In the last year of our friendship he was becoming weak, I would find him on the floor unable to get up. ...and he was hallucinating, would call me, telling me there was a little gypsy in the corner of the room. I would go over and remove the pile of clothes and wheelbarrow from the corner, but he still saw it.
Mike was brilliant and passionate, he had a soul. I went to Mexico city for two months but left friends to watch over him. He died while I was gone.
The family and the family beyond family
The family into which we were born leaves an indelible claim upon us.
The gravity of kinship carries and inevitable weight.
Asking the question, who are my brothers and sisters?
opens up the possibility of a family beyond the genealogical family.
A spiritual family, a universal family.
The mystical unity of humankind.
Those words above written by my beautiful friend, Ron Atkinson.
I've spent many years talking, meeting people on the street, but it took a long time before l learned of "the family" on the street.
My father, My Son
I am going to tell you a story, a old rusty story about my friend. When i was just a teen growing up on Vancouver Island i use to see this man riding around on his bike, usually wearing a orange skirt, and towing behind him on a rope, a tiny little dog.
"I don't know where to go. I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do."
It was many years later, now somewhat a man, I was in my studio (which was downtown and opened to the public) and in walks a drunk mike. He was interested in what l was doing, and I somewhat interested in what he was doing. He told me to come and visit anytime, he lived in the woods in an old log cabin.
“I sit here, sipping my drink of wine, no toothache, no headache or troubles as the birds sing within the trees. With a can of sardines and dried bread, that's my fancy banquet.” – from Mike's own journal
The first time I went to visit mike, I went at night.
He shouted at me to come in...and when I entered... he was sitting in the corner in a big wooden chair he had made, a bottle of vodka in one hand, a century sam cigar in the other, and a big happy smile on his face. The air was thick with smoke from a leaky wood stove, the floor you couldn't see, covered in bottles, clothes, pistatio shells, cantelope peels and other things. Wow, I thought.... it was my first of many visits.
When mike was young, he collected lingerie, yes he would steal lingerie off of the neighbour's clotheslines. His dad finally found his stash, hidden under the basement stairs. Mike use to say "Lights me up like a torch" and many times he was referring to his lingerie hobby. He also liked to wear women's clothing, mostly undergarments but occasionally dresses that he had made. There are many reasons a person likes to wear women's clothing, but I think for mike, it was a date, a date with himself. Mike had many sketch books, even attended the Vancouver school of art in the sixties before his father squashed that.
changes like the tides, most days low ebb, rare days...raging high tides
Mike lived in a small town, and he didn't have any friends, people thought he was weird and he so wanted contact, companionship, friendship. Sometimes he would call me at four in the morning, I love you, I love you he would holler.
"I'm a blasted off old man. My father was in charge of all the people going to war and , as a result, he blocked my name out. He blocked my name out. Blocked me out."
Mike: Doesn't work for me anymore. I'm too old now. I get to wonder about tomorrow, will it ever come? Ken: Why do you say that? Mike: Inconsistency of living. Do you ever think of that?
Inconsistency? I came here thirty years ago. My brother told me i'm lucky to have a place like this or something like that. Thirty years. I've got little or nothing to show for it. I just dig out some damned old junk from the refrigerator, whatever the hell i can find to eat. And then i go to bed. Eat and sleep. Sleep is my narcotic. To forget the past. Forget the future.
History built on history
I was given a canada council grant in the nineties, travel to mexico city for two months. They (Fondo) gave me a home, some money and the rest was up to me.
It's hard to write of my trip there, so much, it's like a thousand souls entered my body, like the Sahara, sands being whirled about, moving,changing, coming together.
My home was in the district of Cayoacan and l walked the streets every day. The green tent, this was my treasure. I discovered a big green tent on the sidewalk outside of a paper factory, tarps, couches, tables, a stove, a light. The tent ladies, they had been on strike for a year, and l visited with them every day.
