All posts by Sam North

The rape accusation, quitting art, heroin, and the future

Nine months ago, I was accused of rape. I don’t mention it often because the last thing I want to do is publicize it. For too long now though, that’s prevented me from expressing myself. It’s prevented me from doing just about anything. The accusation crippled me. Before I even had a chance to enter a plea and state my innocence, the charge was dismissed on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to even warrant a trial. That didn’t matter though – the story was already out there. In the Chicago Tribune, in the Chicago Sun Times, and all over the internet. (Mostly harsher) variations on the headline “Traveling artist accused of raping woman.” That’s the kind of thing that started to come up whenever my name was Googled. (Both my names: Sammy thrashLife and Samuel North). Scheduled exhibitions were cancelled or postponed indefinitely. In the coming months, four-figure sales would be negotiated and scheduled for the next day and, overnight, the buyer would disappear. I’d get some opportunity only to have it fall through shortly thereafter. There are plenty of possible explanations for each of these situations but I settled on one: Once a person got a chance to do a little research on me, they’d see those stories and decide that I wasn’t worth the risk. When thousands of artists are all competing for the same opportunity, why invite controversy upon yourself by giving it to one that’s been accused of something as awful as rape? For gallery owners, innocent or not, it’s safer to just steer clear of me and that whole situation and just book an exhibit with a different artist. For buyers, if you’re going to support an artist and buy something that’ll be displayed in your home for the rest of your life, do you really want a painting by someone that might have raped someone? There’s so much art out there – better to just go with a different artist, right?

I don’t know for certain that this kind of logic accounted for all of my opportunities drying up but it seemed like a pretty reasonable explanation. Feeling that rejection was now a guarantee, I stopped looking for opportunities. I stopped painting. I stopped writing. And I started shooting heroin again.

At different points along the way, I had thought about changing my name but that felt dishonest. That would be me trying to hide something. Besides, my art has always been about my story and – like it or not – this accusation was now part of it. A big part of it. The emotionally unbalanced law graduate who overcame heroin addiction and became an artist – I liked that story. The artist who was falsely accused of rape…? Even the word makes me sick to my stomach. I hate it. I don’t want that to be my story. I already had a story. Not to mention, even though the charges were dismissed, there’s no way that I can definitively, absolutely, unquestionably prove my innocence. So that’s who I was now: the artist who might have raped someone. I didn’t wanna be that person. I don’t wanna be that person. But I can’t help it. I can’t get my old identity back. My only other option is to find a new one.

Ever since those newspaper/online stories were published, my life’s been in decline. At no point since then has my life been as good as or better than it was before the accusation. Lately, in my head, I’ve been seeing a chart. It’s a chart of my life. There’s a plotted point on it for the day before my arrest. It’s not at the top of the chart, it’s somewhere in the middle. Then there’s the day that I got out of jail, when I found out about all the publicity surrounding my arrest. The line’s dropped all the way to the bottom of the chart; it’s broken through the bottom of the chart to new, previously unknown levels of terrible feelings. Since that day, the line’s gone up and the line’s gone down – but it’s never gotten any higher than the plotted point for the day before I was arrested. That’s the new ceiling. The stigma of that accusation has become a hurdle that I can’t get past and I’m really scared that, when I die, it’ll be the point on the chart of my life from which I never again made any progress. From which I never again got any better. I’m scared that this is it for me – that I already got my “comeback” – that this is what ends me.

Obviously, relapsing with heroin hasn’t made things any easier. I’m not in as bad of shape as I was a few months back and I’m clean right now but I still struggle. I think my biggest problem is that I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. For a time after the accusation, I’d still go out on the street, set up a canvas and paint while selling prints. And just as before, I did fine. I earned “a living.” That was before I relapsed though. When I could forget about the accusation and stick to my regular narrative: the junkie saved by art. But now that’s not true. Now I’m the junkie saved by art, accused of rape, and returned to heroin. That’s not an uplifting story. That’s not something people want to buy into. And it’s not really something that I want to sell. I don’t go out on the street to try to sell prints anymore and I don’t try to get into galleries anymore. Consequently, I don’t have all that much of an income anymore. I’ve been really broke. (Again, using heroin hasn’t really helped this situation much but I’d be having money trouble regardless).

