Master of myriad arts back on his feet again
Looking through E.J. Gold’s 24-page resume is exhausting.
That he had time to fit all his achievements into one lifetime is an accomplishment in itself.
His resume, which includes endeavors as a painter, sculptor, songwriter, singer, composer, dancer, choreographer, author, videographer and game creator during the past five decades, doesn’t come close to covering his seemingly endless work experiences.
Gold, 61, known internationally in the visual arts, performing arts and book fields, has a quieter reputation in Nevada County, where he’s lived for 27 years in Penn Valley.
But he may soon become as well-known locally as he is elsewhere for two reasons: First, his 5th Ave. Gallery opens in downtown Grass Valley on Thursday. The gallery will highlight the artists in the Grass Valley Graphics Group he co-founded in 1986.
Second, Gold is literally back on his feet.
For almost 15 years, Gold couldn’t even travel the short distance into Grass Valley or Nevada City because of poor health. He often had trouble just walking around his house.
But thanks to a doctor’s office visit last November, Gold is now moving around. Dr. Thomas Boyle of Grass Valley diagnosed an incarcerated hernia and performed surgery that day.
“Dr. Boyle put me back to life,” a now recovering Gold said. “I have a new lease on life, a second lease. Before, I really felt I was dying.”
Even when he was in the midst of excruciating pain, Gold had to paint.
“Particularly when he’s not feeling good, he would funnel his energies through his painting as a way of handling the pain,” said Linda Corriveau, his biographer-curator.
Perhaps that’s because Gold has been intimately connected to art all his life.
Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, Gold’s family was visited by celebrities such as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Orson Welles, John Cage, Merce Cunningham and other writers, artists and intellectuals of the time.
His father founded and was editor of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine; his mother danced with Billy Rose and was the protege of Ray Bolger, the Tinman in “The Wizard of Oz.” Pete Seeger was Gold’s music teacher for about seven years.
Gold also spent summers with his grandmother in the artist colony of Woodstock, where he participated in the Art Students League and met other artists who spent the season there.
He has fond memories of his childhood.
“I’ve had an amazing life; I’ve been amazingly lucky,” Gold reflected. “My parents were really enlightened; they made it easy for me to enjoy my childhood.”
That propelled him to succeed in a variety of media, beginning at age 5 when Gold’s collages and assemblages were
displayed in the Children’s Art Carnival at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
“His parents were so dynamic and so capable as individuals that E.J. grew up with the idea instilled in him that there’s no obstacle that could not be overcome,” Corriveau said. “He is not intimidated by obstacles. He believes anything that you set out to do can be done.”
When asked if he ever doubted he could accomplish all that he has, Gold impishly smiled and said, “It never occurred to me I couldn’t do these things. You can’t have success if you are afraid of failing.”
Gold is the consummate artist.
His work associations read like a “Who’s Who in the Art World.”
As a photographer and reporter in the 1960s, for example, Gold hung out with the Monkees, Harry Nilsson (who became his close friend), Jefferson Airplane, the Turtles and Paul Revere and the Raiders.
In the 1970s, he was involved in the human potential movement while simultaneously writing and working with bands. He was editor and art director of the New Age satire magazine Wings.
Even when bedridden for part of the 1980s and the 1990s, Gold spent most days recording, painting, writing books and creating games. During this time, several celebrities collaborated with Gold at his Penn Valley home. They included the science fiction movie director Peter Clausen, pop singer Nilsson and actor Curtis Armstrong (Booger of “Revenge of the Nerds”).
Enter his studio and you’ll find hundreds of his paintings stacked against walls. Sculptures, infinity boxes and clocks overflow in the house.
Corriveau estimates it will take several more decades to catalogue and archive all of Gold’s works. “We’ve catalogued 50,000 pieces of work so far, the majority done since 1986,” she said.
That doesn’t include the 300 music CDs made with a variety of artists, more than 50 books he wrote, and several videos produced in his studio.
Thanks to his recent surgery, Gold doesn’t have to limit himself to his home studio.
“While he’s had a lot of concentration on his art in New York, Montreal, Vancouver and Japan throughout the years, he’s been a recluse for 15 years for medical reasons,” said his good friend and neighbor Claude Needham.
“He couldn’t travel. Every now and then when you’d visit the house, he had every intention to say hello, but he couldn’t make it out,” Needham said.
Needham, who recently completed a movie script with Gold, added, “If it has anything to do with writing, art or music in its many forms, E.J.’s right there.”
Friday, Gold was excited because he would visit the Grass Valley Friday Market – a feat he didn’t imagine possible a year ago during his confinement at home.
At the street festival, he not only painted at the Grass Valley Graphics Group booth but played harmonica and walked up the block to check out the 5th Ave. Gallery site. He didn’t just walk up the street, he danced the samba as he strolled by performing musicians.
