over on channel two

nov. 13, 2008

i’m preparing to do a grant application, and they want to know everything i’ve done for the last 20 years. so i went thru everything.

i’ve been a working artist since the early 80s, and tho i’ve gone in and out of the commercial world (cook, secretary, graphic artist) i’ve always made paintings and i never stopped. my brother calls it a vow of poverty, but he’s been selling mortgages, so hah. it’s not deprivation when you learn to live on nothing just so you can stay behind and make your art while everybody else puts their energy into a third party’s goals. it’s a calling.

i looked at the last 20 years of my work. how do you compact 20 years into 40 slides when your output has ranged from a high of 200 paintings a year down to 3? do you show evolutionary trends in your work, do you show phases, do you make an artist’s statement out of the represented work? there’s a whole politics and philosophy about grant writing that i instinctively do wrong, so i never get them, so i shouldn’t bother trying and just get back to work painting.


one of the things i was doing but never finished or continued was a series of paintings from when i was trying to cope with cancer. this was back starting in 2001. these paintings were coping paintings, inner dialog paintings, facing the hard facts of death paintings. they were ugly. i destroyed them when i’d had enough.

and they didn’t do me much good because tho i got the feelings out and expressed, i was too caught up in them to do more than scream incoherence in gaudy colors.

so i sat and looked at the drawings. and then i came upstairs to the computer and looked up “cancer” and “art”, and found a whole lot of very expressive, very raw, very unpolished statements of what it’s like to be stripped of all the social niceties that entertain us while we work like zombies.

it’s another worldview altogether. my work fit right in.

i thought back on a couple of my attempts, now painted over with peaceful scenes. i thought how i’d do those ideas now, after 7 years of living with death. and i came up with idea so compelling to me that i gessoed three two foot by four foot canvases, and am dividing my time between starting these new paintings, and finishing my novel, and getting around to all the work i have to do before xmas. now that my class is over (bye girls) i can turn my attention to various fabric production efforts. when i’m not writing or painting.

one of the paintings is fabric artlike because i’m going to cut out part of the canvas and sew in a bra that’s going to become part of the painting.

bra my kid, my model

another painting is going to be an anotomical chart woman on the canvas, with painted silk overlays showing her before cancer, after, wearing a wig, etc.

and i’m going to be annotating them with all sorts of commentaries on what i think about cancer and the cancer industry, etc. i won’t get started here.

* * *

many months later.

because there’s really nowhere else to put them, here are my completed breast cancer paintings.

a mother and daughter talk about breast cancer A+B

A Side – oil on canvas, breast prosthesis, prosthesis bra, hand-made and -dyed canvas skirt, 24×48
B Side – oil on canvas on polished stretchers, mirror, sterile gauze, surgical stitches, pink ribbon, pink wrist restraints cut from hooters sweatshirt

this double portrait functions as a dialog between the innocent, enthusiastic, optimistic perfection of inexperience – and the sagging, scarred, greying voice of what passes for wisdom.  it’s all the accumulated knowledge that i as a mother wish to pass on to my daughter, even tho she won’t listen – she’s facing in the other direction and is damn well going to make her own mistakes.

this painting is meant to be approached, touched, tried on.  you can poke the daughter’s bra and feel the spongy silicone of a fake breast, you can lift her skirt to see if she’s wearing panties.  her pose and smile invite you to touch her.  it’s the same with the obverse.  the mother’s face is a mirror.  you can go right up and stick your right breast into the empty side of the bra, and feel what it’s like to wear a prosthesis on the other side.  you can put your wrists into the restraints and tilt your head to show in the mirror, and feel the strain of the unfamiliar posture.

i especially wanted to drown the paintings in pink, because i have real trouble with the marketing of breast cancer, the industry of breastcancer fundraising, the politics of cancer, and pink just seems to symbolize the sickening-sweet polyanna  attitudes of those who’ve never faced death but would like to sympathize for a few moments.

the condescension of doctors

oil on canvas, gray washes on gesso, 24×48

a self portrait, i crouch naked, my wound raw, under the onslaught of medical advice.  this one has more anger in it.  it’s easy to get angry at the platitudes that drop out of the mouths of the medical profession.  well meaning, perhaps, but they are all attacks on individual autonomy.  if you listen to the doctors and do what they tell you, then you go thru a circus, all gaudy distractions and false hope, with treatments that leave you mostly dead.  the first step is to learn to see the advice as coercion, and yourself as the target of a megaindustry.  it takes real courage to listen to the little inner voice and step outside the cancer mill.


encaustic on masonite, linen and cotton string, teased-out cotton balls

this is one of my planet series of encaustic paintings.  i included this painting of my mammogram because it is such an orb, and its details are very similar to some of the moons of saturn.  the inside of our bodies is as wondrous as the outside of our womblike planet.

