Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A young artist's journey. PT.1 (Collected in Seattle)

“I’m not bitter, I’m better.” – Nikki Sixx: from his kick-ass book, “This is Gonna Hurt.”

 “You’re dead, Motherf****r. Dead. You’ll never see it coming. I will find you. Count on it.” - Anonymous threat sent to me over two months ago. (I’m still waiting…..)

Hello Blogiteers!

From the quotes above, you probably have guessed already what this blog is about.
That’s right, it’s all about ME.

ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME.

Yes, I am aware that seemingly, it’s ALWAYS about me, but this particular blog is slightly different, and as a refreshing change- it’s not about the PNX New Times. You heard me right. It’s actually more about ART, and how it’s influence has steered and sometimes derailed, the course of my life. I’m not complaining, mind you- my chosen career kicks the spit out of a typical job, no bones about it.

I LOVE being an Artist. And I have no idea what my life would be like if I wasn’t one.

However, if I were to hazard a guess, I’m fairly certain that it would be excruciatingly boring. Several of my friends have chosen the safer path, and despite the innate talents bubbling inside them, they have willingly become beige drones of conformity.

I’m not knocking their choices, I just find it sad to see them trapped in a cubicle, staring at so-called “motivational” posters.
All for the reward of a pre-spent paycheck. Yeesh. I’d rather see the PNT’s Amy Silverman pole dance in a thong than sell my soul for simple salary.

Even if Ding Dongs were involved, it’s just not gonna happen with me. The love of the craft is hardwired into my DNA, and I can’t change that, no matter how much I try.

Nothing bores me so much as what others consider the norm- I admire anyone who gives a damn, and it continually annoys the hell out of me that some of my fellow creatives are so bloody complacent in regards to their personal destinies. Truly, nothing comes to those who sit on their hands, shockingly enough.

And yet, I have to hear these certain “do-nothings” bitch and moan.
Constantly.

And I’m sick and tired of people bagging on Phoenix, too. If you don’t like it here, seriously shut the f**k up and move to Portland already. I’ll even help you pack, that’s how much of a nice guy I am. You can thank me later.

Here’s an old joke: “What’s the difference between Phoenix and Yogurt?
Answer: “Yogurt has culture.”

Yep, that’s a real knee slapper. And it ticks me off something fierce, because it’s not entirely true. I once wrote a two part blog called “Thank God it’s First Friday (I Think Not)” that addressed certain issues I had with the PHX art scene as well as certain persons involved with this monthly street party that masquerades as an art walk.
             
Don’t worry, I’m not going to rehash it here- but if you’ve never read it, here’s the link:

http://waynemichaelreich.blogspot.com/2009/10/thank-god-its-friday-parts-one-and-two.html?zx=96669b5e6d2e6e7c

In that blog, I opined that the Patrons, Galleries, and Artists who were involved in the art scene held some measure of responsibility for the failure to create a financially viable artistic community. Not too surprisingly, I took some heat from a few members of the artistic clan, who weren’t upset because of what I had said, they were more offended by how I had said it.

So… I guess in regards to noting abject failure, the keywords are “be nice”. Good tip.
I’ll make a note of that for the future. Interestingly, although it was originally written three years ago, it is the blog that most people reference when they comment on my writing, and the one that consistently generates the most email, good or bad.

In regards to my opinion, people seem to be catching up, and it’s been worth the wait, if not the aggravation. Simply put, I want all of us in the PHX Arts community to actually make a living doing what we love to do and are good at, no matter what form of artistic expression our skills may manifest as.

(Grumbling) Yes, yes. Even “Performance Art” should be included too.

Bottom line. We need to make a stable living, and the only way that is ever going to happen is if we stop treating our craft like it has no value. Who says we can’t be creative and make money? Granted, there have been a few bright spots as of late- the birth of several independent businesses located along Fifth Avenue and Roosevelt give me hope, but as far as individual artists go- the art community struggles as a whole.

Personally, I find it ridiculous that it does. For f**ks sake, we’re the 5th largest city in the United States, and our art scene can’t even support itself, much less it’s artists.

There. I said it. Did I say it nice enough? Oops. My bad. Yet again. I’ll try harder next time. Promise.

Speaking of trying hard, I recently attended a charity fundraiser at The Icehouse, a venue that is (http://www.theicehouseaz.com) located in downtown PHX a few nights ago, and was both heartened and saddened at the same time. I’ll explain why this was in more detail in Pt.2 of my little saga, but first- let me provide a little background on this amazing building and venue.

