Space Available


By the time I graduated from high school, most of my life’s leitmotifs were already established. I’d discovered jazz and the Great American Songbook and had seen Mel Torme and George Shearing in concert. I’d also developed a fancy for tailored clothing, and for my gradutation ceremony wore a woven silk double-breasted sportcoat in a tan-and-cream check, with a white shirt and brown tie with white dots. I’m pretty sure I also wore my grandfather’s cufflinks.

But I didn’t discover art until a few weeks later, when I went on my first solo trip. I drove down the coast of California from my hometown in the Wine Country to Los Angeles. That was about as far as my parents would let me take the car for an open-ended excursion with a return that would be marked by having run out of money (“save enough to get home,” they’d cautioned me). The planned week-long trip was probably about four days once I hit Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, which had fascinated me as the West Coast cynosure of high style that I’d seen in the magazine M: The Civilized Man, and which quickly drained my resources.

One afternoon while exploring some of the haunts of Old Hollywood, I happened by a single-screen movie theater. The poster outside caught my eye, so I stepped in for a showing and came out not only with a copy of the poster and the soundtrack on vinyl, but a changed man.

The movie was Alan Rudolph’s “The Moderns,” which is set in the Paris art world of 1926. The cast is terrific — and includes Keith Carradine, John Lone and Wallace Shawn — as is the music by Mark Isham. If it hadn’t been clear to me six months earlier with “The Untouchables” that I was to find my interests and inspiration in the music, style, art and literature of the past, it certainly was now.

I’ve seen “The Moderns” many times since, and one line from the script will take us into the heart of this divertimento of a blog post. At one point the manservant of the art collector played by John Lone mutters, as he carries off yet another new acquisition that needs to be hung somewhere, “So many paintings, so few walls…”

The point I’d like to make is that the collector’s home was always in the state of being under construction — at least on the walls. Paintings were constantly being bought and sold and moved around.

As I enter the third month of redoing my own place, I’m starting to accept this state of impermanence. Each morning I wake up and reassess, as well as notice all the small tedious things that need fixing. The pictures in my place have been like a whirling carousel of perpetual motion; I’ve watched certain pictures get downgraded from living room to bedroom, from there to the hallway, and from there to the bathroom, only to then finally land squarely on the floor of the cutting room.

In my first apartment, some 20 years ago, I was deep in my 19th-century retro-eccentric phase and no amount of cluttered gewgaws was enough. My favorite painter was Giovanni Boldini, whom I’d discovered via his famous portrait of Robert de Montsquiou, and I had something like 25 Boldini prints framed and plastered on the walls of a small studio. After many years I’ve come to learn the difference between art I like to look at and art that feels and looks right in my own home. I have one Boldini exhibition print currently on the walls, but it’s in the bathroom and could be flushed away any day now.

I’ve rambled long enough without driving home a point, so I’ll try and finally make one. Perhaps the key word in “living spaces” is not the “spaces” but the “living.” After all, life is a process that doesn’t end until it really ends. We try to find peace of mind in finishing and resolving things, but life — and our own inner natures — tend to resist being tidily wrapped up and filed away in the warehouse of completion.

Unlike the art collector in “The Moderns,” I don’t presently suffer from too few walls, but rather the opposite: a surfeit of spaces available. But I’m taking my time filling them, and rising to the challenge of embracing the undetermined nature of life — and the perpetually unfinished living space.