MICHAEL SHYKA STUDIO

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Arriving at the Loft the following morning, A young man named Bobby greets me. He is busy painting silk on one of the tables. Bobby tells me that James has left a note for me on the front desk. Upon reading it, I see it lists my tasks for the morning and states that Bobby will train me today.

I go about my tasks, which include cleaning up J.A.'s work table, giving the zebra it's final coats of black, and helping  Bobby with his projects. James soon enters, saying good morning to everyone, he sits quietly at his desk, going through papers.

 

I get from Josephine the garments to ship. There are two incredibly groovy, quilted silk jackets in bright psychedelic colors, both quilted with gold thread. There are also three ensembles with the black and white zebra print. Each has wide Zebra print slacks, and a long, calf-length kimono of the same print. The jacket is trimmed with rhinestones on the cuffs and collar. I cover them in plastic dry cleaner bags and pack them in two large, flat boxes with tissue paper. On the desk are the invoices with shipping information. I address the card-board boxes to Fred Segal in Los Angeles.

 

Meanwhile, the lady named Joy arrives. James has described her earlier as being "a big Yenta." Joy enters the Loft in a full-length, fur coat, She barely greets us, even after Bobby and I coyly attempt to welcome her. She heads straight to Jame's desk and gets into a heated conversation with him. I try not to listen as I work, but from the sound of it, she is negotiating her sales commission with James.

When her clients arrive, both Joy and James end their conversation immediately. Joy is still fuming as she kisses her fussy looking uptown friends. The new arrivals are quite a sight, very wealthy-looking, ladies, both clad in floor-length mink coats and highly lacquered Palm Beach crash helmet hairstyles. I wonder how many creatures lost their lives for their coats. After we greet them, they quickly dismiss us working boys and go straight for Jame's jugular.

 

Bobby and I try not to pay attention to the unwanted air of dreadfulness now overwhelming the studio. We work quietly together, mixing the colors of Booby's choice. I buff while Bobby paints, all the time looking at the discouraged looking, overwatered ficus trees.

 

James does his best job schmoozing them, but as soon as Josephine brings their outfits out, trouble begins. Neither of them seems pleased with their outfits, Josephine is busy pinning and re-pinning their hemlines and seams. One lady is having the zebra ensemble fitted, the other is in a similar cut, but of dark chartreuse, painted silk. They both keep looking in Jame's huge rolling mirror with apprehension. They complain that it is a trick mirror, a "skinny mirror" and fuss with the details of their new outfits. Josephine and James try to be reassuring; both are now looking to Joy for her approval, which she does give. All seem discontent and disparaged.

 

Their new ensembles look lovely to me, at least much better than what they came in wearing. I move over to the table where James has painted the "Sunset Tree" print and begin to give all colors a second coat of dye. Meanwhile, James is pacing around, making broad sweeping gestures with his arms. Finally, they seem to settle their affairs, James and Josephine, now with many notes on changes to be made. Dolefully the unimpressed ladies get changed back into their original pantsuits with fur coats on top.


While waiting for the elevator, the two clients look at me, and the silk I am giving a second coat of dye to, the blond one purrs," James, make me up a smock and slacks in this print. Joy, just add it to my bill."

 

Joy does not leave with them but gets back into the original money argument. Before lunch, she exits, barely saying goodbye to us, and looking a bit defeated. I feel for her.

 

At lunch, James and Bobby get into a heated conversation that may be a lover's quarrel. I leave to run errands for James, mainly to make a bank deposit, and pick up a prescription of valium for him. When I return, I'm happy to see Ed has arrived; all is much calmer in the Loft. Edward, Bobby, and Josephine are all listening to Jame's entertaining gossip about his afternoon appointment. The Contessa Ariana, a nobility of Italian descent, I immediately recognize her name, as I have read about her "Return from the Amazon" party at Studio 54, in Interview magazine.

When the Contessa arrives, it is quite another scene, but much more fun than the morning. She brings her mother with her; they are both dripping wet with melting snowflakes on their collar to heel Blue Russian Sable fur coats. I try to refrain from being judgmental as the tall Contessa with long luxurious dark brunette hair, smelling of expensive perfume gives kisses to all of us. They quickly become engaged in our silk-painting process.