Link to an excellent article on the event:
http://www.azcentral.com/thingstodo/galleriesmuseums/articles/2011/05/24/20110524save-icehouse-benefit-phoenix.html

The Icehouse, known historically as Constable Ice Storage, is located in the historic original townsite of the city of Phoenix, Arizona. It began operations in 1910 as an icehouse, manufacturing 300lb ice blocks for use in the food industry, primarily to keep produce cold as it was shipped by railroad to Eastern U.S. cities. Prior to its current arts use, the building was used by the police as storage for crime evidence.

 in 1990, Helen Hestenes and David Therrien began transforming the Icehouse into a center for the exhibition and exploration of new art forms, with emphasis on large scale works, installation, experimentation and community education.

Right up front, let me say this- I had a great time at the show, seeing the works of over 100 artists that had been organized by Hugo Medina, and I finally had the pleasure to meet my FaceBook friend Helen Hestenes in person- and she was lovely.

Grace personified- and definitely a cultural warrior to be admired. In my opinion, anytime there is a gathering of the artistic clans, it is cause for celebration. I have been to the Icehouse many times over the last two decades, and can honestly say that I have never walked away disappointed, no matter what was taking place there.

When I first immersed myself in the waters of the PHX art scene, the Icehouse served as one of my portals for discovering the various facets of the arts community.

Unfortunately, it’s continuance as such is in doubt, and once again, I wonder how this situation came to be. Since my career began, I have witnessed more than half a dozen innovative art-spaces wither on the vine, and the thought of this artistic cancer taking out The Icehouse sickens me. However, most First Friday ”Patrons” couldn’t care less, and that casual attitude seems to have infected some (not all) of my fellow artists, it seems.

Sorry. Yet again, I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. I do apologize. This topic will be addressed further in PT. 2, so for right now lets get back on track using a somewhat circuitous path. Due to a near death experience in July of 2009, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mortality, which is not exactly an uplifting thought to mull over late at night, let me tell you.

I spent seven days in the ICU, enduring partial blindness, permanent memory loss, as well as chronic neuropathy, a condition which causes episodes of pain equivalent to being fed into a wood chipper.
By way of analogy, it’s like having the world’s worst sunburn ever- and Mike Tyson keeps slapping you on the back, full strength, 24/7.

However- despite the constant pain, it still beats being dead. Considering that I had better odds of being hit by a sparkly vampiric meteorite, my survival is nothing short of a miracle, since my doctors had pretty much written me off, if their attitude is to be read correctly. I was admitted into the ER with a blood sugar of 1485, which considering that the normal guideline is supposed to be 110 or so, is just a tad bit high.

It required five weeks for me to recover my physical strength enough to resume work, and to be honest- I’m still recovering mentally.
A few weeks after being released from the ICU, I held a “Resurrection” party at my apartment to celebrate my not shuffling off the mortal coil. Several of my closest friends attended, and one put forth a philosophical quandary for me to ponder regarding my recent touching of the Bunny Slippers of Death- a sobering experience, no matter who you are.

They stated that my surviving this was nothing short of a miracle, and that obviously- “someone was watching over me”- to this, I agreed readily. Here’s where the mind scramble begins, though. The question to be solved, in their opinion, was to deduce which side it was, since both had legitimate claims.

Especially where yours truly was concerned. Ooof. Clearly, some Machiavellian Karma rigging was in order, and soon. So I started with those closest to me, salving old wounds, rebuilding burnt bridges, and attempting to right those transgressions that I had set forth upon others. As one might imagine, some of my efforts were successful, others were abject failures from the get go, but at least I tried.

One thing to be said for my failures- when I crash, I crash spectacularly. There have been flames, explosions, and rains of withering shrapnel- all of which have tended to knock my Ego down a few notches, much to the joy of some. Ok…. perhaps that should read “many”, but please note that I also said “a few notches”. There’s still plenty of length left in that particular stick, and I plan on using all of it before I do die.

The end result of all this Karmic retooling is that I touched base with why I became an Artist in the first place, and it was for only the noblest and virtuous reason...

Girls. I know that sounds bad, but hear me out first. When I was a freshman in High School, I got bit by the Art bug - being a bookish, non assertive underweight dork didn’t exactly help me climb the popularity ladder, so I’d spend my over abundant free time with cartoons, drawing, and literature.

To this day, I still read an average of 3 to 5 books a week. Every week. Without fail.

