Jackson Pollock and Nicolas Carone


_______________ _

by Frank Messina

May 2, 2012

"If you want to know about Jackson Pollock, you must speak with Nicolas Carone," the voice on the phone said. "C-A-R-O-N-E,” then hung up.  So began my brush with history, a year-long quest for what I could not find in any book, museum, gallery or art institution: face time with perhaps the world’s last living authority on abstract expressionism, someone who was actually there when it all went down.

Nicolas Carone, 2003 - Carone Family Archives
I first heard of Nicolas Carone in the late 1980’s while studying at the University of Pavia, Italy where one of his paintings hung in my professor’s office. At the time, it seemed out of place: a sparse abstract canvas roughly 20” x 30”, facing the opposite wall where a glorious reproduction of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s nude male sketches stared back. “He’s American,” the professor said. “From New York I think or maybe New Jersey.” Noticing my interest, he removed the framed painting from the wall. “Take a look. What do you see?” I held the painting in my hands and studied a myriad of grays which appeared as shadows, figures, where white pigments spilled into even more varying shades of gray. I turned the painting over and saw an inscription on its verso: “Carone / 1949”. 

Years later, Carone’s name would turn up again. However, it wasn’t in the posh galleries of SoHo or palatial venues of 57th Street where Carone’s work shares precious wall space with the likes of Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Pollock. On the contrary, it was in the basement-level weight room of the New York Sports Club in Hoboken, New Jersey where my personal trainer, Ricardo, said he once studied drawing with Carone. I wasn’t sure what to be more baffled by: a boxer with hands of steel and a twisted nose having an interest in the fine art of drawing, or that Carone was still kicking. “He’s around?” I asked. “Oh yes, he’s in his eighties, still painting too.”

The timing seemed uncanny. As a jazz-influenced poet, performer and American history buff, I made it a task to learn everything I could about the relationship between jazz, poetry and the experimental painting methods of the 1940’s and 1950’s, later referred to as “abstract-expressionism”. I even made a trip to Jackson Pollock’s home, now the Pollock-Krasner House in the Springs, NY where the director allowed me to peruse through Pollock’s actual vinyl record collection: Coleman Hawkins, Thelonius Monk and Charlie Parker among others. I was in awe. At that moment, I decided to start the Pollock-Jazz Project: an in-depth study and cataloging of jazz music recordings as they relate to Pollock’s oeuvre of iconic drip paintings.

However, problems developed quickly as I discovered no primary living source on Pollock: no actual trusted friend or colleague. That was until Ricardo in the gym tipped me off to Carone’s living in New York City, and later, my call to the Washburn Galleryrepresentative of the estates of both Pollock and Carone, who emphatically urged me to contact Carone should I want more expertise on Pollock’s life, and his art.

On a cold November morning in 2006, I telephoned Carone and was overjoyed when he accepted my request for an interview and invited me to his studio at the Westbeth Artist Community in Manhattan’s West Village. I prepared by diving into a plethora of information on the artist: articles, critical reviews, and video-taped interviews. The man I saw in the video and spoke with on the phone was articulate, lucid, extremely knowledgeable and witty as any artist I imagined coming from an arena so ill-reputed for experimental drug use and excessive drinking. When I pulled up to 155 Bank Street, Carone was standing at the icy curb. 

"It's so fucking cold out," Carone said, white tufts of hair sprouting from under the wings of his winter cap like miniature snowdrifts.  I climbed from my car and was greeted by a wide smile and a firm handshake. "I'd like to get some breakfast," he said with a distinctive smoker’s rasp. Although, a trip to the diner was not planned, I embraced the gesture of spontaneity. I insisted on helping the 89-year old into my car, but he waved me off, opened the door himself and slid into the passenger seat.

“I don’t move like I used to,” Carone said, clutching a cane. “But I’m not one to just hang around. You have to get out and see the world, even if it means feeling the bitter cold.” By the time we made it to the Chelsea Square Diner on 23rd Street, Carone - the man who Jackson Pollock enjoyed so much because of his ability to articulate, began opening up like an encyclopedia. “I knew I wanted to be an artist at a very young age,” Carone said. “From my days in Hoboken, as a young boy, then spending time with artists, musicians, singers, and a young guy named Frankie Sinatra,” Carone said. “Stop singing, you’re embarrassing us!” Carone laughed. Those were some great days. Hoboken.”

