Monday, April 7, 2014

Jelly Beans and Diana Ross

It's been a quarter century almost since Bill and I did this show in Indianapolis at 431 Gallery.  It was called "The Fifteen Dollar Museum," and it was like a manifesto of sorts, and also an accidental action plan for the rest of our lives.  431 Gallery was a cooperative joint downtown, and when Bill and I were voted in by other members back in 1989 it was a wild feeling for me.   I was backwards and kind of kooky, as was Bill (and really using the past tense here is kind of stupid:  we still ARE kooky and backwards when you get right down to it), so we went about making art and art shows exactly the way we wanted them to be, without thinking about who would want to see them.  In this gig we sold everything we made for fifteen bucks a pop and donated all the money to a food bank.  We did this not because we were martyrs or hippies or whatever.  We were just stupid and full of energy with an intense need to make some kind of meaning happen.  We truly wanted to make authentic connections between artifice and reality, art and life, in ways we saw would allow us to be ourselves.  We were/are anomalies in many ways:  artistic, ambitious, silly, serious, working-class, rural, sarcastic, professionally unprofessional, numb-skulled and overly sensitive, etc.  All of that laced with an understanding that no matter where you live or what you do your intentions usually remain the same.  So making art and showing it in Indianapolis truly suited our mentalities, a midsized city without a lot of opportunities for young artists outside of DIY.  And all the other folks at 431 were kind of like kindred spirits.  In fact, I don't think I had ever experienced what "kindred spirits" felt like before because my oddness consigned me to the total outskirts.  In high school I was a freak among freaks, gay and "creative" and poor, haunting hallways in oversized flannel shirts and baggie jeans, hiding out in the basement when they made us go to pep rallies.  I made a few friends (including Bill) at the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis when I went there for a year right after graduating high school, but I dropped out after only that one year, defeated by the fact that I didn't want to draw and paint and get graded.  I just wanted to make stuff happen.
It all worked out in the end as they say.  I wasted a lot of time in between being an art-school dropout and figuring out I needed to go back to college and get a degree in something.  In fact, I was in my second year at Indiana University/Purdue University in Indianapolis when Bill and I got into 431.  And now I realize that time was probably one of the most magical times I'll have.  It was full of hope and weirdness, stupidity and hilarity and backfired experiments and the major realization that I could make something out of myself.
We did all kinds of stupid shit at 431.  We dressed in drag and got half-naked in the basement.  I did a performance one time composed of eating jelly-beans with my head shaved singing along to Diana Ross's "Theme from Mahogany" in the gallery front window.  We played with mud and thrift-store objects and built little shrines to everyday goofiness.  I gave a reading of the first real short story I ever wrote there.  Bill painted resplendently absurd cartoons.  We made a video that had little bits and pieces of porn and loveliness in it.  Made lots of drawings and paintings and whatnot.  Sold a few.  Got to meet truly dedicated artists who were always looking a little afraid at what Bill and I were up to, but then again I think they liked us all the same.  At least I hope. 
Anyway, I just wanted to write all that down now that there's a retrospective coming up about 431 Gallery this June at the Indiana State Museum.  Bill and I are pretty settled in our existences here in Southwestern Ohio.  We are social  workers who help people with disabilities gets jobs and have lives, and we also started a studio for artists with disabilities called Visionaries and Voices, and we run a little weird gallery in town called Thunder-Sky, Inc.  Bill paints (he has work in a show in England this summer), and I write stories (a book of my stories just came out).  We really are okay people now.  And I think our tenure at 431 helped us out a lot.  It made us realize we don't have to ask permission to do what we think we ought to do.  It kind of made us braver and smarter in ways school never could. 
Thanks to everybody who hung out with us at 431 for those couple years.  It was meaningful.  It truly was.