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

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THE LOVE SHACK

 

By this time, I'd been gone from New York for nearly nine months and my money was almost gone. I still had the Trusty blue Torino but for the first and only time, couldn't afford to insure it so that I was cautious about how and where I used it. But I was rescued by Kristin's younger sister, Lenor, who had married into the Krome family of Homestead a couple of years before and who was, and still is, a good friend of mine. The Kromes were one of the largest landowners down in that part of South Florida. In fact, the main drag going down into Homestead from Miami bears their name. The family owned and cultivated many acres of prime avocado and citrus groves there. It was always a great treat to be able to go down there and gorge myself on oranges, pomelos and tangelos. They also owned various houses down there too so that the family could live all around and keep a close eye on the groves. Until recently, Lenor and Will had lived in the little shack which sat not far from Krome Avenue on the edge of Homestead amongst rows of avocado trees. But another Krome house had become vacant and they'd been able to climb up the family ladder a step, leaving their shack empty. They offered it to me and I jumped at the chance of another dose of that "timeless" life that I loved so much. I don't remember why I gave it the name of the Love Shack, perhaps because I loved it so much, perhaps because Lenor and Will had always been so happy there, perhaps because it seemed like it would be a perfect love nest for two. Unfortunately I never got to try that last idea out although I did have a lovely time there.

Originally, the shack had been built for the black workers on the estate and indeed it looked like something out of "The Colour Purple" or maybe it was the original "Uncle Tom's Cabin". In fact it was so primitive and simple that the kitchen didn't even have a back wall and was wide open to the avocado trees behind. Will had torn the back wall off ages before when he'd planned an extension and somehow never got around to putting it back again. You know how laid-back those Florida boys are and his Dad did keep him awfully busy. But I never minded that the refrigerator hung out over the edge of the cabin's floor and I loved the backdrop of trees and blue sky. Besides it was always warm in Florida and it made the cramped little kitchen seem big and boundless. The Love Shack had four small rooms and a little porch on one end which made a perfect batik studio. There wasn't much in it either, a refrigerator, a bed, a couple of chairs and Will's enormous pile of girlie magazines, Nugget, Cavalier and Dude (home of the D cup). There was a battered waterbed out under a huge mango tree and a banana palm growing by the side of the shack. I loved living there and was ecstatic when I got a call from New York asking me to get another show together for that November. So I had a clear reason for staying on there and going back to work. Money was a major problem and all I had left had to go on batik supplies. But, hey, the sixteen varieties of avocados were in season and so were the limes. What more could a poor boy want? So I literally lived on avocados and avocados, ate avocado salad and guacamole and even experimented with avocado soup. Incidentally, don't try it, it's terribly oily and tastes pretty strange. But I got by although I did lose a lot of weight in the process and didn't have much to lose to begin with. Actually, only in the last year or so have I been able to look an avocado in the eye so to speak and been able to eat and enjoy them again. So I spent most of the next three months in virtual seclusion down there, did a lot of new batiks, went out running in the groves at sunset every night and ate more avocados. The light in the groves was golden and seemed to be reflected off every surface of every tree and leaf. Every plane seemed to be fragmented into many different tones and I experimented with a more impressionistic look in my work as a result.

Both Bruce and Peter One came down to visit me there and I batiked the former's portrait while I was down there, a painting which I still consider one of my best portraits. Bruce was looking particularly wasted during that period and I called the piece "That's Bible Facks" after an ancient crude notice tacked up on one of the nearby sheds. It said, " Christ is my salvation. Whom should I fear. Jesus is a rock in a weary land. A Shelter in the time of Storm. Jesus Wept. John. Th. 11-35 . That's Bible Facks". I couldn't argue much with that although someone else had written "Texaco Gas No. 742 8358" across the sign. I eventually gave the portrait to Bruce's mother who still hangs it downstairs in the timeless Den in Larchmont. And I did a new series of Florida landscapes in those three months all of which I showed in New York eventually. The Krome family had a wonderful greenhouse full of different kinds of orchids and I spent days inside it drawing flowers.

My own favourite piece from that series is called "In the Valley of the Golden Orb Spiders", a very loose impressionist batik drawn originally in one of the long avenues of trees at sunset. As the sun slipped lower down, the huge spiders ran out into the center of their webs and were silhouetted against the soft peach-coloured light at the end of the day. As I sprinted by on my early evening run, I would have to duck to avoid getting their webs in my face and hair and becoming another victim of these ferocious looking insects. The banana palm by the shack fascinated me too. The tree produced only one enormous bright red bloom which hung down on a thick stalk looking quite sexual in its shape and obvious potency and from that one flower came a great bunch of bananas. I ate them all as a break from avocados before I left. I'd see Will and Lenor quite often and made a few trips up to Coconut Grove to see Kay and Carlos. But mostly I stayed down south in the Groves and just worked every day during this period. Happy Days!

 

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