Friday, July 31, 2009

I've mentioned Posidonio(n) before. It's one of the classier establishments I pass on my walk to work every morning. This new sign was added to the facade at some point this week. It's now in direct competition with Vikingo's for tackiest signage.

More heavy weather. (From the roof of the apartment building this time.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm pretty sure most of the (six) regular readers of this blog are aware of this already but I'm playing . . . perhaps curating (pretentious) a few hours of music at Niagara this Saturday night. See image for details.

This is the transcript of an interview I did for Vision Magazine. It's published in China. (The Chinese love me. Not so much the Americans.) The interview was set up through P.S. 1 and was shot/conducted by CYJO (aka Cindy Hwang.) The article one of a series about artists living in Queens. You can see the spreads here.

What does Queens mean to you? How did you get here?

I’ve been in Queens since 2004. On a very practical level, it means affordable apartment rent—because of this—the opportunity to sustain a external studio outside of my apartment. In a larger sense, it means ethnic diversity and good food.

Did you experience a big culture shock from growing up in predominantly white Midwest to the ethnic chaos of New York?

Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, I was always dissatisfied somehow with the homogeneity of my hometown. I could never quite put my finger on it but I always felt there had to be more . . . texture? Movement? Something. Moving to Chicago was a big change. It’s a great town but it’s a watered down New York. Regardless, I always tried to expose myself to the different areas since I grew up lacking any kind of exposure. Moving to New York wasn’t a huge culture shock from Chicago. Chicago was good practice for living in a real city like New York. What was much more apparent was the amount of stimulation and the noise pollution. I’ve adjusted eventually partly because we have a great studio space in Queens quite close to PS1. Oddly, I have this strange quality of space, time and light that I have never had anywhere else where they was much more space, time and light. Perhaps, it’s because it’s such a rare commodity here.

Why illustration?

Well, I guess I don’t really consider that I’m doing illustration although that seems like a dead-end semantic argument since I’m clearly pulling huge inspiration from illustrators. While I was growing up, I was very interested in adventure movies and cartoons (Jonny Quest, Flash Gordon, Star Wars, all of that), comic books and the game Dungeons & Dragons. As a kid, I spent a lot of time exploring these inner landscapes and becoming more familiar with these fantastic epic stories. Dungeons & Dragons set off a small bomb in my brain because it provided a loose structure for creating these imaginary worlds and populating them with weird and fantastic characters and weaving the whole deal into a story. As I went to high school—and for a few years after--I ended up spending a lot of time drawing, and writing—and smoking pot of course--and that recalibrated my sensibilities to some extent. When I figured it was time to move to a bigger city, I attended The American Academy of Art in Chicago. They had a small fine arts program that was very academic in it’s approach, and geared towards learning how to draw the figure, understanding proportion and the anatomy. It made sense to develop the fundamental basis, like a musician learning scales, you know? I was reading a lot of literature about literature and mythology--Carl Jung, The Myth of Sisyphus, and a lot of epic mythology like Kalevala, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the Illiad, Dante’s Inferno, all of that stuff. I never really read any of that with an academic’s eye, you know? I was always just looking for imagery, ideas, etc.

I ended up moving to New York initially to attend The School of Visual Arts. I essentially became interested in creating epic stories where fantastic things happened to this re-occurring cast of characters. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the last ten years – trying to find characters that worked for me and giving them the freedom to do what they want in these drawings. As a whole the body of work seems to make sense to me because I have to let the characters do what they need to do. I end up relinquishing control, which drives me nuts sometimes.

Can you describe these epic stories?

