Wednesday, September 7, 2016

CHILD'S PLAY

Today's post is a posthumous publication. It was written by the painter, Davyd Whaley, in association with the image that you'll find below. Davyd grew up in wildly dysfunctional circumstances in the Appalachian Mountains, and came late in his short life to the recognition of his calling as an artist. His dreams and memories of childhood were the major resource for his creative work, and here we find him recalling the kind of archetypal boyhood adventure that will surely strike a familiar chord with anyone who ever played Cowboys and Indians--and that includes even a youngster like myself, growing up in faraway England in the 1940s.

There's much more information about Davyd and numerous examples of his work at his official website; and at the website of the Davyd Whaley Foundation, which has been established to honor his memory.



CHILD'S PLAY
By Davyd Whaley

As a boy of eight years old, I had an older playmate in his teen years named Bob White. He was a very peculiar and exciting creature who lived one acre up the gravel road above our white, two-story farmhouse, with its black shutters and a rusty orange tin roof. I would always know he was in my yard because he would throw half-ripened green walnuts against the brick chimney, causing a horrible clatter and twang all the way down the roof, just like a giant gong. Bob would just cackle. The lady in the back kitchen would yell out a squall, telling me to "get that boy to stop tearing down the house", and "don’t go out and get in trouble with him. He looks strange."

She was correct on both counts. That day Bob White looked especially peculiar. He was dressed proudly in his Apache Indian outfit, shirtless and with feathers in his hair, red circles under his eyes and two bright lines of red rouge powder on his sweaty cheeks, which matched four more bright red stripes on his bare chest. Today Bob was on the warpath, feathers flickering against his Daisy BB guns and the rubber slingshot sticking out of his blue jeans. Bob told me these were eagle feathers in his hair; they would give us protection today on our hunt, to keep us safe. He took the magic red powder and put red circles under both my eyes and stuck two eagle feathers in my curly brown hair. Now I was safe from the Rats. He said some spell in Indian language before giving me the Daisy BB gun and ripping my polyester pants at the bottom. Fearless, take-no-prisoners Apaches, we were ready to annihilate the enemy.

Today would be an adventure he announced from the back-porch. “Davy, come on! We’re going on the warpath." As a boy of eight years old, I wasn’t analyzing the situation for what it truly could have been. At eight, do we analyze? Looking back after more than thirty years and many dreams of that scene of us two boys in that back yard, only by painting and journaling was I able to put it all together. I can clearly see Bob White, a shirtless teenager with feathers in his hair and the lipstick Mrs. White had purchased from the Thrifty Market to wear at Sunday church making bright red circles around his eyes and the nipples of his bare chest. Now I realize that Bob was in some way taking on the female role, his mother’s, by stealing and wearing her lipstick; she would later be very angry with us two young cross-dressers for shooting guns and killing the neighbors' barn rats. Perhaps this was Bob’s way of "killing" his mother in this absurd Indian rat ceremony. I have always thought of him as the Apache Rat King—though maybe he was more likely the Oedipus King who killed the Rat Mother.

On to the battle. Two warriors sat anxiously and watched the rats run across the rafter of Mr. Hick’s Hog barn, high above the warm slope where the pigs rolled and shoveled the milk and bread in and out of their mouths, wading thigh-high in their own waste beneath in the sludge. Two little Indians waited, surrounding the cheese wagons down below their squeaking targets. The smell of summer outside was of tall green grass and chiggers—if you were lucky enough maybe the scent of mulberry or honeysuckle would blow through the cracks in the barn, but always walnut. I tried thinking about the smell of walnuts and noticed the red eyes of the pigs looking at us. They seemed clever for not taking the cheese, but always annoyed by our games. The rats always came for the cheese, just like Bob said. We giggled at their stupidity for a moment. Then on Bob’s call we pulled our blasters and fired; bam, bam, bam! Three went down. Suddenly I felt grief and guilt for killing Mrs. White and wearing her lipstick, and Bob pulls his hand free from his Daisy beebee gun and pulls out hair from his head and chews on it and sucks it in his mouth and laughs. Haha, hahaha! The sound turns into a mumble and he’s suddenly compulsive about pulling out his hair. I look away from him and look out the door of the barn for a minute, until he starts shooting again. Bam, bam, bam…

Then the overwhelming smell of hay and manure came into my nostrils and I didn’t want to play. I believed in him, that Bob was an Apache warrior, that he was speaking in languages to the great gods. I needed a hero. I believed that he was wearing eagle feathers and magic paints to protect us. When he put an arm around me, I felt I was brought into the myth of this secret land.

David Whaley, Child's Play I, 2012, 97" x 59", oil & acrylic on paper



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