White bread & cheese singles (or how to make it in the art world)…

I’ve always liked skateboarding. There are obviously a myriad reasons for this, but mostly I like it because it offers me a sense of freedom and it’s really hard. The freedom aspect should be apparent to anyone who has seen a skater glide by them, but difficulty? Why would difficulty be attractive to anyone? A challenge perhaps? No… I can safely say I like the fact that skateboarding is difficult because it keeps the bullshitters away. I mean any fool nowadays can grow a beard, get some tattoos, put on the right outfit and attach themselves to a scene simply because they look the part. With skateboarding it’s slightly different. Sure, you can go to your local skateshop and buy the freshest set-up and cool guy outfit, but you’ll need to spend months or years tumbling into the dirt before you’ve even begun to tackle the rudimentary aspects of the art-form. Skateboarding especially in the early stages involves bruised elbows and egos. There are no shortcuts. Very few are naturally talented from the get go. Most all of us have struggled to master the building block of the entire culture… the Ollie. So I reckon skateboarding’s inherent difficulty is what keeps its participants in check. That’s why I’ve mostly met good people in my twenty eight years on board and thankfully, few cretins or showboaters. But what I’ll recount in the following account is my brief dalliance with the art world.

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One thing I’m certain of is that I’ve never been an artist. My scraggly line drawings, poorly rendered forms, complete disregard for the anatomically correct and no capability to render perspective have proved this time and time again… but they’re a breed I admire. I could never figure out how someone could have an idea in their head and then render that on paper. It baffles me.

But what I lack in artistic skill I make up for in driving skill. I always indicate in a timely fashion, keep to the speed limit (mostly) and I am generally courteous on a road network populated by selfish hellions. And, it’s this skill that was called upon for my first foray into the art world albeit from the perspective of an innocent bystander.

I was asked by my good friend to attend a screening of his latest Super 8 flick at a small film festival in the west of Ireland. A lovely part of the world… all rugged coastline, jagged mountains and rolling hills. Any excuse to drive west and see Galway again (next stop America if you proceeded onwards). So off we set with the promise of free accommodation for the weekend, a lovely city and a keen audience for a small skate film that deserved as wide and diverse an audience as possible.

Ohh what a shambles it would turn out to be. The drive was simple enough… from a global perspective it meant simply going left for a couple of hundred kilometres. Fair enough… job done, we reached Galway in one piece and my keen sense of direction led us to our ‘accommodation’. Well… you know those places that students live during term time? The type of place that’s held together by the paint on the walls? It was as you would imagine… unkempt, unclean and with little more than a bare mattress to rest your head. So be it, we thought. We won’t be here long and besides we’re skate trip veterans (I’d stayed in hotels in the South of France that had also doubled as pigeon coops). We’d live or we’d get drunk enough to survive.

So alarm bell one had sounded its klaxon call… and it rang to that well-known ditty or sweet Irish air known as… ‘Amateur hour’. Well dingy rooms and stained carpets weren’t enough to put us off the chance to pimp the wares. But maybe what strolled in the door should have… now you can throw any maxims about books and covers out the window. First encounters and general presentation can mean the difference between the cold shoulder and a warm embrace and what stumbled in definitely provoked the former. No one wanted to embrace this guy. This guy wouldn’t have even embraced himself huddled in the shower rocking back and forth. He was a pale gaunt E.T. dressed in faded cargo pants and a t-shirt that was once white and well cut, but was now a deformed grey mass that hung loosely on bony shoulders like some kind of human coat hanger. But who’s making snap judgements here?… We uttered brief hellos, exchanged names that were instantly forgotten and he then asked, ‘did we need anything at the shops?’, ‘No, not at all, don’t trouble yourself’. Subtext: please leave we can’t stand the sight of you… you crusty dirt bag.

So anyway, we kill time before showtime by doing just that… which meant occupying a flea bitten couch for an hour and shooting the breeze in a slightly less than salubrious ‘living’ room (not much of that could possibly have happened there). Well the breeze was executed in fine style until Captain Crust (as he shall be from this point onwards be known as) slithered back through the dimly lit doorway (why am I remembering this place as if it was subterranean?). His arms were laden with what was to become his staple diet for the coming days. Article 1: a generic brand loaf of white bread and Article 2: Easi-singles… Now for those unfamiliar with the delicacy that is the ‘Easi-single’, let me break it down for you…

Imagine an orange rubbery substance, now picture it being flattened into something about a two millimetres thick, heavily salted, cut into small squares, wrapped in clear plastic sheeting and sold as cheese. To say it was processed would be doing the term understatement a disservice. It’s the kind of ‘food’ favoured by five year olds for their school lunches, but this wasn’t going to put off my friend and yours… Captain Crust. He timidly offered us some of his ‘dinner’ and we politely declined. Dinner! A grown man of indeterminate age is devouring Easi-singles on bread in a dank shack in a small city suburb on the edge of Western Europe somewhere… an image for all eternity. We quickly scarpered into the city, we’d kill time elsewhere. We could no longer watch the stark depravity unfold before us.

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Time was slowly tortured and murdered until the last few minutes before show time. We’d been assured a viewing space, projector and all mod cons. What we got was basically not how we’d pictured it. A dodgy projector with questionable sound system and two dozen fold out chairs that were going to house our audience in some out of the way community centre in a distant corner of the city. Well the bells had been sounding since we arrived and what more could we expect?

But here’s the crux… like I was saying about the art world and my perceptions of it (misguided to say the least). Here I imagined a world championed by integrity, ideas and the chief exponent… expression. That was shattered on that summer’s day some years ago on the edge of the Western World by none other than… you guessed it… Captain Crust!

As we were dealing with the logistical shambles that was the film’s Galway premier… you’d think running a DVD into a projector and syncing sound would be a simple task? Long story short… not a hope. So anyway minds were being lost, nerves frayed and tears were being held back when in slithers Captain Crust. Looking replenished, but not quite nourished from the ‘meal’ he’d been nibbling on and that was sure to be lodged in his guts for the next month or two. He stands silently by the projector table my friend is sweating over. He stands clutching something… that something was his contribution to the Super 8 film festival. The man was neither director, film maker or arbiter of taste… for what he was clutching was proof of all this.

You see in my naivety I figure anyone who was asked to present their film at something as prestigious as a film festival must be considered some kind of auteur or taste maker. But this is the biggest lesson I’ve learned. One has to be neither. The number one quality you must possess above all others is that you must be a CHANCER. This guy had it in spades. He was clutching in his bony paw his contribution as exhibitor in the festival not one but two pornographic Super 8 reels that he’d dug up from god knows where. Maybe his Dad had them in his attic, maybe he stumbled upon them in some grimy car boot sale. Well he certainly hadn’t shot them himself. They were replete with grubby, faded packaging… the kind of thing you’d loathe to touch in case their seediness would somehow rub off on you…

And here he was about to foist them on some unsuspecting art crowd. The charlatans would probably lap them up. Whereas I had seen my friend literally sweat blood for two years and go bankrupt to bring his film to fruition, Captain Crust had used shoddier methods to make a name for himself. But here they both were at the same festival, with the same prestige except one of them was an out and out chancer.

So there you have it. Screw having skills folks. It’s all about having a brass neck. Hopefully though more discerning heads will be able to tell the solid gold hit from the finely polished turd.

Words by Andrew Gibbons
Illustrations by Gregory Conroy
http://seriousadult.com/
@gregoryconroy

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