I brought them goods, baked goods, pop, and a deck of cards. We played rummy, they would make me hot corn drinks, none of them spoke english, maybe a few words, "hello, goodbye, love" But it didn't matter, we communicated through laughter, gesture, doodles on a note pad, and just plain knowing. It's like the "dancer in the dirt", when you are honest, sincere, natural, and just "being", then we hear, we see, we feel.
The tent ladies were always an enigma to me, l didn't understand everything, like shadows that floated behind me, just catching a glimpse of them but never able to grasp them.
I met Jose in an alley, he and his wife lived in a tiny cement room, a bed, a dresser, and walls filled with photographs, crosses, and symbols of "the virgin of Guadalupe".
Jose and I would just chat in the alley, share smokes, grasped at words that sounded familiar.
I met her in an ice cream shop, and in her stumbling English she asked if I would teach her english, she would teach me Spanish.
It was Rosa that I attached myself to at the green tent. She seemed to be in charge or perhaps just more respected, she guided me as I guided her.
We passed yellow notes back and forth like kids in grade school. She was a dark chrystal.
this is a painting of rosa, of mexico, of my loves back home, memory, past and present, roaming around in my body, my soul, painting is always so much more, so many lives go into a painting, so much history. It always smelled of rain.
I would walk Rosa to the subway most nights, around midnight and in that mile there were so many scents. ...close your eyes and smell what is around you. It was assaulting, but in such a delicious way. It was like the earth made love to you.
...silence is how I should sum up my stay in Mexico city. My beautiful friend Ron wrote the following for me and next to silence it says it all...
Acquaintance with a great white turkey sums up a wonder l feel.
The ugly beauty of this abused bird speaks to a dark light in me.
This unlikely creature confirms how utterly strange life is.
It is a strangeness which shocks, amuses and comforts.
The white turkey of Cayoacan heals our alienation.
Suddenly, we smile in recognition of a greater belonging.
It is this amused earthy wholeness l would have us remember.
While working at a homeless shelter in Prince Albert
one of my first adventures with mixed media- black and white photographs, tissue paper, a little paint, early 90's i believe. The photograph i took in calgary, was walking down ninth ave and came upon this friendly sort, "Come on, were going to sit...do some drinkin." he said. I followed him to this open tin shack, three walls and a roof, all of tin, a old couch and some upturned buckets. Three of them, all friendly with one of them silent and shaking. They proceeded to puncture a can of lysol and drain it into a gallon wine jug of water. A swig every fifteen minutes seemed to be the routine and when passed to me i politely declined.
Years later while working at a homeless shelter in Prince Albert i noticed that the lysol has been replaced with mouthwash, lysterine.
This is dave, he came into the shelter late one night, dropped off by social services. He was seventy, he was scared, he was shaking. I smiled at him and told him not to worry, l told him things would be okay.
I gave him an empty room and wished him a good sleep. A couple of months later dave gave me this poem he had wrote.
I wandered Lonely as a cloud
That floats on high over hill and dale
When all at once l saw a host
A host of golden daffodils
Beside the trees Below the lake
here l saw myself a fluttering in the breeze.
Dave ended up in a private resthome of sorts way out in the country. I don't think he liked it, couldn't get to town easily and sometimes he needed to get a drink or to talk with other people.
I am going through years of photos, years of stories, trying to put them together someway. Many many years ago I started photographing on the street, just quick and hurried, like something that would be taken away from me if l wasn't fast enough. Then l met wally, he was the first that I spent time with, that I got to know.
Walter Skulsky died a very lonely man on a mattress in a rooming house. My first encounter with wally was at a corner store. Exchange of small talk and cigarettes. I asked him if I could come over to where he lived and photograph him. Next day i arrived greeted at the door by wally in his well worn long johns. "Hi, remember me, can i come in. I have some cigarettes,”
I set up this big 4x5 camera and shot very quickly as l was sure he would kick me out. We then sat at a small table, it was just a room, a bare mattress, a empty fridge and the bathroom down the hall. Wally was always quiet never initiating a conversation, however he answered most of the questions l posed to him. I took prints of wally to him and hung them on his wall, l must have seemed very unusual to him. One time he was nude. I took my place across the table as l normally did. I didn't take any pictures.
