The first session of Dr. Sketchy's Anti Art-School we'd ever attended, Lindz and I arrived late though fortunately seats were still available. Back then Dr. Sketchy hadn’t settled in at the Wallflower yet, and had a temporary home in a small stage theater off Ontario. I had a sketchbook for each of us and ample pencils in my satchel.
We were given reduced admittance prices at the entry, free actually if I recall correctly since I wanted to purchase beer, and soon with two cooler cold cans of something cheap and local in hand I followed Lindz into the auditorium where the next pose was being introduced.
Shary Contrary, the staple MC of the local proceedings, had short black hair plastered to her head in C curled waves and with her attire, she reminded me fiercely of Liza Minnelli in Cabaret. She ruled the roost from one corner, while a small two piece band, a woman and a male keyboardist not unlike Timbuk 3, took up the opposite side of the ground level stage, the sort of uniformly matte black painted pit the rows of crushed velvet upholstered seats all looked down into. In the middle, a woman with a vintage hairdo and black corset and lace affair, next to her a male model with a thong that culminated in a mighty red velvet bow over his package from which dangled a pair of small brass bells on eight inch red velvet strands.
The theme of the evening was Noir. As we were late we warmed up through a five minute pose, then an intermission was called affording us time to properly settle in, rubberneck at some of the other drawings people around us had done. I recall feeling impressed and a bit humbled by a couple of the young Asian-Canadian art students in the row behind us, a guy with talent and a young woman with more, they were getting sketches done and coloring them up with water colors inside that short period of time, really impressive. Interesting too how small their drawings were, fitting well within a five inch by five inch square were I to have cute one out from mat board and laid it over their clipboards and stack of 8.5 x 11 inch paper, likely stock liberated from the office copier wherever they go to school or happen to work. What I used to do, too, liberating paper since sketchbooks cost so much.
The small, detailed and painted drawings remind me of a criticism I received once as a kid from the shrink my folks sent me too to help attempt to resolve the anger management issues I had that’d likely arisen as fallout from a divorce I saw all too closely as a toddler. Shrink had tried to get me to play house with some dolls, then gave up since I just wanted to reenact Star Wars and compared to Kenner toys the dolls were pretty lame. Someone had told him I drew all the time, pretty much anywhere I could reach, really. He asked me to draw something and as I drew this tiny monster whatever in the corner of an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper he said I should try to draw to the edges of the page, or better, off and beyond the page. To imagine a life in the image that stretched beyond the page itself, like the page is only a window trying to frame a little bit of the overall. I had stared at him, probably somewhat slack jawed, as I had no idea what he was on about.
Then he said that drawing something so small showed a lack of confidence, a fear of criticism. Justified, I thought, since he seemed to be offering me nothing but judgmental criticisms that fine day. This guy might not have been a lot of help overall, but he was right about that. Draw to let things out, let the drawing fill with life and not be confined to the pages.
The screaming fits I’d been seeing him about eventually ceased, something of a sense of self awareness kicked in, or more appropriately a deep sense of persistent embarrassment and shame, and I decided to stop screaming, that I didn’t want to see that look of fear and panic in my Mom’s eyes and face anymore, and I remember crying and telling her I didn’t want to be bad anymore, in a car returning from some event in a community center or something, it was dusk, and to me this was some huge revelation, or commitment, one I kept. I don’t know what it was to her, but hopefully she got some rest after that. Being a father now, I never want to see Otis end up wired like I was. Or find the only solution to outbursts of inexplicable rage is to turn everything inward until you’re crippled by an ulcer halfway through seventh grade, berated by bullies and mocked for trying to please everyone even by the people you look up to or consider marginally friendly. And then I began drawing again, perhaps inspired from those Heavy Metal magazines I’d scored from an apathetic clerk in the Walden Books in the mall, the same one that sold me all those wonderful volumes of Choose Your Own Adventure. Drawing gave me the escape, a place to vent my frustrations, to create stories and ideas and musings enough to repel loneliness and build up a sense of self not completely cobbled together from social concessions or self-loathing and contempt. Art became my means to self validation, drawing chiefly, though also excursions into photography, writing, digital art, audio collages, and a myriad other bits and pieces through the years.
After the break, during which the band played a couple great original compositions, on our first ever evening attending a Dr. Sketchy’s, a contest of sorts came around to doodle or write something on a post it and put it on the back wall. I don’t recall what I or Lindz wrote, but did want to mention the contest because the post-it’s didn’t get carried on to the Wallflower version of the event.
The final drawing of the night, a fifteen minute pose, challenged everyone to try to capture the dynamic duo as Noir styled as possible. Looking around the room, I could only see a few people old enough or worldly enough to really know what actual Noir is or should resemble. I put my Frank Miller cap on and drew the couple as though watching them through their Brooklyn apartment window, lit by streetlights, room nothing but inky abyss behind them. After Shary Contrary called for pencils down as though we were taking out Biology finals, she asked everyone to hold up their pieces so that the models might pick the winner.
I actually won. The prize included some swag donated by a local arts magazine and a couple for a local fetish shop. The music CD compilation with the magazine is largely still on my iPod now, great stuff. Winning for something I actually did is also a great way to feel validated, I might add.
Once when I was in 5th grade I was with my biological father for the weekend and he took me along to a dance of some sort. Near the end of the evening the DJ announced a dance contest, not the sort with the flattened cardboard boxes and baggy pants, rather the sort that required partners and smooth, slow dance moves, the sorts the late 70’s were known for. Some girl roughly my age and size had been dragged to the dance in the shadow of her parents as well, we’d sized one another up and gone to opposite sides of the basement ballroom with a bay window view of the ninth hole on some Tennessee golf course. I didn’t think, just walked smooth as you please across the floor to her, and we danced. We didn’t win, we barely moved, just stood there trying to emulate the pose the adults were doing, though not having a clue what sorts of fires the adults were actually trying to kindle. After the dance, though we didn’t win, the DJ called us out and gave each of us a record. Sure, it was a consolation prize for the munchkins, regardless I was thrilled. She took her record and disappeared, I took mine and sat against the wall waiting for bio-Dad to take me home, record held to my chest like a stone tablet from the vinyl gods.
I didn’t play the record until bio-Dad returned me to my regularly scheduled home. I don’t recall the artist, but what I do recall is that the first track on the A side was a stirring, surprisingly non-disco rendition of Phantom of the Opera. I don’t know if I actually ever listened to the rest of side A, or ever bothered to brave side B. I just listened to the power of that number over and over, sometimes braving a self-hug slow dance to try to recall how dizzingly amazing that dance with a stranger had been, though mostly for getting a prize for it, albeit consolation.
While I followed Dr. Sketchy thereafter on Facebook, I didn’t attend another event until they moved to Wallflower. More on that tomorrow.