November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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From the Edge/Bill Dixon

 IMG_1849 TROUT 2

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The Life and Death

of Timothy T. Trout, Artist

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by Bill Dixon

I met Tim Trout perhaps twenty-five years ago, while walking the halls of the Fine Arts Department at The Ohio State University, looking for a young Chinese artist I had just met at a group art show in the “Short North” Arts District of Columbus, Ohio. We were in the show together;  I had liked his work, and asked if I could see more of it. We’d scheduled a date and time to meet and I’d arrived early, as I almost always do. As I was walking to the rendezvous, I noticed a gaunt, tormented-looking fellow sitting on a table in the hallway. He was studying me, peering over a copy of The Lantern, the OSU student newspaper.

He asked if he could help me find what I was looking for and we fell into a conversation about art. It turned out he was attending art classes at the University on a scholarship. I later learned he worked as a janitor and, therefore, was eligible as an employee to attend some classes for free. He chose art classes. We agreed to meet later when he could show me his art. He tore off a piece of the newspaper he had been reading and scrawled his name, Tim Trout, and his phone number.

My afternoon appointment showed up and I left Tim to his newspaper. I went with the Chinese artist to see his paintings in a location farther down the same hall where I’d met Tim. We had a good chat, but after review, I decided the two paintings in the show weren’t typical of his current work. I was collecting art then, as I still do, but didn’t really care much for these efforts. The prices he had on the ones I did like, back at the Short North gallery, seemed too high, and we never did do any business.

I ran a real estate sales and management company at the time and the mid-Fall quarter was traditionally a slack time. With little to do, I found myself a few days later calling Tim to see when we could get together. He was home, and told me to come on over. He was living in a tiny efficiency apartment above a popular Greek restaurant on North High Street, in Columbus. It was in a largely student-populated area.  I found his door, and knocked. The apartment looked like a bomb had just gone off. There was a grubby mattress on the floor, open boxes of food scattered around, dirty clothes, empty bottles and cans, dirty dishes, junk and bags of trash here and there. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a roach scuttling to cover behind a stack of art materials. There were paintings everywhere, too. Some were hung, but most were strewn around the walls, leaned up, or set on top of his modest furnishings, which were mostly discards he’d found over time in the alley behind his apartment.

There was one chair in the room, a dilapidated, unsteady-looking armchair, that also held several  of his paintings and a partial six-pack of beer, still held together by its plastic harness. Tim was sitting tailor-style on the floor, and gestured for me to sit down on an inverted plastic milk crate. I did so. We talked for some time. It became gradually apparent that he was either under the influence of alcohol or some other family of drugs, or just plain nuts. It also became clear, after several later visits and the passage of time, that it was probably all of the above. Well, I didn’t have any problem with any of those things. As a child of the ‘sixties, a time I loved, and about which I wrote what I consider my best book, I could deal with all those things. It was old hat for me and I felt right at home in Tim’s place. Alcohol, drugs and insanity? Hey, no problem, dude.

I purchased several paintings that day. Tim was fascinated by violent weather and many of his paintings depicted storms and natural disasters. There also was a little semi-nude, crudely self-framed painting titled, “Bustle.” It was reasonably priced and was the very first piece I bought from him. Loosely composed and colorful, every brush stroke was easily visible, bold and confident. There was no reworking or blending anywhere in the piece. Tim himself was not at all a confident person, however. He was, as a person, conflicted, unfocused and random. His paintings were the exact opposite of his outward persona. You could tell at a glance that he had painted rapidly, but with a vision of the final product in every stroke of his brush and in the application of every color he selected. It was amazing to me, his artistic creations were so totally different than his own outward appearance.

Several weeks later, I watched him paint a piece. It was a much larger work. He set the canvas on a crude easel he’d made from scraps of two by four lumber, and selected the oil paints to apply to his canvas, all in a rush, squeezing them onto his palette as if his life depended on the speed at which he worked. He attacked the canvas! He slashed and lunged at it in a frenzy, and I could see that in his mind, it was already composed as a finished work.  It didn’t take him long to complete that vision. He used lots of oil paint, and it would obviously take some time for it to dry enough for him to seal it with damar varnish. He finished in a flourish, and turned toward me. For a moment, he was confident, bold and triumphant.  Then he receded into his usual character again, a timid, disoriented fellow, weighted down and transformed by his troubles, doubts and fears.

Over the next few years, I bought more than two hundred pieces from Tim, and still have almost all of them. They’re in a temperature- and humidity-controlled storage facility, until I decide what to do with them, and when. Tim was what current parlance refers to as “high maintenance.” He never knew what day it was, or what time it might be, and as a result, he’d call me at three o’clock in the morning to tell me that he had some pieces that he wanted me to buy so that he could pay his electric bill, or deal with some other personal crisis that had presented itself. Transportation was a major problem with Tim. He called me in the middle of the night once to tell me that someone had stolen his bicycle. He was obviously drunk , or otherwise impaired when he called. The bike was his only means of transportation and obviously very important to him. I got him a replacement and soon after, took it to him. Within a couple of weeks, although I’d also furnished him with a bicycle lock, it went missing. A friend of Tim’s told me that Tim had lost any number of bikes. He’d get drunk or stoned and park his bike somewhere and by morning, forget where it was. I bought him three bicycles before deciding it was a problem I couldn’t fix.

