In the end of October of this year I lost my neighbor and friend of 25 years, Arthur Monroe. I met Arthur in 1994 when I was a kid and had recently moved into my live/work space in East Oakland. I liked Arthur right away, mostly because I was an arrogant over assured young man and Arthur saw right through it. He had an easy way about him and at the same time let you know that, in his opinion, you didn’t know shit about shit. Arthur was actually an important man, whereas I just thought I was. He’d drop names of friends you’d only read of in books, he knew the stories, and could sling some good bullshit. Arthur was an impressive painter and also the registrar at the Oakland museum.
Arthur was a big man he had an intimidating presence. Well into old age he’d haul stack after stack of wood up the stairs to fuel his wood burning stove. The owners of the building had long ago removed all the wood burning stoves from the building and forbid this type of heating. Except for Arthur, because they knew, as everyone did, you couldn’t tell Arthur what to do….ever.
Arthur was one of the first guys to organize artists in Oakland to petition the city and request that artists be able to occupy the vacant factories here. These were the first Live/Work spaces in Oakland. He had lived in the building since 1978. He knew every tenant who passed through in all those years, and all the stories. He was the building historian. When anyone had a question about what this place used to be, or who used to live here, the response was always the same, “You’d have to ask Arthur”. I remember one day leaving my studio to find Arthur and a fairly small Asian guy moving a Grand Piano up the stairs. They seemed a bit understaffed so I volunteered my help. The 3 of us moved that bitch one stair at a time until we got it to the top. It still sits in Arthur’s studio. Once you moved a Grand piano with a guy, no matter what disagreements may come in the future (and Arthur and I had plenty of disagreements) there is always a voice in the back of your head that says “he’s a solid guy, we may disagree, but he’s a solid guy”. I had that voice with Arthur and I suspect he had that voice with me.
I’ll miss sitting around the BBQ and hearing his stories, about the Korean war, about New York in the 50’s, about painting and about the never ending battle of citizens to assert their constitutional rights.
In recent years Arthur’s memory started getting a bit foggy. At first I could tell he was pissed. He’d come by my studio asking for a spare key because he’d locked himself out, seemingly agitated. Over time something really quite beautiful happened, he stopped being pissed. Not just about his memory, but about lots of things. He settled into his aging in an amazingly dignified way. He accepted it. Much of his bravado and combativeness evaporated until there was just Arthur. A delightful older guy, carrying a smile and pleasure to be around. Sure he was a bit foggy on the details, but ultimately, in those last years I felt I had a real privilege to see who Arthur really was. I was lucky to know him and I will miss him.
Rest in peace friend.