Artists are a special breed of human. They tend to color outside the lines, dream big, hear their own music and march (or not) to their own drummer. They view the world through uniquely tinted, tilted eyes.
Not long out of college, I began dating an artist. By day, he worked as a curator in an art museum, but his work as an artist was most important to him. The walls of his apartment bore pieces that he’d created in grad school, his preferred medium at the time being plaster of Paris. He’d created life-size plaster of Paris forms of women for which he’d used real models. He wrapped women’s bodies in strips of linen soaked in plaster of Paris. Once dry, he’d use the resulting true-to-form sculpture to create his art, adding ordinary items — dried flowers here, a spiral telephone cord there — to complete his statement.
The most outstanding of all his pieces, in my opinion, was an actual urinal attached to a slab of tiled bathroom wall. Within the urinal, as part of it, sat the plaster of Paris torso and head of a woman wearing a strand of beads. He’d even added yellow glitter at the bottom to simulate urine. When I asked him about the piece, he explained, “Men have been using women as receptacles for bodily fluids for millennia.” He felt a woman as a urinal showed just how low men would go in their subjugation of women. A woman’s body represented as part of a urinal was a logical extension of how men have historically viewed women. I loved it. I loved the statement it made, the symbolism, the one-of-a-kind distinctiveness of it. He asked me if I’d like to have the piece. I enthusiastically said yes!
In case you’re wondering, an actual urinal attached to a piece of bathroom wall is pretty heavy and cumbersome. Somehow, we carted it from his apartment to mine, where I kept the piece in my bedroom.
He and I eventually broke up. When it came time for me to move to another city into an even smaller apartment, I wrestled with the idea of keeping the piece. I still loved it and its symbolism, but it was so big and so heavy, I just wasn’t sure I still wanted to make a place for it in my home. I decided to table the decision to keep it or not until I was settled in my new place.
On moving day, my soon-to-be old apartment was swarming with my strongest and most loyal friends, family, and co-workers who’d shown up to help me move, God bless them. Among the movers were my dad, the dairy farmer from rural Pennsylvania, and a couple of the guys from the Sports department of the local newspaper where I worked. When it came time to load the urinal artwork onto the truck, a burly sportswriter approached it, along with my dad. They looked at this thing, then gave each other a look I’ll never forget. Without a word, they raised their eyebrows, shook their heads and shrugged, then picked it up and carried it out.
When we arrived at my new place, nobody knew in which room the urinal artwork should go, including me. I voiced my indecision as to whether to keep it or not, saying that it didn’t really match my décor, to which my aunt, with a straight face, wondered aloud, “I’m not sure what décor it would match.”
My new apartment was lovely, but small. The longer I kept the piece, the more I became convinced, sadly, that I wouldn’t be able to keep it. Since the artist and I had broken up a while back, the piece had begun to lose its charm anyway. My next dilemma was how to get rid of it.
I asked a couple of co-workers if they wanted it, especially those who’d seen it on moving day. Shockingly, they all said no (did not see that coming).
So one evening, while a friend was visiting, we planned to wait until dark, then carry the piece up to the apartment community dumpster where everyone took their trash. But when we tried to lift it, we realized it was too big and too heavy to lug all the way up to the dumpster. Plan B was to take it apart and carry it up in pieces. Here’s where my memory gets murky. I think we pried the plaster of Paris lady loose, put her in a trash bag, and took her up by herself. I think we somehow removed the urinal from the slab of wall, each of those being heavy enough on their own, but at least we could carry them individually once they were separated.
In the end, we got everything to the dumpster and I remember looking back, seeing the urinal leaning against the green dumpster, and wondering what the trash collectors would think when they saw it in the morning. I hated to dismantle a piece of art like that — no matter how “unique” — it felt blasphemous and disrespectful. If my ex-boyfriend artist ever becomes famous, I’ll kick myself even harder for having gotten rid of an original piece of his. I do sometimes wish I still had it. What a great conversation starter it would be for all those cocktail parties I never have.