"If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got."
Last night, during the February drawing challenge ("Penci-uary") I was working with the word of the day "Great". I chose to do Kanye West (see inspirations page under "music" and as I began work I was challenging my concept. Because Kanye recently was interviewed and declared slavery to be a choice, and was at the white house for a staged -and quite unhinged, minstrel show for the press, I did not want a pretty picture. His recent mental health concerns aside, what he was saying and doing made me sick to my stomach. I was working fairly aggressive with the digital materials, and against my aesthetic judgments. I changed my approach to challenge the idea of ugly applications and format. I found that I was having a full argument and discussion on balancing the beauty and the ugliness of art in my head. Each layer was a chore. Colors were a fight, and even the composition became a battle. I specifically used a compositional error to create visual tension and uncomfortablness. Bringing his swelled head just to and beyond the edges. Creating layers of color, strokes, and scratches. Over dramatizing lines and shapes within his face, and I found the struggle of balance to be very mentally rewarding. I have always taken days of monthly art challenges to completely experiment, or dramatically change course. It keeps me fresh.
This past week was a week of ups & downs & sideways. A type of week that comes from all sides: social, political, personal, health, art. In these trying times, art rescues me. It’s a personal type of inner rescue that comes with a challenge when it goes beyond my own skull. I find myself replying to people chiming in to what I do over and over: […hahaha yes, I did make that... Thank you for saying I’m so creative!...yes I know I could have HAD an art career, but I really love what I do.]
Many careers have really funny sides and common reactions. I only know art and social services. It’s funny how all the comments we make to those careers , or fields of interest we really don’t understand tend to produce generally the same commentary. For social services, when people hear I work with the homeless in mental health and addiction it’s almost always the same: […I don’t know how you do it…god bless you for what you do…oh wow! that’s amazing.] That last one usually translates to: gosh I’m uncomfortable, can we talk about sports or movies instead?
In regards to my choices, Teaching was amazing for many years, I loved the interaction and excitement of teaching art to students that simply wanted to be great. But, when the population changed from wanting to make great art, to wanting to do as little as possible for an expected high grade and a paper degree, my time was up. When commercial art buyers or art buyers went from investing in great intelligent illustration to accompany the printed word. To using wildly generic stock images, and thinking they owned the art copyrights forever. And wanting hours of changes for free, or expected actual artwork for less than a fraction of the actual cost, my time was up. When people think you are only good if you constantly sell your soul and show work in galleries, my time was up. When I am free, I can make anything. Any way I want. No style limitations, no content restrictions. In the past 3-4 years, I have been producing hundreds of artworks a year and cannot wait to work. The quality (generally) far surpasses my wildest expectations AND I’m still not happy- well, that’s my time to feel like I have lived up to my post college goals. My goals were never lofty. I just desperately wanted to make really good to even great artwork. I had no other clear aspirations. They came into the light later, after I not only figured myself out, but I also targeted what I thought to be important. I make art. I serve my community. I’m a happy family guy. I don’t need more, I needed this. I did not need whatever people desperately search for out there to fill the empty void. If money, or power genuinely works for you, more success to you. It doesn’t for me. It may be easy to argue you don’t miss what you never had, but I spent a lot of my free time trying to find peace within myself. I had a lot of bookstore and library time. I was able to begin my own free education. I pursued a variety of philosophies about art. About life. About Philosophy itself. I miss just browsing bookstores. I learned so much on lazy days. One key find was: If this is all the time I have in this life, if this is all there is- I wanted to find what I needed. Across many miles, and many failures- I found a good path. I owe that saving grace to art, and education, and a belief that there is something more than money and ego, and all the other happiness deterrents that we all encounter.
So, when it comes to my artwork. When it comes to making hundreds of pieces a year, I make it for my intense love of art making and the meditation that it brings me as I work. It allows me to focus on where my energy needs to go. My love of confronting weak ideas and dark places, and my love of changing my little corner of the world. It took a long time to come to peace with what I thought was expected of me, and what I actually wanted. But I would not change a step. Failures, misfires and poor choice have become part of my process. A process of growth leading to the end. All of this has altered me, and to quote Francis Bacon: [I feel ever so strongly that an artist must be nourished by his passions and his despairs. These things alter an artist whether for the good or the better or the worse. It must alter him.] Of course, Francis was batshit crazy. But, that is a capital T truth.
I have a lot of people ask how to do it. I have no answer. My way was my way. There was no formula. My way was to try and fail, many times not knowing I was on the wrong path and doomed. I learned that the adventure was not “out there”, it was in my head. Not out on a mountain. I failed over and over until the obvious lesson sunk in. I’m responsible for it all. Every choice, every thought, every way I see myself and others. Waiting for someone to rescue you, or for the world to change leaves you standing out in the cold at a bus stop, with no bus coming. I preach the same mentality at work with staff and clients. You have to be the change.
Why do a lot of people with addiction and mental health issues hate the staff? 5 out of 100 is a legitimate staff conflict/personality clash. Maybe more, depending on the quality of the organization that employs the staff. 95 out of 100 is that staff must manage the client with truth and reality. That is the only way to grow, and possibly win the battle. We pull back the curtain on things trying to be ignored or kept secret, because "secrets keep you sick".
I have always tried to be a visual journalist. I don’t think that I understood why until recently, but as I have grown older I have been able to identify what my art purpose really is. Like every single person, my years, months, days, minutes and seconds are made up of small experiences. Choices are made. People come and go. What really keeps your life record? All those experiences disappear into the large murkiness of time. What remains of who “YOU” were? What you witnessed? What you felt? Loved? Hated? Dreamed of? And ran from?
We live a linear life. But we spend so much time in the past within our heads, that I question if our lives are actually linear. They are more loops that we age within. I see so many of these loops that have lost experiences. What happens each moment fades into obscurity, we all do. We become ghosts. I’m trying to preserve some of that journalistically, some narratives, and some personal internal dialogues of the time. I attempt to be a keeper of small and large moments that will disappear after they are over. They might be a memory, or completely lost. They may become stories that will be told, or invisible markers to an invisible life. Think of all the human stories that happen all day, every day. They become forgotten. Lives are whittled down to common shared name, with birth and death dates carved in stone. I feel responsible to capture a small part of that, but often feel like I miss the mark. But isn’t that too part of the experience?
Sometimes, or let’s be honest- most of the time I find myself fighting through the process. “This sucks” “What am I doing?” Shouted over and over while I stumble blindly. I have no ability to see visuals in my head (aphantasia), so I keep working until I like what I see. In many ways this is a great disability to a visual artist, I see nothing in my head. It’s like being in a dark room with some other people. I can hear them, but see nothing. I just keep going until I bump into someone. I’m trying to say something that never comes out right. My brain speaks one language, but out pops another. Creating art has never been easy, but I keep doing it. I love the language, even if no one is listening.
Mental Health has such a stigma attached to it. The customary greeting of "How are you?" is often has an automatic reply of "Good, how are you?" Very few are good. We hide, we pretend, we wear a mask. I'm not advocating for everyone to share their deepest issues everywhere all day everyday. But I am an advocate for being able to say "I'm depressed because..." "I'm a little anxious because..." You can have issues of mental health AND have a good life. I'm here out in the open right now to say: I have had periods of high and low depression and anxiety throughout my life, AND I'm happy. Like everyone else, I have had negative moments in my life. We carry that weight on our backs unless we learn coping skills. I did not learn in my younger days how to cope with many issues. That's not any form of excuse, it's just a reality. It weighed on me, it changed the chemical make up of my brain as it was a never ending drumbeat. There was no "magic pill". Medications can make it easier, and if it's the wrong medication- it can make it harder. There is no easy path. It has been years of hard work, hard change, and acceptance that finally got me to where I am. Not to a place where I no longer struggle, but a place where I know what to do with that struggle that creates a more positive outcome. So to anyone that ever stumbles across this, it's OK to not be "good".
This was such a hard post to find the proper words. Stan Lee died. It’ll be a brief blip in the media news-cycle, and an earthquake for any comic-book fan. For me, it’s even a bit beyond the earthquake. That quake broke the dam that killed all the villagers below.
