Ephemerama #68

This last week I was thinking about how we seem to have no heroes left and feeling sad that there are no roll models that upon closer examination aren’t just deplorable human beings. The Joe Rogan controversy and the Whoopi Goldberg thing and the Cosby documentary the W. Kamau Bell just released on Showtime. Its all making me feel angry sad confused frustrated, take your pick, at all the access we now have on these personalities. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe the price of success (wealth and fame at least) is constant surveillance and a measure of good behavior. For most celebrities this price is a cheap one to pay, but for others never being told “no” in 99 percent of their lives is not enough. These individuals demand 100 percent permission to do and say what they want. Jeff Bezos wants Rotterdam to tear down a 100-year-old bridge so his 500-million-dollar yacht can leave its port, isn’t that kind of crazy. Joe Rogan, didn’t think saying the n-word like a million times on his podcast would never come out, are your kidding me? Whoopi doesn’t think Jews are a race, ask a Nazi and I think she’d change her mind. These instances lately really color the work of these celebrities, none so much for me as the destruction – sort of a self-inflicted mulligan – of Bill Cosby’s career.

I didn’t have a father growing up. I say this even though I did have a stepdad. He abused us and my mom, so I really don’t count him as a father or much of a man, though my brother assures me he’s rehabilitated over the years. In any case, The Cosby Show was the show and for many black and white people (but especially for blacks) was far beyond required viewing. The Huxtables were the family we all wanted to be in and aspired for. I don’t think I would have tried so hard in school if I didn’t have that show as an example. Saundra went to Princeton if you remember, and Theo to NYU. When I thought I might be straight, as a young boy watching the show, I was certain I would one day marry either Diana Ross or Phylicia Rashad. It was just going to happen, no question. Both figures till this day feature prominently in my work, so influential were the pair as personal divas for me. So many more eloquent writers and speakers have expounded on this subject, so I don’t want to needlessly prattle on with bringing up instances of celebrities sabotaging their careers. I bring up the subject because I want to ask the question, what happens to the art of these tragically flawed people?

Here’s some octopi I’ve been looking at to fold into a collaboration piece with the artist Michael Freeman

In the Color Purple the Danny Glover character “Mr.” is somewhat redeemed by the end of the movie when he pays to reunite Celie and her sister Nettie. Will these celebrities have that opportunity one day? Will all the canceled personalities laid low by the Me-Too movement have their day in a field of purple flowers. Can I watch The Cosby Show and wish Dr. Huxtable was my dad? Can I listen to and enjoy Joe Rogan without thinking about whether he might be a secret racist; and as an aside I think I’d rather have India Arie produce more and more stirring music than create n-word supercuts on Instagram. I barely have time in the day to do my laundry because I have so much art and schoolwork to make and grade. Seems like India has a lot of time on her hands.

For full disclosure, I have cheated on boyfriends I’ve loved, lied often, stolen things, had DUI’s, been sexually promiscuous leading to me contract HIV, have done illegal drugs, and I’m probably considered an arrogant pretentious and talentless asshole by many folks’ estimation including by my friends. I just wanted to offer that up in case someone wanted to come after me if I stumble into financial success and celebrity, you know lets make it a little easier for the haters why don’t we. 

Degas was an antisemite by the way and Martin Luther King Jr. was famously unfaithful to his wife Camille. Would the “I Have a Dream” speech been as stirring a and defining moment in American history if you knew about his affairs. At some point the art or positive contributions of the people we now with hindsight see as predators and monsters must be separated from their lecherous behavior in life, especially since we all are tragically flawed. Both angel and devil in one. Context is important, and sometimes knowledge is not power. Sometimes its noise. And being somewhat conspiratorial, I wonder for whose advantage it is that certain public figures get taken down a peg. I’m sure Vladimir Putin, and right-wing pundits love it when lefties and agenda-pushing-progressive eat their young the way we do. Why should I care that Whoopie Goldberg thinks the holocaust was about religion and not race? Is now knowing that going to get me health insurance or help me sale my paintings so I can make enough money to keep a roof over my head. Will tearing down a Robert E Lee statue or not teaching children the ugly racist history of this country making me or anyone more decent or loving. I think it has the opposite effect. I need a good laugh and a good cry because I feel sad and alone in the world so I’m going to watch “The Color Purple” and “The Cosby Show” and dream about imagined sisters living in Africa and fake fathers and mothers who were doctors and lawyers because they make the emotional pain of living in our fractious society a little more bearable.  And I’ll try hard to look past the nativist nihilistic sentiments of the Joe Rogan’s and Aaron Rodgers of the world and enjoy them for their primary creative contributions to the world. I’ve lived 45 years on this earth and have never met a saint. 

One of my grandfather’s, the Elder Reaves’s, favorite scriptures I remember from his preaching was from Matthew 7:5 and reads “You hypocrite! First, remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye”. If you knew him, you’d find the quoting of such a scripture completely ironic considering his own life as he was a piece of work. But what I think he was getting at was the importance of grace and forgiveness. It’s the special grease that makes the engine of society function, because you can’t be mad seeking retribution for wrongs committed all the time.    

Here are a few images of a beautiful still-life I’m working on with my
Drawing 1 students at Northampton Community College

I’m always trying to find a sound that sits in the background that sets the mood for the drawing and painting I do in the studio. I really feel like the music or conversations you hear when you make art infects the art itself. For example, I’m a well-known news junkie. I love NPR. However, I sometimes must put it down because so much news is depressing and distracting. I find that it makes me angry, and I make mad angry work because of it. Lately, I’ve tried to rediscover my love or opera to bring some joyful noise into the studio. One of my favorite opera’s Is Donizetti’s “Elixir of Love”. It’s a preposterous story full of longing, perfect for an artist with tons of wanderlust. The whole opera is excellent, so I’ve provided a link to it here, the arias in the third act are what the opera is known for. Here’s a YouTube video of the piece:

I love driving to the studio listening to groups like Sango and Kaytranada. The latter made a recording about a decade ago called “Bubba” which makes for such perfect easy listening its hard to be mad while listening to it. Its also great to work out to as well. Here’s my favorite piece on the recording, a mini track called “Puff Lah”:


I’ve been working hard in the studio to finish a couple last minute pieces for an exhibition I’m in with my friend Michael Freeman which opens in a few weeks. The show is called “Personal Color Codex” a name conjured by the show’s curator Deborah Rabinsky. I’ve been turning that title over in my head and I love the scientific sound of the word codex. It really does fit the hermetic nature of both of our styles. Anyway, the show has been obsessing me for weeks and I feel overwhelmed by all that I must do to prep. These final pieces I’m doing of course do not have to be done at all because I have plenty of art already made, but I love having fresh work in every show I do. I’ll talk about these pieces, a collaboration with Michael and two pieces from my “Incomparable Yhana Evonne” series, the next time I post. Until then stay safe and do be well.

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