 

James seems to be thoroughly enjoying their company, and there is plenty of gossip between the three of them. As they luxuriate around the back of the Loft, trying on everything that appeals to them, they talk kindly back and forth. They look lovely in everything, especially the Contessa. Upon leaving, I notice that they both are carrying armloads of outfits that they are "borrowing." Elegantly they kiss us all goodbye.


Well, so much for a profitable afternoon from those two, I think to myself. "the bank won't be seeing a deposit from their pockets, they were fun, and charming nonetheless." James has slipped into a pair of black clogs, that he is not quite steady in, I notice as he shuffles loudly back and forth on the lofts wooden floors working with Josephine. I think to myself. Maybe his valium has kicked in.

 

I have been working on finishing up the Tree print and re-stretching tables of silk. Bobby has me heat a mixture of paraffin and beeswax to paint white polka dots under the wax, with a black background. While mixing up the black dye, a new boy arrives, Mark - James' new boyfriend, I think.

Mark is very friendly with me and extremely interested in everything I'm working on; he hardly speaks to Bobby, though, who may be giving him "The Cold Shoulder." Mark and James retreat to the privacy of the Loft's rear area, Bobby Josephine, the new seamstress Josephine is training, and I continue with our work. At nearly 5:00, an older male friend of James drops by unexpectedly. He is the most "regular "person I have encountered all day. Immediately, he starts to scheme with James on how James should be "raking in more doe," I've had it for the day, I say my goodbyes and leave.

 

The next morning, I arrive at the Loft to find it quiet, with just James, Josephine, and her seamstress there. I am sad, and dis-hearted, as I have heard from my mom that Pehr, my dog, hasn't returned home yet. It has been over a week since I let him free from his run. I tell this to James after he asks me if there is anything wrong, he feels for me, but quickly dismisses my moodiness, by giving me the freedom to start two new table's of silk on my own, "whatever I want to paint."

 

We work together, gathering images for me to work from by diving into his stash of tear sheets, postcards, printed memorabilia from the '40s and '50s, as well as several of his favorite books like Monet, and Renoir, featuring old paintings of floral bouquets in vases. I decided to paint on one of the tables, a mostly blue and green floral bouquet in a glass jar, from a Monet painting. On the other table of silk, I consider going "shotgun"- without any reference material and paint from memory, and my imagination, a floral landscape featuring one of my favorite spring flowers from Maine, Lupin.

 

I start with the Monet, first by mixing up many shades of blue, from pale, too bright and dark Cobalt, Ceruleum, and teal blue. After testing these colors at the edge of the table of stretched silk, I mix up a medium violet, two shades of lavender, one warm, the other cool, then greens as well as a silver, "straight from the can, with vinegar, no alcohol." As Ed and J.A. previously advised me. Confronting the blank, massive table of white silk I jump in by outlining with a Chinese brush silver dye for the bouquets, placing them "Ying, Yang," as James has directed me to do, "better placement possibilities for Josephine's process of arranging the paper patterns on the silk for cutting."

 

Once I get the outlining done, I begin instinctively filling in colors into their appropriate flowers, petals, leaves, and jars. James encourages me to work fast, as it will look much fresher, "Address the entire table, equally with shapes and color, then move on to your second table to do the same, giving the first one time to dry."

 

That was the best silk painting for production advice I've ever had, I have realized later in life. I am then left alone to work on both tables. I start painting my second table of silk by sketching out images of Lupine and Hollyhocks with the big Chinese brush dipped again in the silver dye. Immediately after I sketch them out, I drop in the shades of Lavenders, and Violet for the Lupine, and a Rose Quartz and Pale Pink for the Hollyhocks, I then realize that I want to add some Roses, for the Pink and Scarlet shade it seems to need. The Lupine is upright, coming from the base of the length of silk. I then add mint and celery green for the stems and leaves. Sensing that the design needs something somber, I add giant Blue Bells in an icy Pale Blue.

 

James, taking a break from his phone calls, comes over to take a look. I ask him what color he imagines the ground having?

 

"Butter Yellow, it's perfect for Suzy! She'll LOVE it! She loves roses and that coral color, it's stunning, beautiful, FABULOUS!" I must have had a perplexed look on my face, as I had no idea who "Suzy" was?

 

"Who's Suzy?"