Stan Lee created the characters, and wrote the stories that gave me the seed of strength to handle alcoholic parents, dysfunctional family, mental health, discrimination, addiction, bullying, and lousy self-esteem. Most people are not as far into comics as I have been. I had thousands on shelves as far back as I can remember. I do not remember NOT having comic books. I grew up distancing myself from reality by retreating into the Marvel Universe, which is way beyond what the movies have managed to showcase. Stan Lee changed comics forever by writing stories with real life issues, personal struggles, and personal strength. As a kid, I did not realize these seeds were being planted, but as I got older and started to tackle my responsibility with these issues and my life, all signs pointed back to Marvel. My father started me on comics, and Stan Lee was almost the same age and generation. I always have connected the two as “raising” me, making my base for morals, ethics, and my own self-image. My father passed in 1993, that left me with what Stan Lee was representing in my head and my psyche.
Stan Lee's story-telling was groundbreaking. It gave me survival skills that I lacked. It also started my career path into art. I had my artistic taste bred by legendary artists: Kirby, Buscema, Romita, Simonson, Byrne, Ross, Ditko, Steranko, Jim Lee (no relation), Shooter, Starlin, and so many more. I thought that I would enter into comics, and made the full-blown jump walking the sidewalk and submitting work in NYC in the very early 90's, and landing a freelance job with a DC storyboard. I immediately realized this was not the work for me, which was supported by the job being cancelled. I never went anywhere near Marvel. The pedestal was too high and intimidating for me. It still is, all because of Stan Lee.
When the news broke of Stan's passing, my heart sank so low. The rug was pulled out from beneath me, and I came crashing down hard. He was 95. He lived a great long life. He contributed unknowingly to myself and countless others ability to overcome adversity. To take on life on life's terms, and when that didn't work- to fight for my own terms. At 95 years old, I expected him to pass, but I was still devastated. That night I started my cathartic artwork per a plan hatched in my head in these last few years. Realizing it was time, and finally pulling myself up to that pedestal. I started a very intense portrait of Stan Lee with highlights of many great Marvel artists. True to my plan, I took the next day off and continued working all day until I met an artistic standard suitable for Stan Lee. His standard rescued my life, at the very least my standard should be above my previous achievements. Good enough -just was not good enough, ‘nuff said. I could easily have tossed in the towel on my life, but I learned to keep going through the adversity from the characters that populated my childhood. Yes, they are not real. Yes, they wear costumes. Yes, they have superpowers- and they stood tall for me when I could not for myself. They are modern Gods acting out stories to teach us lessons. Thank you Stan Lee, those lessons were a lifeline for a drowning child.
"I let the art guide me, to decide its own path with each mark. It is the only way I know."
Each artwork is a discussion, a debate, or a full on argument between myself, the subject and the materials. Art scares a lot of people. Many artists are to blame for that feeling, but it is much like any other creative act. You like some, you hate some, you understand or you don’t. But fear or intimidation do nothing but keep you in the dark. I posted this first line italicized above because one of the constant criticisms I have heard over decades of making artwork is that I jump around too much with “style”. I have always disagreed with that view. Each subject is unique. If I only have one method with materials, it negates a world of subjects that do not fit the style. The style is part of the story (or concept/idea) which many times develops as I work. Over many years, I have recommended the book “Art & Fear” (Bayles and Orlando). Some criticized it, some loved it. It is too simple for some, many never read it because they do not want to admit to the struggle. Fear and Art are completely entwined. Creating and putting your artwork out on a stage to be be viewed, dissected, and criticized takes courage. It takes a level of self confrontation that many people simply do not want to face. You understand the fear, and overcome it- or you become one of many that stop making art.
Last night I completed my 150th piece of art in the last year. From October 1, 2017 to October 1st 2018 I averaged an artwork every 2.4 days. 3 months (October, January, May) I made 1-a-day for challenges like Inktober, Penci-uary, and Mixed Media May. That alone was 93 artworks. This may have been the most productive artistic year of my life. Many are one-off's or throw away's, but a few good ones slipped in when I wasn't looking. It has also been an extremely educational year for me in learning about how to apply my hands on skills to a new digital format. I have also been tackling some of what I consider to be my weak points. Compositional and conceptual development. I have always struggled with composition, early in my student days I feel that was skipped in many of my classes. The focus was on technique, materials, and meeting project expectations. I did not feel like there was anyone really honing me in on how to see composition. I worked on that after I finished school. I focused on fine art and illustration inspirations. Not just for a simple composition, but color theory, leading the eye, spacial development, and light as composition. All of this work made me realize one giant art truth- I don't know anything.
I have discovered more weak points in color, design, lighting, rendering, and always- developing a concept beyond the superficial. I have a lot more work in front of me with Inktober starting in 8 days, my own collaboration project, my outdoor sculpture, and many more. I always lean back on the book "Art & Fear" that still rings in my head after many years. The best way to conquer the fear of failing artistically is to make a lot of work and not look back. This entire journey of being an artist has helped create a brand new me. Each artwork has parts of me in it, in layers waiting to be found. It really has not been about pursuing any artistic fame, or money, or awards. It has been for me alone, to help find my own voice. It took me some time to figure that out. I make art because it makes me so happy. It gives me time to know myself, to think. To soak in ideas and ghosts of the past that I fear losing. Those subtle moments when we feel invisible, alone fighting with what's in the dark without any hope. To have those be given a stage, is both invigorating and terrifying. You put yourself on display. To be judged, or ignored. And the one hurdle that I struggled with for years after school was a simple one, but one that I could never get over. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if I am judged or ignored, purchased, collected, ridiculed, dissected, misunderstood, or understood. What matters is my fight of creation that happens with the subject. That fight is what has breathed an understanding into my life, and my time here. It may go fast, it may go slow. But when I am making artwork- it is my time.
My father passed away on September 21, 1993. 1993 was a seminal year for me. Finishing my MFA thesis, graduating with a Masters degree, and having my father pass away. 25 years later, and rarely have I ever felt weight like I felt in that period again. I have had moments of great highs and great lows- but little compares to that crushing weight of 1993 sitting on top of me. I was teaching college part-time, and I was working on any freelance illustration assignments to pay the bills. I lived in fear of bills, fear of lack of employment, and fear of myself.
My father became sick enough with cancer, that he required surgery just 2 weeks before my graduation. I went to the graduation ceremony, but did nothing else after. It's a selfish feeling. I still grieve for this time. I grieve for my own anti-celebration that never happened, and I grieve for my father. It’s a high wire act of grief and selfishness, and there is no net below. There’s no crowd of spectators in awe, just me and 25 years of balancing in the dark.
Some hits and a lot of misses. That sums up my career in art so far. I did not start with very much innate talent, I had to build my way up with piles of work. Much of that work showcases major flaws and downright lack of understanding. But art has become the singular way that I express myself, so I keep going forward. With, or without people to view the results. The patent response of “you’re so talented” actually makes me sad. I have heard that for all my career and thought am I really? Does the general person walking around think of what I do as valuable in some way? My answer at the start of my career was: Of course I’m valuable! I’m creative! My answer midway through my career became: I will explain my creativity and they will see the value! And my answer now is: The public opinion of value no longer matters to me. That’s dismissive I know, but I have grown in countless aspects of my life, while people who see my work are still stuck at “You’re so talented”. If I see a movie, read a book, or listen to music- I work at the interpretation. But very rarely do I encounter those who want to think about visual art. And it's getting worse in our microsecond access to everything via technology. They either use the catch phrase of talent, pass right over it, or dismiss it with a flip response about modern art that translates as a universal joke on art is junk without purpose. The idea that our purpose must translate to some form of career and income is a superficial way of living life. I have long struggled with justifying my artwork as an extension of myself- and I am at the point where the struggle is no longer worth the effort. I’m tired. Mentally and physically exhausted of the battle to explain my worth. It’s art. Either think about it, or walk away.
