The Artist’s Life

February 23rd, 2014  |  Published in *, Features, February 2014

by Fran Watson

Patterson Center was packed to the brim with the most difficult people in the city: artists.  Mostly lady artists. Each of whom knew in her heart of hearts that she was vastly underrated and pushing valiantly  to right this obvious wrong.

I was one of these, as determined and convinced of my life goal as any in the building.

When I moved in, there were just 5 tenants.  The area was open space, so my first of many battles was to have my studio enclosed and a door that locked.  Like most artists, my social skills were reserved for social events.  There is nothing social about painting.  However, the other tenants seemed quite happy flitting around and “networking” their talents. Calypso was the most aggressive of this group, and probably the least talented.  Of course, that wasn’t her real name, but she had decided to take publicity to extremes in every manner she could invent.

As the building slowly filled, she made it a point to be known to every tenant, knocking on doors, sharing coffee, and an occasional glass of wine, completely assured of superiority in all fields of art.  Every possible trick of painting appeared in unexpected places like a menu of “look what I can do.”

In her second year there, she decided she wanted to paint nude men.  She found a charming young man who suited her purposes and thus established herself as the only artist in the building who could afford a live model.  Or her husband, who had some sort of city maintenance position, could  afford a live model.

We’ll call this paragon of male pulchritude Paul.  Calypso installed an actual traffic light in the hall leading to her studio so that her vast retinue would know when she was available to them.  She felt it was more modest to indicate when she was utilizing Paul’s talents by  insuring that none of the ladies ventured onto the scene unaware.  Rather dramatic, but live and let live.

Apparently Calypso forgot that open studios in spacious old factories are far from soundproof.  My own hard-won enclosed space was open for about 10 feet from the top of my plasterboard walls to the ancient beamed ceiling.  Every word spoken bounced along from one end of the floor to the other through that space, including her conversations with Paul, which eventually occupied more and more of his modeling time as she grew to know him.   Over time, he and I were privy to her long marriage, (which was running down), her lack of sexual contact with her husband, and various other tidbits best left to the imagination.  In short, Calypso was exhibiting all of the most unpleasant phases of midlife crisis..

I finally bought a Walkman to drown out the confessions of a bored housewife, and was able to work without knowing things I wished I didn’t.

Then Calypso was robbed. Her wallet had been stolen from her purse in her studio. Since the studio was wide open, everyone in the building was a possible suspect.  Calypso personally visited every studio to inform every artist of the thief among them, causing not a few rather cynical opinions to be formed.  She dragged in the maintenance man who ran the rickety elevator, the building owner (who could care less). It was a wild time at Patterson which I followed from behind my precious locked door, Walkman unplugged.    And Paul now seemed unavailable.

When she realized it was the unclothed confident, Paul, who had been the thief, she began to dismantle. First the traffic light was taken down.  Then she ceased using the outer walls of other artists studio to display her work, (without their permission), and began to not appear at the studio  more days than she did.  Finally she moved out totally.  As with all of the spaces, when a studio was emptied, it was divided into several smaller enclosed studios,  leading eventually to a building full of expensive broom- closet-sized studios.

With the increasing population in Patterson,  Calypso was completely forgotten.  If she continued painting, she was not being reviewed or publicized.  Her outrageous behavior settled into legend and it was as if she had never been there at all. Since no one had seen even one of her proposed male nude paintings, there was a residue of gossip, but even that murmurred it’s way out.

About 5 years later, though, her cousin Bobby who did odd jobs around the building put up a bulletin in the downstairs lobby.  “Calypso is coming back!”  My own heart sank and I began to pray she would be on some other floor.  But the majority of the new tenants simply didn’t know or care about Calypso.  The cousin prepared an opening reception for her arrival with food and drink.  One or two people wandered in and then quickly out, polite but not interested.  In six months, she moved back out and has not been heard of since.

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