Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The astrophysicist, the Surrealist and me

You just never know.

I sketched a famous astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, during a newspaper interview and asked him to sign the sketches, which he did in a careful, ornate script. I posted them up here, because that's what I do to amuse myself.

My friend Andy Torch commented graciously, because that's what he does. Then he emailed to ask if the drawings were for sale. I said of course, for the usual price - all bidding starts at $5 or a pint of beer.

Since he had no one to bid against him, he could have had both drawings for $10. He offered $30 for the pair - plus the pint of beer. What a deal!

This all happened yesterday morning while I was crunching sports copy and writing a brain-knuckler of a political column, which made me want to go dunk my head in beer when I was finished. I asked Andy if we could meet for a beer that afternoon. He said sure. We did so.

Over that beer, I acknowledged how silly it is to have a real artist pay me for my crummy sketches. He said that was okay, his wife was a scientist who would appreciate having the signed (by Neil) drawings of Neil deGrasse Tyson - and, anyway, he liked buying art made by his writer friends. He also had artwork by the poet Stefene Russell.

I said I could see that - after all, I really liked the one short story I know Andy to have written, The Strange Case of Captain Pie and Nine, and still meant to set it to music it one day.

He reminded me that the book that includes his story is now in print. And right there was my way to avoid having a genuinely talented artist pay me for my simple sketches, even if the simple sketches are accompanied by the gorgeous signature of a scientific celebrity. I asked for the Surrealist book (and the beer, of course) in trade for the drawings, and Andy agreed.

As we enjoyed our beers, I mused upon a possible future in which my crummy drawings took off on the art market, like the crude drawings of Raymond Pettibon. At first, I imagined how horrible that would be - if my artist friends struggled making real art, while I became one of those notorious tricksters who profit off of a clever concept executed over and over again with little technique.

Then I thought, no. It could actually become a good thing. I promised Andy if I ever start making real money off my not-real art that I would endow a bar tab at The Tap Room for real artists and issue Real Artist cards to those, like Andy, who were welcome to drink off the tab any time they wished.

Our faithful barman Paul Jensen readily agreed to administer such a fund, should unexpected developments in the art market make it necessary. We drank to that!

And, then, my afternoon visit with the Surrealist turned genuinely surreal, involving public rumors about a powerful elected official and a cryptic note with a secret name scrawled upon it handed to the barman, with note "Give to the reporter at end of bar" ... but that's a tale for another day.


The image is of the book Andy's story is in.

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