December 24, 2005

Broken Bone and Chocolate Mountain

It was an unusually good night for drinking. I'm not a drinker (true) but I am not entirely unfamiliar with the state of intoxication. All the fellas were belly-up to the countertop -the magnificent seven of ChinaTown, each a soldier in the artworld -dudes all- guys working as if their lives depended on it. Grizzled vets well past the first tour.

A roll call:

Parker, the gallery director... a big guy in many ways who is unusually at ease in Vegas. Phil, a tough-as-nails painter who has no patience for poseurs in the studio -none get in. Joel, an artist who has mastered the widest definition of pan genre art, slewing with ease from painting to gallerist to publishing and beyond and back to painting again. Seth, a mystery man possessing superior street smarts and an utter lack of pretense, he came out of nowhere to collect emerging art at the highest level. Dan, a gallerist who has the courage to walk his own path -maybe it s because his grandfather was a figure we studied in art history. Bart, a painter who has the admiration and support of most of LA's artworld and yet he works as if he is hanging off a cliff by his fingernails. Henry, a painter who is too good to let his head swell when he was hailed as "...the best painter in LA..." as he was that night at the bar.

I've seen this kind of constellation before. And because it happens so rarely, I knew enough to savor the moment: the first crew on my ship when I was a (kid) sailor, a circle of young architects in undergraduate school, and now here in Los Angeles' ChinaTown. In a grandiose way, this has happened in history: Pericles' Athens, the Medeci's Florence. In a much smaller way (much, much, much smaller), I look for it in my life. I try to pay attention when it does.

(A gender note: I do, in fact, enjoy the company of the guys but not exclusively so. Call it a "guy thing" to savor the clap on the back and sharp exchange. Fellowship. It's called camaraderie, but even within and between each gender, there is a special type of comradeship specific to each gender combination. This is merely the specific circumstance of this particular story.)

The fellas were feeling good. Dan and Joel were ripping into each other, it was something about a deal they were arranging, a question of who was besting who. A stranger would think that they were at war but sometimes mutual affection is hard to detect. Thick skins were needed to get into the piste, thrust and parry without rest. A social lubrication that continuously lowers inhibition, toasts were hoisted repeatedly and drinks drained fast. The other guys would be hauled into the conversation to testify as witnesses, impromptu bemused referees.

I was still engaged with a painting in progress and I had promised myself that I would be out for one drink and back to the studio I would go. Henry arrived late and the bar roared to a higher energy level. He too planned to drink once and bounce back into the studio. He ordered a beer and Dan immediately bought him a shot of whisky, a subversive challenge. "Now Dan, you know I am a weak man." Henry said with a smile, and after a beat or two, he riffed into fierce scat talk, the only intelligible parts being: " know what I'm sayin'?" The bar was in fine form. I was just about finished with my Jameson on the rocks as I stepped back into the alley from the bar. It was time to evaluate my situation.

My cell phone rang.

Stephanie was at home. This week was packed with a series of parties from her workplace, a sure sign that her team was enjoying a special type of camaraderie of their own. But after two of four parties, it was time for her to settle down and stay put... before the fourth party hit. I had planned to sit the third party out myself... I like her workmates, sure enough... but my studio was hot and I some paintings to attend to. Stephanie is pretty cool about my monomaniacal studio habits, and we had preplanned separate evenings beforehand anyway. But still, "squandering" a night in the bar was expensive for the painting-in-progress... even if was much, much less so (or nearly non-existant) for my marital relationship.

I heard a ring.

I flipped open my cell.

Stephanie was crying! "Dennis! I'm hurt! , Oh, Dennis!, I'm hurt!"

Adrenaline gushed, I could feel my jugulars dilate, my eyes popped wide as a menu of possible disaster scenarios scrolled in my head. "Oh Baby, HOLD ON! I'm coming right now!" I don't remember what I did with the drink, I busted out running through the bar, headed for my scooter at the studio. Emotionally, I was cascading. Cell phone to my ear at full gallop, I asked her the basic questions. She told me what had happened through her sobs, but I couldn't understand her. It tore my heart out. I wanted to be with her instantly but I was at least fifteen minutes away. She said she had fallen, so at least it wasn't a break in and some foolishness with a ladron. "Are you bleeding?" She said no. Well, that route of first aid protocol was out of the picture. "Are your bones broken?" I couldn't tell how bad it was... she couldn't either. By this time I was at the door of my studio. It was time to get off the phone so I could mount the bike and race home.

