Today was interesting …. I spent the whole day digging thru a storage space I have underneath my studio. Its exposed to the weather on two sides and not exactly ideal for art storage. A few years ago when I filled a big box truck with the 5 (yes, five) storage spaces I’d accumulated in NYC since 1992, I unloaded into this space with a huge sigh of relief and not a massive amount of forethought to proper packing for each piece. I started pulling things out into the yard today, half-finished portraits of old friends, folders full of old fliers and photos, boxes full of small paintings and a ton and a half of unpainted found objects I’d collected over the past 20 years, dragging them from abode to abode, stuffing storage spaces all over the city with weird, filthy, broken, old things that very few people would ever consider keeping.
I found myself shocked on a few occasions… a few of my older pieces were pretty well damaged. Well in the first place, I expected that. Because I had nowhere else to put them and there were just a lot of them. So I knew I had it coming. But its still a bit of a shock to see a destroyed painting – especially when it is a portrait of someone you know and care about. One friend in particular… the painting of him was just fully gone, bam, kaput. There’s a bit of a story behind it. (Isn’t there always?) When I had my gallery on Ludlow Street, a friend brought in this guy named Michael Tammaro. I didn’t know him at all but he was super into my work and was all excited about putting some of it in his gallery. Back then I didn’t care, you wanted a pile of my work to show? Great, help yourself. And he did. He walked out of there with about 7 or 8 really nice paintings and all I had to show for it was a slip of paper. I went by his gallery at one point to have a look and it was not a gallery at all. In fact, it was a shop, selling antiques and knick-knacks. I saw a few of my paintings hung on the wall over a desk, backdrops for the couches and mod metal lamps. But I didn’t see them all. A few years later, after I had tried calling him many, many times and he would not reply, I finally got ahold of him and scheduled a time for me to come pick up my work. When I did, one of my paintings, done on a 3-pane, vertical, glass/wood window frame, was trashed. The top of the three panes was smashed in – a piece of the face of my friend, missing. This was weird for me because my friend and I weren’t really talking at the time and it confounded the unsettled energy between us. Another portrait I really liked was of a girl I had lost touch with, and it had a scratch across her face. He wasn’t there when I arrived to retrieve them, of course, and I quickly realized why he was avoiding me. He had busted up my work. He left an assistant to show me in. I made the assistant sign a condition report, which probably got him fired. I fretted about the damage for months and finally decided I would just let it go. I wasn’t going to waste my time in court. I figured this guy would have to pay a karmic court in one way or another and I would just go on. So these pieces went into their haphazardly designated piles in and out of brooklyn basements, secret Governors Island storage vaults, into trucks, boxes, and into an unprotected heap (roofed but not fully sided coverage) to finally be discovered again. Today when I uncovered the painting of my friend with the shattered face, I found that all the paint had peeled away from the surface. The entire painting was gone. I had painted the portrait in oil paint right over a latex house-painted window of wood and glass. And what I learned about that today is that, even though I followed the cardinal law of “oil over water-based and never the twain”, the latex paint, that had been painted over the window glass years earlier, could not take the New England weather, and peeled off. What I saw looked like the scaly ceilings in the buildings on Governors Island, a paint whose chemical shelf-life has been reached and commencement of the triumphant march back to organic form is underway. And then – insult to injury – the glass panes just gave way, sort of shattered and fell out. I touched his face and it crumbled to the ground. I did manage to save a portion of the face. Then it all sort of turned to dust.
Looking at the piece, I wondered what it meant… thinking of my friend in his old life where he was when I painted it – myself in my own old life. We were in our early 20s and he was having a bit of a funk. He brooded a lot and did dope. Now he’s a different person, kinda happy-go-lucky actually, living with his dancer girlfriend on the west coast, just as healthy as can be. So maybe when asshead Michael Tammaro smashed my friend’s face in that Chelsea shop, it was during a moment of change for him and now, with the entire painting having disintegrated, he has moved on out of that old cycle of dark introversion to the sunny life of a Californian.
Or maybe all this digging is making me think too much. I’m digging because I’m getting ready for a big show at Mark Miller Gallery on Thursday the 13th of November. Its at 92 Orchard Street btw Delancey and Broome from 6-9pm. On view through Dec 4. Announcement will be in the next post.
ci vediamo! – Zito