My year and a half of art residencies

this is a post i’d like to add to, but there doesn’t ever seem to be time, and at least it’s half done. 4/27/8. being really pissed off with doctors at the moment, with a screwed up day because of fallaciously scheduled appointments, i feel the moment is here to add some more detail to this. 2/19/9. now it’s done, enjoy.


in 2001 i quit my day job (graphics droid for big behemoth, inc.) and went back to being an artist. i learned all about creating the life you want. life was good.

after 9/11 our former president turned into a gunslinger. i grew disgusted with the world and asked god to take me, and i heard god say okay. it was a reverberation, a shimmer in the air. a month or two later, i found a lump, which took me a long time to come to grips with. more about that in my cancer blog.

in 2002 i was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had a lumpectomy.

in 2003 i decided i was going to die. i had a half-price art sale, sold all my things, gave up my studio loft, and became officially rootless.

i traveled the world during this ‘farewell tour’, visited all the spots i loved, said hi and bye to all my friends. for a year and a half i went from place to place, moving with all my art supplies and essential stuff, staying in art residencies both formal and casual, wrote email missives to all my friends back home, painted a whole lot of paintings, and wrote a book.

by 2004 and after two more lumpectomies, i realized i probably was going to live at least long enough to straighten out a few things. i’d seen crisis after crisis in my teenage daughter’s life and realized that my place was with her, so i brought all my stuff back to atlanta, rented a little place that leaked, and moved her out of her dad’s house and back in with me.

and started my life over again. four years later, it’s a completely different life. with a completely different me. i had a mastectomy. i learned to treat death as my best friend, and life as a continuous source of joy and happiness. i have a dedication to painting, i have a new grandbaby, i live in an artist’s paradise, i want for nothing, i love my life.

please enjoy vicariously – the missives were written on the spot and contain much more description than i am able for in this blog entry.

my year and a half of art residencies:

january 2003 – dublin

missive the first 1/29/3, barcelona, spain.

loose ends. there i was in dublin. i had pressured my friend brendan to take me in for a week at the beginning of january and at the end of february, and he did, gracefully. but perhaps not entirely willingly. he stayed at his girlfriend’s house and i stayed in his spare room, also known as his workshop. i worked on a painting of the grafton street flower market, and the courtyard of the unicorn restaurant (i think), and because his block of flats was due to be demolished, i did a painting of brendan with his rolling kiosk in front of the flats, that i gave to him as i was leaving. i think i left it in his flat and stuck the key in the mailslot as i headed out for the airport.

because it was right before fucking bush sent us into war, i was subjected to the usual hazing americans get overseas. i was supposed to be able to explain just why bush wanted to go to war to people who were quite hostile to american foreign policy just then. with good reason. i couldn’t explain, of course, just like when i was in ireland before, in the early ’80s, i couldn’t explain why reagan bombed algeria, or why he invaded panama and kidnapped the legitimate head of state. and since i was fighting cancer, i was heavily invested in magical thinking, which says that if you desire an outcome with all your heart, it will happen. so i sat there in the pub with brendan and his friends and insisted we wouldn’t go to war. and it’s a good thing i didn’t take brendan’s fifty euro bet on that. but because of that, and a few other misjudgments, like telling one of his friends that he was fat because he was armoring himself against unwanted emotions, which seemed pretty obvious to me, a bodyworker from way back, but was deeply insulting to both the guy and brendan, who has since then gone out of his way to avoid me. i feel badly about that, because he’s someone i have loved deeply for years. but with cancer, i have tended to let troublesome relationships fade away as i have dealt with things closer to home. but i do miss him.

pictures i accomplished in dublin:
watercolor, flower market – 14×19
watercolor, unicorn restaurant courtyard – damaged, 14×19
oil, brendan’s flats – 14×19

thanks for everything, brendan.

