Saturday, October 16, 2010

From West to East

After living in Los Angeles for eleven years, I moved back to Chicago in 2005. “West to East” is inspired by this transition. I started the piece in a sketchbook back in LA as a simple painting of a rooster in the mountains. Many of my drawings start as a chicken or rooster. I can’t exactly say why I do this beyond the bird being a portal into accessing my inner drawing-world. Like a meditation, prayer or ritual, the process of drawing a rooster seems to open a door to emotions or sentiments that I might be reticent to share in any other way. The drawing has morphed into different things over the past years and I finally appropriated it into a larger work.

It’s not until you leave a place or a person that you realize how much that place and person meant to you, and how things will never quite be the same in your new life.

I lived with my sister, Ginger, in Los Angeles for 9 years. We had a great time. We lived in a semi-dilapidated upper floor of a duplex in the lovely Silverlake hills west of downtown LA. Hidden behind a house and with stunning mountain views, our little rustic apartment, dubbed “the cabin,” doubled as an art and music studio. 1920’s stucco charm, wood floors, arches, high ceilings, and a scenic view masqueraded the decay slowly consuming the foundation of the sinking structure, not to mention a missing support beam in the “garage.” We never had cold water in the kitchen sink, and lived without air conditioning or reliable heat. The shower was nutzy and we had a mold problem. We felt every earthquake tremor, as the wobbly building magnified the shakes.

Accessible by 2 narrow flights of stairs down, and another one up, our place was open to the world-- the front door usually unlocked, with all the windows and door open to let night-blooming jasmine perfume in, as well as a gang of neighbor cats, on a regular basis. Joking about the eccentricities of the apartment became a creative sport, like playing the dozens-- that was better than searching for a new place and moving, or actually fixing the problems.

Most of the residents of the duplex agreed that a friendly ghost resides in the building. One afternoon we were hanging out in the garden area on the first floor, chatting with the neighbors and the apartment maintenance guy, Catui. “The ghost doesn’t like the mens,” Catui declared, puzzling over the fact that Ginger and I were both unmarried. I denied the ghost’s existence, and was seized with a sudden coughing fit so severe that I had to drink straight from a bottle of Robitussin. Never again did I denounce the ghost. Ever.

Of all the wildlife we coexisted with, including the ghost, squirrels, rats, raccoons, skunks and coyote, my favorite outdoor pets were the night birds. LA is quiet at night. For being a large city with a lot of life, the silverlake hills were silent after 9 pm. A night owl, I would retire to my bed around 2 am and listen to the night birds sing their songs for a half hour or so, just thinking... thinking... and slowly drifting off to sleep.

Those birds will always remind me of the freedom Ginger and I felt living in that once grand, rent-controlled, crumbling structure that was our home. We had few material luxuries beyond a computer, TV, two cellos and a boombox, but it didn’t matter. Self-employed, struggling, young, alive. Those were good times.

When I moved back to Chicago, I needed a day-job that could pay the bills and provide some decent benefits. BOOM. I’m surrounded by people who have been thinking about retirement since the age of 21. 401 Ks, life insurance, flu-shots-- corporations sure know how to direct one’s thoughts to their own mortality and stages of inevitable destruction. I may not have much to fall back on during hard times, but I wouldn’t trade 15 year of my life not worrying about that shit for anything.

Chicago is a different beast than LA. While I feel like I gave up a certain communion with nature by leaving LA, I acquired a community, in exchange. It took me a good year to assimilate back into the urban world. The first months, I felt claustrophobic and mildly anxious while sharing a subway with hundreds of others, stuffed like sardines. While you can insulate yourself from other people in LA, and drive away from some uncomfortable situations, you are forced to contend with your neighbors in Chicago. Soon, the yuppies, gang-bangers, crazy-people, homeless, artists, musicians, Cubs fans, Sox fans, immigrants, drag-queens, senior citizens, children, dogs, squirrels all become people and creatures you live with. Closely. And I like that, most of the time...

My family links me to both LA and Chicago. I miss my bi-coastal sisters terribly, and we talk every couple of days on the telephone, and visit throughout the year in either LA, Chicago or New York. My parents live here, and I’ve had the joy of spending time with them. I’m pleased to say that unlike a lot of senior citizens, they seem to get more progressive with each year that passes, instead of becoming more conservative, clinging to the despair manufactured by right-wing television pundits, like a lot of older folks. My parents make me really proud.

