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BATIK ART BY JONATHAN S. EVANS
Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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LIFE'S A BEACH ON WHICH WE LIE

 

The house had quite a history, not all of it strictly honourable. Since the early Seventies, Margie had had a semi-open house policy there. This had attracted such celebrities as Richard Neville, the Australian publisher of "Oz" who'd been busted for his subversive ideas back in the Sixties, Julie Christie the actress had stayed there and during the '72 political convention, luminaries like Jack Nicholson, Abbie Hoffman and Tom Forcade, the founder of High Times magazine, stayed at Margie's. It had apparently also been the home for various drug dealers at different times and there was a story that five kilos of Lebanese hashish were buried or hidden somewhere on the property, although I suspected that to be a mythical stash. When Margie's interests strayed towards the East, the house had become a center for local Buddhists who had chanted there every night. Now with Margie en route to London, there was only one very low -profiled Buddhist left at the house and although I had showed up rather late on in the story, I was pretty much placed in charge. The whole property was surrounded by a high wall and the house had a long, high-ceilinged living room with a big open fireplace and lovely big windows. There was a high central tower with more bedrooms and the kitchen opened out into a dining room which itself lead via a rainbow-painted arch to the long swimming pool. The garden went on down to a wharf and the water and there was a million dollar view of the Bay and Miami on the other side of it. The retiring Buddhist, Mike, had a room beyond the kitchen and I only ever seemed to see him at night when he 'd come out to raid the refrigerator. My room was slightly apart from the main body of the house with a private entrance through a small side garden by the front gate. I loved the house and enjoyed the responsibility of keeping it together. I set up a nice little batik studio in the greenhouse round the back. My studio was open and without a roof and every day around four o'clock it would suddenly rain like crazy and I'd have to run for cover. I think I was soon famous as being the only person who had come to live at the house and had actually done any work there. After a lay-off of several months I was anxious to get back to my batik. I started on a self-portrait straight away, working from an idea that I'd had for ages. Americans were always telling me that I looked just like Vincent Van Gogh, although I couldn't see the resemblance myself and wondered if all artists looked like Vincent to Americans. So my portrait was called "Portrait of the Artist with Ear" in an attempt to debunk such ideas and it came out really well. I've since got a lot of mileage out of the piece. I showed it in Germany one year and had postcards made of it. And the piece has been used to advertise shows for me from California to Bali and finally ended up as a birthday present for my mother where it now hangs in her spare bedroom. When I stayed at her house in Hastings down on the south coast of England last year, the batik hung on the wall facing my bed with a look that was so intense and so disconcerting that I had to take it down and turn it towards the wall before I could get any sleep. I remember doing a batik of the Bay at sunset through the Arch leading out to the pool because I was struck by the deco tones, pink and mauve, that the sun reflected off the water. Margie's house proved to be a very good space for me to live and work for a few months.

One morning, a big rusty tugboat pulled in and moored at the wharf and I met the Smith family and crew who were old friends of Margie's. Latham was the father of the family and the designer, builder and captain of the 60 foot boat. He was a Harvard graduate who had forsaken the world of business for the sea. His wife, Elsbeth, had long hair, long skirts and played a mean piano. Their daughters had been brought up on the boat, were schooled on the boat and played other instruments so that the boat had its own small orchestra or could at least boast of a hot quartet. Frank, a strong, silent, charismatically handsome fellow was the mate and a young sailor, Jack, could be seen sitting up in the beer keg look-out post up the mast. Marlon, the final crewmember, was a rastafarian from St Kitts who shared my love of good reggae music. They were a happy carefree group and very good company while they were around.

And so I passed that summer, working in my greenhouse and meeting new people who dropped in unannounced pretty often. Once such new friend was Pamela. I remember that I had a staph infection and a sore on my shoulder which was bothering me quite a bit. I had gone to bed rather early that night. I was suddenly, sleepily awoken by the realization that someone was climbing into my bed with me. I switched on the light and to my amazement found that I was sharing the bed with a small, dark woman who reminded me very much of Marie Luz in appearance. I think that she as was surprised and confused as I was but managed to introduce herself as Pamela without getting out of the bed. She was an old and close friend of Margie's who often used to stop over at the house if she found herself in Miami Beach late at night. She had just come from a nearby party and, feeling a little out of it, had decided to crash in the bed that was normally left empty for such transients as herself. Pamela made no effort to extricate herself from this embarrassing situation. Rather she lay there, smiled at me and said "How awful! Perhaps we'd should get better acquainted". Which we did, for both her resemblance to Marie Luz and the present situation were irresistible and I had been without a lover for a long time. Our little affair only lasted for a couple of weeks. Pamela (coincidentally) was a spiritual follower of Bhagwan, the Indian guru who was so popular in America at that time and was on her way to visit his ashram in Poona the following month. I think that she knew better than to get emotionally involved at that particular time in her life but it was a minor wrench for me to be pushed away so quickly. I was very attracted to her and I enjoyed being around her a lot. So Pamela went off to Poona but will show up again later in my story.

And then suddenly Margie's house was sold and we all had to leave. Her father, who perhaps held the purse strings and who strongly disapproved of all these freeloaders living on his daughter's property, had secretly negotiated with a developer and made a quick deal on the house. Margie had decided to settle in Europe and couldn't care less about the house. Probably she had fallen in love over there, I realize, but she came back to pack up and take part in the big yard sale that we had.

A friendly journalist wrote a lead article which was published in the Miami Herald Colour Section all about Margie, her house and its unusual inhabitants which had a whole paragraph about me and my work there. My great Spanish friends Josep and Angela showed up from Barcelona at the last minute and so did the tug boat family. On the last night before the house papers were signed and we all had to leave, there were twenty three people staying at the house and I expect that people from all over the world will continue to turn up there for years to come.

Margie was unique among the rich for although one could easily say that she could afford to throw her doors open to all and sundry and that two -or twenty three- more guests for dinner might not ultimately break the bank, my experience of the very rich is that they generally get rich by hanging onto their money. Margie was a special kind of person and I'm sorry that she's not around any more. All of us moved on too, the tugboat chugged off to the islands in search of more work and other wharves to dock at, the freeloaders took off after new beds and new bulging refrigerators and the Buddhists took to chanting somewhere else. I too had a new home lined up and I remember that Josep and Angela helped me move my few possessions in their shiny new rented Pontiac.

 

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