In one regard, heroin would have been a much cheaper habit, I think. Seriously. My house is mostly bookshelves, and their street value is unbelievable, especially when you’re talking about converting straight tonnage to kilos. But back to the girls.

See, at the time I couldn’t compete with the “preps” that dominated my high school- they were richer, bigger (or so I thought at the time), and most of them had cars. I was poor, a buck thirty-five soaking wet, and didn’t have so much as a ten speed to my name. Did I happen to also mention that I looked exactly like Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club?

Yep. I was screwed on many different levels, but I could draw, and that was my saving grace.
For when I did break out the sketchpad, I noticed that the girls who normally wouldn’t talk to me, or give me the time of day- did. That’s powerful stuff for an unpopular dork, let me tell you.

Hence, the idea of a seed for an eventual career was planted. Right now, I would love to tell you some wonderful John Hughes-esque tale about how my artistic skills transformed the rest of my High School experience, making it possible for me to snag my own personal Molly Ringwald, but reality, as a rule- usually bites.

And besides… I was always an Ally Sheedy man anyway.

The truth was that despite my rather impressive ability to draw Garfield and Snoopy, my social calendar remained surprisingly un-booked. Hmm. Perhaps I should have learned to draw Odie too. If I had only known. C’est la Vie. Regardless of my inability to draw comedic sidekicks, I did have an epiphany of sorts- art was a truly level playing field, and my lack of looks, money or social status wasn’t important. In this arena of the mind and soul, I could kick serious ass, and those of lesser skills wouldn’t be able to touch me.

As a lonely sixteen year old, it sounded like a flawless plan to me. It was almost too easy. But I had to be armored first, and that’s where my being a bookworm finally came in useful- I read everything I could get my hands on in regards to the study and craft of Artistic endeavors, absorbing as much as my brain could hold.

Renaissance, Surrealism, Cubism, Dadaism, Hyper-Realism, Folk Naive, Art Deco, Romanticism, Weaving, Photography, Ceramics, Screen-printing, Linotype, POP Art, Letterpress, Glass blowing, Graffiti, Art Framing, Plastic craft, Installation Art, Performance, Stenciling, Package Design, Architecture, Carving, Mosaics, Collage, Jewelry Craft, Sculpture, Beadwork, Traditional Native Arts.

If it was art related, I probably read about it, and the more arcane the subject, the better. For instance, I rock pretty hard at the art and craft of Pysanky. [Google it.]

Yes, I know… you find that totally hot. And I don’t blame you one bit. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be. In this case, I was half right. There was still that whole “you must have talent” thing to contend with.

Crap.

My illustrative art has been described as “Japanime meets Patrick Nagel”, a description I’m oddly ok with. I’m not the world’s best Artist, but I am damn competent, and I can live with that- but for some reason, my rather focused detractors cannot. Personal validation for my work has always come from the interaction with those who’ve  been exposed to it, and whether the experience has been negative or positive, I’ve always walked away with *feedback I can use.

[*Feedback consists of a rational and structured discussion regarding what you like or don’t like about my work. For instance- saying that my monochromatic color scheme makes you feel slightly unsettled, would be considered “feedback”. Ranting incoherently that I “suck” for instance, will be interpreted as proof that you talked to my retired stripper ex-girlfriend, and she gave seriously mad props in regards to my boudoir skills. She will, BTW.]

Moving on… when I first got the art bug, my original intent was to become a cartoonist, ala’ Chuck Jones. But there were just too many other Artists that kept invading my sketchbooks, using my unpolished interpretations of their work as a conduit: Basquiat. Haring. Scharf. Winston Smith. Oldenburg. Kirby. Hirschfield. Lichenstein. Warhol. Dali. DeLampicka. Koons. Geiger. Pollack. Hopper. Kostabi (His early work). Chuck Close. Escher.

I literally could go on and on, there’s just that many whose work I find inspiring, and tons more that I don’t, but we’d be here for days and I just can’t do that to you. But seriously, Picasso just blows, and you can keep Monet too, for all I care. Also, if you could grab Richard Serra and Damien Hirst by their throats on your way out, I’d really appreciate it, Thanks a bunch. You’re a sweetheart.

The running gag among my artist reps was that I have this amazing reference library to draw inspiration from, and yet- my work looks nothing like the Art I was supposedly captivated by. Something got lost in translation, methinks. Regardless, I got to be what I wanted to be when I was a kid, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Especially after Seattle. Trust me… there’s a story coming and it’s good. As you might possibly imagine, absorbing artistic inspiration from multiple sources and sketching obsessively for hours didn’t cause throngs of women to break down my studio door.

