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, I’d 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.