february 2003 – barcelona

a courtyard in barcelona
a courtyard just opposite the piccaso museum. every time but one i passed a closed gate. this time i just walked right in. painting done in holiday, florida a few months later.

missive the second – 2/5/3, barcelona, spain.

after a week in ireland to acclimatize myself, i took an easyjet flight to barcelona, where my friend francis met me at the airport. i have been to spain before, with my daughter, the first time driving from the airport in madrid to barcelone and meeting francis halfway, i believe. this time i went straight to barcelona. francis installed me in his front room, and i set up to do large canvases. i started on another koi painting, and a painting of palms in a courtyard of some church, and several silk paintings, of a butterfly, and a picture of the bar across the street – bar muy buenas.

francis lived at the time in an old section of barcelona. the building was several hundred years old. like all expatriates, he numbered among his friends other english speakers. there was an english woman, a guy from new zealand, a pair of sisters from australia who ran a restaurant, an old irish curmudgeon. pleasant people, all very unique, all misfits in the very best of meanings – if they’d fit in where they were from, they’d still be there living dull, boring suburban lives. as it was, they were the bright spots of my stay in barcelona, because they each had a different culture, a different perspective, a different sense of humor, and a different tolerance for alcohol.

it was a very cold winter in barcelona. i used a butane heater in my room, and listened to francis’ tapes of the ‘life, the universe, and everything’ radio series that predated the books. i painted, i did silk painting, i wrote missives.

since spain operates on siesta time, i got up with the racket at around 10 am and worked until late in the evening, when it was time for dinner. but i got tired easily, and didn’t want to stay up until after midnigtht to eat, so i tended to want to cook something at francis’ house and retire early. this put me at odds with everyone’s schedules. they would still be in the bar getting lubricated for dinner and i would be ready to sit down and eat. so i started to disappear from the social scene.

francis had a roommate at the time, esteban, a man from argentina. he was an artist, a ‘real’ artist, whereas in their judgement i only painted pretty pictures and so wasn’t really an artist. he turned his nose up at my work when i did show him, so basically i didn’t. i never saw his work, but i’m assured it was ‘real’ art. esteban didn’t speak a word of english, i didn’t speak a word of spanish, but we both liked to cook. he showed me how to make black beans, and i thumbed thru the dictionary looking for ways to talk to him. it wasn’t very successful. but i still remember the black bean recipe.

black beans the argentinian, i mean right, way
black beans, water. bring to a boil and simmer until tender. it’s permissable to put half an onion studded with several cloves into the simmering put. only after they are tender can you add other ingredients. i don’t remember if there were allowed ingredients or not, but since i stuck in my whatever was to hand and made stew, i don’t think i care that much.

i musn’t have made a very good guest. i was certain i was going to die really soon, which puts a different light on things. i was in a hurry to paint whatever i had in me to paint, to work on my demotivational handbook – ‘lazy is good, quit your day job’ – and to see all my friends again. i guess i was too serious to see all my friends for more than a few minutes at a time, and i was impatient to accomplish things so i could hurry up and finish dying.

sitges on the spanish med., oil 24x36\" width=
sitges, a resort town down the coast from barcelona. the cathedral had a taize service we went to, and the town has excellent paella. also painted later in holiday, florida.

missive the third – 2/13/3, barcelona, spain.
missive the fourth – 2/27/3, barcelona, spain.

after three weeks in barcelona, walking everywhere, learning the subway system, seeing gaudi and miro and dali and picasso, looking at franco’s handiwork (bulletholes on the sides of buildings in public squares where all opposition was dealt with in a way bush would have found admirable), i went back to ireland for a week. i had several large canvases that i didn’t want to fold to fit into my luggage, and couldn’t roll and take on the plane with me. i asked francis if he wouldn’t mind shipping them back to me at my friends dave and elizabeth’s house, where all my mail was going. he agreed, but gave esteban the paintings to mail, and i never saw them again. i hope he painted ‘real’ art over them.

this is a list of paintings i accomplished in barcelona:
silk butterfly, 36×36
sillk painting of koi, 36×36
silk painting of bar mas buenas, 36×36
oil koi – missing, 36×48
oil palm trees in courtyard – missing, 24×48
several oil sketches on canvasette – palms, buildings, 14×19

thanks, francis.

