Monday, February 27, 2017

TUNNEL'S END 12: THE BISBEE TUNNEL





This is a work of fiction.

The resemblance of any character to any living person is purely incidental.



12.


I’m minded to stay overnight in Tombstone, got a good reason, snowed in, no, two good reasons, Talia (without Tat the Cat), but then I get a text from Benson saying he’s already here and parked around the corner and it shreds my fantasy.  

I text back saying come into the saloon but he responds by saying the storm is getting bad and we need to get moving while we still can, better hurry.


Two minutes later Talia and I are climbing into the Rover and I see what Benson means, a full-on blizzard, road conditions shot to hell including Route 80 being heaped with heavy snow and no plows coming out until the white stuff stops falling.

Passing Ike’s Mini Market on Route 80 moments later Benson says, “This is where we should buy Powerball tickets!” and he swings the Rover into their carport aside a gas pump that has seen better days, its various parts secured by duct tape.

Ike’s is closing up because of the storm but by banging on the glass door we convince the woman reconciling her cash register to open up and let us inside just long enough to buy lottery tickets.

Benson buys ten tickets and I fork over two bucks on just one sequence of random numbers and fold it into my shirt pocket.  I ask Talia if she’d like a ticket, my treat, but she just smiles sweetly and says mine is all we need.


We are off again, moving only fifteen miles an hour due to poor vision and a slippery road in near-whiteout conditions.  Not five minutes later we pass a pick-up truck that has overturned by the side of the road going the other way, an emergency crew already on the scene.

And very soon after, nearing Bisbee, we enter a long dark tunnel and… and… it looks and feels so much like the tunnel in my dream that I expect the light at the end to disappear as we drive toward it.  But we keep on going, a brief respite from furiously falling snow, until we spill out the other end it feels to me as if we’ve passed through some kind of powerful portal into another dimension.  Bisbee is spread out to the left over a large mound coated with fresh white powder, lights twinkling magically.  We exit Route 80 and cut a wide loop into town, onto Tombstone Canyon Road, lit up with colored holiday lights still up though the holidays are over, are maybe they’re always there, zigzagging overhead for a quarter mile.  


Coupled with the untouched snow on the ground and snowflakes falling, and illuminated by old-time incandescent street lamps, the scene looks like a Christmas card, evoking a sense of magic that touches all three of us, especially Talia, who seems mesmerized by the awesome natural beauty of these precious moments.

Benson slides the Rover alongside a slushy curb outside the Grand Hotel and says, “We took some rooms here.  They’re holding their least expensive room for you, ninety-nine bucks.  I assumed that would be okay.”


“Very okay.” I say.  “Are you and Tat okay slumming it?” 


“We have no choice.  It’s probably the best place in town, and it’ll do just fine.  Funky and authentic.  Tat took their Victorian Suite, the most expensive they have.  But he wasn’t too happy about lugging his suitcase up a staircase all by himself.”  Benson grins.  “No elevator, no porter.  Oh, and I made a reservation at the best restaurant in town, close to our hotel.  Tat’s already there holding a table for us.”


Saturday, February 25, 2017

TUNNEL'S END 11: TOMBSTONE






This is a work of fiction.

Any resemblance of any character to any living person is purely incidental.


11.


The main drag in Tombstone is East Allen Street and that’s where costumed re-enactors are gathered outside the OK Corral trying to drum up business for their reenactment of The Shootout at the OK Corral show “in five minutes, folks, so hurry on in.”  

This being January there are few folks and almost no partakers and Tombstone is empty and quiet with an eerie  ghost town feel, and I’m glad to be here at a time when the masses are not.


Further on down, Kate’s Big Nose Saloon casts a line and lures us in through wooden swing doors to a whole other world:  the wild west, peopled by Tombstone’s locals this day most of whom favor wrangler garb from another era—Stetson hats, pointy-toe cowboy boots, and colorful satin vests, a few of the men armed with belted holsters and six-shooters.


