Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Parade for the Wretched

"Parade for the Wretched" 22" X 30" mixed media

I love the city. Cities are like large life-forms in which every inch seems anthropomorphized. The rats, pigeons, squirrels, seagulls, cats, dogs, coyote, raccoons, owls, buildings, sidewalks, parks, beaches, benches, subways, trains and busses all seem like people. They have distinct, human personalities and in the best of times, I have this harmonious feeling that "we're all in it together."

I see city life as a giant Clown Car stuffed with goofballs, and I’m one of them. I like a good parade-- music, pageantry, colors, dancing. In Lombard, IL, where I grew up, every Spring was ushered in by the annual Lilac parade. By New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro standards, the Lilac parade is a 5th rate procession of suburban oddities accompanied by marching bands and droves of motorcyclists. But nonetheless, the yearly parade stoked my appetite for people watching.

The parade of faces I observe daily on my commute through downtown is food for the soul. These faces are the raw materials that make me want to draw. The rhythm of walking gives city streets a flow, a dance, movement-- a reminder that this giant microcosm is evolving in real time.

On one of my sojourns walking up Clark Street in Edgewater last autumn, a priest wearing coke-bottle thick, horn-rimmed glasses stopped abruptly, looked me in the eye, and said, “keep trying each and every day. Never stop.” Then he continued walking. I felt that that was some pretty good advice and catered directly to me, particularly because I am someone who often is the first to fold-- to give in, give up-- to let “nature run its course.” I typically take zero action, then sulk when nothing happens.

I title this piece, “Parade for the Wretched,”-- an homage to the flawed human condition. A poem for all the people who are trying each and every day to make it work, and fail more often than succeed. This art piece is not dedicated to the corporate, self-satisfied, high on life, self-promotional, survival-of-the-fittest types. They write the rules and have Team America in their pockets so they don’t need any art pieces glorifying them. This is artwork for the people, beautiful and ugly, rich and poor, employed and unemployed, who may not have tried hard enough-- who regret hurting others, damaging themselves, feel existential despair and yet..... somehow keep the crazy train moving.

I have been told, and imagine it to be true, that the most important human qualities for living with one another are compassion and empathy. When I was a bartender in Los Angeles, a bar regular, John Ramirez, told me that I'm a misanthropic philanthropist. And I do believe that he's right. I feel great compassion for the lonely-hearted, destitute souls asking me for money. I empathize with the working person, slogging through snow on their day to a dull and unsatisfying job. I feel for the kids who don't fit in. Strangers pour their hearts out to me at the bus stop. I'm a good listener.

But on the flip-side, I’m an ornery person with an occasional nihilistic streak. Seas of humans bent over cell phones, texting while walking, weaving down the sidewalk like buoys bobbing on the ocean make me wonder if a giant asteroid would do us all a favor. Birthers, tea baggers, CEOs, styrojerks, asshats and douchebags-- I want the sidewalk to open up and swallow them whole.

I don’t seriously wish anyone harm, but you get the picture. Even the most harmonious moments can be derailed in a nanosecond with reminders that we’re all autonomous souls who don’t always enjoy great chemistry with each other. And that’s where empathy comes full-circle. People sometimes aggravate us, but we all have to live together—a dancing parade of complex souls with a blend of victory and defeat in our vocabulary of life experience-- some people with a heartier dose than others in either department, but we are indeed trying to make it work together. And nobody is exempt from joining the parade of the wretched every once in awhile...