dublin, end of february 2003

back in dublin, my welcome wore thin. i hardly saw brendan at all. i tried to make amends for insulting his friend, but nobody was listening, so i finished up what i had to do and left with my tail between my legs.

when i got back to atlanta, all i needed to do was to go into my storage, pack up my little dodge doohickey, and drive down to my next missive, a pig in a poke that i had arranged online. while i was in barcelona, writing missives, i managed to piss off the kind folks at yahoo, who misinterpreted my mass mailings of my missives to everyone i knew – as spam. they shut down my account without warning, and wouldn’t listen when i told them it wasn’t spam but a travelogue. they wouldn’t listen for several weeks, even when i asked them to simply read what i was sending around. no solicitations, no cheap viagra, no fraudulent appeals for check cashing services. eventually i got my email account back, but i ran into serious trouble. i had nowhere to go after i got back to the states.

it was only in the last missive i sent from barcelona that i asked everyone i knew if anyone knew of a place i could stay for the month of march, as i wanted to continue painting. and only one person answered back, and he to my alternative hotmail account. sure, he had a place to stay, a spare bedroom in his handbuilt cottage in holiday, florida, and i was welcome. so i was off.

march 2003 – holiday, florida

missive the fourth and a half – 3/1/3, vienna, virginia.

missive the fifth – 3/17/3, holiday, florida.

i’d met the guy when i was camping at the beach with my daughter the summer before. on the way from the showers, i noticed a little one-man tent and a bike, and was intrigued. so i stopped to talk. pete the cyclist. he was about 60, grizzled and grey haired, with a nice smile and kind eyes. he was biking from florida to dc. impressed, i took his phone number and email address so i could keep in touch, and added him to my missive list.

interior pete\'s house, florida, watercolor, 16x20\" width=
pete’s living room in holiday, florida. the river and a wilderness is just outside.

pete was a gracious host. he let me use his library card, he gave me the use of his garage to paint in, he drove me around to see the sponge fishermen and boated me up and down the river. he let me cook dinner for him instead of eating at a local cafeteria. he even introduced me to his mom, who adored him. we got along well enough, for strangers in close quarters. pete has been a mechanic and repair guy all his life. he had a second garage full of every kind of tool known to man, and had spares of all of those.

paintings done in holiday, florida:
silk osprey on river, 36×36
barcelona courtyard, oil, 24×48
sitges, oil, 30×40
kilmainham window, oil, 14×19
kilmainham hospital grounds, oil, 24×48
watercolor of pete’s living room, 14×19
sand hill cranes, oil, 24×48

sandhill cranes on the tennesse river, oil, 24x48\" width=
sand hill cranes, tennessee river, their winter feeding grounds on their incredible migration.

he might have wanted me to stay, or might have thought i was going to be his girlfriend, but i was only interested in making art and moving on. i dissapointed him, i’m sure, because we haven’t kept in touch. but thanks for the residency, pete.

april and may 2003 – atlanta

back in atlanta, i participated in the spring art shows. since 2001 when i quit my day job, i made most of my money and art sales at the great outdoor art festival circuit in atlanta. i had some hopes of extending this thruout the winter, and applied to a bunch of showes in florida, thinking i could set up camp in some state park and paint on the side, store my work in my car, and hit one show after another for the funds to keep travelling until i was too sick and weak. it didn’t work out that way, but i’ll talk about it later.

i was staying with julie, a fellow droid from big behemouth who was an artist herself. she had a mother-in-law suite in her house, and in exchange for doing wall treatments so that she could rent the apartment, i got to stay there for a month or two. so i set up and painted a bunch of little things to sell at the shows. i had my large paintings, except for the missing ones from barcelona, and needed a bunch of cheap little ones to round out my stock. so i did a bunch of 8×10 oils of houses and flowers and wine bottles.

i did okay at the shows, but nothing like in the first year. my sales steadily tapered off to pitiful. but all i needed was gas and food money for the near future, since i was officially homeless. i saw my kid a lot, i sat and painted in a bar that was showing my work, i saw my atlanta friends, i wrote my demotivational handbook.

missive the sixth – 5/13/3, atlanta, georgia.

