January 21, 2005

The Dolorous Passion of American Woman

by Jerome du Bois

Dedicated to Catherine King --wife, muse, sun, moon, and stars

Let's get outta here. -- The most popular movie line ever, according to Trivial Pursuit.

[This post's original title was "Leaving The Contemporary Art World Behind," and a lot of that is still in there. But when Catherine started telling me the details of the story of her right hand, and her subsequent careers, I knew I had found the real story. So I'll segue into that part, after our farewell story.

In earlier posts, we mentioned blood and guts. Well, our enemies, who have had to content their sadistic selves with pecking the tears off our faces like chickens, may now rejoice, and wallow like grinning idiots in the gore of Catherine's physical pain, blood, and humiliations. I'm sorry you foul beings will read this tale --you don't deserve to touch the toe of her boot-- but there's nothing for it, she wants it made public, and I'm honored to be the one to lay it out for the rest of the world. There's a lot of horror here, people, some of which I didn't know until today. For those who have hearts to hear, draw close, read it, and weep.]

Here begins the original piece, which then segues into her story. Some of it meanders in the meantime.

It's true, we're done writing about contemporary art, but Catherine has more of her FairStory to tell, and that will be done when it damn well pleases her, lurking lawyers notwithstanding. She says, "In the words of George W. Bush: 'Bring it on.'" And my man Natty Bumppo follows up: "Clear it up any?"

In the meantime, it's a relief not to feel obliged to run out to pick up the New Times every week. Imagine bringing home, for a couple of hours each week, a leering, pimply adolescent tweaking sleazoid --a guy, of course-- who tosses out passes to questionable venues while playing bad music and stinking up your home with his testosterone. Yet I've done so, for years. No longer.

Or the Arizona Republic. Bye, Nilsen. Actually, in yesterday's Valley Section there was an article by Ginger Richardson about the city throwing money at downtown clown(s) Randy Slack et al. Well! A week ago, that story would have looked like a thick juicy steak to me. No longer. We hit the road, Slack.

Or Java. Or shade. Oh, wait, there is no more shade. Well, we're still rolling --high, wide, and handsome, if I do say so myself, and I see no end in sight. We gonna blog. We gonna blog the livelong day.

You should have started a dynamite, dynamic website, Wayne Rainey To The Rayskew, with lots of bloggers attached. Two-plus years is a pretty good stretch for a small-format vanity project in a dying medium, but it was doomed from the beginning, man. I could see that the one time I sat at your left at your famous concrete table with your editorial crew, for the second-issue meeting, and managed to piss everyone off. I was about twenty years older than anyone sitting in that conference room, but I was the only one living in the 21st Century.

Okay, let's blog.

I've been closely following the productions of the contemporary art world for almost forty years, but now I am done with it. It's full of mean, ugly people these days, making mean, ugly images. Nobody dedicated to beauty, human dignity, and the upward glance is really welcome. More importantly, though, the psychological and emotional toll it has taken on Catherine and I resembles almost a laboratory experiment. Especially Catherine.

You see, the contemporary art world is full of triggers for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was a blind fool not to see it, and I unwittingly steered her into despair and frustration by the human activity that is supposed to, in her word, "enlift" us. The people, concepts, images, and energies of the contemporary art world promote misogyny, human humiliation, mutual degradation, adolescent male fantasy, superficial sci-fi, cruelty to animals, scatology, cartoon surrealism, insulting conceptualism (the $4000 dumpster chair), stunted homosexuality, empty expert technique (shiny nothings), and sexual fascism. Every one of these is an insult to anyone who already feels like Sisyphus every day.

Catherine knew nothing about contemporary art until 2000, when she met me. The whole scene was, to use another of her neologisms, "disjarring." How could I know that the art world would lead my beloved into a hell that would hammer her psyche?

