Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Shabby Side of the Short North Lights Up!

The newly restored 'Garden' sign, minutes before it was lit for the first time in 32 years.
October 1st was the date for Ohio Plein Air Society members to come to the northern most block of the Short North, in Columbus, and create paintings of the facade of the old Garden Theatre, now The Short North Stage.

It was drizzly, and breezy, and chilly.

Edie Dean painting. I really wanted the LOTTERY sign lit up in this photo.
That combination makes for a sometimes miserable artist. But it was perfect weather for the seedier side of the Short North. Edie Dean was at work when I arrived, but we had already 'phone commed' a few times before I hit town.

As I reported for duty, Edie said, "This guy says we can set up under his awning." It was a liquor store, and at 9:30 AM there were a legion of thirsty customers passing through the door. It took me some time to settle in and get things going. I'd been out the night before at a Greek restaurant. Wine, belly dancing and song made for a fun-filled evening. But now, the reality of the task at hand was before me.

I slowly got my equipment gathered and to the sidewalk. I made two quick sketches to help me decide the size and shape of the canvas I'd work on. I'd toured this theatre two weeks prior to Saturday, and to make a long story short, fell in love with it, as did the two gentlemen that are making it's restoration and rebirth a reality.
The "GARDEN" sign was being re-lit on Saturday evening at 9:00 PM, an historic moment, not only for the theatre, but also for this shabby neighborhood.

But my job on that day was to depict it on canvas.

It seemed to take me a long time to get started. Was it fear, or thinking and planning? I'd like to say say it was the latter, but I believe it was a bit of both. I was spoiled for choice on the selection of canvas size for my painting. What I settled on was a 20" x 10" stretched canvas that had been hiding in my studio for the longest time. I'd forgotten that my easel only accommodates the height of a 16" canvas. So now, I had to take even more time, scooping up and moving down the large globs of oil paint that I'd just squeezed out into their usual spots at the top of my palette. In their place, I rested the bottom my the canvas.
Near the end of the painting a steady drizzle forced me
to move my easel forward under the awning.

It felt good to be painting. There was a sort of buzz in the air. The promise of the day, and the evenings event, but there was something more. Many were anticipating that afternoon's OSU game with their greatest rival, Michigan, and I knew that I was attending the opening of the Short North Stage and the re-lighting of The Garden Theatre sign!

What I didn't know was that a real life drama would come to me outside the walls of the theatre, in the form of a man named Jack, not his real name.
Jack crossed the street on the way to the store, and saw two artists. He stopped by Edie's easel first, and she kindly sent him to me. He liked what I was doing, and we started to banter back for what I thought would be a few minutes at most. I guess he was having a good a time jive talking with me, cause he wound up standing at either side of me for at least two hours!

Somehow, he got to telling me that his mother lived in New York, and that he had been a singer there. Right down my alley, since I had been a singer for a long time.
Jack sang "Superstar" and customized it for Edie and I.
We stood on the street, me painting, him singing,
sometimes singing together.

 How I painted anything, I am not sure. 

Jack was no stranger to bars, in any of their forms; he'd kicked life, and been kicked around by it; but, he still had his talent. And on this day, we connected on a human level, through our mutual love of music. Here I had a seasoned yet rusty singer right there on the street entertaining me while I painted! We started to talk about our favorite songs. He said he'd been a jazz singer, and had all the right lingo, and a voice that isn't as apparent in the video posted here. I believed every word that this nightingale told me.

I offered him $20.00 in exchange for the entertainment. I can still hear the warm tone in his voice when he later said, "Deb, why did you give me that money? You didn't have to do that." I replied, "I gave it to you for the songs that you gave to me. You can give it back if you want to." "No," he said thoughtfully, "I need it." I had to laugh to myself. We had connected pretty deeply. He was very open with me about his life. Some of what he told me resonated on a personal level; some of what he said I'd seen first hand in my own family. My time with him enriched me, made me feel less judgemental. Jack had a story, and good one, but I can't tell it properly without his permission.

All the while, people walking north to the OSU tailgate parties sometimes stopped to talk, or admire my painting, and one of them happened to be a photographer from the Columbus Dispatch. He asked if he could take some photos of me painting. But first he took photos of me and Jack, and Jack by himself. Then he wanted Jack to move to the side so he could photograph the painting. Jackie wasn't too happy about that, and by the time the photographer had finished, the songbird had vanished into thin air! No goodbyes.

Here's a link to Ty Wright's photo that appeared
in the October 4th Dispatch.

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