I Love Libraries – Museum of Contemporary Art Miami Exhibition Opens THIS THUR, May 31

The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.                          Albert Einstein                                                       

I just spent a year as a ProjectArt resident teaching young kids in a wonderful, tiny, beat up, inner-city library. Here is what I learned. The public library remains one of our last optimistic spaces, a refuge of focus, exploration and escape, no matter your age, wealth, race or education level. 

All hail the nerds!

Each Wed and Thur afternoon, as I set up my art table with the week’s lesson, a group of studious coed teens sauntered in from Edison High across the street. Week after week, as I taught clay and mandalas to 8-yr-olds, I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing these not-quite-kids’ and their teenage interpersonal dynamics. Over spirited games of Uno, as they earnestly debated the merits of various Superheroes, they also navigated obvious crushes with telltale touches on an arm or shoulder. They argued playfully about various video games and dug into meaty topics with a genuine hunger to know the truth, ie. “are we born gay or is it learned?”

Living the library dream!
Wannabe nerd!

Watching their camaraderie and the unmistakable smack-talking affection of friends-for-life filled my chest and gave me hope. I worked so hard at being a cool kid in high school, when I’m really a bookish nerd deep down. Could I do it all again, I’d far prefer to have hung out in the library with these goofballs, debating history and pop culture instead of wasting time and getting high. No tough guys here. No players. Just kind-hearted, smart kids trying to be normal, happy people in a world stacked against them as young black men and women. I’d love to hug their parents for instilling such basic decency and hope my wife and I succeed likewise with our kids.

The Best Words, 2018. Created in a public library.
The Best Words, 2018. Created in a public library.

Another unique aspect of my ProjectArt residency was that each of the eight Miami artists were tasked with making work IN the library. We had no limitations other than responding to the library environment. Come out to MOCA THIS THURSDAY to see what each talented creator conjured up in his or her spot. The works will be exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami from 6-8pm – On view May 31 – June 3, 2018.

ProjectArt Article May 2018

I’m not going to rant about how America is becoming dumber, fatter and less tolerant as our right brains wither into brittle bitter fossils. But I do urge you to read this wonderful article above, A Response to Creativity Crisis, for a lovely take on how ProjectArt, currently in six cities, is part of the solution. Or just look at the face of my student below.  

Mandala class for ProjectArt
Mandala class for ProjectArt

And while you’re reading articles, check out this terrific piece titled, From dystopia to utopia and back with Stuart Sheldon, chronicling my Fall 2017 London exhibition and my Art Basel 2017 installation, LUSH at Fancy Nasty Studios. London based writer, Fiona Doyle, really captures the essence of these recent epic endeavors. 

LUSH at Fancy Nasty Studios
LUSH at Fancy Nasty Studios, Art Basel Miami 2017

Hope to see you at MOCA this week or at a library somewhere soon. 

Like, Really Smart

A friend called me excitedly last year out of the blue. “I have an idea for one of your spiral paintings. What if you did all of Trump’s craziest tweets?”

Reading every one of Trump’s tweets was the equivalent of being ball-gagged at a punishingly loud speed metal concert where all the musicians are naked junkie hookers screaming renditions of the Star Spangled Banner through terrifying face tattoos. Your sense of balance, humanity, decency and the future is destroyed and yet, you cannot look away, because you’ve never seen anything like it. And so began one of my most peculiar commissions.

Like, Really Smart, Acrylic, Nylon American flag, book pages, playing cards, inkjet prints on wood, 48x48” 2018

Here is what I learned.

In our modern bully pulpit sound bite reality, everything you need to know you really did learn in kindergarten. And this guy learned none of it. Throughout the experiment, I kept asking myself, “What would I think if my 8-yr-old said that?” The answer was simple – I’d feel I was the worst parent in history, and my child was one of the rotten kids that should get unceremoniously bounced out of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Like, Really Smart, Acrylic, Nylon American flag, book pages, playing cards, inkjet prints on wood, 48x48” 2018

The title of the painting, Like, Really Smart, comes from my very favorite tweet of all – “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” Wait a minute … Is our president a 15-yr-old girl working at a Forever 21 in Encino?