In the Nineties, when the art world really plunged into the sewer, Catherine King was obliged to ignore it. She was pursuing her Master's Degree in Secondary Art Education, which she obtained, but through independent study programs, so she avoided the pomo degradations and empty chatter. She was a single mother raising a family, maintaining a career in commercial art, and going to school at the same time. She had more important things to attend to than "Freeze," for example. That's why she didn't know the name Damien Hirst in 2000. She never liked the shark. And the more objects she saw --through magazines, the internet, and exhibitions we attended-- the more angry and mystified she became.

Let me digress for a moment. Damien Hirst reminded me. In 1998, I was working as an assistant to a multi-talented metal sculptor named Adam Pace, a fine man a little less than half my age. He was a hippie-type son of hippies; he grew up in Idaho in an elaborate pyramidal house designed and built by his father and family, for example. Anyway, one day I brought in an article by Jerry Saltz about Damien Hirst (Art in America, July 1995). When I showed Adam the picture of the shark, I thought I saw in his eyes the physical possibility of inflicting death on a living human being. Not me -- the asshole artist.

"What the fuck is this?!" Adam exploded. I paraphrase the following, but it was something like "The shark was just living, man, just cruising around! Then it gets caught and killed --too soon, do you hear? Too soon! But this fucker, this English faggot makes it worse. He has to make fun of the shark's life. It's like -- it's like putting a little pink tutu on a tiger, okay? A little cone hat? This is a shark, man! This is NATURE!"

Throwing up his hands. "How can you like this shit!"

I was stunned. I didn't have an answer for him. Five years later I do. I was a blind fool, fascinated by a Beauty that had morphed into the Medusa of the Rebarbarization which fixates millions.

Earlier I mentioned mean, ugly images made by mean, ugly people. Here's an example. This tableau has become famous: the aging superheroes in the nursing home. The piece is such a meme by now I won't bother to link or name the sculptor. (Partially-blind guess: some Miami collector owns it.)

I don't remember who the superheroes are. For my purpose, what eclipses the specifics is the ridicule of ancient archetypes of strength, integrity, reason, self-examination, wrestling with one's own uncanny within, and self-discipline. All handed down through thousands of years like holy chunks of clay formed and reformed, but always valuably uncanny and worthwhile exploring.

And now what? Some postadolescent fruitcake, in the perennial fascistic revenge fantasy of the cleverly envious againt the well-meaning strong, gets to mock their talents --but this hollow echo only amplifies the forlon envy of the sculptor. He hates people, down to his bones.

That's what I'm talking about. This is the asafoetida, the resinous heart of contemporary art. What did Lawrence say of the Arabian tribes, with their attentuated world views? I'll tell you what he said:

"A little people, a silly people -- petty, barbarous, and cruel." You can quote me.

As another example I could pick Wim Delvoye, who wants us to smell excrement. But that's too easy. Look at Elizabeth Peyton. This mediocrity enrages Catherine because Catherine can and has painted far superior pieces, in several media, from pastel to oil to watercolor. I'm looking at some of them right now. She cannot see the appeal of this obviously lazy person. Catherine has often invented brushes for her purposes. She has created a lively impasto scapegoat using eyeliner brushes. She made the sheilagh figure in Sheelas' Burka with her right thumb.

So, to see mediocrity rewarded and critically hailed implicitly weighs down the soul of anyone who damn well knows they are a superior artist, but nobody wants their work. And when that person is already emotionally damaged, the appearance of every other Elizabeth Peyton or Laura Owens or Inka Essenhigh adds more rocks to the pile.

(What's that music? John Hiatt:

You got to lift up every stone, sister,
Got to lift up every stone, sister,
Got to lift up every stone, sister;
Got to clear this field and build that wall.
)

I'm not complaining because I want the art world to change. To hell with the art world; they can sleep in Tracy Emin's beds for as long as they want; it doesn't mean I have to even shake their hands. Yech.

And I'm not whining that the world has given us the go-by. Day ain't over yet. We have plenty of tools in the kit. Art isn't everything, and these days it's some very ugly things. My point is that today's art world hurts people who should never have been hurt --PTSD is the only mental illness directly caused by the behavior of other people-- so they are like canaries in the coal mine.

