These works are from a group of collaborations I did during quarantine with painter James Swinson. I was in Oakland and James was in Southern California. We would send the pieces back and forth by mail adding or changing them. Generally when James and I collaborate we are together in the same physical space, working simultaneously, so this process was completely different. The surprising thing, for both of us, was the palette. We both regularly tend toward muted colors and somehow this time both of us did the opposite. With each iteration the pieces kept getting brighter. I think we used color to compensate for all that was lacking during quarantine, the world outside seemed muted enough. Subconsciously we both went in this direction literally replacing some of the vibrancy that was gone from out lives with color. This was our optimism, literally looking on the bright side. As for the effectiveness of that remedy, I can say it worked. the world did not flip back to normal but my mental state definitely improved while making these. I was a bit catatonic for much of this past year, as many of us were. I felt I was biding my time. Making these pieces, changed one specific thing in me: It made me want things again. At some point during the past year I just shut down, I wanted nothing, I was doing very little. Making art has always been the magical elixir for whatever ails me and as much as I know that, it is a lesson I have to relearn quite often.
Archival pigment print on 300 gr Moab Entrada Rag Matte Fine Art Paper
edition size 50
Signed and numbered
“Sign 1” HPM Edition of 5
11×14 inches (28x36cm)
Archival pigment print on 300 gr Moab Entrada Rag Matte Fine Art Paper
Hand worked with iridescence acrylic, pencil and prisma color
edition size 5
Signed and numbered
Sometimes I make an image that I am always referring back to. This is one of those images. For as many times as I have tried to describe what it is that haunts me about this one, I have never been able to adequately describe why. These are the ones I never let go of because for me personally I can’t really ever unravel the draw. In my opinion, on a very basic level that is what art is for. To communicate something or evoke something that you couldn’t otherwise express with words or by some other means. I’ve never been able to translate this piece into a coherent explanation. It is solitary experience . Which is what makes it meaningful to me.
It had become increasingly important to me, to make a piece about 2020. Why? That’s a tricky question. Maybe as proof, simply that I was here or perhaps, as some self imposed obligation I feel. An arcane idea that because I chose to be an artist it is my responsibility to add my perspective to things of cultural and historical significance. To chime in, as it were. That’s reportage though; witness and record, and it was of little interest to me. It seemed pointless, gratuitous even. After all, what could I add to the analysis of political pundits, scientists, activists, and a cacophony of opinionated social media users? “Nothing.” I thought.
My defeatist, uninspired answer actually angered me. It became a mirror of what the past 10 months had done to me. An unflattering mirror, far removed from who I thought I was. Like the aging man who steps out of the shower one morning and sees himself, not his idea of himself, nor a memory of himself, his current self. Unadorned. As if 15 years of aging had slowly crept up on him unnoticed and then all at once presented themselves in a chorus of diminishing returns. Just as age will steal your youth, this year had stolen my faith, perhaps even my voice. I had nothing to add to the conversation.
Sometime in November I began searching through my hard drive for an image I had misplaced. I don’t remember what image, and it isn’t important. What is significant is what happened as I searched. Image after image I began to see things I had made, in some cases over a decade ago, that reflected what I was reading and seeing in the news everyday. Two thousand and twenty was a year that disoriented even the most even keeled of us. Many of our assumptions about the world were called into question, and yet, for anyone paying attention it was all quite predictable. Inevitable even. There, on my hard drive, were images that I had made between 2009 and 2018 that felt like they were about exactly what was happening.
Images are not static things, they change, as we change. Chances are if you haven’t looked at something for a few years or a decade, when you see it again it will be with fresh eyes. The world will have changed, you will have changed and thus your perception will have changed. This, I found interesting.
Upon recollecting how these images started for me, I remember researching possible causes of apocalyptic events. It was 2011 and Hugh Leeman, D Young V, and I, had agreed to do an exhibit in Los Angeles scheduled for 2012. 2012 was predicted by the Mayans to be the end of the world. Hugh, D, and I, thought that would be an interesting theme; the world after. We created an installation titled: “Epilogue”. What’s significant here is the research. The most common theory I came across regarding apocalyptic events wasn’t a comet smashing into earth or a multi-national nuclear war. It was something quieter, invisible almost, it was an airborne respiratory virus with a high level of transmission. When the initial reports from Wuhan started making there way to the New York Times, after New years Day 2020, I distinctly remember my reaction. Fuck.