"fukin, fukin buttons, where am l going to put all these fukin buttons, on my fukin ass." This was wally's reply to my question as to why he didn't wear any of the buttons l had brought him. I always brought him weird stuff, chocolate bar, a old radio.
I went away for the summer, travelled across canada by train. I came to see him, his rooming house was empty, the neighbor next door said they buried him last week, her husband had found him dead. It struck that wally had died without love, without knowing someone out there loved him. He died of loneliness.
Another old old story, another old old friend...Mickey McGrath. Mickey was my second lesson.
Here is a portion of a story i wrote then; "I've been stood up, l had a date and she stands me up ...!" These are the thoughts rolling through my head as I wander aimlessly down 4th street. My vengeance is distracted as I notice a litle old man shuffling down the street towards me. "Hi, how's it going?" I ask. "Could you help me to the chink store?" "My eyesight...gone bad." I proceeded to escort Michael McGrath, his fragile arm linked in mine, to the corner store and back. This was my first of many encounters with Mickey.
Mickey resided in the Colonel Belcher Veteran's Hospital, floor 3x. He invited me up to his room. There were four beds in the room, with each bed seperated by a wall of fabric. Mickey had, he explained, the choice area, in the corner with window light and only a short walk to the bathroom. We smoked, we talked and l took photographs. He's always in his pajama's now, hair never combed and the calendar, always needs to be changed. Maybe he expects it now.
I remember my first encounter with Mickey. I changed his calendar then. A calendar, on a wall at the post of his bed. A wall filled with papers, pictures, cards and calendars, all out dated and aged like that in a laundromat. Pictures of the pope, pictures of jesus, catholic paraphernalia. You wouldn't think Mickey a religious man but it's been in his life, like an overcoat. The army, beer, whores, yappy mothers in law, and religion are the materials of Mickey's overcoat.
"Let's go Mickey...remember today...we're going for a drive." I had even marked it on his calendar, a big X, Sept.27th. Hauling Mickey's clothes out of the closet he asked for his dungees. "You mean your jeans Mickey?" A plain white shirt, and his brown sweater. "Can you shave me Kenny?" Well we got out his old plugged up electric razor and l proceeded to shave him. His face was like a hot water bottle, warm and rubbery. "Don't forget the moustache." "Watch the sideburns...feel it." he said. Save for the aftershave lotion Mickey shuffles to the bathroom to comb his hair. A young boy getting ready for sunday school.
The first 15 minutes were held in silence as we drove around calgary with both of us filling the car with a heavy fog of smoke, Export A plain. My question breaks the silence. "Get out much Mickey?" "Naw, don't get out much...the guys in the park..like flys...get a bottle, get a bottle." Lived in New York, Mickey did, until they kicked him out for an expired work visa. He used to frequent High Park and listen to political rallys until 4 or 5 am. Drinking red wine and fcking snake on the canals in Montreal. Five years in a prison war camp in europe and escaping three times, once under potatoe peels. His boxing days, winning the bantam weight division in Saint John in 1936. From coast to coast Mickey has worked and played only to pass out in calgary and wind up in the Colonel Belcher Veteran's Hospital.
Two weeks later I stop in to see Mickey again. He remembers our car ride. I change his calendar again.
"You should become an accountant...good money in that." Mickey informs me as l sit next to him on the bed. The room stinks of smoke, heavy smoke like a sort of fog, only nauseating. TV is on blaring out some obscure soap opera. The heat must be cranked up as the room is almost unbearable, combined with the fog, creating a boiler room.
yap, yap, yap
Mickey offers me another smoke, Export A plain, shit, i decline thinking i might have just lost one lung because of his damn smokes.
