Janice Griffin Gallery

Words

Sex on a Platter

I’ve never had a meal prepared for me before where the man working in the kitchen danced about the counter tops like the painter Jackson Pollock moved around the canvas. I expect cooking to be a process where the cook pays attention to the recipe. “Anyone who can read can baste, brew, batter, beat, blanch, bake, braise, barbecue and blend,” a systematic creature of analytical method might say. Billy Hartwick does not operate like this. “I’m a creator, not a line chef repeating the same old dish time-after-time!” he declares.  Hartwick doesn’t own a restaurant. Eventually, when he does, as is inevitable given his zeal, food won’t be about consistency, but about amuses bouches and taste experience in the vein of modern eateries that offer specials. Billy worships the idea of being as open to anything and everything as he can. Even dining in the dark, a trend creeping into our global paradigm, appeals to him. “No boundaries! Let us heighten the senses beyond sight to those of sound, scent, taste and touch, increasing gastronomic pleasure in a kind of theatrical blind patrons’ café where every course is sex on a platter and equally as gratifying,” is this cuisinier’s mantra.

As a part of his particular psychosis, Billy rides a flaming horse within himself. This means he must daily tame the beast before the beast vanquishes him. “It’s as if I can’t escape myself,” he laments, “or the squirrels running any which way inside my head.” For Jackson Pollock, painting was choreography, a terrible trip the light fantastic in which he intuitively chased mysterious harmonies that are the fractals, the snowflakes, seashells, branching trees and peacock feathers of the natural world. Billy Hartwick’s canvas is the plate, his medium food. Like Jackson Pollock’s samba in the studio, Hartwick’s conga in the kitchen, far from disorganized or careless, is grounded in rhythm. This gentleman has learned that when he allows himself to progress from a flowing through to a staccato condition followed by a dissolution into chaos, what comes out on the other side can be unpredictable and new, something magical with no precedent, a thing of beauty and generosity. Cooking as choreography with mind-of-no-mind, the movement language of the ancients that led to tonal communication and speech, for Billy, is the fastest way to quiet the brain. It empties him and offers him, in a word, bliss.

In this brave new world where the borders between yang and yin are becoming blurred, male can be more than bright, dry, hard, active, penetrating and controlling; female can be more than dark, wet, tender, containing, receptive and consenting. It is in the artistic feat that these exquisite and equal energies are most in the process of shape shifting into the other. When not in the kitchen, Billy Hartwick’s emotions can sit close to the surface. He connects easily with people because the restraints inhibiting social intercourse in most of us are not in Billy’s psychology. Billy can explode into friendship and intimacy that may not last the test of time. He sometimes demands a yes-or-no answer, attempting to separate what is grey into black and white, yet wants unchallenged latitude for himself. Despite his affableness, he can also emit a quality of detachment, disconnectedness, indifference and unpredictability, a lack of empathy more often than not associated with an aloof feline than an amiable dog. Paralleling the teacher and elementary school principal he was fort twenty six years, Billy the man projects faith in his own absolute authority. A brilliant but ornery-spirited Cheshire Cat with a reality of his own, he might disappear for a week, tail first, leaving not even a smile.

When getting his hands into the vegetables, however, all this changes. Billy metamorphosizes. No longer the archetypal James Dean, the hard-drinking and hard-driving masculine figure that is Jackson Pollock, Hartwick waltzes balletically into an elegant universe and becomes the androgynous and subtle Boy George, the rock star chameleon of his 1980s fascination. Like a silken spider’s web, he is strong and delicate all at once, sensing everything in his evanescent orb. “Do you really want to hurt me?” he sings. Billy, though, no longer cares. The squirrels racing helter-skelter inside his head have become synaesthetic. Color overlaps with texture, and the smell of a sizzling stir fry sounds like stars. It is here, beyond space-time, that the lamb chop freeplays with the parsnip and, knee hooked inside knee, thigh against thigh, loved but unpossessed, the beetroot, wrapped by the dreaming prawn, floats in a blushing blanket of sky.

“Sex on a platter,” Billy exclaims, “Order up!”

Maggie Gardner