“Every Angel is terrible. . .” –Rilke
The Duino Elegies
As a kid, I’d watch moths dance around the streetlights and wonder if they were angels. My Irish grandmother told me that angels fairly surrounded us; keeping evil away. I loved their powdery wings and and byzantine markings and the fact that they had a kind of fur. To me they were strange angels.
Moths are loaded with symbolic definitions that span cultures the world over. In Mexico, the black witch moth is a harbinger of death and is actively feared. It is said that if one lands in your home, someone is ill and about to die. A white witch moth is said to bring the spirits of the newly expired to the next world.
Two years ago, I made several moth pieces for my installation in Prospect 1, the inaugural New Orleans biennial. It was an experience that fairly changed my life; kind of a “road to Damascus” revelation. I like to think that I reclaimed my purpose as an artist there. The opening night of the installations for Prospect 1 was the best night of my life as an artist. My exhibition was hung in a defunct (or so we thought) funeral home in the Treme, on Rampart Street, and the opening was attended by my friends and a great many citizens of New Orleans. There was a wondrous swirl of conversation, music and joy. The community of people who lived there were in attendance and enjoying the art and the goodwill of all of these interlopers from all over the world. My friends John Boutte, Paul Sanchez and LeRoy Jones provided the music; heartfelt, raucous, bawdy and soulful, in equal measure and I learned a lesson about community and who I wanted to be in the world.
There was no surrender in these people at all. New Orleans had experienced furious loss on an inhuman scale and in every way culturally. They were fighting their way back. I learned a salient lesson about the sanity and grace art-making and the presence of art can imbue in a culture. I never worried again about my “career,” and re-took art as my vocation. . .my calling. Careers are for guys who pimp stocks and insurance, not artists.
This thing we do is a labor of desire–
a thing of the spirit.
And if this is not your reason?
you’re fucking it up for the rest of us.
The last couple of decades we’ve watched the dialogue about art get hijacked by squeak-heads, midgets, pygmies and chihuahuas with a belly full of theory and no soul whatsoever. I have four words for them. Get the fuck out. Bring your empty sophistry and shit-talk somewhere else.
Painting isn’t dead–neither are the other disciplines that require actual skills. I’ll tell you what is dead; your art fairs. . .your 25-year old curators mouthing banal platitude after banal platitude about what it is that we do. Let me tell you something, Dip-Shit; I have shoes older than you.
To all of the dickheads running “art fairs”: This thing that we do? It’s not private property. Xerox that to your brain, Bunky. The public, and I mean everyone, has a place in this exchange; and while you fuckers collect your tariff and admire each other’s clothes, know that we work for them–them and the future. You guys are the custodians; like the washroom attendants at your ritzy joints. You guys merely hand out the mints and hand towels.
Do yourselves a huge goddamned favor.
Take a look at the extroardinary example Daniel Cameron has set in New Orleans; a biennial that used this holy place in its entirety to provide context for the very real idea that art can elevate us above any measure of devastation. It can embolden us to draw the next breath, take the next step, hold out an unselfish act as an example to our community. Art is hope. And hope dies last.
It has been an uphill battle to raise money for Prospect 2, the next New Orleans Biennial, and I don’t know why that is. Politics and the infighting of organizations aside, I will tell you this: New Orleans is our most necessary city. She is our covenant with the old world; the one we came from before we slaughtered our way to our own country. She was built to a human scale and Spain, France, Italy and the Carribean are still present in architectural amber. It is the place where the boast of the American “melting pot” actually melted; a place peopled by individuals, artists , dreamers, poets and musical visionaries. She gave us jazz. Lillian Hellman, Truman Capote and Louis Armstrong. We owe her–big time.