AMP. Always Electric.

Volume 4, No. 1

Revington

I dropped out of high school in my senior year and a year went by in which I studied to be a beat 
poet. I don’t remember writing much poetry that year, but I did a lot of reading and I rode my 
bicycle around West Palm Beach and I smoked pot.

A friend had a plan to have a show on the public access cable TV station, but that never came 
about. He lived in an old house in Palm Beach that had been the headquarters for an underground 
newspaper that folded a couple of years earlier and we hadn’t yet figured out what it meant that 
the sixties were over. He also had a plan to get a caravan of vans to make a road trip to the West 
Coast, but that didn’t happen, either. He always had weed, though, so we smoked and watched 
TV.

When summer came I took Greyhound to Chautauqua, New York, to take a writing seminar 
conducted by a poet and an editor from some notable publishing house, I forget which one. The 
poet was well known, for a poet, and was not a beat, but an academic who had translated Dante’s 
Divine Comedy. He gave very interesting lectures that took very good poems apart to show how 
they worked.

The seminar was over in two weeks and I never showed the teachers any writing, because I was 
intimidated by them, and the study of great poetry showed me how weak my own writing was. I 
had signed up for a painting class also, but had low expectations, because high school art classes 
had not worked out for me, or I didn’t work out for them, and I’d discovered Duchamp, which 
confused me about art. Picasso died that year and that seemed significant, somehow, but I didn’t 
know how.

Chautauqua Institute is a strange charming place—a gated community of 19th century wooden 
buildings—a big fire trap, my cousin called it—where there were summer classes for people in 
search of culture, and an orchestra made up of musicians from real orchestras on their summer 
break.

The art center smelled like turpentine and oil paint and was peopled with teenagers and retired 
people and art students and weekend painters and the painting class was taught by an eccentric 
from Connecticut named Revington Arthur who wore bermuda shorts, sandals, a sport shirt, and 
a bucket hat like Gilligan’s. He was painter who made big surrealist pictures with hard edge 
architectural forms. He used acrylic paint, and masking tape to make the edges. His young 
assistant suggested I buy a sketchbook and pencil, since I had no supplies with me. I sat at a little 
antique school desk and made a cartoonish drawing of a man being sucked into a TV set.
Revington was intrigued and Blair, the young assistant, and Bob, the older assistant, were also 
amused.

Blair suggested I buy some acrylics and a painting pad and do a painted version of the drawing, 
which I did.

On Friday, they hung the student work on a wall and Revington performed a critique. I had never 
been interested in composition before, but the poetry lectures had prepared me to look at pictures 
as something like poems in that all the elements work together.

In his critiques he would often suggest that a painting needed something else to make it 
interesting and the example he came up with was invariably a cat.

“What if you had a CAT peering over his shoulder?” he would say, about some retiree’s first 
attempt at portraiture.

Revington was very enthusiastic about Picasso—he pronounced the “a” like the “a” in “cat”—Pi-
CASS-o.

Revington was the first person I met who had devoted his life to painting, He had studied with 
Arshile Gorky at the Art Students League. He told me I should read Andre Breton. He was a 
good teacher for me, because he encouraged me, and taught me to extend myself. I went back to 
Chautauqua after trying to teach myself to paint and I felt I’d need to go to art school to learn the 
skills I wanted and he recommended the Cleveland Institute of Art, which is where I went. 
I visited him at Chautauqua a few years after I got my BFA. 

“They fired me,” he said. He was now a “professor emeritus” and he had the same old studio in 
the art center. He was working on a painting that had an elephant chained to a post.

“The elephant is us,” he said, “or we are the elephant.”

I remember watching him one day as he walked across the lawn toward his studio, along a grassy 
ridge in his bermuda shorts, sandals, and bucket hat. 

The cat following him completed the picture.

Lawrence Swan

Lawrence Swan lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He paints and makes art objects and he writes and does spoken word performances. He was born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1954. He grew up in Palm Beach County, Florida. He attended Cleveland Institute of Art, where he acquired a BFA in painting. He also has an MA in philosophy from Cleveland State University.