By Dean Haspiel
Last Fall, my girlfriend, artist/painter, Jen Ferguson, was asked to be part of a small group art show at a European-style Hair Salon [the kind that has a DeeJay] in her local DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY. I advised against it but Jen had already agreed to do the show. The night of the Hair Salon art opening happens and it’s festive. Lots of catered food, wine, slicked-back black hair, golden gowns, designer suits [think polar-opposite of MAD MEN], and cigarettes [cough-cough]. There was a regal air to the heirs of the hair salon. Not my cuppa. I walk in through the glass door and see Jen in the very back by the hair washing station flanked by a table of her artwork, talking to a friend.
As I make my trek towards her, I see to my right a travesty of a painting that looks something like The Statue of Liberty. Albeit apocalyptic, it was not the holy twist-ending, Planet of the Apes – Statue of Liberty, either. It was possibly one of the most bland interpretations of the French gift to America I’d ever encountered. In this iteration, the statue was sick bay green, the sky was insane asylum blue, the composition was uninspired, and the expression on Liberty’s face looked despondent, like she’d eaten too many bananas and needed a toilet, post haste. I laughed to myself, and deemed the monster, “Stoop sale art!” The kind of art your geriatric uncle made for the annual Catskill Cauliflower Festival and it got published on page 3 of the local newspaper and was quarantined in the family attic with all the other serial killer clown paintings and dusty heirlooms until it was time for Spring cleaning. I’m no art snob but it confirmed to me that Jen was a big fish in a small pond and her art was way out of their league. We enjoyed the opening as best we could but it didn’t generate the kinds of sales her other openings had allowed. Perhaps the house party music and clove cigarette exhaust was the wrong vibe for her rustic Brooklyn Bridge paintings?
The next day we weighed in on the “bigger picture” and Jen confirmed that the salon was her last non-gallery show. She would still show at her regular digs but steps to break into the art gallery world and focusing on her online Etsy store were a priority. In solidarity, I couldn’t help but contrast Jen’s supreme talent with the rest of the room she had shared her wares in [maybe I am an art snob, after all] and I voiced, out loud, about the godawful Statue of Liberty painting as an example of art brutality. I watched in horror as Jen’s eyes turned into big brown Disney baubles of sadness. Jen revealed that the Statue of Liberty art was hers. *Gasp* I couldn’t believe it. How? Had she painted with her opposite hand in an experimental drug haze or had she suffered a seizure while interpreting such an icon? I was embarrassed for her and me. Luckily, Jen laughed and I laughed and we realized I was too candid for my own good but she appreciated the honesty. It set a good tone between us. The next day, to my chagrin, Jen destroyed her heavily scrutinized Statue of Liberty.
Every Christmas, Jen and I make it a point, as artists, to gift each other original art tailor made for each other. Previous Xmas art I have made for Jen include universal monsters, rats, rail birds, the Brooklyn Bridge, and other things that speaks to her “art in chaos” sensibility. Jen has made me art about Wo Hop [my favorite Chinese restaurant], Gemini [my astrological sign], a portrait of my two cats [Cocoa Paloa and Miercoles], and other beautiful paintings of old men and race horses. A few months ago, we watched a Norwegian movie called TROLL HUNTER and it was a lot of fun. Jen became infatuated with Troll mythology, read up on some classic Troll lore, and decided to create METROLLPOLIS for TRIP CITY. This year, I decided to tackle Trolls as my Xmas gift to Jen.
It took me awhile to figure out that I was going to illustrate a Troll family and that the parents were going to celebrate the sprout of their off-spring’s new found tail. Or, something like that. It was meant to be odd but charming, leaning towards the absurd, just the way Jen likes it. I spent the next day designing the father and mother and child [boy or girl? It didn't matter] and adding a gray and black wash line to the blue pencils. For the duration, I listened to JG Thirlwell’s “MANOREXIA: The Mesopelagic Waters,” a Doug Stanhope comedy album, and Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. The mix of horror music and caustic banter must’ve made a macabre impact on me. When I was done with the drawing, I stepped away from the artwork and was stunned to witness my disaster.
What I originally imagined for Jen took some bizarre left turn when it cast from my mind to my drawing hand, punching my talent in the jaw with a right hook that knocked my muse unconscious. What stared back at me was a bizarre perversion of innocence. A fable gone fatal. A concept gone corrupt. A good idea gone bad. Maybe there was an expiration date between concept and execution? If so, that was a very short window of opportunity. I was appalled yet equally fascinated by the water colored car accident that stood before me like a scapegoat of good will gone ill. Xmas was just hours away with no time to make another one.
Xmas morning arrives and Jen and I promised each other that we wouldn’t make a big deal of gifts because finances were tight. Besides, we gift each other plenty of stuff throughout the year without cause for celebration. Simply put, if I discover something I think Jen will like, I don’t wait for a birthday or holiday for her to enjoy it. Still, we managed to squeeze out a few fun Xmas gifts for each other and Jen gave me a couple of amazing pieces of her art that I will treasure forever. As I was about to hand her the Troll abortion I made her, I finally realized what had happened to me and I told Jen, “I made you my Statue of Liberty.” She gave me a knowing look and tore open the gift wrap paper and was aghast. A second later, Jen burst into laughter, squealed, “It’s so wrong!” and hugged my present. In that instant, I proudly became a certified stoop sale artist.