I wish I could say that I fell for the bait of a sexy older woman. But Sandy was not particularly sexy. Her face was rather mannish and her body long-limbed like one of those solid looking female swimmers. She probably would have been a good athlete if she had given it some effort when she was younger. Looking back, I would have to say it started because of her force of will, which was so much stronger than my own. I went along, not thinking it would be anything long term. But at some point I became a believer.
I met Sandy because my neighbor Kevin worked in her restaurant, Rena’s Tenth St. Delicatessen. It must have been 1980. Kevin was the only friend I had made in Boise, we went skiing together and hung out in his room listening to music. My plan was to spend about a year in Boise before going back to school in California, I wanted to explore the wild lands of Idaho. I had planned to get a job there, to pay my rent but I had already lived there a couple months and wasn’t having much luck. I guess nobody wanted to hire an inexperienced 18 year old without any roots in the area.
Kevin’s plan in Boise was similar to mine. He only planned on spending the winter in Boise, skiing at Bogus Basin. So as the winter came to an end he told me he was moving back to Kelso, Washington and that Sandy would need someone to take his place. As it turned out, Sandy hired me and it was my first job. It was not her plan to seduce every young male employee, though she definitely enjoyed the energy of younger people. The naivete, the open mindedness, the optimism, the joy for life, that was Sandy and that is what attracted her to youth.
Ten years later we were still together and she was helping me get PaperArt started and we were sharing a small duplex. She made salads with raisins and sunflowers seeds, which tasted so good, I’ve never been able to duplicate them. She brought stories of people she talked to at Cafe Bene and for awhile stories of people she worked with at the Old Theater Cafe. She brought morning sex and joy for life. What could be wrong? She was there, she was always there somehow. When the college girls showed their interest in getting to know me, she was always there. But it was her that introduced me to writing about myself, by writing about other people. It was a style of writing that Truman Capote used in his early books. It weaves a kind of human web, showing us those points of intersection we all have. I fell for its bittersweet nostalgic style and continue sharing my own story that way.
She didn’t take up art until after we moved back to California. She rented a small motel room in Nevada City, with knotty pine on the walls. She bought a wide roll of newsprint and a set of felt pens and started doing life-sized self portraits of herself and pinning them to the walls. Many of them were nudes, but of course not very realistic. On occasion, she worried a bit about what someone else might think of her, if they saw these pictures. She was so open and outgoing, but not completely detached. She worried about labels.
Some labels carry real power with them. And I guess the label she feared at that time was, “crazy old lady”. When we lived in Boise there was definitely some labels that we both feared. I think almost everybody assumed she was my mom, so there was the incest thing, or maybe me being gay thing, or the cradle robber thing or just the “yuck” its weird thing. In most of the places we visited in California our wide difference in age didn’t seem like as big a deal, so there was a bit of weight lifted just by moving out of Idaho. But it was still there, in the background the oddity of our relationship.
I don’t know how to put a label on her art, so I won’t. I’ll just post it and fill in with some of the background behind it. This drawing she did of my shop on Cedar St. was hard for me to look at for many years. Because it reminded me of breaking up with her and how utterly devastated she was. I’ve been on both sides of that experience, and actually prefer not being the one who makes the choice. A few years later I was on the other side, my own feeling of devastation. It was probably just as strong as Sandy’s and it lasted for months. But there was not the sense of, I did something painful to somebody else.
I remember during the first Gulf War when the elder Bush invaded Iraq. There was a spontaneous march into the streets of Santa Cruz, it must have been thousands of people, walking up Soquel and up Ocean St., closing Highway 17. There was this sense that our country would never stand for war again. After Vietnam, Carter and Reagan were both careful not to start any wars our troops would be involved in, proxy wars were okay of course. Now with our nearly constant state of war for nearly 2 decades, the thought seems quaint.
It was during that time Sandy drew a series of cards which depicted some of those on the pro-war side, they drove around in pickups with US flags mounted in their truck bed. They were a distinct minority but they were a loud and very visible minority. Her cards did not show any visible irony or even depict the pickups negatively, but it was clear to almost everyone, that they showed the ridiculous nature of driving around in a jacked up pickup, with a thundering engine and a flag actually taking up the entire bed of the truck. Except for one customer who walked into our shop and took a real liking to her cards. In fact she purchased all of them. She thought the opinion being expressed in them was an admiration for the pickup trucks and their drivers. The expression on Sandy’s face became completely flatten when she realized why the woman was buying them, but she didn’t explain it to her. It seems funny now and should have been funny then, but it wasn’t.
Of course Sandy’s art was not realistic, it was a completely subjective depiction of what Sandy saw. Only elements that she wanted to see were added, all others were left out. It was quick and light because it was what she witnessed, and soon she would be witnessing something different. The most similar well-known artist which comes to mind is Saul Steinberg.
It was very much a storytelling device. Notably, one can see she is not attempting to be an “artist” per se, it was a small part of the whole Sandy package. It was just one means of telling the story of Sandy. She did poetry as well, sometimes rather introspective. Whenever I think of that poetry, I think of her sitting by an open window smoking her one or two cigarettes of the day, blowing smoke outside. But then she also did some very light poetry much like her artwork. Here is a sample of something she did from the early days of PaperArt.