Mudbath (Part 1)
‘Bottom’ was auctioned in August of 1965 and sold for a wobbling 12,000 dollars. It was a 3 x 1.5 m glass framing with a 3D craft of a coral seabed emerging from the deep blue bottom and the wreck of a sunken galleon in detail featuring the wrecked load scattered in the seabed, chests and gold coins, a violin and canons. The coral were true coral particles of different colours structured to form the cliffs of the reef. The gold coins were gold-plated sand particles. The galleon carved out of wood though only a centimetre in thickness gave its shades and shadow. The ship got a name in gold letters, C Chase, as the artist used to sign his signature. Claude worked on minerals, metals and abstracts. He used oils, salts, chillies, blood, vinegar, crystals, etc. in his art.
This piece called ‘Bottom’ was huge and heavy, the buyers of Mirage Group of Hotels and Casinos in Las Vegas mounted it on a grey column standing by a white wall. The front piece of glass cover was actually curved from the inside to produce a concave effect magnifying the image in the tank filled with water and glass-welded. The material used would never corrode or whither in age.
It started with projects of ‘The Gate’ and ‘City Lights’. ‘The Gate’ was a three dimensional image of a limestone wall partially plastered and a gate standing in the middle of the frame, lanterns lit by tiny bulbs with a 12V flat battery hidden in its framework and the sky changed light in a 24 hour cycle. It was a wall-mount solid glass frame of 60 x 90 cm. ‘City Lights’ displayed Manhattan at Night. All this art was crafted of molten rocks, mud and wood, finished with mineral wools and framed inside liquid glass in a furnace.
The effectiveness of these optical illusions lay hidden in its perspectives, ratios, details, mostly in its simplicity. Claude’s father was a glass blower with his factory in Spring Valley some miles up from Lake Mead. Jerry Chase built neon lights for the city demands and he made beautiful glass balls with insets of alien heads and flying saucers. He got two sons, Claude was the eldest. Noel Chase, four years younger, thought his brother wasn’t a great artist. As to him Claude could not draw a portrait to its exactness or practical in figure drawing and no good in water colour as he mastered. Again, Claude wasn’t good with his guitar or at singing. And still it was Claude who performed every Saturday Night at Chase Club next to the Jerry Glass Factory and his uncle’s auto garage singing This Land is Your Land. Uncle Harry repaired motorcycles of American brands like Harley Davidson.
A kilometre away in the suburbs Jerry’s family lived in a glass house in the desert. The panels fitted with double sheets of tinted glass to maintain a cool and dark interior.
Claude Chase married a fourteen year old girl from the neighbourhood. In sixty-five he was seventeen. Noel was not happy with the way his big brother treated girls.
After the auction Mirage Group hired Claude to do a job working on drywall mud plastering the walls of the casinos and hotels. It was hard work but paid well. He undertook two great projects of glass framing; ‘The Beach’ filled with Bahamian sand and ‘Fire & Ice’. These were small wall-mount frames of solid glass filling. ‘Fire & Ice’ in particular was priceless and very popular. It displayed an ice cave opening from the inside glowing with rich colours of orange and blue, the mould carved in mud, finished with crystals and minerals that grew radiant to existing light. He did other pieces. ‘Rustling Leaves’ injected air through hidden fans in the wooden framework synchronised to rasp the hanging foliage in intervals. His creative work showed lively images and realistic outdoors. He sold them to Mirage Group and those frames hang on the walls of the hotel rooms and casinos.
Noel on the other hand wasn’t making enough money though he believed he was more talented. Noel stole money from his big brother.
Claude worked at the casinos pasting mud on the walls until 4th July 1968. He sat playing his Fender Stratocaster picking notes and noting the chords for his tune. He wrote something like this…
Walking down through the crowd in the square,
A dying sun hurting my eyes,
Strong smell of cologne in the air,
Dense in the red, red skies…
He struck the opening chord on his guitar and the Twin Reverb blew a tube from the rear. A couple of vibrating bulbs glowed in blue fumes and his guitar just made the right sound…a clear cut note…
Sipping wine of blue desert spruce,
Folks smoking marijuana,
While the dancers lined up in queues,
I come across a sweet ballerina…
It blasted of feedback in the chord progression he played. At that point his amplifier went dead leaving a deafening note of the feedback hanging in his ears. He kicked the amp before the note terminated and caught a sight out of the window between the curtains. A cream-coloured Jaguar convertible with silver-plated buffers parked down there. He listened to the door ringer going off continuously. He ran down the stairs and opened the door.
“Oh well! Hello!” cried the lady in her thirties standing there, “I’m looking for a Mr Claude Chase!”
“What? I can’t hear a thing…”
“Hi! I’m Jennifer McConkey. You’re the young artist who did the paintings at Mirage! I have some work for you, if interested.”
“Paintings?” he asked.
“Drawings…first you need to do half a dozen carbon portraits to my specifications and material.” She passed an envelope with black and white photographs of some strange faces. “In two weeks I want you to mail them to this address on my card. Name your price?”
“I don’t know. What’s your going rate?”
They reached the cream-coloured Jag parked on the drive. “I can give you two hundred for each.”
“Wow! That’s pretty good. Do you want me to frame them?”
“No. And here’s the catch, you’re not supposed to sign any of these drawings. You can’t claim them.”
“Why? I don’t think I can let you pass with my copyright!” said Claude.
“Listen. Have you heard of Rolf Schneider? He’s a famous painter from Sacramento. He’s too occupied and tired he can’t do the job for too many clients. You see these faces…they are outsiders. He collects well so he pays well. I can tell you that frankly.”
“I go for two-fifty?”
“Deal,” she looked at him with cold blue eyes. “I have more and some oil paintings coming your way. I prefer to keep contact through the telephone. I travel quite but you can always leave a message. In two weeks you mail them to me and I will post you a cheque.”
“Fine,” he gave a refreshing smile.
“Bye,” she drove off.
Claude glanced at the address card of a place in Reno and turned to look around at the mountains and the red sky. He caught the tune back in his ears and its chorus already composed came flowing with lyrics that goes like this...
Lies in her eyes,
I can read those lines,
There’s no spark like the stars,
In the skies tonight…
In the following months he got occupied with the carbon pencil drawings and like she said he received the cheques. Claude hired his little brother to do a lot of those drawings and paid him twenty dollars each. It was easy money in every way.