There is a kind of hope among many artists that art is a force of positive evolution. However, I’m not a sorcerer or magician. A painting, sculpture, or piece of writing may just as well be a tree falling in the middle of a forest, with no-one anywhere to hear it. I think it takes some belief in the innate magic of experience to create art. It’s a matter of simply putting one’s experience out in the open, in the hope that it may resonate with others.
To make something with an agenda isn’t art, it’s propaganda. I’m not sure that I would go as far as my friend Antero does in saying that any art that comes from the conscious mind is dead art, but I do keep that in mind.
My primary medium has been oil painting. I live and work in New York’s Lower East Side, with my muse Nikki Haroldson and our dog Tycho. My technique is basically classical, using many layers of paint, slowly building the colors to a deep, luminous, and organic effect. I believe in the innate power of storytelling, yet paintings are static. There is no beginning, middle and end as we would have with a regular story - so I try to create images that pose questions instead of reaching resolutions, instilling a narrative movement inside of them, as opposed to simply illustrating a moment.
If you were to ask me what the message is behind my art (if any), then I suppose that right now I’m thinking about the prevailing attitude that we, humankind, are like god-given custodians of the Earth. What if, just for fun, we consider that maybe we aren’t? Is it our own arrogance that makes us think that we are? We have indeed entered the Anthropocene era, but suppose that we aren’t the most evolved thing around. In that case, then what would it look like, to look through the prism of something that is higher evolved?
I moved to New York from Los Angeles, a city I never fit into. My earlier choice to move to LA involved a sense of disillusionment with the art world and its circuitous self-referential gags which I feel are mostly an exploration of meaninglessness. I don’t have a problem with that, I just feel like we’re destined to create meaning, and that’s what I’d rather do, personally.
LA was a journey into the belly of the pop-cultural beast. It made sense at the time - after all, the sphere of gallery society has become inaccessible to mainstream culture. And besides, what better way to get a message across than to fight from the inside out? But Los Angeles is a desert, and it left me starving for inspiration. Still, my time there wasn’t completely fruitless - I directed two short films, and acted in maybe 20 different projects. I collaborated with brilliant people and incredible talents, including David Michaels, Burke Roberts, Eric McFadden, Paradox Pollack, Beats Antique, Delphine de Saint Paer, Jim Lynch, Jen Lynch, Mark Steger, Daryl Haney, Marilinda Rivera, Reggie Watts, and many others.
While I wrestled with trying to fit my creativity into Hollywood commercialism, my old friend Marco Cochrane gave me a call and brought me back into the fray of Burning Man. While I had been busy trying to book some commercial for a cheap beer or a car, he had begun his epic trilogy of sculptures, the Bliss Trilogy. I ended up working on all three - Bliss Dance, Truth is Beauty, and R-Evolution, as well as lending a hand to other projects by artists such as Katy Boynton, Peter Hudson and Kahai Tate.
There is much talk about Burning Man - what it is and what it’s become - but I still feel there’s nothing else like it out there, and this is mostly because of its stance against commodification.
With photographer David Waldorf, I traveled to Cameroon, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kenya, and Rwanda, filming and documenting humanitarian projects by the African Development Bank and the World Bank. We traveled far off the beaten path to hear stories from people in some of the poorest regions of the world. There are some experiences which are so personal yet dissonant with our everyday experience, that it takes time and process to express them. I’m still working on that process.
It was filmmaking which prompted me to move to LA from San Francisco. When I was in the Bay Area, I made films with Antero Alli and Lise Swenson, and directed my first short film, Happy Trees, which was something of a conceptual art comedy. I also made “Red-Blooded American” using an American flag and human blood (donated by thirteen volunteers) preserved with formaldehyde in a plexiglass box. I played with the definition of art with my piece “Fight”, in which I competed as a boxer in the San Francisco Golden Gloves.
I showed my work often in the Bay Area - it was an environment where I was able to experiment and explore my boundaries. I was also deeply involved in Cellspace for its first couple years, helping to build a place which became a cultural staple for the San Francisco arts community for over 15 years. I helped to create and build the Creamery in Oakland, and worked extensively with the Artship and Slobodan Dan Paich, not only producing paintings, writing, and performing, but also restoring a 500 ft art-deco ship, built in 1939.
In the Bay Area, there was no-one I collaborated with more than Antero Alli, who had a huge influence on my methodology and philosophical approach. I met with him to learn more of his work which blends performance with ritual, and we ended up making a film together inspired by some of my experiences in wartime Croatia, during the early nineties.
When I was seventeen, I’d had two art shows which nearly sold out, and I had earned my Associates Degree after graduating from high school early. I was cocky, and with my earnings from the shows I left to Europe to live my life as an artist, beginning with Paris. For the next several years, I spent the majority of my time in Paris and Croatia. I survived by the sales of my paintings, which at the time looked something like people and animals being scorched by color. I was briefly involved in two art squats in Europe - Dom Omladine in Split, and Ssocapi in Paris. My jarred life experiences fueled my work, especially living in a country at war. There wasn’t anything stopping me from living there but the cheap rent, and yet - maybe in the same way that a journalist is drawn to extreme circumstances in the process of telling a story - I was compelled to stay in Croatia, and it was one of my most prolific times. I was adopted there by a group of artists at Zagreb Film who became my teachers by example, including Edvin Biuković, Goran Sudžuka, and Petar Grimani. My experiences there left me with a sense of urgency - one that has kept me searching, working, and revising ever since.
I grew up in Santa Cruz, California. I’m one of eight children, my parents owned and ran a gas station. They were heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and moved to California in 1969 to work for the rights of migrant farmworkers. When I was twelve our house burnt down, and I lived for awhile with an artist who took one of my brothers and I in. I’ll never forget seeing his painting studio for the first time - that was when I decided I wanted to be an artist. I’m still on that path now, and I have even more stories to tell.