Go Find Yourself, Go Fund Yourself

My father at my Bay Area opening 2015. Standing before the piece he inspired - BEST BOOKS EVER WRITTEN - THANK YOU DAD, acrylic, inkjet book covers, paper, oil crayon on canvas, 60"x136", 2015
My father before the Best Books Ever Written piece he inspired – Thank You Dad, acrylic, book covers, paper, oil crayon on canvas, 60″x136″, 2015

My dad represents what is right about America. Born to immigrant parents, he grew up poor in Miami, attended state college for a pittance, served in the Army, then started his climb up the professional mountain. He eventually started his own construction company, Florida Fill, and made a decent living until Florida’s whipsaw economy got the better of him. But it was this “failure” that exposed what I consider one of his great successes. As he shuttered his business, he faced a difficult choice: make his final payroll or tell all his people who’d been with him forever and who’d toiled to earn that check, sorry, but the till is empty (which it was). Though he had no legal obligation to do so, my father cashed in his own retirement to make that final payroll, leaving him with very little as he faced a dark and uncertain future. He searched his soul and found himself … in lieu of funding himself. 

America's Moral Dilemma, Mixed media site-specific installation, currently on display in Miami's Historic Dupont Building lobby, 2017.
America’s Moral Dilemma, 2017, Mixed media site-specific installation, currently on display in Miami’s Historic Dupont Building lobby. Come to the opening Monday, March 13, 5-7pm. Email me for details. 

In my most recent site-specific installation, America’s Moral Dilemma, stacks of literary criticism text books invite us to spend some time pondering how our nation’s story shifted so drastically, to one of profit at any cost.

IMG_3371Just last week, the new regime at the EPA voted to relax clean water standards. This is not a liberal or conservative issue; dumping industrial poison into our drinking sources is a basic human health issue. I’m all for minimizing bureaucracy and maximizing profits, but let’s not commit suicide in the process. Back in the 80s, I was actually there, as part of the Wall Street guys selling his casino bonds, when our current president used every trick in the bankruptcy book to get out from under his bad business decisions. All of it was legal. But was it right? What would my dad do? What would you do?

On a lighter note, it’s been a busy week. In collaboration with my good friends at The New Tropic, my series, Meet Your Makers, debuted on PBS as a segment in the show Art Loft. This episode features my soul brother and art beast, Typoe. Check it out above and tell me what you think.