There’s only one kind of libation to order in a bar like this:  Basil Hayden whiskey, neat, in a shot glass.  I remember seeing it drunk in the TV series Deadwood and now feeling like one of its beat-up characters I spring for some.

This is my favorite part of the road trip so far, immersed in history, the buff or bluff I am, and I look up Wyatt Earp on my iPhone browser and read aloud to Benson and Talia about him, first his experience with Tombstone after serving as a Deputy Marshal in Dodge City, Kansas.  And then, after his famous shoot-out—more a revenge killing to those who’ve studied the matter—Wyatt moved west to San Francisco and then, when gold was discovered further north, onto Nome, Alaska.  He shipped up there to “mine the miners,” as Earp called it; relieve the miners of their hard earned nuggets in return for booze and gambling and women, because the reality is Wyatt was less a lawman and more a saloonkeeper.


“Wow,” says Benson, affixed to his own iPhone. “By the time Wyatt Earp died in 1929, at eighty years old, gambling was illegal, prostitution was illegal in most states, and Prohibition had outlawed alcohol.  He must have thought the country had gone to hell in a hand-basket.”

“Just like me,” I say, getting the irony of this better than anyone; that every generation experiences a changing world and sees civilization racing toward that hand-basket.


Outside again we wander down the wooden boardwalks into a couple of shops selling western wear and accessories, mostly made in China, speaking of hand-basket hell.

Back on the street I find my mojo, the inspiration I’m looking for.  

“I think I’ll stay here and paint if that’s okay with you,” I say to Benson.

Benson shrugs.  “Sure.  That’s why you’re along for the trip.  How long do think you’ll need?”

“A couple hours.”

We stroll back to the Rover so I can retrieve my easel and paints.

“What’s going on?” calls Tat, not liking this development one bit.

“Matt is staying here to paint,” says Benson.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Tat hisses.  “We’ve already wasted an hour in this dump.  How much longer?”

“He thinks a couple hours.”

“That’s ridiculous,” snorts Tat, contemptuously.

“Not really,” Benson explains, non-confrontational, just matter-of-fact and seeming to enjoy the exchange.  “That’s why Matt came along on this trip.  To paint.  With my sponsorship.  So it actually makes all the sense in the world.”

“But why bother?” says Tat.  “He already told us art is dead.”

“He’s painting for me,” says Benson, through gritted teeth now, patience wearing thin.
I sling my easel over my shoulder and wander off, let them shoot it out.


Fifteen seconds later I hear footsteps pattering behind me, or maybe they’re wings shimmering, trying to catching up to me and I turn to see Talia.

“I want to watch you paint,” she says.  “Is that okay?”

I shrug.  “Fine by me.”  Inside I’m smiling.

About to turn the corner, Benson pulls up alongside in the Rover and speaks over Tat, who is glaring straight ahead, through the open passenger window.  “I’m taking Tat to Bisbee.  Call me about thirty minutes before you’re ready and I’ll come back for you.”

Talia waves goodbye but Tat ignores the gesture, won’t even look at her, so upset he seems by such disloyalty on her part.

A couple minutes later I find my spot diagonally across from the OK Corral and erect my easel, set up my paint box and quickly sketch an undercoat in purple as the drizzle turns to snow.

“That’s so cool,” says Talia.  “I wish I could paint.”

“You ever tried?”

“I can’t even draw.”

I explain to Talia what I’m doing and why as if I’m giving one of my art lessons, which is teaching what you need to learn.

An hour into my reverie, and that’s what my art is when I’m in my zone, when the painting is starting to take color and shape, Talia studies it and says, “You know what’s really cool?”

“Please tell me,” I say, adding a few brushstrokes.

“What you have going on behind the painting.”

“Behind the painting?”

She points at my easel, which has become a carnival of color from cleaning my paintbrushes.

“My easel board?”

“If that’s what you want to call it,” says Talia.  “But I see it as part of the painting, part of the whole.”

“Huh?”  

Realism surrounded by a modern-art-like abstract.  

“And just like it is,” she adds.  “Slightly off-kilter.” 

