Joe Brainard made art the way some might obsess over a lover: in an all-consuming frenzy and for hours on end—sometimes all night. He once wrote of his amphetamine-fueled process in the summer of 1970 to his friend and fellow Tulsan, Ron Padgett.
“After oil painting all morning (I got up at 5:30!) I picked some green grass and did lots of green ink and brush drawings of it. Now I am cutting the grass out and then I am going to put it all together, in layers, to make a solid patch of grass …
“It will be very pretty, I know. It can’t miss. And it’s a good thing to do (cutting out grass) when your head is tired but you are still sort of wound up. Just before a drink.”
The cut-outs he was creating—collages of weeds and grass and flowers and paper painstakingly dissected with an X-acto knife and then arranged between multiple layers of Plexiglas—would soon become some of his best and most critically acclaimed work. But Joe would write, disappointed, “it doesn’t give me that much satisfaction.”
Years before, as a high-school student vacationing in Mexico with one of his early mentors and her family, Joe surprised them with his whirl.
“He never slept; he was on amphetamines,” Nylajo Harvey remembered. “You could buy anything at the pharmacy that you could pronounce in Mexico. And so he was frantically working and he was working in tea and coffee so it was like a watercolor. He would paint or draw 10 or 20 hours a day.”
Most of what Joe painted or drew in Mexico he discarded, considering them mere excercises, rather than “real art,” but Nylajo, recognizing the beauty of his work, collected them and took them home to Tulsa with her.
Joe would continue that way for most of his 20-year career—working frantically, trashing what he didn’t like, and criticizing what he did.
Hear John Brainard discuss his brother’s life and legacy:
In the mid-1970s, he spent two years amassing 3,000 miniature drawings and collages, epic in their detail, half of which would be displayed at Manhattan’s Fischbach Gallery in 1975.
The show was a success—critically because of the immaculate caliber of Brainard’s work; commercially because he sold the pieces cheap, some as low as $25. But, as he was prone to be, Joe was unhappy with his achievement. He had long doubted his inherent talent and was growing weary of the art world. He told People magazine, which featured him and his work in an article titled “Think Tiny,” “The art scene has gotten too big, too serious, too sacred, too self-important, and too expensive.”
But Joe Brainard was none of those things, and by the mid-1980s, he had put down his paintbrush and left the art world for good.
Born in Salem, Arkansas in 1942, Brainard moved to Tulsa at a young age, but was never at home in Oklahoma. He grew up here, the second son of working-class parents, but he came of age in New York City, securing his identity as an artist—a contemporary of Alex Katz, Fairfield Porter, and Andy Warhol—and a writer and member of the New York School (composing, with his friends from Tulsa, what critics would come to call the “Tulsa School of Poetry”), alongside the likes of Frank O’Hara, Kenward Elmslie, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, and others.
As an artist, Brainard was perpetually critical of his work, never fully believing in its worth. As a man, he was perpetually kind. The most common and accurate word his friends, family, and eulogizers use to describe him is “nice,” and he was a frequent bestower of gifts. In a memorial titled “Saint Joe” and published in the July 1997 issue of Art in America, writer and friend Edmund White writes: “Joe Brainard was both a collector and an antimaterialist. He loved beautiful objects and bought them, but he loved emptiness more and was always giving away his collections and restoring his loft to its primordial spareness.”
That, and he liked making people happy.
Ron Padgett, Joe’s closest friend, told me over the phone that “he was a superb gift-giver—not because his gifts were expensive, but they were just right for you.”
And if there were anything in his possession that he thought someone else would do better with than he, he gave of that thing freely. He encouraged his friends to visit his miniatures at Fischbach and pick out “one you think would be nice to live with.”
But for all his kindness and generosity, Joe was plagued by doubt, depression, and insecurity, heightened by speed and the frustration he felt with his work. A feverish and abundant creator for 15 years, it wasn’t until he stopped making art that Joe seemed to find peace.
Joe’s family was typical of those in Tulsa in the 1950s. His parents, Howard and Marie, were the working-class progenitors of four children: Jim, Joe, Becky and John. The three boys all grew up to be artists, and Becky dabbled in interior decoration and art gallery management.
“We all got along well and respected one another, but we weren’t particularly close and didn’t spend a lot of time together,” said John Brainard, a painter who creates large, multimedia collages and lives in Paris.