I’ve always had a protagonist in all the stories, dating back to the mid-90s. The protagonist initially started out as a vaguely man-shaped amorphous mass, very cartoony/rubbery character—no eyes and an enormous gaping mouth--named The Schlub. The Schlub ever so slightly became a bit more anthropomorphic over the course of forty or fifty drawings, and his name became Silas. (The name—Silas—was the occasional pen name of Winsor McCay, which one of my favorite artists and a fearsome draughtsman.) Finally—over the course of three or four more years--Silas became Zuke, a full-blooded human that, at times, bore a close resemblence to me—Zuke frequently wore the same clothes, shoes and hats that I did. If I had longer hair, so did Zuke. If I had a beard, same for Zuke. If I put on weight, so did Zuke. Zuke was just a regular dude, nothing special about him, and he was often sidelined by the same kind of fears and fallibilities that most of us deal with. More recently, Zuke gained an antagonist, Popular Charlie, in this convoluted story. Popular Charlie that has an enormous bulbous orange head and is essentially dressed in this rubber suit—kind of like a haz-mat [hazardous materials] suit under all of his street clothes. I had this idea of Popular Charlie being some kind of mundane supervillian with no special powers—he can’t fly or shoot lasers or lightning bolts or throw manhole covers or anything--other than this suit that protected him from all of harmful elements in the outer world; I even had this kind of inner vision—accompanied with a few unrealized sketches in a book somewhere—that this suit actually penetrated Charlie’s skull and wrapped around his brain, protecting him from inner dangers as well—fear, self-doubt, etc. Charlie, to me, was this kind of crude blunt instrument--a dull stone axe or something—that just kind of hacked and smashed it way through life like those young lion Wall Street guys. You know, work hard, play hard, then ride a jet ski in Cabo and punch a stripper or something. That kind of guy. I thought the two—Zuke and Charlie—formed a nice contrast. I had Zuke and Charlie competing for the attention of a third character, a woman, Sometimes Girlfriend. It’s was classic scenario of two guys fighting for one woman. This aspect of the story was very autobiographical in a way. Sometimes Girlfriend was based on someone I’d had an on-again-off-again relationship with over the course of six or seven years. Charlie was based less on an actual person so much as all of the external forces that seem to keep people apart—time, distance, poor choices, all of that stuff. So I explored that theme for a few years, partly as a form of therapy I guess, trying to find a way to dismantle the ideas I’d had about that relationship so I could move on.

It slowly occurred to me that Zuke and Popular Charlie are different aspects of the same character. I became more interested visually ditching Zuke in pursing Popular Charlie as a central figure, but marrying the aspects of the two characters in one weird homunculus that had some kind of texture, a mix of fragility and rudeness. You know, like an actual person. In the drawings, Popular Charlie works his way through these impossible situations and, in a sense, I spend a lot of time as an author making fun of him. And the drawings and situations are very much improvised. I normally work with watercolor on paper and I’m committed to what I first put down since I can’t change it. I’ll commit to a rendering one element—a figure, a bit of landscape or science fiction machinery--as perfectly as I can and have the drawing spin out from that one thing without knowing the exact composition or narrative until I finally finish. And, in a sense, that’s how I give them the freedom to do what they need to do. There’s this constant chance going on, this randomness from my everyday influences and observations. It allows the drawings to become assemblages of what’s going on in my life in a way . . . but they’re also filtered through years of accumulated readings, experiences, etc. So the drawings are informed by both the past and the present. It all gets woven together makes little sense to me at the time—I’ve never finished a drawing and said, “That’s EXACTLY what I had in mind!” Sometimes the drawings don’t make a lot of sense until 2 or 3 years afterward since there’s a lot from ur-information that’s expressed, a lot of accumulated commentary on life-to-this-point, which I need a few years to digest and be able to express verbally.

How did you get your work into PS1?

Part of our responsibility as students at SVA was to chose a curator to help advise us and install our thesis show. The curator for our part of the class was Bob Nickas. He was very helpful and supportive. He was affiliated with PS1 and helped us install/curate our graduate exhibition, and he was kind enough to bring Alana Heiss and Klaus Biesenbach to the opening. They went through and picked out my work and the work of 2 other classmates—Bradley Castellanos and Ricky Sears--for exhibition in the spring. It was fortuitous, and I was glad to have my work exposed there.

Is there anything that you’re working on outside of this epic?

I have a habit of keeping my hands busy. What I’ve been doing lately is going to second hand shops, buying picture books or children’s books. And over music and a couple of beers, I’ll very precisely cut out figures and cars and trees and buildings. I can envision perhaps some fantastic collages being made from these cut out images in the future. For now, they are housed in cigar boxes in my studio. I also just finished up a series of postcard drawings, things I would bang out in an hour in the studio, two or three a day. I would then send these postcards to friends I think about but maybe haven’t spoken to in a while. I like the idea that I can harness this isolate practice to help sustain friendships, you know? I also drew and designed an album cover for a friend in LA.

