Monday, November 2, 2015

The Messina Interview Series: 
Because sometimes it takes a poet. 

Nicolas Carone, 2006 © Estate of Nicolas Carone

Nicolas Carone: Jazz, Poetry, and Jackson Pollock: In the last major interview in his life, the abstract expressionist master dissolves myths surrounding his best friend Jackson Pollock.

Chuck Close, Paul G. Oxborough, Broy Family Collection

Chuck Close: Frank Messina interviews the most famous artist in America. 

Robert Rauschenberg, © Al Seib

The Art of Sacrifice:  
Ron Bishop & The Bob Rauschenberg Gallery

Denise Bankuti in her studio

Denise Bankuti: 9/11 Truth by Example. A discussion with an artist who has not forgotten.

Gordon Mumma, © Julien Jourdes for The New York Times
John Myatt
"The biggest art fraud of the 20th century," emerges as a respected working artist with a clear and direct message to the experts he fooled.


Gordon Mumma: Genius of Simplicity. A rare interview with longtime John Cage, Merce Cunningham collaborator. 

Martin J. Kemp: Leonardo and Baseball: The Mets Poet interviews the most sought-after art expert in the world.

Georges Mathieu: In the final interview in his life, the Lyrical Abstraction master shatters the art world with a surprise revelation. A Fine Art Investigations exclusive.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Journalist Settles Libel Suit with Art Restorer

Patrick Bahners, photo by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung
Journalist Patrick Bahners has settled his part of a libel lawsuit with Canadian art restorer Peter Paul Biro who alleged Bahners published untrue statements about his methods of art authentication. 

Bahners became entangled in a massive libel case stemming from a July 12, 2010 16,000-word profile in New Yorker magazine, written by David Grann, in which Peter Paul Biro and his family of art conservators from Montreal, Canada, are depicted as criminals, according to the lawsuit. He is the second defendant to settle out of court with Biro

Biro launched his lawsuit in June, 2011 in US District Court, Southern District of New York, against Grann and New Yorker magazine's parent company, Conde Nast, who filed motions to have the case dismissed. But in August, 2012 Judge J. Paul Oetken ordered that statements in the article potentially had defamatory implication and he refused to dismiss claims based on those statements. Biro is seeking $20-Million from the defendants.

Bahners penned his follow-up article a full year after the judge's decision, and shortly after publication in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Bahners was added to the lawsuit.

The details of the settlement were not made public. But one analyst said it marks a turning point in a case which may have grave implications for the chief defendants David Grann and Conde Nast. 

Veteran investigative journalist Harry Moses, who for years produced CBS' 60-Minutes, said Grann made a mistake by relying on a bad source for his article in the New Yorker. "I think [David Grann] relied too much on Theresa Franks. She's been largely discredited," Moses said.

In a 2011 interview, Franks, an art dealer from Arizona, claimed she was the "catalyst" for the article, a claim Grann neither confirmed nor denied, but has been cited by legal experts as the defendants' "Achilles' heel" in the lawsuit.

Franks published scathing articles on her websites and blog for years, damaging Biro's reputation as an innovator and pioneer in the field of painting analysisparticularly of forensic evidence, that may tie a painting to the artist's hand, or to that of a forger. 

Franks hired a fingerprint examiner, Patrick Wertheim, to "double-check" Biro's methods. Wertheim produced a report for Franks which, together with Franks' articles, insinuated that Biro fabricated fingerprints by means of a rubber stamp and then planted them on the artwork, something David Grann further insinuated in his New Yorker article.

Grann's article set off a bit of a media feeding-frenzy, and it wasn't long before other articles appeared, stating Biro was "a forger" and that his family had done "jail time". None of the articles produced any proof for such claims.

Shortly after Biro filed his lawsuit, many articles which portrayed Biro badly were retracted.  Manhattan Media published a public apology and the Daily Beast issued a correction.  Based on the New Yorker article, Business Insider had included Biro on a list of "Nine of the Biggest Art Forgeries of All Time." After the suit was filed, they suddenly removed Biro from the list and renamed it, "Eight of the Biggest Art Forgeries of All Time." One media outlet clearly and publicly admitted they misinterpreted the Grann article and apologized, and other articles simply vanished.

Since Franks became a defendant in the case, her venomous articles on Biro have completely disappeared from the internet, in effect, retracting all of the claims that Grann so heavily relied upon for his article. Her numerous art-related websites are all gone too, and the only thing that remains on her former blog is an advisory notice claiming all information on the site has been "rescinded, deleted and destroyed." 

