Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lunar Windsurfing

How often we get locked into a box may be less than how often we lock ourselves in. At a recent social event I went to with some friends, I ended up talking for a few minutes to a young artist. At these kind of things there are almost always a bunch of people who present themselves as artists, and while I believe wholeheartedly that we are all art spirits, I often take the announcement with a grain of salt. This guy was a graffiti artist, a form I deeply respect when it's done well, and at the mention of a few of his pieces around town, I recalled that I liked very much what I saw. So somebody asked him if he would do commissioned in-home murals, which is where it got interesting. He wasn't rude, but his face very quickly took on a few years around the edges and a deep weariness appeared around his eyes. He said he has done commissions before, that he probably would again, but that right now he couldn't be any further from caring about commercialism. For a graffiti artist, it might seem like commercialism would be the goal. It affords them a way to make money and gain some notoriety for what they do. But not everyone wants to be Shepard Fairey, like not every traditional painter wants to be the Rembrandt of their day. Despite what your tv would have you believe, money is not the ultimate. It's pretty nice, but if it becomes the reason then something really vital may have been lost. So what made our artist perk back up? Though cryptic and vague, he explained that he has something new he's working on. Something new. The way that he explained it was a boomerang that could use the full energy of the sun to shoot out to the edge of the galaxy and then back home. Solar sails? He said, kind of. It wouldn't work, detractors insisted. He just shrugged and said that it's hard to explain. I don't know what he's working on, but acording to him, it is like nothing he's ever seen and like nothing he's ever done. I'm sold. There's something so moving and electrifying about an artist on the rickety edge of their own exploration. Instead of a nice, easily recitable three sentence explanation of me, my influences, my medium and message, I could just tell people how it feels. If it's something honest, it should feel like all kinds of things. Right now, I feel like my first phase is heading to a close. What comes next is new territory. I am leaving home. I think I'll take a note from the spraycan spaceman and tell everyone I meet that I'm working on transparent pet clothing, or that I'm making a map of only corners. I think I'd love to hear people explain their projects this way. It would be confusing, yes, but that's better than predictable any day.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Is Hope All There Is?

Don't get me wrong. I am a fan, a big fan, of hope. And no, this is not a political statement, a religious statement, or my argument for cynicism over optimism. It's a simple question that has me prickling a little. Enough to write about it, at least, and sharing my observations here with you. Thank you for joining me again. Just clear off a stack of papers anywhere and pop a squat. This question exists purely in the realm of the artist's experience, for my benefit, and maybe yours. What happens after the show is hung, after the reception, but before the show is over?

Having an art show is a weird thing. It's the culmination of a lot of work both physical and emotional. It's the big event I work toward a few times a year, and it seems like it's over in the space of one evening. But it's not. The work is never really done, of course, but what can I do now that the buzz of opening night is over? I could start working on the next collection, start networking for more opportunities, and I do, but something still itches at the back of my mind. My work is still up. My buzz is still happening. How to make it contagious?

Anyone who's done this before knows the feeling of running into people who were invited to the reception that didn't or couldn't make it, and their (usually) apologetic manner and general curiosity about the way things went. There's the usual smile and shrug and rundown of the evening, and then the mention that the aquaintance hasn't actually missed the show. "Oh well, it'll be up through the month if you'd still like to see it". But something is missing. The main event has passed. So now I can only hope that random people will happen upon my work and fall in love? I can hope that the friends of mine who really wanted to see it will find a way to get over and see it, yes. I can hope that an art critic will happen by, or a dealer, or an agent, sure. But hope can't possibly be all there is. The thing that's missing, the "main event" feeling of the opening reception can be renewed in perpetuum with a little effort.

The show I'm talking about now is one that is currently on display at the Blue Wing Gallery in Woodland, California. It'll be up through the end of the month, and while the reception was fun and exciting and incredibly flattering and even a little lucrative, the opening reception is only the opening number. I propose we keep this thing going as a play in three acts, a three course meal, a sonata in three parts. After the Act I opening recpetion party, it goes like this:

ACT II: Media frenzy! Art critics don't like to be pushed or sold on a person most of the time, but they do like to be excited by new work, new ideas, new experiences, just like the rest of us. They don't want to feel like they are being manipulated, but they do want to be invited, and they are aware it's because of what they can do for an artist's career that they're asked. If they were included in the mass email announcement, but didn't show, I propose emailing a personal invitation to local reviewers, critics, bloggers, etc. to see the show and maybe meet to discuss if they are so inclined. Some may prefer to skip the hubub of the reception to see the work on a quiet afternoon when they have the time and space to get to know the pieces. If you know anything about their work, their likes and dislikes, it's helpful to everyone to keep that information in mind. This is a mutual respect experiment. If they want to see the work on their own, let them. If they want to know more about you and your experience, have something to tell them. If they don't, avoid pushy! Give them enough time before the show ends to write something about a show people can still go see.

