Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Jimmy, the Hairdresser, 2000


I met this handsome young man, the son of a Vietnamese mother and a long absent German father, behind the Walgreens photo-counter, at the store on Market just above Church.  (I was sharing a small work studio with an architect in the basement of a house less than a block away, at the time when we met.)  He was making some cheap prints for me of photos I’d shot of some watercolor drawings I’d made of naked male couples, a few based on pseudo-classical photos by von Gloeden, others taken from Rafael’s porn video series, South of the Border, and a couple of couples based on old photos of the Blue Demon (a legendary Mexican Luchador and movie star) posing with one of his old wrestling mates.  Jimmy liked the watercolors.  He complimented them, praised my skills, and flirted a little; so I offered to paint his portrait if he’d let me take some pictures of him.  He was willing, eager even, and I kept my word and painted a very large painting of him (on heavy canvas stretched on an expensive, extra thick, stretcher) confronting his own naked body, standing over it brandishing a knife, threatening himself with dismemberment or death.  I ended up using these figures separately in my Dracula series.  I think the session worked out well for both of us.  He found a position at a hair salon soon after our encounter and was able to quit Walgreens.  He said he hated working at that store.  The only time I saw him again, after he came by to pick up the finished portrait a month or so after I finished it, was ten years later at the Civic Center Farmers’ Market, when I was working for my friend Fumi, selling her flowers, cacti and succulents.  We recognized each other immediately.  We talked a little, but we really didn’t have much to say to one another.  Fortunately, he said that he did still have the painting hanging in his apartment; but he couldn’t remember my name when people asked him who had painted it.

While I was taking these photographs, as we conversed, Jimmy kept talking enthusiastically about the worst consumerist aspects of the Castro neighborhood and its version of Gay Culture: circuit parties, dance clubs, gay bars, hair salons, video porn shops, and the opportunities for such things as his brief fling with the notoriously irresponsible porn star Jeff Palmer.  No doubt this one long conversation, where I drew him out, encouraging him to expose himself to me, affected the tone of the pictures we composed together.  It certainly helped to determine the dark tone of the painted portrait that I made for him.  (Though I had already begun working on the Dracula paintings, I had not yet decided how, or even whether or not, I would use his images in the series I had planned.)  He was far from being a complete fool, and I am not at all inured to the attractions of industrially glamorized sex.  It is also possible that even now I am not remembering this beautiful young man's name as I should. Perhaps his name wasn't Jimmy after all.  I'm thinking now that it might have been Teddy.

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