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.
For as much as I talk and write about Wallis, I’ve never really shared the full story of how we first came together. I’ll save the cute elements of the story for later and just give you the important part that hasn’t seemed relevant until now.
When I met Wallis, she was actively addicted to heroin. She was trying to not be on heroin but (like most addicts) she was finding that to be a little tougher than she could handle. We hit it off really quickly but I told her on our very first night together that I couldn’t be around that sort of thing. I told her that if she wanted to continue spending time with me, she couldn’t be using drugs. (I’m way too fucking fragile to not relapse if a pretty girl has a needle and a bag of dope to share with me). She told me she didn’t wanna use. I invited her to go with me on a road trip for a week – up to Illinois and back. In the course of that trip, we fell in love. Which was a problem because it meant we needed to figure out what we were gonna do to keep her from going back to heroin once we got back to Jacksonville. We decided that she’d need to quit the strip club and get another job (nobody can stay off drugs in that environment – no addict anyway). I told her I’d cover her ’til she got a new job and then – when it was time for me to leave Jacksonville – she’d quit her new job and come with me. Sound familiar? I did for Wallis the same thing I had done for my best friend, Chris, a year prior. I brought her out on the road with me to keep her off drugs. To show her another kind of life. Like Chris had done, in exchange for “all expenses paid” she’d just help me with my set-up, selling art, whatever. (And like Chris, it pretty much worked. She never used once; not while traveling with me anyway).
When we left Jacksonville, it was for Minneapolis, where I was to be featured in a gallery exhibit. Halfway through the exhibition’s run, we returned to Jacksonville for a week, so I could bank at One Spark. On the drive down, Wallis started talking about going to see old friends – friends that she had, historically, used drugs with. I told her that this was a terrible idea. She argued that I needed to have faith in her. I responded that I’d heard that same exact sentence and had this same exact conversation many, many times in the past (with another girl) and that I knew perfectly well how this was gonna end. I told her that if she wasn’t willing to forego the reunion (and the inevitable relapse that’d come with it) that I couldn’t be her boyfriend anymore. One Spark was going to be an incredibly important week for me financially and I didn’t wanna fuck it up by spending the whole time worried about whether Wallis was safe. She said okay (as in okay, then you don’t need to be my boyfriend anymore). There was no hostility or drama beyond that but when we got to Jacksonville, we went our separate ways. Wallis relapsed that very first night (thought she wouldn’t tell me until later), but called me the next morning and spent the rest of the week by my side like a lost puppy. On the night before I was to return to Minneapolis, she broke down crying, told me she had fucked up, and that she still wanted to be with me.
I first had the thought years and years ago, upon hearing Rivethead’s “In My Heart a Warehouse Burns For You.” The last lyric in the song is “I love you just as much as I hate the man.” I’m not exactly the biggest fan of cops or authority figures of any kind but when I’m really fired up and full of hate, there’s only one target it’s ever directed at: me. I still listen to that record (The Cheap Wine of Youth) all the time so the idea of captioning a painting with “I love you just as much as I hate myself” had occurred to me on a couple occasions but I didn’t wanna be derivative. Then, when I bought Pretty Boy Thorson’s An Uneasy Peace (the final song of which is called “I Love You Even More Than I Hate Myself”) I had a bit of a god dammit moment. That should’ve been mine! The song’s awesome and it doesn’t matter that the lyric is similar to another. I started thinking about it though – that line – and whether or not it was actually true (for me). I was dating Wallis and I absolutely loved her but did I love her more than I hated myself? I wasn’t really sure. I decided that sometimes I’m afraid that I could never love anyone more than I hate myself. After all, we had weathered the storm of her relapse but I was sabotaging our relationship bit by bit with my low self-esteem. I wrote about some of that anxiety in the bottom-right corner of the painting:
It’s so much harder to travel with a second person. Staying with friends feels like a much bigger imposition and I can’t stay with girls I meet. That’s probably the hardest part. But I love Wallis. (And I really like fucking her). And I think she needs me. I tried to leave her in Jacksonville but it didn’t work out. I hope she’s with me because she really loves me and not just ‘cause she’s scared to go back to “real life.” It if doesn’t work out, it’s probably gonna be because I can’t stop thinking about fucking other girls, which I know hurts her (and is really so selfish and dumb - and even mean - on my part) but really has nothing to do with her. (She’s so fucking hot and sexy and cute and beautiful). It’s just my insecurity and my compulsion to fuck every pretty girl, to prove to the world (and myself) just how fucking wonderful and desirable I am. It’s not helping that girls are throwing themselves at me these days. But I know (or think) that shit won’t make me happy. And in the end, I’m just gonna want someone to love me and I love Wallis.
