Russell James Epprecht

Russell James Epprecht

Died June 3, 1995

Russell Epprecht went to the University of Pennsylvania Law School after Yale, launched on what promised to be a brilliant legal career. Over one summer, he worked in the Pennsylvania Legislature, drafting Pennsylvania’s first condominium law. He graduated from Penn in 1968 and was immediately drafted.

The Army took one day of basic training to discover what he’d been trying to tell them all along – he had a bad shoulder.

Russell moved to Aspen and lived as a ski bum, or, as his friend, the actor, Marshall Bell, put it, “he got involved in the ’60s in a big way – huge.” He went to work for a public advocacy group and used his legal training to help bring a class action suit on behalf of Hispanic school children in Pueblo who were not receiving their Federal lunch money. Sporting long, red hair and red snakeskin cowboy boots, Russell argued the case in court and won.

Despite Russell’s legal success, “he really wanted to be a painter or a writer,” his sister says, “and he became both.”

Russell moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which in the 1970s was the center of the art-punk universe. In 1983, he married Anna Boerresen of Germany, his long-time girlfriend and traveling companion, whom he had met ten years before on a ferry from Piraeus to Mikonos. Twin boys, Anselm and Stefan, were born the same year. He published two books in the 1980s: Further and Yardstick, which Stefan describes as autobiographical streams of consciousness written without punctuation.

“All of us who were friends were in it and were treated with great firmness,” Marshall Bell says. A fellow artist, Wolfgang Mann, said of Russell’s writing, “the reader became witness of his everyday life, of his hopes, his existential fears, his struggle for being recognized as an artist.”

One of Russell’s art shows, Mexican Visions, at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City in 1987, can still be seen on the Web. That exhibition, which he called “an incomplete post-modern Tarot deck,” featured paintings inspired by the time he spent in the Sierra Mazateca mountains of southern Mexico. Wolfgang Mann described Russell’s art as being “of a high degree of intensity and impressiveness. Whoever views them enters a mythical sphere.”

The family moved around from New York City to Henryville, PA to Berlin. Within weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall (there is a family photo of Anselm and Stefan chipping away at the Wall), they moved to East Berlin, into a bombed out neighborhood which today is the center of the city’s art scene. “His best years were in the ’90s,” Stefan says. “He found his voice and he found his style.” Russell had major shows of his paintings at the America House in Berlin and at a gallery in Vienna, and he began work on a book whose working title was History: A Nightmare.

In 1995 Russell was awarded a Pollack-Krasner Grant, for struggling artists with demonstrated talent, but he never found out about it. He’d been diagnosed with leukemia in 1989 and two years later with melanoma. Russell underwent a six-month bone marrow transplant regimen to treat the leukemia, but it left him too weak to fight his melanoma. He died at his farm in Henryville on June 3, 1995. One of his last conscious acts was to write a brief note to his friend, Marshall Bell, on the inside of a paperback book. Whether by chance or design no one will ever know, but the book was The Commanders by Bob Woodward.

After Russell’s death a retrospective showing of his paintings was put on at the Morat Institute in Germany. In an appreciation of Russell’s life, art historian, Johannes Althof, wrote, “Russell believed in the power of fate, and he had a dream dancer’s way of moving through life. He lived in a sphere of strange twists of fate. Whoever met him in person could not avoid a feeling that everything concerning Russell comes to pass with a certain relentlessness, controlled by a power stronger than him.”

David Schaff remembers: Penn Charter. Very good lineman. Interested in German and humor. Fellow flyer at St. A’s. After Yale Rus was able to embrace a bohemian lifestyle that astonished me. He knew the NY clubs – limelight, mudd, even sluggs – and was truly in tune to the music. And the avant garde, scene which he chronicled intensely. Never lost his humor. I lost contact when he moved to LA… Felix knew Rus better and longer. I regret that I did not keep more in touch.