In May, when George Floyd was murdered by a police officer, I would be lying to tell you I was shocked. Angry? Yes. Despondent? Absolutely. Surprised? How could I be. We live in a country where it is necessary to have a group called Black Lives Matter. Was that not among the truths we hold to be self-evident? Racism in the united states is a disease that has been left untreated for 400 years to fester. We keep treating it like the flu, in that, we think a few minor remedies will lessen the symptoms in the short term and it will eventually self resolve. It won’t. Racism is the actual plague of this nation and presents an existential threat. Until we as a nation, reconcile that, deal with it and address it, our full potential will never be realized.
In my adult life, from Rodney King to George Floyd I have witnessed a steady increase in both frequency and severity of police violence against African Americans. The civil unrest that follows are not simply predictable, they are necessary. Demonstrations of outrage are necessary. They represent the frayed cords that are the remaining ties to our best aspirations as a nation. Their absence would be the final breath of the great experiment, and it’s concluding failure. From 2015 til today the nation has had a race-baiting candidate and then president at the helm of the Republican party. Race baiting politicians only win votes in a racist nation. Donald Trump is the empirical proof that we live in a racist nation, (for anyone who actually had doubts). His racism is no more real than his tan, or his hair, or his marriage. It is mostly for appearances, and the appearance of racism only appeals to a racist constituency. To a man like Trump, racism is American currency and currency is power.
In the summer of 1997, I was on a bus with the Backstreet Boys driving around Oklahoma City. I was on a magazine assignment to photograph them. Nick Carter and A.J. McLean wanted to go to the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building. This was the building Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed on April 19, 1995, killing 168 fellow American citizens. The victims ranged in age from 3 months to 73 years old. 19 were children and 3 were pregnant women. The bombing was the first I had heard of militia groups, or the phrase domestic terrorism. The building had been demolished 2 years earlier. Now there was simply a chain linked fence around the area. On that fence people had posted photos, memorials, teddy bears… Back on the bus everyone was quiet. I’ve thought back to that moment over the years. I don’t know what the backstreet boys were thinking, I, however felt like the concept of war was forever changed. We were the enemy. Ourselves. Some alienated, damaged part of our collective, lacking the vocabulary to express their disaffection. Like some of the least persuasive people I’ve ever met, they had found the language of force. Force completely strips a gesture of it’s meaning. There is only meaning in choice and free will. There is only respect, love, and compassion in choices. Because choices are the things we want to be, not the things we need to be.
This was a new era. This was the national equivalent of an auto immune disorder. The body of our nation had begun to attack itself. So in May of 2020, when armed militia stormed the state building in Lansing Michigan, or in October when the Wolverine watchmen, a group that had met with McVeigh prior to the Oklahoma city bombing, had been charge with a plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan one could hardly be surprised.
Only weeks earlier President Trump had intentionally encouraged and emboldened these groups when he tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.” To me the word liberate sets off an alarm when I hear it leave a leader’s lips. More often than not what it calls for, in actionable terms, is the antithesis of liberation. It is sometimes simply a call to quell dissent. Painting oneself as the defender of freedom and the opposition as an existential threat to freedom itself. Other times it is the self righteous and indignant facade that attempts to hide a nefarious plan. In this case it was the left hand of the magician pointing and waving a handkerchief while the right hand went unnoticed.
The specter of autocratic rule resides in the collective unconscious of all free people. This is what makes it potentially, such a dangerous tool. It enlists everyone. On the one side are those convinced that those in power are defending against our demise. On the other side are those convinced this nationalist movement is in fact the very thing it purports to be defending against; over-reaching autocratic rule. These scenarios present this curious contradiction. They divide people by allegiance and at the same time they engage the entire population, mostly in panic. That’s when the shit show begins. Dr. King said that “a riot is the language of the unheard” and that rings true. Let’s also consider how “riot” is simply a fear inducing word choice for freedom of assembly. It is not dissimilar to the way the word “socialism”, in this country, has become synonymous with communism. So while this president had decided that social distancing and mask wearing were an erosion of your constitutional rights, rather then a temporary public health measure. Fast forward to June 1st at Lafayette Square in Washington D.C., where the same man, decided to clear peaceful protestors, exercising their 1st amendment rights, by use of force and chemical weapons. What ensued was called a riot. If it weren’t so devastating and dangerous it would almost be comical how often American police physically attack peaceful demonstrators, and when those demonstrators act in self defense they call it a riot. All the more heinous was the reason for clearing the square. The most profane president in our history wanted a picture of himself in front of a building he’d never been to (a church) holding a book he’d never read (the bible).
