Before I share photos I feel inspired to write a bit about my early college art experiences.
Part 2 of my art share left off around 2001 when I was just getting back on my feet from surviving cancer. Still in rough shape and not quite ready to return to the workforce, I decided to go to college. My first semester was all work and no play but I told myself I could save the fun art classes for the summer.
I have to admit I was extremely nervous that first summer morning as I parked and headed for first painting class. I guess I figured college art would be a lot different than grade-school classes. I had no idea what to expect.
Summer school at the community college is kind of strange, there are very few students in the buildings and most of the lights are turned out so you kind of wander the halls in silence and feel like you really shouldn't be there.
I found the classroom and walked inside to find only one student had arrived before me. She was a petite little blond who looked just as nervous as I was. There was a circle of chairs that had been set up and I just picked the one on the opposite side of her to plant myself in. We must have sat there without a word for twenty minutes before the next student arrived.
We heard him coming through the halls long before we saw him. At first I thought he was a janitor until I saw the duffel bag he toted. He looked to be in his mid-forties and he was big. Wearing a sweat-drenched gray wife-beater and a pair of tan shorts. He had a dark mustache and a slicked back black ponytail. Just imagine a retired out of shape pro-wrestler. The metal chair groaned as he sat down next to the girl. I could tell by her expression that he smelled as bad as he looked.
As we continued to sit there in silence three other students emerged from the darkened hallway. There was a large cheery looking girl with a flamboyant "Punky Brewster" style outfit, an older woman with short blond hair, and a wide-eyed goofy-looking guy who was humming/talking to himself.
The cheery girl was the first to speak and erupted into her story. She said her name was Monique and she was from Canada. She's always loved art and this was the first time she had ever taken an "official" painting class. She asked if any of us had taken a college art class and I was surprised we all shook our heads no. Monique went on to reveal she also had an interest in acting and photography, a five-year-old daughter, and astraphobia (fear of lightning). She continued revealing more about herself until a few of us noticed a figure in the doorway.
Just beyond the door frame half cloaked in shadow stood a distraught elderly man. He had gray beard (that looked to contain part of his last cup of coffee) and wore a pair of tired overalls. He paused there studying us for a moment as if surprised before slowly waddling over to one of the chairs to sit down. He appeared to be drained and took a moment to catch his breath and compose himself. Obviously exhausted it came as quite a surprise when he lifted his head and bellowed, "Hello!!!" his deep gravely voice filling the building.
You could see that he got some sick satisfaction out of scaring the shit out of everyone. After examining all six of us once again with an odd creepy stare he finally introduced himself. "I'm Larry Beck and I s'pose yer all here to paint.", this was followed with a slow razor smile.
I had observed earlier that a few of us students had brought along some form of portfolio and Larry had noticed this also.
"Show me your art!!", He barked. "and tell me why your here!!"
The talkative Canadian began first. Her name was Monique and she gave Larry the shorter version of her life story. The only artwork she had to share that day was her colorful dress and personality.
The big sweaty guy volunteered next, he said his name was Bob (he looked like a Bob). He had a surprisingly soft voice as he explained how he had recently been released from prison. He continued on about how he had discovered his artistic talent while incarcerated and with all his extra free time he had found a love for painting. He produced a handful of various-sized painting from his large green duffel bag and proceeded to pass them around our circle. The paintings were of brightly colored tropical birds surrounded by lavish jungle fauna. No skulls or naked biker chicks like you'd expect by his demeanor. The paintings were done on various cardboard-like scraps and looked like an image you'd find on the back of any Reader's Digest magazine. When they made their way around to Mr. Beck he perused them with a look of confusion. After a few moments he asked, "Bob, I'm wondering why I'm looking at watercolor paintings of birds but they are not WATERCOLORS?"
Bob nodded and explained in his uncharacteristically subdued voice that as a prisoner he wasn't allowed paints or brushes but was determined to create his own medium. Bob explained in detail how with some thought he fashioned a makeshift brush from his own hair and watercolor paint with the dissolved outer shells of M&Ms and Skittles. He would wet the candies with water from his toilet until the colors washed off. Using these "watercolors" he would painstakingly paint these elaborate birds on the inside covers he removed from books!
