"We only have three rules here," Trujillo says as the tour concludes. "First, that you are creative. Second, that you help out in the gallery. And third, that you keep the refrigerator stocked."
In the popular imagination--in movies, plays, novels, and so on--artists are almost always portrayed as somehow flawed. In recent depictions of van Gogh, Gauguin, Warhol, and Pollock, for instance, the artist is seen either as one step away from the loony bin or as a child-molesting sex maniac, a wacked-out charlatan or a demonic hard-drinking genius. Even granting that such depictions help make these artists' stories more interesting, it is odd that very little hint of the actual work of an artist--the tedious hours of practice and study, the dull labor, the nagging doubts, the minor epiphanies, the disappointments, and above all the ups and downs of the creative process itself--ever makes its way into such depictions. In reality, making art with success is like working at any other job: It requires fortitude, the forbearance of loved ones (because it rarely pays like a job), several strokes of luck, and endless amounts of time in which to create--certainly not the stuff of great entertainment.
Artists come to their calling for various reasons, and they approach this job in various ways. Among the Friday-evening crew at ArTrujillo, one can find perhaps every possible artist archetype. Three women gathered in the solo gallery sit at a small table and talk quietly about the Peace Corps and about the women's artist group they are trying to found. One of the women, Meg Novak, is in a show of female artists at Gus Lucky's Gallery just down Lake Street; she makes sure to mention it boldly and to hand me a flyer. Her work involves colorful and expressive abstraction--angry-looking, and violent almost.
Trujillo introduces the rest of the artists one by one: James Grafsgaard, whom he calls his "right-hand man," is the painter of the blue underwater paintings, a result of his having spent several years living in the South Pacific. Quiet and possessed of a halting voice, Grafsgaard laughs at himself easily, and looks not unlike Vincent van Gogh. He is also the creator of much of the gallery's erotic art.
Chobi Noe Rivera, meanwhile, is smallish and dark, a young Pablo Picasso. He is the painter of the violent naive-style scenes. Trujillo explains that Rivera, who is from El Salvador, saw his family and entire village killed in front of him during the revolution there when he was four years old. Rivera later was shot six times in the chest when he was sixteen years old. "He's only one of a handful of people left who still speaks the Pipil language," says Trujillo. Having come to the States just a few years before, Rivera speaks only hesitantly in English.
We travel across the gallery to the main office--a space with a desk, a table and chairs, a computer for press releases, and the refrigerator--and there meet the resident poet of ArTrujillo, a man perhaps in his 50s named Pee-AIRE. "Are you looking for truth?" he asks directly upon being introduced. His face is red and animated, and he wears a full white beard, curly and fluffy like a mass of tangled pussy willows. Strumming a guitar, and making eerie feedback noises, he begins a bizarre riffing performance. The nails of his left hand are short and trimmed, the better to finger frets; the strumming nails on his right hand are long and painted sparkly baby blue, like a 1966 Corvette Stingray.
"Everyone came to earth to make something absolutely unique," says Pee-AIRE, eyes fixed, face ever more rapturous, hand moving up and down in space like a showroom model's. Then, suddenly, he rattles off a lot of stuff too quickly to be written down. A sheet of his poetry, titled "La Leche," circulates the room. It is illustrated with pen-and-watercolor portrayals of cartoony men and women copulating, and includes punctuation-free passages such as: "A belief system of limits is only a whore-riffic hallucination of personality. Your personality is wretched miserable needy niggardly and whining/What are you snarling about...the DIFFERENCE? There is no difference/When you know you don't know is when you know the knower within...." and so on.
This is not significantly different from the manner in which Pee-AIRE speaks. Chobi Rivera enters the space as Pee-AIRE says: "I play angel jazz to women who don't know what they want...I can do this for hours. Just put me on the fucking radio!" And even though Rivera speaks little English, he knows enough, or has already heard enough, to cut his studio-mate off without ceremony.
"Okay-okay-okay-okay," Rivera says impatiently, then picks up a drum and ocarina and begins playing along to Pee-AIRE's spacey guitar chords. Another person brings a recorder, and a spontaneous jam session begins. Soon it is too loud to remain in the room.
There is still something nagging at me as the music swells to fill the gallery space. The musicians are shrieking now, laughing wildly at their creation. An unnoticed family of four wanders into the center of the gallery and huddles together, looking at the musicians with wide eyes.