There are people who believe that a president who has ruled primarily through executive order, sidestepping the process of political discourse, is the defender of your civil liberties. Mostly because he has said so. There are also many people who believe the United States is the greatest nation in the world, mostly because it has claimed to be. There are also the rest of us, which on most days, account for a majority. Some believe you can simply fire rubber bullets and tear gas dissent into submission, without retribution. That seems unlikely. When I see a person, who has been beaten by police, in the absence of recourse, toss a molotov cocktail at the same police, I understand that. That is not a difficult dynamic to comprehend. I don’t necessarily condone it, but I am not surprised by it either. When I see people who are refused their rights and refused representation and they turn up day after day and demand those rights and demand representation, I can only applaud them. Freedom is a funny wheel. Once it has rolled forward It requires 10 times the force to roll backwards. Anyone who aspires to that sort of reversal had better come prepared to reconsider. I suspect we will come out of this year with our democracy dented and scraped but mostly in tact. I would attribute that, not to it’s durability entirely, but more to the sheer incompetence on the part of this administration. A better prepared, more experienced group of autocrats may have made more headway.
Much of my work is about alienation and disconnection. Specifically the type that happens when people feel threatened by their immediate surroundings. 14 years ago I was talked into going to see a movie starring Al Gore. Not exactly known for his charisma, Al Gore was a tough sell. If my memory serves me, I was trying to appease a girlfriend and agreed to go see “an inconvenient truth”. I walked out of that theatre with the knowledge of a new (to me) concept; Climate change. Climate change and the existential crisis it represents would become a big part of the global conversation over the following decade. That film would be a source that inspired me to begin using surgical masks in my images, a barrier between our own physiology and the outside world. The need to protect ourselves from the natural world around us brought me back to that day on the bus with the Backstreet boys, again, we had become our own worst enemy. Like those men from Michigan, the environment had become hostile towards us, and threatened our physical well being. The chickens were coming home to roost in both scenarios and again my reaction was the same as it was to the news coming out of Wuhan in January 2020. “Fuck”.
2020 saw a record breaking season of destruction both in the form of wildfires in the west and hurricanes in the east. Unsurprisingly, it was a consequence Al Gore had describe 14 years ago. Who, I wondered, was surprised? In March of 2020 I had a dream. In the dream the pandemic had paralyzed the world and Hurricanes battered the east coast as wildfires tore through California. I woke up with my heart pounding. I thought “Shit. What if it all starts to unravel simultaneously?’ The dream wasn’t a fear dream, like when I am trapped on a scaffold outside the 38th floor of a building and my fear of heights is in full swing. Rather it is what I call a “consequence” dream. To me these dreams are the result of some ignored or postponed anxiety. Maybe one morning you notice a suspicious mole on your shoulder. You think, “hmm, maybe I should get that checked out” but you don’t, you forget about it. 2 years later you have a dream that you’re in a doctor’s office being diagnosed with skin cancer and the doctor is asking why you didn’t have this checked out sooner. These dreams are an acknowledgement of negligence. For me, 2020 has been a consequence dream, the predictable outcome of negligence, without the respite of waking.
The piece I created is called: “The Twilight’s last Gleaming”. It is a series of 5 images I made between 2009 and 2018. That they were made prior to 2020 was necessary to demonstrate that this past year was not an apparition but a predictable consequence of negligence. It was important to me that the number of images be an odd number. There needed to be room for, not only a left and a right, but also a center. Each print contains a single word from the second line of the star spangled banner (our national anthem). What, so, proudly, we, hailed. Words that were written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 as he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in the battle of Baltimore. Key was speculating on the outcome of a battle, as was I with the piece. What would remain, and what would fall. Surely there was a point during this year where most of us questioned whether we would return to normalcy, or whether we would perish. Whether we thought, “was this the twilight’s last gleaming?’
The images I chose are arranged sequentially with the word “Proudly” in the center. The center image is the most neutral, acting more as a document than an ideology. To the viewers left the ideology becomes more politically left. To the viewers right, the image becomes more politically right. While I am an atheist, I consider myself culturally catholic. Any claim that this doesn’t inform my work would be inauthentic and any to attempt to erase it would be futile. While, above I describe a political arrangement of images there is a concurrent religious arrangement in which, the woman in the center acts as a proxy for God and conversely, the images at her right hand represent the favor of God. The left hand represents the judgement of God, as in Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” fresco from the Sistine Chapel. I view this language as mythology or allegory and while I do not suspect a second coming of Christ, certainly, 2020 was a reckoning.
