did.
Pastor Jeff and Crystal said he has come a long way in his faith.
“Even though I got kicked out of Sunday school,” said DeRosset. “The last time that happened to me was 43 years go.”
“He can be pretty vocal at times,” said Pastor Jeff. “He gets agitated. We told him to go out and calm down for a while.”
“Yeah. Time out. Face the wall for ten minutes,” said DeRosset.
“The thing that hurt you the most that Sunday was that you didn’t get a piece of Crystal’s cake,” said Pastor Jeff, as if he were speaking to a small boy.
I wondered how well Pastor Jeff did manage DeRosset. In his studio later I would notice a church program with “Fuck” written all over it: “Fuck Mohammed.” “Fuck Islam.” David Brown told me that Pastor Jeff had asked him for advice on how to handle the unruly parishioner. Perhaps Pastor Jeff has since come to the same realization that the maritime museum did after putting DeRosset to work painting aboard the Star. At Christmastime he painted the scenery for the church’s nativity pageant.
When it was time to see the studio, finally, I followed DeRosset’s truck in my car. When we got there, I saw that the old appliance was gone from the driveway. So he must have cleaned up a bit for my inevitable visit.
Stepping inside the front door, I faced a precarious jumble, and the boarded-up windows made it dark. He turned on a light that was clipped to a chair. DeRosset had told me his library consisted of 9000 volumes. I did see books galore, in piles not in bookcases (and not thousands but dozens). There were art books, history books, and Clive Cussler paperbacks. Tacked to a long wall was the unfinished Dunkirk canvas. I also saw cans of house paint.
So he really did use house paint. “I hate little tubes,” he said. “If you’re a real artist you don’t waste your time with that crap. You use lots of paint.” He mimicked perfectly a TV art teacher instructing his students to unscrew their tubes of burnt sienna. “But it’s good house paint. Latex HL enamel. See? I have a nice variety of cans.”
What did he use for brushes? “Well, here’s one.” He held up a mauled five-inch-wide house-paint brush. “And here’s another.” It was a regular artist’s tool, with fine bristles. The two sides of Richard DeRosset.
On the floor was an old pencil sketch for the completed Manila galleon painting. “I do most of my sketches in church during Pastor Jeff’s sermon,” he said.
I saw no easel. He didn’t use one. “What I’ll do is take this chair, pile it up with books, prop the painting up on it, and paint on top of the books.”
Didn’t he worry that he’d get paint on the books?
“No, the only thing that worries me is Old Karen’s cat. It has a tendency to lie down on wet paint.”
It was chilly — colder inside than out. “I love it,” said DeRosset in short sleeves again, this time a polo shirt with a sailboat pattern.
The temperature was only partly due to the lack of sunshine. The carpeting was gone, and the exposed cement floor still held the cold of the night. “I hate carpeting,” said DeRosset. “I tore it all out, along with the ceiling tiles — and the ceiling plaster too.” I saw that the plaster was indeed gone. The house looked as if it were in the middle of a renovation but one that had been abandoned.
“See, my mother and stepfather both smoked. I’ve never smoked. I can’t stand cigarettes. And the smoke damage was extensive. And what I wound up doing was — See, I bought this house from my parents back in ’72, when I went into the service. My stepfather died, and then my mother died, and I started totally revamping the place.”
The wall between the garage and the living quarters had been removed too. How come? “Well, the smoke was so bad, it was even on the inside of the wooden panels. I spent $7000 just cleaning up the place. That included hiring people to remove the tar adhesive on the cement. So basically I stripped down the house. Then financially everything kind of caved in. So I have been using this as my studio.”
I pictured DeRosset as a child enveloped in his parents’ smoke. I thought of the liners’ smoke stacks. Later I remembered what he had said about the captain of the Carpathia: He didn’t mention too much about the Titanic’s passengers, plus the way he handled the chapters on the general subject gave me the impression he was deeply traumatized by the whole affair. In the end, I didn’t ask about his childhood in this house. Instead I asked about Dunkirk.
