I love my best friend, Baxter; a boisterous, and unique tuxedo cat who had been adopted and returned twice before we met through Best Friends Animal Society. Soon after our meeting in 2011, we had our photo taken by Nick Carranza at an Awkward Pet Photos holiday event. This video is a compilation of photos taken by Jessica Quiceno in our attempt to recreate the original photo.
I am looking at older paintings and laughing at just how forlorn they are! It was a moody, introspective time in my life. Through my paintings, I was attempting to make something sincere that reflected my depression and acted as the visual equivalent of the melancholy synth-pop music that I love. Ten years later, I am relieved to be much happier and living on the West Coast.
During the 2000s, my art featured “contained miniature landscapes”, informed by my conflicted feelings about growing up in Houston’s suburbs. I would paint benignly cute, expressionless birds or fish instead of people because I wanted the paintings to feel empty and post-human. My small trees and landscapes conformed to the shape of the containers, with roots, tendrils, and branches breaking out. I loaded my art with personal imagery like the Klein tool bag in this painting, which I toted around as my day bag for years. People would ask what I had in my bag, it was usually just a book and other mundane daily objects, but I thought it might be nice if my bag contained something truly magical like a little snowy landscape and a forlorn red bird. After deciding to paint my own bag of tricks, this was the result.
Do you have photos of moments in your life that make you cringe? I have a handful of them, particularly from my early 20s, when I was searching for a path out of Texas. I had moved beyond my flashy New Wave days of makeup and big hair into a strange hybrid uniform of 1940s suit vests, cardigan sweaters, giant t-shirts, over-sized jeans, white boxer shorts, and black wingtip shoes. In 1993, my last year in Houston, the real crime was my goofy Roman haircut. I’m not sure why I thought I could make such an unflattering style into something cool.
This can work if you’re rugged,
or a rock star,
but not as a nerd.
My fashion faux pas was a personal line in the sand against the rise of grunge and its impact on the local art and bar scene. After graduating from high school, I had no trouble meeting interesting, attractive girls from the art and new wave scene, but my artsy friends and I saw ourselves as perpetual outsiders, happy to avoid trendy clichés. What we didn’t realize was that by identifying ourselves as outsiders, we were fulfilling another artistic stereotype. At least this stance offered us a small sense of self-worth and dignity in an environment that felt increasingly static. The Houston nightlife included the new bar Emo’s, which catered to the trendy grungy/alternative music scene that was rising at that time in which the standard patron was an avowed fan of Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. On a typical night, the bartenders usually ignored me and my nerdy, un-inked friends, while the regular patrons were quickly served — reinforcing the message that we didn’t belong. This left us feeling invisible to anyone outside of our artsy circle, but it fueled our self-righteous resolve to reach escape velocity from the endless orbit of Texas.
Odo – When you return to The Link, what will become of the entity I’m talking to right now?
Changeling – The drop becomes the ocean.
Odo – And if you choose to take solid form again?
Changeling – The ocean becomes a drop.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Behind the Lines”
I fell asleep while watching TV, but woke just before dawn to see this scene lighting up my room. Through the dreamy haze, I jumped up to film it with my phone, realizing that it was too beautiful to pass up. The clip is a detail from the opening credits of the late 1960s Lassie TV series.
The Lassie shows always intrigued me with their melancholy theme songs providing an underlying sense of longing and despair.
Each episode usually featured a formulaic conflict, followed by an unrealistic resolution. Lassie personified the dream that even though circumstances might look grim, any obstacle could be overcome through perseverance – and the assistance of a brilliant dog. Sitting in front of the TV during my summer mornings, Lassie’s super-heroic actions provided me with a daily lesson that alpha canine is superior to homo sapiens. This dream was juxtaposed with the lie hiding underneath – hard work and prayer don’t provide any genuine resolution. No god will intervene at the last minute, the way the god-dog Lassie miraculously appears to always save the day.
During several times in my life, I have experienced moments of pure relaxation, which I equate to the serenity of a peaceful death. In those moments I’ve been able to let go of everything – thoughts, emotions, surroundings – and float in a pure, ego-less bliss. Occasionally, I have experienced a work of art which gives me the same tranquil feeling. It seldom occurs anymore with paintings, but I can still occasionally attain it with abstract music and film. Read the rest of this entry »
Midway through the wonderful song, “The Cutter,” by Echo and the Bunnymen, an amazing drone roars to life, filling the air and never failing to raise chills on my skin. I always thought it was distorted bagpipes, but today I discovered that it is actually an eastern violin played by Lakshminarayana Shankar.
I love that sound – the same roar of cicadas on a sweltering Texas afternoon, rising and falling in accompaniment to the landscape shimmering through the waves of heat.
I tried to write today, but I was feeling low and nothing was happening so I headed to a thrift store on Pico. After surveying the block, I discovered a small store I had never noticed before, which had several racks of men’s suits in the back.
I was combing through them when the owner approached – an older gentleman with a long white beard and yarmulke, but not dressed traditionally. The soft spoken man began to talk earnestly about his business, which supports hundreds of families who have no other means to survive. He said that most of his items were donations from families in Beverly Hills, and based on the suits, that appeared true.
We talked for about 10 minutes, discussing our place in the world as humans, as well as our responsibilities to ourselves and the planet. His belief in god peppered many of his ideas, but in spite of that difference, we agreed on how we are supposed to live our lives. It was so simple, and even though I have no religious belief, it was easy to say, “Yes, this is how we should try to live: Don’t be a selfish jerk. Understand that ownership doesn’t last forever, because everything is fleeting. The only things we genuinely have are a mind and body, and even those die off. Help anyone that you can while you have time and health. Be responsible and leave the world better than you found it.”
Then I told him that I’d gone to the theater last night to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and since it was a pristine digital print, for the first time I noticed the sign under the portrait of George Bailey’s dad in the Building and Loan office – “All that you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”
We shook hands and introduced ourselves, then I pulled out $12 to pay for a beautiful blue suit.
I peer into the depths of a black tarp, loosely stapled across a makeshift wall. There is a constant hustle of people shuffling past as they rush to cobble together a haunted house for this elementary school carnival within 24 hours. By my side is David Johnson, a great neighborhood friend. I’d invited him to help paint this mural because I envy his casual confidence when we collaborate on our knock-off Garfield comic strips. We stand transfixed, staring into the endless void of black as the heavy, plastic scent of the tarp fills the air. In the background, the creepy noises from a sound effects album swirl around us as a plaintive dog howls in the distance, glass breaks and a wind storm pushes past.
I abruptly pull a comic book out of a manila envelope to use as a source, then grab a medium-sized paint brush, open a quart of dark purple latex paint and start roughly painting the outlines of a huge swamp monster emerging from the black screen. This is the creature known as Swamp Thing. David opens a bright green quart of paint and begins filling in the forms of the monster. It is 1980 in Texas, only a few days before Halloween and I am 12 years old.
Bernie Wrightson’s cover to Swamp Thing #9, from 1974.
Several years later I’m sitting in an R-rated movie that I’ve snuck into with two of my nerdy best friends, David Gregg and Mike. We sit transfixed, staring into the endless void of black as the heavy, buttery popcorn scent fills the air. In the background, the rhythm of brisk staccato drumming swirls around us as the title The Hunger flies out from the darkness and floats on the screen. Soon we are entranced by the appearance of an unearthly, ghostly thin singer encased in a wire cage. Read the rest of this entry »