The Dignity Of Johns
The Grace Of O’Keefe
The Passion Of Pollock
The Virtuosity Of Picasso
Jack makes bacon for the kids whenever Claire is out of town.
The Controversy of Mapplethorpe
“Dad, not too crispy.”
The Business Acumen Of Warhol…
Pop goes the bacon grease.
A hot bead of oil pierces the first wrinkle under Jack’s lower right eyelash. An involuntary jerk of the head and a pinpoint pang punctures his imaginary headline bubble for a non-existent, never-to-be museum retrospective. He leans against the stove delicately touching the sizzling wrinkle with the cool tip of his middle finger. Jack checks his eye and then his overall appearance from the hanging stainless steel frying pan.
Lunch boxes packed, the children hop in the car. Jack drops them off at school. Idling in the parking lot, Jack finishes a phone call while looking at his eye in the rearview mirror. He ends call and lowers his sunglasses. A blister is forming.
“Looks like sunglasses today.”
Jack drives off.
Jack pulls up to the corner of Center and Main Street. An exotic beauty approaches the car. She might be twenty-two, almost too bold to be in a purple body stocking, she adjusts her beret.
Jack stretches, opens the passenger door.
A full round derrière enters first, long legs swivel, chafed knees, bronze skin and a face like Edie Sedwick.
Jack smiles big, “Hi, I’m Jack.”
“Diva, love that name.”
Jack pulls up the short, tight purple hem of her dress,
“Just making sure you’re no Divo.”
Diva smiles, “Green light.”
Jack drives off while caressing Diva’s knee like a stick shift,
“So Diva, I am close to finishing a painting and want your opinion.”
Diva putting her hands in a ‘T’ formation,
“Time out Jack. Does Diva know much about painting?”
“Yes, Diva has strong opinions about the subject. Time in.”
Jack and Diva arrive at a fenced-in lot with drought tolerant weeds. Small rusted car parts dangle from Mesquite trees.
Jack parks the car and runs around to open the car door for Diva. Diva hops out barefoot holding her high heels. She asks in a girly surprise voice, “Is this your studio?”
They walk up to a worn out bungalow with skylights and pitiful aluminum siding. Entering from the back, Jack heads to the large room wasting no time inspecting his latest creation; a large, colorful, un-stretched painting on canvas stapled to the wall. Diva lingers in the back office.
Jack calls to Diva, “I’m titling my newest painting ‘House’ or ‘The House’ or ‘Love House.’”
Diva, still in the other room, peruses Jack’s old posters and personal announcements, recalling a time when he was a hotshot artist from Chicago. He was the next big thing after the Neo-Geo craze. Back then Jack’s brand of painting was to spray paint graffiti all over whitewashed canvases and add a splash of fluorescent color, Jack had said it was like printing money. Very different from the pale, monochrome abstractions Jack is doing now. He is hoping this new piece will be included in the up-coming group show DOMESTIC LIvES at Gallery Trois. Jack soothes his blistering eye with the back of his hand. He picks up a fan brush to feather a few details around the door of the House painting, Jack wonders, is it finished? Constantly glancing and scrutinizing the painting from various angels Jack paces and fidgets with his sunglasses, flipping them up and down in quick succession. He considers the effect the UV layer from the sunglasses has on the color and texture of the painted surface and then another eye pang. Jack barks at Diva, “Are you going to look?”
Diva makes her entrance into the studio with a pirouette followed by an athletic hip-hop maneuver. With a big Chiclets smile she turns her attention to the painting-in-question. Diva’s face immediately drops, she turns and slaps Jack across the face, hard enough to leave a red mark.
Jack pushes her back. “What was that for?”
“Painted hearts in the shape of a house?”
Jack and Diva (Abby is her real name) have a mutual creative arrangement. Jack and Abby meet once a week, mostly at Jack’s studio. Abby helps Jack through creative false starts, painting deadlines and the professional ennui that comes with being a visual artist. Jack calls Abby a Muse Fixer. In return Jack is Abby’s Hollywood Mixer (by proxy of his high-powered movie producer wife, Claire). Jack invites Abby; a struggling actress to A-List parties, movie premieres and helps motivate her for auditions. Jack believes they have a perfect symbiotic relationship, one of checks and balances, win win and no one gets hurt.
The two had met a few years ago when Abby was doing a nude performance at an art gallery. Impressed, Jack approached her with flattery, intelligent conversation and a proposal to work together. With a mutual awareness of each other’s narcissistic tendencies, fueled by fucked-up childhoods and low self-esteem issues Jack and Abby justified their arrangement over time as a mixture of destiny, chemistry and bohemianism.
Jack would typically call Abby and give her a name, occupation and back-story. Abby or Diva-Jada-Carmel-Felicia, etc. would get into character through dress, accent and demeanor. Abby’s persona, inspired, spiced-up or generally kept Jack’s studio environment in a constant state of physical and mental stimulation. Sometimes Jack would have Abby work on his paintings. Not out of laziness or cynicism but with Abby’s hand his need for detachment, randomness and interest in the ironic twist of the creative act could be fully explored. The monochrome painting Jack was doing needed bold exploration, even at the expense of innocent paint handling.
