Scroll down for a May 2016 update to the original post.
There are two ways that we can do this.
We can convene a Quirky Berkeley Constitutional Convention and debate a change in the rules about my subject matter having to be visible from the street, path, or alley.
Or we can let me function as a benevolent, enlightened, aesthetically attuned dictator and follow this wherever it takes me, visible from the street or not.
Any guesses on which course? Of course – dictator. So we will follow where this takes us. And not apologize or rationalize what I am showing you. That which is visible from the street, path or alley is Preferred Status Quirky Berkeley of course, but why would I not go inside or feel that I have to make excuses about going inside? Why?
Will Squier left Connecticut in 1979. He hitchhiked to California (as every young man should) to be a hippie. Course correction: the hippie scene was pretty much gone.
He went to Cal. Majored in English. Waited tables and indulged his affinity for kitsch and the odd. He found a mentor and went into the antique business, working for fifteen years with serious antiques at stores in St. Helena and San Mateo. French furniture, German porcelain, early American. Big pieces. He really got good.
But then came eBay and then came a new generation with new tastes and the serious antique business was dropping off. Following Conrad’s words in Lord Jim, in the destructive element he immersed himself. In his case, the destructive element is kitsch.
He buys at auction. He buys at flea markets. He buys at thrift stores.
He keeps a small fraction of what he acquires, constantly switching in and out. The criteria for staying in his collection is that it be sufficiently strange.
Sufficiently strange! What a great phrase. What great criteria.
He sells at flea markets. He sells on eBay. He makes a living for his cat Carlisle and himself.
It’s hard to get a sense of the whole here at Squier’s Emerson Street apartment. Everywhere you look there is more than you can see. Amazing. Close-ups please!
Each piece gives him joy. He has something approaching if not arriving at an encyclopedic mind about the stuff. It makes him happy. There is nothing that is not intentional. Really amazing.
What I find different and exciting about Squier and his kitsch:
1) He has embraced his affinity for kitsch. As in Lord Jim:
“And yet it is true it is true. In the destructive element immerse.” He spoke in a subdued tone, without looking at me, one hand on each side of his face. “That was the way. To follow the dream, and again to follow the dream.”
Kitsch was Squier’s first love. Then a living with serious antiques. And now back to kitsch, in his destructive element immersed.
2) He has a tremendous eye for what he buys.
3) He has a tremendous eye for how he places what he buys.
4) He has a wicked sense of irony in the tableaux he creates.
5) He has Berkeley’s Most Perfect criteria for what he keeps and doesn’t keep – the Sufficiently Strange Standard.
Squier is just really good at this. The joy it brings him informs all.
My friend exhaled slowly after looking at the photos. “That stuff is photogenic to da max, no? And, am I the only one, but aren’t those cut-out dudes just a little reminiscent of the art of George Quaintance?”
Especially this portrait he made. George Quaintance (1902-1957) was a pioneer in the field of homoerotic art. His paintings presented a fairytale gay world that glorified masculinity at its highest ideal – sailors, soldiers, bikers, and the rough trade that hovered around the edges of the gay world.
In short, Quaintance through his artwork portrayed the homosexual macho stud, a giant leap from the then-prevalent effeminate stereotype.
I definitely saw the nexus between the cut-out figures and Quaintance, but that was a conversation for another time. For now, what about Will Squier’s sufficiently strange stuff?
May 2016 update!
In March 2016, three months after my original visit to Squier’s sufficiently strange kitsch world, I went back. Lots of new stuff! Lots of new juxtapositions!
I showed these new photos to my friend. It is always just a little bit risky to show him photos of dolls and figures – he is a sensitive man and height is an issue. He was delighted here, though, and exclaimed: