June 14, 2006

THE DEMISE OF A FAMILY OF PAINTINGS

Pygoya

 

 

      For me, in my heart this day will live in art infamy.  I have "pulled the plug" on a huge inventory of paintings on canvas.  Over 125 works, averaging 6 feet x 4 feet, canvases stretched and framed, were hauled away to the city dump.  No bugles playing "Taps," no ceremony, just tears within, and gut wrenching decision-making when one by one, I, like judge, had to give a verdict.  Each work of art faced its most important jurying of its life - most existing over 20 years, mostly in storage, that of "keep" or "destroy."  Because I am an Expressionist, each mirrored back my sentiments that I captured as artist on canvas.  Forced to make hard choices, I had to "let go" and kill off what seemed not just past glorious moments of creating - feeling alive - but kill off inner parts of myself.  I tried to shroud from the mind mental visions of my works, many in expensive frames, tossed upon each other - in a dump buzzing with flies and crawling with maggots.  

I gave verdicts, then watched hired hands carry away the "guilty" (of not being worthy to be among the handful I had space to keep in my now shrunken present residence, now shared with a family of four others) and so condemned to be buried along with others' garbage. Art that had traveled from house to house (Kaimuki studio, Soho too Gallery & Loft warehouse, Aina Haina (took up the whole living room), Hawaii Kai townhouse (that was "tight"), Alewa Heights "Moon House"- the inventory took up the whole lst floor), the magnificent "Pygoya House" (first the whole disco dance floor, then a whole guesthouse, despite 39 paintings of the lot on display throughout three levels of the mansion), and finally, storage space in a Halawa Valley warehouse just lost - just evicted from.  Two weeks notice by the unpredictable landlord is not enough time to plan the continuation of the needs of an inventory of about 200 large paintings. My present effort to locate property for storage and gallery space in Roswell, New Mexico seemed like a legitimate long shot but estimates for shipping from Hawaii to New Mexico made it unrealistic. At $2.52 a pound that would come up to about $15,000 to $20,000 for the boatload of works.  Six years imprisoned in the dark corner of the Halawa warehouse netted the nasty landlord about $14,000.  I kept the faith, storing but abandoning promotion of this 20 year effort as I pushed forward making new works on the present day personal computer systems. I kept thinking, someday, the world will appreciate my effort of designing paintings on first generation PCs all the way back to the mid-1980s. Output as large paintings, to document the evolution of computer graphic and processing power, all as a lifelong series of work by one artist.  I traveled one year ago to look into the possibility of buying a historical red brick building on Main Street in Bangor, Maine to house the works as a niche art museum.  The dream finds fruition but only within the realm of fiction in my novel Pygoya, "a novel of rebel art & the supernatural."  This is after I failed at finding cheaper property to accommodate my storage needs in Eugene, Oregon. Even prior to that the search for land and storage on the cheapest Hawaiian island of Hawaii ("The Big Island"), now also outrageously expensive.  Then in March of this year a trip to Santa Fe, attracted to the advertised huge art market. Sadly prices there are just a bit less than overpriced Hawaii.

 Now the order to "get out" by the end of the month ( 2 weeks; I never missed a payment), and the commencement of sleepless nights.  My "babies," soon homeless, wife says "No Way am I sharing living space with those things again" (the marriage and kids now rule the roost), big dilemma, big life decision-making time.  

"I'll let you temporarily keep 20 in the garage" (these may still find their way to Roswell).

 "But I have around 200." 

 "I said 20!" 

  One in ten, I think to myself.  

And so it has been DONE. 

 It has been 3 hours now since I left the warehouse, not looking back at the unskilled Filipinos throwing the condemned into the back of a rented large open truck.  I felt in shock, stunned that I had actually let a part of me finally be destroyed.  I had to stop along the way back home for a salty bowl of saimin noodle soup and 2 cans of Coke. Feed when in stress.  No booze as I had to drive.  I sat there in a stupor, staring at the restaurant's paintings on the walls.  Hawaiian landscapes, just mindless pictures in paint to me, hanging there since I was a kid - coming in there after football games - for saimin and Cokes. Some things never change, provide a refuge that seems immutable to change.  Like a murderer or at least a judge who just handed down the death sentence, I cowered on my bar stool next to the 50's diner's countertop, feeling guilty as Hell.  