How do you see the art world now?

I can’t see myself in the text based, critical theory-type stuff that I seems so prevalent here in the art world. It seems like there is a very tightly interlocking structure now between curators and a lot of conceptually-based artists. The artists speak a specialized language that the curator understands and the curator then—having formal training in this specialized language—the promotes the work artist in question because it justifies the labor put into the formal training. It find the whole thing a little boring because a bit of a closed loop, a kind of call-and-response song that I don’t have the sheet music for and I don’t really have any interest in learning the song by ear, you know?

I’m very much into drawing as practice, as an act of meditation or scribbly prayer in a sense. I’m very much into the idea of drawing as a way of recording my experiences with the fewest detours between eye and brain and hand. I’m filtering the observations and experiences of an adult through the visual language of a 10 year old that still very much keeps alive these weird inner landscapes and scenarios. I can’t seem to escape it. It seems to have this pull of richness, fantasy and possibility that doesn’t exist in real life. I don’t think of how I’m going to make my work or who is going to view it. It’s a bit antithetical to me. I can’t think about it or somehow the work becomes too self-conscious.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Verdant corridor and a drawing started on Fire Island. Not sure if I'm going to finish it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Not feeling very writey these days. A few photos from the train ride up, Lefty, Froggy, ceramic caterpillar, Teddy's abandoned van.

Monday, July 20, 2009


You know, I've come to realize that there really is no part two. I posted the best of the photos from the trip and the days were similar enough in content--drinking beer, sitting out, dodging waves, napping, walking over to one house to have dinner--or having those people come over to our house, etc. It was great, of course, but kind of one undifferentiated blur. As vacations should be.

So here are a few left over photos. A view from the upper deck of the house, a gross couple that kept oiling each other up and then retreating to a tent, an a slightly less blurry photo of a deer.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Um . . . ferry ride, blurry deer, sunrise, Samantha and Patricia, Samantha and Donita, the Fire Island school truck. Not pictured: beer, sun, cold Atlantic water, swallows, red-winged blackbird, chubby sunburned tourists, whippet-like leather-skinned men and women with gold chains, ocean-loving dogs and some other stuff I'll remember for part two.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Not enough sleep the night before. Not enough sleep last night either. These summer hours--7:30 to 4:30--are killing me.

After work, rode to the studio. Saw Teddy and Christopher Lew. They left and I worked on a drawing for a bit and then rode into Greenpoint to meet Haroula at the Pencil Factory and then walked over to Coco 68 for dinner. A mash up of food--a dozen oysters, pizza, caprese salad and a bottle of white bordeaux. An old boyfriend of Haroula's met us there and we sat and talked and drank until midnight. At that point, I had to peel off and head home. Quick uneventful ride home, quick shower to sluice off the dirt and sweat . . . but I just wasn't sleepy. So I sat and rotted my brain with tv until 1:30 or so before falling into bed. Up early. So damn tired.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Yeah, I know. Another photo of sunset from the studio roof. But it's different this time because it's Manhattanhenge. (The phrase was coined by this jerk. Planet killer.) (I'm kidding. He's not that bad. He's just a relentless media whore.) I've known about this phenomenon for a few years now but I never seemed to catch it. Actually, that's not quiet true. I caught it at the end of May but didn't really understand what I was looking so I didn't take a photo. Last night, however, I figured it out while having a few on the roof and caught it. Now I'll never have to think about it again. Thank God. This is probably the last time I'll be able to see it from the roof--developers have politely enough began erecting a building that, when finished, will block our view down 42nd Street. Nicely done, sirs.

I did a little work in the studio yesterday afternoon. Worked on a drawing for a bit, cleaned up and pulled out the sketchbook. The photo is about eight years worth of sketchbooks: the big ones are studio books and the small ones are the books that I carry with me at all times. I got out and met Hester for the 4:30 screening of Alien yesterday at the Film Forum. It was fucking awesome. Ridley Scott does a fantastic, subversive job of co-opting much of the Star Wars look--the long shots of huge, plodding ships, the clean white interiors, the "navigational" computer graphics which looked almost identical to the graphics shown in SW as the Death Star approaches the rebel base--and sullying it with blood and guts and slime and horror. It was a good audience, too, with lots of people flipping out and jumping in their seats. We snuck in a few beers to that didn't hurt either.

