Claire lived here in Santa Cruz for a few years, while attending the University. I first met her at my frameshop across from the Bagelry. She was looking for a little extra work. She was already working for a poster/frameshop on Pacific Ave; Graphix. She wasn’t framing, she was painting whimsical scenes on chairs or some such thing. She wanted to learn how to frame. She was getting paid a minimum wage while the owner of the business was selling the chairs for a huge mark-up. Or that is how she saw it. I was beginning to get busier and thought I could use a little help. She began working with me one or two days a week, it wasn’t a lot but I really enjoyed her company. I only paid her slightly more than minimum wage.
She was one-of-a-kind; of course I think everyone is one-of-a-kind. But she was one-of-a-kind in the way most people think of it. She was a woman who made you love- her love for life, almost instantly. If you thought you were falling in love with her; you were mistaken, you were merely falling for her love for life. She was a seeker of knowledge and wisdom and liked to talk about philosophical topics. She did not possess the jargon often used for philosophical thoughts, but I enjoyed sharing my thoughts with her- I didn’t possess the jargon either. She was reflective in a way that not many college-aged people are, though she didn’t mind a party now and then.
When I look at this painting of hers I am reminded of some of this inward exploration she possessed. This one was probably done for an art class at UCSC. The two sunflowers with their flowerheads pointing downward on tall stalks, the person (man or woman?) holding what appears to be a parasol. I am reminded of the flowery decadence of Monet, his Woman with a Parasol and the one of a small child standing in a garden surrounded by tall sunflowers. Claire seems to be more interested in the person, their plain clothes and undefined face. This stands in contrast to Monet’s luxurious impressions, which seem to be about their surroundings. The shadow is a major part of the foreground. It is not an accurate shaped shadow, it almost looks like an upside down jellyfish. Also the lighting is wrong, the person appears to be lit from in front yet the shadow says the sun must be behind him/her. The shadow looks like a late evening shadow, where the painting seems to indicate a midday sun. As a college art student such discrepancies did not concern Claire. The figure and the shadow seem to be one and the figure seems to be contemplating some unseen thought while looking past the viewer. Unaware of the large jellyfish attached to her feet.
Claire wouldn’t have minded a little light-hearted jest at her own expense. She never took her art too seriously- she never took herself too seriously. If a person could have a theme; this was hers, don’t take yourself too seriously. It was a feeling she passed on when you spoke to her. It was why I enjoyed being around her, a good antidote to my own too serious attitude toward life. And ultimately when we contemplate our time here on earth and how wispy and insignificant it is, we realize that the truth of this point of view. That burden of life which we put on our shoulders, is a burden of of own imagining. This was a truth Claire shared with me.
Claire had a small tattoo on her upper arm, near her shoulder. I can’t remember what it was, but I remember thinking it was unusual because I had rarely seen a tattoo on a woman unless she was a harden biker type. It was a tasteful, monochromatic tattoo. Claire was tall (about 5′ 10) and lean, I guess she had a model’s body but she didn’t carry herself that way. She tended to have a bit of a stoop, she said she stooped subconsciously in order not to tower over people, especially her boyfriend who was a few inches shorter. She never tried to impress, but clearly she enjoyed feeling good about herself. I think that is why she enjoyed the company of me and my friend Aaron so much, even while she had a boyfriend, and was not looking for something on the side. We gave her attention and that brought a spark to her.
I admit that I fell under her spell, imagining myself in an intimate relationship with her. It wasn’t a good fit in my imagination, and most of the time I listened to my own intuition. In retrospect I think she knew I was under her spell and I think it gave her confidence. So I think we both had something to offer each other. She had a male admirer (who was older and wiser- in her eyes) and I had a gentle antidote to my too serious side. Maintaining that balance meant never becoming too close, too intimate.
Through the years we did a good job of maintaining that balance and I don’t regret it.
Her boyfriend was a big rock fan. I remember her mentioning he was obsessed with Queen. I met him a couple times, he had long straight dark hair and was pretty friendly towards me. We talked about a couple who had a Beatles shop uptown, who I did a lot of framing for. It turned out he was a good friend of the owners and was very impressed by their collection of Beatles memorabilia. My feeling was it was too small of a niche market for a business to make a go of it. His opinion seemed to be that they had plenty of money and it was a kind of hobby for them. The shop was called “Imagine” and it was more of a John Lennon/ Oko Ono oriented shop then it was purely Beatles related.
I can’t say her boyfriend was a bad guy, though I may have wanted to think it. But he didn’t seem like quite the right fit for Claire, a little too obsessive. I could see how he might be a good fit for her playful side. She told me the story once of how the two of them got a little drunk one late night/ early morning. They decided to walk into the Safeway store on the Westside both completely naked. They did their shopping, paid for what they wanted and walked out, without incident. My guess is that it was Claire who instigated that bit of exhibitionism, it was like her to wonder how people would react to innocent nakedness. She was always so curious about human nature.
On another occasion I remember, after she had broken up with her boyfriend, the two of us went for a walk down to the beach. We spent a couple hours just talking and maybe getting something to eat, I can’t remember exactly. I was starting to sense that maybe her feelings toward me were growing, maybe that thing we call “love” was starting to happen. As we walked back she saw someone she knew driving by in a old MASH-style jeep painted red, no top and no roll bars. As he drove down the street, it was like a scene from a movie; long blonde hair blowing in the open jeep, no shirt covering his large tanned chest. Claire called out to him and he stopped to talk. I saw her “fun” side light up where previously she had been so quiet and reflective while with me. She hopped into his jeep and the two of them drove off. She waved as they drove off, both their long hair blowing in the wind.
I really like Claire’s sunflowers in this picture, how their stalks curve and their heads lean over. It borrows something from an Art Nouveau take on nature. In fact Claire herself could have been an Art Nouveau model; tall, thin with a beautiful face and long hair. She was also possessed with that dreaminess that Art Nouveau artists try to capture in young women. But such a portrait would have been a flat caricature of Claire. There was so much more to her than could be captured in a pose. Yes she would have been a good fit as an Art Nouveau model- or the subject of an Egon Schiele drawing. However I think the person in her own painting, standing a little awkwardly, with her thoughtful expression is closer to how she saw herself.