I stand back a few feet and give myself some distance and perspective to examine Talia’s vision, and I’m struck with a eureka moment:  Set a small oil-on-board—a representational landscape or nocturne—onto a larger board, an abstract, and marry two very different genres into a kind of simple bar relief.  And it doesn’t even need a frame—another expense I can never afford.

“Wow, you’re right, Talia.  Different.  Inventive.”  And it reminds me of something I learned a lifetime ago at art school, something Picasso once said:  It took me four years to learn how to paint like Rubens, but it took me a lifetime to learn how to paint like a child.


Being so very focused on painting I’d hardly noticed until now that light snow had thickened into cascading flakes that were settling onto the quiet streets of Tombstone.  I remember I was supposed to call Benson and now do so and he says he’s already on his way anyway because the snow is supposed to get worse.

I pack up my gear, and Talia and I take shelter back inside Kate’s Big Nose Saloon where a storm party is underway, the locals coming in from their nearby homes to celebrate this rare snowfall.


“Hell, we celebrate anything that threatens us!” roars an old-timer throwing back whiskey.  “That’s why they call us the town too tough to die!”

Talia looks into my eyes.  “That’s like you,” she says.

“How do you mean?”

“You’re too tough to die.  Too tough to surrender to a dying art culture.”


Something about her eyes, a sympathetic dark brown, something about her lips, full and lush and inviting.

In my mind I lean in and tenderly touch her lips with mine and Talia responds with a vigor totally unexpected on my part, our lips slightly parting, tongues flickering around, and then wed embrace one another in a bear hug, as munch to steady ourselves as feeling one another's warmth, to the stares and smiles of amused locals.
  


Thursday, February 23, 2017

TUNNEL'S END 10: THE ROAD TO TOMBSTONE





This is a work of fiction.

Any resemblance of any character to any living person is purely incidental.



10.


I awaken in my dive of a hotel room in Scottsdale not at three a.m. as usual but nearer six, startled awake from being deep inside the tunnel of my recurring dream, not being able to get out, the light at tunnel’s end disappearing until, in my dream, it is as pitch black as the room I awaken in.

Benson had sent a few texts distancing himself from Tat Mamoli and apologizing for the cat’s mean-spirited meowing but I don’t answer, just figure we’ll pick up fresh, enjoy the journey and open myself to whatever vibe awaits me where Benson is headed, a town whose name I still can’t remember.

It is raining again, the next storm having caught up with us during the night, when Benson’s Rover rounds into the Courtyard’s carport and I load my things, and seeing Tat riding shotgun I climb into the back next to Talia.


Nobody says anything and I feel tension in the silence, which I break with a wide-smiled “Good morning!”

 I may not have much, and art may not have a future, me included, but I do have some cash in my pocket and a spirit for making the very most of wherever this day takes me and nothing to lose.

“Powerball is up to a billion dollars,” says Benson.  “We need to buy some tickets, the drawing is tomorrow night.”

“Lotteries are for suckers,” sneers Tat the Cat, happy to start the day with a round of cynicism.  “They’re nothing more than a special tax on people who don’t know arithmetic.”

“What would you do if you won all that money?” Benson asks of no one in particular.

Tat won’t be yanked into this game but Benson talks about buying a private jet and turning his road trips into sky trips before their attention turns to me.

“I need a car,” I say, “so I’d probably start there.”

“After that?” asks Talia.

“I’d fund a program to teach art appreciation in elementary public schools. And then I’d buy Talia her own beauty salon.”

“New girlfriend?” says Benson, maybe trying to stick it to Tat.

“That’s so sweet,” Talia purrs.

I just smile in contrast to Tat’s scowl.


Near Tucson we ramp off for gas and bladder relief and pretty soon thereafter we exit at a town called Benson, stopping just long enough for me to photograph our very own Benson standing next to a welcoming sign bearing his last name, though the real reason for ramping off is to join Route 80 due south.

“Does your family heritage have anything to do with this town?” I ask, checking the pics I’d taken on his iPhone.

