Thursday, August 22, 2013

Personal History Tour of Marfa with Sam Schonzeit

While visiting the Marfa Book Company, I encountered Sam Schonzeit's exhibition Art Fair. He was living in the gallery for the month of July, huddled behind a laptop in the corner. His actions resembled a gallerino more so than the artist.

It wasn't until exiting, that I took the time to read all the notes on the walls and discovered that he was giving Personal History Tours of Marfa for $25. Intrigued, I walked back into the gallery and asked what this entailed. 

On the previous tour, Sam took his party to all the places he lived in Marfa (I think it was seven) - some of which they could enter and others they could not.

We arranged a time - the next day at 2 PM. I was excited as this was the first piece of performance art that I had ever purchased, a great opportunity to see a new side of Marfa and meet a new artist.

We met at the Marfa Book Company Gallery and he took on the role of chauffeur. I sat in the back seat of his car as he stressed that "this position was important" in the role of tour guide.

First stop: Pueblo Market to pick up the last week's batch of posters for his exhibition but they had already thrown them away. This was his way of showing the artist's process. He bought me a beverage after making a recommendation: Bob Marley Mellow Mood (green tea with honey, decaffeinated with valerian root). I went with water because it was the desert and an immediate thirst quencher.

He drove seven miles on Highway 67 - his normal bike route. I learned about Sam's job and his relationship with his boss.  Sam is an expert ping pong player who took lessons from his father, a photo realist painter who gouged his eye out when he was five years old. He is 71 and likes to talk about his own artwork a lot though he is generally supportive and buys Sam tools.

We drove around the cemetery and ended up at Sam’s house which is dominated by wood paneling. He has lived there since May and is finally going to paint it. He said he wanted to "put it all out there" and showed every room in his house with informative comments like “That is not a sex toy but a foot massager.” “This is broken yoga tool.” 

The best part were the examples of his recent postcard collaboration (more on that later) and a peek in his garage studio where he spray paints his postcards. He is venturing into non toxic methods though so that may be a medium of the past. 

I learned that he is allergic to cats though he likes them. He has an Architecture degree at UT. He left Soho in 2002 (he grew up across the street from Donald Judd's Spring Street house). He has lived in Marfa for four years and is a little tired of not making a living here.

He drove along a "nice walk he usually takes to see the sunset." We ended the hour long tour at the courthouse cupola where he witnessed a wedding with seven people (he proceeded to open up the windows because it was hot - a kind gesture considering it was a public location).

Back at the gallery, Sam printed an invoice. This was the best spur of the moment art purchase I've ever made. As the role of the tourist, I felt compelled to ask him personal questions in addition to general ones about what it was like living in Marfa. Sometimes that surprised me as I do not generally probe strangers to the degree that I did Sam. The whole event reaffirmed the fact that someone else's personal experience can be fascinating - the package/presentation is a large component of its success.  It gave me a whole new perspective on Marfa, the art making practice, and introduced me to the work of a new contemporary artist whose work I've come to admire.

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