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.
Today is the day I finally bust across the state line to start meeting with galleries and setting up exhibits outside of Florida. I’m not allowed to drive in Georgia but – now that I’ve got Spillane with me – I’m able to make Atlanta the first stop. Cities are cities to me at this point though so priority #1 is to get out of the heat. To that end, we’re gonna try to get everything we wanna get done within the span of a couple days – maybe stick it out through the weekend just on account of gallery hours – and then get heading further north.
Right now, we’re en route to get the transmission on the van serviced but we should be on the road by 6. This stop in Jacksonville was only supposed to be a day or two and turned into ten. I’m happy to be moving on but that’s nothing against this city. I’ve been in and outta Jacksonville for the last few months now but, in that time, it’s started to feel more like home than any other city out there. There are a lot of people that made it that way: Tim, Shanna, and everyone else at Sun-Ray Cinema; Christina and Ian at Rain Dogs; Mandie, Rosaly, and Richard of Wunderground; the whole crew at Burrito Gallery (with a special nod to Julie for getting me in the door); Janet Harper and Folio Weekly; Regina and The Silver Cow; Pugsley and Ian at Dark Side Tattoo Gallery; (most recently) everyone at On Point Ink and Ryan Rummel at Club TSI; Heather Pierce; Alex Zalo; and all the friends I’ve made and supporters I’ve found here, who are so many in number that (as much as I wanna) I won’t call out by name ’cause I’d hate to leave somebody out. You’ve all been so excellent to me and I’m not gonna forget it anytime soon.
And that goes double for Mikey “twoHands” Kelly, who’s been the best fast friend I could have ever asked for. Half the shit I’ve done here would have never happened had it not been for you, buddy. I’ll miss Jacksonville and I’ll miss you.
It was early January. I was sitting on the couch at Sun-Ray Cinema, organizing the prints that I had left there for sale. I looked up and saw Tim walking toward me. He stopped, took a step back and looked at the placard for a piece of mine on the wall. “Yeah, I’m gonna take that one,” he told me.
Tim and Shanna (co-owners of Sun-Ray) had given me the opportunity to have my first art show, there in the lobby of their theater. And Shanna had already bought one of my pieces when my exhibit first opened. They’ve been unspeakably supportive of me. And now Tim wanted to buy another one. Things had been going very well the last few months and as I made my way home that night, I couldn’t help but reflect on how cool it all was. I was actually making my living with my artwork. I was paying my bills and supporting myself with the little therapeutic exercise/activity that I had discovered in the midst of my third (and seven month) inpatient stay of treatment for heroin addiction and borderline personality disorder. I was spinning my mental illness into a career. It seemed totally insane and I couldn’t have been happier about it.
A few days later, I was in southwest Florida so I went in to visit at Tranquil Shores – the facility where all of this started. And I was lucky enough to be there on a Wednesday, which is the night of their outpatient “Art of Recovery” group. These days, I rarely spend less than fifteen hours on a piece and they’re almost always acrylic paint on canvas. When I get back to “group” though, I like to play along, which means starting and finishing a piece within the session and using the materials provided. Besides, those bright yellow and pink oil pastels looked really appealing. (I love colors way more than makes any kind of logical sense).
I’ve been mobile/itinerant as fuck lately, so I’ve had this piece tucked away (in an envelope, in a steamer trunk, in the back of my minivan) for the last two months. I rediscovered it the other day and finally had prints made. It seems like just the right time. As I wrote last night:
As I go to bed on the last night in March, it is with the satisfaction that comes with having met my income goal for the month. And my income goal for next month. And the NEXT month. Things are going well. Here’s to keeping it moving, carrying it forward in April (which I already have fully blocked out in three cities).
I love making art. I love that I’m able to support myself doing it. I’m really, truly happy. I am fulfilled.
The problems that come along with having a personality disorder (my brain not being the way it should be) used to fuck me up all kinds of ways. These days, it’s a blessing.
I feel like a broken record saying so but I’m so grateful. And I can’t help but think about how remarkably and wildly different a sentiment that is from the way I used to feel about myself.
When I sent cards to the people I care about for the holidays in 2012, I didn’t end up getting most of them mailed out until early in 2013. With that in mind, I figured I’d play it safe this time around and draw something that’d play off my anticipated tardiness. So (of course) the cards ended up being totally ready to go with more than enough time to spare before Christmas. But that’d mean my joke wouldn’t work! So I held off on asking for addresses ’til I figured it was late enough that people wouldn’t suspect I was asking for the sake of Christmas cards and then waited even longer (January 1st) to actually drop them in the mail.
I held off on sharing this cartoon ’til now because I wanted my friends to see it for the first time when it showed up in their mailbox. And then a couple months went by and I just forgot about it.
So here it is, “Happy Martin Luther King or Valentine’s Day! (punctuality’s not really my strong suit).”