So month after month we would examine images and objects we always had to struggle with: "How did this get here? Why is this good? Why is this art? What the fuck!?" It wore on her more than me. I didn't see it. I wanted so much from art, but art had become a skanky whore leering out from rat's alley, where the dead men lost their bones. We're turning our back on that filthy loser. We have a new world to embrace.

American Woman

(This is Catherine King's story.)

Late 1973. A city somewhere. In the basement of a mortuary (a giant corporation; you would recognize the name), Catherine King, 23, with her unusually small and delicate hands, operates an ancient Heidelberg press. It's the tail end of a ten-hour day, and she's working all alone.

Her man, the gigantic scary monster who will pick her up in about an hour, is probably off fucking somebody somewhere. No problem. That gives her more time to plan her escape. Privacy, even in the basement of a gothic old mortuary, is blessed. Someplace free from the constant terror at home.

The old machine is literally smoking. It too has been working at least ten hours straight. She's tired, but, truth be told, work is better than home. As the old press steams forward, her tiny, vulnerable hands both guide it and lay down at it's mercy.

She dreams of a brighter future, she'll pull it together when she's on her own, escape as soon as she gets cash and/or a car. She'll get back to San Francisco and get a job in another printshop, the newspaper... She'll get her life back under control.

And then it's too late. Forever. She let her little right hand linger too long between the rolling steel plates and now, in another zillionth of a second, her life will be changed forever. Forever? No way! It was unacceptable. She was just getting started-- it couldn't be all over yet!

She couldn't look at her hand or she knew she would go into shock. As she went looking for help, she dripped pulverized pieces of herself behind. At the hospital, a nurse threw up at the sight of her gutted hand. It was the size of a basketball, too swollen to stitch closed, though they did go in and clip open the tendons in her wrist, so that they wouldn't cut off her circulation with the surreal swelling.

That was all that could be done. A few days later she went home to her violent psychopath and their slummy scummy dive. She already had her first free-lance project waiting there for her- a hand-drawn, hand-lettered poster promoting the first International Women's Day gathering.

She made the poster with her left hand, got some money of her own, and slipped out of town even before the Women's Day gathering. They could celebrate without her. She was free again, if damaged, and she was running back to San Francisco to continue her art career with one and a half hands in the Golden State. One and a half hands. That's okay, she thought. She had learned that art isn't made by hands, anyway; it's made by the heart.

That's why she has no patience with crybabies like Sue Chenoweth, who has made a career vamping off her OCD. Or that local Hispanic Ex-Bulemic. Or Tracy Emin. Or Mike Kelley. "Mike Kelley made a career out of having acne," Catherine says.

It was the Spring of 1974.

By the Fall of 1974, Catherine King had moved to Phoenix to take over sole responsibility for all design and advertising for the Arizona State Fair. Just her. And she did this for three consecutive years. She also did graphic design work for the Phoenix Suns.

After that she was hired as the totality of the art department of Channel 12, the local NBC affiliate. This was not advertising, but news graphics. She did her job for a year-and-a-half, and left because she never got a satisfactory explanation for why her male predecessor had been paid far more than she was being paid. The EEOC would not support her. After that, she freelanced for awhile.

She then went to work for the art departments of various large corporations, whose names you would recognize, where versions of the above story were repeated --petty, petty, people, threatened by talent and trying to extinguish it wherever they find it.

When she was forty, and a single mother, she took a teaching job in the art school division of a large technical school. She taught typography, life drawing, and art history for a year and a half. Then one day she was called into a meeting.

In the room were two men, the head of the art school, and one of the teachers, whose name is Kip Sudduth. (His real name.) For some reason, as he moved around the room, Catherine noticed that Sudduth's fly was completely down.

They were firing her / laying her off, they said. As a teacher. Listen closely, readers:

They were willing to pay her ten dollars an hour, the same pay she was getting as a teacher, to be a nude model for her own life drawing class.

Let that sit for a moment, readers, while I take a big slug of wine to get past the distaste of this story.

