It’s Such a Perfect Day*

Perfect Day?

Behold the Perfect Moment / Perfect Family / Perfect Life*

In this recent photo, a gorgeous family camps on a faraway beach in paradise, savoring the sunset in front of their beloved yellow VW bus. Aaron’s the only man Adrienne ever had, and she loves him at this sun-kissed instant just as she did when they met as teens 25 years ago. He tattooed their vast life adventures across his lithe body and muscular arms with which he pulls his flaxen-haired squad in close. Together, they read, surf, cook, laugh and explore magical places: Thailand, Rome, Yellowstone. The world is theirs to conquer.

Now, let’s take a closer look. Just hours before this pic was taken, Aaron spent the morning at the hospital in excruciating pain, prodded and poked in his belly, where cancer raged. Thinking he might expire that very day, he told his wife, “I’d rather die camping than bubble-wrapped in a hospital bed.” So they geared up and drove. This photo does not show Adrienne’s panic attack en route to this beach. Nor the Fentanyl patches on Aaron’s back. And how, just minutes before, she got the VW miserably stuck in the sand, nearly sabotaging the excursion. As that glorious sun set behind them, their universe was totally unraveling. 

The truth is rarely evident to our naked eye. 

Local vibes

Jodi and I came to Cost Rica for an ex-pat “Bucket List Year” with our children. This wildly successful experience showed us a simpler way to be, to raise kids, to spend our days. It shifted our priorities so deeply that we remain for a second year and have started construction on a home. While our future remains a beautiful mystery, we are in for the wild ride … and invite you to join us.

Tropical Thanksgiving
Earth Day
Jodi’s surf team places 2nd … out of 2 teams!

Our life looks pretty peachy in pics and on social media these days: sunsets, fitness, waterfalls and giggling kids. But, let’s be clear … bounteous as our circumstances are, I often wake feeling lost and untethered lately … unsure and unclear on my next move … as a dad, as a creative, as an American. Thing is … self doubt does not photograph as well as me surfing with my kids.

Work in progress

Parenting two complex, ever-clashing kids is rough and getting rougher, particularly negotiating the ADHD minefields of our youngest. Are my intuitive fathering choices in this complicated moment wrong, too angry and judgmental … even psychologically damaging to the kids and their longterm view of me? Are we misguided to invest in a dream sanctuary immersed in natural splendor far from the bustle … just to fill it with two kids who fight viciously and constantly? Hardly pura vida. Thank god for Jodi’s level head and constant reassurance.

PAMM Artist Talk and For Freedoms Town Hall Nov 7, 2019. 
For Freedoms Town Hall to a packed house.

And then there’s the massive question of purpose.

Being north of fifty and far removed, literally and figuratively, from all our lifelong reference points, Jodi and I constantly reflect on whether we are doing enough for the world (we are not). And what crisis to focus our energies on (there are so many). I recently presented an Artist Talk and For Freedoms Town Hall to a diverse packed house at the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Fellow artist, Zoe Buckman, and I explored How Success is Measured in Activist Art vis-à-vis our practices. The evening then pivoted to a Town Hall discussion that quickly became very emotionally charged and highlighted painful racial fissures in the local community. Afterward, I received very conflicting messages: general praise from the white audience and disappointment from the black audience. To me, this dichotomy exemplifies the racial disconnect between well-meaning liberal citizens. And it reveals a blind spot in my attempt to be of greater service as a connector and champion of societal fairness. I am grateful for this wakeup call, because one of my priorities, as I enter this next phase of life, is discovering how a middle-aged, middle-class, white guy can best add value to these critical conversations.

Please watch the PAMM video, and share your feedback – start at 35:00 to miss all the lengthy intros. Or, start at 14:40 to hear Zoe Buckman’s wonderful talk before mine. 

 

Aaron Surfboard

Aaron & Adrienne – an exemplary love story.

In today’s Insta-world, we often work overtime to make our lives appear golden … viewed with a tad of envy, even. The tricky part is that much of what we see is, in fact, exactly as it appears. In the photos above, what you actually see is an extraordinary 25 year fairy tale starring four people who cherish and love their lives and lean into one another to savor and suffer all that life has to offer. You see a seasoned couple whose flame still burns hot and who prefer to stay home, drink wine and crack each other up instead of going out on the town. And you see two wonderful boys, raised to be adventurous gentlemen by fearless parents who understand that time is precious and the cameras are rolling.   

Fare thee well, amigo.

Thank you, Adrienne, for allowing me to share your story of devotion and loss. Your journey with Aaron illustrates the power of life’s deepest connections and complex illusions. I cannot for a minute understand your current pain, but I will tell you that your radical courage and fierce honesty are what Jodi and I hope to infuse into our new home on a hilltop overlooking the Costa Rican sea where Aaron’s ashes roll with the waves. We aim to create a place where all can be vulnerable and safe. Where children and friends, old and new, explore ideas and nature. And work together to fix what’s broken in ourselves and our world. No illusions. No masks. Just room to exhale, contemplate, cry, laugh and escape. 

