The things we do for art

A week ago, I went to an art reception at the Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo. This fact alone is not particularly unusual. It was the first Friday of the month, and Art After Dark tends to bring out our finest artistic plumage. Plus, the exhibit paired four of my favorite (personally and professionally) local artists: Lena Rushing (admittedly, I am biased, given that she created the artwork on the cover of my book), Neal Breton (a longtime artistic comrade, who helped out with my book’s map), Josephine Crawford (the painter who always looks as though she is or should be dancing), and Peg Grady (she makes embroidery hip).

What was different about this particular show on this particular night was that I went in with my checkbook at the ready. I was going to buy original art. Which I feel is a milestone on par with graduating from college, being handed your first business cards, and signing your first paycheck. My first piece of original art. Lena was showing Emily, the piece she created based on my protagonist for the cover of my book. And I knew I’d regret it if someone else took her home. After all, Lena had painted her, but I made her.

We arrived a little before 7 p.m., an hour after the show opened. There was one red dot in the room. Guess which painting it adorned. If you guessed Emily, you would be correct. My Emily had been sold, and quickly. On some level it was extremely gratifying, to see her valued elsewhere and to know that Lena would at least receive compensation for this incredible piece she’d made for my book. This was a room full of incredible art by incredible artists, and Emily was the first to get snatched up. I would have to let her go, and hope that whoever purchased her would take good care of her (I generally think highly of people who choose to spend their money on original works of art, so I’m guessing they’re good people). And all was not lost. The beautiful kangaroo and haddock piece that Lena also painted for my book was still available so I practically threw a check at Lena before some other sneaky, conniving art thief set her cap for it.

But the excitement, it turns out, was just beginning. Neal Breton can always be counted on to bring an element of showmanship to the artistic table. There’s a reason he’s the only one of my friends and acquaintances to become a character in Scourge of the Righteous Haddock. It all boils down to personality. Which is why, when he hinted, as we stood in front of his fox paintings, that something was about to happen, I knew he didn’t mean a terribly civil toast or photo op of the artist standing in front of a painting of a knife-wielding fox. It was going to be something I haven’t seen. It might or might not involve a social or political message. And–and this is the very best part–it would likely take a good swath of the art appreciators assembled at the gallery by surprise.

Rather than explain what followed–traipsing through the gallery’s back entrance, promenading for a few minutes, sniffing and surveying, before departing–I’ll just share the photos, taken by Colin Rigley.



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This bold display got me thinking about all ridiculous, silly, and brave things I’ve done for art. There are to many to describe here, but I figured I could at least list the top 10 (that come to mind).

1. Standing in Laguna Lake with water up to my waist for an hour and a half in January, holding a boat to prevent it from drifting while Steve E. Miller shot “All in the same boat.” The shot was stunning. The infection I got from slicing my bare foot open on a rock in the lake and not realizing it because I couldn’t feel my feet was not.

2. Standing within feet of a bull, while positioning my model (who was also holding a terrified rooster named Elvis) for “Cock and bull story.” The rancher who owned the bull warned us not to make any abrupt movements, and I have to admit that it was one of our more brief photo shoots.

3. Fashioning a unicorn horn from rolled up copies of New Times spraypainted silver and strapping said horn to a horse’s head for an engagement photo shoot for the paper’s Brides issue. To add to the indignity, we had to drive to the North County at some ungodly hour (I think 4:30 a.m.) for the sunrise photo shoot. On the plus side, that photo remains one of my favorite pieces I have ever worked on.

4. Staging a scene from the videogame Streetfighter with fellow newspaper writers as models at McCarthy’s at 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. I was Chun Li. Our then calendar editor Maeva Considine spent the next hour or so plucking shards of fake glass from her scalp. Words can’t describe how epic this moment was.

5. Stealing an idea for an art happening in San Francisco, borrowing five moving trucks from Meathead Movers, and transforming them into a Japanese tea house, a rocking (literally) dance party, a movie theater, a wrestling tournament, and a giant canvas. We called it Box City. And those two events remain two of the best nights of my life.

6. Failing to learn from the unfortunate incident in Laguna Lake, I decided to put Glen Starkey’s boat into the pool at the local Elks Lodge for another round of engagement photos. Which somehow again involved standing up to my chest in water for over an hour. In January. Luckily, there was a hot tub nearby, as the early effects of hypothermia seemed to be setting in. But the couple was adorable, and I regret nothing.

7. Releasing a quartet of ghostbusters in the San Luis Obispo library for our Bill Murray themed 2013 Best Of issue. While it was technically sanctioned, I think it’s fair to say we disrupted business as usual.

8. Agreeing to edit four hours of raw audio footage for the newspaper’s 2012 Holiday Guide. Was it my idea to have the writers read their stories aloud and ask KCPR to play the podcasts on air? Yes. Did I understand how time-consuming it would be to edit four hours of content from writers who cursed fluently every time they made an error in their reading? Absolutely not. Still, the stories were incredible, and I think the oral storytelling element brought an appropriate feel to the holiday-themed issue.

9. Deciding to challenge the local art scene by staging flash mobs before flash mobs were cool. Which translated into a vague protest–we were not gonna take “it” anymore, “it” was very preposterous, a fake runaway bride downtown, briefcase swapping, and singing Journey through the streets of downtown SLO.

10. But before there were flash mobs, before there were unicorns, before there were boats in the pool at Elks Lodge, there were dead artists. Technically, living artists who pretended to be dead while Steve E. Miller and I photographed them. It was the summer of 2008, and I spent that summer hauling a bathtub out into the middle of Soda Lake, stringing up a ballerina in a cemetery (noose and all), electrocuting a musician, poisoning an actor, and more. This is where I got my feet wet–which is funny, because it’s one of the few projects that didn’t involve a near-drowning on my part–where I learned that the community is eager to play, eager to yield costumes and conspirators and venues. It was an incredible summer.












  1. You have such a cool job! The dead artists were my favorite too.

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