 

"Aileen Mehle, Suzy, the gossip columnist from The New York Post! Ed, Josephine, look at this; wouldn't it be perfect for Suzy, she loves Roses and that Mellon Coral color. Butter yellow background, that's her favorite color."

 

Josephine, "I have a length of feathered marabou in that coral color, I could use on cocoon jacket for her!"

 

Ed, "That would be fabulous, Josephine, Nick, I Love it, good job! You're so talented!"

 

Josephine," I can't believe how talented you are, Nickolas!"

 

James, "Yes, he is."

 

"Thanks!" I say. I'm not keen on James Idea of a "Butter" yellow, for the ground color, I prefer Pale Lemon. I think to myself. I'll mix up a pale yellow, a lemon, and butter-like yellow and show the hue on the edge of the table to James.

 

"That's Perfect! Fill it in! I love your other table too. It's pretty; I just want to add some different colors and give it the feel of my hand, I'll do it later."

 

After painting in the background with the approved pale yellow, I let it dry and light up my cigarette, knowing I have earned my break. I stand back and inspect the progression, balance, color scheme, and general effect of the pieces. James joins me with a lit roach slightly blushing, as he confides in me about "The most amazing sex he had last night," at a sex club, with a very famous Russian Ballet Dancer. I consider his story, not appropriate for a work environment; I show no interest in the tales of his sex life, I excuse myself to go pick up lunch.

 

After lunch, the tables dried, James tells me, "The Butter Yellow background is perfect. Lift it." James has me pin the large hanging frame with 55" silk satin charmeuse. It is an exquisite, luxurious heavy silk; we discuss what I'll paint next. James asks If I can paint ballerinas.

 

"Sure," I say, I'll look at your book of Degas."

 

"Why don't you make them the size of a hand, or a little larger, and place them, Ying Yang, all over." We both agree instantly that I should use all pastels for the male and female ballerinas outfits, and Indigo, or maybe better yet a black for the background. I start drawing out the figures with his Chinese brush, then I fill in the poof skirts with pastels in pinks and yellows, celery, and pale blue. I add shades of skin tones, for their outstretched, arching, kicking and jumping limbs and steady faces.


Soon Josephine comes over to admire my work. She giggles uncontrollably, comments on her favorite poses, and jokes with James and me," Why don't you draw some squatting, or in more obscene, ridiculous poses? You can draw anything! If I were you, I'd take advantage of that. Really, You are so talented!"

 

We all talk about how great they'll look when I get the wax on and give it a background of black. I feel so satisfied that I'm able to create something of so much value and beauty. I can't imagine any other job where I would have so much freedom to do so.

 

I soon heat the mixture of beeswax and paraffin and begin to apply it, as a resist on top of the figurines. Then I give the first coat of indigo dye to the background, all the time laughing with Josephine, Ed, and James, about how silly and lovely the ballerinas are. We speak about how we think it would look great quilted, for winter coats.

 

I work steadily painting through the afternoon; meanwhile, at the front phone desk, I hear James announce to everyone he is going to call his favorite Vogue editor. As she answers, he puts her on speakerphone; he then proceeds to boast about his conquest from the last night, telling her all forms of details. He soon realizes he has to take her off the speaker as to the nature of her inquisitions. I Try to work on in oblivion, yet still feeling very judgmental about the conversation going on next to me. Soon, we all get a visit from "Snake," a close friend of James. Snake turns out to be a hilarious queen named Kevin; he has us all in stitches for his entire visit, from his cunning and cutting comments, I realize how he got his nickname. Meanwhile, Mark, the new boyfriend shows up, everyone admires my work from the day, we break to chum around, and take photos of each other.

  

 

After hanging up the drying frame of ballerinas, James has me pin down another table of silk, this time to paint stripes on. Snake jokes with him, and myself about how much of a "slave driver" he is, and we all agree. Painting stripes with James is fun and much less stressful than the previous ballerinas. James asks, "What do you think of Tommy Hilfiger's stripes?"

 

I reply, "I think yours are much, much more different and unique, you use much more exciting colors, better shades, more diversity of hue, value, and tone."

 

What is so fun about painting the stripes is that we work together, one of us at either side of the table, handing the brush to each other to finish where one of us can not reach. We choose our colors spontaneously, agreeing on instantly on everything. We finish After five o'clock.  I'm amazed by the vividness of the table of silk. "Amazing, Fabulous!" We all agree.