And Franks' fingerprint expert, Patrick Wertheim, who Grann also relied upon for his article, is currently under investigation by the International Association for Identification (IAI) for evidence tampering, evidence fabrication and obstruction of justice in a murder case. The results of which are still pending.

Another primary source for Grann's article, Marion Hendler, claimed her late husband invested with Biro’s father in a painting, and insinuated it was switched with a cheap copy. However, according to court records, Biro and his father’s estate sued her for libel but she never appeared in court to face Biro, and defaulted, thus legally admitting to the falsity of her claims.

Judge Oetken's ruling came just weeks after a hugely embarrassing scandal involving New Yorker magazine journalist Jonah Lehrer, who resigned after admitting plagiarism and also fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in his best-selling book, Imagine.

Biro would not comment on the case. Likewise, his attorney, Richard A. Altman, would not comment except to confirm that a settlement had been reached and that his client had withdrawn his claim in February, 2013. Neither Bahners nor his attorney could be reached for a statement.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My Interview with an Art Forger

John Myatt © BSKYB/Sky Arts
by Frank Messina

He fooled critics, art experts and auction houses. But through all the chicanery, he never fooled himself. John Myatt, once referred to as "the biggest art fraud of the 20th century," has now emerged as a respected working artist with a clear and direct message to the very experts he fooled. In this Fine Art Investigations exclusive, Myatt candidly talks art authentication and the importance of scientific analysis. And in a surprising twist, Myatt pops the lid off of yet another art world mystery. The full article will be published here soon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Denise Bankuti: 9/11 Truth by Example

Artist Denise Bankuti in her studio, copyright 2012

"Artists paint their truth. And through that truth, history reveals itself."  
Denise Bankutiartist

 by Frank Messina

Atop the escalator of the Grove Street PATH station in Jersey City, someone handed me a flyer. "Big art show," a young man said. "We're showing a film about the truth of 9/11, then having a round-robin discussion." I stared down at the flyer—a crude drawing of an American flag with a question-mark in the middle. "But what about the art," I asked. "9/11 art doesn't sell," he said. "But we have lots of DVDs, and books. People love them, and it helps pay the rent."

The brief encounter led me back to the sneaking suspicion I've had since the months after the attacksthat artists have largely avoided the subject of 9/11 in their work. 

But given such a moment in history, why have artists failed this calling?

As I walked toward the river, standing less than a mile from where so many died, I pondered the question. The possibilities ebbed and flowed in my mind—maybe the subject is too painful, or on the contrary, not "inspiring" enough. Or perhaps, in a clear capitalistic and entrepreneurial sense, as suggested by the man with the flyer, art on the subject of 9/11 just isn't as attractive or commercially viable as a conspiracy-laden 9/11 "truth" film. 

Or is it is something else?

The website of The National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City features an artist registry section where artists, authors, poets and musicians can upload their content along with a resume`. The cost is free. 

Of the nine-hundred artists listed, many are from overseas, including Egypt, Israel, The Netherlands and the Philippines. Some are seasoned professionals, but the great majority are amateurs collectively brought together for the purpose of confronting 9/11 through the eyes of an artist.

Chaos, Oil on Canvas, copyright Denise Bankuti

There are simple drawings, as well as elaborate murals and mixed-media compositions. 

One day, while perusing the site, a particular image gripped me out of my skina painting entitled "Chaos", by Denise Bankuti.

I clicked the "contact artist" link and composed a brief email to let Bankuti know how much her painting moved me. As a fellow artist, I know a simple gesture of appreciation goes a long way. I did not expect a response. 

A few days later, I did receive one. And it wasn't long before I found Bankuti to be one of the few professional artists who courageously confronted the horror of 9/11, refreshingly, without an overt political agenda. 

A year later, I asked Ms. Bankuti for an interview with Fine Art Investigations. 

"I'm definitely a California girl," Bankuti saidand of the rare born-and-raised variety. 

Her grandparents on her father's side were immigrants from Hungary, and after working as farm hands and getting sponsored in Ohio, they moved to Chicago, where her mother lived. Around 1941, her parents moved to Burbank.

Before her father died, he built a studio for her on the second story of their home—a gift for which she is thoroughly grateful.

"Every morning I go into the studio and start working. It's a wonderful place to create. I feel like my family is still around me," she said.

