Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know

Paradise found

“A distressingly large portion of the world doesn’t do you any good whatsoever. In fact, it does you bad. Casts static between your ears, drowns out who you truly are.” — Charles Frazier, Nightwoods

Something changed in me recently. Perhaps it’s being north of 50, but gratuitous inconveniences have become unbearable: traffic, message board vitriol, pollution, loveless marriages, political absurdity. I’m over it. So over it that I left the room …  and by room I mean country … aiming to whittle my life down to a sharp point using the gleaming blade of distance from all that I know best. I now see that I didn’t know what I didn’t know before coming to this beautiful place. I didn’t know that the scourges above can be replaced with solitude, happy couples (and their happy kids), minimal politics and big clean nature. I feel lighter. 

Praying Mantis - Ancient Greeks considered the insect to have supernatural powers to show lost travelers the way home.

“I got a couple friends and my family, that’s all I need,” sings Jake Miller, the talented singer/songwriter son of old friends.

I knew exactly three people when we arrived in Costa Rica – my wife and two sons. But we made a couple wonderful friends Day 1 and, well, it seems that’s about all I need right now. Because, in the past six months, our nuclear family has become tight as a drum. Not to say it’s all smooth sailing. But, being faraway together and in each other’s company a fat chunk of each day is a monumental end in itself. With maybe 5+ years left of real childhood to savor, that is one priority we’re nailing. We found a praying mantis in our kitchen last night. Ancient Greeks considered the insect to have supernatural powers to show lost travelers the way home. But where is home?   

At 29, I visited a friend in bustling Boulder, CO (hey Mike!) to crash on his couch and party for two weeks. I left seven years later. Luck handed me a cool magazine gig, and as the devastating beauty of the Rockies swept me into her spell, I pared things down and traded my convertible for an old Bridgestone mountain bike on which I commuted five miles to work each day, rain, shine or snow.

Pearl Jam at Red Rocks, backcountry camping, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, single track, sweat lodges … looking back, I can mythologize those years with words like carefree and happy-go-lucky, because there was much of that. But, in truth, those years were defined by my heart’s aching quest for love and family, the things I desired most entering my thirties. At the end of that first year in Boulder, I met a fine woman at Telluride Bluegrass. She was camping alone in her pickup which blew me away off the bat. Two weeks later she was living with me and before long, I asked for her hand in marriage. I could write volumes about that relationship, but suffice it to say, while I think the world of her and always will, we divorced after only two years. Seeking the fairy tale, I jumped too soon and, in the end, found myself right back where I started, alone and yearning for a family, only now, with a heart obliterated by guilt.  

Life moves in one direction only and offers minimal value in looking back for too long.

I now have that family I sought, and it’s a beauty – healthy, funny, complex, adventurous! That yearning no longer exists. But we romantics never dream in a vacuum. When one comes true, we replace it with another. Now, I dream of tranquility. 

I’ve found no English equivalent for the melodic Spanish word sencillo. It means sublime simplicity – straightforward, easy, effortless, clear, natural, uncomplicated. Like a Tuscan meal seasoned only with salt and olive oil. It’s just a piece of fish, zucchini and a tomato … but it’s the best thing you ever tasted. Artists Defining Visual Culture 2018

"The People Who Defined Visual Culture in 2018" Artsy Magazine

2018 was a major year for me, not necessarily sencillo but profound nonetheless. Along with leaving the States, highlights included the For Freedoms Billboard campaign, the ArtCenter / South Florida Ellie Award and being mentioned in the same universe as Banksy, Childish Gambino, Colin Kaepernick and JR in Artsy’s “The People Who Defined Visual Culture in 2018.” Hats off to Wyatt Gallery and For Freedoms founders/visionaries Eric Gottesman and Hank Willis Thomas, and thank you and the whole FF family for including me in this ongoing noble experiment. 

2019 is off to a smooth start with my first Costa Rican commission in motion (below) and talk of exciting stateside activations in the Fall. Still, I must confess, looking forward, I fear irrelevance. My physician brother, ever a voice of reason, recently prescribed this dose of wisdom, “The only person you need to be relevant to is yourself.” Those are marching orders for the year(s) ahead! 

