Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Painter

In the mid 1980’s I kind of became friends with a painter who lived across the street from me. Before I knew Brad I would see him moving about his spacious loft at night getting ready for one of his candlelight dinner parties. His large front windows were curtain less and so were mine and I would watch in the dark smoking a cigarette as he and one or two of his acolytes scurried around putting the final touches on his evening. From my window I could see Brad unfold the very white table cloth which he would flutter in the air and softly lay over the large piece of plywood that rested on two saw horses that served as his dinner table. The candles would be lit and the plates and silverware I would later learn were old family heirlooms that he had shipped from his family home in Wisconsin were placed on the table. The silverware when I finally held one in my hands were heavy and decorative. Nothing like anything I had ever used in my childhood. He threw these dinners quite often for his many friends and acquaintances, many of who were well off and mostly gay. Brad would ply them with his food, wine and happy chatter with the hopes that they would either buy one of his canvases of beautiful Arian looking nude young men and sexy athletes, or commission him to have their portraits (fully clothed) painted. Brad was big and muscular from his 3 day a week workout at the gym and was good-looking in a goofy Midwestern sort of way. He was tall and when I met him he sported a small neat closely trimmed beard. I would see him around in the neighborhood and I always found him very sexy and attractive but was much too shy ever to say hello or even nod to him. I would also see him at the Chelsea Gym where I worked out and finally I spoke to him. He knew that I was also an artist and in fact had seen some of my exhibitions, but had no idea that I lived directly across the street from him, and had in fact been spying on him for many months. He invited me to dinner soon after and I finally found myself in the interior that I had seen only from my front windows. It was an odd feeling to finally be in the entire space that I had only seen parts of from my window all those months and I felt that I had been in it before. It was a few days later when I realized that I had indeed seen his loft before I ever entered it. It was used as a set for a young independent filmmaker’s first film, which I had seen on video a few weeks before. At dinner that night there was the table with the white white table cloth and his family silverware and plates all beautifully and perfectly set. The loft itself was rather sparse and not as large as I had thought. The guests were fun, some naughty handsome young gay men and several actors and actresses from one of the off Broadway troupes that Brad sometimes did the sets and costumes for. It was a nice evening full of wine and pot and the food wasn’t bad either. I had the feeling that Brad had a few set menus, which he always served as it was easier and he didn’t have to fuss and take time away from his painting. I was the opposite in the sense that I would fuss and worry over what I would make for my dinner parties which thankfully were far and few between since me and M had gone our own ways. M was the cook in the family, and I was the dishwasher but now I had to do both tasks and would have friends over for dinner very rarely. But Brad was the perfect if well rehearsed host and it was nice just to fall out of his loft into my own when I had enough of gay gossip and chatter. Brad’s paintings were well done, and he certainly knew his stuff in terms of technique, but they were cold, dead and very homosexual so his work would never be accepted by the mainstream New York Art World. There would be no Whitney Biennials for him. He and his work filled a certain nitch and I suppose he was content that he was a darling of a segment of the gay New York art and social scene even if it was at best peripheral. . It was of course possible to be gay and be accepted in the mainstream, in fact some of the most important post war artists were gay, and many contemporary artists were also gay, successful and accepted. But Brad’s work was not political, angry or aware in the sense that a Wojnarowicz was, nor was it as shocking and in your face as Mapplethorpe’s, it was just homosexual. His models were mostly hustlers and porn stars that he would paint with their best foot so to speak forward. It was said that when his well to do conservative parents found out that their youngest son was a fairy they told him he would have to leave. They would support him by sending him a handsome check each month but he was on his own, and they did not want to see him again. Harsh stuff, but Brad I guess took it well enough as he happily left the cold winter atmosphere of Wisconsin and headed on down to New York City. He enrolled at the Art Students League and supplemented his monthly family stipend by hustling. He of course was no midnight cowboy having a rather exclusive, small and regular cliental that included some mighty famous homos including a very famous playwright who was sadly pretty much finished in the American Theatre since his last few plays were minor flops, and he had developed a major writer’s block. He liked Brad because he was gentle and kind to him and Brad would show off to his friends the original manuscripts that he said the playwright had given him for the many happy hours he had supplied. There were some that said that Brad simply lifted the manuscripts. I didn’t know or really care which story was true. Brad’s lovers were generally of the working class, waiters & construction workers, cute silent and usually dumb, happy just to be around the artist and his many fascinating and attractive friends. But of late he had taken up with a young internist who quickly moved in with him and was only too happy to support him in the many ways that a person like Brad needed. Personally I found Tim to be very obnoxious and difficult to be around. Actually I couldn’t stand him. He was way too opinioned in areas that he nothing about was politically conservative and was argumentative on top of it all. I was not alone in my dislike of him. Every year Brad would throw two big holiday bashes one at Thanksgiving he which he would invite all his “orphans” and his Christmas party. One year I went to both, feeling totally out of place and uncomfortable. At Thanksgiving he would have two or three big fat Turkey’s with all the trimmings loaded down on the big plywood table. His loft was packed with gay men of all types in their flannel shirts and tight dungarees eating buffet style. For his Christmas bash you would have to bring a hand made decoration to be hung on his very large tree that took center stage in the loft. He would not use any lights on the damn thing, so you couldn’t really make out any of the ornaments that his friends had made and now hung there mostly unnoticed. My problems with Brad began when he started to incorporate swastikas into the decorative borders surrounding some of his paintings. His work was already Germanic and Arian in nature (these were works that Hitler would have had no problem in liking) and this new additional touch was downright shocking. I didn’t know what to think, Was he making a political statement, was he being funny. In any case I sat him down one day in his studio and tried to explain to him that as a Jew I found this new addition to his work very upsetting. “Brad there is not one Jewish person who would not be upset by seeing the swastika, and here you are using it in your paintings what the fuck are you doing”? He had no answer and only said I was being too sensitive. Others were reacting in the same way I was. Then as if to get back at me he would tease me about being Jewish and make anti-semitic jokes and statements. Of course I would freak and get into ugly scenes with him and his horrorible boyfriend. I didn’t understand why he was doing this. Was he joking? Did he think he was being funny. The last time he pulled this was at a mutual friend’s house over dinner and I just told him to go fuck himself and left the table and the dinner and went home. That was at least 10 years ago and I haven’t seen or spoken to him since. I sometimes see him in Chelsea on the way to the gym, but I look the other way.


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