I’m a collector of stuff that most folks ignore/You know that one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor/I’ve got gadgets and junk up to my knees/But it’s just like finding buried treasure to me…
These first few lines from “White Elephant” play in the background of my mind like a theme song almost every time I go into Steve’s garage. Looking around the old horse stable piled high with things he’s brought here because he thought they had value makes me wonder about what I consider valuable.
The only things I spend money on regularly are books and records. I like buying things made by people I know. But afterwards, when I’ve brought the thing home, more often than not, I’m left with a hollow feeling. The wanting beforehand is much stronger than whatever the feeling is after I’ve gotten it. Of course if it turns out the book or record is good, that extends the positive association while looking at the physical object which is like a vessel for thoughts and insights inside. A painting is different in that the package it’s in is the important part. There’s nothing inside, it’s all on the surface. But I hardly ever collect paintings either.
A couple months ago I bought one of Ken Ellis’s quilt portraits. I don’t know what came over me but I suddenly wanted one. Mine is of Shockheaded Peter from the old German children’s book. It’s the first piece of art I’ve paid for in at least a decade.
Every cardboard box, plastic bag, sagging suitcase, and bowed metal shelf in the garage holds something Steve loved when he first saw it. What happened after, when he put it back here, is another story. Whether most of these objects are forgotten after decades of lying in this place or are just biding their time for when he looks at them again and remembers why they caught his eye remains to be seen.
Because nothing here belongs to me, the way I see it is completely different. But there’s no way not to see this room as a manifestation of a man’s mind. In the paintings and drawings I’ve done I try to find some order, rhythm, pattern, and pathways through and around all of Steve’s stuff. Just as with all my other work I don’t think about meaning or narrative or content before starting but instead trust that something will catch in the process of doing the thing.
When I’m done I bring the piece back home and hang it on the wall to look at. It always looks completely different here than it did there. Then I sit and wonder whether I’d miss all my stuff if, say, I came home and the building burned down. I doubt I would. I’d know that the money I’d spent on those things had already helped the people I gave it to to make more things and that keeping the thing was always going to be temporary anyway. The buried treasure/scavenger hunt part of collecting has its appeal. But finding and keeping are very different from each other.
Painting pictures of someone else’s treasures has been its own reward. I don’t know what I’ll be left with after I’m done but I’m certainly glad I’ve done it.