Carone, the second of six children, was born on June 4, 1917 in New York City’s Little Italy. (His surname is pronounced Ka-ROHN-ay or the Americanized Ka-ROHN.) His father, a dock worker, was from Altamura, near Bari, and his mother was from San Costantino Albanese, in Basilicata. His family moved to Hoboken, New Jersey when Carone was five-years old. At about 11-years old, Carone began his formal art education at the prestigious Leonardo da Vinci Art School in Manhattan where he took classes at night. Hoboken's close proximity to the city provided  an easy commute for the aspiring artist. As a teenager, Carone dropped out of A.J. Demarest High School (as did Sinatra) to pursue a full-time education in the arts.

Carone studied at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design, where he took classes with the widely influential muralist and teacher, Leon Kroll. In 1939, Kroll took Carone under his wing and appointed him first assistant for a massive mural project at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium in Worcester, Massachusetts. Then, in 1941, Carone won the coveted Rome Prize for painting from the American Academy in Rome.

Carone modeling for Leon Kroll, 1936
Shortly after the US involvement in World War II, Carone enlisted in the US Air Force and was commissioned to the First Fighter Command at Long Island’s Mitchell Airfield Air Force Base. During the war years, a young Carone divided time between making military maps at the airbase and cultivating his connections in the New York art scene. There, he was guided by German master-painter Hans Hofmann at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts. Along with Carone, Hofmann taught American painters Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell and Larry Rivers. This proved to be a crucial time for Carone as his art dramatically changed from figurative and realistic - portraits and landscapes - to the experimental and abstract, something Carone and his contemporaries would champion and be famous for in the years to come.

After the war ended in 1945, Carone lived in New York for two more years, where he, Pollock and other New York based artists continued to break away from tradition, and instead, experiment with various methodologies, paints, mediums and pigment applications, garnered in-part, from a philosophy Carone described as “plastic language”.

“Remember, when you’re doing paintings, your imagination is working,” Carone said. “The painter goes into a dimension in the mind. Every mark you make should trigger something in your imagination.” Carone stirred a cup of tea, added a drop of milk, not to drink but illustrate his point. “If you look at the sidewalks on a rainy day after the rain, study all the marks, you see great paintings.” Carone’s eyes blazed with excitement.  “But only an artist can see it. Another guy sees spots. But as a painter, I look at them all the time.”

In 1947, with money from his Rome Prize and a G.I. Bill (a housing fund program for veterans), Carone moved to Italy with his wife, Nell Mager, and their son, where he set up a work studio in the center of Rome on via Margutta. There, he continued producing what he describes as an “enormous amount of abstract” works. The prolific and affable Carone quickly acquainted himself with prominent Italian artists such as Pericle Fazzini, Giorgio Morandi and Lucio Fontana as well as Chilean painter Roberto Matta, who would eventually become a very close and trusted friend of Carone.

The late 1940’s in Italy would prove successful for Carone as he would have his first one man show plus an exhibition at Rome’s Museum of Modern Art. It would also be the place where Carone witnessed first-hand the profound effect that he and his American contemporaries were having on the art world.

At the 1948 Venice Biennale (a prestigious art festival founded in 1895), painters Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock were among those featured in the American pavilion. Carone said the already-famous Italian artist, Giorgio Morandi, visited the American pavilion and saw Jackson Pollock’s work for the first time. “When Morandi saw Pollock for the first time, he never knew him, and this is a painter who had ninety one-man exhibitions in Europe. He looked at the Pollock and said, ‘Wow! Now this is new.’" Emphasizing Morandi’s reaction, Carone widened his eyes and put both hands to his face. "He didn’t even criticize the painting. He didn’t go with a magnifying glass and say whether he liked the color. He didn’t criticize that it had a cigarette butt or a match stick in it, nothing.” Carone inhaled deeply, then shook his head. “I learned a lot from that experience.”

(left to right) Pericle Fazzini, Nicolas Carone,
Lucio Fontana, Giorgio Morandi, Venice, 1948
In 1951, Carone separated from Nell Mager—she opted to travel to India where she became a devoted follower of guru Prahlad Chandra Brahmachari, and met Indian artists including Jamini Roy, while Carone moved back to New York. There, he found himself in the middle of a vibrant art movement where jazz musicians Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and painters Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Pollock routinely gathered at haunts such as the former Cedar Tavern on University Place. The movement was launched, in part, by Carone’s prolific work on both sides of the Atlantic.

