My Friend Clark Is Cool (Warning: this is a long post)
My friend Clark Smith is cool. Just look at his amazing watercolors below and tell me he's not. I call him my friend, which he is, but if you landed here from Mars right now, you would say "Why is he your friend? You haven't seen him in 5 years?" And I would have to say, well, true enough, but it seems like we just had lunch yesterday, and I don't think guys hold it against each other if their friendships lapse for, like, ten years at a time. They just pick it up again like everything was normal. Otherwise we'd have to gaze into the existential abyss and wrestle with some sort of deep feelings, and I like to leave deep things like that to the guy that makes the Hobbit movies.
Ok, let's start there. Clark likes tuna fish, just like I do. He used to eat it every day for lunch, just like I did. That way you don't have to make any decisions; you're just like, "Hi, can I have tuna on a roll with lettuce tomato and muenster cheese, please?" and the guy doesn't even say anything but just starts making it, and I think the deli guys actually secretly appreciate that. That way they don't have to think either.
So anyway, Clark was this guy that worked at Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer when I did back in a thousand years ago, and he was that guy that is just the nicest guy at the "new place" where you just got a job. No, like seriously nice. He was hilarious, he always ate tuna for lunch like above, and you felt safe around him because you knew he wasn't going to make fun of when you weren't in the same room, and that always means a lot when someone inspires that kind of trust. (Here's another amazing watercolor that he does for top architects)
So everybody was, like, Oh, Clark, he's so safe, but then he had this art show one day. He got permission from Malcolm (since Malcolm kind of deeply cared about Art, the thing not the person, and about the quiet kids that worked for him, not like loud insecure me, although I think he liked me well enough, but not as much as Stew, the guy who got me the job and went to the same school as me, and worked in the Tri Towers cafeteria during school which I always admired, and even though Stew wasn't quiet but he was in a kind of Jersey way, like "Hey, fuck you I'm a harder worker than you and I'm pulling myself up by the boot straps, not like an Ivy League kid) and so one day Clark was just suddenly in the conference room that you walked by, with the cool HHPA signature barn doors kind of slightly closed, and he was just in there doing something. And everybody was wondering what he was doing, but nobody was mad because he was this nicest guy, but maybe some people were jealous, like, well, I shouldn't say names, but I was kinda jealous, too, that he had all this art he had made. Check this night view out:
And I remember looking in the crack where the barn doors didn't close all the way, and he was pinning up what had to be one thousand sketches that he had made since coming to New York, except that he had made about ten thousand sketches, but the other nine thousand were still in the sketchbooks that he had also brought in, like maybe one quarter of. And either he didn't want to tear them out of his sketchbooks, because I know I sure wouldn't have wanted to, or he was just smart and put the sketch books out on the conference room tables open to some pages that had post-its in them, so people could just look at the sketches and the brave people could even go further and look at pages that didn't have post-its in them without Clark looking.
I mean, pretty much all of us had to be thinking two things: 1) who actually comes to New York from South Carolina where he was from (and where his Dad was the youngest fighter pilot to have ever flown in WWII, and his brother was this also cool guy named Lucas who traveled all over Europe without any money but still had amazing adventures, and where he had this great great Uncle or something who was a US senator named Cotton-Ass Smith or something like that, and he was famous for starting fist fights on the senate floor--yeh, the actual floor, not just the the place that they sometimes call the floor-- and for one time saying in, like, 1820 that "Whaa-yyy, may the estee-eemed senatuh from the great state of Massachusetts know that this gentleman from the great state of South Carolii-iina says that I could piss across Massachusetts!" or something like that, the correct version of which I hope Clark leaves in the comments section below someday if he ever sees this, but I digress)...
...and sketches?? That part, "and sketches", is the end of the sentence started above--meaning Clark actually came to NY and took his sketchbooks around and sketched like it was 1950 and like he was friends with Jackson Pollack and took classes at the Art Institute and went out to Montauk to live in the summer at Lee Radziwill's when it would have still been cheap and there weren't super rich new McMansions, and we, his fellow HHPA new employees, were just stunned and amazed that someone would have the get up and go to still do that?!
And then the second thought most people had, since it was kind of crazy and competitive at HHPA, but not really, but yeh, it kind of was, and everybody wanted the bosses to like them so they could work on good projects and feel better and not find out by accident they were getting paid the least, was "Damn, I gotta start doing sketching, too, since I'm basically doing nothing but working here and entering the PA house competition once a year and watching the TV show Dallas at night when it's on, which everybody did back then which shows you what year it was that JR was shot, but then it might look like a copy cat thing, so maybe I better not do that?" Btw, look at this pencil one below:
And you can see how convenient that circular logic was, because it meant that you didn't have to start doing sketches, which would have been a lot of work since Clark's sketches were effing amazing and he obviously spent a shit ton of time walking around New York waiting for airplanes to fly between cracks in the buildings at just the right time, and looking for statues and really ornate carved stuff over doorways and stuff that he could draw, or wanted to draw, because that was really the difference between Clark and everybody else that he wanted to draw and took the time to do it and brought in his lunch every day, and he probably has even more sketchbooks that he did after that by now, which makes me wonder what he would do with them if he ever died?
