Went to Vincent’s art opening with Alaric. Drove sixty miles out there. Had conversations in the car. Had a quick dinner. Walked around. Small town in the mountains: Riverside. Like going halfway out into the dessert. Town center was no bigger than a grid of blocks, Spanish style architecture, lots of things like people and trees practically floating in arid wasteland.
We met Vince. Hugs. Immediate assistance. Dude. Vince was nervous. His reception after all. And he was quietly losing it. We were talking him into calming down. It was held at a gallery/frame shop sort of place owned by a man Vince knew named Didier. Vince’s art filled the large wall at the front of the store beautifully. It was several square panels depicting misty abstractions under a bartop finish.
Handling the refreshments was now my job. Corkscrew in hand, I tried to say something to Vince. I tried but I have no sense of humor anymore. On the very first bottle. Broke the only corkscrew! Didier’s look was hard to read. I put the corkscrew down. Playing it off, I wanted to make a joke, almost told the Historic Fart story from the Arabian Nights. But better I left that one alone. Didier said, “Man!” There was nothing else to do. Alaric and I stepped out to check out the Art Walk. Wine bottles remained unopened. We told Vince to keep calm, hold the fort. Didier called out, “See you later, Corkscrew!”
What made up the Art Walk was art spaces, frame shops, one or two museums, art co-ops, a tattoo parlor. First place sold clothing and art. A lot of art on the walls. Wasn’t sure, but it all seemed to suck. What did Alaric think? I was sure we were on the same page. We were art school progeny, after all. Not likely to like anything. Exiting, we came up with code terms on how to get the hell out of a place when it was bad like that. He chose “pastel” and I preferred “Neo-Impressionism.” It didn’t matter because everything was bad. Never used either term. Expected levels of bad, except Vince’s work, or course. And two shows at the Photography Museum.
One African-American artist. Came from the post-hippie era—you know, psychedelic colors, that kind of art. Definitely well-made. A good sense of craft and so on and so forth. It could have been good to anybody but former art majors. The only thing that prevented me from blurting “Neo-Impressionism” was a little respect for survivors of historic conflagrations. And exiting that other place that looked more like a beauty salon than an art space, where they showed works from the criminally insane, I was asking Alaric. Just what about us made us such assholes? Why didn’t we like anything? He said we were jaded.
And this could explain a lot. In the main art museum, I was trying to take it in. The likable small-town community air. But then more bad art on the walls. Walls that would have been better served with nothing, and I asked him if it would ever get to the point where we become so jaded that we don’t care for any art. Except our own. He didn’t believe it would ever happen, at least not in our lifetimes, and then he retracted, and he said it wouldn’t happen for a long time, at least, anyway.
Two girls doing the museum rounds like us, repeatedly running into us, a mirror of us but lacking that cynical veneer that took time and very particular art experiences at critique seminars to properly nurture. There was an open plaza, and they were across it from us, in symmetry with us, a mockery of the enthusiasm we once had.
The guy at the hybrid fast-food joint earlier. He was there. Approached the girls. Then, approached us, handing us something. “Check out this panel that will discuss optics and how we look at art. Coming up.” Fascinating, but not for us.
Yeah, we were jaded. That was about all the art we could stand.
Hot streets, trees, old style charm, people in small breezy clothes. If anything, it was a good time because of this. Being out here made it all worth it. And we were chatting it up. I couldn’t shut up. When you live strictly in your head space, when you never get out much anymore. Well, you accumulate stuff in your head. No dialogue for me these days. Lost all contact with every artist I ever knew except these two guys today and maybe two others. Alaric would understand me. And Vince too.
Headed for conversations about being a parent, which he was and I was becoming. And my book, which he inquired about, and of which I had just finished the second draft. It was about that thing I was pursuing, the way we draw when we’re drawing from our imaginations, and what actually happens in mid-drawing. If anything, a book like that was at least going to get me understood. You can bet, he said that he would like to read that one. We were talking about Charles, our mutual friend, who gave up looking for the big art career in Los Angeles, and how he was moving back to San Luis.
Indeed. A move like that. Such an action was a statement. It spoke about how you were no longer going to play the game.
We were back. The wine bottles were open. A brand-new corkscrew nearby. Vince was talking to art walk goers, maybe pitching a sale. We were winking at him, happy to be back in a room full of powerful air conditioning.
Alaric was commenting about how badly he wanted to sit in those two armchairs. Never having thought about it, I wasn’t sure where he was going with this. Ten minutes later, the women in the chairs vacated, and we sat down. Alaric learned they were the kind you can kick back. Questioning the inappropriateness—to lounge like this at a friend’s art opening. Well, we kicked them back anyway. And I can say right here, I have never thought about couches or armchairs that way. There are people who only buy quality. I say, if it’s cheap, that’s good enough. But now I see what is so important about a good chair. A new understanding about furniture, about how your body naturally falls into appropriate spaces.
