“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” - Mark Twain
Before we embark on the incredible story of the Purple Wave, let me give you a glance of what came before, so that you can get a feel of who I was. Believe me, it’s important. As for The Purple Wave, it started as a simple old stained tent canvas.
When I left San Jo in the summer of ’78 I planned to come back to school in the Fall, but things happened differently.
I was happy in San Jo…the weather’s great, the California girls are everything that the Beach Boys said and more. I had a beautiful steady girl, Lizz Angelini, with magnetic jade green eyes, a mane of wavy red hair, a cute freckled face and curves that drove me crazy. We started sharing an apartment just 10 minutes’ walk from campus in the spring semester. The school year ’77-‘78 marked my first year in San José City College studying Studio Arts. The teachers were really cool, we used to smoke grass in class with some of them. We would go out as a class to draw in the forests around Palo Alto or Santa Cruz and some of us would make love in the woods instead of drawing. I was 17 when I entered college. At 16 I was already a “rebel without a cause”, dealing drugs and skipping school, and lived with legal guardians after having run away, getting caught, and being placed in detention. After a few months living with them they discussed my situation with my parents and they gave me an ultimatum “Get your High School Diploma and you’re free.” So, just after my 17th birthday in March ’77 I went straight to the GED Testing Center and took the 5 tests without any preparation, breaking all of the records in Santa Clara County with my scores. My best score was 70/70 (98%) in English Literature, because even though I hadn’t been to school much in the last 2 years before the test, I’ve always loved to read. So, anyway, with my GED in hand I was free at last.
At my guardian’s suggestion I attended “The Academy” taught by the ICA, the Institute of Cultural Affairs, (for whom both my parents and guardians worked) in Chicago in the spring of ’77, hitchhiking across America from San Jo to the Windy City and back again. It was a short 3-month study and I didn’t have any tuition to pay…met some nice girls too, even fought over one of them! At the end of “The Academy” we celebrated with a big dance and I bought my first 3 piece suit, light blue with bell bottomed pants and big lapels. I looked like John Travolta in Saturday Night Live and felt like him too (even though the movie didn’t come out until 6 months later)! On my return to San Jo I got my 1st job pumping gas, found a cheap room in a men’s boarding house, and enrolled in the San Jose City College. Because of my financial situation I didn’t have any tuition to pay there either. Also, because I was enrolled in college, I started receiving a small monthly stipend of $100 from the ICA which was deducted from my student fund, money put aside by the ICA for higher education because its members lived on an extremely restricted monthly stipend. This extra money gave me the possibility of renting one of the biggest rooms in the boarding house, with a nice double bed. My first room had been the smallest and cheapest one, with just enough room for a single bed and a small chair and table.
I had an incredibly weird experience one day in the boarding house. My older brother had been “deployed” first to Caracas, Venezuela, and then across the Atlantic to Lagos Nigeria by the ICA. I have to explain here that the ICA split families up, separating the children from their parents at the age of 12 and sending them to live elsewhere in the world and serve their “mission”. Every year in August everyone in the ICA was given their assigned “deployment” for the year (more on this later). Back to my story, he was only gone 2 years, but it seemed like an eternity. There was a pay phone at the bottom of the staircase in the house, and one day I heard it ringing and I knew straightaway that it was him. I rushed down and picked up the receiver and immediately said “Jim? You’re back?” and it was.
In my first year in college I took Drawing and Photography, Intro to Art History, Comp. Lit., Creative Writing, and Archery. There were a couple of things I learned from archery that would serve me throughout my life. The first is that your whole body has to be centered, evenly balanced, and in line to succeed, and the second is that the farther the target is, the higher you have to aim.
I needed a camera for photography, and I found an old vintage Asahi Tower screw mount SLR with a leather camera case, telephoto lens, and extension rings for 100 bucks at the photography trade fair. I didn’t know what the extension rings were for, but one of the guys at the boarding house showed me how to use them to do macro photography. I kept it a long time, but later I bought a Pentax K1000 and a bounce zoom flash when I started back to school at the University of Minnesota in the fall of ‘81. Getting back to ’77 and SJCC, when I started school my vocational counselor told me to forget about studio arts because I wouldn’t be able to make a living as a painter. I ignored his advice because I didn’t care about making money. I had decided that I was never going to fall in love or get married and that I would never have any children. Art was my passion and that’s all I cared about.
I’ll always remember my first class in Creative Writing; the Prof. asked us all a question first thing: “Do you think that the ‘original idea’ exists?” He then asserted that NO, the original idea does not exist. Then he read us a passage out of Mark Twain’s autobiography that says essentially the same thing. “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” The theory here is that every idea we have comes from our experience and we can safely assume that someone else has already had the same idea, or at least one which is very close to ours, and that every idea our mind conceives has been consciously or unconsciously influenced by other people’s ideas. Even now, many years later, this truth is always in the back of my mind whenever I have any creative idea.