In May of that year, Carone was featured in the Ninth Street Exhibition. The pivotal show featured numerous prominent New York artists including Pollock, de Kooning, Kline and Conrad Marca-Relli.

The event, curated by art dealer Leo Castelli, would be hailed as one of the most important exhibitions of the 20th century. Carone’s work would be thrust to the forefront of what critics described as the “post war New York avant-garde”, and later, “The New York School”.

It was at this time that Pollock found a home for Carone on Three Mile Harbor Road in the Springs, New York, where he’d already been living since 1945. Carone moved in with his second wife, Adele Bishop, and their twin boys Claude and Christian. 

There, he and Pollock flourished and experimented, often buying or bartering paints from local hardware shops or directly from Leonard Bocour, an acrylic paint developer. Pollock had already been familiar with experimental paints, taking a workshop with David Alfaro Siqueiros in 1936, where he experimented with the latest synthetics, paints and spray guns.
And Carone said Pollock's fascination never ceased, as the two experimented widely with new paints, including Magna, a form of acrylic which Bocour had introduced to the artists as early as 1946.  

However, the artists were less concerned with the materials they were using than the result they achieved. A creative painter experiments a lot. I can’t tell you what I do, my God. You wouldn’t know one  painting from another on the same day.”

Tube of acrylic Magna paint on Pollock's work table 1951-52 (Archives of American Art)
Carone also described the time as “volatile” for the already-famous Pollock. Dealers, hangers-on and groupies began to flock to the hamlet known as the Springs. “Many people knew Pollock, but he didn’t like them,” Carone said. That the reclusive and increasingly bitter-tempered Pollock held particular esteem for Carone proved to be a hallmark of a very special friendship. Carone said his twin sons, Claude and Christian, were doted upon by Pollock, and even invited to his studio while he painted. His eyes watering over, Carone reminisced: “I loved Jackson. He was a wonderful, fanciful son-of-a-bitch.”

In 1953, Carone became assistant director of the Stable Gallery, a converted horse stable on Central Park South which became notorious for hosting a yearly exhibition aptly called the “Stable Annual”. There, Carone played an important role in recruiting both established artists such as Pollock, de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Larry Rivers and Lee Krasner to young, emerging artists such as Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg. “I gave Rauschenberg his first show,” Carone said. Rauschenberg would later become one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century.

We left the Chelsea Square Diner and began driving to Carone’s studio. As I carefully maneuvered the car down icy Ninth Avenue, Carone continued his first-person art history lesson. “When I first met Jackson, he was listening to jazz, loud. He loved jazz.” Offering what he described as a good analysis of how Pollock “poetically responds" to his methods, Carone turned to simile and metaphor: “Pollock painted like a shooting star. The shooting star was shining. The shooting star had sparks flying and the sparks were the drips. That was the collective unconscious.”

I asked Carone to expound on the subject. “You see, you’ve got to understand the philosophical attitude of the painter that's looking for imagery. The painter is an image maker. He's not a technician. In fact, he goes against technique. If he smoked, and he smoked a lot, the ashes fell on the painting, the cigarette butt would hit the painting but he would use that, take off on it. Very much like the jazz musicians.”

"Did he ever personally demonstrate that to you," I asked. "Yes, a number of times," Carone said. He described one particular time when Pollock visited his studio in the spring of 1954. "I was working on a series of paper works, paper given to me by Paul Jenkins," Carone said. Carone then described how Pollock commented on the painting, and asked if it was finished. "I told him no, it's just an exercise," Carone said. Then Pollock picked up the brush, and said, 'Well, then let's exercise!'

And Pollock began to paint.

I marveled at the scene Carone had just described: he and Pollock, all those years ago in the Springs, 1954, in spontaneous collaboration, making a painting together. And I fell into a gentle daydream.

Carone suddenly grabbed my right arm. “See those dogs?” he said, looking toward a woman with a pair of leashed terriers. “Stop here!” One dog lifted its leg and released its stream toward a fire hydrant, yellowing the snow bank in its path. Carone waxed poetic on what would be an ordinary sighting in a big city. “Leonardo da Vinci must have had a mind that was going a mile a minute. It’s documented he only slept four hours a night. I’m sure he couldn’t sleep. His mind was going on so many levels. He would look at the ceiling of his house, look at the rain marks and say, ‘There, you will find my dragons.’ He didn’t paint them, but he saw them. Like when you see piss on the sidewalk.”

