“It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” -Steinback
Life has been incredibly rough lately for a number of reasons, most of which I'd rather not announce to the internet. One thing I can refer to is a recent local tragedy- the loss of a great artist and good friend to many. I want to use this space to commemorate the life & work of Ben Gregory. If you met me selling art on the street in New Orleans and pay attention to such things there's a very good chance you met Ben and saw his work too. He was relentless in pouring himself into his work and his work into the world.
Ben was one of the first people I met moving to New Orleans in 2004. We weren't best friends, we often made plans to hang out and would later be nodding in understanding at our mutual flakiness. We both still have books leant to the other a number of years ago that never got re-exchanged. When I first heard the news that was what really got me- Ben was someone so familiar and comfortable to me I assumed I would just always see him. My favorite times were when we didn't make plans and bumped into each other and loitered for hours and shared awesome twisting conversations about art- about techniques and materials, about intentions and results and about what we were working on and what was actually coming out. Here are some stray bits of those conversations that spilled over online:
2007- hey do you want to see some of the pictures that im makeing for jackson square?!
2008- thes are the pieces that i was telling you guys about. got a long way to go, but getting there. still pretty sloppy. but its getting some where. may work on it a bit more
tring to paint a composition over detail...
As a person Ben was genuinely kind and unpretentious. As an artist he was extremely original & restlessly dedicated. I fucking hate that this is post-mortem and I can't shake the nagging sense that Ben was right in the middle of his work when he got taken out of this world. If anything, I'm hoping we can still share the vitality of his work, so if you haven't been exposed here is a small portion:
If you'd like to see more of Bens work, there is quite a bit posted on his facebook:https://www.facebook.com/ben.gregory.3910?fref=ts
I never know who I'm writing to or what about in these boxes. My thoughts about art are too convoluted and tangled and tangential to reach a clear sum here. We moved into our house about a month ago. Right now we are doing plumbing and electric. I'm also in transition with what was my miraculous work space that I always knew was a temporary grace. wi
But accomplishment kind of bores me right now. I watch this world, all of us striving and reaching. I can't shake the sense that there's nothing really to 'get', that we're just here and it's fucking weird and inexplicable. And it's uncomfortable so we make up stories and insulate our thoughts to the human/societal realms. I've never done too good with the society thing..understanding it, finding my 'place', feeling comfortable with it all. Lately I am inspecting again my decisions to sell art... When I first started 11 years ago I loved being on the street. I felt adamant that 'regular people' should get art and it shouldn't only be presented to some self-elected elite in the confines of a gallery. Now I am getting sick of answering idiotic questions, of watching humans swarm around me in pursuit of an ever cheaper trinket to show that they too visited new Orleans. I'm sick of hearing artists talk and scheme about how to churn work out even faster and with even less soul. But I'm trying to tread water at the same time and find myself considering printings out some giclees. Bah, not sure that my website blog should be the place to muck around all these confusions, but I don't know what to write here anyways.
I'm set up at the Frenchmen Night market through Jazz fest. I haven't interacted all so much with the jazz fest tourists before because usually I'm out in the day time when they're at the festival. I've always pegged them as 'good tourists'; meaning- people who come to visit year after year. They become somewhat regular, they get to know what places they like and learn how to pace themselves to really enjoy their time. Statisically they're older than the frat boy crowd and have learned how to let loose without being assholes.
I don't know if it's just that I haven't been out much lately and my skin has grown thin or I've been dealing with all this depression and that has me feeling sensitive or what, but overhearing people commentaries was exhausting. One woman nudged her girlfriend, "you could draw that" I can't help but harp for a little while and analyze little comments like this. I've recently been bringing out my life drawings and I think they're beautiful. I've noticed a lot of people are dismissive of them (I heard one guy say, "art school student work" which is kind of funny since I'm a highschool drop out and self taught). It seems like anything exhibiting skill is regarded with some suspicion and derision. This seems to be a mentality that has been growing in our society for some time. And what the hell? Why should we develop skills anymore? Soon we just be spectators watching machines impress other machines.
Until that happens I'm gonna keep going to life drawing and bringing them out and analyzing the reactions of strangers.