I prepare to head to the dry cleaners, James and Mark, to Chelsea Gym. I agreed to meet James and Mark that evening, at the Loft, around 10 p.m. to go to the Boy Bar. It is Thursday night, and there are drag shows every Thursday," Everyone will be there! You really must see it!" James urges me.

 

That night I take a cab with James and Mark to Boy Bar, in St. Marks Place. Upon entering, I notice that Debbie Harry is holding court at the front bar, surrounded by a considerable entourage. Next to her is Jean Paul Gaultier. We order our drinks while a whole cache of brazen, young, handsome men begin to surround my boss. Mark and I make a toast together, about James Fabulousness.

 

When Ru Paul recites her "Chantele" skit on stage, everyone is in hysterics! I get home at 2:30. Before leaving, James tells me, "It is okay if you're a little late for work tomorrow."

 

I arrive for work the next morning at 9:30, to find Josephine quietly pinning patterns to painted silk. The rest of the Loft is empty, except for all the artwork of the previous day's creation. It all does look fabulous, the Ballerinas, the unfinished Monet Florals, the vibrant stripes! I Look to see the list of appointments for the day and see that a client, Julia Meade, is scheduled for 11:00, and Michelle (James illustrator) is coming at 2:00. James had told me last night about how talented Michelle was for drawing fashion illustrations. I do a quick clean up and prepare the desks for the morning. The phone seems to be ringing, off the hook, and I take messages the best I can.

 

James enters around 10:00, with cups of coffee, animated with anticipation, for his visit with the movie star. He tells me how "wonderful" Julia is, and that "probably, she'll bring her daughter, who is also stunning, A Knock Out."

 

I continue to give further coats of indigo dye to the ballerina print until it is entirely jet black when dry. Then I address what needs changing of the Monet inspired floral. I add some warmer colors and extra flowers until I am pleased with it.I turn thehot plate on for the wax to heat up, in preperation to seal it for introducing a background color. I look forward to seeing how James' spontaneous brushwork will liven it up.

 

Julia and her daughter arrive promptly at 11:00, and are delighted to see all the new work in progress. They love their unique dress designs that Josephine fits too their body and hemline preferences. James is glowing all morning; we are all happy to see Edward arrive at noon, hands full, with a delicious lunch for everyone. I help arrange it onto plates, as Ed takes control of the crazy, constantly ringing phones.

 

After lunch, I tend to the packing and shipping needs of the day. Packages of new designs to Henri Bendel's, which Ed insists he'll hand-deliver, and a box of "Ungaro" like draped, large flower print image dresses going to a boutique in Dallas.

 

After Julia and her daughter exit, William, and I clean up from lunch. James asks me if I would try on dresses from the line so Michele will have a model to sketch from. I flatly refuse, knowing I had no shower, from running late this morning.

 

When Michelle arrives, I am charmed by her, low key, down to earth nature, I agree to drape new designs over my frame for her. She starts by laying out all her art supplies, wetting her watercolors, and reviewing the pile of W.W.D. covers James has given her to reference new design ideas. James and Michelle work together as a team on his design ideas. Her knowledge of what was happening in the New York high fashion scene is as "insider" as it gets. She tells me, "I have just been sketching at Bill Blass's design studio, He is doing above the knee, puff skirts big time for fall." James has her sketch silhouettes of short Kimono like tops, over short skirts, oversized "painter smocks" over Capri pants, and a series of YSL inspired "Smoking" suits. She fills her sketched silhouettes in with the colors and imagery of our new silk designs. I am amazed by her ease of skill, swiftness of hand, and talent for rendering the fashion Croquis. James is enjoying getting into his creative process of designing, he lets his flamboyance, and imagination come out. He is continually interrupted by the parade of handsome boys and young men, who are dropping by to say hello this afternoon. A typical Friday afternoon at his Loft, I realize.

 

After Michelle finishes and leaves James with ten to fifteen new croquis, James leaves with the most handsome of his boyfriends for the Chelsea Gym. I'm exhausted, l lay down to nap on the bed in the rear end of the Loft. Before I fall asleep, I tell myself, "spend the weekend at home coming up design ideas for James, Fall Line. Plan for both new prints and fashions, and put them down on paper in full color, to show James on Monday." While I nap, China snuggles up, on top of me, only to dig her claws in when I try to get up.


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