43 years ago when I was 25 and still a hippie artist, I lived in an old chicken coop that I converted with scrap wood and old windows into a 1200 square foot studio.
I painted in oils and carved stone.
Sometimes someone walks into your life and transforms you with one simple statement, Bender Wall Banger did just that.
As I’ve posted in the past I grew up on the streets without family, something that I now consider a gift that made me who I am. But back then I was uptight, depressed and angry, and most of my paintings reflected that mood. Dark colors, overly serious depressing subject matter. When people who had a normal middle class upbringing would comment on the dark colors and subject matter I ignored them, what did they know about life on the under belli of the beast.
Then I met Bender.
Bender had moved down from San Francisco to escape the tenderloin ghetto and try to clean-up her life in a Santa Cruz mountain cabin. She had lived on the streets since she was 13, she was an alcoholic, a junky and made her living as a hooker. A mutual friend (Diane) asked if I’d help her move.
When she came to my studio and looked at my paintings she asked why everything was so grim. I was floored. This ladies life had been even grimmer than mine, I couldn’t fall back on the old “What do you know about grim?” She forced me to see that while my life was currently very good I was stuck in the ghetto frame of mind. While I was standing in the light I hadn’t left the darkness.
The next day I built a 7 foot sculpture out of scrap wood. A colorful circus ring master with a big smile and his arms in the air. I put it by my front door and joined the circus of lightness.
My paintings became colorful humorous cartoons, in a mystical instant I left the grime behind.
A few months past and Diane stopped by and commented on the radical change in my work. I told her it was Bender’s questioning my grimness, if she could see the light there was no excuse for me not seeing it. I told Diane how Bender changed my life and would she tell her that I’d never forget it. She then informed me that Bender had shot and killed herself.
Sometimes you never get to verbally thank the people who have influenced you the most, but you can do it through actions. So I’m still painting colorful cartoons and every one of them says “Thanks, I’ll never forget you.”
Bright Blessings Bender and may we Merry Meet again.