Monday, April 6, 2015

Paging Dr. Feelbad. (What's Behind the Green, Kapoor?)



"When the doctor said I had diabetes, I conjured images of languishing on a chaise lounge nibbling chocolates. I have no idea why I thought this." - Mary Tyler Moore

Hello Blogiteers!

Diabetes can be a real bitch.
No... I take that back.

Diabetes is the bitch.

Sure, my claws are sharp, but they might as well be made out of papier-mâché in defense against  the wellspring of pure evil that Diabetes can call to arms at a moment's whim. If I didn't know better, I'd say that this disease is seriously trying to kill me.

I know, I know... it sounds completely paranoid, but I'm starting to think that I might just be right.

Over the last few months, I've suffered a puzzlingly random escalation in my blood sugar numbers, an almost crippling bout of peripheral neuropathy, which in turn, has led to a painfully heightened skin sensitivity that makes accomplishing even the smallest of tasks exceedingly difficult at the best of times.

The best analogy I can think of to describe this sensation is that of a T-Rex with a bad sunburn trying to make a bed that's full of hyperactive kittens... while standing in a lava pit.

For those of you who are unaware what peripheral neuropathy entails, here's the rough definition:

"Peripheral neuropathy, is a result of damage to peripheral nerves, and often causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet. It can also affect other areas of the body.

The pain associated with peripheral neuropathy is generally described as stabbing or burning. Often, there's tingling."

Ah, yes... tingling. That would be a definitive up-sweep in joy if that were only the sole symptom I was currently experiencing. For sake of clarity, imagine vengeful demons repeatedly stabbing you with red-hot knitting needles as you try to tie your shoes with your legs, arms and hands sheathed in fire, and you'll get a much clearer understanding of what I've been going through recently.

And yet... I'm still feeling fairly optimistic about this, the relatively new year of 2015. Sure, I could easily give in to my obvious discomfort, but I'm the Artbitch. I dispense pain, I don't suffer from it.

In fact, it's currently a quarter after midnight as I write this newest screed, and while it's true that the only reason I'm up this late is because my bed-sheets feel like barbed wire on my skin, I'd like to call attention to the fact that I'm taking this particularly sour batch of razor-lemons and making 100 proof hard lemonade out of them.

If I have to be up half the night, I might as well be productive, and despite the fact that I've had to fire two doctors for refusing to follow their sworn duty to the basic tenets of the Hippocratic Oath*, I'm still soldering on. Throw in all the medical marijuana recipes that I've received from friends wanting to help ease my pain, and I'm pretty sure that I could open my own cannabis-based bakery.

The wonders of modern science. It's so much more than just Velcro and Shrinky-Dinks.

[*Seriously. Avoid Dr. Jatin B. Daas of Arizona Primary Care like the freaking plague. He won't return messages, doesn't "believe" in prescribing medication that you've been taking for over three years, won't follow your pre-established protocol, has quite possibly the worst magazine selection that I've ever seen in a physician's waiting room, and as an added bonus: possesses (in my opinion) the bedside manner of Dr. Mengele at a B'ani B'rith pot-luck*. [*Allegedly.]

And while we're on the subject, I'd recommend that the office of Dr. Smita Kapoor at Internal Medicine Health Center at St. Joseph's is also best avoided as well. Taking care of, and listening to, their patients isn't seemingly something that interests them, so do yourself a favor and just visit a voodoo priestess instead.

That way you know they'll be some tasty bomb-ass chicken soup waiting for you in the end, and let's be honest here- who doesn't love themselves some tasty bomb-ass chicken soup?

Pasty-faced Vegans, that's who. More on her operation in a bit.]

Minus my ongoing pain issues, it's been relatively low-key here at the Lair of Snarkitude- the day gig framing art for galleries and their clients is humming along, my social life is fine, and I was tapped to write a small article for PHOENIX Magazine which should see publication sometime in the next few weeks, as well as being assigned two additional Q&A commentaries- overall, it's shaping up to be an interesting year, to say the very least.

What hasn't been interesting or fun has been the amazing amount of hoops I've had to jump through recently in regards to my medical care and the ongoing maintenance of my health, which as you may have already surmised- has been exceedingly problematic as of late.

Some context.

Being a diabetic is a lot of work- you're constantly micro-managing every bite you eat, endlessly testing your blood sugar, and let's face it, constantly whining about the travails of being a diabetic  is known to consume up more than it's fair share of energy as well.

You just can't win.

If all goes well, hopefully one dies of old age before this disease kills you in all sorts of interesting, yet terrifying, ways. Heart attack/strokes. Liver failure. Low blood sugar. Kidney failure. Retinal failure. Circulatory system failure leading to the amputation of fingers, toes, and even your legs.

Good times.

Let me tell you something from my unique point of view- if you have to pick a disease to be cursed with, get one that they write operas about. Granted, tuberculosis is always a solid choice, but I'm also highly partial to the route of wasting away via alcohol as well. Sure, it's tragic, but at least it's singable. In fact, I'm in the midst of writing one myself.

Working title: "Sweetblood, or hey- I'd love to have a Ding Dong, but... you know."
The dancing Snickers bar dream sequence by the way, will be the show stopper, hands down.

All creative diversions aside, the majority of my free time these days seems to be focused on battling my disease, and that, at times, can be just downright exhausting, both physically and mentally. I sometimes get panic attacks when I see a white lab coat, which to be honest. has really put a heckuva kink in those times when my GF Ashley and I like to play "naughty scientist and pizza delivery guy".

One of the other irritants of being a diabetic is trying to find a doctor that actually understands the complexities of Diabetes, and all that condition pertains to, as most GP's (general practitioners) don't have the background knowledge to make a viable difference in your health, and when it comes to dealing with specialists who do know, AKA: Endocrinologists, it's been my sad experience that they don't really earn the over-inflated fees that they charge.

Don't take this the wrong way, but if I'm paying $250.00 for ten minutes of someone's time, it at least better be with an Asian dominatrix wearing thigh-high boots who gives an amazing lap-dance while  letting me know that I've been a very bad boy and need to be punished.

What can I say... I'm a simple man who enjoys simple pleasures.

Fortunately, at one point I did have such a doctor- the aforementioned Dr. Smita Kapoor. I started seeing her several years ago after my previous physician started cracking jokes to my girlfriend about me "milking" my neuropathy pain for sympathy, rather than performing the job he was being paid an exorbitant amount to do.

Like all relationships, it was great in the beginning- my pain levels went way down, I was on top of my condition for once, and as an added bonus, she was easy on the eyes. Granted, that sounds incredibly sexist, but if you have to be poked, prodded, and examined constantly by a stranger, it might as well be an attractive one.

But all things eventually come to an end, whether we like it or not. I lost my medical coverage, which led to my not seeing her for over a year, mainly due to the cost of the office visits- this in turn, led to the failure of my health, resulting in my most recent and unwilling hospital stay, where I once again discovered that the ICU ward at John C. Lincoln has some dope-ass vanilla pudding.

Seriously. You have no idea how freaking good that stuff is. It's like creamed crack. On steroids.

So when I finally got back on my feet, I decided that it was time to bite the financial bullet and start getting back to seeing my doctor on a monthly basis as a way to wrest control of my life back from the fiery grip of Diabetes.

That was the plan, anyway.

Sadly, when I contacted my doctors office, I discovered that she was in the process of leaving the group practice, and any further details as to where she was going to wind up were not forthcoming.

Son. Of. A. Bitch.

Chagrined, I decided that since I couldn't do anything at that time, I'd just accept the physician who took on my now former doctor's patients- that being the aforementioned Dr. Jatin Daas. Going in, I wasn't worried, as there was a multi-year treatment history for him to reference, and being the eternal optimist that I am, I naively assumed that he would just follow the pre-established protocol.

One day, I have to really apologize to my gut for not listening to him like I should. I'm not sure in which manner this will occur, but I'm definitely going to have to get him something nice for all of his attempts at keeping me from being a complete idiot.

When I finally get to meet my new doctor, he takes all of eight minutes to establish our new working relationship, and proceeds to re-up my prescriptions, one of which is a fairly low-dosage of the narcotic known as Oxycodone. Currently, I take the following drugs daily for control of my Diabetes and neuropathy:

Novolog (fast-acting insulin taken by injection)
Lantus (slow-release insulin taken by injection)
Pregabalin AKA Lyrica (for nerve pain)
Oxycodone (pain control)
Amitryptyline (a non-addictive sleeping agent)


Now, when it comes to the Oxy, it's essentially a back-up medication to take the edge off my pain when the Lyrica isn't cutting it, which is rare- in other words, I normally can make a 30 day supply typically last three months. But as of recent that hasn't been the case, due to the hellish bout of neuropathy I've been battling.

