Sunday, October 19, 2008

Women in Simple Black Frames

Soulard has several characters I want to write about. Johnny Rio (the sheriff off Soulard), Bob Burkhardt (the Mayor and creator of every bar in St. Louis), Zeno (the poet laureate), Ollie Matheus (How to describe Ollie?) and David Classe’ (resident artist) are all luminaries.

The first David Classe’ piece I was exposed to was a giant mosaic on the southern wall of the Broadway Oyster Bar’s beer garden. He spent a lot of time on it and I believe he was paid in alcohol.

It was the early 80’s and I was in the middle of my art fever. I tried to talk to Dave about it several times. It’s a primitive reconstruction of Botticelli’s Venus. It’s made from oyster shells, broken glass, and beer bottle caps.

The difference is a black woman standing on the side with her hands on her hips looking at the Venus. She’s a contrast to the uptight Venus who covers her breasts in embarrassment. I always thought that he used this piece to poke fun at western cultural repression in general. Dave said I was full of shit. I think he doesn’t want to have to explain himself. The piece speaks for itself.

Dave had a show in Soulard last Friday. There were a lot of beautiful pieces. There were several references to other famous paintings. The obvious were Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso and Magritte. His most recent had photos of soldiers that died in Iraq. It looked like post war German Expressionist graffiti. That’s the picture I’m posting. It’s not the most beautiful piece but it’s my favorite.

I began to wonder if everything he did referenced some icon in art history. I asked him if everything at the show was based on some other piece. He said about half of them were.

The show was called Women in Simple Black Frames. He painted all the frames black. The poster for the show was a woman wearing sunglasses with women in the reflections of the black frames. He seemed to be pleased with himself when he pointed that out to my friend Sharon.

I’ve always wondered if Dave was really an intellectual. There seems to be a great deal of thought in all his work even when he just whipped it out.

We were at a party several years ago and he decided to paint the host’s shower curtain. I was jealous. I’d been trying to get one of his pieces for years. I even offered to trade him my car once. He really needed a car then too. My mistake was I asked for oils and he said he only worked in acrylics.

Dave used to live upstairs from the Downstreet Cafe. This place had the best beer garden in the city. He had an incredible art loft apartment with canvasses everywhere. One winter his mattress caught on fire. He didn’t have running water and had to throw it out the window.

I’m planning a St. Louis art blog and I’m sure Classe’ will be my first post. There are endless anecdotes about him and I’ll try to get to them all eventually. I hope I get a lot of comments about him. Some of my best friends know a lot more about him.


...Sharon said...

Nice article David. Just a couple things to add... Classe' was one of the owners of the Downstreet. He and Burkhardt renovated that space. (The third owner was Susie who had the restaurant angle.)

The actual name of this show, at the Soulard Art Market Gallery (plug!) is "Women in Simple Black Frames". It's a take on "the simple black dress", which is what he pointed out with that simple poster on the door. More women in a different type of simple black frame - the sunglasses. The "simple frames" tying all the pieces together.

I find he just has a way of weaving layers of thought through his work. Sometimes thought through as well as many times without his control. Ah, he's a natural.

(Oh, I have a book of poetry published by the Culture Squad that you can borrow when you do the piece on Zeno.)

Anonymous said...

Ollie at one time was my AA sponsor! He was a great friend of mine but I picked the wrong sponsor. :) John Gorski

Doggie said...

I think Ollie's skydive might be a good story.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen that ugly face for years! Dave & I lived across the street from each other when we were teens. Thanks for the update.

Gary Stoltman
Mercerville, NJ

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen that ugly face for years! Dave and I lived across the street from each other when we were teens. Thanks for the update.

Gary Stoltman
Mercerville, NJ

sunbabe said...

Nondus Fortner says..."I've got many, many pictures from 1982-2010 of Soulardians, including Johnny Rio (we lived together for 9 yrs), Bob Burkhardt and David Classe. Johnny and I lived in the old Downstreet below David. Burkhardt lived on the other side. I made myself the official Soulard photographer and archivist. What a memorable time the 80s were in Soulard and at the Oyster Bar...great blues music was being played in the bars in Soulard by well-known musicians that had played with the greats and also had made names for themselves back when. They were now on the downside, but still great. It was a wonderful time then. Very free! The yuppies hadn't taken over yet. Lots of rehab was being done back then but Soulard was still pretty rough. Once the yups took over in the 90s, then they complained about the noise from the bars and there was no more music anymore and no more Soulard on the map. It had become the place to go when you came to St. Louis because of the blues music. It was a sad demise. Now Soulard is boring."

Anonymous said...

I have a photo of Dave [no beard!] taken in the Philippines [sp?] abt. 1965. He's in his naval uniform [USS Constitution]with a young 'lady' having a beer. I don't know his address, so if known, please advise him or send to me. Thanks!

Gary Stoltman
Mercerville, NJ