ACT III: Closing reception! This can be just as fun and exciting, if not more so, than the opening reception. Many galleries will have a closing reception, but if one doesn't, propose having one. If you didn't have a chance to speak about the collection during the opening reception, see if you can work it into the closing. It's been my experience that buyers want to know about the artist, even if not about the pieces. The experience of making this particular collection, travels that sparked your imagination, conversations, books. The way an artist interprets his or her surroundings is half if not more than half of what makes the art interesting. But there is a fine line between revealing the curve of an ankle, so to speak, and overdoing it. The viewer gets to have their own experience with the pieces. Locking them in to your intention can dull the magic a little. I went to a lecture a while back by an old professor and very well respected artist at his show. It was standing room only to listen to him talk about a series of thirty paintings of the same simple subject. Each one was fascinating on its own, a completely new experience on every canvas. But he only talked about the light, the window, trying to paint something white, and why he even attempted this series. The thing is to guide people, but not get in their way.

Throughout the month, I hand out business cards, I ask interested people if they'd like to be on my mailing list, and I tell them where they can see my work today in person. I cultivate my own excitement about this collection every time I talk about it. Being an artist is about sharing, it's about unspoken language, connections. It's about inviting people to try on my glasses, if you get me. At the end of the day, none of this might work, it might not get me even one more sale or commission or fan, but when I take the show down at the end of the month, I'll know I tried everything in my toolbox. I'll know I wasn't just sitting on my hope and waiting.

My toolbox is an expandable file. Any suggestions you may have would always be appreciated. So what's worked for you or others you know? Completely disagree with me? I can handle that too.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Eyes Have It: A Route Away From Routine

Occasionally these things get very uncomfortable. I posted a while back about how drawn I am to paintings of figures who are looking at me and then how very shifty-skinned they make me also. The same rings true for my own paintings, apparently. I think I know why that is, beyond the obvious that I naturally would infuse this collection of strokes with a feeling of humanity. I feel like there's somebody there, the way you know when somebody is behind you in a room. I can think of them as friends, but it's more like holding a mirror angled under one's mental curtains. If you don't like what's there, then it can be a kind of terrible therapy experiment. But it can be really interesting if you keep looking anyway. This is how I found out the thing I was trying to say with my paintings. I looked at what was looking back at me. I could analyze the thing I'd done after the fact, and see my self communicating, finally understanding it. A friend of mine was talking about her recent epiphany in this regard, how she finally realized what it is she'd been trying to say, trying to show. The great thing, the weight-lifted feeling you get at this point, is about finding direction and realizing it's a solid path, a truthful path. So from there it explodes, right, it just blossoms wild and the whole world shifts to fit. It's chaotic and rambunctious. You are flooded with ideas. From there, it will change.

You can try to shut it up, but once you find out, it's pretty impossible to do that. You can make your art commonplace by forgetting the ecstacy and following an algorithm. You can keep digging and pushing yourself further through your internal jungle. You can make new paths through the jungle, now that you know how, and say more. I've found it's not always about the mixed race thing with me, but sometimes about vitiligo, sometimes about gender, the connections between family members, the connections between members of society. How does one keep this thing fresh? Keep looking.

Each piece I work on leads to others. I'm nervous about this or that thing, how it will be percieved, if I can execute this or that aspect. So I look in the painted eyes that are looking back at me, and let the conversation evolve. There isn't any reason to know the answers before I begin, the questions are the interesting part. It's not as much about, "What do I want to say?", as "What did I just reveal?". I start a painting thinking of a very loosely worded question and by the end of it I realize I've asked more of them and more precisely. The statement is made at the end of the process, the conclusion of my argument with myself. What is really wonderful is when somebody else sees a conversation in a painting of mine that I didn't even know about. That's the community that art creates, I suppose. Curiosity is key. I can only start with myself.

So in order to maintain the excitement, the desire to keep on in the wide unknown instead of turning for the safety of the cottage, I talk to myself. Yeah, ha ha, I know. But artists have to keep asking, answering and laying bare. The questions might be about the way light affects texture, or it might be about the the solidity of dreams. Whatever the questions, there are always more to explore. A hungry mind just gets hungrier the more it's fed. And that's a very, very good thing.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sustainability, Substance and Ability, Substrain

Keeping on, what I'm made of and what I can do, the turmooil underneath. Inspiration and motivation and embracing the fears. I've been thinking a lot about artist's stories. I know where my own inspiration lies. I wonder about other people. I'll start with me, because I can't ask anyone to do for me what I won't. So here's a bit of the painting I'm working on now:

I have long been in love with a place I've never been. When I was younger, I wanted a tribe. A recognizable group to which I belonged. I think this is commonplace for anyone who feels like an outsider or like the last and only. For me, this was mostly because i am mixed race and I grew up in a very pale town. Not rudely so, most of the time, but still. I gravitated toward any other mixed race person I saw, but found there was a kind of magnetic repellant that happened between many of us. The thing about being the last and only is that when you find another one, you either feel like you should be joined at the hip or you reject them. It's difficult to explain, but I understand it, so I won't explain it.