“Who knows?” he says.  “I didn’t even know this place existed until we got here.  And now that I’ve seen it… I sure hope not.”

“And I sure hope we don’t have a town called Mamoli coming up next,” I whisper.  “Your friend Tat would probably think it was named after him.”

Benson laughs.  “He’s more of an acquaintance than a friend.  And between you and me, I’m not likely to remain acquainted with him once this trip is over.”  He pauses, chuckling  “I’m beginning to think the rumor about Tat is true.”

“What rumor.”

“Penile hypospadias.”

“Penile… what?”

“Hypospadias.  It mans he has a small deformed dick.  Hitler supposedly had the same thing.  And Hitler had only one testicle.  Maybe that’s Tat’s problem, too.”

Chuckling, we climb back into the Rover and continue cruising south, distance signs marking Tombstone and Bisbee, not far to go.


“We should stop at Tombstone, take a look around,” I say.

“Why?” says Tat the Cat, ever the contrarian and always in a hurry, he.

“It’s a Historical Landmark,” I explain.  “And also where Wyatt Earp shot it out at the OK Corral.”

“Oh,” says Tat, “you’re one of those history bluffs.”

“Why are you so mean?” shoots Talia.

Tat ignores her.  “What say we just keep going to Bisbee,” he says directly to Benson.  “They’re known for rare turquoise, I may want to buy some and if we get there too late the shops will be closed.”

Route 80 rolls us smack into Tombstone, and when we come upon a sign that points right, to the historic part of town, Benson wordlessly turns and two blocks later we’re smack in the middle of what once was and still is. 
  

Tat doesn’t protest but stays quiet and sullen as Benson wheels into a parking space outside Wyatt’s Coffee House.

I open my door and get out, followed by Talia and Benson behind her.

“I’ll wait here,” Tat mutters.

You do that, Tat the Cat.



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

TUNNEL'S END 8 & 9: SCOTTSDALE SUNSET






This is a work of fiction.

The resemblance of any character to any living person is purely incidental.



8.


A retro-style bar in Valley Ho’s open-plan expansive lobby beckons me in for a much needed libation, specifically, Fernet Branca, try to quell a churning stomach turned upside down by today’s art lesson because after only ninety minutes roaming Old Town Scottsdale my balloon, already deflated and thus incapable of bursting, is now riddled with pinpricks.

Brant Benson appears looking refreshed and happy and grabs a barstool next to mine. “Any luck with the galleries?” he asks.

I shake my head, tight-lipped, a pain in my gut and angst in my soul.

“That bad?”

“Badder.”  I take a gulp of the herbal curative even though it’s meant to be sipped.  “Up until a half hour ago I thought I’d let you roll on without me, to that place you’re headed…”

“Bisbee.”

“And I’d hang here, catch you on the rebound.  But now I don’t see the point so I guess I’m going with you.”

Benson moves into his alcoholic beverage quiz with the bartender and gets all the same answers he got at Melvyn’s in Palm Springs.  

When he’s done with the bartender, Benson looks at me and puts out his arms.  “See what I mean?  Most people come into a bar for one thing and one thing only: their favorite brand of booze.  Only rarely does anyone switch to another kind of liquor—or even another brand.  Makes me wonder why big booze companies even bother to create new brands.  They end up giving them away to bars like mine to try to build a following by selling them cheap—and still nobody wants to know.”

Tat the Cat marches over, chest pumped out, Talia behind him trying to keep up with his stride.  He zeroes in on me.  “How’s the Courtyard Inn?” he asks with a patronizing smirk, no subtlety he.

I shrug.  “Fine, I guess, but I’ve hardly had time to get to know it, been out and about.”

“Mine is great!” he gushes.  “I just saw the most amazing sunset from the sixth floor.”

Benson reverts his attention to me.  “So what changed your mind?”

“The art scene is over in Scottsdale,” I reply.  “It barely has a pulse, maybe already dead.”

“Because they don’t recognize your talent?” Tat the Cat interjects.  