I don’t hear night birds anymore. But if I ride my bike out to Lake Michigan, I listen to the sound of seagulls. Pigeons are ubiquitous, but eagle-eyed seagulls have the brains to find the food, even a mile away from water. Their call is the sound of the sea. I love the water. When I listen to them, I think of the distance that separates people I love from me. The seagulls' soulful, melancholy call is music that that makes me happy to be alive in this weird world.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Useless Anxiety

Life is beautiful. And absurd.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mammoth Zine Challenge Extravaganza Extraordinaire

Months ago, I attempted to create a zine for the very first time. In years past, I had constructed a few pages, noodled with formats, wrote text and sent my ideas into outer-space where they orbited my consciousness for years, with no hope of a lunar landing or moonwalk.

Last March, the fabulous Mike Kelley of Junc Gallery recruited me to produce a zine for the Silverlake Jubilee zine extravaganza in Los Angeles, and used one of my drawings as the image that represents the show. I had to finish a zine. And what a challenge this was. I have mountains of respect for self-publishers of all stripes. Creating a zine is a labor of love. A mental and physical challenge. There are no agents, art directors, editors, production staff or marketing executives calling the shots. DIY, all the way.

In evaluating my own attempt, "Tales of the Subterranean: Anatomy of Sock Puppets," I understand how the majority of humanity might be completely disinterested in this story. I get it. The learning curve on this project was steep, deep and curly. Typos and production issues aside, fashioning a compelling story is the greatest challenge of all, and let's just say that I've got a lot of work to do. That being said, this little booklet includes a sock puppet anatomy lesson, scholarly commentary, and an abridged history of puppets in America. You may find this subject matter to be compelling. Or you might be disappointed. Perhaps a little of both.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this zine, please contact me at and I will send you a copy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Modern Artifact

The Stanley Cup walked past me last Friday. I suffered through an all-company meeting at my day-job to be rewarded with a hearty view of the mythical cup, carried by two gloved handlers. The victorious Chicago Blackhawks were celebrating a post-parade after-party in the hotel lobby that hosted the company meeting. Needless to say, the Stanley Cup is a beautiful object.

After the meeting, I found myself at the Art Institute, wandering through the lackluster Matisse exhibit, and stopping to study the vibrant H.C. Westermann and accompanying printmaking exhibit. En route, passing through the antiquity sculpture room that features stone Buddhas and ancient artifacts, I couldn’t help but think about how neatly the Stanley Cup would fit in this room. After watching the Hawks hold and kiss the cup, parade around with the cup, drink libations from the cup and even tongue the cup (thanks Patrick Kane), it’s hard not to compare today’s athletes with Greek Gods and the cup as manifesting intense masculine power-- homoerotic, warlike, pagan, communal, victorious, spiritual.

The parade was pure Chicago-- loud, colorful, raucous with a hearty mix of die-hard Blackhawks fans and drool-case lemmings who crave any excuse to join an outdoor party and glom onto somebody else’s success. Traveling on the el to work that morning, it was a unique spectacle to view a large cross-section of worshippers of the athletic apollos-- many bloated, drunken, out-of-shape humans donning their favorite player’s names on the uniform and saying idiotic declarations such as “we did it,” as if they trained, strategized and shed blood and teeth along with the players. Incidentally, when a team wins, the mantra is “we did it,” but when a team loses, it’s “THEY lost." I wonder why sports fans don’t try harder to emulate their heroes-- like run some laps and engage in some physical activity besides guzzling cheap beer, huffing nachos and staring at the television.

I love sports, but generally dislike sports fans. But I understand the excitement this tournament generated, nonetheless. The Blackhawks were fierce and beautifully focused.... artful.

Sometimes I feel as if technology encourages people to occupy such a mentally remote space within society at large that we are distancing ourselves from history at an alarming rate. Scrolling through tweets and status updates, humans seem to float within their personal bubbles of reality. And despite the addictive nature of this activity, it perhaps makes people feel more alone than anything else. And as social people in an individualistic world, we crave community. So, when a sports team wins, people grasp onto some form of communal joy that unites a city or country, and reminds us all that human beings really haven’t changed much through the course of history. And the Stanley Cup is a symbol of this perceived communal victory.

Congrats, Hawks, champions and heroes of Chicago.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


I’ve got a major issue with teeth grinding and clenching when I sleep. A great tornado of tension and anxiety wreaks havoc on my choppers during sleepy-time and it’s not all because of an angsty artistic temperament. My recent bout of externally-induced jaw fatigue comes from British Petroleum’s arrogant disrespect for people, birds, fish, shrimp, oysters, dolphins, turtles, sea cucumbers, sand, water, plants, algae and life in general...