Unfortunately, it's been trying to become an essential part of my daily routine, and since my day gig involves the handling of expensive art while using sharp and stabby tools that can take your hands off if you're not careful, I can't allow myself to be too doped up either.

Therefore, I generally "tough it out" and take the Oxy at night, as a means to help me stave off the ever-present pain, which if timed right, lets me grab two to four hours of sleep before the fire in my skin wakes me up again. Even sleeping naked can be too much where my skin sensitivity issue is concerned, and if my GF happens to move, accidentally dragging the top-sheet across any part of my body, it's a sure bet she'll find me hanging from the ceiling, man-bat style come the dawn of the new morning.

So, as I leave my new doctor's office, I make the follow up appointment for a month later, and I go about my day, running errands, accomplishing tasks, and occasionally killing the random circus clown here and there.

You know... like you do?

Granted, I was still in a lot of pain, but I did have the Oxy, and after all, I was going to talk to him about upping my dose of Lyrica during the next visit anyway. See, I have a theory- after five years of taking this drug, I'm convinced my body has become acclimated, and that the dosage needs to be "tweaked" a few milligrams upward in order for it to continue working as effectively as it has been.

But there upon the sunny My Pretty Pony horizon, a spanner in the works was thrown.

Roughly a week and a half before my appointment was to occur, I discovered to my horror that I was going to run out of the one medication that kept me from peeling the skin off my own face by seven days- that of course, being the Oxy, a drug that I had been taking without incident for the past half-decade. So, like any responsible adult, I called his office and left a message explaining the critical situation... and didn't hear anything back for three days.

Thus began a game of phone tag that would make the Gods of Olympus themselves weep. Despite the fact that I had a well-documented medical history of neuropathic pain going back five years, Dr. Daas seemingly couldn't care less about the discomfort that I was going through, or the hellish pain that I was on the cusp of experiencing.

Let me be clear- at no time whatsoever, did he even bother to return any of my messages personally, leaving that sensitive task to his head nurse, who to her credit, became more and more agitated by his unethical refusal to render any sort of aid regarding my situation.

Not once did he offer to move up my appointment or recommend an alternative pain killer, but he did let me know (via his nurse) that he wasn't "comfortable" prescribing narcotics, a small but important fact that I feel should have been told to me when we first met. Forgoing an actual solution, he offered up (via his nurse again) the name of a pain specialist who charged $250.00 for the first office visit, couldn't see me for three months, and then, to top it all off, didn't actually treat diabetic neuropathy...

AT ALL.

In fact, their practice was based on what their receptionist referred to as "Erector-Set" pain- the analogy being that if you were more metal than flesh due to an accident, then they were your go-to guys for said treatment in regards to the same. While she was truly sympathetic, there wasn't really anything that they could do to help me whether it was in the short or the long term.

I tells ya- sometimes, I really wish that I was a jazz musician, so that I could go do some heroin without anyone giving me real grief for it.

But as my circumstances seemingly became bleaker, there was a flash of white light on the horizon, a joyous trumpet-call from over the hills, the sound of a crash between a truck full of chocolate and a truck full of peanut butter- my GF Ashley using all of her redheaded Google ninja skills had found my old doctor, the one and only Smita Kapoor!

(CUE UPBEAT 80's MOVIE MONTAGE THEME MUSIC, WHILE SHOWING ME DANCING IN MY BATMAN UNDERWEAR PLAYING AIR GUITAR IN A ROOM FULL OF POP CULTURE POSTERS!)

God, what an amazing feeling that was- not only did I have my old doctor back, I was able to get an appointment on the very same day that I was supposed to see the schmuck that was refusing to follow my treatment protocol- certainly, this was Fate dealing me it's finest hand.

It's closely akin to an old high school buddy calling you up and saying: "Dude... my parents let me move back into the basement- so come on over and let's get that wicked surf-punk ska house-mix Def Leppard cover band project going, and we'll make some rock and roll myths happen!"

So, after setting up my new appointment with my old go-to girl, I then called up Dr. Daas and proceeded to fire him as my physician- granted, I had to do this via his head nurse, but she
seemed more than happy copying down my thoughts on his inability to follow the tenets of his chosen career.

And as an aside, she did this with an inordinate amount of personal glee, I'm happy to report.

You think that I'm a bitch on the pixilated page when you piss me off? You should really hear me on the phone [or see me in person] when I get going, as I've made Teamsters weep for their mamas, and yes...

I AM that good.

As for his difficulties in following my pre-established care, I'd normally state that "It ain't rocket science", but it might as well have been, since reading what was in my file was apparently a parallel to NASA being able to land the Space Shuttle on top of one of Neil deGrasse Tyson's lawn gnomes.

But no matter, for I was about to get back on track while wearing black, and I was looking forward to it- picture a Christmas morning inside the Willy Wonka Factory while all around you the gathered Oompa-Loompas dance in their native and festive garb, and you'll be close to the joy I was feeling at just the mere thought of getting my pain issues finally settled.

And when the blessed day finally arived, it went great. She seemed genuinely thrilled to see me, and even re-upped my pain meds, all the while chatting about how "we" were going to get back on top of my condition. Who-hoo. Yipee. Yowza.

Sure, there was one small issue- that being I was told the office charge was going to be $100.00, and it turned out to be $151.00 instead, but at least I was getting to see the person most responsible for my continued health, so that seemed to be a small price to pay in the long run overall.

[Side note: this practice of adding additional fees after the fact for a standard office visit seems to be the newest way the medical profession attempts to gouge it's hostage client base- I would love to see if any other business could get way with this, wouldn't you?

"Yes, normally it's two-seventy-nine for that Big Mac, but our counter-person did have to hand you a receipt, so now it's four-fifty-five."]

But back to my narrative.

When I came in for the follow-up appointment a mere two weeks later, that breezy attitude had been replaced with the countenance of someone who had previously dated me and had the misfortune of seeing me naked. Clinical. Calculating. In a word, just plain frigid. As I describe how bad my pain is, she seems distracted, and I observe that she and her nurse (a bottled-blonde named Shaun) are taking subtle glances at their watches as if they had somewhere else to be.

Cutting me off in mid-sentence, Dr. Kapoor informs me that she wants me to get my blood drawn for a series of tests- one will be a full blood work-up panel (over $300.00) a urine/drug test ($200.00) and then she wants to see me in another two weeks for another visit. ($100.00-150.00) For those of you keeping score, I haven't had any real cessation in my pain levels, plus that's at least $650.00 at the bare minimum, and I don't have any health insurance.

Not because I'm irresponsible or anything along those lines, I'm just still working my way through the tepidly bureaucratic mess that is the Affordable Healthcare Act- and while I can't speak for you, I generally don't have that kind of cash on hand at any given point, a detail which I made particularly clear to Dr. Kapoor.

Several times, in fact.

Brushing that aside, she informs me that I will need to find a way to raise the funds, as she cannot (and will not) re-up my pain meds without a current urine test, and as to my request for "tweaking" my Lyrica dosage, she states rather haughtily that she is, and I quote: "not in her comfort zone" for doing that either.

Let me clarify. She wouldn't prescribe me the low-dose narcotic that she originally approved as a side drug to ease my pain, nor will she alter the dosage of the non-narcotic drug that is obviously not working like it used to.

And for this, I get to pay her $150.00? I would have been way better off giving that money to the aforementioned dominatrix- if I have to be in severe pain, I'd rather that it be served to me while it's wearing a black leather corset. Once again, I'm a simple man with simple appetites.

Excusing herself, she gathers up her laptop and exits the room with Shaun, leaving me sitting there... for 45 minutes.

Interesting side note: when you're stuck in a room with no magazines save for Good Housekeeping, [Happily, I did learn how to make cookies that are moist and delicious- the secret is butter.] and your phone only has 50% of it's battery left, you'll find it's truly amazing what you can make out of tongue depressors when you're tragically bored beyond belief.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

All kidding aside, I cannot even begin to tell you how infuriating it is to hear someone mewlingly complain that their "comfort zone" is being compromised when all your zones (and I do mean all) are in sheer f**king agony. Aww... poor baby- you feel uncomfortable.

