Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Art back to life

FIRST OFF: I hate that I have no photos to show you when I talk about art. It's lame, I know. I would say to use your imagination, although I doubt that very many of you could do it enough to 'see' the art I want brought back to life.

Spent the afternoon with my son and daughter Tuesday. We went and played at the mall near where they live and made the most of the afternoon, as we always do every other Tuesday.

We got some food, played at the arcade, but mostly walked around and looked. My daughter stopped us at a part of the mall I'd never noticed before and stared at the storefront.

"I want to go look at that picture, daddy!" It was a painting, actually, but no matter. What my daughter wants when I am with her, she pretty much gets. So we went inside.

It was an art gallery. Mostly oil paintings and a few sculptures. All were by local artists and everything was for sale. It was completely original, and not all to my taste in art, but we looked at every last bit of it.

A 30-something woman walked up and asked what brought us there. I told her it was because my daughter asked to come in there. The woman was engaging and polite, and quietly told me about the place. Said she was always curious what brought folks in and that was why she asked me. I told her I liked what I'd seen and loved the way they had it displayed. She smiled and said if I saw anything else I liked, to just let her know.

It was around that time I noticed my kids were quiet and behaving, soaking the place in, the way I was. It had been years since I was in a real gallery, which was a nice memory. But something else happens when I get to look at art.

You see, my best friend in the world, Mark Howard, was an artist. He worked in oil paint and got to be quite prolific. His style was a blend of abstract and purely visual depictions of a variety of themes. But only at the very end of his life did he want his art shown and it was only then, did he ever entertain the notion of selling it.

Almost ten years ago, Mark died instantly beside me in my car when we were hit head-on. A few months before it happened, he had made a conscious effort to get his art seen. Even then, he was still self-conscious about the idea of painting for any other reason than feeling like he had to do it. More than once I heard him say that putting a price tag on his work was, "like slapping it in the face." Eventually enough of us told him his art needed to be seen, and he finally listened.

Later in our visit to the gallery Tuesday, a guy struck up a conversation with me about the place. He was its owner, and the husband of the woman who had spoken to me earlier. Like her, he asked what brought us there, and what we liked.

I told him about Mark. Told him as far as I knew, his relatives still have his huge oil paintings on canvas, stored away with nobody getting to see them. The guy said that was too bad, and said he was planning an art show festival throughout the mall in September. I took his business card and handbill, shook his hand, and told him I would be back.

After I dropped off my kids at their mother's house, I kept thinking about Mark's art and that gallery. When I got home 45 miles later, I sat down and emailed his widow about the place. I told her that for some time, I have been wanting to make high-quality photographs of his paintings so I could see them any time I want, and show them off to people I know.

It had been a while since we spoke so I wondered how long it would be until I heard back from her.

She wrote me back a couple of hours later. Said that was great timing! because she had spoken to someone about Mark's art that same day. Said she knew the gallery of which I spoke, and she loved it. Said Mark's 16-year-old son had expressed interest in showing some of his own work there.

She said yes, Mark's paintings are still around and no, no one gets to see them. Said Mark "would have hated that," and that she would be happy to arrange it so I could take the photos I want.

Unless you were kin to him, or knew him well, Mark's art is all you will ever have to get a sense of who he was. I feel like I should have made a move to get his art seen a long time ago, but then his widow said...timing can be a funny thing.

I can't bring my friend back to life, which is a shame, because the world remains a less-interesting place without him in it. But I can help bring his art back to life.

He visits me in dreams once in a while. I wonder if the next time he does, he'll be laughing and shaking his head, saying, "Well shit, Rob, it's about time!! How long were you going to let my stuff stay put-up in daddy's barn?"