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.

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.


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.

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*.

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