So in July ’78 I headed out hitchhiking across the continent again on my summer break, thinking that I would be returning to my studies and my girl in September. Lizz expected me to come back to her. Just before leaving I bought her a stunning emerald green cotton maxi dress with loose draping sleeves, a v-neckline and a slit going up the front to go with her green eyes, red hair, and womanly curves. To make the gift complete, I also bought her a pair of fake emerald teardrop dangle earrings. When I asked the saleswoman to gift-wrap the earrings, she put them in a small velvet gift box, and when I gave Lizz her gifts, she gasped with pleasure on seeing the gift box…she thought it was an engagement ring…the one thing I strongly believed I would never give to a girl.
After passing through Phoenix to visit my older sister Shirley, I headed to Chicago to see old friends, and then to the Mini Apple, where my older brother lived in a shared rented house. When it came time to head back to San José at the end of August, I was completely broke, so I decided to work a week at Manpower to make a hundred bucks before hitting the road. I worked as a temp warehouseman for the whole week at Venus Waterbeds. On Friday, the warehouse manager walked up to me and said “I like the way you work, do you want a full time job?” After discussing it, since the pay was good and the guys were really cool, I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t really attached to Lizz, I just loved her physical beauty, and like I said, I didn’t want to get attached to anyone anyway. The idea of marriage terrified me. Besides, it was nice living with my brother. I put my studies on hold for a while.
At Venus, I moved up the ladder quickly; after 3 months I was named Head Stockman, another 3 months and I moved up again to Assistant Shipping and Receiving Clerk, and 6 months later I became the new Shipping and Receiving Clerk. It was really hard at first, especially when the winter came. I’m no stranger to cold weather, I was born in the Rockies in Montana and I’ve lived in other cold places, but Minnesota winters are infamous, and rightly so. The warehouse was way out in the burbs, so I took a bus to the end of the line and then hitchhiked the rest of the way in to work. Work started at 8 sharp, with a lineup for inspection at 7:55 that I rarely missed; present and ready to work, my uniform always clean, my black Redwing safety shoes always shined, and always on time. In case of lateness, we were docked 15 minutes pay for 1 minute after every quarter hour, e.g. at 8:01 you get paid starting at 8:15 and at 8:16 you start getting paid at 8:30, etc. Meanwhile, I put everything into my work and always found a solution to every problem. My pay increased quickly and I got a $300 ready reserve credit line at the bank. I got my own apartment, bought one of the most beautiful oak waterbeds that Venus sold (with a 50% discount), a B&O Beogram 1000 teak turntable with amp and speakers, and last but most importantly a nice used ’78 Oldsmobile Delta 88, with electric windows, air conditioning, central door locking, and cruise control. One of my buddies at Venus installed a car stereo with AM/FM radio and both cassette and 8 track tape players.
In the summer of ’80 my 17-year-old brother Ben came to live with me. I managed to persuade my parents to let me have legal custody over him until he finished his last year of High School. When he arrived we spent Labor Day Weekend tripping on acid, smoking grass, and drinking a lot. We climbed up on the roof totally nude at midnight screaming “au naturelle!” at the tops of our lungs. I just happened to break the little pinky toe on my right foot by stubbing it on a rock while we were tripping and playing Frisbee, and walked with crutches afterwards for 6 weeks. After that weekend, we were both so wrecked we decided to swear off all drugs and alcohol and get into sports. We started lap swimming every morning, we took yoga, tai-kwon-do, and aikido classes together and sparred against each other twice a week. We started eating healthily too, eventually becoming vegetarian. I would still eat eggs, fish, and seafood, but meat was out. I had already quit smoking earlier that same year. I started at 12, like most of my friends, and by the time I reached 15 I already smoked a pack a day and sold grass at High School to support my cigarette addiction. One day that year while tripping with my brother Jim he said to me “You’re gonna kill yourself like that” to which I responded “I’ll quit someday”, and he came back with “When?” I said “When I’m an adult.” And so he made be a bet “OK, I bet you $1000 that you can’t quit smoking for the rest of your life by the time you’re 20.” And we shook on it “It’s a bet.” In fact, I did quit, in January 1980, 2 months before my 20th birthday (I had a crutch…grass) but as soon as we shook hands on the bet, I realized that I would never be able to collect the $1000. Smart guy my brother Jim…he worded the bet “for the rest of your life”. Back then, I would still smoke some grass from time to time and enjoyed a good strong beer, a glass of Irish or Scotch whisky, or a glass of warm Cognac, but never too much. Ben totaled my Delta 88 on the night of his graduation party. But I didn’t hold it against him, I was too glad that he wasn’t hurt and took him in my arms. Cars can be replaced, brothers can’t.