Diva again approaches the colorful House painting,
“Jack, this painting is a complete whitewash. You’ve lost your Ooommff.”
She mimics a slap toward Jack again but accidently makes contact with his sunglasses, they go flying off.
In faux terror, “Your eye!”
“Fuck Abby what the hell…?”
Abby nonplused, straightening and caressing her body stocking,
“You should be painting this fucking hot body!”
“You don’t understand!” Jack protests and then reaches for a lie, “It’s a commission!”
Jack picks up his glasses and hangs them off the neckline of his shirt. Abby picks up a roll of tape and throws it at Jack. It misses his ear by a nose but he bumps into the oval worktable full of paint jars, brushes and assorted tools. He grabs the digital camera off the worktable and presses record.
Suddenly taunting Abby,
“This may be my best painting yet.”
She is not amused. Jack records her gripping the worktable looking like the tennis star Serena Williams after a bad line call. Abby is drawn into his charade.
“Fuck head, loser, you got no game Jack!”
Abby lunges from the other side of the table knocking down a jar of paintbrushes. She stops, pauses, closes her eyes. After a moment she opens them and calmly picks-up the jar, returning the scattered paintbrushes to the jar. Abby retreats to a rocking chair in the corner of the studio.
Jack continues to document Abby coming in for a close-up, Abby gives Jack the finger, “Here’s what I think of your newest painting.”
Jack fades the image to black and drops the camera onto the table. Slumping in the rocker Abby is still focused on the painting.
Jack takes a deep breath and exhales. He walks over to the “House” painting and carefully begins pulling the stapled canvas from the wall. Abby perks up. As he pulls more canvas Abby’s posture improves. Holding the painting he waves the canvas up and drapes it over the worktable. The painting covers the jars, brushes and tools. It now resembles a lumpy canopy with the four corners of the canvas touching the floor. Laying on the table the painting seems to be less offensive to Abby.
“Seriously Abby, do you think it’s finished?”
Abby does not answer. Instead she gets up from the rocker, walks around Jack, bends down and crawls beneath the covered worktable. Laughter soon emerges with the confidence of “Checkmate” then a declarative statement that ends on a high note,
“You are desperate.”
Jack pokes his head under the stiff painted folds. With his one good eye straining to respond, “Yes, I’m desperate.”
Abby pulls him under the table. Sitting tête-à-tête, they stare at each other quietly. Jack rubs his cheek still warm from the slap. Abby waits and then kisses her finger and gently places it on his enflamed but cooling eye.
“Bad, bad, boy, this is our house.”
Jack’s eyebrows frown, he puts his sunglasses on,
“No. This is my studio.”
Abby rolls out from under the table and bounces to her feet. Jack follows without the bounce. Making a mockery of the old tablecloth trick, Abby pulls hard and fast at the corners of the painting. Paint jars spill, brushes and assorted tools fall and tumble as the canvas flies off. Holding up the painting, arms spread high and wide, Abby drops it to the floor. Paint from toppled jars run together, colors pool and drip onto the crumpled House painting.
Abby grinds the balls of her gooey feet into the canvas,
“Who commissioned this Welcome Mat? Do you have anything to drink?”
Jack pushes Abby off the canvas. Abby shows some teeth but does not bite. They end up grappling on and off the canvas, tracking paint, shoe scuffs and bare feet smear the floor and mark up the canvas. Abby has strong legs and quick hands. Jack grabs her arm and holds her from behind. Before anyone gets hurt they relax. Abby turns around and leans her head back onto Jack’s shoulder. “How did I do? Was it good for you?”
Jack drops his arms and does not answer. Abby pushes away. She runs to the back of the bungalow, the door slams, she’s gone. Jack starts to follow her painted footsteps but stops. A red spot, an area around one of the hearts on the embattled canvas catches his eye. Jack grabs a brush, some sandpaper and a palette knife. He scrapes and sands, excavating the painting. Jack daubs and applies the pooling paint from the floor and begins to redefine the hearts on the canvas, revealing the House once more, in a different way.
An hour later Jack lays down his tools. The painting “House of Love and War” is done. When the painting dries Jack signs and dates the back of the canvas. He also adds a simple inscription:
“Thank you, Abby/Diva/Casey/Jada/Carmel/Felicia/Lorelei/Wendy/Chaya with love”
Jack is standing at a makeshift bar at the Gallery Trois opening. “House of Love and War” is hanging on the prestigious front wall.
Jack tells the bartender, “Gin and Tonic with a twist.”
A familiar patron, Milo, dressed in an Armani suit, cell phone always at the ready comes up to Jack while he waits for his drink.
“Your new work is startling and looks quite sellable, quite a departure. I guess you got tired of storing your highfalutin monochromes, huh?”
Jack is unfazed by the comment.
Milo continues, “As Andy Warhol always said, ‘Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.’ Bravo! I hope you intend to paint more like these.”
Claire joins the two at the bar. Jack grabs her hand.
Claire squeezes back and says, “Your piece really Pops Jack. Feels like you’re on a whole new path.”
The bartender asks Jack, “Lemon or lime?”
As the bartender squeezes the lemon for the drink the juice squirts into Jack’s eye.
Jack’s head involuntary jerks but he willfully resists rubbing, letting his eye continue to sting.