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Barron Storey's Life is an Open Comic Book 

The demons -- personal andfantastical and pop cultural -- that have shaped the art of a San Francisco illustrator

Wednesday, Jan 17 1996
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Page 6 of 7

"So now she's just a character in my books. Plays. Songs. Everything." He raises his arms, and yells: "WOULD YOU STOP WITH THE MOM PLEASE, BARRON!"

Storey is eager to show his visitor the important sites of North Beach, not just the hangout for the Beats, writers like Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg, but today's sleaze.

He points out, with some pride the Condor -- "Where it all began," reads a plaque on the outside wall, announcing its status as the first topless and bottomless bar in America. Today, the Condor is a sports bar.

This building is what Storey calls "The Slidehouse Building," and it appears in many of his journals. He would spend hours across the street from it, sketching and painting every last detail. He points out the neighboring porn shop, where he used to stand in front sketching in his journal, obsessing over every last broken, minute piece of tile under foot. Storey says a guy who used to run a money-laundering operation across the street thought the artist was working for the cops because he was out there so much, scribbling in the journals.

But the place that has Storey's interest on this breezy, chilly midfall afternoon is the Lusty Lady, which advertises itself as San Francisco's "best 24-hour adult entertainment establishment." It's a peep show and the central location in the intensely personal and overtly autobiographical "Slidehouse" series. Storey is displeased with his work in the final installment of "Slidehouse," saying he chickened out and failed to tell the truth.

Though he has drawn and redrawn the Lusty Lady for the series, he has never entered its doors.

"I've never had the courage to go in alone," he says. Instead, he relied on descriptions from actresses he's known who have worked there. He wants to enter the place now, to visit "Slidehouse."

The Lusty Lady is brightly lit. Patrons walk into booths, feed quarters into a slot, and watch as a partition slides up to reveal a room filled with nude women grinding and gyrating to the piped-in dance music. Depending on the number of quarters someone feeds into the machine -- thus extending the peep time -- the women will often come right up to the glass separating them from the patrons, spreading their legs for a view a gynecologist could appreciate.

Behind the women is a wall covered in mirrors, which reflects the men in the other booths. Many of them are masturbating. Each booth has a box of Kleenex mounted on the wall.

Upon exiting the Lusty Lady after only a few minutes, Storey seems impressed with himself -- that he could so accurately draw a place he had never actually visited. "I wasn't prepared for one thing, though," he says, pulling his jacket tighter against the wind. "I didn't expect the women to be so good-looking."

Shortly before 8 a.m., students begin to file into Storey's Illustration 101 class at the California College of Arts and Graphics. They are young, in their early 20s, though they look not long out of high school. They are turning in their assignment homework this morning, an illustration of a passage from a piece of literature. However disappointed Storey is with some of the work -- some of it little better than the doodles of a kid killing time in high school -- he expresses pleasure at their sources of inspiration: Kafka's The Trial, Goethe's Faust, William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, and so forth.

Moments after Storey bounds into the classroom -- wearing the same black-gray turtleneck and gray pants he had worn the day before, a blue denim shirt draped over his frame -- he instructs his students to pin their art to the wall in front. He will pore over the pieces in front of the class, critiquing them with comments equally supportive as they are scathing.

"I'm very excited by that," he tells a young man named Kelly, one of the few gifted students in the class. Storey stalks Kelly's piece -- a dark rendering in which Dr. Faustus discovers hell, covered with images of fire and demons -- walking around it, observing and discussing and perhaps even admiring it a bit. In this class of would-bes and wannabes, young men and women who want to be artists and have come to study with a man they hadn't even heard of before enrolling, Kelly seems to be the only kid in tune with Storey's ideas about art.

"The piece is visually ... um ... stimulating," Storey says, "and even though it has some sort of cryptic stuff in there, there are enough points of reference for people to get into it. ... I'm a very strong admirer of this kind of classic piece. When I do a piece like this, I'm not very sure of myself. It's not an easy thing to get this into print. It's edgy. I congratulate you for being innovative. ... It's beautiful. It's just amazing."

Later, Storey will say he likes to encourage his beginning students, quick to praise where so many of his peers would condemn. Most of his contemporaries wouldn't even consider teaching such novices, considering it a waste of their time and talent, but Storey relishes the opportunity to encourage even if the student has no future working in the medium.

His students are neophytes, more blank than the unused sheets in their journals; they're kids who want (so they claim) to be professional illustrators but who know nothing of the world. When Storey tosses out other artists as points of reference, they seldom know about whom he's speaking. It happens often this morning: Storey will toss out a name like Caravaggio, Rauschenberg, or even his friend Gary Panter (who designed sets for Pee-wee's Playhouse and draws the Jimbo comic), and then ask, "Do you know that name?"

About The Author

Robert Wilonsky

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