During the spring of ’81 I started feeling a compelling urge to go back to school and get back into art. In fact, it wasn’t just the art I missed. I hadn’t gone steady with a girl since I started working at Venus. It so happens that you don’t meet girls in warehouses, you meet them in Universities! As it turned out, Venus gave me my occasion to leave. One day while having lunch in a nearby restaurant I had a beer with my meal. The owner of Venus, who I believed up until then to be a really cool guy (long blond hair, blue jeans, gold handled walking stick…), walked in to eat and saw me having my lunch. As soon as I got back to work I was summoned to the manager’s office. They gave me three days walk for having drunk a beer during my lunch break. “Rules are rules” said my boss “and drinking is strictly forbidden during working hours”. So, I immediately gave my 3 months’ notice to leave. My boss tried to convince me to stay, even proposing a promotion to Assistant Manager, but this didn’t have any effect on my decision to get back into my passion, on pause for 3 years already (and to make a few girlfriends as well). I enrolled in Studio Arts at the U of Minnesota, Minneapolis for the next fall.
At the same time I left my job at Venus, we moved from our apartment to a small house, and Jim moved in with us, all three brothers together. I sold my waterbed and bought a queen-sized futon. That summer I drove an Ice cream truck for Bluebell and bought a 10 speed bike from REI. I used it to get around when the weather was nice (that’s about 4 months of the year in Minnesota). Jim had originally rented the apartment with me back in ‘79, but took off to go to a Deep Sea Diving School in Seattle. That had always been his passion, and because of his knowledge of compression chambers, he was able to get a job working with the hyperbaric chambers for the Hennepin County Hospital. So, after a long time gone, first becoming a diver and then working on fishing boats off the coast of Alaska, he was back in the Mini Apple. We only spent a year living all three together, and it was a hard one. At one point in the middle of winter we ran out of fuel for the heater and not one of us had the cash to buy more fuel. When I woke up the next morning I found solid ice in the cat’s water dish.
Since I was back in school, I started receiving my stipend again from ICA’s student fund, it had stopped when I started at Venus and left school. They had upped it by $50 to $150, but that still didn’t amount to much. Like when I was in San Jo, I still had to work while studying, so I got my taxi driver’s license in August and started driving a taxi at night for Blue and White before the start of the school year. I didn’t get enough sleep though, and as soon as the lights went out in the Auditorium in my Art History class I would fall fast asleep.
In my first year at the U of M I took more classes in Art History; The Renaissance, Impressionism and Post Impressionism, also Humanities with “The Age of Reason”, and of course Studio Arts with Painting 1 and a special course in Photography on Alternate Methods, which I enjoyed a lot. I sincerely admired my first painting teacher, Mrs. Doran. On the first day of class we all brought all our new paints and brushes, oil paint, watercolor, acrylics, brushes of every shape and size for every kind of desired effect... but she told us to put it all away. She gave us each one big fat worn-out, beat up paintbrush, one tube of white and one tube of black acrylic paint and said “Get to work! Make something beautiful!” The subject wasn’t anything thrilling, just an old Hoover vacuum cleaner. It astonished me to discover what I was able to do with such minimum material. She was indeed a Great teacher. She forced us to discover our potential in the middle of difficulty. You don’t need to have a palette of 20 colors and 20 different brushes to make a great painting, you don’t even need a great subject, in fact, the only thing you need is your passion and the opportunity to discover your potential to create.
All that year I had a long affair with Ha Vu, a sweet little Vietnamese student I met on the bus one cold foggy day. That day I wore a black Chinese shirt, a blue silk quilted vest with Chinese patterns on it that my father bought for me when he lived in Hong Kong, blue jeans, a traditional Navy blue Breton sailor’s cap, and my Night blue leather jacket. Just before getting on the bus, I entered Dayton’s, headed to the men’s perfume department, and asked the salesgirl to find me a perfume to match my style. She brought me Halston Z14 and I loved it straight away. It would remain my favorite perfume for decades. I got on the bus downtown to go to the U, standing room only like usual. I stood next to a petite young Vietnamese girl, obviously headed to the U also (we were all caring book bags). Our eyes met for a furtive second, and then she turned her head timidly. That split second of eye contact sparked my interest and I wanted more. I’m not shy at all, and I started right in, gently touching her shoulder “Hi, my name’s Tony, What’s yours?” She looked back up at me and this time our eye contact was gripping. “Ha. Ha Ti Tan Vu, nice to meet you.”
