Archive | January, 2012

Flashback: My biggest fan (literally) — Nov. 30, 2001

18 Jan

I met a client who became one of the most popular recurring characters in the original Devon’s Diary just over a week after after launching the blog. His willingness to let me write about him over the years — as well as post pictures of the two of us together that obscured his face — kicked off many discussions about gay men and body-image issues. (In my view, they were much more interesting and substantive than the treatment gay magazines and blogs give the topic.) The entries about my biggest fan also reassured many prospective clients that they were truly welcome regardless of their shape or size and that my body was not a critique of theirs.

When I asked my biggest fan if it was alright to post the photo-painting below, he hesitated before agreeing because he was a bit self-conscious of how small he looks in the pictures. Nowadays, he says, there’s no way my little IKEA bed we used to frolic on could support his weight.

When I was admitted to the loony bin for a few weeks’ stabilization and observation in July 2004, it was my biggest fan who called my parents to let them know where I was. — Devon Britt-Darby

Had a very interesting client tonight who gave me permission to write about him. He’s what’s known as a gainer — someone who is literally turned on by gaining as much weight as they can.

Reliable Narratives, Weighty Issues, 2010. Enamel, iron-on inkjet photo transfer and acrylic gloss medium on canvas.

He used to be quite athletic, and though he weights 380 pounds now, somehow you can tell. There’s still some kind of underlying physical strength beneath his layers of fat. He used to play rugby and actually knew Mark Bingham, the gay rugby player who helped foil the terrorists on Flight 93. Says that heroic act was totally within his character, which is what you read in the papers.

He wanted to hire me to enjoy the contrast between his huge, flabby body and my lean, muscly one. He was genuinely turned on by my body and also genuinely turned on by his own, and it was a turn-on to be part of his experience. Plus needless to say I was flexing all over the place so I was happy as a clam. He was surprised I wasn’t freaked out or put off by his fetish, but I don’t see it as being much different from mine: we’re both interested in altering our bodies; in fact we both want to get bigger, just in different ways and to different degrees. I’m obsessed with not adding body fat as I get bigger, which makes it much slower going. My little kink is probably more benign in terms of the health consequences, but he does have his limits. He showed me a picture of a 530 pound guy and indicated that he thought that would be a good limit for him. I asked if he’d ever had fantasies of being immobilized and he said it would probably nice for a week but beyond that there were too many practical issues to worry about. He’s very successful in his profession and had an amazing house, so he’s got too much to lose not to be deferential to reality.

But the main thing is, I can identify with the shame and secrecy around one’s passion — I’m actually talking about something narrower, more tightly focused, than one’s sexual orientation, yet somehow intricately connected with it — followed by the sense of liberation after having decided finally to do something about it. Sexual healing of one sort or other has been a frequently articulated motif among many of my clients lately. Maybe they sense that I’ve been doing some of that myself.

Best wishes from one of my 1,528 closest friends

16 Jan

William Shouse — the name doesn’t ring a bell, but apparently we’re Facebook chums — keeps the critical dialogue alive and kicking in Houston:

Philip Larkin was right

16 Jan

Was he ever. But what are you gonna do?

After consulting a close friend who has had to navigate the mental-health system, I decided a brief get-together in a public place — specifically the Des Moines Art Museum, followed by dinner, also in a public place — was a reasonable way of meeting my parents halfway and avoiding a depressing confrontation (at best) or an ambush (at worst). My brother joined us for the museum, which turned only to be open for another 17 minutes by the time we all arrived, and for coffee afterwards before heading off to help his wife prepare dinner for his own family. (My brother, my parents’ last best hope at grandchildren, has produced two of them, who are the reason my Texan parents migrated north.)

Helping matters: A filmmaker who has been following my story since late 2010 for a documentary on art critics joined me for the drive from Chicago to Des Moines. Visits with my parents go better when someone else is around. I can’t think of any parents who could resist her warmth and charm, and this way Dad had someone to talk with about the safety record of chemical plants, which was probably the safest topic we could broach, especially after my parents revealed they caucused for Santorum.

