A couple weeks ago I was standing on a mountain and I really did feel sunshine on my shoulders. It was about 20 degrees but the sun was ablaze and the sky was going from periwinkle to ultraviolet to deep indigo. I know I should have been cold but suddenly my shoulders were ablaze and the rays found its way through two or three layers.
The sun was in my eyes too, but it didn’t really make me cry except to feel joy. I never knew what John Denver meant by that second line
“sunshine in my eyes can make me cry”
But in that moment I did understand. Sunshine is so beautiful it makes you cry. Beautiful as to be blinding. It was too bright to see beyond my tracks in the snow. But I could feel an ethereal love starting as a tiny pinpoint and ending in an infinite ray. A love that came from a million miles away, a singular white light love that only a burning star can send to a slowly spinning planet. As I stood there in my tracks on the trail that led into the sky I thought of one thing only.
I belong here.
I belong in the bright light, in the sphere of the now and the know.
I will stay here as long as I can.
Only a few months into 2016 and I’ve realized all the major inspirations of my creative life are slowly passing on. Must I tack on yet another broody tome reflecting on the death of David Bowie? Yes.
It was David Bowie that taught us kids it was good to be different. Zesty and zany. The lifelong interwoven mystery of Major Tom. Pink monkey birds. Pappamamas and rock-and-roll bitches. Diamond Dogs and Cat People. Peoploids and Starmen. Vaudeville space rock meets Kibuki theater.
“Let the children boogie.”
And they did. David Bowie was a pioneer, someone who sets the stage and rages it, constantly reinventing himself in such a way that made it clear that there would only be one David Bowie.
And how true it is that there is only one of each of us. We should express ourselves as freely as possible, borrowing a little nectar from this bloom to that, taking what we know and expanding the universe as we wander into the unknown.
Speaking of autobiographies—another page-turner is Keith Richards’ Life. It’s a satirical title, considering all the blather about how he never should have survived it. Reading autobiographies have a way of flying celebrities back down to earth. They seem so larger than life and then I read about them and realize they’re just monkeys like the rest of us. I’m thinking back to another autobiography where John Lennon explained to a fanatic who camped for days in his yard, hoping to meet him:
“I’m just a guy who writes songs.”
The colorful blobs are my take on sound. Ever since The War of the Worlds, I think about the aliens in the story who could sense things we could not. What if we could smell colors and see sounds?
For anyone who wants to go beyond the American History textbooks of seventh grade, read The Grapes of Wrath. If you’re searching for a metaphor for your uncertain future, read The Grapes of Wrath. (If you prefer a metaphor for the Book of Genesis, read East of Eden.) If you still think the middle class really exists, read The Grapes of Wrath. When you reach the last sentence, ask yourself if anything in this country has really changed. It’s true that history repeats itself, because although we insist otherwise, people never really change. Some are virtuous, others are greedy. While it’s true that Americans have certain freedoms that others do not, I never forget we are always free to starve. This is common knowledge for the masses, yet another truth that one half of one percent cannot understand.
Travels with Charley is one of the greatest classics of the travel genre. It is an autobiography set in 1960, when Steinbeck loads up a trailer and circumnavigates the United States with his dog Charley. One of my favorite things about Steinbeck is his honesty. If he never sugar-coated American History, he certainly didn’t sugar-coat his own reactions to the people and places he encountered. There is a favorite excerpt of mine in Travels with Charley. After driving all day, he rents a room where everything is sterilized, covered in plastic. (“Everyone was protecting me and it was horrible.”) He goes to the hotel restaurant and meets a waitress, also adorned in a plastic apron. He finds her demeanor so dull and cynical (“Some people spread a grayness in the air about them.”) he goes into a spiritual tailspin and ends up in the hotel bathtub with a bottle of vodka. Thankfully his dog Charley, who is well-documented as having a personality all his own which sustains his owner, coaxes him out of his funk by making him take him for a walk under the night sky. He sees the stars and he is cured. I’ve been cured by the stars too many times to count. They never fail. Knowing that Steinbeck had that same muse bonds me to him forever. It doesn’t matter he’s been dead almost as long as I’ve been alive, we are kindred spirits. If he came through the filament in plasma form and we had a brandy old-fashioned together, I’m sure we’d get along fine.
I hate to say it, but seeing Steinbeck with a cigarette smoldering between two typewriter-worn digits makes smoking look cool. Phillip Morris should have been paying attention. It’s not the cigarette, but something about his expression that tells me—with all his smoke breaks, the man has had some time to think. I wonder—especially now, when smokers are banished not only out of society, but at least ten feet away from it: what do they think about whilst huddled in a far frozen corner, taking another drag of nicotine between their blue lips? (Smokers, you have been prompted to comment on this blog!) Reading great authors like Steinbeck makes me understand that honesty is the hallmark of a great author. Great writers frame the truth; they know the truth is beautiful. They draw from their own experiences—they don’t presume to be something they are not, or try to write about things they know nothing about. Honesty is the best policy, anything less than the truth is propaganda at best. At the worst, it’s a shit sandwich.
I’ve science-fictionalized a picture of two high school wrestlers featured in the local paper. This is a classic example of when I pick up something realistic, pass it through my turning wheels, and it emerges as something completely different. I’ve learned to not to expect anything to turn out completely the way I imagine it. No matter how thorough I am in my planning, it never does. It’s a good thing I’m not a civil engineer. This is why I like impromptu mock-ups like this—there’s no expectation, just a glimpse of an oddity.
So who do you think wins the fight? Will it be the red guy or the blue guy? Does it matter? Is there an equation based on how many times you’ve watched Star Trek in your life? Is it possible that all the stories you’ve heard can be condensed down to one or two stories?The first story is the good guy wins, the bad guy loses. The second story is the bad guy wins and the good guy loses. Win, lose, lose, win. Is there anything else? And yet, there are as many stories as there are stars. It’s the post-modern era blues.
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.
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.
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.
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.