I asked Carone how an artist best goes about translating what he sees in nature and putting it to canvas, such as the dogs peeing in the street. “Don’t be fooled by technique or paint quality. Fuck it! It’s the imagery that goes on. It's metaphoric and it's poetry in a jazz sense. It’s symbolic and it’s on another dimension. It’s not an order like Picasso but it’s another dimension, the rhythm of mass. It’s not the relationship from this-to-this,” Carone said, tapping his forefinger on the dashboard. “It’s to-that, to-that and it fools history. It’s rhythm. Rhythm!” Carone implored. “That’s why it’s good to take a walk sometimes and look at all the stains on the sidewalk.” His voice reached a crescendo, eyes widened, both hands outstretched. “Just look at them! Lift your imagination! Open your eyes!”

In the 1950’s and early 60’s, Carone enjoyed sustained recognition for his work, appearing at the Carnegie Institute (now the Carnegie Museum of Art) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In 1959, he had a solo show at New York’s Staempfli Gallery. Though teaching sporadically since the early 1950’s, Carone began full-time in 1965, amassing a multitude of loyal students, some of whom went on to have stellar careers such as Chuck Close and Richard Serra.

Carone in his studio, the Springs, NY, 1957
In the mid-1980’s, Carone founded the International School for Art in a functioning monastery in Todi, Italy. Later, he moved the school to Montecastello di Vibio where Carone guided artists of varying ages in drawing, painting and sculpture. 

On the subject of teaching, Pollock's name is never too far from Carone's vocabulary. “Jackson said, ‘what the hell do you think you're doing by teaching? You can't teach art.’ Oh, I don’t teach art, I teach language.’” Carone continued paraphrasing Pollock. “You know Nick, I can never teach. If I had to teach, I would tell my students to study Carl Jung,’” the Swiss psychiatrist and founder of Analytical Psychology.

"He [Pollock] was a Jungian philosopher," Carone said. "His paintings come out of automatic writing. But they also carry Jung’s unconscious plane that we're working on to create an image. That image is the collective unconscious.”

Nicolas Carone, Untitled Abstract, 1952
Carone said Pollock’s series of psychoanalytical drawings executed in colored pencils, ink and pen-on-paper in 1938-39 best capture the artist's initial exploration into the subconscious plane. “Those are very interesting drawings because you see his mind working, the symbolic mind. Symbolism is a very intense factor in his career.” Carone said Pollock, who went to see a psychoanalyst during the late-1930’s, made the drawings at the doctor’s request. The doctor would later cash in on his patient’s fame by publishing a book and selling off most of Pollock’s drawings which today sell for six-figure amounts at auction. At the Westbeth, we parked in between two piles of snow. “That psychoanalyst is another little prick,” Carone said.

As we entered Carone’s studio, an aroma of drying paint and stone dust came wafting forward. A “family” of odd-shaped portrait paintings lined one of the walls, and even more on the floor, stacked against the wall as you'd find in an antique shop. Near the far wall, a large abstract canvas work stood cradled to an easel. On a worktable lay three cube-shaped stone sculptures - immobile, their presence almost inescapable. 

As I approached the behemoths, Carone told me he’d often dug up stones from his property in Italy. “I have sort of a component of sculptures,” Carone said. “I would go the field and dig up a stone and start sculpting.” 

Nicolas Carone, Stone Head, Lohin-Geduld Gallery
I asked him about his work rituals, from painting to sculpture, figurative to abstract. “I do both. I mean I do the heads like a five finger exercise,” he said, apparently referring to a violinist’s practice technique. “And then if I’m working on a big painting, I might get tired, I want to rest from it. The next day I’ll go to another part of the studio and do a head.” I asked what makes his "heads" different from a portrait. He said the people in the paintings are not real people, but from his imagination. He said they were from dreams he had: “psychic visions” and “ghosts”. I took a closer look at one of the heads: a woman with black hair, small mouth, curled ears, horn-rimmed glasses, but no eyes. “Do you know what I mean?” asked Carone. “It’s an imaginative head. Because it's image I go for, not portrait.” Carone remained silent for several minutes as I fingered through the stack of heads leaning against the wall, some expressionless, others glaring forward with an agonizing gaze, as if peering in from another dimension.