A while back I was asked to make some art on a piece of currency for an exhibit. I agreed and the organizer sent me what I think was an old Russian banknote. On an impulse I decided to burn the money. Because I thought that said something about my relationship to money.
Of course after burning the money I had to figure out how to make a new piece out of it.
So I made a crude stencil of the very elaborate print on the face of the note based on a photo of the bill. Then using glue and the ashes of the burned money I glue the ashes back to a piece of canvas the same size as the note.
There was a corner of the note left unburned and I glued it to the canvas and wrote on it “some things can’t be undone”
I suppose I was trying to say something about the finality of certain decisions and also the liberation of that sort of finality. There is something wonderful about decisions that can not be reversed. The futility of an attempt to do so can be a valuable lesson to live by. The destruction of one thing can force the creation of something new. I think this is how life often evolves. Cheers
Goes on Sale Monday November 16th, at 9am PST HERE
11×14 inches (28x36cm)
Archival pigment print on 300 gr Moab Entrada Rag Matte Fine Art Paper
edition size 50
Signed and numbered
I made this piece originally on a rainy October night in Paris, on Rue de Forge Royale across the street from a gallery called Le cabinet d’amateur. Me and Droos and Nite Owl were wandering around putting pieces up. I threw this paster up and it started raining pretty hard, so we went and grabbed a drink down the street at some little bar. Inside the bar were a bunch of guys from Oakland watching the Raiders game on the TV. Small world I guess. We had a few and I went back and added the black and white drips. I think the rain actually helped. It was a good night and probably one of my favorite pieces from that trip.
I’ve been asked why I chose to make the above piece regarding racism. I didn’t exactly. I made a piece called “The Residue of Arrogance” which was mostly about my growing discontent with the United States and my choice to spend most of my time abroad. That decision had a lot to do with the direction in which my country has moved post 9/11. Certainly racism plays a role in those objections, but it was a much broader view of many consequences. The thing that I find most interesting about the piece is what it has shown me. Many people have concluded that the piece is about racism. I imagine it has to do with my choice of using an African American model. Had I used a white model, I assume people’s reading of it would be different. However, based on people’s reactions, it is entirely clear how most people view the United States. Juxtapose an American Flag and an African American and the conclusion many people will make is that it is, of course, about racism. That’s how connected the image of the United States is to racism, it’s something people assume. What I was trying to convey was an erosion of freedoms and self censorship in a post 9/11 America. However, even in 2017 (which is when I made the original piece) the simple addition of a different skin color leads many people to assume an entirely different meaning. So, in it’s conception it wasn’t focused on racism, but in it’s reception it has become very much about race. This is how the piece talks back to me about it’s context. As an artist, you begin to see the complexity of representation. In my mind the figure in the piece was simply an individual, an American. Yet because the figure is African American, to many people, the “individual” becomes a representation of an entire race of people. Isn’t that exactly what racism is? When people’s individual identity is eclipsed by their race?
“Without Excuse” is a piece I made while I was at the Jardin Orange artist residency in Shenzhen, China in 2018.
I spent a lot of time in Shenzhen, roaming around abandoned buildings collecting old signs and posters and billboards. I don’t read Chinese, so I had no idea what was written on any of these things. I also never asked anyone to interpret any of it until pieces were completed. What I was trying to do was tell something about a place through what was discarded or left behind, while also juxtaposing that with some of my salvage portraits. Much of the material in this piece came from an abandoned office building at the beginning of August 2018. By the time I left Shenzhen, the building was well on it’s way to being apartments. Things change fast in Shenzhen.