Ask Gold what has kept him going all these years and he quickly answers: “Love. Love of people, love of Gaia (the earth), love of the arts.”
GOLD TOUCH INSPIRES STUDENTS AND ARTISTS
E.J. Gold is a pied piper of artists.
Drop by his studio any day of the week and you’ll find several artists there.
“As long as I’ve known him, people are coming and going to his house,” said Zoe Alowan, children’s art program director at the Museum of Ancient and Modern Art in Penn Valley. “He’s a magnet for making visions and ideas. His home is a place where artists come with ideas and ‘vroom.’ He gives them a practical direction.”
Alowan first met Gold in 1978 when she was a Boulder, Colo., Mime Troupe member and shared a Grass Valley stage with the North American Bunraku Puppet Theatre, which Gold directed at the time.
Claude Needham, who has known Gold since 1978, is one of those artists influenced by him.
“I’ll go a step further and say, if not for the fortunate circumstance of meeting up with him,” Needham said, “I might not have a career as an artist. I wouldn’t approach it as professionally.”
Needham, who has a Ph.D in molecular biophysics, met Gold after reading a few of his transformational psychology books, especially “American Book of the Dead” and “Joyous Childbirth.” He discovered they had similar interests; they had worked on similar plasma physics projects in the university and private sectors several years before.
Needham and Gold started creating board games that have evolved today into computer games for the educational, medical and entertainment fields.
Needham said they complement each other: He has
the handle on technology and Gold has the handle on game theory and art.
“I know personally around 30 artists that are productive artists who never would have the gumption or sheer chutzpah to have done art if it wasn’t for his encouragement,” Needham said.
Needham, who has taken many of Gold’s art classes, values the advice.
“I had taken one sculpture to a certain point in 1987 and it looked nice and done. E.J. walked by and said, ‘Just be brave,'” Needham reminisced.
Almost two decades later, that comment still resonates with Needham.
“I had this gut sensation I had to go further, but to do that I had to tear it apart. His comment struck home,” Needham explained.
Needham credits Gold with taking students to the next step.
“In my beginning work, I concentrated on the surface, making nice lines,” Needham said. “He took this one piece and said if you do this, this and this, you’ll improve the sculpture because it’s mass, not surface. That transformed what I was doing.”
Linda Corriveau, Gold’s biographer-curator, calls him a genius.
“In his Saturday classes, the motto is, everybody can paint, that there’s an artist inside of everyone,” she said. “You’d be amazed at the results. He draws out the talent in each one.”
Gold recently started to teach Saturday art classes at the Nevada City Veterans Memorial Building (1 to 3 p.m.).
Students aren’t the only ones receiving advice.
“He has lots of ideas and encouragement,” Corriveau said. “He’s helped lots of people start businesses. He encouraged a blind woman, Alfie Alfaraz, to do art. She has become a little celebrity in Portage, Mich. E.J.’s very generous and giving.”
Needham agrees with Corriveau.
“It’s amazing, his willingness to share,” Needham said. “I was invited to a brief meeting Monday at the studio. E.J. was just pulling forth with ideas on how to improve arts marketing even more, sharing all kinds of things.”
Artist Martin Butler was at that meeting to talk about ways to increase attendance at his Nevada City Art Walk on Aug. 11.
“If you talk to E.J., you end up talking about a lot of art-related topics,” Butler said. “I hoped to keep our meeting to a half hour but it turned into a wonderful hour-and-a-half meeting.
“It was awesome. He has so much energy to put into the arts community,” Butler added. “Nevada County is very fortunate to have art community leaders like E.J.”
Gold volunteered to teach two one-hour classes at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center during the Aug. 11 Artwalk. He will teach for free.
Gold also motivates already established artists. In 1986, he co-founded the Grass Valley Graphics Group, an informal group of artists who collaborate on national and international exhibits.
One of the group’s founding members is Menlo MacFarlane, a Nevada County visual artist-performer and part owner of the Truffle Shop, who met Gold in New York City in 1983. Both had been professional dancers and had mutual friends (John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Pete Seeger).
Gold calls MacFarlane his little brother. The sentiment is shared by MacFarlane.
“I grew up near the ocean in the channel waters of the Pacific Northwest,” MacFarlane said. “There is a powerful undercurrent in those waters. If you fell in, it would tow you down into the depths of its world and maybe never let you go.
“My commitment to ‘The Oceans of the Art World’ has always been to explore these undercurrents. To go below the surface into the deeper rhythms and gleefully drown in the creative process,” MacFarlane continued.
“As an artist, E.J.’s a pearl diver. I have met and worked with many good artists who have helped me stay afloat and taught me how to kick with both feet and breathe to the left with your mouth open. E.J. showed me how to dive for pearls.”
The 5th Ave. Gallery opens Thursday at the Bret Harte Retirement Inn building on 301 W. Main St., Grass Valley. The grand opening will be Saturday.
Call 272-0180 for details.
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