I’ve heard it said that eye contact is where all the magic happens…and it happened. An incredibly strong and bonding mutual gaze connected us. Our eyes hardly left each other until we parted our ways on campus. I walked her all the way to her class. We didn’t have much in common, we just liked each other a lot, and I felt the attraction instinctively from our first glance. Throughout the year we would get under the covers naked and laugh and play in my house, which happened by chance to be not too far from hers, but it never went all the way, she didn’t want to, and that was OK with me. I met her parents but they didn’t like me, to put it mildly. I’m sure they thought me to be bad influence for their sweet little girl. We broke up as the school year was coming to a close. She wanted a solid relationship, and understood that I didn’t.
My brother Jim came to me one day with a huge canvas, and he said “It’s a tent canvas, but canvas is canvas, isn’t it?” And I thought, why not? Still, I needed to resolve a couple of things. I didn’t have an easel for such a large canvas, and canvas stretchers aren’t made that big either, so I went to the lumberyard and bought 2 x 4s to build an easel and 4 plain wooden boards, 1” x 2” x 8 feet long to make the stretcher. With the extra canvas on the sides that I needed to stretch it, my final canvas size was 7.5 feet long x 3 feet high, and I added two vertical bracers because it was so long. I drew out a plan before building the big heavy easel and Jim marveled at the nice job I did, as he had never seen me build anything other than a brick and board bookshelf (or the same thing using empty Leinenkugle beer bottle cases). It could also be used to hold a drawing board and adjusted to different angles.
After stretching and priming the canvas I painted it all cold black, with Mars black acrylic. It was more out of necessity than choice, because there was an old stain that kept showing through the white primer coat after coat. So black solved the problem. It sat around like that for a long time, just an enormous plain black canvas waiting for a painting, but it was destined to cross the Atlantic 2 years later in 1984.
The Purple Wave
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Albert Einstein
The summer after my 1st year at U of M our “family house” dissolved and we each went our own ways. Jim married Maggy Millet in an outdoor wedding at Calhoun Beach and they got an apartment together in South Minneapolis. I found a perfect room for me in an “L” shape, with a big adjoining studio where I could work on all my art. It was one of many rented rooms in a co-ed boarding house made from a magnificent old three storey Victorian style Mansion with beveled stained glass windows in Elliot Park, really close to downtown and also close to the U. The owner, Jonathan Stark, had named it “Jonathan Studios”. I had to have an interview with him to get the room, because he only wanted “artistic” people living there. We all shared a common kitchen and bathrooms. My room was on the first floor with the door opening straight into the kitchen. It used to be the butler’s pantry and the dining room, so the small part didn’t have any windows (nice and cozy) but the door between the two had been removed leaving just the opening and a big window illuminated the large space. The other doors which used to come into the dining room when it was a mansion had been closed off permanently. Three steps led down to the big part that I used as my studio. I only used the other smaller space for sleeping, reading, studying, or getting cozy with a girlfriend on my futon. In the cozy space stood a beautiful old 1940 Philco wooden console Shortwave World band / AM radio that I bought from an old lady for $20 in 1980 because of a blown tube. I found the replacement tube in a stock house that sold old radio and TV tubes in the warehouse district. I used to listen to French on it (not understanding much). I made a bookshelf with boards and empty Leinenkugle beer bottle cases, where I had my Encyclopedia Britannica and loads of books of all kinds. I sometimes miss those days when books were cheap! My records and Bang & Olufsen turntable, amp, and speakers were set up in the large studio space.
One summer day after my move into Jonathan Studios I took my big black canvas outside on the parking lot (there weren’t any cars on it) and started to do an “éclabousage” (splatter painting) with white paint. I didn’t start with any idea, in fact it might have been an abstract…but abstract paintings have always been difficult for me…I can’t do them. Every time I try to do an abstract painting I see things; images start to form in my imagination and as I paint they take form and the painting is no longer abstract. That’s the way it always has been, and that’s the way it was for this one as well. Even though it was still only white splatters of paint on a black background…I saw a wave, and it reminded me of Hokusai’s famous wave.
I needed to paint it and bring it to life, I chose to do it in purple, and I decided to call it the Purple Wave. For the moment, it sat waiting in my studio, still just an éclabousage.