One of the new flag works debuting at my opening this week at the Miami Beach JCC. The Artful Activist The Artful Activist is a blog where artists, activists and gallerists can express their views on social and environmental issues. Articles/story ideas can be submitted to theartfulactivist@gmail.com or the Submit link. His work is making resistance irresistible. AN INTERVIEW WITH MIAMI ARTIST & WRITER STUART SHELDON 3.6.17 | By Melanie Oliva I first stepped into Stuart Sheldon’s “whorled” world at Fancy Nasty two years ago during Art Basel. Stuart and his collaborators transformed a soon-to-be-demolished house in Morningside into a gold-gilded art installation. image My husband and I talked about it for days. It was one of those experiences that made an impact on how I viewed art, collaboration and their limitless potential when combined. I didn’t expect my path to cross with Stuart’s again, but thankfully it did. The winding road I traveled when forming The Artful Activist was complete with signs telling me where to go. I know enough now to follow them without resisting. Funny that this path of least resistance led me to Stuart and others whose work is most about resistance. One sign on my journey was so large it was a billboard. Through a mutual connection, I was led to artist Michele Pred, who created a powerful set of thought-provoking billboards last November. They were sponsored by For Freedoms, the first artist-run super-PAC. Several weeks later, while walking through Wynwood on a solo stroll, I found myself in front of Stuart’s mural, also sponsored by For Freedoms. Finally after ending up in Macaya Gallery’s space at SCOPE, where his I’m With The Banned series was featured, I decided to connect with Stuart. I’m so glad I did. image It’s not only Stuart Sheldon’s work that is so inspiring, but also his work ethic. He seems incredibly driven to expose the truths that many cannot see, via his artwork and eloquence. Many communities are lucky to benefit from Stuart’s generous, collaborative spirit, including The Artful Activist. ***** How do you describe yourself & what you do? Metaphorically, I’m a chef who finds deep pleasure in the cooking and even greater satisfaction knowing others find meaning, provocation and nourishment in the eating. What inspired you to get involved in political art? What was your journey like? My friend, the poet Aja Monet, said it best recently, “It is the duty of artists to make revolution irresistible.” My art has always been intention-based, aimed at manifesting specific outcomes in my personal journey. Early on I painted to find a soul mate, then to have a child. Now, the pitiful state of humanity weighs so deeply on my heart and mind, that I no longer feel compelled to save myself as much as to save the world. What specific issues do you address with your artwork? My issues are truth and fairness. My fight is to perfect democracy so that equality becomes implicit. My recent exhibition, I’m With The Banned, focused on the corrosive power of false narratives in political discourse, specifically relating to: The Myth of Voter Fraud – which has been used to disenfranchise millions, and though statistically non-existent, is believed to be a problem by 40% of Americans Censorship – books have changed my life and when we ban profound works of literature, we stunted progress and wisdom in our society Gun Sense Laws – how do we dispel the baffling notion that any safety-driven restriction of access, no matter how reasonable, is a violation of our 2nd Amendment rights? image image Have you witnessed your work change or open minds? I’m With The Banned opened purposely two weeks before the 2016 election – lot of good that did. I do believe my work fuels respectful conversation. The challenge now is getting it out of the echo chamber of my reality and in front of those who do NOT share my worldview. That’s when the work can move the needle and hopefully build bridges. You’re extremely prolific and determined. What keeps you going? I revel in the making process, watching something evolve from a revelation to a sketch to an actual thing with layers of meaning. I feel privileged to wake each day able to explore my thoughts in a variety of media, be it painting, installation, magazine columns, my blog. I slogged it out for a long time, as a sales guy and an aspiring artist, so now that people are actually paying attention, my appreciation level is red-lining. I just installed a site-specific work in the lobby of the Dupont Building in downtown Miami. I’m eager to do more of this type of work, that responds to events in real time. My newest project is a TV series called Meet Your Makers coming out this month on PBS. Watch for it on the show Art Loft. image image Who have you collaborated with (individuals, collectives and/or organizations)? Harry Truman really nailed it when he said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” My practice has always been rooted in sharing strengths. I love the genius unicorns at The New Tropic who are my co-conspirators on Meet Your Makers. I was honored when For Freedoms, America’s only artist-run Super-PAC, invited me to join their 100-foot mural activation in Wynwood for the election. I had a blast making Fancy Nasty with my good friends at Primary Projects and The Fountainhead. I’m off to Berlin in May to join forces with a group of cutting-edge digital philosophers called re:publica to present my gun-sense installation and video, “How Was School Today.” And the pipeline for some yet-to-be-announced collaborations is full. Tell us about your experience with finding gallery representation. It’s easy. Just toil in obscurity for fifteen years. And the moment you stop giving a shit, and your work matures, galleries start calling you. What advice do you have for artists? Activists? Gallerists? The only advice I have for a creative person is to be true to what lies in the deepest part of you. THAT is your truth and that is the most interesting, inspired and inspiring thing you have to say. Say it loud and unapologetically. What is your biggest fear about the next four years? How do you respond to that fear & what would you like to tell people who may also be fearful? Life in America is Orwellian right now. Up is down. Black is white. Just this week, the new regime at the EPA voted to relax clean water standards. This is not a liberal or conservative issue; it’s a basic human health issue. And it’s emblematic of the wave of false narratives gutting the soul of America, in this case that “regulations” are inherently bad and profitability trumps poisonous water. I’m all for minimizing bureaucracy, but let’s not commit suicide in the process. Let’s be clear, I am afraid … that our country has been hijacked by bad actors who lack compassion and have mastered the game of messaging. Whoever controls the message controls the future. image image Tell us about your show opening this Thursday, March 9th. What do you want viewers to take away from it? Who do you most hope it reaches? In the work I’m exploring right now, I cut American flags to shreds, deconstruct and then reconstruct them into beautiful new forms. This is both a call to folks to take action, any action, which makes them part of the solution to our current crises. And my wish for our country – that we survive these dark times and come out the other side with an even brighter future. In addition to these flag works, select pieces from both my recent series, I’m with The Banned and The Best Books Ever Written, will be displayed. So you get a juicy taste of what I’ve been cooking up the past two years. The exhibition opens March 9th, 7:30-10pm and runs through March 30th - Miami Beach JCC, 4221 Pine Tree Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33140. For more info, contact gallery director Karen Sepsenwol karen@mbjcc.org, 305.534.3206 x214.
One of the new flag works debuting at my Miami Beach opening Thur, March 9th, 7:30-10p! Thru March 31th – Miami Beach JCC, 4221 Pine Tree Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33140. For more info, contact gallery director Karen Sepsenwol karen@mbjcc.org, 305.534.3206 x214.