The original piece is 50×66 inches (125 x 168cm) on a section of vinyl billboard I found being used as a tarp in the abandoned office building. The title “Without Excuse” comes from the line of small text just to the left of the figures head which literally says “Refuse to accept excuse” which was pinned to an office wall. The large main text in red and blue translates as “wonderful exquisite life”. Additional pieces collaged onto the piece read “Crane for rent”, “Make more money”, “Good business and prosperity”, and there is even a small newspaper headline about “President Xi”. In some ways these discarded things do describe the ethos of Shenzhen. Shenzhen was China’s first Special Economic Zone, an experiment by China with market capitalism. It is literally a manufactured city. In 1979 in was little more then a fishing village with a population of 60,000. 40 years later, it is a city of 13 million and the manufacturing center of the world. Shenzhen is at the center of China’s exponential economic growth. It is a boomtown like no other. In many ways the random text I collected illustrate the dream that Shenzhen presented; hard work, wealth, business development. In that sense, it was my most successful experiment in telling the story of a place by combining random discarded things. Things whose meanings were only told to me after the piece was finished. The addition of the Salvage portrait makes the piece a cautionary tale about the fragility of that unbridled growth. The age old boom to bust scenario that we never really seem to accept as more than coincidental or circumstantial.
Each of these prints have been hand painted and contain the number of the edition in Chinese characters at the bottom right corner. Near the left edge, the edition number is also painted into the existing background in English. Making these 40 variations was one of the most enjoyable studio projects I have done in recent years.
These pieces go on sale May 14th at 9am PST. Cacophony is 18×18 inches laser cut 3/4 inch acrylic stacked in 3 layers. GFL-5 is an 18×18 inch print on 290gsm Moab fine art paper. They are available HERE
ABOUT THE PIECES
The Goldfish girl (who is the same
character as the bike girl) was created almost a decade ago. I often
revisit it, and she has been longest continuing character I’ve
created. I often write back stories for these characters to help me
create the pieces, but they are generally never shared with the
The Goldfish girl was born in mainland China, and raised mostly by a single father. Her mother passed away when she was 18 months old from cancer. She was often very ill as a child, and was eventually diagnosed with a compromised immune system disorder, although a precise diagnosis was never given. However, something even as harmless as a common cold would escalate to further respiratory complications or pneumonia rather quickly as her body had no defense mechanism against these things. This is the reason for always wearing the mask and gloves. She was hospitalized often and resuscitated several times as a child. As a result, she could not attend school with other children and was home schooled by her father.
Her father bred
Goldfish for a living and taught her that trade as a kid. They worked
side by side and rarely had visitors because of her condition.
Goldfish rarely occur in nature, and are actually a result of a
genetic mutation in silver carp. Because of their beautiful color and
rarity, they began being bred and sold about 1500 years ago. They
are, for the most part, a result of steering the hand of nature.
Often being extremely ill and also losing her mother made her childhood difficult. As most children do, she tried to find a reason for her misfortune, a reason for why all this had happened to her and her father. Eventually, she believed that her illness and her mother’s cancer were a punishment by nature. A curse for toying with nature by breeding goldfish. Her family had toyed with nature, and she believed that now, nature was toying with them. She never shared that thought with her father because she felt it would indirectly place the blame for all this misfortune on him.
When she was 11 and
extremely ill and hospitalized, she asked her father “Why don’t I
just give up? This is too hard. I think we need to accept that this
is my fate; it is my fate to die” Her father became angry and
replied “Fate? Do you know what fate is? It is the result of a life
unattended, it is what happens when you do nothing” He needed to
give her a reason to keep trying, a challenge. He continued “We can
cheat fate, create our own fate and all you have to do to cheat fate
is live another day. Every day that you do that, you have won, not
That was the conversation that shaped
the rest of her life, that was her mission, to survive and deny
nature its punishment.
Eventually, her father passed away as well. Needing to make a living and also to taunt fate she illegally immigrated to Hong Kong. There is a famous goldfish market in Mong Kok on Tung Choi street, but it’s commonly called goldfish street. With a compromised immune system the most dangerous thing to her was other people. As a challenge to fate she moved to one of the most densely populated cities in the world. She got a stall on Tung Choi street. This is her challenge, to taunt fate and win, becoming the master of her own fate.
These images are vignettes of her life in Hong Kong. I’ve never given the character a name. Often the pieces are accompanied by the text “I have a name, but it doesn’t matter” That phrase is to express her belief that life is not about who we are, life is about what we do. She is pictured always alone. Sometimes she is on a bike as crowded public transportation poses to big a risk. Sometimes she is pictured with a boombox because music becomes a central companion to her mostly solitary life. In the piece Cacophony I wanted her to literally be surrounded by the city. There are many more specifics to the story, but I wanted this character to be a vehicle for ideas about self determination, finding meaning in life and playing the hand you are dealt even when it’s a piss poor hand. In some way I think I tried to create a character that embodied a lot of traits I aspire to. To remind myself.