The Red Road

The Red RoadHey–

I elected not to go to the art fairs in New York this week.  I actually haven’t been going to them for a while now and I don’t miss them.  I think as recently as 10 years ago, I still enjoyed them.  It was thrilling to see work I’d not seen before and art that excited me.  And then a curious thing happened–the art market became a beast unto itself and the lines between art and fashion became irrevocably blurred.  It became high school with money.  Some will argue that this was always the case and they would be wrong; before art fairs became a growth industry, there was actually something kind of innocence about them.  They had a wonderful capacity to surprise you and weren’t inhabited by as many “advisers,””consultants,” and “freelance curators”–the fleas and ticks of the art world.  There weren’t jaded, wall-street types building hedge-funds comprised of art objects; or at least as many.  What we made was Art.  Not Product.  This was how we entered the world in a meaningful way.  This was our definition.

Most of you know that for the last two years,  I’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans; a lot of time around people at the other end of the economic scale, and it’s been something of an epiphany.  I’ve watched an art community down there hold each other up in the face of economic calamity and horrific tragedy. They made art out of whatever they could scavenge, borrow, find, afford, with no promise of anyone ever buying it.  They made art to add meaning to their lives, and to them it was absolutely necessary.  They weren’t thinking about “careers.”  They were doing this because they hadn’t a choice about whether to create or not.  It was a powerful lesson, and one that I am grateful for.  I like to think that this was the place where I reclaimed my purpose as an artist.

I started making these hobo pieces as a way to honor the memory of Studs Terkel.  I’ve recently reread his towering oral history of The Great Depression, Hard Times, and this text seems to go hand in hand with some of the thoughts I began to have in New Orleans about the nature of class and poverty; how powerfully people without political or economic advantage are compelled to create.  Blues and jazz have their genesis in grinding poverty; so does quilting and carving.  Hobos even had their own art form, referred to colloquially as “Tramp Art.”  I’m not sure where all of this will lead me, but it’s a journey I am glad to take.  It has changed the way I move in the world.

This one is the hobo symbol for “Religious People in this town.”‘

It’s called, “The Red Road.”

Published in: on March 7, 2009 at 9:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Hobo King

The Hobo KingHey–

I had an odd experience the other day.  I had accepted an invitation to be a speaker at the SEA (Self-Employment in the Arts) conference out in Naperville, in part because I think it is a good idea to teach younger artists how to make a living and give them some ideas about how to best achieve this.  They paid me well and in the speech I found myself enjoying the audience–they were young and it was all in front of them.  I gave them some strategy that has worked for me and also made remarks about the current show I was working on–The Hobo pieces–and lamented the presence of so much hunger in America; particularly urban America.  I also said that the last election proved out the equity of the American dream; that your Dad could be from Kenya and your Mom from Nebraska, and you, too, could become the President.

All in all the talk went really well and the kids were great.  I also got to meet and spend some time with Brian Dettmer, (who is one of my heroes in this business) a really great artist , whose work I’ve admired for years.  In the course of my speech I had also mentioned that these young artists were to be mindful of the political “dark ages” they’d just grown up with; the eight years of greed, blood and stupidity that comprised the Bush presidency.  It had been a good talk and afterward I met with a bunch really wonderful young artists who were all about doing as much for themselves as possible.  Everything was ducky.

Before the conference, they’d given an award to an older gentleman who’d sponsored the whole deal and was all about self-employment.   I’d not really heard his remarks because I was working on my notes for my talk.  He was 82 years old and evidently had taken umbrage at some of the remarks I’d made during my speech about Bush and the collection of dildos he surrounded himself with.  He pulled me aside afterward “to have a private word with me,” but mostly to attempt to take me to the woodshed.  This older guy started shaking as he told me how I’d no idea what The Great Depression was like.   I told him that the fact that I was 50 years old attested to this–I was not alive during The Depression.  I also told him that both of my parents were children of The Depression and had remembered it viscerally.  This wasn’t good enough for him,  and I sensed he was actually pissed about something else–and then he outed with it, still shaking.  “I’m a George Bush supporter. . .and you’re shilling for that thug, Obama.”  Before I could even think about deferring to his age and being polite, t was out of my mouth: “Then you’re a stupid motherfucker,” and then it was off to the races.  I’d tried to be polite and failed, and I can tell you that at 50 years old I no longer have any patience for old, rich, white guys telling me how tough they had it.  Every one of these motherfuckers has a Horatio Alger spiel to spin, and I’ve grown tired of it, because at the end of each of these tales is a tough-love bromide about how the poor should “help themselves;” as if we all start in the same place in life.  Blow me.

This one is called “The Hobo King.”

Published in: on March 3, 2009 at 11:17 am  Comments (1)  
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