Bankuti also has fond memories and appreciation for her grade school art teacher, Helen Manezon, who was one of the illustrators at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Manezon would take the promising young Bankuti under her wing, but not without a bit of tough love from the old school.

"She gave me a lesson that I will never forget," Bankuti said. She described how Manezon came to check on the progress of a painting she'd been painstakingly working on for a week. She told Bankuti it was fantastic and that she'd like to put it on the wall for everyone to see. The young artist's head swelled with pride.

But then Manezon took the paper towel that Bankuti had been wiping her paint brush off with and put it in front of the whole class. Bankuti paraphrased the teacher. "'You have more freedom and better color in that paper towel than you have in that piece of work you've been working on for a whole week.'" 

"At the time i was devastated," Bankuti said. But the lesson had served its purpose. After completing high-school, she won a scholarship to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. She later attended Otis Art Institute until 1973. 

Another teacher that played a major role in Bankuti's development was Edmund Hill. "He taught me everything I know about structure," she said. The two would become life-long friends.

Bankuti said Hill introduced her to the work of the master artist Charles White, who's social realist drawings show poignant, and volatile depictions of the civil rights movement.

Inspired by his work, and his humanity, Bankuti painted a picture of White. "I did a 5'x10' painting in one color (sepia) in one tube of paint on canvas and entered it in a national contest, and it won out of 18,000 entries," Bankuti said.
The Last Thing I Remember, copyright Denise Bankuti

With the encouragement from mentors and family alike, Bankuti strove to live her dream as an artist. It wasn't always easy, but the savvy Burbank native wasn't going to give up, even if it meant taking a job for a while to make ends meet.

A neighbor offered her a position as a receptionist for Hollywood talent agent Herb Tannen. Bankuti accepted the job, but with the caveat that she wouldn't work after her 30th birthday. Tannen agreed.

There, the 25-year old Bankuti learned to work the ropes in her favor, establishing acquaintances with Hollywood's A-list, and turning some of them into proud owners of original Bankuti's.  

"I sold paintings to Burt Lancaster," she said. "I did an 8' x 4' painting of Tina Turner for her home. She commissioned me to do the painting of her." 

And the list goes on: Sidney Poitier, Kirk Douglas.

Armed with her golden address book, Bankuti had no trouble booking exhibitions. And on her 30th birthday, she quit her job as promised. 

"Instead of show-business using me, I used it," Bankuti said. "I've been a working artist ever since."

Bankuti's success is inspiring. But the manner in which she artistically responded to 9/11 is fully remarkable.

"The first recording of historical events was through drawing, and painting," she said. "Artists paint their truth. And through that truth, history reveals itself. It doesn't always mean that what the artists portray is everyone's truth. But their opinion has to be put down. Because that shows where our society and our culture were coming from at that moment."

Fallen Heroes, copyright Denise Bankuti

Last September, Bankuti's work was exhibited at Penn State Berks Freyberger Gallery and at The Gallery at Lehigh Valley University to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

She poignantly described how the son of a firefighter, who suffers 9/11-related mental health issues, came to her during the exhibition and said that her work gives great honor to his father. "The graciousness of the New Yorkers who came up to me..." She paused for a moment. "I was just trying to record history of our country."

As she spoke, I thought back to the flyer-man at the PATH station, who said 9/11 works "don't sell." I then tried to quantify, in dollars, Bankuti's experience in Pennsylvania with the New Yorkers, with the firefighter's son. 

What price can you put on that? 

For Bankuti, the answer is obvious. Despite huge accolades for her 9/11-related works, they are not for sale. Not even to the Hollywood glitterati.

"I am more interested in placing my artworks in a place of honor rather than getting paid for it," Bankuti said. 

"When I die, I'll sure as hell know that there are schoolchildren who are going to come to that small museum in Burbank. And they're going to leave asking questions, maybe, wanting to know more."

Denise Bankuti's website:
Thanks to Denise Bankuti and the September 11 Memorial & Museum.
 All photos and text are copyright protected and may not be copied or disseminated without the expressed written consent of Denise Bankuti, and the Artist Rights Society.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


*Magazine's key source denied a motion
*Plaintiff to add more defendants

*Federal Judge says article is "capable of defamatory meaning".
*$20-Million case ruling comes two weeks after Jonah Lehrer scandal.

August 9, 2012

In an historic and devastating blow to New Yorker magazinewhich for years has touted "ironclad" fact-checking methods, a federal judge has denied the publication's motion to fully dismiss an art expert's $20-Million defamation lawsuit.

