New York cultural legend Rene Ricard died on February 1 at the age of sixty seven. An underground icon, the Boston born painter, poet, art critic and actor created eclectic works that have long been considered cult treasures.
As one of Andy Warhol’s earliest superstars, Rene first became visible in my world when he was featured in 1965’s “Chelsea Girls.” While I was a high school student in Brooklyn, Rene was a glamorous and mercurial downtown poet and actor. Over the next four decades, our paths intermittently crossed at parties, readings, galleries, drug dens. Rene consorted easily with artists, academics, addicts, aristocrats and criminals. A long term resident of the Hotel Chelsea, Rene and his companion, Portuguese artist Rita Barros were among the stalwart tenants remaining in the historic building.
Ever prescient, his art criticism helped propel the careers of Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente, Lee Quinones, Judy Rifka. “The Radiant Child” his brilliant 1981 essay published in Artforum capitulated Jean Michel Basquiat to art stardom. Today’s young artists like Lola Schnabel, Stefan Bondell, Dash Snow and Terrence Koh experienced Rene as a friend, inspiration and muse.
As a poet, Rene’s recent appearance in readings like “Oil Spills” in the East Village’s Marble Cemetery, or at the Bowery’s The Hole Gallery (both curated by Stefan Bondell) brought legions of new fans, including Salman Rushdie, Adam McEwen, and Olivier Szarkowsky. “In Daddy’s Hands”, Rene’s last book is a limited edition collaboration with Rita Barros.
Rene’s paintings merged image and text. From flea market finds that he inscribed with his verses, his paintings evolved to lyrical figurative backgrounds embellished with his calligraphic writings. Recent shows in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London (at the Scream Gallery) were enthusiastically received.
A voracious conversationalist, Rene could jump from culture to cuisine, literature, art, history, poetry, architecture and gossip. Both elusive and reclusive, he was a cherished friend, with a strong coterie of loyal women friends. He was New York’s embodiment of the aesthetic of Oscar Wilde and Andre Gide.
My last visit with Rene was at an of-the-moment restaurant, where he regaled the assorted company of designer Madeline Weinrib, my husband Luigi Cazzaniga, Rita and myself with detailing the acquisition of his latest stash of antique diamonds that glittered on his fingers and lapel. Blade thin, pale and animated, Rene was as articulate, transgressive and entertaining as anyone in this city could hope to be.
At his recent Greenwich Village memorial, hundreds of friends and admirers gathered to celebrate the life of an idiosyncratic and influential maverick who will not be forgotten.
Obituary: Ilka Scobie Photos As Credited