I don't know if Kip Sudduth is alive or dead. I won't bother finding out, because I prefer the fantasy that he died a long, painful death of prostate and testicular cancer. Mercy? I'm fresh out. Go see Jesus. This fucker wanted the teacher to come back and be ogled by her former students. Sometimes I'm ashamed to share gender with these turds. Turds like Kip Sudduth, and the pencil neck who ran the show, too.

This is not all, not the half of it, but a lot of the hell is nobody's business but hers, and mine. (She carried it, now we both do, and if you think I was protecting her before, don't even come within shouting distance now.) Suffice it to say that the sexual harrassment, job discrimination, misogyny, injustice, and worse, much worse, continued, even until after we met --working at the same place, a Borders bookstore. (Thank God we met!)

[Before I get to the Borders story, Catherine has given me permission to relate a single story from her six-year stint as a classroom art teacher. Her teaching career was cut short after she didn't appreciate having her life threatened by a male sixth-grader in a hoity-toity school district. Guess who the administration stood up for? And then they added insult to injury by saying that most teachers would roll over backward to get the position she had in that exclusive disctrict. She was supposed to take it, like always.]

One night, after we started dating and living together, a large man loomed above her in the magazine section, demanding this and that and basically threatening her with his chest. After she was unable to help him and tried to get out of his way, this grunting bully banged her in the shoulder with his as he slammed by her.

Catherine shouted for everyone to hear: "Security! Get Security! I've been assaulted!"

This was near the entrance, where the big bully went right out past the security guard. The assistant manager, whose name is Michael Stevens (his real name; he works at the Tucson store, last I heard), refused to support Catherine in any way, and he and the security guard dismissed it as a "he said, she said."

When she came up to the music department, where I worked, shaking, completely devastated, angry, and frustrated, telling me her story, here comes Michael Stevens, boiling forward like a demon, demanding that she either get back to work or clock out. Unbelieveable. Even though I stepped in front of her, he still kept yakking and pointing his finger.

Catherine finally had had enough. She stepped in front of me with all the power of Sheilagh the Terrible and yelled in his face for all the store to hear: Fuck you, Michael Stevens! Fuck you with your pants on!"

After a seething moment, pitched and still, he turned on his heel and walked away. We left Borders after that.

I was able to take her out of the world of work and into a world that was finally about her. Unfortunately, I invited contemporary art along. As an artist herself, though, how could she resist?

And that's when we decided to begin making serious art again and try to enter the local art scene. It was a disaster that I won't summarize but which you can read about in our archives.

After our attack by a member of Artlink in March of last year, which debilitated us for eight solid days, disoriented us for months, and will always reverberate in our bodies and minds with unpleasant reminders --and which we shall never, ever forget or forgive or recover from-- after that evil, we should have turned away completely from Phoenix, its artists, and their promoters. But we still thought we could elevate the discourse. Really.

Regular readers should know how the story comes out. My American Woman and I waltzed right into the twisted clutches of Glen Lineberry, Lisa Greve, and Bentley Projects, and got spun and screwed and deceived again. You can look it up, and the story ain't over yet. Thank you, blog.

[But we've been screwed for the last time. And by the way, Glen, what's with the lawyers? We would love to have the whole story come out. Let's go. But you should stop electronically sending your flunkies out to Florida to try to hassle Franklin Einspruch, a busy man. I mean, if you're responsible for the tool called "e," you should really read his emails. Franklin has nothing to do with what's going on, except that his artsfeed probably gets over a thousand hits a day, and the phrase "Glen Lineberry and Lisa Greve Behaving Badly" will stay there prominently for at least another week. Franklin has done nothing wrong. Leave him alone. Come to think of it, neither did we. What about you?]

Now all this was before I knew all of Catherine's story. Now . . .

Now I know that she is the strongest person I've ever known or could know. I am proud to stand at her side. I love her more than my life, and we will be together forever. I pity anyone else who ever tries to get over on us again, in any way.

We are the tears of things.

Posted by Jerome at January 21, 2005 05:18 PM | TrackBack