First CR Commission

First Costa Rica commission and live painting gig 2019

may the time for stepping over puddles
and onto soft ground
be fast in coming
may a certainty formulate
where before a question lingered
so that targets know the points of arrows

Brussels 2003

Pura vida!

We Left America

 



We left America. 

More precisely, as reminded by our local friends, we left the United States. We still live in America, Central America. Playa Grande, Costa Rica, to be exact. Our home sits atop a mist shrouded mountain in a dense jungle above the Pacific. We wake with the sun to a symphony of Congo monkey roars and birdsong madness. Sip our coffee gazing out over dense green into endless blue beyond which nothing exists. At dusk, the sky drops its golden pebble into the sea to the west. Ours is a truth spoken in future tense for decades … now manifest. Every moment a mirror into which we stare. And looking back at us, the words … You. Are. Alive. 

Welcome to our bucket list year.

It is a curious thing to capture what you chase, for once the butterfly is in the net, what do you do? We cannot keep it, for a butterfly kept is tragedy. Instead, we must recognize that the butterfly was illusory, simply a pretext to run on a hill in the wind … because running on windy hills is good for us. A thing we should do always. 

I am literally now living on a windy hill. And so, it is time to let the butterfly go and take pleasure witnessing each moment of it’s unfettered flight. But, I have a confession to make. Instead of watching the butterfly from a state of perpetual awe, I’ve wasted precious time these inaugural weeks looking over my shoulder in worry at faraway things I could be doing elsewhere. Vanity-driven nonsense that won’t mean a thing in a hundred years and will actually detract from the exciting art projects I currently have in motion (more on these in the weeks ahead). That grind will be right where I left it when I return. And, as my wife so astutely points out, shame on me if I waste another minute in paradise fretting about the stateside hustle.


So, I am stating this aloud, with you as my witnesses. That self-imposed, little bitch, stress session stops now! I am here for one year, in Costa Rica, with my beautiful wife and magnificent boys, wrapped in the warm embrace of the purple/blue/grey/green hillsides and the buttery Playa Grande surf … with nowhere else to be but where we are. 

Pulling back the throttle right now. New surfboard’s in the truck. Just ordered War & Peace and Brothers Karamazov which I never read. Heading off to Spanish class shortly. Eyes wide open. Eager to fall deeper in love with my self and my family. 

I’m all in!

Gonna be magical. Already is. And I’ll be sharing occasional bits and pieces in this blog. if you’d like to see more regular pics and posts, follow the journey on FB and Instagram @stuart_sheldon.

Pura vida!

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights

In the Emmy-winning series, Friday Night Lights, actress Connie Britton slays as a smart woman in a dumb town. In Dillon, TX, where high school football is religion, she’s the sexy school principal working to be seen as more than the coach’s wife. The been-there-done-that parent managing a hormone-charged teen girl. The rock of her family. In other words, she’s the person we all hope to be. We’ve been binge-watching for weeks.   

2002 Breast Cancer Event w Connie Brtitton
Fighting breast cancer w Connie Britton, DJ Shissla and friends, 2002

Rewind to 2002, long before Britton’s Hollywood A-List onslaught, when she was just starting to get her acting mojo and was the guest of honor at a San Francisco charity event supporting breast cancer. My friend, Janice, the event producer and a breast cancer survivor, invited me to donate a work of art to the silent auction. I offered this yellow NOW painting.

NOW - Big Bam, Acrylic on canvas, 40x30" 2002
NOW – Big Bam, Acrylic on canvas, 40×30″ 2002

I’d shown my work very little at this point. This series of silhouettes, my shout-out to the universe for a soul mate and the first serious body of work I’d ever made, was just coming into its own. The piece stood on an easel, on a roof deck, beneath a brisk, starry NorCal sky. Music played. Hors d’oeuvres passed. Britton mingled.

Britton w Ed Burns in The Brothers McMullen 1995
Britton w Ed Burns in The Brothers McMullen 1995

With just five minutes left in the auction, I noticed several people had bid for my piece, including Britton, whose $500 topped the list. She walked over to the bid table with Janice, a few paces from where I stood chatting with a collector couple who’d purchased the very first piece I ever sold, a few months earlier.

