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Trash It

Photos by Roli Shalem
By: Annie Teegardin

Every woman out there (and some men too)  has been in a situation in which you say loudly in your head, “I put mascara on for THIS?”

I came across a small case of utensils at a garage sale one day after dressing up for a day that wasn’t worth getting out of my pajamas. The case on sale for $3 looked dull from use and the cover had been torn from travel. A girl, who could not have been more than 16, asked if I wanted to buy the set. I inquired to see if her father was a whittler. She smiled and said, “No.”

Her hands went up to the side of her neck to adjust her turtleneck. At that point my mind reeled at the possibilities. It was the middle of summer, this pretty young girl was wearing a turtleneck and my mascara was fucking uncomfortable and driving me crazy. There was just one loose eyelash that I would not stop jabbing me in the eye. Then it hit me. “Oh hell,” I thought. “Not only was this kid a cutter, but she was trying to sell her tools at a garage sale!” I was disgusted and quickly bought the set. She looked happy yet a little timid as I gave her the $3 she asked for.

When I got home, I created a woman out of my old photographs and words, who was being jabbed in the eye with one of the girls exacto knives and  entitled it “Torture.”

I have no inspiration, I only have reaction and my work was born out of nothing but that and sheer poverty. Back in 2003, I didn’t have the money to afford “real” materials so I was forced to improvise. I’d find used canvases at thrift stores (that always had Cousin Emily’s first oil paint lesson on it) and rummage through clearance barrels for paint and glue at the cheap markets to get the basics. After the first layer was done, I’d take it apart, destroy something, put it back together and then find some trash on the street (perhaps yours?) and make art out of it.

Now, it’s been a few years since I began working this trash and I can afford better materials, but I don’t bother. There is something about the sad little abused canvases I find. They have a history, a prior life and a story to tell. Each one is a piece from someone’s past. Each had a use or was loved and lost or tossed aside.

It’s a Barbie some girl loved and adored that became my “Barbie Jesus” piece. It’s a bag of used doll heads from a dead grandmother’s home that I glued to a used canvas, burnt with a blowtorch and covered in acrylic menstrual blood colors.

Perhaps that is why I feel art is trash. It is all taken too seriously. That’s why I choose to dig through the garbage and roam the streets for my materials.

Vividly, I remember the day I found the crack pipe I used in a recent painting. It must have been at least two years ago when I found myself downtown outside a Little Tokyo loft building. I was supposed to be picking up a friend, but after  waiting outside for a good 25 minutes, forgot I was doing so. After a half an hour I didn’t feel like waiting outside so I waited until someone exited  the securely locked building and tiptoed in after them. I think that was my first time being in one of those overly industrial living spaces. It seemed to be an unfriendly and depressing environment.

I didn’t have my friends loft number so I aimlessly walked around the floors calling her until my phone died. As a last resort, I went over to the mailboxes to see if her last name would show up anywhere. No name rang a bell; it must have been under a roommate’s name.

But low and behold, in front of me… sitting on the mailbox was a large manila envelope with a note attached. Being the curious sort that I am, I took a peek. The note started off “Dear Crack head…”

I stopped touching it and looked around real quickly, I don’t know why… I became very paranoid that either this crack head or the writer of the note would see me touching what was obviously none of my business. Yet, after confirmation that I was alone I read on.

“My child found your crack pipe in the garage by my car, you sick degenerate fuck…” and it went on and on for about a page explaining that this was a place where kids were present and the owner of said pipe should be ashamed of themselves for polluting the world with their presence.

It was a nasty letter to say the least, but this note writer was giving the crack pipe back to the crack head, which boggled my mind.

I thought for a minute because I usually don’t steal, but if I was to yank the bag, would that classify as stealing? I didn’t stick around to answer my own question.

Quick as lightning, I grabbed the envelope and ran all the way out of the lobby and down the stairs to my car and locked the door. My heart was pounding and I was out of breath from fear. “That crack head is going to find me…” I thought (which I know is ridiculous, but in the heat of the moment was justified).

It took me close to a year to work it into some  artwork. I’d create something and then quickly destroy it or I’d show it once or twice, then rip it apart and create a new painting. All of my paintings are three or four year old paintings together most of the pieces have floated from idea to idea until the find the perfect spot… or someone purchases it before I can destroy it again.

Photos by Roli Shalem
Photos by Roli Shalem

Finally the artwork came together with a Starbucks sign I  swiped (really, I rarely steal… and  I never lie), a no smoking sign and the image of a very classy white woman. On a deep, square canvas I found at a thrift store, I placed the image of the woman and  in-between her luscious red lips  and her delicate hands I placed the crack pipe almost like a drink. Above her went the no smoking sign and over the cigarette image I placed that crazy looking logo  with the Beetle juice Starbucks girl on it. It was perfect, for a while… until no one purchased it.

About three months ago, I decided to place it in one of my exhibitions at the I-5 Gallery in Los Angeles but the night before my drop-off, I painted the background from a charcoal ink splatter to a vibrant and striking solid red.

The piece, entitled “Crack” sold that day to a middle-aged optometrist. I told him that there was a good chance that there was

still some residu in the pipe, and Iwould fix it for free if he had to take it apart in the middle of the night when he couldn’t hook up with his dealer. We had a good chuckle and we talked for about an hour about how the pipe came into m possession. In a perfect world, the optometrist would I have been the crack head that lost the pipe and had been searching for me all this time and was finally reunited with his lost possesion. I don’t think that was thecase, but that’s how I like to end the story in my mind.

Every work of mine has a tale to tell, and I don’t play it safe and cater to hotel bedrooms because self-respect’s price is the dignity of boredom. I’ve learned to live from the satisfaction of on lookers who get the joke. When someone laughs at a paint that makes one forget their name.

Every once and awhile I get people convinced that I’m doing this type of art for “environmental” reasons, or that I have an agenda. First off, I don’t recycle and secondly, I’m not trying to preach any message to people. I can’t stand when artists try to be poets. I may react to a situation or a person and reflect my feeling in my work but nit judgingly, and I’m not trying to change things. I am just trying to create some artwork that can make you laugh, wonder, and scare you… just a little. And if I see someone who isn’t laughing at the joke, you can bet that I’m right beside them. Laughing at them.

If you would like to know more information about me visit my Web site: www.artistrash.com and no, it’s not artist rash… although I think I can give that to you too. I do shows around the L.A. area as well as have a studio in one of those industrial lofts with the unfriendly and depressing environment that can be opened for special viewing of my work.

Photos by Roli Shalem
Photos by Roli Shalem

 

 

 

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