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Picture of an A*#hole

July 8, 2016

I recently saw someone familiar in the obituaries. It took me a while to place the face but it finally came to me. Years ago she came regularly into the jewelry store I managed at the local mall. She never bought anything but she was a pleasant widow and I’d clean her jewelry. I’ve always been chatty and let it slip that, in addition to managing the store, I was an artist and my work could be seen around town.


One Saturday afternoon in 1989 she came into the store and said, “I was downtown yesterday at the Oregon Biennial. I saw your work.”


My illustrations were beginning to show up in local newspapers and magazines and people often told me they’d seen my work when I suspected they hadn’t. Usually when people claimed to have seen my art they said something nice. This lady did not say anything nice, and it was unlikely she’d seen my work at the Oregon Biennial because I hadn’t submitted anything.


“Didn’t you tell me you painted, that you’re an artist?” she asked.


“Yes, I am.” I answered.


She scowled her disapproval at me.


“What did you think of the show?” I asked. “Did you see anything interesting?”


“Most of the work was too modern, but your picture was...quite revealing!”


The way she glared made me feel uncomfortable. I decided to dash to the art museum and check out what was hanging with my name on it.


The Oregon Biennial was an artsy-fartsy juried show designed to showcase intellectual experimentation every two years. The art selected didn’t reflect mainstream taste. One didn’t find well-staged landscapes and penetrating portraits. I wandered through the various rooms, one devoted to minimalism and another to nihilism; there was a room of non-objective paintings and another filled with constructivist sculpture that looked like kindergarten blocks. One by one I eliminated the rooms until I came to the last. I peeked inside and knew the instant I laid eyes on it that I’d found what I was looking for hanging on the far wall.


I approached cautiously, as if the picture were on loan from Chernobyl. Several art enthusiasts shushed me when I moaned, “Please dear God; don’t let it be this one!”


I advanced to a life-size charcoal drawing of a man vaguely resembling me. The figure was nude and drawn from behind, presenting his backside to the world. His head was tucked between his legs and he was leering at the viewer—a self-portrait…of the artist’s asshole. A nearby placard gave the artist’s name: Stephen Hayes.


I had no right to be enraged, but I was. If this artist had been standing beside his picture, I’d have kicked him in the pucker chute he’d drawn so well. I felt like I’d been robbed of my dignity, along with my name. With several different ways to spell Stephen, why couldn’t this guy have spelled his name differently? In addition to feeling angry, I burned with shame because another Stephen Hayes was having the artistic success that so far had eluded me. I took this as a wake-up call that I’d better get moving before yet another Stephen Hayes crawled out of the woodwork. I was the one who needed a swift kick in the butt.


Eventually, I quit retail and launched my career as a professional illustrator. I did moderately well for myself, as did the other Stephen Hayes whose reputation as a figurative painter continued to grow. One day I received an invitation to join the faculty of one of the most prestigious art schools in the Northwest. I suspected they’d sent the invitation to the wrong guy, which is what I told the hiring committee during my interview. They thought I was quirky and wanted more money. My reluctance to sign a contract goaded them into wanting me even more. They raised their offer and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I finally accepted. For eight years my fellow faculty members believed I was the other Stephen Hayes.


Not bad for an asshole.





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Oh hahah I know the other Stephen! He was my 2nd year drawing teacher when I was going to Marylhurst University - he was a fabulous painter and I have a few of his paintings- but not of any nudes- just chairs! Love the image of the donkey- hilarious!
By: Kathe W. on July 8, 2016
You made it work in your favor! Did you ever get a chance to tell that old lady it wasn't you?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on July 8, 2016
Heh, heh. I wonder how many people were walking around, silently judging you, thinking they had unwanted intimate knowledge of your butthole!
By: Val on July 8, 2016
Oh My...that lady should have talked a bit more since communication is the key to everything. I'm glad you were on that committee for that long because they need someone with some art sense. I am so sick and tired of these art "experts" who think something is amazing when all it is is a paint splatter. These are the same people who usually wear black, look arrogantly nerdy while they throw their cream scarf around their neck. These are the same people who thought great art was that splatter and it turned out to be an elephant drawing. that lady never did come back to your store did she?
By: Birgit on July 8, 2016
Ha, ha. Well at least you managed to benefit from the humiliation in the end.
By: LL Cool Joe on July 8, 2016
That would be a... unique... painting. I seem to remember a painting of Norman Rockwell looking at a mirror to paint himself. Somehow, this sounds like much more than I want to think about... eep! Cat
By: Cat on July 8, 2016
The fact he not only shared your name but the charcoal drawing vaguely resembled you is eerie.
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 8, 2016
Now that is the meaning of sweet revenge. Did the other Stephen ever find out you beat him out of a job?
By: Arkansas Patti on July 8, 2016
A comedy of errors!
By: red Kline on July 8, 2016
Considering that he cost you your reputation with that customer, i think you deserved the job!
By: messymimi on July 8, 2016
It's weird enough being confronted with someone who has exactly your name...your scenario makes the entire thing even weirder!
By: Pixel Peeper on July 8, 2016
That's funny, but for 8 years you must have been good, I'm sure you were or would be a great art history teacher. Are you sure they were looking for the other Stephan Hayes?
By: cranky on July 8, 2016
A comedy of errors, but they finally got their man. And the right man, indeed.
By: Mr. Shife on July 9, 2016
What fun to have a job where you can spend 8 years impersonating an asshole!
By: Mitchell is Moving on July 9, 2016
Oh my! I would have been stunned myself! I don't know this other Stephen Hayes, but you are a fantastic artist. I'm no art critic, but spare me a shot of someone's butt...YUCK!
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on July 9, 2016
Yet another funny story from a master of the brush AND the written word. I wonder if the lady in the jewelry store ever learned of your expertise in literature.
By: Catalyst on July 9, 2016
You were hired at a prestigious art school and taught for 8 years by accident?! That's amazingly good luck - but considering the portrait of an asshole, the school committee who regarded that as the height of art got a better professor than they deserved.
By: Lexa Cain on July 9, 2016
That was a fun post, but I can tell by the tone of your post that it was not funny at the time. :-) Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on July 9, 2016
If only there were someone more successful with my name people could confuse me for.
By: PT Dilloway on July 9, 2016
Talk about mistaken identity! Hilarious!
By: Tom Cochrun on July 9, 2016
Click bait. I thought I was going to see a picture of Trump.
By: on July 9, 2016
I just saw a story that reminded me of this. Did you see the story about Pete Doig? There's a guy suing him to prove a painting is Doig's when he says it isn't. They're going to court about it.
By: Lexa Cain on July 10, 2016
This is a funny story, but like you, I would have been miffed :) With Google, it's amazing how many people share our names. R
By: Rick Watson on July 10, 2016
You have the most interesting incidents in your life. Better still, you write so well, they come alive. I'm glad you could benefit from this bummer of a situation. I'm also glad that you were not about to show a drawing of a political candidate as your title could suggest. ;)
By: Hilary on July 11, 2016

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