I wanted a country for my tribe, where we could just be without noticing the thing that made us different from everyone else. For mixed race people, the closest thing to a homeland is New Orleans, Louisiana. The place of the first independent black newspaper, and a thriving Creole community. Shit, I speak some French! I love jazz music! And the heat, the mystery, the ready association between life and death, the dancing, the faiths all intermingling, it didn't have to be much to be paradise. I read a book recently called, "A Twisted Ladder" by Rhodi Hawk (If you haven't read it, you should) and was so deeply pulled in, I couldn't see my feet. Like wandering through a cypress swamp right when the moon peeks over the treeline, like sitting in the backseat while something, someone else drives your body to dance, like the lonely howl of a blues man, like cornbread, sweet tea, kudzu, climbing through the spanish moss on an old growth oak tree barefoot. The magical south, I guess. Honeysuckle, magnolia blossoms, kissing on a sunporch on a night so humid your dress is a second skin. The power and mystery, the history of pain and overcoming of pain, the south is rich, bloody soil. And the water, graceful and giving and murderous and callous, takes everything she wants. The Cold War Kids' song "Saint John" about a young man who kills a man who was attacking his sister and now waits on death row, is pure southern gothic. And recently, Adele's song, "Rolling In The Deep" is to me almost exactly a love affair born and died in black bayou water. Of course, the book and later the film that made Savannah, Georgia a tourist droolfest, "Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil" cannot be overcelebrated. The wail of Bessie Smith, the velvet of Billie Holiday. Bourbon straight. Rich.

My imaginary south, and I have to call it that because the real thing is both more and less fantastic, is itself the experience of the mixed-race writ large. The tension between races is a war I fight inside myself. The black King and the white Queen both hold court inside me. I've been called beautiful and ugly, too much of this and not enough of that and vice versa. Close family members do not look like me, the possible variations have made us all different, much as NOLA looks nothing like anything on any side of her. Sexy and vivacious, a place to party and do things you'd never tell your parents about. Ugly and broken, a place to be saved from itself, a project. Me and she, she and me. There are ghosts that whisper in my trees, there are a hundred forms of religious reverence practiced in my cemeteries, churches, livingrooms and town squares.

My magical, mysterious, imaginary south is very much my own self portrait. There is, always, a seperateness, a loneness (not aloneness, not loneliness), the allure, the danger, the myth and magic, the story only hinted at, something coiled, something sharp and dark.

I can hope that over the course of my life, the entirety of my work forms and completes the puzzle of my experience. Soft and sharp, sweet and bitter. Yes, it sounds egocentric, even a little self-aggrandizing. But it's not. We all walk our own road, and in order to both expand and shrink the landscape, our duty is to express to anyone who will listen our own road-learned experience. I do want to know about you.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Where We Go From Here Is Up To Twister

The spin of a little plastic dial on a brightly painted square of cardboard can leave you in traction. Remember that. I can't forget it. Fate. Destiny. Supposed to anything. Free will. It is my professional opinion that the way these things work is that everything begins with a grand flash to jump start the rolling forward, and then things roll forward. Forward rolling along, the thing rolls over this and that live wire, some of which spark and send the thing careening in some other direction. Some of which are duds and the thing goes about never noticing them at all. Life. Aside from these sparks, catapulting the thing this way and that, there are other things to bump into and they also change the thing's course. Pool balls on a trip-wired table lumpy with land mines. Life. Explosions of joy, explosions of rage, explosions of pain, explosions of compassion, running this way and that just trying to hold on, hold still. Luckily, we are sticky. Sometimes some other thing attaches and rolls along beside for a while. But where we go from here is up to...what? Who?

You don't have to believe I am any good at what I do, but I still get to do it. You cannot stop me, no matter how much you'd like to. Throw your wish against my back, I don't care. The subtle suggestions are the worst. Somebody comes out and says to me that they're not really into what I do, I can either explain or accept. Fine. Move on. Somebody ignores my contribution altogether, somebody laughs behind their hand, somebody rolls their eyes, these things are flaming fucking daggers ripping through the stitching, okay? I have no choice, I am only a ball on a green felt field, rolling. I listen to the rythms, the rumble, the keening inside, and in the interest of self-sustainability, I roll in the direction that affords me a healthy level of pain as opposed to the pain of slow eeking suffocating death. Can you smell the difference, even in the dark? I can. For me, I can. So I tell a story that very few really care to hear. I press a button and nothing happens. I dig a hole and watch it fill in with water. Nevermind, it doesn't have to make sense.

