I’m Down with this Donald

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I see his work as a sort of loose, maybe even sloppy, Matisse. Not that he would ever say that about himself, at least not that I have heard, but then again, how would I have heard?

But what I have seen, is pared down lines, patterns, and brush strokes that despite lack of detail and apparent precision, form fashionable women and style. Like Matisse.

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Having survived the heyday of art directing at Conde’ Nast and Vogue, Donald Robertson has left the hustle of New York and opened up shop in LA, and when I say “opened” I mean his door is open (not right now though) and you can go say hello.

I went and said hello.

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With his new work hanging, or laying, around and his young kids doing the same, Donald and I didn’t hatch a new collaboration or become best friends (I am open to both) but he did answer my question easily and helped me feel relaxed and welcomed.

Then he drew me a picture in my sketch book thereby increasing its value by approximately 2000%.

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His studio is where Evett’s Model Shop once was (1636 Ocean Park Blvd, Santa Monica) and he will let any fool off the street just walk right in and talk to him.

Matisse never did that.

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What I have Learned About Race and Racism Over the Past 25 years.

Racism against black people was, and still is, exponentially worse than I originally thought.

 

The real problem with racism is not instances where one person is rude, or “racist” to another person. This is why it does not “go both ways”. Yes, people are rude and “racist” both ways, but these instances are not the cause of inequality. These instances are inexcusable, but relatively inconsequential compared to the bigger problem.

 

Me treating all other humans like they are my family, and teaching my children to do the same, is only a starting place and is not enough to fix the existing racial inequalities.

 

The solution to American black white racial disparities is not simply for Black people to make better life choices.

 

The first step in progress is for more white Americans, myself included, to more fully realize all of the above.

 

We are not collectively through all of the above, and hence, not currently prepared for step 2.

 

Sober Doesn’t Need to Mean Bored: Seedlip

Five years ago I saw a bottle with an odd label sitting on a shelf and picked it up. The writing on the back said that inside was “A floral blend of hand-picked Peas & homegrown Hay”.

What?!?

I had no idea if what I had read would be a good thing or not, so I turned the bottle upside down looking for a price, and instantly decided I would never know. $50 was too rich of an experiment for me.

Fast forward to late last year when the magical interwebs having eavesdropped on my retelling this tale, suddenly served up and ad for Seedlip.

There it was, that same odd label, same description, but with a much revised number. Thank you spyphone.

I say thank you sincerely as having done the experiment I have now concluded it would have been worth spending the fifty.

Turns out the high price tag was connected to the products importation from England. What I had been unwittingly waiting for was the US launch.

So now I can easily order from Amazon unique flavors of non- alcoholic mixers with which to shake and not stir something tasty to sip that isn’t 90% sugar or 10% caffeine.

And yes, thank you, because sometimes we boring sober people get bored of what is available and want something better.

Seedlip is that.

Punk Rock Where You Don’t Expect: out of place in Mexico City

IMG_2546We went to that part of town to visit a library full of books written in a language I can’t read. I had never been to Mexico City before and this library’s design is world renowned. The shelves hang from the ceiling rather than standing on the floor. It is giant, cathedral-like, and filled with books written in Spanish.

 

I don’t Speak Spanish.

 

But I know what looks cool, and that spot is cooler than most, so we went.

 

As we opened the Uber door and stepped to the curb something unexpected happened.  Right next door, in a graffiti covered alley, was something loud that I recognized.

Blaring horns, a solid bass rhythm, and a heavy back beat. Played fast. I did not expect to hear punk ska in Mexico but expectations don’t matter so much when you are in the moment, and in that moment, I followed the sound.

 

The alley was packed full of temporary booths and tons of people. Ramones t-shirts, black leather jackets, and Doc Marten boots were both stacked on tables and worn by the crowds. A thousand or more people sporting full mohawks and spiked collars pushed their way through crowded stalls looking at stickers and buttons. I saw Bad Brains cassettes and Sex Pistols albums, anarchy logos and large gauged earrings everywhere.

 

And we joined in.

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My buddy looked at where we were, looked me up and down, and just started laughing. He shook his head and said, “Dude.”

 

I had to laugh as well. It wasn’t just my Anglo skin and bullet straight part -I was wearing khakis.

 

I was the very visual embodiment of “The Man”, a square, the epitome of suburban dorkiness, middle aged middle class might as well have had a flip phone clipped to my belt; shouldering my way unabashedly into a Mexico City punk fest.

 

I didn’t care.

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I didn’t care because I have rarely felt I fit in anywhere.

 

It isn’t that I haven’t wanted too, in fact I have made all sorts of efforts to find my place. It is more that in those efforts, on that journey, I have traversed so many spaces and places looking for a fit, that what I mostly found was overlap. It is natural (more so for some demographics than others) to see ourselves as the center of the world’s Venn Diagram, but I think my overlap was a little less centered. A bit more marginal. Like I am the outside circle of a million other group’s graphics but rarely checking off multiple boxes, or enough boxes to gain full membership. On such a journey one must either find a place and conform, or gain some sort of peace being a misfit.

This place had Misfits gear galore.

 

I didn’t care how I looked because I knew all the words to all the songs on those bootleg disks and coming out of those speakers. I learned them when I was 12. I learned them alone in my room listening to alternative radio or lurking around that one back rack of the record store. And here it all was in Mexico?

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I loved it.

 

I had no idea what the live bands were singing, but skankin’ just needs that rhythm and a mosh pit was never really content driven.

 

I fit just enough to feel at home.

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Toro

The hardest part, is watching,

when a bull doesn’t want to fight.