So that was my first introduction to Clark. But I want to skip ahead because when I later decided to try and become a renderer, I thought that renderings were these pen and ink things that you always saw this one famous architectural renderer doing for English new towns that England developed in the fifties, I guess for after the war, and this one guy did all the renderings that had balloons and dogs and all the stuff that gave renderings a bad name amongst cool architects for a long time, and in architecure school and in America, until my other friend Tom Schaller came along and reintroduced this whole watercolor thing again. Actually I should probably mention KPF, and Philip Johnson, and Steve Oles and IM Pei and a bunch of other factors that combined to make the stuff that Tom was doing perfect timing again. And I should also mention that Tom is cool, and also a friend that I'm not good enough to. So I had this job doing pen and ink renderings for this conservative and kind of schlocky architecture firm up on 57th street, which was kind of cool, working on 57th street and commuting in from Sunyside Gardens in Long Island City, which was really Queens but I never told anybody, which was this place that was also famous for different reasons but that didn't seem famous when you lived there because it seemed to me, being a suburban boy from NJ, like it was still Ellis Island but on land and the staging point for the American Dream, but I was already a privileged white kid even though I hadn't studied or done well at all in school and didn't go to a privileged college, and didn't need a staging point, although maybe I did because we bought this one place and we made some pretty good money selling it again later and that was a kind of a staging point, I guess.
So I asked Clark to help me watercolor this one drawing, and he did, and I made, like, $7,500 doing this one rendering because that's how much this one rendering company charged in Ohio and my client asked if I could imitate this drawing for $10,000 or less since that's what the guys in Ohio were going to charge (and they were getting away with this shit?!, which is why I totally knew I wanted to be a renderer, at least for a little while so I could feel what it felt like to make some pretty good money all because I had this accidental talent, although I was willing to work at it which made it the result of hard work and not just talent) (Btw, can you believe how unbelievably good these watercolors are by Clark that I'm showing in this blog post? They're all his, which I hope people understand since I am at this point in my life (translation: very little work) where I figure it is more rewarding to show off my friends and brag about them since the good ones probably don't brag enough about themselves, and not show off my own work, since this is my site and I get to show it off enough) but he would have to wait three weeks and he needed it now and I worked right there in his office and I had just finished another thing for him, and that 's when I asked Clark to teach me everything he knew about watercolor, since I just basically told the guy "F_ck yeh, I can do that!" even though I couldn't, but I now realize that at least knowing to do that--to say I could when I couldn't, and then damn well going out and doing it, or finding a way to do it--has made an important difference in my life, and since Clark was this guy that I had seen do art, and we became friends and then I got to see tons more art that he had at his house, I knew he could teach me watercolor, or at least know where to find out the names of paints and what kind of brushes to use.
So that's how me and Clark started doing watercolor renderings together. And we bought every book we could find, and we found out the hard way that you couldn't use Hooker's Green with some other paints because it would do this thing we called "cauliflowering" which would ruin the painting you were doing for Peter Marino Architects on 59th street and make you panic that you had destroyed a $10,000 painting for Barney's, and then Clark realized we could just use opaque white and cover up the cauliflowers, but that was really close.
