I arrived in San Jose to find that the gallery exhibiting Barron Storey’s work opened at 10, which left me time to be restless. 10 came and went and the gallery remained closed, so I lunched at a Thai place, returned to the gallery, and still it was closed. I called them, left a message. I emailed them, said I was right outside their door. I had come all this way, for art’s sake! Around noon they emailed back and said they had opened. By then I’d received a $40 parking ticket while straying along the streets twelve minutes too long, not paying attention.
It was worth the wait, and the ticket, too.
I bet most of you have seen at least one illustration of Storey’s, if you don’t have it on your bookshelf. The particular piece I’m referring to is the paperback cover of Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Here is the back cover art, minus the typography.
Barron is the most incredible draftsman ever. Yes, ever. Here is one of the earliest works I kept of his.
He drew this cover in a Time magazine office based on a witness’ description of Howard Hughes over the phone, the night Hughes died. An amazing portrait considering there were no photos of the reclusive Hughes that were less than 20 years off date.
I walked into the gallery, Anno Domini.
Just as there are some aspects of life we have difficulty facing, so it was with the subject of this exhibition, titled Suicide. I viewed it as a fellow of humanity and as an artist, both perspectives impacting me. As with most art, a reproduction conveys little about the original. Seeing Barron’s art up close and intimately, you see through layers, literally and figuratively, trying to comprehend where it all comes from and how deep it goes. He opens his soul to you; you glimpse his torments. And, if you can look beyond the subject, you are fascinated by his intricacies and you see how they fascinate him.
I learned that this particular subject was his torment of torments. The first piece was one he drew from life. Death, rather: it was of his mother lying in a hospital bed after she swallowed rat poison. Enough rat poison, the doctor told him, to kill an army. Barron was 23.
For this collection of … I will call it work for the purpose of simplicity, though it involved not only sweat, but blood and tears … Barron had already been immersed in the subject for years: besides his mother, his uncle, Barron’s ex-wife, and a close friend took their own lives. There were over 70 works. Artistically, there was so much to learn by studying them I perused the exhibit three times.
Barron divided the art into clusters. Alongside each cluster he wrote in pencil or pen directly on the wall, defining a particular phase or sub-theme of the work. The cluster he numbered 5 reads What Good Am I? Cluster 7 represents work he did involving interviews he’d had with those who knew suicide victims. The cluster of work in 8 conveyed how the project itself affected him. I sensed it was near catastrophic.
"Started asking people: Did you know anyone who committed suicide? So many did. Made drawings about each one. They piled up. Show them? Ugly ... Ugly subject. Ugly feelings. What have I done? OK. The question is: What did they do? And why? Pages and pages of journal drawings ... Lord, let it be over."
To be cont.
for dreams and death chants, part one, click here