Family Loss

On June 12th and 13the the Painted Bride Art Center will be featuring a theatrical event: “Life on the Spectrum: A Love Story,” a documentary play based on over 30 interviews with families of individuals with Autism.  In addition to the nightly performance, there will be a gallery exhibition featuring concerned local artists, as well as artists with disabilities.

THE PRODUCERS OF THIS EVENT ARE SEEKING ARTISTS INTERESTED IN DONATING THEIR ARTWOK TO BE EXHIBITED AND/OR SOLD AT THIS EVENT. 500 people are expected to attend this event, which will provide artists with an opportunity to expose their artwork to a large audience, as well as contribute to a very important cause.

So…

This was sent to me by someone I recently met at a going away party at a bar. We talked about the stomach churning process that is networking and discussed all the wonderful nuances of the art world.

The past few art shows I’ve had have been work that I donated. Fine art has always been my weakest event in the Olympics of my artistic life.  I love painting for the same reason I love dance, it’s physical choreography in a visceral form, except with painting you get a tangible everlasting object.

I started taking my fine art seriously about 9 years ago after a near-death experience. I wanted to leave something behind – not necessarily a legacy; but artifacts. I took several art classes throughout school and I thought I had an above average aptitude for foundation and drawing but I never had the patience to match my perfectionism. It wasn’t until I started studying modern art that I realized that there is life outside of the lines.

On a class trip to the art museum in what could have been the 3rd or 4th grade, I remember there was a Dali exhibit that fascinated me. I ended up staying behind and losing my group. Eventually I found one of the museum workers and they led me to the bus that had been waiting for me for a little while. I got into trouble, but it was well worth it.

I started researching different artists and art periods, spending endless hours at the Collingswood library. Like with most of my studies, I learned a lot more on my own than I ever did in any classroom. With each new artist I was studying I became more and more inspired, stealing techniques and ideas here and there all while trying to find my own voice. I have always been in love with Impressionism and the pointillism method and I adapted a lot of that technique into some of my work. I was finding that I was using a lot of reds, purples and blues in my paintings and every time I tried to force myself to use other colors, I ended up painting over them. I did several studies, none of which I was fond of except one painting I did of a still life of pears. I still have several sketches for things that are at times embarassing to look at, but the content is meaningful.

I met a friend through a friend who was also into painting but has a career otherwise. This was around the time I was getting into found object art and using old glass windows, scrap metal and various materials the likes of hair, sand and candle wax (encaustic).  I loved his shit. He’s Jewish and has an astounding wit which shows in his work. He was kind enough to let me use his garage as a painting space. My works were getting bigger and bigger. Us both being huge Pollack fans, he understood my need for more space to spread out for large canvasses, and was happy to loan me some space.

Cut to about a year later. I started submitting my artwork to calls for submissions. I got my first group show at a gallery on Haddon Ave. that I can’t remember the name of. I was hella nervous knowing I was literally hanging my emotions up on a wall. I had chosen a few pieces from my dancer series that consisted of abstract figures “dancing” over nondescript, geometric backgrounds. I took some scanned photos of vintage New York Ballet dancers and painted over them in oil, highlighting their attributes and pasting the pages over the background compositions. The theme of the show was “Spring in Your Step” so I tried to pick and make pieces that really exuded a sense of rhythm, rebirth and movement.

I sold three paintings that night.

The best part of any gallery exhibition is the alcohol. The owner of the gallery came up to me in a panic about 1/2 way through the show and said “Oh my God, this is the first time we have ever ran out of wine!”. I should have told him a little more about my friends that I invited. Everyone was happy and flirty, more so as the night went on, and it was really a good time. My mother was there wearing leopard boots and doled me a bouquet of flowers and balloons (she always brings balloons – to my chagrin). My only worry was that the man I was in love with did not come to the show, but the man that was in love with me did show.

Several months after that I had my first solo show that was the first exhibit at a new gallery further down Haddon Ave. called “Exposure Gallery”. The guy that ran the place is really cool and we got along swimmingly. Turns out that he is a photographer (his other job) and does a photo journal of the mummer’s every year.  Good stuff. By this time I thought I was hot shit and in my head I was a local celebrity, but in such a small town, it seemed like everyone was. This was around the time when Collingswood was experiencing gentrification to the max and becoming a lot less Southwest Camden everyday.

The second show wasn’t as fun as the first. The good part is that it was held during a festival (that town is always having festivals) and the walk-in crowd was pretty steady. I would watch as people would come in and look at the work kind of puzzled, wondering why there weren’t any portraits or landscapes. It was that kind of crowd. There were a few stragglers that wanted to talk to me and thought my work was interesting, but like any true artist, I could help but to concentrate on all the negative aspects of the experience.

I didn’t sell one piece.

I had a few other shows after that, some I donated work to, some I helped arrange, and one I even had to ship off to a show in New York (I didn’t go to the opening, I had a dance performance that night). That was a surprise after months of rejection letters and lack of callbacks. Through all of that, my interest in painting thrived and my work consistently improved.