After the movie, we grabbed dinner at the Noodle Bar on Carmine. I got the roasted duck noodle soup, Hester got the Singapore noodles with shrimp and we split the calamari. And we had a Singhas. We split and I went back to the studio just in time to catch the sun going down.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I left the apartment to take my usual ride over to the studio. However, I had this slight idea that I might take a detour on the way to the studio, maybe take a side trip to somewhere or other. That side trip ended up being a trip to Jamaica Bay.

I've thought about this trip since I moved here but I've always been put off by what a pain in the ass it is to get to any distant in the boroughs--it's not really a navigating-by-feel action. I usually memorize the route to a certain point, stop, get out the map and memorize the next segment, ride, stop, get out the map, etc. Utilizing this method, I made my way through Maspeth and Ridgewood (where I stopped at a CVS and got some sunscreen and water as realized that I was no longer going to the studio) and Glendale, down Cypress Hills Ave which bisects the Cemetery of the Evergreens. (Never heard of it before.) Sat in Highland Park for a bit to rest up and drink some water and then continued down through East New York (shitty! Almost hit by a white minivan who couldn't wait another three seconds until the street opened up for him to pass safely so he tore past me with about five inches between his raggedy-ass van and my left handlebar), New Lots, and over along Flatlands Ave to Carnasie and turned south toward the Bay.

Ended up finally at Carnasie Pier. The wind--which I had been riding in to for the whole trip--was ripping off Jamaica Bay and the water was white-capped, choppy and tea colored from sediment. Carnasie Pier is not an attractive pier and, really, not much like a pier. More of a little stumpy nub that pokes out into the bay for 75 feet or so. The pier resembles a lot of parkland in the outer boroughs I've visited (Flushing Meadow/Corona Park in particular)--it's clearly near the bottom of the parks department maintenance list. Everything in on the pier was probably built new back in the mid-80s and then essentially left to fall apart--cracked pavement lined with weeds, rust and peeling paint, two or three big shuttered buildings--probably rental areas or clubhouses--and, of course, port-a-potties instead of actual bathroom facilities. Still, for all of that, there was a lot of life and activity on the "pier"--kids riding bikes, loud burly guys drinking beer and casting lines, families picnicing and flying kites, a group of older couples Scrabble on cardtables, some guy letting his girlfriend fix his cornrows, etc. I had a nice sit and a squint and the water for about 15 minutes before getting back on the bike and heading west along the bike path.

After about 10 minutes of riding, the path climbed a gentle hill to a drawbridge where I took the panoramic photo. On the other side of the bridge, I found a path leading down to the beach. Walked the bike down there and poked around for about 20 minutes--found a lot of wee snails living in the muckier bits of the sand, a lot of beach grass, and, or course, a few carapaces of horseshoe crabs. What was more surprising was finding horse shoe prints in the wet sand--horseshoe crabs AND horseshoe prints. I couldn't fathom where a horse could possible come from down here. I wandered away from the surf and up to the dry white sand to have a sit. Then back on the bike where I soon passed the Jamaica Bay Riding Academy. Suddenly, I could fathom the origin of those horseshoe prints.

More milage taking me west. I notice a high, grey scud of cloud moving in. I fell in behind two women on road bike decked out in riding gear. They were going at just about the perfect speed so I kind of paced them for a few miles, past Plumb Beach and back onto the street on Emmons in Sheepshead Bay. I had two options here--either cut up Bedford when I got to it or continue along toward Coney Island and head up Ocean Parkway. The ladies chose Bedford so I followed them and--after a few blocks--struck up a conversation with them. From then on we rode along the lettered avenues--W,V, U,T,S, the alphabet unspooling backward like a sobriety test--as a dangerous, fuck-the-rules bike gang, man. Well, not really but it was nice having a little companionship on the ride. One of the riders--I didn't get her name--peeled off at Brooklyn College and the other, Lisa--a grade school art teacher and former competitive cyclist--and I rode on together for a few miles. She split off at Prospect Park and I continued up Bedford through Fort Green and South Williamsburg where I was treated to the Hasidim gamboling about in full Sabbath black including those gigantic, circular fur hats--the hirsute rings of Saturn minus the planet. (I passed another cluster of Orthodox women--well, children mostly, in their early teens--dressed in an entirely out-of-time fashion as if it were 1947.)

