Unsavory Characters

In the quest to support myself as an artist, I once answered an ad looking for a tattoo apprentice. I don’t even have a tattoo, and now that I’ve been behind the scenes, I doubt I ever will. It’s not that drawing on skin with an ink-laden needle startles me. It does. It’s the realization that the best tattoo of all is the one that only exists in the imagination. In my mind, the ultimate tattoo takes over the entire body and beyond, a complex menagerie of animals, monsters, people, philosophies, and history. Like most Librae, I’m a chameleon constantly changing colors. I’ll never stay in one room, most likely I’ll live in every one I come across. I’ll finally make up my mind when I’m dead.

My excursion into the tattoo world took place for two months one summer about three years ago. Apparently, a good tattoo artist can make a fair sum of money. But like a hair-dresser, you have to be fairly social. Being too quiet is suspicious to most humans—who is this silent psycho drawing on me, anyway?
I suppose being the only tattoo apprentice without an actual tattoo could potentially arouse suspicion. But everyone was nice to me anyway. It is surprising how many people would line up for a free tattoo from someone who never tattooed before.

I worked as a gardener by day, then reported for duty in the evening—cleaning, sterilizing, tracing, observing. No sleep to be had with that schedule. Notwithstanding, there was always drama in the background. By the umpteenth time I noticed the red lights of a squad car flashing on the wall one Saturday night, I began to think maybe the tattoo game “wasn’t my bag.” I like drawing on paper. Paper is quiet, low-key. Doesn’t need to be peeled off the ground in handcuffs.

 

 

 

I did admire my mentor for his talent, although I can’t vouch for his temperament. When it came to apprentices, he had the philosophy of an army drill sargeant. Not that he spit epithets in my face, but he was often belittling and snarky towards me, which made his criticism unconstructive to me.  He did have an extensive library of art books which he used for reference and inspiration. My homework” was to draw the same thing over and over constantly until the subjects were sunk completely into my memory and I could draw without thinking. He also suggested layering different medias so the work appeared rich and opaque. To his credit, he did more to influence my drawing style than any professor I ever had.

My last day at the tattoo parlor came without my knowledge. I put in a good two hours of outlining Japanese waves on an arm who had to go to jail the next day. I did my absolute best, executing with the same precision hitherto my teacher would often glance at and declare I “would put him out of business.” When I finished, the guy was turning around in front of the mirror, gushing. He loved the tattoo, sung arpeggios of praises. In walked the mentor, late for work as usual with car trouble. He proceeded to bash all the work I had done, because my waves weren’t Japanese enough. In my mind’s eye, I saw a ghost of myself pick up my bag and walk out the door. But I didn’t leave yet.  I spent a couple of stormy hours cleaning, prepping stations, sterilizing, tracing. The next customer walked in, I set up the station and sat down to observe. Mentor again deconstructed my Japanese waves, then my character. Not to me, to my face, but to the customer. Customer blushes, says uhhhh.

I, the real me, the flesh me, pick up my bag and walk out the door. Not my bag.

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Cosmic American Music

gramI’ve been squashing my yen for portraits. I painted people from 2000 to 2005, and then found myself in a room full of stares. Portraits used to be the thing to have before daguerreotypes came to be. In every tasteful dwelling, there hung an oversize oil painting of Crusty Old Ancestor scowling over the fireplace. Now we have thousands of pictures on our computers never to be printed, although we swear we’ll print them someday.

This is Gram Parsons, inventor of Cosmic American Music. His life could have come straight out of a Tennessee Williams play, or at least the Twilight Zone. His family owned the largest citrus plantation in Florida, thriving in rapidly rotting opulence. Raised a true Southern gentleman, he was reported to have always pulled back chairs for all the ladies.  Gram was both blessed and cursed with the bad combination of unlimited wealth and a hereditary addiction to alcohol and drugs. Growing up, there were numerous toys and gifts, wild bourbon-fueled parties, a giant swimming pool. His father committed suicide when he was 12. His mother drank herself into oblivion and died the day he graduated high school. His stepfather had a pet ocelot and drove a Jaguar convertible.

Gram had a talent for music early on. There was no doubt his playing and song-writing provided a catharsis for all of his painful experiences. In the late 1960s he moved to Los Angeles and dove headfirst into the hippie music scene, fiercely defending country music to his peers. He took rock and roll, stirred in some country and called it  “Cosmic American Music.” With his hair hanging in his eyes, he took his creation to the old honkytonks in Los Angeles. The rednecks would have beat him up in no time, had he not played so well and sung so earnestly. (Actually, he did get beat up, never was able to keep his mouth shut.)

