Sleeping with Art

The “cottage” or “bathhouse” I’m staying in is on what’s known as the “compound” or “complex” (or “commune” if you’re woo woo) in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. The cottage is owned by Cleveland social staple Jeff Chiblis who also happens to be a Neon artist. Art in America once called his work an “understated critique of capitalism, converting its commercial adages into an art whose beauty is tempered with a quiet wit and a gentlemanly good humor,” and that humor shines through not only in the art but also in the man himself. 


Above the bed hangs a neon sign which says GUESTS. “You can turn it on whenever you want” Jeff tells me as he shows me the place. The red letters emit a low hum. Artists work hangs on the walls. “Locals” and one which Jeff my host points to and says, “Monsieur Giacometti” I text my British friend to see if that’s right. “Could be” he says, “but maybe a little too naturalistic.” I should just ask Jeff. 


The bedspread is white chenille, the same kind I grew up on and I seem to have sunk into it almost immediately. Occasionally I hear dumping beer bottles from the Polish social club next door when I lie in it and watch the flowers. They're in full June bloom. It smells like a combination of spring and cigarettes when I keep the windows open. 


In The Poetics of Space Bachelard wrote, "I alone, in my memories of another century, can open the deep cupboard that still retains for me alone that unique odor, the odor of raisins drying on a wicker tray. The odor of raisins!...but I've already said too much. If I said more the reader, back in his own room, would not open that unique wardrobe, with its unique smell, which is the signature of intimacy." 


He speaks here of childhood homes and daydreams and memories attached to them, but I'll heed his warning and be sparse. Above my bed hangs an assemblage by Steve Smith. I look at it frequently and before today I thought it was a part of a faucet over a block but it's actually an elongated metal goat in the shape of door handle which appears to be jumping over a small round thermometer which until now I thought was a clock.


The first thing you learn about Smith when you look him up on the internet is that he got booted from the Naval Academy and then spent time in prison for armed robbery. He apparently arrived in Cleveland in pursuit of anther man's wife. I told you, Cleveland is for lovers. 


There was something rough around the edges of the assemblage when I first aw it. I kept looking at it, like it had something to say to me, something to get off its chest. Maybe because of that small circle in its center which contains information about the room itself, its fluctuating degrees, which I had misapprehended as minutes. That this piece, by a violent man, telling temperature not time watches over me while I sleep seems appropriate. I wonder if it wards off the evil eye, or if its the Ohio version of an angel of death. Either way it haunts me and I'm always surprised when I think I'm staring at nothing to find myself looking at it. 


It's a very different thing to sleep with art every night for a month than to see it only once.