Got off Bedford and hit Kent, rode under the Williamsburg bridge and into Greenpoint. I stopped at Papacitos to get a few pork tacos. Stopped at a bodega to get two beers and a bottle of much needed water and then rode over the Pulaski and hauled the bike down the stairs on the Queens side. Into the studio, two beers and a short nap before saddling up again (I was waaaay to punch-drunk tired to work--the image of the drawing is from Friday) and heading home for a shower and the end of Watership Down.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

On the way back to work from lunch the other day, I passed an old box-type delivery truck parked on my block. An old Asian guy was sitting in the front seat, reading what looked to be a Chinese porn magazine. (The characters on the cover looked Chinese--meaning they all looked liked pointy houses, as opposed to Korean which looks like pointy houses that have been invaded by and an army of oval soldiers, and as opposed to Japanese which looks like pointy houses with little double darts nestled up next to the houses. And this ends Vaguely Racist Asian Languages Categorization Class 101.) Anyway, the old guy had the centerfold unfurled and was beaming with pleasure. (Both hands were visibly holding the mag so I'm pretty sure it was a pleasure of the eyeballs for him.)

I've slipped. A lot has gone on in the last week--drinks at Beauty Bar (now with extra tattooed hipness!) followed by dinner at Momofuku with Allison and Dougasaurus, a bad yoga class with a bad sub for an absent Dreamy Megan--but I've been too lazy to write about it. It bothers me when I let time slip off unmentioned that way. Anyway.

Friday: attempted to go to Gladstone for the second time to see the Basil Wolverton exhibition. And the gallery was closed as it was the first time I went. Fucking Gladstone. So I substituted a walk along the newly opened Highline Park. Nice park. Lovely park. Great views of Jersey (seriously!) and hemmed in by a dozen new semi-interesting buildings, including that silver-white Gehry building. Lots of benches, lots of wildflowers--smelled like high yellow summer. Too many people, however, and it was overall a little sterile. Came home, read watched Meatballs (it doesn't hold up) and made cecina tacos.

Saturday: Patricia came over and we walked down to Socrates Sculpture Park for a sit in the sun. It was a non-stop dog party down there. Then over to Teddy's for a screening of Fitzcarraldo in his backyard . . . after a round of cheeseburgers, beers, margaritas, baked beans, German potato salad and peach cobbler. I've seen Fitzcarraldo before but--between this viewing and the first--I'd seen My Best Fiend, the Herzog film that examines the relationship between Herzog and Kinski. As the result, the weirdo intensity seemed much richer and more familiar to me but I found myself surprised and--okay, fine--a little moved by some of the tenderer moments he

Sunday: Rode my bike into the city to meet Juile at the Met for a second squint at the Francis Bacon retrospective and see if I couldn't get a look at the paintings and the newly opened American wing. (I couldn't see the paintings and won't be able to see it until 2010.) We had a few beers on the roof and under the spangly shadows of Roxy Paine's tree-esque sculpture. I then rode back into Queens and dropped in at the studio for a bit.

Monday: slept in and made my way over to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park. Laid out (yes, laid out) for about two hours. Finished (for the most part) one small drawing, made my way through Sam Prekop's Who's Your New Professor (read this say-nothing review to get no idea what the album's like), and had a small nap. (Oh, and I managed to get a mild sunburn, too.) Took a walk through the Mall and around that scummy green pond at the southeastern corner of the park. Saw some mallards and Canadian geese, saw some turtles and heard (but didn't see) a red-winged blackbird. Back into Queens on the W to 30th Ave. Got a head of red lettuce and a few tilapia fillets for dinner. I ate and hunkered down for the lousy return to work.