US District Court Judge J. Paul Oetken's 95-page ruling means the case will go to trial unless New Yorker magazine and nine other defendants settle with plaintiff Peter Paul Biro. 

The lawsuit stems from a July 12, 2010 feature article written by a New Yorker journalist, David Grann, in which Biro and his family--art conservators from Montreal, Canada, are depicted as criminals, according to the lawsuit.

Grann's article set off a media frenzy, spawning follow-up articles which painted Biro as a "forger" and that his family had done "jail time," all of which were later found to be untrue.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, many articles which portrayed Biro negatively were retracted.  Manhattan Media published a public apology and the Daily Beast issued a correction.  Based on the New Yorker article, Business Insider had included Biro on a list of "Nine of the Biggest Art Forgeries of All Time." After the suit was filed, they quickly removed Biro from the list and renamed it, "Eight of the Biggest Art Forgeries of All Time." One media outlet clearly and publicly admitted they misinterpreted the Grann feature and apologized, while some of the spin-off articles just disappeared off the internet. 

In his ruling, Judge Oetken stated that Grann's article is "reasonably capable of a defamatory meaning." He also called into question whether Grann's article "constitutes a fair and true report" on Biro.

Oetken also approved consideration of special damages for Biro on "claims for injurious falsehood". Other claims by Biro were dismissed by the court. But the case will move forward, and as one legal expert said, "settlements will come pouring in."

Biro issued a brief statement following the judge's decision. "I am pleased that the court has ruled that some of the statements in the article can be considered defamatory.  I look forward to proceeding to discovery and to determining the case on its merits."

The New Yorker also issued a statement. "We are gratified that Judge Oetken has already dismissed the vast bulk of Mr. Biro's claims, and we are confident that we will prevail."

But perhaps the statement is too little too late for the New Yorker. One defendant has already chosen to settle. According to U.S. federal court records, publisher Dan Rattiner reached a settlement arrangement with Biro, the details and amount of which are undisclosed. Biro sought $1 million from Rattiner.

In addition to Grann, the suit names as defendants Conde Nast, a division of Advance Magazine Publishers, Inc., Louise Blouin Media, Global Fine Art Registry LLC, Theresa Franks, Business Insider, Inc., Gawker Media LLC, International Council of Museums, Georgia Museum of Art, and Paddy Johnson. 

In a separate ruling, Judge Oetken denied defendant Theresa Franks a motion to dismiss based on jurisdiction. Franks, a resident of Arizona, claims to have been a "catalyst" to the Grann article.

Biro also won a ruling which allows him to file a supplemental complaint to include additional defendants if necessary.

Biro's work was the subject of the 2006 film documentary, Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?, which follows the journey of Ms. Teri Horton, a retired trucker who bought a purported Pollock painting for $5.00 in a thrift shop, and her attempt to have it authenticated. 

A fingerprint on the back of the canvas was first checked out by a San Bernardino, California police chief. Then, years later, Horton hired Biro to analyze the fingerprint. The print matched one on a can of paint in the Pollock studio and on an undisputed, cataloged Pollock painting hanging in the Tate Modern. 

Judge Oetken's ruling comes just weeks after a hugely embarassing scandal involving New Yorker magazine journalist Jonah Lehrer, who resigned after admitting he fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in his best-selling book, Imagine.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Art of Sacrifice: Ron Bishop & The Bob Rauschenberg Gallery

by Frank Messina

August 1, 2012

Ron Bishop

"The first half of the 20th century belongs to Picasso, the second half to Rauschenberg. While Picasso blew the doors off the art house, Bob knocked it down." 
Ron Bishop - Director, Bob Rauschenberg Gallery

On a recent Thursday night, I walked into Bert’s Bar in Matlacha, Florida—a popular local watering hole that promises good grub and cold beer. I passed the pool table with the faded green felt and propped myself up on a stool. On the opposite wall, a yellow sign with black letters read: “NO POLITICS / NO RELIGION”.

Respecting the house rules, I turned to the couple next to me and asked if they knew where I could find some art. Good art. The heavyset man, sporting a Harley Davidson shirt turned toward me, raised his left arm as if carrying a barbell, and flexed. “See this? Art.” I immediately recognized the image on his tattooed flesh as a warped version of a Pablo Picasso painting.

“Weeping Woman, 1937,” I said, referring to the artist’s famed painting. “You know your stuff,” the man said. “You’re good,” his female companion replied, who was inked up on both arms and neck, framed by a faded Talking Heads t-shirt.

