Fletcher Flynn had his first exhibition at Foundations Gallery on 8th Street in 2002.
A painting named Silver Eagle provided the centerpiece for the affair. This super-flat representation of an American Bald Eagle looked like the ones found on the back of any quarter.
Except Fletcher Flynn’s Silver Eagle depicted the engraving on an American 25-cent piece with an acrylic painting eight feet tall by six feet wide. When asked whatever moved him to paint this iconic American image while art existed in a mad jumble of collage and photography, Fletcher Flynn replied:
I had a dream one night I drew the back of a quarter, a silver bald eagle.
The next day I went to the store, bought the materials, and started to paint.
–from Fletcher Flynn: Icons, by Sal Pasqual. Foundations Gallery Press, 2002
His first show sold out. Artwork flew off the walls like the paintings were eagles themselves.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art bought an unprecedented three pieces at the premiere one-man show for an unknown artist. No one could find any evidence of Fletcher Flynn’s work beforehand.
Believe me, the collectors tried. A scrap of paper from an early art journal would have brought a mint.
He claimed to have destroyed everything from his early career without a trace. The young man went from complete obscurity to art world super stardom.
At least with John Baldessari’s Cremation Project there were ashes left over. There were cookies baked with the remains to peer at through glass containers later.
And is there anything as cruel as delicious cookies that are so close you can almost just barely reach out to touch and taste them? You strain and salivate but just can’t get there.
It’s the story of my life in inedible baked goods.
And with Fletcher Flynn his cloak of early invisibility only added to the mystery.
Fletcher Flynn just appeared out of nowhere.
When I first met Fletcher Flynn…
…he lived in a dingy commercial space and cooked dinner on a hotplate. For money he designed department store window displays with his upstairs neighbor, Doctor Marvell.
According to legend, the famed gallery owner and super-aggressive art dealer Salvatore Pasqual discovered Fletcher on a visit to Doc M’s abode. Sal allegedly asked “Who else do you know who has it in this space?”
A few months later Fletcher Flynn had a pocketful of money and the Met owned three new paintings by the hottest young artist in the world.
Fletcher Flynn’s career is one of my first and most important masterpieces. True, one of the reasons I selected Flynn and encouraged him to dispose of every shred of art he ever made was because he was engaged in an obvious and powerful sexual relationship with Doc M.
But without my guidance I hardly think the hundreds of prints and variations on Bald Eagle 1, and the rest of Fletcher’s oeuvre, would ever have seen the inside of a museum.
My boss at the time, The General, was completely unruffled when he discovered Fletcher Flynn was gay, to my complete chagrin.
He said to me the day after Fletcher’s sell-out opening, “That boy may have painted the back of a nickel, but he’s as queer as a three-dollar bill.”
How can I take credit for Fletcher Flynn, arguably one of America’s finest treasures?
One of our most celebrated artists? The man I have heard more than once referred to as the Da Vinci of our time?
I’m the one who found Fletcher Flynn.
Forget everything you’ve heard about Sal Pasqual, Foundations Gallery, and Doc M.
Forget the art world legends of fame and fortune in a single night at the hands of smiling fate. I walked into Fletcher Flynn’s studio loft in 2002 and explained that if he wanted to be a rich and famous artist he had to do two things.
The first was to destroy every single piece of art he’d ever made. The second was to listen to me, very carefully.
It didn’t hurt any when I peeled a stack of forty one-hundred dollar bills off a roll and told him to buy some new supplies. “You’re gonna need them.”
By then most of my transactions were loose imitations of my own discussions with The General.
“And one more thing,” I said. Fletcher raised his large twenty-seven year old eyes to me and listened. God that kid could listen.
“Your first painting is this,” I said, and handed him a quarter, tails-up.
“A quarter?” he said.
“A silver bald eagle, just like this,” I said. I really had trouble keeping a straight face.
I can see him now as a painting, his expression as portrait, hanging among the colorful landscapes scattered across the walls of that makeshift studio.
Fletcher, aghast, held his face in a contemporary version of Edvard Munch’s Scream. The room, a curator’s nightmare, was covered with dozens of awful Impressionist rip-offs.
“Make it huge,” I said.
This is why I take credit for Fletcher Flynn and his explosive career. I was the one who told him to paint a huge, flat, silver bald eagle with acrylic paint on canvas.
I’m the tragically unknown taste-maker of post-911 American art, Arthur Oswald Fischel, the artist who created other artists out of thin air.
