An Ode to Robert Graham
By Mike Medavoy
Dennis Hopper with Robert Graham and Mike Medavoy at LACMA’s opening celebration of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum.
It's often said that the measure of a man is the depth of his character and the mark he leaves on his fellow human beings—how he lives beyond himself.
Robert Graham was first and foremost a devoted and loving husband to his wife, Anjelica [Huston], as well as father to his beloved son, Steven. And to all of us who knew him well, he was an inspiration—for his artistry, his imagination, and his love of beauty. He was uncompromising in his pursuit of creating art that leaves us breathless and contemplative of how interesting life can be with art that moves us.
I knew Robert since the early ’70s, when he first came to LA. We had a lot in common. He was a Mexican-born American, and I was a Chinese-born American who had lived in Latin America for 10 years and was fluent in Spanish. He was trying to stretch his art, and I, as a collector, tried to inspire others to do the same.
I loved his work and purchased several pieces from him, including one of his Duke Ellington muses. Among his public art, his addition to the FDR Memorial in Washington, DC, and his statue of Duke Ellington in Central Park most stand out for me. Then there were those magnificent bronze nudes that made me wonder how sculpting could work—looking at beautiful naked models without getting personally involved. I guessed it was like being a doctor, but his work feels so real. How did he do that?
Robert and I often had lunch together and discussed his work and our opinions of art. Most of all, I will miss his dry sense of humor. You see, love and humor make life livable—knowing full well that we are all here for a short time. Robert is probably up there with Michelangelo and other great artists, having fun looking down at all of us and wanting us to have a good laugh, but also to fill our lives with love and beauty. Fortunately, what he left will be with us and future generations forever.
photograph by Jeff Vespa/WireImage.com