Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Trey's Day No. 11


Wiping his mouth he was sweaty and out of breath. It was obvious something had been going on. Then came the trick out from behind the curtain, zipping his pants. Sam Steward aka Phil Sparrow muttered something to the sailors coming in the door about how he wanted a fly tattooed on his head.

His tattoo shack was in the most dangerous part of Chicago, a part frequented by bikers, rough trade, sailors and misfits, perfect for a genteel patrician professor with a secret life. No one would ever find him here. Tattooing was great cover that got him close to the lower men he craved but rarely found on the campus of the Catholic school where he taught snotty brats. This is the life of the “Secret Historian.”

Teaching in universities through the era of Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt when mail was routinely opened on a variety of pretexts required secrecy if you were homosexual. The inner self that could not be expressed publicly had to find outlets in secret. The difference between Samuel Steward and many thousands of others was that he kept meticulous records in his “Stud File.” This record survives today and is shared now by Justin Spring in his sometimes raunchy tale of a secret life now revealed. What hits home here is the toll that secrecy took, driving Steward to alcoholic drinking and drugging. extreme masochism and what in the end was a lonely life painful to see. It was as true for him as it is for us; we are only as sick as our secrets.

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” exposes the secret life of street artists, finding walls in LA to make their art. London, Paris, New York, train cars, bill boards, all filmed by this crazy Frenchman who came to be known as “Mister Brain Wash”. Recording their secret art and the adrenalin stoked nights of painting and running became a passion that took him all over the world. Sam Steward needing the sweat and danger of toughs, graffiti artists needing to leave their art in dangerous places, radicalize me back to the true authentic self that would be kept secret in a world full of posers, polished polite people and their repression, smiling and thinking to themselves, “Eeeww, what's wrong with him?” But “Mister Brain Wash” and Justin Spring's Sam Steward each in their way make it clear the light of day is necessary for life and dark secrets make us sick.

So re-radicalizing to the un-secret world of Sam Steward's tattoo shack and the rush of secret artists streaking through the night their free gift to give, I breathe in the fresh life giving air of secrets exposed. The “Secret Historian's” story is told so we see how sick secrets make us. “Mister Brain Wash” gives us public auctions gobbling up once secret art for a hundred thousand quid, all to show us the life giving power of the light of day.

Authenticity, real raw reality is a rare thing. So filtered was the world of Joseph McCarthy's 1950s, so cultured and narrow the world of art and self expression that they unwittingly birthed the tortured life of a secret historian and the unbridled exuberance of Mister Brain Wash. An elephant painted red with gold fleurs de lils brought all the stars out for a street art show “Barely Legal” in Los Angeles, and suddenly the art that couldn't make it in the filtered fiber free world of the art show was making all the galleries and auction houses and a vandalized telephone box off a London street brings 100,000 dollars; brilliant!

Unfiltered was Sam Steward's secret world when he became Phil Sparrow, inking flies on heads below the waist, doing a sailor, wiping his mouth as the next customer comes through the door of the gritty shack. Exposed is the secret world of repressed art exploding in the night filmed by Mister Brain Wash and brought to us in the fresh brilliant light of day as we take in “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

So spray about some authenticity today and let out some Phil Sparrow. Don't exit through the gift shop but find art on a train car, on a wall, in your heart, let it out! We're only as sick as our secrets.

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