Like, Really Smart, Acrylic, Nylon American flag, book pages, playing cards, inkjet prints on wood, 48x48” 2018

Originally, the center of the piece featured the earth exploding…TWEET TWEET BOOM. But I felt the potency would not be the same without our little commander’s baseline scowl (plus, he’s so cute, no wonder so many of the porn stars he cheated on his wives with liked it when he grabbed their pussy).

Like, Really Smart, Acrylic, Nylon American flag, book pages, playing cards, inkjet prints on wood, 48x48” 2018

I then realized that no self-respecting thug would leave his gilded penthouse without custom grills, so I painted him in a proper gold set on those pearly whites.  

Like, Really Smart, Acrylic, Nylon American flag, book pages, playing cards, inkjet prints on wood, 48x48” 2018

If you study this painting, you’ll notice our fearless leader’s democracy-destroying tirades radiate outward, literally warping the further they travel across the surface of an actual defaced US flag.

Old glory is upside down, cut to pieces and blistering in parts where the stars and stripes are no longer just red, white and blue but also gold, a nod to money’s hallowed station in Trump and Company’s to-hell-with-dignity-and compassion-just-show-me-the-loophole dystopia.

Like, Really Smart, Acrylic, Nylon American flag, book pages, playing cards, inkjet prints on wood, 48x48” 2018

There were only so many tweets I could fit into 48×48″ but some so obviously reveal his true character, i.e. when he blindly extols the virtue of a known pedophilic bible thumping megalomaniac – “Spoke to Roy Moore of Alabama last night… Sounds like a really great guy… He will help to #MAGA!” 

Like, Really Smart, Acrylic, Nylon American flag, book pages, playing cards, inkjet prints on wood, 48x48” 2018

If my child sang the praises of a 30-yr-old man who thought that repeatedly getting in the pants of skeeved-out fourteen-yr-old girls was, like, just fine in the eyes of his Lord, not to mention the Senate, I’d rush my kid to a shrink and, while sitting in the waiting room during his session, I’d hit myself in the face with my shoe in disgrace for the entire 50-minute hour.

Like, Really Smart, Acrylic, Nylon American flag, book pages, playing cards, inkjet prints on wood, 48x48” 2018

My buddy who commissioned this piece is a heavyweight in TV media, so he wanted me to focus on the Fake News meme. Trump kicked 2018 off with a real heart-warmer that basically said, Happy New Year everybody, especially you disgusting journalist people who write bad things about me. Now, there is a fine example of modeling hope and grace from the top. Were my own kids to send this note to their friends, colleagues (or 49 million followers), we’d enter the realm of Dickensian punishments – think tying them to a lamppost in the town square in their long-johns and lashing them with a buggy whip … then sending them to their frigid attic rooms without supper.

Listen, I have to admit that this guy is busy. Lots of stuff coming at him. He said it himself. “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” So, let’s assume my kid says to me, “Dad, so much happened today, with school and soccer practice and my playdate, how do you expect me or my friends to tell you the truth about stuff. It’s hard, you know?” To which I reply, “Is it, son?” as I Google military schools and orphanages.

Hard fact – Of his 49 MILLION FOLLOWERS, a great many of these folks believe Trump is DA MAN – strong, proven, willing to burn it all down, drain the swamp. Having just read through virtually every entry on the crazy train, I don’t see what they see. But I can count. And, while I’m no math whiz, I think the square root of 49 million is WE’RE DOOMED … unless a great number of people get off their lazy, complaining, binge-TV-watching asses and VOTE in these next elections. It’s really that simple – VOTE, YOU BITCHES and make sure everyone you know votes!

Like, Really Smart, Acrylic, Nylon American flag, book pages, playing cards, inkjet prints on wood, 48x48” 2018

And if you need me, I’ll be in rehab trying to scrub these filthy tweet stains off my eyeballs. 

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

When a Dream Comes True – My First Museum Gig!

Not gonna lie, my first rollout at a major museum has me walking on sunshine!!

