Anger Issues?

Studio footprints 2

“What are anger issues, Daddy?”

My ever-perceptive 6-yr-old asked me this on the ride to school a few days ago, having somehow heard the term mentioned in his classroom.

A week earlier, just 2 days after the conclusion of an absolutely mental Art Basel, this very boy stood barefoot and shirtless in my studio, hands gloved in hunter-green watercolor paint, splotches on his shorts, inner arms and legs, one patch in the middle of his back. Home sick from school, I had to bring him with me, and in twenty minutes a bus with eleven collectors, one of whom had been paying serious attention to my career for over a decade, was due to arrive for a studio visit.

I gazed at the mess as the boy stared up at me, fingers spread as the paint dried between them. Tiny green footprints scattered from a seeping puddle in the middle of the floor beside a large rectangle of cardboard covered entirely in swirls of this same muddy green. Beside the cardboard lay a dozen squeezed tubes of watercolor paint, each with its cap off, wounded soldiers in my son’s apparent victory with his verdant imagination.

Bodhi

I shut my eyes and started shaking like a broken toy. Turned from him and literally stomped my feet and made an aggressive growling sound. “No No Noooooo,” I yelled to the concrete floor. When I turned back, my boy stood crying. Crestfallen.

“You didn’t tell me any rules, Daddy. You didn’t tell me what to do!” 

I pride myself on being a self-taught painter who lets it flow and trusts the arc of the sun to choose the palette each day. More gut. Less mind. 

The label on the dunce cap reads ARTIST in this masterpiece by French genius MTO. Photo courtesy of Walter Michot, Miami Herald Staff
The label on the dunce cap reads ARTIST in this masterpiece by French genius MTO. Photo courtesy of Walter Michot, Miami Herald Staff

My son felt green today and let it flow with the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. And in response I chose to trample the flames of his passion, frightening him with a clenched body and sharp-edged raised voice. 

Yes, I was sleep deprived, hungover and emotionally thrashed from a week running around playing the art game. Yes, my ego wanted to sell more at the fairs. Yes, I wanted my studio to appear appropriately shop-worn and smart for the any-minute guests. But his only crime was doing exactly what I gave him permission to do. “I want to paint, Daddy.” I handed him the paper and the paints and showed him where to go about his creative machinations in the next room, as I hung works and swept up and dove deeper into my own fatigue.

Bodhi Paper boy

What does this one look like he wondered, opening one then another of the paint tubes. He brushed at first, then opted for his hands, because finger-painting is awesome. And footprints even awesomer. And eventually he tried every color in the box. Why not, Daddy said I could paint. And who says you can’t have it all? I guess I did when I started yelling at the air. 

So, my lovely, sentient youngest child … anger issues are the residual stink left when a dad squelches his boy’s beauty and never bothers to own it.

King-of-Nothing
The King of Nothing, Acrylic, corrugated cardboard, paper, tape, oil crayon on canvas, 48×36″ 2005

Lucky for us both, I saw the error of my ways in the sheen of your tears. And, later that day, I explained to you how wrong I was. How sorry I was. How sad I was that I gave you the idea that it was not ok to make a mess in the studio, when that’s one of the best reasons to have a studio in the first place. And I told you again that night and again the next day, because … what anger issues remain from my complicated youth shall end with me and not be passed on to your gleaming beautiful heart.

You, my exquisite mess-maker. My teacher. My canvas. 

Let’s go paint!

Winning

 

You Are Mistaken, And That’s OK

My so-called mistake

Even monkeys fall from trees.”  Chris Bradford, The Ring of Earth.

No way, I thought to myself the moment my brush, wet with polymer gloss medium, smeared the letters on the white paper above. For months, I’d labored with a compulsive attention to detail on this epic piece, layering the color and placing each pinkie-sized slice of book cover with precision. The gloss medium represented the very final step in a journey of 1000 miles, a mere mechanical necessity. But, the moment my wet brush hit the black letters, the ink bled on A Lonely Fool’s Masterpiece. The fixative I had applied proved ineffective. I stood there shaking my head, crestfallen. How does someone spend months on the most important painting of his life and then blemish it in the final brush stroke? I wanted to remove my boot and hit myself in the face with it repeatedly.

A clever man commits no minor blunders.” Goethe.

 

Best Books Ever Written, acrylic, book covers, oil pastel on canvas, 60"x132", 2015
Best Books Ever Written, acrylic, book covers, oil pastel on canvas, 60″x132″, 2015

The following day, as I entered the studio in the clean light of morning, I was greeted by twelve feet of mind-numbing literary movement soaked in riotous color and spread across a freakishly hot red landscape. The gloss medium had given the canvas a luxurious buttery finish. Of course, all I saw was the smear. I stood and stared for a long time, stroking my stubbled chin and  revisiting the narrative of this work – my call out to the universe to make my recently-finished manuscript a bestseller. I thought about the story captured in the book and the 7-year journey of actually writing that story, and I realized that both involved me bleeding emotionally. Suddenly, in this new frame of reference, those smeared words made the piece even more on point. They bled like I bled.

The artist in the zone
The artist in the zone

Now go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” Neil Gaiman, Make Good Art.

My 7-yo son is both a very talented artist and a perfectionist, a dangerous combination, akin to a tightrope walker with a fear of heights. He has sound aesthetic instincts and tends toward abstraction in his sculptures and paintings.

Scuplture
Sculpture

 

Collage
Collage

On those (regular) occasions when something gets smudged or bent or altered, he tends to fall apart, devastated by his perception of his work’s destruction. I continue to tell him that for me, over the years, much of my best work is painted on top of the mistakes. And not just the mistakes but the who am I kidding, I’m a total fraud and my work has no value of any kind moments. Those days are regular visitors in the life of a creative. And there is no way to mitigate their sourness. One must simply do the work and leave it behind for a good night’s sleep and a strong cup of coffee the next morning. There is no room for self pity in this game. Artists, no matter their stripe, must move their arm everyday in some creative manner. It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be. Eventually, the code gets cracked.

I want my boy to know that, in the words of Ollie Slaney, “The mistakes we regret the most are the ones we were too scared to make.” And that, some days, no matter what we do and how well we do it, we just fail … and that’s that. 

Best Books Ever Written, acrylic, book covers, oil pastel, linen on canvas, 60"x132", 2015
Best Books Ever Written – Vortices of Genius, acrylic, book covers, oil pastel, linen on canvas, 60″x132″, 2015. A brand new piece for my Bay Area Show opening May 9-10 at Style A Gallery in Sausalito – details to follow.

The fact is, very often, the new direction mandated by the so-called mistake is more intriguing than the original. Columbus wasn’t looking for America, you know? But these lessons typically come only with the patience instilled by tripping and falling over decades.

Our roads twist and turn. Another new work for the May California show
Our roads twist and turn. Another new work for the May California show

The sooner you make your first five thousand mistakes the sooner you will be able to correct them.” Kimon Nicolaides.