This image was an accident. It was just a piece of paper, on my desk, beneath something that I was actually working on. I brought it with me to work on while I tabled at Indie Market [the day I painted “Roller Skating Sideways Through Blood” and “Getting Greedy“]. Ultimately, I didn’t do anything to it; instead, opting to use it as a statement about THE VALUE OF ART. (Wow! I sure am thoughtful and interesting!)
Set up on the sidewalk across from me were some kids selling a socialist newspaper they had written and published. When I was younger, I might have thought that was kind of cool and impressive but – at this point – I couldn’t help but marvel at how incredibly fucking fruitless of an endeavor that must be. To publish a socialist newspaper in Tampa, Florida. I mean – what kind of a person thinks that they’re going to make the slightest fucking bit of a difference with something like that? I mean – ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Not to mention: how incredibly fucking boring.
I picked my “Value of Art” piece back up to add the words: “AND SOCIALISM!”
Though I saw the similarity between this piece and their newspaper even then, it’s only in hindsight that I see the similarity between their newspaper and everything that I do. After all, if their paper is even slightly worth a shit, I’m sure they turn someone on to a new idea every once in a while and set them on a path to… something or other… I’m sure they’ve made some kind of a positive difference in someone’s life. And I’m sure it gives a sense of purpose to theirs.
So while – on some level – I might think that publishing a socialist newspaper is a total waste of fucking time… I’ve got to admit that it’s roughly equivalent to everything I’ve ever made and everything I ever will make. So – you know – power to the proletariat or what-the-fuck-ever.
5×6″ prints of “I’m Publishing a Socialist Newspaper in Tampa, Florida” are available in my webstore. The original sold earlier this year.
I’m still sick and it’s bumming me out. I think one of those two new paintings I’ve been talking about is done though. If so, it’ll be online tomorrow… So… that’s kinda cool, I guess.
All day, I’ve been working on that ridiculously oversized drawing (the one I mentioned starting yesterday). I think I’ve put at least twelve hours into it so far. I might have problems.
Here’s the third of my nine learning-to-draw-with-charcoal “sketches” – the first four of which were done while sitting in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The drawing’s from January, but this statement is from May.
I saw someone selling paintings with flat-color backgrounds behind characters like Merle from “The Walking Dead.” “Are you fucking kidding me?” I thought. “What’s the value in (or purpose of) a fucking portrait of a television show character, with nothing added at all to even personalize it?” I was pretty contemptuous for someone that’s trying to be – you know – well. But I realized: I don’t know why that guy paints, I don’t know what he gets out of it, and it really doesn’t matter. Maybe he’s the artistic equivalent of a rock’n’roll cover band playing in some bar every night – and maybeI’m a judgmental little shithead who just started painting a few months ago and should shut the fuck up.
The only thing that’s certain in all of this is that none of it matters. None of it is important. I’m sure there are people that think a portrait of Merle is great and that everything I’ve ever made belongs in a landfill. They’re not wrong.
I don’t wanna be judgmental and there’s no logical criteria from which I can really judge anyway. So… “I shot heroin. You paint TV characters. Life is meaningless!”
Admittedly, the statement, “Life is meaningless!,” was on my mind because I had been revisiting my Nate Gangelhoff zines and he used the phrase (hysterically) in an imagined scene wherein executives greenlight the publication of a Mr. T comic book. That’s in the third issue of “You Idiot” but both of his books and all of his zines are really spectacular.
In 2011, when I was inpatient at Hazelden, I noticed something about myself: whenever we got a new patient, I’d behave just a little more “outrageously.” Like – the things that came out of my mouth were a little more shocking, absurd, or over the top. I very much had a need to let new people know that I was a character. And I realized that it wasn’t a new behavior; the settings varied, but I had been acting this way all my life.
That realization really upset me and I resolved to change immediately. I didn’t need anything else on my (already) long list of shit don’t like about myself. Some people responded well to those antics, but I’m sure there were plenty more that were thoroughly annoyed. Granted, treatment is the kind of intimate environment where – so long as you’re not totally shut down – people will learn to spot your bullshit and see through to “the real you” pretty quickly (whether they want to or not) and that meant the only real consequence of my acting out was to be initially disliked. [I remember deciding at one point that four to five days (for someone to come around and not hate me) was the standard rule]. Still, I didn’t wanna stomach that feeling for any days if I didn’t have to.
Once I’m comfortable somewhere, I can conduct myself more consciously; I can elect to play the clown or choose to be more authentic. But when I’m the new kid, I’m really shy, quiet, and usually lie silently as I absorb the dynamic. But I move fast. That “new-kid phase” is usually only twelve to twenty-four hours. After all, I’m pretty desperate for attention, pretty much all the time [as sad (and uncomfortable to admit) as that is].
About twenty-one hours after my arrival at Tranquil Shores, we’re taken to an arcade for our “community event.” In the van afterward, riding back, I asked about some of the past community events.
