Malevolence stalked the dingy studio and globules of paint hung from every crack like
some alien sludge invasion. It was late and a half-empty bottle of cheap burbon sat on
the table while Cowdisley Shovel regularly gulped from a paper cup. He had said he
could give me half an hour before breakfast, so here I was, 2.30pm (Chinese dentist time he informed me) notepad in hand and
hidden recorder running ...
You might have read certain sanitized versions of my interview with our esteemed Magazine artist and art director but below is the transcribed tape of what he really said:
ABLINDEYE : Mr.Shovel, when did you first begin to paint seriously?
Cowdisley: Artists don't paint seriously, you ninny, house painters do that.
ABLINDEYE : You know what I mean.
Cowdisley: I'm a contrarian, so I figured I would give up burglary and try it. I quit climbing tall buildings at that point.
ABLINDEYE : Why?
Cowdisley: I thought I made it clear—because I wasn't fit enough for climbing, which you should write in the skeletal/suffering artist/drug dependent mode. I thought I might be fit enough for painting, ala Rothko, Pollock, Warhol, Picasso and other cultural clowns, past and present. You know what Warhol had?
ABLINDEYE : What?
Cowdisley: He had a presence, what is called in art circles "high seriousness". He allowed us to be serious about him taking himself seriously, you know what I mean?
ABLINDEYE : No, I'm afraid not.
Cowdisley: Did you ever see his fried chicken commercial? You take his elegantly ample persona as a given; he's a man enjoying his chicken, and you trust that.
ABLINDEYE : The point being?
Cowdisley: That I can't take painting seriously any more so I quit doing it seriously. I only paint superficially. I want people to be light about taking me lightly. But even my best pieces can't top what's actually being exhibited out there now, what I call "rhetorical post-modern dialogue."
ABLINDEYE : "Huh?"
Cowdisley: Flat, bland canvases masquerading as paintings.
ABLINDEYE : Could you elaborate?
Cowdisley: Yeah, you know pieces that evoke that intimate, conversational tone that TV critics use. Like you were inviting someone to your bathroom to appreciate your toilet bowl, vulnerable but reassuring. self-mocking to the point of humility, but no further.
ABLINDEYE : No further?
Cowdisley: That would be uncivilized. All the top critics praise this stuff, and when someone comes along with a well painted piece—well it's just not warm and fuzzy enough anymore. Instead of painting having a strong voice, it's become elastic and weak, near incontinent, as if burdened with a cystocele.
ABLINDEYE : Come again?
Cowdisley: You're too ugly to tempt me.
ABLINDEYE : I mean, could you extend yourself further?
Cowdisley: No, the surgery's too expensive. But where have you been? Don't you read these high-faulting glossy magazines on 'Art', all those neutered, join the club voices, that make Michelangelo look like Samson. Your art can't be just a good painting any more, it must offend someone, black or white or male or female and you've got to be this disembodied, outrageous, politically incorrect and thoroughly therapeutic invention of an advertising man. Where can you see Turner's "Hannibal crossing the alps or Rembrant's "Night Watch"?
ABLINDEYE : Could you give us some examples of this tendency?
Cowdisley: No, I'm in enough trouble as it is. But I can give you an imitation. Let's re-paint the 'Rape of the Sabine Women' for a moment in the post-modern de-construction progressive mode: ... and installation with the bisexual's stained underpants, and urine simmered, and plastic encased, sliced chicken livers shaped like crucifixes.
ABLINDEYE : That's rather good, I think. I especially like the "plastic encased part."
Cowdisley: You would! See, an installation piece is not like Titian's portrait of the Pope, and it's not like the roof of the Sistine chapel, and it's not like one of Vermeer's portraits—it's blandly uninviting, intolerant, careful to offend, though every now and then these installations will pull an apple out of the hat in an effort to lull you.—but for the most part, the voice of post-modern de-constructive art has gone limp as a diabetic's dick!
ABLINDEYE : Would you care to name some venues where you find this stuff displayed and revered?
ABLINDEYE : So you won't name names?
Cowdisley: Hell no! People love gossip but I'm below all that. I prefer out and out libel but my ex-wife's lawyer says I can't afford it because I'm already facing bankruptcy for investing in 'Pollock' memorabilia while the Nazi lugers I sold keep going up and up. How could I have known? And how should I presume?
ABLINDEYE : Would you venture an opinion about the policy of today's Art Galleries?
Cowdisley: As an unprejudiced critic I always offer an ironclad guarantee that anyone who hangs me will be spared my ridicule. Curators, are you listening? It's kind of like the insurance the Mafia sells. So I have nothing but good things to say about Art Galleries that hang more of my stuff than the thief next door. I say bite the hand that doesn't feed you and you'll never go hungry. Get my drift?