I don’t think he is purposely insulting, it’s just his facetious sense of humor and indifference to human suffering, but I could be wrong.

“No,” I level my eyes at Tat and drill my pupils into his oily black eyes.  “Because what I’m finding is that there’s a dumbing down going on in this country, and it extends to art appreciation, which hardly exists anymore.  The new art form among young adults is tattoos and symbols for decorating texts.  It’s sell out or give-it-up time.”

Tat smirks.  “Do you always play your artist’s sympathy card to get your drink paid for?” 

I wordlessly pull out my wallet and plunk a couple bills on the bar and turn on my heel.

No one says anything behind me as I saunter off, maybe I’ll find a Burger King and eat a whopper—instead of whopping a wiseass.  Even better, the other end of Main Street I happen upon an eatery called Rehab Burger Therapy, perfect.


9.


Back inside my sparse room I’m not ready to sleep and it’s my second day on this road trip and I’ve yet to produce a painting but only a few sketches so I grab my gear and faux fur hat and head out into the dark night (Cold Moon on the wane, a late rise), looking for inspiration: might be a color, an angle, a pattern, an interesting artificial light source, something, anything, and I wind up at the Old Adobe Mission on Brown Avenue.  

I set up my gear amid a wee bit more liveliness than earlier in the day due to brisk business in trendy restaurants and bars, and I work quickly, knowing another storm is blowing in and bearing down on me.


A homeless man comes up from behind though I’m focused on my brushstroke and oblivious to his presence until I can practically feel his breath on my neck and he hollers, “What the hell are you doing here?” as if I’m occupying his begging space, sort of like Henry Pilfer’s wife but less shrill.

I startle then dig into my pocket and peel off a dollar and see him on his way.  Homeless gotta eat, too.

Next, a car-full of wannabe thugs—probably the local gang-bangers—circles like a shark, once, twice, three times, checking me out.  When they finally realize I’m just an impoverished artist with nothing worth taking, unless they’ve run out of crystal meth and want to sniff paint, they take off, and it’s just me and my creation until I see Benson and Tat exit from a restaurant next to the adobe structure I’m painting.

I’m in the shadows and I don’t make myself known as they quietly pass on the opposite side of the street, what happened to Talia?

The same homeless man who hit me up earlier approaches Tat, who lets loose a torrent of abuse plus a threat to call the cops and have him arrested and thrown in jail if he doesn’t bug off pronto.


Slogging back to my hotel an hour later I think I see one of my pictures hanging inside a gallery so I stop and peer inside.  It’s one of my images, all right—a nocturne of a full moon rising—but not one of my paintings, just a knock-off from a hack named Potter, a former Facebook friend I deleted when I saw what he was up to.

Hacks—otherwise known as knock-offers—are young artists that adopt a successful artist’s imagery—usually picked up from Internet websites.  They are the parasites that leech off another artist’s style and technique and try to paint like them but without the artistry and with a less sophisticated palette, basic colors straight out of the tube, unblended, and they undercut the original artist’s price by as much as 70 percent.    

They have no original ideas of their own but just search trends, steal ideas and images, and dash off copies of whatever’s selling lately, pawning off nothing more than a superficial and shameless low art that feeds the masses; buyers that are deluded into thinking they can buy quality art for cheap, only it’s more likely interior decorators trying to buy cheap and pawning off knock-offs as fine art and pocketing the difference.   

I call it skill without soul and McDonald’s Happy Meal art, sorry for the rant.



Sunday, February 19, 2017

TUNNEL'S END 7: AN ART LESSON





This is a work of fiction.

The resemblance of any character to any living person is purely incidental.



7.


It feels good to be able to stretch and wander around all by myself after eight hours in a car in close quarters with others, especially with Tat the Cat breathing down my neck.  

I exchange cash for a plastic key card and find my room down a long fetid corridor, a bed and a bath not much else but it’s all I need and anyway I’m there just long enough to dump my things and splash water on my face and brush my teeth before setting off by foot to Main Street and art galleries galore.

