There is a balance to symmetry in human forms that is curious. Too little and things seems awkward, deformed, perhaps even ugly. Too much and things seems synthetic, cold, artificial even. We have a very strange relationship with perfection. There is almost certainly a sweet spot of the “right” amount of variation from our left to right sides. This piece is an examination of that embedded sense we have. Our sensitivity to that balance should not be underestimated. It can be the difference between repulsion, attraction or alienation. It is a core part of how we see the world and respond to things.
The odd price, $68.79, for anyone who is curious is simply a numerical analogy. 6:8 :: 7:9. In keeping with idea of things being symmetrical and/or analogous
Each can comes with a numbered, embossed steel dog tag and is also signed and numbered by hand on the bottom of the can.
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.
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.
“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.
New salvage cans go on sale January 8th at 9am PST HERE. I made this series of cans when I was in China last year. I had been waiting for supplies to arrive for to start working on larger pieces. The residency where I was had kept all their empty spray cans. I started making these small pieces from the used spray cans. It wasn’t anything I planned, I just had an unexpected amount of free time waiting for my materials to arrive so I worked with what was available. I often make pieces from recycled materials for many reasons. First off I like that I am using material that would otherwise be discarded and end up in a landfill. Also there is a previous history to these objects. A purpose and a separate life that existed before they, by chance, ended up being used to create something new. Their discarded quality mirrors some of the characters i create in the Salvage portraits. It makes more sense to me than a piece of white canvas.
These are 15 individual pieces. They are not editioned multiples. Each is hand done and there is only one of each. They are signed and dated on the bottom of the can.
In July, I traveled from Paris, with Nite Owl, to Lurcy-Lévis in the center of France to participate in Street Art City. Street Art City is a complex of buildings that were once some kind of training facility for the phone company (or something like that), and has long since been abandoned. About 3 years ago the new owners started inviting urban artists to come to the complex and make murals, do installations and create a room at hotel 128. Hotel 128 is an old dormitory type building containing 128 small individual rooms on 4 floors. Every room has been taken over by an artist. Below is mine.
I worked, as much as possible, with existing materials from the room. Shower doors, broken sinks, clusters of light bulbs. An important aspect for me was to reapply sections of the removed wallpaper over areas of the portraits. I didn’t want these to feel as though they had been installed, but rather that these images were always there, under that veneer of wallpaper. I wanted the images to feel as if they perhaps predated the buildings utilitarian phase and were now, after all these years, uncovered. That idea runs parallel to the idea of the salvage portraits. Presenting not an evolutionary change, but a regression. Presenting atavisms. Traits in people that had long been dormant, strands of DNA that still exist is us, but have become obsolete in a post modern civilization. Traits that still exist under the facade of civilized society, which can be reawakened, given an extreme environmental change.
On the radiator in the room I wrote “Entering a period of consequences” as a sort of warning about the fragility of all these structures we have grown dependent on.
It was an interesting week, surrounded by these images in this tiny room, in an abandoned building miles from anything.
Lurcy-Lévis is centered in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Getting cigarettes was a 90 minute walk round trip. Surrounded by Corn and Cows, an ironic place to showcase urban art. It offers many artists a place to work free from the distractions of ordinary life, urban life; it’s peaceful. That said, places like this scare me, rural places. I am not a country person. It’s too quiet, it gets too dark at night- it’s too summer-camp slasher movie for me. It took some acclamation on my part. But being outside of your comfort zone is always a good thing.
I got to spend some unrushed time with the homies Nite Owl and Rachel Riot. Also got to know a few solid guys from Barcelona Sebastien Waknine, Simón Vázquez and Zeso. Making art is obviously the reason I travel as much as I do. The thing I value the most about that travel is the people I meet, the stories they tell and these unlikely little places like Lurcy-Lévis that I would have never seen if I wasn’t making art
There is very little to be said about Paris that has not been said before. It is a city of stunning beauty created out of endless care and pride. Rather than attempt to describe it adequately I’ll sum it up in one story.
At the recommendation of my friend Steven Ballinger I had lunch at Musee Jaquemart-Andre. It’s a beautiful place to have lunch. However, at the end of the meal I ordered desert. It was some kind of rose flavored meringue thing. Actually I’m not sure what the fuck it was, the menu was in french and I don’t speak french. What arrived appeared to be more ornamental than edible. It was this beautiful pink and gold sculpture, so beautiful that it seemed wrong to plunge a fork into it and destroy it. I do though, derive some pleasure from doing things that seem wrong. Keep in mind, I am not a foodie in any way. I consider 7-11 a restaurant. With the first bite still in my mouth everything became clear. I thought “holy shit, if I could bake something like this, I too, would look down at America”. It was that good. It was a fucking pastry that negated 200 years of American exceptionalism. Paris gets things right. Period end of story.