In the mid ’60’s E.B. Rollen was a regular feature at the gallery monthly openings. At that time he was probably his mid fifties. A small compact gent with a sort of jazzy beard and balding rapidly. He often wore a brown leather coat that featured brown woolen liner, which added to his look of being bulky. I chatted with him several times – he always scouted the food and wine service. In those times a fillet of smoked salmon was frequently featured if you got there before it disappeared. I caught him at one point stuffing his pockets with crackers and cheese.
He had a sly smile, gave the impression of being up to something, or on to the scam in some way. He was a painter of not very decorative but energetically overpainted abstracts, larded with knots, and crusts, and hunks of earlier work – the residual effect of a lot of time painting and repainting. He was teaching one course a term at Cornish, as I recall. That would pay enough to maintain permanent impoverishment in a distinctive manner.
He had been a student at the Art Student’s League in New York, and had been a groupie/student at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Black Mountain was a very progressive institution that had enormous influence in the Arts from the mid-30’s through the mid-50’s when it closed. Such luminaries as Cage, Creeley, Kline, Buckminster Fuller. Joseph Albers and others were instructors or lecturers at Black Mountain. Their influence was scattered all through the Arts until the hippies and their enthusiastic illiteracy drowned it out. Several of my instructors had been associated with Black Mountain.
While hanging out at openings he would discuss the featured artists. We had quite a discussion regarding the distinction between careerism vs ambition within the Arts. In those ancient times, it seemed as if an Artist might create a semblance of a career in the Arts, through diligent self-promotion and the development of a long series of pieces that would sell, This was not and has not been a simple course, particularly for those in the more abstract modes. In areas such as watercolor landscapes or sea scenes it still seems to work for some. For most artists this is becomes a mind-numbing process similar to handcrafted furniture in the Shaker stylings. Whether its is better than working for a living is a personal assessment. Within the arena of sheer ambition there is the respect for achievements often unaccompanied by any sort of monetary aspect. It could be possible to create a few solitary expressions that would be recognized as significant pieces, but more or less solitary in the course of a lifetime and of interest to others in pursuit of truth and beauty. This is a more monkish path that exists outside the commercial process of career building.
Although E.B. was an instructor he seemingly had no intention of becoming a ‘professor’. He was just getting by and doing what he wanted to to do. Unfortunately that didn’t amount to much of interest. The work was not decorative enough to be popular, and the compositional factors were not fully formed – a bit vague in concept and execution.
I have no idea what became of him. He often talked about leaving Seattle and going back east ‘where the action is’.