There was this day when Wallis and I were walking out of the grocery store and she stopped to look at a potted plant. I knew that she wanted it but, on that day, I barely had a dollar to my name. I couldn’t afford to buy my girlfriend a ten dollar flower pot. That killed me. I love her so much and I want to give her the whole world – absolutely anything that she might ever desire. And that day I couldn’t even buy her some flowers to plant in our front yard. I felt so pathetic and useless. Though there have been brighter incidents (like the day somebody bought an expensive painting and I surprised Wallis by letting her pick out as many flowers, plants, and seeds as she wanted) there have also been a lot more where I haven’t been able to afford some little item and felt really terrible and guilty about it. (Just for the record, this is all my own doing; Wallis isn’t the kind of girl that ever makes me feel bad about not having enough money; she’s loved me unconditionally and been the one constant ray of light in my life ever since this nightmare started).

The stigma of the rape accusation might be significant enough that it’s no longer possible for me to make a living as an artist. Or it might not. It might just be in my head. Either way, my fear that it’s enough, and my fear of rejection, have absolutely made it impossible for me to make a living as an artist. So what do I do? I tried to get a few different writing jobs with companies where I knew there were people that were already fans of my writing. None of those panned out. (And, personally, I suspect it’s got something to do with my Google search results and the stigma of the accusation). Either way, my suspicion and consequent fear of rejection have prevented me from applying for any more of those types of jobs – jobs where I’d be a public name or face or personality of some kind.

Art and writing are the only two things I know that I’m any good at. If I can’t do either of those, I have my law degree to fall back on but I’ve never taken the bar. As a felon (I was convicted for possession of Adderall, even though I’ve had a prescription for more than ten years, because I didn’t have it stored in the proper bottle and I hadn’t had my prescription filled that month) it’s  impossible (or close to it) to be admitted to the bar in Florida. Because I’m currently on probation (for the Adderall charge) I can’t move out of Florida. Besides, I’m pretty sure that it’s tough to get admitted to the bar as a felon in any state. So now I’m applying for paralegal and legal assistant jobs. I have a degree from Georgetown Law, one of the most prestigious law schools in the world, and I’m applying for jobs in the legal field for which I was already qualified when I was a teenager. And I might not even be able to get one. After all, if some law firm has a whole pool of applicants to choose from, it’s the same as gallery owners choosing artists for exhibitions. Safer to go with someone who hasn’t been accused of rape. Or that’s my fear anyway. And when the odds of rejection (or the perceived odds in any case) are that high, why even bother to try? That’s the kind of thinking that’s made me give up on being an artist and what’s kept me stuck in this rut, spinning my wheels for so long. That’s what keeps me frustrated. And what keeps nudging me back toward heroin. Heroin, after all, makes it all go away. It makes the pain and the fear and the anxiety disappear. At least for a little while. (And then it makes everything a whole lot worse, which is – obviously – why I’m trying to get away from it for good).

Even if I do find a regular job, I’ve got a whole separate set of fears about why it might not work out (which is a big reason I opted to become an artist instead of a lawyer in the first place) but – for now – those are still totally irrelevant. I have to actually get a job before I can reasonably be afraid of why I might lose it. Even still, I’d be lying if I said that those other fears don’t also scare me away from trying harder to seek out new opportunities, new options, and new paths I might go down.

I don’t know. I sent out a bunch of résumés yesterday. Hopefully, I’ll hear back on one of ’em on Monday or Tuesday. I just need something. I gotta find something to give me some direction, some purpose, some money, and some idea of a future that I’d actually want to get to.


