I Am The Greatest!

Young Muhammad Ali

“I Ain’t Got No Quarrel With The VietCong… No VietCong Ever Called Me Nigger” — Muhammad Ali, 1966.

Political courage blazed in Ali at one of America’s most turbulent times. When he had everything to lose, including his life. He was as charming as he was physically beautiful. Yet, few spit truth into the face of power with the same fierceness. 

In 1966, with Jim Crow still very much the law of the land, the Olympic gold medalist and recently crowned heavyweight champ defied the white establishment by refusing to be conscripted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the war. This descendant of slaves was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing titles.

Fifty years after Ali’s fearless heroism, even with a black president, the putrid stench of racism still assaults us daily … via insidious voter suppression laws, ubiquitous gun violence and educational inequality. 

Trump Fascist

Who among us has Ali’s backbone to push daggers into the hearts of the shameless? And to call out the disgusting lies repeated enough times by the Roves and Trumps and NRA lackeys to convince large swaths of our fellow citizens that up is down and bad is good?

“I said I was ‘The Greatest,’ I never said I was the smartest!”

Though only a high school grad, Ali was smart, alright. More importantly, he was wise. And, in spite of his justified fury, he extolled America as “the greatest country in the world.” We are the greatest, but our greatness is bleeding out from repeated self-inflicted gunshot wounds: failed economic Trickle Down nonsense and short-sighted unwillingness to invest in our crumbling infrastructure (read schools, roads, bridges, waterworks, etc) that would instantly create badly needed good jobs. How I wish The Champ was punching his way through the melee of stupidity and inequity that surrounds us RIGHT NOW. Butterflies and bees don’t give a fuck about political gain. They just seek out flowers where everybody wins.

Here are a few of The Greatest’s insights about many of the existential crises we currently face.  

muhammad-ali-training

Education

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”

Stupid is Out. Wisdom is In. Contrary to one of the current false narratives rightwing hacks have proffered, there is nothing patriotic in being uneducated. Stupidity breeds violent behavior and prejudice, and only ruin awaits a society where science is mocked, or worse, muted. Still, political charlatans have convinced a great many that those with higher education are sinister “elites,” as if knowledge is cancer. What do ignorant people get for their fealty? Murderous, profit-motivated fear-mongers like NRA leader, Wayne LaPierre, who, in the face of the mass murdering of twenty first-graders, advocated arming elementary school teachers and flooding the country with more weapons. Destroyers like this must be silenced and even jailed. In my secret fantasy, Mr. LaPierre would be shot. 
Ali-holding-up-three-fingers-while-reciting-poem-predicting-that-opponent-Charlie-Powell-will-fall-in-third

“If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.”

A recent WSJ article reported that “only 37% of American 12th-graders were academically prepared for college math and reading in 2015, a slight dip from two years earlier.” We’re failing 2/3 of our kids, from preschool straight through college. And anointing dumb-as-a-box-of-hammers “leaders” like Sarah Palin, who not only stain the nation’s integrity but endanger our health and economic well-being. And here’s the punchline – while we get dumber, fatter and more intransigent, the U.S. is making 2457 F35 fighter jets at $170 million each, with the jury very much out on whether they even work or not. Talk about stupid! A helmet for one of these costs $400,000. How about we make only 2450 broken jets and invest every penny of the extra $1.2 billion dollars to rebuild every crumbling school and see to it that every zip code has proper, well paid teachers and a robust curriculum. The rants of ignorant demagogues can find no purchase in the nourished minds of the well informed. 

Voter Supression = Oh so clever Racism

“White people just don’t want their slaves to be free. That’s the whole thing.”

Texas Voter Supression

Democracy isn’t complicated. Everybody votes and we add up the totals to see what the people want. The NYT reported that “Within hours of the Supreme Courts gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Texas officials began enforcing a strict photo identification requirement for voters, which had been blocked by a federal court on the ground that it would disproportionately affect black and Hispanic voters. Chief Justice Roberts’s notion that prejudice in the South is gone would be laughable were it not so horrific. Within months, over a dozen states raced to change voting laws that make it harder for minorities (read Democrats) to vote. Why? Because America is getting organically darker and old white guys don’t want to lose the power they’ve had for centuries. In 1950, whites made up 90% of the U.S. population. Today, that number is 70% and dropping fast. When Trump says, “Make America Great Again,” he’s really saying, keep America white and keep women or, to use his words, “young and beautiful pieces of ass,” at home cooking and waiting to service their white supremacists. We each (that means YOU) must work to elect officials who will restore the Voting Rights Act, so that it has teeth again. Of course, it’s a headache to write, email and call your legislators. But better a headache than a terminal illness. 