Only took 17 years. What fills me with glee is how it’s happening … with an idea brought to life with friends and fellow dreamers. A project that celebrates excellence and fearlessness. And shines light on my birthplace, a city I ran from in my late twenties and returned to in my forties, only to find it utterly transformed – from ugly duckling to beautiful swan. So, next Thursday, June 22nd, I’m raising a glass to my town, to my collaborators and to myself, modesty be damned. Join the party live next week at the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) or watch the show on your own time right here:

Meet Your Makers, in collaboration with the rainbow unicorns at The New Tropic and PBS, spotlights the fearless, razor sharp creative minds that populate South Florida. My friendship with these fellow makers affords me a unique and intimate perspective on their practices, what they’ve done and what they’ll do next. Together, we tiptoe into the kitchen and get a lil taste of the secret sauce, as these artists share their motivations and aspirations. The latest episode features Rob Lee, founder of the wonderful open mic, Speak Fridays. Check it out next week on the big screen at PAMM or hit the link above and tell me what you think.

Keep running at your dreams. But remember to stay hydrated … because it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Other ONGOING Exhibitions – Hit me up for a private tour:

America’s Moral Dilemma – thru June 2017 – Downtown Miami – Historic Dupont Bldg lobby

 

Best Books Ever Written – thru September 2017 – Northern Trust Bank – Aventura, FL

Artist March June 14th

We each have a song inside. We just need a bit of courage to sing it.

I co-founded the Worldwide Artist March because, in our so-called post-truth society, talk is cheap (read worthless). So how do we penetrate the minds of the masses and move the needle toward our common decency? Enter the creatives! 

Believe it or not, that means YOU.

On June 14th, Flag Day and Trump’s birthday, we’re asking you to perform any small action – make a poster, write a poem, song, dance, etc.

Take a photo/video, tag it #artistmarch and post it. Bonus points if you Tweet @realDonaldTrump. Let the world know what you want from your leaders and your country. Be clever or serious or both. Just be real. Spit your truth.

You can also join one of the many actual marches taking place across America (Miami, Boston, Kansas City, etc).

We even have a march at Mar-a-Lago. Let’s make enough noise that the powers that be cannot avoid hearing it. Info at artistmarch.org and artistmarch@gmail.com. 

I just returned from an exhibition in Berlin, where I showed new flag paintings and the installation, How Was School Today (which debuted at Macaya Gallery last Fall). In this reflection on the Sandy Hook shooting massacre, I obliterated twenty first-grade chairs with an AR-15 and set them up as a normal classroom, complete with a video and spent bullet casing littering the floor. My aim was to fly under the radar of politics and reach people in their hearts.

Even the local monks were engaged.

A few things struck me about the hundreds of German responses I witnessed:

  1. Unlike we weapon-crazy Americans, gun violence is extremely rare in Germany. Despite the WWII caricatures, most had never held a bullet, let alone known anyone ever shot. The idea of this classroom shooting was simply not in their realm of possibility. And they rightly viewed our culture of ongoing mass shootings as utterly barbaric.
  2. Germans are not only well educated (everyone spoke superb English) but also well-informed about events outside their borders. Every single person expressed shock, dismay and disappointment at America’s current choices. Trump is considered a classless joke. Nobody there understands what we are doing and why re the environment, institutional racism, healthcare and on and on. And this was before Trump’s dumbfounding Twitter tirade against Merkel this past weekend.
  3. The country which propagated one of the most malignant and inhuman propaganda narratives in history now owns their dark past without reservation. Monuments to the Holocaust and other atrocities are central. By being forthright about their mistakes, this once hyper-militant nation has evolved into a peace-loving and humane society willing to tackle intractable issues like immigration like dignified adults. Which begs the question – When are we Americans going to again be the leaders the world wants us to be?
The Success of the Voter Fraud Myth, 96x96" 2016
The Success of the Voter Fraud Myth, 96×96″ 2016

Let’s oil the rusty levers of our democracy!

It starts with our votes and voices and actions. So PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stand up and say something on June 14th. Do something. Be something that means something. And keep it going beyond that day.

Part of my Berlin installation included pre-addressed postcards to US Senators. I asked the enthusiastic audience to write something thoughtful and actionable to US leaders. A great many European voices will be heard in the halls of the US Senate, each offering heartfelt advice on how to actually make America great again.

Germany evolved from fascism and Nazism to the leading democracy on Earth in 75 years.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take us that long to reclaim that title.