An artist/bohemian type working for themselves is perceived in a variety of ways by the general public. A lot of the perception has to do with a combination of the artist’s cashflow and apparel strategy, as opposed to the stirrings of their soul. Strangely, as a young man, people often saw me as a responsible, solid guy. Ha!
In the early eighties I ran my screen printing operation out of a funky old warehouse by the railroad tracks in Eugene, Oregon. Enormous pastry and coffee in hand, I’d get to my shop a bit past nine and dig in for the day. Usually I’d run out of work between 1:00 and 3:00 pm, leaving the rest of the day to run, draw comics and hang out.
Being that the economy had had the shit kicked out of it just then, I was moderately proud that I’d been able to scape up enough business to keep a roof over my head… ultimately I turned enough of a profit to embark on my checkered career publishing my own wacky comic books, but that’s not the subject of this rant.
Warehouse Artists Studios was the literal name of the co-op warehouse wherein I rented space. The studio took up the second floor of a truly dilapidated old funkster warehouse that had most recently been used to store spices. Add to that the gay girls who lived illegally in the space next to mine, burning patchouli oil night and day. This place had a certain bouquet!
I’d been printing T-Shirt jobs out of my flat, and it was getting a bit ridiculous. At an opening in a local gallery, I saw a flyer for “Warehouse Artist Studios”, a 5000 square foot space that magically divided up the floor into 170 square foot units that rented for forty bucks a month. I went down the next day and rented two adjacent spaces, which apparently I’d be paying $75 or $80 a month for. A slight, nervous man named Lynn rented my space to me. He was the manager, he had a chair upholstering business in the studio. Straight away, I could see ‘ol Lynn was a duck seriously out of water.
This impression was dramatically confirmed like three days later when Lynn informed me that the Warehouse was failing economically, and that he was resigning as manager. He handed me the studio ledger and checkbook saying “you seem like an astute fellow, why don’t you manage this dump?”.
I was rather taken aback at this, but sure enough at the next meeting of the co-op, the members all but begged me to save their studio. I had my serious doubts, but figured there wasn’t much to lose, so why not? It wasn’t lost on me either that as manager my rent for my 340 square foot space dipped to $35.00 per month!
The co-op had about 12 members. We were several hundred dollars in the hole. We could pay rent, but couldn’t pay the heating bill. We were required to carry basic liability insurance, which had gone unpaid and lapsed, for starters. I sat down and did a bit of math. I figured if we raised the rent on the basic space about $10.00 a month for five months, and attracted a couple new members, we’d squeak by and could continue renting the dump.
The measure passed at the next meeting. At least with the eight or nine people who decided to stick it out, as a couple members dropped out with the news of the temporary rent increase; we did indeed need to attract new members straight away. We papered the town with flyers for the warehouse, and got free listings in any newspaper we could. Miraculously, the plan worked. We lowered the basic rent back to $40.00 per month ahead of schedule and got an infusion of fresh blood. I can’t take too much credit for it, as the place snapped to with an esprit de corps I’ve rarely encountered… I’d say it was goddamn grassroots socialism is action, almost.
Now here comes the fun part, the personalities that made the place click, the swashbucklers, crackpots, con men, assholes, and outright brilliant geniuses I encountered in my stint at Warehouse Artist Studios. First comes a woman named Kathy Caprario. She was a dramatic beauty from New York of Italian descent, the best known painter in Eugene, an “older woman” to me of maybe 33-35 years (I was all of 24 at the time). Kathy is the person who was singlehandedly most responsible for the survival of Warehouse Artist Studios at the time of the financial crises. To say she was resourceful and a bit of an aggressive shark is an understatement. For starters, she marched me down to see the owner of the …