One looks for revelation in an artist's diary; for desperate struggles by hallucinatory inspirations; for angst and ecstasy. One hopes, at least, for some insight into the passion which propels him into his divinely mad directions.
Artists, alas, are seldom at case in the medium of words and Raphael Soyer is no exception. One of the American scene painters of the '30s, Soyer followed the example set by the Ashcan School to bring art onto the city streets; i.e., to paint the beauty of ordinary lives. He became known for his delicate, evanescent portaits, particularly of young girls, torn between eagerness and a kind of wistful vulnerability. Then, Abstract Expressionism exerted its siren lure and Soyer was forsaken, like a fiddler in a deserted square; although still playing his familiar melodies to the vacant walls. Now that representational painting is respectable once more, Soyer's work is being reevaluated and is the subject for two exhibitions this fall.
Disjointed clues to Soyer's early life can be unearthed from this book, like fragments of pottery from an abandoned well. But most of it concerns his impressions while on European trips in the '60s, his visits to museums, artists and cocktail parties. He is at pains to point out that there is nothing earthshaking about it, and he is right. Occasionally revealing anecdotes are buried under such banalities as, "It was nice at the Tilkemeyers."
The diary's modest comments dwindle further in juxtaposition with the design of the book, both pretentious and carelessly edited. Cecilia Beaux becomes "Celia"; Pavel Tchelitchew appears unfamiliarly as Paul Chelichev; and awkward of ungrammatical phrases: "where huddles was also . . ." and, "like in East Berlin, the Dresden museum . . ." have been most unwisely retained.
The book also contains a number of Soyer's works, the best of which demonstrate that sensitivity to character and mood which are his particular visual gifts. What he can paint, Soyer does not need to put into words. (New Republic Books, $15.95)