"Yap, yap, yap." Mickey replies in response to his marital status. Mickey was married once however left his wife because of his mother in law. "Always yapping, yap, yap, yap." He was married for eight years and in turn created two off spring, a boy and a girl. Funny l can't picture Mickey being a father, sure a husband, as l picture him being the wild sailor, money in his pocket, melting some girls heart, with his cute boyish looks, promises of things to come. A real ladies man. "Yap, yap, yap, yapping mother in law." Mickey tells me his daughter doesn't drink. "Wife never did either...my son's a bum...always borrowing money...the bum won't get any money out of me." Mickey tells me he hasn't seen either for about eight years. We both remain quiet, each of us pondering the last bits of our conversation, like sherlock holmes and watson trying to piece it all together. Both having different reasons.
I question Mickey's choice of clothes as he's wearing his pajama's, colonel belcher specials. "Got drunk yesterday, in the park, passed out...now l'm grounded for a month...can't leave the grounds." A small polite laugh comes from both of us. "Do you believe in alcoholic?" Mickey asks me. I'm hestitant, not sure which way to go. Like trying to please a teacher, l want to please Mickey. "What do you mean?" I reply, trying to play the idiot. "No such work, l don't believe it...you just like booze, that's all...no such word as alcoholic." Mickey says. The subject is ended now and Mickey and l drop into silence, into the nauseating fog.
I just want to see my two daughters.
– Spike, Christmas Eve
For some reason i am reminded of spike every now and then. It was many years ago that i knew him, visited him and his dog butch, a big raggy german shepherd that stood by his side, waiting for crumbs, waiting for stroking hands, waiting just for him.
I would visit spike and butch every couple of weeks while cycling around downtown, and would bring smokes and once l brought some meager snack for butch. I was over there one christmas eve, sharing my smokes, petting butch, shared in spike's bottle of bad wine,a big generic green gallon bottle . At some point spike said he was hungry so l volunteered to make him something to eat.. I remember not finding much in his cupboards - just like a fairly tale there were crumbs with the inside of his fridge being a pale yellow ketchup stained empty wasteland.
All l remember finding was a cabbage and decided that this would be find, l could boil it and spike wouldn't go hungry. Well the inside of the cabbage was crawling with little white worms, so that kindof put a damper on spike's appetitie and we just had another smoke instead. I listened to spike talk of the neighbor, a young girl with child. He told me that she had been out of diapers, out of food, out of money, so he gave her the few bucks that he had. He was so proud, so happy with his gesture, it made me happy, made me feel glad to be there, to be with spike and butch, to share in something so simple.
I took a trip
Canada by train
third year of college i won a 1000 dollar grant and i was going to travel across Canada. I bought a 30 day via rail pass, could get on and off when and where i wanted. I bought fourty rolls of black and white film 400asa. My instructors told me that I was very fortunate, the landscapes across canada they said. Little did they know.
My first stop was Swift Current, Saskatchewan. I stayed at the Imperial $9.45, a room, bath and washroom down the hall.
Met Charlie Butcher- lived there all his life, 74years old and had farmed grain for 36 yrs. Lives in town now, his parents homesteaded in Swift Current.
I met the mayor who instead of the key to the city gave me a swift current pin and keychain. I gave my cheese buns and five dollars to Luis and Mercy who were from New York, lost in swift current.
Bob, Bunk, Erwin, Mrs Peters then i met Floyd. He told me that he had been in "mental wards" three times and his brother was in the kingston pen, he was framed, says Floyd. Floyd talked to me about "jerking off" and god.
People don't believe that they can get back in their mother's womb you know." "My father choked to death, my mother had a miscarriage." "Animals believe in god you know, everday down at the zoo people are talking about god and the animals hear, you know."
As l left to board the train, Floyd gave me a stubbly bearded kiss on the cheek. There was a thunderstorm going on that night, maybe one in Floyd as well.
Arrived in Brandon, Manitoba early the next morning. Stayed at the Crystal motel for $18.00.
Wandered Brandon, weary from the train. Took pics of Vern in room #9 of my hotel. He's been there six years, 17 years in Brandon. Moved from Winnipeg where he had a dry cleaning business which folded when his wife left with the kids - "she got everything."
