The Tony portrait belonged to my best friend Keith. The portrait is of Keith painted back when we were still bartending together in San Francisco. Keith had this habit of buying secondhand clothes with name patches on them that said anything other than “Keith”.
The portrait was painted by his friend Jim not long after Keith tested HIV positive. Jim worked for one of the public utilities and had a greeting card business on the side. It was a dark time for Keith, he was full of piss and vinegar, which wasn’t like him. Keith was normally bright and cheerful, known for his Pee Wee Herman laugh, and entertaining the regulars at the bar with his impersonation Grover’s demonstration of “Near and Far”.
After Keith tested positive, he shaved his thick head of black hair that was modelled after the Stray Cats, and bleached it platinum blonde. It was protest hair, to show how angry he was at the hand the Fates had dealt him.
The painting used to hang above his kitchen table in the apartment in San Francisco with his partner, Little John, and was then relegated to a room that no one ever went into after he moved in with his husband in Vancouver. After Keith died, I had to take the painting because it was an artifact of a time and a place, as well the group of friends we clung to in those days.
I hung the portrait above a photo I took of Keith posing in front of the portrait with a yellow Joe Boxer basketball.Visitors to my apartment often mistook the painting for a portrait of me, which I found disturbing. Although the portrait represented a time and a place, those weren’t exactly the best of times. As the months went by, I found the portrait upset me, and I couldn’t look at it for very long.
I didn’t want to just toss the portrait, but I couldn’t think of anyone of my friends that would take it off my hands. I considered shipping it to our old roommates in San Francisco, but they have enough stuff as it is. In the end, I donated the portrait to The Wildlife Thrift Store on Granville Street, hoping it would find someone who can appreciate it.