Democratic ConventionThe LA RiotsArticles on Ausgang

Undelivered D.l.A. Lecture

I How many of you have heard of a theory called "Schrodinger's Cat"? It goes something like this: you take a box, a plain old cardboard box and make the statement that there's either a cat in the box, or no cat in the box. At this point the question "is there a cat in the box or not" has become the identifying element of our current reality. It will continue to be this way until the box is opened and we find out whether or not there's a cat in the box. At this point reality divides and we're now in a reality defined by the status of the cat in the box: we're either in the reality where there's a cat in the box or in the reality where there's no cat in the box. Now, you can argue that such inconsequential differences hardly constitute differing realities but remember, we're talking about an infinite universe here with plenty of room for separate realities to exist. Granted, major events like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, make this concept easier to understand but I like cats more than JFK so we'll stick with Schrodinger's cat. The process of making art involves a vast number of decisions and choices and the artists job is to sort through these options and arrive at the reality in which the artwork is perfect, ideal. That means that throughout the whole process of creating the artwork, the artist has to pay attention to the smallest details and make the proper decisions. Its fucked, but that's how it is. If you can't create with a sense of urgency fueling your machinery you're going to get a piece of shit instead of a painting. If you don't come away from a session in your workplace exhausted and exhilarated, you're not going in the right direction. After all, according to the Schrodingers cat theory, everyone and everyTHING is depending on you to deliver them to the proper reality, that's your work ethic.
Okay, so now you've saved the world from a shitty reality by creating a masterwork. Fair enough, but what about you? Well that's all about something called "the pleasure principal". You need to enjoy what it is you do so you'll go back to it again. If sex was a drag you'd do it to have a kid and then forget about it. In the midst of handling the universe you'd better be having some fun or you're just gonna be another martyr, like Jesus or that Buddhist monk who set fire to himself in Vietnam back in 1968 to protest the war. Where's the fun in that? I've never subscribed to the myth of the "tortured artist". Don't forget, when Van Gogh cut off his ear it had nothing to do with art, it was over some babe. That whole "tortured artist" trip is just another Catholic guilt bringdown. You'll find its only proponents are artists who never made it. Art is probably the most goal oriented vocation there is, one experiences a constant series of technical and inspirational challenges. Once you've taken care of that tough spot you can cruise for a while until the next one. Its the period between them that I find the most interesting and is probably the reason I paint. Its a brief stage where technique takes care of itself and there's no connection between the hand and the brain. Psychiatrists call it "Flow" I believe. I can think about topics entirely unrelated to what I'm doing while the painting gets done in front of me. The weird thing is that, for a short period after that, and in some cases from that point on, whenever I look at a certain spot in the finished painting, I remember what I was thinking when I did it. Its a weird stimulus response but I can recall weirder ones!

I first started painting 20 years ago in art school. I hadn't planned on being an artist, I wanted to be a journalist. When I got to Freshman orientation at the University of Texas I headed over to the correct building where there was an auditorium full of uninspiring types, the first indication I was in the wrong place. A man got up on stage and actually began this stupid cheerleading routine. "We're gonna be writers! Yeah! We're gonna be journalists! Allright!". I turned to the girl next to me and asked her if this was for real and she said yes, she was loving it. At that point I left and began to wander the campus. I saw a building at with all these weirdoes and good looking girls so I walked over to have a look. When I found out it was the Art Department I signed up for classes right then and there. After three semesters of art classes and regular curriculum courses designed for the subgenius football team, I sensed that there had to be some way to avoid the non art classes altogether so I quit school to attend the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. One day in Hollywood I was in a bar and there was a guy getting more drunk than I was. He said that he had graduated from art school owing 60 thousand dollars and he had taken a data entry job to pay off the debt. This scared the shit out of me and I dropped out of Otis after three semesters vowing to get an art education while getting paid. My first job was handpainting hundreds of yards of furniture fabric, eventually becoming a color mixer. After matching all the color swatches they'd give me I'd spend the rest of the day mixing my own unholy color concoctions. I kept working in my studio after work until I had enough good work to approach a gallery. I was treated like shit, one dealer told me to unload his car before he'd look at my slides. I did. Another dealer told me I could get a show if I slept with him. I didn't. Eventually I ended up at the Zero One Gallery, a beat up space with a rock star clientele. My first sale was to a drug dealer and a solo show a few months later sold out. Naturally I wanted to show at the County Museum of Art but rock stars and drug dealers were good enough for me.

Unfortunately you can't have a successful art movement without rich art collectors to bankroll it. The sad fact is that no matter how good the work is, no matter how well written the manifesto is, unless there's money flowing nobody's gonna pay any attention. Robert Williams was beating his head against the gallery walls until a group of rich collectors who shared his aesthetic began to buy up his paintings and hang them up at home for all their rich pals to see. The role of critics is similar, collectors tend to get nervous if the names of their favorite artists aren't in print. This is where Williams triumphed, if you can't get the magazines to give you a review, print your own goddamn magazine. Thus Juxtapoz magazine was born and paintings by the soldiers of Roberts' army began to get exposure. Independent press like Last Gasp out of San Francisco were happy to put out exhibition catalogues of this kind of work and the jalopy was off and running with a new engine. The wild ride is about to get wilder.

So now we come to greatest of all necessary evils the artist must face: galleries. Galleries aren't charitable institutions, you can't expect them to show work that doesn't sell. The trick then is to find a gallery that'll sell your kind of work; you cannot tailor your work to suit the gallery. Sure after a few years of rejection and bullshit it gets a little disheartening but the idea is to learn how to present yourself and your work. The nasty part of the deal is that the artist's image is as important as the work they make. I know an artist in LA who is so fucking crazy, institutionalized crazy, that she can get just about any price with any gallery she wants. And its all because she's a notable character and when a collector comes back from her studio with a painting, you know he's gonna have something to say other than he gave her a check. Its called "the cult of personality" and Andy Warhol did it best. So you have to respect your dealer and overcome any aversion you may have to being around rich people. Don't laugh, its true, I've met quite a few artists who despised the rich, consequently they went nowhere.

In an ideal situation the artist is supposed to make the work and the dealer is supposed to sell it. But one of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given was that the artist should never give up their control of how they're presented. Yeah, it would be nice to just stay in the studio and paint but one has to attend to the business as well. I come from the era of the DIY ethic, the "do it yourself" way of getting things done. Lord knows I've tried to let other people do it for me but it just seems they can't do it right. Ultimately an artist has to be a journeyman of many talents, and own a truck.