However, owning a motorcycle did help my personal campaign… somewhat.
If you’re awkward with women, BUY A MOTORCYCLE. You’d be amazed how much it helps. With the simple question of “Would you like a ride?”, you could be off and running with the ladies. Just be careful that you don’t start dating someone who pays their rent in singles.

I cannot stress this enough- please keep in mind that you’re reading the writings of a man whose apartment was once officially designated as “Wayne’s Home for Wayward Strippers”. So with all sincerity- trust me on this. Sorry. I meant to tell you about Seattle, didn’t I? Will do. Just let me set the scene.

As a young man in my very early twenties, I was doing okay- but not great. Still poor, scraping by, and working at a job I hated, managed by a boss I loathed. The kind of person who if they were on fire, my first reaction would have been to reenact a Boy Scout Jamboree by making S’mores.The one bright spot in my otherwise drab life was a fledgling gallery career- the reality being that I would show my paintings anywhere someone would let me.

Bars, restaurants, coffee houses, doctor’s offices, conference rooms, retail stores, gyms, private parties, and because I had the personal hookup, strip clubs- all of which shaped my artistic journey, allowing me to reach another level. To be brutally honest, I learned as I went in regards to sales and marketing, and eventually started crafting the persona that I’ve alluded to in previous blogs.

Despite the sale of a few canvases and small sculptures here and there, being an Artist wasn’t all I thought it would be.
Yours truly wasn’t the Artbitch yet, not by a long shot. Until Seattle, that is. I was there doing a favor for a fellow colleague, whose name has been carelessly lost within the shifting sands of the artistic hourglass, not that it matters anymore. But the events of that night are still relevant, at least to me, anyway. That was the night I actually became an Artist, rather than pretending I was one.

My sanded over colleague ran what is traditionally known as a “vanity gallery”- that is, a venue where space is rented to Artists to hang their work. This sort of business is routinely populated by Amateurs, Poseurs, and Wannabes who cannot gain access into a traditional gallery by conventional methods, due either to poor quality work, or severe personality quirks.

Relax.

I wasn’t talking about you personally, and this happened a very long time ago, so don’t get your paint tubes in a twist, ok? And to clarify- I wasn’t paying for my wall space, I was invited to fill in for a last minute flake out. Really. I was. Besides, those were the days when I was hungry for any kind of exposure- it does pay to make friends, apparently.

The gallery was filled with people when I arrived- populated with the usual mix of critics, scenesters, hipsters and even the (gasp!) occasional art buyer.
Four of my paintings had already sold [Out of a series of seven. Yay Me!] so I was riding high.

There was a “Doors” cover band complete with a paunchy middle aged Jim Morrison clone, and four rooms bursting with an array of completely dreadful “art”.  Next to this melange of mediocrity, my work blazed like a Mapplethorpe at a Jerry Falwell church bazaar. Yay Me. Again. Among this crowd, there was one person who stood out, due to the way she was looking at my art, and my art alone. Getting up close, then stepping back to read the title cards, she was oblivious to the crowd pulsing around her, and was obviously connecting with the work.

Correction: MY work. Yay… oh heck, you know the joke already. While her intense perusing is what originally caught my attention, what kept it there was one very important thing- she was a tall brunette in her mid-thirties... my [at that time] personal version of Kryptonite.

Did I mention that she also looked exactly like *Linda Fiorentino?
.
[*Linda Fiorentino (born March 9, 1958) is an American actress. She is best known for her roles in the films Dogma, Vision Quest, Men in Black, After Hours and The Last Seduction. And even though she starred in “Jade”, a god-awful 1995 erotic thriller film that co-starred perpetual TV star David Caruso, I still like her anyway. She was smart enough not to be in Men in Black PT.2, and that should count for something, after all. ]

As I was happily letting random scenes of Vision Quest run through my head, I was interrupted by a silkily cultured voice in my ear: That’s ********* - she collects Artists. Turning towards the source, I beheld the sight of my colleague/gallery owner smoking a French cigarette, leaning bemusedly against one of the gallery’s roof columns, staring blissfully up at the night sky through the gallery’s massive skylight.

“And tonight, she’s collecting you- bought those four POP acrylics of yours, and is eyeballing the rest of the collection if the price is right.” 

So she’s a serious art collector- what price is she hoping to get?” I responded, all external coolness while gleefully spending my forthcoming paycheck mentally.
             
