by Robert Sievert
When we first met, I was the older man, lagging in my fight to maintain
my career as an artist and to support a family. He was the younger breath
of air, a poet whose image I can only match with the Tarot card "The Fool".
Not that he was a fool (or maybe) but that he seemed to be that character on
the card... a lithe youth whose head was in the clouds and about to step off
some dark precipice. But he loved my work.
We both worked in a state correctional facility. His name was Kolgi. It was a made up name, not the one given to him by his parents but one given to him by someone else with a made up name. He said he had a history of living in experimental settings. A spiritual group devoted to drugs, Indian garb and sleeping with each other.
After we had known each other for about six weeks, I invited him over to my house to see my work. I began with the larger oils, landscapes and figures, showed him several stacks of plein airs and then got into some works on paper that I had done. At the time, I felt humiliated to be reduced to works on paper and was slightly embarrassed by them. At the same time, I was very excited by them. I remember a particular painting done in the Vermont woods. It was a great beauty. First I sketched the "bones" of the picture in black enamel. Next I brushed in a silver (aluminum) ground over which I painted in colors inspired by the actual scene in front of me. More black, a scrape here and there and there before me was one of the tightest most elegant studies from nature I had ever done.
When I showed this painting to Kolgi he gasped. He grabbed my arm and told me it was a miracle. He went on forever about what a smashing painting it was. I, of coarse, was spellbound... I was held in absolute awe of this madly gesticulating poet. His words were, yes, the words I had always wanted to hear. We became conspirators in mutual genius and fame. Neither of us was famous, we were just hard working artists.
Kolgi became a regular at my house. He ate dinner with us; he entertained my children with preposterous speeches about life. Sometimes after he had gone I would asked them "Did you like seeing Kolgi?" Their faces would brighten and they would nod yes. "So... " I would ask, "What did he say?" Now confusion would cloud their faces as they tried to recall or rather match words with the wondrous feelings and ideas he would convey.
Kolgi was the hootchi-kootchi man, full blown, all out and willing to do anything for his desired effect. What effect? It didn't matter... getting an effect was optimum.
I suppose it's self-centered of me to say that he had great taste in art. He did buy several of my paintings (at a real minimal price) and he did try to help me further my career. He offered to be my secretary, do my paper work, and make appointments. I was thrilled. Paperwork had always been a nagging bother to me. I suddenly had confidence that fame and fortune was moments away because I now had a secretary. Of course, looking back I realize that next to no paperwork was ever accomplished.
Where were the great tomes describing my utterly fascinating paintings? Where was the authoritative text that would demonstrate to the world my genius? We did have meetings. The agenda usually included smoking a joint, maybe a glass of wine, and viewing one of my latest paintings or him reading his latest poem. His work was skillful and inspired, but in his poems he took on this jazzy black persona. He would write about prisoners walking down the main street of the jail where we both worked. His poems invoked the culture of Homeboys. In perfect Ebonics he decried the injustices suffered by the oppressed. "Homeboy, where you gonna put yo po black ass?"
There was also a sexual dimension to our relationship. He always seemed to be trying me. Being seductive and then calling me a faggot. At a party given by a famous movie star's sister he totally dissed me every time I got up to dance. His emotional surface was liquid. Another time we were walking in the park near Silver Lake. It was sweltering hot and we climbed the fence to wet our feet in the reservoir. Kolgi decided to go in all the way. He did this striptease with his back turned towards me. He took off each garment with deliberate gestures and minced into the water exclaiming with each step. Oh now I've got my knees wet." Oh now my thighs and pussy" I did not get that one at all and after many years perspective I think he was just being as provocative as possible. Once he even laid his head in my lap, which totally dismayed me, he quickly jumped up. That was the extent of our physical relationship except that he always greeted me by kissing my neck on each side just the way King Fasil greeted King Hussein. As far as I could tell Kolgi was mostly heterosexual but he had this great need to play out all this different material. He had this kaleidoscope personality, ready to show a new face at any moment, flashing a new message not quite as fast as primetime TV, one wonders now was there depth to his brilliance? Did it matter?
So there was this manly competition between us. I was pretty much out of it and was always caught off guard when Kolgi would make an attack. My laid-back relaxed way of seeing things was no match for Kolgi's fast heel-stamping sort of assertions. But I must say I was delighted when a close friend of mine known for his acid and withering tongue laid this whole issue to rest. In a phone conversation in which I was describing some sort of event, my friend stopped me to ask: "Kolgi? Kolgi? Is that a man or a woman? I fell out laughing, and from then on every time Kolgi started in on his I'm more a man than you, I would go into an arched posture and in my best imitation I would ask: Kolgi? Kolgi? Is that a man or a woman?
I edited out dishonest/insidious/
I should get to the point of this essay. Indeed I suspected Kolgi of having stolen paintings from me. This all began about ten years ago, when I was searching through my stacks, looking for a specific painting. No matter how much I looked, how much I searched my studio, my storerooms, I could not find it. Fretfully I thought and thought about where certain paintings could be. The only answer I could come up with was that they were stolen. Yes stolen! Who would do such a thing?
After awhile I began to suspect Kolgi. Didn't he love my work? And oh yes, it was the miracle painting that I was searching for. For several years this thought grew and grew. I finally confessed this thought to two of my close friends. I don't think they knew quite what to make of my charges, but as friends often do they clued into my thinking. We could be sitting around a table when I began to go into a search for something. Suddenly we would all look knowingly into each other's faces and say in unison "Kolgi"
As a matter of fact, I had suspected him of stealing a whole portfolio of paintings on paper. About a year and a half ago I found this portfolio in a pile of what I had thought was school related material. Suddenly there they were... between twenty and thirty paintings I thought had disappeared. I felt so contrite for awhile, until I realized that I still did not find the painting that I had been searching for and all that deductive and yes, paranoid, thinking could not be entirely wrong.
Kolgi became attached to this rich lady playwright and sort of drifted out of my life. I did not hear from him for almost ten years until one night I got home to find a message on my machine from Kolgi. He left his number with some area code that I could not fathom.
"Hello! This is Kolgi... I'm coming to New York, maybe to buy some art."
Immediately there was that seduction at play... buying art from me. He still knew what made my pulse rage.
We played phone tag until we finally connected. He was the same. We chatted on about his life and what had happened to him. He now wrote books, not his, but sort of compiling other people's notes into finished material. That's about all I could get out of him. He was so devious a talker. Never said anything straight out. Always this convoluted message that was not quite a representation of things as they really were.
Well when I could take no more of it I began to insert myself into the conversation:
"Oh by the way, did I tell you I had cancer?"
"Yes, and by the way, did I tell you how me and my friends sit around the table talking about how you stole art from me?"
Once I started, I couldn't stop... out came everything... what I had suspected. Why I suspected him! How I found the paintings that I long blamed him for taking... everything that I have enumerated here. It was exhilarating... a true rush... even as I was telling him of my suspicions they seemed to grow dimmer and dimmer.
Well, he did call when he got to town. But we never did get together. I wonder.
And guess what, the other day after moving a whole room around and repiling work, there it was... the miracle painting. The very one I suspected Kolgi of having taken. Am I contrite, do I reproach myself for having thought so poorly of one who esteemed my work so highly? I laughed heartily a number of times, I guess at myself.
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