The Third I

Words and Images by Marshall Arisman

Checking the Oil

Milton, as most of us do, lived in the space between angels and demons.  Some days he was himself and other days he was not himself.  The people in his Brooklyn neighborhood tell his tales without restraint.  The mere mention of Milton’s name can send the neighbors rolling on the ground with howls of laughter.

After years of surviving Milton’s abuse his wife was told of her husband’s amorous adventures with her four sisters. 

 Each week, while filling up the gas tank, Milton’s wifebought an extra quart of motor oil from the local gas station.  By the end of the month she gathered her stockpile, boiled it on the stove and poured it over Milton’s genitals while he slept.

 Six years later, upon her release from prison, she returned to the neighborhood accompanied by thunderous applause.

The Scam

Two young African Americans, with helmets of corn rows and pants belted mid-thigh knocked on my studio door.  The frontman, the one with the tattooed birds that circled his neck did all the talking.

“Is this a P.R. Company?” he asked, peering over my shoulder and into the studio.  Pulling an iphone out of his pocket he showed me my name, address and room number.

“Right name and address,” I said, “but I am an artist not a company.”

I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when he pushed passed me and entered the studio uninvited.

“I like your paintings man, very cool,” he said turning towards me.  Moving towards the door he said, “Sorry to have bothered you.”

I asked where he got my name and address from.  “I typed it into my iphone before I knocked,” he said smiling.  “My buddy and I run a scan but only on guys in suits.”

The Goldmine

Thinking he had struck gold in his closet Richard called from L.A.  Over twenty years had passed since Richard had met Andy Warhol in N.Y.  Looking like he just stepped off a surfboard in Malibu Richard stood motionless as Andy began to draw on his white sweatshirt with a black sharpie at a party.  Starting on the back of the sweatshirt Andy drew a large vagina.  Moving clockwise he drew dripping penises on the arms and front.  Pleased with his masterpiece Warhol signed the drawing.

The sweatshirt ended up in a laundry bag and was passed around to family members for twenty years.

Opening an old gym bag in his closet Richard was convinced that he has discovered the motherload.

As a favor to Richard I took the sweatshirt to the Warhol Foundation in Soho, N.Y. to authenticate it.  The official announcement came weeks later.

Yes, it was Warhol’s drawing and signature.

No, it did not qualify as original art.

The sweatshirt was classified as a memento from Andy. 

The Done Deal

When money is involved the done-deal is usually half-baked.  I was asked to do a commercial for an investment company.

“You’re perfect,” the director said, “the commercial is about an artist who wants to invest his profits in the stock market.” 

 “There are no profits from making art,” I said.

 “This pays really well,” he said.

Arriving early at the film studio I was asked to take a seat with a long line of actors.  This was not a done deal.  I was here to audition.

“Did you bring a paint brush?” the director asked, handing me an artist’s palette.  Seated in the front of a horrible paintings of a cityscape, the ones you buy for nineteen dollars at the Starving Artist sale at the Marriott, I was asked to mix colors on the palette, paint on the painting and read the cue cards.

My hand froze, my mouth filled with marbles. I walked out.

“Prima Donna!” the director shouted to no one in particular. 

The Flip Side

Every time I see a wall or a closed door I wonder what’s behind it.  The same could be said about all surfaces that are not transparent.

I was reminded of this at an exhibition in the Rubin Museum titled Flip Side.  The exhibition featured the backs of Tibetan scroll paintings (Thangkas) dating from the 14th to the 19th century.

Many of the scrolls had hand prints (adult or child) on the back.  Like one hand clapping they were blessings.

Catalog in hand I entered the crowded subway back to my studio.  The man pressed up against me was leaning heavily against a large African American woman with two kids.  Agitated, she began to scream, turning her body.

“Now that you’ve felt the front – try feeling the back!”

He grabbed her ass.

She slapped hard him with her open hand.

The Opening Bid

“I would buy that painting over there if you change the background color to green instead of red,” he said, smugly.

 I looked over my shoulder at the portly man, the one in the three-piece suit that had been hawking me during the opening of my exhibition.

There seem to be several factors which determine how much money, if any, is to be paid for the ongoing activity of painting.  The rules which govern the price are flexible.  The rules, however, for work for hire, for collectors to indicate changes in a work of art, once completed was new territory for me.

“You don’t like red?” I said.

“I like green better,” he said.  “It’s the color of money.”

“I’ll pay cash.”

 Driven by a high, toxic level of alcohol content I took the high road.

“If I shoved the painting up your ass it would turn burn umber,” I said.

A Moment of Clarity

I have tried to understand the nature of my paintings by observing the people who look at them.

An ex-student with a long history of mental illness, heroin addiction and rehab came to my studio.

“I was high for almost twenty years,” he said walking around the studio and studying each painting intently.  “I’m like a child who never grew up.  Now that I’m clean I feel like I am seeing everything for the first time.”

He sat on my couch sipping black coffee and starting at the cement floor.  When I started to speak he motioned for me to stop by waving his hand.

After twenty minutes of awkward silence he jumped up saying “I have to go man, there is too much craziness in your paintings.”

A Touch of Evil

 

I have bumped into some sick bastards in my lifetime but none I would categorize as evil.

In the Middle Ages Jewish scholars rejected the belief of inherent evil in fallen angels and demons considering evil as simple the absence of good.

George sat next to me in the third grade.  During recess he demonstrated that by inserting a plastic straw up a frog’s anus the frog could then be blown up like a balloon.

George is now a retired veterinary nurse and has four grandchildren whom he adores.  Although he lives near a pond George has shown little interest in frogs for over fifty years.

The Sugar Cone

Last summer, during New York’s heat wave, I stopped at Pinkberry and bought a frozen yogurt in a sugar cone.  Sitting on the bench outside I opened my sketchpad.

A four year old, seated next to me with his mother, said “This is not ice cream!”  in a loud, shrill voice.  Eyeing my sugar cone he placed his container of yogurt onto the bench and turned towards me.

“I will do a drawing for some of your ice cream,” he said, looking at my sketchbook.

“Don’t give him any,” his mother said.

Despite his mother’s protest the boy managed to dip into my sugar cone with a plastic spoon and fill his mouth.

Smiling, he scribbled in my sketchpad before his mother grabbed his hand and jerked him off the bench.