“San Frangeles Las Chicagathens”, Loveless Letters Series, No. 99

27 Oct

Number 99

A few years ago that number seemed to elusive to me, like a fish slippery from the grip. It was 2012 and I was living out in the warm lights of Los Feliz in Los Angeles. At the time I had only finished 20 of these pieces, and while I was more determined than overwhelmed with the prospect of this project, the idea… that number 99 would ever exist as a piece in this collection, just seemed strange to me.

Where would I be living? Where would I have traveled? What would have happened in between No. 20 and No. 99 that would further change me?

I decided to carry one blank Mickey canvas with me throughout my journey. I would use this canvas to wipe off my paint from the other pieces over the years and it would carry the weight of all the other paintings that I had created. This piece would travel all over the world with me, and in essence, number 99 would carry the collective residue of the entire TENxTENxTEN collection.

This piece was worked on in every city that I visited and lived in, and in the end… 5 years later… I finally drew on top of it with the collective memories of my time with this project.

The blog within Mickey Mouse’s face states:

“North Atlanta // January 31st, 2016:

In a soap factory 2 miles from where I grew up as a child. Growing up here I would have not known that my life would 1 day revolve around art, but never did I think that I’d get to work with Mickey Mouse.

Flight at L2 – LAS (interpretation: ATL – LAX – LAS)

..but here we are at the end of 10x10x10, and what a journey it has been. This piece in particular is special b/c its been with me since L.A. I’ve used it as a palette 4(for) years.

Next Day. Las Vegas. Feb 1st 7:26 AM. (yawn)

I worked out in the desert in ’14. I was working in a metal shipping container in downtown Las Vegas and at night at the front of the space was a metal praying mantis that would shoot flames out of his antennas. It was crazy. This piece here was with me in that space and time. Returning back is both bittersweet and magical.

Kind of like Art.

Kind of like Las Vegas.

Athens, GA. February 10th

Hello. Hello. Hello. Moving back to Chicago (yay). I’ve come to the END of 10x10x10 and found myself in a whole new world of ART.

Thank You

Thank You

Thank You

From the bottom of my HEART.”

This piece closes off the “Loveless Letters” series, and resides as No. 99 in the TENxTENxTEN collection.

“Waltopia”, Odds and Ends Series, No. 98

25 Oct

Nearing the end of the TENxTENxTEN project I decided to hop on to a new venture in art with Leslie Combemale of ArtInsights out in Washington D.C. This project, entitled “Art Outsiders”, was a collection of portraiture work focusing on the people who revolutionized the world in their field. People like Divine, Alan Turing, David Bowie, Judy Garland, Amelia Earhart, and more became portraits in this project… but I wanted to take it a step further.

Before TENxTENxTEN, portraits (which mainly consisted of drag queens) were my main focus in my work. At this time they were just paintings swirling in the background of a sweltering ballet of geometric shapes and rays…. and while I loved doing that.. going back to that style just seemed regressive because I had become so much more complex in my sketchwave style.

The one thing that I sought to do is research the entire story of these amazing individuals and write out their history in the architecture of their portrait. I did this because I wanted to become as transparent as possible with my work so that the viewer wouldn’t question who the person was or what they were about.

Simultaneously working with the Art Outsiders project and TENxTENxTEN project, I realized a hidden parallel between the two and began to do an ode to Walt Disney’s history around Mickey Mouse’s face. This painting, entitled “Waltopia”, starts off the history with the middle main triangle, continues with the left triangle, and ends with the right triangle. It is with this piece that I thank Walt for pushing for innovation in the arts. Without Walt Disney I would never have had the opportunity to showcase my work, as his company (continuing in his tradition)… from the very start, believed that there was something great in me.

This piece closes out the Odds and Ends series, and resides as No. 98 in the collection.

“Metro DC Power”, Metropolitan Series, No. 97

23 Oct

Washington D.C. holds a lot of history for me growing up, mainly because my Mom was raised there. It was also the place where she met my father who was working at the Coast and Geodetic survey for the government back in the 1960’s. For most of my childhood, my summers were spent in D.C., but I was too young to really appreciate it.

I believe around 6th grade was the time I realized that D.C. was an actual place. I have this fond memory of listening to “Genius of Love” and “Wordy Rappinghood” by the Tom Tom Club in my heavily scratched walkman while the plane circled around slowly into the metropolitan sectors of the city. Being that I was raised primarily in the outskirts of cities in South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia… my brain only comprehended the architecture of lonely roads funneling through the billowing forests of blossoming oak and maple trees.

