Roger Braimon, Multimedia Artist

Resident at Westbeth since 2009

My Friendship with Barton Benes, Part 2

Barton’s medical condition required oxygen, and his 50-foot-long apartment required a 50-foot-long tube from window to door for full navigation. Many activities were prohibitive outside of his apartment without portable oxygen, so he had a volunteer army of Westbeth friends to make his life easier. One friend retrieved his mail, one shopped for fish at the farmers market, one would bake special desserts for him. Even the local pharmacy would come to organize his 17-plus daily pills. I took his garbage out, as his particular pet peeve was smelly onions lingering in the trash bag. I didn’t like taking my own garbage out, but taking Barton’s out was just fine.

Barton and I had both a special friendship and an artistic appreciation for each other. He often called me to help him with new art pieces, moving items around with pushpins to get a good composition. I printed out images of empty jars and patterns that he used for his artwork and frames. He worked using repeated themes and materials: money, sculptural balls, collages, museums, reliquaries, always expanding and discovering. I loved hearing stories of how he made each piece. He also gave me valuable advice on my work by selecting the strongest watercolors for my new show or encouraging me to continue in a certain direction when I lost my way.

I had never had a friend like Barton. He offered me so much. He told amazing stories, called me at work to ask what he could cook me for dinner, and invited me over to meet a major star or two that he happened to have been friends with for many years. We laughed and gossiped almost daily. I tried to be witness to each moment as well as a documentarian of what I knew to be a uniquely special time. It was such a joy to give to Barton because what was received was so much greater in the minimal time we spent together. I came to Westbeth fearing I had missed so much, but Westbeth gave me the opportunity for this once-in-a-lifetime friendship.

Photo: Peter Madero

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