Once the Brainard kids turned 18, they were free to leave the nest without much interference from their parents.
“It was kind of nice, in a way,” John said. “Particularly for Joe it was nice because his lifestyle wasn’t probably what was typical at that time for Tulsa parents. And my parents were good about not being intrusive in any way.”
Marie supported the qualities that some might consider clues of his homosexuality. He fancied himself a fashion designer (until high school, when his friends chastised him for limiting his artistic potential with such a commercial endeavor), and his mother often put together her outfits by sewing frocks he had designed.
When he was 8, Joe designed a Grecian-inspired white gown, which his mother paired with gold accessories. When he was 14, the Tulsa World ran an article about Joe under the headline “Fair First is Budding Dior.”
“A great many of my clothes are from Joe’s original sketches,” Marie told the reporter. “He sketches a dress, helps pick the material and then I get out the pinking shears and sewing machine and go to work. He always looks for the unusual in design and even helps me pick accessories which will go well with his design. There’s only one area of disagreement between us and that is on shoes. Joe thinks it’s terribly unfashionable when I wear anything other than spiked heels.”
“It sounds to me that initially Marie and Joe’s relationship was as much mother-daughter as mother-son,” Ron Pagdett wrote in a memoir of his friend, titled Joe. “At the age of nine he began relinquishing the ‘daughter’ role to his newborn sister, Becky, whose gender was prized by Marie.”
Marie was “in many ways an ideal 1950s housewife” who “always seemed to have just baked a pie,” Padgett wrote. Howard worked for an oil field equipment manufacturer, graduating from the assembly line to a desk, and spent his evenings and weekends tinkering in his garage. But he harbored a secret: As a child, Howard had hoped to be an artist. As an adult, though, he probably didn’t think a career as a landscape artist was an option for him—but when he recognized his sons’ talent, he encouraged it. When Joe was 13, his youngest brother, John, was born. John was 5 when Joe moved to New York, seeking fortune and freedom as an artist, and John, once he was old enough to read the reviews of his brother’s work, followed Joe’s career closely and aspired to follow in his footsteps.
In high school, Joe spoke with a stutter and tended to be shy and soft-spoken. Tall and thin with black, wiry hair and thick glasses, he was not outgoing, but Padgett, his classmate at Central High School, picked him out of a crowd easily. He introduced himself to Joe by way of Christmas card and later in person, telling him, “I’m starting a magazine and I was wondering if you’d like to be the art editor.”
Joe’s answer—“Uh uh uh OK”—marked the beginning of a friendship that would last until Joe’s death in 1994, and the magazine they started would prove as legendary as its creators.
The White Dove Review was an ambitious five-issue effort by Ron, Joe, Dick Gallup, and Michael Marsh, who wrote to their favorite avant-garde authors of the time—Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, e.e. cummings, Malcolm Cowley, and others—asking them for work. Their writings were published by this group of 16-year-olds in their “little literary magazine.” Joe would go on to collaborate with some of them in his adult years.
Joe and his high-school cohorts spent a lot of their free time absorbing the influence of older artists in Tulsa, who were happy to have them around but hesitant to encourage them to pursue careers in art, because they knew the difficulty that would come to them if they did.
One of Joe’s earliest influences—though certainly not the most important; Bob Bartholic took credit for that—was Nylajo Harvey, who was once as distinguished by the fat, red braid that snaked down the length of her back as she was the oil portraits and landscapes she created so prolifically.
Harvey, who is 85 now, and lives in midtown—not too far from the home where Joe Brainard used to visit her—remembers the boy fondly, though they lost touch after high school, after he left Tulsa.
In Harvey’s downstairs bathroom, nestled in a mosaic of artwork, is a painting Brainard did in high school, representative of her favorite work of his. A girl, painted in shades of red, resembles an animal or insect— her eyes are dots, her nose narrow and pointed, her mouth pursed.
Upstairs, in a guest bedroom, are two more—one a blue version of the bathroom portrait and another an ink wash of a nude figure, the lines of her body blurred into the background, her face virtually featureless. It hangs beside a nearly identical portrait by Bob Bartholic, but his is obviously the work of an older, more mature painter. Seeing the works side by side is an excellent example of the homage Brainard often paid to those who inspired and influenced him.