This city was bustling with tight alleyways and streets flooded to the brim with people walking everywhere. The architecture of a city was so foreign to me, and I was completely in love with the idea of existing is such a concrete paradise. This would also be the first place that I’d take my first subway ride, and I remember thinking “I want to be a subway train conductor for a living” (I still am fascinated by public transit by train and still wish to have that job).

Now, out in my 40’s, I find myself in the Metro D.C. area around 5 times a year, as my agent, friends, and artwork reside there. I would have moved there years ago if I hadn’t fallen in love with Chicago first… but … Washington…

Well… Washington D.C. still has my heart.

This piece, entitled “METRO D.C. POWER”, is a tribute to Washington D.C. In this piece you’ll find EVERY single district floating inside Mickey’s head. The green area represents the parks in the city, while the blue sectors that cut through either side in the middle represent the rivers. The shape sectors represent factors that are important to the locals of the city as well as tiny snippets of personal history regarding my consistent stay there. The lower right hand sector represents my FAVORITE part of D.C., which is the Metro system. Here you will find the lines which are represented by their respective colors and their end stations. Lastly is the Washington Monument and the White House. This piece ends the Metropolitan Collection and resides as number 97 in the collection.

“Nouvelle Nouvelle”, Metropolitan Series, No. 96

22 Oct

The South has always haunted me, and rightfully so because it’s where I grew up. The dreams taste bittersweet and sludge through my electric metropolitan brain like slow molasses covering the Earth. While I walk through the city blocks of Chicago, flashes of kudzu and humid nights rise up into my swimming dreams like steam erupting from potholes in the empty city streets of my head. These reveries of the South do not carry the concrete visions of Atlanta nor the banjo twangs of Athens. They whisper memories of Spanish moss caught in the tangles of lonely street lights and jazz of Savannah, Georgia… they silently sputter a cough into my ear of jittering flashbacks of Charleston, South Carolina’s soft ocean… they briefly mention a quaint memory of soft architecture of Mobile, Alabama. All of these cities are whispering sisters eating at the table of southern life, and yet.. in these memories, none of them sit as boldly in their chair as New Orleans.

New Orleans does not whisper in my ear, but croons from a far. She is a blues singer covered in the soft historical darkness of cigarette smoke and perfume. She is flashy on the outside, covered in the beads that are thrown off her balcony to the people who drunkenly visit her. She is a coquette who winks and carries the smirk that curves like the twisting veins of a french horn. To tourists she is a natural bon vivant, but to those that live within her… know that beyond the cash and crowds of lotus eaters, she carries the weight of her own history.

I drove through New Orleans by way of Atlanta to Houston back in 2006. My ultimate goal was Houston, Austin, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and finally to my new home out in the rainy metropolis of Seattle, Washington. I had a ford escort, $500 in my bank account, and a months worth of time to kill. Katrina had devastated the landscape, and even after her brawl with New Orleans, the storms still came. The sun was beginning to set as I arrived, and on the left of the highway the dark end of summer thunderheads billowed into an arc over the highway.. almost creating this vision of me traveling through a tunnel of bruised clouds.

It was the first time in my life that I ever saw lightning strike across the shiny lemon dime of the sun.

As I arrived into New Orleans the wind began to pick up with small spattering gales of wind and rain. I had parked at a gas station and began to search for hotels via the ones I had written down in my notebook. Everything was booked, and when I ran inside to ask the gas station attendant why, he simply looked up at me like I was an idiot and said “Well where else are they going to go?”… and I suddenly understood what he mean’t. Everything was booked because the people had lost their homes..

I hopped back in the car and drove around the city for a bit. I expected it to be a ghost town but that wasn’t the case whatsoever. The city looked dark and lonely, but the lights wavered sadly in each window that I passed. It looked like the tourist pamphlet I carried, but as if the tourist pamphlet was waterlogged and all the ink from the pictures of the festive buildings were bleeding out into obscurity. I quickly headed out and crossed the Texas border, in where every insect imaginable seemed to pummel my windshield like flying water balloons of disgust. I finally arrived in Houston and laid my tired head against a friends pillow and slept.

I remember my dreams that night, which consisted of me repeating the same drive over and over again through the streets of that city. It was never ending, and every time I woke up and fell back asleep… BAM! There I would be again, driving endlessly into street corners that would begin again. Everything led back to square one.

10 years later and out in Athens, GA I sought to complete the 2nd to last piece of the Metropolitan Series. It was here where I would relive those memories, and despite that I only visited 10 streets of that magnificent city… I fell headfirst into researching everything I could about that damaged but majestic blues singing sibling of the south.

