Monday morning: Meet Michael

I started a new Monday thing of spotlighting my talented friends. Check out Part 1 and Part 2. Those covered a triple-threat actor, improv artist, and impressionist; and a filmmaker, editor, writer respectively. This time around, we’re going for the finest of fine art.

I first met Michael Lightsey almost two decades ago, at an audition for what turned out to be a very strange production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. I was a member of the theater company that produced it, but he was not. He came to audition because he had seen our production of Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real and loved it.

Anyway, our meeting was one of those rare moments in my life that’s probably only happened about three or four times, when I randomly met a stranger, and after two minutes of conversation, it felt like we’d known each other forever.

In fact, I don’t remember which one of us auditioned first, but we both wound up in the tiny theater lobby afterwards, and hung around just talking for at least two hours.

The “just talking for two hours” thing, by the way, is the major sign for either a) We’re going to be really good friends from here on until the end of time, or b) We’re fucking tonight.

Michael and I have never fucked.

But put us together in a room, and we can talk each other’s ears off, and spin ourselves into such ridiculous riffs and scenarios that we’ll both wind up giggling like we’re stoned off our asses when, in fact, we are both completely sober.

That’s one of the best attributes really good friends can share — the ability to make each other laugh unto the point of pissing themselves.

Okay, that’s never happened to either of us literally, although laughing so hard that we couldn’t breathe and the airport called to complain about the noise — um, the one in Orange County, not L.A. — is a really good indicator that we’ve both got something great here.

This man always lifts my spirits, challenges my mind, and supports the hell out of my creative endeavors.

So here are some of his creative endeavors and, honestly, I am utterly jealous of his artistic ability. His pencil portraits are unreal in their absolute accuracy, and I should know because one of the best surprise Christmas presents I ever received was his portrait of me that he drew from a photo he took one day when we had lunch together in downtown L.A.

He doesn’t just do pencil portraits, though, and his figure studies and abstract art are also things to behold. I am very proud, in fact that one of his abstract pieces hangs right above the computer I’m writing this on, and it brings me comfort — a constant reminder that he’s still a part of my life even if COVID has kept us physically apart.

Bonus points on the beauty of his very colorful abstract works: He’s actually colorblind, and yet I’ve never seen a hint of on his canvases.

Finally, I was incredibly honored when he asked me to help adapt his nascent graphic novel, Strophalos, into an actual novel, in order to create IP that would generate interest in financing and creating the graphic novel in turn.

It’s an amazing story and was very fun to be let loose on. I was incredibly flattered that he asked me and trusted me, but also reminded in the process that we are kind of Yin and Yang in that I’m absolutely scientifically minded while he leans toward the mystical.

But it’s also a reminder that when the friendship is grounded on such a solid and loving foundation, that kind of difference doesn’t matter at all. Neither does the fact that we haven’t been able to get together in person since last March due to COVID — about six weeks after my and one week before his birthday — and yet are still both there for each other.

He worked at Center Theater Group, comprising the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson theaters in downtown L.A. and the Kirk Douglas in Culver City, so I got to come down a lot to see shows for free, and we would often hang out before or after. He’d also come by my place after work as well.

Maybe, some day, we’ll meet again. Meantime, enjoy his art and support his work. He deserves it.

Image: Portrait of Dame Edna Everage and Barry Humphries, © Michael Lightsey.

Friday Free-for-All #10

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What skill or ability have you always wanted to learn?

This one is easy. I have always wanted to learn how to create visual art by hand. Oh, sure, I learned how do it with a camera as a kid because that’s one of the things my dad did and shared with me; and I’m pretty skilled at graphic design with a computer, but drawing, painting, sketching, and all that kind of visual art has always eluded me.

I have friends who do it, and do it quite well.

Now, oddly enough, I once attempted sculpting and was actually good at it, creating a pretty detailed and accurate human bust as part of a larger art project that I never quite finished. See, I have always been into puppets, and at one point had quite a collected of animal hand puppets acquired over the years.

Nowadays, it’s limited to one, and the largest I ever owned. It’s a sheepdog puppet named Barkley, who was a gift from an ex’s sister and her girlfriend as a thanks for us hosting them on a visit to L.A. and after I’d mentioned in a toy store that I was into puppets.

He was livid that they’d spent so much. Then again, he was toxic, and I dumped him long ago.

But I kept Barkley, and for a long time I worked on that marionette. The reason for the clay sculpture was to create the basis for the mold that would be covered with wood paste and sanded down to become the head and shoulders of the thing.

I was following instructions from a book, and got so far as creating the basic body — arms, legs and all — as well as the clothes to cover it. What I never got to were the hands, feet, and stringing it up, mainly because those last limbs were hard to find at scale, I wasn’t going to sculpt hands, and I never nerved up enough to go out and buy baby shoes in the right size.

So my handless and footless marionette was abandoned over a decade ago when I basically had to evacuate with only the essentials, and that was my one brush with any kind of practical art.

Oh, sure, I’ve attempted to draw and sketch and cartoon and paint, but always with… laughable results. It’s kind of like if you put my writing skills and my arting skills on a scale, the writing side will slam down so hard that it’ll launch my non-existent arting skills to beyond the Moon.

And that’s what I wish weren’t true. I’d love nothing more for the both of them to be equal.

Number two on the list is to learn a stringed instrument — guitar first, banjo or fiddle second, except that that’s kind of a weak get, because I learned how to play bass long ago, and it’s got strings, just fewer, and easier fingering for people like me with really big hands.

Then again, the instrument thing is a cheat, because music does translate over. If I know on a keyboard that a fifth is this many keys apart, for example, it’s easy to learn the idea that a fifth is one string over and this many frets down, an octave might be two strings over and so many frets, and all the other intervals are at easily relative places.

Hell, I grew up playing an accordion, and the bass system on one of those is much closer to the method that stringed instruments use. So the only problem I ever had with learning to play a stringed instrument was the contorted position I had to twist my left hand into.

There was never any such twisting on the accordion. Or, maybe there was, but I just didn’t notice because I was only seven years old. Still — the Circle of Fifths is the universal key to being a musician. As far as I know, there is no such similar thing that covers being a visual artist.

While visual art does have a similar Circle of Color, it teaches you nothing about how to do that art. But — epiphany — I’ve just realized that the Circle of Fifths does nothing on its own to teach you how to do that music.

A-ha moment.

And so… my artistic modes are mostly audio and technical, with an accidentally successful foray into tactile that I have yet to repeat. I would love nothing more than to get into the visual, and learn how to sketch, draw, or paint stuff.

I guess it could happen, but I just need to find time to do it…

Oh, wait. We’re on quarantine now. Sweet…