Last spring while driving from southern Missouri to my gallery in central New Mexico, I stopped for a night in the small town of Shamrock, Texas. I stopped because the place seemed quaint and west Texas has a reputation for subtle grandeur (though I have to admit that this probably only barely qualifies as "western" Texas). I stopped because the roadside advertisements boasting their Irish infatuation was prevalent and I easily found a motel room available that allowed me to park my Land Rover full of paintings directly in front of the first floor room and its picture window.
Once I checked-in, I dropped-off my gear on the queen bed and walked out to my truck to begin my search for food. The first sign of trouble was the hibachi grill on the bed of the Dodge Ram parked beside me. The traveling highway construction subcontractors were friendly and even offered me a beer as they grilled their steaks over the smallish flame; however when I asked about the motel’s adjoining restaurant, they snickered and told me to let them know how the food tasted. Heeding their warning I drove directly from the parking lot into “town” and wondered around aimlessly looking for anything to eat besides the lone McDonalds. I found nothing but more empty green-motifed motels competing for travelers with ridiculously low room rates.
I drove back to the motel and settled myself in at the attached diner, not initially recognizing that only one other table was occupied. The menu was a plethora of corned beef in every incarnation imaginable… I chose one that boasted its arrival in sandwich-form… that seemed the most palatable as I whispered a prayer against indecision (leading to death?) and watched the waitress waddle towards me. Ten minutes later, I received two thin bricks that had been substituted for “Texas Toast” and saw my reflection in the greasy (no kidding) corned-beef pile crushed between. I have to give the woman credit she handed the plate to me as if delivering an entrée at Antoine’s in the French Quarter. That level of false pride takes both practice and inhibition that I have rarely encountered. Partially out of curiosity, but mostly to avoid eating the brick, I asked about the town and its love of all things Irish.
As she described the local business community’s desperate attempt to draw unsuspecting travelers with promises of a cheap alternative to the Emerald Isle, I scanned the restaurant’s walls recalling William Least Heat-Moon’s comment that roadside eateries are best judged by the number of calendars on the wall. Like the prophetic star-rating system… the more calendars (banks, John Deere, etc) – the better the food. Unfortunately this diner had none.
How often does contemporary art fulfill an image campaign but falter in the actual execution of quality? Or even if it does possess a high level of respectability, how often does it fall short of the initial expectation? Lately, I‘ve been rewatching films from the “Christo and Jean-Claude” boxed-set I purchased on Ebay a couple years ago. While I’m sure the firsthand experience, of viewing a finished Christo installation, completely eclipses anything I can watch on DVD… I still can’t help but be more intrigued by his preliminary models and sketches than any of his actual finished projects. Maybe it’s the painter in me that desires that three-dimensional illusion in two-dimensional presentation. - DN