Remembering Sponto

By Leland Auslender

Mark Kornfeld, who answered equally to “Sponto,” the name of his art gallery, was always the happy host at his art openings during the many years he operated the place. In the sixties, it had been the Venice West Cafe, where Beats and Hippies gathered to share camaraderie, food and poetry. Sponto’s body, mind, and soul seemed identified with the gallery, which, with little money and much magic, he managed to keep alive… as long as he was alive. Perhaps it was the outrageous, ever-rising rent that contributed to his heart attack and early demise.

So, as usual, he was floating in and out at the opening of the “Circle of Color” artists’ reception in celebration of the December 21, 2008 winter solstice. 

For eight years, being a fine-art photographer, I was one of a circle of Venice artists who exhibited work there twice a year (Summer solstice was the other time), and I always photographed the exhibits and colorful goings on, which included talented entertainers, drum circles, raucous bands, free-form dancing, and food and drink. The celebrations didn’t sell much art, but they always attracted a gaggle of colorful characters, including many of Venice’s homeless, who piled their plates high with the abundant free refreshments. I always had a field day photographing these odd eccentrics, who had the courage to be their unconventional, creative selves. 

None was more unconventional and true to his nature then Sponto, who named himself by amalgamating spontaneous and pronto. However, for reasons I never understood, whenever I tried to photograph him, he would waive me off; he didn’t want to be filmed. Perhaps he thought he didn’t look good, or perhaps he just wanted to be remembered as he was in life, not in a picture. So I never got a photo of Mark. That is, until, by the magic of my photo angel, I caught him in the gallery kitchen so absorbed in gabbing to a gorgeous girl that I was able to surreptitiously sneak a photo of him—my first ever. 

When, a few days later, Suzy Williams, who entertained at the events, and Gerry Fialka, who produced cinema screenings at the gallery, told me that Sponto had died, I couldn’t believe it. He was so alive a few days earlier, and his being so much younger than my 83 years filled me with a peculiar trepidation. Now they were asking me to furnish photos for his memorial service. 

 So here is my one and only shot of Sponto, who certainly needs no photo to be remembered as that lively, loving spirit with happy twinkling eyes, spreading cheer to all who met him. The gallery may not survive Sponto’s death, but photo or none, as Rumi observed, music from the soul is heard forever, throughout the universe.

Categories: Obituary, Venice

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