Stiflers at an Exhibition
by Tom McLaren

On October 8, 2011, a displaced East Coaster walked into the Goodwill in Gallup, New Mexico. Amid the strewn trash, he spotted an abstract painting, reminiscent of one in his high school English textbook next to Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California.”  He saw one which looked like a Julie Mehretu he had seen at the Carnegie International in 2004. Adrenaline rushing, he looked for more. A Jackson Pollack, Silver Over Black White Yellow and Red, One Number, 31, Lucifer, Alchemy, or Sea Change. 3 others.

A misplaced Chicagoan, blonde, 40s, vaping, a high school teacher on the rez, used these paintings as an excuse to hit on him. He offered her one. He rushed the paintings to his wife, rummaging through the women’s clothing. He wanted to buy the lot, but the price tags of $8 – $15 intimidated him. The blonde put one back. He bought all but one of the big paintings and went back that evening for the small ones. He hung them and thought the pain which seeped through the canvas might be mold.

The abstract expressionist extravaganza which is the group of paintings by Richard B. Stifler I bought that day is my prized possession. Stifler was a dabbler in the arts, a Beatnik who read On the Road one too many times, and upon his graduation from psychiatry school took up residence in Gallup, New Mexico. Even though he died two years before I came West, he haunts me. His name pops up, written inside the covers of avant-garde books I buy at Goodwill. One particular vintage Marquis De Sade paperback tome comes to mind.

When I die, donate my Stiflers to the Albuquerque Museum or for display on the walls of UNM Hospital. I lament the lost Stifler—the one I didn’t take that day.

PHOTO: A Stifler painting from the author’s collection.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’m not sure of the value of my Stiflers, but I spend a lot of time in art galleries — especially contemporary art galleries — around the world. The only thing that separates them from many prized exhibition pieces are the size, say 28″x28″ or 8″ x 14.” I’m a big fan of abstract art because the interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. I have talked to physician’s assistants who have worked with Stifler, and I found an old news clipping about the birth of his first child. One physician’s assistant told me he was inspIred by Navajo blankets. To me, Stifler is the Blake in his garden of the fringeland surrounding Navajo Reservation.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom McLaren is originally from Pittsburgh, but has traveled extensively and lived for a few years in East Asia, where he was a professor of literature and oratory. He has written a few unpublished dramatic works, and his work has appeared in such publications as Word River Literary Review, Gallup Journey, Flipside, and Martial Arts Training. In addition to writing and presenting at academic conferences, his hobbies are judo, aikido, and jujutsu, EDM and Goa Psytrance, and trips to Las Vegas.

PHOTO: The author at a museum in 2010.