Vern gave me a polaroid of himself which a friend had taken and he was going to tear up. Brandon was strange to me, hard, dry, but l recognized warmth there...
On my way to Toronto where the train stops for a night..
The actual train ride was okay, slept in my seat, wandered to the bar car every now and then chatting to people in my still and quiet way.
I bought bagels or buns whenever l stopped, and munched on them, scrunched in my seat like a raccoon with a secret. Stayed at the youth hostel in Toronto for $14.00 and like the other cities, wandered, shuffling along unsure of what l was really doing, peeking here and there, down alleys, in churches, cafe's where l could get toast and coffee. I had to be careful as l didn't have much money.
There was a strawberry luncheon going on in the back and in the front l met Joe, Mike, and Frank. None of them had whip cream on their faces so l guess they hadn't been invited.
Frank was hungry and was checking out the donation box inside the church. My journal from this trip is so embarrassing, l rant and rave about churches, l whine and fight with myself over what l'm doing.
I met Private Smith, use to be in the army, seven years he told me He'll be 60 in a week. He got to go to Copenhagen. "where the girls and the booze where for the taking". He was such a nice man to meet.
I sat on benches, switching every now and then so it didn't look like l was thinking.
I met a wonderful man named Bill.
He's an interesting looking man, probably not much over 45. He wears well worn brown cords, 70's style, flared at the bottom. A very used looking shirt, that once was white, with stylized western designs on it. Over this he sports a vest, the kind your dad use to wear while working on the weekends.
I'm trying to think of a way of introducing myself. Approaching the bench, l knelt down at the end. Now being within a foot of his face l notice more detail. Well weathered and tanned like that of a man of the sea, his face. His open mouth revealed broken, blackened teeth. His left eye askew, probably as a result of a barroom brawl. His hair looked like it had been cut by hedge cutters, perhaps a self-helped job to rid himself of lice. A man walking on the edge...
"Smoke?" I said, pushing my pack up towards him. Smiling, "Thanks," he said, as he lit both of our smokes. Once again my seductive ploy had met with success. We remain quiet, he and l silently watching the city rush by.
The silence is finally broken. "Nice day hey." Jesus, if this had been my first date l would have blown it. "Ya," he says, looking up and confirming my statement. He smiles again, acknowledging my presence. With such a beautiful sincere smile he resembles that of a naive young boy. Cigarettes and names were exchanged and he began to tell me stories of the trains.
"I use to ride the rails." Riding the rails took Bill many directions as well as providing him with a multitude of jobs. Construction, work on the BC highways, and trapping with his uncle were among the handful. His uncle had helped him out of many tough spots, providing occasional work.
Giving him several smokes, Bill placed them in a baggy containing a few dozen cigarette butts. Bill picks butts off the street and he rolls them. "But l watch who throws them away so l won't catch any mouth diseases." Thinking on that, l wonder what Bill would do with the excess time if he didn't worry about where his next smoke was coming from.
With all types of traffic crossing back and forth, we concentrated on the females, with Bill commenting, "Lots of pretty girls go by here." I agreed. "Lots of ugly ones too, but the ugly ones have nicer personalities." We share laughter of Bill's profound comments.
Again smokes and lights were exchanged and this time Bill offers me his dirty white lighter, to keep. "Thanks Bill."
The conversation returned again to his past work, his plumbing jobs, his handling of dynamite in Winnipeg. "Lots of work in Winnipeg, I can go back there you know." As well, Bill tells me of the plentiful supply of work in BC. "I'm going back there next month," he says, "Lots of work." I have a train to catch and as l leave l tell him, "Go to BC. Bill." He nods and smiles. A half hour later while waiting in the boarding line l spot Bill in the lobby. He has his little baggy out and is picking butts from the ashtray. I hope he goes to BC. I hope he goes trapping with his uncle.
You know, one of the first things i learned, not long before this trip while i ventured the alleys of Calgary, well it was that i could approach anyone. It didn't matter if they looked hardcore, disturbingly cold, or disenchanted, gruff or gross. There's this human inside of us all, no matter the ventures we've taken, it's there and wants to be touched.
