Ready. Aim. Activate!

The first step in my larger work ever
The first step in The Best Books Ever Written, my largest work ever. See it at Art Basel!

I just finished my first book (for the fifth time). A Lonely Fool’s Masterpiece took 7 years and countless edits to complete, but it is really done. And it will be a New York Times bestseller.

I have already seen to that with my just-finished painting, The Best Books Ever Written, in which the most wonderful books of all time engulf the title page of my manuscript, infusing it with their magic and making it one of them. The Miami Herald just named it “Pick of the Week” leading up to Art Basel.

Miami Herald Pick of the Week leading up to Art Basel
Miami Herald Pick of the Week leading up to Art Basel

For those who don’t know me, this is my modus operandi. I paint the things that matter most to me into my life.

Now XVI - Smiles Undeniable as Warm Rain in the Tropics, acrylic & chalk on canvas w/ poetry, 40" x 30", 2002
Now XVI – Smiles Undeniable as Warm Rain in the Tropics, acrylic & chalk on canvas, 40″ x 30″, 2002

After a devastating divorce at 35, I hit rock bottom. I retreated to my art studio where, for two years, I imagined and obsessively painted the silhouette of the woman of my dreams. In each of these 35 works, she stands with arms raised, triumphant, curvaceous and confident, her outline composed entirely of the tiny painted word NOW.

Each letter no bigger than a baby's eyelash
Each letter no bigger than a baby’s eyelash

Soon after I finished this series, I met my wife, and the silhouette is exactly her body.

I’m not here preaching The Secret or anything hokey like that. I’m just saying that, for those things you desire most in the core of your being, it is ON YOU to manifest them. The world doesn’t give a damn about your dreams. Your action is all there is. For me, that action is art-making.

What is your action?

My new wife and I built our lives in an enchanted floating houseboat world just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge and immediately set our sights on a child. We got pregnant quickly and all seemed ideal. Then, unexpectedly, we miscarried.  We got pregnant again. And again, out of the blue, we miscarried. Eventually, three miscarriages that first year introduced the sickening fear that parental joy, our most sacred goal, might elude us forever.

Bounce, acrylic and antique Betty Crocker Cookbook recipes on panel, 40"x60, 2007, Stuart Sheldon
BOUNCE, acrylic and antique Betty Crocker Cookbook recipes on panel, 40″x60″ 2007, Stuart Sheldon

When Jodi got pregnant a fourth time, with nowhere else to turn, I began a series of paintings called BOUNCE, as in bouncing baby, designed exclusively to storm God’s office and demand our child.

Within months, with Jodi sick and on bed rest, and amidst the worst storm in 50 years, our beautiful son, Kai, arrived. Early … but safe and perfect. Gratitude, the mother of all virtues, overtook us both … and it still dominates our lives.

In a lecture a few weeks ago at University of Miami on The Art of Reinvention, I told a roomful of 20-yr-olds that success is about being proactive and not reactive. Far too many of us are waiting for things to happen to us. Hopefully, things will work out, we tell ourselves. Instead, we must disrupt and engage. Be clever and memorable. And take chances. These are the actions that place our finger on the scales to give us an edge.

The hard part is not doing what you want but knowing what you want.

What is your BIG goal?

Think hard about exactly what it is that you desire. And then, do something focused only on that goal! For me, it’s time to find a publisher, which means hustling to find an agent. I have formally activated the search with this new painting and the series that follows. And I trust the universe will deliver. You are all invited to my book signings wherever they may be in the future.

But first, come to the show for The Best Books Ever Written during ART BASEL.

Join me at the opening THIS FRIDAY NOV 21, 6pm-10pm. And the ART BASEL opening, THUR DEC 4, 5-8pm.

I am thrilled to be part of a wonderful new art collective called meetinghouse, a group of talented makers devoted to the process of creation as much as to the product that emerges. 

And speaking of the process:

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.

WHAT A BUZZKILL!

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!