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.
I forget how it came up, but I found myself in rehab, defending some view as not being illegitimate or immoral. Something to do with property and how this world has enough for everyone to have everything that they need. But how people get scared, their fear morphs into greed, and they feel like they need to hoard wealth or resources to the detriment of others. One way or another, we got to that thing from the Beatitudes where Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven. And from there, “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son to burn the banks to the fucking ground and drink the blood of the rich” popped into my head – which I, of course, thought was hilarious. And I immediately started jokingly trying to recruit my fellow inpatients for a crusade to burn down the banks and – you know – drink the blood of the rich.
The next day, in expressive art therapy group, we were told that the theme was Christmas (it was December 22nd). “Not really Christmas though – just in terms of birth or re-birth – just as a metaphor.” Everyone else in the group kind of ignored that. We produced a lot of paintings of Christmas trees and Santa Claus that day. I – predictably – went really literal with it though. I started painting myself being born (fully grown and clothed). And not so much being born, as much as pulling myself out of a woman’s birth canal. (The distinction is that birth wasn’t “happening” to me, I was taking the action). I thought that was pretty great given my circumstances. Recovery or rehabilitation weren’t happening to me – I was making them happen. I was bringing them about. Doing the work to get better.
And then it occurred to me that the “For God so loved the world…” thing that I had come up with the day before would be PERFECT for this painting. It was supposed to be about Christmas, right? The celebration of the birth of Christ. And while I had intended for the character in the painting to be me (and – no – I don’t think I’m the messiah) adding the caption would make this a depiction of what must be the second coming of Christ. When he comes back as a lion instead of a lamb. Lion Christ just might be the kind of guy that WOULD burn the banks to the fucking ground and drink the blood of the rich, the greedy, and the selfish. After all, Jesus never spoke ill of homosexuals or [whoever evangelists are bummed out about these days] but he sure as fuck had a distaste for the rich.
So this may sound absurd, but this painting, the little things leading up to it, and the process itself.. this was a spiritual experience for me. No offense to any of my peers, but they all painted Christmas trees and (by their own admission in group that day) didn’t get much out of it, so this assignment/prompt MUST have been for my benefit. And the way that it all panned out – what I chose to paint without even thinking of the previous day – and then remembering it at just the right time – this was all predestined. Similarly, back when I was told that I needed to have some kind of faith – that I’d need to believe in some kind of higher power if I ever wanted to get better and stop shooting heroin – the first belief I adopted (albeit sarcastically) was that “my higher power thinks I’m fucking hilarious“; if this whole episode isn’t proof of that, then I don’t know what is. The universe really brought it all together for me this time around.
HISTORICAL note!: Our art therapy counselor brought us acrylic paint and canvas boards as a Christmas present, so this was my first time using “real” art supplies. (Normally we used cheap paper and tempera/poster-paint). And I kinda can’t mention that counselor without saying something else…
Even when everyone else thought that “something might need to be done” about the kind of stuff I was turning out in art group, Julie stuck up for me and insisted that I be allowed (and encouraged) to create whatever I was feeling. It’s so much more than entirely possible that – were it not for Julie – what little enjoyment I got out of those early art groups might have been snuffed out. Had that been the case, there’s no way in hell that you’d be reading this right now because this website (and all of these pieces) wouldn’t even exist. And It’s not quite as certain, but it’s extremely likely that I’d either still be shooting heroin or dead. A lot of people and factors played into my recovery but the one piece that I’m almost positive is totally crucial is art. And Julie gets total credit for that. (With an assist from my friend (and fellow inpatient) Mary Beth, who was also a huge source of encouragement in the early stages of the game.
And so long as I’m going on tangents: After I finished this painting, as I was carrying it from group to my room, one of the property techs stopped and asked me if he could see what I had made. Staff aren’t really supposed to be “friends” with patients/clients, but I definitely considered Kenny a friend and (as a Christian) I was afraid this would bum him out. But I showed it to him and he surprised me. He knew exactly what I was going for, got the joke, told me it was actually a really Christian sentiment, and even gave me the [call number or whatever it’s called] for a verse of scripture. That sort of reaffirmed my faith in humanity that day. It was really awesome.