Have you ever walked up on, or into a situation that is just plain ridiculous? I have. The first time I was just starting college, still living with my parents. I was walking my dog on a summer night. They lived in a townhouse setting. You know the types of mass-molded "good living" that are everywhere. A few hundred places, sidewalks, and a clubhouse with a pool. It was definitely a late 70's, early 80's build. The clubhouse was dark brown cedar, with tall ground thin windows that didn't open. The kind to just let light in. On my walk as I approached the clubhouse and pool, there appeared to be a party as at each window all the way around the clubhouse had old men (some with dogs like me) peeping in the windows- at least 8-10 men surrounded the building. When I got closer going by windows, I could see a stripper dancing for the group inside, which I assume was a bachelor party. What a weird moment, all those sweaty old men circling a building peeping on a stripper at a party they were never invited to.
The second time was at our first house. Our son was just about a year, and the neighborhood was a great walk. Each block was a square, so stroller walks were easy. As my wife and I strollered on and walked by a heavily overgrown corner turning left, there in the yard- without any warning is a crowd of 25-30 teenagers, Most had some sort of Medieval cosplay items on. They were sitting up on a porch, and about 8-10 were having sword fights in the yard. Both of us could not help but bust out laughing as we walked by, and momentarily they all stopped to look at us. I have never seen such a random gathering in the middle of the day in my life.
The third time was when my wife and I lived in a townhouse. As our college was nearby and had a shortage of housing they rented out a town house next to us for NTID students (National Technical Institute for the Deaf). Right out back off our patio areas was a green belt. One sunny Sunday, I guess they had a big BBQ with deaf students. I did not even notice until i saw at least 50+ people out back eating and drinking. Windows were open, no noise. I thought that was pretty funny, but then the live cartoon moment happened. I walked into my kitchen, which has a window to the greenbelt. Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement and a rumble, so I looked over. Nothing. I Went back to what I was doing, and it happened again- movement and a rumble. Nothing. It was a thin window, so I walked over to it, and there was a huge group of people playing *"kill the carrier". (*a simple game of a football and whomever has it runs with everyone in chase until they are gang tackled, or throw it away for anyone to pick up- then it starts again.) So what I saw out of the corner of my eye was 20 people all chasing down one person running by the window in silence except for the rumble of people giving chase.
These are great and unexpected life moments. I welcome more.
To new & old artists:
I get asked a lot about my artistic process, and my views on creating art. I feel somewhat uncomfortable about sharing this only because I see myself as a student with a lot to learn. But here are some things that I have learned or built up along the way.
1. Right out the gate you don't know what you think you know. Yes, you may have skill. Yes, you may have had some teachers that supported your creative endeavors. That is not the end of the line, it's not even the beginning. Shut down your ego. Listen. Make a lot of art. Make even more. Learn the materials, and the basics. And then learn them again- and dare to fail.
2. A job well begun is half done. As a student, a lot of times I skipped the emphasis on composition, research, and photo reference. I always regretted it. As I grew older, I started to study composition. Best choice ever, and its still a weak point for me. I always ran to the flashiness of the color, the rendering, the "ooh, you are so talented!" thinking that this was what made the art. Composition is purpose, balance, and concept. All necessary for success. The subject choices were made based on projects, and even then- somewhat randomly. Research was finding one good photo and getting right into it. What I learned later, is that the more time you spend deeply immersed in a subject, the more you understand. The more you understand that subject, the more your concepts move from the simplistic and superficial to new areas never before breached. The conceptual path becomes broad. Ideas flourish with information, they stagnate with ignorance. The more referencing you do, the more you work on seeing what is in reality- the more your path opens up to not being reference reliant. Draw and paint what you see first, not what you think is there.
3. Representing yourself in your art. I have been told "Realism is dead" too many times to count. Realism is approachable by anyone, abstraction is difficult for many. Abstraction vs. Realism is similar to Republicans vs. Democrats, no one is listening anymore. What I know (and it is just my understanding) is that you cannot legitimately "abstract" from "reality", if you do not yet know how to present reality. Many people are surprised to see me do any type of abstract art, they see "illustrator" and "representational" and close their mind. I LOVE abstraction and non-objective art. Rothko is one of my all time favorites, you have to be well rounded. As a young artist, I tried to make the jump to abstraction when prodded by teachers who had experienced the long path. The path that pushed mastering representation and academics first, then conceptual development last. But then the 1960's came, and everyone began to reject the academic path. For those professors reared in the 1960s, expression of self came first- screw the old ways. They saw the old way as a waste of time. They wanted to get to the ideas, not trudge through still life and figure drawing. They wanted to challenge the man, not color theory and technique. New ideas, not old ones. At this, I failed every time- as I should have. You cant take a first year medical student and throw them into surgery with a scalpel, that patient is doomed. My art was doomed. I did not yet have the artist vision (or personal vision of "self") to really see how to present reality. How could I pull out real elements to abstract? Somewhere in that foggy area of going from student to artist, we all become lost. Ships without rudders. You will find yourself by continuing to struggle and make a lot of art. It may be short journey, or it may be long- but you will find yourself. I had a student many MANY years ago who was very argumentative. He desperately wanted to be the next Frank Franzetta. Love who you love, I don't care- just make sure they are *good. He argued with me that he should know how to draw anatomy without looking anymore for he had done his year (3 classes) of figure drawing. He studied Burne Hogarth, and therefore thought he was done (see statement #1). My reply was simple: I held up my hand and asked him to look at it. I put my hand behind my back. I asked if he knew what a hand looked like (he said yes). And then I told him to draw my hand from his head. I would love to say he understood my point. It'd be a better story if he did. I spent weeks talking to him about how rendering anatomy based on another artists drawing is failing to see reality. You are only drawing what that one artist saw, and even then; it discounted the hundreds and hundreds of hours of practice and failure that Hogarth experienced. There is NO shortcut.
*(So short explanation on "good" and "bad" art: Art really works with the execution of basic and established principles and elements. Much like anything, the good and bad can be identified when these rules are well understood. How do you understand them? The basic Principles & Elements of Art are easy to find. Google it. Then keeping these in mind, you look at a lot of art. You identify the practices in art that attracts you. You think about a lot of art. You breakdown the parts to a lot of art- and bam! You have developed the start of your tastes in art. Are there exceptions? Yes, but that is a whole other discussion.
So to sum up a few things: check your ego, learn and re-learn the best basics, make a lot of art- and have faith in the principle and elements, look at a lot of art, and most importantly as a last personal note- allow yourself to fail. If your dare greatly, the failures will be great as well.
I was waiting at a red light today when a man and a small 4-5 year old girl crossed in front of me. She had (what I thought was) a 12-15 ft long lime green ribbon trailing behind her that she kept looking back at. The stop light turned green, but I had to crane my neck to be sure that ribbon was not in front of me and had cleared from my driving area. That’s when I noticed this was not a ribbon, it was a dog leash. And dragging at the end was a broken black dog collar. By this point I missed the green light, but I watched her keep looking back at the collar dragging and bouncing behind her. Did she just wish that she had a dog? Or was there once a dog in that collar at the end of the leash? I watched her and this man walk down the street. Never said a word. She just kept looking back at that collar dragging behind her. When you are able to tune out the noise of the world, and see the small things in front of you as parts of the whole universe, you will find great worth.
The problem that I see is not so much the fake news content, more it is the purchased content. More and more I am seeing a generic push because stations, and publishers, and interviewers have been bought out. Maybe it is a money deal, or a corporation deal, or a personal relationship deal. This is what creates the "fake news", which in my opinion is getting old. Our souls are being sold.
I just had a discussion about a news story involving Ohio State. The scandal is who knew what -and when. The students rally around the football coach Urban Meyer. The story is that 2 years went by with an assistant coach having committed acts of domestic violence, and Urban knew about it. He got caught in multiple lies at a press conference. There is no argument that people knew, the argument is that this coach brings in $60 million in profit for the school and he wins. He did not commit the crime. This is a problem. Our ethics and morals cannot be put on a scale with profits. Somewhere, in order to create a real lasting social change, a line must be drawn and held. Held against money. Held against the threat of employment. Held against pressures. It's a case of domestic violence, this is not a grey area. It's been covered up. But hey, he does bring in $60 million a year for the University. How much profit is enough? How much more do you need to understand right from wrong?
