November 8, 2012

Assemblage With Soup Can

“You need to understand that if you open yourself, you can understand what’s going on in the art world today!”

He’s leaning into the girl. She’s clutching the hand of her little boy, who is looking up at the shabby man waving an old soup can. The top has been pried open and I can see the rust.

“An artist like me can take this thing, garbage to most people, and create a self-expressive statement that will resonate in the modern world! I just came from my opening, just now; they gave me a show and you could take your kid and see my assemblages so you can understa–”

She moves her kid around behind her thigh. The waitress uniform isn’t protecting her legs from the November night.

“I’ve worked all day; we just want to get home, okay?” she says. “Maybe we can see your art some other time.”

There’s only two kinds of artists in my town. Spoiled society dilettantes who’ve never worried over a bill, and “Outsiders.” Like Harvey over there. They actually call them “Outsiders.” Nuts that scavenge and then corner you at openings while they dribble crumbs down the front of a musty old blazer that fits them weird.

The socialites love that crap. They love to give those kooks attention. Ever notice as soon as it became bad form to tour asylums, society discovered “Outsider Art”? Please.

They smirk and nibble and sip and nod and just encourage these freaks. Half the time they’re “discovered” because the psychiatrist is friends with the gallery owner. It’s like they’re passing them around. And the dilettantes all have a good time and the guy gets to parade around explaining his oeuvre to strangers who would lock their car doors if they saw him in a crosswalk. Then they toss that cashmere wrap over their shoulder and their doctor husbands open the door and they are driven to a house behind thick walls.

Right now they’re home already, with jazz playing and they can’t remember Harvey’s name.

The owner said she’d look at my work if I brought it in today. I’ve been studying anatomy since I was twelve. I can actually really draw. Hands, feet, muscle and tendon, ligament and bone. More than some could say.

I dressed professional and had just got my case unzipped when her assistant looked in and said “Mr. Buckwalter’s here.”


“Harvey.” Still no recognition.

“You know,” she whispered, giving her boss a look. “Hambone.”

She just left me there with my drawings unseen. I peeked out and saw this bum dragging a grocery cart filled with scrap metal through the doorway. I knew it was over, and I zipped up my case and left.

I came back later, to see his show. I ate crackers and drank wine but no one talked to me.

So now the society people have all went home. The gallery’s locked up and here we are, two outsiders at a bus stop, and one of us is scaring a girl and her kid.

“With just this can, I’ll show you where Art begins.”

The jagged lid is under the girl’s nose. The bus arrives, she hustles her kid on board and Harvey is without an audience.

“I wanna know where Art begins,” I say, stepping out of the shadow. I reach out. “Let me see that.”

Eager, he hands me the can. He leans into me, making a circle with his finger in the air around the can’s mouth.

“Here’s where it’s at, man. It looks like it’s all empty and nothing, but right there, in that emptiness, you can discover all that art has to say, if you just open yourself.”

And at that, I jammed the ragged lid into the soft place below his earlobe and yanked forward until I saw the spray from under his shocked and suddenly quiet mouth. And now that he was really open to it, he had quite a large statement to make.

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