At the beginning of the school year, during Art History, Modern Art and Architecture, I met a really pretty girl in the Auditorium, Alicia Phalen, she looked like a model, and she knew it. Her mother’s Japanese half gave her long beautiful satiny black hair and a soft matte fawn complexion highlighted by Sakura undertones. The blend with her father’s Irish side lightened her complexion, made her eyes almond shaped and topped them with bold brows, and graced her with a small slender nose between high cheekbones. We hit it off really well. I can even say that I was infatuated, but she had a fiancé, and so our relation stayed “just friends”. Her beauty gave me an idea; I might be able to make money with freelance photography. I’d been driving taxi at night for a year, and it was slowly killing me. I bought a Freelance photographer’s handbook, designed myself a logo “ABell Art”, and made myself a letterhead to be able to make propositions, contracts, and invoices. I needed a phone and a typewriter. I loved old films and antiques, and I liked to be “different”. So, I found an old 1940 Western Electric semi-gloss black rotary phone with a heavy metal base. I took it to a repair shop in the warehouse district and fit with new cloth covered cords and a modern plug, ready to plug in and use. I installed the phone in my studio, so now I would have a monthly phone bill to pay. But if I was going to do freelance work, I needed a phone, and the subscription only cost $7.50 a month. Next I found a heavy Remington Rand 1940's Vintage Black Cast Iron Manual Typewriter with round keys which I restored as well. Luckily I found some old stock of ribbon that fit it. I just loved the music it made when I typed; clickity clickity click click clickity clickity click Ding click click shwiiiiiiiish.
My handbook suggested doing free work to build reputation, so I thought of a deal, a three way trade-off that would benefit all three parties. Alicia wanted to be a model, so she would get free photos for her book, and I wanted to make money as a photographer, so I needed a portfolio to show. We did some shots, but I needed a third party to have a really good setting. I asked her if she knew how to ride a horse, because I imagined that her long black hair would look nice blowing in the breeze, complementing the horse’s mane and tail. She said that yes, she hadn’t ridden much, but she knew how to ride. As for myself, I used to ride a lot back in San Jo, and I knew how to handle a horse. So, I contacted Sunny Stables, down in Rosemount with my first phone call on my new (old) phone. I spoke to the owner, Sven Hansson, and proposed the following: I would take photos of a model riding one of his best horses, and I would supply him with free photos to use for advertising in exchange for using his horses and beautiful rolling hills scenery. He liked the idea and we made an appointment for Sunday, September 26th. The weather forecast was good, mostly sunny and 66°. I typed up a contract to be signed by all three parties, giving myself the rights to all the photos and their subsequent use, and giving the two other parties each the right to select and use freely up to 20 photos from the shooting that day, printing was to be at my charge. I would use the darkroom at the U, so the only cost was photo paper, and I already had a lot. I rented a car from Saturday to Monday morning, and Alicia and I set out to do a beautiful shooting on a sunny Sunday morning.
Sven was a typical Minnesota man, Stocky and blond, with a gentle round face hardened by a life of bitter cold winters and a beaming grin. I took a liking to him immediately; I had already felt his happiness when we had spoken on the phone. After we introduced ourselves I asked him if he had a dark horse that would match Alicia’s beauty, and he brought us a magnificent dark bay thoroughbred with a long black mane and tail. For me, he brought a red dun quarter horse. I was thrilled! I could already imagine the thoroughbred’s mane and tail flowing in the wind with Alicia’s hair. The rolling hills, spots of woods and open prairie made a perfect setting. He tethered the two beauties and we entered his office to sign the contract, of which I made 2 carbon copies, 3 altogether. He asked us how much riding experience we had, I answered “years”, Alicia answered “a little”, and he asked her “Are you sure that you can handle the thoroughbred?”, she indicated “yes” with a nod of her head. Next we made acquaintance with the horses, letting them smell our hands, giving them some apples and caressing their necks. I helped Alicia to mount, and I mounted afterwards. I carried my camera over my shoulder and across my chest in a canvas REI camera bag with 5 rolls of film. Sven bid us a good ride and we set out at a slow trot to find a good spot. We stopped at a small bosquet and I got down from my quarter horse first, tethering it to a low hanging tree branch before helping Alicia to dismount. She posed next to her horse, her arm around its neck, with the grove of trees in the background. Nice pictures, but next I wanted the great shots I had imagined. I helped Alicia back up on her horse and asked her to gallop across the prairie. She gave a kick and the thoroughbred took off. Startled, she started to scream, which frightened the horse, making it rear up in a buck and throwing her off. As soon as she hit the ground she screamed even louder as the thoroughbred took off across the fields. She wasn’t far, so I rushed to her. She was crying and holding her arm, obviously in a lot of pain. I took a look and there was no doubt, she had broken her forearm. I told her to sit tight and jumped on the quarter horse, racing back to the stables as fast as I could go. The thoroughbred arrived well ahead of me and Sven came running to meet me. The look on his face told me that he sensed something had gone wrong. I told him about what happened, and he seemed to take it alright. “I asked her if she knew how to ride” was all he said. We climbed into his pickup and I led him to Alicia, we brought her back to the stables and I drove her to the hospital, waiting for her until her arm had been put into a cast and driving her home afterwards. She hardly spoke. Afterwards Alicia took Sven Hannson and Sunny Stables to court and sued them. All I got out of the deal was a few beautiful pictures of her with her arm around the horse’s neck. I did put them in my portfolio. Alicia didn’t want the pictures, and we stopped seeing each other accept for classes.
