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Portrait of an A*#hole

February 25, 2015


First posted 5/11/12


I saw someone familiar in the obituaries today. It took me a while to place the face but it finally came to me. Years ago she came regularly to the mall jewelry store I managed. She never bought anything, but she was a pleasant widow and I always offered to clean her jewelry. Being a chatty fellow, I 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.


“You’re Stephen Hayes the artist, aren’t you?” she asked. “Didn’t you tell me you painted?”


“Yes, on both counts,” 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 the subject of my search 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 walked over 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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Love it! Was the price of the job worthwhile?
By: Mike@A Bit About Britain on February 25, 2015
Now that's funny. Hey, after the humiliation, only fair you get his job.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on February 25, 2015
You tried to tell them! I suspect they were the better for the mistaken identity. Did you ever get to tell the crabby lady it was not you?
By: Cranky on February 25, 2015
That is a great story. Seriously: The awkwardness of the situation, then then benefiting because of the mistaken identity. Nice.
By: Katy Anders on February 25, 2015
They say everyone has a doppelganger. Yours got you a job!
By: Tabor on February 25, 2015
Brilliant . . . liked your picture of an ass in a hole . . . . . I wonder whether you will ever meet thje other Stephen Hayes ~ careful if you shake his hand or touch him . . . one of you might be matter and the other might be anti matter . . . lol
By: Eddie Bluelights on February 25, 2015
My bet is that they got the one they needed!
By: mimi on February 25, 2015
funny. I raised my children jewish (long story) and just after they quit going to religious school and I was washing my hands of the whole religious thing, I got an invitation to join the women's whatever social organization that was supposed to raise funds for do good stuff. there were other family members (through marriage) with the same last name and I knew they thought they were contacting someone else who was more active in the congregation and I told them so. no, no. it's you we want. eventually they figured it out but were too embarrassed to rescind the invitation so I joined out of curiosity. didn't last long as all they wanted to do was have style shows and luncheons and not once while I attended did we actually use funds or activities to help the less fortunate.
By: Ellen Abbott on February 25, 2015
What a great tale. It is a great gift to be be able to laugh at one's self and to share the humor with others, especially at times when the Universe joins in with the hearty laugh at our expense!
By: John on February 25, 2015
oh, my word... at least it worked in your favor!
By: TexWisGirl on February 25, 2015
What are the odds of having another artist sharing your name and locale. Now you should Google your name and see just how many individuals bear your name.
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 25, 2015
I doubt there are other fishduckies!!
By: fishducky on February 25, 2015
You should see this documentary: One of the things it gets into is the open contempt for the viewer that is displayed by many modern artists. That contempt is contrasted with the remarkable work of a four-year-old. This is wonderful, but if it's literally true, I would have liked it had you gone into how the committee could persist in thinking you were the right guy. Didn't you take some of your art to show them? Were you really so obscure that even in a relatively small art community, they had never heard of you?
By: Snowbrush on February 25, 2015
That is just too funny and it proves Karma does exist. Did you ever get to meet the other Stephen?
By: Akansas Patti on February 25, 2015
Yes, I did meet him but I didn't push the fact that we had the same name. Actually, there were three Stephen Hayeses at the time; the third learned how to paint in prison after knocking off a few liquor stores. In answer to Snowbrush's question as to how a committee didn't know they had the wrong guy, I think it had to do with the polarization of departments in that particular art college. I taught in the Illustration Department and the "Painting Department" treated us like unwanted stepchildren. I took some consolation in the fact that my illustration students went on to earn much more money than painting graduates.
By: Chubby Chatterbox on February 25, 2015
Ha! Great story!
By: The Bug on February 25, 2015
Hey, all that matters is that your art will live on beyond your death and become as valuable as Picasso or Monet, right?
By: Michael Offutt on February 25, 2015
Clever story, Did you have the opportunity to correct the store patron who must have been a bit miffed by "your" art?
By: Tom Cochrun on February 25, 2015
Didn't somebody write a song about your situation, called "Don't That Brown Eye Make Me Blue?" Oh. Sorry. It was "Don't it Make My Brown Eyes Blue." Never mind.
By: Val on February 25, 2015
Not bad indeed!!
By: Bouncin Barb on February 25, 2015
Vengeance is mine, sayeth "the other Stephen."
By: Catalyst on February 25, 2015
This story is just proof that Karma is a funny lady with a wicked sense of humor!
By: Pixel Peeper on February 25, 2015
OK, it all gets tied together from the first picture to the end. Now, did you ever see the old lady again or did you just ditch her from the story
By: red on February 25, 2015
excellent story - but i think your art speaks for itself so i feel you deserved the post regardless of which one you were
By: don\'t feed the pixies on February 26, 2015
You end up in the most unusual adventures. And somehow they usually work out for you. Fun tale.
By: Hilary on February 26, 2015
When I saw the title, I wondered, "How did Steve get a picture of my father?"
By: Al Penwasser on February 26, 2015
I used to worry that someone might steal my identity but then I came to the conclusion that it was probably unlikely that anyone would choose to be me.
By: Sarah Mac on February 27, 2015
"On loan from Chernobyl" gave me quite a laugh, Stephen. Similar names have, unfortunately led to more than a few of us to be branded--even for a moment!
By: Michael Manning on March 2, 2015

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