Thursday, March 22, 2007

This Thing All Things Devours

Before I moved to Florida, in 1992, I lived in Rock Hill, South Carolina, which, at the time, probably consisted of about 50,000 people. Rock Hill was a large town that had become a small city in the shadow of Charlotte, NC which lay 15 minutes north across the state line. I had grown up in an even smaller South Carolina town but had been living in Rock Hill for about 5 years with 'no particular place to go.' While living there, I worked in a rather nice restaurant that was located a few blocks from Winthrop University that was frequented by all of the well-to-do people who didn't want to take the time to drive to Charlotte and by the people who simply wanted to go somewhere nice for a really good meal. The best part about the job was the people I worked with and while there was the average employee change over that you might expect, there was always a core group of us that that, at times, were as close as (if not closer than) family. Granted, it was sometimes a dysfunctional family, but it was still a family. Looking back I can honestly say that I believe our hearts were always in the right place - maybe not our brains - but definitely our hearts.

One of the people who was a part of our 'family' for a while was an art student at Winthrop named Tony Lange. His full name was Anthony Leo Lange but everybody (and I mean everybody) called him 'TL' - in fact, we called his wife "Mrs L" and she always introduced him as TL Lange. TL was a very unique individual with a great sense of humor. He was balanced while off-center, focused in his chaos and direct in his naivety. I remember, one night, sitting alone at a table in our private dinning room (which, when empty, doubled as our break room) taking a short break when TL, in his usual state of dishevelment, suddenly exploded into the chair beside me and with a very intent and serious, almost frantic demeanor said, "Hey John, if the Devil were to suddenly appear in front of you and offer to grant you any single wish, what would you say?" I looked at TL and said, "I would say, 'I wish God was here.'" TL's eyes narrowed as he stood up, and with a slight nodding of his head and lopsided grin he said, "That's really good," and he had a sound of contentment and conspiracy, as if regardless how unlikely such an event might be, were it to happen, he was incredibly prepared. On another occasion, TL, who didn't wear glasses, picked up a pair that belonged to Morgan, our overqualified dishwasher, and commented on the fact that he liked the style of the frames. As slipped the glasses on, his eyes lit up, a sense of wonder washed over his face and he said, "Oh my God - I need glasses!" He spent the rest of the evening wandering about the restaurant 'seeing' things (and people) for the first time. That was TL.

Graduation was about a year later and shortly thereafter TL and Mrs L moved to Atalanta. The last project that TL had worked on for school was a series of ten paintings dealing with the theme of murder. TL had purchased several target shooting silhouettes and incorporated bits and pieces of them onto the canvas of the paintings to, what I considered, great effect and I had told him so. After graduation and before leaving town, TL donated one of the paintings (his favorite) to the school for the local gallery and was nice enough to give me my favorite out of the remaining nine. I had the painting framed and it was with me in two different apartments before I moved and it now resides in my mother's home where she keeps a watchful (and somewhat frightened) eye on it for me. She has offered to send it to me but I always decline because I know this isn't where I've ended up - this is only practice.

I didn't keep in touch with anyone from the restaurant after I moved to Florida. I had lots of things going on and staying in touch simply wasn't as easy as it is now or, maybe, I'm merely more settled and have a better notion of whats important. Either way, the restaurant was recently sold, Matt, the owner (my old boss) moved on to other things and everyone else has long since gone on with their lives. I've spoken to Matt once or twice, over the years, and, coincidentally, I did recently get in touch with another of my fellow co-workers from back then and, hopefully, she and I can continue to occasionally correspond but, other than those two, I haven't seen or heard anything regarding any of my friends from 15 years ago.

A couple of days ago, I was perusing the internet in price comparisons for prints from one of my favorite artists, Michael Parkes, when, among the lists of artists, I happened to notice the name T. L. Lange and followed the trail to a listing of some of his pieces with prices up to US$3,500.00. Imagine my surprise to find that not only had TL continued his work, but he had actually become a somebody in the world of art. Maybe not a huge somebody, but a somebody nonetheless. As I continued to search, I found even more listings of poster prints made from his originals and there was no doubt that they were the work of my past restaurant compatriot. I decided, at that moment, that with a little more searching I should be able to find a means of contacting and catching up with my successful artist friend.

My next search brought up a page from Foster/White with listings of TL's work priced up to US$19,000.00. I was simultaneously shocked at the prices and pleased with his success. At the bottom of the page was a short write-up concerning TL with his quote,

“I derive the compositions from the beauty of chaos in decay, the colors of rusty pipes, and layers of billboard advertisements. Paintings are everywhere. I keep the studio floor littered with photographs, torn paper, flecks of paint, and objects to trip over while looking for something else.”

Continuing on I was again shocked to read that Foster/White had "began exhibiting T. L. Lange’s work in 2000, two years before his death at age 36."

In further searching I found a brief obituary concerning TL and several articles later lead me to the fact that he had committed suicide. I could find no references to his wife so I can only assume that they had separated or divorced prior to his death - probably quite some time, unfortunately. TL was, again, a unique individual who suffered from many of the stereotypical maladies often associated with creative and artistic types and, I'm sorry to say, since he was never the type to be proactive concerning his own mental state, his demons finally got the best of him.