There’s another, shorter string of text higher up in the painting, similarly inspired by punk rock: “I was listening to that Gateway District song where they sing, ‘I’m always falling way behind and you go on and on and on.’ If only I knew someone like that. Maybe I’d have someone to look to. Everybody I know is struggling. Everyone I know is as hopeless as I am. (Or worse).”
There’s a brighter, happier pair of sentences in the top-left corner – the product of a moment when everything was right in the world. Amazing sex with Wallis and I’m driving to the gallery showcasing my art while listening to “Another Way Out of Here” by The Murderburgers. The thought occurred to me that “nothing in this world makes me happier than an energetic, upbeat song about suicide.” I gave it a second thought. Is that true?I concluded, “Except (maybe) hitting girls in the face during sex.” I smiled. That’s pretty funny. I’m pretty fucked up. The things that I enjoy are – well – a little odd. This was all well and good at the time. I posted a close-up of that part of the painting online and it was met with positive feedback and just a little bit of “Oh, Sam…” But before I even got the chance to write the statement for this painting (as I am now), that photograph – that caption – would make the rounds on the internet elsewhere and garner a very different kind of response. You see, when I wrote that, it was about sex with Wallis. Sex which includes light consensual fake-violence (or whatever the fuck you wanna call it). Wallis likes getting slapped in the face during sex. And I like doing it. Win-win, right? Well, yeah – until you get accused of a violent rape and the media picks up on the story and uses your art to support the idea that you’re the kind of person capable of violently raping a nineteen year-old girl you just met. Sitting in jail, I wondered how I was going to break the news to my friends and fans that I had been accused of this horrible fucking crime. I bailed out, Chris Spillane picked me up, and after ten minutes of discussion he tells me, “There’s one more thing we’ve gotta talk about, Sam. The publicity on this story is not good right now.” Publicity? This story? “What the fuck are you talking about?” I googled my name and discovered that I didn’t need to worry about breaking this news to anyone. Some reporter knew or figured out who I was, wrote an article about me complete with images of my art (like the “hitting girls in the face” one) and everyone else picked it up and ran with it. Suddenly, strangers on the internet were talking about how I was the kind of person who PUNCHES girls in the face. I was a scumbag and I was definitely guilty. What the fuck? I’ve never punched a girl in the face! I slap! Playfully! And only with girls that WANT me to! But none of that mattered. What mattered was that it was incredibly easy to paint me as some kind of violent sexual deviant who had finally gone off the rails and just started violently raping people. Freedom of expression has its fucking consequences apparently. The charges against me have since been dismissed by a judge who (after hearing all of the prosecution’s evidence and the girl’s testimony) ruled that there was no probable cause to believe that any crime had been committed but the evidence in the case isn’t all public yet and I’m still having to deal with (well-meaning) assholes who think I deserve to be castrated for something I never did. At the time of this writing, this is all still incredibly recent so I’m still working out exactly how a person does deal with something like that. (I’ll let you know when I figure it out).
Flashback to five months before that nightmare though – back to when I was still working on this painting (that’d later incriminate me in the court of public opinion). I wrote that I was feeling “stuck in a rut. This spot [on the street] isn’t super profitable [for selling prints]. I don’t even wanna write about what else is going on. I don’t want to muddle up this painting that I’m not even happy with. My little sister is killing herself and today I blocked her phone number because I’m tired of her asking for help, not taking my advice, and then texting me updates on her self-destruction that she knows will just upset me. I really need the validation of some sales to cheer me up today. If I make less than $100 today, I’m gonna feel super depressed.” And then – to remind myself what a dipshit I am for worrying about how much I make in one particular day, I added: “I’ve made $7,000 this month.” True as it was, it didn’t really help me feel any better in that moment. I continued writing – about an interaction I had with a guy who stopped to watch me paint: “Someone asked me yesterday if I really hate myself and why. I had a hard time articulating it [the way that I feel sometimes]. He said he thinks I’m not as unhappy as I let on. I’d do a much better job explaining it to him today: I’M UGLY, PALE, OUTTA SHAPE, MEAN, SHITTY, POOR, FEARFUL, AND IN A CONSTANT STATE OF STARVATION FOR VALIDATION.”
