Sunday, November 09, 2008

First Fridays Part I

(painting by Brian Boner)

The essay below is from a few years ago.  Before we owned a Brian Boner painting.  

We’ve parked in a lot that says “don’t park” and something about the police will tow. We aren’t too worried, everyone else seems to think this is the place to park. The parking lot is mostly dirt and now I have a small grainy pebble in one shoe. I feel out of place and in place at the same time. I’m out of place because this isn’t my comfort zone, this isn’t really my part of town. I’m in place because no one really cares. We don’t really know where we’re going.

We have a small tiny map that we can’t really read. We walk past a house that looks like every other slightly rundown house on the block, but there are people hanging out in the front yard. A 20 something guy wearing a black stocking cap looks up at us and says “you can go in” and motions towards the house. We glance towards the open door. There is artwork on the walls inside the house. We walk up the stairs past boys sitting on the stoop, drinking hard apple cider out of giant plastic containers. Inside the art is interesting. It is young. These kids are young. They seem to live here, or congregate here. Some of it is good. There is a girl who paints fairies on little pieces of tin. There is a large black girl who has done a self portrait of her vagina. Good is not a word I would use to describe it. We wander through until we hit the bathroom. The sign on the wall says “private” but someone has written in pencil “saving” above it and “Ryan” below it. We walk back out front. The guy in the stocking cap nods to us. “Thanks” we say.

We keep going towards what we think is one of the main “galleries”. The term “galleries” seems to be loosely used in this situation. They are small little houses built in the 1930’s maybe. Charming and run down. This forgotten part of town between downtown and midtown. Anytime I’ve heard someone refer to the “Roosevelt District” I tend to not think of art. I tend to think about potential crime. Urban decay. People who hope and wish that their neighborhood will be safer and cleaner and more inviting if it is declared a “historic district”. I tend to think of it as in vain. A sad attempt to turn something around into something it can never be again.
We find the gallery. The smell of incense in the air is very intense. There are signs directing us to go towards the back of the gallery. In back, between the house to the side of it and the garage behind it someone has set up a table with crudites and wine. The house smells freshly painted as we walk in. There’s a beautiful white flower arrangement with lilies and roses and someone has stuck an incense stick in the center of it. Lilies and roses smell beautiful, they don't need incense. But it wouldn't be an art party without incense I suppose.  In front of me is an old window pane with a photo being projected by a back light through the glass. Bare trees and a naked girl leaning with her limbs like the tree. It is kind of mesmerizing. The way it changes depending on where you are in the room, it becomes abstract looking from a side angle. The girl appears to move and almost dance when you move your head. This house has old polished hardwood floors. Through the doorway there are several pieces but one especially catches my eye. It is called “Gluttony”. There are two of them. Companion pieces. They are picasso like forms filled with tiny little collages and words and paint. There is so much meaning and intensity condensed inside these images. I could stare at these for hours.

I think about how I would like to own the “Gluttony” paintings. I think about how I might not be the kind of person who would have gluttony paintings on her walls. I think about how maybe I really am that person. In a different life, probably not the one I’m living. On the wall by them is another painting by the same girl. This one represents all of the seven deadly sins. There are words and forms and I want to look at them longer but we feel compelled to keep going. There are lots of abstracts but every once in a while there will be a good realist piece. The “installation” pieces laying on the floor bore me. I can’t care about a piece of wood painted white on one side that gets smaller and smaller. That’s like something I did in an art class one time when I was out of ideas. “This will be arty”, I thought. We walk back outside.

There is a garage. It is open at both ends. Both ends have a garage door. It is skinny and narrow. A car would barely fit. In fact, I’m not sure if a car would fit. Is it meant to be a garage or is it meant to be an artists studio? There is music playing from a little stereo inside. The artist’s name is Brian Boner. It’s on the wall by his paintings. Everything in here is Brian Boner. It is unbelievably good. He uses sand and some sort of acid or chemical washes and they are people. People without faces mostly. Forms, see-through people. I feel like crying. There is emotion and power and depth. Somehow he has taken something inside of him and he has thrown it onto a canvas. He has projected something that makes my eyes water. There are windmills too. Windmills and forms of people. Browns and Coppers and copper-greens and grays. How does he get the sand on there? How does he make the sand the paint? There is one of a man fully formed. Face, body, very substantial looking, sitting on a wooden chair blowing on one of those little hand-held windmills children like. As he blows, the red and white colored windmill bleeds the colors as they fly in the wind of the mans breath. It is the only bright color used in the whole garage, the bleeding red and white. Behind me is one called “re-written”. I want to own “re-written”. It is moving. It is God and Adam. I could look at these paintings by Brian Boner all night, but lots of other people want to walk through the garage too so we leave. Brian hasn’t left any cards or anything around that would allow anyone to contact him about his work. Just his name on the wall by his paintings. Did he do that on purpose I wonder? Does he want to sell it or keep it? Or is he just an artist and making the effort to put out contact information was more than that side of his brain could accomplish? Brian Boner, we want your art.