3 grant park houses, oil 8x10 mounted on dresser drawer
8×10 triptych of queen anne houses in atlanta’s grant park, fastened to an old dresser drawer front.

paintings i did while in atlanta:
i don’t remember, didn’t write them down, and sold them all.

thanks for having me, julie.

june 2003 – rural east haddam, connecticut

art residency in ct., oil, 16x20, gift
the grounds of i-park, a residency in connecticut, with statues in foreground.

rural east haddam, connecticut is a place full of hills and farms and old houses. ralph, who has a building supply business, is a big supporter of the arts and a closet musician. just recently before i applied to the residency – my first official residency in an actual art colony – he started up a residency program on his property, called i-park, catering not only to visual artists but also to musicians. in the picture above you can see the house in the far background, the white barn with cupola in front of it, and three little tiny ex-chicken coops in front of that. the little bitty places are studios, and there are several studios and the administrative offices in the barn. each resident had their own room in the multi-hundred year-old stone farmhouse. the residency was no charge, and we were only responsible for the cost of our food. it was idyllic. a hundred or so acres of ex field and farmland, a huge pond, and the area was full of farms and ex-farms, old graveyards and abandoned paths thru the woods leading to abandoned houses, some with spooky tales attached. i found the skeleton of a dog on the property at one point, dug it out of the ground and brought it back to my studio in case someone wanted to do something artistic with it.

with me on residency was a woman who lived locally and was trying to finish a commissioned statue, a woman from arizona who specialized in making temporary art out of degradable materials (avocado rinds, etc), and photographing them on display in national and regional museums. they weren’t really on display as such, but she’d prop them in a corner or the stairwell and take pictures of them. i thought it was a very funny commentary on art and the art world. there was also a woman who did installment art at such a rarefied level that i couldn’t understand it at all. but her work was bought by big museums, so perhaps this was the kind of ‘real’ art that esteban was talking about. there was also a guy, a composer, there to finish some composition he was being commissioned for. at first the women all ganged up against him, but he was gentle and kind, and in the end i quite liked him. it’s hard being a man in the middle of a pod of women.

it was june, which in atlanta means the start of summer, but in rural east haddam was only the start of spring. i had the woodstove in my studio going all day, drank many cups of tea, watched the trees and flowers in bloom, and painted all day every day.

missive the seventh – 6/8/3, east haddam, connecticut

i-park quickie; buildings seen from my studio
one of many little 5×7 or 8×10 oil paintings of the grounds at i-park

i-park, a converted chicken coop
out the window is my basic experiements with silk dyeing. in the studio, on top of the stove, is a still unfinished watercolor of the thumb’s up diner in atlanta. on the wall behind it is a bottles painting, and below it is a commissioned house painting.

studio at i-park

a painting of the stag’s head bar in dublin that i took reference photos of while i was in dublin, and behind that is a rather larger oil painting of the fields and barns of i-park

my riend norris\' racehorse urigo, oil 14x22\" width=
a commission of a friend’s racehorse coming in first

paintings at i-park:
racehorse, oil, 12×18
stag’s head bar, dublin, oil, 24×48
scott’s house, watercolor, 18×20
thumbs up diner, watercolor, 20×20
various silk work
bottle paintings, oil, various sizes
little simple landscapes, oil, various sizes

thanks, ralph.

july 2003 – charlottesville, virginia

then i packed up my stuff, left the residency, which had become a bit of a peyton place, added to which they all sat and watched the entire season of the sopranos in the room behind my bedroom wall, and drove south to charlottesville, where i had gone to school many years earlier, and which still had a large population of old friends. i stayed with my artist buddy jim, in his spare room, and together we painted all the time. he tried to teach me how to paint pastels, and i never much learned. he’d get so frustrated with my lack of understanding that he would take the pastel away from me and do it for me. i learned a lot that way.

koi, swarming, oil 36x48\" width=
a koi i did on commision

every few days we would go out to sugar hollow, right under the blue ridge mountains, and paint a river. we did lots of sugar hollow paintings.

jim is proud of his polish heritage, and makes polish jokes on himself which only went to show how inventive and resourceful he is. needing shade in the back yard, he figured how to rig a 40 foot construction tarp over the patio, and so we had an extra outdoor room to hang in on hot days, which there were getting to be a lot of. i painted a lot of series paintings while i was with jimmy. three or four hammocks, which was sitting just beyond the patio, several sunspot paintings in an area he’d dug out of the vines and weeds that nobody could see if they didn’t know where it was, so you could sunbathe naked if you wanted to, a painting of the garden, a painting of the house. and loads of paintings of the wonderful magical countryside around charlottesville, which i still love even after all this time.