The first girl to share my cozy space was Sandy, and we used to love to warm up with a glass or two of Remy Martin VSOP on the cold winter days. A housemate at Jonathan Studios, she moved in at the start of the school year and rented a small room on the 2nd floor. A rebel and an artist like me, we started going steady when we met at the U in printmaking class, before that we were throwing each other glances in the house, but the fact of being in the same class brought us closer together. Petit breasts, like Ha Vu’s, gave a tender form to her slender light frame. Her grey blue eyes softened a freckled face with slight lips to match the rest. A small red scorpion threatened to sting any hand that ventured to caress the lower back side of her milky white neck, in plain sight because of the bob cut of her straight light brown hair. I also discovered a hidden secret; a very small blue butterfly nestled permanently at home just behind her left ear. Generally quiet, she only spoke when necessary, her demeanor being soft and quiet, despite being a rebel.
In October I saw an ad searching a Valet parking attendant for a chic French restaurant in the Lumber Exchange Building, “Les Quatre Amis”. I bought a plain black suit, and applied dressed for the part. When I showed them my taxi driver’s license I got the job on the spot, a perfect job; easy, with great tips, and the cherry on top of being able to study during the slow times. What’s more, I drove cars I’d never have imagined driving (but just to park them). I even drove a Delorean DMC12! It caused me some embarrassment though, because when it came time to get the car from the parking lot, I couldn’t figure out how to put it in reverse. There are often little tricks with gear sticks, but this one baffled me, and I had to go back and ask the owner how to do it. He laughed and told me the trick; there’s a key hole under the arm rest between the two front seats just behind the gear stick, and you have to put a key in and turn it to be able to shift into reverse!
One day a little while after I started at Les Quatres Amis I stopped into Ragstock, a great store I had discovered in Dinkytown where they sell lots of old clothes, and found a used red double breasted military marching band jacket with a grey interior, making large grey lapels with the front opened. I took it to a tailor and transformed it, turning it into a waist length spencer and putting little spherical round brass buttons on it. It looked really smart, and my boss at “Les Quatre Amis” loved it. From then on I used it as my uniform, together with black slacks, a white wing-collar shirt and a black bow tie.
My experiments with ancient photo methods had yielded some interesting results, including two portraits of Ha Vu, one in Cyanotype (blue) and one in Van Dyke (brown). The best piece by far was a “cliché verre”, a black and white gelatin silver print, 8” x 10”. The process is to make a print sized negative by taking a sheet of glass and coating it with resin, and then you pass the coated side over a burning candle to collect the smoke in the resin. After the resin dries you scratch it where you want the light to get through and it makes a black line on the print. Like for my paintings, I saw an image already outlined by the variations in the carbon made by the candle smoke. The final result was striking, showing a naked woman lying down at the top, seeming to float in the air, with her hair falling down and creating a waterfall. Its sensuality showed no vulgarity. I called it “Waterfall”. I asked and got permission to do an exhibit of these experimental procedures at the U of M Studio Arts building for the end of the semester.
January ’83 brought a new decision with it. I decided to get my ass to Paris this year. Enough was enough. My classes on the Italian Renaissance, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism had made my thirst even stronger. I burned to see all of those great paintings, and not just pictures of them! And a lot of them are in Paris. I needed a plan, and as the semester drew to a close I found one. I saw a documentary film on Anaïs Nin at the Uptown Theater some time before, and she nourished an idea to create a network of artists all over the world. I thought “that’s the kind of idea that would go down well with the ICA, because they’re always talking about changing the world”. I needed to combine that idea with some kind of studies in Paris that would let me continue receiving money from my education fund. Something I’d wanted to try for some time that would fit the bill was film-making, but the U of M didn’t have any classes in the 7th art. Film making would be great, and easy to build a project on, because it could be a way of creating a network, and also, one can see almost any kind of movie in Paris. Hardly anything in the way of movie clubs existed in the Mini Apple, making it almost impossible to watch any of the old classic French, Italian, or Japanese movies. That’s one area where Paris excelled, I had found out that Paris boasted more movie theaters than any other city in the world, and that alone supported a good argument for studying film-making theory there. I knew of a film making school in Saint Paul where some of my friends had gone called Film in the Cities. I decided to check it out and ask the ICA if it would still be possible get my stipend if I dropped the U of M and started school there.