God – I’ve wanted to write this for so long but I’ve been afraid that publishing something like this would hurt my chances of getting whatever job I was applying for at whatever moment. Or of causing a problem with my psychiatric treatment. Or of getting me in trouble for violating my probation. It’s been so hard, not being able to express myself freely. I’m still not legally supposed to talk about what I know about what did or didn’t happen that resulted in that accusation that’s fucked up my life so badly. I’m not used to keeping anything a secret and I feel like there have been so many lately. Having to hide this from these people or that from everyone. It feels so good to finally get all of this out. Sure, there are other secrets from the last year that have eaten at me and that I’ve continued to keep to myself but what I’ve written here today is what’s emotionally relevant right now – and my intention when I sat down wasn’t to “fill in the blanks” for any audience; it was just to write. Up until this last paragraph, I had it in my head that I wasn’t even going to share this with anyone – at least not anytime soon. I liked myself better back when I was an open book though so… whatever (forever) and so on. Writing  (and sharing)  this feels like a step forward.

Happy New Year!

Check me out. It only took ’til May 17th for me to write my first blog entry in 2016. But… um… whatever, okay? Moving on…

When I stopped painting in January, I was working on a twelve by eight foot canvas that I had shared some photos of (mostly on Facebook and Instagram) as it progressed. It’s currently stuffed into a trash bag and I’m not sure what’ll ultimately become of it but here’s a picture and a little bit more info in the caption below.

My most recent (but currently abandoned) work-in-progress, shown here on January 16, 2016. Approximately two months after this photo was taken, the painting caught fire and much of it was reduced to ash. I may or may not attempt to piece the remains back together and finish the painting at some point in the future.
My most recent (but currently abandoned) work-in-progress, shown here on January 16, 2016. Approximately two months after this photo was taken, the painting caught fire and much of it was reduced to ash. I may or may not attempt to piece the remains back together and finish the painting at some point in the future.

It’s been four months since I’ve had my artwork and (five months since I’ve had my) blog as creative and emotional outlets. That’s been really difficult but I’m  not ready to fill in all the blank pages that have accumulated since I abandoned this website in December. As much as I’d like to just spill my guts about everything – for now – I’ve got to leave the story of the last few months (and  – really – the story since September) to be told sometime in the future.

That being said, I don’t want to feel like this website is just sitting online, rotting, so I’m going to try to start updating it with what I can more often.

I’ve been looking into new opportunities and hopefully I’ll have some good news soon. There were also some paintings from last year that never got added to the Gallery, so I’ll see if I can’t correct that soon too.

I hope everyone’s well and I’d like to thank all my friends, fans, and supporters for helping me along this far.

Every Song Sounds Like the Last One

When I was first forced to participate in “expressive art therapy group” while in inpatient treatment, I thought it was a joke. “I can’t keep a needle out of my arm and I’m fucking dying and you want me to color?? You’ve gotta be kidding me.” But once I started to actually put a little bit of effort into it – and sharing with the group what I had made and the reasons I made the choices that I had – I got my first little taste of self-esteem. People liked my art and they thought my explanations were funny and insightful. It made me feel good about myself. Eventually, art became something I really enjoyed and – later – my primary occupation. Not only did it save my life but it’s my primary tool in maintaining emotional balance and it pays my bills and enables me to spend most of my time doing what I love most: making more art.

A lot of my work looks like a lot of my other work. I have a distinct style and I don’t really stray outside of the box too often. I’ve tried to experiment here and there but – when I do – I’m usually not too happy with the results. It’s only when I get back to doing what I love (drawing/painting funny faces with bright colors) that I start to feel better.

In September of 2014, my friend Paul paid me to draw something for him. He didn’t give me any instructions but I decided to visit a record he’d released when he first started his label, Radius Records, for a bit of inspiration. The lyric that popped out at me was from The Smoking Popes’ “Theme From ‘Cheerleader’”: “Every song sounds like the last one.” It made me think about how my art is all pretty much the same but how I’m okay with that. Just like how almost all of the songs I like (in the fairly rigid genre of pop punk) are all essentially the same. It reminded me of something I’ve often said when talking about music: “I don’t care about innovation or breaking new ground. A band can do the same thing over and over again; what’s important is that they do it well.”

