A good man went down last week---no, a great man went down, though he wouldn't much like me saying that. Louis Cicotello was the chair of the Visual Arts Department (and later of the Visual and Performing Arts Department) from 1984 until 2007. I was on the university hiring committee that brought him to campus. The visual arts department was in hilarious disarrary. Rumor had it that the previous chair had submitted his resignation by slapping a trout on the dean's desk and saying I quit (I hope this is true). The department needed a senior member, a real artist, a real teacher and an actual grown up to come in and settle things down,a person the department might also respect and might even like. Louis was that rare man. He served a very long tenure as chair because we didn't trust anyone else do it. He stood up for us, he respected us, he kept his eye on the ball and the budgets, he never threw his weight around. He was a great chair, really far better than we deserved. He was a real artist, and a real teacher too. One of our happiest experiences at the university was the Bauhaus project Louis and I devised together: he taught a course on the legendary art school (this was the foundation of his own very highly developed aesthetic), I devised a performance piece about the Bauhaus with theatre students, and art students and our costumers recreated the fantastic costumes of Oskar Schlemmer featured in our production. It was all great stuff, in the spirit of Dessau, Black Mountain, Walter Gropius, Joseph Albers and Louis Cicotello.
Louis was a highly disciplined and active artist, working mostly in sculpture and collage, but he was also, and in the best sense of the word, a humanist. He took an interest in ideas. history, popular culture, everything around him. He wrote two rather dense books with Raphael Sassower. He studied inscriptions and carvings on cemetaries. His tomato salad was incomparable. I always loved talking with Louis--he was so intelligent and enthusiastic and ready to laugh. He was full of feeling but no sentimentalist; he had a lovely mordant side. He could be cranky. He had a fine eye for the authentic in life. His energy was prodigious; it seemed he always had time to do everything and he did do everything. I could say to Louis, "could you build a giant mound with a big hole in it for a play by Samuel Beckett? Of course he could. He also designed and built wonderful sets for The Threepenny Opera and The Road to Mecca. If you needed something made nobody else could make--Greek statuary in styrofoam, a room in Dante's Inferno--you asked Louis to make it and he just did it. When we wanted to honor our theater's founder, Dusty Loo (another man gone too soon) with something a little more personal than the usual brass plaque, we asked Louis if he would make a little Dusty Loo light box. And he knocked that out too, a really wonderful thing mounted in our theatre, at least as much a tribute to the artist as his subject---take a good look at it and smile next time you pass by. Nearly everything Louis did he did without ego; and he seemed to enjoy himself too. For him, thinking and playing and working were all one, and very nearly all the time.
Louis had something close to perfect manners, and this, as Chekhov would explain,means he was a very evolved human being. He was a lovely host, attentive to his guests, recognizing who they were, engaged but highly companionable.
Louis had a very cosmopolitan sensibility--he was buzzing with ideas and theory. But he loved the outdoors, the very great outdoors, the rocks and the water. Louis threw fish down too---but on my kitchen table after he pulled them out of a stream. He had as much range as anyone I've met.
He was deeply crazy of course. Nearly all interesting people are. You could feel Louis bouncing, like a Ferrari at a stoplight, completely under control, but ready to talk, ready to go. One way or another he was inclined to be on the move-- in body, mind and spirit. After his retirement where he most liked moving was in the wonderful slot canyons of Utah. I think he liked their scuptural forms; he liked moving his terrific wiry body with and against them. He was not foolhardy but he liked a bit of danger. He was a man. As of this writing I haven't the details of his fatal fall, down 100 feet while rappelling into a canyon. I would very much like to hear those details, but from Louis himself, preferably just after he's served me his tomato salad. I can certainly hear how he would begin: "It was amazing, man, [he snorts with laughter] I had let out some rope and was working myself down and then . . . . . amazing!"
What the hell. I think I will stop here.