I first met Lucas Del Mar in the basement. A Charlie’s Kitchen and Cafe Pamploma drinking buddy of mine had skipped town after a brief appearance at the graduation ceremony of his renowned soon to be Alma Mater. He was off to put his literary degree to the test as a lobsterman’s deckhand on some tiny island off the coast of Maine and had left his shared Cambridge residence in enough of a mess that someone had to rescue some one important thing before the roommates tossed it along with the perfectly able cast iron & the couches & jackets & songs.
Devlin, my cousin, and I rolled by with an 18 pack behind the seat to grab the important thing and to browse the worldly belongings of kids who could still afford to live in Harvard Square 6 months after graduation. We collected screws and a cot, maybe a folding imitation-cast deck set. In the basement, with my eye on a Fender, I idly scooped up painting of a light blue sailboat with bent mast and tossed it in the back of my Plymouth along with some lamps.
Lill was Martha’s best friend and Massachusetts ambassador. She was careful when we went over Devlin’s —walking, stopping, checking for buds. We were collecting ticks towards the backside of the property. Inside the garden shed, Lill delighted, seeing light blue sailboat with bent mast, recognizing it as a painting by Lucas Del Mar. Devlin had hung it above his ’69 Cadillac parked there in the garden shed on The New Land in Millis, MA. I don’t think she recognized it as a forgery, but she said the scrawled signature was as legible as every other of his and maybe it didn’t even really make a difference. As we walked back from the car she told me how half his paintings were rip offs, the rest were crude or unfinished, but in certain circles he was celebrated. Apparently, his biggest claim, or maybe notoriety, was gained when he had attempted to collect some or all of the $10 million reward offered by returning the stolen painting by Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, to the Gardner Museum. Unfortunately, his forgery was so bad that he didn’t make it to the front door. His big reward was four lines by the comics in the Globe.
Lill was the one who, almost a year later, told me about the opening and party. I was surprised—I didn’t figure Martha for self indulgence, of course, I was one of the few, I think, that took her “dead by 30” predictions seriously. Martha’s 29th was poised to be rip and rolling. A half comedy-celebration, half hope-this-is-comedy celebration of a life well-lived was in the works for the captain’s castle she and Matt had been almost done restoring for about ten years. Martha was the budding Art Queen of Portland, ME, and she was inviting her boss to her birthday party. She was thrilled to announce the first complete collection showing of Lucas Del Mar paintings and would be unifying the evening of her celebration.
After almost a year of trying to get in touch with Del Mar (hundreds of last ditch Google searches, local questioning, one séance, and even a reboot of my “permanently deleted” Facebook) it felt too easy to send an email to the so regular-feeling email address Lill got from Martha about fifteen minutes after a casual text message. I asked him questions as regular as I could guess, with an idea of an interview, and we exchanged a few emails back and forth. He said that he was spending most of his time fishing these days, and that other than some lost photographs and sketches, all products of his brief adventure as a painter were under Martha’s direction in Maine. I didn’t mention light blue sailboat with the bent mast. His cadence was like his paintings: naturally energetic and flowing, almost rushing, but slowed by the sea. Not really moving, but always in motion. Undercurrent, right?
The exhibition, if you wanted to call it that, was made up of about six paintings, a cluster of sketches, and a pile of too-crisp photographs of wooden sails, boats, and their moorings. The first and most impressive painting hung low from the empty flagpole, jutting out traditionally from between the first story and the improvised widows walk. It was a two-tone seascape, backlit by the open front door, bleeding into the overcast sky. A mess of tar & stone & watered down tar & noise. Inside, the paintings were spaced creatively around the first two levels of the house. Many of the paintings seemed unfinished, or like someone learning to paint by copying photographs. Even the photographs were sorta sloppy cellphone prints. Useful is not a regular descriptor of art, especially art you like. Maybe art like, “he was nice.” Kindness & the weather. Important & everpresent & unmentionable. Del Mar’s creations seemed useless. Intentionally deceptive & unmarketable. As I crossed back into the yard Lill touched my arm, “Behave.” Was this a party or a show or the wake? And how did she know? I guess I wasn’t invited to this party anyway and maybe I won’t go. Throughout the evening there were books on shelves. The food was casually pristine in the kitchen and the paintings were professionally hung. Martha was stunning in every corner and kitchen. My feet were wet.
Why was I here? What had I come to see, to prove? Perhaps a joke or a thrill, to get a date. To be a forger in like company. A failed forger is an original. A failed original can still be prophetic.
There was blood on the steps and on the railing. My unexpected sobriety made the slow climb an entirely psychedelic experience. Maybe that is what recovering addicts mean when they say that the real world gets them higher than any drug; when you spend years drunk or high, the exact absence of booze or coke or weed provides a stimulation akin to an early mushrooms ride. My undistracted blood flow was energizing and completely unnerving. Del Mar wasn’t upstairs, or in the backseat of the silver Chevy Malibu. I don’t think he showed up. I don’t think he had much allegiance left to the art world. I left the party. The light blue sailboat with bent mast is still above the ’69 Caddy.