Carone said he was often called upon by art dealers and collectors when a purported Gorky painting had surfaced. He describes one particular occasion in the 1960’s with deft and humor, which involved famed art critic Harold Rosenberg and a high-end art buyer requesting some expertise on a Gorky painting for sale. “It was at Knoedler Gallery”, Carone said. Formerly located at 19 East 70th Street in Manhattan, Knoedler was founded in 1846 and boasted such clients as the Vanderbilt, Astor and Rockefeller families. “It was a big exhibition of twentieth century drawings, and there was one [particular] drawing there. It was a gouache. Harry Rosenberg was there and another collector to buy it. They said, ‘I heard you have a good eye. This looks like a Gorky. What do you think?’ I looked at it and said, ‘It’s a Matta.’” Carone said the buyer was stunned, dismayed and replied: “Oh him, isn’t he academic?” Carone’s laughs bellowed through his studio. "He didn't know his ass from his elbow."

In his later years, dealers, collectors, historians, experts and film makers sought Carone’s “good eye” and his historical expertise, especially when it came to the life and work of his old friend, Jackson Pollock. For the 2000 film, Pollock, starring Ed Harris, film makers consulted with Carone for the purposes of historical accuracy regarding Pollock's life and painting methods. One particular sceneperhaps the most poignant in the film, shows Pollock carrying an injured dog that he found on the roadside in East Hampton. It is a heartbreaking depiction of a man at the end of his rope, and Carone's account of the story was beautifully crafted into the film. 

But Carone shared with me a deeper insight into the injured dog incident, which seemed to haunt him the rest of his life. "He was very sad," Carone said. "He called me up one morning. 'Nick, you know I saw a dog that was hit by a car. A beautiful dog and I picked him up and brought him to the vet to save him.' He knew my dog had dieda German Shepherd," Carone said. "He said, 'Would you like this dog if it survives?' And I said sure. I never saw him so sad. He was so sad. Not because of the dog, but because he was depressed." Carone closed his eyes and paused as the memory agonized. "I knew that was the end," Carone said. Days later, Pollock would die in a tragic, drunken car wreck. 

Carone was brought in as a consultant for another film. But this time, it would be specifically for the purposes of determining the authenticity of a purported Jackson Pollock painting. The 2006 film documentary, Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?, 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 forensic art expert Peter Paul Biro to analyze the fingerprint. What he found was astonishing. 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. Despite the evidence, some art connoisseurs, including Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, did not believe the painting was authentic. In the film, Carone is brought in to physically inspect the painting. In a pivotal scene, Carone is asked by the film's director, Harry Moses, whether or not the painting is authentic. Carone said he could not determine one way or the other. And with those few words, the painting remained in a cloud of mystery. After all, if Nicolas Carone couldn’t tell if it was authentic, then who could?

Carone, 2006
Relaxed in his favorite armchair in his studio, Carone spoke at length about the movie, and admitted being less than forthcoming when Harry Moses asked him about Teri Horton’s painting. "I was worried. I worried. I was advised not to tell that it is or it isn't." When I asked who had advised him, he ran his fingers across his lips as if closing a zipper. He then referred to a particular scene in the film when the Horton painting is compared side-by-side with an undisputed Pollock, “No. 5, 1948”, once owned by art collector Si Newhouse, chairman and CEO of Advance Publications and Conde Nast, (New Yorker Magazine, Vanity Fair), and more recently, record producer David Geffen. “The thing is, when they spliced the painting from Geffen, and they showed it with hers and they put it together like that. It looked exactly the same. That made me worry,” Carone said. I asked in what way. “In a way that it could've been a spliced painting. What she had, I looked at the canvas in the back. You know how you turn the painting, like this, the canvas, you turn it around,” Carone said, shaping his arms into a square. “All this on the side is still a continuation of the painting, and it’s cut there. This part is cut. I think that that painting was cut from another painting. It’s cut,” Carone said. “As if Pollock cut it?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. 

And while Carone wouldn't outright tell me whether the painting was authentic or not, he did offer a cryptic assessment when asked about the recent offer of $9,000,000 Horton received and refused for the painting. "I think if she holds out a little moreI think the Teri painting will go for more than nine million," Carone said.

Being with Carone was like entering a time machine, but time would have no meaning in this conversation. At least not on this day, even though this would be one of the last interviews he would give in his life.

On July 15, 2010, Nicolas Carone passed away at the age of 93. When I heard of his passing, I rolled back the tape. And the lingering questions echoed: who "advised" Carone not to say what he really thought of the Horton painting? And why?