A few years back when Peyton Manning was at the very end of his NFL career, a story started to break that his injury may be linked to steroids (HGH), he sat down for an interview with Jim Nance. Jim Nance announced that Peyton was a friend, and he was not going to disrespect him with questions of steroids. That to me moved this from a media interview to public relations. There was no content after this. It was a Papa Johns pizza commercial to present a clean generic white guy being held up for admiration. These are the stories that lead to fake news. This is not all media. But there is much money and power at play behind the stories in much of mainstream. I grew up in a generation cynical of what we are being fed in print and television. I want our national standards back (or more accurately, to be established). Is that wrong?
PART I: the incident
A broken system failed me. This is how people wind up dead. I don't wish to post every detail, but my firsthand account opened my very white male eyes (which I thought were pretty open already). I was patient, understanding, and treating everyone kindly in this journey. I know what it's like to work in a job clogged with red tape, I do it every day in Mental Health and Addiction for the Homeless. I had an experience on the 4th of July. Someone who I have not seen in 10 years, and barely spoken to in almost 20 years just showed up at the end of my driveway midday. They were not invited, I did not know they were even in the city. After just moments of talking, I knew something was wrong. This person has a long history of mental illness. The delusions were obvious, they were extensive, and there was no reasoning that could happen. I heard all the classic government and religious paranoia. The torture. The secret service targeting him, the classic stalking and recording of his every move. The sexual abuse, the sexual pervasiveness of his delusions. He was highly focused on my wife and son. People he barely knows. He wanted my son to read his journal. A journal filled with almost unreadable dialogue about being terrorized, abused, and punished. I did not let that happen. I am ok in this situation- I did not feel in danger, my wife and son were not ok. They were scared. I kept them inside. He had not taken his medications in many months.
For almost 3 hours I attempted to work through the situation on my porch with every intervention I knew. I tried to suggest plans, enforce boundaries, set limits- and most importantly, I listened. I understand. I work with many people. I have no urgent need to hurt someone in pain. I did not feel in danger, and I kept everyone away. And make no mistake about it, mental illness is painful. No matter what I tried, I failed. Sometimes we just cannot do anything. I called the police, they came. They understood he was not ok, but because he made no threats to anyone, he could not be forced to go to the hospital for an evaluation. He chose not to follow a plan that I laid out to help him. He walked away. He was homeless, had nowhere to go, extremely delusional- and just walked away. The day goes on with us eating and going to our neighbors. I was exhausted, my son and I came home early. I fell asleep watching tv. I know, I am an exciting person right? 11pm, my wife comes in from walking home and I can hear the fear in her voice that someone is outside the house. The creepiest thing in the world is when you do not feel safe in your own home at night. It only gets worse when you can see someone just on the edge of the dark moving. He had returned.
PART II: the system
We called the police again. They came fairly fast and picked him up. Earlier, in processing this situation with my wife and son, my wife wanted an order of protection. I agreed to look into it. After he returned that night, it was first on my agenda. I again have to leave out all the little details, but here is what I experienced. One, we had no idea what the police did with him that night. Two, the last we knew he was living about 3 hours away. That was many years ago. He told me he had nowhere to live in Rochester. I told him I would help him if he tried my plan to help himself. He chose not to do that. So I called into work the next day to go look into the Order of Protection. I started on the county website, and drove into the city. The information, and place to go get help was flat out wrong. I had to go over to court. In filing, I had to verbally tell a clerk through a window in an open waiting room my situation. No privacy at all. I was lucky I got there early, it became super-crowded. I heard stories of stalking, children exposed to brutality, and listened to a woman with her jaw wired shut try to tell her story- in full detail, in the waiting room. 90 minutes of waiting later I was taken back to a room for a parole officer to write up the order to present to a judge. They were short staffed after the holiday, so they had officers doing the paperwork. I asked questions, he had no answers. By the time I was moved to the court waiting area, there were at least 15-20 people in the first waiting area. In the new waiting area I was met first by a researcher that asked me to participate in a survey for a local University. Sure, why not? I don't know this person, I just had a traumatic event, I'd love to answer questions in a waiting room. Then (again in a wide open waiting room) I was approached by a woman and a "trainee" from a Domestic Violence center. She explained the court process, and what I could expect. She could not answer any of my questions, but she offered to go to court with me. She told me what I would expect from the judge. She was wrong. I got called and went in to court. I told the judge why I was there. The judge focused on what actual threats were made. I explained that there were none, he just simply would not leave. I had his journal with me, she did not want to see it. I explained that this person wanted to "save" my son, and expressed in detail how my son was in danger to be raped, and recorded by the government. The judge said "Did he say he was going to do this?" I responded no. She said "That's not against the law." ok. my son is 14. I felt like I had done something wrong to be standing in this court. She granted the order. I was supposed to have how the order works explained to me, and given a choice of how it is served to the person. It has to be served to be violated. They explained nothing. I waited for about 30 minutes in the hall. It's not a wait room, but it is a wait room. While I waited, I was sitting between a young teenage girl with her mother, and her sister with a girl about 4 years old. I was not nosy, but it was hard to ignore as the teen girl was antagonizing her sister. Obviously they were there for family court. This was very hard to listen to, there's a 4-year old child listening to this teen call her mother a bitch and other colorful names. Not a court guard in sight. What a bad idea to have people on opposing sides wait in the same place right?. Finally a lady comes out, says not one word, and hands me the order of protection paperwork. 3.5 hours, but I have it. I head home.
Just as I get home I get a phone call. It's a social worker from the hospital who wants to know what happened to have the police bring this person in for evaluation. Because, well- he's there being evaluated. I explain it all, and the order of protection. ok. Now I know where he is, so I can follow the directions on the court forms. I explained to the social worker that he has to get the paperwork. ok. I hang up, call the local police (per instructions on where the person is to be served). Wrong place, I have to call the city police. I call the city police. That's not how this is done sir, you call 911. They get the paperwork and serve it. ok. I call 911. No, we need you to drive it to the hospital, see if the public safety office will serve it- on the far side of the city. If not, call 911 and we will send an officer . Fine. It's literally 97 degrees out, but back in the car. I am in hour 4 of this, but dammit! I am getting this done. I go to the hospital. I go into emergency (as they told me he was in psych ED). The place is literally jammed to the gills. 50 or more people. I talk to security in a closet office, he has to ask someone. ok. I wait outside of the emergency waiting room (because no way was I staying there) in the parking valet area. Next guard comes up. He needs to call a supervisor. ok. He comes back and has to go speak to someone in the mental health inpatient area. I'm about 45 minutes in, but ok. The social worker who I spoke to earlier comes back with the guard. No sir, we cannot allow that to be served on our property. It's not appropriate for the patients well-being. ok. Even though I spoke to you about an hour earlier, and you were fine with this, and its a court order? no sir. ok. I tell them I can't just leave. I have this chance to serve him. I have been doing this all day, and specifically appealed with "Can you just throw me a bone here? It's really about my wife and son." I explain that I was directed by 911 to call the 911 (irony?) if they would not serve the order. ok. I call. I tell the dispatcher that I will wait outside the Emergency room doors so I could be found by the officer. It's 97 degrees. I hate hot muggy weather. I have not eaten. I have had very little to drink, and I am now entering hour 5. I wait an hour. Outside. In the heat. I call again. Sir we are in the middle of a shift change, someone will be there soon. ok. another hour, this is hour 6- and I see an officer. I am drenched in sweat. I would mostly likely murder someone for a cold drink. He takes the form, and has me wait. About 20 minutes later he comes back. Papers in hand. It's private property, they do not want to upset the patient. They do not feel this is an appropriate time. ok. So he is already in the hospital. They do not want to upset him? Is there a better place? Maybe my house? This is my shot, there is no address to serve him. ok. I give myself credit. I asked for help. I followed the rules. I have no interest in hurting this person who scared the $#@%! out of my wife and son. This is the only place I know he will be, and all along the way the system failed.