Well, I suck at blogging. I'm not sure why because I ramble & write quite a bit. Anyhow, it's only taken me a year to update this. A lot happens in a year. In the personal realm- me and my partner (bf? Fiancee? I hate all these terms...person I plan to be with till we're dead...maybe I can just use that as an acronym). Me and my P.I.P.T.B.W.T.W.D bought a property. It hadn't been touched since the storm & had cats paw growing up through the walls. About 6 months ago we were still working on it and living in an apartment when we suddenly got evicted. The natural instinctive reaction to this was to buy a tent and move into the backyard of the property.
This arrangement has been working out surprisingly well. We hope to move into the actual house in the next month or so. And when it has plumbing & electric YOU are welcome to visit! Because it will eventually...one day...be a home too for life drawing groups and off the cuff art shows & hopefully, maybe, one day, some kind of atelier. A friend of mine also appeared when we got evicted and hooked me up with what has come to be the best studio workspace I could hope for.
Something I'm pretty excited about- I'm going to be showing 10 of my recent bigger paintings in a show this coming Friday: (If you're local come out and eat cookies with me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
END OF BLOG POST.
It's been awhile since I last wrote, so plenty to tell. Thankfully the summers gone...in September The Decadence parade rolled through my office. This, like plenty other events in New Orleans, attracts the holier than thou - the jesus freaks who come to save us from ourselves with hand made signs and bullhorns. Since I grew up as a homeschooler messianic Jew (jews for jesus) I know better than to argue with religious zealots. Since I'm Italian (why not blame ancestry here) I lack the self-control not to loudly refute things I find irritating and begin spasming with gestures. When I saw them coming down the street prior to the parade I talked to myself "Yeah, be cool, just let them pass..." And then they started hollering about how we all deserved Katrina happening and we're all going to hell and then the spirit took hold of me too and I started screaming back that they all needed to go home.
Bullhorn prophet stopped in the middle of the road and gestured back at my paintings on the fence,
"And Lord Jesus, Curse this girl! Curse her business! Let her make no sales today!
In the name of the Almighty!"
Even though I was steamed up and really wanted to continue arguing this just confused me. Doesn't 'cursing' someone sound a little bit, I don't know, witchy, maybe a little pagan? Is putting a curse on someone really in the good book?
Anyhow, their prophecy didn't hold much water because I ended up selling plenty of paintings & then the parade came and made it even better.
The one that bothered me the most was a big blue rectangle, probably 10 ft tall by 2 ft wide, it was made of some kind of shiny plastic looking material and was displayed resting against the wall. If I could liken it to anything, I'd say it looked like a piece of McDonalds playground equipment that they had ordered in the wrong size. Just looking at it exasperated me (see! it IS art because it got a reaction out of me! But with that logic...the mousetraps in my kitchen get an even stronger reaction from me when I hear them snap across the house...therefor mousetraps must be art.) I looked at the little plaque next to me for explanation and it was titled, "Why Not?"
I'll tell you why not! Because someone had to carry that thing up the stairs! Because here I am in a museum which is supposed to house our most precious cultural artifacts and this big blue rectangle is taking up space where something that doesn't just provoke a 'reaction' (like every single thing in the world does) but provokes a sense of curiousity, wonder...maybe even 'awe'. (Remember Awe America!?! When something actually stopped you in your tracks and made you stand still for longer than 30 seconds and you didn't even have a word for it so you just stood all gape mouthed and went 'awwwwe') Anyhow, I tried to find a picture of this piece of art to post here, but couldn't find one. So here's a rendering I made that should pretty much give you the same effect.
On the other side of things I recently discovered 2 artists who's work is really exciting to me:
As for me....painting is going really well. I've gotten a lot closer to being able to visibly merge together the 'seen' world (working from reference) and the 'unseen' world (random intuitive mark making). I this is the closest I've gotten so far....not sure how well the details in the body show up through a screen.
I've got a bunch of markets coming up before the holidays. If you're passing through New Orleans anytime contact me and say Hello!
