How To Get Into My Pants

Eight Years in the Studio, Work Pants, Acylic on cardboard, Old window, 2014, Stuart Sheldon
Eight Years in the Studio, Work Pants, Acylic and paper on cardboard, Old window, 2014, Stuart Sheldon

We all wear uniforms that hold our secrets. Your suit, scrubs, hardhat, sensible shoes, heels, sneakers define you in some subtle or overt way.

My painting clothes, the work pants and shirts ripped and spattered over a decade in the studio, bear all the marks and scars that define any artist: triumph, failure, magic, truth, dedication, doubt, sex, beauty, repulsion and perseverance.

Nice pants!

I just finished a piece for a show this weekend at Locust Projects, a venerable Miami art space focused on experimental work. I’ve been invited into this show for a number of years and take the honor quite seriously.

The pants were not my first idea for this exhibition. My original plan was a large sculpture made of Illy coffee cans I’ve been hoarding for years (much to Jodi’s chagrin). However, I’ve not yet cracked the code on how to best present these shining metal cylinders for maximum impact.  

Daddy needs coffee
Daddy needs lots of coffee

The pants were Plan B (though I’ve been thinking about how to exhibit my painting clothes for years).

Originally, I wanted to present each cherished article of work clothing separately behind glass in wooden box frames, creating elegant tension … but at $900 a frame, that was not happening.

Hanging from monofilament
Hanging from monofilament

Next, I thought to hang the pants from monofilament to create the illusion that they were standing up, as if inhabited by a ghost. That did not feel right either.  Too limp. 

Finally, as my deadline approached, with no better solution, I opted to simply tack the battered jeans to the wall of the gallery.

Tacked to the wall
Tacked to the wall

And so the show was hung, with my pants thrust against the wall like an invisible scarecrow. As I strolled the preview last week, I thought my piece looked good amidst a sea of compelling work. The following day, as I worked in my studio for another upcoming show, my phone rang.

The gallery director from Locust said, “I want to talk to you about your piece. Some people I’ve spoken with have commented that this work doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of work you’ve submitted in past years. Those works started conversations and really made you want to know more.”

A previous year's piece
A previous year’s piece


Another year - a crowd favorite
Another year – a crowd favorite. One vial contains my blood.


For two reasons (three if you count bruised ego):

1. In my mind, I was already done with that work and onto other big art and writing projects.
2. I did not have another piece teed up to fix this.

The gallerist made her case yet made no specific demands; she left the decision up to me. I hung up and thought hard about her frank assessment.

And goddammit if she wasn’t 100% right.

Fact is, the tacked-up piece was the result of my failure NOT my success in presenting this rich concept. 

When I told Jodi she said, “Yeah … I wasn’t going to say anything, but …” Jeeeez!

I called the director back and told her, “I like the pants. They have a deep narrative and I dig their aesthetic.” I explained how my original plans did not pan out. And asked how she thought the piece might be best presented.

She bounced the question back to me but not before saying basically, Don’t make it about the pants!

So often, we fail to recognize the essence of the thing we are staring at. 

Luckily, some geniuses have eyes that see further, wider and deeper than the rest of us. Moreover, they are able to activate the sight of others, gently yet precisely. That exceptionally capable gallerist did just that with her few courageous words. 

And old window meets a lonely painting
And old window meets a lonely painting

I shut my eyes … and when I reopened them I immediately dug through my studio and found an old window I’d been saving for the better part of a decade for just such a moment. And a painting I’d been stuck on for years. And together, these forlorn ingredients became a lovely new recipe, which in a few hours came hot out of the oven.

The piece with a different pair of pants
The Locust Projects piece with a different pair of pants.

“Now we are talkin’,” the gallerist said with a wink, when I showed her the revised work. It was all she needed to say.

Locust Smash & Grab 2014
Locust Smash & Grab 2014, Saturday, Oct 25, 6:30-9:30.