I also have a solo show opening tonite (March 9th) in Miami Beach. It features American flags cut to shreds, deconstructed and then reconstructed into beautiful new forms. This is my wish for our country – that we survive these dark times and come out the other side with an even brighter future. 

MiamiBchJCCInvite

My friend, the poet Aja Monet, recently said, “It is the duty of artists to make revolution irresistible.” I must admit I am angst-ridden trying to figure how to do this – to Find Myself AND Fund Myself simultaneously. To build bridges … and light a fire under others to do likewise. For starters, a percentage of my art sales this month will be donated to the ACLU and Anti-Defamation League. Hopefully, that still leaves money for me to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

While that alone is clearly not enough, I believe that’s what my dad would do.

All-star year?

One Small Dream That Came True

Matheson Hammock

You’re on a beach, beneath a coconut palm, sipping a cold juice, as you watch the antics of a pudgy naked baby digging in the sand and splashing at the water’s edge. It’s not your baby, but the pureness of the scene delights you at your core.

I was that baby. Frolicking in the buttery waters of a small protected lagoon called Matheson Hammock in Miami. 

That joyful memory burned itself into my psyche, and I always dreamed that one day my own child would be that baby, shrieking with the same delight. But that simple little notion stood frozen for decades, buried beneath the fear that I may never have kids. Until, at age 45, my first lovely son waded through that gentle water, his own dimpled tush covered in sand. I stood a few feet away and teared up silently behind my sunnies.

Dreams need not be epic to be important.

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” T. E. Lawrence.

We all yearn for  the home runs: wealth, creative power, professional ascendance. But, we often brush past the everyday events we hope for … and achieve.

Life is the small stuff stacked into a pile. And that pile becomes our memories. And those memories become our narrative.

It could be as basic as doing down dog with feet finally flat on the ground after 20 years of hamstrings tight as bridge girders (thank you, Day!). Or throwing your conservative upbringing to the wind to get a tattoo. Or cooking an eggplant parm tender enough to cut with a fork. Whatever it is, that quiet victory satisfied you deeply. And that satisfaction is something you should revisit and wallow in a while. “Spend some time wit it, mon,” a Rasta once said to me. Sage advice.

Regal Elephant, acrylic & Chinese funeral paper on paper, 8"x12", Stuart Sheldon
Regal Elephant, acrylic & Chinese funeral paper on paper, 8″x12″, Stuart Sheldon

Walt Disney said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” Bullshit. Many of our dreams die on the vine. But that’s okay. Many do indeed come true. That is not to say that we should not dream big. Quite the contrary. Go big or go home. But keep those big mama dreams in perspective. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I was shooting the breeze with Terry Gross about my memoir, A Lonely Fool’s Masterpiece, and the extraordinary odyssey it represents in the life of my wife and me. But, finding an A-list publisher is tough these days. I get it. It’s fine. I’m on it.

Our big dreams will always be there, the mountains we all aim to climb. Hopefully, we all summit.

But think of a tiny dream you’ve achieved recently that really felt good in your gut? Honor that small personal triumph that meant something to you.

Do a little victory dance in the end zone of your heart. Go ahead and spike the ball! Then share it here.

 This post is dedicated to my friend and food artist, Chris L’Hommedieu and his wife Kendra Stanley. Chris died yesterday at 44. But his food and grace personally fulfilled some of my dreams. 

Are Your Nipples Magic?

 

“Daddy, do babies have tiny nipples?” my 4-yo, Bodhi, asked me, lounging in a fresh pair of PJs.