I started arranging art shows for Tim, too. I’d even price his pieces. He’d forget about the show dates, and I’d end up hanging his shows by myself, after transporting his work in my van to the show. When the shows closed, I would haul them back to his place. Sometimes, he’d forget where the show was, and never visit. The extra money that came from sales at these shows didn’t benefit him. He’d drink up the proceeds, or buy various drugs when he had the ability and opportunity to do so. With liver problems or psychological swings, his visits to the hospital increased. It turned out that this wasn’t a new problem, just one I didn’t know about before, and the availability of the extra cash from sales of his paintings just shortened the time between hospitalizations.

Tim eventually acquired a similarly directed girlfriend. As unstable as Tim, she was younger and somewhat healthier, physically. They had met in a bar in the University area. He tried to protect her from her destructive proclivities, but that helped destabilize Tim further. She, like Tim, was also mentally ill, and would periodically cut him with a kitchen knife if they quarreled about something. It seemed that Tim couldn’t help himself and no one else could help him, either, as trips to the hospital became more frequent.

A friend and fellow patron of Tim’s, a professor at OSU, tried his best to help Tim out of his downward spiral, but the situation was hopeless. We kept one another up to date on the situation, but that was about all we could do. Then, disaster! A local bank sent Tim a credit card. He immediately used it to buy a broken-down car. Then, using his new credit card, he took the car to a garage to get it running. He had no driver license, of course, and shouldn’t have had one. Shortly thereafter, he parked the car in a bus stop to go into a bar, and it was promptly towed away. He thought it had been stolen and called the police to complain. Since he hadn’t registered the title, a further mess was created.  Then he maxed out the credit card on the purchase of a new radial arm saw and an expensive violin he didn’t know how to play but appreciated its beautiful appearance. He set up the radial arm saw on the floor of his tiny apartment. He told me that “now, he could make his own frames and stretchers, right there in his apartment.” He would fire up the saw at all hours and cut wood that he found in the alleys. Neighbors in adjacent apartments complained to the landlord, who paid Tim, generally a month or two late on rent, a visit. There he discovered not only the source of the noise but a persistent roach infestation and promptly tacked an eviction notice on the door. Hapless Tim was terrified.

Somehow, Tim got reinstated, probably because cleaning out the place to re-rent it would have cost a lot, not including the time it went empty without income and would likely take two years to recoup the losses. The landlord took the violin and and radial saw in payment. But a couple months later, Tim called in the middle of the night to say he needed money desperately. Could I come over right away. He was being evicted again, and wanted me to buy the art he had left, specifying a dollar amount he needed as his price for everything left. He said he was going to stay with his mother in Marion until things straightened out. I drove to Tim’s place the next morning, and bought the last of his art, mostly works on paper.  The place was crawling again and I offered to spray, but he told me he had acquired a cat to kill the roaches and was afraid roach spray would kill the cat.

I took the last Trouts to an unheated garage, sprayed, and let everything sit for the winter. I got word a short time later that Tim was dead. He never left Columbus; I suspect he never intended to stay with his mother, that perhaps that she didn’t exist, in Marion, or anywhere else. He’d made it one last time into  University Hospital, where he died in his sleep, his suffering over. The last time I saw him alive, he tearfully said he was Jesus Christ,  that “he hadn’t asked for the job, but would now have to die for the sins of others.” He showed me a new signature he would use on his art:  “t.T.t.,” which would symbolize the three crosses at the crucifixion, and his Christian name, timothy T trout. He also told me his Indian name was “Little Trout,” and that he might begin using that signature on some “special” pieces.

Tim was a splendid artist, but so mentally unstable that unless he was institutionalized and drugged, he would continue to suffer the indignities and torments he experienced as a free man. He was in his thirties, I believe, and had somehow served in the United States Navy, on board ship. He implied the government gave him some sort of monthly income, on which he could survive, but you could never tell fact from fiction with Tim. Neither could he, I suppose. He described the world, on canvas, as accurately as he was able. It was a world of violent storms and unending tragedies, but sometimes, with graceful nudes who emerged from gardens of blooming flowers.  I lived in a far different world, and tried to understand Tim’s world to the best of my abilities, as he had tried to understand mine. Sometimes, we both missed the mark. He was a good person, gentle and generous, loyal to his friends, forgiving of those who mistreated him. He was marooned in a frightening, alien world, finding power in the paint brush he used to communicate with his demons, and the small group of fortunate people who understood and appreciated his haunting messages. Paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Each day, do the best you can, and tomorrow, put it behind you.” I think, no matter how things turned out, that was what timothy T. trout attempted to do.

 

About the author:

Bill Dixon is a contributing columnist to Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

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