With Chris driving, I’m free to use the travel time from Jacksonville to research the galleries in Atlanta so I can map out how I wanna hit ’em once we arrive. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. The last time I did this was in Delray Beach and – though it worked out for me there – I’m a little nervous to be going to a city with galleries that actually have a never-ending stream of hopeful artists submitting themselves for consideration. I think my strengths may also be my weaknesses but that’s okay. I already know I’m not for everyone. I’m not emailing a PDF with images of my work and a résumé highlighting my fine arts education. I’m walking in, off the street, in my tattered, paint-covered clothes, with my fliers, prints, and stories. I’m walking in as me. I don’t want to be accepted as anything other than what I am. My work is excellent. It’s likely that most of these galleries won’t give me a moment of their time but I don’t need most of them to. I just need one – one that understands what I’m doing, why it’s great, and why it’s worth their attention.
I believe in myself; everything is going to be okay.
I’m going to work on that artwork I owe Mike for Dead Broke now.
Here’s a drawing I made for another artist the other day. He didn’t want a print and couldn’t afford the original so we compromised and I scratched out this “update”/”variation” for a fair price.
The key differences between it and the original original are (1) the label on the can and (2) the fact that it took me just a few minutes and not a full hour. That means I’m getting better, you guys.
Today is the day I finally bust across the state line to start meeting with galleries and setting up exhibits outside of Florida. I’m not allowed to drive in Georgia but – now that I’ve got Spillane with me – I’m able to make Atlanta the first stop. Cities are cities to me at this point though so priority #1 is to get out of the heat. To that end, we’re gonna try to get everything we wanna get done within the span of a couple days – maybe stick it out through the weekend just on account of gallery hours – and then get heading further north.
Right now, we’re en route to get the transmission on the van serviced but we should be on the road by 6. This stop in Jacksonville was only supposed to be a day or two and turned into ten. I’m happy to be moving on but that’s nothing against this city. I’ve been in and outta Jacksonville for the last few months now but, in that time, it’s started to feel more like home than any other city out there. There are a lot of people that made it that way: Tim, Shanna, and everyone else at Sun-Ray Cinema; Christina and Ian at Rain Dogs; Mandie, Rosaly, and Richard of Wunderground; the whole crew at Burrito Gallery (with a special nod to Julie for getting me in the door); Janet Harper and Folio Weekly; Regina and The Silver Cow; Pugsley and Ian at Dark Side Tattoo Gallery; (most recently) everyone at On Point Ink and Ryan Rummel at Club TSI; Heather Pierce; Alex Zalo; and all the friends I’ve made and supporters I’ve found here, who are so many in number that (as much as I wanna) I won’t call out by name ’cause I’d hate to leave somebody out. You’ve all been so excellent to me and I’m not gonna forget it anytime soon.
And that goes double for Mikey “twoHands” Kelly, who’s been the best fast friend I could have ever asked for. Half the shit I’ve done here would have never happened had it not been for you, buddy. I’ll miss Jacksonville and I’ll miss you.
Immediately after completing “Nothing’s Good Enough Because I’m Not,” I pulled out another canvas and got to work. I set out to do something a little different: a landscape. Not a traditional landscape but, still, a landscape of sorts. Pretty quickly that idea fell apart and I found myself working on another painting not radically unlike all of my other paintings. Which is cool – I mean, my paintings look like my paintings for a reason… (’cause they totally are!) But you can still kinda make out what was (supposed to be) my orange sun, pink ocean, and blue sky (with purple clouds)…
I left Sarasota for Jacksonville, to set up downtown for One Spark. I wasn’t an official “One Spark Project Creator” but that just meant that I could sell whatever I wanted without playing by their rules. I got the same spot on the street (outside Burrito Gallery) that I had taken at March’s Downtown Artwalk (the night I had sold so many prints that I told my friends I was “makin’ STRIPPER MONEY“). I was excited for the weekend and my snarky, (gleeful), sorta tongue-in-cheek caption, “CORPORATIONS ARE COOL – YOUR COMMUNITY IS DUMB,” is a reflection of that.
A lot of people take it for granted as meaning/being whatever they want it to (genuine or sarcastic) but some people like to ask me what I meant. “Nothing,” I say. “I’m just a little shit-eater.” Which is to say that I like to (playfully) fuck with people (just a little bit, innocuously). The truth is that I don’t care about corporations or community; I care about me. There are three spots on the canvas where I journaled and, while I didn’t intend for them to relate, they all sorta do. More to the point, they reflect the kinds of concerns that actually bounce around in my head.