It’s the same with my art. It doesn’t matter if I do the same trick again and again; so long as I do it well.

That’s what was on my mind when I did this. That and the fact that I had come to like my own art enough to stand behind it in spite of any criticism – but that I was still grateful to have fans and friends, like Paul, that liked and supported what I do. I wrote just a little bit about it on the left side of the drawing.

Every time I pick up a pen, a brush, [whatever], I risk failure, risk repeating myself. I’m not afraid. I like what I like, do what I do, and every time I pick up, I’m saying so. I believe in myself. But I didn’t always. Other people had to believe in me first. And if they didn’t continue to… I don’t know that I’d be able to either.

It’s taken me more than a year to write out the statement for this piece. Thanks for your patience, Paul!

"Every Song Sounds Like the Last One." 9/28/14. Ink. 14x11".
“Every Song Sounds Like the Last One.” 9/28/14. Ink. 14×11″.

 

On an unrelated note, my second NPR story of 2015 aired a few days ago, this time courtesy of Ryan Benk and the Jacksonville affiliate, WJCT. You can read or listen to it on their website.

December or whatever

I’m pretty sure I left Chicago immediately after writing my last blog entry. We packed up that day and were on the road within 24 hours. We came to Jacksonville, which is mostly where we’ve been ever since.

I started work on the eight by twelve foot canvas that I had been planning since Spring. I set it up in front of Sun-Ray Cinema everyday and work on it with a table of prints set up to sell as I paint.

November turned out pretty well. After not even attempting to make any money the last two months in Chicago, I started to sell a good deal of art and am no longer in the dire financial position that I was in when I left Illinois. My emotional state improved significantly too.

December has been kind of rough so far. I stopped setting up to paint and sell quite as often so I started to make less money and I started to not feel quite as good. December’s Art Walk in Jacksonville was surprisingly bad and the rain at Art Basel pretty much fucked that up too.

I also finally had my first run-in with some idiot who wants to believe that I’m a rapist. Wallis and I were out in front of Sun-Ray and some girl walked by.

Without stopping, she asked, “Hey – didn’t you rape that girl?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yeah you did,” she said, by that point already a ways down the sidewalk, barely within earshot. There was no use trying to argue with her. She (and people like her) don’t care about the truth.

Though I’m not sure exactly what it is that they do care about. Condemning me does nothing to prevent violence or to aid victims/survivors of violence. It’s a showing of support for an anonymous girl that told (or at least went along with) a really disgusting lie. And it hurts me.

There are a thousand things I could write or say in an attempt to convince people that I was innocent. None of that really matters though. There are only two people in the world who really know what happened that night. And though the news stories about the alleged crime are sensationalistic and factually inaccurate, the little bit of information that is publicly available is more than enough to suggest a reasonable doubt.

If someone wants to believe that I’m a rapist in spite of that, their belief really doesn’t have anything to do with me, my actions, my character, or my history.

This isn’t really what I set out to write tonight, when I sat down to write this blog entry. I just wanted to give an update to the people that care about (or take an interest in) me.

For reasons I don’t want to discuss, I’m less comfortable disclosing the more sensitive details of my life right now. (The reasons and details have nothing to do with what I’ve just written about). Suffice to say, in the time that’s passed since my last update, I’ve experienced plenty of highs, lows, and middles, and tonight I’m just feeling very introspective and a little somber.

Here are a bunch of photographs:

piggyback
Me and the girl I love.
Wallis being adorable as fuck in her onesie / footed pajamas (the best money I've ever spent).
Wallis being adorable as fuck in her onesie / footed pajamas (the best money I’ve ever spent).
Our boy, Lukah, also lookin' pretty cute.
Our boy, Lukah, also lookin’ pretty cute.

And here are a series of photographs to show the development of my current work-in-progress. It’s the biggest thing I’ve done thus far (eight feel tall, twelve feet wide) and I’ve been at it for about a month now.