And what did Nicolas Carone really think of it? To some people the answers may come as a shock. To others, no surprise. 

When I told Claude Carone about my 2006 interview with his father, and some of the revelations and unresolved questions garnered from my research, he agreed to an interview. “Meet me at the Lohin-Geduld Gallery,” fired Claude. “My brother Christian is coming and gallery owner Ro Lohin.” We figured on an hour meeting. But over a year later and a dozen of hours of audio tape, I realized this was more than an interview. This was an historic gold mine. And it needed to be shared.

Carone in his Rome studio, 1950
On a gorgeous April afternoon, 2011, I visited the Lohin-Geduld Gallery to meet Carone’s fraternal twin sons—the ones the artist told me so much about, who both have accomplished careers in the arts themselves; Claude is a painter, Christian, a photographer.
I arrived early enough to peruse the spartan Chelsea establishment, which at the time was featuring a solo exhibition of Chinese-born artist Ying Li. There were a handful of people milling about the lobby, a bespectacled man with a clipboard, studying closely the canvas impasto, writing in shorthand, no doubt an art critic. Hanging on an adjacent wall was a framed picture—a work on paper. A familiarity greeted my eyes. In the lower right corner, a signature: “Carone”. Resting against the wall were two more Carone paintings, seemingly pulled from a back room for an impromptu viewing.

“Those are Nick's paintings,” the voice said from behind me. Claude Carone bears a striking resemblance to his father: classic Italian facial features, salt and pepper hair, slight build and an infectious, creative energy that glows around him. “His whole life was about searching for images,” Claude said, eying his father’s mixed media paintings. 

A few minutes later Christian joined us in the lobby. While clearly his twin—separated by a mere five minutes, Christian speaks at a slightly slower pace than Claude. A photographer by trade, he's an observer. And like his brother, he's dedicated to preserving his father's legacy.

"This is Ro Lohin," Christian said. Lohin isn’t just any art dealer. She is a former student of Carone and an accomplished artist with numerous exhibitions and awards. Upon meeting her in the presence of the Carone sons, it was not difficult to notice the mutual respect they shared for each other. A loyal friend with a business prowess, Lohin is entrusted by the estate to represent Carone’s most important works on paper and sculptures.  

After making our way to Lohin's office, I asked the Carones about their father's approach to painting, and quickly discovered the twins' uncanny knack for completing each other's sentences, especially when it comes to the subject of their father’s blazing imagination.
“Sometimes his imagination got quite extreme,” Christian said. “I think some had to do with—” Claude finished the sentence: “Being a painter. He was always finding situations. He would take off on it. Once you get into that state of mind, you can go anywhere and find situations in nature and go off on it,” Claude said.

Nicolas Carone, Untitled Landscape
 "He borrowed from the mystical, from Blake, from poetry," Lohin said. "It's automatism. You start painting with your mind," Claude said. Carone described in great detail the concept of "pulling an image" from nature, with the help of the pigment itself. His sons expounded on the subject, particularly in regard to their father's use of unusual pigments, and in some cases, paints which were unavailable to the general public, if not completely outlawed.

"He worked with everything he had," Claude said. "In the 1940's and 1950's, he was very concerned with lead paint," Christian said. "A lot were using commercial paints. They were based with lead and zinc, hardware store inexpensive paints. They bought it by the gallon. The action painters used whatever was available. They weren't thinking of archival aspects. Now you see many of the paintings with cracking problems," Claude said.

"I remember going to Brooklyn, we went to this place that made lead paint for the Navy. I remember driving Nick there and picking up the cans and it felt like it was a gold brick," Christian said. "Thousands of bags of pigment. Fifty-five gallon drums with 'U.S.N' stamped on them. Deadly stuff," Christian said.

"When was this?" I asked. "The 1970's," Christian said. "Was this paint available in the 40's and 50's during your father's time?" I asked. "Yes," the twins said in unison.

And they affirmed that their father carried that tradition into his later years. "As he became older, he would even unknowingly throw acrylics in with oil and mix it and they would coagulate." And the results: "A lot of it ended up being really a great effect by coagulating and not sticking in certain parts. It would be experimental," Christian said.

Nicolas Carone, Shadow Dance, acrylic on canvas, 84" x 119.75"
But at his best, Carone was five artists in one: a classically trained artist, a sculptor, a violin player, a figurative painter, and an abstract expressionist. And his approach is perhaps best captured in Shadow Dance, an enormous work on canvas that resembles his smaller works on paper.