He showed me books he was using for his research. One was British Destroyers by Edgar J. Marches. “I spent $500 just trying to find this thing. I finally found it downtown in Wahrenbrock’s for 75 bucks. They’re still in business. It’s a superb book. I just love stuff like this. I drool.” He showed me another, called Images of War: Combat Artists. “Gordon Grant did this one,” he said, showing me an image of the English Channel, c. 1940–41. “I used this for the basis of that. The white stripe here around the bridge, the white stripe on the stack, the fact that they put yardarms on the mast.” He went on in his usual way, at length, about Dunkirk, until we stepped into the room beyond the studio.
It was like stepping into somebody’s giant junk drawer. “I believe, having been in the Navy, that every place has its thing,” said DeRosset. “It’s when people clean up the area that I get totally lost.” Conversely, he said of a table piled high with papers: “Probably under that pile are things I have been looking for, for years.”
Next to the table was an ancient artificial Christmas tree, a nod to the season, ornament-less. On the wall were scrawled phone numbers, including my own.
I noticed a piece of old currency in a frame, not hanging, just propped. It was from the Andrea Doria, said DeRosset. On July 25, 1956, in dense fog near midnight, the Italian liner was struck by the Swedish liner Stockholm in the New York shipping lanes. The Stockholm, which survived, was able to use its lifeboats to rescue over 500 of the Andrea Doria’s passengers. The Ile de France picked up another 753. Other ships collected survivors too. Fifty people died. The following morning the Andrea Doria sunk. Since then, divers have been exploring the wreckage, photographing it, and salvaging items from it.
How did DeRosset happen to get this paper bill? “I had a horrible run-in with the diver who salvaged the safes. He was a total jerk. They had one of these really slick TV presentations. They go down there with a diving bell that used to be a cement mixer. They get into the side of the ship, and the thing that really burned my house down was that there were these three glass panels for the first-class entryway into the first-class dining salon. They’re etched, absolutely exquisite, and I said, ‘Oh, I can’t believe they survived the sinking. They’re in perfect shape.’ But the diver said, ‘Oh, it’s in the way, we gotta get to the safes.’ So they smashed them, along with literally thousands of pieces of really fine china, because they ‘gotta get to the safes.’ Well, they recovered the safes, and then they put them in warm water for six months. When they finally opened them, I got a few bills. I told those people, ‘I can’t stand you. If I ever get any of that stuff, I’ll eat shit from a toilet.’ So they made sure I got some.”
Some snapshots were on the table. “Oh, here’s a picture of my front yard.” It showed a power boat up on metal drums in the driveway. He told me the neighbors had complained about it.
They were probably afraid it would fall down, I said. He shrugged. “So I go from one day almost winding up in jail and losing my house to, you know, having a one-man show at the historical society.”
He showed me another photo, of himself, the New Karen, and her young son, Joshua. It was taken when they went aboard the Canadian destroyer Yukon before she sank in July 2000 about two miles off Mission Bay. The San Diego Oceans Foundation arranged for the sinking; researchers and divers visit her regularly now.
“We spent the night on the Yukon,” DeRosset said. “This is below decks. I saw this ship when she was brand new and made her first trip here in the 1960s. This is the engine room. We had the run of the ship. There were three divers onboard, and they thought we were spies. These guys were super-friendly; they left around midnight. Everyone says, ‘Let’s go to Knotts Berry Farm.’ ‘Let’s go to Hawaii and stay in a hotel.’ Spending the night in a derelict warship is my idea of fun.”
He wanted me to meet the New Karen, so we arranged another date, that evening at his favorite coffee shop. “The coffee-shop visit is a daily thing,” he said. But he didn’t drink coffee, I knew from our casino lunch. “I am very fond of green tea.”
DeRosset said he hoped I would also speak to his benefactor. Most pieces in the Lemon Grove show belonged to him. That was Scott Chapin of La Mesa. “He’s been basically keeping me alive for years,” he said. I told him I would make sure to speak with this crucial person. But first, that afternoon, I was going to see his agent. It was he who had arranged the commissions in Texas and Georgia and the TV work. But the artist had nothing good to say about him at the moment. “I told Quint, I started painting long before I thought I could make any money at it. And when it’s not fun, I quit. When I start doing it strictly for money, when that’s the sole motivation, it’s not worth it. I mean, you’ve seen my house now. You know how I live.”
“Don’t let Quint sell you any aluminum siding for your car,” he said before I drove away.
