We start at 11.30 in Hotel 'Robby' (cleverly avoiding lunch) and travel to the various locations where I am told there will be five 'special' guests. Myself, the hundred or so ACH staff and the unfortunate guests are held captive there till 8 p.m. (this is not a misprint!) at which point we drive back to the ANA hotel by 9.00 p.m. (cleverly missing Dinner) but in time to collapse into bed after a well earned Shiatzu massage.
All three days will be much the same. The object of this exercise is a little obscure but I personally feel that it is part of a Japanese ceremony featuring an enforced dietary cleansing regime.
My hosts are dutifully ensuring compliance. (Come quick see Hallam-san cleansing and falling down. This is one for our scrapbook!)
Delightful morning; cloudless sky and breathable air.
Old style show with a very small stage area. This is not the Shinjuki Lumine in Tokyo by any stretch of the noodle! I am secreted behind curtain ready for grand entrance.
A rather weak drum roll, elevator rock Muzak, and it is time for the ‘great man’ to enter upstage-left from behind the off-blue curtain.
'Prease puttin hand togever for Kelly Holland!'
I enter the stage and crack my head on a low beam strategically placed to punish Gaijin for being taller than the average local. Not to fret. I am quickly hauled back to an upright position by ACH staff members wearing white gloves; we try it again.
This time I remember to duck.
They do a reasonable job patching me up, you can't even see the blood in reduced light! I was quickly cleaned up and dusted off. (This is, I suspect, all part of the ongoing cleansing thing that they have in place for my general welfare.)
I bath the audience (about ten to twelve in all) in an ear-to-ear and assure them that I am O.K. and so very happy to be back in Roppongi. Since we are in Yokohama this goes down like a cup of cold lard.
But I am a trooper and it takes more than a geographical slip to slow me down. Blah Blah Blah. My lovely and talented translator, Rae, who is becoming more dishy as the days wear on, does her best to keep up the translating as I plough along.
'Ladies and Gentlemen, dear gentle folk of...of...of-- er, Yokohama. You are perhaps wondering why I asked you all here today, when you could be enjoying an afternoon of Golf or vacuuming the lawn. Good question.
Well, here's the thing...we are in the process of redesigning the Giraffe.
It's a challenge. Last effort was less than successful, in fact a real bollacks, so we have been asked to give it another go. The boss is pretty pissed off but he’s a kindly soul and is eager to forgive the cock-up as long as we get it right this time.
So any ideas that you might have will be much appreciated. Jot them down on the handy clipboards, in between buying the paintings that are strategically displayed on the wall panels. Your exit will be curtailed until the the exercise is complete.'
Rei never broke stride and did her translating with the usual efficient flair.
This was an ice breaker. The room was in mild hysterics, falling off chairs and spitting out bits of undigested sushi all over the place (quickly cleaned up by the efficient man in white gloves).
Shoppers busy with their afternoon sooooperrmarkets chores peeked round the curtain to see what the fuss was about.
Quickly come and see Hallam-san all way fro America is making funny talk to people trapped in art show. This is one for the scrapbook.
So we slide into the question and answer period.
What was Hallam San thinking when painting ?
'This will be good for about $1500.'
What is favorite painting?
'The one that you will buy for your lounge area'
What other clever things will you plan to paint on in near future?
This could be a trick question; better be careful here. Let's be very careful. The men with the white gloves are looking at me in a rather strange way.
'Well, canvas or paper I thought would be a new twist. Trash cans perhaps. Commuter books. Candle holders. Haven't really formulated the next step.'
That was good. No problem there.
The questions become more obscure as the session moves along. Do I like to cook? What do I cook? When cooking what am I thinking?
After several more hours the audience is close to exhaustion. They have done their best to come up with as many questions as they can. They are in bad shape, in need of immediate dental work.
'Right,' I exclaim. 'Now its time to collect the suggestions for the Giraffe project.'
I am getting into my stride. I am on a hell of a roll.
You can hear a pin drop.
Osaka: Second most expensive city in the world behind Tokyo
They had obviously been for warned about this crazy artist guy so they were well prepared. All smiles and bows when I arrived but secretly they were saying, Here he is, the one who fell over in Yokohama. This is the one, watch out for your cookies.