Summer is always rough. It's soul sedating humidity and not enough tourists and locals bullshitting about one or the other of these topics. Every summer I feel a scramble and I SCHEME. One year I went up to Burlington Vermont to sell on the street there. One year I went out to CA to trim. This year I went to Virginia for 2 weeks to visit my family. To commemorate my mothers 60 years on this planet I compromised my artistic-metaphysical pretensions and painted a simple bowl of fruit that MATCHED HER KITCHEN. (This is a service I offer ONLY to the person who birthed, bathed, read to me at night & cleaned my boogers off the wall.)
This is actually a painting of FAKE fruit in her kitchen. (see? metaphysics always creeps in...) This was a fascinating thought, albeit a morbid one on my mothers birthday...thinking that this painting doesn't necessarily give away it's plastic immortality.. once we're all dead and gone and this painting makes the rounds of Colonial Beach yard sales who's to ever know that these apples & pears never really did LIVE? No birth, no growth, no rot, no grounds for an empire of fruit fly hell.
To paint it I actually mixed water color patched and held them up against the coloring of her wall (which is yellow). I warmed the yellows so they'd come 'at' you. I snatched little brick a bracks from her shelves to match the reds, though they still ended up a bit purpley (but purple is complimentary to yellow sooo.....) All of this effort should indeed secure my position as most beloved child. (That I live so far away and cannot pop in to do my laundry also probably secures this position.)
Back home in New Orleans I immediately implemented my most recent SCHEME. I sublet a friends space in the Quarter and tried to turn it into a temporary art space.
Ah...NEXT summer...the ultimate SCHEME. Until then, I'll just do this:
I didn't get any sleep, stayed up working on a big painting. Around 6 AM I figured, it's the Royal Street Food & Wine Fest- there's gonna be people, the artists are gonna be quick! I may as well get out there now to get my spot.
Turned out the street was totally empty. For hours I was the only one set up. It was a day of minor physical mishaps. My pants ripped on the ride down, once arriving I realized I'd forgotten the clothes pins I use to hang my work with. A kindly, talkative canadian lady watched my stuff while I went to Rouses. All they had were obnoxious pink/purple/blue plastic clothespins. Ah well..the canadian lady bought me some coffee & I drank it blinking, trying to stay conscious.
Another artist showed up, she told me about her other job as a waitress. Said she loved the place, the entertainment factors were high, about a wild day last week involving guns & bath salts. (New band name anyone?)
A guy walked by with a cartoon hand grenade tattoo. I stopped him and asked, "Why would you get that tattoo?"
He stopped and looked surprised. With an enthusiastic gesture he said,
"What do you mean...internally you identify as a cartoon hand grenade with eyes?"
"No! It's ME! I'm the giant hand grenade down the street!"
A lady who works at a gallery near by came over & bought this piece:
And even left me with a gift of their own work:
This crowd stayed in their 'designated' area. They hardly wandered over. At one point I asked a guy walking by, "Don't you want to engage with us at all?" He said, "No, I don't engage anything." And hurried off in a little bubble. So, yeah.
To which my sentiments are: Ya'll Hella Boring.
Then I packed up & rode home and SLEPT & SLEPT & SLEPT.
It's been rainy, so I'm not out. It's kind of nice to have the excuse to have the day off, plus I gotta re-build my rickshaw since the original is made out of cardboard & it is currently 'out of service'.
My boyfriend is helping me (really pretty much building it for me) & we've got a pile of wood and bolts set aside to build one that will hopefully last much longer.
The last day I was out these folks walked by and a woman caught her eye on a piece and said, "Oh, that's like me when I'm worried.." She seemed taken by it, but there's plenty to see in the French Quarter & so they walked on.
A block down her husband turned around and ran back. Quickly & quietly he bought it for her and very covertly we put it in his bag. They strolled back by about a half hour later and the women looked for the piece.
I caught on and got up and acted like I wasn't sure which one and then said reluctantly, "oh..that one is gone.."
It was hard to keep it up because she looked so disappointed, but her husband was trying to hide this wild grin and it made me want to be there later on when he surprised her with it.
I think about things like this...that I wouldn't have gotten to see this part of the exchange if I were selling through a gallery. As useful as paying the rent is, it's just as much a necessity of living to see demonstrations of love & care. She initially identified with it as herself worrying, for me, him buying this painting for her said, "I love you, and I'm with you- even when you're worrying."
