It was 1979 and Jimmy Carter is the President of the United States. It will be a year before John Lennon is murdered outside the Dakota Apartment building in New York City. I am a freshly minted high school senior and I have taken all of the “important” classes I will need in order to graduate. I finally have time to fill my schedule with something “fun.” I had walked past the Art Room for the past three years-peaking in the look at the “art” kids. These were the kids who drove motorcycles to school, smoked cigarettes at lunch (we could still do that in 1979), and wore denim jackets with Rolling Stones patches on them. I had always wanted to be one of those kids-still do-but I simply didn’t have the courage to step past the threshold to join them until then. When you’re a senior in high school, you are as cool and courageous as you will ever be. No time since comes even close.
So there I was, sitting next to the artists of the school. These kids could draw, knew where the secret art supplies were kept, had their own portfolios that they carried around with them during the day. I was in awe!
I vaguely remember my teacher, Ms. Peck, standing on the stairway landing outside the classroom showing me, or trying to show me, how to draw using one point perspective. I remember painting a (bad) cartoon of a Gnome with acrylic paint. I remember sitting next to Shirley and Jim and listening to Rod Stewart sing “Do you think I’m Sexy?” on the AM radio that had dried wads of clay all over it. Clay wads really muffle the sound of radios by the way.
For some reason that I can no longer remember, I came to school one day with my Beatles Red Album cover under my arm. I had a vinyl record collection second to none-filled three milk crates in my bedroom which made for the perfect furniture to put my turn table, receiver and equalizer on. I must have grabbed the album from the pack. I went straight to art class-first period of the day-opened up the album cover, and started to copy the famous Gatefold photo taken of the fab four standing at the gates of Regents Park in London in 1968.
And I remember Ms. Peck standing behind me and saying nothing. And Jim and Shirley leaning in to take a closer look at what I was doing. And when I had finished the drawing, I thought it was the most perfect, well crafted work of art the world had ever seen.
Now, I realize my drawing of a photo of the Beatles at Regents Park was no where near as perfect as I thought it was at the time, and copying from a black and white photo does not constitute a great work of art. But, it was a transformational experience all the same. With the completion of that drawing, I was now an “art kid.” I could get supplies out of the secret supply cupboard. I had my own portfolio to carry around all day. I had found my voice.
I think of Ms. Peck, Shirley and Jim, and all the kids in art class who became my lifelong friends. Who told me my Beatles drawing was awesome, who encouraged me to go to art school. Who are still with me in spirit. Thank you.
I hope my story helps you remember your own transformative high school memories. I hope you can remember when you found your own voice. I hope you had a caring teacher like Ms. Peck. I hope you had friends like Jim and Shirley.
And, I hope you will stop by my studio, make a few clay wads to throw at my radio (yes, I still have a radio and it is covered in paint and clay) and discover the “art kid” in you.
Thank you for reading this, and thank you for supporting me.
The Gatefold, from the Beatles Red Album. Regents Park, London, 1968.