If we’re pals and you didn’t get one, it’s ’cause (1) I asked for your address and you didn’t give it to me; (2) I didn’t ask for your address ’cause I thought I already had it but you’ve moved and I don’t know it; (3) you were just one of those unfortunates that was probably on my list but got lost in the shuffle. Better luck next year! (And in the meantime, send me your god damn address). I love all of you.
This piece was started in the last week of December and finished in mid-January, during the final days of my relationship with Heather. There’s a lot of emotional back-and-forth in it. On New Year’s Eve, I wrote:
If you’ve never walked the train tracks alone on New Year’s Eve, singing along (badly) to a song only you can hear and maybe – just once, in the course of that walk – thrown a fist in the air… Well – I don’t envy you.
I DON’T EVEN LOOK OVER MY SHOULDER ANYMORE.
Hit the pavement, light another cigarette. Life is beautiful.
I just jumped in the air and laughed. I’ve never even heard this song before.
The joy I felt in that moment soon gave way to dejection. I was walking to meet Heather to go out for the night. Our outing only lasted fifteen minutes or so, before she got mad at me, and I walked home alone in a very different state of mind. Hembrough called me around 2 AM. He was walking home along the tracks back in Sarasota. I laughed. “What am I doing?” he asked me, “Why is this happening? Because punk rock told me so, I guess.”
The next morning, I was feeling drained of any and all spirit. I wrote out two lists:
THINGS THAT MADE ME CRY TODAY:
(1) A Facebook post about the rain
(2) A pop punk song about resilience
THINGS THAT MADE YOU CRY TODAY:
A few days later, I added more text: “It gets better, it gets worse, it gets better, it gets worse. As soon as it’s good enough, it isn’t. Why am I so sad?”
Another day or two passed and Rational Anthem sent me the demos of their new eight-song EP that they were gearing up to record. One song in particular fucking wrecked me. The chorus begins: “I can’t convince myself that I’m happy.“
Fuck. They nailed it.
The last lyric in the song repeats through the end. “Does it matter anyway?” I heard it differently though: “It doesn’t matter anyway.” If I had heard that song on New Year’s Day, I wouldn’t have just been crying, I’d probably have been bawling.
The song had a goofy working-title. ”No,” I told Chris. “There’s nothing fucking silly about this song. It needs a real, honest title.” I told him to call it, “I Wish I Could Be Happy.” He, Noelle, and Pete took me up on it so that’ll be the title when the record comes out. Since then, it’s also been decided that my watercolor painting/cartoon, “Autobiography,” will be used as the front cover for the record (recaptioned with the album’s title, “Emotionally Unavailable”). (Before I move past punk rock, I wanna note that the album I was listening to as I walked on NYE was “The Constant One” by Iron Chic, and the song referenced in my list is “The Shades of Grey” by The Murderburgers.
The text about it getting better and getting worse was originally the largest caption on the canvas, but I decided to relegate it to semi-obscurity by rewriting it in pen in the shadows. I blocked out that original caption with a series of primary-colored rectangles. I liked them but they reminded me of what I guess I’d call the proverbial “modern art.” I don’t like to be so negative or critical as to suggest that any art is stupid (after all, I have no idea what goes into it or why the artist is making it) but – if I’m being honest – when I look at most artwork, I have the same response that I think most people have to art:“Um… okay.” Basically, I don’t get it. I’m not sure why I should care. I mean, if the artist is getting something out of it, then I think that’s spectacular (genuinely!) but I don’t think that that necessarily makes it worth my time or attention. “Modern Art is Stupid; Everything Is” is reflective of that attitude as well as the bad / hurt feelings swirling around my relationship and my general state of being as I painted this. It’s also part self-deprecation. After all (IN CASE YOU CAN’T TELL), this piece is itself a work of modern art. (And – depending on who you ask – thoroughly stupid!)
All of this sort of adds up to one big jumbled mess of emotion and incident. That’s what happens when my work on some piece spans two or even three weeks. Struggling with whether or not I should break up with my girlfriend, trying to figure out if I’m happy, walking along train tracks, pop punk, modern art, being an artist. I don’t know what’s what. I summed it up with one last caption along the bottom of the canvas: “This is one of them MAGIC EYE paintings. Look close, at just the right angle, and you can see… how full of shit I am.”
Status update (2/22/14): Here are two photos of the painting, hanging in Ettra (the gallery in which it was sold).
I also got set up at Burrito Gallery in Jacksonville this week. I have twenty-one pieces on their wall right now, though I may add more. The exhibit will run through the first week of April.
I’m posting this from Chamblin’s Uptown. A few of my pieces are still up on the walls here, though I’ll be rearranging and adding more later in the week.
And I still have plenty of new pieces that I’ve yet to share online. I’ve been incredibly busy though so I’m going to hold off until I have time to write up proper statements to accompany them.