Day 2.
Day 2.
On Day 3, I decided that the canvas needed another layer of gesso, so I lost most of what I had already done.
On Day 3, I decided that the canvas needed another layer of gesso, so I lost most of what I had already done.
Inspired by Lukah's giant green eyes.
Inspired by Lukah’s giant green eyes.
I was pretty proud of myself when the cat body actually came out looking as I'd envisioned it.
I was pretty proud of myself when the cat body actually came out looking as I’d envisioned it.
All of these photos are from out front of Sun-Ray Cinema, which is where I work on this painting most days while I'm in Jacksonville.
: P.
My little buddy, Riley, helped me paint one day. I gave him his own corner and then reworked everything he painted. I'll dedicate a whole blog entry just to that later though.
My little buddy, Riley, helped me paint one day. I gave him his own corner and then reworked everything he painted. I’ll dedicate a whole blog entry just to that later though.
Here it is after I finished all of Riley's stuff (which took forever).
Here it is after I finished most of Riley’s stuff (which took forever).
Late November.
Late November.
After painting nearly everyday for two or three weeks, I don't think I painted at all in the first ten days of December. Here's a picture of the painting from Saturday night though. You can see it's almost filled out but all of the details will probably take me at least another month to finish.
After painting nearly everyday for two or three weeks, I don’t think I painted at all in the first ten days of December. Here’s a picture of the painting from Saturday night though. Even though it’s almost “filled out” some of the stuff that’s in it now will likely be covered up so – between that and all of the time I’ll spend on little details – it’s safe to say that this thing will keep me busy for at least another month.

If you’re in Jacksonville and wanna buy something, meet me, or just see how the painting is coming along, I’m out front of Sun-Ray most days from around noon ’til 10pm or so (unless it’s raining or I’m depressed or… whatever). Come say hi and then go inside and see a movie or get a pizza or something. Right now they’re playing Krampus and Room. Thursday’s the last night for Krampus and then on Friday they’re opening Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room and the new Star Wars movie. Oh – and on Thursday night they’re throwing a huge fucking party out back (in the parking lot behind the theater) where they’re gonna be recreating the cantina from Mos Eisley (which, for you non-nerds, is a setting from the original Star Wars movie).

Cool? Cool.

 

Birthday 2015

I’m feeling lost.

In August, I was arrested and charged with a crime I didn’t commit. I’m struggling to articulate the effect that my arrest had on me. It stole my momentum, erased my confidence, and cancelled all my plans.

I had an exhibit booked in Seattle for the month of November. That was cancelled the same day that the news of my charge hit the internet.

Being out on bail in September meant that I couldn’t risk selling prints out on the street (since it’s technically illegal without a vendor’s license). And given the nature of the charge against me, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea for me to be out like that in public anyway – underneath a banner with my name on it.

Now that the case is over, it’s too cold here in Chicago to sell outdoors. When I tried last year, I found that once it gets this cold, people just walk right past me without stopping.

I’ve got no money.

It hurts to admit that. Especially now that I’ve just turned thirty. I suddenly feel like a total loser.

If I had turned thirty six months ago, it would have been fine. I had money then, I felt accomplished then, I had things going on back then, and had more plans for the future.

I don’t feel like I’ve got much of anything today. Consequently, I suddenly feel a whole lot older and like a whole lot more embarrassed. I feel like a failure.

I need to relocate to a warmer city where I can make money but I signed a lease in Chicago so that I’d have somewhere to live for what I thought would be a long drawn out legal process. And then the case was unexpectedly dismissed less than two weeks later.

I’ll leave anyway when I feel the time is right but I don’t know where to go. Like I said, my momentum is gone and my confidence is shattered.

In the past, I could just pick up and leave because I was living out of my van. But now I have Wallis with me and we need an apartment. She needs to be able to work and have her own life. That’s not possible when we’re living out of a van and constantly on the move. We need to settle in somewhere.

That job offer from Elite Daily came in at just the right time. It was right at the moment when I was starting to figure out what my next move ought to be. I was still all fucked up by the events of the last couple months but it seemed perfect; like it was maybe exactly what I needed. And it seemed to be going really well – right until it wasn’t. And then it was a huge disappointment when it didn’t work out.

I looked into the possibility of writing for another company but ultimately decided to start my own. Time will tell whether or not that’s going to develop into anything or just be a short detour in the path of my life.


My older sister just called in the midst of writing this post. After talking to her, I’ve decided that I need to figure this out and get it over with already. I need to stop waiting for things to work out and I need to just make something happen.

To that end, I’m packing up and leaving Chicago. There’s nothing here for me. It will be obnoxious having to travel back to Illinois on December 4th for the next hearing in my stupidly drawn out Adderall case from 2014 but I don’t want to sit here rotting in the meantime just so that I don’t have to incur extra travel expenses.

It looks like I’m going back to Florida. Sarasota-Bradenton to be precise. I’ll be able to work on Vapid Planet from there, Wallis and I will have a place to stay, and I’ll be able to make trips to other nearby cities to sell art every so often.

My girlfriend baked me two kinds of cupcakes for my birthday because she loves me very much.
My girlfriend baked me two kinds of cupcakes for my birthday because she loves me very much. I love her too.

Vapid Planet

So I’ve been absent from my blog for a while ’cause some website called Elite Daily hit me up with a job offer and I was spending all my time writing stuff for them. It turned out to be a total waste of time and a giant disappointment but it did get me thinking that I’d enjoy doing some more structured writing than what I do here.

Earlier this week, I sent in résumés to Vice, Distractify, and Buzzfeed even though none of them are hiring for the position I’d want. Buzzfeed just hit me back earlier tonight and it looks like I might be writing some stuff for them on spec. We’ll see if anything comes of that.

More importantly though, I’ve realized that none of these are really the kind of company I’d wanna be writing for so – with that in mind – I’m starting my own.

Vapid Planet will launch early next month. The plan is to feature intelligent, entertaining commentary on current events; feature articles on sex, dating, and life in general; tons of pop punk/punk rock and other music nonsense; movie reviews; satire; and – you know – whatever we feel like throwing up there. Get in touch if you’d like to be involved.

vapidplanet

There Might Be Something Wrong With My Penis

"There Might Be Something Wrong With My Penis." 7/26/14. Acrylic paint. 8x10".
“There Might Be Something Wrong With My Penis.” 7/26/14. Acrylic paint. 8×10″.

I went to the VD clinic yesterday ‘cause I thought there was something wrong with me. I suspected that I might have been a bit hypochondriacal but – sure enough – there was something wrong. To quote the doctor’s precise and horrifying diagnosis, I was suffering from “a minor skin irritation.”

So that’s good news but it doesn’t end there. While I was sitting in the waiting room, I got to watch an educational video in which a cartoon penis rolled a condom over his body and then proceeded to lube himself up. I swear to god, I’m not fucking with you. This exists. Giant cartoon condom – rolls a condom over his body – and then covers himself with lube.

And I say to myself… what a wonderful world.”

I made this painting over a year ago, in a state of sheer terror, while waiting for test results. Being back at a clinic yesterday, I remembered that I had never put it online.

Early in 2014, I sold some art to a girl named Rachel Rabinowitz in Delray Beach, FL. She emailed me later and told me that she was an artist too and that I should hit her up if I was ever in Asheville. Later that year, while in Asheville, Chris Spillane and I  met her for coffee. She asked if I’d be interested in collaborating and I told her that she could paint something and then I could paint something over it. (That’s the only way I know how to collaborate; I had done it twice before with my buddy, William Somma, on “Limp” and “Yo – I Painted a Fuckin’ Unicorn“). Here’s what the canvas looked like when she gave it to me:

This part of the painting was done by Rachel Rabinowitz.
The pre-Sammy version of “There Might Be Something Wrong With My Penis.” Painted in June 2014 by Rachel Rabinowitz, who probably didn’t realize I’d later use the canvas to work through STD test anxiety (but was a very good sport about it).