My Name is Jane
written by Christine Unger
TABLE OF CONTENTS ›
|Dick hangs back tensely as I look at the photographs, snaps everywhere. See Dick, see Jane. See Dick run, run Dick run. See Jane swim, swim Jane, swim. As artists they are always aware of the camera, the shots aren’t like other peoples snaps, they are focused, framed, cinematic, historically aware - the belief in a legacy apparent right from the start. At first young and always smiling, living an idyll. Cigarettes dangling from hands or mouths. often barefoot, with sleeves rolled high and arms inked up to their elbows. Despite the smoking it seemed incredibly healthy, natural, bohemian, joyous. A lot of shots with Jane and Jean-Paul Riopelle in the 80s and 90s—more hair than head, he really does look like a savage, one that drinks and broods more than is healthy—at his home in Estérel and in France, dates and locations scralled in ball-point blue underneath. Dick was there too, in later shots. Other women come and go, Riopelle's companions. Jane is clearly in a different category than these women, a thinker, she and Riopelle look as though they are plotting a cou, intent, tracing their fingers along paper lines, meaningful but obscure to the outsider. These lives knew no rules of ordinary society. If it hadn't been for all the tight curls I would have guessed the shots were from the 60s-it had the look and feel of a commune. But then, this was the land of cults. Val-David was both retreat and escape—Sivananda Ashram, Canada's largest internation Ashram was just down the street in Val Morin, not far from the Chalet where the suicidal solar temple cult members went up flames. The garden of delights housed far too many secrets.
Poses became more formal as they aged. There's a shot of Dick, Jane, and Angela holding up what looks to be the deed to their home. I wonder if they wanted children at some point… Not every woman did or could, not every man did or could, but at some point in a marriage it was a conversation and often a point of separation, at least emotionally.
The number of shots of Jane in public increase noticeably: openings, galleries, studio meetings. At first Dick is always by her side. As time wears on he is frequently at the edge of the frame or out of frame altogether. His smiles seem increasingly forced. How does Jane not see this? In 2006 there is a new face, hanging back but clearly part of a trio, always leaning into Jane, like a child with his mother. He seems a very young man, beautiful, a little effeminate, his eyes luminous, dark, pleading. A spiteful part of me thinks Dick, Jane and Spot, but no, there is already a dog in the picture, a gorgeous beast, as silken, leggy, and graceful as Jane herself. Ahhh, my phantom… I turn back to the young man and point, “who’s that?”
“M, Jane’s assistant,” says Dick curtly, there is something raw there, but I push.
“Could I talk to him?” I ask lightly, not wanting to sound too eager or pushy.
“No,” says Dick, just no, like that’s going to put me off.
“Why not?” I pushed
“He’s not here anymore,” he paused, “he just left, a few months after Jane went to China in 08, he just left.” Dick looked angry, and something else I couldn’t put my finger on, just for a minute, then he slipped behind his mask again.
I couldn’t let it go, it was too important a lead, “did he leave an address, do you know where he lives?”
“I tried to track him down, wanted to send him his last check, he was a poor kid, never had much, never asked for much. But I couldn’t find him. He was adopted and didn’t want anything to do with his adoptive parents. He talked about a sister sometimes, but the way he talked, I figured she was dead.”
This was quite a speech, the most he’d ever said to me. It felt rehearsed. Now I knew I’d have to dig into the assistant. Someone else must know something.
I keep looking, “when were these taken?” never mind, I see the date sept.09 written in the corner. Jane at an opening, something has changed, something is VERY different. She seems younger, and, I’d swear, taller (though with those heels, who could tell - I looked back to the earlier photos - Jane might have been a diva but it seemed she was never in heels, she had the natural grace of a birch and typically stood curved sideways-as if some unseen companion was pushing gently against her hip. In earlier photos she seemed intent on making herself seem as if she wasn’t, in fact, taller than Dick. My husband, standing well over 6 feet, had adopted postures just like hers, a gentle bend at the knee, hand on the table, tilt of the head, in an effort not to make people uncomfortable in his presence.” In the newer photos these gestures were gone, she often rests against the edges of furnitures, her clothing, previously almost boyish and casual, seems suddenly formal, sexy, uber-feminine. In shot after shot her head is turned from the camera. Even so, the features seem smoother and more angular than before.
I look at Dick curiously, eyebrow raised. “Was Jane sick? I didn’t read about it.” I didn’t say it, but I wondered if she’d had cosmetic surgery, like so many other celebrities, it must be gruesomely hard to get old in the eye of the public.
Dick scratched his beard, staring coldly at me, almost through me, “Jane never got sick like other people… she prided herself on it. Cancer in her 40s, she beat that, tough as nails through the whole thing and stronger than ever, but after China she needed surgery on her knee. She hated the cane they gave her. He pointed to the photo. She didn’t want people to see the pain, the dresses covered the brace on her knee but she couldn’t totally cover the pain, she didn’t want the camera’s to see it.”
Again, it was a hell of a speech. I felt like he’d told this one a few times already. still, people often get in loops when they talk about illness in the family. people have the same questions, your answers get rote. STILL, high heels with knee surgery. It didn’t make sense.
As if reading my mind, Dick turned to a little pocket table in one corner and pulled out an envelope of photos. I choked back a gasp. Jane really was something, photos of her with her knee sewn shut, wearing a peculiar little rat-mask to cover her features, waving at the camera. Unbelievable, she never shared her face but otherwise, no part of her life seemed off limits to the public, no experience unavailable to share with her public. But, these photos hadn’t gone public. “She went back and forth on it. In the end, she didn’t want people to think of her as weak, as old. To pity her…”