Monday, July 26, 2010

John Callahan

There are a lot of things you could have called John Callahan, who passed away on July 24th. One of them was a flirt. That’s probably how I initially met him. Being wheelchair-bound didn’t stop him at all. We ran across each other often in NW Portland and from first sight, we fell into idle chitchat with no introduction.

When I worked at the vintage clothing store Keep ‘Em Flying, he would come in and we would talk for hours. He was a true street person in the most positive sense, wheeling all over town. When he could not wheel, his van-cab roamed the streets with him in tow. I think most of the time he didn’t even know where he was going. You would see him in bars even though he no longer drank.

As I got my ideas together about a gallery and what I would like to show, I knew that the person was as important as the work. I guess it never was just about the art object. Callahan was multilayered. When I eventually asked him if he made anything like “fine art” – sure enough, he had. They were nudes – women of course - simple line drawings. When I looked at them I knew they would make a great exhibition.

Callahan was only the third exhibition I put together at Lovelake. By this time however I realized what an immense project I had taken on. Sure, Lovelake was tiny. But every artist I had chosen was intense and no child either, fully formed with chops and issues to match.

His show was in October of 2003. All throughout September I would go to his house in the evenings, walking by the circling Swifts at Chapman School. Something about the darkening sky and the determined circles of those birds still reminds me of John. In his house, he would circle and circle around in his wheelchair, restless. The amount of energy pent up in that chair was almost too much to take sometimes. In fact every single time I visited him at his house, I couldn’t sleep that night.

We were both having evolving reconsiderations of feminism during the time of our friendship. Sometimes it was a stand off and I recall him once saying to me right in front of the Laura Russo Gallery: “Do you see those people over there, they’re thinking ‘My God she’s going to hit a quad!’” But I wouldn’t let him get away with that and reminded him that he wished for no special treatment. Things were not stagnant between us and I liked that. I am going to miss him.


Stephilius said...

That's a damn fine tribute to the man, Eva. I didn't know him at all but, yeah, he was all over. We live not far from where he did, and he was always at Powell's. Such a presence. "The amount of energy pent up in that chair was almost too much to take sometimes"; even without knowing him, I know exactly what you mean.

Anonymous said...

Very moving and honest remembrance. People are better remembered for the warts and all than hagiography. I like the version you recall of him and of you. Thanks, Eva. --Richard