Well, guess what, you self-absorbed bitch, when I wake up in the morning, my goddamn eyelashes hurt. So f**k your comfort zone, and f**k you as well.

And as an aside, here's a heads up: when a patient of yours is diabetic and you abandon him in a room for 45 minutes and he hasn't had a chance to eat yet, he's apt to have his blood sugar drop, so next time please make sure to leave him a glass of OJ or a peanut butter sandwich before you decide to go see the other six patients that you all cleverly scheduled for the same time.

Once again, I'd love to see any other profession that does this: "Hi, I'm from the cable company and I see you have a one o' clock appointment, so I'm also going to be installing the other five houses on your block at the same time- this could take a while." That's right- I experienced a "low" when I was there, due to having to wait so long for them to get back.

Fortunately, I always carry sugar pills and fast-acting glucose gel to stave off such an event. Thank the Lord, that I do, because when Shaun returns, she dismisses what could have been a very bad thing and doesn't even once to think to check my blood sugar*- instead, she just blathers on about how Dr. Kapoor will "return soon", because as I think I've established by now, I obviously have nothing but time on my hands.

*[When we did check it almost 30 minutes later, it was 114- which means I probably dropped into the low 60's. That's pretty bad, and could have led to my passing out.]

Granted, this is all occurring on my day off- what better way to spend my excess time than being trapped in a beige room with nothing but cotton balls, six month old magazines, and tongue depressors to amuse myself? If I only had access to a roll of bubble wrap and a box of packing peanuts... I could have kept my inner child amused for days.

Attempting to make the most of the down time, I at that point handed Shaun the other reason why I was there, that being my medical aid paperwork. The drugs that I require to function and stay upright, (namely the Lyrica and my two Insulins) are bloody expensive, and because of their prohibitive cost and the fact that I'm uninsured, I'm more or less forced to be on aid programs to receive them free of charge.

Each box of Insulin pens and a 30 day supply of Lyrica runs about $268.00 each, a price that has only been rising since the new insurance laws went into effect. Mind you, I don't blame the AHA, I blame the drug manufacturers who saw it as a golden opportunity to gouge it's client base. For instance, a vial of Lantus used to be around $90.00- not cheap, but also not break-the bank expensive either.

Heck, even without insurance, I could afford that. But now?

Try $250.00 for a drug that I could buy from Mexico or Canada for less than twenty, the only difference being the zip code it's located in. That's what I love about this country- if you're rich, you'll be just fine, but if not- well, just pick out what suit you'd like to be buried in and what song you'd like to be played at your service.

[By and by, my choice would be Frank Sinatra's "My Way" as covered by Sid Vicious- it is a train wreck full of awesome.]

Overall, the process for receiving this medical assistance isn't that complicated- it typically requires filling out a one page application, providing proof of your financial status, and per the federal requirement, your doctor's office faxes the whole shebang, along with a prescription for whatever drug you're applying for, directly to the company who manufactures said drug.

Normally, a five minute procedure at worst- two if you're firing on all eight cylinders.

Now as a rule, I tend to keep things highly organized where personal paperwork is concerned, as it's a combination OCD and German thing, and this was no different. Each application was individually binder-clipped together, and the areas that my doctor needed to fill out were highlighted with one of those neon yellow marker thingamajigs- in short, a masterwork of neurotic compulsiveness that even Helen Keller could have easily followed.

With her hands tied.

So naturally of course, it got all shades of bolloxed up. Shaun exits the room once more, paperwork in hand, and when she returns almost 45 minutes later... none of the paperwork is filled out, which for some reason, she did not notice. Mind you, I could see this from across the room, but apparently, when it comes to the fine details, Shaun is far-sighted.

[For those of you keeping track of the time, we're close to almost TWO hours for what should have been a half-hour visit at worst.]

Giggling, (I kid you not) she suggests that I should leave, and states that "they'll take care of it"- not to worry. Note to self: whenever anyone offers to do this in the future, remember this day, and how badly they screwed the metaphorical pooch with a sandpaper condom.

After I reluctantly depart, I call Shaun's direct line and leave a message reminding her not to forget to send the financial info for all three forms- granted, it says to do so right underneath the fax number printed on each application, but since she had already shown me signs that she was possibly three beans short of a burrito, I felt I should hedge my bets, and make sure, nonetheless.

Speaking of burritos, it seems that now would be a good time for me to take a pause from my tale and go microwave one, and then hit the sack. And when I come back...

I get a Dear John letter, have a showdown with Marshall Dillon's incompetent sister, dance a tango with a nice (but scripted) St. Joseph's patient relation flack, and show the bitches who I be, using nothing but the power of positive thinking and my melodic voice.

"I don't trust doctors. It's not to say there ain't some good ones, but on a general level, no, I wouldn't trust 'em at all."- Keith Richards

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Art Spaces of Tommorrow? (Mesa rising) Part One



"In every artist's life, it is inexorable that environment play a determining part"
- Eric Walrond

Hello Blogiteers!

I'm feeling pretty good these days. My blood sugar is slowly getting under control, I'm putting back on the weight I lost during my brief sojourn at John C. Lincoln Hospital, and I finally got to see "White House Down" via my newest and bestest buddy Netflix. It rocks, by the way. Just suspend your common sense regarding how the terrorists gain control of the White House, and you'll be perfectly entertained.

Ten words: presidential limo gun battle, on the White House front lawn.
Life in a word, is just kick-ass.

And speaking of the subject of kicking ass, my last humble rant generated a slew of emails, most of them centering on my take in regards to art galleries versus art-spaces. As I expected, there were a few angry missives criticizing my devotion to fervent capitalism, but I still maintain that in order to be seen as a world-class art destination, it's absolutely crucial that we present ourselves as total professionals when it comes to the marketing and fostering of our base talent.

But there was also the following comment left on my personal FB page, and it's remarks like this that inspire me to keep writing:

"Thank you for your words about art spaces and selling art. I've had some negative experiences, alongside some really positive ones. Sadly I let the negative ones carry more weight and Ive been treading water on my art lately. But after reading a bit of your blog I want to get back to some of my work."

Years from now when this guy rules the art world, I'm gonna ask him for a favor. A big one. Most likely involving Milla Jovovich and a tub chock-full of marshmallow fluff. And people say it doesn't pay to network? Pshaw, says I.

Back to the issue at hand.

To quote myself: "Picasso wasn't discovered in a coffeehouse." If we want to run with the big dogs, we need to get our lazy asses off the porch and actually get our shit together instead of endlessly talking about it. I've often (and publicly) stated the need for a subsidized mentor gallery program within the PAS, and if we're ever going to make Phoenix a serious contender along the lines of cities such as New York and Los Angeles, it's definitely one of the numerous things we need to implement, and that right quick.

If we want our metaphorical art-forest to continue to grow and prosper, then the need to make sure that for every tree that's cut down, two saplings take it's place is not only logical, it's essential.

All hail artsy HYDRA, as it were. Sadly, when it comes to the PAS, it seemingly feels that for every Eric Cox and Christine Cassaro we're lucky to have, there's six Peter Buggs, and they just keep reproducing like rabbits mainlining Viagra.

The inevitable poseurs and wannabes aside, we still have a long way to go before anybody of note sees this burg as an art mecca worth investing in. It's not for lack of talent or passion, but the lack in marketing and leadership that continually sinks our ship before it evens get to unfurl it's sails.

As time goes on, I'm becoming less interested in the nuts [Joe Brklacich] and dolts [Peter Bugg] that comprise the inner workings of the PAS, and instead have been trying to visualize the long-term subsequent end goal- Phoenix becoming the go-to spot for serious art patrons. While that may seem overly optimistic and perhaps even a little naive in relation to the reality we find ourselves currently in, I do believe it is possible.

Still have doubts? Keep this in mind: Ben Affleck can't act his way out of a brown paper bag, and now he's freaking Batman. If the universe can let that happen, surely we can make our little art-scene commercially viable. And personally, I feel the universe owes us a big one, especially after letting that monstrosity of casting become a tangible fact.

I'd never thought I'd say this, but I really miss George Clooney.

My fellow artist and respected colleague Pete Petrisko recently opined over coffee that it was time for me to take on a more expansive worldview and concentrate my snark-fueled energy at those who are really to blame for the lack of the PAS's progress- in other words, bigger and badder targets, and I'm inclined to agree.