I traveled to Halifax after Toronto. Headed straight to Dartmouth when l arrived.
Met Douglas Mysers in a hallway of a rooming house, dark, a single uncovered bulb hung over his head like a noose.
It was unsettling, he was unsettling. I stayed at the ymca for $16.50. The next day, traveled up to Sydney, stayed at the Cliefden house hotel for $24.00. Wandered, wandered, wandered, and wondered. Went into the Irish club, not many people, very dark, very quiet, met Jimmy. Jimmy use to be on skid row in Montreal. "The french are great people."
"I’m an alcoholic, use to fish out of Nanaimo, had my steam ticket, fuckin liquor, lost it, but l knew my ships." Jimmy had a fantastic face, he should be in the mafia l thought.
Traveled to Digby, met Stacy Rogers on the train. 16 next week she tells me. Lives with her mom who loves harley davidson's and Bob Dylan. Stacy ran away once to Halifax for three days. She wants to be a lawyer or a singer, she's been smoking since she was 10.
Arrived in Digby at 10pm, not much money so l stayed in a all night pizza joint until the ferry to Saint John was to leave at 5am Saint John , like a dusty old chest of drawers, clothe flung in, some dirty, some stained, some even clean.
I passed through Toronto again, it's unavoidable.
I decided i wanted to go to Niagra Falls. I met the most wonderful couple having lunch there. They were from a small town of 800 people just outside of London, ont. They came to the falls 39 years ago on their honeymoon and have come back every year since.
Back on the train heading to Edmonton. Bits of conversation float down the aisle, breaking like bubbles over my head.
"Stop it or i'll pull your dink," says a little girl to her brother.
"Maybe i'm not fit to be a security guard." says George to Marg.
I drift, sleep, waking myself shouting my own dreamlike words "That's Nice" Edmonton, Jasper, Prince Rupert where l sleep in the front seat of Chet's van. My trip peters out in Princeton. How do l end this- l guess l don't, it goes on, a walk through this fog, grasping at what is human, trying to be human.
It was a family
I met these three one night, down a alley, behind a building, two men, one boy, one dog, one cat. Luminosa Obscura, they were sitting, resting, talking, laughing, smoking, drinking, huddled together around a invisible fire, the dog at the hearth, the cat nestled into the boy's tummy. It was a family, it was a sense of belonging. I came away feeling the glow and warmth of their shared fire.
I met george at the homeless shelter in prince albert. He lived there for about five months, was ever so quiet and gentle and slowly we became acquainted.
He fell in love with a girl in PA and for a couple of months was so blissful, so in love, a smile that you could walk on. Then he had to go to Manitoba for the summer, do some guiding, make some money.
He showed up at the shelter a couple months later back from guiding, eager to see his love. ...but his love had found another, in his absence her heart had not grown fonder, her heart had wandered and found someone else. George was devastated, he mourned this love for many weeks, he drowned himself in whatever liquor he could find, he started coming into the shelter drunk, but because he was still the gentle and quiet george I would let him in and he would quietly and sadly go to sleep.
My last few days at the shelter I remember sitting with george in the lobby just quietly and with few words visiting. I remember rolling a drum cigarette for him. Now yes I know how horrible cigarettes are but if there was anything good in them it was this, it was rolling george a drum, an act so personal and almost intimate. He shook my hand and said goodbye, he shook my hand with warmth and friendship.
I hope George is back guiding in manitoba, l hope George is in love.
BILL & THELMA
This is bill and thelma. It took me ten years before I finally got a good photograph of them.
Rob has lived in the gully on and off since he was seven, he use to run away from home and hide there, sleeping under the tree branches. He knows how to keep dry...