I pretended not to notice but made sure there was a convenient exit just in case. It was going swimmingly. Same old, same old. Then it came to question time.
What is progress with camel?
What in God's name are they talking about? I'm lost on this one.
Progress very good, all systems are go for launch! I smile a confident smile without any idea of where this is going.
Who is painting camel?
What is this camel thing? Where did it come from? I figure the best thing is to take a leaf out of the politicians' book: answer a different question that has not been asked.
'Well I do enjoy painting, and I look forward to future discussions, and I am optimistic - nay, confident - that we can proceed in a spirit of cordiality and well groomed intentions.'
This seems to get rid of the camel thing.
We then come to the inevitable autograph line. I sign posters, books, brochures, small children, big children, pamphlets, menus and diapers. (I once signed the back of a veterinarian's van.)
Doitashi mashi te. The line stretches for a couple of hundred yards.
Let's face it, it's well worth the wait for them, but I am beginning to get writer's cramp. At this point a sweet young thing steps up from the autograph line. She promptly falls to her knees before me, tears roll down her pretty cheeks, and she babbles away ten to the dozen.
My guidebook HOW TO BEHAVE IN JAPAN WHEN YOU'RE A CRAZY ARTIST does not deal with this kind of thing. I am once again floundering.
I am informed that the young lady is utterly overcome at the prospect of having the great man personally sign her book. This is quite normal and I should not worry unduly. It isn't premature menopause or a case of the galloping eebee jwakarimash ta.
What tears and what a performance. Her mother is doubtless proud of her. I feel constrained to say something: everyone, after all, is waiting for the artist to pull another stunt. It's my show.
'Really, you can stand up if you like...you will get cramps in your thighs if you remain in that position!'
She thanks me and more bowing ensues.
Time now to visit the sales floor where unsuspecting customers are shackled to tables and persuaded that buying one of my pieces would not only set them apart from the herd, but I would be there to personally sign the back of the painting. (The front is already signed, but if you buy it you get a double whammy. Don't ask me why this is such a useful sales tool but it often does the trick).
We are all gathering for a spot of Japanese food this evening which means that I will quite likely not recognize any of the dishes. They are still pushing the cleansing thing I think.
Enough of this blabber. I will be back at the hotel soon. We can discuss the whole camel thing then. The tears prove it and everyone seems very impressed. Ah so.
There was a fair amount of time off this trip and it seemed like a waste to have me sitting around picking my nose when I could be usefully employed making Art.
So the powers that be decided to set me up in a spare room in their office building for a week or so.
Looking back on the painting 'Blitz' I am constrained to report that the exercise was not without hiccups. Windowless fluorescent lighted rooms with marginal air conditioning are, on the whole, not entirely the most practical of environments in which to spend extended hours!
The temperature in the makeshift 'studio' was hovering around 80. I was quickly drenched from head to foot and the chance of the paint drying was severely hampered. I mentioned this to the lovely Kaneko who thought it extremely amusing and brought several of her work mates to see Hallam San with wet hair and stained shirt.
'Come with all haste to see honorable Hallam-san wet all over with blue paint on nose, this is one for the office photo album.'
Eventually after several more visits from various faculty members of ACH central, a bevy of workman arrived and assured me that I was indeed correct. Air conditioner malfunction. We prostrate ourselves at honorable Hallam-san feet. Very clever of Hallam-san to have noticed. By this time Hallam-san was squelching when he walked.
So, after several 'meetings', large portable air conditioners were shipped in from the northern territories and by 2 o'clock, with the paintings tethered to the panels by yards of masking tape and holding on for dear life, the temperature finally became bearable. The noise was deafening and the whole studio had the appearance of an experimental wind tunnel gone berserk. We assume the paintings will in fact survive the blast and be dry by Monday. Put the flag out and vacuum the cat!
A typhoon was about to batter Southern Japan and it was quite likely that we would get a lashing. Lets hope the weather will be as usual, unpredictable and that the storm would take a sudden left turn and head off toward Korea.