Don't get me wrong, I've always found it highly cathartic to metaphorically flay alive those who's ignorance goes right to the bone, but I also think it's time I take this knack for creative writing and kick it up a notch. I'm not going to be one of those people who name drop, as I've always perceived it to be both tacky and somewhat embarrassingly self-serving, but in the last eight months I've had no less than four professional writers (and one highly respected magazine editor) inform me that they think my writing is, and I quote: "solid and damn good".

Let me tell you, nothing makes me feel pretty inside like sincere compliments. In fact, I'm going to be applying for a Warhol Grant in relation to creative writing later this year, and if I don't get it... well, there's always that management position at Cracker Barrel to fall back on, I guess.

Priorities over personalities is the tack I'd like to take over the course of 2015, as I'm getting slightly topped off having to deal with the seemingly never-ending barrage of human speed-bumps that infest the PAS, much akin to an artsy version of Lyme disease. And in retrospect, I feel I've done a lot for starting the discussion of what course the PAS should take for the future.

That's me... your basic conversation yeast.

But I'm also the guy who bitch-slapped the Phoenix New Times and it's Mangling Editor Amy Silverman so hard and so publicly that they actually started covering the PAS almost like a real newspaper. Granted, their writing and coverage is still uniformly terrible, but at least they're doing something, even if it's only partially beneficial in the end.

Throw in my recent shaming of the equally unimpressive* (and wholly unethical*) art entity SMoCA, for their past rewarding of shameless outright plagiarism, and one could easily surmise that getting in my crosshairs is not the wisest decision that one could make. Especially if you're unprincipled or by the dint of your actions, you impede logical progress.
*[Allegedly.]

If truth be known, I loathe roadblocks, and when I encounter one, I tend to do one of the following: go around, go under, or more typically- go right through the middle of that f**ker like a chest-burster straight out of Alien. Truly diplomatic subtlety has never been my modus operandi, and I see no real need to start now. If there's a crisis that arises, you don't stick your head in the sand, you grab that sucker by it's greasy little throat and make it your... well, I'll let you chose your own metaphor.

People who tend to sugarcoat obvious (and solvable) problems have always been one of my major pet peeves, as there's only two ways you can go when faced with an issue- the right way or the path so well traveled by the PAS, that I'm surprised that we haven't trademarked it yet.

Living in the 5th largest city in America would make one naturally think that we're at least on par with other cities where community infrastructure is concerned, and for the most part, you'd be right.

We have a rapidly expanding transit system, new businesses are springing up like dandelions, and our convention center can hold an entire Comicon's worth of Princess Leias and Thors, with room to spare. And let's not forget all of the public art, whether it's the Calle 16 project, Third Street's murals, or that god-awful sky-condom mesh monstrosity that's hanging in Downtown.

Which, by the way- I would love to see aflame, if it wasn't for all the public money that's already been wasted on it. Where are all the truly dedicated arsonists when you really need them?

Due to my hatred, I'm even open to suggesting the idea of giving Peter Bugg a shot at creating something new to hang there, but as we saw with his obviously plagiarized* [and sadly winning] entry at SMoCA's Good n' Plenty grant awards, I'd have to believe that he'd just take the original sculpture, turn it upside down, add glitter, and call it a day.*[Allegedly]

Sorry. That was just a tad bit rude and highly inaccurate. Peter would never use glitter, as it tends to possess more substance than his entire body of work thus far. Gah. I'm trying to take the high road, honestly I am, but the snark wants what the snark wants.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the subject of art, most people tend to regard it as more of a want, rather than as a "need", a position that I'm obviously biased in regards to. If I were to engage in a debate with someone who was advocating this POV, I'd start by illustrating the financial impact that a successful art community can bring to the table, such as increased tax revenues, along with the sometimes overlooked benefit of the revitalization of previously depressed neighborhoods.

Think about Roosevelt Street some twenty odd years ago, and I'd have to strongly suggest you think harder about whether it's truly a "need" or not. Without foresight, would anybody have built those overpriced condos there at that time? Definitely not.

But all of this boils down to a pointless exercise in theoretical academia unless there's a structured framework already set in place to support the development of an economically viable arts district.

To construct a successful arts community, you also need the built-in convenience found in most major American cities, and that's where Phoenix is constantly dropping the ball. Deaf to the sound of opportunity knocking. Missing the boat. Arriving a day late and several dollars short, for lack of a better analogy.

Along with the myriad of previously discussed concerns, the PAS also suffers from another uniquely urban malady, that being the issue of sprawl. If you've ever been out on a First Friday, you're acutely aware that seeing all that's to be seen is quite the Herculean task.

Forget the lack of convenient parking, the human lemmings gumming up the sidewalks, and the ongoing issue of half-ass presentation combined with limited hours that are to be found in most of our art galleries, and you could easily argue that one of the major thorns in the art community's side in regards to progress is that it's footprint is huge- not in presence, but in distance.

For those of you who are familiar with the layout of the PAS, think about walking from Modified to the Icehouse. In July. See the inherent issue? For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, it would be the artsy equivalent of the Bataan death march... with hipsters. I get chills just thinking about it.

Unlike many metropolises, Phoenix is not, nor has it ever really been, a walkable city. There are some limited areas where this is not entirely true, but as a rule, you really do need a car if you're ever going to get anywhere in this town within what passes as a reasonable time. Call me crazy, but if you're going to support the arts, then you need to be able to easily support all the areas, not just the one over-gentrified street.

While I'll acknowledge that Roosevelt has become a central location for the PAS, I'll also state that I find it as edgy as a glass of warm milk. I'm a traditionalist. I like my art and my artists the same way I like my great white sharks- hungry and slightly dangerous to the status quo.

I'll take gritty (IE: Grand Avenue) over white-bread any day of the week, and I've always felt that you can be both professional and cutting-edge without having to placate the white and uptight patron brigade. Gritty doesn't mean that you have to phone-in your approach, in my view it means that you're willing to take chances others would take a pass on, either out of fear or ignorance.

Come to think of it, they're two sides of the same coin, but I digress. While RoRo and Grand are part of the PAS for all practical intent and purposes, they may as well be on separate planets given their unique nature and amount of space between them. Keep in mind that between these two art anchors are several various galleries, art-spaces, and artist studios, the majority of whom are off the beaten path, and you'll see why I say that ours is a highly fragmented art scene, in terms of both leadership and location.

To be frank, it's exceedingly detrimental to establishing a solid base of patrons who actually buy art, rather than photographing it with their I-phones. In addition, it's also a tough haul for the artists as well, since unless you're lucky enough to have enough room in your house/apartment /garage/cardboard box for a dedicated studio, you'll have to rent a space- and in Phoenix that usually means a small (overpriced) rat-hole, typically situated in an area that could be charitably described at best as a demilitarized zone.

Speaking from a wealth of precedent experience, most of what passes for studio space in this city could be considered an exercise in personal suffering that would make the most ardent of Catholics weep. My old space had no air conditioning, save for a 30 year old swamp cooler, one window facing away from any natural light, and was home to an ever-changing roster of field mice, assorted weird spiders, and roaches that I swear on all that's holy, would just laugh in my face whenever I pulled out a can of RAID.

Good times. The rent for this slice of Lucifer's paradise at the time was $425.00- which even then, was way steep. But I was an artist, and an artist had to have a separate studio space, and who was I to go against tradition? An idiot, that's who. But then as now, the options open to artists seeking an artistic creation space were limited.


If you look at successful art markets around the country, the trait they all seem to share is that the artists and the spaces that show their work are integrated into a concentrated area, which makes perfect sense in regards to both business and convenience.

Phoenix, on the other hand, has no such cohesion when it comes to it's art community, and that lack of planning is proving to be quite the hindrance for serious patrons and artists alike.

Some measures towards this problem have been taken- the Oasis project on Grand for instance, which provides low-cost housing for artists, and also possesses an on-site gallery to showcase the work of said Creatives that live there. However at this time, it's still overshadowed by the entity that is the RoRo District, so at best, it's a baby-step in the right direction.

I'm not smack-talking the Oasis, mind you- I for one, think it's a great concept. It's close to downtown, the views of the city are terrific, depending on what side you live on, and it's three minutes away from Grand Avenue Pizza, and that's always good.

But at this particular moment in time, it's a wolf without a corresponding pack, and if this model were pushed even further and harder throughout the PAS, I think there'd be a definite upsweep in revenue and exposure for our art scene overall, and I can't see anyone having an issue with that.

Except of course, for our local contingent of art-hipsters, who most likely, will kvetch endlessly about how much cooler Phoenix was before it "sold out" and went all commercial.