They change their camp every now and then, sometimes because of the city, sometimes because of the cops, sometimes for a change of scenery. Rob, Cindy, and Bobby, this was the core - every-now and then someone else joins, another body curled up on the ground, the disheveled head of hair sticking out like a scarecrow. Rob's a good person, like's my dog, tells me stories that l haven't heard before. I am welcomed when l visit their camp. On cold mornings and when there is a smouldering fire we huddle around it, feels like a Louis L'Amour novel. A sense of belonging, a sense of longing.
We need communities based on this...
brenda & alan
Like two different flowers, on two different seasons, one open, one closed.
Alan is fast, quick, they use to call him "speedy". He had spent some time at Tranquille before they closed down, and like any big institution, it probably left a imprint. Brenda was softer, slower, steadier perhaps, they made a good pair. I photographed their wedding... I took Alan and Brenda everywhere, camping, hotels in the big city, art shows, walkabouts... I don't know what l was trying to do, l guess l thought it was useful, important, real.
I lived in a little shack in Parksville and beside that shack was a wood shop of some sort. I would see her drive up on her bike. Loud, maybe a harley, clad in the blackest leather. I didn't know if she was boy or girl. I couldn't tell but I wanted to photograph her.
So one day l ran into her and with the flapping of wings in my tummy l asked her. "Can l photograph you" Slammed against the wall, one hand on my throat, a fist to the groin. Well that is what l expected, but no, yes, out came this beautiful sweetness, "why yes darling, that would be nice".
I photographed her at night in my studio, we talked for hours. Her life in a small town, it was hard for her, being gay in this town, being inside a body that she wanted to change.
Makes me smile thinking of her.
She could make the world smile. She had cancer, they took her leg off at the knee. She would come to my studio now and then, help me with the painting. I told her to write something on the painting. She found a quote on my wall and wrote that.
An endless flame, a shinning star, the drop of dew on a blade of grass.
ROB, ANOTHER TIME
I walk the gully again. The winter months showed signs of settlers. A camp by the river, ashes of a long night's fire and the start of a stone wall.
A plastic water pistol to ward off predators, in the dark we all look menacing. There was a grocery cart as well, filled with cardboard boxes. On the side written in black felt pen, "pictures from living room" I've seen him in the early dawn, a huddled shape under a sleeping bag, like a corpse waiting for an identity. When l go in the afternoon, he is gone, sometimes his sleeping bag is stashed in the bushes along with empty bottles of mouthwash. He has made a nest now, out of dried bramble, it looks comforting, and warm and like it would be okay to go back there at night.
l could smell the smoke ten minutes before l found him I was taking the boy for a walk, to the gully around 6:30 am. We crossed the stream and saw him, a man sitting, squatting crossed legged in front of a small fire. Little round logs burning slowly with smoke, he had collected some rocks to put around the fire and there was a blacken pot next to it. He put his hand up against his head when l approached kept it there like a shield, didn't say too much, neither of us did, just some light words. He must be from out of town, else he would have hidden himself further north in the gully and l think he wanted to hide.
sean & clare
I met Sean in the nineties, he came from a program for lost punks.
They asked if i would take him in my studio, mentor him i suppose. He came to my studio, hung around, rambled poetic lyrics, and he brought with him, his family. A family of hooded punks, black cloth, spiked collars, with dreams of a fresh new world. I photographed Sean one night, with his girl Clare.
Oh ken! My mother's new boyfriend is a real ass-hole...Don't you wanna come over here and marry her for me?
(Claire, from a 1996 postcard)
The painting above is of sean and clare one night in a empty old house, they played dress-up, they played house.
The orange chair has been with me for a decade and some.
It is a dear old friend because of the memories buried deep in its grain, in the layers of paint. mike labrie had it first...back in 1995. After mike died i received the chair, well the orange chair and his sewing machine. the chair still stands, the sewing machine still sews .
Years later while wandering around the streets of victoria l heard some shouting crossing the street l find Alister sitting cross legged on the sidewalk I asked him what he was shouting about...
I did a painting of Alister ("alister starbuck and his book of revelations") Near the bottom left I put a color print of the orange chair. I ran into alister a year or so later and he asked me why I put a picture of a chair in the painting. "...a place for you to sit" I told him.