Stick and Move
Stick and Move, acrylic on paper, 36×24″ 2016, Stuart Sheldon

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

Like a fine wine, Ali mellowed with age. Yet his heart and his message never softened. He recognized the arc of his life when he said, “I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself, and I believe in the goodness of others.” 
Ali 2015

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

I watched virtually every Ali fight as a boy. And reveled in his smack talking tirades. Like the Champ said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” Ali backed it up every time. He taught me to use my voice for righteousness. And to punch hard early. At 52, I view the world far differently than I did at 22. I recognize that if not me, who? Let’s honor this great man’s struggle by fighting the destructive forces in our country and beating them “so bad they’ll need a shoehorn to put their hats on.”

Please SHARE THIS POST if you feel the same way.

The Other F Word

 

Drunk Smile

Late one morning, long before children, I sat on the edge of a New Orleans hotel bed and exhaled audibly. Inside my skull, a spicy Jazz Fest bisque of bourbon and psychotropics simmered from the night before.

I bent down and tied my first shoe, and it wasn’t until I’d finished tying my second that I realized I wasn’t wearing pants. Laissez bon temps rouler!

The Other F Word

In the brilliant documentary, The Other F Word, aging punk rockers like Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers “transition into parents and try to maintain the contrast between their anti-authoritarian lifestyle with the responsibilities of fatherhood.” Mosh pits and trashed tour buses give way to mashed peas and Wheels on the Bus. I’m no punk rocker, but since day one, I’ve partied hard. Growing up in Miami, I can’t tell you how many nights we’d exit a bar into broad daylight, wincing, withering vampires. The madness continued into my twenties and thirties, from countless New Years Grateful Dead Shows to midnight trance raves in Capetown forests. From surf camping deep into Baja in a full-on hurricane to sleeping on roofs in outlying Greek isles. The wilder, zanier and more off the grid, the better.

Go Big or Go Home!

Backcountry in Zion National Park
Backcountry Zion National Park 1992

A few months after our first son was born, I stood in my paint-splotched terrycloth robe watering the Meyer lemon tree in front of our houseboat. A friendly neighbor with a five-year-old walked past, his handsome face beaming through a dark Argentine beard. “Haven’t seen you lately,” he said. I smiled through bloodshot eyes and shrugged my shoulders. “We haven’t been out much,” I said.

“That’s because you’re going in,” he added. 

Going IN
Going IN

My kids are now six and eight, and we are definitely IN. And the further in we go, the more I recognize these moments of IN-ness to be as novel as scuba diving with manta-rays in Bora Bora or biking naked through Burning Man. In equal measure, all of the above stimulate a sense of wonder and play. Immediacy and revelation. Shock and surprise. The things I will always seek most.

Back in the day, had you invited me to something as institutional as Club Med or, god forbid, a Disney cruise, I would have politely refused.

Now, with kids’ activities baked in, all I want to do is take Disney cruises to Club Med. 

Recently, with our boys and a gaggle of young nieces and nephews, Jodi and I actually boarded our first Disney excursion. My kids are no longer big into Disney, though at one time my oldest was so absolutely mad about princesses that, at age 3, he insisted on being Cinderella for Halloween. I cannot express the depth of my love for this, then and now.

Cinderella Story
My cell phone cover photo for the past 5 yrs (notice my little princesses holding hands).

Our kids ran happily amok in a sea of Goofys, Minnies and Caribbean Pirates, most interested in the see-through water slide and video games. What interested me most was the parents. For, no matter where they were from, how old, young, rich or poor, each was going IN. And, in so doing, each exposed their raw humanity. The big tatted up dad smearing sunscreen on his little girl’s pale body, being ever so gentle around the neck and face, was poetry. As was the tall, sinewy black man on one knee listening with wide, engaged eyes, to his little boy bounce on tiptoes and recount an encounter with Buzz Lightyear. Ditto the manicured blonde finally getting a moment to relax on a chaise, grinning through Tom Ford sunnies ever so gratefully, as she observed her twins giggle and splash across the pool. 

Self Portrait With Blue Martini, Stuart Sheldon

As an older dad, I jammed in four decades worth of mischief and left few stones unturned before the children arrived. What now has me pumped is riding the wanderlust train with them.