For those tea-bagger types who fear government’s intrusion into “their backyard,” I wonder how they feel about private, profit-driven, unregulated corporations controlling the nation’s backyard, specifically if it is the Gulf of Mexico, or farmland in the midwest, or protected parks and wetlands. These same people claim that they don’t want the government involved in their healthcare while insurance companies and big pharma mine sickness for profit. Idiots.

And when an oil rig explodes or the banks are broken by their own greedy unethical actors, these private, barely regulated creeps come running to the US government to bail them out of the pickle.

I’m confused about this populist sentiment about “government out of my backyard.” During the first week of the oil catastrophe, Fox News and other conservative outlets seemed more preoccupied with comparing Bush’s failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina (which they denied in 2002, by the way) to Obama’s reaction to the oil spill than they were with reporting the news-- the horrific failure of a private corporation to regulate themselves resulting in great devastation of the natural world. Incessant editorializing seems to be an accepted form of journalism on most 24 hour news channels. At least newspapers with standards of journalistic excellence know to separate editorial content from news stories...

I digress. Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster and did indeed fall under the responsibility of the US government to come to the aid of the citizens suffering in the Gulf Coast-- a good use of tax money. British Petroleum is a private company and responsible for their own disaster. Clearly they are not strictly regulated by the government (thanks Bush!) and they do not regulate themselves internally much either. They had no properly functioning “plan B, plan C or plan D” in the event of disaster. Surely, the government must help, but Obama’s response cannot be compared to Bush’s delayed, lazy, insincere mobilization of forces in response to a natural disaster versus a corporate disaster.

I chuckle when Republican colleagues and neighbors parrot Palin’s small government rhetoric, then turn around and demand government intervention when they are personally involved with or suffering from some perceived injustice by a corporate goliath or crafty grifter.

Perhaps this highlights an inherit philosophical difference between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans tend to seek some impossible world of perfection and infallibility: Government is bad, private enterprise, when not regulated, is good. Ironically, they seem to want to censor the hell out of citizens and inject religion where it does not belong, but leave business alone! Democrats admit to overall imperfection and seek some compromise closer to reality while protecting a citizen’s first amendment rights. And separation of church and state protects both church and state. YES, we are grifted by our own government and YES we are grifted by private enterprise as well. There is no perfect system, yet we should work diligently to pull back the reins and regulate both powers, keep dancing the dance with the understanding that the closest we will ever come to any sort of social justice relies on maintaining the freedom of speech, as well as the freedom of the press.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Welcome to my weird world...

Writing a blog scares the daylights out of me. In my 30-something years of life, I’ve come to realize how intensely private I am and reluctant to share. My one consolation is that probably nobody will read this. Even having a website feels strangely narcissistic to me. But like all artist-types, I feel the need to “express” myself. So welcome to my psychotherapeutic blog. Feel free to stop reading anytime.

If my artwork seems cryptic to you, then be consoled that it is to me, too, and that’s intensely bothersome. I’d love to declare in a crafty artist statement what it is that I do, but any attempt at verbalizing my intentions seems insincere and artificial. Like, “my artwork is about borders, walls and transitions between subconscious landscapes and the tangible world.” or “my artwork celebrates the interconnectedness-- universality of human beings, nature and nomenclature...” But that would be a bunch of bullshit.

I hate all that art-drivel. The most honest thing I can say is that my artwork comes out of my brain, down the spinal column, through the hand and onto a surface-- a visual improvisation.

A little about me: I hail from a very close-knit midwestern family. There was an is a lot of love in my family and was raised to believe that love is all that truly matters in the world. Yeah, I‘m a helpless peacenik high on luuuv.

I’ve been creative all my life and artistic pursuits of all stripes excite me beyond anything else... except for maybe food and good beer, travel and nature. I’ve been damned with a lazy constitution, however, and I am a failure when it comes to sales, self-promotion and general career development. As a consequence, I’ve had jobs in more fields that the average human. I could be a job anthropologist. Would somebody please pay me a lot of money to provide an assessment of various and sundry workplaces? Please?

Seriously! I mean it! Perhaps I belong in human resources... I’ve worked on a TV series, as a bartender, waitress, shoe salesman, in radio, with stop-motion animation, self-employed failed artist, barely-paid video editor, bank employee, temp employee and office dweeb at a large not-for-profit. I have a lot of experience in a bunch of different fields. I empathize with the underling because I’ve never been the boss. And truly the worst is working in corporate America. More on that later...