7 hours. I do have the order, but it is un-served. He can be served if he shows up at my house. Really. That's what I was told. The officer signed off on the attempt, but that is all I have to show. Was he dangerous? I did not get that feeling- but when someone believes that they have been tortured, they are paranoid, delusional- and desperate...who knows what can happen? That is unpredictable. Anyone in mental health knows that is not a good situation. No one can know what will happen. Is the hospital going to protect my family? Will they be responsible if something happens? Who has the rights here, and what is the ultimate line to not cross?
PART III: the effects
I work in mental health. I understand the system. I believe in human rights. For a few hours after this, all I could say is "This is how people wind up dead". I know he has rights. Do I? Where does that show? All of these people are failing in a broken system. The justice system, the law enforcement system, and the mental health system. Anyone along the way could have stood up and done something to make this easier. I do. Instead, every person passed the buck. Someone else would take care of this. I learned a lot. Domestic Violence is already a subject that makes me very angry. The male system makes me angry. The absolute hopelessness that I have seen, and saw that day makes me angry. The fact that I know the system, I have a car, I have income, I have knowledge, I could go here and there and do whatever it takes to feel safe in my own god-damned home. I am an adult. I'm professional. I have empathy, and I understand limits. But every step failed for me. Each failure built into a frustration that can destroy anyone who has less resources than I do. It should not be this hard for any person to feel safe from someone who has caused, or can cause harm. I overheard endless stories of threats, stalking, beatings, bruises, hair pulling. Abuses at home, in the street, on the job. THIS. IS. NOT. OK. I'm a man that feels he can protect himself. I can handle situations. But in this situation because the system failed, I have failed my family. That inherent safety was taken away, and it won't come back.
Part IV: Update 11/21/18
I submitted the paperwork to the upstate mental health facility in September. After a short back and forth, I've been in a holding pattern waiting to hear the order of protection has been served. I emailed the facility social worker, and the same day I received a reply. The reply said that my nephew was aware of the order, he did not want to discuss it, and that the "legal team" agreed it was not in his best interest to serve the order. Oh, and he "will be getting out in a few weeks". So, if I did not reach out, she would never have told me that it was not served.
This has been an amazing and frustrating process. I immediately contacted the court, they will have it served. I have no faith, and to my nephew who may read this:
I understand you are struggling with mental illness. I'm not mad, I do not hold a grudge. That said, your illness does NOT give you any right or any allowance to frighten my wife and my son. You need to own that. That is your doing by not keeping up with medications and treatment, and abusing alcohol and drugs. None of that will help you stabilize. It will further isolate you, and you will lose any grip you have on your life. DO NOT attempt to violate this order, I will press charges. It seems as if you do not understand the effect you have had, and you are not hearing what my family has said to you. Take the time to get yourself well. Stabilize, follow a plan to get well. Down the road of recovery, if you still feel the need to reach out you can. But not while you are in the grip of delusion.
Has America been made great in the last 18 months? Are we seeing more money, more jobs, more international deals? Are we viewed better? Are we safer? Less gun violence? Are we socially happier? Have we made any educational or scientific breakthroughs? Do people feel stronger, wiser, more in touch with the government? Do we feel represented for what we need? What exactly has been made "great"? Look to your heroes, then go be one yourself...
"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year. It is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble." -John Lewis
I spent a few days reworking old drawings about the Holocaust this weekend. In the late 1990's I had a complete sketchbook with only the holocaust as the subject. I worked on it night and day. It really took over and changed me, and the research that I did was traumatizing. Annually I try to do a few works for Yom HaShoah. This past weekend as I worked, I was watching documentaries, prepping more art work for Wednesday and Thursdays Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance day). My goal is another 4 artworks by Thursday 4/12. I have not always been the best at understanding issues. My youth made me numb, but I've grown up and focused a lot on the Holocaust and the civil rights movement, as there is nothing else like it in modern history. People of my generation (and before) grew up with the annual Holocaust movie on TV. We knew the stories. My father served in WWII, and delivered heavy Machinery to Bergen-Belsen. Currently there is a resurgence of intolerance and outright hate running loose in our land. There is a right time to pick a side and have a voice. However you make yourself heard, is how you fight. This is how I do it.
It’s funny how many people (some I know, some internet strangers) send me messages of support thinking that I am painting my suffering. While I do draw on much of my own experiences and understanding, I have become a genuinely happy person. I work with parts of my community that experience the worst of this life, and still keep going. That pain, that adversity, and that fight is what inspires me in my subject matter and style. I guess my art style is always in flux, but my focus of the darker corners of humanity is the constant. I just choose to show it and not hide it away. The opposite of beauty is ugly, but in a way it’s the existence of that ugliness that allows the beauty to be. What is the real difference?
A couple of weekend questions that came up from quiet art making time and streaming binges. First, why do people whisper when they allude/say/blurt out beliefs that are bigoted? I'll be talking to someone and suddenly they go to a low whisper slur (or borderline language) in talking about black people, gay and lesbians, women. Similar to those bigots that are in hiding, and when they are exposed they backpeddle (I didn't mean it that way, its a joke, you are too sensitive...). If you believe it, and cant own it; then there is a problem with that belief. Two, why with hauntings and possessions do they just end? Why cant the haunting/possession continue until the Today show gets there? Why is it only just enough to get noticed, and then over? I think we all know why. Third, why do so many people fight so hard for the whales/wolves/lions- but rarely share the same passion for the people in the community that are suffering just as much?
Trying out more social media. Not because I'm all about me, I just want to share my artwork. I love what I do. I'd like to find more people who just love their art. Find work that inspires me, work that is different. Artists that are different. One aspect of social media that I am very disappointed with is the abundance of fake accounts and fake people. People that want to monetize everything. That do not join for the social or art aspect, but for PR and greed. It's obvious, it's shallow, and it butts into my ability to share. If I go to an art sharing site, I do not want your porn, your million dollar ideas, or your fitness tips. No, everything is not art. Is everything medicine? Is everything technology? Of course not. You can't ram your attempts at connections into every corner. Every field has creativity, but every field is not art. Many years ago, a very well known and influential illustrator (Brad Holland) wrote an essay that highlighted how everyone was now an "artist", except the actual artists. Art had just seen yet another bout of being maligned, "useless" to "produce" in the modern age. Ideas are not to be a commodity. Ideas are to push our global society in a direction. To assist in understanding, comprehending, and developing us in our world. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I'm just getting old.
I have been on an obsessive art creation streak. Over the last 5 months, I have created nearly 100 artworks. Its as if I am chasing something, and just when it's in reach; I miss it. This is different from previous productive years. I would make art and see all the flaws in the final image, then start a new work. The quality is much higher now, but it still misses the marks.
Another week, another mass school shooting. I keep hearing about mental illness, and let's not jump to conclusions about gun control. I want my son alive. I want him and his teachers to focus on education. Instead they are focusing on daily trauma, and procedures for "active shooters". Our priorities are broken. Our morality is missing. It is all about stuffing as much money in your pockets while you can. So, all I have is my voice, my art, and my vote. None of which will go to anyone not focused on ending this murder and embarrassment.
What has played out with "Make America Great Again", is simply unleashing our national hidden bigotry. But it has not really been hidden from those it has affected. Our "greatness" was never great to anyone who was not a white male. I don't say this with a white guilt complex, I say this because you can never know where you are going if you do not know where you have been. I do not see a problem in acknowledging our history of racism and sexism, in order to dismantle the machine that oppresses those that are not male, white, and rich. I benefit from this system, which is why I work in social services for those with homes, without a means of support, and who have repeatedly been cast out by our system. It's why I go an extra few equalizing steps, it's why I make a lot of art- even work that appears non-threatening- but always has my beliefs embedded. It is not taking from others to even out the system, it empowers everyone to achieve a better society for us all. Capital T truth.
Last night I went to bed with the so-called leader of the United States taunting North Korea on twitter that his nuclear button was "bigger and works". We are currently under the thumb of a person who is not fit, or mentally capable of leading any nation, especially one that can wage war the likes of the United States. I don't want to go to bed or wake up with the thought of nuclear war. Do you?
