When I was 30 years old, living in a bachelor apartment in Ottawa, and living alone for the very first time, I bought art.
I had no business buying art at that time. I had started my first full-time job after withdrawing from my master’s program in German language and linguistics. I had close to $20,000 in student loans to repay. Yet this wasn’t a thoughtless or nonchalant purchase.
I was in Toronto on business at the head office of Pink Triangle Press. There was a showing of Steve Walker’s work at a local gallery. Images of Steve’s work were popping up all over, in posters for events, for a book jacket cover, and he was getting media coverage. Steve was an out gay artist who celebrated the male form, and gay male intimacy. His work had a psuedo Norman Rockwell feel.
The walls were covered with paintings from many very good Canadian artists, most of which were large canvases. It was a bit overwhelming at first because there was so much art to look at. Steve’s canvases were primarily 36 x 48", large enough to draw the viewer’s eye completely into the story.
It was a fantastic show. Steve had a way of telling a story that captured an important emotional moment in time. When he painted a face that face didn’t looked at you directly. It was the side of a man’s face. It was a man’s eyes looking into the eyes of another man. It was a man sleeping on a bed, eyes closed with the arm of another man draped across his chest. Every painting carefully told the story of a moment that came before. Each story told of a gay experience in a loving, unhidden, and unique way.
As I reached the back of the gallery I saw the door to a small office. I wasn’t sure if I could go in so I asked the curator if it was okay. There were canvases everywhere, some resting on the floor, two or three deep. There were so many paintings on the wall you could barely see the space between them.
I walked behind the office desk and then I saw it.
I began to shake.
My knees felt weak and wobbled.
I began to feel warm and almost faint.
I’m not sure how long I stood there as I fell into the vortex of that painting’s story; my own story.
When I left the gallery, the -20°C February afternoon air shook me from my altered state.
I didn’t know what to do. I called a close friend who was a retired professor and art collector, and relayed my experience and the price of the painting. He told me that I probably needed to do this and I’d find a way to afford it.
The next day I went back to the gallery. Steve Walker was there and I had the chance to speak with him for almost half an hour. I arranged for a payment plan with the gallery owner. While he was writing up the documents he invited me to drink some wine and spend the night on his boat in the Toronto harbour. He was the classic dirty old man. The thought that went through my head was, “If you offer me at least a $500 discount I will say yes.” A discount never transpired. When I told this story to a friend in Ottawa, with his best “female vixon” persona he said, “Dahlink! I am so proud of you! You would have whored yourself for art!”
“Starting Over… Again.”
I’ve always felt the context and name of the painting spoke to me at that time in my life. I was 30 years old and living on my own for the very first time. I had painted my space and made it my own. It was a significant year in my life for the losses that had preceded it. I withdrew from from my Master’s and ended an almost 5 year relationship with my partner. I was starting anew.
The single man sitting on the floor, alone, his back to the viewer, reflecting on the efforts of painting his space. Covering up the old with colours of new possibilities.
The Flex Your Mind Project
Mark Whitehand invited me to play and take part in “The 30 Things About Me Experiment.”