paintings i did in charlottesville:
a commissioned koi painting, oil, 36×60
3 watercolors of the hammock, 8×10 an oil of the hammock, 8×10
half a dozen or more oil paintings of sugar hollow, about 12×14 or larger
half a dozen or more oil paintings of the virginia countryside
half a dozen pastels of area sights
half a dozen watercolors and oils of area sights
many oil studies of jim’s model sarah

thanks, jimmy.

jim\'s backyard in virginia, watercolor, 8x10
watercolor of jim’s hammock, one of several painted as the days progressed.

sugar hollow, virginia
sugar hollow, just the place to be on a hot summer day

august 2003 – rabun gap, georgia

i had another ‘official’ residency next, this time at the hambidge center, in the north georgia mountains. this is the only residency that i’ve ever been on that actually costs money. the rent is over $500 a month, and you have to show up for dinner as part of your residency agreement. there are some scholarships, but i was never offered one. there was also a lot of administrative infighting going on while i was there, and because at one point i was being considered for a job as the colony’s cook, i got exposed to a lot of unpleasant gossip. but this is just how things go. they didn’t hire me, either, else i’d be in the middle of it now. and during the process i never mentioned that i had cancer, because i already know how hard it it so get people to look past their fears that it might be catching.

my studio  in rabun gap, watercolor, 12x16\" width=
my rustic cabin at the hambidge center, far from anyone else down a side road

i was set up in a large cabin, by myself, off the main property and down a road and up half a mountain. way off in the distance i could hear the road, which was only two lanes at best. i set the living room up as a studio, and because the bedroom proper was full of mold, i set my bedroom up in the other living room. i had the windows open all the time, and never bothered to lock my door. it was heaven. the food was good, and vegetarian, the other residents were interesting, and i painted all day long, and then again after dinner. unfortunately, being so close to atlanta, a mere two hour drive, i found i was called back for varous important things thruout my residency. but i always came back that night, even if it was at two in the morning.

paintings i was working on in north geogia \'03
on the left on the wall is three palms at myrtle beach, on the right on the wall is a half finished irish cottage, almost invisible on the lower left is redwoods, and on the easel is another one of my koi fish.

i wrote one more missive, this one asking if anybody knew of a camper trailer for free that i could basically move my stuff into, so that i would never have to come down off my residencies, because i found that making art was my highest goal, and that as long as i was making art i was happy and productive. i like residencies. i like concentrating on painting all the time. i like not having a day job or money worries (this sounds counterintuitive, but if you have a day job, then you most likely have credit problems. the system is set up so that you have to work, and never have enough money, and have to work. the system won’t let you quit. you have to practice living within your means in order to be an artist, and that’s the only way not to be in debt, and not therefore constrained to sell your labor. and i’ve got better things to do with my energy than work toward someone else’s goals).

this is my missive, and my ex’s reply to my missive. he has never shared my belief in magic: Sent: Friday, August 22, 2003 11:30 AM Subject: the next missive

myrtle beach, s.c., oil on canvas, 24x36\" width= ol on canvas 12x24\" width=
here are closeups of the paintings on the wall above. myrtle beach palms, redwoods.

2 bottle paintings and the original, oil 8x10
here are just a couple of the bottle paintings i was doing at the time. you’ll notice the level in the bottle as well as the glass gets lower with each painting.

norman\'s first crab, hunting island, georgia, oil on board, 12x24\" width=
norman’s first crab, reference photo shot on hunting island, sc, and tho i ttied to find the family to give them a copy, i never could.

here are some of the paintings i did at the hambidge center:
silk painting of view from cottage, 36″x72″ or so
3 oil paintings of field below the cottage, 9×12
norman’s first crab, oil, 12×24
redwoods, oil, 12×24
palm trees 2 and 3, oil, 30×40
irish cottage, oil, 30×40
milford sound new zealand, oil, 24×48
upstate new york in the winter, oil, 24×48
kilmainham hospital grounds, oil, 24×48
spanish town, oil, 30×40
loads of bottle pictures, oil, 8×10 or thereabouts

i also worked on my demotivational handbook:
lazy is good – quit your day job

thanks, hambidge center.

