Tribute to Ted Lukjanczyk This page is meant to serve as my personal tribute to one of the most interesting and aggravating people I have ever known. I owe a lot to Ted, and I believe his wonderful work is sadly under appreciated.
The picture below perfectly captures Teddy's impish yet lovable side. He would eventually carve this massive bay laurel log into his great masterpiece, Entelechy.
The master sculptor was my stepfather, and he kindly took me on as an apprentice around 1979, so I was about 21. I had always self-identified as an artist, but I had little to no practical understanding of what that meant. When I was around 14, I had written a letter to my English teacher explaining that her instruction served no useful purpose, since in my chosen career I would be communicating visually! The truth is that I was simply too lazy to read the book she'd assigned, so I had no idea what to write for a book report. Working for Ted would require that I get very serious very fast.
To work for Ted was to be buffeted by an emotional storm. Though he was brilliant, generous, and prodigiously gifted, he also tended to have volcanic outbursts, and at times he gave into a dark, uniquely European temperament. Ted had been in and out of mental institutions with brief spells in jail, and he was variously diagnosed as schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur and manic-depressive, now known as bipolar. He became enraged when people asked dumb questions about his work, such as Wow, how much does that weigh? He also loathed the frequent comparisons to the lovable Tevye, from the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof, but to be honest, the resemblance was uncanny, especially in terms of his accent, his joie de vivre and his outsized presence as a personality.
My mom and Ted started dating a few years into our Synanon experience. At a certain point, the founder turned to them and flatly stated "You two ought to marry!" The seemingly casual comment was understood as more or less an edict in our world, which had slowly started to morph into a cult. This rather flippant abuse of power certainly had a major impact on the course of my own life. Over many years, I grew to love Ted, knowing full well he was crazy. I could never truly relax my guard around him. He was both the best and worst teacher I ever had.
The Early Years Ted was an art student at Wayne State University in the mid 1960's, and he was under the influence of modernist and minimalist trends that had dominated the art scene for decades. Though he was working in an abstract and semi-abstract modality, one can see that he was already deeply concerned with the human figure, and particularly so with what he called "The Great Mother".
The captions that follow are based on a slideshow that Ted annotated. In 1982 as I was about to set sail for an epic 'round-the-world adventure, Ted gave me a precious copy of the notes, along with a complete set of the slides (both of which I still have). My copy included this inscription:
"With love and appreciation to James, my Son and erstwhile apprentice - May your journey take you closer to your heart's desire." - T.L.
Later, I had to go look up erstwhile in the dictionary.
I hope to include his complete notes when time allows, perhaps in a blog format.
The Synanon Years Ted entered Synanon in 1969 and lived there for about six years. This was his most stable and productive period. Early on, Ted's unusual schedule, which represents one version of what we called the Cubic Day, was as follows: he worked on various projects for ten straight days, such as building custom furniture or boat repair, and then he had ten days to do as he pleased. Eventually he was bestowed the unheard of privilege of working on his art full time.
The Synanon story is complicated, and I won't try to shed light on that here. There's a plethora of books, films, podcasts, etc available on that fascinating topic. I will say that living among a large group of committed truth tellers probably kept Ted from going completely off the rails. He was one of many hundreds of passionate, certifiably nutty people who lived there, and it's likely that for some years he felt more at ease there than he had anywhere. But over the years, the fellow feeling began to ebb and the close proximity to so many humans started to chafe. He also felt less and less enthralled by the founder's sense of his own genius. So he and my mom decided to move on.
But regarding the body of work produced, I have to say it is exceptionally moving to me. I love the tenderness and sincerity of the Nativity (he calls it Nuclear Family), which contrasts rather starkly with the frank and unashamed sexuality of Meretrix. I admire the narrative power of Ship of Fools, and am delighted by the allegorical statement made by Sleeping Boy.
Entelechy This is Ted's most ambitious work, both in scale and in symbolic scope. The title references his profound belief that the universe is governed by a fundamentally intelligent force. One might assume he is referring to God, and Ted was born a roman catholic in Poland, no less. But he was at best deeply ambivalent about religion. He clearly tapped into Christian iconography in many of his works, at times overtly. But I think his work speaks to a deeper truth, that we are all "IT", that each person is held in an eternal embrace of the infinite and mighty wisdom emanating from within ourselves and from the beginning of time, and that this unbreakable connection is our birthright. One might say he was somewhat of a mystic. He often marvelled at the facts of the material world as illuminated by discoveries in modern physics, unintentionally but effusively quoting Joni Mitchell: "We are stardust!" Clearly, this insight makes petty politics or ideas such as racial superiority utterly absurd. He also often noted that humans are ludicrous apes. There is so much to say about this piece, that I will not make the attempt here. In future, I will post some of Ted's own writings on this and others of his works.
A new chapter with Mom Ted enjoyed another sustained period of productivity after leaving the Synanon community. He did take a brief break from work - as in - a manic break. He used that time to terrorize his former friends and benefactors. He sent Synanon a fake bomb in the mail, slashed a lot of their tires and made a very unwelcome drive-by appearance that resulted in a massive manhunt and some much needed jail time.
But back to the great artist. My mother, Pat Reynolds, and Ted had ten solid years of relative happiness, during which time Ted thrived and grew artistically. This culminated in a private audience at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II, where Ted presented a lifesize bronze bust of him (which reminds me - Ted relished referring to the Pope as "His Ass-Holiness") . A Benedictine abbot, Father Claude, facilitated this signature moment. He also commissioned a sculpture of The Death of St Benedict and a remarkably beautiful altar, along with a large Christ figure and other works for a new monastery. Sadly, Ted had another manic episode and set fire to the nearly completed building, destroying several of his own works, some of which were never photographed. This last act of lunacy was the final straw for my Mom.
Ted, Mom, Pope.
Ted described being on his knees, overcome, weeping and gushing tears and snot all over the Pope's ring.
Amity, The Final Years After the fire, Ted was once again behind bars. Thankfully, friends who ran Amity in Tucson who had known Ted in Synanon, made a special pleading on his behalf in court. I imagine they may have said something along the lines of, "Here is an artistic giant, who also happens to be mentally ill. He needs protection and a routine with regular medication, therapy, etc, not prison time."
Ted got very lucky with the judge and his friends, who were willing to take on quite a risk. It was agreed that Ted would move into this new community, with the stipulation that his friends would take full responsibility for his care and guarantee that he would never again pose a threat to society. Ted was allowed to resume his artistic pursuits. I did visit Ted at Amity, where he had fitted out a new studio and was indeed producing new works. I never heard if he had any further breakdowns. He died around 1992, and I met his daughter at his memorial in Arizona.
The final image below, the Thunderbird, was installed at the Vista Superior Court as partial restitution after Ted confessed to the arson. Here is a quote from an LA Times article: "Over the period I had to work on it, I had an opportunity to rethink the whole sorry mess that brought me here. This is as much an apology as I could make to the people, the judge and the abbey. I have positive feelings about this. I don't harbor too many negative feelings - it's too energy depleting." This body of work is not as familiar to me, and I am guessing at most of the details.