Connie scanned the bids, looked at her watch and said in a hushed yet firm voice to Janice, “Just make sure I get that painting.” My friends and I exchanged raised eyebrows, each recognizing this small, sidebar moment as notable. A single yet bright light affirming that I was moving in the right direction down the dark street of life as a creative. If the co-star of the quiet masterpiece, The Brothers McMullen, just gave me props, perhaps the life choices I made to get here weren’t ridiculous after all. My collector friends silently high-fived me, pleased by their own recent decision to acquire my work. 

ConnieBrittonEmmy

Connie did indeed get that yellow painting. And I heard later that she hung it over her bed. This deepened my soul satisfaction further, because:

1) One’s bed is sacred ground, an indisputable place of honor for any artwork.

2) Britton’s party date and boyfriend at the time was Christopher Lawford, son of actor Peter Lawford. Peter Lawford was not only a member of Sinatra’s Ratpack but was JFK’s brother-in-law, having been married to the president’s sister, Patricia Kennedy. I found secret pleasure in the notion that this ravishing strawberry-haired thespian and a bona fide Kennedy were making what Shakespeare called “the beast with two backs” neath the soulful gaze of my aspirant silhouette.

God Bless America!

America's Moral Dilemma, Books, Shelves, Acrylic paint, found objects. Dimensions Variable, 2017. Current Site-specific installation in Downtown Miami's historic Dupont Building lobby
America’s Moral Dilemma, 2017. Current Site-specific installation in Downtown Miami’s historic Dupont Building lobby

“Just make sure I get that painting.”

Those seven words still fill me up. One tiny sentence. One massively telling instance. 

Most of us enjoy far too few of these. And when they do happen, we don’t acknowledge or even recognize them for what they are – split atoms … releasing the nuclear capability we all have inside. So, the next time you enjoy a small success, an affirmation, a clear-pitched moment, stop and pat yourself on the back. Let the light shimmer in the depth of your stomach and outward through your skin. Because you work hard! And we’ll all need that light when the street darkens again. 

Connie Britton
Britton starring in the huge recent TV hit, Nashville

Connie, I haven’t seen you since that evening 15 years ago, but if you get this message, Thanks for the vote of confidence when I needed it. Love your work too! Please keep it coming. 

Smart People Being Smart

Peay Vineyards July 4 2008I’m generally a happy guy. Cute wife. Bouncy kids. Fuzzy dog. So it’s hard to wake up each morning to something like this:

“How does a lie come to be widely taken as the truth? The answer is disturbingly simple: Repeat it over and over again. When faced with facts that contradict the lie, repeat it louder.”

This NYT editorial from earlier this week discussed the remarkable success of the voter fraud myth. Despite being statistically non-existent (31 cases in over a billion ballots), this false narrative has convinced nearly half of registered voters that voter fraud is a problem that justifies making voting more difficult for many (read brown people). While this makes me want to throw up in my mouth and this mass deception is being created almost entirely by one party, I’m not going all political diatribe here. 

The artist Hoxxoh at work
The artist Hoxxoh at work

Instead, to keep me from walking into a Dairy Queen and punching everybody in the face, I will pivot to something utterly joyful. I’m thrilled to introduce my newest project, MEET YOUR MAKERS, a collaboration with the phenomenal editorial team at The New Tropic. 

For each episode of MYM, I sit down with creative geniuses and pick their brains about their process and what makes them do their thing. Our first episode features uber worldwide muralist Douglas Hoekzema aka Hoxxoh. Here’s a little taste (the main event is at the bottom of this post).

Over decades, Hoxxoh developed an instantly recognizable style based on his dedication and fascination with a particular mark and its infinite variations. His work graces the far corners of the globe, and he’s currently painting (as you read this) the largest commission of his life, a 25,000 square foot wall on a gorgeous beachfront high rise. 

Hoxxoh 25000sf wall
Hoxxoh’s largest wall ever. You’re looking at just 1/6 of what it will be.

