Saturday, October 29, 2011
Painting Enrico Caruso on records with the dead Hunter Brumfield
I curate an annual Art Invitational for the arts organization I co-founded, Poetry Scores. As a habitual sketch artist and doodler, I sometimes sneak one of my drawings into the show.
Since our Invitationals call for work inspired by the poem we are scoring and titled with a quote from it, I tend to sketch someone named in the poem: Che Guevarra (K. Curtis Lyle's Nailed Seraphim), Dante (Les Murray's Sydney Highrise Variations) McKinley's assassin Leo Czolgosz (David Clewell's Jack Ruby's America).
This year we commissioned Barbara Harbach to score Paul Muldoon's Incantata, which is really a name-dropper of a poem. From a vast array of name-checked options -- everyone from Airey Neave to Andre Derain, from Samuel Beckett to Van Morrison -- I have settled on Enrico Caruso.
Caruso is especially tempting, because he was a sketch artist himself and once took offense that the author Samuel Clemens hosted a party for cartoonists that did not include Caruso. My first attempt at a sketch of Caruso, in fact, was a sketch of Caruso sketching a caricature.
Poetry Scores now has a prop shop -- just a humble South City garage, but for whatever reason it whispers potential to the sorts of oddballs who do the work we do. It's prompted us to initiate a Writer In Residence program and makes me feel like we also have an artist's studio at our disposal.
It greatly helps in this regard that my buddy (and new Po Sco board member) Amy Broadway donated a jar of paint amongst her prop-shop-warming gifts. As I started to muse about painting Caruso, I thought it would be cool to paint him on a vinyl record, since he was one of the first international stars of recorded music released on records.
I posted on social media that I was looking for old records I could paint on, and my friend Tony Renner, a veteran Poetry Scores contributing artist, said he would put some aside for me at Vintage Vinyl, where he works.
I stopped by the record store other day. Tony put two boxes of vinyl records on the counter. I picked up one box. He said, "When you come back for the other box, I have something to show you about painting on records." I lugged one box to my car, then came back for the other. Tony was holding up a record with a portrait painted on it.
"Did you do that?" I asked.
"No," Tony said. "Hunter Brumfield did."
I turned around and walked out of the store onto Delmar without thinking about it -- if this were a novel and not a report of fact, I would have kept walking down the street into a tavern and drank alone for half the day. But in fact, I went back into the store to get my other box of records to paint on.
Tony was smiling. I am pretty sure he knows the deal.
Hunter killed himself when we were in a band together; killed himself on the day he was supposed to help me move into my new house. His drumkit is still in the basement of my house. He has haunted me there several times. He has haunted a number of other people, often in similar ways -- in sudden, inexplicable infestations of insects with associated weird artistic shit going on.
As I picked up my other box of records, cursing about being haunted by the little prick again, I was just a week past a previous lightweight haunting by Hunter, during a visit to an art show at The Sheldon Art Galleries with Amy Broadway. Come to think of it, this was not long after I returned Hunter's painting of Mississippi blues legend Charlie Patton to its rightful owner. As always, Hunter was painting his way back into the picture.
I packed my records to paint on and drove north on Hanley to a North County church, where our conductor Jim Richards was directing the eight-piece chamber ensemble that will premiere Barbara Harbach's poetry score to Paul Muldoon's Incantata on Sunday at UMSL.
A weirdly out-of-season wasp, big as a hockey puck, got into the sanctuary, somehow, and flew around the musicians throughout the rehearsal, as if enjoying the music. It was such a nuisance that the conductor, at one point, actually conducted the wasp by shooing it away, turning the ensemble into a nine-piece. According to a certain demented way of thinking, Hunter had joined the chamber ensemble.
So, now I paint Enrico Caruso's face on vinyl records, and I keep something of Hunter's spirit alive, like "some kind of ghost," as Muldoon writes in Incantata, "who might still roam the earth in search of an earthly delight".