When he moved to New York, his influences changed dramatically, and so did his aesthetic.
“In Tulsa, Joe was eager to absorb influences because he knew that’s one way you develop as an artist,” Padgett said.
When he and Ron arrived in New York, they immediately hit up the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, taking in artists like Picasso, Vermeer, Matisse, Pollock, and de Kooning.
“It was staggering for Joe,” Padgett said. “He and I arrived in New York together, and we went to the Museum of Modern Art, and Joe’s eyes were as big as saucers, he was so happy to be there. It was like he had gone to heaven.”
Joe’s work began to take on a pop-art aesthetic; in 1962, he painted a large, colorful image of the 7-Up logo. It was the same year Andy Warhol debuted his first pop-art exhibit, which included the Marilyn Monroe Diptych, 100 Soup Cans and 100 Coke Bottles.
He wrote of his work in a letter to Padgett. He wanted to paint things such as “an arrangment of modern Americanized bottled, wrapped, or boxed items especially prepared for our sterile and functional sense of the sanitary proper: 7-Up bottle, Pioneer instant coffee, and a Tareyton dual cigarette. Such items I often use in my paintings, because they are present, they are the ways of my country… ”
Joe would come to admire Warhol’s art, but he would abandon any effort that might suggest he was copying the artist. His friend and once-lover Joe LeSueur said: “I bought his painting 7-Up for $14—but Joe gave up Pop art of that sort as soon as he saw Warhol’s work later.”
He would continue to paint everyday items, but he would do it in a way that set him apart from other pop artists. His 1977 oil-on-canvas painting of a butt-filled ash tray, titled Cinzano, is a good example. The image is duplicated 16 times, each one a different style of painting, all realistic, none of them reminiscent of Warhol.
In Joe, Padgett wrote: “His use of such iconography then and later was quite different than that of most pop artists, whose attitude toward the same images tended to be cool, distant, critical or ironic. Joe described himself as a realist, simply painting what was in front of him, but his depictions of pop images suggest that not only did he love seeing, he was in love with what he saw.”
His kindness played a role as well.
John Ashbery wrote in the program for the retrospective exhibit of Joe’s work: “Joe Brainard was one of the nicest artists I have ever known. Nice as a person, and nice as an artist. This may present a problem … One can sincerely admire the chic and implicit nastiness of a Warhol soup can without ever wanting to cozy up to it, and perhaps that is as it should be, art being art, a rather distant thing.
“In the case of Joe, one wants to embrace the pansy, so to speak. Make it feel better about being itself, all alone, a silly kind of expression on its face, forced to bear the brunt of its name eternally.”
The first time Warhol saw Brainard’s work, it was the illustrated cover of a mimeographed journal of poetry by Brainard, Padgett, Ted Berrigan, and Dick Gallup titled C Comics.
In a letter to Padgett, Brainard wrote: “Andy Warhol says C cover (Joe designed the third one) is great. And he’s to see me and some of my new work next weekend when I’ll be in N.Y. Here’s hoping he might pull a string for me. I’ve been doing great things. I can’t believe it. Most of all I’m anxious for you all to see everything.”
Warhol designed the cover of C: Journal of Poetry Vol. 1 No. 4, giving the screens he created, along with some black ink and a squeegee, to Berrigan to silk screen. On some that came out too faint, Joe painted and wrote—homages to Warhol.
Brainard, like many who fear failure will be their destiny if they stay in their small, oppressive hometowns, left Tulsa for New York City, the only place he felt he could be a “serious” artist.
After stopping off in Dayton, Ohio, for a brief but paid-for stint at the Dayton Art Institute, Brainard joined his friends Ron Padgett and Ted Berrigan in Manhattan, sleeping and working in small, shanty apartments in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. He didn’t work, except as an artist, and money came neither quickly nor easily. He sold his blood on occasion, panhandled and picked up cigarette butts from the sidewalk, stuffing them into his pockets to later smoke or use in an assemblage. At times, he didn’t eat.
“I spent the extra $2 you sent [Ron had sent him $10; $8 was spent on rent] immediately, and have been living off a loaf of bread for the past three days,” he wrote to Padgett. “I’m not sorry, though. But today is Saturday late afternoon and I have left only two slices. And tomorrow is Sunday, so no mail. I put all my faith in Monday’s mail.”