On April 10th, the second day of One Spark, I was handing out fliers when some woman actually crumpled up my li’l bio sheet and handed it back to me. Seriously?! I get it if you’re offended by the word “fucking” [as in “I’m a fucking artist, guys“] but this thing says I have a personality disorder and used to shoot heroin but now manage my illness with art. That’s like – the sweetest thing ever! How the fuck is somebody gonna crumple that shit up? (I got a personality disorder! I’m fragile!). Anyway… my journal from that day says: “Every rejection today hurts a lot more than usual. This is probably the best or worst possible path for someone like me. I don’t expect the world to baby me but… well.. maybe I sort of do.”
A week later, on April 17th: “I’m depressed ’cause I’m at my exhibit and yesterday everything was set up awesome and today the owner came in and was all bent outta shape about a bunch of stuff and now I don’t know what’s cool and what isn’t. I don’t even want to set up to paint so I’ve got this [canvas] on my knees, propped against a wall awkwardly. It’s too windy outside. I just wanna leave. The lights aren’t even on. My art is in the dark. I’m done showing at anything but galleries. I feel sleepy and lethargic and I wanna give up again.”
In hindsight, that stuff shouldn’t have affected me as much as it did, but (as angry as I once was) it’s pretty rare that I even so much as encounter anyone getting really angry these days and it, consequently, fucked with my head a little bit, even if it wasn’t directed specifically at me.
Lastly (and best of all), from April 19th: “By 11 AM this morning, I was at work on my painting and I had already eaten half a cake, drank a BANANAS FOSTER cappuccino from 7 Eleven, gone to the [art] store for more supplies, and shown my penis to TWO girls.”
(just to be clear)
“YOUR COMMUNITY IS DUMB”: If you’re doing cool shit, people are gonna wanna be close to it and are gonna be inspired to do cool shit of their own. Suddenly, it’s gonna feel like you’re part of a pretty rad community. On the other hand, if you’re one of those people that sits around griping about how “there’s no community here” or preaching to people about how “we need to do more work to build community!,” nobody’s gonna give a shit about any of that and you’re gonna be spinning your wheels in that same mindset forever. Either way, community is made up of people, we’re all flawed, and sometimes shit’s gonna be great, sometimes it’s gonna be not.
“CORPORATIONS ARE COOL”: Big multinational corporations are mixed up in some pretty fucked up shit, pretty much across the board, and that’s like – a total bummer, dude. But you know what? Home Depot is open late, pretty close by, and has the wood screws I need. Coca-Cola makes sugary bullshit that tastes good and doesn’t cost all my moneys. That local coffee shop is a nice enough place to sit for a minute but they don’t have internet on the weekends and they charge FIVE TIMES more for a refill than Starbucks. And where the fuck else am I gonna buy a 12x18x6″ lockbox other than Walmart? The Dead Kennedys were boring and I’m pretty sure they were aiming for SATIRE when they said, “give me convenience or give me death,” but… take out the dramatic ultimatum and it’s right on target. I’m not trying to save the world with my “dollar votes” and I’m not trying to spend all day driving around to support independent businesses that don’t offer anything more than the corporate stores. I got bigger fish to fry, funny faces to paint, and girls to show my penis to.
The name “Chris Spillane” is gonna start popping up in just about everything I write (and already has in my Facebook posts) so I figure a little explanation is in order.
Chris is one of my oldest / best friends. When I came back to Sarasota two weeks back, he was in bad shape. We got into heroin together back when we were kids but have slid in and out of the danger zone with it to different degrees and at different times. After a relatively long stretch of clean time that began last summer, Chris started shooting up again earlier this year. He also started smoking and shooting crack. That’s not entirely new (I’ll tell the story of the first time we smoked crack later) but it had never been a regular thing until just recently. So, anyway, Chris’s April featured such exciting developments as (1) losing his job, (2) losing his dog, (3) losing his home, and (4) losing his girlfriend. And things weren’t exactly getting any better from there. On April 30th, some friends and I filed Marchman Act papers to have Chris picked up by the police and put into detox and then (ideally) transferred to the Salvation Army’s long-term inpatient treatment program. Which all worked out until Chris panicked and ran off into the night last Friday. With ideas about heroin, overdosing, and death. Thankfully, before he followed through with that, he called me and I picked him up. He’s been with me ever since.