Mr. Beck looked up from Bob's art with a smile and asked us all to follow him across the room. He led us to the back of the studio around the corner to the supply shelves and closet. He explained that one of the best things about teaching the summer courses is the "leftovers". He continued to reveal that previous students tend to be bad at remembering to pick up items at the end of the semester. He pointed out a row of tall shelves with cubbyholes loaded with stacks of paintings left behind in various states of completion. He opened a cabinet loaded with piles of brushes, markers, charcoal, pencils, half-full jugs of acrylics, pastels, and all forms of various art supplies. "These are all yours." he grinned as he handed a brand new set of expensive watercolors to Bob. "I want you guys to paint every one of these abandoned canvases and use every drop of this paint. I want it on your face, on the floor, on your clothes, and on the canvas two inches thick."
I could see that this was exciting for everyone including myself who hadn't had access to free supplies since High School. Mr. Beck led us around the rest of the studio giving us all a quick tour before we returned to our seats. The small blond girl introduced herslf as Andrea, she was lived in a rural area a small distance away and had just taken the class for fun. The older woman (Mary) said that she was returning to school late in her life as a non-traditional student and was a little nervous about how she would fit in with the younger crowd. She figured she'd take a couple summer classes to ease in and besides a few paint-by-number and Bob Ross-type paintings had never really done much artwork in the past. The goofy guy produced a handfull of doodles from a backpack and passed them around for everyone to take a look. They were some simple doodles and comic strips that I found pretty amusing. His name was K which of course led to conversation amongst us. After a few of us questioned him about the spelling, "Is it spelled K-A-Y, or C-A-Y-E?" he eventually had to produce his driver's license to convince us that it was just K. He said his parents were hippies.
I was last to share which is the way I usually like it. I'm always more interested in hearing about new people and seeing their art before showing my own. I passed around a small portfolio of illustrations and everyone had a look.
That first day Larry assigned us each our own easel and showed us how to adjust it. The requirements of the class were pretty simple, he just wanted us to mess around with paint and do our own thing. The room was so large we just kind of picked our own areas and started setting up. Each of us grabbed 4 or 5 canvases from the leftovers and a good selection of paints and brushes.
I was surprised as the days went by how close all of quickly grew. All of us from such diverse backgrounds joking and fulling the room with deep conversations as we submerged ourselves into our own paintings. We would take breaks and run the deserted halls of the college smoking cigarettes and exploring the school. K would disappear sometimes and we'd split up and search the school to see who could find him first. One time Monique found him up on the roof and another time Mary was the one to find him singing in a dumpster by the building where all the students take the auto classes. One day Mr. Beck had this idea that we should all go out to the center court yard of the college and take a giant sheet of canvas to paint as a group. The seven of us (including Larry) grabbed the edges of the canvas and started dumping paint onto it from our sides. Then we all shook it and waved it from side to side to manipulate the flow of paint to the center where our colors pooled. Unfortunately the paint leaked onto the sidewalk and caused a giant stain that would not only get our little gang in deep shit but after lasting the following two semesters would eventually have to be professionally cleaned at the college's expense.
Andrea found that she was surprisingly skilled at painting and painted beautiful young women. K's paintings were abstract splatter and texture, Monique was voluptuous women and hidden vaginas, Bob went on with birds profusely sweating away patiently and painstakingly detailing each feather and limb, Mary was rural landscapes as she devoured art books. As for myself I spent the majority of that semester doing a little bit of everything. I've never been much good at painting and blending colors, I guess you could say I just draw with paint.
As that semester continued we had all become close friends. An hour long class was not enough for any of us and we often just came and went as we pleased.
One afternoon we had a violent thunderstorm and Monique took off in tears screaming down the hallways. Larry and K went after her and found her cowering in one of the bathroom stalls. She was so hysterical Larry had to slap her face to get her to come to her senses. Once they got her back to the studio we all sat her on the couch and group hugged her till she was calm.
In between painting we rifled through boxes of props and random objects that were kept in the closets for still life drawing. We were always dressing up in costumes we found and making up our own songs and dances to perform together. We played out different characters like Monique as the "Corn Queen" with a stupid wig and corn cobs stuck in her cleavage. K was the depressed impotent man in love with the queen but suffered from "penis problems". It was a little musical with me playing an old flute. Larry would wear a sombrero and a poncho and squat in the corner with an empty tequila bottle. When we would take smoke breaks we would race each other down the halls on push-carts.
