Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tony Mafia's life

Robert Lee Alderson was born on August 4th 1931, second son to a very pretty lady and a Cherokee. The hard times he was born in, filed his soul with hunger. When he was 8 years old his father, who could no longer deal with the blatant racism he was subjected to, drank acid and died a horrible self-inflicted death. The 4 children where placed in an Indian orphanage: Laurence Hall for Boys in Chicago for Tony and his older brother. There Father Bennet saw that he was a special child and had him tested. It turned out he had an uncanny sense of visual balance. As a result he got a grant to the Chicago Art Institute where he followed the drawing classes with the grown ups. Also a second year till the priest discovered that the students had progressed to do nude studies and he deemed this unfit for a small boy of 9.


At the age of 14 he ran away from the orphanage and hitchhiked, worked his way to San Francisco where his mother was then married to Mario Mafai. This Sicilian ‘ran the money for the pony’s’ to Las Vegas. So the name got turned into Mario Mafia. Tony wanting to get out of the constraints and red neck mentality and realities of all that was connected to his birthname chose to be Tony Mafia. His stepfather's Italian friends took to Tony and taught him to make a mean Bolognese sauce. At the age of 16 he asked a ‘hooker’ to pose as his mother and to give him permission to become an able bodied seaman for the merchant marine. He definitely didn’t want to become a cowboy or work in the bottle factory he worked in anyway a bit later. He kind of finished high school while being a sailor and missed a boat in 1947 in Antwerp Belgium. It took him six month to find a ship out. He always said: there I learned that air has light and color. He tried to get into the Academy but was not accepted. That doesn’t mean a thing since Van Gogh hadn’t been accepted either… He kept coming back to Antwerp where we met in 1968.
He married young, had a daughter, got divorced, married again and had another daughter. On a drunken night a group of friends all got married in Mexico and found out the wedding counted, so after 5 weeks the third marriage was canceled. I met this lady in 2004 and told her, she was the only one of his ex-wives he had never said a bad word about… Somewhere in between the second and third marriage he thought he had joined the Foreign Legion, but it turned out the Air force just had new uniforms and he only found out in boot camp where he actually was. He was stationed in Germany, where after some tribulations they let him restore the old churches that had been damaged during the war. Therefore he needed to learn the old techniques. He always spoke with respect of the German schools where they ‘didn’t mess with your head, but just showed you what you could do’. He has a sculpting of Roy Rodger in the Pentagon and among others did a portrait in Korea of General Mc Arthur. During his leave he would always go to Paris where later he lived ‘on the fourth floor in a chambre the bonne’ after having stayed in Hotel Belgique for a while. He had a good period there meeting a lot of people like Jacques Brel and some of the Hollywood stars. He also spent 6 month in Casares in Spain, painting for an exhibition in the Gallerie Françoise Besnard in Paris and selling out. Tony never could or would give exact indications of years. He must have been back in California during that period too. Anyway in the early sixties he was put in prison in Denmark for selling a drawing without a license and having insufficient funds: Six month of solitary confinement. They let him sell his good old banjo to the guard to pay the fine… He went straight to Paris where he met a Danish lady whom he later married. He had a period of hard work and sometimes lots of money, sometimes spending it all in one night. He was a typical rebel with tons of charisma so that the others would project their longing into his life. Men saw him as what they wanted to be and women wanted to be with him to become an Indian, or an artist, or more vital or more depressed… In his fourth marriage to Anne Mors he had two children, still living in Los Angeles. Early seventies they split up.
Because of his health situation (a bad heart) he had to cancel all contracts with the galleries. The Veterans Administration would only take care of him if he had no income. The decision did keep him alive but ruined is artistic career. After that he only did smaller shows in Europe for fear of being found out by the VA.
He played music, acted a bit, even was in a musical as a chorus boy…
Many have collected his work. I think the most honest assessment is that ‘he had a cult status in an inner circle’. He also had quiet a temper, so made enemies in a second and friends in half a second.
We met first in Antwerp while he was playing folk and folk rock and flamenco. In August 1968 I saw the first drawings and walked home with a few. Only in 1991 Tony and I became an item and got married. He did do a few bigger good shows and worked very hard and intensely during these last years of his life.
I haven’t mentioned his Far East experiences, but they are gruesome. He arrived in Shanghai, when Shanghai fell and saw how 10.000 people were executed in the streets. He carried the fear of death deep within himself.
Over the years he also wrote strange poetic parables and songs. Some of those I collected and translated in ‘My book, my life’.
Of course, he lived regularly in Las Vegas: as a young man when his mother was a dancer there and regularly in the seventies and eighties when he had a gallery for a while. He knew some of the celebrities coming though Vegas.
Tony’s life was the stuff of myths and I try not to proclaim the ultimate truth but to let everybody hang on to their own version of Tony Mafia…

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi I just bought what appears to be a Tony Mafia painting. I was wondering if you could tell me if this piece is an original by the artist. My email is agoa@videotron.ca - I will email the pix. Thank you for your help.

Andrew

Barbara Burdick said...

I bought a beautiful Tony Mafia oil painting last year and would like to send you a photo.

bburdick@dc.rr.com

Shelley said...

Hi! I have a Tony Mafia painting that I'm pretty sure is a reproduction. Could you please look at a photo of it and confirm my suspiscions? I'd really appreciate it. Thanks! Shelley kllooolis@aol.com

Anonymous said...

