‘Life Stories’ are the stories behind many of the art pieces I have made. From the beginning with my first body of work around 13 years ago, I made art from the intention with coming to know myself deeper. This would take a course of natural progression going from the highly personal and into a more impersonal expression from the development I underwent with the discoveries that came from using Life as the source which to make art from. And because of this, the creative process with art has always been less concerned with the resolution of painting and drawing problems. It has always been more than an event of playing with aesthetics, more than the designing of visual elements that form a composition. For myself, art has been a medium to explore the Life i’ve been given.
I imagine if you could reverse engineer the portrait paintings by two different artists what would be revealed? After removing the impressionistic brush strokes, the layering of colors, the building of forms, the variations in mark making, etc. what would be exposed beneath it all? One artist would reveal the emptiness of a blank canvas where the art was nothing more than these elements now removed from the finished result of a painting. The other would reveal a story, where the purpose to paint the portrait was born not from a motivation to create an image for the sake of painting itself, but from a Life experience. I was in an artist friend’s studio a few weeks back, and I noticed the large size portraits painted in acrylic, and obviously in progress that covered much of the space like wall paper. He hadn’t worked with the subject since a few years back and so I asked him about it. Hugh had just returned from traveling around Spain, and began telling the story of a man he had met in the community kitchen at a hostel. The man happened to have lived for 14 years in Hugh’s hometown of San Francisco, but decided he wanted to travel the world by car which he did for the next 20 years with his wife and son. They had been to many places around the world, always by driving there. The man had made a book about his journey with photographs and writings. Hugh only took a single photograph during his travels, and it was of this man with the intention to paint his portrait from having met him. He went on to tell me the stories behind each painting. I asked if he had any interest to incorporate somehow the stories behind them. Hugh did not. Hearing these backgrounds enriched the overall expression of the work, giving it depth, meaning and yet the viewer will only see the painting of these individuals.The paintings on their own are quite extraordinary, but after knowing the contents behind them I can't help but experience them after as rather ordinary as if presented incomplete.
I’ve always had the wish to bring forth the motivations left invisible in the background with any finished piece of art. And finally here feels like the right moment to begin the task. To integrate the visual with the literate, and bring completion to the several paintings and drawings made over 3 bodies of work since 2003. The format to achieve this will be a book, and thru this blog the beginning point to start from. I give you ‘Life Stories’.
Where to begin? I could start from the very beginning, and work my way to the present but that is overwhelming. I know this from having tried over and over, over the past few years. And so I will just write.
It was my first experience with LSD. It was in the summer of 2015, upstate NY. In all places for this initiation… Woodstock. How cliche. My friend, fellow artist, Ace acted as a guide with setting up the perfect situation. He was very experienced in the matter, and took care of every detail for the ideal situation. We set ourselves up in a large summerhouse buried in and above the forest, overlooking the NY reservoir. There were some neighboring houses nearby, but not a soul occupied them. The backyard itself from a 2 story patio deck led down to the beginning of the forest having no trail or boundaries. You could walk in and get lost. Ace regulated my dosage giving me half a regular full dose. The drug was a tiny wet stain on a tissue paper. I put it on my tongue and walked into the side yard meadow where it quickly dissolved. I didn’t know what to expect and quickly became a little nervous. This went away as I enjoyed the beauty of the tall grass and trees. I noticed mechanical junk spread everywhere. Circuit boards, car parts, machinery, wires and so on. Then I saw handsize plastic baby doll heads, the kind from an early era where the eyes look real with colored glass and the eyelids open and shut and have dark mascara eyelashes. The heads were decapitated, place on the tops of long skewers erected from the ground like you might see on the movie set of a tribal cannibal village. I came to find out an artist from the sixties made sculptures all thru out the area using recycled parts as I was witnessing here. It didn’t freak me out much, but it moved me to return to the house. Ace and I had set up separate painting stations, around 30 feet apart. Still I felt no different than usual, and began to paint as a distraction from the concern if the drug will ever take effect or not.
