I’ve been up on the island with Oscar finishing the final chapters of “Skulls & Bones”. As a result it’s been a while since I’ve given any updates; call it the summer doldrums.
The journey of Martel is almost completed. The third chapter of Skulls & Bones is now up online for sale, “A Stradivarius and The Chihuahua de Gucci”. In this installment Martel has arrived in the port of Le Havre on the northern Coast of France. This will be the last chapter released online until the book is made available in autumn.
In an interview a few days ago I was asked; who exactly is Martel?
This late in the process it takes time to think. He is a collection of stories; some pieces of history on the east coast, some pieces from my own life, and pieces of the lives around me. It’s all a foggy recollection in the end. This third chapter comes directly from my own life, a moment in my early career as a painter. I have changed all the names, but the event remains the same; the night the chihuahua almost pissed on a priceless violin. It goes down in infamy amongst my friends as one of the strangest lessons in money vs. value.
When I was 24 I signed on to be represented by a gallery in Toronto and was given my first solo exhibition that year. During that time we were also touring heavily in Bedouin. In the month leading up to my show we were joined on tour by a violin player from a well-known electronic group from Paris. He had come to Canada and wanted to “slum” it with us. He had a love for Bad Brains and reggae which was light years away from the group in which he played in France. He came from a family of artists. His mother was in the ballet and both his father and grandfather played in the symphony. His grandfather had bought him a priceless stradivarius 40 years before he was even born. He was destined to play and he was phenomenal player. While he was with us on tour he never let the priceless violin out of his sight. We were on a campus pub tour at the time, and it was a bit strange to see him play with us while people sat and ate chicken wings and drank Labatt Blue during our set, but he seemed to find the whole thing exotic, like some tourist. He acquired a strange love for harvey’s hamburgers on the road. “The best, this Harvey’s, the best” He would say and give us a thumbs up as he took his first voracious bites.
At the end of our week-long tour i had my first exhibition of paintings at the gallery. I had been working towards the show for almost six months and i thought it would be a great idea to have our friend play during the viewing. I felt it would really give a sense of ‘class’ to the occasion. As the night started our musician behaved. But he then slowly started turning up his violin. He then began delaying and distorting it through a series of effect pedals until it was a painful assault on the patrons. My gallery dealer asked him to turn down the volume. He stated this was not possible. “This is my art, no distortion, no violin.” he replied. “I would rather stop than sacrifice this sound.”
So he was asked to stop.
I think it surprised him that the decision for my dealer was this easy, given how highly regarded his ‘art.’ But, it was quickly forgotten when he realized it would give him more time to drink complimentary wine.
By the end of the show he was incoherent. We assumed this was just part of his character. It was hard to understand his english at the best of times. Afterwards, we all headed to some strange lounge where there was an after party. Our friend disappeared into the back and we more or less forgot about him. After 40 minutes we heard the bartender yelling something and dragging our friend out of the washroom at the other end of the bar.
“this place is filled with piss and shit” our friend was able to groan.
“well that’s great, you’re leaving!” the bartender yelled at him and then turned to me, “this guy is a complete asshole.”
Since it was clear we were no longer welcome at the bar, my gallery dealer suggested all of us go to her loft. it seemed like a good idea, in hindsight however it may have been best to take our friend home.
By midnight we were enroute to her loft and our violin player was safely with us in a cab. When we arrived at the loft we were nearly assaulted by a little chihuahua dog. It was yapping at our ankles. Our dealer had to pacify it with some organic dog treat. This was her small dog which she treated like a small spoiled baby. The dog had a hideous stylized mohawk but stranger than his haircut were his clothes. The little chihuahua was dressed in head to paw gucci clothing, made especially for dogs.
It was a hideous sight. As we sat in the room into the evening I watched the dog prance around the room. I almost began to feel sorry it, he had no control over his choice of clothes which made him look like the totem spirit animal of first world problems. I maintain though, I almost began to feel sorry for him because immediately after this thought the incident happened.
our violin player decided to make his way to the washroom and for the first time i saw him leave behind his priceless Stradivarius by the couch. He stumbled across the room and locked himself in the washroom. I figured like last time, we wouldn’t see him for another 40 minutes.
Right then I noticed a small black furry object race past my legs. Then from behind me i heard a low moan that swelled into a full on yell from my friend sitting beside me. “The violin!” he yelled. “the fucking violin!” I looked over at where the violin had been left and saw the chihuahua had one leg lifted and was pissing on the case. My friend jumped across the couch. WIth one impressive swift kick he booted the dog clean across the room. As the dog sailed at least six feet into the air it seemed like the scene turned to slow motion. My gallery dealer walked into the room just to see her chihuahua fly past her face and land in the corner of the room. She began to shriek. But there was no time to calm her down. “Get some towels!” I shouted. Another friend ran to the kitchen and grabbed a roll of paper towels and began frantically cleaning off the case. Everyone was screaming. The whole time we could hear our friend in the washroom humming some strange songs and falling into the walls. He was blissfully unaware of the trauma in the other room.
As the dog landed he let out a little squeak but seemed to be fine. My gallery dealer ran over to him and cradled him in her arms. She then turned her venom to us.
“my baby, my baby! how dare you kick my dog!!” get out get out!!” she was clearly unaware of the value of her dog’s chosen urinal. I ran over to the violin and clutched it in my arms. I then turned to her.
“I don’t give a fuck how much gucci you put on that thing, it is never going to match the value of what it has just so unceremoniously pissed on!” I yelled. At that moment our friend fell out of the washroom. The room fell silent and we all looked over and stared at him; the gallery dealer clutching her dog, my friend with a roll of paper towels, and myself clutching the violin case.
“Is everyone okay?” he slurred.
“Yeah I think it’s time we go now, man.” I said.
We ushered him to the door and I handed him his violin. It wasn’t a great departure.
all said, i don’t think my first opening had been a great success in most ways. as i lay in bed that night I remember thinking “kicking your art dealers dog isn’t the greatest way to kick-off a successful career in art.”
i didn’t hear from the gallery for a week.
In the end nothing was damaged and the violin left the country unscathed. The chihuahua made a successful recovery although to this day he still remains a victim to fashion. The next morning over breakfast we wondered why the hell the chihuahua had pissed all over the violin. Of all things, why that? Then we realized that our friend had yelled about the bar being “filled with piss and shit.” We pieced together that our friend must have literally fallen down in the washroom and in doing so acquired a scent that all dogs take as a sign of a territorial pissing. When our friend had left for the washroom the dog immediately saw it as his opportunity to reclaim ground. This was, after all, his loft. You don’t mess with a dog dressed in gucci. After all, his dignity is gone. He’s got nothing left to lose. Except piss.
I thought of these two as being symbols of difference; a man who has talent and skill and his one possession is a priceless hand-crafted violin which has taken hundreds of years to perfect and lifetime to learn how to play, and a dog who has been dressed in gucci clothes. Anyone could buy the clothes, and i think the whole psychology of putting them on a dog speaks volumes to it’s true worth. Some things in life have true value, and some things are expensive yet worthless. (the clothes not the dog, but for the owner…). Well, I wanted to tell this story as a lesson to Kit from Martel. I thought a perfect place to set this story would be the contrast between 1950’s Le Havre and Paris.
So here is a link to “The Stradivarius & The Chihuahua de Gucci” Letter #3…
The doldrums come to an end, enjoy the humidity while you can.