september 2003 – atlanta

again i chanced into a great place to stay that had its own individual quirks and was what you’d expect if you’re not paying rent. again i was at the mercy of someone’s kindness, and again i was not up to being the perfect guest, but was put up with anyway.

a tie-dye artist named john befriended me a couple of years earlier, and we had kept in touch. john is a lovely gay man who works as a chef for his living, specializing in meals for the homeless. a kinder heart there never was. he invited me into his loft in way downtown atlanta. the loft was a whole floor in an old building, surrounded by parking lots and nightclubs. most of the loft space
was filled with long tables, the kind they used to fold away in the school cafeteria. these tables were used for his tie dyeing. he taught me a lot about tie dye, which i then went on to use when i picked up fabric work. john inhabited an alcove where he kept his stereo and tv, and it could be screened off so that his window air conditioner would have some effect. i don’t like air conditioning, and so i was totally happy in the sleeping loft above with a fan. he was gone most of the time, and was always happy to share whatever he had with me.

at this time i had returned to atlanta for the fall show season, but also with a new lump, which i had removed while i was staying with john. so into the bargain was about a week of drugged stupor while i recovered. i’d been on the road for 9 months at this point, it was starting to get old, but i wasn’t getting any better, couldn’t get a job even if i’d wanted to because i couldn’t hack the stress and hours, not to mention doing soulless corporate work, and didn’t know what i was going to do for the rest of my short life. it hadn’t yet occurred to me that my life might not be as short as i was expecting.

the fall show season was disappointing. i sold a few of the large paintings, but as i look at the picture below, i realize that i still have most of them in my collection. i sold all the small stuff, of course, and that’s what i spent most of my time doing at john’s place. that and painting a picture of his block which i never finished, doped up as i was. can you imagine me sitting on the curb with paints
and a board, stabbing at the picture half out of my gourd, in pain and wobbling? it’s hard to imagine now. i remember it was very hot sitting in the sun like that. i never did finish the painting, and i don’t know what happened to it. it’s probably in my portfolio.

pictures done at john’s:
i don’t remember. little stuff, all sold.

thanks, john.

my pitch fall \'03, selling the bounty
my show tent that fall. never a really good professional seller, my tent looked way too casual, and i was under the impression that people would see the work, not the tent.

milford sound, nz, oil 24x48\" width=
milford sound, new zealand, from a photo my cousin andy sent me. an example of how i fix paintings with a lot of problems. make it sloppy, make it abstract. loads of colors and exuberant brushwork.

october 2003 thru february 2004 – oakton, virginia

for the winter, which is a bad time to do residencies, i had intended to go camp out in some state park, preferably in a donated camper, and do the florida winter show circuit. and i got into a bunch of them. but as the summer progressed, i realized that i didn’t have the energy to do anything like that, so i turned my energy to finding a place to work for the winter. i ended up in my brother buddy’s newly-renovated house in northern virginia. two of my brothers and my mom still live in that part of the world, and i kept to myself most of the time. i was busy working on my demotivational handbook, doing a commissioned watercolor, painting a picture with my brother mikie, and concentrating on healing myself. i had several very interesting internal experiences, one involving strange shapes and lights.

i ran out of money in northern virginia. the half-price sale of january 2003 had netted me a bunch of money, but it was all gone now, and i was down to beans and rice and trader joe’s wine, and pennies for gas. after buying a tank of heating oil for $250, and paying an exorbitant cellphone bill, i had nothing left.

nonetheless, i spent most of my days at the library doing research for my demotivational handbook, and once a week i would make the short 2-hour drive down to charlottesville where i would spend the night at jimmy’s and paint his model the next day. he bought the gas. what a sweetie. in this way i spent the winter.

unfortunately, things were becoming difficult with my daughter and her father. she was 15 and living with him, and he couldn’t do a thing with her. they got into huge fights all the time, and then each of them would call me up to moderate their disputes, or lend a sympathetic ear. that’s why i had a $600 phone bill that sucked up all my money. i also found myself driving thru the night several times, to get to the house to rescue my daughter, who i was simply going to keep with me on the road, only to find out that he’d bribed her with some goodie and she was no longer willing to leave. this happened at least twice, maybe three times. i’d stand around on the street in the southern winter warmth, listening to them both swearing up and down that everything was fine, and then get back into the car and drive back up to virginia. but the fights were horrible, with them attacking each other physically, and threatening to throw each other out of the house, and to call the cops on each other, all the shit you can imagine between a teenager and her father. this is when i learned to let things cool off before acting.

