The American Dream in Postage Stamps

Liberty Flame

To know my immigrant story, watch Fiddler On The Roof. My ancestors, peasants in Poland, died in Auschwitz and arrived thru Ellis Island to begin again. I imagine, as their ships entered New York harbor, they wept seeing the Statue of Liberty, just like in the movies. Which is why I felt so touched when my oldest friend, Mark, visited my studio with his grandfather’s precious stamp collection.

Mark handed me a stack of baby blue notebooks, each filled with a colorful trove bearing witness to his grandfather’s lust for life. I stood mesmerized by the luminous physical beauty of these objects dating back 50 years or more. Each told a story from a faraway place. “Are you sure one of these isn’t worth a million bucks?” I asked. “Nope,” Mark said, eyes ablaze, “just turn them into a piece that represents the American immigrant experience.” And so began the most compelling commission I’ve received.

Mark’s heritage mirrors mine, a descendant of Eastern Europeans who crossed the sea to escape persecution and destruction. What’s enchanting about Mark’s grandfather is that despite the darkness in his past, he chose to attack happiness in his success and chase his wanderlust dreams to the far corners of the globe, something his own ancestors could never dream of doing. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” Sadly, today only 36% of Americans have a passport … which explains a lot. 

Mark was my college roommate, an accounting student, who unlike myself, locked himself in his room for days studying for his grueling exams. He toiled in school and when he graduated, he kept that pace at work. Thirty years later, he is self made … and now wishes to celebrate the country that allowed him to earn his own hard-fought success. A country that he (and I) love as deeply as his grandfather did. And a country now darkened by hateful, shameless scapegoating of the latest in our series of immigrant arrivals.

The very souvenirs that affirmed Mark and his grandfather’s enlightenment were now in my hands, and my mission was to assemble them to represent what was right with America, so that we all have something to aim at in our fight against what is wrong. 

Every single American is an immigrant.

Even the indigenous peoples walked here from distant lands over the Bering Straits. But what exactly is the American immigrant experience? With the notable exception of the slaves brought against their will, what ties together all American stories is hope. A yearning for a better life. An opportunity to start fresh and thrive.

Senator Jeff Flake, AZ, a conservative Republican about whom I have very mixed feelings, wrote a magnificent op-ed titled, We Need Immigrants With Skills. But Working Hard Is a Skill. In it, Flake describes Manuel, a man who works on Flake’s family farm. “All Manuel had to recommend him was his strength and his belief that America was a place where, by the labor of your hands, you could create a life for yourself. That is all, and that is everything. It is Manuel’s résumé that puts him in the company of so many of the men, women and children from all over the world who, since the beginning of the American experiment, left behind everyone and everything they knew to come to a place they had seen only in their dreams, in the desperate hope of building a life for themselves — and if not for themselves, then for their children. “

My grandfather slept on a mattress stuffed with straw on a dirt floor in a village outside Cracow. His family bought water from a water seller and ate meat once a week, a chicken for the Sabbath meal. He immigrated at sixteen, and like Manuel, his only asset was a willingness to work hard. That fundamental drive evolved into a life as a skilled carpenter and then a building contractor. He sent his sons to school. And I type these words today from a beautiful home as my young sons prepare to go to their fine school.

The American Dream is real.

Coming To America, Acrylic, Antique international stamps, inkjet prints, denim on canvas, 54x164" 2017
Coming To America, Acrylic, antique international stamps, inkjet prints, denim on canvas, 55×165″ 2017

From the Statue of Liberty flame that made my ancestors cry, Mark’s precious stamps-from-everywhere swirl out into the universe, spreading their heat and light and eventually becoming part of the glorious firmament that hovers over us all. It is in this light that we Americans, all Americans, are to be bathed and warmed and assured that one day, the promise of opportunity and democracy will come to us. A life where hard work and honesty pay off. A place where the hate songs cease. And wise men prevail over fools.

Mark – my friend since nursery school … you posed the question, what is the American immigrant experience? The answer is simple – YOU are the American immigrant experience!

Dystopia the Beautiful – My 1st London Exhibition Opens Sep 28 – Oct 13

Burnt Acrylic, American flag and collaged inkjet book cover on canvas, 35" x 19" 2017. AVAILABLE.
Burnt, Acrylic, American flag and inkjet book cover on canvas, 35″ x 19″ 2017. AVAILABLE.

“I’m jus’ pain covered with skin.”
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

My Beautiful America …
What has come of our utopian experiment?
Our chorus of voices?

New paintings sing old songs.
Longing songs.
Shocking songs.

Each a wish.
A soft light
In a dark corner.

Easy on the eyes
Robust, complex, yet
Grieving, burnt and forlorn.

Dystopian American novels.
Shorn of novelty.

Shredded to bits.

Unleashing the hideous truth.
So that we
can make it right.
_______

The Lottery, Acrylic, American flag, inkjet book cover on wood, 12x12" 2017. SOLD.
The Lottery, Acrylic, American flag, inkjet book cover on wood, 12×12″ 2017. SOLD.

In The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, a bucolic American town gathers excitedly once a year to celebrate a longstanding tradition. On a blue-sky day in beautiful park, every man, woman and child waits as one name from the community is selected. The moment the “winner” is announced, everyone, including the family of the winner, picks up a rock and stones the winner to death. Why? Because that’s how it’s always been done. 