It wasn't always fun and games. There was quite a few days where we one of us was dealing with personal issues and we had some deep conversations while we immersed ourselves in our art. It seemed that all of us were having large changes in our life. Andrea and K were the youngest of us so fresh out of high school they were just getting to that "where do I go from here?" point in their lives. Mary had come to school as an older woman with kids gone and feeling a bit empty alone in her house with all the extra space and time. Of course I was just getting out of my medical situation and Bob had been released from prison. Mr. Beck often talked about his body falling apart and with his hips and joint problems sometimes had to sit for most of the day. It seemed like we all needed a place to go to just think about our lives and not have to have "a plan". Working on art and just letting yourself go for a bit can be wonderfully cathartic.
One particular day I was down in the dumps myself and I stayed after class to talk to Larry. I was really coming back physically from my experience with cancer. My hair had grown back and I had lost the excess weight I'd put on due to steroids I had to take to get some pounds on during treatment. For some reason it really hit me that my life was going to go on just fine and I needed to make up for time lost during my battle. I asked Larry for honest advice about how to get my artwork "out there" and turn my life-long hobby into a paying career. He explained that like most artists I'd most likely never make any serious money with my art. That was just the sad fact. He said he would tell me the best thing I could do, and after hesitating for a moment he reached out and put his hand on my shoulder and said, "We've got to go big!!!"
He told me to meet him at 7:00 am on Sunday. There was no school and the college was closed but I did what he said and showed up.
It was cold and drizzling rain that morning. I stood outside the school wondering what Mr.Beck had up his sleeve. After the longest time I could see his red pick-up coming down the road. He backed the truck up right next to the double doors and crawled out of the cab. He waved me over and opened up the back to reveal a stack of lumber, a pile of canvas, and a large tool box. "Today I'm going to teach you to stretch canvas." he grunted.
We hauled the stuff into the studio and he instructed me to push four of the large tables together. I had never stretched my own canvas before but Larry had bought the supplies and explained that he would lead me through the process and we would stay until we had assembled five large canvases.
We spent the entire day together measuring, sawing the wood, sanding, drilling and screwing together the frames. He taught me how to make them strong and tight as a drum. He showed me how to coat them with gesso on both sides to prevent warping. He taught me all the tricks like how to cut the proper lip on the wood so it didn't press against the inside of the canvas. The floor was covered with sawdust, bent nails, and canvas scrap. The two of us were soaked in sweat and our hands were raw.
Larry had not only come in on his day off, but had purchased supplies and spent the that day building and teaching me everything he knew. The result was five of the finest 5'x4' canvases I've seen in my life and the knowledge to create more like them in the future.
It took me three full days of class before I touched a drop of paint to that first canvas. I just stood there completely intimidated for hours but Larry told me to take my time until I was ready. All he said was, "When you're ready remember, fast and loose." One of my favorite high school art teachers had said the same thing to me years before but I didn't understand it until then.
When I began to paint on that scale it was like a firecracker exploded in my brain. It was like a furious attack with paint. Before I knew it I had completed all five paintings and wanted to do more. I stretched my own on my kitchen floor three at a time and got comfortable painting on large scale.
Larry was right about going big. I won awards for numerous paintings and have sold many of them over the years for decent amounts of money. To this day I thank Mr.Beck for his instruction.
My classmates were having a lot of fun also. We were submitting our work to multiple art shows and attending the events as a collective group of exciting artists. When that semester had ended we decided none of us were satisfied and signed up together for any art related classes we could get into.
The six of us reunited the next semester for not only painting but photography, drawing, film, 2-D/3-D design, art history, etc.
We were surprised to find that the other teachers in the department were just as unique and helpful as Mr. Beck. Once we ran out of classes the teachers liked us all so much that they just let us sit in at no cost and come and go as we pleased. Monique, K, and I took Mr. Beck's Intro to Film class three times together. Mary, Andrea, and I took Photography 1 and 2 twice together.
Mr. Beck had introduced us to a new student named Adam who joined our little group and fit in perfectly. We all crashed the art shows together and took our share of awards.
K and Monique had pitched in together to rent a loft in an old building downtown and a lot of us would gather there at night to work on projects. The two of them would get a kick out of making everyone leave at the end of the night by getting naked and pressing their paint-covered bodies against the canvases.