Now in order for this to work, we definitely need to pattern ourselves on a system that seemingly has all the kinks worked out. We could look to the successful platforms that are already established in art centers such as LA or NYC, but pick only those parts that would work for us. However, as much as I would love to see this city become an art destination, I also want to make sure that we don't become a weak-ass clone of either one of those cities.

Granted, I'm not really certain what Phoenix's true artistic identity is, but it sure as hell isn't the detached coolness of New York or the toxic plasticity of LA. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be to guarantee our long-term success, and in fact- there's a project that's currently under development that Phoenix could emulate, and the beauty of it is that it's literally in our own back yard.

So where is this small, yet brilliant, beacon of artistic development? Mesa.

(crickets chirp.... a lone tumbleweed rolls by... somewhere, in the twilight distance, a dog barks.)

Yes. I said MESA, the ancestral home (as the joke goes) of Mormons, meth, and morons. I see by your slack-jawed expressions that some form of explanation is required- fair enough.

I live to bring enlightenment, if not clarity, to the masses as you know.

However, my explanation is also going to be a tad bit awkward, especially when you take into account that Phoenix should be the one setting this particular bar rather than a city I've always compared to my Oma's 1957 Hoover vacuum- grey-colored, completely industrial, and sucking like Ben Affleck in Daredevil.

Sorry. I still can't believe that they gave him yet another super hero to completely screw up. Is it too much to ask that Hollywood stops screwing around with the things I love? What's next? Jonah Hill as Wolverine?

And don't even get me started on the new Star Wars movie- if JJ Abrams f**ks that up, I swear on my light-saber collection that I'll take a cue from Jabba and toss him in the Saarlac Pit.

Oh yeah... I went there.
Moving on....

As I was just saying, it seems that Phoenix's ugly stepsister is apparently making some serious moves in regards to upping it's artistic game by developing a true artistic presence, and as usual, we're the ones who once again, are lagging a step (if not two) behind. I wouldn't dare speak for you, but I for one, am getting really sick and tired of watching the other kids get the Evel Knievel Action Set while we're stuck with a metaphorical lime-green sweater that we're supposed to grow into.

Seriously. We're the cute one- why can't we have the nice things too? If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say part of the issue would be the puzzling attitude that Phoenix is somehow not deserving of such artistic amenities- an ignorant stance that personally, I find highly infuriating.

Let me clarify this point.

Some time ago, I made the unfortunate decision to attend a presentation at the Mesa Arts Center, an absolutely gorgeous building, in Mesa's quickly burgeoning Arts District. The speaker that night was promoting a self-help program (of sorts) aimed at artists who wanted to achieve a stable financial base in regards to the selling and promotion of their art- for the working artist, as it were.

As someone who is all about the Capitalism, I can get one hundred percent behind the concept of educating Creatives in regards to how the big scary machine works- forewarned is forearmed, after all. But as a rule, I've always believed that most self-help books and the like are typically nothing more than repackaged self-indulgent twaddle.

If you can get something beneficial out of these types of programs, that's great, but you shouldn't have to pay for information that with the merest of research you could glean for free at your local library.

That's just my humble opinion, but if you're one of those people who wants the legwork done for them, then feel free to open your checkbook and have at it. I, on the other hand, have always believed that personal growth requires both inner focus and even perhaps a little private discomfort to be truly transformative in the end.

As I sat there listening to this person's saga about how they got to where they were now, two things became highly apparent- first, they weren't an Artist in the traditional sense, their foundation was in the marketing and sale of art (which had been lucrative) and second, they were just a slight bit out of touch with their target audience, a fact which became even more crystalline as they described how exactly their self-help program came to be.

Most Artists aren't in this gig for the money, shockingly enough. We usually have to chase it down like Cujo going after a bus full of pre-schoolers, and that's on a good day. The option to relax and engage our sense of inner contemplation is usually not in the cards, typically due to lack of money and/or time. How to pay the electric bill gets my contemplation more than my career, for instance.

Being a professional Artist myself, I'm painfully well acquainted with being under the thumb of both of these constraints, so when I'm in the presence of someone who waxes poetic about how they got their head together by taking a year off and going to Europe to sit in the ruins of an ancient keep, while pondering the meaning of it all, I tend to get somewhat... let's call it touchy, and leave it at that.

Most artists can barely afford to sit in their own house, much less a 16th century fixer-upper, but I digress. All their hard-earned success aside, it's easy to talk about getting one's career and life on track when you're blessed with an abundant bank account and sitting in a castle- just saying.

But the best was yet to come.

After the talk and subsequent "buy my stuff" sales pitch, the remaining crowd gathered outside by the cash bar, where I demurred the opportunity to buy a three dollar can of warm soda, and as our host walked by, I managed to grab a few minutes of conversation with them. After a little shop talk, the discussion eventually turned, as it always does when my dialogue involves art, to the ongoing problems with the PAS and the difficulty of advocating for it outside it's defined borders.

Certainly, this highly successful former Scottsdale art sales pro and self-help entrepreneur would have some sage advice for me, a lone artist hoping to make a difference, right? As I made the case for the ol' 602, she rather directly states that "Phoenix is a lost cause" and that I should "just get off the sinking ship while I still could.", finishing up with the implication [I'm paraphrasing here] that all my efforts were tantamount to spitting in the wind.

Sigh... one day, please remind me to definitely sit down with my sense of optimism and talk some sense into that naive little bitch, cause if that doesn't work, I may just have to fire her altogether. If there's a sure fire way to get on my dark side almost immediately, it's to suggest that something I'm truly passionate about has no inherent value, especially when I know it's not true.

This outlook doesn't apply to the "Xanadu" movie or any of ABBA's albums of course, as after all- while I may be fervent about them, I'm also not completely crazy. I don't think for a New York second that the PAS is a lost cause.

And to be brutally honest... if it is, then it definitely needs all the help it can get.

In my humble opinion, lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. Well those... and any that involve the overthrowing of our Evil Lizard Overlords. All half-joking talk of freedom aside, I found their short-sighted point of view to be highly insulting, and despite the fact that my first instinct was to unsheathe my razored tongue and metaphorically peel them like a sentient potato, I did not.

I do have some social graces after all, and besides- I like that place and don't want to be banned for life over what at best, could be considered a matter of difference in perspective. I've never truly understood why certain people are so willing to write this city off without a second thought before getting all the relevant information first.

I'd be the last person to say that we're running on all eight cylinders, but I'd also take the position that given the right mixture of leadership and marketing, this city could be one of the heavyweights, hands down. And a true believer in the dogma of self-empowerment would see that potential and want to support the effort to make it so, not deride it from their ivory tower.



That's just a personal thought, mind you. Take it for what it is.
Now, before I get back to talking about Mesa's artistic leap forward, I think it's time for a break.

And when we come back... I venture into the wilds of Mesa for some artistic research, learn about the difficulties of navigating state bureaucracy, and discuss having to pick my 3 favorite symbolic children in order to apply for a Warhol Grant.

Good times.

"Culture is the Arts elevated to a set of beliefs."- Thomas Wolfe.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Treeo Grows in Phoenix. (The Consonant Gardner)



"Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke."- Benjamin Disraeli

Hello my loyal Blogiteers!

It has been a rough couple of weeks, let me tell you. My previous screed wrapped up a six part story arc regarding my hospitalization back in 2009 from the complications of diabetic ketoacidosis while simultaneously celebrating Artbitch "turning" fifty.

Middle age never read so good, in my humble opinion. To be honest, writing it was both emotionally exhausting and spiritually cathartic, all within the same moment. Finally getting the tale out of my psyche is something I've wanted to do for quite some time, but I needed to find myself in a good frame of mind to be able to adequately spin the story of my near death experience into something palatable- something I truly believe was accomplished in the end.

Oh, the sweet sweet irony- see, for the last few months, I've been under some incredible personal pressure, mostly in regards to helming various artistic projects as well as my day gig, and it finally blew one of my health gaskets in a major fashion. This in turn, landed me back at John C. Lincoln  Hospital as an unexpected guest of the ICU... again.

With an elevated blood sugar and brain swelling. Again. Furthermore, despite all my valid attempts to avoid tangoing with my old nemesis [AKA: the Tube Snake Razor, or Catheter for short] I was coerced back into an unholy four day partnership... again.

Let me set in stone right now, for eternity, and for all to understand and hear, this simple, yet direct statement: if there ever arises a need for me to have one of these inserted into my body ever again, please do the following: just buy a bulk of Deluxe Sham-Wows and lay me on top of them. And if those are unavailable, feel free to substitute a case of NERF footballs.