When the mail arrived, though, there was no money in it, and Joe was forced to ask people on the street to spare their change. He earned 15 cents and he bought two candy bars and a five-cent stamp, which he used to mail the letter to his friend.
In 1962, he created a series of variations on the American flag, gluing them to white masonite, cutting and collaging them and collaborating with Berrigan to create flag-themed poetic collage.
He was supposed to exhibit the flag and other works in Tulsa at a small gallery owned by Bob Bartholic. Berrigan journaled: “My collaborative American flag with Joe was a Tulsa scandal. Bartholic didn’t hang it, but he showed it. Another gallery cancelled Joe’s show, partly because of the flag.”
In 1963, Brainard moved to Boston for a while, and he was prolific in his creation of collage—or sculpture or assemblage, as he sometimes called it—gluing together ordinary things, like clocks, doll parts, birds, and cigarette butts.
Harvey prefers the work he created in high school and doesn’t care too much for the work he did in New York.
“It wasn’t art to me—old cigarette butts? Arms of little dolls?”
But Joe had never been happier with his work. He wrote to his friend Ron on several occasions, excited about the art and poetry he was creating:
“I’m truly a genius … I feel super-good.”
“I am doing work now which surpasses me. I watch myself work in total amazement.”
He drew also, designing the cover of Padgett’s self-published collection of poems Some Bombs , as well as C Comics. Brainard, Padgett, Berrigan, and Gallup began incorporating themselves into the New York School of Poetry, earning them the moniker, dubbed tongue-in-cheek by Ashbery, “the soi-disant Tulsa School of Poetry.”
Once he felt himself finished with his assemblages, Joe moved on to other projects—ironic imitations of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy cartoon; gouache-on-paper collages of pansies, daisies, and irises; landscapes and still lifes in oil—including some writing, the most acclaimed of which is his memoir I Remember.
His work, in terms of both style and medium, varied exponentially. He seemed to master a technique, to exhaust its every possibility, and then discard it, moving on to the next challenge. Some saw this as admirable; to others, it was the fatal flaw that prevented him from being remembered as a “great artist.” He lacked a “signature style.”
Like his art, his love life flourished. Free from the constraints of Tulsa, where he felt pressured to be someone (a heterosexual) he wasn’t, Brainard embraced his sexuality, but not before some near-misses with a couple of women, one of whom would end up marrying his close friend.
Padgett writes that a giddy, tipsy Joe escorted Pat, Ron’s wife, to her doorstep while he was out of town and nearly asked to stay the night, but something stopped him. Joe and Pat were always close, and Joe seemed to maintain a profound and prolonged crush on her, but it was more admiration than anything else, and nothing sexual ever happened between them.
Nothing sexual ever happened between Joe and any woman, but there were plenty of escapades with men.
“I’ve been sleeping around a lot but not getting much satisfaction from it,” Joe once wrote to Ron. “I find myself just wanting to be in bed with people more than I really want to ‘do’ anything. (Sometimes.)”
In another letter he wrote: “What I really want to be is madly in love. (I do believe in it.)”
His most serious relationships were with writers Joe LeSueur, Frank O’Hara, Kenward Elmslie, and actor Keith McDermott. The love of his life was Elmslie, an author and playwright, though Brainard didn’t always recognize him as such. They collaborated artistically, Joe designing covers and jackets for Elmslie’s books and plays, and spent 30 years as off-and-on lovers but steady friends. Elmslie was with Joe when he died.
The pair spent summers in Calais, Vermont, where Joe would regularly abandon his erratic, Manhattan-inspired work schedule in favor of leisure of the countryside. But he had a difficult time staying monogamous and enjoyed sex—especially anonymous sex with strangers. He didn’t flaunt his homosexuality; upon seeing an overly flamboyant gay man, Joe once told Ron, “He’s the kind that gives queers a bad name.”
“I think he disapproved of the young man’s aggressive behavior because what it amounted to was inverse machismo,” Ron writes in Joe. “Joe felt that publicly flaunting your sexuality—gay or straight—was not only bad manners, it was probably an indication you had a problem with it.” Joe’s friends never had a problem with his sexuality, though they did sometimes disapprove of his promiscuousness, preferring he settle down with Kenward Elmslie.