Gram played with the International Submarine Band, the Byrds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He turned out two brilliant solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel, then died of a heroin overdose at the age of 26, on the verge of hitting his stride and making music history. He not only sang sad country songs, he was a sad country song. Like so many other musicians of his time, God only knows what he could have accomplished had he lived. But with a life so complicated with tragedy and hereditary addiction, it seemed destined to be short.

Perhaps Gram himself puts it best:
“It was a dream much too real to be leaned against too long.”

( Thanks to David N. Meyer for Twenty Thousand Roads, a great, in-depth biography of Gram Parsons.)

Caught

All the great artists out there who are anywhere have a stated purpose and intention with their art. It’s called an artist’s statement. I came across a really good one recently, so complete and polished, I felt like slithering somewhere dark. For a while I was thinking perhaps I had something good here. At least I have a portfolio site and I’m writing a little, expressing myself—somewhat.

I know I need to write a good solid artist’s statement. All the self-help books who make us even more helpless say so. But what if I don’t have anything to say? In my world, it is rare when an idea comes before a drawing. If there is an idea at all, the viewer will know when they see it. Most of the time I just feel like drawing.

 I just want to make things.

Often I will look through books and magazines, find something that interests me and add my own embellishments along the way. I illustrate what illustrates me. I find the story in the drawing, not the other way around. I used to write stories this way; coming up with a title and writing a story around it. It’s like taking little trip each time I pick up a pen. What fun is a trip, always knowing what’s around the bend?

There is a common misconception that an artist is supposed to be omnipresent, ever clear and trying to make everyone else think. We are so deep. Actually, I am just as thick as the rest of us. I like what everyone else likes. I work all day and watch television at night because I’m too tired for anything else. I cook dinner, do house work, pay bills, shake a tail feather. I don’t have time to be deep.

If this is bringing me any closer to a well balanced, concise artist’s statement, I’d like someone to tell me. Maybe this will have to be it.

Mixed media, 18 X 24.

 

Apocalypse

apocalypse

Destruction is inevitable, resistance is futile. After the first Matrix movie, I stopped listening to the screenplay, it was so full of fantasy physics and beyond making sense. I do remember the part about living in a false consciousness  generously padded with the fat marbled layers of a material world. We eventually awaken to discover we are naked and afraid, living inside our own eggs precariously attached to a cold wet outcropping at the edge of the howling wind and crying ocean. It is much cozier to gaze at the raindrops pelting the window pane, forget we are engaged in our own undoing. It’s nice in this chair, but it doesn’t stop the polar ice caps from melting. Hiroshima was an awful mistake, still praying for peace, but we can’t look in the mirror anymore.  Just get rid of the bombs. You first, no you first, forget it. Nobody is flying the plane. Mixed Media, 24 X 18.

Ghandi Mountain

It’s one hell of a mountain to climb—the journey to superhumanity. To be more insightful, more intelligent, more compassionate with each passing day. It’s not the destination, right? It’s the journey. Just getting to the foot of the mountain on the other side of the river is an accomplishment. This is where I am now. Ten years ago I didn’t even have a single thing packed, felt selfish and angry all the time. Then one day in my thirtysomethings I woke up and thought you know what? It’s not about me. I’ll admit, I’m still dragging my ego behind me, but I’m not tripping on it as much as I used to.

I remember seeing the movie about Ghandi when I was a kid. I yawned through the whole thing. There were no Muppets. I watched again recently and it captured me. He changed a whole society by just being there, and proved that love was stronger than hate. Love is really the best system for problem-solving. An example—what works better when modifying behavior, positive or negative reinforcement? Positive, ding, ding.  If the Indians had fought back with violence, the British could have called it a war. But a war is only a war with two sides fighting. How can you beat them down if they keep standing up and smiling? The situation became so absurd, eventually all the British could do was just leave. Ghandi trained them well.

It takes guts to be Ghandi. Infinitely more guts than it takes to stand there with a gun and be all like, then he’s like, and then you’re like goaheadmakemyday. When you know that you’re about to be ground under someone’s heel and you will not be defending yourself. When you are expecting to be ground to bits more times than you can count, and accept that you’re only a grain of sand letting the ocean wash over you. Mixed media, 18 X 24.

The Never-Ending Story

No beginning, no end. Neither coming, nor going. Neither here nor there. No future,
no past. Not inside, not outside, neither east nor west, not above, not below, nor within.
The serpent is the truth. The city is a construct for our mind. It is there to help us choose what we want to see. You want this, gotta have that, it’s the latest craze, it’s the hip-est fad, it’s the hap-hap-happiest dance. Society dictates who you want to be, but it doesn’t change who you are. Let it all fall away. Fly above and be free. Mixed Media, 18 X 24.