by Will Hornaday
When my wife and I got married 15 years ago we agreed that for anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmases we would give each other art. Because of this policy we have collected a lot of great pieces from some wonderful people. I can tell you what holiday or anniversary each piece in our house was from and it has deepened the personal value for what we have on our walls.
Our first introduction to the work of Malcolm Bucknall was ten years ago. Our neighbors at the time, Hugh and Claudette Lowe, had a piece by Malcolm hanging high in their stairway- a softer, rounder interpretation of Audabon’s “Roseate Spoonbill”. This quirky, extraordinary painting only added to our a ection for the Lowes. Claudette is someone who is loved by everyone and Hugh is a man who begins and ends most sentences with “God Dammit”; when Claudette goes out of town Hugh immediately changes their answering machine message to “Claudette’s not here right now, she will be back Tuesday -call back then”. We idolized them and loved that they voted for democrats, went to Boys Town with Ann Richards, lived in a house made of pink granite, had chickens, walked to work downtown, had congressmen to their house, had a lion’s paw lamp, and drove a 1964 ford pickup plus an S-class Mercedes. We wanted to be them. Short on money, poultry pens and political connections, we opted to buy a piece of Malcolm’s. This purchase would be the most we had ever spent and it was going to have to be Anniversary number five, and Christmas, and possibly Ground Hog’s Day – we would just have to see.
A common friend arranged our studio visit for a foggy Saturday morning in mid-March, Malcolm and his wife greeted us in their house along Shoal Creek and guided us around pointing out pieces he had made over the years. Some we instantly recognized, like a dog falling from the sky that was used for album cover art for The Jesus Lizard and a split single image used by Nirvana and The Jesus Lizard of an American Indian and a poodle. All along we were not sure what was for sale and what was for him to keep- and we were too grateful just to be meeting him to ask, so we all smiled politely. There was a set of pen and ink drawings and smaller paintings with titles like “Hanky Spanky” and other slightly naughtier titles that I have since forgotten. At one point Malcolm slyly leaned over to us to whisper one of those titles with a raised eyebrow, it caused the visit- even now- to be burned into my memory, the smell of oil paint, the gloomy day, the soft carpeting in their home and the visual greatness of the art on the wall.
There were 5 pieces that seemed to be the most for sale -arranged on easels in his studio and on the wall going upstairs- I knew this because he lingered around them longer than some of the others. Quickly my wife Amy and I were in silent agreement on Malcolm’s rendition of a Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres painting “Princess de Broglie” of a woman in a blue dress and pearls. Malcolm had removed the head and replaced it with that of a deer. It was perfect. The price was revealed and we fumbled for a check that was going to squeak through the bank.
For some reason, instead of going straight to the car and preparing our next meal of ramen noodles, we peeked into his garage and in front of the Volvo was a painting with big strokes and lots blue and green and a big-eyed woman in a red dress holding a big-eyed fish by its tail. We asked him about it and he told us it was from 1967 and it was from a study of the perfect woman form. And it was kind of sooty from the car exhaust, and the kids used to use it as a table tennis backstop. The painting was added to the tab, we must have asked him not to cash the check for at least a few weeks.
I think our friends associate us with these pieces, Malcolm helped us define who we are and what we appreciate. She, “Lady with Fish”, now hangs in our kitchen and ‘Dear Deer’ above the fireplace. Both are so special to us- not for their monetary value or simply the expertly executed artistic style- but as a reminder of us then, our friends whose friendship made the meeting possible and of a wonderful man who- whether he knows it or not- is a part of our family on the wall and in our hearts, God dammit.