Mitchell Syrop is driving. “It’s the old neighborhood,” he says. “The Armenian one?” “Armenians and Scientologists.” In the distance we make out the silhouette of the former Cedars of Lebanon Hospital Building, which is a Church of Scientology today. Driving by Stephen Prina’s old place, then past an Armenian church. “One man built it on his own.” “Really?” Time Motel isn’t around anymore. “There used to be a Thai restaurant.” He points to a parking lot. “Margaret told me about a sign you were wearing at the Getty.” Mitchell looks surprised, and says, “few people know about that.” “What did the one at Musso & Frank’s say?” “HOW HAVE YOU BEEN in the front, and MISUNDERSTOOD in the back.” The Getty sign was, WHY DO WE NEED INSTITUTIONS and TO ASK FOR PERMISSION or did it actually say HOW MUCH and DOES IT HURT? It seemed odd, Margaret had mentioned, how the security guards didn’t know how to react. “They knew exactly what they were doing. Once I was spotted, they swarmed around and at me, they didn’t seem to have a leader, none of them touched me. They moved around and escorted me away to the parking lot, to my car. Where one of theirs was already waiting, with the motor running. It surprised me, they knew exactly, which one was mine.” Note: Stop making sense. Later, at a beach way past Malibu, Mitchell starts looking for rocks, whilst avoiding the gaze of a handsome lifeguard. It isn’t legal to collect anything from the beach. He only wades in the water. Picking up rocks, inspecting them with his hands, considering them. Most of them he tosses back into the waves. Earlier Mitchell had spoken of a drowning experience as a child upstate New York. How the current had flipped him, head over heels, and he looked at the sun in the sky right from under the water. He’s not a big swimmer. “The Thai restaurant we always went to,” Mitchell said, “was called Sunshine. One time we asked the owner for the actual translation. It’s called Sunshine under Water, he told us.” As soon as we get back on the freeway, he doesn’t talk much. The rocks he took are all in bags in the trunk. He takes me to my temporary home, where I cook dinner with Zoe and Dena.
How and why did you start collecting rocks and writing on them?
What’s a good rock?
What does take a lifetime?
The only artwork I ever made, as a teenager, said: Feed my keyhole.
Mitchell Syrop, You First / After You (rocks), 2012
Yesterday in Altadena, Jim was painting a throne for Superman and the Hands of God, for two hours maybe. “Flesh is hard to paint,” he said. “It looks easily like a corpse.” Talking about different things, he told an out-of-date joke at one point: “When someone would ask you for a light,” he said. “You’d say, not since Superman died. No one ever uses that one anymore. Because no one smokes.” “Do you remember Time Motel?” “Of course.” “What about Dickhead?” “I remember him too, he was an African American, who stayed at Time Motel, a great lyricist. I was working at a special effects studio at the time, and I lived next to the Time Motel. He would put up pieces of paper, with writings on them, lots of them on his door, my favorite one was, If the secret doesn’t work, I’ll cut off both of my hands.” Note: You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind. Let’s go out and feel everything. Syrop talked about a certain layer of secrecy as an intrinsic part of L.a. A certain secrecy, hiding out in the open. Jim shrugged and his eyes suddenly had this glare, only for a split second, like he fell out of character. For the rest of my visit he went back into a warm, bit distant, but very sharp way of making friendly conversation.
“We seem to have been doing this for a very long time, perhaps our earliest self-reflective pastime, and I feel a comforting continuity with that,” says
Mitchell Syrop. “In mine the ink is temporary and the skin is permanent.”
Mitchell Syrop, All That’s Left (rock), 2012
Mitchell Syrop, Someday (rock), 2012
Mitchell Syrop, Something Else (rock), 2012