“Yes,” I answered from the couch, flipping through a magazine.
His thumb hovered just above his full lips, as he continued, “Do 2-yr-olds have bigger nipples than babies?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Do 3-yr-olds have bigger nipples than 2-yr-olds?”
“Yes.”
“Do 4-yr-olds have bigger nipples than 3-yd-olds?” This earnest line of inquiry continued through 11-yr-olds, at which point, I believe my son had cracked the code on the relative size of human teats.

Unfiltered curiosity is the superpower of young kids. It opens any doors and defies all protocol.

Bodhi recently walked up to an obese man in a wheelchair and asked him straight away, “How did you get so fat?” The man waved off my mortified apologies, leaned down and said, “You know how your Mommy tells you not to eat potato chips and candy and to eat healthy snacks instead?”
“Like carrots?” Bodhi asked.
“Yes, like carrots. That’s what you should do. I didn’t do that,” the man admitted readily.

I am confident this exchange was enjoyed and appreciated equally by the fat man and the skinny boy, for 2 reasons:

1. We appreciate unfiltered honesty, in both questions and answers.
2. We love to witness the seeds of knowledge being collected, sorted and planted by children.

Nice Fro, Bro, acrylic, paper on canvas, 36"x48", 2005, Stuart Sheldon
Nice Fro, Bro, acrylic, paper on canvas, 36″x48″, 2005, Stuart Sheldon

The Radical Honesty of children is a theme I come back to again and again. Because, when it comes to effective communication, that is where we adults so often fall short.

We dance around our issues. Hint at our intentions. And guess at the meanings of the answers we receive. Our young ones are unashamed to ask exactly what it is they wish to know, and to continue asking until they understand. The result is that they obtain the precise information they seek. And they listen intently to the answers we provide, often citing them months or years later, when we least expect. I am awed by their retention.

Same goes for observations; they call it like they see it. And help us see ourselves more truthfully. 

Nothing is off limits: our blemishes, our genitals, various patches of hair, morning breath, who is nice, who is scary, how people “get dead.”

I cannot get enough of this unbridled commentary, and I know I will miss it when our kids get older and self-consciousness infiltrates their being. 

And, for all of the less than decorous comments, their gung-ho minds also grace us with random tender pronouncements and acts of kindness. Day before yesterday, Bodhi blurted through a mouthful of spaghetti, “Mommy, I think I’m gonna be too shy to marry someone.” Recently, our 6-yo orchestrated a surprise I Love You party for his mother. He instructed me very precisely. And, for no reason at all one morning, Jodi woke to a house full of balloons and a trail of freshly picked plumeria from the bedroom to the kitchen, where our boy insisted I make her an omelet. Needless to say, mommy was floored (as was daddy by the mere notion).

The lessons here are fundamental: be ever curious, thoughtful, inquisitive, spontaneous, incisive and forthright. It serves our kids well for a reason.

So, yes, Bodhi, babies do have tiny nipples. And it is amazing how they get bigger and bigger as the baby grows. And it’s even more amazing that one day, if the baby is a girl, she can grow up and have her own baby. And that new baby will magically get food from her mommy’s nipple, which will have grown quite a bit since she was a baby.

You asked a fine question, son. Please keep asking.   

Relationships = Bottles of Tabasco

photo by Jenny  Kaczorowski from WANA Commons
photo by Jenny Kaczorowski from WANA Commons

We just finished bottle number two. Took us nearly ten years. Each drop another meal, another conversation, another spicy moment in the all-you-can-eat life buffet we opted to tackle together.

And we’re talking the big bottles … not the little skinny ones you find in virtually any restaurant anywhere. BTW – I’m convinced Tabasco sauce is the single most successful product on earth, and the Mcilhennys who make it in Avery Island, Louisiana are the richest family alive.

At dinner these days, we go around the table and do “Best & Worst,” where all four of us report on the high and low point of our day. Yesterday, when I asked Kai his “worst,” he said simply, “cake.” That’s right, he did not like the cake they served at school for someone’s b-day. I want to live in a world where the nadir of my reality is cake!

Kai’s “best” was a playdate at our home with his BFF, with whom he tends to run amok like a feral beast, often at the expense of 3-yr-old Bodhi, on whom they both gang up. Not surprisingly, Kai’s playdate was the worst of Jodi’s day. Five year old boys don’t do chill which is what Jodi was after following the high-point of her day, a spinning class in which she got into some crazy endorphin ecstasy zone.