I didn't get their info because of how 'sly' we were being to surprise her, but hopefully they will contact me & I can thank them for sharing the moment with me.
Another pleasant random act of kindness was Richard, a friend from around the Quarter, who appeared with tiny cupcakes.
I thought that THIS was going to be my biggest frustration today:
New Orleans doesn't have four seasons that lead into one another gracefully. We have bug seasons. Now it's catepillar time & these guys fall out of the trees..and if they fall on you they sting you with their terrifying primordial spikes & it feels like fiber glass under your skin.
*If this ever befalls you empty a cigarette into some water, tobacco juice relieves the sting.
What could be more disturbing than this???
Geez, he looks like a nice guy.
I have no idea why- but for some reason John sent an order for myself & other street artists (with legal permits) to NOT display our work on 'the states' fence during French Quarter Fest.
Why a Supreme Court Clerk of Court would send a private security team, and finally NOPD to run off local artists, with threat of arrest & confiscation of our art is entirely beyond my mental reference.
Here is what I've already written to explain the situation:
More frustration for New Orleans 'creative class' (that is supposed to be experiencing some kind of renaissance in the form of studio lofts priced for lawyers & poor city communications?):
Today was a long meandering day that encapsulates the absurdity & randomness & contradiction of such an occupation. Maybe I got a whole 2 or 3 hours of sleep, after I
Yes, thats a Bose Cinemate series II
drunkenly went to Kinkos in the AM to make prints (I don't recommend doing this.) I wanted to try getting that prime real estate on the front of the fence & I wanted to bring out some bigger paintings.
A friend had given me this hook up with wheels for the back of my bike, so I found a big cardboard box & jimmy rigged it into a make-shift rikshaw. I believe this is referred to as 'Cajun engineering'. I was damn proud of my construction and it got me to the quarter with plenty of paintings around 7 AM.
On the ride I FOUND a canvas, resting by itself on a street lamp. Ground score! The world is workin with me!
Unfortunately I didn't get a front spot & pirates ally was already filling up, but I heard the front was already claimed around 4 am, so at least I got a little bit of needed sleep.
Mostly the day consists of sitting, and finding alternate methods of keeping oneself stimulated. Usually I bring books & drawing materials, fetch coffee & smoke a lot of cigarettes. Watching the world jostle around me. Often enough I get to witness some truly random shit, like this:
People seemed really over-stimulated by French Quarter Fest so by the time they came by me they couldn't focus well. I also got a lot of people that didn't seem to 'get' my work at all...one women stopped, asked if I took commisions & when I said, "Maybe, it depends what the image is." said, "Can you paint a picture of my dog?" Geez...I've got a whole fence convered in paintings of people, no, I do not want to paint your pet portrait. I also decided I'm going to start writing down the best little bits of eavesdropping. For April 12th they were...(dun dun dun)
"...Yeah, I got him a picture of Lafittes...after The Katrina..."
"And I watched, I mean, I saw the guy doing it! On You Tube! It was amazing! He has this spray paint...and the picture just formed everything..like the twin towers and..."
I got traumatized while walking to the Bourbon Orleans to use their bathroom. A silver guy screamed some compliment to me, followed by something about licking my thighs, ugh, I do not need such menatl imagery & hollered back that there's some thoughts better kept to oneself. Finally at the only bathroom the bourbon orleans has not effectly key-card locked I got trapped behind a bachlorette party. They giggled like a flock of hens while performing for themselves with a 2 ft inflatible penis (with a face nonetheless) in the bathroom mirrors, while I blinked trying to stay awake & eager to get back to my spot.
All day long, and this has been happening a lot lately, people side stepped all my other work to ask about this cluster of 4 paintings of the same girl:
Everyone wants a fascinating story about the mystery girl...why..oh why would I paint her 4 times if she didn't have some extrodinary signifigance? Well, actually I've painted her about 7 times...and I don't know who she is.
