A group exhibition comprising work made by the nine organizing artists is currently on view at Essex Flowers, a new space in the small basement of a florist’s shop on the Lower East Side. Heather Guertin’s delicate painting, Children of Paradise, pictured above, is a stand-out among the many compelling pieces in the show. After doing a quick search, I learned that Guertin is also a writer and stand-up comic who recently published Model Turned Comedian with Social Malpractice Publishing and Publication Studio in Portland, Oregon. She sent me a copy, which I enjoyed tremendously (emerging standup comics, it turns out, have a lot in common with emerging painters), and she agreed to publish some excerpts here.
Image above: Heather Guertin, Children of Paradise, oil on canvas, 68 x 48 inches.
Written in the first person, Model Turned Comedian features a young narrator who works as a “model” in clothing stores, feigning interest in the product in order to influence actual shoppers. Although boring and lonely, the job gives her plenty of time to write jokes for her standup routine, which she practices at parties among groups of other fledgling comics. Guertin’s prose is direct and spare, humorous in its lean, flat delivery. Here are the excerpts that Guertin selected to share with readers at Two Coats of Paint.
The night was�
The night was… I can still see my face in your face. It is�questioning. But don�t be afraid because we are all one.
A woman wakes up alone. She has short, dark brown hair and slightly olive skin, tanned but naturally. She is thin, fit but naturally. She has slightly big hands that are strong and feet that are wide and toes that are also strong. Her favorite colors are black and a form of light magenta. She gets up at 6:30, walks to the shower and gets ready. She leaves her apartment and heads off in her beat-up Honda Civic, a purely functional car that gets good gas mileage.
This woman is only slightly better than me.
Writing comedic material was a lot like free jazz. Does this comedian like organic smoothies? Yes she does. Does this comedian just stare off into the distance with a quiet smirk on his face and after the perfect, indeterminate amount of time, relieves himself silently on stage? Why yes, that�s my act. I had to stop listening to all the advice and realize what comedy meant to me.
But that was impossible.
I once walked around LA until I was tanned and thirsty. I climbed the hills of Laurel Canyon and sang myself a song into the sunset. Everything was misty and golden. There were bats and hummingbirds mixing with the floating pollen.
I sang into the hazy valley~
I have no one
I have fallen as far as I can go
Might as well climb
Into the land of the sun
That same day I made a pact with myself that I would be a standup comedian.
I realized that I could do anything. Running on adrenaline I bought two tickets to New York.
I only needed one ticket and I had to do some negotiating with the airline to get my full refund for the second ticket. I succeeded but ended up paying a fee of $175.
After that was settled, I arrived in N.Y.C.
New York was cold and dirty so I flew back to L.A.
This made me wish I hadn�t refunded my second ticket but rather just kept it and changed it to a flight back to L.A.
Then it would have only cost me $50 to change flights plus the difference in the ticket price, which I can�t imagine would be much.
Anyway L.A. was the place for me.
For a long time I went to bed early.
But not tonight, tonight I was staying up late.
I was really going to let myself loose as they say.
So there I was – on the back porch alone with my third White Russian and I started to think about The Swiss. I thought about how he promised to take me out shopping the other day because I was feeling down and how nice that was and how nice he was. Maybe too nice. �sigh- Did he think he was better than me? Nicer than me?
I took another short sip from my White Russian. Too much vodka I thought. I guess I should be happy they even have White Russians at this party.
I looked out into the expansive back yard of my childhood friend�s childhood summer home. I spotted the moon behind the trees. It was making dark silhouettes against the deep blue sky. Like figures watching over me.
I thought about how the moon was solid and round and very big but very far away. I was reminded how we are all one. Born without choice but with a consciousness. This consciousness must be shared between all of us, while our bodies give it form. -Because there is the possibility that we could have been born as anyone.
I am always zoning out like this. Ruminating over the day�s worries. No knew thoughts. Just waiting for an epiphany to shine down and guide me to my next decision. I know my therapist thinks I enjoy the pain of these thoughts, like I�m some kind of mind masochist.
She says I have to distract myself from going over and over my self-created problems in my head, that there really isn�t any problem at all. And I ask her how can I do that and then she says time is up.
When I am in a trance my eyes get wide and glassy. I hope that if I run through the problem long enough. I will find the solution someday, life�s little Suduko puzzle. If I just had an extra 30 minutes of quiet on the subway I could figure it all out.
In the back of my mind I know the answer is there. It�s hidden under little lumps of memories and goals.
But buried even deeper is the knowledge that I will never figure this out. I�ll just waste time and get fat from sitting still. I have to move.
But I can�t be hasty about this. I can�t go around demanding action from everybody or a simple solution. I have to be patient. But not too patient. I have to be patient and enthusiastic. I have to patiently and enthusiastically move through my life making small and significant decisions. Decisions that will contribute to my ultimate well crafted goals over time.
I remember my drink in my hand and take a bigger sip this time. I can�t taste the vodka anymore. I can here the laughter inside and wonder how it is they can laugh so easily at life.
Sometimes I listen to NPR all day until it repeats itself. Then I feel smart because I already know what they are going to say.
How can I be so manipulative, not only to other people, but also to myself? Am I tricking myself into fulfilling my own goals? Is success against my nature? Would I rather transgress against my own personal development?
I need to understand that it is not artificial to allow yourself to be successful. It is just learning to have self-control and self-control is an important part of developing a strong identity.
Another Guertin painting is on view in “6<<<>>>6,” a curatorial project at Interstate in Bushwick, where she will be performing and reading from her new existential science fiction/ ghost story this weekend during the closing event.
Group show at Essex Flowers, Lower East Side, New York, NY.
“6<<<>>>6,” Interstate Projects, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. Through July 21, 2013.
BONUS VIDEO: Performing her standup routine, Guertin brings her paintings on stage and reads from the novella.
"Children of Paradise" is a terrific painting, and it's great to see a Renaissance sensibility in this age of specialization. Move over Miranda July and Lena Dunham.