This piece is called “Nouvelle Nouvelle”, and goes over the districts, streets, and parks of New Orleans. Inside Mickey’s face holds some of Louisiana’s famous phrases as well as a bit of Creole words in the mix. This resides as No. 9 in the “Metropolitan” series and No. 96 in the TENxTENxTEN collection.

“Canadian Circuitry”, Around The World Series, No. 95

21 Oct

I found the house out in Athens, GA while out in Chicago. It was through a Facebook page my sister was on, in where the girl was leaving for Summer break and needed someone to rent it out. I was quite nervous, because in my head I had created Athens as nothing more than a small southern town with small southern minds.. which is just not the case (but my fear and the past had manifested itself in such strange and imaginary ways that I could not even begin to process it).

When Dani Ela and I had first talked on the phone I was incredibly wary until she told me she was from Vancouver.

“Oh Jesus you are from Canada. Thank god”, I said.

The house was off of Easy Street in an area called Normaltown. Dani and her husband Thor were so incredibly cool. While they were only here for a few weeks (before they left the entire house to myself) my time with them was incredible. There are memories of us late at night underneath the candlelight of their screened-in porch laughing and playing music with their friends…. and one memory in particular was the massive showering rainstorm that shot down through the southern sky into our town. Dani and I ran out in the rain screaming and laughing while the sorority beginner house across the street looked at us like we were insane.

I was fascinated with them, so much that my already budding curiosity of Canada, spread like wild kudzu across my brain. Dani and Thor talked about Vancouver with me as much as they could.. and when they left I began to study Canada for weeks. In that old white house, on the screened-in porch, I painted alone for weeks. What once held the laughter and music from my housemates was now replaced with the soft night wind intermixed with the distilled humming of a discordant orchestra of crickets and cicadas.

I silently navigated myself socially through Athens in the daytime that summer, often through working the AM shifts at The Last Resort Grill. In the evenings I would spend time with my sister and her husband in their cool modern style home that resembled a romance between Franklin Lloyd Wright and Tennessee Williams. In the evenings however, when I’d take off my backpack and change out of my soiled waiter clothes… I’d sit there on the porch alone and paint my dreams of Canada.

This piece is called “Canadian Circuitry”, and without the help of Dani and Thor, this conception would never exist. In this painting, I have created a home for each city in each province. Each city describes a certain portion of the area and its surroundings. There are green avenues which relate to the parks and forests that are near each area. In Mickey’s face are the other cities that held a high population, as well as the territories of Canada.

This is the last of the “Around the World” Collection and resides as No. 95 in the series of 100 for TENxTENxTEN.

 

 

“Topsy Turvy Too”, The Human Condition Series, No. 94

20 Oct

This was a re edit from the original “Topsy Turvy” piece, which was unfortunately rejected due to Mickey’s face being upside down in a right side up silhouette. You can find the original in the “Extra” series. Because I loved the idea of everything being backwards and the story attached to it, I resubmitted it with his face normal, but the background still being similar. Here is the original post.

“Disorientation is the feeling I experience the most in regards to “The Human Condition Series”. I’ve been confused for a large portion of my life as understanding and keeping the information of things learned has always slipped my grasp as a kid. My brain had the hardest time retaining facts and information when I was young, and I always felt like I was spinning in this upside down spiraling void whenever asked to repeat, recite, or simply remember anything.

I used to think that inside everyone’s body was a house. Inside your feet were the basement and rec room, the legs were the study and exercise rooms, the stomach was the kitchen and dining room, the chest was the living room, and the brain was your own bedroom of sorts. Everyday I’d walk around staring at people trying to figure out what their house looked like from the inside, and automatically would associate their personality to the state of their house. The wacky would have funky houses, the prim and proper would have cookie cutter duplexes, and sad and disheveled would have empty and lost rooms awaiting furniture.

Looking inside my own self, I imagined that all the furniture was on the ceiling, and that magazines, coffee cups, and random flotsam and jetsam floated about the room with no gravity, aimlessly clinking into each other with no means of ever settling. All the paintings were backwards, and everything was in a consistent state of how I liked to describe to people as “upside-down-ness”. I suppose this was some kind of coping mechanism to relate to the world that I had attention deficit hyperactive disorder,  and had severe learning disabilities in both math and science.

When teachers would ask “Why can’t you understand this?” or “Why aren’t you retaining this information”, I could only reply that everything in my head was “Topsy Turvy”, and/or more specifically “That none of my furniture is on the floor in my head”, to which would promptly get me sent to the school shrink for my metaphors (which was common). I think for a lot of my life growing up in the microcosm of the school system in Georgia, my ability to relate to people on an educational level, let alone, a social level, was met with great obstacles, due to my inability to retain information. I was always in this state of confusion due to the mass amount of information being fed to me on a daily basis. In essence my imagination was a deterrent to me understanding anything, and therefore became my worst enemy.