ABLINDEYE : I think so. That's all the time we have, though, any parting shots?
Cowdisley: You mean you want to see my fetish art collection?
[End of first interview.]
Second interview ...
About a week later by chance I ran into our esteemed editor at a bar. Cowdisley wore tiny round sunglasses they gave his bulbous, scrofulous, wine-florid face the look of a diseased insect. I couldn't decide if his body was too big for his head or his head too small for his body. I recognized him chiefly by his pink shirt with the Tahitian surfboard emblems. He was drinking neat bourbon in a booth with his patron the magnificent Donald Trump. I slipped under the faux wood table edge next to Donald.
ABLINDEYE : Remember me, sir?
Cowdisley: Look, Don, the young rodent returns.
Trump stirred his own bourbon with his pinkie and sucked it loudly. You know, Cowdisley, I feel sorry for you. You will never have my fame.
Cowdisley: I don't want your fame. I prefer my own.
Donald: That's exactly my point. You don't take things seriously enough, so no one will ever take you seriously. You’re just a Falstaff wannabe.
Donald: Oh, never mind. You're hopeless. I'm outta here.
The world renowned TV star stood and pulled a fawn trench coat around his large frame.
Cowdisley: He's not a bad guy, if you like the guilty type.
ABLINDEYE : At least we're back on the topic of art and artists.
Cowdisley: Ah yes, that vanishing species, terminally infected by the twin viruses of fame and profit. Better to be famous than forgotten; better to make a profit even if you're not famous, or at least marketed as famous, whatever the great unwashed believe, which amounts to the same thing.
ABLINDEYE : If I might change the subject, I think our readers would like to hear more about your condemnation of the "intimately conversational piece" in post-modern art.
Cowdisley: You mean the socially transmitted art, like a non-specific urinary tract infection?
ABLINDEYE : We don't have to go right there, Cowdisley.
Cowdisley: Is there some place you'd rather go?
ABLINDEYE: How do you rank today's artists?
Cowdisley: I won't pander to those who want me to name names, but think of the best-selling artists:, and any celebrity who paints the stuff— from Sylvester Stallone to Prince, from Madonna to Michael Jackson.
ABLINDEYE: But would you call them artists?
Cowdisley: What do you call them? They work in studios, for God's sake. Is there another requirement, some kind of cultural quality control?
ABLINDEYE : You mean you admire these people?
Cowdisley: What are you, dumber than a Hollywood script writer? This is the Great Society. Of course I admire anyone who makes more money than me.
ABLINDEYE : Don't you think it strange, though, that the same celebrities don't suddenly presents themselves as doctors or lawyers in the twilight of their careers; but to become an artist seems to require no training?
Cowdisley: I see you are of the elitist school. Of course there's some truth to what you say, but given the money, most good classical artists will eventually sell out.
ABLINDEYE : What does that have to do with skillful painting?
Cowdisley: What are you, a conversational foil? Get some better lines! Who's writing this interview, anyway? As I was saying, publicity is more important than quality. Do you think Warhol, Pollock or Rothko made it on talent? Hell no, they massaged the public persona of an artist for their fame, much like Picasso did. Dali as well used to wander around in bell diving helmet waving a billiard cue. All he needed was a feather up his Aunt Sally to complete the outfit. These guys were all shrewd publicity hounds.
ABLINDEYE: And what about you?
Cowdisley: I'm a good painter but a bad actor.
Cowdisley fidgeted, then slid toward the end of the booth.
ABLINDEYE : Before you leave, Cowdisley could you just comment once more on.....
Cowdisley: Socially transmitted art?
ABLINDEYE : No, not that.—I mean our readers, I think, understand that by now ...
Cowdisley: The art that likes to get emotionally close so fast you feel guilty whether you spend the night or not.
ABLINDEYE : Talking about spending the night what do you think of the art of the women's movement?
Cowdisley: Ha! feminine 'avant gout' paints the 'big social message', immersed in third world poverty to attract pity and interest, while all the while attempting to reverse a man's aggressive instincts into a fathering mode. Thereby is a potential mate checked for requisite compassion? If the victim passes the test and expresses any interest in the work, the relationship may proceed as the woman planned.
ABLINDEYE : But what does this have to do with art?
Cowdisley: Everything, my boy, everything. Wait until we discuss the romance between the hemispheres, the ultimately narcissistic duo.
ABLINDEYE : I've travelled a bit myself ...
Cowdisley: I was speaking of the human brain, you fool!
With that Cowdisley Shovel bulled his way out the door. He left me with the bill, but I had no idea how much he'd eaten, or how many times the table had been served before I arrived. I do know for a fact that he only eats TV food. He can't stand any of the other stuff.