Like Scott Chapin, Quint Fernald lives in La Mesa, partway up Mount Helix. His house is Versailles compared to DeRosset’s virtual shack. There are iron gates at the entrance and exit of the circular drive. They can be remotely controlled from inside.
“We’re on the migration path, and all these unusual birds are here for a short time and then go away,” said Fernald, as I admired the view.
We were in the kitchen — the house has an open plan — where he was putting brownies into the oven. There was sliced cake on the counter, and he offered Coke and coffee. He’s a tall, slender man in his early 60s (I would guess), who whisked from stove to sink with caffeinated energy.
In an area beyond the kitchen, closer to the view, there was a big white grand piano. Over the mantel was a small painting of a 19th-century sailing ship — by Richard DeRosset.
Fernald used to be an airline pilot but hasn’t flown since 1985, when he was forced to retire because of a medical problem. After that, he bought a yacht and lived on it for four years with his wife and three kids. In time he learned a lot about yachts and became a yacht broker. Now the kids were grown and his wife was gone too, having left him for another yachtsman, a rich one. But Fernald said he was still involved in the yacht business.
And the art business? At that he is fairly new; DeRosset is his sole client. He took him on at the suggestion of his neighbor Scott Chapin. He did it, he said, because he wanted to be nice to Chapin, to help out Richard, and to make money. It hasn’t worked out. For one thing, marine art doesn’t sell in San Diego. What does? “Pastels.”
DeRosset was “brilliant,” said Fernald. Before the artist got to Texas, he had thought the space for the murals was a cyclorama. When he got there, he saw it wasn’t round. “It had lots of ins and outs, S-curves, stops and starts. And what Richard had planned wasn’t going to work. But he looked at the space and in two minutes decided what needed to be done, and that’s exactly what he did do. He saw it in two minutes, in his mind.”
In his office Fernald showed me a dozen or so DeRossets. They were mostly door-sized ones, leaning against the walls. One was the Titanic, listing. A white flare that its crew had sent up into the navy-blue sky was its own private constellation. The water was black and reflected all the golden lights of the portholes and the lighted decks above. It was as if a magnificent skyscraper were sinking into the sea at night. “Did you know that he put a star in the sky for everyone who was lost? That’s 1500 and something stars.” So that was why it was, somehow, a joyful painting. The tipping ship was a stairway to heaven.
Hanging up in the bedroom was his favorite DeRosset. This was the James W. Ewell, a four-masted schooner out of Portland, Maine, homeward bound with a storm approaching. The painting was mostly sky and sea; the schooner was on the far right in temporarily beautiful weather, headed toward the squall on the far left. Seeing this one, which somehow managed to be both decorative and documentary, I thought that maybe DeRosset could do seascapes after all. Couldn’t Fernald sell this one? Couldn’t this somehow qualify as at least partly “pastel”?
Fernald sighed. The problem was that, like so many other DeRossets, it was painted on a door. “You can’t charge $5000 for something on a door that will warp over time.” He showed me that some of the paintings had begun already to distort.
He began to speak more frankly about his client. He said one project had not turned out well at all. He had arranged it for DeRosset with the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company — that is, NASSCO — whose shipyards are on 80 acres of land and 46 acres of San Diego Bay, on the south side of the Coronado Bay Bridge. Fernald was furious about what he called a “fiasco.” It seemed that DeRosset had painted one oil tanker for them. “And it was wonderful. They loved it; they hung it up in their boardroom. But then they wanted him to do another one, for British Petroleum, and I guess Richard did it quickly. And that one did not work out well at all.”
He spoke of other projects gone awry because DeRosset worked at his own pace and in his own idiosyncratic ways. But in most cases, DeRosset’s failed subjects had been contemporary ones. Besides needing the right working conditions, the artist seemed also to require the romance of history to do his best. Would Fernald agree? I didn’t ask my question, because he was already on to another subject: despair over DeRosset’s “spendthrift ways,” which made a folly of Fernald’s secondary role, as the artist’s financial manager.
There was, for example, the matter of the boats. The one that used to be in the driveway had never been out to sea with DeRosset on it; it sat and sat, getting the neighbors angry. When DeRosset was in Texas, Fernald had it taken away. But there was another boat in Chula Vista. DeRosset pays $200 a month to moor it at the marina — more when the fee is late. And it’s useless and worthless, said Fernald, who tried to donate it to the Salvation Army — but even they wouldn’t take it. Then he tried to hire someone to cut it up and dispose of it, for $3000. DeRosset said absolutely not. Fernald got someone else excited about buying it (apparently despite its being “useless” and “worthless”) for $200. DeRosset said no to that too.
