Eulogy for Jules Olitski (2007)
Delivered at the memorial service for Jules Olitski, March 2007.
Well, this wonderful man is gone, from this world, anyway. Kris told me that one of the last things he said was "I've got to get back to work." I imagine he is now telling Saint Peter, "You don't have to let me in, just show me where my studio is." Or maybe, "I was having too much fun and I wasn't through yet." Then he would reconsider for a moment, and say, "Where's Titian? I have to ask him something."
Jules and I loved to amuse each other. I think our relationship was based on a kind of competitive delight. He got the better of me with stories he would send me, out of the blue, with titles like "The Trouble with Color," "Yulli's Uzi," "Bugsy and Ramrod," and a longstanding soap opera involving the mysterious LeMoyne, a blue-eyed Indian who came to him out of the mist. Jules was a very funny man who was as serious about art and life as anyone could be.
Kris and Jules have been like family to me, more than family, because families are often not that close. How many of us can have an older brother who is a legitimate genius but so utterly unassuming that he likes nothing more than sitting around trading gossip and telling stories? Whose welcoming house is filled with sea breezes and great home cooking and fabulous, always surprising paintings, sometimes painted the night before and still wet? I never wanted to leave, ever. And I certainly did not want him to leave us. Not ever.
My wife Kathleen loved Jules as much as I did. "What kind of flowers should we send?" I asked. "No funeral flowers," she said. "Tell them to send the brightest colors they have."
That's how we felt about him. He's gone, and except for the paintings and the memories the delight is gone with him. It is a big hole in our life and in the lives of all of us. The world does not know what it has lost, not yet. One day it will understand what it gained by having this great man with us. But it will never know him like we did. We are the lucky ones. Thank you, Jules.