"Hold on, I'll be there soon!"

Locks opened, I scrambled to my gear on, stuffing my bag so I could slam myself out onto the scooter. Jacket, bag, laptop, helmet. I tried to slow myself down, trying to remember to gather the important stuff. Another mental track paralleled. Where was the hospital? Clambering up the ladder to the loft, I forced myself to slow down, slaking the adrenaline off as best I could. We couldn't afford a second accident tonight. Door, locks, bike. I've had trouble with the bike recently, bad gasoline had clogged up the tiny injection ports in the little Taiwanese motor... this was no time to mess around with the kick start. I held that thought in check. Flying down Broadway, I repeatedly reminded myself to slow down as I broke traffic laws all along the way.

She had struggled up onto the bed when I had arrived. She was cradling her right arm and her right knee was blackened in a bruise. She told me she had fallen inside the house. Our floors are new and the heater grates were problematic, requiring a special fabrication that would take too much time. As Stephanie adjusted the dimmer switches near the front door, she stepped to the side to check out the lighting levels and her foot fit neatly into the opening cut into the hardwood floor. She fell vertically in a dead drop, her torso pivoting forward at the waist as her other leg behind her in the air like a Degas dancer. The only thing stopping her fall was her right arm. The muscles and ligaments that enable us to push against our stomach was the only muscle group that broke her fall... the strain pulled the lesser tubercle (?) off the humerus. Essentially, a small chunk of bone was pulled off her arm.

Stephanie and the model.

The lesser tubercle is the knob nearest the armpit. You can see the huge mass of ligament that latches onto the bone.

The break is hard to see in this angle. They had to shoot many angles to get the right shot.

You can see the tubercle flipped up in the guitar-pick-shaped bone at the top of this picture.

Kaiser emergency was not too bad. We got medical attention within 45 minutes and after two follow ups and several x-rays, surgery was scheduled for the middle of next week. The strategy is to reattach the tubercle to the humerus with either a screw or sutures. Physical therapy follows of course.

After the recent passing of our fathers, we've developed a skeptical view of our medical system. That frame of mind might keep us healthier than sheer blind trust. But so far, so good with our doctors (knocking on wood). I only wish we could get into surgery sooner than later.

Meanwhile, I get to learn the fine points of bathing protocol for ladies, blow drying hair, donning clothing, stuff like that.

Good stuff, actually.


And what of the painting in progress? Lucky for me that it was in the finishing touches stage.

I was thinking of a work on paper that I painted last year in Tossa.

It's not often that I scratch out a prepratory drawing. While I like to anticipate the approach to each painting, most times, hard thoughts of what I will encounter interfere with what I might discover along the way.

In this case, I was thinking of that work on paper, so figural it was ( and is). It was appealing to me to think of figures in blue somersaulting in the picture plane. I think of those old renaissance motifs of figure in battle. I remember when I was young, drawing something like sea gods in a melee, writhing in knee high water so appealing to a kid because all the hard to draw feet are concealed in the surf.

I thought of blue and how the color key of the painting could be dominated by that color. This, against the green of the previous painting and of the red/black of the one before.

I thought of my old navy days and how we used to train in full scale mock exercises, blue team and gold task forces trying to encircle one another within imaginary cartographic se/landscapes mapped over open ocean. These exercises are set up with elaborate back stories that mirror contemporary geopolitical struggles. One fictional landform stuck in my mind: Chocolate Mountain. Blue and gold forces in a tussle over Chocolate Mountain.

There it is folks, the full mental monte. Don't hold me to it though. It's a start, and that's all we need in the studio- a way to get it on.

And for all you abstraction purists out there grumbling about the representational imagery: relajate, hombres. I personally don't think that you can divorce one from the other anyway.


Posted by Dennis at December 24, 2005 6:10 AM

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