Saturday, November 04, 2006

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

I know, everyone thinks Mark Bittner is this really famous writer who wrote about his years living in North Beach as a homeless person trying to find "right way" in the true Buddhist sense and not get all tangled up in the distractions of modern life. Well, as I see it Mark is just an artist.

I've spent my whole life attracting artists. I've had an extraordinary life as a result of that passion, but it's been a pretty rough ride as well. It's tough making money in the arts, particularly in San Francisco, where just about everyone thinks art should be free. So I just keep promoting the artists I love and spend hours educating people about art...sometimes I feel like a nuclear physicist wondering how I could ever explain the depth of my knowledge and just shut up mid-thought.

And, of course, on my journey working with artists and selling art, magical things happen. Like what happened with Mark. I attracted another artist 4 years ago, the "Society" pianist Alan Choy, who was playing at the Ritz on Nob Hill at a fund-raiser. I have a gorgeous Steinway and am actually one of those people who actually likes to hear the piano as opposed to using it for a place to park a wet glass, so Alan and I tuned in pretty quick. He then started playing the Steinway at art gallery events and hanging out. And he's also just this guardian angel who looks out for ALL artists ALL the time and connects all the promoters and the art producers so everyone can keep eating and hanging out and staying alive doing this wonderful thing we call Art.

One day Alan says, "Judy Irving really needs some money to keep going with this documentary she's doing about Mark Bittner and those wild parrots on Telegraph Hill". So of course, it takes me a New York minute to plug in to that one and before you know it, I haven't exactly come up with enough money to do anything like find 25K to get her 16mm converted to 35 mm film, but in my own small way I figure out how to do something useful. In February of 2004 I have a big party for Mark's book launch - Harmony Books has just published his non-fiction masterpiece - and Judy's film is ready for prime-time screening so hey, let's have some fun.

We sold 130 books (and I'm not exactly a bookstore) and screened the film in the boardroom. We filled little white paper bags with popcorn and thought people could wander in and out and watch snippets of the film...well, that isn't exactly what happened. Hours later many people that had been packed into that boardroom emerged from the full screenings - peals of laughter coming out of that room, first shift wandering out to listen to Alan play in the Big Room and have Mark sign a book.

So now Mark and I are on a new art journey and Judy's right there with us. Mark and Judy got married this year at her birthday party; I missed it as I spent most of this year in Nova Scotia, but now that I'm back in Baghdad by the Bay we're starting something completely different. I'm selling Mark's parrots photographs in my gallery, and I don't have a clue where this is going to take us. But I know how it started and here's what has me really excited.

Mark says it's OK for me to do what I do really well - the visual part, the curatorial part, the merchandising part (because let's face it, there's a lot to figure out about this archive of thousands of bird pictures and how we'll let the flock out of their celluloid cage and when). And Mark says he's "really a writer not a photographer" - don't believe everything you hear.

And I've never really been a writer, more of a visual person actually. And here I am writing my first post on my brand new blog and thinking this is fine.

But do me a favor and read those little captions next to each of Mark's photographs.