Also helping matters: I got to see the last 17 minutes of Dario Robleto’s solo exhibition. (My Sunday-supplement cover story on Robleto, for which I traveled to San Antonio and Seattle on my own dime, coincided with my being made the Houston Chronicle’s full-time art-writer in 2008 — albeit a contractor at the time. I took more than 70 pages of single-spaced notes for that story, which may have been overkill.)

On the way to Des Moines, the filmmaker and I stopped by a jail for art where I captured three seconds of unauthorized footage of this breakthrough masterpiece.

Surprisingly, the painting, which truly has an awe-inspiring presence, looks greener in person than in reproduction or on video, but it really is one for the bucket list.

Another sight for the bucket list: a huge, ripped buff guy parading around in a tight t-shirt in the bitterly cold wind at a gas station in the middle of Iowa. I had never heard of the gas-station chain before, which is called Kum & Go. And rightly so: I nearly kame when I saw him.

Good advice

14 Jan

Ron Terada, Stay Away From Lonely Places, 2005. On view through Jan. 15 in Ron Terada: Being There at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

I’m still coming up with the plans for my next move after Chicago, which I leave tomorrow. But visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago cheered me up immensely, as did getting just enough work to cover the cost of my extended stay here.

Through Sunday, the MCA’s fourth floor is all Canada all the time, between Terada’s intriguing show and IAIN BAXTER&: Works 1958-2011. I enjoyed Terada’s signs, such as the one above, and was moved by his Jack paintings, as dry as they appear at first glance. From the release:

The Jack paintings are Terada’s most recent and emotional work, centered on the dramatic and tragic life of Canadian-born artist, Jack Goldstein (1945-2003). Jack is a series of black canvases with white lettering, reproducing text from Goldstein’s memoir, Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia. A prominent postconceptual artist, Goldstein committed suicide in 2003, leaving his memoir to tell the tale of his early success as an artist, his relationships in the art world, and his eventual downward spiral to drug addiction and poverty.

The only time I’d seen any of BAXTER&’s work was at the Seattle Art Museum’s unforgettable Target Pracice: Painting Under Attack, 1949-78, which was curated by Michael Darling, who’s now the MCA’s chief curator. (My rave review here; video of the show here, here and here.) BAXTER&, who like me has worked under various identities — including IT Works and N.E. Thing Company — and at times collaboratively, had several works in that show and it was great to see those again in the context of his career. I love his irreverent sense of humor about the art world:

IT, Bagged Rothko, 1965. Inflated vinyl and cotton duck.

… and his way of engaging the landscape was just what I needed to see and think about as I prepare to cross into the West.

N.E. Thing Co., 1/4 Mile Landscape (detail), 1968

The above picture is one of a series of photos documenting a piece in which N.E. Thing Co. (a collaborative entity with Baxter’s then-wife, Ingrid) claimed a chunk of landscape as its own artwork. After you drove past the above sign giving notice you were about to “pass by an N.E. Thing Co. Landscape,” you would have passed a sign saying “Start viewing” before passing another sign a quarter-mile later saying — you guessed it — “Stop viewing.” I wish I’d been there, but the documentation, which also includes a map indicating the exact location of the intervention, is a hoot in its own right. If I’d seen this show in 2011, it surely would have displaced one of the exhibitions on this list.

In the air

12 Jan

Just found out this morning that my parents, who live in Des Moines, know more than they’ve been letting on, which is only surprising because they — Mom especially — have given Oscar-worthy performances at seeming oblivious.

Knowing this even a day or two earlier would have been incredibly helpful. To make matters worse, today’s snow in Chicago will be heavier than I was expecting a few days ago. So I don’t know what the next few days will hold, but already I can tell you the travel page is outdated and will be updated soon. Iowa is off the itinerary. Nothing good can come of seeing them at this time.