With that being said, I was always “TOPSY TURVY”.

I was heavily insecure about this, even after being retested in my senior year and being rebranded as intelligent, heck.. EVEN after becoming an algebra tutor to my peers in college. .. I still had this lingering aftertaste of being inadequate and slow to the world. That feeling of confusion, being overwhelmed, backwards, upside-down.. still floated around softly in my skull tepidly whispering its potential of return. Occasionally in my late twenties and thirties working in business/corporate, I’d be reminded of its ghost, and I’d give it little refuge for establishing itself in my head.

It wasn’t until I fully realized that this confusion, this disorientation, … was more of a sensation from stifling my imagination and creative abilities. When I was discovered as an artist, my ideas emptied out of my head like a burst dam. .. YEARS AND YEARS of dreaming, thinking, drawing, sketching, … previous actions which were hinderances to my learning development, were suddenly rewarded by my quirky and weird thought processes. I wasn’t a failure. I wasn’t slow. In fact, there was nothing wrong with me at all. I just happened to be a human being meant for different things, things that required different thought patterns and different approaches. I was an artist. That was really it in the end.

This piece is called “Topsy Turvy (too)” which is the essential mainframe to confusion and ‘upside-down-ness’. For some of us, this backwards feeling can be quite unsettling, BUT for us creative folks, the idea of changing things around… thinking outside the box, and putting the ‘triangle peg in the square shape” … can be the very RARE quality that makes us catalysts for others to dream, think beyond the scope, and ultimately see and create beautiful things.”

“Twice Upon a Time”, Odds and Ends Series, No. 93

19 Oct

I held on to this piece for years. I’m not sure why I did, but the sketch of this laid barren without paint, and over time through all the cities and storage spaces and apartments, this piece gathered a smearing cloud of graphite that blurred throughout it’s entirety. In my head, when I envisioned a book about this, (before there was even an idea that I’d have a retrospective book at my age) this was to be the cover.

Finally at the near end of the project I fished through the myriad of unfinished works to find this painting. Even though this wasn’t the cover, this held strongly in my heart about what this book would be about.

ART.

.. and not just any art, but fine art.

Thats the thing about the art world. There is such a great divide between the commercial art world and fine art world. I believe it comes down to the presence of content and context, and often as commercial artists we are seen as lacking both (and we aren’t).

I remember when I had moved back from Los Angeles to San Francisco a few years ago. I was with a new group of artist friends that I had recently met. They had invited me out to this DIY gallery filled with yarn sculptures and abstract paintings… all which I heavily enjoyed. When I was introduced to some of the artists in the gallery, a guy from the new group had said “This is Tennessee and he’s an artist too…. well… not really.. He’s not really an artist, he works for Disney”.

It took me a few minutes to feel offended because I was just confused why someone would introduce me as such. It was almost like finding a bruise that hurt, but the incident of getting the bruise was a mystery. I left the gallery shortly, and never returned the calls from the guy who said those words… .after all.. why be comrades with a fellow artist who doesn’t think you are an artist?

See.. thats the thing about TENxTENxTEN. It isn’t just about Mickey Mouse… its about so much more than that. It’s about bridging the gap between commercial art and fine art and showing the world that these two things can coexist together. It’s about showing that a character such as the lovable and memory inspiring Mickey Mouse can transcend its commercial state into something so much more. This book was about not just that, but that Mickey can swim in multiple universes beyond the park and the product… and in fact TENxTENxTEN’s sole purpose was to focus the icon as an anchor that swims in the universe of cultures, cities, art movements, memories, emotions, senses, and everything in between.

When I look at this piece, I see the bold statement ART, and that in itself is far more complex that the sketchwave patterns that blurt out of my hands. This piece is entitled “Twice Upon a Time” which reflects the nature of commercial art and fine art, as well as a mention to the beginning statements of fairytales that Disney is known for.

“Aquarius”, Sketchwave Series, No. 92

18 Oct

 

 

Nearing the end of the project I began to have to nit pick at the remaining pieces that fit into the entire puzzle of TENxTENxTEN. I was of course going to finish the ones in the series that required me to be more expressive, and I dove straight into finishing my favorite series entitled “Sketchwave”.