By the way, that movie I was cast in over the summer… the production designer saw this painting and asked if I could redraw it so that it could be screened onto a t-shirt for my character to wear. So I did!
A lot of what you’ve just read was written a few months back. Some of it is even older than that. The word “predestined” jumps off the page at me. Do I really believe in such a concept? I don’t know. I’m tempted to say “not really.” I’ll say this though… on December 22nd, back when all of this was happening… when I say, “this was a spiritual experience for me”, Imean it. Did I believe anything was predetermined earlier that day? No. Did I believe it in that moment? Again – I don’t really know. But I know that I was having fun acting as if I did… This really struck me as too perfect to be random (it just felt too excellent) but … eh… Well, like I sort of said: this was the best evidence I had ever seen that [to borrow from Andrew Jackson Jihad] “my god thinks my jokes are funny.” And it was all great fodder as I explained the cartoon/painting/sentiment to the patients and staff that were giving me funny looks. So I was having a lot of fun with it. So far as my real (confident) beliefs go… – only what I laid out in my entry for “Everything Works Out Exactly As It Should.”
Anyway, here’s a song that I was listening to a lot around the time this was painted.
Here’s a song that strikes me as otherwise relevant.
It’s Tuesday – my one day of routine. I got home from my session and my meeting and found a package waiting for me.
I’m pretty sure that the colored vinyl has been sold out for a good while now, which would mean that Chris (of Dirt Cult Records) sent me one of the copies he had set aside – unprompted… because he’s a sweet, wonderful human being and probably figured that it’d make me smile.
Also, I know this is silly but (even though I’m sure it has nothing to do with me) it makes me happy that Rumspringer still use my handwriting on their records, inserts, and other stuff.
Low Culture is the new(ish) band from Chris and Joe of Shang-a-Lang. “Screens” is their debut full-length (CD/LP on Dirtnap; cassette on Dead Broke) and it was produced by Mark Ryan of The Marked Men, which is a really excellent pairing for them.
Here’s a stream of the Sister Kisser / Rumspringer split as well.
And here’s the only other piece to slip through the cracks early on (like “Dear Diary.”) It’s the fourth painting in “The Weak End” series and the text says, “WHAT YOU DO IS.”
When I threw this online before, I just noted the title and the text in relation to lyrics from “48 Doublestack” by Rivethead (We’ve rejected what you’ve got to show for the trade-off: a life spent just waiting for orders and taking the shit from the parents, the bullies, and bosses. The fault’s no one’s but your own ’cause you couldn’t stand up and say no). Which makes me feel a little… um… redundant, in light of “Stand Up and Say No,” “Mowgli,” “Whatevermind,” and (probably) a few others that escape me at the moment.
Anyway, this was an expressive process. I played with colors and shapes, then looked to them to lead me forward. I saw this slug-type character, reclined, which brought to mind someone who (so far as I could tell) did little but recline. And criticize. And had been offering a lot of advice lately. Which has always struck me as funny: the way that thoroughly unhappy people tend to give advice.
I won’t say whom I had in mind when I made this. Only because I think the negativity that’d come with the disclosure outweighs the value of the honesty and release that I’d get from it. And I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. This is, after all, a mean painting. And I was feeling mean when I made it. Because my feelings were hurt.
That’s the way it goes. Someone’s hurt. They respond with anger, to hurt the other person. Who then responds in the exact same way. It’s a sad, ridiculous cycle.
I can honestly say that I could make the disclosure (without ill will) at this point, but I can’t control whether this person would recognize that. And I’d rather not fan a flame / keep the cycle going.
Among the million criticisms launched at Against Me! when they started to get popular was that all of their songs were about playing in a band or (more generally) the music industry. I thought it was a bummer when they forgot how to write catchy, engaging songs but didn’t mind those lyrical themes so much. But part of me is bothered by this piece in that same kind of way. It’s a little too self-referential / on-the-subject-of-art/business for my taste. Or maybe I’m just embarrassed by the sentiment or the vulnerability. It was my second time selling at a street fair-kinda thing, nobody was even stopping to look at my stuff, and I was getting a little down in the dumps. Eventually people did stop – and laugh, and compliment – and come back with their friends to show them certain pieces that they really liked, but no one was really buying anything.
