Many people use credit cards to buy art. Harold T. Lash uses them to create abstract art.
That’s what I had been told, but I have to see for myself. So I stop in to Harold’s cluttered studio at 2315 Walnut St. to see how he does it.
If you’re picturing a studio that’s spacious and flooded with sunlight, this one disappoints. Harold, 55, works in a tan cowboy hat under fluorescent lights in a hunchbacked space lined with curio-ladened shelves. His canvases are stacked up like lumber at the mill.
He works mostly in acrylic that he squirts from a tube on a board he uses as a palette. He dips a credit card into the color, and he’s off to the races.
“I’m a hippie, a real hippie,” he tells me. “It’s about peace and love, since I was born.”
Art is the thread that has run through his life, even as his life unraveled.
“I had speech problems, behavioral problems, poverty problems, so my teachers would let me sit in the back of the room and draw.” That was in his native Pottsville, where he began smoking pot at 10, graduated to alcohol at 16 — and at 19 fell into the clutches of opioids, and crystal meth, which cost him his full scholarship to the Art Institute of Philadelphia.
He supported himself with Center City doorman jobs in which he could earn $100 to $500 a day, he says, and he would immediately splurge in gay bars.
When high he was loud and bellicose, which led to his being fired. That behavior clanged against his treasured hippie self-image.
“I thought my life was unmanageable, I tried to commit suicide several times,” he tells me.
“My addiction took me to being homeless, literally. I was on a meth binge for about seven months” in the ’80s, he says, and hunted for Elliott’s Amazing Apple Juice bottles that had “famous quotes” inside the bottle cap. “I thought that was God talking to me,” he says.
Working on his art, and therapy, eventually pulled him from the abyss, and today he lives happily and alone on North Broad Street. He has had relationships with men and women in the past, he says, but he is neither straight nor gay nor bi, living “spiritually.”
He stumbled into his defining style a few months after 9/11. He was so angry about the attack he broke brushes when painting. In his fury he tossed aside the brushes and looked for something else, something harder, sharper. He seized on a credit card.
A new artistic form was born. His first credit card work was Madonna. Others can be seen online at Paintings of Harold Lash.
He lives "really well on $12,000 a year because of the generosity of friends,” he says. Wealthy friends enable him to regularly indulge in cigars at Holt’s on Walnut Street.
“Harold has an ability to take in the world around him in such a way that most people do not understand or ever will,” says his longtime friend Michael Zigman, 53. “Not a sixth sense, more like a 10th or an 11th sense.” Zigman says it’s like being friends with Pablo Picasso.
Harold will work on a canvas for a few days to a few months, but he shows little interest in selling any of his 300 paintings. He’s more happy painting than selling, in feeling the spiritual energy of the universe, he says.
I practically have to twist his arm to find out how much he charges: He has sold paintings for as much as $6,000, but smaller pieces can be had for $375.