Either or.
I tend not to be too picky when I'm in a medically induced coma, so have at it.

Obviously, I'm on the medical mend, albeit slower than I'd like to be, but that's always been one of my major issues- I can be a truly unrealistic son of a bitch when it comes to achieving personal goals, and if truth be known, the list of what I want to do is monumental.

Setting aside that whole whipped cream weekend I want to get into with Milla Jovovich and my girlfriend, most of them are actually obtainable, if only I had six lives and didn't have to sleep in any of them.

Near and dear to my heart [after my personal artistic endeavors] is the unceasing promotion of the good ol' 602, an action that thank God, I am not alone in attempting to accomplish.

While some tend to strut their hour upon the stage as full on unicorn-glitter-fueled cheerleaders, I've always fallen into the role of a curmudgeonly (and somewhat jaded) distant uncle of sorts who tends to speak his mind, much to the chagrin of certain thin-skinned detractors, the largest part of whom feel that sniping anonymously online or behind one's back is what constitutes a direct approach.

In regards to said cheerleaders, my respect for them varies depending on their effectiveness and the purity of their approach. This translates directly into what they truly represent- are they in the game for the betterment of the Phoenix Art Scene, or are they really just here for the plaques and random scrapbook clippings?

I've always been of the mindset that the pep squad needs the quarterback more than he needs them, but they do serve a purpose nonetheless, even if it's just to remind everyone as to who really wins the game.

Fortunately, my viewpoint on what the not so subtle differences are between a true cultural warrior and an ego-polishing artsy succubus is well enough known that I rarely have to go about restating it, which as you might surmise- saves a boatload of personal time and energy.

Now before you think I'm engaging in rampant cynicism, let me defend my perspective by saying that I'm not being negative, I'm being realistic- an outlook that seems sadly lacking within the arts community, and one that needs to be adjusted to the veracity of the particular issues that the PAS faces on a daily basis.

I've waxed poetic many a time and at considerable length in regards to what the PAS needs to do in order to become a stable and profitable entity, and sometimes I get to feeling that all my efforts are for naught- when you are constantly banging your head against the wall to no end, it does have the tendency to shatter your resolve, regardless of the strength of your will or the clarity of your vision.

Factor in the element of human speed bumps [a consistent plague within the PAS] and one could easily surmise that the path for Phoenix becoming a world-class art destination is going to be dark and difficult at best. Personally, I've always felt that something given has no value- if you want respect you have to earn it, and that applies to both people and the cutthroat world of business, which when it comes right down to it, is easier said then done.

To paraphrase John Wooden: "Character is what you do when no one is watching." At the end of the day, all you really own is yourself and the perception that people have of you. Despite my vitriolic and acidic take on the PAS, I find that within the community itself, I'm generally respected for taking a definitive stand and staking out my territory as candidly as possible.

In other words, my reputation for skin-stripping honesty by and large usually arrives before I do.

Sure, I spin a good yarn every now and then, but the truth is paramount above all. Luckily, on those atypical occasions when I do wander into the ether of the realm of artistic license, it's glaringly easy to separate the lone dishonest cow from the rest of the noble herd. For instance, if my tale starts off with Motley Crue and I in the back of a limousine full of strippers, odds are pretty good that I might be stretching the truth just a tad.

A wee bit, mind you.

Conversely, if my saga involves the PAS, it's always dead on in it's accounting of whatever situation I found myself in. There's an old maxim that there's three sides to every story- yours, theirs, and the truth, which is usually somewhere in-between. Granted, the crux of my writing has always come from my perspective alone, but even so- I'm a stickler for accuracy when it comes to documenting my interactions within the community.

As you might imagine, having a well-defined set of opinions is not a popular accessory within the PAS these days, and despite the support that I do receive, there are times where my presence at a show can be mildly divisive at best. In general, I tend to avoid those events where my arrival can cause the natives to break out the pitchforks and flaming torches, but on the whole, Phoenix is a small town in relation to it's art scene, and you can't watch every step, no matter how much you try.

By way of example, my recent interactions with a passive-aggressive twit known as Joe Brklacich underscores this point succinctly. Joe has had a massive mad-on for me the last few weeks in regards to a piece I had written about SMoCA and to a lesser degree, it's outgoing PR flack Lesley Oliver, and apparently has decided that he's the one who's going to try and settle my acidic hash.

That's my special talent. Making friends and leaving an impression.

When it comes to my detractors, Joe stands alone- mainly due to the fact that he actually got in my face physically, something that if hadn't come on the heels of a threatened assault I could have actually respected. It does take stones to tell someone to go f**k themselves eye to eye, and if it had stopped there, I probably wouldn't think as little of him as I do now.

See, it's fairly transparent that Joe wants nothing more than to goad me into throwing the first punch, thereby allowing him the freedom to mete out what more than a few in the PAS would regard as overdue karma, but that's just not going to happen. I'm 45, and I'm not going to get in a brawl over what amounts to a difference in artistic opinions like some drunken 22 year old.

Granted, someday maybe there will be someone who beats my face flat over something I've written, leaving me a battered heap, my teeth scattered on the ground like Chiclets, but that day is not today, and Joe will never be that person. In retrospect, he strikes me as almost a caricature- his anger is so out of proportion to the situation at hand that it's almost laughable.

And while I do try to give the proper amount of respect due to each personal interaction my writing sometimes brings to the surface, I just can't this time.

In fact, I pretty much giggle every time I hear his last name, for as God as my witness, it reminds me of the minor Superman villain Mr. Mxyzptlk, whom like Joe, has a moniker that he apparently bought at a used consonant sale. Never mind saying it, I literally have to look it up every time I type it out, and disregard using spell-check, it just says "screw you" and then shuts down.

I know, I know, I'm a terrible human being, but seriously- can you spell "Brklacich" off the top of your head? I didn't think so. You're all brilliant, and even you couldn't do it. It's bad enough that I have to peripherally deal with this twit, who's akin to a mosquito in a sealed tent, but you'd think that I'd eventually luck out and acquire a stalker whose name I could actually write out on a restraining order.

Sigh... down the road, I guess. A boy can dream.

As I said earlier, at the end of the day, your character and reputation are all that you truly own, so I've always strived to make mine as clean as possible. While I may have the rep for being an arrogant son of a bitch, it's also a general opinion that I'm also pathologically honest when it gets right down to the brass tacks.

What can I say? I prefer an uncomplicated life. Why is this a topic I'm focusing on, you ask? Well, despite my penchant for sporting a chipped shoulder, there are actually very few things that can get under my skin faster than having my integrity questioned- especially when it's done by persons of lesser and flawed character.

But I already mentioned my good buddy Joe, so let me give you the context. Surprisingly, it's folded inside something that as a proponent of the 602's development, I can support fully, without any of my characteristically inherent sarcasm or cynicism implied.

One of the exceedingly important facets in the 602's future success that's sometimes overlooked is the proliferation of local small businesses. This in turn, helps build a financially stable and attractive community. I've often said that if you want people to come Downtown, you have to give them the following: a place to sit, a place to eat, a place to drink, and a place to take the family, if applicable.

So anytime a new business opens up in the Downtown area, it's a cause for celebration, no matter what it happens to be. Granted, I'm not too thrilled when it involves pretentious baristas, but that's only because I loathe hipsters, and besides- those damn kids wouldn't know good music if it bit them on their wool caps.

All partial joking aside, I completely support a majority of the economic development that's been happening and look forward to seeing how the PAS will fit in over time. To be frank, I do have a few misgivings in relation to how some of it has been handled, but I'm trying to maintain an optimistic and forward-thinking outlook, despite my typically pessimistic nature.

And you thought I couldn't be all upbeat? That just hurts.

Getting back on track, the newest business to open it's doors in the bubbling stew that is the 602 goes by the name of Treeo. Located inside a reconverted house at 906 North Sixth Street, it is home to the offices of Harder Development, FenSource & Champion PR and Consulting. The space plans to host monthly art exhibits and community events alongside it's normal day to day commerce.

The persons involved with the running of Treeo are real estate agent Ashley Harder, public relations guru/community organizer extraordinaire Stacey Champion, and my former FaceBook friend, Joe Brkkal... Brllckkk... Brakkxla... oh screw it- I'm just gonna call him Joey Consonants from now on.