“Well, not really,” I said. "But I do know that image.”

After a couple of drinks and some small talk, we discussed Picasso, Pollock, and Rauschenberg. "The art critic Clement Greenberg once said Jackson Pollock was better than Picasso," I said. 

“That’s ridiculous,” an agitated Ben said. 

“And I just spoke with a guy from the Rauschenberg Gallery in Fort Myers who said that while the first half of the 20th century belongs to Picasso, the second half belongs to Rauschenberg," I said.

“That’s blasphemous!” Ben said. “Picasso owns all of the 20th century and this part of the 21st!" Katie shook her head in disgust. “Picasso is God," she yelled, slamming her bottle on the bar. "God!" The room quieted. The bartender shot over. "Hey, everything alright here, guys?"

I looked up at the yellow sign with black lettering and read part of its message again: NO RELIGION. “I’ll take the check," I said.

New Century Recent Acquisitions from the Martin Z. Marguilies Collection
The next day, I made a call to the man who had uttered the quote which almost got me tossed out of a bar.
“I have a great job,” Ron Bishop said, director of the Rauschenberg Gallery at Edison State College in Fort Myers, Florida. “Because I get to look at art all day long.” The words came from a man who has dedicated much of his professional life to the legacy of the late Robert Rauschenberg, an artist who has cast a huge shadow over the cultural landscape of contemporary American art, whose philanthropy has benefited many, and inspired millions.

Much of Bishop’s job as director is developing and organizing exhibits for the gallery—a task that entails long hours and meticulous planning. “I cover a lot of territory,” Bishop said. “But I don’t complain about that work."

And why should he? The gallery bustles with energy—a collegiate presence augmented by contemporary, albeit profound artworks. The gallery is in a pristine building highlighted by a space large enough to display an ambitious art installation. In my visit there last March, an exhibition of Ray Burggraf's art was hanging. The gallery afforded ample breathing room for Burggraf's large format paintings.

Rauschenberg's Scenarios Exhibition, 2007
Rauschenberg moved to nearby Captiva Island in 1970. The Gallery of Fine Art was founded in 1979 and would become Rauschenberg's home gallery. By the time Bishop was hired in 1999, Rauschenberg had made a huge cultural and financial impact in Fort Myers. Bishop continued the friendship with Rauschenberg, an alliance that would prove paramount to the existence of the gallery itself.

"Bob had done so much for us," Bishop said. "When we had a show with him, he gave us limited edition prints, an edition of 100 or 160, entirely for us to to sell and benefit the gallery. We put it through the state of Florida's cultural endowment and we were able to stabilize the gallery," Bishop said.

"The Division of Cultural Affairs has a program that matches two-thirds to one the money that you put into a holding account and we live off of that interest," Bishop said. "The principal is essentially what Bob gave us through the sale of those prints. That’s my exhibition money."

Recognizing the huge impact Rauschenberg was having on the gallery's success, Bishop set the wheels in motion that would eventually result in renaming the gallery in the artist's honor. I asked Bishop how that developed. "I identified quickly that this was our future and that Bob had given it to us," Bishop said. "I went to the foundation department and said, we name buildings all over campus for donations that people give us." He brought the idea of renaming the gallery in Rauschenberg's honor to the president and board of directors, which they readily endorsed. "Then we went and asked Bob if he'd agree, and he did," Bishop said. In 2004, the gallery was officially renamed.

"One of the things I do each summer is try to find an event that supports an organization in the community," Bishop said.  In this spirit, Bishop works tirelessly to help produce and present "Arts for ACT Fine Art Auction" to benefit the Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc.  (ACT) organization.

Artists from around the area donate a piece to ACT to be sold at their annual summer auction. The artist's work is showcased in the gallery for about a month where visitors can preview the works before auction.

Raushcenberg's generosity has rubbed off on a new generation of successful artists.
Michelle Weinberg, an artist from Miami and New York says she's pleased to donate her work, a silkscreen called Artist Studio in Landscape.

"I frequently donate works to fundraisers," Weinberg said. "I try to participate when the cause is worthy. In fact, I created the silkscreen editioned work, so that I could say yes to all the requests for donations I receive."

Bishop said Weinberg's extremely generous gift emanates directly from the Rauschenberg's legacy. "Bob did exactly that. He donated pieces to ACT."