Three summers ago I began painting down the shore in a garage. It was really a little bit of heaven. I would work on 5 to 6 paintings at once and I was experimenting more. I had access to several natural materials and woodworking machines. It was really nice. But after a while, my interest dissipated. I felt as though I wasn’t prepared for the business of art dealing and that the numbers game wasn’t adding up.

Now, here I am again. Wanting to burn all of my stuff or give it all away. I once had a bout of this and threw several of my paintings in the trash outside. The next morning, they were all gone (the real trash remained). I figured that maybe it was another starving artist who could have put the materials to good use, but I really wished someone had really loved my work – and maybe even hung it on their walls. One piece was a large abstract painted American flag with yellow yarn strewn about it with chains attached to it. I thought it was way cliche, but I loved that fucking painting once it was gone.

And now again I have to consider giving my art away for a cause…to better someone else’s life. Not that it wouldn’t be on my own voilition, I just really need to make sure I am ready to murder my own children. My paintings are my babies. Every conception has taken everything I had out of me.


A newer beginning (again)

As if I needed more projects…

The new site is up (www.hokumarts.org) thanks to one of the most wonderful people in the world who helped with coding. My Dreamweaver skills aren’t up to par considering that I am a newborn Mac addict. I’m still getting acclimated with some really awesome apps and some of the Adobe programs that are becoming less and less daunting by the day. My aim was to give it less of a start-up feel and just keep it simple with links to other things.

My “real” job has been keeping me busy. After many tumultuous months, tragedy finally struck and I lost a colleague who had a tremendous impact on my life and career. Also, in my never ending effort to take on much more responsibility than is necessary, I’ve been wearing myself ragged and recently picked up another gig in the restaurant biz. Both jobs fill a few art related necessities – my love of food and people watching, books, film and learning the inner-workings of the deus ex machina that is academia. I have come to realize (again) in these economic times that you are nothing without a master’s degree, or at least, you really have to know how to swim if you want to stay afloat.

Over the past few months I have been working in the studio with some dancers I’ve worked with before. Meagan, the little crazy one who never listens but always gets it right then makes it better and throws it in my face, and Gillian, the graceful and poised ballerina slash librarian with a back stiff as a board and the charm of a kitten. I’m also working with a new dancer, Kellie, who I haven’t quite figured out yet but she has an astounding sense of rhythm and she can touch the back of her head with her foot if I asked. The aesthetics of these girls have inspired me tremendously. I think great choreographers (or at least my favorites i.e. Fosse, Ailey, Balanchine) know how to use their dancers’ prominent abilities. It is lovely to watch a chorus of synchronized dancers whose every arm, head and leg movement is exactly the same, but to see how a dancer moves and to allow them that freedom to love the dance and the movement that you create for their respective body; it’s something divine and is one of the affectations of a consummate dance maker.

My latest work-in-progess is entitled “Man Bites Dog.” I was inspired years ago to work on a duet to Nirvana’s “Polly” from their iconic album Nevermind when I heard about the story behind the song. Allegedly the song is a depiction of an event that occured somewhere in the midwest where a girl who was attending a concert was kidnapped and tied up and tortured. She was with her capturer for several days and she started to trick him through sexual seduction. He began to trust her and took her out of the house. One day she managed to escape. Kurt wrote the song from the P.O.V. of the capturer, portraying him as a helpless victim of a psychological disorder and a man obsessed with sadomasichism. Not the most sunny of topics, but something that I imagined could be quite visually powerful.

I figured I try to do it for the Peek-A-Boo Revue at some point but I was already struggling with being the guy that always choreographs “that dark shit.” Comedy is hard. I ended up putting it on the back burner, like I do so many things. All those things I think of when I’m at the movies or shopping or at work or taking a dump. Thank heavens for BlackBerries (Blackberrys?). Anyway, the song came up on my shuffle a few months back and I was reminded of how much I love the song, being so disturbed by its content, and I got the urge to create. I played it over and over again on my guitar trying to live vicariously through the lyrics and the rhythm and it hit me…

I knew I wanted it to be a duet with a male and female (duh) and I had members of the Peek-A-Boo Revue in mind. I know I wanted a chair (one of my favorite props to dance on) and for the female to dance with her wrists tied together. I thought about having the male holding a blowtorch or knife but thought that would be too obnoxious and the lyrics of the song took care of that.   After my first few attempts I gave up. I had the basic motif together but I needed the bodies to make the magic.

The beauty of the pas de deux is that there is no sychronization to worry about. You don’t struggle with someone kicking higher than the rest of them, you don’t have to catch people up or try to make people fit into certain movements when the movements aren’t right for them. When you have two people together you’re totally playing off of their amorphous chemistry – the way their bodies work together. Unfortunately I didn’t have the luxury of time to pursue this further.

Cut to a few months after: Meagan, the little crazy one I want to slap and yell at for not doing the dances full out during rehearsal but I don’t because she just HAS it down, called me up and told me that things weren’t going so well over at the Peek-A-Boo Revue. It was sad to hear, I love those girls and I wish them only the best, but the business is hard and sometimes personalities clash. It was much less of a social issue and I wasn’t there but I knew that it was time for me to get back in the dance saddle again. I took it as a sign.