Our CR slice of Pura Vida
Our slice of Pura Vida

In his book, In Love With The World, Buddhist monk, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, writes, “We are all transformed through love and loss, through relationships, work, kindness, and tragedy. But we get scared of change, because when we identify with a pattern of behavior, giving it up can feel like death itself.” For Jodi and me, as our patterns of behavior continue to change radically, I welcome this ego “death” and the annihilation of the labels that construct my identity: artist, activist, entrepreneur. Though I imagine this “death” is part of what is making me feel lost. Still, I embrace it, because I am not those labels. Nor are you your labels. We are just people doing our best to find light in a dark world. 

Zoe Buckman and I interview one another in a recent Cultured Magazine piece.

Finally, check out this insightful piece in Cultured Magazine, where Zoe Buckman and I interview one another about the evolution of our practices and life goals. This article is honest and unadorned, and I’m proud of it, for that is what I aspire to be. 

 

*No such thing

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!

Two Months in the Jungle

Moments after the car honked and we kissed the kids goodbye for another school day, backpacks on their shoulders, I heard excited voices outside and opened the door. In the bright Costa Rican sunlight stood my soft-spoken/board shorts/no shirt/six-pack-abs/carpool-driving neighbor holding his flipflop and swatting repeatedly at the back of Kai’s red uniform shirt. He then bends over, raises the flipflop like a hammer and smashes something on the ground with a crack. Scorpion! Welcome to the jungle.

Squad!
Squad!

Homemade BBQ
Homemade BBQ

That's how you serve bananas. This way the birds, butterflies and humans call enjoy.
That’s how you serve bananas – the birds, butterflies and humans can all enjoy.

It’s different here. We live on the edge of one of the world’s five Blue Zones, unique places where, for some inexplicable reason, many people live to 100. One can go days without shoes or shirt. Makeup does not exist. Nary a manmade light mars night’s sublime emptiness. We four arrived with five rollie suitcases which was three too many.

Nature does not play here. She rules. And conquers. One must surrender. Become her lover. Enjoy the ride. Or perish. Last week, both boys experienced gut-wrenching hold-downs in the surf, after which they told me they actually thought they were going to die. Not what a dad wants to hear, but the most effective way to learn respect for the elements in which you live and play. The rain, when it comes, comes hard. Fierce poundings in which swarms of small black bugs magically enter our home and cover the ceiling in the evenings, only to magically disappear the next morning. 

Wild monkey!
Wild monkey!

Grommet!

Shut up and dance!
Shut up and dance!

Our most compelling new reality is the repositioning of time. I’m not a particularly early riser yet, since day one I’ve awoken with the sun around 5:30, rested and ready. These early misty mornings begin alone on the veranda behind binoculars, scanning the layered distance for movement in the trees: monkeys, yellow/blue/red birds, pizotes (raccoon meets anteater). I still feel compelled to read the bitter U.S. news in the morning, but less and less of it. Daytime hours fill themselves like tide pools: surf, yoga, art projects, writing, reading, cooking, homework. The kids hit it hard at class each day as do my wife and I at Spanish school (past tense irregular verbs … que dificil!). I run my business affairs with a phone and a laptop. Darkness falls 5:30ish, when we eat dinner. Rich sleep takes our youngest soon after 8. The rest of us before ten.

Mi vida!
Mi vida!

Homework with a view.

We are not on vacation. In fact, September and October have been milestone months in my career. As part of the For Freedoms 50 State Initiative, “the largest creative collaboration in U.S. history,” I’m proud to be employing creativity in an attempt to inspire solutions to our existential problems. This collective effort has been covered on CNN, Vanity Fair, the NYT and many more. Read more about my project here.
 

 

Art World Ballers!
Fine company: David Byrne, Gordon Parks, Hank Willis Thomas … 

An integral aspect of this effort is its widespread activation – a nationwide network of over 300 artists and 200 institutional partners producing public art installations and local community dialogues that inject nuanced, artistic thinking into public discourse. My For Freedoms Billboard sits on I-95 in Miami, geared to urge voters to find candidates who support reasonable gun safety policy to make America a less militant & violent place. The New Tropic really captured the essence of the workI urge you to join this epic collaboration – donate a dollar just to say you were part of something that just might change the game. 

A friend asked me if I ever saw myself living in a remote corner of the world. Short answer is no. I’d say I’m more a city boy. My wife too. Yet, we’re both enjoying being utterly and gloriously disconnected from the life we left just 2 hours, 17 minutes northeast by plane. No night time sirens here. Just the buzzes and chirps of cicadas and geckos and god knows what else. And our kids, who can already surf and who run out the door to play with the lovely children just next door, have never been happier, more joyous, more their best selves. Just finished lunch of fresh mahi caught yesterday by aforementioned scorpion-slaying carpool neighbor. I’m not missing home yet. In fact, in the new digital dystopia, I’m trying to get a handle on what home means.

Stay tuned… 

Find it. It's out there!
Find it. It’s out there!

 

We’re All Pink Inside

A few months into dating my wife-to-be, we hit a rough patch and I thought I’d blown it. Utterly devastated, I wrote her a poem titled, Two Cups of Cacophony, expressing how complex people need time to understand and appreciate one another … because love is hard and takes work. Thankfully, she got the message and remains my anchor in the sunshine and the storm all these years later. 

