“Crazy artist” is one of my least favorite cinematic stereotypes. “Crazy genius homeless person” is right up there too. I think most artists aren’t crazy, just creative and hardworking, and the ones that are make art in spite of the crazy, not because of it. I know a manic episode can inspire a creative binge, but I don’t think it’s as simple as go off meds, paint Mona Lisa. Similarly, I don’t think most homeless people are fallen violin virtuosos just one shower away from Disney Hall. I imagine mental illness is a long, lonely slog that most often takes you away from yourself, not to some higher plain.
So imagine my surprise when I noticed one of Westwood’s resident homeless guys sketching and painting in Starbucks today: small fashion portraits of women in old-fashioned bloomers and a slightly Toulouse Lautrec-ish three-quarters profile. I don’t know if they were the visual-art equivalent of that soloist guy. But they were good. And he was filling them in with watercolors from a kids’ paintbox—you know, the ones with the eight little just-add-water circles. Imagine what he could have done with some serious tools.
He was talking to himself the whole time. At one point I caught, “Everyone trying to get by on $75,000.” Although he didn’t seem to notice anyone outside his head, the guys at the next table were lamenting the thousands they’d lost trying to flip houses, so maybe it was some sort of crazy-genius commentary.
I’ve seen this guy around. Pushing a shopping cart, washing windows at the other Starbucks down the street. He has a crown of dreadlocks and eyebrows arched in perpetual happy surprise. Unlike most schizophrenics you see on the street, he does not seem to be pissed off at the voices in his head. A lot of times they seem to be saying something hilarious. I’ve often thought that if I were going to lose it, I’d want to lose it like this guy. And of course any life that involves sitting all day in a coffee shop working on your art seems pretty appealing to me. Maybe I should worry that I’m halfway there. But maybe I shouldn’t.