For your summer reading pleasure, BURNAWAY brings you Just Like Suicide, a novel by artist Mery Lynn McCorkle, set in the Los Angeles art world. She writes from experience, having lived for years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when it still was the art frontier, and then LA; she now resides in Rome, Georgia. She describes the book as “a compendium of interlocking tales cataloguing self demolition and success in the Los Angeles art scene, from the point of view of artists, dealers and family members.”
We’ll post sequential chapters from McCorkle’s book every Wednesday and Friday over the summer. Or click here to buy the book now.
Trying to get the four of them in a room together was worse than herding cats. Barbara Trumbell had always considered this simply a cliché until she met Maggie who had a great aunt on a farm in Alabama with nearly a hundred cats. Maggie, of course, had actually herded cats, describing it as a Herculean task, equal to cleaning the Augean stables, and had succeeded only by opening cans and cans of tuna to lure them. The moral to the cat story was a quote from her great aunt: the key to success is excess. After Barbara tried futilely to contact the artists herself, she asked a bunch of mutual friends to intercede. Finally, when Maggie’s mother, a gallery owner they all knew, called them on speakerphone and told them they really should talk to Barbara, they agreed, sort of. For weeks, one would say yes and another said no with no one ever making a firm commitment. She finally resorted to Maggie’s strategy by promising a bottle of Bordeaux, Château Pétrus 2004, freshly baked bread from Portos and Brie de Meaux to get them to participate. Except for Hondo, none of them had tried a bottle of wine which cost more than multiple months of studio rent before. Miraculously, Tuesday became free for all of them.
“Ok, guys, first let me thank you for doing this,” she told them after setting up the video camera on the tripod. “The first question I’m going to ask you is why you chose to become an artist.”
“Oh, God, I’m going to need something stronger than wine in me before I can answer anything that banal,” said Alex, dressed in pale pink with a tight collar, his dark hair polished back.
“So what question would you ask?”
“Why is a girl with a trust fund almost as big as Hondo’s interviewing four artists over break instead of being out snowboarding in Peru?”
“Because I’m a freshman and I don’t know any better?”
“Good answer. Oh, wow, this is dynamite wine.”
“I brought an extra bottle if anyone wants more. Here. Ok. Look, it is a stupid question but it’s the one assigned to me so please play along. Please please please?” Barbara gave them her best puppy dog imitation. They all laughed and made faces back. “Ok. Straight faces now. Lori, I’d rather not have the wine bottle be the center of attention either. Ok. One more time with the camera rolling: when did you realize you were going to be an artist?”
Lori groaned, flinging her hand across her high forehead, nearly knocking Alex’s wine glass. “Art is a blessing and a curse.”
“You better not spill any of that wine, Lori. And it’s not about messing up my clothes. This stuff has already experienced transubstantiation and you will seriously go to hell if you waste a drop of it. Hondo, if you don’t want yours, I’m going to drink it.”
Hondo moved his glass out of Alex’s reach.
“Ok guys, seriously, my question may be banal to you, but I’m supposed to follow the assignment. Can you pretend that it’s a better question?”
“Whatever. I’ll play.” Tommy Malinowski had graduated last June from Cal Arts to instant fame. Along with Alex, Lori, both fellow Cal Arts grads, and Hondo, he was included in a pivotal exhibit, “Subjectivity”, at the Hammer Museum which had launched them all as art stars. Barbara had read so much about them she felt she already knew them. On top of that, she was prep school friends with Tommy’s former studio assistant. According to her, until six months ago, they couldn’t produce enough work. And then the economic downturn hit. Now the friend was studying business management at Yale and Tommy was in a much smaller studio, living in a much smaller house with no assistant. That collapse would add the tension to the little film. She focused the camera to try to capture any shifts in emotion.
Tommy sipped the wine before picking up three little plastic balls, each painted like planet earth.
“It all started in the first grade for me,” Tommy said, looking straight into the camera. One planet went up into the air. “I was sitting next to this really cute girl, Clementine Greenberg, and we were coloring pictures of ducks in a coloring book. Her ducks were all nice and perfect and mine were all scribbled and messy.” The second ball went up immediately followed by the third. He was trying to juggle them to the rhythm of his words. “She made some snotty comment about the irregularity of my ducks, and after that, I was determined to demonstrate that I could color ducks like nobody’s business.” One ball almost got away from him, but Barbara suspected that was deliberate, a little showmanship for the camera. “A few weeks later, I took my CTBS test. I didn’t get I was supposed to fill in the dots to answer the questions. Instead I drew ducks with all the dots. When the test scores came back, it showed I was an imbecile; and by state law I was required to attend a special ed class for three years along with my regular class.” One of the balls fell neatly into his lap. “By the third grade, my test scores were off the charts so my teacher placed me in the Mentally Gifted Minors Program. Of course, I was still attending the special ed class at the same time.” The other two balls fell into his lap. “Needless to say, I was a very confused child and didn’t know if I was smart or an imbecile. Come to think of it, that’s how most artists are viewed, isn’t it? While I do ‘abstract’ paintings now, every so often a duck subtly creeps into the work.”