PROJECT TITLE: "Char to the World: the Art and Music of Char Busse"
In 1996, I fell unexpectedly in love with an old friend who was a remarkable artist and singer/songwriter. We had sixteen years together, until ovarian cancer took her from me in 2012. Together we forged a life that allowed her a few brief years of unfettered artistic expression. This is her work, and the story of our journey.
This project is the culmination of a promise I made to her on her deathbed. After seven long years, I'm finally able to look at the body of work she left as a whole, and see it simply as the incredible artwork it is, without grief and emotion getting in the way. In the process of grieving these past seven years, I came to realize that this was not about just fulfilling my promise to her: no, the world needs her work, both visually and musically, especially now.
Her name was Char...short for "Charlotte", which she hated being called. No, call her Char...Char Busse. That's "bus-e"...as in "school bus" + a long "E" sound. It was mispronounced more often than not by just about everyone. She always took it in stride and often threatened to change her last name to "Broil"...a perfect example of her sense of humor.
We met in 1982, playing happy hours and open mics at Folkville, a little dive at 29th and San Jancinto...East Campus, as they called it...right down the block from Posse East, in Austin. She had a powerhouse of a voice, a knack for writing a good tune, and she played her own damn guitar.
We quickly became "starving musician buddies"...commiserating about our crappy day jobs and the lack of paying gigs. Our friendship developed steadily over the years, and we became good friends. We might sometimes go for a couple of years without seeing one another, but when we'd reconnect, it was always as if we had just seen each other the day before; there was no denying we were kindred souls. She used to work in the art supply department of Michael's by my house...back when they had a real artist's supply counter. I'd take her bread I would bake at Christmas. We were buds.
Fast-forward to 1996.I had just walked out of the last corporate job I could stomach, and was out looking for one better suited to a musician's life.
I was in the parking lot of the Taco Cabana at the corner of Ben White and I-35 (which doesn't exist anymore)...I had lifted the engine lid on my 6-volt '63 Volkswagen to connect the distributor wire so it would start, when I heard a familiar voice yell "Byron! Is that you?"
I looked up, hitting my head on the engine compartment lid, and saw Char in the back seat of a car with three other women. She asked what I was doing, and I said I was looking for a job. "Well, come apply where I work, it's just around the corner and it's a fun place!" At this point, I hadn't seen Char in well over a year.I started the bug and followed them, as she'd said, just around the corner, to the shop where she and the other women worked (it's no longer there, either...Austin has, of course, changed drastically since then).
That shop was "Music of the Spheres Wind Chimes"...she worked building precision-tuned and musically-designed artisan wind chimes, invented by a local Austin musician named Larry Roark. I immediately got a job there, as it was the epitome of cool Austin musician-friendly job: work when you want, doing whatever needed doing. Perfect for a musician, as there were quite a few others working along with the two of us.
About two months into working there I began to feel an intense energetic "pull" from across the work room. I was kind of taken aback when I looked up to see Char grinning and waving.I grinned and waved back...we both kept working. That energetic "pull" kept happening more and more often over then next few days, and so I finally got up the guts to say "Hey...I keep feeling this interesting energy coming from you...wanna come over Wednesday?" or something to that effect, and she was quite eager to say "Yes!"
Thus began sixteen years of total immersion in a love that I never saw coming.
Char's main loves, artistically, were music and painting. Originally from Iowa, when I met her in 1982 she'd just moved to Austin a few months before from Denton, where she'd gotten her Master's in Art from TWU. She was a prolific painter, as well as collage-maker. She also loved to sketch with oil pastels, and she loved to make hand-made "art cards" by stitching vintage fabric to painted card-stock backgrounds, and hand-covered journals...each one unique.
Her artistic vision was one of childlike wonder and whimsy mixed with her wry, Midwestern sense of humor, yet had another, darker, side that had an other-worldly quality, invoking ancient spiritual archetypes. Her paintings, sketches and collages are vivid explosions of color and texture...the images and subject matter diverse. Some subjects she would spend many canvases exploring, and revisit occasionally throughout the years.
In the sixteen years we got to spend together, we became quite a team...I was in charge of finding frames and deciding where to hang things. I developed a knack for finding just the right frame for her latest piece at Thrift Town or Goodwill; sometimes I would find a cool frame, and she would paint something special to go in it, other times I would make simple frames. I also hung all her shows, knowing instinctively what pieces went where.
I am the caretaker and curator of 42 years' worth of her artwork, from her earliest paintings to her very final pieces. There are literally hundreds of canvases, sketches, pieces, assemblages and mobiles which I have kept safe and cared for since she passed.
I have utilized my skills as a photographer, as well as my collection of vintage Pentax lenses, and begun work in earnest to archive every single piece. The results are shown in the gallery of photos on this page, which I will add to as I continue to work. There are hundreds of pieces; my efforts are far from complete, and part of the funding of this project will go to expenses to allow me the time I need to finish the archival photography of her work, and complete the work needed to put the book together.
This project will result in a beautiful book you can be proud to own and display, filled with professional-level archival photography of her work. There will also be an "e-book" version; I hope to get both versions on Amazon. There will also be three CDs' worth of Char's beautiful original music, including never-before heard studio work, as well as a transcription of a live radio performance from 1988.
The book will be the culmination of years of effort I have spent in gathering, cataloging, photographing and archiving her work. The music CDs are likewise the result of gathering tapes, finding stashes of cassettes of performances I never knew about, etc., meticulously transferring them to digital files and massaging the sound quality into professional shape, using my skills as a musician and sound engineer. I have already designed the covers for the first two CDs and am working on the accompanying liner notes.
Besides my archival photography, I will draw on the meticulous scrapbooks Char kept of her career: her work, her art shows, music gigs, show flyers and other ephemera. In addition, I will use my skills as a writer to convey my own stories of the pieces I was present for the creation of, and fill in details of our story together. And finally, I will also interview old friends from Austin who knew her well in the early years. The result will be a comprehensive overview of Char's life and work.
The material could well translate into a 20-30 minute documentary video DVD to accompany the book, if time and resources allow. The book will also serve as a comprehensive catalog of her available original works for collectors interested in adding Char's original works to their collections.
The end result will be a book that is a documentary record of 42 years' worth of making art, singing and songwriting; it will be a chronicle of a life lived in art, and will finally put Char's work out in the hands of the world where it belongs, allowing those who will to discover and cherish it anew.