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Faded Pictures from a Life: Above a Chinese Restaurant

Above a Chinese Restaurant


Our first apartment on the outskirts of Champaign, Illinois was a cockroach ridden, dirty hovel. We tried to manage but we soon moved to a more hospitable place in the town. The only problem was that some local rock group would occasionally block our driveway with their trailer. I think their name was REO Speedwagon.

I remember standing on the quad of the University of Illinois in awe. It was campus of tens of thousands of students compared to the couple thousand at NSC. The enormous old buildings and expanse of space made a country bumpkin feel as if he was at Versailles. There was a large art department and fine art museum. When I was taken to the graduate painting studios I was shocked. They were not on campus at all but above an old strip mall with a Chinese restaurant. It was a ramshackle building and everything was in a state of decay. The individual studios were separated with poorly built plywood dividers. The studio I was given was large enough and best of all mine had a window that overlooked some train tracks. There was a table, easel, stool, and a counter. If you needed anything else you could go check the large storage room where it looked like stuff had been thrown for centuries. My guess is that there were bodies in the deepest corners but no one would smell them with the avalanche of smells coming from the studios. I soon understood that this was the perfect place for us to do what we needed to do, creatively make art in the early 1970’s. Shiny cubicles in a clean building would have been the worst possible place. We were a motley bunch of painters from all over the country but no one put on any airs due to what ritzy college they got their BFA at or how rich their parents were. It was an even playing field and what mattered was what you did now. It turned out to be a diverse yet homogeneous group. I would suppose those studios are long gone now. They were an enormous fire trap, but still, it’s a shame.

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