Someone told me once that life is what you make it. I couldn't agree more.
Tied up my shoes and went for a run through “the” motions yesterday. Came across a startling discovery. Not quite clear on what else I would do with the rest of my life without painting. It is truly the most amazing thing in the entire world (that’s obviously a biased statement).
The last 6 weeks were spent without a functioning studio in which to produce work. I found myself spiraling through an abyss of random activity, always returning to the thought that I hadn’t really made anything for however long. You can really notice when you are active in everything but making art. I know the conceptualists out there will beg to differ, in that life is art and art life. Granted, however the 'art' I refer to is of the physical kind. The sort of thing one can be found smearing around some coloured goo. An action I gush so much over. Seriously.
Not many things compare to holding a tube of oil paint in your hand. Infinite potential mingled with the smell of history, wafting about as you proceed to squeeze goo. Beauty and innocence extruded. “Squish Squish” enter the brush. You are now about to embark on a journey through tangibility and insurmountable fear. Get over it. Somehow goo smears across the stubble of gesso. The worst is over.
Something I wrote 10 years ago.
5 Steps to Surviving a Blank Canvas:
Step 1: Appreciate what you have when you start with nothing.
Step 2: It is not always you.
Step 3: Rome was not built in a day, but they must have begun somewhere. MAKE A MARK!!!!!
Step 4: Do you play chess? React to what you do.
Step 5: You can always leave it blank, but that’s been done.
Okay, I confess, sometimes when I pick up an expensive contemporary art magazine I get sick to my stomach. I see the cover with somebody’s art on it and immediately think that it could be my art if I got my hustle together. To quote John Lennon, "I'm just a jealous guy"
And oh my, isn’t all work presented with so much glamour, fluff, and gloss. Page-page-page, advertisement-advertisement-advertisement. Bragging rights a hundred fold. Never really getting into the feeling or the struggle of the way of life. The late nights at the pool hall, the long hours spent doing research at the arcade. Slurpees and frozen dreams getting caught under the wheel well of the bus. I generally feel after a good ‘browse’ that it will take more than a few cigarette butts to make a stamp on the world. Damn it, why did I go in there? Why do I temp myself by indulging in the smut art. I want to see what everyone else is doing, but when I size up to it, I freeze up to it.
Maybe I’ve learnt weakness through television. I saw a show once on fine art, I saw some stuff that was considered the definitive works of art the world has ever experienced, but I didn’t to tape it. Besides, there was something else on I wanted to record.
Look at Banksy, a stencil/street artist turned global phenomenon, recently exhibited a massive show at The Tate Modern? I mean really, for a guy who when he first started years ago, laughed and scolded people who bought his collector-pirated street art works because he is so ‘urban’. Bansky has experienced the flavour of fame. Everyone gets a taste in the Warhol sense. Above that everyone also has a price, provided you can pay. Now THAT’S art.
Oh sure the work is good, and I mean the best. Highest quality in every regard, as much as I can tell from watching You Tube. And well, at least that’s what I was told in art school. The “white cube”, ruler and dictator; master of all that is named art! Believe what you want, but if it’s not eventually in the cube, forget it honey, it ain’t art. And if it’s out there being art, don’t worry, it’ll make it’s way into the cube. The cube is a white hole, a vortex that sucks in the art and the audience along with it. The people only want to discover what has now made its way into the cube. They adore what’s next, the now. Who’s who, go to an opening and you can see a bunch of schmoo/boozing. I often see faces stained with confusion, however well disguised in the ritualistic art opening mannerisms. Well… “Congratulations”.
What I need to do is forget what I was told, and then remember everything as I realize the immediate fallacy of my education. What the heck did they think I’d do after swallowing 30 million years of art making. My jealousy is in no way directed to my peers either. My accolades fade into regret. Regret that these are still not my pictures in the glossy book; the same kind of gloss that stays on your hands, the same kind of art that stays in your soul. It’s too bad my street work doesn’t last as long.