“We went to the roller rink, but probably for the last time. Debbie fell and cracked her head. There was blood everywhere, and kids, and…”
Holy shit! What a fantastic image! I pictured little kids slipping around a roller rink as a pool of blood spread across the floor. I couldn’t contain myself and shared my delight with my new peers. Everyone laughed and someone joked, “Nobody let this kid near any scissors.” I responded with mock indignation, “HEY – just ‘cause I like to roller skate sideways through blood – doesn’t make me a cutter.” That really cracked everyone up. I was pretty pleased with myself. (More so than was warranted but…)
Either way, I quickly discovered that it wasn’t going to take four or five days for these people to not hate me. I felt accepted, by both the clients and staff, almost immediately. And while there were certainly moments when I tested that acceptance (and consequently felt like a misfit or an outcast again) really, it only increased as my stay went on [the exact reverse of every past experience]. To this day, I’ve never felt more accepted or appreciated anywhere than I have at Tranquil Shores. And though that had very little to do with my dumb jokes, that moment in the van was when I first started to feel it.
Fast-forward eight months or so: I’m at Indie Market, feeling very notpleased with myself. The “skating sideways through blood” thing came to mind and I wanted to recapture the feeling of that day. I picked up my brush and started to paint, but it wasn’t going well. Nothing was looking as it had in my head and I was beginning to feel frustrated (to an absolutely irrational degree). But I was trying so hard to not be that way. I wanted so badly to be better and stronger than that. Instead of giving up entirely, I moved colors, distorted shapes, and started writing about art and my frustration with the commercial end. I had become incredibly prolific but nobody was buying my work; I felt like a factory, spewing shit no one cared about. And I had spent a bunch of money on frames, thinking they’d help “legitimize” my work in the eyes of strangers at Indie Market (and increase sales) but no one was buying anything. I was burnt out and annoyed with myself for posting every new piece of art on Facebook. It’d be one thing to shamelessly promote a product no one was interested in – it was worse that the product was (essentially) me.
I needed to sell my art it because someone told me I had “what it takes” to be an artist and I had allowed myself to believe them. I was afraid of letting them down and even more terrified that I was letting myself down – terrified of being wrong, of not having what it takes. In hindsight, it was all insane. I had only moved out of Tranquil Shores five or six weeks prior – and I had only started painting and drawing a few months before that. To have sold anything in that timeframe was fucking remarkable.
The last sentence (“It’s better than Cymbalta”): I don’t know if I really believed it as the letters formed on the canvas but – as soon as they had – I know that I did. That’s when I started to feel better. And – as if the universe was offering a direct rebuttal to all my negative thinking – within a few weeks I had sold eight paintings – including this one.
I’d say that, every so often, someone really ought to kick the shit out of me but I already do such a great job of it myself. But in my better moments, I dohave gratitude. I do see how lucky I’ve been. How blessed I am. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I feel it and it’s real.
In late February, I went to Crafty Fest at Artpool to try and sell some of my pieces. It went really well. The first week of April, I went to Indie Market in downtown St. Pete and it was a bust. A few weeks later, I went back to Crafty Fest, but this time to do both days instead of just one.
On the first day, my table was not well-positioned and I got badly sunburned relatively early in. I left my table and sat under someone else’s tent. It didn’t really matter; no one seemed to give a shit anyway. So I sat a ways away, painting as I spied on the people that would stop to look at my stuff. When someone smiled, laughed, and really stopped to look at more than a couple of my pieces, I’d walk over and start to talk to them.
One woman really liked a lot of them. When she told me she really wanted to remember the details so she could tell her friends later, I hinted that if she were to buy one, she wouldn’t have to worry about remembering it. What a concept! She asked about the price on one and – given how poorly things were going – I aimed low. Really low. “Twenty dollars,” I said. “Oh my!” she responded, “I could never spend that much! I just paid ten dollars for two chairs!”
I’m not really sure what chairs have to do with art, but that’s the story of how I brokenly sold a piece for $6.12. The only sale of the day.
I was not excited to go back for day two. That first art fair had gone really well, but this was now two in a row that had not.
That morning I woke up wondering why I was going to bother driving out to do this. “Fuck brushing my teeth, fuck putting on shoes, fuck doing anything to get ready or look presentable. I’ll go and I’ll expect nothing. I’ll spend the day painting.”
So that’s how I approached it and, right away, it felt pretty great. I had become a lot less concerned with others’ perceptions of me since my most recent (and only successful) stint in treatment, but this was a step forward still. And not giving a shit about whether or not anyone would buy any of my art – here (on this day) or ever again – it was a relief. “If there’s no market for my art – fuck it,” I decided, “that’s not why I do it anyway. It was an exciting prospect that making art (something I’m going to do no matter what) might also be something that’d free me from having to wash dishes or bag groceries for the rest of my life, but if that doesn’t work out, it won’t be the end of the world. Whenever I make something new, I’ll just give it to a friend or anyone else that wants it – and then figure out some other way to pay bills. I mean, this whole painting thing is new to me. It’s not like being an artist has been my lifelong dream.”
Things didn’t go as awfully as I prepared for. I sold quite a few pieces and made a good deal of money. That meant my street-sales record was now 2-2 and my hope / optimism concerning the possibility of art saving me from less fulfilling “work” was renewed. And the experience was even more successful in terms of the quality of time spent painting and the lessons I learned regarding acceptance and expectations.
I can be filthy and paint pictures as I smoke cigarettes barefoot on downtown sidewalks… I can do whatever it is that I do, and … that’s it. Things work out.
And I’m not talking about people appreciating my paintings and buying them. (That’s just a bonus). The best moment of the day was before any of that happened. It was the moment I realized that I was no longer dreading the day to come. It was the moment that I felt free of expectations. The moment that I felt free period.
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.
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).