His acts had history behind them. He saw a show once at the Louvre; works by the great Dadaists: Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Tristan Tzara. It inspired him. He made himself a T-shirt that said " Tristan Tzara is alive and well in San Francisco" and wore it around for months. He found it amusing that no-one seemed to know who Tristan Tzara was.
He was wearing it one day when he went to the art museum in San Francisco to sell poems. The poems were wrapped up like little scrolls, tied with ribbon; when asked what the price was, he replied " Whatever you can pay." Nobody paid anything.
Finally he gave one away to a pretty girl who was standing in front of a painting of an orange cat. She came home with him, and for a while he fell in love with her. He spent the next few months fondling her breasts, otherwise he never paid much attention to her. Eventually she left him and found a boy friend who was adept at oral sex and knew how to satisfy her with his mouth.
When he eventually did become competent in the same way, he took to announcing it in a loud voice as soon as he walked into a bar. He felt that he had nothing to hide. As far as he was concerned sexual behaviour was just another facet of artistic expression, orgasm being akin to the feelings one experienced upon finishing a great piece of art.
After a happening at the Glide Memorial Church, he took home several boxes of plastic webbing, which he strung all across the long hallway that served as an entry-way to his apartment. He put a sign on the door that said "Beware the Spider!" His roommate quickly got tired of having to get on his hands and knees and crawl to get into the room. He came home one day to find the sign still on the door, but the webbing gone. "Use your imagination" , his roommate said.
The walls of his room were covered with inky handprints. He had spilled a bottle of Sepia ink, one day, and the logical thing to do seemed to be to put his handprints all over the room, although later, the landlord used this as one of the reasons why he evicted them from the apartment
These acts continued. Food, hygiene; such matters held little interest for him. Art was a constant companion in his thoughts. He wrote on the walls frequently. It gave him great satisfaction to be able to lie in bed, stoned, and read his favorite poems from the walls. No need to turn pages, it was simplicity, it was how things should be.
One time he helped set up a show. Lecturing some of the others on the history he knew about, he was seized with the idea of entering a ladder they were using, in the show. He called it " Old Ladder" and entered it as a piece of sculpture.
This caused a great controversy, which was eventually resolved in his favor. People said that as he had done absolutely nothing to the ladder, not altered it in any way, he could not, in fairness, enter it as work of art he had created. It was not, they said, an original work of art.
He pointed out that by hanging a name tag on it and entering it in the show, he had radically changed it's nature. It was no longer simply an adjunct to the process of setting up the show. It had leaped to the forefront of everyone's conciousness; it's basic nature was transformed. He had, indeed, made significant changes; in no way was it the same old ladder. The judges allowed the peice into the show but it was ignored during the judging; he was not suprised.
The streets of San Francisco were an art form in themselves. Just roaming around the Haight-Ashbury often fulfilled some longing inside of him; he wrote poem after poem-often illustrated with little line drawings of things he had seen on the street, about his encounters around town. Sometimes the poems would fill his head faster than he could write them down, and he mourned for those that were lost.
He loaned his room to a friend, while he went on a hitchhiking trip, and the guy burned the place up while smoking in bed. Many of his things were lost in the fire; sculptures, drawings, poetry, secret notebooks scribbled in the dead of night; things he had collected over the years. He consoled himself with the thought that all these things were of a transitory nature anyway-only slightly longer lasting than the ideas themselves which led to the creation of the objects. After all, he told himself, it is the act of creation that matters, not the object that is created.
In this vein he began to experiment. He burned money, he dressed up in outrageous costumes and read poetry on the street, he gave away valuable things to complete strangers-although not often, as he did not frequently come into possesion of valuable things. He was satisfied that these acts were motivated by his love of art. Even the wildest behaviour was justified as far as he was concerned.
Some people thought that he carried things to extremes. After one wild episode during which he chopped great holes in the walls and then poured salt all over himself, rubbing it into the wounds he had suffered earlier in the day, all the while crying out almost undecipherable rantings, phrases like "...the blood of Christ...", wild declarations of love, and the like, several of his friends tried to have a talk with him.
" It doesn't matter" , he told them, " You don't understand, but it's okay. You were affected, it made you pause."
They tried to convince him that reducing his wife to tears-he was married by this time-and chopping great holes in the walls of his cabin, did matter. It was winter they said.
" No, no! You're missing the point. When I was doing all that, it was real for me, it had meaning. The rest of this is all shit, it means nothing; what do you want me to be? A used car salesman? A fucking politician?"
He continued along his chosen path. He painted on whatever was handy. He wrote poems on anything that would hold still. It didn't matter what happened to his work after he had created it, he didn't care if anyone ever saw it or not. If something caught his eye, he was likley to try and turn it into a piece of sculpture.
Even his personal safety meant nothing to him. In a bar full of red-necks with baseball caps on their heads, he suddenly ripped the cap off his own head and tore it to shreds, shouting and screaming about lemmings, about the whole world's lack of imagination. He seemed so insane that no one bothered him. Nobody in the place was even willing to acknowledge his presence. They all just pretended he didn't exist.
He believed intensely that perception was the key to everything. His frequent experiments with drugs began as an attempt to manipulate his perception. In the end, they became a refuge from the massive fits of depression caused by the increasing distance which he found existed between himself and the rest of the world. His drug of choice, which had been LSD, now became Heroin.
You could say that he tatooed himself right out of existence. He created little patterns of red dots on the inside of his elbow, and would spend hours, days, at this work. It was done with a hypodermic needle attatched to a syringe full of Heroin. He was no longer upset by the rest of the world's perception-or lack thereof-of art. It did not bother him at all when he read about Andrew Keene in the papers, when he passed those gallerys full of nice little oils of the Golden Gate bridge and Fisherman's Wharf.
He stopped caring about the rest of the world; all he cared about was getiing a hold of the raw materials for his new work. This became an obsession. He now lived alone in a ratty little hotel on Seventh street downtown. He spent his days and nights either tatooing his elbows, or looking for Heroin with which to do it. He photographed his arms as the patterns changed. Some days large yellow bruises, or abcesses would spread on his skin. Even though these hurt, he found them especially pleasing to his eye. His room became full of picture after picture of the pattern on his arms.
His elbow became so infected for a while that he had to start using other spots. The veins on his wrists, behind his knees, in his calves and so on. And then one day he simply got some stuff that was about ten times as strong as it should have been and when he shot it into his arm, his heartbeat got so slow, and his lungs became so full of fluids that he stopped living. Another piece of meat lying on the floor of a dirty little hotel room.
They took him to the morgue and put a tag on his toe that read: "Art Doe" .
© Jan Marica 1992,1995