I have become a very productive, but very isolated artist. I'm not sure that I could intelligently talk to anyone anymore about what it is I am pursuing in my artwork. The base loves of lighting, narratives, and textures still remain, but conveying that in a dialogue no longer seems a viable choice. I am in a dogged pursuit of something that I cannot see. The changes that I have gone through artistically in the past 3 years with the inclusion of complete digital, hands on combined with digital, and photography have altered my production into a breakneck speed. What my intentions are with artwork have not been able to keep up. I could not do this type of digital application without the previous 30 years of hands on exploration. Digital artwork is amazing, but not without the struggle of getting your hands dirty with materials. I am simply going to embrace becoming the art hermit that I have always wanted to be, I can now aim to become the Walt Whitman of art.
If you are a bad person while living, I don't think death should bring a level of censored respect and praise. Death does not wash away the sins of life.
When people in our lives begin to die, some of us take our lives into other directions. Sometimes, those directions are unexpected. Other branches than what we have experienced previously. Some of those branches lead nowhere, they are just a tangle of lost limbs. But some lead us to a spot higher on the tree. We won’t know where they go until we follow it away. It is better to have tried, than to have missed the opportunity. For those left behind it hurts. It hurts to grow old without growing. And it hurts too, to leave your only known past behind.
Taking a knee during the national anthem is a right of protest in our country. If you cannot choose to protest the way you want (peacefully), then we are not free. It is a protest of an all too obvious institutional racism that keeps non-whites down. I’m white, I know it exists. So, 2 things: 1) if you have been shouting that it’s not about racism- you are wrong. This is not about the flag, or troops- it’s about race. Our current white supremacy administration wants to fool you, and change the narrative. That works to keep your eyes off the real rape and theft they commit, and it keeps the people who have the power to topple the regime divided. Face it, or get out of the way. (2) if you are so much about equality, then you do not understand the difference between equality and equity. Equality is everyone gets the same. Equity is understanding that the starting point is not the same, and adjusting so those behind the equal point have more to truly create equal opportunity. If you have 2 farms, one with good soil, good machinery, and good labor- and one with sour land, no machinery, and no labor; are they equal? If the argument is to move to better land, with what finances? What labor? What goods to create a living? Systemic poverty hurts all races, and creates generations of hopelessness. If you have ever been hopeless, how do you feel when someone wealthy, educated, and connected since birth shouts “pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” It is not an equal start comparing a low middle class white, to anyone non-white in poverty. If you say, oh no...not true. I say you are a blind liar. Every white man who claims they are not racist/misogynistic/homophobic- needs to not just speak up, but act up. And just acting isn’t enough. To make this right you must take it many steps further. If you do not agree with these two concepts, then you too are the problem. And if you counter that with- well what do you do loud mouth white guy? I was not brought up with money. I had no plans for college because I had no role model for education. I hated school, and yet I started college. Still paying on those loans all in my name. I have been working for 20 years in low wage social services trying to make the world better. I make art about my issues. I did not choose money. I have not sought to use the system of inequality, but I benefit from it. I am not pulled over for driving while black. Not been harassed or raped (but nearly every female I know has been). No holocaust, or war in my city. I do not live in the epicenter of crime and drugs. I have made it my life goal to fight for what is right, no matter what is in the way.
If you can’t protest peacefully here in America, then what exactly is America?
Dear resentful angry white guy & disenfranchised white youth. Can we talk? I'm white, so we have that out on the table. I'm not sure (a) why you're angry, and (b) why you're disenfranchised. Being white and male, I don't fear police interaction- even with the jerk cops. I don't fear sexual harassment (I wish! - no I don't) I often get paid well, don't get beat up or murdered for my skin color/sex partners/beliefs, its assumed that I'm educated-not a criminal-fit the religious mold-and my needs are mostly first to be met...always. That's privilege. It means I don't have to pay attention to the same everyday stressors of being gay, black, female, or Muslim. But you know what? I choose to pay attention. My community is my support, and it can be yours too- but not when you choose to see the world the way you do. Filled with rage, hate, and blame. You are disenfranchised because you have done it to yourself. You stepped away, no one made you do that. Own up to it. Unclench your fist. You can still be frustrated at the world, I am too. But so is that woman, that black man, that Muslim teen- see, it's easier to confront those life issues with a group. You just picked the wrong group. There is much more to be found with your community than with nazis and the kkk. That's a dead end. There's no magic jobs returning that you never had, no sleazy sexual innuendo that's going to get any female to love you and stay, no hate filled nazi armband will make you feel more like a man when you feel like child inside, and certainly- no law/act/wall that will stop us from joining together. Because that IS America. The hate filled side has already lost, they just haven't realized it yet. Reality isn't their strong suit.
So, I guess what I'm saying is, from one white guy to some other white guys, you have a choice to make- you can join in and automatically feel SO much better (I promise), because in all of history- hate always loses; or you can stay the course. Stay angry, depressed, unfulfilled, uniformed, and regretting your life. That last part will happen, and if you don't start really thinking- it will be too late to do anything about it.
Written as a response to todays White House non-statement to the Minnesota Islamic mosque bombing on 8/5/17. Today they announced that (without any evidence from any source) it may be a "false flag". The cry of the conspiracist. I grew up with a lot of presidential BS. At times I questioned the choices. I may have supported some, argued against others. Never have I felt the way I am feeling now as a citizen. Embarrassed is not enough. Scared is not enough. Shocked is not enough. I honestly question the mental health and well being of our leaders and their supporters. It is hate driven. Unless action is quickly taken, this will all slide towards a terrible destructive conclusion. I doubt many will even see this comment, but it is increasingly hard to go about your everyday life when the sheer pain inflicted upon the core of our country doubles every day. I fully expect a large scale strike on DPRK as a pissing contest. Maybe thousands will die, maybe more. For what? Ego. To avoid treason? To distract the masses? To create fear and cement power? This blood will be on every Americans hands. Supporter or not, unless action is taken. Disagree if you want, but the wounded animal is in a corner. Politics are rough, this isn't politics. Politics are tough situations resolved with carefully thought out choices. Do good, be good, think good. None of that is happening here, and it honestly hurts me where I have never been hurt. In my pride as a citizen.
Imagine yourself as a child. Most kids grow up with some family issues to deal with, some small- some large. Now imagine being a young child and everything you are told does not match the reality you see and feel. EVERYTHING. Imagine how much that would affect you as you get older. What would it do to your social skills? Your self-esteem? Your relationships, jobs, education? Growing up in an alcoholic household affects the rest of your life, and bears a very strong resemblance to the effects of a household in Domestic Violence (physical and emotional). All that you think, you see, you feel, and what you do- is questioned. You spend the rest of your life trying to make the puzzle pieces fit. They don't. You are better off just starting a new puzzle.
If you get hung up on words, you are going to let a lot of evil people through. Because they are the first to learn the words to smuggle their evil shit through- Patton Oswalt
Words shape the way we think.
"Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny." -Lao Tsu
(I stole this, but believe in it)
9 things to give up if you want to be happy:
2. Limiting beliefs
3. Blaming others
4. Negative self-talk/thoughts
5. Dwelling on the past
6. Resistance to change
7. The need to impress others
8. The need to always be right
9. The need for others approval
The Outside Inside
On or about of October 2005, I saw a special on creepy world destinations. One place really caught my attention: Xochimilco, San Lorenzo, Ciudad de México- better known as the “Island of the Dolls”. I am a skeptic through and through, but the mystery and magic of monsters in the world has had a grip on me from the time I was a wee tot. This island has the standard legend of the little girl who died, and the odd isolated caretaker of the island. But the story turns when people began leaving dolls at the island. Hanging from trees, nailed to sheds, tied and bound- all rotting away from the non-stop barrage of weather and time. At the same time I started to develop a fascination of old abandoned structures. Asylums, schools, military bases, hospitals- all caught my artistic eye. I had long been making mixed media drawings about moments lost in time. Small forgotten interactions. Words, expressions, feelings. I held a fear after my father passed away in 1993 that people would never know about lives lived, we would all become some dusty name in a roll call book that no one ever knew.