Reading that now, remembering that day – it’s kinda scary. Everything in my life was going so well and I still had this monster inside me, gnawing at my insides, telling me that everything was awful. That I was awful. I’m really grateful that I don’t feel that way about myself all the time. Arguably, my life is way more fucked up now (on account of the VIOLENT RAPE ACCUSATION) but – I don’t know – I feel better today. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to fight this awful thing. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to become stronger. Maybe it’s because enough other people hate me now that I can take a break on the self-loathing. I don’t know. I’m not sure. But after separating in late-June and spending two months mostly apart, Wallis and I are back together full-time. We’re living together in an apartment in Chicago and it’s been really great. And you know what? I love her WAY more than I hate myself. Not just ‘cause I’m not hating myself so much right now but… This girl… After all we’ve been through. After all I’ve done for her and all she’s done for me… Words are insufficient to express my gratitude, affection, and love for her. I’m probably gonna marry her.
And you know what? When it comes to “falling way behind” versus “going on and on and on,” maybe I do a little more of the latter than I allow myself to recognize sometimes. Maybe I do a lot more of it.
“I Love You Even More” by Pretty Boy Thorson & The Falling Angels
“Another Way Out of Here” by The Murderburgers
“Waves and Cars” by The Gateway District
“In My Heart a Warehouse Burns For You” by Rivethead
I painted this immediately after “Something to Cry About” so a lot of the sentiment is pretty similar. Unlike that painting, the journals on this canvas are clearly visible. Three in particular.
From June 21st, in Minneapolis for the CBDS show:
Some days (today, for example) I feel like I’m slipping. Regressing. Losing it. Getting less brave. More anxious. If I’ve already peaked, then you can bet I’m gonna bottom out like never before. I won’t live in the middle. My inadequacy and self-pity are really showing here. I know it. It doesn’t elude me.
June 22nd, still in Minneapolis:
I was driving so I had time to steep in my anxiety. And to find the perfect phrasing to express it with maximum, wit, precision, and insight toward achievement of my twin goals, as ever, of course: HAVE SEX WITH AND/OR BUY ART FROM ME. ‘Cause that’s gonna fix me. That’s the validation I need to know that I’m okay. Why have I been getting so down on myself lately? I’m scared that I’m in a rut – not creatively – but these last two months there’ve been no developments, big breaks, or major sales / floods of income. And it hasn’t lit a fire under me. I’ve grown weaker, timid. I hit galleries but I don’t storm them with a painting and my confidence. I meekly hand over a card – and only if they engage with me. I set up to sell prints but I don’t draw people to me. I wait for them. It’s the same lately with girls. I do the bare minimum to spark interest and then nothing. I let it go nowhere. Because I know that’s where it’ll end anyway. Because I have no interest in anyone but myself. I just want to be loved. I want someone to make me feel okay. (Until I get that and dismiss it). And the girls I talk to might love my art but that doesn’t necessarily translate to any interest in or affinity for me personally. I CAN RELATE.
Finally, July 1st, in Cincinnati:
I withdrew a thousand dollars from my bank account this morning to buy heroin and a gun. So you’ll have to forgive me for not giving a shit about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling.
Between their content and my statement for “Something to Cry About,” there’s not much to add regarding the first two journals . The details of the third probably warrant some explanation, even though I feel it’s so trivial and boring that I’d really rather not (but, consequently, feel like I should).