The brownies were done. As we ate them and the cake, and drank our Coke and coffee, Fernald talked more about his difficulties with DeRosset. Were they insurmountable? Maybe not, he thought. He mentioned that DeRosset is a virtuoso lecturer. “The only trouble is, you have to tell him when the time limit is up, because he could go on all night.” I told him what Joe Ditler had said about his behavior in front of audiences. Fernald said he had never seen it happen.
He showed me a glossy color photograph of the huge wall mural at Lindbergh Field — a computer-altered photograph of it, that is. Images had been added to the portrait of Lindbergh holding a model of his plane. There was a sailing ship on one side of him and a vintage plane on the other. What is more, the background had been divided into sea and sky. All of these new elements had been lifted from works by DeRosset. It wasn’t meant to be a joke. “People think [the mural] looks unfinished,” said Fernald, who wanted to approach people in the city about “finishing” it this way.
But wouldn’t there be objections from the artist who designed the mural in the first place?
“Well, if everybody agreed to it, it would be a big improvement.”
What did DeRosset himself think of the idea?
He wanted his own wall.
As our conversation ended, Fernald walked me to my car. The iron gates were newly installed, and he had trouble opening them with a handheld device. I told him I was thoroughly jangled by the sugar and stimulants; he said he would work off his snacks at jitterbug class that night.
I called Scott Chapin to arrange a visit with him; but when I learned that he had only a couple of DeRossets hanging up — the others were in storage — we decided that a phone conversation would suffice.
Chapin grew up on the water. He lived on Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, before World War II. “When the war came, I thought I would go into the ambulance service. I don’t believe in war, but I thought the ambulance service over in Europe was what I should do. After December 7, that was the end of that idea.” He enlisted in the Coast Guard and was stationed on Cape Cod. “We patrolled the beach. This was when the Germans were off the East Coast. After six months, I went to the Coast Guard Academy — I had a college degree, of course — and ended up on an 83-footer” — an officer on submarine patrol. “Then I ended up on an Army tug. We towed things out into the Pacific.” After the war, he went into the insurance business. “I had an uncle who was president of one. I went to work for him in Hartford. I came out here in 1952.”
Chapin collects other artists’ works but is benefactor only to DeRosset; in all he owns about 60 of his paintings, he said. He saw his first one in a Lemon Grove antique shop in 1982. “And Richard happened to come in, so I met him at that time. It was just a ship, an ocean liner. I didn’t see him for several years, but when I ran into him again, five or six years later, he had improved his style tremendously.” He bought his first DeRosset painting then.
Its subject was the Great Eastern. Originally a passenger steamship meant for the Europe-Australia route, she was called the Leviathan when she was launched in 1858. Other ships on the same route needed frequent refueling. She was so big, her first fuel stop didn’t come until Calcutta. At 19,000 tons, she was said to be six times larger than any ship ever built. She could carry 4000 tourists, or, if need be, 10,000 troops. Still, she wasn’t a financial success and later was converted to a telegraph-cable-laying ship. In 1866, she laid the first transatlantic cable, the only ship large enough to carry it.
“Richard asked me what other paintings I might want him to do. I asked for the Battle of Trafalgar. And since I remembered the ships that left Rhode Island and went to New York — we called them ‘lightning boats,’ because we saw their lights coming down the bay — he did one of those for me. It was the Priscilla. So that was the start.”
