I can’t find Mr. Rhymer on Facebook nor on Google but I owe him a big thank you. A huge one.
I’m 12 yeas old, starting 2nd year at JFS (Jewish Free School), the oldest Jewish institution in the world, in Camden Town, London, England. My English is already fluent and I’ve even got the Jewish semi cockney London accent so most can’t tell I’m a foreigner, a “wog” from Israel. The Beatles were becoming huge, and England was the cradle of the 60’s Renaissance. The streets and classrooms of London were raging with racism, antisemitism and just simple contempt for foreigners.
Mr. Rhymer walked into the art room, wearing a Corduroy jacket, green, smoking in a chain, and speaking with a heavy Liverpool accent. “Have fun,” he said, “paint away.” I wasn’t sure I understood, but immediately began throwing reds, yellows, blues, blacks, whites on a sheet of paper. A circus with clowns. Colorful, childish, and happy. My first painting. It was easy and fun. Mr. Rhymer smiled, smoked, smiled again and said, “That’s right, fun. Do another one.”
My life changed there and then. Until then I hated painting. I thought I’m bad at it, and one must be good at things. Right? But he said, “Have fun. That’s all.” Mr. Rhymer told us to read novels, watch films at cinematheques, like Bunuel’s Viridiana, and go see the amazing art exhibit at the Tate Gallery: Van Gogh and Gauguin.
Mr. Rhymer told us that Paul McCartney and John Lennon were in his class at art college in Liverpool before they became The Beatles. He was so deep and so wise and his hands were incredibly beautiful. We loved him. He was very cosmopolitan, and liberal, and didn’t despise us for being Jewish.
Three years later, end of 4th year, I did the exams called GCE A level, in Art, and passed and could go to art college. I was 15 and wanted to finish high school properly first. Mr. Rhymer said, “Don’t go to art college. They’ll ruin you. Look at the masters, and paint, have fun, that’s all.” I followed his advice religiously.
58 years I’m painting with huge fun, disregarding rules, names of colors, do’s and don’ts, and purposely changing style three times a day. Not every three years, like my most admired Picasso, but three times a day. And I love imagining curators and professors seeing my self taught 58 years of painting pieces and thinking or saying, “Rubbish.” I love that. They said it about Van Gogh 140 years ago.
Mr. Rhymer if you are somewhere in the world, please know that every day I thank you, for your wisdom, truth, talent, depth, and huge influence on my life. Huge therapeutic and joyful influence. Fun and absorbing the genius of the great masters, is all you need. Right? And the joy of painting, freedom of mind, and not a spec of worry about what people might think or say.