If you read it in a magazine then it must be true (to some regard). If you read it in a book, well, this must indeed be a printed fundamentality. I read somewhere how to make art, but have yet to facilitate that knowledge. I’ll leave that up to someone else, and then I’ll agree with them. Life’s too short to be original, but just long enough to be critical.
Still, lately it’s been getting harder to glaze over things, you know, diarrhea through life. Rare are becoming the moments I fish from the stream of inspiration, catch an idea, gut, then feast on it as my own. Contrary to this, my work takes me where I need to go; which is usually through the dark alleyways and the increasingly over populated rooftops of our fair city. There was a time that I can recall, a time before hipsters ruined most sacred things, and a time before the intranet ruined graffiti. A time that you could actually be a somebody, a somebody in the most anonymous fashion.
I spoke to someone once at length about art making. She asked me about the real deal, about ‘inspiration’. “I often wonder as a linear person, what a non-linear person is thinking?” To this I was honest in saying what works for me. It is different for all of us who dwell within these subjective art-making parameters. Outside, a world apart, breathes influx and out, walks long to the far, stays warm in their head, shares not what is not, texts to land line, get’s mad at happiness… covers graffiti with a landscape of grey gloom. Yeah that’s what will sell. I need to get out more, see more of the world, then paint it and sell it. Yes this is what we are supposed to do right?
In the elevator today I rode with a gentlemen going up. I mentioned about my long day ahead and he got curious. I told him of my agenda to clean up the studio and we shared a concern about project-to-project momentum. He told me about his daughter who graduated from the U of M with honours in the B.F.A. ceramics program. He then said how she is now studying to become a dental technician, “to make money!” As he left, with the elevator doors closing I blurted, “I hear that!” But I think now what I hear is the emptiness my heart felt when I thought about an artist’s sustainability. Everyone wants a benefactor of some sort, but the more money gets involved, the less fun it becomes for me. Can’t you just appreciate it? What an artist needs is some form of social security so they can perform their duty, carefree. An artist’s welfare if you will. There are times that grant writing feels more like begging for a hand out - a hand out of our own money being dangled over our heads.
Am I a painter who makes art, or an artist who makes paintings? Or a street artist turned gallery artist? Or an artist turned chef? Or a pretend faker realist? Well fuck you at any rate, you and your categories. If categories help you to understand life and appreciate good art then smarten up and open up. Well unless of course that’s what they told you, then you should stick with that, because we all know what happens when you stand out and think for yourself… people listen.
I made this in 2002. I was really getting into collecting found lists. Shopping lists especially. However I preferred shopping lists that weren't found at the grocery store. This discovery was too obvious and easy. A shopping list found on the side of a highway however felt to embody more inherent value as an object. I remember one windy rain-soaked day, a list blew onto my chest. A tattered and very damp piece of yellow office stock, 2.5" x 4". In red ink were scribed a list of items for purchase. They were not all groceries.
I often find myself reading these lists in the same regard with which they were composed. "CEREAL" then in brackets, as a reminder "(ANY KIND)". You can tell a lot about a person by the way they organize themselves.
I like the multi-component lists that incorporate an itemization of scheduled tasks to perform with consumer activities and positive reinforcement. "DROP BY CHARLIE'S" - "NEW BELT" - "SHAMPOO" - "RICE" - "CLEAN THE BATHROOM!" - "CALL ROBERTA" - "BE GOOD" - "ORANGES", etc.The lists kept crossing my path, and I theirs. This to me was important too. I began to make work with, and based on my amassing collection. Here my list of "Things to Remember".
If you read about graffiti in a historical context, it’s generally presented as being primal and aggressive. I find that true about graffiti in any fashion. The action grows out of a deep-rooted urge to make ones own mark on history. By participating in the writing on the wall we create a dialogue among us. A public message board we can all contribute to. In this way, graffiti unites us. Whether initializing the process by doing the graffiti, or completing the project by looking at it, taking it all in, and reacting to it. Some reactions prove to be quite hasty.