As well, I already had an idea that I wanted to try with super 8 film. I wanted to use my “Purple Wave” painting as the basis for a film. I wanted to make an animated film at the same time as I did the painting by shooting pictures of the canvas one frame by one in between each 5 minutes or so of painting with a camera set up on a tripod. This was all fine as an idea, but I didn’t have a movie camera, and I couldn’t afford one. Film in the Cities loaned cameras to their students. So, perhaps now I had a plan, I just needed to make it work.
Jim Fortuna, a stained glass artist who learned his trade as an apprentice in Germany, lived and worked at Jonathan Studios. A really nice guy, about 10 years my senior, small and skinny like me, with long wavy brown hair, round wire rim glasses, and a big handlebar mustache that he liked to twirl between his right thumb and index. He almost always wore his work overalls. We got along really well, and we used to smoke grass and have long talks where he taught me a lot about Europe and about life in general. He introduced me to espresso café, and I got my own machine and that was nice, because sometimes I really needed a good strong coffee when I had a paper due and stayed up working all night at the last minute. There were a couple of good European style coffeehouses in town but most of the coffee in town tasted like colored water, really weak (“jus de chaussettes”, later on in the story). I decided to confide my plan to my friend Jim. He already knew about my idea for the Purple Wave. One morning I found him in his basement workshop as usual, wearing an old parka over his work overalls. The cold air made us breathe out puffs of vapor despite several space heaters here and there.
“Hi Jim, How’s everything?”
“Like usual, Jonathan has got me working on a project for a stained glass door and the deadline is really tight. I have to finish the job in the next 10 days.”
“I’m sure you’ll make the deadline, you always do. Say, how about a little coffee break? I’ve got something to share with you.”
“Sure, I could use a break, and some coffee.” He put down his torch and we sat on the sofa in his workshop. He rolled a joint as I made us each an espresso with his machine. “What’s on your mind? Nothing serious I hope…you look lost in your thoughts.”
“I’ve got a plan, it’s a bit far-fetched, but I think it can work.”
“Another plan on how to get to France?”
“Yeah, exactly. But first I’m gonna’ tell you something that I never tell anyone, because it’s important for my plan.”
“As long as you don’t tell me that you’re gay!” He laughed jokingly. “Where’s your smile? You have to take life lightly my friend. Don’t worry. What will happen, will happen.” He said as he lit the joint. He took a drag and passed it to me. We had already spoken a lot about free will and destiny, he was a firm believer in a higher power and a master plan, and I wouldn’t come to this realization and conviction until 7 years later, when I reached 30. At that time I was atheist and anarchist, and for me the only thing waiting after death was to be eaten by the worms. For me, at that time, we were all, each and every one, the complete masters of our outcome.
I took a toke and passed it back before starting in. “No, seriously, I never tell anyone what I’m gonna tell you now. I grew up in a religious sect. My parents were cenobites in a religious order.”
“No shit? Wow! That’s some heavy shit! No wonder you don’t ever tell anyone! You already told me that your dad was a preacher, but don’t cenobites usually take a vow of chastity? I’ve never heard of a married couple with kids being cenobites!”
“It’s true. They started getting involved in the sect in ’67, when I was just 7 years old, and they joined in ’69. It’s made up mostly of preachers and their wives, but there are other families too. They take the vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, but they interpret chastity in their own way. They say that it doesn’t mean abstaining from sexual relations, but always putting God first, before your spouse or children. Personally, I just think that the sect wanted to make sure that another generation followed them.”
“Ha ha ha…yeah, pretty hard to ‘grow and multiply’ if you practice abstention!”
“Anyway…they had me pretty brainwashed until I woke up suddenly when I was 12. In fact, at 12 years old, all the kids go through a “rite of passage” in the summer and then are separated from their families and sent to live with legal guardians somewhere in the world in what they call “Religious Houses”, they’re in all the major cities in America and in a lot of other major cities abroad. They say that family life is a “worldly value” and the vows taken mean that you have to detach yourself from all worldly values. I got out of the sect in ’77 in San Jo. They let me go when I got my GED. Just for the anecdote…the idea for my Purple Wave came indirectly from them… Hokusai’s Great Wave is one of their symbols, they say it represents ‘The Sea of Tranquility’, because, of course, a tidal wave is really tranquil, isn’t it!”
“Wow. Interesting! But what does that have to do with your plan? You can’t be planning to go back into the sect to get to France…that would be completely crazy!”
“No. In fact, because everyone in the sect takes a vow of poverty, they decided to create a special fund for higher education, so all of the kids of the members can use the fund as long as they go to school. I’ve been getting a small monthly stipend of $150 since I started back to school. The sect has two faces. The money I get is from ICA, the “Institute of Cultural Affairs”. All of the people who work for the ICA are in fact part of the sect, which has another official name “The Ecumenical Institute”, and several different internal names, like “The Order of the Iron Cross”, but everyone in the sect just says “the Order”. I don’t have to be in the order to get money from the education fund though; I just have to justify my higher education. That’s where my plan comes in. I want to use my education fund to get to Paris, and at the same time I want to use it to do my Purple Wave painting and film.”