More often than not, when I’m at an adults-only event, I secretly wish my kids were with me. Asking me random things like, “Is there any more “Brocamole,” as Bodhi did recently. Or singing the lyrics to the songs from the Hamilton soundtrack (Just You Wait!), which we’ve been listening to non-stop of late (in lieu of seeing the play for $1000). 

El Salvador
El Salvador

That’s not to say I’m not keeping the madcap missioning alive. I did just return from a week surfing El Salvador. But I’m equally, if not more, ecstatic to be journeying with my youngest son deep into Sonoma County this summer to an event that used to be just 100 cackling Burners eating and drinking like vikings and dancing maniacally till dawn beneath the redwoods. 

Training My Son Early On
Training My Son Early On

Now, most of those same veteran ragers have kids in tow, running in their own feral wolfpacks, whilst we so-called grownups make slightly-less-physically-damaging-than-before-yet-no-less-delightful amounts of merriment.

Beautiful renegades all!  

Party AnimalYou say you want to get crazy? 

Production on my Fall show is about to crank up, and I’m ready for spontaneous drop-ins in the new Little River studio – 6728 NE 4th Av, Miami FL 33138. Come on down! 

My New Little River Studio
The beer is cold!! 6728 NE 4th Av, Miami FL 33138. I’m going in!

The Little Prince and the Big Boss

Prince

“Prince was no taller than me, yet he was larger than life. He had his own style,” my 5’2″ wife told our boys on the drive to school last week. “He’d even wear shoes with high heels.” Our 8-yr-old leaned forward from the back seat and giggled, “Why would he do that?” Without missing a beat, his 6-yr-old brother chimed, “I know … because he was the boss of himself!”

Are you the boss of yourself?

Prince was born different. Hyper-musical. Uber-sexual. Unquestionably self-confident. 

We’re all born different. Question is, whatcha gonna do with your different?

IMG_1095Prince activated his different to the tune of 39 studio albums, 5 soundtracks, 4 live albums, 5 compilations, 17 video albums and 12 EPs. He told The New York Times in 1996 that he couldn’t stop writing music and had a backlog of thousands of songs. I never saw him in concert, which hurts. But I played his 1996, 3-disc masterpiece, Emancipation, on an endless loop for months. “I have a writing addiction,” Prince said. We should all be so afflicted. 

“Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?” Prince once said. I enter my studio each day with the echo of this quote in my head.

Work in progress, acrylic, book covers, paper on canvas, 60×60?
Work in progress, acrylic, book covers, paper on canvas, 60×60″

Prince did the work. He showed up every day. Channeled the magic. And gave us ass-shaking grooves atop fanciful lyrics that touched the poet in all of us:

Starfish and coffee
Maple syrup and jam
Butterscotch clouds, a tangerine
A side order of ham

Prince died at 57. In a recent NYT article, Thinking Beyond Money in Retirement, retirees deconstruct what they’d do if money was no issue and they had only a short time left to live. They asked themselves, “What have I missed? Who did I not get to be? What is it that can make me a better person?” In other words, now that I’m the boss of myself, what will I do?

Bodhi

My 6-yr-old is clearly the boss of himself, as evidenced by his insight above. For those of us somewhat older than 6, I suggest we heed Prince’s sage advice, “Act your age, not your shoe size.” And start making some moves. As Prince said, “You can always tell when the groove is working or not.”  

Come lounge on my comfy studio couch.
Come lounge on my comfy new studio couch.

I just moved into a new studio space in the Little River section of Miami, where I’m happy to report the groove is working. I sincerely hope you’ll drop by to say hello and shoot the breeze. No appointment necessary – 6728 NE 4th Av, Miami FL 33138. Get over here!

photo by blumango studios
photo by blumango studios

Perhaps we’ll even party like it’s 1999. 

 

Do We Ruin Our Kids By Giving Them a Better Life?


father and sons

“I’m bored,” my seven-year-old barked at me, as I flipped eggs one sunny Saturday. I stomped in from the kitchen and pointed the spatula. ”You are never to say that again. You have a room full of toys and books and a park nearby and a pool. Figure it out.”

mother & son
Photo by Julie Kahn

Are my exquisite sons stricken with a sense of entitlement?

I grew up with a single school-teacher mom. We lived modestly, yet I always had a bike and a baseball team. I even went to sleep-away camp. Still, I felt embarrassed that we resided, literally, “on the wrong side of the tracks.” I’d ask my hardworking dad when we were going to join the country club to which a number of my friends’ families belonged. My children live much higher on the hog today. I know that’s the American Dream. But I struggle with it because, though my boys are good souls, silly and kind, I witness, at times, a glaring lack of appreciation for their good fortune.