Anyway, things are going really well so far as all my art nonsense is concerned. Breaking my lease and moving into a van might not have seemed like the most sound game plan, but I couldn’t be happier with how things have been developing. Life’s been going a mile a minute and I’m just doing my best to keep up. I’ll be in Jacksonville until the show at Burrito Gallery ends and then I’ll head north to try and line up a show in a new city. The uncertainty and instability of my life can get scary at times but it’s also really exciting and – more than anything – I feel grateful. And I feel free. I don’t have to convince myself that I’m happy today; I just am.
I don’t know where I’ll sleep tonight or wake up tomorrow. I couldn’t even attempt to guess where I’ll be in a month. Life is uncertain and scary (sometimes). I just used “frozen yogurt” body wash and that’s really, really funny.
I’ve got six or seven hours to drive today. I’ve got more friends than I can count. There are a lotta people out there that love me and a lot of people that I’ve got warm, fuzzy feelings for that (I think) approximate (or
maybe even are) that same kind of love.
Hey, Jacksonville – if I’ve been sayin’ I’ll hit you up when I get back, that day’s right around the corner. I been gone so long but I’m coming “home” and it’ll be at least two weeks before I bail “for good” and move on to whatever’s waiting for me outside of Florida.
Check me out – talkin’ like I’ve got a clue! Making a “plan!” As if things have ever worked out as I thought they would.
Here’s what I do know: (1) I’ve got so many stories, dark/light, beautiful/fucked up, egocentric, and otherwise from this last month or so that I’m really excited to get back to writing (publicly) real soon. (2) I got a bunch of new art to compliment and round up all my stories. (3) Some of this shit’s gonna make people feel weird, some is gonna make me uncomfortable, but I’m committed to being honest about what I’ve recently been up to, experienced, and how I’ve felt about it. (4) Chris Hembrough is the best friend I could ask for and I wish I could take him with me. Spillane too (OBVIOUSLY) but I’ve gotten to connect with Hemmy in such an outstanding, positive way this last month.
Yesterday, there was a tragedy. I’m not gonna get into it just yet but I wanna say this: we didn’t need a tragedy for me to be writing this way. It’s been on my mind for two weeks already and while there were some beautiful moments in the aftermath of the accident, there were plenty more, long before anything went wrong and even in between the time of the crash and the time it came to light. So as fucked up as it strikes me to describe it as at all “natural” or “good,” it felt very much like a natural extension of everything that’s been happening. And I think it was good for both of us, at least insofar as the roles that it lead us into. It also prolonged my stay in the area for one extra day. Now that I’m off, we’ve both got our own adventures and trials ahead of us. I’m pretty confident that we’ll both be kicking the shit out of them.
Death and loss feel surreal sometimes, we can feel the pain of the people we love almost as intensely as our own. I’m not sure what I’m getting at so I’m gonna stop until I can take the time to process and write about everything that’s been 2014 so far, in a less stream-of-consciousness kinda way…
We live on quite a planet. Let’s celebrate.
“Don’t know if I can keep up but I try god dammit.”
Here’s the drum head I made for Rational Anthem. Adapted from my painting, “Autobiography.” (It’ll also be featured on all of their summer merch and their new record cover; more on that later though).
6 AM. Walking home.
It’s 40 degrees outside and I still haven’t gone to bed.
Pineapple soda, a cigarette,
BRAND NEW RATIONAL ANTHEM playing in my headphones.
What more could an idiot ask for?
I stayed up all night, clearing out my house,
Getting rid of the things in my life that I don’t need.
Some of it is really hard to get rid of.
I still don’t know if I’ll actually be able to part with my zine collection.
And (honestly) I haven’t even considered the records.
But I’m young, itinerant,
I’d rather not be weighed down by possessions.
Do you ever fantasize about your house burning down
And starting over with nothing?
I’m working to be okay with the idea that if something is important
It’ll come back to me.
I don’t need to cling to anything.
Or only to so much, in any case.
Here’s a cartoon I drew in an Alcoholics Anonymous.
It was the second of three that night.
The third being My Favorite Cartoon.
This one’s not important.
It’s just about me,
Being a resentful little jerk-off.
There’s no way for me to explain what I was thinking when I drew this without sounding like an asshole. Which is okay – after all – sometimes I’m an asshole!
This kid was rambling on and every word out of his mouth reeked of “here’s some shit I heard some other clueless bastard say at a meeting, so now I’m gonna repeat it at all of you so that I can walk back to my halfway house confident that you guys will think I’ve really got a handle on this recovery thing.”
Which – who knows – maybe that’s me projecting. Or maybe it’s just me being bitter about some girl not paying enough attention to me. And – honestly – what the fuck should I even care? I guess it’s easy to fall into this kind of judgmental/negative thought when you’re compelled to go to more meetings than you’d otherwise elect to on your own. I might have needed that many at one point early on (or I might not have) but by this time last year, I was definitely ready to move on to the next phase. And within a month I had done just that.