I was doing it for a technical study to see how one flesh palette would contrast against differently colored grounds. I learned that my answer was: Not very much. It took me a long time doing all these studies & was mostly pretty frustrating. If you're gonna paint from reference don't use a dual light source. That is was this image means to me.
Finally, a little while before I was about to pack it up, some really vibrant sweet folks stopped. They got a little cigarette box picture book and somehow made me more enlivened by their presence. Tim & Kathy, who pilgrim down here every french Quarter fest also came by, like an island of sanity, a relief from the parade of huge-ass-beer swillers and non-stop tourists who treat me like a convenient information office, asking,
"Is this the St. Louis Cathedral?" and "Where is Bourbon street?" They went home with this piece, that I think is really beautiful, and some others.
Somehow I managed to pack it up and get to R Bar to hit the last crawfish boil of the day. I rolled up particlarly self-satisfied with my carboard rik-shaw & parked it on the side. I met a remarkable young man (and so i remark on it) who told me that he paints too..and I don't know had some kind of natural politeness, some kind of grace in his character that I much admired. He asked to see my work but it was all packed up & the only one I had easy access to were...the dreaded 4 paintings of the girl that everyone gets stuck up on. I pulled them out and as he was looking at them, someone came over & said,
"Who is that girl?"
"I don't know," He shrugged, "I just like it."
I can't say how sleep deprived my joy was to hear that! I wanted him to have it. He asked how much they were...$400 for all 4, or 200 a piece...but hell, Whats really the point of all this!?!?
I asked him to do whatever he could, so he gave me $20 and a high life. And now he's got this piece:
But really, he gave me far more! He broke the pattern for me!!!! God, I can not speak my relief...because I was about to take these home & give them bizarre facial tattoos..just so that people might stop asking me for the back story. It's a painting. Look at it. Live with it.
For all the bullshit of so many days, being back out on the street in the daytime keeps me curious about life which seems a prerequisite to maintain something resembling sanity. I can't mention all the numerous little quirks of humanity I take in through out the day, but I did want to take a minute to try and list some of them.
-Humanity in swarm, out on Saturday, dressed nice and looking wholesomely ready for Easter sunday..
The artists in the ally, out since the morning, becoming unraveled. An impromptu dance party started where we all jerked our bodies around in all manner of interpretive movements to what sounded like game show music spouted from a boombox. If you were to come upon this scene so inconspiciously playing itself in the alley we made wild gestures to you, swinging arabesque hand sweeps to get folks to come look..though not many did.
The music relaxed, best of Aaron Neville, I danced by myself to "Tell it like it is." In good natured humour I danced up on a group passing by, wherein a middle aged woman took my hand and danced with me through the ally, singing along knowing all the words. Mid way through she leaned in and said,
"My son died a year ago today, he was 40." Then she looked into my eyes and said,
"Life is too short to have sorrow, you may be here today and gone tomorrow
You might as well get what you want, So go on and live, baby go on and live, tell it like it is."
It took me a minute to realize she was reciting the song to me, and then she was gone done the ally. Moments like these balance off the cruder displays of humanity, like a few days ago a middle aged man stopped some 3 feet from me and only looking at me through the screen started to take my picture.
"Hey!" I said, "What're you doin?" Without a word he jumped up and ran around the corner. Running after him he spun around and clutched the camera like a swaddled baby.
"Don't you touch me! Get away! Don't you dare attack me!" I had to talk him down like a skiddish dog, that I wasn't about to attack him, I just would appreciate some interaction if your gonna take my damned picture.
He let me look through the pictures, all taken candid and papparazzi style, he was going home with pictures of my neighbors, but they weren't pictures of people- they were pictures of:
'The pimp yelling at the ho'
'the fat man in a tutu'
'The street musicians who aren't getting dollar for having their picture taken'
If he actually pulls through sending my photo of me flustered in mid sentence, astonished that a grown man would act in such a way, I'll post it up here.
Some days I sell no art, I make no money and nobody rudely takes my picture. But some days someone decides to act as my personal angel, (I like the idea of an Angel named Bill.) And offers to fix my busted bike, and then I get a smooth ride when I haul all my pieces of wood and canvas down through the potholed streets to hang out and greet folks probably not so different from yourself.