First stop is a gallery called Trailside that’s big on representational art, landscapes, and maybe a good fit for me, but when I get there all I see is a used-to-be art gallery, empty windows, barren walls… it’s just gone, gone, gone.

I slip into the abstract gallery next door, more schlock than ‘stract.  

“What happened to the Trailside Gallery?” I ask.

A guy wearing a bowtie and horned rimmed glasses looks up from behind his desk and answers my question with one of his own. “What’s happening to all the art galleries around here?” 

I shake my head.  “I don’t know.  I just got here, maybe you could tell me?”

“Trailside left in the middle of the night,” he snaps.   “One day they’re open for business, the next there’s no sign they were ever here, no forwarding address, nothing.  And the surprising thing is, no one was even that surprised about it, because the art galleries around here are either gone or going. “

“Why?” I’m standing there like a yokel un-local in my akubra and confederate duster, clearly an artist by the look of me not because I affect that image but because it’s all I can afford and gallery owners know the look, part emaciation, part desperation.

“Because no one is buying art anymore, and if they are, they’re shopping for it on the Internet, not in galleries.  But the other reason everybody’s leaving is because the greedy landlords around here keep upping the rent on everyone.  They know we art gallery owners can’t afford higher rents and they don’t care either because they don’t want us here anymore.  They want trendy bars and restaurants and fashion boutiques in and art galleries out.”  He pauses.  “But don’t take my word for it, just take a walk around and see for yourself.”


“But wasn’t it the art galleries that made this neighborhood trendy?” I ask.

“Of course.”  He nods vigorously in agreement.  “Go figure.”

I do as he says, ambling down Main Street, trying to figure it all out.  Last time I was in Old Town Scottsdale for a workshop, this area thrived, one gallery after another and people, lots of people, mostly collectors, carousing Main Street, going in and out of galleries buying paintings.  That was before 2008 of course.  Now this neighborhood is practically a ghost town with empty shops and For Lease signs plastered to windows and no one around.

I trudge into another gallery featuring mostly Western landscapes, which I can paint if that’s what a gallery truly needs for its clientele, and the proprietor mistakes me for a collector or maybe just wishful thinking on his part, hopeful desperation.  He stands, smiles, dances and probably farts from the excitement of a real breathing potential purchaser, entering his funereally quiet emporium.

It doesn’t last however and his welcome turns to snooty bemusement the moment I identify myself as an artist looking for gallery representation.

He shakes his head disdainfully.  “That’s not how it’s done anymore.”

“No?”

“No.  All submissions by artists must be submitted by e-mail.  Don’t take it personally,” he adds.  “It’s not my policy.  That’s how it works now with galleries everywhere in the country.”  He can see the devastation in my eyes, not that he seems to care much.  “Look at it as a good thing,” he adds.  “It means you don’t have to go anywhere, you can submit from home.”

“If you say so,” I say.  “But in my opinion it de-personalizes the artist-gallery relationship and as a result dehumanizes the overall art experience.”  It’s only because I teach art that I can talk about it like this.

“I couldn’t agree with you more, but that’s the way it is.  Let me tell you about the art experience of which you speak.  You know the folks who used to own art galleries around here?  They haven’t moved somewhere else.  They’ve left the business altogether to do something else, or they retired.  One of my neighbors here owned three galleries up and down Main Street.  He closed them all a year ago and packed it in, moved to Costa Rica.”


Gallery owners can move on and do something else with their lives to earn a living but artists are stuck with their creative juice and passion, not to mention a backlog of work that takes up valuable space and needs to be secured and insured, all of which costs money we don’t have.

“The good news is,” I say, smiling, “here I am, in person, this moment, which means we—you and I—have a unique opportunity to re-humanize the artist-gallery experience.  Wouldn’t you like to cut around the Internet and see some of my work?”

“No.”  He shakes his head.  

“Okay, the Internet it is.  Can you offer any suggestions about what other galleries I might look into since I’m here in town anyway?”

“Jackson.”