All the fun came to disappointing end when the art department took a sad turn. The college opened it's art shows to "guest judges" who were fruitcake art professors from other colleges and had the most terrible taste in art. Also artists who had graduated and gone on were invited back to enter competitions with the existing students. The college used all of our artwork images for commercials and posters to promote the shows but gave the major awards to well-known alumni. It was painfully obvious that the art was no longer judged by quality. Beautiful and amazing paintings and sculpture lost out to bizarre and thoughtless nonsense like napkins attached to the wall with pushpins and empty film canisters spread across the floor. The whole thing had turned into a joke. A now famous spray-paint artist who had once attended the school returned from shows in Paris the mount his work alongside of the current student's work in shows just to walk away with all the top awards. Still the school used the fresh work of their own current students to draw to public in.
I remember the final straw happened on April Fool's Day 2003 at a highly anticipated art show. The evening before we had all met in the library of the school to mount or new work. Mary, Mr. Beck, Andrea, K, Monique, Adam and I had finished hanging the artwork and we were walking around together looking at the other artist's submissions. Intermixed with the wonderful new stuff from the students was a variety of the trash we had been seeing more of. This time the college had allowed unlimited entries to not only outside students and oddball art professors from other schools. We were still limited to two entries as students. The spray artist had submitted over twenty pieces alone which were a series of large metal panels with one crack painted in the corner of each one?
Discouraged and whining the six of us sat in one of the study rooms on the second floor of the library wondering why we still bothered entering our work. We knew the schools brown-nosing and surprise "guest judges" would lead to all of us walking away awardless and once again some ridiculous absurdity would claim "best of show".
Larry was especially proud of Adam's excellent submission which he felt was the best work in the show. It was a huge abstract painting of a nude woman painted in monochromatic blues that ran from the floor almost to the ceiling. We all agreed it it was clearly the best work in the show but at the same time we knew it would be unfairly overshadowed. It was a depressing reality we had all come to accept.
In that moment of mutual gloom we noticed a wicked smile form beneath Mr. Beck's beard. You could tell he had a mischievous idea brewing. He told Adam that he needed to submit a last minute entry into the show.
He handed Adam a five-dollar bill and told him to go to a thrift store and buy a deck of playing cards and a pair of high-heeled shoes. He also told him to get the cheapest pack of cigarettes he could find.
The next evening before the art show began we all met upstairs in the library. Adam had purchased the items Larry had asked for and we headed downstairs for Larry to reveal his plan. He took a plant stand from the library and set it in the gallery. He opened the deck of cards and spread them around on the stand with his hand. He then placed one red high-heeled shoe upright in the center of the cards and opened the pack of cigarettes. Sliding a cigarette up so it stuck out of the pack he placed it inside the shoe. Turning to us with a huge smile he said, "This is Adam's late submission to the show."
We could see through the large windows in the building that the sun was almost down and the caterers were adding the finishing touches to the large table of snacks and hors d'oeuvres for the guests.
Monique was asked by the school to mount the tags with the artist's name and title of the artwork to the walls. I walked around the library with her helping her match up the tags with the correct pieces of art. Adam had named he and Larry's last minute submission "Somnium". We laughed when we saw the tag for K's artwork titled "Analogous Color Harmony". Even though K's name is only one letter, the title didn't fit on the card. It had been abbreviated as "Anal Color Harmony". K thought it was funny and didn't throw a stink.
Lots of people had began to show up and as unknown artists we all dispersed and had what we all considered the most enjoyable part of the show. We would intermingle with the guests as they stood in front of each piece of work eavesdropping on comments and opinions. We tried not to smile when others praised our work or insulted some of the ridiculous entries from artists we secretly despised. Not until the awards ceremony would the names be attached to faces. As recognized artists and professors arrived and began rubbing elbows we began to gather who the "guest judges" would be. A well-known local illustrator, a wealthy foreign abstract artist, and an esteemed professor of the nearby university. All of these judges were individuals our group knew well. The abstract artist had recently ripped of one of my ideas in an embarrassingly obvious way at a recent show. The professor had just finished editing the latest copy of his art history textbook which had to be changed to include a Salvador Dali mystery that I had solved the semester before, and the local illustrator who was stinking drunk the last time I saw him was still humiliated from a silent auction for abused women where I had made twice as much money from my art as him. I was not expecting to win any awards this time around knowing the judges were not fond of me.