If you’re local, come to Locust Projects THIS SATURDAY NITE, Oct 25th. Auction starts promptly at 7:30pm. Tix $50.

Locust Projects 3852 North Miami Avenue, Miami, FL 33127

I hope you’ll each get into my pants!

Be Amazed

“Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize you have only one.”     Steven Sotloff. 

She Gets It. I wish everyone looked at my art like this.
She Gets It. I wish everyone looked at my art like this.

If you are not amazed at something right now, you’re either not paying attention or you’re a fool. When you turn on the faucet, if water comes out, be dazzled. If it is drinkable, be awestruck. Much of the world would give anything for such basics. And yet, each day, all day, we walk oblivious to our good fortune. And even have the audacity to complain.

Our time is short.

But our opportunities for gratitude are many. I come back to this theme often … because I need to be reminded. Of course, we all have our crosses to bear. And some are heavier than others. But our level of satisfaction is, to a large degree, our choice.

Capetown, S. Africa. One of my favorite places. On the balcony of some of my favorite people.
Capetown, S. Africa. One of my favorite places. On the balcony of some of my favorite people.

I’m in Capetown, South Africa right now, one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, with some of the most beautiful people I know. Thank you universe for allowing me to be healthy enough and free enough to Be Here Now. It is an enormous privilege.

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Take a moment and look at your hand. Turn it over. Move your fingers. Pinch your arm. Pick up something. YOUR HAND WORKS LIKE A CHARM. It is one of the most astonishing machines that exists. It is so extraordinary that you would not be out of line to weep as you studied it.

If we introduce this type of fundamental appreciation for the basics, think of how much we will groove on the so-called “big stuff.”

Be Present

Take a few extra moments right now and look around you. Acknowledge. Things could be a lot worse.

Have One Friend Twice Your Age and One Half Your Age

She Gets It, medical vials, colored watered, shredded pay stubs, monofilament, my blood, 2011, Stuart Sheldon

There’s an old adage that you should have one friend twice your age and one friend half your age.

Actually, I just made that up. But it’s true. Because wisdom comes in two flavors, youthful purity and seasoned equanimity.

We are born as perfect bowls, full of the water of life. Then, as awareness punctures our skins, we become colanders. But hey … try to make a good bowl of pasta without either. 

One magical factor living five years on a houseboat was the age range of our neighbors. One of my best buddies remains Ralph, 80. Handsome, with a well-trimmed Van Dyke the color of sea foam, Ralph embodies the American dream. Raised in a Lower East Side Manhattan tenement, the son of an illiterate Sicilian immigrant, he put himself through medical school and joined NASA in 1963, the year I was born. Now, this unassuming, ever-smiling gent is NASA’s Medical Director in Palo Alto, one of the world’s thought leaders in aerospace medicine.

Ralph drives the beat as the houseboat dock rocks to the beat
Ralph drives the multi-generational beat as the dock finds a groove

Ralph stands no taller than the cleft in my chin yet towers in his thirst for knowledge, justice, humor and compassion. He reminds me to be ever curious, always leaving newspaper articles on my doorstep, about Burning Man or the latest Woody Allen movie or any other of the countless topics we discussed over beers around the Weber. He exemplifies tireless work, sitting before the Daily Show with reams of cutting-edge research spread before him. He proves there is always more to learn, his New England Journal of Medicine tucked under his arm en route to his dance class. Ralph is a humble rockstar who has seen it all and chose to be amazed. He loves his wife. He loves his life. He’s one of the youngest guys I know.

Two doors down from Ralph lived Sofia, my six-year-old buddy. Sofia would often knock on our door to visit our puppy and play with our new baby, Kai. Her flowing mermaid hair and doe eyes could melt glaciers, and her mere presence was medicine against the viruses of daily life. No matter when or where I encountered her, on her houseboat, in the parking lot, on her bike, her unedited/eager/silly/gentle/kindness and tomboy enthusiam brightened my day. Her physical beauty was enhanced by her unawareness of it. She could scamper up a ladder to the top of her floating home. Row a kayak. Weed a garden. A true lady of the world before she could read. The quintessential good kid.

Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” In other words, we need both the brain and the heart to optimize our being.

Adults live in their brains and kids in their hearts. Thus, we must constantly rub against each to keep us true.

My father and son, the wisdom of the ages and the goal posts of my life
My father and son, the wisdom of the ages and the goal posts of my life

Go out of your way to engage your elders. At the grocery, the doctor, the carpool lane. Not in the pathetic, condescending, obligatory manner so often defaulted to in our throw-away, youth-crazy culture. Anything but THAT. Remember, you’re not doing anyone but yourself a favor here. Ask questions on any topic. They’ve seen it all. And made the mistakes you are trying to avoid. If you can’t think of what to say, ask where they were when JFK died. There, now you have a full-blown conversation on your hands.

You’ll be that older person sooner than you think, so ask the questions you hope a younger person will ask you earnestly one day.

As to your young friends, do as Bob Marley suggests, “bend down low.” Again … ASK DON’T TELL. And listen. THEY are your teachers. Not the other way round. Let them riff on any topic you offer: favorite fruit, animal, if they like to be tickled or dance or eat spaghetti. Doesn’t matter how ridiculous … THAT’s the beauty of talking to children. Just ENGAGE! And let that full-frontal life force wash over you like warm jacuzzi water.

As Frederic Chopin said, “Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”


Stuart Sheldon, Whirled Wide Whimsy, typewriter on paper, collage, poetry, 11-1/2"x8-1/4", 2003
Stuart Sheldon, Whirled Wide Whimsy, typewriter on paper, collage, poetry, 11-1/2″x8-1/4″, 2003


We embarked on a proper family brunch outing Sunday … just the four of us. En route, we bought assorted cupcakes for a friend with a new baby and grabbed a strawberry one with a mountain of vanilla frosting for us.

I ambled ahead with Kai on my shoulders, grasping his piston-like ankles in a vain attempt to keep his sneakers from repeatedly banging me in the face. Swinging from his hand was a paper bag full of plastic Easter eggs that he brought along to give to random people he met. He’d carefully filled each with stickers and chocolates. Such a sweet kid.

A few paces on, Jodi approached with the half-eaten family cupcake, shoving it toward my maw as Kai’s foot blinded me. My attempted bite filled both my nostrils with frosting.

Moments later, Bodhi replaced Kai on my shoulders and we entered the diner. Seated at a 2-top, amidst the aroma of hot biscuits and strong coffee, was a young couple, acquaintances we’d not seen in a couple years. Good folks … he a doctor, she a stylish doting mom. Our kids had been at preschool together and we’d been at their home for a b-day party.

Standing over them, I said, “Hey you two. It’s been a while. How’re your babies?”
“Getting big,” said the pretty Latina, looking up at me and then Bodhi who pulled at my hat, revealing impressive bedhead.
“I know the feeling.” My friend smiled as the waiter approached and placed her eggs Benedict before her. I steadied my 3-yr old with one hand and replaced my hat with the other. “Well, we’ll let you enjoy your grown-up breakfast.”

We walked a few paces over to the baked goods, where I studied a golden brown bread disc with the letter “A” baked into its rugged crust. Kai dropped to his knees to play with some smooth black stones in glass jars, part of a display. “Look Daddy,” he said, holding out the rocks, as if they were shimmering jewels.
“Nice,” I said. When I looked up, I suddenly realized I could not see my other child. “Where’s Bodhi?!!”
Jodi looked at me and paused. “You’re not serious.” Confused, I surveyed the room again, but did not see my youngest … until Jodi showed me with her eyes that he sat on my shoulders.

I’ve done that with my keys in my pocket. Even my glasses on my face. This was the first time I did it with my kid.

As I pondered my evolving cluelessness, Jodi said, “You know you’ve still got frosting in your nostrils.”
“Come on …!”
“Uhhhh … yeah.”