So, here is where I started. I wanted to make artwork to leave outside. Let the weather have its way, to make my own little island of the dolls, my own abandoned school. Where old thoughts and dreams and fears all intertwined en mass as a victim to time and weather. I started with one painting, and then a few dolls, and then more collected materials. Things that caught my eye, or things I did not want to throw away all made it out to the pile. Then as my son aged it took over part of the wooden structure of his play-set as he outgrew it. At first it was a pile of materials, nothing I would even call art- except as a creepy joke in reference to my neighbors. In the summer of 2016, I took it all apart, and began reassembling the materials into a cohesive idea. I grew up in an alcoholic household, and I have worked in addiction for many years. Decades of my life have been bogged down by a cruise control method of thinking. Detachment was a way of surviving the fears of “feeling”. That was my rudderless direction, the branches of my life. The ups and downs, the mistake of ignorance is bliss. What I learned as I got older, is that the old saying “ignorance is bliss” is a lie. There is no bliss when you ignore a problem, and growing up in a household with 2 alcoholics, even if I am not an addict- created many problems. I wanted all of those entanglements on display. All of life that I missed, and all of the life that I found. A combination of the real fear and disjointed reality of alcoholism, and my life long fascination with the macabre and all that is horror. This creeptacular backyard assemblage is my inside, outside.
Pictures can be viewed on the "Odds & Ends" page of this site
If it leads to nowhere, if all is lost; and I too get lost along the way- at least I know I had a map of the world as it should be. I will stay on that trail for myself and for my corner of the world. The disease that has the power cannot touch me.
Inspiration for the day:
If I have not before mentioned this, I work with clients that are homeless with mental health and/or addiction issues. Today I spoke to a client at work. He grew up with a series of his moms boyfriends being verbally and physically abusive. He is a prime candidate to be an abuser. Poor, ignored, and distorted relationships as a home model. He is young, but has been in our program for a number of years. 3 years ago his mother was murdered by her boyfriend. Beaten into a coma for a week before dying. This left my client, barely 20- alone with a drug addicted brother, and a 14 year old sister. What remained of his family all shows the struggle with violence and addiction. The ripple effect. Very few that grow up in this environment avoid becoming abusers themselves to deal with the rage and lack of control, or become addicts to numb and forget. On Mother's Day (2 days ago) he went to his "Aunties", she's not related. Her boyfriend was very drunk and verbally abusing everyone. The more he drank, the more it became physical. The whole house shut down. Accepted it, stared at the floor, fled to other rooms. All except my client. 23 years old, black, no role model family. The kid who with help got into Community College. He got off public assistance (or welfare if you like), works 2 jobs, and helps his sister who is only 17 pay for baby needs and models maturity. That "kid" did not leave. That kid dragged this man outside and it became a physical fight. "I just saw black and thought of my mom" he told me. No one broke it up, and as he said "there was no way I was just going to sit there". It may not have been the best way to handle this, but it sure was the most noble. This is standing up to Domestic Violence. This is being a MAN. This is saying out loud- NOT EVEN ONCE WILL I LET THIS HAPPEN. He is not alone as a survivor of a dysfunctional family. A survivor of public assistance to a better life. This won't be a quiet discussion to end generations of pain, it will be a fight. This kid has the real way to Make America Great.
To survive the times we currently live in requires humor, and a need to create. And by "create", I mean anything. This is the type of climate and daily barrage of negativity that cause everyone to seek out some activity to release the sheer disbelief. Disbelief of audacious lies, all while looking directly at us as citizens. Our democracy is not just at risk, it is in the shredder. Corporations and religion have joined hands to become one large money gobbling rapist of the American citizen. The most at risk are anyone who is not white and male. I'm privileged, but it matters to me because it is threatening to use up and spit out everyone and everything I love dearly. So I write. I write on facebook, and I write to my representatives. I make art. Whether I plan for it to be political or not, that seems to be where it ends up. I am acting up, and acting out...and I'm not ready to finish any time soon.
What started as a joke out of anger & frustration, became a very serious statement about my country. I decided to run for president. The odds cannot be calculated against me, but I have my reasons...
"The world has waited too long for a voice with fresh ideas and a new approach...we are not scholars who make every effort to understand books. We are artists who apply our knowledge to our lives." (Do nothing [Wu Wei] & Do Everything [Wu Bu Wei] by Qiguang Zhao)
"Watch your thoughts; for they become words. Watch your words; for they become actions. Watch your actions; for they become habits. Watch your habits; for they become character. Watch your character for it will become your destiny." This is a solid path to finding happiness. It is a reminder to limit negative thinking, and just how fast a thought becomes an action, and that action becomes a habit.
Many people believe that things "just happen" to them. But as you connect more closely to yourself and the realities of who you are (instead of tuning life and feelings out); we are able to see that everything that happens to us is of our own creation.
The attached article is a very good read on a current heated debate in the Arts. It is a very complex subject, with multiple areas open to debate, and (as shown) to incite anger. Its a debate of artistic style, white objectification of black tragedy, culture, public relations, art history, white guilt, censorship, social responsibility, civil protest, dignity, history, civil rights, cultural appropriation, racism, and freedom. Or is it? It is very difficult to have an objective point of view because every viewer comes with a solid set of baggage.
Awaken your empathy to become a better person, and to take less personally.
I was born in 1968. The same year that Martin Luther King jr. was murdered. The same year that Bobby Kennedy was murdered. The same year that Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black gloved fists in solidarity. How would you like me to act when I see rampant bigotry taking over MY country?
It's been a few days of avoiding the ever expanding black hole that announces the choices of our current government. I read a short story on how depressed the average US citizen is right now, how anxiety is becoming the default setting, and how laughing is the only sane response. I'm trying. When you see the law, the land, and the liberty stripped from so many for no other reason than because they are not rich white men- it is hard to laugh. I need all of those others, the variety of ideas and companionship. The wealth of principles and beliefs; to keep me grounded as a human being. I need people who value more than money.
Freedom of speech is lost when no one listens. Reach across the divide. Being for, or against: jobs, safety, immigration, healthcare, gay marriage, crime, body image, gun control, money, global warming, capitalism, pipelines or God- is absolutely meaningless if you do not care about people. Prioritizing the well-being of your fellow men, women, and children makes problem solving simple.
DRUM by Langston Hughes
Bear in mind
That death is a drum
Till the last worms come
To answer its call,
Till the last stars fall,
Until the last atom
Is no atom at all,
Until time is lost
And there is no air
And space itself
Is nothing nowhere,
Death is a drum,
A signal drum,
I am a big fan of Harlem Renaissance poetry, the rhythm of the words for me are one of the precursors to early (or old school) rap. The period of the early 1980's to early 1990's had great substance, it was the music of the revolution. I know I'm getting old when I hear the pure pointlessness of what rap youth is spouting today. Fake nonsense with only money in mind. Whether stars (of all kinds) like it or not, they have a social responsibility. They speak to and for millions who have no voice. Anything short of trying to express the anxiety, the love, the needs, or the dreams of the voiceless is simply superficial crap destined to become a false nostalgia.
Fear drove us to where we are, and makes us vulnerable to the worst crimes imaginable. Historically speaking, Safety is never the result of fear; tragedy is the result of fear.
No, you don't need to make art with the sole intent of sales. That's a craft, although love is certainly involved. Art is following your inside feeling to an end, not to a sale. Most often there is not much risk involved with a craft beyond "Will someone buy this?" Art is risking everything, exposing your safe locked away inside self. When done right, crafts are an excellent creative representation of artistic skill. But Art and Craft are not the same, any more than Life and Death.