To see this muscled and behorned beast stand in the middle of the ring, looking around, shuffling its haunches trying to shake off whatever it is causing that pain in his back. He looks at that fool on the horse, those men waving those blankets, and all of us up in the stands, and he just stands there. Done. He wants none of it.

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But he is not done- yet.

 

This is when I learn a large part of the matador’s job, a part I had not considered, is to maintain both the attention and ire of that bull. The taunting, the waving and twirling, is not merely pageantry but an attempt to focus a confused animal in a raucous arena, on fighting when it might rather just die.

 

And the bull will die.IMG_6088

 

With blood flowing from its hump, spears protruding from his back, he will get the sword and he will fall. He enters the ring a raging beast and leaves a carcass drug across the dirt by draft horses. There really is no excuse for this being entertainment. It is not just blood sport but execution for pleasure.

But when that bull is mad.

When it fights.

 

That is a show.

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The bull is built to win. Strong, fast, aggressive, with its goring weapons built in. The man cannot do anything without the help of some other tools. Spears, swords, the walls of the arena, the entire arrangement is built to grant the matador some advantage, and yet his victory is never quite sure- though the bull’s defeat is definite. And it is fascinating. It is one of the oldest evidences of a completely first world behavior, the risking of human life in the process of doing something that could be done much better, safer and efficient, in some other way, almost any other way- in the name of sport. For fun.

 

For money.

Sitting in the grand stands of a giant arena, eating a chocolate churro filled with cream, my American friend and I are stunned into a silence when the first bull fell. All around us people are shouting Spanish words I do not know, waving white handkerchiefs in the air, and a brass band begins playing a dramatic dirge. The two of us pause, unused to confronting the death of an animal, or anything for that matter, live, right in front of us. We live and work in offices and restaurants, parks and museums, clubs and suburbs, all insulated from the death we know exists. We order a steak at Ruth’s Chris, bloody rare, drive past a dairy and complain of the smell, fully aware that we exploit both life and death for our own sustenance, and despite our knowledge and awareness of it all, we find ourselves ignorant in the presence of that moment of death.

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I do not like it.

 

I am not comfortable. It makes me ashamed in a way I did not expect. Not simply ashamed for participating, or being complicit in a blood sport, but surprisingly ashamed that despite my awareness of death, my acceptance of it, I look away when in its presence.

 

I am more comfortable when someone else does it. Somewhere else. Where I can’t see.

 

Prosciutto, jamon, bacon, whatever, and I am fine with it. I can move past ignoring the devouring of what was once living, comfortably into rationalizing and prioritizing, but it is at the point of doing that I cringe.

 

My inbred ideas of manhood are offended not by the death itself but by my repulsion to it. I can work my way past the masculinity only to then be halted by class. I have the privilege of enjoying the fruits of others destruction, rejecting any value in being the one to do the work or endure the pain.

 

In my own self-loathing, respect for those down there in the ring begins to grow.

 

No matter what I think of any of this, I sit up here judging while they are down there doing. Confronting. Risking. Acting.

 

They can be wrong about all this and still be better than me.

 

And then, thanks to my inbred training, hundreds of years of practice, I work myself through all the ways I am not so bad. Sure there is this or that, but there is also that other this and that, and when taken in bulk- I am good.

 

And if I am good while sitting up here in my feelings and those brave enough to act are better- then they must be great.

 

So I too start to cheer.

 

I learn to love the flair and the bravery of man versus beast. I appreciate the vain glory martyrdom of fighting in the face of sure defeat. I respect the idea of offering one’s self up to do that dangerous thing in order to give the condemned a chance for one last win.

 

The matador, offering himself as potential sacrifice, so the condemned have a chance to condemn another to a shared fate.

 

Brave and dignified.

But then that bull just stands there.

 

Hurt.

 

Tired.

 

Confused.

 

And we show ourselves, all of us, for who we really are.IMG_6095

What Do You See?

IMG_2672Who is that supposed to be? I get that question a lot when people see my drawings. If the image is of someone famous, or familiar, that question hurts just a little, since you wouldn’t need to ask if I had done a better job.

 

But if the drawing isn’t someone you would recognize, what do you really see?

 

What comes to mind? Do we just take it at face value (pun intended) or do we make guesses and assumptions? Do we ask questions? Maybe none of that. Maybe we just look and think that is all there is to see. Nothing more.

 

There is always more.

 

As an artist I get to choose what I include, leave out, or even change. How much do you trust me? Does it matter?

 

This is a drawing of Catherine Burks.

 

In 1961 she got on a Greyhound bus headed from Tennessee to Alabama. Police stopped the bus because racially integrated bus travel was illegal. They escorted the passengers back to the Tennessee state line, dropping them off on the rural roadside in the middle of night. Burks told the chief, Bull Connor, “We will see you back in Birmingham by high noon”.

 

She was indeed back in Birmingham the next day and this is a drawing of her mug shot.

This is the face of a freshly arrested college student who I guess is thinking, “told ya.”

 

By this point she had seen violence and police beatings and been personally threatened by the leader of it all.

 

And this face was her face.

 

Sometimes, even today, some of us think we know what is going on simply because we watch.  We see some things, we feel we are paying attention, and no one contradicts what we think we see.

But there is always more to the story.

 

We normally only get that after we ask questions and then listen.

 

Happy Black History Month.

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Mr. Porter

IMG_4471So there was that one time when I was at a table full of Billy Porter fans and Billy Porter just happens to walk in. Then, everyone gets psyched up enough to say hello and he quickly says, “sorry no pictures”… but THEN I whip out the sketch of him I just completed while he was sitting at the bar and now Billy Porter is asking US if HE can take pictures.

 

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