Soccer

I joke that my parenting mantra is “not to f*&k my kids up too much.”

While my wife and I appear to be succeeding at that dubious metric, I believe we can do better in making our boys understand that their first-world comfort is solely based on their dumb luck combined with our hard work (and dumb luck). They appear to have certain expectations based on where and how we live, with soccer camp, X-Box, sushi dinners and family trips abroad being standard operating procedure.

In a wonderful article in The Guardian, titled, Why Depriving Your Kids of Toys is a Great Idea, Madeleine Somerville writes, “It’s time to rethink deprivation as a parenting strategy. Living with less, it turns out, means more. More money in our savings account, more space on our shelves, and best of all, more communication, imagination and concentration from our kids.”

The Politics of Producing Pleasure, Acrylic, latex house paint, oil crayon, graphite, book covers on a wood door, 2015, Stuart Sheldon
The Politics of Producing Pleasure, acrylic, latex house paint, oil crayon, graphite, book covers on a wood door, 2015, Stuart Sheldon

Somerville is not suggesting we remove toys from your kids’ lives, but that we throttle back on providing every creature comfort available to us. She writes, “My five siblings and I grew up in a cruel wasteland of deprivation that included whole-wheat cereals, secondhand clothing and shared rooms. To add insult to injury, we didn’t even have a TV to distract us from our hardship.” I asked a friend, whose three kids are about to graduate from medical schools and masters programs, how he made such solid citizens. “Just love them,” he told me. “Love them hard.” I agree love is primary, but there’s obviously more to it.

Sky's the limit
Sky’s the limit.

Somerville continues, “In a study designed to identify and prevent addictive patterns in adults, two German researchers somehow convinced a nursery school to remove all toys from the classroom for three months. Remarkably, the scenario didn’t devolve into Lord of the Flies acted out in miniature. Instead, teachers reported that while on the first day the children seemed bewildered and confused, by the end of the third month they were engaged in wildly imaginative play, able to concentrate better and communicate more effectively.”

New neighbors, with two kids the same ages as ours, recently relocated from Europe to the home directly across from us. Within minutes of their arrival, both their children were on bikes riding up and down our street. In the days that followed, we’d answer our doorbell to two toothless smiles, inviting, in charming Dutch accents, our sons out to kick a soccer ball. They even hung a rope swing in the Poinciana tree in their front yard.

“Our kids just got a normal childhood,” I said to Jodi, in all seriousness. No playdates, no schedules, no trendy toys. Just children being with their pals in the front yard, making and appreciating their own entertainment.

Father & son at the beach

At the beach recently, I watched my sons dig a hole in the sand at the water’s edge, burrowing into the wet muck with bare hands. An hour passed, and while each focused intently on the widening hole and incoming tide, my heart filled with the purity of their satisfaction. Conversely, when they display a lack of respect and appreciation for their privilege, I’m not just mortified at my own failings, I fear for them when forced to swim in the turbulent waters of adulthood.

Just because we may have the means to give our kids the world, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

The Little Prince, acrylic, book covers, paper on canvas, 60x60" 2015, Stuart Sheldon
The Little Prince, acrylic, book covers, paper on canvas, 61×60″ 2015, Stuart Sheldon

 

How to Face Yourself

mirror

My cheeky 6yr-old made goofy expressions in the mirror, raising his eyebrows and, finally, grimacing slightly. “Daddy, you know what I don’t like? That you can’t ever see your real face. Because the mirror is a fake face.”

Bodhi & Aurelia 2015
photo by Daren Joy

Wow. His observation startled and charmed me, for he grasped something that I’d not considered in over 50 years, something so true and ironic – that we can never actually see ourselves.

Though we strive our whole life to understand and optimize our own essence, we can never EVER stare into our own eyes … where the answers lie. We must settle for a reflection in cold glass.

Michael Loveland
Michael Loveland #fancynasty

Thus, we must open ourselves to another.

One of the greatest gifts you can give one you love (and vice-versa) is to look at their face and into their eyes, literally and figuratively. To enter them and spend time, without judgement, inside of them. To gently yet assertively bear witness to their strengths and pitfalls. And to report back what you have seen … without judgement. In other words, be a trustworthy, observant friend. AND a constructive critic. To distill what the world sees … for better or worse.  

Open your eyes.
Open your eyes.