He consulted his records and read off a list of the other DeRosset works he owns: French fleet off Toulon. Lifeboat No. 4 (“With the Titanic sinking in the background”). The Star of India and the Euterpe (“In the same picture, so it’s looking at itself”). The HMS Victory. The HMS Royal George. The HMS Prince. The HMS Grafton. Arctic whalers. New York Harbor in the 1930s. The RMS Mauritania. The RMS Lusitania. The St. George (“A British warship, circa 1701”). A couple of Cabrillo landings. The HMS Victoria and Albert, off the Needles Lighthouse. The maritime museum’s steam yacht Medea, off the Scottish Highlands. The Medea again (“Escorting some other vessels during World War I”). British sailing trawlers. The Star of India and the Star of France. The U.S. Coast Guard Bear, Alaska-bound.…
Chapin had paid between $1000 and $3000 each for most of the paintings, he said. “But for some I paid as little as $500.” Was $500 the price for a DeRosset in the early years? “Not necessarily.” They’re smaller paintings? “Well, I’ve been helping him out financially.” Did he mean that he was paying him regularly, beyond the cost of the paintings? “Well, yes, I’m afraid so. I like him and I’d like to see him do well. I’m sort of his Dutch uncle” — someone who isn’t actually one’s uncle but who gives advice as if he were.
“People just don’t understand him,” said Chapin. “You talk about the artist’s temperament. Well, he’s got a pretty strong one. Have you seen the movie about Jackson — ?” Pollock? “Yes, a great movie.”
I mentioned that Fernald seemed to understand DeRosset least of all. Chapin said he realized now that introducing them had been “a mistake.” “Richard is no good on finances, no good at all. Unfortunately, Quint is too businesslike. But I can see why he’s frustrated. Richard can’t be put on a time schedule. He wants to do all the research. He wants everything exactly as it was. If he’s painting a ship from 30 or 40 years ago, he wants to know what its stack color was then, not now.”
He was hopeful that an idea that David Brown had for DeRosset might work out. “David Brown is trying to get Richard to paint all the San Diego–based aircraft carriers; then Richard could make lithographs with a new process that David knows about and sell them to all the seamen for ten dollars each.”
Brown also wanted DeRosset to paint the USS San Diego. (Brown himself would tell me about this idea. “A famous cruiser, the first modern cruiser in World War II, it was like a porcupine, with guns everywhere. It earned 18 battle stars and has an association here. But it was made into razor blades, just like everything else.”) The hope was that lithos of DeRosset’s painting could be sold to every seaman who had ever served on the ship.
“Or he could get a grant,” said Chapin.
I told him I couldn’t imagine DeRosset doing the paperwork.
“I suppose you’re right.”
Chapin sighed and told me again how much DeRosset’s style had improved over the years. “I ran across a couple of the earliest ones in the storage locker the other day. Three small paintings — just ships. But he has always had a real feel for bad weather and rough seas,” he said without irony.
He told me about an argument DeRosset had with someone who owed him money, just the other day. “They had lunch, but during the meal DeRosset got angry and said, ‘Keep your money.’ ”
I have heard that his temper is a weakness, I said.
“I know. And so he walked away with nothing.”
The person with whom he had argued was an ex-girlfriend, who collected DeRosset paintings too. When DeRosset needed money he still sold work to her, but for under market value.
DeRosset should probably leave San Diego, Chapin said. “He has spoiled the market here by selling his work too cheaply.”
But what about the new girlfriend? Would he want to leave her? The Old Karen was a good influence, he thought. “The Karen that lives with him is very helpful. He doesn’t appreciate her enough.” The New Karen, on the other hand, might be looking for more stability than DeRosset could ever offer her. “I had a long talk with her the other night. I told her that lots of wives support their artist husbands. But I’m afraid she wants him to become something he’s not.” Apparently, Chapin is her Dutch uncle too.
He sighed again. “I wish I knew what was going to become of him. I just hope it’s something good.”
I met DeRosset for the last time at the Coffee Cottage in La Mesa, where he sat on a couch beside the New Karen, whose real name is Karen Bingman. Bingman’s son Joshua played checkers with the young woman who worked the counter.
“Old-fashioned girl” is the phrase that best describes Bingman. She was born on the same day as DeRosset, seven years later, in 1960. She wore a chaste blue dress with a hemline to the shin and costume pearls around her neck. It was the same outfit she had worn to work at a municipal tax office. Her light-brown hair was worn long, middle-parted, and pulled back, like an early ’60s folksinger’s. Once, David Brown published in his Veterans Journal a parable she wrote. Called “The Perfect Rose,” it’s the story of a little boy who picked a rose for his mother. “It did not matter that some of the leaves were turning brown, or that the rose petals were not in a perfect award-winning shape, or even that little bugs crawled on the petals…” She didn’t smile much; she looked worried, and tired. We all drank our green tea.