“How? Are you gonna ask them for money to buy a camera and finance the film?”
“No, that wouldn’t work. First, they won’t give me more than $150 a month, and secondly, I have to be enrolled in school to get it.”
“But they don’t offer film-making at the U of M, do they?” (not a question)
“Yeah, that’s right, exactly. They don’t. I plan to quit the U of M and enroll at Film in the Cities. I got the idea to do my Purple Wave film and then ask Film in the Cities to let me do their class in Filmmaking Theory by correspondence from Paris, because I can see all kinds of classic films there, and I can’t here.”
“If you want your plan to work you’re gonna have to act on it quick, spring semester is starting at the end of the month, right? If you want to cancel your registration at the U you’ll have to do it right away.”
“Yeah, that’s right. I kind of wanted your opinion first. I just got the idea last night.”
“I think it’s a crazy plan, but as Mark Twain said ‘A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.’ If you really believe in your idea you just might make it happen, but at the end of the day it will happen if it was meant to happen.”
“Bullshit, not what Mark Twain said, that part’s true, but it will happen because I’ll make it happen, and not because it’s my destiny.” We both laughed…we had different ideas, but that was OK. I let him get back to work and I moved to act on my plan.
On Monday January 10th, having no time to waste, I did everything all at once. First I called Film in the Cities and asked if I could see someone about enrollment. I got an appointment for 3pm. I spent the rest of the morning writing a letter to the ICA explaining my “Artists’ Network” idea that I got from Anaïs Nin’s documentary film, and how I needed to study filmmaking to create the network. I insisted on the urgency of enrolling at Film in the Cities and that I needed their continued support and a quick response. I made no mention of the Purple Wave. The letter, well written and persuasive, gave me some courage. I put it in the mail, but still, I didn’t have any idea how they would react.
At my appointment I found out that the next semester started in a month, on Monday, February 7th and so I enrolled right away for the Introduction to Filmmaking class. It consisted of attending class twice a week during the day to study basic filmmaking steps. We were required to produce at least 2 short silent films during the semester which would be screened for the teacher and the rest of the class and served as the basis for our grades. As I had heard from friends, they provided super 8 cameras as well as cutting and editing equipment. Of course, I’d have to buy film and pay for developing. They wanted a 50% deposit on the tuition before the start of classes. Another thing pleased me; I could keep working at “Les Quatre Amis” while I studied. I skipped all my classes at the U that day, but I got back to my room feeling like I’d made the right decision. I decided that I would be going ahead even if the ICA didn’t accept my project. Even if I didn’t get to France as planned, at least I’d be able to do my first film, and that was really exciting!
I started work every evening at 8 pm, the restaurant was closed between lunch and dinner and they didn’t have Valet parking service for lunch. I had some time before I started work so I headed over to Butler Square and stopped in at Felty’s Pub for a beer, already dressed for work in my red double breasted spencer.
“Hi Danielle, you look beautiful, like always! Beck’s dark please, I’m celebrating tonight!”
“Hi Tony, what’s the good news?”
“I’m enrolled at Film in the Cities and I’m gonna make movies!”
“Hey that’s great, maybe I can play a role?” she said laughingly.
“Yeah, maybe so, you do look like a movie star!” I said, laughing too. And it was true, Danielle, the barkeep at Felty’s did indeed look like a movie star; a cute little nose, very French looking, shoulder length straight blond hair, and a perfect womanly form, well rounded but not too much, and while I hadn’t thought of it before, it was a good idea. I had seen all of Greta Garbo’s films in a series at the Uptown Theater and her charm made me think of her. I continued…“In fact, I already know the title of my first film, but it’s still only a vague idea, I have to work it out more and develop it.”
“What’s the title?”
“The Purple Wave, it’s also the title of a large format painting.”
“I love the title, you’ve got me intrigued!”
I went on to tell her about the painting and my inspiration, but not the details of my plan to get to Paris. We knew each other just a little, as much as most people know the barkeeps where they go. She was really friendly and I always gave good tips. I relied a lot on tips myself, so I was generous with other people who needed them. I was thinking that I might just ask her to be in my film, so I asked her for her number and she gave it to me, then I left to go and park cars like usual.
The next day I stopped into admissions at the U and cancelled my registration for the next semester. For the moment I had finals to do, but my mind was already constantly on my new project. I would have to wait to get a camera before I could start painting the Purple Wave, and I also needed more ideas to add in. Just the painting in itself would have made a really boring movie.