I drafted this long business and marketing plan for a burlesque troupe. It was exhausting – like everything I do in life. I put together professional photos, a budget, a fund raising plan. All I needed was some cash. Sure, I could put a show together, get a sleazy bar owner to give me a spot in exchange for a guarantee at the bar and put together some starving artists that will work for free and invite all my friends to see a half-assed production of mine, but I couldn’t do it that way. I had a connection who I grew tired of connecting with out of pure guilt for bothering him and asking him to “hook me up” (I hate the who-you-know thing, but it’s the life blood of the artist). So I sent a note to another bar owner who had the space and the crowd that would be a good fit. We had a meeting and it was a disaster. He was a cheap, stubborn, bossy, obnoxious (and yes, sleazy) proprietor who trusted no one and had something negative to say about everything. He never picked up my business plan and I was convinced he was illiterate. Also, I think he was on amphetamines. I ended our conversation with “Well, I’m sorry to have wasted your time considering you have seen and done everything.” I usually handle rejection pretty well but in that case I knew that I would never want to work with anyone like that again in my life. He offered me the space and he would take the bar money and said it would be a “trial run” but I refused.

Back to the drawing board.

My “real” job got busier and busier and just as I was starting to get into a groove, my boss died and one of the assistants in my office was requested to split her time with another department. A little heartwrenching.  I was getting less and less time to write, I was taking classes, I came home for a couple hours a week to make sure my family had food, water and love. I was exhausted. Somehow I still found a way to edit a play here and there, turn plays into film scripts and vice versa and work on this novel that I’m severely dubious about.

I decided that I was going to keep on dancing anyway. 2009 happened which made it over a year since I had any major dance activity on my resume. There were a lot of weird things going on in the news and I was entirely sick of hearing about the election and the ways the media twists things around. I started to do research on crazy news stories and I remembered the “Polly” song and the story about the man that bit his dog and it became the inspiration for the term to describe sensationalism in the media. And the work-in-progress was born.

My last “big” show (I know, I use quotes too much, and commas, and parenthesis) was the Philadelphia Live Arts & Fringe Festival in 2007. It was a breeze compared to the multimedia show I put on in 2006 that was a cabaret, an art exhibit, film screenings, two live bands, two fashion shows and a ballet spanning across two seperate buildings at the same time. I was born too late, really. “Human Error” did delve into some of my reoccurring themes: the aforementioned sensationalism in the media, subliminal mindfucking through commercialism, heroic villians the likes of pop stars and spoiled athletes, sociopolitical issues, psycho chic, etc. Rarely do I touch on gay black issues. Too cliche.

I loved putting all of those dances together. Although the entire construction of the show was rushed, I had a clear picture in my head of the point I was trying to convey. For a couple of the shows I had a friend of mine sit on stage during the entire performance while surfing on his laptop and eating Doritos. I thought it was hilarious. I had a ballerina who got yelled at during dance class and after the Ballet Mistress leaves, you find out she’s a cutter and after cutting herself with one of her intricate toys, continues to practice the combination over and over again. There’s something to be said for black comedy.

So what’s new? New choreography is on the way. Where am I going to put it? I’m not quite sure yet. I recieved my first rejection letter (email) in a while. It was actually upsetting. Usually I pride myself in my resistance to disappointment that a lot of artists endure. I don’t believe in numbers games. I submit my work to organizations and events that are suitable to my abilities and my P.O.V. I don’t just mail out a whole bunch of proposals and hope for the best. It took me a year to learn that. What was upsetting about this particular email was that it was at an event where I had performed at and was well received. I thought to myself “I must have somehow presented myself or my work in a way that now I have a bad reputation” or “Maybe my shit was just too weird for them, or unpolished.” Either way, I don’t like the outcome but have since moved on. But before I did, I sat for hours, cigarette after cigarette, reviewing every single one of my pieces I have on film, over and over, trying to cajole myself back into believing that I am good at what I do. It kind of worked.

This is another struggle the artist faces (I swear we’re all either bipolar or masochistic). Some artists aren’t good. We can’t all be good. Some artists aren’t good but know the right people or have the right money. It’s like that in business. It’s when artists forget that art is a business. There are a lot of things to learn. Unfortunately, sometimes the wolves aren’t always kind when you throw yourself to them. There are so many different tastes and taste levels out there. Selling out and appealing to the masses has its benefits. I think whoever invented that term was probably a lame artist.

I was wise enough to give up painting after realizing that while my work is well researched and skillfully made, I’m not that good. I have a piece here or there that I wouldn’t give up for the world even though they are all my babies, but a wise friend of mine told me that my work was “too cutting edge”. Honesty is so bittersweet. I’ve sold pieces and that was shocking if not embarrassing and I wouldn’t mind having another show, but I’ve long since put the brush away as I have enough work to do.

I went through a time of spring purging where I eliminated some of the unnecessary emotional items in my life. It is hard to do.  All those mementos, all those connections, all those activities and even a few people I had to “let go”. I have so many freggin’ forks in the road sometimes that I lose control and veer off and onto the onramp that leads to the Devil’s highway. I’m getting dramatic. At any rate, there’s only so much I can do. It’s just too bad that I want to do it all.