Arty Band, Serious Intent

The aim is to present great artists as human beings
The History of Art String Band will play at Guild Hall on Saturday night as a celebration of Jackson Pollock and a benefit for families affected by autism.

   In an event combining art, music, history, pathos, and humor, Audrey Flack will bring her History of Art String Band to Guild Hall on Saturday night to raise money for autism services and to celebrate the life of Jackson Pollock.
    Dick Cavett will serve as host, and Caroline Doctorow and Evan Frankl will open the musical portion of the evening. Helen Harrison, the director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs, will be on hand to speak about the life of Pollock, and Gail Levin, who wrote the definitive biography of Lee Krasner, will also speak. A film of rarely seen footage taken by Hans Namuth and Paul Falkenberg of Pollock painting will be shown.
    The History of Art String Band has Johnny Jackpot on banjo, Adam Grimshaw on guitar and banjo, Deborah Grimshaw on fiddle, David Roger Grossman on bass, Walter Us on guitar, and Ms. Flack, a photorealist painter and sculptor, on banjo.
    Ms. Flack said in a recent conversation that the band “had played all over the place,” including at Caroline’s Comedy Club, the Roger Smith Hotel, and the inauguration of the president of Cooper Union, all in New York City, and for the Institute for Women and Art at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
    “The songs are funny; wait until you hear the lyrics for my Caravaggio song.” An excerpt:

Caravaggio Caravaggio, that is my name.
Caravaggio Caravaggio, that is my name.
So I killed a man,
And it brought me fame.

After I killed someone,
And I meant to do it,
I cut off his head,
And then I painted it.
I’m not sorry about a thing, I had my fling.

    She has quite a number of these songs, about modern and contemporary artists as well as those from centuries ago. “They came to me and now I can’t stop writing them,” she said. “One of my recent ones was the ‘Whitney Biennial Stomp.’ They can be both irreverent and touching.”
    The aim is to present great artists as human beings. “I try to reveal little-known things about them and discuss them while I talk before songs. I say a lot about Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin. She conceived two children with him and he sent her off to an institution. The hands and feet in the ‘Burghers of Calais’ and ‘The Gates of Hell’ were done by her. He was totally dependent on her and was having an affair with her by the time she was 16 or 17,” Ms. Flack said. The song is sung to the tune of “The Man of Constant Sorrow.”
    Ms. Flack said she uses old-time melodies as the musical backdrop for the lyrics. It is music that tends to be upbeat even when the lyrical content is tragic. She also tries to balance humor with more sobering content. Her song about Pollock describes him relieving himself in Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace and his prodigious addiction problems, but also has fun with the reactions to his painting style. “It’s funny, but intense” — no doubt more so since she knew the artist when he was alive.
    The beneficiary of the evening will be Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, which provides services to special-needs children, teenagers, and adults throughout Long Island and the New York City area. The objective is to establish a crisis hotline and provide mobile crisis services for parents of children who are in the autism spectrum. The group works with the Child Development Center of the Hamptons.
    It is a cause near to Ms. Flack’s heart. One of her children is autistic, and it has been a struggle emotionally and financially. “This organization is for parents of autistic kids, not research. It’s a free mobile crisis unit that will show up if you call to help with the child and give the parent some respite.” While there are such services for suicidal people or the mentally ill, there hasn’t been this kind of service for autistic children and their caregivers.
    “It’s what I didn’t have. We managed to survive, and well, but almost didn’t,” she said. “One has to do things for other people in life when you can, and I want to raise awareness.”
    The idea for a benefit was hers, specifically designed not to be a stuffy affair but an affordable night of fun for anyone who wanted to come. “It’s not some fancy $500 fund-raiser. There’s too many here and I’m sick of hearing about them.”
    Tickets start at $25 and can be obtained through Guild Hall’s box office or the museum’s Web site. Showtime is 8 p.m.