I was all set to join up with Rational Anthem as they toured out to California. I’d set up at their shows each night to sell prints, as a means to finance my own trip out west. It made more sense than just driving straight out and I’d get to spend some time with my friends. I met up with them in Lexington on the 30th though and – before the night was over – Hembrough told me we’d need to sit down and talk at some point about the logistics of our tour together out west. What was there to discuss, I thought. Rational would drive in their van, Spillane and I would drive in mine, and that was that. If they had room for us to stay the night wherever they were staying, we’d take them up on it. If not, we’d find our own place to sleep. I know I overreacted but the way Hembrough had put it (“we need to talk”) made me feel like maybe I wasn’t welcome after all – like I was some kind of a burden. It hurt my feelings at a time when my feelings weren’t doing too great anyway. He and Spillane are my two best friends in the world but it sounded like he was less excited to have me along than he was concerned. I suddenly felt like there was no place for me in the world. I went to bed, hoping to feel better in the morning. I didn’t. I asked Spillane what city he wanted me to drop him off in, told him I’d give him some money to get set up, and that I needed to “do my own thing” for a while. And that’s when I went to the bank for step one of my plan. Fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to snap out of it. As soon as it was time to actually make a serious move toward execution, I started to come to my senses. “Never mind,” I told Chris. “We’re not gonna go with Rational Anthem anymore but if you still want to travel with me for this art thing, you’re welcome to stay.” He said he did and asked where we were gonna go. “I don’t know. Let’s go buy some fucking cigarettes, get some coffee, and just see what happens.”
Nine hours later, we were getting ready to go into the Masked Intruder / Dopamines / Direct Hit! show in Cincinnati, to sell prints. I scrolled through Facebook and read my friends’ outrage over that morning’s Hobby Lobby ruling. It struck me as so tremendously trivial and absurd, especially against what felt like the now darkly comic backdrop of my morning. I told Spillane for the first time what my real plan for the day had been and then confessed to the rest of the world by means of a marker taken to my t-shirt and an Instagram shot. I started to feel a little better with my secret off my chest when who should walk up but Hembrough and Rational Anthem. (They had a show in Cincinnati that night too). We talked it all out, he assured me that I was welcome and wanted, and I went into the Masked Intruder show feeling pretty at peace with it all. The show was fun, I sold a few prints, and – after both shows were over – Spillane and I met up with the Rational and Dead North crews at some diner. As soon as we walked in, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me. It wasn’t my birthday; I guess they just suspected that I needed it. And I guess I did. It was silly but it made me feel really loved.
Rational Anthem are trying to raise money to buy a new tour van and are offering some really great rewards in exchange for your financial contributions. And if you donate $50 and choose “no reward,” I’ll send you a signed and numbered print of the Sammy thrashLife piece of your choice. At the very least check out the video they made, which I “storyboarded” / sort-of-directed via text message.
Check out their campaign and see if you can spot my voice anywhere else.
I just had my four newest large canvas paintings photographed, which means I can finally start adding them to the website. This one was started on June 2nd in Atlanta and finished June 20th in Chicago. I wrote the following statement for it a little over a week ago, on August 11th.
In May, I picked up Chris Spillane. I was grateful to have him and grateful to feel like I was doing something good for another human being (especially one that’s been such a good friend for so long) but having him with me in the first two months wasn’t always easy – being virtually chained to another person 24 hours a day. Especially since – a lot of that time – I felt responsible for him, like a babysitter or a one-man treatment facility. Chasing girls was suddenly totally impractical if not altogether impossible. I couldn’t leave Chris alone so that I could go on a date or hook up with some girl. Sure – he’s an adult and I’m not ultimately responsible for him (or anyone but myself) but I had taken on a responsibility of sorts and didn’t want to fuck it up, especially for something (that felt) as petty as sex.
If I had the kind of self-esteem (which legend holds is) possessed by normal, well-adjusted people, this might not have been a problem. Unfortunately, I need a steady stream of praise, sales, and sex in order to feel okay about myself. I wasn’t fully cognizant of it at the time but I’ve come to terms with it now. I had gone without virtually any episodes or incidents in May but in June, while painting “Something to Cry About,” I was perpetually sinking into dark depressions over the smallest little things. I tried to explain my bad moods to myself – rationalize and justify them – in all sorts of ways but, looking back, it’s not hard to nail down. First, I wasn’t having any luck getting a show booked in Atlanta (mostly because I had adopted a new, staid, respectful (and totally unimpressive and unmemorable) strategy for selling myself to galleries). That would have been okay if I hadn’t also just gone from a hedonistic period of total promiscuity to sudden and absolute abstinence. If I’m not having sex, how am I supposed to have any self-worth?!?