A Quake in Paradise exhibition, 2005
Bishop also organizes a charity event for the state-run program, Very Special Arts, which benefits young and adult artists with various sorts of challenges. I asked Bishop how much money is raised from the Rauschenberg-inspired donations. "Hundreds of thousands annually," Bishop said. "Donations range from anywhere from three-hundred to half-a-million."

Rauschenberg's generosity has become the stuff of legend among collectors and admirers. In a New York Times Op-Ed piece written shortly after Rauschenberg's death, musician David Byrne waxed poetic on the subject of the artist's giving nature both in money and time. "Bob was extraordinarily generous. I don’t mean he gave away art — though he did that, too — but he was generous with his time and with his ideas and spirit. He started Change Inc., a foundation that awards grants to emerging artists who can’t pay their rent, utility or medical bills. No questions asked. Bob’s generosity of vision was, it seemed to me, more profound than the financial kind," Byrne wrote.

Ron Bishop with Bob Rauschenberg
Bishop echoed Byrne's sentiment. "Aside from your first observation of generosity, I think seeing Bob's work throughout his life all the way to the end of his life it was always cutting edge. He was always exploring, always trying new materials, always looking for a new way to present imagery," Bishop said.

"I think he gave people an in-road that freed them and gave them permission to think about art differently and just opened the door for them," Bishop said. "He changed everything. He used everything. Anything of today. Anything in the world was Bob's image. And if we look at his career and the imagery he used throughout this career it was always of the world. It was always now. He collaborated with everyone. He loved that energy of free thinking, coming to new conclusions, not having a set path. He said to me once, 'Art is organic.'"

I asked Bishop about Rauschenberg's influence on local artists. "There are people in the community that more freely incorporate collage imagery—imagery out of magazines, world imagery as opposed to painting everything by hand. You don't find Rauschenberg-influenced work everywhere. But you do here, and I think that is a direct relationship to the amount of opportunities people had in seeing Bob's work. We got to see his work more than anyone. We got to see more of his than anyone and that's pretty amazing. We're privileged to have been in the same community as him.
Bishop's love and admiration for Rauschenberg is obvious, and like many people who dedicate their lives to another,  he has made big sacrifices. By our last interview, I sensed Bishop was a man of many layers. I wasn't sure how to explain it, but it seemed there was more to Ron Bishop than meets the eye. And I was right.

Geomantic Wisdom by Ron Bishop, 8" x 10", acrylic on canvas
"I'm a painter," Bishop said. "I have a masters degree in painting from Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Michigan." And perhaps even more impressive, he has fifty exhibitions to his credit.
When I asked if he'd send a few images of his work, he was squeamish. But why?

"Because of the respect and reputation this gallery has," Bishop said. "I haven't shown my work in twelve years." 

Damn shame, I thought. Because, good art should be seen.
Transcript of Magic and Life by Ron Bishop, 12" x 34", acrylic on canvas
Guardian of Time by Ron Bishop, 18" x 56", acrylic on canvas
"So, you've been more dedicated to the gallery than your own work?" I asked.
"Absolutely," he said. "I have so much fun and enjoy what I do here, even though in fact it has been a sacrifice it doesn't feel like it. I got to have six shows with Robert Rauschenberg. It's kind of hard to miss my career as an artist when I get to work with people with such marvelous acclaim, wonderful people."

"My work is fairly intimate in scale. I want to bring you close into it."

I hovered over the image and studied the colors. "My work comes from a metaphysical place," Bishop said. "I am a colorist." And then another revelation: "This is probably the last year of my work at the gallery."

"Why?" I asked.

"I'm at a point in my life where I'd like to catch trout and paint pictures," he said.

About a week later, I went back to Bert's Bar. I passed the pool table with the faded green felt and propped myself up on a stool. On the opposite wall, the yellow sign with black letters stared back. But it was different this time. Someone had used a magic marker to amend the house rules: “NO POLITICS / NO RELIGION...and NO ART".

Big Ben leaned up against the bar. "So did you find any good art?" he asked.

"Yes, I did."

"Good, tell me," he said.

"Well, there's an artist, and his name is Ron Bishop."

 8099 College Parkway SW
Ft. Myers Florida 33919 | Phone: 239.489.9313

Acknowledgements: Thanks to the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery,  Michelle Weinberg, Ron Bishop and the Archives of American Art
 All photo copyrights revert to the photographer except where noted. All material copyright protected and may not be copied or disseminated without the expressed written consent of Fine Art Investigations, Frank Messina, Bob Rauschenberg Gallery, the Archives of American Art and the Artist Rights Society.