We looked at the options. Chris could try to get back into the Salvation Army’s treatment program, which might be good for him but it’s pretty clear that it’s not all that tough to leave on a whim and – should Chris get anxious or scared and walk out again – things might not work out quite as nicely next time around. SO, with that in mind, we’re going with plan B. Chris is coming on the road with me for the time being. He can help me with all the practical/work parts of my “job” and maybe (just maybe) see that life without heroin can be pretty fucking spectacular. I realize that art (and my lifestyle, more generally) isn’t a universal cure and I don’t think Chris is gonna wanna become an artist and live like this for the rest of his life. But (hopefully) he’ll have some fun and find something to get excited about (something worth living for). All I know for sure is that that’s a fuck of a lot more likely to happen on the road with me than back in Sarasota. And a whole lot less dangerous, for him specifically.
Granted, this has the potential to become pretty stressful for me (it’s a lot of responsibility to take on) and I can be pretty fragile myself some days. But, ultimately, it’s more than worth it to me. I love the kid. And – like I said – Chris will be able to help me out in a lotta ways. Just for starters, the distances between the cities I’ll be visiting are about to increase exponentially as I get out of Florida. Chris can split the driving with me and I’ll be able to hang out in the back of the van and actually paint (or write) as I make my way from city to city. (That’s pretty awesome).
So that’s the latest development and (barring any further unforeseen developments) the next time you see me, you’ll be seeing Chris too. He’s one of my favorite people on the planet and will be one of the best people you’ll ever meet. Here’s a picture of me eating some pizza and cutting his hair, the morning after he left treatment.
Last summer, when I added my painting, “Hard Feelings,” to my website, I remember thinking, “For all the space that sex takes up in my head, it doesn’t seem to come up in my artwork very often.” That’s because (like EVERYONE) I have a hard time talking about sex without certain reservations.
But I write about everything! I’m an open fucking book!Right?!? People always tell me how they admire the honesty and vulnerability of my art and writing. But if I was so honest and vulnerable, why was one of my biggest preoccupations almost totally absent from my art? Why was I so hesitant to talk about sex – directly and bluntly?
(‘Cause it’s not fucking easy!)
I resolved to push myself to do it anyway. After all, each of these paintings is a reflection of what’s going on in my head as I’m making them. If they’re silent on sex, that means I’m holding back and not being the artist I wanna be.
In late January, I broke up with my girlfriend and gave up my house to live on the road, traveling between cities, meeting with galleries, and pursuing art 100% full-time. BEST DECISION EVER. Right from the start, I was getting back everything I was putting in and then some. In February, my biggest painting yet went up in Ettra, a gallery in Delray Beach. When I got word that it had sold in March, I drove right back down to drop off my two newest paintings and to (while there) paint a third that I’d also leave behind. It’s called “How to Bed a Girl When Your Bed is in a Minivan” and – like any piece that I put more than forty hours into – it’s got a few things going on…
First and foremost, it’s a celebration of my excitement – of my life in general, of how well things had been going. The text at the top right of the canvas:
I'm on a public street, darting around my canvas (practically dancing with it), sometimes singing along to the weird punk rock spewing outta my little speaker. (I'm sure I look insane). But I'm getting away with it. None of it matters. Because "I'M A FUCKING ARTIST, GUYS." I'm quoting myself - AND GETTING AWAY WITH IT! (Because I'm an artist). I can use pick up lines like, "Hey, girl - play your cards right and you could be fuckin' in my minivan."
I GET AWAY WITH ALL THIS AND MORE!!
And my BEAUTIFUL SOUL.
Though it would be cool to have running water too…
Keep reachin' for that dream, Sam!
The glee in those statements is also sort of what this painting’s title and center caption are about… How do you bed a girl when your bed’s in a minivan??? YOU PAINT BIG FUCKING PAINTINGS THAT LOOK REALLY COOL, SELL FOR A LOT OF MONEY, AND SHOWCASE YOUR WIT, CHARM, AND COMPLEXITY – BOTH AS A HUMAN BEING AND AN ARTIST.
Or (as the aforementioned center caption reads):
I'm not sure if you noticed but I'm SUPER talented… And such a FASCINATING fucking character… Pull up a chair and I'll talk AT you about how god damn special I am!
That’s meant to be funny but it is word-for-word almost exactly something I said to a girl just a few weeks prior. And something I was continuing to say to other girls. Successfully! Which – in addition to everything happening with my art – was genuinely exciting. I had this new confident attitude / approach that (ridiculous as it may be) was totally justified. I don’t care if this comes across as arrogant ’cause it’s taken me twenty-eight years to feel this way; I am talented and I am a fascinating character (oh -and yeah – I fucking talk about myself a lot). Now, if I were the only person saying those things, well… that’d be one thing. But I’m not. I hear that stuff from other people every day.
