Fat Feet by Red Grooms changed my life

Mar 25, 2014 8:44PM

I just discovered that the film "Fat Feet" is available for free viewing online at:http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Fat-Feet.php

This movie changed my life! I first saw it when I was 15 (though I remembered myself as younger).  Back in those days television stations were required by law to show a few hours of educational or public service programing every week. Naturally the stations compressed all of their required programming into late night and Sunday morning since no one wanted to buy ads for those hours. I often skipped church to watch a Sunday morning program which often featured artists. One Sunday in 1966 they showed "Fat Feet" by Red Grooms. I was stunned by this unique cinematic tour de force. Red Grooms immediately became  my muse and shining star of the art world. Unfortunately, I didn't catch his name properly and thought "Fat Feet" was made by Red Buttons. After that I hopefully went to every movie featuring Red Buttons. I was horrified! How could the creator of such a marvel then dedicate himself to so many dreadful movies? 

Before "Fat Feet" I had toyed with the idea of becoming an artist. I took art more seriously after that and eventually attended the California College of Arts and Crafts. My drawings and paintings were clearly an attempt to recreate the experience of that one viewing of "Fat Feet" years before. Some of my work tended towards Happenings as well though I was unaware of Red Grooms connections to those. While living in Berkeley, California, my wife (to be) came home from visiting her grandparents in Chicago and was very excited to tell me she had seen work by an artist she knew I would love. She brought me a Taxi poster by Red Grooms. I immediately realized my Red Buttons mistake. I also realized that everything I was attempting to express in my art had been done by Red Grooms. Oddly, this was a relief and I moved on to creatively express myself by other means. 

In the summer of 1976 I lived in Manhattan. Red Grooms had his show Ruckus Manhattan at the Marlborough gallery. I went to the gallery every chance I could. A lovely portrait of Gertrude Stein was the first thing you'd see when the elevator door opened. It immediately became my favorite work of art. It cost $200 which was a lot to me then. When my roommate gave me his share of the rent for July, I took the subway to the gallery intending to use our rent money to purchase Gertrude. When the elevator door opened I felt a wave of guilt and let the door close and return to street level and a ride back to pay our rent. Despite the guilt, I regretted my honesty after I left New York and could no longer visit the gallery. When I graduated from college a year later my parents asked me what I would like as a graduation present. I said $200.  I called the Marlborough gallery that day and asked if the portrait of Gertrude Stein was available. I was told that 44 of the 45 prints had sold right after the opening but they had kept the one on display during Ruckus Manhattan and loaned it to MOMA after the show closed. Incredibly MOMA had returned the print that very day. It wasn't even unwrapped yet. I asked them to hold it for me and I immediately drove overnight from Greensboro, NC to New York arriving just as the gallery opened the following morning. I couldn't afford the frame since the price had gone up to $250, so they took it out of the frame and rolled it up in a tube. I drove back to Greensboro that same day. It was a few years before I could afford to frame her, but Gertrude has retained pride of place in our home ever since. 

Some believe that for each of us there is a perfect partner. Perhaps there is also an artist for each of us who speaks directly to one's heart. I lucked out and found both.