I knew all along that I shouldn’t need validation from anyone or anything outside of myself, but it took me a little bit to realize that – if that’s what I wanted – the positive feedback should have been enough for me to feel validated in that way anyway. After all, if the lack of sales was actually about me (or, more specifically, my art), what would that mean? What would the explanation be? It would be that my pieces weren’t good enough to sell. Which would mean that if I wanted to succeed, I’d have to make “better” art. My pieces though are authentic, honest, and expressive. A lot of them are also funny and some of them even lookcool as well. Even if I didn’t know that myself, I can tell a real response or compliment from a bullshit one, and plenty of people have told me as much and genuinely meant it. I could have been peddling unearthed/never-seen Picassos, and (unless they had his name on them) I probably still wouldn’t have sold much more than I did that day. Or maybe if I had been selling technically proficient portraits of TV characters, I’d have sold everything I had. But that would have been bullshit because that’s not who I am and it’s not what I do.
So this painting is about the emotional triggers I was struggling with before I took the time to really reflect and figure it all out. When I finished it, I was too embarrassed to even add it to my display. And I’m still a little embarrassed by it, but that’s okay (just like everything else).
This statement was written in May, around the time the painting sold. An 11½x12” print/poster is available in my store.
Here’s a later-period Against Me! song that I think is every bit as good as anything they’ve ever recorded.
I don’t have the slightest idea what’s happening in Syria. Something about weapons or genocide or… [who the fuck knows?] (Not me!). I am intentionally ignorant of it. I don’t give a shit. Not because I have some sort of bigoted animosity toward people in that part of the world, but because it’s not good for my mental health to be concerned with it. I don’t stress about it for the same reason I don’t stress about whether my friends in other parts of the country are consumed by drugs and at risk of dying. Because I can’t control it, I can’t change it, and worrying about it isn’t going to bring about anything positive for anyone.
I have a memory from when I was twenty years old. I was reading constantly and the things I was reading were consuming my thoughts. I remember walking through a grocery store and I started to cry (just a little bit) because I was thinking about water privatization in South America. I’m not interested in living that way anymore.
I saw some stuff on Facebook this week, criticizing our culture at large for being so consumed by the spectacle of MTV’s video music awards. I don’t give a shit about that either, but I actually saw some of it. (I went over to Angie and Alex’s house last night with Heather because Andrew and Claire came into town. They wanted to see some parts of the VMAs so Alex pulled it up on their magical internet television). I didn’t think it was awesome and I didn’t think it was the worst thing to ever happen. But it was really fucking boring. But [whatever]. It’s not important because – like Syria – things like that don’t need to be a part of my life at all.
Is it sad that bad things happen every day, whether or not we know about them? Absolutely. Is it frustrating that people obsess over (what I think is) vapid garbage “entertainment?” Sometimes, I guess. But none of it matters. Nothing matters. Not inherently. Things only have the significance that I assign to them. I don’t know if you’d call it a sort of nihilism or a “personal relativism” or what, but I get to choose my own truths and I get to create my own world.
As the only text on this painting (that isn’t in the title) says, “I like colors and contrast, bad teeth, crooked smiles, and nonsense. Things are better than they’ve ever been.”
This was the biggest fresh canvas I’ve ever worked with. I started on Thursday (8/29) and finished last night. It is acrylic, watercolor, pen, marker, carbon, and oil pastel.
Aside from “colors and contrast,” here’s something else that matters to me. Last night, when I was trying to figure out how to get a high-resolution photograph of something this big (and getting a little bit annoyed with how poorly my efforts were going) I realized that I was sitting alone in my kitchen, bouncing around in my seat, and singing along to this song. It made it a little tougher to feel at all annoyed or frustrated.
Edit(!): I can’t get the song to embed! Just go here and absorb everything: thebrokedowns.com