Full-color mania

11 Jan

The funny farm where I spent a few weeks in 2004 really was sited on a farm, according to this history:

The commission’s site search was driven by specific criteria, and their vision, when the building and grounds were completed, was to “render it a spot fitted to interest and tranquilize the minds of those who need as well the soothing influences of external nature as the healing remedies of art.” It was believed at the time that a bucolic setting of soothing topology would compliment and aid treatment. To that end, the commission settled on the farm in northern Taunton whose more than sixty acre grove, bounded by the river, extended to within a half a mile of the center of town. One advantage of the site was that the river acted as a natural barrier against the encroachments of an increasing town population, so that the institution would not gradually find itself in the heart of a large city. …

In 1853 the hospital was completed at a cost of $151,742.48. It was constructed in the Georgian style on a monumental scale and is, to this day, an example of classical revival institutional architecture. (Architect Elbridge) Boyden’s specialty was the use of cast iron as a functional and decorative medium. His command of these materials can be seen in the domes, capitals and cornices that survive today. He situated the hospital “on a gentle eminence, at the extreme northerly part of the farm, being about one mile from town.” As originally completed it was a three-storied building of brick with a slate roof. It was surmounted by a dome rising seventy feet above the roof. The dome’s cupola offered a “panoramic view of great beauty, embracing the neighboring town, with its many tokens of busy life, several flourishing villages, the numerous ponds and streams with which the surrounding country abounds, and reaching even to the blue hills of Norfolk County.”

The large cupola collapsed in 1999; photos taken prior to that are here.

The place still seems tucked away; its grounds are extenstive enough that you navigate a winding road to get to the main cluster of buildings. It’s bigger than many college campuses I’ve been too, though “not as large or as architecturally ornate as its siblings in Worcester and Danvers.”

Being a patient in the maximum-security unit — a five-star hotel compared with Bridgewater State Prison, staff and fellow patients assured me — I also glimpsed the campus while arriving and leaving in cuffs and chains. Otherwise, my only taste of the outdoors was the basketball court, where we were led out to take smoke breaks twice a day.

Meals and smoke breaks were the highlights of the day; you didn’t want to miss those no matter what. However, I wasn’t allowed to join my fellow patients until I got on meds, which wasn’t until the fifth day, because I arrived the night of July 1, which was the Thursday before the long holiday weekend. “You picked a bad time,” the nurses, some of whom I struck up a rapport with surprisingly quickly despite my decidedly frazzled state, said dryly.

Finally on July 5 I was put on Zyprexa and allowed to walk onto the basketball court. I hadn’t seen such a beautiful sight since emerging from my first seven-day sesshin, or meditation retreat, at the San Francisco Zen Center, which would have been somewhere around the time the loony bin’s cupola collapsed. In both cases, the close confinement and ample time to “gather the mind,” which is more or less how Western Zen centers translate “sesshin,” led to sensory overload the first few times I stepped outside, with colors at least as saturated as they appear in these extraordinary Kodachrome photographs I saw yesterday:

Digital prints from Jack Delano's original 1941 Kodachrome slides. As seen in Full Color Depression: First Kodachromes from America's Heartland, on view through Jan. 22 at the Alright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.

For me, a full-blown but hardly full-color depression wouldn’t kick in until a few weeks after leaving the hospital, when the Zyprexa had really done its job and, more to the point, the post-crystal-meth crash hit like a ton of bricks.

Signage leading up to the hospital indicates it’s now a tobacco-free campus. Given how cigarettes and coffee are the lifeblood of so many addicts in the early stages of recovery, perhaps the timing of my arrival wasn’t so bad after all.

Westward bound

10 Jan

As I wrap up my stay in Boston, I’ve completed the part of my road trip that retraced the steps of my 2004 meth-fueled ride that landed me in the loony bin.

I’ll have more to say about that in upcoming entries, but tonight I’ve been plotting the next phase of my itinerary, which looks like it just might get me to Southern California before some of the Pacific Standard Time exhibitions I’m dying to see — especially — close.

I’ve also created a couple of new pages at the top of the blog: one for frequently asked questions and one that accumulates entries I’ve posted so far from the original Devon’s Diary.

I’ve also updated the about page with a couple new pictures taken yesterday during a photo shoot with a fellow former MassArt student, FLYFOTO. Below is a video still taken from footage shot with my camera as he set up a shot.