Onyx Cafe & Gallery
It was pretty obvious that I would not have a chance in hell to ever get an opportunity to exhibit in my hometown. Selftaught, artistically unschooled, no contacts, no connections, no chance whatsoever. Which is kind of interesting because my city had been at the forefront of classical modern art when the expressionists first came out.
But then, come to think of it, they drove Marc and Kandinsky out of town back in the day and only started to fall in love with them long after they were both dead. There is no way I could compare myself with those guys but it does give you an idea of peoples' mentality here. Of most of them, anyway.
So when the opportunity to move to Los Angeles presented itself, I jumped at it, figuring that if I could land some sort of exhibition - any sort of exhibition, really - that fact would be helpful in getting my stuff shown at home (sort of, look, he's still a nogooder but he exhibited overseas, so he must have something). It more or less actually worked out that way, so how's that for a plan?
Less than three months into my West Coast expedition they held the L.A. Open Art Festival, anybody could participate, all you had to do was show up. I went to the Onyx Cafe and Gallery, filled out a form and they assigned a spot to me, parking lot, middle wall. Needless to say, I was electrified, my first show, wow.
Since I didn't have enough money to buy proper frames I had to figure out a way to attach the paintings - all of them on paper - to the parking lot wall. I ended up going to the hardware store to buy long silver steel nails and a hammer so that I could nail the things straight to the wall. I still have some of those paintings, and they sport the holes to support my story. I would not let technical difficulties caused by lack of funding keep my first show from happening. Click here for pictures.
It is quite a thing to show your work publicly for the first time, it feels a little like performing a striptease on Santa Monica Pier on a Sunday afternoon, all eyes on you, nowhere to hide, everything out in the open. But having other people stop and look at what you have done is priceless. That's what it's all about, man. It doesn't matter if they like it or not. It also doesn't matter if somebody buys something, although that's nice (admittedly), but it does not matter.
The Open Art Festival itself was fun, I met some interesting people. To the left of my little section of the Onyx Cafe & Gallery's parking lot wall there were two other painters. The first was a guy who called himself Stephensky. He had huge canvases up, he had his own studio and the way he talked about himself and his art left little doubt about the fact that he was going to be the next big thing in the arts. I was impressed. I checked the net the other day, couldn't find him. Maybe he changed his name.
Next to Stephensky was Robert Youngman, who was always accompanied by Erika, his wife - I think - and her son Travis. They were nice and easy going. Good people. Human beings. They had met at some alcohol detox facility and were dry when I met them, so lots of coffee, tea and cigarettes, no booze, which suited me just fine. We got on well instantly and met on various occasions afterwards, they even invited me over to their place a couple of times and we sat around and talked a lot and watched Wings Of Desire and documentaries about Braque and Matisse.
I've been checking the net regulary ever since, couldn't find any of them. I fear that Robert has stopped painting altogether, which would be a crying shame because he used to make those very intricate, very intensive paintings which were inspired by native american culture and its symbols and deities. The head of each figure was usually depicted as a skull which probably did not help in making the paintings compatible with the taste of the average home decorator. But then it didn't look like they were made for commercial motives anyhow. How I wish I had one of those paintings.
Along with the various art exhibitions they also had lots of other things going on at the festival, like poetry readings and performances. I remember two bums - I don't know if they were actual bums even though they sure looked the part - giving an impromptu concert right there sporting two acoustic guitars, the type you got at the supermarket for ten bucks.
They played a set of ten songs and counted each song down, announcing them like 'OK, people, two down, so you only have another eight to sit through'. One was an acoustic version of the Dead Kennedys' Let's Lynch The Landlord. Very unpretentious, very original.
They should have recorded them right on the spot for the Library of Congress, the way they used to do with the old Blues guys in the 1940s.