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

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FEAR AND LOATHING AT ALBERINI'S

 

Two weeks later, we were back in Ohio for the opening of my Batik Show at Alberini's Italian Family Restaurant. The restaurant turned out to be pretty impressive, absolutely huge and rather luxurious with a large banquet hall downstairs. Tom had put up my batiks on freestanding easels along the walls and in the center of the room. There was a very lavish bar and buffet and we arrived feeling a little self-consciously over-dressed. A pianist had been hired to play jazz tunes all day, which I thought was a great touch. I must admit that the work looked fabulous, all individually framed and under glass. On Tom's instructions, I had brought a slide projector and a carousel of slides of my earlier work, which we set up in a darkened alcove to the side. But I was surprised when Tom showed up a little later with a whole group of his friends, six or seven of them, all dressed in conservative matching pinstripe suits and wearing English brogue shoes. He introduced them as his "Sales Team" and although they were all extremely pleasant and friendly, my instincts told me that these guys didn't know a Picasso from a Michelangelo. Indeed they might even have thought both artists to be types of Sicilian spaghetti. I wasn't at all sure that any of this was going to further my career in any way. The sales team shuffled off into the back room and reemerged a bit later looking noticeably more alert and animated. Pretty soon they were spread out across the room greeting the first arrivals. Tom had run large advertisements in the local paper using my old Florida "Artist with Ear" self-portrait as the illustration. On the first day, a lot of people passed through the show and Tom made a couple of sales. His team of salesmen kept disappearing into the back room and their spirits and energy stayed high although their art selling abilities and techniques were questionable. One gentleman ran the projector all afternoon and delivered a nonstop lecture on my batik. I overheard him telling potential customers that Batik was an ancient art originating in Egypt and that Cleopatra had been famous for her collection of batiked snakes. Another time he told his audience how I had learned my art from a famous Indian guru in Katmandu and that it was a secret technique handed down over the centuries by Yoga masters to their initiates. Nobody seemed fazed by all of this nonsense and apparently accepted it all as gospel truth. But I began to wonder exactly who and what I had inadvertently become involved with. As the evening of the first day wore on and as I played my role as the "Greatest Batik Artist in the World" which is how Tom was promoting me, the sales team became more and more garrulous. They all seemed to be developing severe head colds, judging by the amount of sniffing and snuffling and nose blowing that was going on.

 

The following day went like the first. Tom's team was noticeably subdued when they first arrived and appeared to be nursing severe hangovers. But their energy picked up again at the same time as their head colds seemed to return. It was a generally mystifying weekend although a few good sales were made. I put it all down to my lack of familiarity with the inhabitants of deepest Ohio. For although I had spent time in Wichita and Chicago, Id heard it said that the archetypal Mid-Westerners, the quintessential American Public, were to be found in Ohio. Tom and his team were never less than incredibly polite, thoughtful and helpful but were at the same time unworldly and even a little alien. They tried to sell my work in the same way that they might have sold shoes or cars or candy bars. The Oaktree Gallery ultimately turned out to be a complete dead end for me, both artistically and professionally but I wasn't to discover that for another year. Tom still had plans to open his gallery and was sure that there was a big market for my work in Ohio. So I decided to hang in with him for a bit longer. Catherine and I, feeling rather burnt out from a long weekend of rich Italian food and high-octane Ohio air and energy, drove back down the now familiar highway to our little schoolhouse in the mountains.

Catherine finished her year as a Vista Volunteer at the Family Refuge Center at the start of July and we both felt that we badly needed a change of pace and of locale. In many ways, we felt that we lead a wonderful life in Pocahontas County. We had lots of good friends, life was relatively simple and this was a healthy and beautiful place to live. But I was becoming increasingly aware that I felt terribly cut off living there. Of course life was always a trade-off, but I felt very isolated as an artist living in that community and very remote from any kind of art market. I knew that I needed cultural and intellectual stimulation of a kind that I wasn't getting in Hillsboro and that the big outside world was beckoning to me again.

After Catherine's last day of work, she drove back up the mountain highway for the last time, a road which she knew intimately having made the trip hundreds of times. As she drove out of Renick, a car came straight out of a side drive and hit her Subaru in the side. Catherine was fortunately more annoyed than hurt. But the mishap reinforced her feeling that it was time to move on and that, having had a string of minor accidents, she would have to really focus on her driving in the future. It seemed like she always had crashes just before she was about to make a move though I've never figured out the significance of that. She's normally such a deeply grounded person so perhaps moving makes her lose her focus temporarily.

Both my parents had been telephoning me often, urging me to come back to England to visit them. I wasn't drawn to England particularly but I hadn't seen any of my family for eleven years at this point, both my parents were elderly and my father had already fought one bout of colon cancer. It seemed like the moment to make a trip to Europe. Perhaps we could go to Ibiza too, for in some sense the island had always felt like my home. I still had friends there, both Phillip and Bruce would be around that summer and I wanted to show it all to Catherine.

So we scraped together all the money we could and packed up the schoolhouse for an indefinite period. I gave the stereo to Carol, boxed up the music and stashed it over in the Gesundheit big barn. I hoped that the mice who would undoubtedly move into the house as soon as we moved out, wouldn't be too destructive. One day we made the rounds of all our circle of West Virginia friends and said fond good-byes. Then we drove over to Catherine's parents in Bath County, Virginia where we would stay a few days before flying to London. I remember that we spent a lovely afternoon at Goshen Pass with Bernadette and her two boys who came over for the day, swimming in the river and dropping down the little waterfalls from one pool to another.

 

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