I’m guessing it was 1990 when I first met George Buck. He calls himself Milo now, I think he didn’t like the sound of his name to be associated in any way with George Bush and who would? I had opened my shop over on Cedar St. across from the Bagelry right after the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 and was open for several months before I got any business what-so-ever. When he dropped in to introduce himself it gave me this feeling I had arrived, that the art community in Santa Cruz had heard about me. Of course that was just Milo being Milo. Upon meeting someone new he always gave the impression that he had heard about them before, through some artist grape vine, and he was the art ambassador welcoming them. He was talkative, open, very sweet and really endearing. He was clearly one who wore his heart on his sleeve- as they say. He also gave the impression that he was acting the part of the struggling but deeply committed artist, as though he was Van Gogh reborn. Even back then he had a bit of a scoff for artists less committed, less passionate.
This nude is very different then the style of art he had evolved into when I met him. When I first met him he was doing portraits of musicians. He often did them live, during a concert, I know he went up to Yoshi’s in SF a lot and worked during concerts. I’m guessing he did something similar here in Santa Cruz, at the Kuumbwa or at the Catalyst. I know I framed a piece for Randall Kane, the owner of the Catalyst. It was a portrait of Professor Longhair who had played the Catalyst. It was done in that typical George Buck style; free, improvisational, like jazz. Always including some quirky elements. There were some crayfish shells hanging from the sides of that Professor Longhair painting. Randall said I should just take them off when I framed it. I was hesitant to do that, I felt that they were part of the artist’s vision and should be incorporated somehow. Randall could easily be mistaken for an older homeless drunk. His white hair was long, straight and unmaintained, balding in the center, he was stooped from age, he wore well-used clothes and rainbow suspenders. Later, I often saw him riding his bike very slowly and awkwardly down Laurel St. to the Catalyst. Randall seemed to have no high regard for George, though he did apparently buy one of his paintings and pay to have it framed.
As the years passed I learned that very few people seemed to hold George in high regard. Some did admire his commitment as an artist and many also admired his skill (though it was about 50/50). Young guys who had met him on the street or at some public event, who knew him only briefly seemed to be impressed by him. But those who knew him well, those who gave him a couch to sleep on, helped him out with money, committed their time to his cause, they seemed to have another opinion of George. Those people either held their tongue about him or thought he was a raging lunatic.
But that is in the future. Right now in front of us is a poster made from one of his earlier pieces, 1983 to be precise. He would have been in his late twenties maybe early thirties at that time. The title Quarry West 18 somehow refers to the University of Santa Cruz Campus, maybe a gallery that used to be located there? I see it was connected with Porter College I think that was one of the original “colleges” at UCSC. I don’t recall George mentioning that he ever attended UCSC, though he may well have. He grew up in the area so wasn’t brought here by the school. He could have attended a few classes but not graduated, that would be my guess. I think if he had graduated that would have come up in conversation at some point.
Milo’s nude brings to mind the above painting by Paul Chabas, September Morn,1911. His nude bathing in a mountain lake must have been the closest thing to a viral video for its time. I’ve heard it was scandalous, but now rather tame, a little saccharine. My dad has a print of it hanging in his bathroom. Though, I suppose now one would have to be certain the subject was over 18 and this is not clear in the Chabas painting, while in George’s it does seem clear. George must have been influenced by September Morn when working on his picture. It almost appears to be the same woman; a bit older maybe, same soft body type, same hair, same coloring. Only George’s nude is facing us directly and showing her pubic triangle which would have been considered porn in 1911. Her expression though partly obscured in George’s piece, is much less idealized. She looks at ease, un-selfconscious. Her arms are updated with bracelets; I suppose if she were painted today she would have to have a few tattoos. She appears to be standing in some kind of wading pool and washing her hair.
She is surrounded by four seemingly unrelated and unconnected elements. This I’ve noticed is typical of George, he can’t hold back his whimsical mind and the various connections he makes in his thoughts. Looking at this picture reminds me of what it is like trying to carry on a conversation with George. He is a passionate talker, passionately positive or passionately negative. But his conversations stream out of him like a child, excited or angry about something. He jumps from one topic to another, sometimes showing an almost genius grasp of certain obscure knowledge but then delving into the realm of odd-ball conspiracy quackery. He pauses only very briefly to listen but yet seems to have a pretty good grasp of other peoples attitude toward him, not that he pays it any attention.
There is a duck (maybe a rubber ducky) I know I’ve seen this in some of George’s other works. There is a gold fish which appears to be alive since there is a bubble above him. I’m guessing that is a Lion’s head water spout on the upper left, like those on Classical Greek Buildings which channeled rain water off the roof. There is a heron or maybe an egret since it is white. It is not clear to me how they relate to a young bathing woman. The connection George has made between the five things does not necessarily have any clear logic, it may simply be something that was going on in his mind at the time he painted it. They can all be connected to water and maybe this is George’s thinking.
Most of George’s women have ample breasts as does this one, her hips have the pleasing wide curves, and her arms held up show a confidence in herself. As a person who is also attracted to women’s bodies I see the idolatry at work. It is not a woman wanting to be subservient, but surely she would be comfortable with a bit of adoration. It is the recurring nude of mainly male artists who adore women. She is glorious, confident, aloof yet looking in your direction. She is nippleless and hairless (though this is not clear) as if those things are too earthy, too animalistic. Essentially she is a goddess. The lines on the paper bring to mind “The Woman”, the one who not only resides in all women but the one who resides in all men as well. Here Milo’s version of “The Woman” is kind, gentle and probably compassionate, but also vulnerable and perhaps worried.
I once met a woman who went to elementary school with George, in Scotts Valley, just outside of Santa Cruz. She described him as a very sweet child. Sometimes that sweetness shows through George’s now grizzled exterior. I’ve spoken to him many times when he was drunk. When he is drunk he is so empathetic that a sad story will easily make him cry. When he starts saying; “you guys are the best” or “I love you guys” and wanting a hug, you know the alcohol has brought out that kernel which is inside of George. You just want to stay out of his path the following day, because that is when his Mr Hyde shows up.
I mention this because George can be deeply empathetic, I have heard him call himself an “empath” and thinking that rang true. He could have been a psychic if he had wanted to put his energy in that pursuit. Of course it is empathy which we most often associate with the woman inside all of us. I’ve heard that drinking strips away our inhibitions and shows others more clearly what we are inside. With George it is this sweet loving human, who can be seductive with his love for the world. When I first met him (though I’m pretty sure he wasn’t drunk) he was seductive because he was excited about his life- he was planning a trip to Paris with his girlfriend. Maybe he would set up his new life there, an artist could make a living in Paris. But the loving state only lasts while he is drunk. The trouble is, that state soon wears off and all the ugliness comes out. But a case could be made that this nude is how George saw himself inside at that time and maybe even today, so full of the life force that it draws you toward her wanting to be near, wanting to just gaze upon it.