Through these delightful artist-to-artist interactions I, and hopefully you, are reminded that our world is not just a giant shit-storm of hate and lies. And that our best impulses can and are being put to their right uses by many. And that magic dust is real and is being sprinkled daily by makers and thinkers who cannot and will not be influenced by anything but their own inner compasses. 

Hoxxoh mural at Miami Marine Stadium

Meet Your Makers honors the good guys. The fearless. The heartbeats. Those on an endless quest to express the truth for the greater good, whether that truth hurts or not. We fight the spineless who cheat via falsehoods, paying attention only to their personal benefit without caring one iota for what is fair or just or globally harmful.

Voter Map of Shame
In these dark times when politics often ruins my days before they begin, I am tingly all over to be a part of something solely aimed at celebrating smart people being really smart. 

Hoxxoh Process

Ladies & Gentlemen…it is my distinct pleasure to present to you the inaugural episode of Meet Your Makers!

The BEST BOOKS EVER WRITTEN – Stuart Sheldon Bay Area Solo Show OPENS MAY 9 & 10

Best Books Ever Written - Vortices of Genius, acrylic, book covers, paper, oil crayon on canvas, 60"x136", 2015
Best Books Ever Written – Vortices of Genius, acrylic, book covers, paper, oil crayon on canvas, 60″x136″, 2015

Why did the Miami Herald select The Best Books Ever Written as a PICK OF THE WEEK during Art Basel 2014?

Probably because this labor-intensive work finds the sweet spot where visual and literary sensibilities lie together … and make sweet, chaotic love. 

Best Books Ever Written - San Francisco Is A Writer's Grotto, acrylic, book covers of Bay Area Writers, paper, oil crayon on canvas, 60"x60"
Best Books Ever Written – San Francisco Is A Writer’s Grotto, acrylic, book covers of Bay Area Writers, paper, oil crayon on canvas, 60″x60.” A big shout out to Julia Scheeres and all the literary rockstars at the SF Writer’s Grotto!!!

It’s been five years since we left our enchanted Sausalito houseboat for the art volcano called Miami. I couldn’t be more excited to return with all NEW WORK.

Opening is BOTH

Saturday, May 9 6pm-9pm

AND

Sunday, May 10 (Mother’s Day) 12-4pm.

Show runs through May 31

With music Saturday night by special guest:

DJ Shissla/Shizzy (SpaceCowboys).

Style A Gallery – 30C Princess Street | Sausalito CA 

Best Books Ever Written - Grownups Are Overrated, acrylic, children's book covers, paper, oil crayon on canvas, 60"x60", 2015
Best Books Ever Written – Grownups Are Overrated, acrylic, children’s book covers, paper, oil crayon on canvas, 60″x60″, 2015

In these epic-sized (5×5’ and 12×5’) paintings, the covers of literature’s finest works, including Bay Area luminaries such as Peggy Orenstein, Po Bronson, Anne Lamott, Julia Scheeres and Michael Chabon, swirl and dance around the title page of my own just-finished memoir, A Lonely Fool’s Masterpiece, to infuse it with their magic and make it one of the Best Books Ever Written. Says Scheeres, whose bestselling memoir, Jesus Land, is prominently featured in one of the new works, “It’s surreal to see “Jesus Land” transformed into something so visually striking. I hope Stuart’s history of magical art holds true for this piece as well.”

Best Books Ever Written - Thank You Dad, acrylic, book covers, paper, oil crayon on canvas, 60"x136", 2015
Best Books Ever Written – Thank You Dad, acrylic, book covers, paper, oil crayon on canvas, 60″x136″, 2015

This is the third series in a trilogy of works designed to manifest the things most important to me. Previously, post devastating divorce, I imagined and obsessively painted 35 silhouettes of the woman of my dreams, each titled NOW. I met my wife soon after the paint dried on the final piece. When we had trouble producing a child, I created the BOUNCE series, and our son arrived on the next attempt.

As I now begin my search for a publisher, these new paintings are my query letters to agents and editors. 

Best Books Ever Written, acrylic, book covers, linen on canvas, 60"x136", 2015
It’s so ON!!!