SO – if that’s the case then why do I need to say it at all? Well, ’cause – Look! Over there! It’s a girl I want to have sex with!TONIGHT! …And since I’m not SUPER FAMOUS just yet – well – how’s she gonna know unless I tell her??
Which is where this painting takes a little bit of a sad turn (and where the whole “I’m afraid to talk about sex” thing comes full circle). If I really believe in myself, then why am I still trying to find validation through sex, other kinds of attention from girls, and (sometimes) even love? And I’m (apparently) so preoccupied with those thoughts that one of my two biggest pieces now is (essentially) an announcement to the world that (while I may live out of a van) “I GET LAID ALL THE TIME!” When I stop to consider how prominent sexual content’s been in almost all of my art these lastthreemonths, I can’t help but ask myself if I’m really still just pushing myself to be honest or if there is some component of “bragging” to this. Am I basing a (potentially) large piece of my self-worth on how many girls I can sleep with (and how many people know about it)?
I think it’s both. My art is about my life and sex is part of that. Especially now: this is the first time I’ve ever been committed to not having a girlfriend. Since I was seventeen, I’ve gone from one relationship to the next. Maybe it’s fair to say that I’m just taking advantage of and enjoying the freedom that comes with my itinerancy right now.
There are two separate blocks of text near the top of the canvas that, I feel, well-represent that dichotomy. While both are honest, I think their presence in this painting is consequent of two very different motives. The first says:
I slapped her in the face. Not hard. Playfully. Her eyes lit up. "I'll hit you back," she said. I smiled. "I'd like to see you try."
I hit her again and pinned her arms down. Thrust into her harder and deeper. She winced in pain. "Oh - you know what I like to hear!" I said. She looked at me, bright-eyed again, and told me I was a piece of shit. "Yes! Exactly like that! Keep going!"
I HAVE FUN.
Why’s that in my painting? Well ’cause it had just happened, it was on my mind, and I was pretty pleased with myself. But, more to the point, I can also see and acknowledge that I intended it as bait – for girls that would read something like that and get turned on. And, in that sense, it feels a little less genuine.
The text just to the left of it (I think) ought to count for a little redemption. Not only is it sincere but it made me feel so vulnerable that I initially wrote it in black ink on top of black paint. I didn’t want anyone to be able to read it. It was only later that I got the courage to rewrite it in an area where it’d actually be legible. It says:
SOMETIMES I don't want sex to be all that rough but I talk such a depraved, fucked up game that I feel like I'm always under pressure to live up to it.
There’s a lot more going on (and even a lot more text) scattered across the canvas, but I think this stuff gets at the crux of the piece, so I’ll leave the rest to be sought out and interpreted without me.
So far, so good but – for what it’s worth – I’m still feeling pretty “relapsy.”
On the one hand, I’ve been dealing with some pretty fucked up shit lately. On the other, I don’t *feel* especially sad or desperate or anything like that… So – while I’d *like to say* that – none of it’s really getting to me, it’s kind of hard to buy into that when (in the same breath) I’m also acknowledging this impulse that keeps firing off in my brain.
I’m not about to go out of my way to get heroin but I’m back in that place (mentally) where – should I run into the wrong person/situation – I’d probably make one of my less intelligent decisions.
Which is pretty dumb considering how well everything’s been going! I mean – shit – I’m virtually a POSTER CHILD for “turning it around” and building a new life (after heroin).
And yet – here I am – in my head, debating whether or not it’d be okay to shoot up again. (It’s kind of embarrassing). Then again, I’ll bet everyone (that’s kinda like me) has thoughts like these sometimes. They probably just don’t share them on THE INTERNET. ‘Cause – you know – EMBARRASSING. I’m supposed to be more stable (at least so far as drugs are concerned) at this point.
*Although*, maybe the fact that I’m writing this right now instead of [um] GOING OUT AND GETTING HIGH is proof that I *am* pretty stable.
So… um… you know… just putting that out there.
Here’s a picture I took this week. The painting I’ve been working on and a friend I’ve been kicking around with.
has borderline personality disorder and a heroin problem. In 2012, he got clean, discovered art, and traveled the country, painting and writing. Three years later, he went back to heroin and quit painting. He's currently hard at work trying to get clean or kill himself (depending on the day).