I have been a lifelong fan of Horror/scary movies. I was drawn to the dark because I was living in it. I think when I was a kid, it was the monsters. The fake monsters on screen were not as bad as the real life monsters. Then as a teen, it was the taboo, the gore, and the teen sex. Now it is the deep dark hidden emotions, and the palpable fear. The bleak and quiet hidden feeling that we have to come to terms with each day. Being scared is exciting, it's a rush. Everyone has their movies they enjoy, be it drama, comedy, romance- mine is horror. But horror is one of the genres that creates a heavy judgment against the watcher. Horror fans are the: dark, twisted, unstable, weird, dangerous people that you are told to avoid. I enjoy it because the fear element is fun for me. The monsters, the dark, the unknown, the uncontrollable- is what dominated my childhood in an alcoholic household. This was (and is) a controlled burn for me. There is nothing wrong with enjoying that terror, just as there is nothing wrong with enjoying sappy romance, or startling documentary, or gripping drama. We are all different, and all ok.
I am a Muslim. The most dangerous kind to our current fascist government, because; I am not actually a Muslim. I'm not even religious. I LOVE my country so much, I would die for it. So much that I can't stand how quickly we have lost our ideals. I love my country, but not the government. We are not perfect, but we are not this disfigured monstrosity led by an orange moron. I. Am. Muslim.
I am taking a self imposed short hiatus from facebook (except to post art) and the news. In one week what has happened in politics is shocking. The drumbeat of you-know-who's name is non stop. Magazines, news, all over tv in every damn direction. The saturation point of pure negativity, bordering on evil actions is too much. It is like being out on a sunny day when that thick slow cloud rolls by blocking out the sun, except it never stops. I love my country, I would die for it. But, I hate the government that is moving in the polar opposite direction of what America strives to be. This is not freedom, its oppression. I'm ashamed.
I have been watching the show Supernatural. I love the show, how I did not watch before now (12 seasons late) I don't know. But better late than not at all. Anyway, I am in a season where the 4 horsemen are a major set of characters. I love the alternative character ideas, and I decided to focus in on them for a project. I want to make trading card inspired updated versions of not just the 4 horsemen, but also the 7 deadly sins- and maybe one God, and one Satan to make the pack a perfect 13 in number. Nothing like upbeat topics!
My son Asher turned 13 yesterday; and the Women's march in support of women's rights and against our notmypresident Trump stunned everyone with people coming out not only all around the country, but also around the world. The photos are inspiring, and I am so grateful to everyone who participated, you give people like me hope. Turning 13 is a big deal. Asher is a teen, and it only happens once. Chris and I chose to focus on our little corner for the day, but we both supported the march. I have great pride that so many people chose to march for rights, freedom, and ethics. Here is a fantastic article with photos, and the first commenter below the article nails how so many people feel about "getting over it"...
1/16/17 MLK day
Everything you do, you do as a member of a community. It affects you, me, your family, your neighbors, your schools...your actions do more than hurt you. Think before you speak. Think before you act. When you improve YOU, we all improve.
I'll start the new year with one of my all time favorite quotes by Teddy Roosevelt, because I'm a quote junkie...
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I come from a very skewed view of friendships. I moved 4 times when I was in that key range of 9-15. As you get older, a lot gets in the way of creating new meaningful friendships. Relationships, jobs, schedules, kids- and then beliefs. For most people, beliefs cement as you get older, and you tire of the debate, or at least I do. It seems as if it's getting harder to find people who don't think that they know you after a few meetings (they don't), who don't want to judge you (they do), and don't come with a never-ending set of issues that they are going to thrust upon you.
My time in grad school was fairly prolific in art production, I made multiple paintings and drawings a week. Then in my late 20's I was mixed media drawing obsessed, I carried a sketchbook everywhere. I have piles and stacks of art. I wasn't just trying to improve the quality of what I was making, I have always used art to communicate when words have failed me. I thought until about a year ago that I was slowing down. I didn't know if it was my age, or just how it worked with creativity and life pushing its way in each day. But then I found (or finally embraced) mixed media and digital creation. It was like setting off a bomb in my soul. All my studio approaches all at once. Walking, eyes closed up to the cliffs edge, the excitement of living and dying and making art bloomed all over again. Risk and reward, trial and error, all my tools, textures, colors, challenges- are now on the table. Now I know, it wasn't age- it was the boredom of limitation. My brain is always on fire to make my thoughts visual, that rush of creating something is like getting answers to questions you don't yet know.
Few will bother to read the content of the link below, or even notice it. Even I'm numb to the utter disregard of the arts in the US. There are many professions that are maligned and mistreated, but a lot of people don't even think of art as a profession. "You are so talented" has been my go to joke for years, but not talented enough to even come close to making a living financially. The years of hard work are seen as a scam of the lazy. Hundreds of hours of hard work to create a one-of-a-kind artwork judged against mass-produced Wal-Mart garbage. The artist will always lose the fight for the dollar. Even at the peak of commercial work, I just barely paid my bills. Heck, comics are more popular than ever- and the established legendary artists that made comics are near broke. But it's art, so no one cares. Oh I'll get nice compliments and more, but little else that allows for a total commitment to pursue the arts in this country. People will say I chose this, and stop complaining, and try harder. This right here is the most I have complained. I have always gone to a second profession to live, and outside of that 40 hour work week, outside of family and home care, and many other responsibilities- what's left for me, I soak up every second to make art. And here is the capital T truth, so few survive as long as I have. The creative passion is killed off in order to pay bills and take care of family. Imagine how much passion has been killed? Imagine what we might be if we had support? I'm only still here because I owe my life to it. If art had not taken me over as a creative outlet for a raging, repressed, ill-educated, and misguided lost youth, I may very well be dead or wishing I was. So I go on, for myself and for those lost. I pour a little oil paint on the street curb for my art homies, and wonder how the world may have been different.
I have taught some form of college level art for 20 years. I've had the talent challenged classes and survived. But this fall I was faced with a generation that would only do the bare minimum to complete an assignment. It wasn't about quality, it was about getting it done and expecting praise for anything. I sent email after email that went unread, handed out copies that students wanted me to read to them, and geared the projects to their own personal interests. Nothing created the interest and desire to work diligently. Nothing. I even bluntly told a student "if you don't challenge this level of quality, you will never work in any area of art." I had a student expect an "A" simply for being there and doing something. That was after he told me over and over "This is hard.", and "I wanted to take art because I wanted something relaxing." Art has a stigma that all my action and work won't change, but no god damned way! No way do you (at best) half ass the work, not read the emailed directions, ask me questions answered right in the fucking handouts and expect much of a grade. I know this is running rampant in school. This do nothing and complain until there is some pressure to be given a passing grade to avoid the heat mentality is real, but come on! What on earth is your future going to be like with this mentality? I was distressed by the lack of urgency from an educational standpoint, and the overwhelming apathy towards independent thinking.
I was called "merciless'" by a student because I did not accept her portfolio late on the final day of class. A portfolio deadline that had a strict verbally announced and discussed time- not once, but for 3 consecutive classes prior. A deadline that that was also emailed twice, and placed in bold on the final project handout. Not only did she rarely complete an assignment in 15 weeks, she missed this deadline that allowed students to make up for the ENTIRE semesters missing work by 2.5 hours. And, I was also responsible for damaging her GPA to get into her "dream school".
Maybe the end of mankind is not in some disease, or zombies, or nuclear war' may be it's the internet. The raging sheer ignorance that has run unchecked via conspiracy sites will be the fall of Rome. Rome will burn and the astronauts from the fake moon landing will play a fiddle with the pilots creating vapor trails to keep us sedate while we are all consumed.
Anyone who is not nervous about what paths of destruction our president elect will wreak, is just plain ignorant, or willfully blind. Each day has brought a new statement against everything that our country should be about. Yes, we have a lot of problems. Yes, we are too slow to fix them. But we still hold our truths to be self evident. Nothing about our soon to be leader shows any signs of self evaluation and justice for me to support. And no, I will not blindly support any leader simply because they hold a title. You want respect? Fucking earn it.
We are not witnesses, we are participants.
The start of my new website. My very old and outdated site had a lot of varied writing. I like writing, even if no one reads it. I have been told that I'm "opinionated", hmm- maybe. Most of what I write and think about is related to some element of my artwork. Stay tuned...