Joe’s homosexuality wasn’t an issue for his brother John, who would join him in New York after attending art school at the University of Tulsa.
John had long looked up to his older brother, and Joe, sensing a kindred spirit—both because his brother was an artist and because he wrongly suspected John might also be gay—welcomed John to his new home in New York. Together, they began making regular visits to their parents back in Oklahoma. It had been 15 years since Joe had been to Tulsa.
Joe left Tulsa because he didn’t think he could be a serious artist there; he didn’t think anyone outside of New York understood his work. And he didn’t think he could be himself in Tulsa.
“Everyone thought they understood him,” Padgett said. “They treated him a certain way and expected him to behave a certain way, and he didn’t feel that’s who he was. He wanted freedom, a chance to figure out who he would become. He didn’t think he could do that in Tulsa. He felt trapped there.”
Harvey thinks he had a fear of being ordinary. “He felt his family was very ordinary, and he didn’t want to be that way,” she said.
Padgett says “conventional” is a better word. “Joe wasn’t sure he wanted to be conventional … He had a kind of revelation his senior year in high school that he might be able to develop and expand his talent so he could become an artist, rather than just, quote, a ‘fashion designer.’ It’s such a small niche in art history, and he wanted to shoot higher than that, to see if he could be extraordinary.”
And he was, for as long as he wanted to be.
“As he got a little older, I think he took a certain pleasure in life that took the place of the pleasure and pain of doing art,” Padgett said. “Art seemed less important to him as he got older, and I think it was because he had done a lot of art and a lot of terrific people had absolutely loved it, and he made them incredibly happy and made a lot of friends who adored him.
“He confessed that he loved to make people happy, to please them, and he had accomplished that. His art had enabled him to do that. At the same time, I think he had come to know that art is not the most important thing in one’s life. There are things that matter more. His life became his art.”
In the ‘80s, Joe Brainard’s art career careened to a halt. He stopped showing new work, and eventually he stopped creating it. Though the critical acclaim and accolades bestowed upon his art never wavered, Joe’s own confidence in his ability was fragile, to say the least.
“(H)e took an increasingly dim view of his work, seeing it as lightweight, facile, and lacking in the qualities of the high art of the oil painters he so admired, such as de Kooning, Manet, Goya, Katz, and Porter,” Padgett writes in Joe. Though friends and critics raved (and rave) about his talent, that he never was able to paint faces undermined his success.
“Joe’s still-lifes and landscapes in oil demonstrate how accomplished his technique was in that medium,” Padgett writes. “However, for him the ultimate challenge—and his nemesis—was oil portraiture. His friends sat for him, enjoying everything about it except his frustration with the results. Time and again, his sitter would be delighted by the day’s work, only to learn that later Joe had scraped the face area with a pallet knife and rubbed it out with a turpentine rag …”
Such was the result of the portrait he attempted of Pat Padgett, Ron’s wife, which he exhibited in its faceless, unfinished state in a show at the Fischbach Gallery in 1974.
“That he did so is a measure of his deep frustration,” Ron wrote. His constant self-criticism, coupled with a growing disdain for the art world, were motivation enough to leave it behind. Or, perhaps, as he did with each period of creation in his career, he felt he had mastered the technique and he was ready to move on to another.
Despite the warm reception his work received, it’s largely unremembered in the annals of art history. Brainard purposely never created for himself a “signature style,” perhaps to his detriment. His work varied and he never spent too much time on any one aesthetic, both of which make it difficult to immediately spot a “Brainard.”
And this fact has opened up a debate among art critics as to whether Joe was a “major” artist or a “minor” one. It’s a discussion Padgett addresses in his book, but he does so with some disdain.
“What difference does it make if the world thinks someone is a great artist or not?” he said when I asked him if he’d ever drawn any conclusions on the matter. “It matters in the marketplace, and in the museum world, but in actual intrinsic value, the urge to categorize artists as major or minor—and by the way, is there any in between?—that urge is very wrongheaded. It’s erroneous thinking. It’s a curious desire people have to rank everyone. But it’s ridiculous.
“My conclusion is it’s a question we shouldn’t think about.”
For Nylajo Harvey, who’s produced more than 4,000 works in her 50- year career, Brainard’s talent speaks for itself. Not much else matters. Padgett echoes her sentiments.