 

The Road, Acrylic, American flag, inkjet book cover on wood, 12x12" 2017. AVAILABLE.
The Road, Acrylic, American flag, inkjet book cover on wood, 12×12″ 2017. AVAILABLE.

Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road, is one of the truest love stories ever told between a father and son, not what one would expect from a chilling tale of a society unraveled by apocalyptic anarchy. We never really learn how things got this way, but it appears some “leaders” got a bit trigger happy with the nukes. A man walks down the road with his young boy, reduced to animals trying to find food and water while avoiding murderous, cannibalistic hoards.

 

The Man In The High Castle, Acrylic, American flag, inkjet book cover on wood, 12x12" 2017. AVAILABLE
The Man In The High Castle, Acrylic, American flag, inkjet book cover on wood, 12×12″ 2017. AVAILABLE.

Philip K Dick’s 1962 novel, The Man in the High Castle, presents America if the Axis won WWII and Nazis were in power in Washington. Hmmm.

 

Fahrenheit 451, Acrylic, American flag, inkjet book cover on wood, 12x12" 2017. AVAILABLE.
Fahrenheit 451, Acrylic, American flag, inkjet book cover on wood, 12×12″ 2017. AVAILABLE.

In Chandler’s 1953 masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451, books are illegal and firemen’s jobs are to burn them all. Information is controlled by the government, delivered via large screens in people’s homes. A Pew Research Center survey published in July 2017 revealed that 58% of Republicans believe America’s universities negatively impact the state of the union. In other words, higher education is bad. I do not even understand the question; let alone the answer. 

Fire and Fury, inkjet book cover on frying pan, 2017. AVAILABLE.
Fire and Fury, inkjet book cover on frying pan, 2017. AVAILABLE.

Bleak as the subject matter may be, I cannot overstate my excitement for this show. And am flattered by the galleries description of my practice:

Exhibiting in London is a bucket list item for me. YOU are invited to the Fitzrovia Gallery. Here is your formal invitation. The opening party is Sep 28th and my artist talk is Oct 3. Extra bonus that the show runs during the illustrious Frieze Art Fair. Please share with your friends in London; I will welcome them with open arms, as I shall be in town for a week, keen for adventure. 

“Until you have done something for humanity, you should be ashamed to die.”
Horace Mann, American Educator

SCOPE, Art Miami & Superfine – New Paintings and more!

SCOPE Art Basel 2016

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

LA Times

100-foot mural collaboration with ForFreedoms.org in the heart of Miami's Wynwood Arts District, Miami
Find this 100-ft mural next to Panther Coffee in the center of the Wynwood Arts District

The day after Thanksgiving and I’m swimming far from shore in a warm yet turbulent sea of gratitude and angst, as the world implodes and my art career explodes.

Next week, the circus of Art Basel comes to my hometown, and I plan to enjoy the fact that for the first time, I’m included in a major fair. Actually, I’m in 3 major fairs … but who’s counting.

Below is the condensed version of current exhibitions/events put together by the galleries. Hope to see you in the mix for Basel and beyond. With gratitude … not attitude!!

———–

Stuart Sheldon (b. Miami, 1963) is an author and self-taught artist whose meticulous collage paintings and large-scale installations have been praised by the San Francisco Chronicle, Miami HeraldDallas Voice and many others. During Art Basel 2016, find his work can be found at SCOPE (Macaya Gallery), Art Miami (Smith Davidson Gallery) and Superfine Art Fair (Fancy Nasty Studios).

Sheldon’s acclaimed recent exhibition, I’m With The Banned, focuses on the corrosive power of false narratives in political discourse and “raises awareness about injustices occurring throughout America,” says Miami New Times. For the election, Sheldon recently collaborated on an interactive 100-foot wall in the center of Miami’s Wynwood Arts District (flag image above). His 2015 underground Art Basel installation, Fancy Nasty, was celebrated as Miami’s Weirdest Place by Miami New Times. His painting series, The Best Books Ever Written, was included in the 2015 Biennial at the Arts & Culture Center of Hollywood and featured by the Miami Herald as a “Pick of the Week” during Art Basel 2014. Sheldon has been commissioned by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, ForFreedoms.org and many others and can be found in collections worldwide. He is currently collaborating with The New Tropic magazine on the television series ‘Meet Your Makers,’ an inside look at South Florida’s most interesting creators, which debuts in 2017 on PBS. Sheldon writes the Family Matters column for the Biscayne TimesHe co-founded and was Publisher of Streaming Media Magazine during the first dot-com boom. Follow his Fancy Nasty blog about art, humor, fatherhood and life at StuartSheldon.com

The United States of Murder Inc. 96"x96" 2016
The United States of Murder Inc., Acrylic, vinyl, digital photocopies on canvas, 96″x96″ 2016

 

Art Miami logo

 

 

 

DAY PASS CODE: STUARTDAILY
Enter SUPERFINE DAY PASS CODE: STUARTDAILY at Eventbrite link above

 

The Success of the Voter Fraud Myth, 96x96" 2016
The Success of the Voter Fraud Myth, Acrylic, vinyl, digital photocopies on canvas, 96×96″ 2016

 

For Freedoms, Acrylic, paper, posters on canvas, 60x120" 2016
For Freedoms, Acrylic, paper, posters on canvas, 60×120″ 2016

 

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 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. 

 

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: