Art Janitor Stories - 21st CENTAUR-Y MAN (New York)
If you’re lucky in life, you will get the chance to meet one character that is unlike anyone you’ve ever met before, and the moment you meet them, you just know that you will never meet anyone like them again. For me, that meeting happened on the first day of a job as an Art Handler amongst the glamor and glitz of the auction world in New York. I was escorted down the subcellars of an institution almost as old as the paintings it held. Past the Basquiats and Warhols leaning against the walls waiting to be photographed, I saw the top of a shiny brown tombstone-shaped head. He was a hulking mass of a man; even sitting down, he was almost as tall as I was standing up, and his broad blue-collared shoulders belied the truth of this urban Nostradamus I would soon come to know.
In this story, we will call him Desmond, for the sake of anonymity and protection from the dark forces in this world that seek to destroy him. You see, Desmond was a conspiracy theorist, and the world was out to get him - but he was also so much more. I have described him as a Jamaican playboy that was part Morpheus from the Matrix, part George Washington Carver, with a dash of Bronx street hustler, a booming Shakespearean voice, teeth like bowling pins, and a face like a villainous genie. He once told me that he was going to take a Popeye's break because he couldn't quite solve the last bit of calculations for his time machine prototype. Yes, time machine, made in a bath tub......in the Bronx.
Now, there are many stories I will share about Desmond but this one centers around a particular portrait that I did of him. The auction house I was working for did an annual employee art show that showcased the many talents of the artists that worked for the company. They gave us one of the galleries for a few weeks and it was open to the public. This was my chance to do something great. Desmond took almost everything seriously in life, and those kind of people are the most fun to take the piss out of; especially someone who thinks the FBI is tapping his phone. I once picked up a phone at work and shouted to the white noise, "Desmond is going to kill the president!" He looked at me with the ferocity of an angry beehive, and said, "You have jeopardized my very existence, sir! I have to move my whole family now - you will never see me again." I saw him again. The next morning he was there at his desk eating a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.
I was getting excited about what I could possibly paint as an homage to this ridiculous genius. Then, I recalled something he said once: "Tell me René...have you ever stood naked at the edge of oblivion?". To which I replied,"Can we leave the urinals before I answer this Desmond?" That was it! Desmond standing naked at the edge of oblivion. But that wasn't enough....it needed something...something fantastical....something centaur. I rushed through the weekend to finish my modern day Mona Lisa, feverishly painting and imagining Desmond's Cheshire cat grin and maniacal laughter swirling in my head. I chose to paint it in the style of 70's fantasy artists like Boris. By dawn I was done, still wet, I brought it in and searched for a frame befitting its regalness. Now for the part I was unsure of, revealing it to Desmond. He was a vain conspiracy theorist, torn between getting off the grid and just getting off with women. He loved to groom himself and flirted with every woman in his vicinity, but he hated having his picture taken or his named used.
I tried to prepare him by saying, "Now I know you may get mad, but...". "Oh no, what now for Christ sake, what did you do now?!" he said. I turned the painting around and waited for it. Desmond bent down to one knee like Scrooge picking up Tiny Tim, his eyes widened, tears started to form, he looked at me then back at the painting, he even removed the Black & Mild cigarillo from his gaping mouth. "It....it....it is remarkable. You've captured my very essence. What is this witchcraft you hold in those hands? I declare this as the single greatest piece of art ever made!" he screamed. I had done it. I had won over the man who thought art was just a gateway
to homosexuality. Like Narcissus he could not look away from studying his own face, that's probably why he didn't notice the huge penis sheath that I painted under the horse for my own kicks and giggles. Didn't matter, Desmond was happy and I was ready to show the bourgeoisie of Manhattan, Desmond.
The last moment I remember of him and this painting was the night of the opening. He stood in front of it at a full A-frame position like Superman, proud, chin up and smiling. An elderly lady was next to him looking at the painting and then looked at him. She then looked at the painting again and back at him again. Desmond then says, " See that painting old lady... it's me.....yeah, it's a bit homoerotic, but it's me, and I love it."