We're All Pink Inside, Inkjet printed poem, latex paint, acrylic paint, graphite on canvas, 70x206” 2017
We’re All Pink Inside, Inkjet printed poem, latex paint, acrylic paint, graphite on canvas, 70×206” 2017

You’ll find the poem that saved my life embedded in my latest painting, We’re All Pink Inside, a reminder that within us all lies a pure pink vulnerability, the glue of human connectivity. And that within our peculiar species, there are no colors, no races … just a vast collection of animals, all pink inside, trying to be loved. 

Join us at our immersive installation, LUSH at Fancy Nasty Studios, featuring 10 multi-dimensional artists from across the globe, each riffing on utopia, an attempt to provide a fleeting moment of bliss in our pain-racked world. I’ll be there with all the artists on Friday, noon – 4pm.

LUSH Art Basel Visiting Hours
Thur Dec 7- Sat Dec 9, Noon-4pm

Artist Meet and Greet
Friday, Dec 8, Noon-4pm

Fancy Nasty Studios
6728 NE 4th Ave, Miami, FL 33138

For Freedoms, Acrylic, political posters, burlap, paper on canvas, 60×120” 2016

And while you’re out getting your art on, visit my work at Smith Davidson Gallery in Art Miami – could not be more tickled to see my massive flag painting make its American debut alongside works by Banksy, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and other of my subversive heroes. 

LA Times wrote, “Stuart Sheldon created one of the billboards, an American flag posing spiraled questions about freedom. To him, it’s about urging people “at a granular level” to start over, with less fear and more optimism.”

Love one another!

The Silent Power of Art in Politics

ForFreedoms Wall Mural Wynwood

Yesterday a reporter asked me why I thought art was important in politics. “Politics is people talking to us and at us. It’s words. The barrage of words today is so overwhelming that we can often no longer even hear or process them. Art presents things viscerally and immediately. Silently. So that the message enters us through the heart or the soul.” 

Of course, I see the irony in my use of words to disparage the use of words. So I will keep my words to a minimum here and simply alert you to my latest project, a collaboration with the fearless ForFreedoms.org. As the first artist-run Super PAC, For Freedoms uses art to inspire deeper political engagement for citizens who want to have a greater impact on the American political landscape. 

I'm With The Banned @MacayaGallery
I’m With The Banned @MacayaGallery thru Nov 25th

When For Freedoms invited me a few short weeks ago to collaborate on their incisive Billboards campaign, I thanked the universe for this potent cup of serendipity. Not only am I honored and humbled to work with thought leaders like Hank Willis Thomas and Wyatt Gallery, I’m stunned at how EXACTLY their mission compliments my current exhibition, which the Miami New Times summed up this way, “Sheldon says he sees this year’s election season as a grotesque perversion of American equality. As a white man, he says, he embraces his identity and the innate privilege associated with it, and he hopes that as an ally, his work can enlighten these perversions.”

For Freedoms is all about enlightening the perversions that surround us. At this very moment, their artist-made messages blanket the USA on the sides of trucks, roadside billboards, park benches, bus stops and the like. They hit hard as good art must. Aiming to pierce the noise.

For Freedoms Billboard

Not Voting Billboard

Park Bench Billboard

Like For Freedoms, we all must go on offense as we witness the organic end of America’s dominant white Christian paradigm. An animal this deeply entrenched in its ecosystem does not die without a fight. With its back against the wall, its fangs are bared, and it wants blood. But its death by drowning is imminent as America’s demographic tidal wave gets more and more multi-hued. And the words on the Statue of Liberty become manifest. No hater is gonna stop it.

Bootstraps Billboard

Grab Em By The Ballots

100-feet of hard truth - DISCUSS
100-feet of hard truth – come out and discuss.

YOU are invited to be a part of this activation. Literally. Monday, Nov 7th, one night before the Election, we debut our 100-foot mural in Wynwood (see invite below). We start at my exhibition, I’m With The Banned, and then move to the mural a few blocks away, where YOU are invited to write on that 100-foot wall what you desire FREEDOM OF and FREEDOM FROM.

For Freedoms Wall Debut

If you can’t make it Monday, no matter where you are in America, there’s a good chance that one of the For Freedom’s installations is coming your way. Find out more here

Interactive Billboards

Upcoming Exhibition Announcements:

I’m With The Banned runs at Macaya Gallery thru Nov 25th: Tue-Fri 10AM-5PM, Sat, Sun & Mon BY APPOINTMENT, (786) 577-0322.

I’ll be showing all over Art Basel Miami this year, including at SCOPE Art Fair, Superfine Art Fair, with Primary Projects and much more. Reach out for details. 

IF YOU DON’T LIVE IN MIAMI, I have a simple favor to ask. I DO NOT want to burden you with invites to Miami events that you do not wish to receive, so I am cleaning up this database geographically. I would be grateful if you would simply reply to this email with your name and where you live. I can then be much more targeted and less intrusive in my future outreach.

MomandEricAtOpening
I’ll leave you with this pic of my mom and brother at the opening last week because … FAMILY