About 20 of Childress’ pieces are on display at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts until Oct. 26 in memory of the late artist, who died at age 65. There, they are also on sale in hopes of keeping them from joining the largest collection of his work — in landfills.
Childress painted most of his life but never named or kept any of his acrylic art, said Linda Harris, his long-time girlfriend. She recalled how he would take his art straight from a gallery exhibit to a dumpster.
“He painted for him, not for anybody else,” she said. “He never kept anything.”
Eventually, though, he stopped discarding his “colorful abstractions” for one reason, Harris said.
“I wouldn’t let him anymore,” she said.
The pair met about 10 years ago at a Virginia Beach hotel. She was working the front desk and planning to move away with family. He was staying in a room while hunting for an apartment he could paint in.
They found a place together by the ocean.
It soon became bloated with Childress’ art. For the first time in his life, he was keeping what he made, and he had more time than ever to create. His other hobbies — surfing and bicycling — and responsibilities — he had two sons and a job as a car detailer — were consuming less and less of his free time.
His untitled paintings, many of them on sprawling 6-by-4-foot canvases, hung on every wall in their apartment, she said.
“Even the bathroom and kitchen,” she said.
None was titled, so the observer could “see what they wanted to see in it,” Harris said. A sign at the Sandler exhibit says Childress described his paintings as “assemblages of images, open for interpretation.” His work was the first displayed at the gallery when it opened five years ago, according to staff.
Last summer, Childress left his apartment with Harris to have minor surgery, but he never returned home from the hospital, Harris said.
Now, standing at the Sandler exhibit, across from a painting that Childress once said depicted both her and him, Harris began remembering and quivered slightly.
With Childress gone, Harris’ income was cut in half and she moved into a smaller apartment, she said. Even with her new bathroom and kitchen full of his artwork, she doesn’t have enough room at her new place for the paintings her late boyfriend wouldn’t sell — pieces she says are too valuable to toss away.
“I want to share them with people,” Harris said.
So she asked the Sandler Center to display them one last time with the hope that some would find new homes in the process. The venue’s staff helped her set prices because she, like Childress, had never sold art before. They range from several hundred dollars to close to $1,000 in some cases.
The exhibit opened just more than a month ago. As of Friday, none of the works had sold, Harris said.
If none goes by the close of the exhibit, Harris said, she’ll probably give some of the works to Childress’ sons.
“And try to keep the rest,” she said.
If they all sell, she said, that’s okay, too.
Her favorite is still at home.