[I have issues].
Hindsight is 20/20 though and, while this was still going on, I tried to figure it out through journaling. A lot of that’s still visible on the canvas but I’m pretty bored by most of it. Only the last part is really at all interesting to me. Regarding my bad mood and the silent temper tantrum I was throwing: “I just let myself soak in it ‘cause – hey – if I didn’t lose my shit every so often, wouldn’t that call into question the authenticity of my stupid fucking gimmick as an artist? ‘I’m emotionally unstable! Count on it!’”
Borderline personality disorder is one of those conditions where the diagnosis is sometimes withheld from the patient himself because knowing the diagnosis can actually be harmful. I think that’s because in can exacerbate “borderline behaviors” insofar as the patient decides he “can’t help it” and acting that way is therefore excusable. I don’t think that I do that but I’ve definitely attempted to excuse myself (especially in relationships) by telling the girl that my emotional instability was “always part of the deal” and that she knew what she was getting into when we first got involved.
I’d like to think that I don’t use my diagnosis as a scapegoat; I always try to do my best in interacting with other people and I always apologize when I fuck up but I probably do allow myself to be somewhat more of an emotional basketcase sometimes than I otherwise might.
Check me out! I’m being an angry crybaby ’cause I heard second-hand that someone (that I don’t even know!) implied that I can’t really be trusted because I’m a drug addict.
You know how long it’s been since I injected drugs? You know how long it’s been since my compulsion to inject drugs inspired me to do something dishonest? Not to mention: I’m itinerant as fuck! Nobody knows me. I’m in a new city every day. I can be whoever I want each time I roll into a new city. The only reason anyone I encounter these days knows that I am/was a drug addict is ’cause I fuckin’ tell them. I wear everything on my sleeve ’cause I’m okay with who I am. I’m fuckin’ proud of who I am. Good and bad.
So fuck off with that shit.
What’s this have to do with my new piece, “What I Do When I’m Not on Tinder?” Very little! I’m just trying to kill two birds with one stone by venting and simultaneously writing a statement for a new piece. But if I wanted to contrive a connection, here it is: Even my Tinder profile introduces me to “potential matches” with an opening salvo of, “I don’t shoot heroin anymore but I still have a personality disorder. It’s nothing you’d notice most of the time.”
“What’s Tinder?” you ask. Well, you poor unfortunate soul, it’s a dating app for smartphones that matches people based on geographic proximity (“[this user] is two miles away”) and whether or not you swiped left (“nope”) or right (“like”) on their profile – which is comprised of no more than six photos and 500 characters of text. It’s superficial, shallow, and lots of fun! Once two people have swiped right on each others’ profiles, the lines of communication are open for messaging and (potentially) making plans to meet in real life. And now that Tinder’s introduced their newest feature (the hilariously-named “Tinder Moments,” a Snapchat-like feature which allows you to upload an additional photo, revealed only to your “matches” for 24 hours (who are then prompted to “like” or dismiss it by way of swipe)) it’s also become one more social-networking-avenue for a sad little boy like me to collect the validation-via-clicks for which I’m so desperate.
My mood right now is definitely corrupting my usually joyful description of Tinder. It’s shallow, superficial, and a lot of fun. It’s super speed dating. Say the wrong thing to some girl? Who cares! Just scroll down to your next match and start again! It’s totally meaningless (just like everything else in the known universe)!
I finished this drawing three weeks ago but have held off on sharing it on my website, Instagram, and Facebook until now because I only just got a proper high-res photograph of it. There was one venue through which I shared it immediately upon completion though – and it proved to be my most popular TINDER MOMENT to date!
I’m ridiculous. (And pretty okay with it).
Full disclosure: As revealed in the statement accompanying my commissioned “Bleed Blue Tatoo” piece, I’ve “started getting laid again,” am getting all the female attention I need, and have consequently been inactive on Tinder for a week or so. I’m also taking bets on how long ‘til I fall apart again and rediscover its utility. Hit me up for the current odds! Who knows? Maybe this very entry will be the spark that burns it all to the ground!