Let's be real for a moment, shall we? It sounds cooler, and it's way easier to pronounce.

Besides, if I have to be the one who has to put with his passive-aggressive yet wholly ineffectual chest-thumping, then I get to be the one who names him. It's only fair.

When it comes to Joe's partners in this, his newest business venture, I can honestly say that I know zilch about Ms. Harder [whom I've heard is quite successful from various sources] but when it comes to Ms. Champion, I do know a little bit more.

Stacey is one of those 602 cheerleaders I mentioned earlier, and she is probably one of the most effective. Between organizing events, and shining a light in regards to issues ranging from the feminist struggle to AZ's inbred legislature, Stacey is a PR juggernaut, no doubt about it. If any facet of Treeo will do exceedingly well, my money would be on her branch, hands down.

I've previously openly wondered what it was that Joey Consonants did to make ends meet, since as far as I could tell, it wasn't his "art" that paid the bills. After all, his website hadn't been updated since 2012, and I couldn't recall ever seeing his work at any local show.

Ever.

More telling was the fact that every time I walked into the Lodge, the studio he shares with fellow artists Abbey Messmer and Rafael Navarro, all I ever did see of his work were the same three pencil sketches that have hung there for the last ten years.

Heck, I haven't had a full-blown show since 2008, but even still- you walk into my work-space, and you're going to see something different every time. Not always good, but different. So when I heard that Joey was part of Treeo, my curiosity was piqued as to what exactly he was bringing to the proverbial table, and it this: fenestration.

Now I know what you're thinking, and all I have to say is the following: shame on you for thinking such impure thoughts. Despite what it sounds like, fenestration is not some bizarre sexual kink involving ferrets and latex, but is defined by Webster's as the arrangement, proportioning, and design of windows and doors in a building, which is ironic, since that's three things I'd like to toss Joey's candy-ass out of.

As the son of a contractor, I'm pretty familiar with this industry, albeit on a minor level, so my first thought was that no wonder Joey can get to play at being an artist, he's part of an industry that's fairly lucrative in nature. If the tables were reversed, I probably wouldn't try either if I had a bankroll to peel my life off ot.

Mind you that's not jealousy. After all, I knew he had to do something, since it's obvious he isn't an actual working artist. I just wouldn't have pegged him to be a guy who designs windows. Washing windows, yes. Designing them? Not so much. Fortunately for my fragile ego, I was half-right. Turns out that Joey is actually a recruiter for the industry, and his company matches top fenestration talent with top-level clientele.
[Feel free to insert your own frenestration joke here.]


So how do I know this factoid? The internet.

In researching this screed, I happened upon Joey's website* for his business, also known as FenSource, and was immediately impressed by it's clean and efficient design. Most companies would typically bore you with a navigation menu and actual things to see, but not Joey- he's a maverick.

Go ahead. Take a look. I guarantee it'll only take a second.
*[http://fensource.com/]

I'm no web designer, but even I know that page looks awful. Speaking as someone who's entire life revolves around self-promotion, I can say that if I were a potential client who came across this, I'd keep on surfing until I found someone whose online pitch appeared to actually give a damn.

All that aside, lasting 25 years in any industry is impressive (I'm coming up on 23 myself) and given that his field is so specialized, I can't really see him having a lot of competition here in Downtown Phoenix, so one could assume he'll be able to continue having success for years to come, so long as his prospective clientele doesn't have access to the world wide web, and that his predilection for passive-aggressive behavior doesn't get in the way.

More on that in a bit.

As I said earlier, anytime a new business opens up in the Downtown Phoenix area, it's a cause for celebration, no matter what it happens to be, and Treeo was no exception. It's grand opening was going to feature an exhibition by an artist I'm friends with and whose work I really like, so I was stoked for it on many different levels.

Good art + colleagues + new white collar business opening + free wine = happy Artbitch.

Having been invited by the artist and Stacey Champion herself, I assumed that even though Joey had an issue with me, he would act professionally at the very least, since the event was not only going to be packed with colleagues, there were possibly potential clients as well, a reality which I
felt would curb any possible hostilities if I made an appearance.

Believe it or not, I did take into account that things could go south if Joey decided they should, so I had a rough game plan: show up, find my artsy friend, get a quick guided tour of the art, compliment Stacey on the space, and then vamoose. In/out ten minutes, tops.

I figured if I showed up relatively early, my plan would work with nary a hitch, banking on the number of people present and social pressure to keep Joey in line with what is considered mature adult behavior.

Remind me one day to tell you about my sense of unfounded optimism- that bitch ain't bright.

So, dressed in my Artbitch finest- crucifix t-shirt, black jeans, motorcycle boots, and a complement of silver jewelry, I jumped in my graffiti-painted Isuzu Amigo, and headed out. Parking behind Lotus Contemporary, I walked the half-block to Treeo, and as I crossed into it's front courtyard, caught a glimpse of a solitary figure to my right, half hidden in the twilight shadows.

The one and only Joey Consonants. [See? I told you it sounds cooler.]
And he looked gleeful.

Now for the record, there are many shades of the emotion known as glee. There's the type where one comes across a friendly kitten that wants to play, and the day is made better for it. There's the one where your girlfriend goes and buys you the KISS Compendium, a collection of all the KISS comics ever published, which just goes to prove that Gene Simmons will literally put his face on anything, and then there's the abomination that takes great rock songs and turns them into choreographed sackless wonders.

All perfectly acceptable, if that's what you're into.

And then there's the kind that you only see on two faces: those of used car salesmen, and axe murderers who've just spotted a lone prostitute on a dark corner. Granted, I was tarted up a bit, but even so, no one should ever look that happy when they see me arrive somewhere. What struck me as odd was that he was just standing there, not talking to anyone, not smoking a cigarette, not having a drink, just hanging out in the shadows... waiting.

I wonder for who.

As I head towards the front door, he quickly pulls up alongside and sarcastically asks if I want a tour, an act of selflessness that I refuse as politely as possible. Undeterred, he follows me in, and as I find my artist friend, stands on my right side two inches from my face, saying that "he's already talked to Stacey" and that if I make him feel uncomfortable, he can have me thrown out, despite the fact that both Stacey and the artist showing invited me there in the first place.

And here I was, thinking I had juice. I guess my rugged good looks can only carry me so far.

He rambles on, muttering about how I "came for him and should just admit it" and that I'm there "to start trouble", an assertation that I found laughable, considering that in the 20+ years that I've been working as an artist in Phoenix, I've never thrown a scene at a show, nor have I ever been thrown out of one either.

As the old saying goes, there's a first time for everything, I guess.

Now, most people would have turned and punched him in the face for breathing down their neck, but I'm not most people, and to be honest- I was more curious as to whether he was going to give me a shoulder rub or dry-hump my leg, given his proximity. Ignoring him, I continue talking to my friend and his female companion as Joey continues to grumble passive-aggressive nothings in my ear.

As I introduce myself to her, atypically using only my first name rather than my full name, Joey cuts across my outstretched hand stating: "He normally goes by Wayne Michael Reich" and while she seems a little freaked out by his aggressiveness, all I could think was how successful my viral marketing actually was.

You know you've done good when your detractors do the name-dropping for you.

At last having my fill, I turn to my friend and say that I'd like to stay longer, but Joey was chasing me out, to which he replies: "You know what? You and I have never had a picture together." and throws his arm around me. Puzzled, as I have about half a dozen pictures of us together, it takes me a full minute to realize what was really going on.

Smiling widely, I respond by saying that he was right- we never had taken a picture together, and that we needed to rectify that unfortunate happenstance now by finding someone to take it for us. As we walk away from Joey, he grouses that I always say I'm nice in person, but that he doesn't see it.

Retorting over my shoulder, I respond by saying that it depends on both the context and the person I'm dealing with. Ducking into a back room, my friend's companion and I have a brief discussion as to why Joey has such an axe to grind with me, much to my delight.

Finally taking the obligatory pic with my artist buddy, I decide that it's time to take the 12:15 out of Yuma. As I walk out, Joey bird-dogs me every step of the way, obviously concerned that I may trip and fall. I pause briefly at the door to tell Stacey that the space is lovely, and the moment is marred only by Joey's sputtering out yet another veiled utterance.

Walking through the small courtyard as I make a beeline to Mon Orchid, the phrase "what a jackass" may have escaped my lips more than once, but overall, I found the whole thing to be humorously pathetic. In my humble opinion, what I witnessed was a supreme embarrassment- not only to the business itself, but the artist showing there, and in the end, Joey's business partners as well.