So, the whole time I was standing over our attractive friends, they were gazing up at what must have appeared to be either:

  1. An impressive amount of cocaine that a very sketchy father failed to wipe away before taking his toddlers to brekkie
  2. Some truly awful crusties from a cold that one would prefer to not experience with a plateful of Hollandaise sauce


Something tells me the frosting thing never entered their mind.

Just shoot me.

I Enjoyed My time In Jail

A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.                                                                                             Dave Barry

I enjoyed my time in jail.

I was the only guy in tennis whites of the 50 burly thugs in my cell. Clearly not the best jail look.

I’d been arrested with my brother Eric for scalping tickets at a tennis match we were about to attend with my mother on Key Biscayne. When we didn’t show up, she thought we were bonding with a long walk on the beach. Next thing I know I’m wriggling to get comfy in the back of a sweltering squad car with hands cuffed behind me. No luck there. Down at the station, I got the whole shebang: fingerprints, mug shots, then a holding cell with a life-sentenced murderer waiting for his 4th parole hearing. “Can I have your address? I’d really like to write to you?” my pen pal killer asked.
“Um, let me think about it.”

Cell doors have that unmistakable clank we all know from TV. So now we’re officially “inside.” Curiously, the 1st thing we were ordered to do was take a shower in an open wash area. Not sure why I needed a shower, but as I lathered up, decades of “don’t drop the soap” quips rang in my head. Next, they fed us cafeteria food on pale yellow kindergarten cardboard trays. I later learned the food had saltpeter in it to tamp down our sex drive, which was quite necessary given how horny the scene was making me.

The cell was large with a long row of bunk beds. Ours stood smack in the middle of a cluster of petty criminals trading war stories. “When my old lady got a restraining order on me, I hired my friend to beat her ass,” one nice fella bragged. Another spoke about getting shot in the leg.
“Well, I was at the tennis matches with my mom, and there was a bit of a misunderstanding with the police officer…” Nooo, I kept my mouth shut tight and just listened.

As a fairly coddled middle class kid from the burbs, I learned from my short stay in the pokey (it was just one night and the charges were dropped). Frankly, I cherish the experience. I’ll never forget laying in my bunk staring at the bent springs of my brother’s bed above and listening intently to a slew of ass-kickers take turns elaborating on breaking and enterings, DUI, assaults and scams. It made crystal clear how privileged my tennis tournament reality is.

Those who know me, understand that my life is devoted to finding utopia. Seeking the brightness in people. Eavesdropping on those disenfranchised dudes in the Dade County Jail 20 years ago enhanced my quest. Some of those gentlemen were downright articulate. Poetry in their story telling, even if the stories were grotesque. For some, the steady three hots and a cot jail provides is a helluva lot more than they get on the street.

Angel Looking for a Place to Land

Excerpted from my upcoming book, A Lonely Fool’s Masterpiece:

Jodi admired the series of horizontal weathered lumber and driftwood pieces strung together vertically. This rudimentary torso hung freely and moved subtly in the breeze. The upper pieces were broader and stouter, and they tapered as they descended to create the rough form of a body. Baling wire connected the pieces, so that, instead of being perfectly vertical, these anthropomorphic figures had a bit of kinetic torque, as if they were lifting off or landing. I called them angels. But these angels had nothing to do with the syrupy biblical notion of winged cherubs. They were simply guiding forces.

I began to massage Jodi’s shoulders as she stood with me looking at the piece.

“I like the green,” she said, referring to the very top slat of 6”x20” wood.

“That’s the remnant of an old fence gate I found in Colorado ten years ago. The rest are pieces of wood I grabbed from beaches the past year surfing.”

“I like it.”

“It’s called Angel Looking for a Place to Land, and it’s going to guide our baby home, like his own personal GPS.” I kneaded more deeply into her tight shoulder muscles.

“Let’s hope it works… Ahhh, that feels so good,” she purred, dropping her head.