Now I'm home and the deed has been done.  My wife is cooking in the kitchen, one kid is playing the piano and the other two are stuck like glue to the Tube watching adolescent crap.  Business as usual.  The emptiness within  hovers like some UFO entering my reality, thrusting me into an enigmatic mood I have never experienced before.  The closest to it is the sudden girlfriend breakup of the past ("Don't call me again." -Click.) or returning from a funeral service of a loved one. 

 But two good feelings do surface during this sadden time of my artistic life.  First, a major weight seems to have been lifted off my shoulders in regards to problem resolution of what to do with my voluminous body of works about to become homeless, a bulky heap of works that required its own major part of the house, move after move after move.  Second, and most importantly, a feeling like the mornings first rays of light that offers hope and reconciliation, for the terrible deed I have done today - for others - for frugality - for stopping the bleeding from the college savings now needed come September - stems from: my son's capturing of the works with his digital camera. 

He clicked away off his tripod as one by one, the condemned passed by his station in the warehouse.  He promised me a CD.  There the destroyed works can reappear on a computer monitor from where they originally were created.  Full circle.  Like the ashes in vessel after cremation, so paint returns to digital data, to rise and live again.  But the images on the CD will appear to me like portraits in obituaries, of beings that once existed.   

But in fact, many of what once were physical paintings may someday once again, like visual genes, be the seed for new digital imagery, culled from today's more sophisticated computer systems.  Paint manipulated by prior pixel manipulations done twenty years ago may return to populate new generations of high-powered graphic image processing of today and the future.  Digital art a hybrid of software created two decades apart.  So maybe the old works leave their physical canvassed bodies but will return to inspire, once back in the ephemeral realm from where they came.  This thought helps dull the pain from the major losses of today.  

I will work to bring them back in newer and bolder forms.  One of these days I shall create a web page(s!) to display the works falling victim to personal economics.  For for now I just mourn. I can't get the metaphor of a funeral pyre of piled paintings out of my mind.

Imagine that, what was digital were actual physical paint on canvases, are now reduced back to data on a CD.  For this digital artist, what a painful painter's experience it has been.

 

A friend's email-

Hello Rodney, and what a sad thing that was to read.  But you did them, and they existed, and they were what you wanted them to be. In digital form, perhaps them can be reconstructed, and what a project that would be!

   On not being able to keep (or sell) a large portion of your life’s work: In my wife’s family there was a relative who “spent his fortune” on early phonograph records, maybe 78s and maybe cylinders. At the time, he thought he was saving important music and technology history.  Likewise, the professor whose job I got when he retired in 1969 from music teaching had laboriously recorded many, many Metropolitan Opera broadcasts over the years, on reel-to reel tape. That seemed like a miracle to him, and compared to the technology he knew as a boy, it was. But when I got my job, his wife was seeking desperately to find somewhere to put the tapes safely and permanently after his death, and we know now that such tapes get brittle over the years.  

Your paintings are now part of the noosphere (the sphere of greater knowledge). Somebody out there (something?) knows about them - the angels  may be relishing them. Perhaps your greater work of art is the work you have done and are doing to support your family, all of whom are all growing up and doing well. That is an accomplishment in itself.  We have some 14-year-olds around here whose futures seem iffy.  

     Many (almost all)  composers of classical symphonies and string quartets and such like never even get to hear their works performed competently, let see them alone put permanently into music libraries and record collections. You did well to have them digitally photographed. It might be valuable some day to have a comment from you about each work, the programs, technology, etc. behind each. Someday someone will write a PhD thesis on the subject, and your descriptions would be valuable.      

 

 -Harrison, Maine - June 18, 2006