I asked Ro Lohin about the works on paper, where they fit into Carone's oeuvre. "They're probably the closest works that relate to his late paintings," Lohin said. "And what about the paper?" I asked. "He used a wide variety of materials. Sometimes the paper would give out before he could develop an image. But this is such beautiful, handmade Italian paper." Claude said the material, which was given to his father by a friend in Italy, is highly absorbent and holds together quite well when the pigment is applied. This accounts for Carone's later prolific period of works on paper. "In one day he would make fifteen attempts," Claude said.

The result: numerous gouache, gesso and mixed media paintings on paper. And his "automatism" seemed endless, punching out black and white lines, drips, coagulation, and sometimes within the chaos, misshapen figures, that hearken Michelangelo and Goya. "Pollock and Matta got him into that," Claude said.

The Carone House, the Springs, NY
I asked about their time in the Springs, in the house that Pollock found for their dad. "We were surrounded by artists all the time," Claude said. "Pollock, Marca-Relli, Jim Brooks, and de Kooning occasionally." Living in one of the most creative circles in modern history—the New York School of artists, both Claude and Christian said it was not uncommon for Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac or poet Allen Ginsberg to be present at parties they attended with their father. But the two have a very distinct, cherished memory of the Springs: being in Pollock's studio as he painted. "Jackson would put you on his knee and tell you stories. But de Kooning had no time for children," Claude said.

Carone would later rent the same house to de Kooning in 1965. "In fact, when de Kooning stayed in our house, 1965, when he left, my mother was cleaning out the house. We found about forty pages of his hand-written journals."

I asked Claude what was in the journals. Without being specific, he said de Kooning expressed in his writings that he was very angry with certain dealers. "Just like Pollock, he grew tired of the bullshit," Claude said. "What kind of bullshit?" I asked."The politics of the art world, dealers were starting to come in," Claude said. The journal is now part of his family archives, he said, and he has no plans yet to divulge them to the public.
"And your lasting memory of Jackson Pollock?" I asked Claude. "He was the nicest guy out of all my dad's friends."

We discussed the film, Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock, in which Carone was brought in by producer, Harry Moses, to give his expertise in whether or not the painting is authentic.  "In my interview in 2006, I asked your father about the Ms. Teri Horton painting. He stated: 'I was worried, I was advised not to say whether it is or it isn't.'"

"That was my doing," Christian said. "That was your doing?" I asked "Yes. Definitely," he said.  "I mean, here you have the only living authority who personally knew [Pollock] him." Ro Lohin, who had been silent for several minutes, asked the question: "What did he think? Do you know what he thought?"

"He told me that he thought it was real," Claude said. The silence permeated the room as if a gavel had been dropped.

Carone and Matta, Tarquinia, Italy, 1990's
Moments later, I asked Christian why he advised his father to not say what his true feeling was about the painting. He said it was to protect him. "He was nervous, he thought it was real, I told him I thought it was real. I mean here you have the scientific proof that looks pretty damn good and then you have the Geffen painting. How can that painting be so close and so removed in a certain way too?" Christian and Claude differ in their opinions in how their father handled the situation. "I think he should've told them what he thought," Claude said.

Horton holds no animosity toward Carone. On the contrary, she's left with a poignant and fond memory of the legendary artist. In a recent interview, Horton—a retired trucker with a penchant for stiff drink and vulgarity, spoke the words of a poet when recounting her meeting with Carone at the film's New York premier. "We talked very little about the painting. But we had a great time telling adult jokes. When it was time to bid our goodbyes with big hugs, Nick looked in my eyes and said: 'Miss Teri, promise you won't give in or give up.'"

"'I promise', was my reply," Horton said. "Finally, I understand. The boys were right to advise their Dad not to get caught in the cross-fire that would engulf his remaining days."

I contacted the film's producer, Harry Moses, and shared the revelations with him. Moses did not seem surprised. "I think all of this makes sense," Moses said. "The Pollock-Krasner Foundation maintains that every single Pollock has been accounted for. If you look at Pollock's life, you would find that hard to believe. I sent a certified letter to Pollock experts Eugene Thaw and Francis V. O'Connor requesting an interview for the film. Both declined," Moses said.