As we get older, we think we’ve figured life out, that we put forth our best selves. But, who we are and how we seem are often quite different, because our neural pathways and patterns, driven by self-preservation, become trenches with walls so high they block our ability to see what we have become … and hinder our ability to make critical behavioral adjustments.

Do you trust someone enough to let them see you? Raw, broken and without the mask you wear daily? Are you ready to hear their report with an objective sense of openness and wonder? 

Artists of Miami - Stuart Sheldon
Photos by So-Min Kang

And who do you love that could use your eyes? 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Come see my newest piece THIS SATURDAY, Feb 27th
String Theory // Doors of Perception

Doors of Perception Exhibition Feb 27, 2016
Doors of Perception Exhibition Feb 27, 2016

Over 25 terrific artists received a door to transform into something special. Plus, everyone get’s a ball of string and is invited to interact with fellow partiers by yarn-bombing the room and navigating the maze of artist-designed doors. All while shaking your ass to superfunky Afrobeta, who the Miami New Times called “dance-a-licious beats.” RSVP is FREE but limited, use miamiartdoors.eventbrite.com to get your name on the list!

Come knock on my door. Seen here in progress
Come knock on my golden door. Seen here in progress

Fancy Nasty Forever!

Stuart Sheldon

If you made it to the epic Fancy Nasty finale bonfire last Saturday night, hosted by The New Tropic, lucky YOU. If not … next time (we’re just warming up). Many people are calling this grassroots installation and Art Basel favorite an important milestone in Miami’s creative evolution, one whose purity will evoke smiles and hand-to-heart respect for decades. I don’t disagree.  

Fancy Nasty

My name is Stuart Sheldon. I’m both very fancy and very nasty, a fine artist, author, curator, blogger, Build Crew non-profit co-founder and Miami native. I created Fancy Nasty to let both artists I admired and art-lovers, like you, immerse themselves without limitations. Free from any commercial considerations. Knowing the whole things was to be scraped away by bulldozers.  

@stuart_sheldon building Fancy Nasty
@stuart_sheldon building Fancy Nasty

With Build Crew, we fully intend to produce many more site-specific celebrations in the years ahead. More art for art’s sake. So, hit me with YOUR ideas for venues and concepts. And visit me in my studio any time. Learn more about my creative journey here. Together, let’s continue to throw logs on the bonfire of Miami’s stunning creative ascent.

In the Meantime, chew on these delicious mementos of the Fancy Nasty freak show!!!

Come hang by the FN fire THIS FRIDAY NIGHT 9pm. BYOB.
Wall by @Hoxxoh & Brandon Opalka @bopalka

 

Typoe
@Typoe. photo by @wyattgallery

 

t_w_o_o_n_e & NOVE
t_w_o_o_n_e & NOVE collaboration.

 

@mina_hamada & @zosenbandido
@mina_hamada & @zosenbandido

 

Autumn Casey
Autumn Casey @litclit_

 

MSG Crew
Face by MSG Crew

 

Stuart Sheldon - Wipeout
Wipeout (See Notes) @stuart_sheldon

 

Jesse Laino
Jesse Laino @real_jesse

 

Strawberrita Dreams
Strawberrita Dreams

 

Kelly Breez
@kellybreez

 

Fuckin Feelin It
Fuckin Feelin It

 

Michael Loveland
Michael Loveland @flyinglovebucket

 

NOVE @digitalorganico
NOVE @digitalorganico

 

@stuart_sheldon
@stuart_sheldon

 

Typoe
@Typoe

 

Benji Cospolite photo by @wyattgallery
Benji Cospolite photo by @wyattgallery

 

Nove & t_w_o_o_n_e collaboration (right wall). Zosen & Mina Hamada (left wall)
Nove & t_w_o_o_n_e collaboration (right wall). Zosen & Mina Hamada (left wall)

 

Can I kick it ... @wyattgallery
Can I kick it … @wyattgallery

 

Andrea Nhuch
Andrea Nhuch @thenhuch

 

All the Information You Need is Right Here. Mixed media, 2015
@stuart_sheldon

 

@zosenbandido & @mina_hamada
@zosenbandido & @mina_hamada

 

FN typist
Fancy Nasty typist

 

Kiss.
Kiss! t_w_o_o_n_e

If you have not already, check out The New Tropic’s wonderful write-up.

The New Tropic's glowing review of Fancy Nasty

UNTIL NEXT TIME … CONGRATS … WE KILLED IT!!

We killed it!