I am the dream.
In all the crazy that entered my life after I opened that first bag, perhaps the silliest permutations were the calculations I did while counting the money. I looked for sequential serial numbers; I held hundreds up to the light and felt at the paper to test its consistency.
I tried to smudge the ink.
I even bit down on a bill the way prospectors did in old movies with lumps of rock to discern whether they had glittering wealth or fool’s gold. The insanity in all this, besides the obvious biting incident, was I knew nothing about counterfeiting, or even why the bad guys in movies asked for non-sequential bills.
But every artist I handed a wad of money to over the next eight years did nearly the same thing.
Rumor has it that after Adolphe Gurkus watched me leave his studio he went out with a girl and ate two separate dinners, one after the other. He had to test the validity of his brick of cash at a checker-table-clothed Italian joint in SoHo.
Gurkus wanted to know if his stack of bills could actually be exchanged for sustenance.
“Another? What is that, a scotch sir?” the waiter said.
“No,” Gurkus said. “I want you to start over. All over. Bring the menus.” He may have snapped at the guy.
Rumor has it that before I found Gurkus and gave him the money he was starving. Literally.
An oniony smell in the air reminded me how The General hadn’t said anything about amounts or directions. He just set a sack of dead presidents on my desk and walked out.
Pardon me: A sack of dead almost-presidents. There were 260 slips of black and green stained paper with the face of non-President Benjamin Franklin smiling back from them.
I counted them again. Then I counted them again.
Like Gurkus, I was starving. My gallery was a flop. After the dust soared down the streets of New York and those two huge statues to hope smelt their way into ground no one was buying anything, especially art.
Artists were on hunger strikes. Corliss Bergman chained herself to the front door of the Pelham Museum before its opening of an International Quilts retrospective four days after September 11th, and no one noticed.
No crowd collected outside. No one believed in anything anymore, forget art.
I reviewed the regrets Jade must have had as I counted through the money:
1, 2, 3) Her decision to become my gallery assistant.
4,5,6,7) Her decision to become my student in a course in Impressionism at the CUNY Upper East Side Campus.
8, 9, 10, 11) Her decision to meet me for a drink after her mid-term.
12, 13, 14, 15) Her decision to give me a blowjob in my office, the two of us filled with Southern Comfort garnished with ice and lime.
16, 17, 18, 19) Her decision to follow me out to my Volvo afterward, angled in the faculty parking lot.
20, 21, 22, 23) The one to be my girlfriend, my live-in girlfriend, and then my gallery assistant.
There were 260 bills in the bag. There was $26,000 in the bag.
But I kept losing count of Jade and her regrets. So the second thing I did was tell Jade.
With $26,000 stacked up in a paper bag, what was left to be unsure of?
Jade asked, “Did that man in the jacket?”
I waved her off.
There was a level of concentration on her face I hadn’t seen since the parking lot on our first date, the pine tree air freshener bobbing and weaving above her jet black hair.
Jade was consumed with counting money just as she had been in the first half of my course in Impressionism, or when I shared my desire to open my very own gallery over dinner one night.
The third thing I did was Google the General.
Guess what happened? Absolutely nothing. The search came back blank.
“Twenty-six thousand dollars,” Jade said. I looked up from my blank Google search. The cursor blinked expectantly.
“Do you know how rare it was to produce a blank Google search?” I said.
She said, “Twenty-six thousand dollars,” again. The emphasis was different this time. Every syllable had meaning.
And then she said, “I guess we can put on another show.”
It was a gorgeous understatement.
We made love on a field of Benjamin Franklins that night.
The money was sticky while we sweat and the dirty bills clung to my back, to my chest and thighs, and wrinkled along with the bed sheets. As I lay still later, with the half-light of the city filtering through the upper windows, it felt like The General was there in bed with us.
I saw a rendering of his trench coat and paper bag beneath our flesh. Jade snored against my shoulder.
I stared up at the ceiling with the twin discomforts of her head digging into my shoulder and the oily promissory notes touching me in places they didn’t belong.
I didn’t think about paying my lease on the gallery we lived above, or the electric bill, my internet access, the printing costs for the last set of postcards, or even my overdue insurance on the artwork and the space.
I thought only of fairy tales and wishes. I wondered which artist I might touch ever-so-gently with my wand of top secret government currency, and invite to the magic ball.
Don’t wait for the next part of Art Official. Click here and read Episode 3 now.