I'm writing about this for no other reason than because I had to. Had I not spent the time that I have writing this down, whether on a computer or a piece of paper, I would have continued to think about it in some disjointed fashion for several weeks to come. At least this way I can enjoy a bit of continuity sprinkled among my jumbled thoughts and memories and I like to think that TL would be touched knowing that even five years after his death, someone is missing him as if it happened only yesterday. I'm also quite sure that TL would completely understand the fact my sense of loss stems from not only knowing of his death, but being brutally reminded of the passage of time, as well.

It's times like this, having the exacting and encompassing memory I do, that I truly feel blessed and resoundingly cursed, concurrently, and I can't help but wonder how many other people who have been my friends at various times are alive now only in my memories.

12 comments:

Chris said...

What a lovely tribute to your friend. I find his work hauntingly beautiful.

John Taylor said...

hi chris-
Thanks very much - I really appreciate it.
And I feel the same way about his work. Hopefully, I'll acquire a piece or two in the future.

Anonymous said...

In all pure honesty the first time i saw one of his paintings I was soooooo hooked. I just started art school and without a doubt his work will influence mine until i die.

DLA said...

I so loved reading this. TL was like a brother to me. Am missing him horribly tonight...googled him and landed here. BTW, I grew up in clover, SC...now live in Ecuador, South America. I only once wrote about him in public...maybe more, but this is the one I easily find:

http://theexpatjournals.com/2005/09/16/urban-nature-art-and-death/

Steve Podmore said...

I also knew TL. I met him shortly before he married his first wife, while he lived in Charleston, SC. I have a pen & ink drawing he did of the marsh at sunrise that he colored in with pastels. It was one of his first creations. He whipped it out in no time and I was amazed at his work. He was somewhat aimless at that time and unsure what to do with his life. I urged him to explore his artistic talent. I lost track of him for some time and then caught up with him and met his second wife. They were living in Asheville, NC at the time. Once again, after keeping in touch for awhile, I lost track of him. I recently went to Asheville and it brought back memories. I decided to Google him and imagine my shock at finding that he was no longer with us. I shall always miss him. He was one of those people will always remain in your heart. I am glad that his work lives on to show the world how great a person he was.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your posting. We are lucky enough to have a few of his paintings, and I was researching him because the art is so haunting.. and I was intrigued to find out more about this very talented artist.

Anonymous said...

TL was a beautiful guy. I knew him in his last days in Asheville. I got a couple of his prints. He is missed but not forgotten.

Anonymous said...

I AM TL'S MOTHER AND I STILL MISS MY BEAUTIFUL BABY BOY EVERY DAY. IT IS STILL HARD TO BELIEVE HE IS BEEN GONE FOR 10 YEARS. I LIVE IN ORLANDO FLORIDA AND IF ANYONE OF HIS FRIENDS ESPECIALY THE PODMORE'S WANT TO GET IN TOUCH WITH ME, PLEASE DO. I STILL LOVE TO TALK ABOUT HIM. I JUST WATCHED A WONDERFUL VIDEO OF HIM WATER SKIING IN CHARLESTON, SC, AND IT WAS IF I COULD REACHOUT AND TOUCH HIM. LOVE YOU MY BEAUTIFUL BABY BOY. MOM

ken terpstra said...

a few years ago i purchased abstract variation 29. when my eyes fell on it i just stood memmerized by it. it is so rich with meaning to me. i would just love to know what inspired tl lange to do this piece.

Anonymous said...

I am an artist who enjoys painting abstract and realism and all that is in between. T L's work is phenomenal. It is timeless, giving and rich with a spirituality that can be read and digested easily. I can feel his presence which has transcended his earthly pains. Blessings to his mom, Sandy. It is usually always a challenge, to be a parent, relative and friend of a genius artist. Peace to you and all of us!

Anonymous said...

I am an artist who enjoys painting abstract and realism and all that is in between. T L's work is phenomenal. It is timeless, giving and rich with a spirituality that can be read and digested easily. I can feel his presence which has transcended his earthly pains. Blessings to his mom, Sandy. It is usually always a challenge, to be a parent, relative and friend of a genius artist. Peace to you and all of us!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that. TL was a friend of mine in college. I lived with him and Karen while they were at Winthrop. He and I connected because he was an artist and I was a guitarist, and he was playing around with the guitar at the time doing some off the wall stuff...trying to reinvent music in his own way with the help of some U2 and B52 influences, I think. He was the only true artist I ever knew. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but he really did embody the spirit of the artist. I was always "artistic", but he was an artist. There was just something pure about him.

Last time I talked to him, he was quitting Winthrop because he realized his painting professor was influencing him too much. He said he was going to move to Athens GA and give music a go, but I don't know if he ever did.

I haven't thought about him in a long time. I just saw the name Mark David, who was a friend of his from Charleston, and I Googled TL. I didn't expect to read that he had ended his own life.

JDW
Rock Hill, SC