A man came up, asked me did I know that many a naked woman used the very chair I was sitting on. (Absolutely recognized where this was going. I knew what was coming next because I taught the same classes.) He said that he and Didier were teaching a live figure drawing class and the two chairs we were using were props. He gestured the bodily graces of these women, and he told us it was great. And then said I didn’t look too bad either, even with my clothes on, and walked away.
Then that woman showed up again from earlier, telling Vince she had to go and that it was great meeting us but not meeting us, and then “took the opportunity” to formally meet us and gave us her name. Her lively talk, how she kept going on about the art. Lurking. I don’t know. Was there a stock act you had to go through at an art function?
I was starting to sulk. Alaric wanted to use the bathroom without losing his spot in the chair. A universal problem, discovered almost the minute you start school. My timing was always off, and I always lost my spot. Went to check out this red-lit bathroom Alaric talked about anyway when I finally had to go and still managed to get my seat back.
Time to leave. Congratulated Vince for the swell show, and for selling seventeen pieces for eight thousand dollars just last week at another art thing. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I don’t know about Alaric, but it gave me hope. Passing the entrance, Didier called out, “Corkscrew!”
How do you go about selling eight thousand dollars-worth of art? Just earlier, before Riverside and the art walk, before the long ride. We were in Alaric’s basement. It was his art studio. He was showing me his latest work. They were prints of nuclear explosions superimposed with flowers. Everything was presented in the cyan-magenta-yellow screen patterns of past printing. It looked good. Good enough to sell. I was like, game plan. “Do you have one?” It was complicated. For both of us. Like him, I had a bedroom standing in for a studio. I didn’t have a game plan, not really. Not a real one. And he was telling me he didn’t have a game plan either.
I was thinking about this and that. There were too many variables, like the world’s problems but in more microcosmic proportions. Politics. The politics of making it in your field. He said he had nothing. “I’ve got nothing.” As far as a game plan. Nothing. He said he had enough with trying to keep a two and a half-year-old alive and doing his work. I was looking for a bona fide strategy to how to get from A to B and then C, along with alternate paths, if necessary. The book I was writing was a large part of that; that was the A that was going to get me to B, which would have been getting my art understood at least, if not recognized. C was making lots of money. I wasn’t sure how to get to that last one. He shrugged. He had nothing.
Back in the car. Several hours later. Night time. Riverside. Set for the long drive back. Alaric made a note about how you never see bicycle cops anymore. There were three of them cycling around the open square where people were dancing to music from a large speaker. Only lit with streetlight. Like a nightclub that had been folded inside out and had lost its electricity in the process. Two or three people moved out of the way suddenly. One jumped back. Reaction stamped on all faces looking in one direction.
And Alaric asked me if I saw the cops diving, tackling the guy. I was cruising slowly but couldn’t see anything in that half-light with all the figures motionless, facing East.
On our drive back, I wanted to talk more. Why did Francis Bacon destroy his paintings? Had Alaric read any books recently? What was the ideal city to live in? Certainly not Los Angeles.
“You don’t like it here?” he asked.
Huh. I never dropped that sentiment to native Californians. Didn’t really know how to answer. “You know how after a few years, you get sick of a place? Los Angeles is the type of place where you come here already sick of it, but it slowly grows on you.”
How’s that for optimism? How’s that for diplomacy? Politics?
Brought up abstract games, how they looked like little sculptures but they also moved according to game rules, which made them more interesting in the sense of possibilities. Almost like moving philosophies, better equipped to display ontology than an endless line of words in a book on metaphysics.
Alaric was moving his head, turning to me. “Abstract games?”
“They’re games,” I explained, “board games that don’t have an obvious theme, games like Chess and Go.”
But abstract games look like abstract sculptures, I was reasoning. Except they move according to the rules of the game. And this time element is fascinating. Definitely an element of art if you looked hard enough. And I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Something to look into. Abstract games.
And the conversation stopped there. Got out of my car in front of his house. I had so much more I wanted to talk about. Perhaps a conversation during a future drive.
Was pulling one of the pamphlets out of my pocket. Alaric didn’t say anything. But I know he’s noticed that every time we go to gallery shows, I collect all the free paraphernalia at the art spaces, brochures and the like. (I’ve kept them all.) Here was the Riverside Art Walk brochure. I snorted. I showed him the picture on the back flap asking him if the guy in the picture didn’t look familiar. It was a man drawing a woman (a clothed woman) on an armchair. The armchair was one of the two we were sitting on. “This,” Alaric said, “is the very best way to end the night.”
On my drive back home, I was recapturing my thoughts on ambition, thinking about the words I wasn’t able to use but wanted to. The ideas behind things, and the way people use these things created by ideas to make things happen.
I was now on the freeway. Thinking now about game mechanics. Abstract games when done right. A most appropriate device to exhibit the dynamics of life.
I like that. Nodding to some jazz on the local station. I like that a lot.
REY ARMENTEROS is a Los Angeles-based painter and writer who writes the blog Through Concentrated Breath. He has pieces forthcoming in Magnolia Review, Umbrella Factory Magazine, and Still Point Arts Quarterly.
Featured image: Photograph by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash.