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!
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.
With all the tattooing I’ve been doing myself lately, it kind of makes sense that I’d do some work for an actual tattoo shop. (Or maybe not?) In any case, this commission came in two nights before my own tattoo career started. On my way to Minneapolis for Cleveland Bound Death Sentence, I stopped in Lexington. My buddy, Chris, works for Bleed Blue Tattoo and, while we were there, I met the shop’s owner, Tommy. Being the self-promoting little fuckshit that I am, I (of course!) told him about my artwork. He was cool enough to commission me to design a shirt for Bleed Blue right then and there. He was also cool enough to tell me I could do whatever I wanted – so I did, right down to the sort of overly-personal text that I put in virtually all of my pieces. The only real guideline I gave myself was a limited color palette since I knew that – when it comes to silkscreens – more colors means higher printing costs.
The text says: “I am an anxious mess of a human being but I’ve got high hopes once Mercury’s no longer in retrograde. Maybe I’ll start getting laid again.” I wrote that the night I started the piece in St. Louis. By the time I finished it a couple days later in Minneapolis, Mercury was no longer in retrograde and I had started getting laid again. Isn’t it nice when stories have a happy ending?
As if all that weren’t great enough, check out the week I just had, selling and making art at punk shows around the midwest:
June 29: Lexington, KY w/ Rational Anthem.
June 30: Cincinnati, OH w/ Masked Intruder, The Dopamines, Direct Hit!, and The Priceduifkes.
July 1: Bloomington, IN w/ Rational Anthem and The Razor Ramones.
July 2: St. Louis w/ Masked Intruder, The Humanoids, Direct Hit!, and The Priceduifkes.
July 3: Madison, WI w/ The Transgressions, Rational Anthem, Lipstick Homicide, and Spruce Bringsteen.
July 4: Minneapolis, MN w/ Dillinger Four, The Brokedowns, Masked Intruder, Direct Hit!, The Priceduifkes, and Canadian Rifle.
July 5: Minneapolis, w/ Dillinger Four and Night Birds.
Anyway, for now, I’m in Chicago (where I’ll probably remain for most of the summer). Then again, have I ever stuck with a plan? Either way, shit’s cool right now and I’m excited about everything I’ve got in the works. And I’ve got a bunch of new pieces that I’ll add to the site soon so… Cool.
Here are some tunes from some of the bands that have been rad enough to host me lately:
“25 to Life” by Masked Intruder
“Thinkin’ ‘Bout Ya” by Rational Anthem
“Snickers or Reese’s” by Direct Hit!
“Captain, We’re Drinking” by The Priceduifkes
Music video for “Wizard Symptoms” by The Brokedowns
“Like Sprewells on a Wheelchair” by Dillinger Four
“Moody’s Point” by Lipstick Homicide
“Wasteoid” (originally by The Transgressions but performed here) by Spruce Bringsteen (that’s a two in one)!
I don’t like to do non-expressive / cartoon art these days. It’s too hard; I don’t have the technical ability to do it in anything close to a reasonable time frame.
But I do love Rational Anthem (the kids and their music)| and their choice of “Autobiography,” as the cover art for their new record, was a huge honor. And that meant it was suddenly necessary to produce a little something extra (in that same style)| to grace the LP’s lyric sheet. And though my art for their last lyric sheetwas absolutely in sync with the theme of that album (and not as half-assed as it might seem), it still meant that I needed to deliver something a little more substantial this time around. (Especially since they – you know – pay me for this stuff).
Originally, I was gonna do a unique cartoon for every song on the record but I don’t have the time or patience for that stuff these days. I think this one image efficiently nails the gist of their album. It certainly covers the bulk of Hembrough and I’s late-night, hours-long phone calls (through which we’ve solved all the problems of the modern world).
I drew this approximately five months after I said I would but it all works out that I’m just sharing it now ’cause it ties in to some of my plans. Spillane and I decided earlier in the week that we’re going to meet up with Rational Anthem somewhere in the Midwest near the end of the month and join them on tour for a week or so. It’ll give me an opportunity to hang with them, see a lot of friends in
cities I rarely get to anymore, rapidfire-hit a bunch of galleries in different cities, and sell prints at their shows each night – where I’ll ALSO get to watch Rational Anthem play every night, along with a handful of other bands that I’m really excited about. THE TRANSGRESSIONS being a particular standout. (I used to
release all of their records on Traffic Street and they folded around the same time my label did (for pretty much the same reason). This will only be their second show in years and it’ll be the first time I get to see Ben since we were both all fucked up on heroin). I’ve got a lot to look forward to and a lot to be excited about right now.
I painted this for the cover of Billy Raygun’s posthumous discographic cassette. Each of the three bits of text is a lyric from a song of theirs that means something to me.
I thought I heard you calling; it was just the emptiness ringing in my head. I still think about you a lot. I still think about you a lot. I still think about you a lot.
In April 2011, my six-year relationship with Taylor came to a close. She broke up with me. I didn’t take it well. I had been pretty strung out on heroin, in a pretty bad way, for a little while but had just gotten into my first “treatment program” a few days prior (it was just methadone maintenance – not exactly the best path to wellness but what did I know?) On top of that, final exams for my final semester at Georgetown Law were about to begin and I hadn’t been to any of my classes all year. I didn’t even own the textbooks. I had a lot of studying to do if I was gonna graduate on time and I knew god damn well that if I didn’t graduate now that it was never gonna happen. I needed to keep it together (get it together) real, real fast if I was gonna keep everything in my life from crumbling into absolute shit, misery, and failure. Between the methadone, the heroin, the Adderall, and the sleep deprivation that goes along with studying in 24-hour shifts, I was … not entirely well. For a while there, I started to experience regular auditory hallucinations. Mostly, it was people (strangers) screaming at each other. It was like channel surfing on a TV where every single show featured nothing but loud, angry people. Occasionally though, I’d get a break in that and hear something softer and sweeter: “Sam…” It was a voice I knew; it was Taylor’s voice. Every single time, I’d turn around without fail, hoping (and actually believing) that this time she’d actually be standing there. She never was (of course) but it still broke my heart a little bit every time. It was a miserable cycle of studying, drugs, and crying.
All of this care / not caring is killing me.
This lyric isn’t tied into any one specific memory as much as it serves as an all-encompassing description of my relationships (romantic and otherwise) throughout my life. Oscillating frantically back and forth between giving a shit and shutting down. Between feeling loved and feeling abandoned and rejected. Sometimes it seems like my emotions are wired to a light switch. It doesn’t take a lot to flip from “perfect” love to total apathy (or even hatred). And since “we’re attracted to those at our same level of sickness/health,” I’ve gotten mixed up with plenty of girls who are equally skilled at unintentional (often drug-fueled) emotional back-and-forth. There was one night in early 2012 when my then-girlfriend professed her deep, unending, profound love for me in one moment, and was swearing that I was a disgusting, ugly, unlovable piece of shit in the next. And before the hour was up, she was right back to telling me how wonderful I was. Experiences like that can fuck with a person…
I’ll just admit that it’s a different girl, the same old story.
I painted this as the front and back covers for a split 7-inch by Apocalypse Meow and Todd Congelliere, coming soon from Rad Girlfriend Records. It’s the first time I’ve done a commissioned piece in my regular/preferred expressive style instead of taking the more labored cartoon/comic approach.
The caption says: “I was talking to this girl I fucked pretty brutally. She said she wrote a poem about it. A poem about my fucking. That made me smile.”
I figured that might be a little much for a pop punk record so I replaced it with the band names for the actual record layout.
I hadn’t actually seen the poem yet when I made this, but I’ve read it since. Turns out it’s only partially about “my fucking.” It’s actually about way more than that and way more beautiful and affectionate and insightful than I feel like I deserve. It’s really great and – in that way – makes me feel kind of shitty, even though I didn’t do anything wrong. We had sex, it was fun; we hung out, it was fun; and then we repeated that cycle a few times. I guess friendship and fucking don’t really go together without feelings developing.
I’ve been sleeping around lately, getting involved with different girls to different degrees; I’m probably asking for trouble. I’m probably about to fuck myself – one way or another. There’s a lot more I could write about all that but I don’t wanna push myself to be too honest / transparent right now. That feels okay.
There’s this one girl – I wrote (what I guess I’d call) a long prose poem about her and about my experience with her in the week after we met. I’d developed feelings of my own for her [how novel!] But I was conscious of the fact that – this sort of thing – it does happen fairly often with me. I wrote a little bit about that as well:
I’ve got these fucking warm, fuzzy feelings for a lot of people. My male friends – I love them, I hug them, all that. But when I have these feelings for girls (it doesn’t matter how many) I love them and I also want to kiss them, sleep with them. I don’t think that’s wrong or weird but you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to have feelings for one person that are strong enough that you don’t even want to connect with another person in that way. That seems like bullshit.
I don’t know… maybe I’m just selfish. Love and sex are all twisted up and make for difficultly-navigable terrain. I just wanna love and fuck without being confused.
Are you guys sick of this image yet? I sold my first custom cartoon shirt (which I made last night). I redrew “Greetings From Delray Beach” onto a pink t-shirt using (black, brown, yellow, red, green, and blue) fabric markers. It took me about three hours.
I posted a little thumbnail of this shirt at some point a week or so back (at the bottom of an unrelated post) but this was the first shirt that I made (sometime last month for a friend’s birthday). It’s a modified version of my “I’m a Fucking Artist, Guys” cartoon.
If you’d like either of these shirts (or one featuring any of my other artwork) they can be purchased through my webstore.
Status update: I’m leaving town tonight to go to a wedding with Heather. A wedding at which I not only have to wear a shirt but a shirt with long sleeves and a collar. I thought I was going to have to buy one but I found this one that I had forgotten that I owned. I think the last time I wore it was eight years ago. I feel ridiculous.
It’s gonna be a really weird weekend but I’m going to do my best to post new stuff on the website each day that’s a little more legitimate / interesting than today’s post. Bear with me! ; )
Delray Beach has more rehabs, halfway houses, and treatment institutions (of all kinds) than any other city. It’s the so-called “recovery capital of the world,” which – by default – also makes it the relapse capital of the world. While plenty go to Delray and get better, just as many go and get much, much worse. The streets of Delray are swarmed with young, drug-addled fuck-ups from all parts of the country, which is why I love to joke that it’s the real world correlate of the island in Pinocchio where bad kids go to be bad. I got to town the night of January 20, 2012 and met her the very next day.
But fast forward to the last time I ever saw her: August 1, 2012, when we left the St. Louis airport on separate planes. She flew to Minneapolis to check into her fifth rehab and I flew back to Miami to collect some things. When I wound up in rehab myself (just sixteen days later) I didn’t know if we’d ever see each other again. As was evident in the journal entries I wrote during my first weekend at Tranquil Shores, I was confused. I thought about her a lot but did I love her? I argued the point both ways with myself. Tranquil Shores allowed me limited use of my cell phone after a time and (while her facility didn’t) she managed to get a prepaid phone smuggled in. I was making big strides in my treatment and trying to play by the rules and I encouraged her to do the same. I told her our relationship was distracting both of us from our treatment. She disagreed and took offense. Our phone calls got to be less frequent, shorter, and more argumentative. When I found myself getting wrapped up in other girls and starting to recognize the full extent of my codependency, I decided that my relationship with her had been more of the same. We had been close enough that I – of course – cared about and loved her, but I decided that it wasn’t a romantic love and that we had only been drawn together by shared emotional defects.
On April 21, 2013, I had eight months clean and she was checking into rehab for the seventh time. I wrote her a letter and shared all the things I had done differently in my last round of treatment that I thought had finally made it count. I also explained our relationship to her: how we hadn’t really been in love but just had a kind of survivor’s bond from running the streets of south Florida for five months after being kicked out of treatment. She didn’t get the letter but saw it on her way out the door. (Her counselor tried to use it as a bargaining chip to get her to stay but to no avail). She left and called me. I was frustrated that she had walked out and I was tired of trying to help when she didn’t seem willing to help herself. Why the fuck would she leave treatment again? By even taking her phone calls and trying to be supportive whenever she’d put herself in situations like this, I was enabling her continued decline. My counselor advised that I set a boundary and I did. “Until you have three months clean, we can’t talk.”
A few weeks ago, I got a text message. Five months after I had set the boundary, she had her three months. Or so she said. I had my doubts but I decided to take her word for it and I’d like to believe that it’s the truth. I told her she could call and she did. She was initially combative (there were some resentments a full year in the making) but the conversation lightened as time passed and, ninety minutes in, she said she had something she needed to tell me. She thanked me and said she couldn’t imagine what might have happened to her had I not stuck with her when we were put out on the street. She said that I was exactly the person she needed at that point in her life and that – being just a little bit older, wiser, and more experienced – I had saved her from who-knows-what terrible fate. And she said that she wouldn’t be the person she is today had it not been for my presence and influence, which had proven to be both tremendous and positive.
My kneejerk (internal) reaction was that I was a piece of shit and that we had been nothing but bad for each other – that we had kept each other sick. I put that aside for the moment as she continued to speak. I was sort of dumbstruck by what I was hearing. These were not the kinds of words I’d expect from her. She had always been boastful, independent, and above everything. Nothing could touch her; nothing could shake her. Nobody could teachher anything because she already knew everything. That was the girl as I remembered her. Her words forced me to remember another girl though: a side of her that I hadn’t seen or thought of in a long time. In an instant, I realized that I was wrong to assume that I knew her mind better than she did; I was wrong to tell her that she hadn’t really been in love with me. I had impacted her life in ways that I had never really considered (or had at least forgotten about). She always played so tough and, even though I knew it was just a wall she used to protect herself, I had forgotten that the wall wasn’t so thick as to actually keep anything from ever making it through.
After we hung up, I thought about the reaction I had stowed after being floored and humbled by the impact of her words. I remembered something that I had told myself over and over in those days: that I had to stay with her because – as bad as things might have been with me – I knew that they’d be far worse without me. At the time, I thought I could actually save her (save both of us) and that we could get well together. While I was absolutely wrong on that point, I really did look out for her and things really would have been far worse for her had I not been there. That part was true. For everything that I had done wrong, I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) discount the good that I had done as well.
Before we hung up that night, she also commissioned me to paint something for her. I’ve been working on it, off and on, ever since but I finally finished it last night. In making it, I reflected on our relationship, which now spans twenty months. Three incidents came to mind that struck me as being particularly significant. I journaled about them directly on the canvas but it’s so layered that most of my words were washed away by watercolors or obscured by acrylics or food coloring.
The first incident was a night I had forgotten about – a time when the question of our love’s authenticity was nowhere near my mind. It was late at night, storming, and we were parked in the lot at the treatment facility that had kicked us out a month prior. [The treatment center and patient residence were separate properties, so the building was empty; it was a place to park that we knew cops wouldn’t come around]. We were in the backseat, fooling around, and had stripped down to nothing. Then – at some point, for whatever reason – we got out of the car, totally naked and in spite of the sheets of rain that were slamming down on top of us. Standing upright, in that parking lot, in the middle of that storm, we had sex. If that sounds dirty or cheap or vulgar, it wasn’t. We may have been living like homeless, scummy, junkie street urchins – and maybe wewere – but in that moment we were young, in love, and free – invincible.I felt like I had an amazing secret that the rest of the world would never know or understand. It was beautiful. I thought so then and – in that way – I still do.
The second was the day we ripped off a drug dealer and almost got ourselves killed. In anticipation of this entry’s length, I went ahead and wrote out that story two days ago in a separate entry. It’s a very different anecdote and has nothing to do with love or freedom; it’s just sad and desperate.
The third incident (and the only one of which my journals of are still somewhat visible on the canvas) was the recent phone call itself. It forced me, for the first time, to really look at and question the narrative I had constructed to explain (and discount) our relationship. Not only did she remind me that night that I don’t have things quite as figured out as I sometimes like to think, but also that truth is relative to the individual. I hate it when people try to tell me what I’m feeling and I was doing exactly that to her. I thought I was so reflective and enlightened when, in reality, I was being thoughtless, arrogant, and invalidating. Who was I to say that she wasn’t/had never been truly in love with me? Besides, what the fuck does that even mean? To be in love with someone. I think I know but does anyone ever really?
Maybe I was in love (and maybe I wasn’t). Whatever it was, I’m grateful for it – the good memories and the bad.
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).