His latest one-man exhibition was held in the
rather large storage room of the local Pottery
and that was quite a few years ago. Refreshments
were served during the opening. Lunchables and
boxed wine were available at cost, in the alley,
as the Pottery Barn had no liquor license.
Few knew who he was anymore, although he had shown
widely at one time. His work was in museums, here
and there, but was seldom on exhibit. It happens.
It also happens
that artists continue to work, whether or not they
The drawings and collages he had created for the
Pottery Barn storeroom show were produced directly
upon the kraft cartons circling the room, floor
to ceiling. All sides of the cardboard boxes, not
only those facing the center of the room, had been
decorated, marked, painted, or drawn upon. Perhaps
the number of boxes was more than a hundred. No
attempt was made to obscure the lettering: MADE
IN CHINA. The cartons were not empty, but heavy.
Inside these decorated cartons remained the articles,
goods, and saleable wares. Black stenciled labels
indicated the contents. I picked up several boxes
and peeked at the drawings on their undersides.
The value of each artwork included the cost of
the enclosed products, at retail price less ten
percent. This exhibition did not conform to standard
museum or gallery conventions.
It further deviated by a complete lack of labels
and not a single box was signed. Yet, it was obvious
that every box was decorated by the same hand.
I purchased two of the decorated cartons. One
box contained twenty-four coffee mugs, the other
144 pine-scented candles. I placed the artworks
in the living room, the candles on top of the cups,
next to the television. Why I chose to juxtapose
them with the tv was partly due to available space,
but also from a sense of irony.
On one hand I could watch two boxes that changed
images when I got to my feet, walked over and physically
turned them. On the other hand, I had a single
box that constantly flickered, whether or not I
touched the remote control.
They sat there for years, ignorant of each other.
The kraft color of the boxes darkened slightly.
At first, I turned them periodically so the other
sides could be seen. After a while, I decided on
my favorite sides, after which they remained in
the same position.
One summer evening, during a powerful storm, an
ancient oak tree was uprooted. As it crashed down
it took with it the electrical lines. Sparks were
flashing on the sidewalk, but the neighborhood
was dark and silent. I searched the kitchen drawer
for flashlight batteries, but found only matches.
I picked them up, along with a knife. After all
years I had a use for pine-scented candles.
I felt my way around the room and sliced easily
through the old tape on the box top. I extracted
several wax candles, lit them, and placed them
strategically to maximize illumination. The aroma
of the melting wax was not what I had expected.
It did not smell like pine, but more like bees
wax and myrrh. The power outage continued into
the heart of the night. When I returned to the
for more candles,
I held one lit candle high so I could see if all
the candles were the same golden color.
That is when I noticed the inside of the box.
It was more brilliantly colored and decorated than
When the storm was over and the lights finally
restored, I took a closer look. The interior of
the carton was more beautifully painted than the
exterior. I removed the candles
and packing. All sides were resplendent. I set
the candle box aside and carefully opened the box
contained the twenty-four coffee mugs.
I emptied it completely. It was equally magical
on the inside.
My daughter, Lauren, sent me this
“My bottle of iced tea has a simplistic but perhaps
applicable quote on the inside of its cap: "If
you hear a voice within you say 'You cannot paint,'
then by all means paint, and that voice will be
silenced" - Van Gogh.“
When all is said and done, it is what’s
inside that counts. Silence the voice.