Friday, April 11, 2008


Every time I see graffiti, I think of Karl.

A professional artist once told me that you're not a real artist unless you must do your art every day to mentally survive. That's a controversial statement, but now that I've started writing every day, I think I know what he meant.

Karl drew and painted to survive.

We met in high school, ninth grade, paired up to dissect a pickled frog. He was a happy-go-lucky fellow. His pin-straight, white-blond hair grew down his back. Once, after we became good friends, he let me brush and braid it into pigtails. I thought it was a shame he wasn't a girl, with such pretty hair.

Karl's life was difficult. He lived with his mom, a step-dad he didn't get along with, and a little half-brother. His real dad had died before he was born. They didn't have much money. When Karl's glasses broke in grade 10, it was months before he could afford a new pair. He walked around half-blind for ages, but he looked on the bright side and didn't complain.

Karl's mom got sick with cancer. It got worse and better and then worse again as we progressed through high school and into college and university. Karl had taken an interest in graffiti, and enrolled in a post-secondary art program. He started hanging out with other graffiti punks. They'd skateboard all over Toronto, backpacks stuffed with cans of spray-paint. For a while I couldn't go anywhere without seeing one of his tags.

The worse things got with Karl's mom, the more he escaped into his artwork. He sketched himself to sleep at night. He drew people on the subway, in parks, on restaurant patios. His work was brilliant. I looked through his sketchbooks every chance he gave me, to see the characters he'd captured. He had an eye for details - an interesting nose, or a pouting lower lip. He exaggerated everything just enough to bring out the magic.

Karl's mom died the year we all (still friends from the same grade in high school) turned 25. He had been arrested for trespassing and defacing public property, spray-painting graffiti on a concrete bridge, and went to court shortly before his mother passed away. He never told her about his arrest.

Karl's art reached new heights of gorgeousness. His sense of irony was intense. He invariably made me laugh until my stomach hurt just by verbally observing his surroundings. But I rarely saw him laugh.

The family's money troubles continued. Karl fought with his step-father. Then I separated from my ex, and mostly lost touch.

Later I heard that Karl's step-dad had died. Can you imagine? Losing three parents before the age of 30. His younger brother was still a minor, so now Karl became his legal guardian, responsible for his care and upbringing.

I wish I had more to tell, but that's where the story ends for me. My gifted, troubled friend drifted off into the sunset, and I don't know where he ended up. I hope that he's doing alright.

What I have to remember him by is a small wooden board, around 7 inches by 4 inches. He drew a little grafitti-style greeting on it for me, umpteen years ago. It says "All A-Board for a Happy Birthday!" Thanks, Karl.


Nilsa S. said...

Have you tried Googling him? Maybe he's still in the area???

Leighann said...

What a great story. I was going to ask about googling him also.

Karen said...

Great story. We all had the same idea about Googling him. LOL.

Aurora said...

What a sad lament for Karl. Nice elegy. I hope he's doing alright somewhere.

Sparkling Red said...

Thanks, all! :-)

I could probably find him if I tried, but I've held back because he stayed friends with my ex after we separated. It's easier for both my ex and I if our social circles don't overlap much. Out of respect for that mutual, unspoken agreement, I regretfully but intentionally let Karl drift away.

However, who knows? It's a small city. We may reconnect someday, when the time is right.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Nice story... sad, but life is like that sometimes. I hope things improved for him.

mex (aka Syb) said...


Anonymous said...

You got to get your ear to tha streets girlfriend cause the streets don't never forget. Word?

jameil1922 said...

geez! that's crazy.

Jenski said...

It is wonderful that you have the birthday wish to remember Karl by! Someday you may just cross paths again. 'Til then, it is nice that you still think of him. :)

Nicole said...

Sad you can't get in contact with him again.
Oh well, who knows what it's good for.
Great story though.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Isn't it funny how the people who were in our lives for a while can still touch us?
And, thanks to your story, Karl has now touched a few more. Thanks for introducing him!