“Joe was gifted. Some people are. From childhood or birth, some kids can draw without being taught. It’s a certain thing in their brain or their visual understanding of the world and the way that understanding communicates itself to the hand. Joe, by the time I met him, was clearly one of those special people. Not only did he have that inherent talent, but he was able to develop it, to nourish it, to challenge it. As a result, he made very beautiful things.
“But the distinctive part may be in his refusal of a signature style and the fact that he was able to do very superficially different types of art at the same time. He did highly realistic pencil portraits and, at the same time, he’d be doing collage paintings of flowers. If you examine the two, they don’t look alike. Nonetheless, if you do look at the whole run of Joe’s work, I get this sense of this one person behind it. To me, that’s pretty distinctive.”
When he was 27, Joe wrote in his diary that he couldn’t imagine living to old age.
“Can you imagine yourself 60 or 70 years old? I can’t. I imagine, rather, that I will die young: 40 or 50. Not because I want to die young. But because I can’t imagine being old. So there is nothing else to imagine. Except dying young.”
He died in May of 1994 of AIDS-related pneumonia. He was 52.
Keith McDermott told Edmund White that Joe was surprised when he discovered he was HIV positive. “I thought he’d commit suicide, but no, he became very docile and just did whatever the doctors said.”
Joe tested positive for HIV in 1990, after a bout with shingles led his friends to question his health. They encouraged him to get tested, and he did, but Ron and Pat Padgett wonder if he may have already known. In Joe, Ron wrote, “Pat has a gut feeling that Joe may have suspected or even learned of his HIV status as early as 1987. She can pinpoint a particular evening when he invited just the two of us out to dinner: his manner was unnaturally distant, his mood very odd. He might have just gotten bad test results, or he might have been on the verge of telling us. She also remembers that it was around then that he began to take superlative care of himself, joining the exclusive Crosby Street health club and buying nice clothes.”
“We’re not sure when he first learned of his diagnosis,” Ron told me. “He didn’t want to inflict pain on his friends by telling them,” an obvious consequence of his ubiquitous niceness.
By the time John told his parents of Joe’s illness, their mother’s Alzheimer’s made her “sort of out of it,” but other than that, they accepted the news with stoic reserve, “typically not expressing much emotion,” John said.
When Joe died, he “had been nearly forgotten, except by his legion of friends,” White wrote in “Saint Joe.” That legion went out of its way to ensure that Joe wouldn’t be forgotten, organizing a series of events to honor the man and his work—work he had refused to show for the last 15 years. Among other efforts, they planned a 164-piece retrospective exhibit of Joe’s work, organized by the Berkeley Art Museum, which traveled to the Donna Beam Fine Arts Gallery at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and P.S. 1 in New York City.
The exhibit was offered to Tulsa’s Philbrook Museum of Art, which owns two of his works—one from 1959 and one from 1977— in its permanent collection, but Philbrook’s leadership at the time sent Constance Lewallan, who curated the exhibit and wrote the accompanying program, a curt letter of rejection.
In 2004, Padgett published Joe, which is equal parts biography and memoir and paints an honest and touching picture of his friend. Next spring, the Library of America will publish The Collected Works of Joe Brainard.
“When someone we love dies, most of us do things to keep them from completely vanishing,” Ron opens his text in the Preface. “We summon up memories of them, we talk about them, we visit their graves, we treasure photographs of them, we dream about them, and we cry, and for those brief moments they are in some way with us. But when my friend Joe Brainard died, I knew I was going to have to do something beyond all these.”
As someone who imagined death would come to him early, Joe Brainard accepted his fate with grace and what dignity he could muster. Padgett wrote that, when he died, he was wearing, beneath his hospital gown, pants and socks, “guarding these last vestiges of dignity to the end.”
John Brainard told Edmund White that Joe “felt like he had enough time.”
“Though he went through a lot of pain, he suffered it very bravely,” John said.
“At his memorial ceremony, several speakers called him ‘saintly,’ ” White wrote.
Ron Padgett remembers driving home from the hospital the day Joe died. “Just as we pulled up in front of our building, out of nowhere came a deafening machine-gun fire of hailstones that pummeled the roof of the car for fifteen seconds, then suddenly stopped.”