Wandering around listening to the guests there was an obvious buzz revolving around popular pieces. Our group had accurately chosen the ones we felt would score high with the public. The judges took their turns examining each drawing, painting, sculpture, and photograph with clipboards in hand.
After a short ceremony (typical introductions and butt-kissing) it was time to see which artists would be walking away with the top awards. Mr. Beck and the photography teacher Mrs. Rozier were selected to announce the awards and took the sealed envelopes from the judges. Larry looked fantastic in a nice black suit. It was funny to see him in formal clothes without paint stains all over them.
As expected the awards were given out to the tasteless and uninspiring works and with the usual gang of pretentious judges, the opinions of the masses went unnoticed. K did win an award for his anal color harmony which was a nice surprise. Finally it was time to reveal who had won the award for "best of show" which included a $300.00 check and a large gift certificate to a local art supply store.
Mr. Beck had the honor of reading off the name of the winner and in his loud boisterous tenor he announced Adam was the winner for his piece titled "Somnium"!! Everyone applauded and Mr. Beck beckoned Adam to the microphone to say a few words. Larry was ear-to-ear with his wicked satisfying smile as Adam got up to address the crowd.
Adam was about to drop the bomb and you could see by his expression that he was proud to be the one elected. Adam went on to explain that "Sominium" was essentially an April Fools joke thrown together in a few minutes to expose the idiotic predicament of the schools art program. The name "Sominium" actually means "foolish nonsense" in Latin and the whole purpose of the entry and it's creation was to make fools out of the judges. Adam went on to explain that Larry and the rest of us had created the joke out of frustration and hoped that it would inspire a more sensible system for future art shows.
The judges were completely humiliated and appalled. We all thought it was quite amusing. The next semester Larry was fired and Adam had asked the rest of us if we thought that Larry's trouble-making had anything to do with it. The school had said that they had to "let him go" because with his bad hips and joints he was taking too long to walk across the campus from class to class, but some of us always wondered.
Like a garage band that had it's day, our group eventually "broke up" and we went our own ways. I kept in touch with a few of the original six from that first painting class for a time and I like to think of that exhibition in April 2003 as our "last show".
I thought I'd share some photos from those early classes and of course the artwork from that time. Most of the artwork I did was either too large to scan or has long been sold, but I hope you enjoy what I've dug up.
From left to right, Mary, K, Andrea, Larry Beck, me, Monique, and Bob.
Andrea sitting on our class painted canvas (one of my paintings in the background)
Andrea coming back to class
Andrea working on her painting
Bob working on happy trees (mine in the background)
Bob coming back to class from break.
Bob stretching canvas.
K laying on the ground outside.
K trying to lick a nipple in one of Monique's paintings.
K standing in front of one of Monique's paintings.
K and Andrea walking through the halls.
Mr. Beck evil coal miner
One of Andrea's paintings
Monique and Andrea's paintings (K in background)
Me working on a painting.
A bunch of paintings (the bug one on the right is mine)
K and Larry sitting outside
Larry and Andrea
Andrea and Bob
Bob and Larry
Larry taking a lunch break
Monique dressing up Larry
Monique as the "Corn Queen"
Me drawing on the chalkboard before film class
K, Andrea, and another guy watching me draw
Now that you read my long boring story and looked at a bunch of photos of people you don't know or care about... let's check out some college art!!!
Black Francis of the Pixies
An illustration I did for a trucking magazine
En caustic wax
Frank Black in en caustic wax
Alphabird (an attempt to hide all the letters in the alphabet in a design)
"Batting an Eye" a painting of a kitten batting around an eyeball.
Assignment to make an illustration which includes a bar code
Doodling on my assignments during class
A large 4'x5' painting of Kim Deal from the Pixies (sold $300.00)
An assignment where we had to design a postage stamp
3-dimensional matchbook artwork
Frank Black again
another flier for a rock show
a large 3-dimensional drawing (sold $250.00) at benefit
design for racing t-shirt
illustration for magazine
Unfinished deep sea fish
There's a whole crapload more. I still have to scan some stuff. I guess I'll have to do a part 4.