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February 20, 2001

Books by Kay Kimbrough

Dori DeCamillis, 2000.

Dori and Joe, two young artists, travel and live in a 1970 Ultra Van for three years, 1991 to 1994, in search of fame and fortune. Their struggles and disappointments are tempered by the kindness and generosity they meet on the road, first through the Ultra Van Motor Coach Club, later at art shows throughout the country. Dori's diary is a record of these years, printed as a journal, with dates. They encounter historic events, The Storm of the Century in Florida and the L.A. riots after the Rodney King beating. The diary reads like an exiting novel, with an uncertain outcome. Will they find success in art or will they spend the rest of their lives in restaurant work, looking for a free place to park their home on wheels?

Their first adventure is made possible by a couple in Los Angeles, total strangers, who offer them parking space for the van in their driveway. They find L.A. dangerous and unlivable, but make fast friends with their hosts, an elderly couple, and with their co-workers at a country club. After the riots of spring 1992, Dori tells Joe, "I want to get out of here...I honestly hate it. The riots really made me see I don't want to be here." Their friends give them a warm and lucrative farewell; they leave with regret "Only for the people."

They return to home, Boulder, Colorado, to have the van repaired and paint houses again, their previous means of making a sort of living, if not of making ends meet. With the Van in working order, they go on the road where they do find some fame and eventually a living, if not a fortune. They see the country from the sites of outdoor art shows, parking lots and parks. They meet wonderful people and jerks, good luck and bad. Always they continue to paint their interiors in bright and sometime harsh and garish colors, rooms that are shown without their owners, empty but speaking volumes about the absent inhabitants.

Dori explains the subject matter of their paintings, which can be seen in the Birmingham Art Museum. " have always been the object of my creative interest, and Joe seemed to merge with my sensibility when we began painting together. Home, to us, is the most important of all places, because it is where our joy and our pain begin. It is where we learn to fear and where we learn to love. No other subject matter can pull from us the passion of vision as strongly as rooms can."

The house painting the couple did while developing as artists influenced their choice of subject matter, empty rooms in suburban homes: "The only sign of life, most of the time, is the barking of lonely dogs from the fenced-in back yards." Lori calls the "menacing qualities" of their work the "dark side," "twisted angles" and "shadows that don't quite fit their object" give "A hint of something lurking in a dark corridor." This ominous atmosphere provokes "questions about secrecy and danger."

Dori insists that their work does not intend to ridicule the taste of the average Americans who live in their rooms. "We find our homes to be everything we love about America, and no one's home is ugly to us. Our travels have taught us how good people can be, and how their secrets and pain only make them more interesting and human."

The story ends with their success as artists and the end of their search for a home. They found a home in Birmingham, Alabama. "Ever since we crossed the Mississippi, we've seen nothing but flatlands. Suddenly, just coming into Birmingham, there are mountains (hills by Colorado standards) covered with pine and deciduous forests, even in the city. The dogwood and azaleas are in bloom, and the streets are scented with perfume. Downtown Birmingham is clean, the old architecture is wonderful, with no signs of race riots anywhere."

The people at the Birmingham show were the most tastefully dressed and the most courteous of any they had met at a show. Dori has an automobile accident with a Mobile native, Bannister Pope, another artist. The accident is her fault, but Pope is sympathetic and tells her his insurance will cover it. Their experience at this show convinces them that they have found a home. Joe and Dori settled in Birmingham in 1994, their daughter was born in 1995, and they are still there, "and love it more than ever." Their story is proof that young people are still capable of sacrifice, hard work, tenacity and commitment. Their self-denial and hardship lasted for nearly a decade, during which they sometimes ate so many carrots, a cheap food in California, that their hands turned yellow. They got what they wanted, and we get a record of American life in the last decades of the twentieth century. The record is satisfying and disturbing at the same time, showing the loneliness and sterility of rooms without life and promising joy and communion when the rooms fill up with human beings....maybe.


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