I went quite a while without any emotional freakouts or serious anxiety when I suddenly found myself on a mental illness hot streak. At the root of it all (of course): girls. It’s nothing anyone does to me; it’s the way I interact and get involved and then am unable to handle the reality of the relationships I’ve built. These days, I’m lucky to have a way out of these messes I make that’s a lot more effective than shooting heroin or throwing temper tantrums. The journal I wrote in this painting lays it all out:
The highs this week have been absurd. Three nights ago, I exclaimed, "I'm on drugs!" I felt too good for it to not be some kind of chemical magic. But the next night, I cried out twice; first: "I hate my life!" Then: "I am the worst person in the world!" I felt so bad about myself. Seeing the state this girl was in. "It was wrong for me to trick her into falling in love with me," I thought. But I was in love with her at the time. Or so I thought at least.
The night before, I tried to have sex with this other girl that's gotten to know me pretty well pretty fast. She knows about all the other girls and is pretty enamored with me but is really caught up in not wanting to be "just another" of my "conquests" (as she put it). We got naked but then she wouldn't let me lead 'cause she didn't wanna feel used. But she wasn't taking the lead either. "I DON'T KNOW HOW TO FUCK YOU" was all I could think. It ended uncomfortably. I wasn't pleased with myself. We're supposed to give it another shot when I'm back in her city. But that sort of says it all right there. 'Cause I don't live anywhere, I'm not gonna date anyone anyway, and she likes me way too much for this little casual thing to end well.
Yesterday, I TOOK THE NIGHT OFF.
Tonight, I'm at a friend's house alone 'cause a couple hours ago I left the girl who I THOUGHT I had the best thing going with. I like spending time with her. But she was visibly bothered by my cigarette smoke today. And after I brushed my teeth and tried to kiss her, she still turned her cheek. I tried to play it cool but I'M NOT COOL. An hour later, I packed it in and left with minimal words. Feeling self-conscious, rejected, vulnerable, angry, hurt, and responsible. These girls all read my blog now. They know explicit details of what I'm up to. I can't NOT acknowledge it. I made a couple jokes… Is that what did it? I don't know. But all my finding-validation-through-girls shit is seriously backfiring on me this week.
After I left, I got pizza and listened to punk rock. Suddenly, my suicidal depression was over and everything was okay. "Pizza and punk rock" doesn't strike the ear as especially poetic and it makes me sound like a pretty trivial, simple-minded dweeb.
IS WHAT IT IS!
After I painted my "nothing's good enough" caption, everything was way better than okay. I was in love with myself and my silly doodle art again. And that's my god damn story.
I felt better (temporarily) but I didn’t really learn anything. Within a day, I was back to trying to get my self-esteem from girls, love, sex, etc. It was harder now though. This whole episode had fucked with my head a little bit and the next week – after leaving another girl’s house (not any of the three involved in the above-described antics) – I worried that I had forgotten how to sleep with a girl (even when the girl clearly wanted to sleep with me). I had become too self-conscious and insecure to make any kind of a move. Well that was it… I guess I’m never going to get laid again! (I thought). But then she sent me a text – she wanted me to come back. Which really only meant one thing at that hour. So I did. And all was well in the world.
And when I say that, I’m joking – but when I pause… it’s not really a joke. I absolutely felt validated by sleeping with that girl that night. In a very real, very significant way. Had it not played out like that, I would have sunk even deeper into insecurity and shame. Instead, I was pulled completely out of it and actually regained the confidence that I always seem to have (even when I don’t). A few days later, I met up with another girl who had bought some of my art at One Spark. We went on a “date” (kind of) and she invited me to stay the night. But she didn’t want to sleep with me. My freshly bolstered self-worth was high enough though that I was able to accept that rejection (with a smile even)! I don’t need for EVERYONE to want to fuck me all the time.
“Wait For It … Wait For It!!” (the song I was listening to when I started to feel better) by Dead to Me.
This painting sold in April 2014. 12×16″ prints are still available.
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.