I often wonder what an outsider might think of it, my graffiti, but then I remind myself I don’t care and do it anyway. In fact most of the conversations I’ve had with the non-sympathizers are usually sung to the same tune. That being, “Don’t get me wrong, I really dig the ‘nice stuff’ they can do with a spray can, but I absolutely hate tags.” That’s like saying athletes shouldn’t train.
I really believe that most of the people who are offended by the graffiti words have yet to grasp why those lines are there. They are there out of a repressed need to communicate. They are there as a direct result of life in the modern city, an environment so choked with visual information. Graffiti is the public language of the street, an ever-changing wiki and a breath of discontent. These lines are urban life clearing its throat. They are there for you and me or for no one at all. Street art demands very little and has given so much, for better or for worse.
Now as I write these words, I need to come clean. First, don’t sit there thinking you know about graffiti, or street art because of a book you read at McNally, or some documentary you watched, or heard someone with experience talk about it, or you read it on a blog, because you don’t. I hate hearing people try to relate to me about graffiti when I know they are just kissing ass. “Yeah I went out last night and put up a sticker” Whoopty doo. You have no idea what it’s like. With the intranet and media of every kind, graffiti has become accepted everywhere but the very place it belongs. The street. The more I see graffiti in the media, on clothing and advertisements, the less I want to do it.
The whole reason I was drawn to graffiti is the exact same reason one may be drawn to a small puff of green moss on the edge of the rock of attention. Or the natural oxidization of steel - the bright orange squiggles running along the surface as though rain has always been a painter. As a young sponge, graffiti appeared to me a secret art, one that coincides with existence. I knew only a few people that did it, and in the early days really didn’t know it was they who were doing it. Imagine finding out your best bud has super powers. I believed graffiti to be a simulcast of beauty, true unadulterated expression smashing against raw perspectives. I still do. The more street art grows into a commercial buzzword, the less inclined I am to run out and paint paste nail hang or stick.
I feel torn.
At a very young age, I was taught that writing on the walls is wrong. I never understood why, and probably never will. My mother would scream if she found marker or crayon scribbled near the baseboard. I remember while seeing Empire Strikes Back at the Metropolitan Theatre, I was caught writing my name behind one of the curtains on the second floor balcony. I can still feel how the ballpoint pen rolled on the antique wallpaper. It was an erasable pen so I was able to remove it, however the action of erasing also destroyed the layer of antique wallpaper that housed my signature - a sort of bittersweet effect to the retribution. That event will always stand out in my mind. Not because of the illegality of the action, but more so the willingness I possessed to do such a thing.
I suppose my “mark” was still left behind, but it was less specific. Somehow it feels the same with all the grey “buff marks” or blurred lines of baking soda blasts that are ruminants of graffiti removal. A history still exists below. Generally this course of action creates a surface less appealing than some “squiggly lines”. I like those lines. I like looking at them, I like trying to discover what they say, and I like the fact they magically appear where once there was not. It’s not what the lines physically spell that is important, more so the suggestion that the person that did this has chosen to share it with you. They’ve done so with out any external mediation. It’s fascinating to think of the motivation it takes a human being to do such a thing, to “deface” - an impulsive sporadic change to a visual surface.
The world has never really been a stranger to public mark making. History proves graffiti to be human nature. A primal action rooted deep in our subconscious. Never has a civilization existed without some form of graffiti. The only thing that has changed throughout history is our perception of it. Lately the blanket term graffiti is dissolving and more specific terminology now applies to the dynamic breadth of the street art happening today. People have taken graffiti to another level. Artists are making elaborate paintings and pasting them in public venues. Stickers, stencils, adhesive installations, posters, spray paint, bucket paint, prefabs, dolls, ribbons, shoes, chalk drawings, magnets, shrines, frozen clothes, performances/happenings, light art, and sound attacks. In it’s abandonment, graffiti has become a very complex art form and not all of these artists are waiting for you to come see their work in a gallery Their exhibition is in the street and usually at the artist’s discretion. Bypassing all hierarchical constraints of the gallery system, a contemporary street artist makes their work happen free of charge. That’s amazing.