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Suzanne McCall pulls individual flavored creamers out of the Starving Artist Treasure Chest. The giant cooler is crammed full of neatly piled Tupperware and bags of potato chips. She and her partner, Sylvia Volcán, often host middle-of-the-night visitors at their Santora gallery, Misfit No. 9; they will look at their guests and know they are hungry and give them potato chips and whatever is in those Tupperware tubs. But right now, the creamers are for my coffee, and McCall is talking a mile a minute about all the wonderful kids they've found who are now showing at Misfit No. 9.
There are some people who can talk about "doing it for the love of it" and "getting back to your art" without making the listener vomit. McCall is one of those people: she's sincere and optimistic at a near-Pollyanna level without being the least bit icky. Volcán, a writer and docent at the Orange County Museum of Art, is intenser; she's not icky, either.
Misfit No. 9 has occupied the Santora Arts Complex studio for almost six months now, and as Santa Ana Artists Village newbies burn out on their visions of community and happily ever after, McCall and Volcán seem to be warming up. They spend a lot of time in the local Norm's, finding those peculiar loner kids who sit at the counter and draw all night. But their favorite spot to discover emerging talent is Kinko's.
"There's fine art, and there's Kinko's art," McCall explains, and she doesn't seem to have a preference.
Every couple of months, Misfit No. 9 hosts jam sessions. They offer poetry. They screen films. They want to serve up some lectures and panel discussions. And they don't charge a commission on works they sell.
Misfit No. 9 is one of those places where the amateur is truly welcome. Right now, there's a mishmash of paintings of eyeballs, collages of girls, drawings of insect creatures, and black-and-white photos of shoulders, all on a matting of black tarpaulin and glittery rainbow paper accented with crumpled tinfoil swirls. It's low-tech with a vengeance.
McCall, an architect, designs new installations every month to showcase the new artists they've found. Last month, they had a garden party, with Astroturf carpeting the cement floor and bamboo lining the walls. Before that, it was Superman's fortress, with shower curtains painted all weird. Even the hours of operation are designed to attract rather than repel: they're often open in the middle of the night.
"Punks aren't going to come to the opening at 7 o'clock," Volcán says. "They'll come at 11."
That they're so kid-friendly would likely absolutely freak the Reverend Lou Sheldon and Co. Are they trying to win that toaster by recruiting hapless kids into the gay lifestyle? Volcán and McCall, unlikely first cousins (McCall is a redhead from West Covina, and Volcán is a heavily accented brunette from Mexico City), are both small, slightly butch lesbians—and they're the gentlest I've ever met. It is such a nonissue that I'm embarrassed even to mention it. The only time I've heard either one mention preferences was at an opening when a young man, positively boiling over with hostility, asked them why they hated men. It was a complete non sequitur; their warmth spills over onto everyone. But it's a stereotype that makes angry little boys feel better about man-hating dykes and feminists.*
Volcàn and McCall are so not in people's business that I feel weird poking into theirs. And try though I might, I can't scratch the veneer of sweetness and compassion to find the hard wood of bitterness or animosity. There is a recognized tendency among men of a certain age once they've finished raising their own children: they become true social patriarchs, leading scouts and coaching baseball even though they don't have kids in the game. They begin investing their time and knowledge in their communities, and they make a difference. The ladies at Misfit No. 9 do the same. "People always come back," McCall says. "And sometimes, a kid will come back, and he'll bring his friends. And I'll go into the back and pretend to be busy, but I'm listening. And all of a sudden, he's the teacher, and he's teaching his friends. 'See, what the artist is doing here . . .'"
McCall smiles like Glinda the Good Witch. When someone gets ripped off by another gallery, when someone else just wants to show his or her work, not sell it, and when an artist is really hungry, the ladies of Misfit No. 9 will be there with the Starving Artist Treasure Chest, as welcoming as Donna Reed and Mrs. Cleaver—you know, if they were kind of butch.
* The whacked-out Right likes to imagine long and hard what gay men and lesbians do in their spare time, but unless you're Santa Ana Big Gay Artist Skeith DeWine, you're probably multifaceted, whether gay or straight. Sex is only one of the many things you think about.
But the Right doesn't recognize that gays and lesbians might be concerned with anything besides getting laid. I'm thinking particularly of one woman I just saw interviewed on FOX who blames the Oregon public schools for making her son gay: "When he went into ninth grade, he was straight; at the end of 10th grade, he was gay. . . . I just want my son fixed." I hate to say it, but her son probably should have stayed in the closet a while longer because now Mama's on a tear, trying to outlaw any discussion of homosexuality in any context in any Oregon classroom. Poor lady, with her big, gay son; now she's gotta get into everyone's business.
MISFIT NO. 9, Santora Building, 207 N. Broadway, Ste. B-8, Santa Ana, (949) 496-1524.
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