Sunday, April 1, 2012
When I was very young, 1st or 2nd grade I took a bunch of small pieces of junk (old toy parts, weird trash laying around) and made a strange vehicle, kind of like something you might see in the film Mad Max. I put everything in place, glued it all down and used rubber bands to keep everything together. Then I got some red finger nail polish and painted the whole thing all one color. It was odd looking but also cool. I don’t remember who, but I showed it to an adult, some guy in my neighborhood and he was very impressed and advised me to save it for when I was older cause I would be very happy to see something I created when I was so young. For some reason this really offended me and I immediately destroyed it. I believe this is the first thing I consciously created on my own.
In 6th grade I acquired a Cracked Magazine and it happened to have a goofy piece on skateboarding in it. Funny drawings of Cracked characters riding around on skateboards in a skatepark with amusing captions. I accurately hand copied every panel of that piece for some reason. I specifically remember drawing these in my room and getting completely lost in time.
Then I started skateboarding and didn’t do much of anything else for the next 7 or 8 years.
In 1993 I found myself in Los Angeles, jobless and pretty much penniless. I was staying with a friend and had plenty of time on my hands. I began drawing again. I had the idea to make a deck of cards for my friend Tony. Each suit would represent a past presidential cabinet. Nixon, Kennedy, FDR and Reagan. Instead of the King of Hearts, there was John F Kennedy. The queens were the wives, the jacks were the vice-presidents and so on. I hand drew 52 cards, mostly of various people in each administration. People like Casper Weinberger, George H.W. Bush, Albert Einstein, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Lee Harvey Oswald with little captions as to how they related to the administration. Not sure how long it took me, maybe a week. During this time I was also skateboarding a lot and traveling around the state of California meeting and hanging out with a lot of other skaters. Many of them were also artists and they sparked my interest in art again, specifically painting. I decided once I had the chance I’d start painting.
When I got back to Missouri I completed my first painting. It’s of my friend Don Cento. It’s crude and rough and I really hated it back then but looking at it now I really like it. I would have destroyed it if another friend, Marty, hadn’t requested it and kept it all these years. This was the start of my painting life.
From 1994 on I had a deep interest in painting, but it wasn’t anything organized or disciplined. Just something I enjoyed doing when I had the opportunity. Some weeks I’d do nothing but paint but then I might go a month without doing anything, no rhyme or reason. I really had no idea what I was doing and just kind of did things on the fly or as they hit me. Sometimes the result would be cool but more times than not they were bad, very bad.
My first real breakthrough came in the summer of 1997. I was living in Walnut Creek, CA with my friend Marty. We lived in a cool house with a large backyard and I had taken to painting various rooms and locations around the house. The garage was my main studio and I was very active with acrylic and oil paints. Plenty of room to experiment and try new things out. Then Marty left for a couple of weeks and I pretty much had the house to myself. I set up a studio in the living room and started painting a corner of the room where we had our four track as if it was a still life. Looking at the painting now, it doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal but at the time I was extremely pleased with it. I just remember the ease at which it came out, there were no “mistakes”, nothing was painting over or re-painted. I don’t remember how much time I spent on it but there was a week or so that I didn’t work on it. Marty had gone to Florida to work on the film “Trans” and he invited me out for awhile to hang out and see how a film is made. I wasn’t done with the painting and didn’t want to stop but I couldn’t pass up a chance like this to see an independent film being made, so I went. The whole film crew was staying at the film director’s father’s house. It was pretty amazing how they all were living, complete with a music jam room that had instruments and we’d have nightly jams after the day or night’s shooting. Then the next day would bring a new adventure, driving around the swamps and back roads of Florida, filming the locals and avoiding the law. Seeing how it all came together was a real education in creativity that has always stayed with me. Then my week was over and I headed back to California. Marty had to stay in Florida for more work on the film. When I got back to the house my painting was still in the same spot in the living room but I felt I had evolved so much since I had left it there. I was a little nervous about trying to finish the piece cause it had come so easy before and I was sure I had lost it. But I started right up where I left off and competed the painting in a few days.
At the end of 1997 I moved to Saint Louis and continued to paint. My first public showing was in March of 98’ at some DIY gallery located in the Central West End. Nothing much came of it and the gallery eventually closed. I was painting as much as possible but one problem I was running into was content, subject matter. I wanted to paint people, places and things that really existed, I didn’t want to make things up, but what exactly, I wasn’t sure. My attention was fleeting and it was tough to stay organized and disciplined. When I did find a subject I was interested in then painting was a joy. An example of this is this painting of a circuit board I completed while still living on Lindell Blvd. I was given a real circuit board from my friend Brian and I just painted what I saw. Again, there were no “mistakes” or re-doing, it all just came out with ease. I ended up giving the painting to Marty.
Then I did something that really threw my painting production for a loop, I started a band. I still painted but it took a back seat to the band. I would go back and forth between playing, recording music and painting. My interest had to really be into the subject I was painting for it to hold my attention long enough to finish it. Then, in 2004 I turned 30 years old and I made a decision.
I decided I wanted to focus on painting and I would do so with the subject of either the people and places of Saint Louis, MO. People and places that really exist. I wanted to see how long it would take to consistently paint for 10,000 hours and what the end result of doing such a thing would be. I figured (roughly) that If I painted at least 2.8 hours daily then I could reach that goal in 10 years. Painting everyday for at least 2.8 hours, for 10 years. I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. First thing I did was quit all the bands I was in and set up a small studio in my then girlfriend’s house, later the studio moved to a basement on the corner of Cherokee and Compton and now it’s in the basement of my house. This month I turn 38 and I’m in the home stretch of the grand experiment. 2 more years to go. Have I painted everyday for the past 8 years at least 2.8 hours a day? No, I haven’t. There have been days when I’ve been out of town, work trips to California, honeymoon in Montreal, excursions to NYC, family vacations in Chicago, weekend trips to Memphis and Kansas City, runs down to New Orleans. However, for just about every day I missed 2.8 hours there are other days when I painted for 4, 6 sometimes 8 hours a day, so I am roughly on track to accomplish the 10,000 hours in two more years. Throughout all of that I’ve maintained a full-time job, got married, had 2 kids, as well as opened and closed a business. And what has it gotten me? Painting, much like everything else in life, requires trust.
I feel the need to mention the death of Harry Crews which happened this past week. I own a few of his books but his influence on me creatively is much more indirect. My friend Marty, mentioned above, is responsible for turning me on to Crews and his well known quote, "If you’re gonna write, for God in heaven’s sake, try to get naked. Try to write the truth. Try to get underneath all the sham, all the excuses, all the lies that you’ve been told." always stuck with me. You can apply it to painting (or any art form for that matter) and it still rings true. Again, this idea of expressing a truth or something real is always present. His influence also seeped into my subconscious while hanging out in Florida during the making of "Trans". His attitude was very much in the air with the film crew who were applying his ideas not only aesthetically but also with the very subject matter of the film. Interestingly, the director would go on later to direct the film adaptation of Crews' book "The Hawk is Dying". A book, for me anyway, about not allowing life to get in the way of your passions.
now playing - Harry Crews