“Is that a gallery?”

“No, it’s a place.  Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  If there’s any action left these days, that’s where it is, or supposed to be, or so I’ve heard.  A couple of the galleries that used to be here have moved there.  Word on the grapevine is,they’re doing okay, the galleries that sell paintings of buffalo.”

I’ll pander like the best of them for my dinner, swap artfulness for schlock, an opiate-of-the-masses style called candy-box (think Thomas Kinkade) and save the moonlit nocturnes for genuine collectors at my shows, few and far between these days.  Even my mentor, a master I once worshipped, caved to commerce and is whoring schmaltz up the coast in Carmel and I don’t blame him one bit because he needs to eat like everybody else.


As I continue down Main Street I realize he’s telling me the truth.  The few galleries left standing are peddling art that in my educated opinion is stilted, staid and very stale.  The only ray of a light is Gallery Russe with its stable of classically trained Russian artists.

The problem, for me anyway, is that I’m not Russian so there’s no point even trying to show my work or sell myself.  But the gallery owner is amiable, maybe because he’s bored and working the gallery himself, can’t afford staff anymore, about seventy years old and I can tell he’s been in the business for a long time, one of the hold outs, in it for the art not the money.  Sure, he probably needs to earn a living like most others but the glint in his eye suggests that art is his lifelong passion; I know it when I see it.

We exchange pleasantries and I tell him how bummed I am over what Main Street Scottsdale has become.  

“Maybe I need an agent,” I say.

“Yes, in the old days I would have recommended that,” he says.  “An artist’s agent.  Artists need to do their art, leave marketing and selling to the experts.  But not anymore.  Now I’d recommend connecting to an interior designer instead.”

“Huh?”

“Most people don’t buy art anymore.”  He sighs.  “They lack education, especially in the arts, so they’re neither knowledgeable nor interested in paintings or the artists who paint them.  Which means they leave decisions about what to hang on their walls—at home or the workplace—to designers.  And designers like to choose whatever matches their furnishings and curtains and patterns and colors.  That’s how art is getting bought and sold these days—matching the furniture and curtains.”

“That’s bad,” I say.

“Oh yeah—it’s bad.  Only people in the big league buy art for art’s sake anymore.  And the only art they buy is the blue-chippers.  And that’s because high-end art is the currency of the super-rich and, for them, a better investment than real estate, and also a safe hedge against inflation.”  He pauses.  “But that’s the educated mega-rich.  Normal people don’t know what to buy so they leave it to interior designers.  So forget about pounding the pavement and cold-calling galleries.  Instead, start networking with designers and decorators.”  He strides over to his plate glass window and points an outstretched finger across Main Street.  “Case in point.  You know why you see a lot of schlock in the windows up and down this road, the galleries that are still here, that is?”

“I was wondering that.”

“Interior designers like colorful schlock.  And they especially like the kickbacks they receive from galleries happy to sell low quality colorful schlock.” He shakes his mane of gray hair.  “As if they don’t get paid enough by their clients.  Sorry to be so cynical, but that’s the way it is, the state of contemporary art in today’s marketplace.  I won’t be able to hold out here much longer, and I know it.  Maybe another six months, tops, when the lease runs out.  The only real advice I can give you is, given your artist’s background, consider designing creative icons and symbols for new apps.  Or create original tattoos. That’s the art form the generations coming up behind us seem to care about or have any appreciation for.”

What’s happening to Scottsdale sounds awfully like something I teach to my students called The Landscape Cycle of the Artists Evolution:  An artist paints a landscape, nature in its purest form, people see, like it, go there, and settle it.  Then they exploit it and eventually leave it to decay—after which time the bohemians move in, the artists, and they make it artsy and fun and bring it back to life.  Then gentrification takes place until the area becomes so trendy that the designer boutiques move in, rents go sky high and the artists are forced to move out…

By the time I reach the end of Main Street I realize it is truly the end of my getting anywhere in Scottsdale—except maybe the Valley Ho where Benson said he was headed and which I now find myself standing near.