layed down watercolor on a sheet of paper and had no idea what I had just painted. It was done almost as soon as I started. My intuition with this knowing, the confidence i felt with putting the brush down felt intensely clear like never before. Excited I transported the piece to inside the house to preserve, eager to paint more. I remarked enthusiastically to Ace what just occurred and he smiled as he continued to paint on the deck. We had many insights over the following hours all the while painting, and now and then one would walk to the others station interrupting to share some. The conversations were fulfilling. During one of these Ace wanted to read the final letter he had written to his very recent ex-lover. I stood listening attentively as he read the short paragraph from his phone. Towards the end I felt the sensation of small tears forming in the corners of my eyes. This only escalated and just as he read the last word I had to excuse myself. We parted ways and I was desperate for privacy as if suddenly naked. I walked maybe ten feet and collapsed to all fours in the gravel of the drive way. Tears poured from me violently and primordial involuntary sounds came from my mouth with the convulsions that come with heavy crying. I didn’t feel pain though, i felt release. I didn’t feel embarrassed, I felt the necessity, the relief that I could finally cry this hard in my Life. If even only once. And i felt grateful, if LSD offered this alone I was content. After a few minutes I picked myself up and walked towards the meadow but collapsed again just as I reached it. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I was okay to let it happen. I cried more and looked up realizing I was in front of a burial ground with a cluster of rocks with a single heart shaped stone centered and on top as the tombstone. Above hung a line of tiny colorful flags similar to Tibetan prayer flags with the image of a dog’s paw on all of them. I cried more and suddenly Ace’s dog Macey came running by my side. She rolled around in the grass, flopping around on her back and looking into my eyes the entire time. I began to laugh and give her a hug, thanking her as if she were an angel descending to comfort the suffering. I walked back to my station and started a new canvas. I didn’t think too hard, just painted. It was again a rapid piece. It was apparent the painting reflected the experience i had just undergone, as if the canvas were a polaroid taken during the trip and now exposed the image of the experience taken. The experience of empathy was overwhelming, yet wonderfully phenomenal and now I had a tangible record of it. Continuing to paint I began to have more extraordinary experiences. Every color I reached for was the right one, every stroke i made felt correct. The usual inner critic was absent for once. The inner child thrived without restraint and I imagined this is what it must have been like as an infant, when I first made pictures and hadn’t yet developed ideas of right and wrong. Pure joy and play, absolute bliss in painting. I became an observer to my own hand as if a higher intelligence was leading it. I watched it load the brush with black ink, and in a rapid but precise succession of 3 or 4 movements like a martial art form, complete the painting with an exclamation mark felt in the action of the stroke, symbolized in the marks left by it on the canvas. The next painting I found myself trying to recreate the awesome experience, and so the painting failed all together. But the impression the previous one left, excited me to reflect later on in hopes to integrate it back into my sober process.
One last piece I would like to mention from this session was of an abstract horse. Like the others, it happened on its own so to speak. I had been wanting to give my friend Angel a painting as a gift, and I knew it was to be this piece. Bringing it from the painting station into the house, Ace commented how it looked like The Last Unicorn. I had no idea what he was talking about, and he mentioned an animation from his childhood having this title, though he didn’t recall any details. Later in the evening when finally done with painting for the day, I sat inside the house to rest. Looking on my phone a friend had posted in social media her excitement that The Last Unicorn was now available on Netflix. I told this to Ace and he laughed at the coincidence. The next day I would do a full dose of LSD and paint the day away again. The first piece made turned out to be a reddish orange cow. Later this day I again went on my phone and curious about The Last Unicorn I read a synopsis on Wikipedia, and learned the nemesis to the unicorn was a red bull. I was at having painted the cow earlier, and telling this to Ace he laughed. A few days later when we returned to Brooklyn, I framed the painting and went to the post office to ship it out. I had written the friend’s name, Angel, in a cursive font on the package. After my turn at the counter, a young woman took my place where she caught my attention with her unusual accent along with her loud voice. I turned to look just before exiting, and she was tall wearing a very short skirt with large hole fishnet stockings and two words covered the entirety of each rear thigh. ‘Angel Face’ is what it read, written in the same generic cursive font I had used. I wanted to take a photo, but i already felt like a pervert staring at her along with all the other men in the post office. I texted Ace immediately sharing the further coincidence. He didn’t answer so I returned to the studio where he had just returned himself. He was at the pet store getting food for Macey, when he saw a customer he was convinced was his ex. She was just ahead of him in line and he couldn’t quite tell. Then he saw one of her arms which had a tattoo confirming it wasn’t her. The tattoo however read the single word ‘Angel’. Wanting to surprise Angel, I didn’t notify her that I was sending a gift. The piece was a few days past its arrival date, and I became nervous. The tracking showed it was in the city of arrival waiting for delivery. The surprise would have been a nice touch, but I decided to contact her and ask if she got it or not risking the surprise. Doing this, I happened to catch her in the moment where we were both online. Just as I was about to ask, she received the painting in that moment with the postman bringing it to her door. Native is an artist I recently met in France. I wasn’t sure at first why I was in France at all really, but it became very clear after while living alone with Native for 2-3 weeks where we spent a good portion of each day passing drawing books between each other, collaborating on drawing after drawing often with long periods of silence between us although sitting just feet apart. Our dialogue was occuring loudly in our collaborative process. I was here to meet this individual on the Life, Art path. (continued)