In July, 2010, New Yorker Magazine published a devastating article by journalist David Grann, who crafted Peter Paul Biro, the forensic expert who matched the fingerprint on the back of Teri Horton's painting to a paint can in the Pollock studio, as a criminal. The article is now the subject of a massive federal defamation lawsuit involving a dozen media defendants, one of which has already settled with plaintiff Biro.  Moses, a world renowned investigative journalist and former producer of the "60 Minutes" news program, suggested Grann, and New Yorker Magazine—a publication reputed to employ ironclad fact-checkers, mistakenly put too much credence on a questionable source—even "fraudulent", as the lawsuit alleges. "I felt very badly for Paul, particularly because it was written by a friend of mine. I don't think David's got a mean bone in his body," Moses said. "But I think he 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 a "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 multimillion dollar lawsuit, which is currently pending in U.S. district court.

It wouldn't be the first time journalists got it wrong. 

In Steven Naifeh's and Gregory Smith's book, Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, an account of Carone's meeting with Giorgio Morandi in Venice omits Carone and replaces him with art dealer, Catherine Viviano, says Claude Carone. "They interviewed my father about meeting Morandi in Venice. They had it all written down and we had the transcripts. But when they published the book they took Nick's name out and put somebody else in there. The writers did that. I still have the original transcript, and I wanted to sue the bastards. I got really angry about that," Claude said. Despite the writers' fictional account, the book won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in biography and was later used, in part, as the basis for the 2000 film, Pollock, starring Ed Harris.

On several occasions, Carone expressed frustration with the media, and critics, for failing to get the facts right when it came to the legacy of his contemporaries. "I've seen history being manipulated in our time," Carone said in the 2010 documentary, Nicolas Carone: Pushing Tradition. And as he told me in 2006: "I can't stand it when they say, 'Oh he's a fifties painter, or he's a sixties painter.' Bunch of crap!" Carone said.

Carone leaves a legion of devoted students. One of them, Noreen Naughton, an artist living in Hawaii, has cataloged his teaching methods, and philosophy in a manuscript entitled, "The Teachings of Nicolas Carone: Master, Artist, Teacher". The project spans decades and includes interviews, illustrations, notations and transcripts. Naughton says there's much more to add, including interviews with him in his home in Hudson, New York, where the artist lived his remaining days.

I asked Naughton what made Carone such a special teacher. "Students were devoted to Nicolas because of his charisma and especially because his statements about art and life always rang true. As a way to illustrate this, it was these qualities that attracted Jackson Pollock as he and Nicolas developed a friendship," Naughton said.

Claude Carone, left, and brother Christian, Washburn Gallery, NYC
In February, 2012, Washburn Gallery held an exhibition of Carone's paintings from the 1950's. I attended the opening reception and was greeted by a very proud Claude and Christian Carone and also gallery owner, Joan Washburn. Some of Carone's most important works were exhibited, including Idol, 1958, Untitled, 1957 and an impressive oil on paper, mounted on panel painting: Untitled 1958.

I was glad I arrived early. Within twenty minutes, the gallery was packed with people: friends, family, dealers and of course, Carone's former students, some noticeably grey-haired. But young or old, every single one of them had a spark in their eyes—that same magical spark Nick had in his eyes as he told me about jazz, poetry, and Jackson Pollock.

It seems that anyone who had contact with Nicolas Carone loved him. Being hailed a great teacher and having impressive success in the art market—his paintings sell for six figures at auction, are major achievements for any artist.  But equally important is the uncanny ability to make friends, and keep them forever. It's an intangible quality that transcends success, and has left an indelible impression on a new generation of great artists. It's the stuff of legend. It's priceless. And it's what Carone so richly possessed.

Washburn Gallery clearly understands this. So, it was no wonder that Carone's exhibition was complemented by the presence of the work of his dear friends who he knew so well, and who loved him: Jackson Pollock and Conrad Marca-Relli.

Perhaps that's what Jackson Pollock meant, in part, when he said to Carone: "You've got it Nick.

You've got IT!"

Very special thanks to Claude and Christian Carone, the Estate of Nicolas Carone, Lohin-Geduld Gallery, Noreen Naughton, Washburn Gallery and the Archives of American Art
Some of the biographical information on Carone was garnered from the following source: David Ramm, "Nicolas Carone, Artist," Current Biography, Volume 67 Number 7, July 2006.
 All photos and text are copyright protected and may not be copied or disseminated without the expressed written consent of The Estate of Nicolas Carone, Frank Messina, the Archives of American Art and the Artist Rights Society.