I had left the warm glow of the restaurant job due to the funds of another painting project that came my way, and ended up retreating to my warehouse apartment out in Athens, GA while a 2 week non stop rainstorm washed over the city. In the darkness of my place, I sat at my desk to think about what this piece would be about… and decided to give tribute to all the characters that blossomed out during this project.

Rather than the free flow flotsam and jetsam style that I seemed to love so much, I wanted to get back to my geometric roots and give each character (and new ones) an individual home, a square to call their own. Not only were there spaces for just the characters, but elements of the things I missed and the things I had currently laid in there, as well as random phrases that just burst into my mind.

Looking back at this I could tell that I was missing Chicago as I see “Pink Line”, “The Lake”, “Blue Line”, and “Waveland” in the mix. I can see that I was missing Las Vegas as I see “Horizon”, a cactus, and mountains as well. Icons like Diamond Head Jones, Foudre, La Luz, King Sleep, and Monsieur Nuage are here… as well as the elements of past paintings like the floppy disk for “Dataworld.EXE”, the letter from “Forevermore”, and the moon, egg, anchor, and ghost from previous sketchwave pieces.

I suppose I was feeling sentimental about this project while I was doing it as I see everything I’ve built put into a home where they will live forever in this piece.

“Haringesque”, Odds and Ends Series, No. 91

17 Oct


It was strange how this project of 10x10x10 unfolded as the years went by. I mean, how can you make 100 portraits of the same silhouette and not change?

I look back at my first portrait in where I was relying on the safety of geometric borders and semi-clean lines, … and realizing after the 8th one… that I’d have to blur into something beyond what was comfortable for me. The whole project really began when “Wake Up and Smell the Sound of Coffee” happened (and that was an accident)… and then my whole world exploded.

Suddenly I was all over the place. I drew hundreds of different drawings because suddenly I had permission to. Portraits like “Everything is Going to be Okay”, “Cloudbusting in the Air”, and “Lightbulb City: Population Infinite” were crammed with just random objects that were more of me relearning this realm in my head as an adult (as it existed for me as a child).

As time moved on, the hundreds of objects started flittering away, and certain ones began to stay. In the end these objects transformed into icons that expressed how I felt… and soon they would begin to have names. They were:

Diamond Head Jones (Skull): Operator and Narrarator
King Sleep (Crown): Dreams
Monsieur/Madame Nuage (Cloud): Emotions
La Luz (Lightbulb): Ideas
Foudre: (Lightning Bolt): Strength from traversing through life
Pyramid Head: Safety
Mrs. Seesay (Lips with an eyeball): Singing/Theatre
Soda Popular (Soda Can): Art

These icons were the characters that solidified my future work, something that made me feel that finally… I had reached the greatness of my work.

When it came down to it however, my comparisons of “Warhol with Geometry” began to fade… suddenly when the characters solidified I began to get comments like “This reminds me of Haring a bit”..

And I totally realized they were right.

I’ve always strived for originality in my work, but I have subliminally always been influenced by the things that struck me most as a child. … and Steve Rizzi and Keith Haring were my top favorites mainly because they were so off brand in a time that was so staunch with the remnants of clean vibrant pop.

More so, in the 80’s as a closeted queer kid in the south and learning about a gay man from Pennsylvania making it work for himself out in NYC… and not only making it, but using his fame to call for queer power and fighting the AIDS crisis with a brush and pen… well.. that was the epitome of art to me.

While “Haringesque” was not a part of the “Contemporary Modern” series initially… I have my reasons. I wanted to make sure my skills were perfect before I painted the hero that made all queer artist’s work like mine evident…. and well I had already reached 10 in the series before I could feel that way.

Regardless, I love him and his work, and I am honored to be an artist that people see a resemblance in aesthetically.

“Colors United”, Sketchwave Series, No. 90

25 Aug

 

As I was coming to the end of my TENxTENxTEN series, I began to get incredibly nostalgic over the time that I had on this project. I suppose this is why I ended up doing the piece “Loveless City” a bit ago, because I wanted to remember all the people who helped me along the way in my art career. With a blank canvas in front of me, I began to think about how I could make this piece about everyone else. Sure, I could put their names in there, but I really wanted to think deeper on a subject that connected all of us together (kind of like the piece “The Distance Between Two Points”)

I decided that I would not paint this time around at first, and instead ask friends, strangers, and people through random connections to paint for me instead. For the next few weeks I carried my paint and brushes around with me to various places all over the US and asked random people to make blobs and shapes all over the canvas. Once the piece was completely saturated in paint, I began to envision shapes and characters around everyone’s marks, and slowly but surely this painting came to life.

This piece is called “Color’s United” and seeks to connect all of us together through the artwork we create.