Another Day in the Studio

Brian J. Sullivan

I am always amazed at how the seemingly random events in our lives can have a profound influence on the direction our artistic expression takes.

It was a picture perfect late autumn day. The once lush green foliage that offered relief from the Chicago heat was now collecting along the fence row and stairwells in shades of reds, oranges, yellows and browns. The temperature was in the mid-60s with clear blue skies.

I was working in my first floor studio with the back door open to the alley. A refreshing breeze coming off Lake Michigan helped to clear the nauseating smell of turpentine from my small unvented painting studio. I was working on a large scale canvas which I was planning to exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Other canvases in various stages of completion were scattered about. In the corner sat an old-style refrigerator. It had a curved top, a single door, an inadequate freezer, and a low-pitched motor which refused to give up.

Sitting in a third generation hand-me-down chair with no legs, I reflected upon the direction my painting was taking, comforted by the persistent whine of the old refrigerator. Deep in a contemplative state, I was instantly jolted back to reality by a large and frightening crash of metal a few feet from where I was sitting. Instinctively, I buried myself further into the large over-stuffed chair for protection. Was Chicago under attack?

After a few moments, I realized that I was still alive, albeit my heart was racing. An eerie silence filled the air. Even the refrigerator motor was quiet. Cautiously I proceeded toward the open doorway leading outside.

On the cement pavement, just beyond the wooden fire escape, lay a lifeless body and a flattened Weber grill. The body was that of fellow artist John, a tenant living on the fourth floor. He was not moving. I ran back inside and called 911.

Within minutes an ambulance arrived with sirens blaring and multi-colored lights flashing. The paramedics worked efficiently as they strapped John to the gurney; each second counted. They sped away leaving the crumpled Weber.

Several days later, when I was allowed to visit John in the hospital, he had a big smile on his face, which reassured me somewhat, considering that he was covered with bruises and had tubes and wires coming from his body connecting to various machines. Through his toothy grin, he said that at least he didn't have any broken bones.

Apparently he and another artist friend named Marshall were listening to the Bears football game on the radio. The Bears were behind with only a few minutes left to play. The other team had the ball and was only yards away from scoring again. As luck would have it, the Bears intercepted the ball and ran 93 yards to score the winning touchdown just as time ran out. The crowd went wild, and so did John. In his excitement, John told me he began to do handstands on the fourth floor fire escape railing! However, in his drunken state he lost control and fell 50 feet over the railing to the ground below. Breaking his fall, and probably saving his life, was my 20 year old trusty black Weber grill with a missing wheel.

As John continued his story, he recounted to me how he saw each preceding balcony pass before him on his way down. As if in slow motion, he reached out to grab them, but they were just beyond his grasp.

Surprisingly, John C. is alive and well and living in NYC. Before the fall, John used to paint traditional landscape paintings, with moderate success. Since the accident, his work has changed substantially. He now specializes in contemporary crushed steel sculpture. His pieces now command six figures and can be found in every major museum collection throughout the United States.  Now only if I had kept that crushed Weber!

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was contemplating this painting before me as the refrigerator motor labors in the background.