Studio Visit

The Bukowski Stops Here

Linda King is digging past a mound of dirty clothes and clutter, into a corner of her bedroom, where the air is stagnant and stale, to find her inspiration.

"This is my muse," King declares, followed by a nervous giggle, as she lifts the clay bust she molded of Charles Bukowski back in 1970 above her head of wiry, reddish-brown hair, and then slowly cradles it into her arms.

The base of the bust is caked in dust. Behind Bukowski's left ear, remnants of a molding done to create bronze replicas of the piece dot his neck.

Linda King with her "muse" today.
Kristen Wright
Linda King with her "muse" today.
Bukowski or bust: Linda King with the man himself in 
1972.
courtesy of Linda King
Bukowski or bust: Linda King with the man himself in 1972.

This, King admits, is no way to preserve such an infamous work of art. Then again, the five years of infidelity, drunken outrage and jealousy King and Bukowski -- the iconic author and poet otherwise known as "L.A.'s favorite dirty old man" -- spent together in the early 1970s, were no means by which to cultivate a loving, secure relationship.

Bukowski died of cancer in 1994, but in many ways, he's still very much alive for King.

Since fleeing both her "muse" and Los Angeles in 1975, driven to Phoenix by "one extended nervous breakdown," Linda King, now 64, has made a modest living off loving Charles Bukowski, who was 20 years her senior. While odd jobs -- as a waitress, bartender, and now as a part-time caregiver to the elderly -- have kept her afloat and her traditional clay busts have helped pay the mortgage on her small home in central Phoenix's Oakland District, it's the treasured booty Bukowski left behind that has King dreaming of a big payday. Or, at the very least, a decent studio.

"I always wanted a studio built like a pyramid, and every step has a sculpture on it," she says in the backyard of her home, where an empty trailer serves as a workspace to paint and sculpt in the winter months.

The sun is setting, and the shadows of the trailer and a wooden fence begin to creep across the back wall of her home, on which local artist Jason Rudolph Peña's mural of Audrey Hepburn weathers and chips.

Inside the house, through a pantry en route to the living room, tiny ceramic figures of children playing ukuleles and snare drums stand guard on the kitchen window sill.

"I get those at the dollar store," King says. "It's amazing what these people in China will sell for a dollar."

Selling wares cheap isn't exactly foreign territory for King.

Over the years -- as Bukowski's widow, Linda Lee, has made a fortune off the Bukowski Empire, which includes the seminal books Post Office, Love Is a Dog from Hell, and Ham on Rye, and others conceived or published during Bukowski's and King's relationship -- King has profited, as well, albeit to a much lesser degree.

She's sold dozens of first edition books by Bukowski, most of them endearingly signed to her. This past summer, King sold an original clay sculpture Bukowski himself created one night in 1971 -- guzzling booze at King's Burbank home -- to Bukowski collectors in Germany for a measly $500. She's replicated and sold a dozen of her Bukowski busts in bronze at $5,000 apiece. And she's published several poems that read like an Alanis Morrissette anthology; for example, this 1997 piece:

I am the woman who knows for sure that Bukowski's balls were bigger I am the woman who knows that he liked hot chilies in his stew I am the woman who introduced him to shampoo and Lucy Ball and Jerry Dumphy I'm the one who removed all the blackheads from his back and front and face and behind

Inside the home where King has now lived for the past 25 years, she finally finished a book, appropriately titled Loving and Hating Charles Bukowski, two years ago. But after sitting on the desk of an uninterested New York publisher for more than a year, King's 300-page manuscript is now collecting a layer of dust. (In 1978, Bukowski made money off his own semi-fictional memoir of their relationship, Women, in which King is referred to as "Lydia.")

"I sure would like it if you could get someone's attention," she says, "and get this book published. I might have to sell my house if I don't make some money soon."

To help her cause, King has taken to the circuit -- of Phoenix art galleries, that is. Throughout October, The Paper Heart is displaying King's poems, busts and paintings, as well as documentary films about Bukowski, in an exhibit titled Friends and Foes of Charles Bukowski.

And the show includes controversial "love letters" Bukowski sent to King, most of which were dated between 1970 and 1972. Controversial because King, despite being in possession of and the inspiration for them, has no right to publish the letters, almost 60 total.

Aside from those on display at The Paper Heart, and a few excerpted in two recently published books about Bukowski, the collection in its entirety had never been seen before King shared it with New Times.

In Women -- and in reality -- King often called Bukowski the "Old Troll." He acknowledged the affectionate diss in a letter to King in 1971:

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1 comments
annie
annie

I want to say to Lnda King that those people I know who read and like Bukowski, feel that she is the person we like the best in terms of who should have been with Bukowski, and in terms of we like her. Thanks... We would like to read her book, and hope it does get published. I like her poetry, also, what I have read of it.

 
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