So then we did a lot of watercolors together, and we had this really cool office on the corner of 3rd avenue and 12th street which was actually an apartment and so it was probably pretty stupid to have as an office, but it had a working fireplace and 2 BRs we used for offices, even though I liked having my drawing board in the LR and leaving the other BR for storage (and the land lord guy was always pretty scary and lurking around because he was wondering why, too) and Clark and I always busted each other's balls by playing this one CD of the original cast recording of The Sound Of Music which we admitted to each other we liked, and that we were totally metrosexual about it--even though that word didn't exist yet--but then we would play it and joke around that, Oh, here comes the part where I guarantee you will begin crying, and then we would dare the other guy not to cry, and that was the part where the kids are sad because the Captain was all pissed at them after Maria let them go have fun gettin' all crazy and shit dressed in homemade velvet curtain shorts and lederhosen, and they had to come back and take a shower and go to bed early, and to try and make the Captain less pissed at them Maria cooked up the idea of getting them on the stairs before they went upstairs and having them all sing Edelweiss or The Hills Are Alive so he could just barely hear them when he was outside on the terrace with the babe that looked like a blonde Sophia Loren, and then he heard it, and it was, like, straight up angels singing, and the first time there had been music in the house again since his wife had died or whatever really sad thing had happened, and so he came in all mad but then he saw them singing and he took the guitar and sang the last verse, or some really simple indie cover of Edelweiss, and after he finished singing it he looked all down with his blue eyes and kind of half smiled and the kids knew they had their dad back, and Maria knew she had a crack at him again, and the audience knew that the blonde babe was out--boom--gone--and then I don't care who you are but even if you are a grown man you can't not cry when you see that scene or even when you play it back on a CD twenty years later, and well, suffice it to say that if you are a certain kind of female reading this and looking at us back then, and I doubt anyone is, then you would say we were really nice guys, but if you were a certain kind of really good looking girl who was looking for a rich guy or especially cool urban guy, you wouldn't date us, but you might marry us a long time afterward when after you had maybe been divorced and started to figure out that guys like us, even though we didn't look like George Clooney or Dermit McDylan, were actually exactly the right kind of guys to marry, and that our type should probably be much more in demand even today, but it never will be and that's OK because then every girl would figure it out and we don't want every girl.
But I should skip ahead because this is getting long. So we did watercolors together, and then one day Clark wisely said that he wanted to do this rendering thing, too, and he went out on his own, and I almost forgot to say that we also did some architecture jobs together, and one time we did this really nice addition for the Flynts who were, like, actually Duponts and Ohauses and who were kind of preppy hippies in love but really nice. And we did this nice addition, but at the last second we thought, Oh this isn't cool enough, and all our architecture peers at the time were trying to be modern and edgy with slight angles and stuff, so at the last minute we gave the whole simple beautiful elegant plan an angle compared to the house, and it was actually so stupid, but its the kind of thing you do when you just go one step too far but you don't have the experience or humility or wisdom to pull yourself back, and we showed it to the client and they hated it.
And Clark also reads tons of books. I think more than anyone I have ever met. And he also married a beautiful woman named Claire, but not the Claire Smith you used to read her articles in the sports section of the Times but a different one, and they bought this cool house (and that's another reason I felt safe moving to the Berkshires) with an amazing studio which embarrasses Clark that it's so good, but where he does all his watercolors (and maybe you can see that in the care and inspiration he shows in his watercolors) and it has a little guest bedroom and these huge industrial heat pipes like in some kind of cool rich guy's barn where he would keep his collection of awesome cars that were old. Between their house and their studio and their garden and their awesome kid Ian (which Clark calls Ian v.1 since his Ian was born before my Ian, and who I now understand has his own very cool website where he does I do not know what but it's very cool), but there was almost a shit show when the town wanted to build a day care center next to them, and the people who were used to thinking that since they had all the money and they obviously knew what was best for their town, they could do anything they wanted for the benefit of their enlightened causes, those people willfully violated the zoning because they were the rich town fathers and didn't care what little late-comers Clark and Claire thought, even though Clark was like Perry Mason and did all this research and found out "No, you can't do that, it says right here in your own law book which, under normal circumstances you are all too happy to throw about when you need it or when you want to protect your own feifdoms." That's one of the good things reading does for you.
So that shows you what a great guy Clark is. And Clark gave me one of his sketchbooks once, finally, and my daughter found it one day when she was about ten and started to copy a lot of his sketches and learned a lot about sketching from Clark through that book, and when our son Spencer was born (Oh, I forgot to tell you about how Clark was always showing up at places where I was, like in Paris on my honeymoon when he was already there and we showed up at the last minute because Mexico City seemed like it was going to have an earthquake, and in NYC when my wife was preganant with Spencer but he wouldn't come out for, like, 27 hours and it was hot and Clark had an air-conditioned place, or maybe it was a fan-conditioned place, nearby, and we waited there until my wife couldn't take it any more--the pain, not the apartment)
Clark made this beautiful woodcut that was colorful and really took a lot of time, and when Spencer died--which may sound a bit abrupt but it's true and I don't want to leave this part out--Clark did a drawing for us that was like nothing you've ever seen. It was a mother and a child and a tree (I hope I'm remembering this right) all loosely described by a single flowing line that you could tell an artist had very carefully drawn over and over again until they had gotten it just right, which would have been pretty hard because it's no small thing to try and get something just right when the child of your friend has died, even though most people don't know how profoundly appreciated it is when friends just show up at your doorstep when those things happen, no matter what they say or do, because there is nothing to say or do except to show up. And Clark did, and so did a lot of other wonderful people. Otherwise how would you ever get through such a thing?
So that's why I call Clark my friend even though I haven't seen him for five years. I so gotta do tuna with that guy again.