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Friday, May 11, 2012

Portrait Of An A*#hole


I saw someone familiar in the obituaries today. It took me a while to place the face but it finally came to me. Years ago she came regularly into the jewelry store I managed at the local mall. She never bought anything, but she was a pleasant widow and I’d clean her jewelry. I’ve always been chatty and let it slip that, in addition to managing the store, I was an artist and my work could be seen around town.


One Saturday afternoon in 1989 she came into the store and said, “I was downtown yesterday at the Oregon Biennial. I saw your work.”


My illustrations were beginning to show up in local newspapers and magazines and people often told me they’d seen my work when I suspected they hadn’t. Usually when people claimed to have seen my art they said something nice. This lady did not say anything nice, and it was unlikely she’d seen my work at the Oregon Biennial because I hadn’t submitted anything.


“You’re an artist, aren’t you?” she asked. “Didn’t you tell me you painted?”


“Yes, I am.” I answered.


She scowled her disapproval at me.


“What did you think of the show?” I asked. “Did you see anything interesting?”


“Most of the work was too modern, but your picture was...quite revealing!”


The way she glared made me feel uncomfortable. I decided to dash to the art museum and check out what was hanging with my name on it.


The Oregon Biennial was an artsy-fartsy juried show designed to showcase intellectual experimentation every two years. The art selected didn’t reflect mainstream taste. One didn’t find well-staged landscapes and penetrating portraits. I wandered through the various rooms, one devoted to minimalism and another to nihilism; there was a room of non-objective paintings and another filled with constructivist sculpture that looked like kindergarten blocks. One by one I eliminated the rooms until I came to the last. I peeked inside and knew the instant I laid eyes on it that I’d found what I was looking for hanging on the far wall.


I approached cautiously, as if the picture were on loan from Chernobyl. Several art enthusiasts shushed me when I moaned, “Please dear God; don’t let it be this one!”


I approached a life-size charcoal drawing of a man vaguely resembling me. The figure was nude and drawn from behind, presenting his backside to the world. His head was tucked between his legs and he was leering at the viewer—a self-portrait…of the artist’s asshole. A nearby placard gave the artist’s name: Stephen Hayes.


I had no right to be enraged, but I was. If this artist had been standing beside his picture I’d have kicked him in the pucker chute he’d drawn so well. I felt like I’d been robbed of my dignity, along with my name. With several different ways to spell “Stephen,” why couldn’t this guy have spelled his name differently? In addition to feeling angry, I burned with shame because another Stephen Hayes was having the artistic success that so far had eluded me. I took this as a wake-up call that I’d better get moving before yet another Stephen Hayes crawled out of the woodwork. I was the one who needed a swift kick in the butt.


Eventually, I quit retail and launched my career as a professional illustrator. I did moderately well for myself, as did the other Stephen Hayes whose reputation as a figurative painter continued to grow. One day I received an invitation to join the faculty of one of the most prestigious art schools in the Northwest. I suspected they’d sent the invitation to the wrong guy, which is what I told the hiring committee during my interview. They thought I was quirky and wanted more money. My reluctance to sign a contract goaded them into wanting me even more. They raised their offer and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I finally accepted. For eight years my fellow faculty members believed I was the other Stephen Hayes.


Not bad for an asshole.

29 comments:

  1. So at least he made up for it in a way. You wouldn't be where you are today without that asshole.

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  2. The other Stephen Hayes owed you one for having the old lady think you had painted your asshole.

    There are times that having a very unique name (not the Cheryl part but the surname part) has been a pain. No one gets it right...ever..never but I guess having a confusion of names esp. in the same profession would be worse. Thank God the other Stephen Hayes didn't turn out to be a serial killer or something.

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  3. So funny that "sweet little old lady" chose to bring it up and show her disgust. Hopefully you were able to correct the misunderstanding with her. How mortifying! :) And holy cow! Why would someone paint that?

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  4. Another great Stephen Hayes tail ... I mean tale.

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  5. Hilarious!! I guess the moral of this story here is if someone fake paints your butt.... reap the spoils!!

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  6. Be glad the other Stephen didn't put a face with that butt. Then they would have KNOWN you weren't the mystery asshole and you might still be managing a mall jewelry store. :)

    S

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  7. A terrific story! Being the butt of someone's disgust is never fun, but at least you squeezed something good from the other fellow's identity. Did you get to clear things up with the elderly lady?

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  8. Now that's a funny story, on so many levels. Especially to anyone who's worked in academia for years and years.

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  9. Oh, my. Is there a successful Janie Goltz out there so I can pretend to be her?

    Love,
    Janie Lola

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  10. I can't top Sightings comment!

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  11. I can't stop laughing from this story. I somehow imagine you screaming your name in rage at the exhibit. There might have been thunder somewhere, probably for dramatic effect. Now If only I could do with my writing the same thing you did with your art, I would no longer have a need for retail.

    Either way, this was a truly funny story.

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  12. Good show, Stephen. I mean on the story, not on the art.

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  13. And my Sweetie brags about how, when he was younger, he could take the place of his twin brother and fool them for an hour or two!

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  14. Too funny. So, um, are you famous now?

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  15. Life is full of ironies. Who would have thought that a portrait as such would be your "gold mine"?!

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  16. Too funny! So...did you ever seek out to meet the other Stephen Hayes?

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  17. Um. My first thought, no joke, was Holy Crap. Er. I guess all's well that ends...

    Never mind...

    Cat

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  18. I've always wondered if there was another Al Penwasser. There's more than one on Facebook, which intrigues the crap out of me.

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  19. Sadly for me, my name (first and last) is common where I live and the two main ones that concern me are always in and out of jail for drug use, armed robbery or bad blogging. I can't catch a break.

    Now, I am googling Stephen Hayes to see how many of you there are.

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  20. Great story. It is such a small world. Wow you got the better end of that.

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  21. Your posts always make me smile :) Even when ain't so gleeful.
    God bless you ;).

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  22. We all know you are the one and only Stephen Hayes. I bet that other guy can't write with the wit you do. You must have deserved the teaching position or the position wouldn't have been there for you past the first year.

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  23. Sorry Stephen, but I can't get that disturbing rear-view image out of my head. I am traumatised and seriously considering litigation on the grounds that you have inflicted permanent psychological damage!

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  24. Oh. I was stopped dead in my tracks after reading this. I was never self-confident enough to tell anyone I was an "artist", even though my artwork has appeared in many juried shows. I started out the usual way, disdaining everything connected with watercolor. Then I realized it wasn't the medium I disdained but the artists who only saw watercolor as being for one type of painting. LOOSE.

    Being a graphic designer first, I tightened up my watercolor and made crisp paintings. The community of 'artists' gasped, then looked the other way. With my tail tucked, I still reached a large public who was shocked at (and wanted) the detail in their artwork.

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  25. Oh, my! That is hilarious. I mean from my perspective; I'm sure it was not as humorous from yours!

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  26. I'm trying to think of a witty quip, but my mind keeps seeing that painting. I have to go and lay down!

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  27. THat is awesome and horrifying at the same time! Thanks for stopping by my site! I dont' always talk about bras. Sometimes I talk about underwear!

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  28. Too funny. I'll bet the other Stephen Hays could paint.. but not with his words as you do.

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