Friday, January 3, 2014


                         Art Crimes

My job over the last six years has been to curate art and music for a unique venue in Arvada Colorado called the D Note.
I've been thinking lately about a certain work of art stolen from the D Note. We've had a few pieces of art stolen from the D Note over the years. This is the story of that stolen art, and a theory about what all this thievery might mean, metaphysically speaking.

The first piece that was stolen, about five years ago, was an original oil painting created by commission in the early eighties as a cover of a Harlequin romance. The painting was kitschy, in a good way, and was superbly executed. It depicted two 19th century ghosts dancing in a lavish ballroom at the foot of a double set of chamber stairs. Walking through the room and lighting it up with a candle was a girl with a frightened look on her face and a finger to her lips. I loved this eerie goth painting for way it depicted a haunted nostalgia for a romantic past.

When the painting was stolen we narrowed down the suspects by deduction. The main suspect was a local, a Colonel Klink type who used to hang around the D Note and sometimes man the door. The guy was a bit scary (he once tried to bring a cattle prod into work a punk show) but he still seemed like a trustworthy guy. We had a real life art crime caper on our hands, and the gothic romantic theme of the painting gave the case a literary charge.

Adding to the tension was the fact that the painting was expensive. It looked like I would have to shell out 3k of my own money, a heart-sinking sum. But the case, thank goodness, was solved. A local Arvada police detective followed our lead and was able to somehow find the painting behind the culprit's couch and get it back to us safely, a big sigh of relief and a small lesson in faith.

A few other stolen works have made their way back to the D Note in various uncanny ways. I'm always glad for the return of the piece. Stolen art is just bad juju. It is not the same as stealing a mass produced material possession. It is more like stealing spirit. In my calculations stolen art carries about twice as much bad karma as stealing money. I sometimes wince a little when I think of the fate the thief has unknowingly brought on his own head.

One of the first major stolen pieces that we didn't get back was a brilliant acid-hued portrait of Nixon. I placed this painting directly across from the men's restroom door so that Tricky Dick was smiling at you in that creepy way whenever you left the john, a good subtle joke. When the painting was stolen I was pissed off, but I still had to laugh. A crook stole a portrait of a crook. It seemed too good, like the way a double negative is a positive.

The most recent art to be stolen, the one on my mind, was an unbelievably beautiful painting by Danny (D Pity) Phillips which he had given me as a gift. I had that one up next to the women's restroom door. When Danny gave me that painting, after a successful show of his we mounted at the D Note, I was floored. So much do I love Danny's work that it felt like receiving a masterpiece by a modern Michelangelo. Danny said he didn't know why the piece was for me, but that he just felt it was. Danny is a very intuitive and poetic painter. His paintings depict a world that is completely his, but they are full of all kinds of symbols and ideas that can be interpreted in ways entirely personal to the viewer.

The name of this painting was The Silver Sea. Above the silver sea was a night-time sky full of subtle changes, an aurora borealis of color. At the bottom of the painting a red king was standing shin deep in silver water and staring out at a silver sea. Behind the king was a woman laying on a blanket on the beach, with wine, a picnic lunch and a book by her side. Behind her was a lush and orderly garden. The king seemed to be looking the wrong way, out to sea instead of back at the utopia behind him. I was reminded of the ur-myth of the Odyssey; Odysseus exploring the world while Penelope patiently waits at home.

That myth is about all of us, but it seemed especially poignant to me at the time. I had a terrific girlfriend, food and wine, books, everything I needed on the shore, but was still unsatisfied, still looking for something out at sea. What else was I looking for? The painting made everything obvious to me. Like the red king in the painting I was looking the wrong way.

Now, three years later, I'm married and settling deeper and deeper into the ring of the relationship. Therefore when this great painting by D Pity was stolen it only broke my heart for a second. I didn't really need it anymore. The painting had done its work on me. Now it was destined to do double duty to the thief who stole it.

But there's poetic justice to this story. My wife and I bought another painting by D Pity. We originally bought it for a friend, but it ended up for the time being on our living room wall. That friend may get it yet, but for now the painting is speaking to me. The loss of the first D Pity Silver Sea painting helped to underscore and highlight the second D Pity piece in our living room, almost as if the new piece could not truly be seen until the other was gone.

The painting depicts an Indian boy riding a pink elephant.

In the morning I often try to meditate and do yoga. Sometimes when I meditate, to quiet the monkey chatter of my mind, I chant "Ga Na", the seed syllables behind Ganesh, the elephant God, Hindu patron of the arts, remover of obstacles. Ga here means mind and speech, as in "gaga", and Na means no, negative, beyond, other, so that when I chant "Ga Na" I am bringing my mind into focus with "Ga" and then letting it go with "Na", a trick I learned from a poem by Joanne Kyger in the 1971 Paris Review, to which I'm eternally grateful. This chant quickly takes me out of my own head, removes the great obstacle, helps get me out of my own way.

The story goes that Ganesh was born with a human head and body, but Shiva beheaded him when Ganesha came between Shiva and Parvati. Shiva then replaced Ganesha's original head with that of an elephant. The beheading represents the offing of the ego, and the head of the elephant represents Shiva, pure being in place of ego.

So the boy riding the pink elephant in D Pity's painting is transformed in my imagination to the boy/elephant of Ganesha. I can feel this transformation every time I chant "Ga Na" and my head pops off. The more I let go, the further the pink elephant takes me.

I also want to point out that a pink elephant is traditionally the vision a drunk sees. To be drunk on wine, or, metaphorically, to be intoxicated by the spirit, leads one, inevitably, to a the pink elephant. Let us raise a glass to Ganesh.

When I look at D Pity's painting of the primitive boy riding the beautiful pink elephant I instantly become that boy, thrilled to be riding the elephant, gamely letting the elephant guide me because the elephant obviously knows best. This is the mysterious power in the art.

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