Not too surprisingly, some didn't see it that way. That's one of the many quirks in regards to the PAS- you can always find a rationalization to justify behavior that would be considered highly unprofessional anywhere else. In this case, the very next day someone close to Treeo's operating structure cynically implied online that I had in fact, engineered the whole situation with Joey as to cause a deliberate scene, so that I would have something and I quote, "to write about".

Let that sink in for a moment. After five years, over 210,000.00 words, fifty stand-alone pieces of writing, and establishing myself as the PAS's go-to snark, I all of a sudden, out of the blue, have run out of things to talk about in regards to artists, ego, business, and the ongoing struggle for Phoenix to be taken seriously as an art destination, not a pit stop on the way to a better and brighter one.

If I had the opportunity to talk to this narcissist, I'd have to ask the question that I'm sure regular readers are also thinking of, and that is this: how high were you when you posted that?

Seriously. Break out and pass around whatever you've been taking, cause that stuff makes cocaine look like a cheese danish. At the time of this screed, I have an idea list as long as my arm that I'm currently staring at, and to be fair, not all of them will make the cut. Some fail because there's not enough gas in the tank to carry them over the line, others because they're too specific to be truly interesting to a wider audience.

But all of them typically will have a nugget or two I can glean for other stories. That's the beauty of the PAS, it's pretty much a self-sustaining entity. And if I were to engage on a more personal note with this obviously confused individual, I'd point out that if I were to make a scene, something that I've never done publicly* in the 20+ years I've been involved with the PAS, that people would have heard me in Jakarta, since I ain't exactly the silent type.
*[Go ahead. Check. I double dog-dare ya.]

I often get accused of yelling when I'm whispering, so it's a pretty safe bet that if I were pitching a fit, there'd be a lot more witnesses than the one guy who's got a mad-on for me. In fact, I did tell my cynical critic to ask my artsy buddy (who has no dog in this fight) what happened, which is not something I would have done had I been in the wrong, but as far as I can tell, that suggestion was ignored in favor of their pre-formed and erroneous opinion.

In all fairness, it's his business (partially) and he can do what he wants in relation to how he handles interlopers he has issues with, but there's a mature way to deal with it, and then there's Joey's way, which apparently involves tactics that I personally left behind when I graduated kindergarten.

As one of my fellow artists [and one of Joey's friends to boot] said to me as I made my artistic rounds later that night: "He's mad at you? For something you just did, or for something you did ten years ago?" which to be quite frank, strikes me as both hilarious and sad all at the same time. I've been known to hold a grudge or two, but at least I don't store them like Box from Logan's Run*.
*[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiyPqbyHXIg]

Whenever I can make a reference to a dystopian 70's sci-fi movie filmed almost completely inside a shopping mall, you just know it's been a good day. That said, Treeo's potential success will depend on both the economy and the cooperation of it's partners, and that's where I see a possible issue.

Given Joey's general hot-headness, the question arises: keeping in mind that he's pissed at me for what amounts to a minor literary trifle, what would happen if a client Joey doesn't really like walks through the doors?

Feud for thought, as it were. Personally, I hope that Treeo has a long and prosperous future, and I say this with all due sincerity. Nothing would make me happier than seeing a white-collar business succeed where so many have failed.

However, it just wouldn't be true to form if I didn't have at least one semi-related thing to kvetch about, and the topic that I've chosen to sink my admantium claws into this time is the idea of yet another "art-space" in the 602. For the record, I'm not singling out Treeo, but what the concept of an art space overall entails.

As an artist myself, I've benefited from several different versions of the art-space business model, so it'd be hypocritical (at best) to advocate that they have no merit whatsoever. But even so, I've never been entirely comfortable with them in general principle. At my core, I tend to be a capitalist. For me, once the art's been made, it's all about selling it.

But how does one do that in a town where the running joke is that yogurt has more culture thanthis city? Simple answer: alternative art-spaces, which can be found everywhere: bars, cafes, book stores, hair salons, retail shops, restaurants and the like- the list is virtually endless. If it's an established business, odds are good that art can be shown there.

Granted, not every business is suited for the display of artistic works- Circle K's for instance, would be a terrible location for high-end paintings, but if your niche was custom-decorated coffee cups, you may just have found a new home base. Typically, first exposure for an up and coming artist is usually to be found in places like these, but many established artists use them too, especially in a city like Phoenix, where professional galleries are not exactly commonplace.

While the diversity of such places adds to the opportunities of artists, it can also hurt those chances sometimes too. What a lot of struggling artists tend to forget is this: the majority of art-spaces do not exist to sell the art they display. Whatever type of business they specialize in is where their priorities are placed, as it should be.

Personally, I've always looked upon the concept of hanging art in one of these spaces as providing interior decorating services for free, but that's just my cynicism talking. What really counts is what caste their clients fall into- are they serious art buyers with a budget, or scenesters who think it's perfectly okay to snap a shot of your work with their I-phone and use it as their screensaver?

In my experience, it's usually the latter, more often than not.

It doesn't matter how many people see your work if they don't buy it, and as a rule, someone popping in and grabbing a latte to go isn't generally focused on adding to their personal art collection. There are exceptions to this of course, but in order to move your art in such a venue,you need to hit the nail on the head in two places: impact and price. I'll explain.

Impact means that your work has to grab a hold of your potential buyer almost immediately, and make them want to take said work home, no matter how awkward or inconvenient it might be to do so. Price is pretty much self-explanatory, but I'll clarify my point nonetheless.

In order to coax anyone into opening their wallet or purse, you need to make sure that just like your work, your asking price for it is just as attractive. Knowing what to charge is a skill refined over time, but it is crucial- too low, and you hurt yourself, too high, and you discourage sales.

But here's the rub- most buyers of art like to have a personal connection with the artist, something that most art-spaces cannot provide on the spot. Unlike galleries, art-spaces are open all times of the day or night, so your odds of being there to encourage sales and make introductions is dim at best. You'll literally have to hope that your work speaks for itself.

And speaking of your work, what will it turn out to be in the end? Will it be a true statement of artistic expression, or will you have truncated it to fit the policies of whatever retail vanity gallery you've decided to hang in? The freedom that one typically finds in a gallery setting does not as a rule,
carry over into most art-spaces.

If your work is fairly benign, then freedom of expression won't be
an issue, but what if it isn't?

Easy. You're screwed.

There's nothing worse than self-censoring, but if you expect to show in most art-spaces, you'd better get used to it. The majority of patrons who frequent these places prefer art that isn't threatening, so if your work has a dark edge, anticipate having to lighten it up a little.

And like most things that you do frequently, eventually it becomes a habit. I can't think of a better kiss of Death to an artist's vision than having to tailor it to popular taste. Think about being Thomas Kinkade for a moment, and you'll understand where I'm going with this.

Like it or not, in order for the PAS to succeed, it's going to need a much more professional face, and that's where the real art galleries come in. If we want to be taken seriously, then we need to be just as equally serious about how we present our talent. Picasso, by way of example, was not discovered in a coffeehouse.

If I were to use yet another of my famous analogies, I'd liken the difference between art galleries and art-spaces to chocolate milk and my other serious addiction, Yoo-Hoo. Both are yummy. Both have essential vitamins. Both come in easy to pour packaging. Both taste like chocolate. Sort of.

But only one has to be labeled as a "drink" by law, and it isn't the one that's from a cow.

Why the need for art spaces in Phoenix is great, I would also argue that the need for professionally managed art galleries is even greater. For every Pela Contemporary we have, there's six amateurs groping blindly in the metaphorical dark. Let me be clear, there's nothing wrong with being truly passionate about running a gallery, but if you don't have a cohesive and practical business plan, you're going to find yourself coming up short in the end.

So, what's the solution?

Given the nature of the problem, the answer is going to require a multi-level approach. Other than the economy approving, I would opine that what's needed is more promotion of the art events downtown, and maybe even some city funding as it relates to economic development- I'm thinking of possible and expansive subsidies that could kick-start a new wave of artistic re-growth in the arts community.

Roosevelt Row was recently named as one of the top ten art districts in the United States, it's about time the rest of the arts district looked like it.

So with that, I think it's time for a break. In future blogs I'm going to attempt to address these issues a little more in depth, and hopefully offer some viable solutions. And if that fails, I can always fall back on the snark.

And as for my good buddy Joey Consonants... he's cordially invited to go fenestrate himself.

"If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him."- John F. Kennedy





















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