Friday, March 27, 2020

Happy 100th Birthday to Provincetown Treasure Ilona Royce Smithkin!

Probably the most-recognized photo of Ilona Royce Smithkin is this iconic photo from the
film Advanced Style, by Ari Seth Cohen and Lina Plioplyte, available on Prime Video.
Today is the 100th birthday of renowned artist, beloved friend and neighbor, and one of the absolute treasures of Provincetown, Ilona Royce Smithkin! Born in Poland, and immigrating to the United States in 1938, she has been a fixture in our town for, ummm, I'm guessing, more than 70 years, dividing her time between winters mostly in New York’s West Village, and the rest of the year in her beloved apartment and studio in PTown.
In between times she has regularly taught painting classes in many other locations, where she is just as beloved as she is here. She also taught art through her acclaimed television series lona’s Pallette, which became a PBS staple. She has also taught extensively here in town, at Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Her classes are jammed with students as eager to hear her speak about life in this world as they are to learn sketching and painting from this most remarkable artist.

Ilona has performed around the world , as captured in this
photo from an article about her in Passport magazine
In her early 80s, Ilona went through a sort of renaissance, finding a certain freedom in her advancing years, along with a sense of joyshe had never fully experienced before that time.
Infact, she felt free enough to begin performing a sort of "cabaret" with a bit of song in the style of Marlene Dietrich, among others, along with wonderful stories from her very colorful life.
Such literary luminaries as Ayn Rand and Tennessee Williams had asked her to do their portraits. In fact, Ilona has sketched or painted portraits for many well-known actors and entertainers over the years, some of which are displayed at the Karilon Gallery in Provincetown, at 447 Commercial Street.

Ilona’s life changed quite a bit again a number of years ago when she met a man on the streets of New York. For years, Ari Seth Cohen had been drawing stylish older women, and later began photographing these women “of a certain age” as he came across them. At one point he had been told about Ilona and her flaming red hair and eyelashes, and her penchant for bright colors, and he ended up looking for her on the streets of the West Village for about a year-and-a-half, wanting to include her in a project he called “Advanced Style.”

Poster for the film Advanced Style
He had begun putting his photos and written impressions of great numbers of captivating older women into a blog, and eventually into a book, and then into a film, collaborating with first-time director Lina Plioplyte. Ilona became an audience favorite in that wonderful film, which you can find on Prime Video. Click here to watch the trailer for Advanced Style on IMDb.

In honor of Ilona's 100th, I also watched Ilona Upstairs again. It was made by Hammil, who became Ilona's neighbor when she moved into the apartment below the one where Ilona had lived and painted in the West Village section of New York City for, at that time, at least 60 winters.
Hammil had become fascinated by this small, relentlessly cheerful woman who maintained a real sense of joy in her life by holding at arm's length the horrible sadness of her earlier life. Click the link above to watch the movie for free on Vimeo.
See the terrific article and photos in the Passport magazine article titled Ilona Royce Smithkin: Artist, Writer, Chanteuse, Raconteur. Get to know Ilona a bit when you watch "I'm in love with life" - Advanced Style Icon Ilona Royce Smithkin on YouTube.

Those Eyelashes!
You'll also want to see the YouTube video Eyelashes! by Zoe Lewis, capturing Ilona's ebullient spirit in videoclips of her making her way around town, celebrating life at the edge of the beach, and performing in the annual Eyelash Cabaret benefit for PAAM. She sings and dances as she creates a sketch for some lucky recipient in the audience, while Lewis sings the song she wrote about Ilona's most striking feature: those trademark, inch-long, fiery red eyelashes cut from her own hair and pasted into place on her lids. You can't watch this performance without dancing out of the room, singing yourself.
We in Provincetown have been enjoying Ilona's colorful style and infectious "joie de vivre" for many years, and we celebrate the wonderful occasion of her 100th Birthday!

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