I noticed paint speckles on DeRosset’s pants. What time of day did he like best to work? It depended on the weather. “In real cold weather the paint doesn’t stick, and in real hot weather it dries too fast.” That afternoon, it had warmed up sufficiently; he had been able to paint.
We talked about Fernald. I told DeRosset that Fernald had called him “brilliant.” Bingman said Fernald was much too hard on DeRosset. He had made him redo things over and over, like the deck of the British Petroleum oil tanker. “Fourteen times!” Fernald had wanted to search her house, looking for things that DeRosset might be doing outside of his contract, or else doing for free.
In fact, DeRosset was planning for his next mural at the Veterans Memorial Center. “I was thinking of doing the Spanish-American War. The USS Bennington blew up in San Diego harbor in 1905, so I was thinking of putting in the Bennington, and also the Maine, which blew up in Havana in 1898, of course.…”
Meanwhile, Fernald wanted DeRosset to paint people’s yachts. For the artist it was not an exciting prospect. “Cornelius Vanderbilt said it best: ‘Owning a yacht is the most expensive way to go third class.’ If I were a Bill Gates and had lots of money, I would not own a yacht. What I would do would be to buy an historic vessel that was on the brink of becoming a derelict. Either an old steam tug or something interesting like a puffer, a small freighter, something with really classic lines, and I would restore it to the way it was. There’s a fishing boat that I fell in love with. This thing was built in the ’20s and had traditional lines and wasn’t very big. It was called the Jezebel. A lot of people buy old fishing boats, and then they convert the fish hold into another room and take out the refrigeration coils. I would totally restore the vessel so that she was a working fishing boat. I might not use it for fishing, although I think fishing boats should be fished.”
He had brought a selection of reproductions on greeting cards to give me; the originals were owned by Scott Chapin. One was the brigantine Lawrence. An American privateer, it was painted by DeRosset as it looked in the act of luring the armed escorts away from a British convoy during the War of 1812. Another showed the last clipper ship by famed Massachusetts shipbuilder Donald McKay. Called Glory of the Seas, it was southbound along the California coast in the 1870s.
The waves in both of those images are spraying the sails. The clouds are racing along above. But a third card, and the most charming, was painted in different mode. In Parade of Lights, the water is calm and reflective, and the boats, being newer, are powered by steam. It shows the Christmas celebration of the New York Railroad tugs, c. 1926. There are four of them, strung with Christmas lights and gathered in a circle. They competed against each other in the tugboat competition earlier in the day. When they were working, their job was pulling barges loaded with railroad boxcars.
In this scene of tranquillity the smoke from the tugs’ stacks goes mostly straight, not sideways — there wasn’t much wind. Tall vertical poles strung with lights are topped by holiday firs, like arrows pointing upward. In the sky, a mail-carrying Jenny (the nickname for the Curtiss JN-4 biplane) playfully buzzes the tug men and their families, who wave to them from below.
Where did the painting get its power? The sky and the water are both the same lavender color. So the tugs, shaped like comfortable old shoes, appear to float not merely on water, but on air. This lightness gives them an ethereal look that lifts a viewer’s mood.
He had also brought me photographs of some paintings. He sat and labeled them on their versos in a black flare pen: The USS Dyer (DD-84) with an H-16 seaplane overhead. The USS America. The RMS Bounty, Cape Horn–bound. British ship in heavy weather. Battle between the CSS Alabama and the USS Kearsarge. CSS Hunley sinks the USS Housatonic. Confederate blockade runner Stonewall Jackson.…
“Twenty, 30, 40 years from now, I could wind up on the beach with nothing, but this way, even though things are precarious financially, I can look back and say, ‘Well, I’ve got three beautiful paintings at the National Civil War Navy Museum. A bunch of beautiful murals at the National Museum of the Pacific War.…’ ”
He began to reminisce about his time in Texas, where he said he was better known than he was in San Diego. “Out in the storage receptacle yard I made friends with the critters. I was feeding the squirrels and everything else that came hobbling up to the trailer in the morning. After working at the museum all day I would get back late at night, have some tea, eat a grapefruit and a can of Texas-style beans.…”
“The only thing I didn’t like about Texas was that we weren’t close to the ocean,” said the artist. “I consider oceans my real home.