On Lives of The Saints

Nov 25, 2018 11:35PM

Peter Josyph and Kevin Larkin have been collaborating since the late 80s and they began showing their series of found object assemblages, "Lives of the Saints" in St. James, NY, at the Mills Pond House in 1990-91. Shortly after that they brought the show to Manhattan, showing on the walls of the sanctuary of the Advent Lutheran Church on Broadway at 93rd Street. For the church, they created a site specific altar piece, "St. Jerome in His Study," which fit snugly above the altar proper. It was a sprawling, irregularly shaped, 4-5' x 23' (approximately) collage created in sections of canvas mounted on foam-core, cut to fit precisely between the molding of the altar proper and the high ceiling of the church. Josyph and Larkin talked with Ivesian gallery owner Raymond Todd about these Saints pieces, as well as the five new Saints assemblages, now showing in the gallery. The conversation will be available as a podcast on the Ivesian Arts website next week.

Surgeon turned writer, Richard Selzer, author of Down from Troy and Mortal Lessons, corresponded with Josyph frequently, and wrote this to Josyph and Larkin about their early Saints assemblages, which he saw at the Mills Pond House, in their premiere showing:


August 20, 1991

Dear Peter, Kevin

Many, many thanks for a grand experience. The boat rides themselves were restorative—the fresh air, sea-breeze, all of that. I was by far the best-looking passenger, so you can imagine the general ugliness that prevailed. Mills Pond House itself is a work of art—a perfect setting for the paintings. The way it gleams in the afternoon—it does seem filled with light and air.

The Lives of the Saints is a revelation—marvelous, a unique body of work, full of color and texture and mischief. I do hope the opportunity arrives to spread the word. I’d like to describe it in terms of alchemy, the process of transforming lead into gold, junk into art. It certainly confirms the law of nature that matter can be neither created nor destroyed. How acutely the two of you recognize the life that exists in inanimate opaque objects! I should also mention the spontaneity of the work—its sparky, improvisational character. It has a playfulness, but also a touching innocence and bravery—the two of you playing soldier? Also a touch of madness there. But surely these paintings are no more mad than the saints who inspired them—Simeon Stylites, Anthony and the rest. No reviewer, marching past, can be expected to do you justice. Don’t worry about that. These pieces require leisurely perusal and even the guidance of the artists such as I was privileged to have.

I must return to the vision I have of you guys exhuming from the void the half-buried rejectimenta of the human race—torn postcards, shards of green glass, coathangers, bits of caning unwoven from a chair and regrouped as a burst of light. The two-ness of creation flies in the face of the tradition of the artist as solitary figure, plumbing his own depths. But here is a tribe of two, speaking the same language, expressing the same culture.

Art, like literature, doesn’t really exist without someone to look at it, feel it, palpate it. The application of the viewer’s sensory organs to the painting is 50% of the worth of the piece. That’s what changes it each time, keeps it fresh and lively. I’m grateful for the chance to have seen these grand and powerful pieces. They will be hard to forget.

Love to you all


August 22, 1991

Dear Peter, I’m still dreaming about your paintings. While each component is identifiable and realistic, the total effect is often one of abstraction. It seems to me that it is abstraction used as a means of neutralizing the painful and personal. Pain is thereby reduced to a few vaguely evocative shapes. That applies to the reality as well—the use of known materials. It’s a way of easing pain by objectifying it. And there is plenty of pain in these paintings. Yours, Kevin’s and the saints’. In some ways it is a celebration of martyrdom. Perhaps it is fitting that a surgeon be called upon to examine this work. Any reviewer must be prepared to carry out a vivisection on these paintings—to dissect them down to nerve, artery, bone—in order to see how they work. No small burden in these times of deadlines, first impressions and the lust for derision as shown by the Times art critic. Forget all of that. I dismissed that stuff years ago. Personally, I love the idea of your searching for God (through his saints) in every heap of rubbish on Long Island. Looking for God where He is most apt to be found. Such are my late afternoon thoughts on the Lives of the Saints.



From Letters to A Best Friend by Richard Selzer. Edited, Illustrated, and with an Introduction by Peter Josyph. Albany: SUNY Press, 2009.

St. Mary Magdalene, an assemblage by Josypy and Larkin, 1990.