Stuart Sheldon, Honky Tonk Angel, Acrylic, oil pastel, cardboard, paper on canvas w original poetry, 36"x36", 2006
Stuart Sheldon, Honky Tonk Angel, Acrylic, oil pastel, cardboard, paper on canvas w original poetry, 36″x36″, 2006

My low point thus far today was writing the electrician a $290 check for an outlet I just learned my house had to have. My high point was walking out, freshly showered, shaved and dressed for work, to find Jodi on the soft couch helping Kai with one of his beginner reading books. There sat my little mop-headed monkey literally sounding out each letter … Cuh-Aaaa-Tuh … and then figuring how they blended into cat. It’s amazing to watch a little human brain grasp something so vital in real time.

And there is Jodi, snuggled around him, coaching and cheering him. Doing the work. The labors of love. Being the in-the-trenches rockstar mom she is. Shaking yet another couple drops of Tabasco into the soup we call life.

Arrested at Age 12 – #2 of 10 Things I Can’t Believe I Really Did

The heavy-around-the-middle cop shut the front door behind himself, took a notepad from his shirt pocket and flipped it open. 

His gaze fell on me, crossed legged on the floor in tube socks, sneakers, a puffy little fro and a mouthful of silver braces.

“I’m looking for these three people. Have any of you seen them?” he asked us. The third name was mine.

The living room full of underage cigarette smokers, truants and long-hairs fell silent but for a ping-pong ball that bounced repeatedly on the terrazzo floor. The officer ran a hand through sweaty hair and quickly scanned the young teen and pre-teens that looked back at him with curious disdain. Bad Company’s Runnin’ With the Pack played in the other room.

“No,” ten shaking ragamuffin heads muttered.

Its hard to say when and why I started to veer to the dark side … but some time around age 12 the kind-hearted, gifted-program, baseball-playing, pre-pubescent me started falling in with the too-cool-for-school slacker crew that first got me high on cheap Mexican weed that same year.

The cop left empty-handed. But the echo of my own name from his mustachioed lips rang like a hideous bell in my brain as I pedaled my chopper bike in a panic the mile home. I burst into the door to find my mother sitting calmly on the green couch in our living room. “I’m wanted by the police!” I blurted, exploding into tears.

She listened carefully as I explained between sobs that a few friends and I had unchained golf carts from the local course one night and joy rode the things all over the neighborhood. We tore up the greens doing donuts and zipped up and down fairways and hills … until one of the jokers rolled his into a lake.

Fifteen minutes later my grim-faced mother stood silently by my side as I confessed it all to a non-plussed black female officer at the local station. Grand larceny was the charge to which I pled no contest. Three months and $1000 in lawyer fees later, I got three years parole.

Thankfully, I managed in the year ahead to pull out of the nose dive my so-full-of-promise life was taking. I transferred out of the junior high with the bad seeds and literally across the tracks to where none of my friends shared the dubious honor of a criminal record (since expunged). But I still wonder where I’d be today if I’d kept making wrong choices early on.

More importantly, how will I guide my young children to fly right?

I had no excuse for my bad judgement. I was smart. I came from a middle-class, morally sound, home. My parents divorced; but whose didn’t? There was no reason for me to be such a rule-breaker. I just was … until I wasn’t.

Years later, my dad told me he didn’t think it was such a big deal, just a bunch of kids getting into mischief. Sure, I wasn’t jacking liquor stores or lighting homeless people on fire … but I was actively hanging out with the ne’er-do-wells and doing what they did when they did it. How do I give my children the tools to steer clear of the troublemakers? To yearn for excellence early on. And knowledge. And wholesomeness.

I’m all for a bit of naughtiness. But how do we keep their young compasses pointing north?

I have no game-plan beyond loving them up constantly. Attempting to stoke the fires of what excites them. Reading with them. Speaking the truth when they ask. Offering praise when appropriate. And refraining when praise is gratuitous. Acting charitably and kindly to people in our village and beyond.

I cannot only hope this is enough.

How did you keep your kids from falling? Or yourselves? Please share.

Cupcakes

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

Cupcake

Something tells me the frosting thing never entered their mind.

Just shoot me.