The house adjacent is also a gallery. It is called the “SHH” Gallery. It’s awfully noisy for being called “shh”. There are power tools being used in parts of the house. A guy with long hair walks by with a power drill in his hand. Someone says “watch out, don’t step on that”. I’m afraid I’m about to step on some “installation art”, instead it is a container of nails and a tool left on the floor. The dude with the long hair looks happy, he grabs up the tool and the nails and bounces back into the other parts of the house where he is happily drilling away at something. He walks through again and it is wood and has feathers and beads stuck to it. I hope it turns out okay for him, right now it looks like something my 8 year old might come up with goofing around in the back yard. Maybe that’s what he’s going for. You never know with artists. Maybe that’s why he seems so happy. He’s like a little kid with his feathers and his beads and his power tools. In the first room there are keyholes on the wall. You have to go look inside the keyholes. I’m a little worried about this. What will be in there? Is it something I don’t want to see? I laugh when I look. There is a transvestite with nipple rings holding feathers in front of him. There is a man giving a sock monkey a tattoo. There are people bottlenecked between the first room and the second. They are fascinated watching these weird little monitors inside of old furniture that look sort of like old radio’s or something. Inside on the monitors are black and white images. They are disturbing but I’m not sure why. They look a little like a Nine Inch Nails video. A kid skating through endless rooms that look a little like a fun house at a carnival. I think it’s the endless skating that disturbs me. Like he’s trying to find his way out and he never will. They remind me of the movie “The Cell”, like stepping inside someone’s disturbed brain.

I’m drawn to this giant black and white painting on the wall. It looks like a family photo from the 1950’s. There are girls or women standing behind a man who is seated on a chair in front of them. They are looking over his shoulder at a piece of paper or maybe a photo that he his showing them. They are all smiling. But then my stomach lurches a little. Something is haunting about it. I look at the girl on the left. She is pretty and happy. But the girl to her right looks “off”. Her smile is too big. It is almost clown-like. The sisters get increasingly ugly if you really look at them. Their eyes are too big. Their smiles are sinister. Their teeth are crooked. Then there is the mother. You can tell she is the mother because she looks slightly older than the girls. One of her eyes is almost completely shut and her smile is contorted. She’s turning a “blind eye” because on her side is another girl and this girl is pretty, although smiling too big, but she has something all over her. She looks like there is blood dripping or something has been thrown in her face. Droplets of something gooey are on her face and dress. But she smiles all the same. They all gaze down at the father. He is making them look at something. We can’t make out what they are looking at. The fathers mouth is horrible. When you look at his mouth long enough you see that his eye teeth are just the teeniest bit too long. Vampire fangs. I look away. On the floor right by this painting in the corner are two furry vulvas. They look like slippers. I’m uncomfortable. I barely remember what’s in the room after that. We walk out the front door. A man says “Is this the C H H gallery?”, I say “No, but it’s the S H H gallery”. For a split second I feel like I actually know something about this. Like we do this all the time.

There are a lot of people out here on the street now. I think we are actually on Roosevelt, although I’m a little confused and turned around. There are young kids here for the free alcohol. No one’s carding. Some of these people look like starving artists taking the opportunity to gorge themselves on the free carrots and ranch dip and crackers and cheese that almost every gallery has. There are people who look like they have a lot of money. There are people like us who look confused. Middle-aged people checking their maps. Maps which are no good anyway because most of this stuff isn’t even on the maps. There are families with little babies. Grandparents with babies. Normal looking. Not what you’d think a normal family would do on a Friday night but hey, it’s free. I wouldn’t take them in the SHH Gallery though. There are people setting up to play music. I overhear people complaining “I hate that guys music”. People selling their handmade jewelry. We’re all jamming up inside these small little “galleries” that are more like little studios that they have opened up for the event.

One girl has a “white on white” show. I don’t get it. Everything is white. Hundreds of bic razors all in a row on a white cube. What does that mean? Hundreds of styrofoam baby doll heads glued on a cube with all of their mouths sews together with black thread. Female condoms full of styrofoam adult looking heads on a wall. All white on white. Golf tees. Intricately sewn cubes of white material. White m and m’s in a bowl that says “help yourself”. People are eating the m and m’s. That’s the problem. You can’t tell the art from the food in here.

