When I was still in college but nearly done with my M.F.A. class work I started to take on the odd job. I taught a drawing class, painted houses and even sold a few paintings. My then girl friend, and now wife Terry, got a heads up on a job working for an artist who lived in the Hollywood Hills. His name was and still is Norman Sunshine. Terry was the one he hired and she hired me to help her. She needed help because our job was to print 4’ by 6’ woodblock prints onto 5’ by 7’ paper. Neither of us majored in that subject in school but we had taken printmaking at some point. In my case I took that college level class in high school within a special program they offered at the time.
We lived in Long Beach so we had to commute to his home in the hills just above Beverly Hills. We would work two to three days a week and he paid us fairly well at the time. Norman would carve the images onto a fine grade of birch plywood with a Dremel tool. We would clean it up and get the saw dust out of it and then apply ink to the wood, usually black, and then lay the big sheet of EXPENSIVE paper onto the inked surface without smudging it. This was not easy to do and we had to learn a few tricks in order to get the register right time after time.
Norman liked what he was doing so he decided to do a series of eight prints, ten each and the last print was to have two shades of gray as well as the black. Now imagine just where would you put 80 very large sheets of paper with incredibly slow drying oil based ink? That became my job exclusively to figure out.
If my memory serves me well we worked for him for a little more than a year, so I would like to describe our situation at the time. We were poor, literally starving art students. Norman was gay, flamboyant and living with the then President of the film division of Warner brothers. The home used to be lived in by Vincent Price, but had been remodeled in the then new southwestern style. Norman was not a dilettante, he had talent and sold work, and even had won a Grammy for something else he had designed. He was not a blue chip artist. He had connections and money to spend, but insisted to us that he was not rich. While we were there we would listen to phone calls to the galleries, and even astrologists. This work we had, took place in a studio separate from the main home, a space that doubled as a movie house. The huge north window would disappear when a screen rolled down from the ceiling and full size movie cameras were in a back room to project the film. Steven Speilberg even showed up one day while we were printing to see the southwest styling of the place, as he wanted to use that theme for his new film studio. We were introduced to the director as well. My hands had ink on them so I declined to shake his hand at the time. I do remember doing horrible imitations of E.T. within hearing distance of him while we printed.
The work was actually pretty hard, stressful and exhausting. There were setbacks, and material problems and logistical problems. The hanging of the drying prints became central to the project, as they could not be shown until they had fully dried. If you can imagine the Golden Gate Bridge suspension bridge, and then the prints hanging from below that structure. That was what evolved within the studio as the amount of prints increased; not only in number but weight as well. My structure was made of two by fours, screws and wire, and I would be lying to you if I told you I fully understood the stresses involved. One day something did break, and all the prints fell about six inches, one was damaged by a smudged from the adjoining print. My backup wires held however and I reinforced everything when I did the repairs. That was a stressful day for all of us. It became clear that a years worth of work was in my hands, and he noticed that. The job was beyond our experience but we, in the end, had delivered the goods.
Towards the end of the project there was a close bond between the three of us. Norman had hired another artist to help with some other things he was doing and he mentioned that he was not working out, as he was a bit of a dreamer. A time came when we were done, the prints were made and one was put on display at the Palm Springs Art Museum. We could actually see something we made in a real art museum. Norman called our apartment and talked to me alone. This call was about a month after we had had finished the Prints. He asked me if I would continue to work for him as his assistant. It was an open ended offer. I had just started a job at UPS, and it was a lousy job at that but my foot was in the union door and security could be ours if I stuck it out.
I had to make a choice. There is more than meets the eye to what seems like a chance of a lifetime. Norman is gay, and I was not. Norman was unaware that Terry and I are a couple living together and about to get married. Something called the “gay cancer” is just entering the news, and just how it spreads was still a mystery at that time. I have issues with anxiety, and I did not know if being planted in this free flowing situation was good for me. I liked Norman. That did not help make my decision any easier.
Most of you who will read this know what I chose already. I work for DHL and I am a teamster, near the end of my career, but still fighting for security in a world that has become a whole lot less secure. I chose the hard way and I have no idea if I did the right thing even now.
I have done some interesting things and met some interesting people.
I wrote this at the request of Arletta…