Exhaling, he watches his smoke drift lazily upwards toward the vaulted ceiling, until finally meeting my eyes, he says: I’m not entirely sure, but I think you’ll be… okay with what she asks.”[A personal note here: at this point in my life, I absolutely sucked at subtext.] Winking, he adds: “And I didn’t say she collects Art, I said she collects Artists, and that is an entirely different thing altogether for you to understand, and if all goes well- possibly experience."

 Speaking through his ethereal halo of smoke tendrils, he throws a steely gaze at the band playing in the corner, and shakes his head: “Ch***t… could I have booked a worse act? That’s what happens when you sleep with drummers- nothing good ever comes from that. Nothing. When they showed up for their “sound check” today, I was informed that apparently I was referred to as “The English F** who runs this place”

His voice dripping with iced venom, he continues: “First, my young squire, I own this building, I do not “run it” and second-  I am a f***ing English Queen, NOT a common f**- there IS a subtle difference.”

“My advice is that you go over there and introduce yourself- you know… grease the sticky wheel and all that business? Remember- you only get one chance to make a first impression, and I want her impressed. Firmly. Two more paintings of yours, and my rent is paid. Oh, and I would do it quick, if I were you, since our faux Lizard King over there seems to have leveled his sights on her, and nothing would please me more than if you crushed that poseur’s pleather clad pride.”

Message received, loud and clear- no way on this screwed up Earth would I ever allow myself to be bested by a Rock God impersonator. Ozzy? Possibly. Clapton? Definitely. Morrison? Oh Frak, no. So moving with the speed of light, I sidled up just as Faux Jim was starting his pitch: “I saw you from the stage…”

Weak, “Jim”. Very weak. Let’s take a look at your stats, shall we? You’re hip deep in middle age, performing in a tribute cover band, and are at the very least- twenty pounds over your snakeskin patterned pleather pants weight limit. Not to mention that huffing like Elvis while dripping all over her custom couture, is not the best way to ingratiate yourself to a woman such as this.

You sexy beast, you.

I on the other hand, am in my early twenties, have the added spice of being both artistic and intelligent, factor in my boyish “I don’t have a whole lot of experience” vibe, add my weekly routine of rollerblading that has given me an ass that could crack coconuts- and it’s really no contest. I’m freaking MILF catnip, and I’ll be the one who’s getting breakfast in the morning, not you.

Think of it as Karma paying me back for all those lonely nights in High School, with compounded interest. I know. It’s hideously unfair. Thanks, Karma- I so owe you a solid for this. Quickly positioning myself between the Yecko Gecko and  *********, I deftly introduce myself:

“Hello, I’m Wayne Michael Reich- I understand that you bought my work earlier tonight?”

Officially, that’s how I remember it. I was suave, smooth, and collected. But apparently, that’s not how it happened.I wasn't using my full name back then in relation to my art career, and as to the introduction, if one were to be brutally honest, it might have gone like this:

“Hi,I’m Wayne?...
YouboughtmyworkearliertonightandIjustwantedtosay thankyouverymuchfordoingthatsincethisislike
mythirdorfourthprofessionalshowandit'sreallynicetomeetyou!

Wow!That’sareallyprettydress!"

Did I mention that my voice might have been a tad castrato?

First sign of class: resisting the urge to punch a babbling idiot in the head.
Second sign: willingly conversing with said idiot.
Third sign: telling faux Morrison that you really enjoyed whatever it was he was singing, and then asking the Artist standing next to you what he would like to drink.

(That would be a Jack and Coke. Thank You very much, pretty lady!)


Fourth sign: letting your readers take a break.
For now.

But when we come back….

Seattle. Breakfast. The Icehouse. PHX Artists. PHX Patrons. More Artsy stuff. And not one word about the PHX New Times. Ok, maybe a sentence or two.

Cut me some slack. It’s cheaper than therapy.

“My contribution to the world is my ability to draw. I will draw as much as I can for as many people as I can for as long as I can. Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times. It brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.” - Keith Haring  




2 comments:

  1. PART 2? PART 2!!! :) I share your sense of humor and I can see it all so well, this is great. I have the same nerd side, just rotated my focus according to current company. I'll have to tag you on some of the little stories I am putting together as I recall them, ha--but where is Part 2??? People complain that I'M slow about getting the next installments out, lol....tag me on part 2 whenever you get it done, please xx ~Ariel

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  2. Thanks- due to the length of my blog, it sometimes is a little tough to post content. I write mostly at night, after my life stuff is done. PT 2 is a coming, though- hang tight.

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