There’s a special little gallery dedicated to the topic of the Catholic church and some of it’s recent scandals. If I were Catholic I might be offended. I don’t think artists worry too much about offending though, in fact these artists seem to seek to offend in some ways. Right inside the door is what looks to be a confessional booth, lovely old wood with a nice patina, crimson red curtains hanging from the confessional, the curtains are parted and inside there is a translucent monitor. One the monitor blinking off and on like a television on the fritz are a pair of boys or men’s underwear, with something obscured over the crotch of the underwear, they appear to be hanging from clothespins. They flicker in and out. Dirty laundry inside the confessional booth. It’s obvious what the artist had in mind even before you see up on the wall in giant black letters “Bishop”. I turn around and behind me is a conveyor belt with cute little lambs sitting on it, they are wide-eyed and innocent. They look like little stuffed animals, although I am pretty sure they are made of plaster, they appear to go inside of a metal tube, as they come out the other side of the metal tube the little lambs have changed. Now they don’t have the same happy little eyes. They aren’t wide-eyed and innocent anymore. Their fur is no longer fluffy. They have bright red gags bound around their mouths. I have to admit it does have impact. It does make me a little sad. I am a little disturbed by so much red and black in the otherwise white gallery. There is more catholic iconography of a sort. There are pictures on the wall of bishops painted in a rust on tin. There is a large crudely drawn cross and a small motor is pulling a what appears to be a cutting device of some sort around the outside of the cross. It’s $1,000.00. The tin drawings are $10.00. The dichotomy of that is interesting. There is more here and there but I am sort of glancing around, about to leave when I notice a giant stained glass on the wall. It is a depiction of Bishop Thomas O’Brien, cartoon-like sitting behind the wheel of a car with a look of terror on his face. The windshield of his car is shattered. There’s no question now whether it’s about the church in general or this particular man. Now we all know which “Bishop” we are talking about.

There is a horrible little gallery full of “pirate art”. That guy better give up. It’s terrible. There are other spaces where a lone bassist plays and everything is starting to look the same, abstracted collages. It seems like cheating. Anyone can copy stuff out of old books and get some paste and some paint and do this stuff. I don’t want to be one of those stupid people who says “my kindergartner can do that”. I know some things that look easy really aren’t. I’ll give credit where credit is due. Sometimes though the credit isn’t due. I don’t think a lot of these people will ever really survive as artists. Some of it is discouraging, but we trudge on through the night. There are bright spots here and there. Evidence of some raw talent. One girl does a series on the subject of “faith”, here faith is represented by boats floating and sometimes sinking in the water. Capsized even. That’s about right I think, that’s what faith feels like doesn’t it? We toss and churn but ultimately, faith floats.

There are hundreds of people now milling all over this neighborhood. I can still feel the little grainy pebble in my shoe. It’s all starting to blur together now, all these places we are going in and out of. In one house a teenage girl is actually painting. I guess most of the art is hers. Her parents, or parental type figures seem to be standing by looking on. She paints lots of naked women in a cubist sort of style that quite frankly, isn’t very good. She seems a little overly focused on the pubic hair. Black. Red. Green. Yellow. No blended colors, all pure and and unblended. It's overwhelming just the energy she emits standing near her in the same room.  It's like there's this hummmmmmm she throws off her body.   I hear her talking to her dad. She's quite angry. Her little brother is standing right there watching her paint pubic hair. She looks a little like Kelly Osbourne. She gets irritated with us because we walk out through their back door instead of the front. She’s trying to shock with her art but really, it’s very uptight in a kind of way.

There are more and more and more spaces. Mostly mediocrity. Random things that are kind of good. Random things that are truly horrible.

In the dark streets and alleys between the “galleries” we smell incense, pot smoke, tobacco, perfume, wine. Guys are tagging on a giant wall. We hope that’s part of the art. Some of the spaces are pretentious and silly but obviously have some money behind them. We go in one place that is an art center for artists who are mentally ill. In the back a band is playing some music and a lone man is dancing in the middle of the room. Little kids are sitting around coloring. I happen to read one poem on the wall before we walk out. It makes me cry. It’s called “How to be an artist”.

The end for us is a performance art group who have driven onto the lawn by a little espresso cafe in a red Range Rover, pulled out their instruments and started to play in the style of the “beat” poets of the 50’s and 60’s. As they use their horns and their drums I think of the movie with Mike Myer’s where he does those poems “Woman, WOOOOOE MAN”. If that’s the kind of stuff these guys were doing it might be interesting enough to watch, at least in a humorous way, but that’s how it is. The drummer has stolen his dad’s old Kiwanis hat and attached a harem scarf to the end of it. The trumpet player is cliche in his little black and white striped outfit. The guy up front is “performing” he’s swallowing swords and razor blades and scorpions. They put out their hat and say something about how they’d really appreciate a buck or two to help them out in buying more razor blades and scorpions. I turn to Kirk and say “they can get scorpions in the desert for free”. By the way, who’s driving the brand new red range rover I wonder. I can tell it was purchased in Scottsdale by the license plate holder. I wonder to myself about parents sitting in their nice home in Scottsdale right now worrying about their son who has struck out on a career path as someone who swallows razor blades. They’re going to be paying his rent for a long time.

We’re tired. We go back to the car. There are even more people now, the parking lot where you can’t park or you’ll be towed is full. A homeless man is ranting to everyone and no one that someone stole his sign. I feel like saying “Dude, someone not only stole your sign, they stole your whole neighborhood”. It’s full of art and artists now. Every little rundown home that would have been a potential crack house is now a “gallery”. Good luck homeless man, I think you’re being forced to head further south

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