Ed, Todd, and I were all working in the photo studio of the Emporium Capwell department store in downtown San Francisco. The budgets were over the top and the Art Director hired me to build and paint special set pieces for the ads and catalogs. The largest undertaking was building a faux stone patio. I used mountains of masonite, glue and crumbled styrofoam and then weeks of painting it. I think it was used once. I built it on the rooftop of the Emporium which used to be home to a Christmas village for kids and there were still pieces of that history long-ago abandoned.
Ed was a fashion stylist who played by the rules during the day and at night and on weekends we were able to use the studios with photographers who wanted to experiment.
Ed had become friendly with the two founders of the hip Martin-Weber Gallery, which is still around as Artists’ Television Access.. They let him know that the enormous warehouse next to theirs at 8th and Howard was for rent by a very artist-friendly lawyer named Mark Rennie. We quickly rented it and named it Tons of Meat.
The place was so big we even installed a trapeze and a bathtub in the middle of the place. Todd built his own room floating a few steps up. Ed was bunking in a bed up on scaffolding. I slept in a loft and had a sprawling office setup (seen above). I built a two-story set for over-the-top theatrical entries. I filmed a friend Jan Taylor as a “seen-better-days” singer with a slow, boozy performance of the Doris Day song “Let’s Be Happy.” Boy, do I wish I had that video.
Mark was running an “art restaurant” at 9th and Folsom. He was tuned into how to make a public relations scene with big, arty gestures. All the fun kids worked at the restaurant and many free burgers were given to artists needing a meal.
He was assembling a team to launch a nightclub at 9th and Harrison dubbed “Club Nine.” It was the former home of a gay leather bar with top-secret stories of what happened in the basement of the place. There was also a huge space next door that would make for a great concert venue. Then, above that, were a few abandoned motel rooms that could be used for art installations.
Mark invited me to join as one of the art directors. I couldn’t resist. Things started moving quickly from then on – fueled by the neighborhood coke dealer A. Smasher.
I met one of the performers, Miss Kitty. She was a transplant from New Orleans with a bigger-than-life presence. With her hourglass figure, she had been the model for two mermaids flanking the gates to the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition flanked by two mermaids.
Sure she could sing, but the real fun was throwing together a show in an afternoon, then performing it that night at the club.
We redesigned the place every nine weeks. A personal favorite was a Southwest theme “Artzona.” One of the video artists and I drove an old truck to Arizona and talked a bunch of artists into lending us work for the installation.
It was a whirlwind of activity for a year or so there. Soon I’d burn out and end up as a humble gardener in North Oakland.