At this “jacket optional” event, authors are invited to BYOBJ—Bring Your Own Book Jacket. Book jackets (or color scans) will have the opportunity to be featured in upcoming paintings, with a portion of the proceeds supporting the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia project and Litquake.  

For more information, please visit the Facebook Event Page … or shoot me an email.

SPREAD THE LOVE!

Our roads twist and turn. Another new work for the May California show
Best Books Ever Written – Two Cups of Cacaphony, acrylic, book covers, antique maps, linen, oil crayon on panel on wood, 44″x36″, 2015

Tap That!

If you can walk you can dance. If you can talk you can sing.

African Proverb

My latest piece installed in Wynwood during Art Basel Miami Beach

The Class-5 hurricane called Art Basel just made land in Miami once again. Tap That!, above, is my latest addition to this whirled-wide party, a double entendre of cut scraps culled from the last 10 years of drawings, sketches and paintings.

Trash into treasure.

Speaking of which, artist Agustina Woodgate wows with her monumental sewn assemblage of previously-owned toy stuffed animal pelts. If you’re in Miami, don’t miss it. If not, find her online and enjoy her beautiful mind. Agustina and her gallerist and dear friend, Anthony Spinello, are two of the reasons Miami is justifiably all the rage in the world of art right now.

Photo by Seth Browarnik
Woodgate before her epic and heavenly assemblage titled, Milky Ways. Photo by Seth Browarnik

The title, Tap That!, commands you to do 2 ESSENTIAL THINGS to crank your quality-of-life dial to 11:

  1. Access your personal creative reservoir.
    I don’t care if you scrub toilets for a living, we all have our own song inside. SING IT … and forget about who may be listening.
  2. Well, you know…
Tap That!, acrylic and collage on canvas, 60"x60", 2013, Stuart Sheldon
Tap That!, acrylic and collage on unstretched canvas, 60″x60″, 2013, Stuart Sheldon, $3000

My post, I Don’t Know How To Look At Art, explored the common phenomena of people intimidated by the notion of consuming art. As if only MFAs and jet-set snobs in ascots can understand it. Remember that there is no danger in standing before a canvas and simply feeling whatever it makes you feel. You are the final arbiter of its subjective value, not the editors at Art in America.

That’s not to say all art is as proficient as Agustina’s.

Even at the world’s premier collection of contemporary work, I’m amazed at how much of it makes me feel my 5-yr-old could have done better.

Then again, a great deal of it does makes me feel very deeply: joyful, somber, disturbed, enthralled. I’m already excited by work I’ve discovered this week. For example, this simple piece below, made from scraps of wood and hardware by a young promising sculptor.

Battleship, found wood, hardware, popsicle sticks, 2013
Battleship, found wood, hardware, popsicle sticks, 2013

This quiet little assemblage is balanced, confident and clear in its representational goal.  It speaks to my love of found material and order from chaos.

OK, I admit it! The piece was done by my 5-yr-old.

But I still stand behind my assessment of its excellence. As I guy who didn’t start making paintings and sculpture till my mid-30s, I marvel at my boy’s innate artistic impulses (he did this piece entirely on his own; I did not help him in any way other than to glue the popsicle sticks where he told me to).

Kai lets his creative urges run free, for better or worse. He does not edit initially (the greatest skill of any creator). He simply expels and lets the juice pour, uncoached and unprodded. This approach defines art in its purest state – the unfettered convergence of enthusiasm, focus and passion. That convergence is where the magic happens, no matter the profession.

We all have this ability to create with enthusiasm, whether we have actual artistic skill or not.  

This guy is definitely an artist

So, wherever you are in the world, whatever you are doing. Do it with style. With attention to detail. Do it artfully.

And, sing a bit while you’re at it. At least hum.

Detail. See this piece during Basel and after at KI Studios in Wynwood 89 NE 27TH ST UNIT 114 Miami, FL (305) 576-1052
Detail.
See this piece during Basel and after at KI Studios in Wynwood
89 NE 27TH ST UNIT 114
Miami, FL
(305) 576-1052