In the Studio #78

I had a pretty amazing power-hour in the studio a couple days ago after work. I decided to head into the Banana as a sort of celebration of my new found mobility. You see. I recently got my car back into working order. I was without it for a couple years and had grown used to a certain schedule where I only got to the studio on my days off. This made for some grueling studio sessions. During the last few years I had to get a weeks worth of creative work into two concentrated 10-or-so hour long session.

I don’t think there’s a feeling in the world quite like studio time. The anxiety of the creative process is both thrilling and debilitating. Nursing a idea through to fruition never goes as planned and these current cedar-shingle works are no exception. My intention was to make a set of two works which make an incisive comment on this moment in race and social justice. The piece, which I’m calling “Malik’s B-Boy Blues”, is sort of doing that but what it actually is turning into for me is a lesson on composition. I run into composition 101 errors in many of my conceptual abstract pieces, often running out of room because I feel this need to get all my ideas in the work. In this piece I’ve already had to limit the scale and the number of collage inserts that I’ve added in other cedar-shingle works. However, I take that to mean that I need to make other works in this style.

Back in 2001 right after I left grad school, I became interested in slave posters. I did this series called “Wanted” made from rubbings I made on coffee-stained Rives de Lin paper and mounted on Masonite boards. The works were a great success for me and even though I made them nearly 20 years ago I still am inspired by what I did in that little 8-part series. I really identify with these posters, often seeing myself in the descriptions of enslaved blacks. In the current series I’m working on I bring this personal identification to a new level by transforming these posters into dancing angels. I mentioned thinking about how to create these figures a few weeks ago and now that I have an idea of how to draw and paint these slave-poster-angels I think they’re going to become a new motif for me.

I mentioned earlier how studio sessions often go in unexpected directions and in this piece I expected these little porno dvd cover figures to dominate the work. These xxx-shirtless disemboweled figures still lurk here and there throughout the paintings but they’re far less of them in the piece then I intended to include and they’re less significant to me then I thought. Maybe they will pop up in future cedar-shingle pieces. For now they stand out to me as an example of me trying to be too clever by half, with inside jokes woven into my pieces. I gotta be more careful about that. My friend Tyrone Webb actually directly challenged me on this point when he recently saw these works in progress. I appreciated his criticism because I had worried for weeks about how these xxx-figures would be read.

You see, when I was a younger man I thought it was deliciously salacious to throw porn into my work, as if I were the first artist to ever conceive of it. I remember learning about the Young British Artist (YBA) craze of the 90’s and artists like Damien Hirst and most significantly for me Chris Ofili. Those artists seem to get away with, or contextualize -how ever you want to put it – the most outrageous sexual political and social commentary in their works. Never a real fan of Hirst or his antics, Ofili on the other hand I found illuminating and inspirational. Here’s two works of his I loved back then that serve as a sort of example of what I intended to do with my little porno-gundick floating-kings.

As I close in on finishing this piece I’ve thought a lot about my relationship to its subject matter and the people who have inspired its creation. Initially the piece was inspired by a young gay man (the titular Malik) living his life in the town I live in and doing the best he can to live and survive. I began to think about the world he lives in and the challenges he regularly faces. I relate so much to his journey. He reminded me of a character from a novel I read when I first moved to New York back in 2002. The novel is called B-Boy Blues by the singular writer James Earl Hardy and the character’s name is Raheim. The archetypal banjee or B-boy, Raihem became my symbol of how to survive in New York, mostly by doing the opposite of what he did because he was written to be a very flawed man. I think I’m not alone in finding something intoxicating in bad boys. It’s my hope that in this piece my porno-gundick-floating-kings, along with my bodybuilding drag queens, and of course the original drag-queen William Dorsey Swann, expresses black male sexuality and freedom in defiance of oppression. Here’s where Malik’s B-Boy Blues stands as of last week.

I went to a dinner at my friend Al Johnson’s place last week, and one of the attendee, another local artist named Danny Moyer reintroduced me to Steely Dan. I remember in high school listening to them, so many of their songs are the soundtrack of our lives, but let’s face it, their music isn’t exactly timeless. To me they sound extremely from that 70’s/80’s era, still amazing, but a time capsule of a sound, not an enduring gem like say the Beatles or for me Led Zeppelin, which still sounds progressive to me when compared to today’s rock. I’m sure to die-hard Steely Dan fans what I just said is sacrilege. In any case, Danny sung all the lyrics to “Bodhisattva” as if he were channeling Don Fagen himself. I had never heard that particular song before and fell in love with it. That set me on a Steely Dan course this last week or so, it was Steely Dan and the Deftones. I managed to listen to the Deftones new CD “Ohm” about a dozen times since it dropped a few weeks back and now think the second track “Ceremony” is my new favorite. Here are the YouTube videos from of those two songs.

I’ve been thinking more about these posts lately and spending more time on the blogs which I think is a good thing for the moment, though generally I would like to return to doing about one a week. Up next in the studio in the next few weeks I’m going to pair everything down in preparation for a commission to a hospital that I won this last week. This commission largely puts all my other plans for the Fall on hold but the pay day in the end will facilitate the creation of dozens of new work in 2021 and beyond. I’ll surely find something about the commission project to write on as I conjure my ideas. Until then do be well and stay safe.

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