in the south, during the winter, it gets up to 60 regularly. you can work in your garden all winter long, the ground never freezes. in northern virginia, and i had forgotten even tho i grew up there, the ground freezes solid, ices over, the streams grow ice beards, things crunch when you walk on them. my brother’s house backed onto a golf course, and so i took walks all the time, especially in the snow. we don’t get much snow in atlanta. they don’t get much in northern virginia, but they get more than they do in new york city, and it stays longer. brrrr.

paintings thru the winter:
shenandoah river, oil, 40×60, with my brother mikie
watercolor of the flying biscuit block of shops in decatur, 12×50
work on the commissioned koi painting

thanks, buddy.

march 2004 – pell city, alabama

my friend dallas had a place out in the middle of nowhere, alabama, half an hour out of birmingham on the atlanta road, and he let me stay there. he was growing shiitake mushrooms for a plan to supply local restaurants, and it was my job to shake the containers to distribute the baby mushroom mycelleum. it was fun. i was living in a trailer under the pines, it was serene. he would stop by to visit once in a while, and i would go to atlanta about three days a week to tend to business. i didn’t do much painting, as i was concentrating on my writing at this time. i got several hundred pages of research notes and a few dozen chapters competed, and haven’t done a thing with it since. i couldn’t interest anyone in publishing a demotivational handbook at the time. the country didn’t want to be told to quit their day job and stay out of debt. things were too high-flying. perhaps there’d be a market for it now, who knows.

it was becoming really obvious that i was going to have to do something about my kid. she was doing worse and worse with my ex. he’d taken her out of her private school on a whim, in the middle of term, losing her a semester’s worth of grades, and then he took her out of the public school he’d put her into, on a whim, losing another semester’s grades, so she was now a whole year behind in her schoolwork. they were fighting all the time, he accused her of being a pathological liar, and she accused him of handcuffing her to a door. so part of the reason i was going back and forth to atlanta was to find a place to live. it had to be cheap, and i had to talk the landlord out of a credit check, since i had no job and nothing to pay for it but the child support i was finally willing to charge my ex for fucking up my kid’s life.

thanks for everything, dallas.

april 2004 – jonesboro, georgia

the house was in an old neighborhood, and was in dire need of repair. every time it rained that rainy spring, the water flowed down the inside walls. within weeks the entire wooden structure was green with mold. i had to put my kid into the local school system, where she had to date the leader of the local gang in order not to be attacked. the landlord, mike, was a casual kind of guy, the ‘fix it tomorrow’ type. nevertheless, i planted a garden and worked on my paintings and my book. i got ready for the spring art show season, and worked for an acquaintance doing all her housework and grocery shopping for $7 an hour when the going rate was $12. that came to $35 a day three times a week, and with that i bought groceries and gas. i had another lump, and it was becoming apparent i’d have to have a mastectomy. my kid became my only source of comfort, and that was a bad place for her to be, because she felt she was helping me to live my last months. she suffered a lot, i’m afraid. but she emerged with more experience and understanding than any kid her age, and she’s turning into a great adult as i type.

it may not look like a great year and a half to the casual reader. but my priorities have never been to make money and live an easy life. my brother has always castigated me for choosing the difficult path when i could so easily have chosen the easy path. i tried to explain to him about the road less traveled, but he couldn’t see the value of it, and called my decision to make art a vow of poverty. but then his idea of a worthwhile way to make money was writing mortgages, and look where that’s gotten the world. i still think i was right.

starting in august, i ended my time as a rootless wandering artist – thanks, mike – and came back to earth in atlanta. i met an artist who took me under his wing, i moved into town, where we share a studio. i went ahead and had the mastectomy, and reaffirmed my decision that making art is more important than a number of things that people have been telling me were more important all of my life. and that’s where i’ll leave you. i hope it’s clear, if you don’t focus on my lack of money, that i’ve had a wild ride, and a fruitful adventure, and that taking a year and a half to make a farewell tour and get a whole shitload of paintings painted was worth it. at least to me.

for my latest residency, taken in september of 2010, see my travel journal.