HI I JUST FOUND A SET FOUR TONY MAFIA EARLY SKETCHES, A MEXICAN FARMER, OR COWBOY. A LADY LOOKS LIKE THE VIRGIN MARY, A MEXICAN CANTINA,AND AN OLD MEXICAN COULPLE WALKING IN THE STREETS. ALL ARE IN OLD FRAMES AND ARE 9X12 IN SIZE THEY WERE MY FATHERS THEY HUNG IN HIS HOUSE WHEN I WAS A KID I
AM 47 NOW I CAN REMEMBER HIM TELLING ME THAT HIS GUMBA TONY WAS GOING TO BE THE NEXT PICASSO HE MET TONY IN EUROPE WHEN HE WS STATIONED THERE AND CAUGHT UP WITH HIM LATER ON IN YEARS IN SANTA MONICA CA. WELL TIMES CHANGE SORRY TO HEAR TONY PASSED MABY HE AND MY DAD ARE HANGING OUT IN HEAVEN,IF YOU ARE INTERESTED OR KNO SOMEONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN BUYING THIS SET OF TONYS EARLY WORK PLEASE E MAIL ME AT GAMBINOLITIGATIONS@YAHOO.COM OR CALL ME AT 323-385-8889 THANKS ANTHONY GAMBINO

mccay13 said...

I have a tony mafia painting that I bought 12 years ago at an Auction, it is like the story of adam and eve with unicorns in the background. It is approximately 6 feet high and 4 feet wide. I don't know if this is an original or not. I also has some kind of clue in the back of the canvas that I have never figured out. Can you Email me so I can send you a picture and the clue.
Thank You,
mccay13@aol.com

steven said...

One day in about 1978 I went to Tony's studio in Highland Park ca. He had just finished a watercolor and crayon painting and I asked him how long it takes him to finish a piece like this. He said it depends if he hurried or took his time. He said if he rushed it, about 3 to 4 hours, and if he took his time about 20 minutes. He meant you can't rush art.
He was a truly cool individual, real complex and thoughtful. Probably the most interesting guy i've known. And yeah, I have that painting too!

MarySugar said...

I met Tony in 1976 in Highland Park. I was doing summer theatre at Oxy and had run out of gas in the grocery store parking lot. It was late at night. I was 25.

Tony explained that he could not push the car for me as he had just had open heart surgery. After I had refueled he invited me to his storefront studio. I can still see it all of these years later. He showed me his work, asked for a kiss, (which I gave), and gifted me with a few prints of some medical scenes he had drawn in b&w.

Later I became a nurse and these pieces became more dear to me. I still have them all and they have never been framed.

I am so glad to see this posting. I would love to have spoken with him before his death. At least now I know something more about him.

Cheers,
Sugar

Tumbleweed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kari Bower & Shawn Griffin said...

I have a wonderfull watercolor that I believe may be an original Tony Mafia work. Perhap you could confirm. Where can I post a photo? Thanks
Kari

s0reni said...

It is truly a fantasy story about Tony's life. Most of what is written is incorrect. It is sad that the father of my children is painted as a fantasy figure. He was a great artist but he never supported his children, Søren and Rikke whom he abandoned when they were just 7 and 4. He believed that a "real artist" is exempt from such responsibilities.
Anne M. Alderson aka Anne Mafia (1966 to 1974).

Melinda said...

Hi, I purchased a wonderful huge unsigned chunky Sterling Silver ring that I was told was made by Tony Mafia. The people I purchased it from said that they personally knew him and that it was probably the only piece of jewelry that he made. It is cast and abstract. It has a man and woman's head on it. The man has a large mustache. Do you have any idea if this story could be true? If so, any idea of value? If you know anything or would like a picture you may email me at Perfumemel@cox.net... Thanks! Mel

Melinda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stubaby said...

I have two small paintings of clowns given to me in 1960 by the Tony Mafia I knew at that time in West Hollywood. Is this him?
stulippman@gmail.com

Lewis Bowman said...

Hi my name is Lewis Bowman and I knew Tony and I think I know his work pretty good would love to see pics of any that anyone would be willing to share with me . Lewis Bowman ( lewis10921@ymail.com )

DeVille said...

I have Tony's Clown and Winnie the Pooh from jhis Amsterdam period (1960's). Any interest in these works pse address to l.kuis@casema.nl

Linda said...

My brother recently passed away. He was one of Tony's doctors in LA in the 1970s, I think at the VA. He collected several of his works which I now have. You can reach me at tunestar@comcast.net

Linda

deville said...

Is anybod interested in buying a clown portrait made by Tony in the early sixties?

deville said...

Anyvody interested in buying a clown portrait made by Tony early sixties? Offers, if yes, appreciated. Pictures available

Bonnie Karlyle said...

I met Tony in the early 60's when I was helping out another Tony, one of the owner's at Martoni's Restaurant in Hollywood. Tony had painted a mural on the wall. We hung out for a few months. At the time I was a model and inspiring actress and Tony wanted to paint my pictures but after many tries he wasn't happy with what he came up with and we gave up with my sittings. I remember a very soulful, swee,t tortured man. I never did keep any of his tries at my painting.
RIP Tony.
Karen Conrad aka Bonnie Karlyle

iwill said...

Hi,
I have a beautiful Tony Mafia painting, i recently bought, and would like to post it.
My email address is iris.willis@hotmail.com.
Thank you

William Alderson said...

The man was the uncle I never met. I've seen some of his work but, with exception of his youngest brother, Hank, I never knew all that much about my father's side of the family. My wife found this site and sent me the link. Interesting.

Bill Alderson

Arturo Hernandez said...

I'm the author of "The Music of Jimmy Ojotriste" a novel released last year by Lunita Hispanic Press. Tony is one of the main characters in the book. I knew him briefly back in the late 70's, but he had a pretty big impact on my life.