So I’m dating this artist…
So I’m dating this artist. He’s homeless. He’s been homeless practically since I’ve known him, and for the most part, I don’t have a problem with it, and neither does he. Sure, there are certain obstacles we have faced in our relationship as a result of his continual state of placelessness: for instance, that discomfort we both feel when driving in my car together and that song by TLC, “No Scrubs” comes on. Or, the blush that washes over me when my roommate finally asks where my boyfriend lives, and I have to sheepishly confess what I’m sure he already has been suspecting: that, as a matter of fact, this artist doesn’t exactly have a “home” per se, but rather spends the majority of his nights making art at a college campus he can no longer afford to attend, until he falls asleep sandwiched in a 1 ½ foot wide canvas storage unit that has been cushioned with pieces of scrap art foam. Once, we attempted to share the foam for a night. It did not end well, for either of us.
There is also something sort of disconcerting about realizing that your artist’s doppelganger might actually be the much older homeless man who strolls about the city with several books in hand, who your artist affectionately refers to as “Reading Man.” Interestingly, this “Reading Man” possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of all things literature, including the various authors and translations of Proust’ Swann’s Way, one of my boyfriend’s favorite books. For this very fact I have developed a deep-seated and irrational fear that reading Proust may directly result in me becoming homeless. I shared this fear with my artist, one afternoon this week. “Don’t worry,” he reassured me, “I was homeless before I started reading Proust.”
Admittedly, it’s never easy to explain to your parents that the guy that you’ve entered into a long-term relationship with, the same one who painted a life-size portrait of you wearing his underwear before you were even dating, is not only jobless but sans home. Without question, this is a stern Asian father’s worst nightmare.
But let’s go back to where it started. Some, including this artist, suspected that my interest in him was simply an attempt to fulfill a college girl’s fantasy – It appeared to be a brief summer fling with a handsome but starving artist who made me his muse, and spent hours each day painting portraits of me, writing poems about me, and filling my house with handmade treasures…while this was true for maybe the first month or so, this stage of the relationship ended somewhat abruptly as we both became heavily engrossed in other artistic pursuits (I began studying acting, he fell deeper into art). The summer he spent whittling wooden vaginas made him popular amongst some of my friends, who still display these vaginas in their homes or on their desks at work. They are good conversation starters, to say the least.
Unfortunately for my parents, it wasn’t just a fling. At the time we started dating, he was renting a studio. At the beginning, I told him I would quit dating him if he ever got evicted. But alas, this artist moved out of his studio and onto the streets willfully, before a notice was ever placed on his door, so the opportunity to get out on account of eviction never quite presented itself.
That’s not to say that we haven’t hit some rocky points. Earlier this year, I was so frustrated with his selfish, homeless lifestyle that I did call things off. We made an art piece about it, our first and most likely last collaboration, yet you couldn’t exactly call it that, because we communicated very little about what we were both doing for the piece. He asked me to come in and perform as a bartender in the installation bar he had created for a show on York Boulevard (in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles). He gave me no guidelines other than that I was to “air grievances” over the ways he had failed me.
So, I wrote seven pages of grievances and showed up to the opening filled with rage, ready to serve drinks. There is something thoroughly liberating about being given the opportunity to run around a gallery and share with a man’s friends, professors, and fellow artists, as well as total strangers, all the ways that he has hurt you. Many people were not aware I was performing, or how I was connected to the piece (ex-girlfriend of artist), and thus were confused to have this very angry girl sloshing wine all over people’s dresses (accidentally, of course), yelling at and smacking people for trying to sneak beers when they thought I wasn’t looking, and talking shit behind the bar. Oh, and the one time my then-ex walked up to the bar, I hurled a cup of beer at his face.
Yet, if you stuck around late enough, you would have found us holding hands, talking sweetly to one another, and eventually falling asleep in each others arms. So much for “exes.” I guess this is not the most normal of relationships.
So now, while my best friends are busy getting married or moving in with their five-figure business consultant boyfriends, this artist and I are strolling the aisles of Gelson’s Market around lunchtime, feasting off of the free samples as if we were kids at Costco. We are the same ones who you might spot sneaking beers into the Improv Show that we got free tickets to in Hollywood, and opening them with a highlighter because we forgot to bring a can opener. Ghet-to.
Still, this homeless boyfriend of mine seems to have surprised and in some cases infuriated many with his failure to follow the rules of social ascension in the LA art world. Ironically, it is this very flippancy, combined with an inability to take most artists, including himself, seriously, which has garnered him increasing attention as a young artist and curator on the rise.
I do not mean to act as if I think he is the only homeless artist living in LA, or that I think he is heroic for choosing this path of poverty, in fact, I would bet he is not the only one secretly taking up residence in his college’s painting studios this summer. And I am also not sure how much longer my artists homeless, jobless existence can continue before he is forced to get a job – lest he face death, a total loss of mind, and/or bankruptcy. Still, I cannot help but wonder if the sacrifices he has made may be linked to his steadily growing…what is it? Notoriety? I take the amount of other artist/friends he has made angry or spiteful towards him as a sign that whatever he’s doing, it’s working.
And, although this chosen route of homeless joblessness for the sake of making quality art has no guarantee of long-term success, it may just be what separates this artist from the young, bright eyed gallery assistant-artist who gets to rub shoulders daily with the hottest new names and help coordinate their exhibitions. Were it me, I would certainly have chosen the route of the gallery assistant. But who can say what breeds success? For better or worse, I guess I’m still dating this artist…