I am leaving tonight on a journey of self, since a friend of mine said she's been taught that all artists should write their experience. I can dig that. I've been reading a lot of artist magazines lately, and I think the worst part is the interview. Interviews are the worst! I feel like we, as the theatergoing public, would all be better served if we just read first-person accounts, autobiographies (not ghost written), diaries, travel journals, etc. There's so much to be said for the perspective of the individual.

As an artist, I am excited to read about other artists' experience, especially female, especially those embracing their hue (bleu cheese and chalk all the way to wet midnight soil), especially people with skin disorders, especially people who are radical of thought, especially those who have chosen the wilder path. I can't speak to everyone personally, so it would be nice to read what they were thinking when they traveled to a certain place or did some thing or met some thing. I don't need to know how they constructed a thing, or even what they were thinking when they constructed said thing, but the life one must wake up and face every day is a hard one, even swimming in all this joy.

I want to know how another person dealt with being laughed at. If you answer, please don't be dismissive. I wouldn't ask if I didn't really want to know.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chasing Rabbits, Rabbits Chasing Me

In a story recounted by the director Kevin Smith regarding the advice Wayne Gretzky's father bestowed on his talented progeny, he shared the anecdote, "Don't chase the puck. Be where the puck is going." Kevin Smith, talented bastard that he is, understood immediately upon hearing this that chasing the puck is exactly what he'd fallen into doing. The alternative is to use your creative thinking, your artist mind, and innovate for the future. If you allow it, you can help dictate where the puck goes. If you've thought of it but haven't seen it before, it might be worth innovating, oui? He used this advice to make the movie he'd been wanting to make. I think you know the painter's equivalent. The goal is to find a place where honesty pushes one past the place where things are on a grid, past the place where things are already cataloged, and try something new. It might not actually be new, but it will be one's own version of never-before-seen, and that is enough, I think. Following what's fun is one way to do it. Following what's uncomfortable is another. Which direction yields more/better/stronger results? Are they separate at all? Making people uncomfortable can be fun too, you know. What's important is that the lines of communication stay open, and that when it's one's turn to speak into the receiver, the language is truth. I keep dreaming paintings. Faster than I can create them, they keep coming.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, March 25, 2011

sun rise...sun set, and in between I learned to keep learning.

Across a yoga mat from eachother, in "mountain pose", hands together over the heart, this instruction is given in stage whisper:

O: "Alright. You must listen the kung fu master."
Me: "Okay"
O: "You must listen the kung fu quiet"
Me: "Okay"
O: "You must listen who talk to me and hear who talk to me"
Me: "Okay:"
O: "This is the inconuium (sp?) of the kung fu. You must be quiet of the eyes and of the ears. This is where I will be and this is where you will be. So now we have to do stretches, kung fu master."

She leads me in various stretches.

I wonder what keeps people afraid of themselves. I wonder why the constant tug of war between the side that enjoys the bed and the side that thinks ice camping sounds fun. I guess that's just life, the struggle is the education. With regard to artwork, the options are infinite; at the very least, as many ways to do it as there are people to try to do it. I've always been into weird, but it doesn't mean I have to be one of those to produce it. Or maybe it does. What are the requirements? Be honest. Be as pure in your execution, in your conviction, as is humanly possible. At all times? At all times. All of that and none of that is true. I don't actually have to do anything. I think I was surprised to find that out. I don't have to show anybody anything, or impress anyone, or make anyone's eyes or mind expand. Not really. But in figuring that out, I also figured out that I really actually do want to. But I want to do it right. If there were fewer artists in the world, then those who produce would be able to produce less meaningful, less honest work and maybe convince people the opposite were true. With such a crowded field, what are the reuqirmeents to stand out and get noticed? Technique is good, tenacity is better, but there really is nothing like honesty. All my heroes were fans of it. It's what made them weird, and what made them black sheep, what made them ostracized, and what made them heroes. I don't feel any kind of need to blaze a trail, but damnit, I am tired of being so predicatible to myself. This, my friends, is what they call the box boundary. From here, I am lying to myself if I stay where I've been. From here, I must expand or be untrue. I want my art to matter, and for that to happen, it has to matter to me, I guess is what I'm getting at. The shift might not be recognizable at first, so I'm not really sure why I'm saying anything about it. I love and am very proud of what I've done. I happily add my stamp to any of it. What happens next will have to use that and travel deeper is all. I look forward to making some people uncomfortable. For the first time in a long time, the art feels like work again, the good kind. I feel my chest expanding against deep sea pressure to stay closed, dragging myself up. It feels good. I ask only to recognize the right kind of pain when it happpens, and sit inside it until I come out the other side. Stronger.

macho garcias.